NSA Snooping The War on Terror Is America's Mania

The NSA spying scandal shows that America's pursuit of terrorists has turned into a mania. Spying on citizens is as monstrous and unlawful as Guantanamo Bay and drone warfare. The German government's response has been woefully weak.

Eleven and a half years later, Guantanamo Bay detention camp is still up and running.
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Eleven and a half years later, Guantanamo Bay detention camp is still up and running.

A Commentary By

America is sick. September 11 left it wounded and unsettled -- that's been obvious for nearly 12 years -- but we are only now finding out just how grave the illness really is. The actions of the NSA exposed more than just the telephone conversations and digital lives of many millions of people. The global spying scandal shows that the US has become manic, that it is behaving pathologically, invasively. Its actions are entirely out of proportion to the danger.

Since 2005, an average of 23 Americans per year have been killed through terrorism, mostly outside of the US. "More Americans die of falling televisions and other appliances than from terrorism," writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, and "15 times as many die by falling off ladders." The US has spent $8 trillion on the military and homeland security since 2001.

America has other threats. The true short-term danger is homegrown: More than 30,000 Americans are killed by firearms every year. An American child is 13 times more likely to be shot than a child in another industrialized country. When it comes to combating the problem, President Barack Obama and Congress are doing very little -- or, to be fair, nothing at all. They talk about it every now and then, after every killing spree. The gun lobby, incurably ill, counters that the weapons are necessary for self-defense.

And when it comes to real long-term dangers, such as climate change, America, its prime perpetrator, does nothing -- or, to be fair, too little too late.

As Monstrous as Guantanamo

All of this is not to say that terrorism doesn't exist: 9/11 happened, and al Qaida is real. But spying on citizens and embassies, on businesses and allies, violates international law. It is as monstrous and as unlawful as Guantanamo Bay, where for 11 and a half years, men have been detained and force-fed, often without evidence against them, many of whom are still there to this day. It is as unlawful as the drones that are killing people, launched with a mere signature from Obama.

There has been virtually no political discussion about all of this. Attacks have been prevented through the spying program -- Obama says it, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it, and we have to believe them. Voters and citizens are akin to children, whose parents -- the government -- know what is best for them. But does the free America that should be defended even still exist, or has it abolished itself through its own defense?

An American government that gives its blessing to a program like Prism respects nothing and no one. It acts out its omnipotence, considers itself above international law -- certainly on its own territory and even on foreign ground. The fact that it's Obama behaving in such a way is bleak. If this were happening during the administration of George W. Bush, we could at least think, "It's just Bush. He's predictable. There is a better America." Now we know: There is only one America. Did Obama, the Harvard Law student, even believe what he was saying in his speeches about the return of civil liberties? Can someone be so cynical that they promise to heal the world, then act in such a way all the while giving the xenophobic explanation that only foreigners would be monitored? Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are Obama's role models. What would they say?

The Stasi Comparison Stands

The German government has shown devastating weakness. Merkel should say, "You are manic, and what you are doing is sick." That's what friends do. Instead she weighs every word to avoid annoying the Americans. She said that a comparison between the NSA and the Stasi is inappropriate, but she's wrong. A comparison doesn't require that two things be identical. The Stasi destroyed families, the NSA probably not. But the use of technology, the careful nurturing of the image of the enemy, the obsessive collection of data, the belief of being on the right side, the good side: Is there really no resemblance?

Angela Merkel promised to defend the German people from harm. To have your phone wiretapped and accept the fact that every one of your emails could be monitored -- the violation of the private sphere -- that qualifies as harm.

Every voter knows that realpolitik can be ugly, because politics require the balancing of many considerations. The decisive question is: What greater good justifies this breach of law by the US and the cooperation of German agencies? It is time for answers.


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spon-facebook-10000061525 07/16/2013
1. optional
We know that the Americans have popularized and globalized mass production, now we can credit them with the globalization of industrial scale mass surveillance. It is most shocking that there is no sign of repent, no public withdrawal of Prism. They defiantly continue to tap into the world's data pipes, knowing that there is little that the world can or will do to stop them
greanknight 07/16/2013
2. Explain it to Americans in terms they can understand
Sadly most Americans best understand things explained to them in terms of their own self interest. (Canadians are the same. Perhaps the people of many other nations are too.) The NSA budget is estimated at over $10,000,000,000. The total US intelligence budget is estimated at over $75,000,000,000. A figure senior government workers often quietly and internally use to decide if building standard or government expenditure is worth the cost for life-safety is $2,000,000 per life saved. So if the NSA budget were applied to things like improving roads it would save 5,000 American lives. The entire US intelligence budget costs 35,000 American lives. You can add to this the cost in human life to generate $75 billion in tax revenue. That number must be out there somewhere, maybe workplace fatalities per GDP? Of course intelligence spending cannot be reduced to zero or the nation would be taken over by adversaries -- but these numbers show that there IS a cost in American lives to having this gross fixation on terrorism The war on terrorism itself costs lives. The war on terrorism is costing more American lives than terrorism costs.
KhanneaSuntzu 07/16/2013
3. Good heavens, Der Spiegel can NOT be this naive!!
The Roman empire took centuries to develop pathologies and centuries to collapse as a result. In this hyper-accelerated age of information industrialization this trend proceeds in decades, and the vulnerable party is our "big schoolyard bully" empire The United States. There are numerous causators and reasons why the US is very close to an acutely painful and terminal decline and what is happening in the US has absolutely nothing to do with such superficial figleafs such as "terrorism". The US is militarizing for one reason alone, and that is - vastly reduced standard of living. It is a proactive renegotiation of collective national affluence - and the people holding the biggest guns will have the best barter chips. Face it, once this party ends the US will face a process very similar to a revolution, as people have to contend with USSR collapse conditions. It will be a miserable world wide crisis (and we in Europe will suffer immensely) but in the US it will be far far worse - blood will run down the streets. The world's leaders realize this quite well. That Der Spiegel doesn't swallow this bitter medicine and keeps stuck in last milleniums hollywood script paradigm of The Terrorists! is laughable.
grobin5073 07/16/2013
Perhaps a good context for the discussion of America's mania would be that the threat of terrorism is good for business. America, foremost amongst the other capitalist countries, is all about pursuing profit to the exclusion of everything else. Everything is for sale in America. That is why our health care system is more expensive but less effective than in other parts of the world. It's also why America, during my lifetime, has needed some sort of "straw man" to rail against. It is good for business. I can remember "the Red Scare," when we were indoctrinated with the fear that communists inhabited every facet of our culture and government. This engendered and gave purpose to the clandestine agencies that exist today, and fueled the technical companies to supply equipment such as surveillance devices, all at enormous profit. Then we had "the Cold War," which gave us the rationale to massively build up our defenses in order to prepare and respond to an "imminent nuclear attack." Again, companies who supplied the materiel to combat this "War" profited handsomely. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, we needed another "enemy" of sufficiently formidable stature to justify the continued output of companies that depend on a state of fear and insecurity for profit. Enter the terrorist - an almost perfect enemy, because the terrorist and terrorism is a rather nefarious and elusive enemy to combat. "They" can be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. This new enemy is not affected by the collapse of government, as was the former USSR; therefore, regardless of the state of the underlying political structure, this enemy can continue to thrive. And so can the companies who manufacture products to fight terrorism. As a consequence, our government considers it a small and not altogether lamentable sacrifice that America's citizens sacrifice liberty and privacy for the robust profits to be made now and in the future. The irony of it all is that these actions are not taken with the objective of eliminating the threat, but of perpetuating it, because if it were to go away, the companies that manufacture products contingent on the threat would go out of business. The only thing that gets eliminated effectively are the civil liberties of this country's citizens. And if any country objects to its citizens being treated the same way by the USA, our selfish pursuit of dollars obliges us to conveniently ignore those objections.
tcr2811.tracy 07/16/2013
5. As an American...
I have to say, we as the general population, are under attack from our elite class. They've bought out the government and work only to their own ends. We, the People, are not happy about this situation at all. I'm feeling we'd be better off without a federal government and just let the states take care of themselves in a new union. I'm ashamed of my government and do not stand by their actions.
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