Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 11:59 am | Fair 54º

 
 
 

David Sirota: How Cash Secretly Rules Surveillance Policy

Have you noticed anything missing in the political discourse about the National Security Agency’s unprecedented mass surveillance? There’s certainly been a robust discussion about the balance between security and liberty, and there’s at least been some conversation about the intelligence community’s potential criminality and constitutional violations. But there have only been veiled, indirect references to how cash undoubtedly tilts the debate against those who challenge the national security state.

Those indirect references have come in stories about Booz Allen Hamilton, the security contractor that employed Edward Snowden. CNN/Money notes that 99 percent of the firm’s multibillion-dollar annual revenues now come from the federal government. Those revenues are part of a larger and growing economic sector within the military-industrial complex — a sector that, according to author Tim Shorrock, is “a $56 billion-a-year industry.”

For the most part, this is where the political discourse about money stops. We are told that there are high-minded, principled debates about security. We are also told of this massively profitable private industry making billions of dollars a year from the policy decisions that emerge from such a debate. Yet, few in the Washington press corps are willing to mention that politicians’ attacks on surveillance critics may have nothing to do with principle and everything to do with shilling for campaign donors.

For a taste of what that kind of institutionalized corruption looks like, peruse InfluenceExplorer.com to see how much Booz Allen Hamilton and its parent company The Carlyle Group spend. As you’ll see, from President Barack Obama to John McCain, many of the politicians now publicly defending the surveillance state have taken huge sums of money from the firms.

These are just examples from two companies among scores, but they exemplify a larger dynamic. Simply put, there are huge corporate forces with a vested financial interest in making sure the debate over security is tilted toward the surveillance state and against critics of that surveillance state. In practice, that means when those corporations spend big money on campaign contributions, they aren’t just buying votes for specific contracts. They are also implicitly pressuring politicians to rhetorically push the discourse in a pro-surveillance, anti-civil liberties direction.

All of this doesn’t mean there is direct conspiratorial micromanagement of politicians by the military-intelligence community. It doesn’t, for instance, mean that everything that comes out of surveillance defenders’ mouths comes from talking points provided by Booz Allen’s lobbyists. Instead, there’s something much more insidious and reflexive at work.

As anyone who has worked in Washington politics and media well knows, the capital is not a place of competing high-minded ideologies. In terms of the mechanics of legislation and policy, it is a place where monied interests duke it out, where those with the most money typically win, and where a power-worshiping media is usually biased toward the predetermined winners.

In the context of money and national security, there is a clear imbalance — there are more monied interests in the business of secrecy and surveillance than there are organized interests that support transparency and civil liberties. That imbalance has consequently resulted in a political environment so dominated by security-industry cash that the capital’s assumptions automatically and unconsciously skew toward that industry’s public policy preferences. Those preferences are obvious: more secrecy, more surveillance, and more lucrative private contracts for both.

If the simplest explanation is often the most accurate, then this financial imbalance is almost certainly why the pro-surveillance terms of the political debate in Washington are so at odds with public opinion polling. Big Money has helped create that disconnect, even though Big Money is somehow written out of the story.

David Sirota is the best-selling author of Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now and blogs at OpenLeft.com. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), follow him on Twitter: @davidsirota, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >