by Shahid Buttar, via the People’s Blog for the Constitution
Casualties of the national security state: the federal budget

The national security boondoggle is also a hole in the bottom of our budgetary bucket, bleeding our national treasury and largely prompting the budget crisis that has gripped Washington since 2010. The alphabet soup of duplicative and wasteful intelligence agencies — the NSA, NCTC, FBI, DNI, CIA, over 70 DHS-funded fusion centers, CBP, various military intelligence divisions, and the dozens of state agencies involved in intelligence collection, analysis, retention, and dissemination — collectively burn through hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars every year.

These agencies have co-opted huge — but publicly unknown — volumes of resources to construct a high-tech Panopticon. The NSA’s $2 billion data centerin Utah, the $1.5 billion that DHS has thrown at fusion centers, or the FBI’s billion dollar facial recognition database, are mere tips of an iceberg. The war on terror has ultimately become a bureaucratic arms race among agencies fighting for turf, facilities, and federal funds. The NCTC currently seeks data retention authoritythat would duplicate that of other agencies, much like the FBI has periodically sought intelligence capabilities already housed in the NSA.

These agencies duplicate each others’ efforts and bleed the federal budget, which has prompted enormous and continuing conflict in Washington over the distribution of inevitable cuts. Especially in light of the looming fiscal cliff, ending the era of blank checks for redundant national security agencies could enable solutions to any number of pressing social crises, from climate change and education to the housing crisis.

Casualties of the national security state: your constitutional rights

The national security state not only drains the federal budget and undermines the legitimacy of our government, but also assaults the rights of we taxpayers who fund it. Stretching beyond counter-terrorism to also include border integrity and immigration enforcement agencies, increasingly militarized local police, and networks of publicly-funded fusion centers around the country, our nation’s internal security agencies pour budgetary salt on constitutional wounds, assaulting constitutional rights and liberties of which we were once justifiably proud.

Whether used to conduct dragnet surveillance, profile a particular ethnic or political community, or prosecute government whistleblowers, our leaders are essentially using your tax dollars to abuse your rights.

National security efforts also often offend free speech. Crowd control technologies developed for military use have been used around the country to suppress various non-violent social movements, including those focused on peace, climate change, economics, and international trade. Fusion centers have bizarrely described legitimate (and constitutionally protected) lobbying efforts as indicative of terrorism. And the surveillance and infiltration of Occupy sites, reflecting the same kind of “sophisticated vigilante operation” decried by Congress in the 1970s, extended around the country and has grown well established.The impacts on racial, ethnic and religious minorities have grown pervasive. Muslim Americans from more or less every ethnic group have been monitored within faith institutions, Sikh Americans have been consistently profiled in airports, and Latinos – or anyone perceived as Latino – are forced by “papers, please” requirements in many states to provide documentation on demand. Nor are they the only ones impacted: even US citizens are regularly deported due to inaccuracies in federal records. And longstanding racial profiling in the drug war continues unabated, exemplified by the NYPD’s blatantly discriminatory stop & frisk practices.

On November 5, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard an appeal in the case of a civilian defense department intelligence analyst who infiltrated peace groups in Tacoma, WA. Generating intelligence reports that he later fed into the intelligence community, John Towery went beyond merely constitutionally offensive domestic spying, veering into outright fraud. Nor was his example unique: state and local police around the country have engaged in unconstitutional spying. The NYPD, working with the CIA in violation of its own charter, has even gone so far as to secretly invade nearby jurisdictions to monitor businesses, their customers, universities, and their students.

No sector of our society has been safe: groups targeted for counter-terror scrutiny have addressed social causes as diverse as civil rights, environmentalism, animal rights, feeding the homeless, promoting bike lanes, international peace, domestic labor organizing, and the Republican presidential campaign of Ron Paul.

Even veterans returning from armed service abroad have been stained with the brush of suspicion, viciously attacked by local police while peacefully exercising their rights, and monitored by domestic agencies participating in the surveillance racket.

These kinds of infiltration and disruption by police and intelligence agencies extend beyond mere surveillance and monitoring. Like the NSA’s dragnet surveillance program examined in part I of this series, security efforts that undermine constitutionally protected grassroots organizing not only co-opt taxpayer funds and undermine individual rights, but also erode our democracy.

Infiltration and disruption violates the rights of not only the targets of those activities, and the diverse social movements they promote (historically including peace, Puerto Rican independence, autonomy for native Americans, women’s rights, and civil rights), but also every one else. Our Constitution aims to enable democracy, by protecting a marketplace for ideas. Limiting (or even merely chilling) speech denies us all, as hearers, the opportunity to be informed by others’ views. The victims of state suppression thus include not only activists and vulnerable minorities, but also our democracy writ large.


A new President’s forgotten promises

The dire need to restore legitimacy to our national security efforts was a defining element of the 2008 election. Obama repeatedly pledged to reverse the course set by the Bush-Cheney administration, only to resign that mandate soon after taking office, after congressional Democrats proved their spinelessness by caving to Republican demands to block the president’s attempts to shut down the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay.

Responsible for torture and murders in custody, the facility also bears the blood of US servicemembers killed around the world by militants recruited by rallying cries to remember Guantánamo. The facility has been a stain on America’s conscience — and a profound national security liability — since the Bush administration first established it, deliberately lying about the detainees being dangerous, when many of them were simply sold to the US to settle private vendettas or collect generous bounties.

Gitmo’s chief military prosecutor even quit, citing human rights abuses that have never been addresed. Voices around the world have called for long overdue accountability, which could go a long way to ensure our national security by addressing legitimate international concerns, at less cost than, and without the constitutional offenses of, our various domestic surveillance agencies.

Gitmo remains a problem, having grown to undermine the federal judiciary as it continues to struggle with whether the Constitution actually means something, or is instead merely words on paper. But Guantánamo is neither our worst problem in terms of national security efforts that abuse constitutional rights, nor one easily fixed. Having lost the battle for Congress, efforts to finally close Guantanamo face a procedurally, politically, and pragmatically uphill battle.

Fortunately, the administration enjoys several opportunities to advance liberty and restore legitimacy to our national security efforts, even without congressional consensus.