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Government Surveillance

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Imagine this scenario: you’ve occupied an office for eight years and now you’re about to move out. You know who's going to move in and, by reputation, he’s a fellow with a minimal ability to control himself who might conceivably be a danger to others. So here’s one thing you undoubtedly wouldn’t do: leave a... Read More
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1% Elections, The Privatization of the State, a Fourth Branch of Government, and the Demobilization of "We the People"
Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new... Read More
The Tao of Washington
When it comes to the national security state, our capital has become a thought-free zone. The airlessness of the place, the unwillingness of leading players in the corridors of power to explore new ways of approaching crucial problems is right there in plain sight, yet remarkably unnoticed. Consider this the Tao of Washington. Last week,... Read More
Let me tell you my modest post-9/11 dream. One morning, I'll wake up and see a newspaper article that begins something like this: "The FBI is attempting to persuade an obscure regulatory body in Washington to change its rules of engagement in order to curtail the agency's significant powers to hack into and carry out... Read More
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A TomDispatch Interview With Laura Poitras
Here’s a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! stat from our new age of national security. How many Americans have security clearances? The answer: 5.1 million, a figure that reflects the explosive growth of the national security state in the post-9/11 era. Imagine the kind of system needed just to vet that many people for access... Read More
How American Intelligence Works in the Twenty-First Century
What are the odds? You put about $68 billion annually into a maze of 17 major intelligence outfits. You build them glorious headquarters. You create a global surveillance state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their communications in staggering quantities. Your employees even morph into avatars and enter video-game landscapes,... Read More
The Rise to Power of the National Security State
As every schoolchild knows, there are three check-and-balance branches of the U.S. government: the executive, Congress, and the judiciary. That’s bedrock Americanism and the most basic high school civics material. Only one problem: it’s just not so. During the Cold War years and far more strikingly in the twenty-first century, the U.S. government has evolved.... Read More
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The Empire as Basket Case
For America’s national security state, this is the age of impunity. Nothing it does -- torture, kidnapping, assassination, illegal surveillance, you name it -- will ever be brought to court. For none of its beyond-the-boundaries acts will anyone be held accountable. The only crimes that can now be committed in official Washington are by those... Read More
It goes without saying that the honchos of the national security state weren’t exactly happy with Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations. Still, over the last year, the comments of such figures, politicians associated with them, and retirees from their world clearly channeling their feelings have had a striking quality: over-the-top vituperation. About the nicest thing anyone... Read More
When it comes to spying, surveillance, and privacy, a simple rule applies to our world: however bad you think it is, it’s worse. Thanks to Edward Snowden, we’ve learned an enormous amount about the global surveillance regime that one of America’s 17 intelligence outfits has created to suck into its maw (and its storage facilities)... Read More
Surveilling the Class of 2014
Internet Class of 2014, I’m in awe of you! To this giant, darkened auditorium filled with sparkling screens of every sort, welcome! It would, of course, be inaccurate to say, as speakers like me once did, that after four years of effort and experience you are now about to leave the hallowed halls of this... Read More
Make no mistake: it’s been the year of Edward Snowden. Not since Daniel Ellsberg leaked thePentagon Papers during the Vietnam War has a trove of documents revealing the inner workings and thinking of the U.S. government so changed the conversation. In Ellsberg’s case, that conversation was transformed only in the United States. Snowden has changed... Read More
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Why Kidnapping, Torture, Assassination, and Perjury Are No Longer Crimes in Washington
How the mighty have fallen. Once known as “Obama’s favorite general,” James Cartwright will soon don a prison uniform and, thanks to a plea deal, spend 13 months behind bars. Involved in setting up the earliest military cyberforce inside U.S. Strategic Command, which he led from 2004 to 2007, Cartwright also played a role in... Read More
Here’s what the president said back in June 2013, while reassuring the American people about the National Security Agency’s collection of their phone metadata: “When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program’s about. As was indicated, what the intelligence community is doing is looking at... Read More
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Old Scripts and Empty Stories Signal a New Age
Isn’t there something strangely reassuring when your eyeballs are gripped by a “mystery” on the news that has no greater meaning and yet sweeps all else away? This, of course, is the essence of the ongoing tale of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Except to the relatives of those on board, it never... Read More
Twice in my life -- in the 1960s and the post-9/11 years -- I was suddenly aware of clicks and other strange noises on my phone. In both periods, I’ve wondered what the story was, and then made self-conscious jokes with whoever was on the other end of the line about those who might (or... Read More
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How a Thug State Operates
Here, at least, is a place to start: intelligence officials have weighed in with an estimate of just how many secret files National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden took with him when he headed for Hong Kong last June. Brace yourself: 1.7 million. At least they claim that as the number he or his web... Read More
The question Senator Ron Wyden asked on March 12th of last year was straightforward enough and no surprise for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. He had been given it a day in advance of his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee and after he was done, Senator Wyden and his staff offered him a... Read More
Spying has a history almost as ancient as humanity itself, but every now and then the rules of the game change. This post-9/11 moment of surveillance is one of those game-changers and the National Security Agency (NSA) has been the deal-breaker and rule-maker. The new rules it brought into existence are simple enough: you --... Read More
A new book, as well as the first account written by a participant, remind us that, in the world of the national security state, when it comes to pure and simple illegality in the monitoring of, spying on, and surveillance of American citizens, there really is nothing new under the sun. In a late-night break-in... Read More
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The New Fundamentalists
In a 1950s civics textbook of mine, I can remember a Martian landing on Main Street, U.S.A., to be instructed in the glories of our political system. You know, our tripartite government, checks and balances, miraculous set of rights, and vibrant democracy. There was, Americans then thought, much to be proud of, and so for... Read More
Once upon a time, you might have said that someone “disappeared.” But in the 1970s in Argentina, Chile, and elsewhere, that verb grew eerily more active in its passive form. He or she no longer “disappeared,” but “was disappeared” -- up to 30,000 Argentineans by their own military in the course of an internal struggle... Read More
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In a World Without Privacy, There Are No Exemptions for Our Spies
Given how similar they sound and how easy it is to imagine one leading to the other, confusing omniscience (having total knowledge) with omnipotence (having total power) is easy enough. It’s a reasonable supposition that, before the Snowden revelations hit, America’s spymasters had made just that mistake. If the drip-drip-drip of Snowden’s mother of all... Read More
If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium -- the title of a 1969 romantic comedy -- could now fit two intertwined phenomena: the madcap global travels of Secretary of State John Kerry and the nonstop journey of the latest revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. In mid-August, there was Kerry in Brazil, lamely... Read More
Letters to Colonel Manners (Ret.)
[Editor’s Note: In the sequester and government-shutdown era, the classic military newspaper Stars and Stripes is facing some of the problems of its civilian brethren and sodownsizing its print edition. Among the features to go: Dear Abby. As it happens, TomDispatch is ready to step into the breach. We’ve called on an old and knowledgeable... Read More
Sometimes, the world sends you back to school. These last months have offered us a crash course -- call it Surveillance 101 -- in how Washington, enveloped in a penumbra of extreme secrecy, went to work creating a global surveillance state on a scale almost beyond the imagination. It was certainly beyond the imaginations, not... Read More
In the U.S. these days, privacy is so been-there-done-that. Just this week, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret outfit that hears only the government side of any argument and has generally been a rubberstamp for surveillance requests, declassified an opinion backing the full-scale collection and retention of the phone records (“metadata”) of American citizens.... Read More
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How the Security State’s Mania for Secrecy Will Create You
Dear Whistleblower, I don’t know who you are or what you do or how old you may be. I just know that you exist somewhere in our future as surely as does tomorrow or next year. You may be young and computer-savvy or a career federal employee well along in years. You might be someone... Read More
Tom Engelhardt
About Tom Engelhardt

Tom Engelhardt created and runs the Tomdispatch.com website, a project of The Nation Institute where he is a Fellow. He is the author of a highly praised history of American triumphalism in the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, and of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing, as well as a collection of his Tomdispatch interviews, Mission Unaccomplished. Each spring he is a Teaching Fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Tomdispatch.com is the sideline that ate his life. Before that he worked as an editor at Pacific News Service in the early 1970s, and, these last three decades, as an editor in book publishing. For 15 years, he was Senior Editor at Pantheon Books where he edited and published award-winning works ranging from Art Spiegelman's Maus and John Dower's War Without Mercy to Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy. He is now Consulting Editor at Metropolitan Books, as well as co-founder and co-editor of Metropolitan's The American Empire Project. Many of the authors whose books he has edited and published over the years now write for Tomdispatch.com. He is married to Nancy J. Garrity, a therapist, and has two children, Maggie and Will.

His new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books), has just been published.


Personal Classics
Eight Exceptional(ly Dumb) American Achievements of the Twenty-First CenturyEight Exceptional(ly Dumb) American Achievements of the Twenty-First Century
How the Security State’s Mania for Secrecy Will Create YouHow the Security State’s Mania for Secrecy Will Create You
Delusional Thinking in the Age of the Single SuperpowerDelusional Thinking in the Age of the Single Superpower