NSA Spying Scandal: The Democratic State Shows Its Teeth

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A comrade in the US reflects on the way different factions of the American bourgeoisie have responded to the ‘spying scandal’

Over the last several weeks the bourgeois media has been engaged in intense coverage of the so-called NSA (National Security Administration) spying scandal. Reports issued by the Guardian and the Washington Post have revealed, through information delivered up by a 29 year old systems manager for NSA contractor Booz Allen, Hamilton, that the United States government has been keeping a phone log of all telephone calls made in the United States, tracking every number dialed, the location of the party called and the call duration. Subsequent reporting revealed that in addition to this log of phone records, the NSA, through its so-called Prism program, has been directly tapping into the servers of the very companies that form the backbone of the World Wide Web: Facebook, Google, MSN, Apple, to name just a few.

According to the so-called whistleblower, Edward Snowden, the technical abilities the NSA now has at its disposal are profound. He claims to have been able to tap directly into any email anywhere, including even President Obama’s. According to his description of the Prism program, the technology is so powerful that an NSA analyst can tap into whatever instant message conversations he/she wants to at any moment. As a part of the story, we also learned that these programs appear to have been given the cover of legality by a sweeping Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) Court warrant allowing the government to “legally” collect this data.

It has been quite clear that the release of this information has been very uncomfortable for the US bourgeoisie. It hasn’t been a good period for the democratic illusion in the United States—the capitalist nation state that champions itself to its own citizens and the world beyond as the foremost guarantor of democracy and civil rights. The revelations about the NSA’s spying programs are only the latest in a series of embarrassing episodes that cast growing doubt on the ability of the US bourgeoisie to credibly proclaim America as a democracy guided by the rule of law. When these revelations hit the news, there was already a build-up of questioning about the Obama administration’s continued use of pilotless drones to kill suspected terrorists, including American citizens, as a matter of executive fiat without even the hint of due process.

Just weeks prior to Snowden’s confession, Obama had been forced to make a nationwide address defending his drone program and excusing the state murder by drone of an American citizen without trial (alleged terrorist Anwar Al-Awlaki). Although he has pledged to close the gulag at Guantanamo Bay, the continued hunger strike and force-feeding of the remaining detainees has been a major blemish on the image of American democracy abroad. While on this issue, Obama has tried to play himself as the good guy working to close the prison in opposition to a hostile Republican dominated Congress, his inability to close Guantanamo and thus fulfill a promise from his first campaign, is a major stick in the craw for his liberal base. While it would be an exaggeration to say that the US’s international image has sunk as low as it did during the Bush administration, it has certainly declined since the days of joyous celebrations following Obama’s initial election.

However, the revelations about the NSA spying programs strike much deeper at the heart of the illusion of American democracy and civil liberties than any of these other issues, as they affect the entire American population writ large. No longer are the excesses of the “surveillance state” directed only at shadowy dark-skinned foreigners or traitors who have gone over to the other side, but at every single American regardless of whether or not they are suspected of any wrongdoing. The worst Orwellian fears appear to have been realized. We are all being tracked, pretty much all the time and there appears to be nothing we can do to hold the state accountable for it. What kind of “democracy” is this?

The Confused Reaction of the Bourgeoisie

Just how uncomfortable Snowden’s revelations have been for the US ruling class was evident in the rather unusual and stumbling reaction of the various bourgeois factions. Many top congressional figures professed to know nothing about these programs and claimed to be deeply concerned by them, or—at the very least—slighted that they weren’t told about them. Judging by how uncoordinated the bourgeoisie’s initial response to the news appears to have been, there is reason to believe that they were not just making this up.

Still, the various heads of the Congressional intelligence committees were quick to react with anger to the release of this classified information. As they clumsily tried to assuage the public by telling us that this stuff had been going on for quite some time and it was nothing new under the sun, etc., their furor was palpable with many calling for the immediate arrest and prosecution of Snowden as a “traitor.” President Obama himself, forced by the growing media frenzy to make a statement, attempted to assure Americans that these programs were vital tools in the fight against terrorism that had stopped terrorist plots in their tracks and that in reality nobody was really listening to their phone calls, at least not without a warrant.

One of the most striking features of the bourgeois response was the unlikely coalitions that emerged. Supposed Liberal Senator from California Diane Feinstein was on the same page as militarist Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham in defending the programs and calling for Snowden’s swift prosecution. Meanwhile right-wing crackpot radio host Glenn Beck and progressive documentarian Michael Moore each declared Snowden a hero.  Similarly, while Ron Paul wondered out loud if Snowden would be taken out by a cruise missile, liberal/progressive radio host Ed Schultz—using language typically employed by right wing bullies—aggressively called the leaker a “punk.”

The bourgeoisie have been unable to find a coherent political narrative in which to situate these revelations. The familiar left/right division of ideological labor simply isn’t working out on this one. On the left, the progressive/liberal talking heads are put in a corner. Whatever their level of personal discomfort with these programs, they are obliged to defend a scandal-plagued Obama administration from yet one more embarrassment. On the right, there is a clear divide between the authoritarian hawks who proudly declare (as any good fascist would), “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”, and a libertarian element who see everything the state does as a plot to construct a tyrannical fascist/socialist Leviathan.

Clearly, the bourgeoisie is having difficulty getting its ducks in a row in order to present a coherent binary narrative to the public through which to explain this one in comfortable and familiar terms. It is likely for this reason that once the identity of the leaker became known, the media quickly attempted to change the story to make it all about the personality of Mr. Snowden. Just who was this guy? What was his story? Why did he do it? In a painful ode to the celebrity spectacle that today defines American pop culture, the media turned a story about the world’s most powerful “democratic” state spying on every single one of its citizens into a psycho-drama about Snowden’s supposed megalomania, naivety and youthful hubris.

The message was clear: the government may be spying on you, but at least now there is a new celebrity villain/hero personality to delve into and probably an exciting court room drama coming up in the future if/when the US state finally lays it hands on him! That is, if he isn’t extraordinarily rendered somewhere or mysteriously dies of a heart attack while holed up in the Ecuadorean ambassador’s residence. It’s international intrigue worthy of a Le Carré novel!  It seemed, as in a modern day twist on the famous words attributed to Marie Antoinette, the bourgeoisie told the public, “If you can’t get openness in government, transparency and all the other mush that is supposed to go along with democracy, well, at least you can eat drama.”

Nevertheless, the bourgeois reaction to this story, as incoherent as it was, stands as a clear illustration of the rifts that have been tearing into the fabric of the US ruling class. Forced to keep the left of its political apparatus in executive power over concerns about the Republican Party’s ability to rationally steer the economy and the ship of the state, the Obama administration has had to govern in a way that puts its “left” credentials into severe question.[1] Already before these revelations, rumblings about Obama being just a kindler gentler version of Bush were rampant among many of the President’s erstwhile supporters.

Contrary to its traditional ideological role as the questioners of repressive power, key elements in the Democratic Party have had to come out in support of these massive spying programs. Meanwhile, law and order Republicans, who on any other day would probably prefer to see Obama join the millions of other African-Americans in prison, have come out as among the administration’s loudest cheerleaders in favor of keeping these programs in full force. The US political crisis continues. In sharp contrast to the image of overwhelming technical power wielded by its intelligence agencies, it’s the sad case that US bourgeoisie can’t even get its messaging straight on how to sell these programs to the public.

The “Democratic” State and Civil Liberties: Illusion Or Structure?

One of the more frustrating features of the media’s coverage of this story was the constant “man in the street” interviews with supposed ordinary citizens, asking their opinion about the revelations. How did the common man feel about the fact that the government was logging his calls and monitoring his IMs? Inevitably, the media would trot out some poor sap who would declare, “I don’t care. I have nothing to hide. Security comes first.” This mentality was a clear reflection of the official line frothed up by the technocrats and politicians: “These programs, this technology, have stopped terrorist attacks. Discontinuing them would make us vulnerable.”

In not so many words, this was President Obama’s approach to the controversy, despite the fact that this attitude stood in open contradiction to his previous positions, stated with force during his 2009 inauguration speech. Referencing previous revelations that the Bush administration had been tapping Americans’ phone calls without a warrant, President-elect Obama loudly declared that the American people should not accept the government prying into its personal affairs in the name of safety.  But how quickly the tide turned once he found himself in the chief executive’s mansion!

However, whether or not Obama actually believed what he was saying in 2009 is patently irrelevant. Once he found himself at the head of the state, the overwhelming weight of the surveillance/homeland security apparatus was bound to exert its centrifugal pull. Besides, there was no way a black Democratic President, fighting for legitimacy in the eyes of half the nation, could afford to have a terrorist attack on US soil take place on his watch, without having appeared to exhaust whatever means at the disposal of the state to stop it.  One can only imagine the uproar from his Republican opponents had another mass terrorist attack taken place and it was learned that Obama had cancelled these surveillance programs. He really had little choice but to continue and expand the Bush administration’s surveillance activities.

Of course, anyone who has taken a civics class in a US junior high school can tell you that what the US state was doing under these programs is highly illegal and unconstitutional according to the very principles the US state is supposed to uphold.[2] “Once security trumps individual liberty, the road to tyranny and enslavement is open” is one of the first principles drilled into the heads of the youth about why there is such as thing as a “Bill of Rights” at all.  And while there were certainly elements within the US bourgeoisie, from left leaning civil rights activists to right wing libertarians, who attempted to make this very point, it was largely drowned out by the louder message emanating from the state apparatus that these programs keep us safe.

 Nevertheless, given the level of ideological decomposition that has gripped US society over the preceding years, it was never going to be the case that this message would convince everyone. For every “authoritarian personality” that said he had nothing to hide, there seemed to be five paranoid conspiracists (left or right) who said the state can never be trusted, always lies and forever exercises power in violation of the rule of the law and the nation’s professed commitment to civil liberties. For this segment of the population, everyone in Washington is a forked tongue snake. Obama’s promises that nobody was listening to our phone calls without getting a warrant, or that the Prism program was only tracking foreign nationals, weren’t worth the paper they were printed on. The state always does what it wants, when it wants to, regardless of whether or not it is “legal.” If the state wants to make you disappear, it can probably do so with impunity.

Of course, there is much in this story that actually supports such a view. If the intention was to keep these programs secret in perpetuity, how can we ever be sure the state isn’t doing something else illegal that we just haven’t found out about yet? Obama says these programs are legal because they need a warrant to listen to calls. Anyone who watches Law and Order knows how easy it is to get a warrant—basically, all it takes is having a judges’ phone number.  Of course, in the case of the NSA spying programs, it is a secret court, issuing a secret warrant that the targets are never allowed to see or even know exists. Moreover, at the end of the day, even if the state couldn’t get a warrant, what’s to stop it from carrying out the surveillance anyway? The answer is, of course, absolutely nothing at all.

What a curious picture of “democracy” this all is. Not only is the state’s official discourse cynically hypocritical, intellectually bankrupt and disturbingly Orwellian, but also the much-vaunted “civil society” that is supposed to be the lifeblood of liberal democracy appears to have completely broken down. How is the citizenry supposed to hold the government accountable for programs they don’t even know about and which they can only discover through the efforts of leakers and whistleblowers prepared to face the cruelty of the American criminal justice system?

In the view of many somber analysts, the citizenry itself seems to have been turned into such passive or paranoid sheep that they are simply incapable of exercising any “democratic control” over the military/intelligence/technology complex that is now intertwined with our daily lives. The American population appears hopelessly segmented into a false opposition between authoritarian lemmings that don’t care what the government does and those whose anxious paranoia moves them to see a government conspiracy around every corner they look. Whatever the differences in these two worldviews, the content is essentially the same: the state can do whatever the hell it wants—one side doesn’t mind, while the other can’t relax about it. One can only imagine the exasperation of eighth grade civic teachers all across the nation. If this is democracy, who wants it?

Some of the more sophisticated bourgeois think tank/media outlets have attempted to delve deeper into these issues. One of the main themes of this exploration has been the role of the new communication technologies and social media in shaping a public that supposedly does not care about privacy. We can all blame the young generations for this we are told; they simply cannot appreciate the importance of privacy to the formation of the stable identities that democratic citizenship requires. 

Picking up on various themes being developed in the halls of academia, we are told that the youth’s obsession with Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets has completely rewired their brains to the point where the very interiority of the self has virtually disappeared. We are in the process of being transformed into an interconnected system of deconstructed selves that bleed into one another like ink from the now obsolete fountain pen. Personal identity, the bedrock of the liberal democratic state, will soon no longer exist. We will all be reduced to mere nodal points in a vast network of data signifiers. It’s possible, some say, that we won’t even be totally human anymore. Perhaps we will become just one big vast cybergenetic “desiring machine” or maybe its “bodies without organs” (to use some of the postmodern jargon), incapable of forming the requisite subjectivity to make liberal democracy function.

In line with all this, more and more members of the chattering classes openly imply that certain civil liberties are now simply technologically obsolete. Such was left/progressive talk show host Bill Maher’s rumination about the fate of the 4th amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure: “If the 4th amendment is now obsolete, why isn’t the 2nd amendment also?”, Maher pondered, in what appeared to be intended as a liberal/progressive rebuff to the Republican right-wing’s intransigent opposition to gun control.[3]

Of course, all of this paints a very gloomy picture of American “democracy.” Images of Marcuse’s “one -dimensional man,” Adorno and Horkheimer’s “administered society," Reich’s “mass psychology of fascism”, Wolin’s “inverted totalitarianism,” or Star Trek’s Borg are conjured up by these dismal assessments of the condition of American civil society in the age of Facebook. Perhaps what Maher really meant to ask was if liberal democracy itself was what was now obsolete?

Whatever the veracity of all of this, regardless of how much the academics overstate the psycho-analytic and sociological consequences of the Internet, the fact that these themes are now openly discussed is a powerful symbol of a supposedly “democratic” society now suffering a profound crisis of confidence in itself. Capitalist democracy now seems afraid of its youth; they represent something strange and inscrutable, perhaps even dangerous. One of the lessons Senator Mikulski of Maryland drew from the revelations was that regardless of their technical skills, it is not always in the best interest of the state to give young people the keys to the intelligence vault.[4] They are too unpredictable, lack the necessary moral commitment to the nation, have no personal discipline, are too easily led astray by unscrupulous hucksters, etc.

For us Marxists, these developments do raise very important questions about the nature of the so-called democratic state. Regular readers of the ICC press will know that we regularly produce critiques of democracy that show how, despite whatever fealty it once had to its own principles, the democratic state is now, as a result of capitalism’s decadence, become a totalitarian arm of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. There is essentially no tangible difference, as far as the proletariat is concerned, between the bourgeoisie in its various democratic, authoritarian, fascist, Stalinist, etc. forms. All factions of the bourgeoisie are equally reactionary in their commitment to the maintenance of the capitalist system, continuing the exploitation of the working class and engaging in the imperialist project.

But in saying this are we agreeing with the deep conspiracists that the structures of the democratic state are not “real”—that they are a pure “illusion,” beyond which lies only a “wild zone” of unchecked state power that is impervious to popular control?[5] Are all the political machinations of the President and Congress just window dressing or totally irrelevant and not worth paying attention to because the real power lies elsewhere?

Is it the case that we have been living in a full-stop totalitarian system since the entry of capitalism into decadence, and now, with the development of these new technologies, it has become safe for the state to emerge in its full horror, show its teeth and dispense with the illusions of democratic processes and the appearance of respecting civil liberties?

Regular readers of the ICC press will also recall articles reflecting on the “structure of the state”  as an important factor in how the bourgeoisie orders its internal political life and also in how some of the various social movements we have witnessed since 2011 have unfolded. For example, in the ICC’s analysis of the way that the ‘Arab spring’ turned out in Libya, where the army was deliberately kept in a weakened state. So, is the idea that the democratic state is of no fundamental difference from authoritarian ones at odds with an analysis that take into account the “structure of the state”?

These are all very difficult questions that demand much further discussions by left communists and all those committed to ending capitalist exploitation. We can’t pretend to be able to give a definitive answer to all these questions here. However, a few preliminary observations can nevertheless be made:

The structures of American liberal democracy were very much “real” when they were designed in the late eighteenth century. The Bill of Rights was a function of the need of the American ruling class to devise a state structure that could protect their overall class rule, while at the same time preventing the state power from arbitrary and extra-judicial interference in commerce, property rights and political organization. However, even in this era, it is clear that these rights were unevenly enforced. Whatever the tangible nature of liberal democracy for the bourgeoisie, the US state has been among the most violent in its suppression of dissent from below. While it is true that democratic civil liberties may have been guaranteed to all white men, these guarantees are useless if the state is not committed to enforcing them or if one cannot afford a competent lawyer to fight for them in court.

Later, at the turn of the twentieth century, with industrial capitalism in full swing, a proletariat developing its struggle, and a World War in the offing, the US state was not shy about openly scrapping its commitment to freedom of speech and organization, imprisoning Socialist leaders such as Eugene Debs for violation of various sedition acts, when they urged resistance to the war. In the later part of the twentieth century, the developing national security state showed little concern for the rule of law in launching the blatantly illegal COINTELPRO operation designed to disrupt and discredit various civil rights, anti-war and Black Power organizations.[6]

Therefore, the new laws put into force in the aftermath of 9/11 (such as the Patriot Act)—while draconian in nature and shameless in their legalization of various activities that seem a blatant contradiction to the 18th century Bill of Rights—do not mark a fundamental departure from the normal practices of the “democratic” state. The US state has shown its willingness to act outside the boundaries of the rule of law numerous times in the past in order to crack down on dissent and pursue various individuals and organizations it has (rightly or wrongly) deemed a threat. When it comes to the cover of legality for its repressive and surveillance activities, the attitude of the U.S bourgeoisie seems to be that it’s nice to have, but not strictly necessary when it is for whatever reason unattainable.

But does all this mean that the US democratic state is a pure “illusion,” that power lies somewhere other than the visible structures of the state? Perhaps with the intelligence agencies or some other “deep structure”[7] that remains hidden in the shadows? The answer to this has to be: yes and no. It is true that the development of state capitalism has produced alternate centers of power that are outside the constitutional structures of the state. These have been known for some time: the military industrial complex, powerful industrial lobby groups, the homeland security/intelligence apparatus, Halliburton, the Cargill Group, etc. Moreover, it is true that these various loci of power can, at times, exert a strong enough influence over the formal structures of the state to the point where it can be accurate to say that they have “captured” some part of it and are molding for their own particular interests. This has been a major problem for US state capitalism as of late in its tendency to obstruct the state from operating in the overall interests of the national capital rather than various particular factions of it.

However, the formal structures of the state remain the primary terrain through which the US bourgeoisie fights its factional battles. The structure of this state may be two and a half centuries old now, and parts of it are clearly showing their age and obsolesce, but in many ways the US bourgeoisie is stuck with it for the foreseeable future. The ideological decomposition of US society (which is in some ways itself a function of the political pluralism built into the US state) means that it is unlikely the US bourgeoisie will be able to make any substantive changes to this structure anytime soon. It is for this reason that the fight over civil liberties will continue to have some salience well into the future, as a tool with which the various bourgeois factions can protect themselves from one another.

However, as to the extent to which the US state will respect these rights in reference to those it considers outside the arena of acceptable politics or bourgeois respectability, the examples of Al-Awlaki, Bradley Manning, Dzhokhar Tsarneaev and the millions of indigent criminal defendants who are denied effective legal counsel every day are powerful evidence of how these so-called protections can be ignored with relative impunity. [8]

These cases stand as evidence that whatever the structure of the state, whatever limitation the bourgeois class attempted to place on its growth two centuries ago, the state itself has a nature, an interest, and a social weight all of its own, which drives it to swallow civil society and establish the measures of efficiency, security and order—against the protections of rights, freedoms and liberties—as its legitimating principle. If the burgeoning bourgeois society of the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century was able to keep this tendency in check for a period, it’s clear that the social conditions that permitted this have long since expired with the closing of the period of capitalist ascendancy and the development of a universal tendency towards state capitalism.  

If the bourgeoisie, or this or that faction thereof, has seen fit at times to attempt to restrain the natural growth tendencies of the state, it has only been in order to secure its own class interests, as when the eighteenth century US bourgeoisie established liberal democracy as a remedy against the British parliamentary-monarchial state’s tendency to obstruct the development of the (sub) national capital with arbitrary laws that imposed unrepresentative taxation, excises, customs, tariffs, etc.

The Cult of the Hero Whistleblower

In the weeks since the emergence of these revelations, the media’s attention has quickly turned away from any substantive discussion of the surveillance programs towards a personality study of the self-professed leaker/whistleblower. Depending on whose talking, Snowden has been portrayed as either a brave hero, willing to risk his personal safety to alert the public to this egregious government overreach, or a devious villain who has damaged national security in order to aggrandize his already oversized ego.

In all likelihood, there is some truth to the criticisms of Snowden.  In his video interview with the Guardian, he does appear to have a vastly over-inflated image of himself as a martyr before the fact. It also appears likely that at least some of his claims about what he had the ability to do in his position with the NSA are overstated. Nevertheless, it is clear that whatever his exaggerations, Snowden’s reports have struck a nerve with the US state, indicating that the capabilities of these surveillance programs may be even more extensive than has been yet been revealed. In fact, the Guardian reporter who first broke the story, Glenn Greenwald, has promised more disturbing revelations to come.[9]

For all those who continue to believe in the promise of civil liberties, Snowden has become the celebrity hero du jour. He has assumed the mantle of Julian Assange, the embattled Wikileaks founder, as the international symbol of resistance to government secrecy and defender of democratic civil rights and freedom of information.[10]  So what about these claims? Does the fact that the state’s violation of its own legal principles CAN eventually be brought to light by a whistleblower mean that democracy is capable of being saved? Can the state be won back for the democratic project?

We don’t think so. First, one would be forced to admit that the emergence of these leaks resulted not from the system working as it was supposed to (through transparency, accountability, and the democratic citizenry holding state power in check, etc.), but through a breakdown in the system of state secrecy and security. It was the failure of the security state that brought this information to light, not the triumph of the democratic citizenry through its elected representatives. While this may prove that even this behemoth state is not without its cracks, it should do little to assuage us that the democratic system can function according to the myths we are taught in school.

While the release of this information, just like Wikileaks’ previous release of secret diplomatic cables, may have caught the state with its pants down and may have embarrassed the Obama administration, there is no indication that the state is going to stop these activities anytime soon. All indications are that these programs, and whatever else they are doing that nobody knows about yet, will continue in earnest. The surveillance state is here to stay, regardless of what the public thinks about it. What better evidence is there than the fact that previous revelations of warrantless wiretapping by the Bush administration did absolutely nothing to dissuade the state from actually expanding these programs, despite a change of the political party in charge in the White House?

While we certainly feel some sympathy with Mr. Snowden’s plight as he is now a fugitive from US justice, it is utterly naive to think that we can depend on leakers and whistleblowers to defend democratic rights which the state will simply ignore if it finds it necessary to do so.

On the contrary, the only protection we can have against the ominous expansion of the surveillance state is to tear down the decomposing capitalist society upon which its foundations rest. The only way this will happen is for the international working class to develop its own autonomous struggle to defend its living and working conditions against the constant attacks capital will be forced to launch against them. Once this struggle reaches a certain level of development, the proletariat will inevitably be brought into direct conflict with the many tentacles of the capitalist surveillance state. The technologies revealed by Snowden, and undoubtedly many others we simply don’t know about, will most certainly be used against the working class, in particular its revolutionary minorities, as this struggle moves forward. The best we can do is to remain aware that we will have to confront them.  However, we cannot defeat them by hoping for the revival of a democratic state, which was never entirely real to begin with, and whose time has long passed.





[1] Is this perhaps part of the reason why, after years of quiet on the issue, Obama has come out in support of gay marriage? Is he attempting to shore up his left flank?

[2] The state would likely argue that the FISA court warrant actually makes its activities “legal,” but it is clear that this type of non-specific sweeping warrant, lacking any basis in individualized reasonable suspicion, is exactly the type of arbitrary power that so upset the eighteenth century American bourgeoisie that it was driven to armed rebellion. Of course, at the end of the day something is “legal” if the Supreme Court says it is legal, regardless of how far its decisions may stray from the “original intent” of the so-called Founding Fathers.

[3] In one fell swoop, perhaps in a moment of unintended honesty, Maher had managed to offend practically everyone.

[4] Senator Mikulski’s home state of Maryland, supposedly one of the most progressive in the country, made its own contribution to the growth of the surveillance state when the Supreme Court recently upheld a state law allowing it to take DNA samples of all criminal defendants, even before they have been convicted, and store them in a computerized database. The intention appears to be to eventually construct a national database of DNA samples taken from anyone the police can accuse of a crime. Under the law, the DNA sample can be taken even before the defendant has been brought before a magistrate to determine if probable cause exists. The Court consoled us that the law, as it is currently written, only allows the collection of DNA for “serious crimes.” Of course, it is common practice for the police to charge a defendant with the most serious offense they can plausibly connect to the underlying act even if there is no intention to prosecute it.

“[5] The concept of a “wild zone” of sovereign power beyond any democratic control comes from political theorist Susan Buck-Morss. See her Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press) 2000.

[6] Of course the revelations of the existence of COINTELPRO were followed by the Church Commission investigation into these activities—a desperate attempt to revive the image of the state in the eyes of an increasingly alienated public in the aftermath of Watergate. It remains to be seen if the current US bourgeoisie can muster such an effort in response to Snowden’s revelations. Given the state of political discord in Washington, one is tempted to think not.

[7] “Deep Structures of the State” is a concept dear to the academic wing of the 9/11 Truth Movement. See the work of Paul Zarembka.

[8] Just weeks before the public became aware of the NSA’s spying activities, the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon vs. Wainwright to grant the right to counsel to indigent defendants passed mostly without ceremony. Those media outlets that did cover it, such as NPR, generally featured stories about how most states have spent the last half century ignoring the ruling and providing only symbolic access to public defenders who so lack resources that the best they can do for their clients, even the innocent ones, is to secure a plea deal. According to many who work in the field, the so-called system of “meet ‘em and plead ‘em” has effectively destroyed the right to counsel in the country and the right to a jury trial along with it.

[9] Greenwald’s story is itself interesting. An American by birth working for a British newspaper, some elements of the US bourgeoisie have called for Greenwald’s prosecution for aiding and abetting Snowden’s “espionage.”

[10] For the ICC’s analysis of Wikileaks see: Wikileaks Scandal Reinforces Myth of Bourgeois Democracy at  



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