Drones, warfare and the erosion of democracy

Imagine living in a police state, where all citizens are subject to constant surveillance. Information is gathered about the people of that state by an enormous intelligence apparatus, part of a police-state infrastructure. Informers routinely collect information about the political activities and working lives of the citizens, and this information is stored in enormous databases where government officials can access that information with impunity. The citizens have no legal recourse, and they can be surveilled, arrested and held without charge or trial indefinitely. That scenario sounds like something out of Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

In my previous article, I examined the increasing reliance on the use of drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, for the purpose of intelligence-gathering and warfare.

The US military and aviation authorities recently revealed plans to deploy 30 000 drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), in the United States itself. Working out of US military bases, the drones will be able to gather information on citizens by using facial recognition software, thermal imaging and other sensor technology. This domestic surveillance, authorised by the National Defence Authorisation Act (2012), will integrate with the capabilities of law enforcement agencies with regards to intelligence-gathering, but also will become weaponised. Some of the UAVs, no larger than an insect, will be able to enter homes and collect information undetected. Military and domestic surveillance is becoming combined into one huge police-state apparatus the likes of which dictators like Hitler could only dream.

Northrop Grumman is one of the major companies involved in UAV research and development. Investing billions of dollars, is the fourth largest weapons manufacturer in the world. The company has excellent relations with the US Congress, and Northrop made $2.12 billion in profits last year. This company typifies the merging of political and corporate power – actually the privatisation of political power, where the political and economic elites seamlessly integrate into one overarching class.

This creeping and massive expansion of UAV technology, and its deployment against US citizens, is being carried out by the Obama administration. Deploying drones in the United States is consistent with the increasing militarisation of American society, and follows on from the use of UAV technology in US wars overseas. Drones have been used to kill civilians in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and other countries where the US ruling class has a strategic interest. Indeed, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, recently made a report attacking the use of drone warfare as a violation of 50 years of international law. Christof Heyns, the special rapporteur, suggested that the United States’ drone warfare would only encourage other regimes to pursue lawless behaviour, violating long-established human rights standards. The Chinese and Russian governments issued a statement to the UN Human Rights Council denouncing the criminality of drone strikes.

The increasing deployment of drones has been carried out with hardly any debate in the US Congress, the supposed citadel of democratic republican government. Democratic protections that go back centuries, such as habeas corpus, are being steadily eroded. In purely legal terms, the US president can now order the assassination of any US citizen he deems to be a security threat. Such power was used by Obama in the targeted killing of US-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was never charged with any crime, and never given the opportunity to defend himself, whatever repugnant views he may have held.

The US ruling elite and its media outlets, like the New York Times, made much of the fact that Awlaki preached an extremist, hateful brand of Islam. If preaching hateful religious rhetoric is an offense punishable by death, one wonders why Obama has not dealt with other vitriolic religious demagogues in the United States, whose homophobic and hate-filled rants reach millions of listeners –  like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Junior, Jim Bakker, John Haggee and Jimmy Swaggart in similarly stern fashion.

In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, the ruling elites in the United States made a tactical shift in their war plans. The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld method of warfare, involving direct military intervention, was no longer practical given the strength of domestic and international opposition. The US oligarchy was shaken by the serious economic crisis, and its political authority was undermined worldwide. It sought ways to compensate for its decline on the international stage.

Increasingly militarising the society, eroding basic living standards and civil liberties is the option taken by the financial aristocracy and its political organs, the main US political parties. The US has launched predatory wars of expansion in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries to try and compensate for its perilous economic position. Obama has continued, even intensified, the attacks on democratic rights begun under his predecessor.

The US ruling class is eroding democratic rights amid the widening growth of social inequality. In 2010, the incomes of the top one percent of US households increased, corporate profits have soared, while the growth of the poor and the immiseration of increasing numbers of Americans has accelerated.

For the top one percent of American households, the year from 2009 to 2010 saw their average income increase by 12 percent, and this has occurred in the wake of the deepest and most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. For the ninety-nine percent, the current period has meant job layoffs, cutbacks to services and attacks on living standards. The US Census Bureau released figures back in 2010 showing that social inequality has reached a record high, and the vast accumulation of wealth by a tiny minority while millions of Americans experience worsening economic conditions. The ‘American Dream’ is contracting, with the average net worth of American families dropping by 40 percent between 2007 and 2010. But there is one segment of the population doing well, as the article from Yahoo Finance news reports;

As average families become poorer, rich Americans are growing richer. The Fed survey showed the wealthiest 10% of families actually saw their net worth rise from 2007 to 2010. Over that time period, their net worth increased from $1.17 million to $1.19 million.

The quote can be found here.

In the film Johnny English Reborn, Rowan Atkinson plays a woefully inept British secret service agent. The film is a parody of the James Bond, British espionage genre of films. The sequel to Johnny English, Atkinson’s character is recalled to MI7, an obvious satire on the English secret service. Atkinson enters the London Headquarters of the intelligence agency to be confronted by a highly modernised, computerised reception area. The MI7 has been taken over by a private company, and is now named “Toshiba British Intelligence”. The large reception area is replete with computerised directions, and the receptionists are speaking in the bland, telephone-speak of modern corporations – “for our electronic products, press one; to speak to a secret agent, press two.” The film is a satire, but like all comedies, contains an element of truth. Can intelligence services and the coercive apparatuses of the state be taken over by private companies?

There is the old saying, “life imitates art”. With that in mind, the Guardian newspaper reported earlier in June that the head of G4S, a large multinational security solutions firm, predicted that in five years time, large portions of the English police will be completely privatised. The head of the company’s operations in the United Kingdom stated that his organisation, G4S, will take over the functions of the state-run police force. There are already such arrangements in place in parts of England, with outsourcing deals being considered by various police stations across the UK. G4S is already providing the bulk of security for the London Olympics. Lincolnshire police station has already outsourced its operation to G4S. While the English Home Office denied that the police force was being privatised, the G4S corporation was pushing in that direction.

Confronted with this situation, the working class, the 99 percent, has no alternative but to fight back. Groups such as Occupy Wall Street, and its offshoots around the world, offer an alternative to the corporate control of our lives. The poor, the unemployed and underemployed, have to help themselves. The main political parties have become morally and political bankrupt, offering nothing except even more decrepitude. An alternative is not only possible, it is practical.