Monday, July 1, 2024

National Security Politics v. Law Enforcement Politics


National Security Politics v. Law Enforcement Politics

Peter Schultz


                  A politics of national security is decidedly different than what may be called law enforcement politics, two concepts employed, e.g., by the FBI over the course of its history.


                  Originally, the FBI was to be a law enforcement agency, that is, an organization that would seek out perpetrators who broke US laws, in order to indict, try, and convict them for their offenses. For example, the FBI was empowered to seek out those who transported stolen vehicles across state lines (the Stolen Vehicle Act), or those who transported women across state lines for immoral purposes (the Mann or White Slave Trade Act).


                  Eventually, though, the FBI became a surveillance agency, especially after WW I and Russian Revolution when the Communists rose to power in Russia. That is, the FBI undertook to surveil for purposes of identifying communists and other alleged extremists, not because they had broken any laws and not in order to convict them of crimes, but in order to know who they were and to disrupt their activities or to destroy their organizations, if possible. These groups were seen as threats to national security, whether they engaged in criminal behavior or not. This surveillance function eventually displaced, for the most part, the FBI’s law enforcement function, and was used by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI to surveil congresspersons, presidents, Supreme Court Justices, journalists, lawyers, educators, and even clergy. No one could escape Hoover’s surveillance regime.  


                  But this is no small change and has rather important political implications. Surveillance of alleged extremists for purposes of disruption and/or social ostracism is distinctly different than a law enforcement approach insofar as the latter seeks to justify its actions in courts of law. In an important sense, justice is the goal of law enforcement, whereas with regard to surveillance, when divorced from law enforcement, security, not justice, is the goal. So, a surveillance regime is not constrained by the need to be just because the goal is to deter or destroy, not to convict. Seeking justice constrains power, whereas seeking security liberates power. More power does not mean more justice, while more power does mean more security.   


                  More security but less justice. So, surveillance regimes go together very well with targeted killings and especially with “signature strikes.”  Because the goal is national security, not justice, due process is irrelevant in such regimes. Similarly, in surveillance regimes social ostracism or character assassination works well and, again, because the goal isn’t justice, due process is irrelevant. In fact, given that the goal is national security, it is only reasonable or prudent to err on the side of exaggerating potential threats to national security rather than worrying about accurately estimating such threats. If the results are unjust, write them off as “collateral damage” and move on to the next killing. Moreover, dissident opinions or thoughts, even, are sufficient to recommend exposing the “disloyal” insofar as disloyalty threatens national security. “Signature strikes,” that is, assassinations or killings based on impersonal characteristics like location, age, and gender, where the person or persons to be killed are not identified or identifiable, reveal how irrelevant justice is in a surveillance or national security regime. Such a regime is, in principle, totalitarian, has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with power. That presidents Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden proudly authorized such strikes is revealing of how little justice means to American elites. National security has trumped their sense of justice, while bringing death and destruction worldwide.  

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