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The Role of Foreign Policy in Security-State Surveillance

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In the national discussion over the national-security state’s massive surveillance scheme over the American people, it’s imperative that we keep in mind how the national-security state’s foreign policy of empire and interventionism play into how we have ended up with an Orwellian system of national surveillance at the hands of the federal government.

How are statists justifying the NSA’s surveillance over the American people? Not surprisingly, they’re saying it’s all designed to “keep us safe.” The federal monitoring of everyone, they say, enables them to catch a small number of people who are planning terrorist attacks. Never mind, of course, that all that monitoring didn’t prevent the Boston bombing.

A critically important question has to be asked: Why are there people who are initiating terrorist attacks against the United States?

The answer is a simple one: Because the U.S. national-security state is killing, torturing, abusing, humiliating, impoverishing, and destroying people in foreign countries through such policies as coups, support of dictatorships, regime-change operations, interference with internal politics, intervention in foreign disputes, assassinations, torture, rendition, indefinite detention, secret imprisonment, and so forth.

The foreign victims of those policies get angry. A certain percentage of them go on the rampage with acts of anti-American terrorism. That’s in fact what the Boston bombings were all about. And the Ft. Hood killings. And the Detroit and New York City would-be bombers. And 9/11. And the USS Cole. And the attacks on the U.S. embassies in East Africa. And Benghazi.

So, here’s how the national-security system has developed. The national-security state apparatus was grafted onto our constitutional order to fight a Cold War against America’s World War II partner and ally, the Soviet Union. The apparatus, which has effectively  become a fourth branch of the U.S. government — and the most powerful branch at that — consists of three sub-branches: the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. The CIA and the Pentagon carry out the foreign policies that engender the anger and hatred for the United States among the foreign victims of the policies. Then, when a certain percentage of those victims retaliate with anti-American terrorism, the NSA responds with a massive surveillance scheme that says, “We must do this to keep you safe from the terrorists.”

For anyone who is genuinely interested in a free society, there is but one solution to this problem, and that solution lies not in “reform” or “reining in” the NSA. As long as the military and the CIA are engaged in military empire and foreign interventionism, the NSA will have its perpetual justification for spying on Americans and the rest of the world, i.e., “keeping us safe.” By dismantling the entire national-security state apparatus, including the vast military-industrial complex and the CIA, the justification for NSA surveillance of the American people disintegrates, which means, of course, that the NSA can be dismantled as well.

Of course, one might say, “But Jacob, some of us love America’s vast military empire and the CIA. What if they’re aren’t dismantled? Don’t we then need to have the NSA continue spying on us in order to keep us safe?”

No! Is freedom so cheap that it must be traded for any hint of security?

Personally, I want to live my life as a free person in a free society. A society in which the government is monitoring the activities of its citizens and the rest of the world is not a free society. That’s a society living under a totalitarian regime, even if it is democratically elected.

Even if the government could ensure with 100 percent certainty that it could keep me safe from retaliatory terrorist strikes arising from U.S. foreign policy, I would still favor the dismantling of the NSA. What matters to me first and foremost is freedom. When freedom must be sacrificed for the pretense of safety, count me out.

Anyway, as people throughout history have learned, when people trade away their liberty under the promise of security, they end up losing both their freedom and their security. Equally important, as Benjamin Franklin pointed out, anyone who is willing to make that trade is undeserving of both liberty and security.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.