Thursday, April 16, 2015

Spying and Lying in the Global Village

War is a social and cultural form, the content of which is always the enemy. 

This information-content is conveyed through both the private and public domains. 

Publicly, the enemy is the subject of propaganda. When not conveyed in outright lies, propaganda aims to conceal the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the enemy, in order to galvanize public opinion against them.

The private realm of the enemy as the content of war, is found in espionage

“Spy” comes from the same root as “spectator”, and the whole point of spying during (or in preparation for) war, is to acquire information-content that is considered so crucial, so as to be more decisive than the most lopsided battlefield victory. 

Generally, this requires the spy to play a role, his quarry becoming, unawares, part of the fiction. Espionage is intended to reveal the private functions of an opponent state, just as war seeks to make the private property of the enemy - the territory which makes it a “state” - into one’s own. 

This reality is made most evident with industrial espionage, when a firm uses spies to steal trade secrets and information from a competitor. 

As this crucial transmission of data must itself remain secret, in order for the “drama” to proceed as per the plot, espionage makes the private sphere of the public (the state) part of an opponent “house.” 

But the story is never that simple. In anticipation of being spied upon, proprietors of one state or private firm, at odds or at war with another, will create their own fiction as a means of misleading and deceiving the enemy. 

The double-agent, in this play, creates a drama in which his own paymasters, and not the enemy, become the unwitting performers. 

The narrative of espionage produces content that is always uncertain, incomplete and unreliable. 

Espionage, as one of the arts of war, provides an interesting counterpoint to propaganda. The latter is by definition, public, and aims to fictionalize the nature of the enemy.

Spying must be private, both in its conduct, and in knowledge it produces. But it is determined to clarify the true nature of the enemy. 

Of course, spying by the modern state isn't restricted to foreign enemies. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and other countries engaged in widespread internal spying. 

It is estimated that more than half of the population of the former (East) German Democratic Republic, were informers for the Stasi secret police. 

In Western democracies during the same period, governments also spied on their citizens. 

According to historian Alex Hortis, the longtime director of Federal Bureau of Investigation in the U.S., John Edgar Hoover

...turned the FBI into more of an internal security ministry than a law enforcement agency. He poured resources into counterintelligence indiscriminately, and he dangerously blurred the line between actual enemies of the state and political dissidents. These remained the FBI's top targets through the 1950s, even after the CPUSA had been decimated.48 Hoover had FBI agents assembling dossiers on teachers. "The bureau was sending raw and confidential 'file material on the suspected Communist activities of teachers to local school boards throughout the country:' said Attorney General Herbert Brownell, who stopped the practice.  Hoover's tunnel vision came at a cost to other FBI functions. Even after anti-communists like Robert F. Kennedy and Senator John McClellan had expanded their attention to organized crime and racketeering in the 1950s, Hoover continued to obsess about the remnants of the CPUSA. As late as 1959, the FBI's New York field office had only 10 agents assigned to organized crime compared to over 140 agents pursuing a dwindling population of Communists. (C. Alexander Hortis, The Mob and the City, Prometheus Books, 2014, p. 217)

In recent years, it has become public knowledge that the U.S. National Security Agency – and similar organizations in other Western countries, such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service have been massively spying on the email and other Internet communications of the citizenry. 

The American Edward Snowden blew the whistle on these massive invasions of the privacy of individual practically all citizens, the vast majority of whom couldn't be guilty of any terrorism related offences. 

In essence, intelligence services in the Occident have come to view the citizens whom they are supposed to be serving, as the enemy (at least potentially). The private lives of everyone has become the content of today’s information/intelligence.

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