We now have a fourth branch of government.
As I document in my new book "Battlefield America: The War on the American People," this fourth branch came into being without any electoral mandate or constitutional referendum, and yet it possesses superpowers, above and beyond those of any other government agency save the military. It is all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful. It operates beyond the reach of the president, Congress and the courts, and it marches in lockstep with the corporate elite who really call the shots in Washington, DC.
You might know this branch of government as "surveillance", but I prefer "technotyranny," a term coined by investigative journalist James Bamford to refer to an age of technological tyranny made possible by government secrets, government lies, government spies and their corporate ties.
Beware of what you say, what you read, what you write, where you go and with whom you communicate, because it will all be recorded, stored and used against you eventually, at a time and place of the government's choosing. Privacy, as we have known it, is dead.
The police state is about to pass off the baton to the surveillance state.
Having already transformed local police into extensions of the military, the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the FBI are preparing to turn the nation's soldier cops into techno-warriors, complete with iris scanners, body scanners, thermal imaging Doppler radar devices, facial recognition programs, license plate readers, cell phone Stingray devices and so much more.
This is about to be the new face of policing in America.
The National Security Agency (NSA) has been a perfect red herring, distracting us from the government's broader, technology-driven campaign to render us helpless in the face of its prying eyes.
Indeed, just about every branch of the government -- from the Postal Service to the Treasury Department and every agency in between -- now has its own surveillance sector, authorized to spy on the American people. And of course that doesn't even begin to touch on the complicity of the corporate sector, which buys and sells us from cradle to grave, until we have no more data left to mine.
Despite the fact that its data snooping has been shown to be ineffective at detecting, let alone stopping, any actual terror attacks, the NSA continues to operate largely in secret, carrying out warrantless mass surveillance on hundreds of millions of Americans' phone calls, emails, text messages and the like, beyond the scrutiny of most of Congress and the taxpayers who are forced to fund its multi-billion dollar secret black ops budget.
Yet how do you reform an agency that operates outside of the system of checks and balances established by the Constitution?
It's a divisive issue that forces all of us -- cynics, idealists, politicians and realists alike -- to grapple with a deeply unsatisfactory and dubious political "solution" to a problem that operates beyond the reach of voters and politicians: how do you trust a government that lies, cheats, steals, sidesteps the law, and then absolves itself of wrongdoing to actually obey the law?
As long as the government is allowed to make a mockery of the law--be it the Constitution or any other law intended to limit its reach and curtail its activities--and is permitted to operate behind closed doors, relaying on secret courts, secret budgets and secret interpretations of the laws of the land, there will be no reform.
Presidents, politicians, and court rulings have come and gone over the course of the NSA's 60-year history, but none of them have done much to put an end to the NSA's "technotyranny."
What we have failed to truly comprehend is that the NSA is merely one small part of a shadowy permanent government comprised of unelected bureaucrats who march in lockstep with profit-driven corporations that actually run Washington, DC, and work to keep us under surveillance and, thus, under control. For example, Google openly works with the NSA, Amazon has built a massive $600 million intelligence database for the CIA and the telecommunications industry is making a fat profit by spying on us for the government.
In other words, Corporate America is making a hefty profit by aiding and abetting the government in its domestic surveillance efforts. Conveniently, as the Intercept recently revealed, many of the NSA's loudest defenders have financial ties to NSA contractors.
Thus, if this secret regime not only exists but thrives, it is because we have allowed it through our ignorance, apathy and naïve trust in politicians who take their orders from Corporate America rather than the Constitution.
If this shadow government persists, it is because we have yet to get outraged enough to push back against its power grabs and put an end to its high-handed tactics.
And if this unelected bureaucracy succeeds in trampling underfoot our last vestiges of privacy and freedom, it will be because we let ourselves be fooled into believing that politics matters, that voting makes a difference, that politicians actually represent the citizenry, that the courts care about justice, and that everything that is being done is in our best interests.
In other words, it doesn't matter who occupies the White House: the secret government with its secret agencies, secret budgets and secret programs won't change. It will simply continue to operate in secret until some whistleblower comes along to momentarily pull back the curtain and we dutifully --but fleetingly --play the part of the outraged public, demanding accountability and rattling our cages, all the while bringing about little real reform.
Thus, the lesson of the NSA and its vast network of domestic spy partners is simply this: once you allow the government to start breaking the law, no matter how seemingly justifiable the reason, you relinquish the contract between you and the government which establishes that the government works for and obeys you, the citizen -- the employer -- the master.
Once the government starts operating outside the law, answerable to no one but itself, there's no way to rein it back in, short of revolution. And by revolution, I mean doing away with the entire structure, because the corruption and lawlessness have become that pervasive.
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