Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Price of Freedom

One of the core signifiers of totalitarianism is the existence of a secret police – indeed the term totalitarianism is often used interchangeably with ‘police state’. I was intrigued, therefore, when I came across The Washington Post’s Top Secret America investigation.

In American, the intelligence service exists beyond the authority of the executive, legislature and judiciary – all of which are transparent and accountable bodies. According to estimates 854,000 people within the US have been given high-level security clearance. That’s a staggering 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington D.C - all without public accountability and transparency. And how many people have lower level clearance or perform other counter-terrorist roles?

According to the Post, the official US intelligence budget stands at a huge $75bn. That’s more than the GDP of Croatia and almost three times its size in 2001. This colossal figure translates into 1,271 government bodies and 1,931 private contractors working on counter-terrorism. With $75bn at stake, I’d be slightly worried about the reliability of information if private contractors were in charge of intelligence. They have to justify their pay and suddenly the purpose of intelligence shifts from being about security to being about profit.

In times of national emergency – such as leading the ‘war on terror’ – the dichotomy between freedom and national security often tips in favour of security. Yet it is acknowledged by the liberal Richard Dreyfuss that “Al Qaeda and its affiliates, its sympathizers, and even self-starting terrorist actors who aren't part of Al Qaeda itself, are a tiny and manageable problem”. So why the need for such an extensive counter-terrorist apparatus? Of course the irony here is that right-wing yahoos wailing for a small state support the proliferation of this pervasive network of subterfuge.

Alarmingly, these questionable invasions of civil liberties are becoming increasingly common in Britain. Whether it’s the elderly anti-war protestor tracked by police or today’s eviction of peaceful protestors at Democracy Village, sometimes the greatest threat to freedom doesn’t come from an external menace, it comes from those you least expect.

No comments:

Post a Comment