The Unaccountability of Security State Decisions

Charles Pierce makes a very chilling observation (boldface mine):

For the past two weeks, on two different fronts, we have been confronted with the unpleasant fact that there are people working in the institutions of our self-government who believe themselves not only beyond the control and sanctions of the civil power, but also beyond the control and sanctions of their direct superiors. We also have been confronted with the fact that there are too many people in our political elite who are encouraging this behavior for their own purposes, most of which are cheap and dangerous. In Washington, John Brennan, the head of the CIA, came right up to the edge of insubordination against the president who hired him in the wake of the Senate report on American torture. Meanwhile, in New York, in the aftermath of weeks of protests against the strangulation of Eric Garner by members of the New York Police Department, two patrolmen, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were murdered in their squad car by a career criminal and apparent maniac named Ismaaiyl Brinsley. In response, and at the encouragement of television hucksters like Joe Scarborough, police union blowhards like Patrick Lynch, political zombies like George Pataki, and comical fascists like Rudolph Giuliani, the NYPD is acting in open rebellion against Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, and the civil power he represents over them. This is an incredibly perilous time for democracy at the most basic levels….

It is very simple. If the CIA is insubordinate to the president, whom the country elected, then it is insubordinate to all of us. If the NYPD runs a slow-motion coup against the freely elected mayor of New York, then it is running a slow-motion coup against all the people of New York. There is no exemption from this fundamental truth about the way this country and its system is supposed to work. The military — and its civilian analogues in Langley and in the precinct houses — always is subordinate to the civil power which, no matter how much it may chafe them, means that they always are subordinate to politicians. If we render our torturers superior to the political institutions of the government, and if we render the police superior to the civil power of elected officials, then we essentially have empowered independent standing armies to conduct our wars and enforce our laws, and self-government descends into bloody farce.

After Sept. 11, 2001, there were so many security decisions that were made without any consent of the governed, and with no real input from elected officials either (the TSA is one such example). As important as stopping unjust wars abroad is, the most important fight is here at home, where security measure after security measure has been enacted, often without any meaningful redress or oversight.

When I was in Boston, one of the best moments politically was when Bostonians pushed back against security measures for the 2014 Boston Marathon. Unlike Combating Global* Terrorism, the opposition was prosaic: businesses didn’t want to lose business on the most important day of the year (for Back Bay), residents didn’t want the neighborhood to look like an armed camp, and runners thought the measures would make running the race more difficult. In response to the ridiculous installation of security cameras at the safest street corner in Boston, I wrote:

Does anyone remember when we had this debate about the “new normal”? Was it ever put to a vote or public examination by our elected officials? (If so, it certainly wasn’t reported). Maybe most of my fellow citizens of the Commonwealth and the City of Boston want this stuff. But increasing surveillance and security should not be done by unreviewed executive fiat, especially when it conflicts with our basic constitutional freedoms (i.e., freedom of assembly). I’ll posit that the MA State Police is well-intentioned, but they don’t get to erect barriers (literally and figuratively) unilaterally to our freedom of assembly (and expression). We must have a say in the “new normal”, because I have no idea when this new normal ends. Do we require five years without a bombing? Fifty? One? (In reality, it will probably cease once it gets too damn expensive).

While I’m not particularly optimistic about the public’s ability to overcome its fear (though maybe the slow passing of Generation Lead will help), this is something that needs to be decided by the people, not security agencies.

When our internal security forces do not answer to us or our elected officials, we are no longer citizens but subjects.

*Where global consists of two shitheads from Cambridge, MA.

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