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Engelhardt writes: "Perhaps nothing changed more than the American national security state, which, spurred on by 9/11 and the open congressional purse strings that followed, grew in ways that would have been alien even at the height of the Cold War."

Surveillance cameras are only one part of the growing collection of surveillance technology being implemented in the US. (photo: Kodda/
Surveillance cameras are only one part of the growing collection of surveillance technology being implemented in the US. (photo: Kodda/

The Dictionary of the Global War on You

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

03 July 13


n the months after September 11, 2001, it was regularly said that "everything" had changed. It's a claim long forgotten, buried in everyday American life. Still, if you think about it, in the decade-plus that followed - the years of the PATRIOT Act, "enhanced interrogation techniques," "black sites," robot assassination campaigns, extraordinary renditions, the Abu Ghraib photos, the Global War on Terror, and the first cyberwar in history - much did change in ways that should still stun us. Perhaps nothing changed more than the American national security state, which, spurred on by 9/11 and the open congressional purse strings that followed, grew in ways that would have been alien even at the height of the Cold War, when there was another giant, nuclear-armed imperial power on planet Earth.

Unfortunately, the language we use to describe the world of the national security state is still largely stuck in the pre-9/11 era. No wonder, for example, it's hard to begin to grasp the staggering size and changing nature of the world of secret surveillance that Edward Snowden's recent revelations have allowed us a peek at. If there are no words available to capture the world that is watching us, all of us, we've got a problem.

In ancient China, when a new dynasty came to power, it would perform a ceremony called "the rectification of names." The idea was that the previous dynasty had, in part, fallen because a gap, a chasm, an abyss, had opened between reality and the names available to describe it. Consider this dispatch, then, a first attempt to "rectify" American names in the era of the ascendant national - morphing into global - security state.

Creating a new dictionary of terms is, of course, an awesome undertaking. From the moment work began, it famously took 71 years for the full 10-volume Oxford English Dictionary to first appear! So we at TomDispatch expect to be at work on our new project for years to come. Here, however, is an initial glimpse at a modest selection of our newly rectified definitions.

The Dictionary of the Global War on You

Secret: Anything of yours the government takes possession of and classifies.

Classification: The process of declaring just about any document produced by any branch of the U.S. government - 92 million of them in 2011 - unfit for unclassified eyes. (This term may, in the near future, be retired once no documents produced within, or captured by, the government and its intelligence agencies can be seen or read by anyone not given special clearance.)

Surveillance: Here's looking at you, kid.

Whistleblower: A homegrown terrorist.

Leak: Information homegrown terrorists slip to journalists to undermine the American way of life and aid and abet the enemy. A recent example would be the National Security Agency (NSA) documents Booz Allen employee Edward Snowden leaked to the media. According to two unnamed U.S. intelligence officials speaking to the Associated Press, "[M]embers of virtually every terrorist group, including core al-Qaida, are attempting to change how they communicate, based on what they are reading in the media [of Snowden's revelations], to hide from U.S. surveillance." A clarification: two anonymous intelligence officials communicating obviously secret material to AP reporter Kimberly Dozier does not qualify as a "leak," but as necessary information for Americans to absorb. In addition, those officials undoubtedly had further secret intelligence indicating that their information, unlike Snowden's, would be read only by Americans and ignored by al-Qaeda-style terrorists who will not change their actions based on it. As a result, this cannot qualify as aiding or abetting the enemy.

Journalist: Someone who aids and abets terrorists, traitors, defectors, and betrayers hidden within our government as they work to accomplish their grand plan to undermine the security of the country.

Source: Someone who tells a journalist what no one, other than the NSA, the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and similar outfits, should know (see "secret"). Such a source will be hunted down and prosecuted to the full extent of the law - or beyond (see "Espionage Act"). Fortunately, as Associated Press president Gary Pruitt recently pointed out, thanks to diligent government action, sources are drying up. ("Some of our longtime trusted sources have become nervous and anxious about talking to us, even on stories that aren't about national security. And in some cases, government employees that we once checked in with regularly will no longer speak to us by phone, and some are reluctant to meet in person.") Someday, they may no longer exist. When an unnamed administration official offers information privately to a journalist, however, he or she is not a source - just too humble to take credit for feeding us crucial information needed to understand the complex world we live in.

Blood: This is what leakers have on their hands. A leak, embarrassing the national security state, endangers careers (bloody enough) and, by definition, American lives. Thus, Bradley Manning, in releasing classified State Department and U.S. military documents to WikiLeaks, and Edward Snowden, in releasing NSA secrets to the Guardian, the Washington Post, the South China Morning Post, and Der Spiegel have blood on their hands. We know this because top U.S. officials have told us so. Note that it does not matter if no deaths or physical injuries can directly be traced to or attributed to their actions. This is, however, a phrase with very specific and limited application. American political and military officials who launch aggressive wars, allow torture, kidnapping, and abuse, run drone assassination programs, and the like do not have blood on their hands. It is well known that they are bloodless.

Insider Threat Program: The name of an Obama administration initiative to promote patriotism inside the government. Its goal is to encourage federal employees to become more patriotic by picking up on clues that potentially traitorous co-workers might consider leaking classified information to the enemy (see "journalist"). Government managers, again to promote love of country, are encouraged to crack down on any employees who are found not to have been patriotic enough to report their suspicions about said co-workers. (Words never to be associated with this program: informer, rat, or fink.)

Patriot: Americans are by nature "patriots." If they love their country too well like (to take but one example) former Vice President Dick Cheney, they are "super-patriots." Both of these are good things. Foreigners cannot be patriots. If they exhibit an unseemly love of country, they are "nationalists." If that love goes beyond all bounds, they are "ultra-nationalists." These are both bad things.

Espionage Act: A draconian World War I law focused on aiding and abetting the enemy in wartime that has been used more than twice as often by the Obama administration as by all previous administrations combined. Since 9/11, the United States has, of course, been eternally "at war," which makes the Act handy indeed. Whistleblowers automatically violate the Act when they bring to public's attention information Americans really shouldn't bother their pretty little heads about. It may be what an investigative reporter (call him "Glenn Greenwald") violates when he writes stories based on classified information from the national security state not leaked by the White House.

Trust: What you should have in the national security state and the president to do the right thing, no matter how much power they accrue, how many secrets of yours or anybody else's they gather, or what other temptations might exist. Americans can make mistakes, but by their nature (see "patriots"), with the exception of whistleblowers, they can never mean to do wrong (unlike the Chinese, the Russians, etc.). As the president has pointed out, "Every member of Congress has been briefed on [NSA's] telephone program and the intelligence committees have been briefed on the Internet program, with both approved and reauthorized by bipartisan committees since 2006... If people don't trust Congress and the judiciary then I think we are going to have some problems here."

Truth: The most important thing on Earth, hence generally classified. It is something that cannot be spoken by national security officials in open session before Congress without putting the American people in danger. As Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has made clear, however, any official offering such public testimony can at least endeavor to speak in "the least untruthful manner" possible; that is, in the nearest approximation of truth that remains unclassified in the post-9/11 era.

U.S. Constitution: A revered piece of paper that no one pays much actual attention to any more, especially if it interferes with American safety from terrorism.

Amendments: Retrospectively unnecessary additions to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing a series of things, some of which may now put us in peril (examples: First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Fifth Amendment "due process" clause). Fortunately, amendments turn out to be easy enough to amend within the national security state itself.

Checks and balances: No longer applicable, except to your bank statement.

The fourth branch of government: Classically, the U.S. had three branches of government (the executive, legislative, and judicial), which were to check and balance one another so that power would never become centralized in a single place unopposed. The Founding Fathers, however, were less farsighted than many give them credit for. They hadn't a clue that a fourth branch of government would arise, dedicated to the centralization of power in an atmosphere of total secrecy: the national (or today global) security state. In the post-9/11 years, it has significantly absorbed the other three branches.

FISA court: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, much strengthened since September 11, 2001, created a FISA "court" to oversee the government's covert surveillance activities. A secret "court" for the secret world of surveillance, it can, at just about any time, be convened and conducted via cell phone by the NSA or FBI. There is never a defense lawyer present, only the equivalent of a prosecution request. The search warrants that result read more like legislation by an unelected body. All national security requests for such warrants are granted. Its decisions are not made public. In its arcane rules and prosecutorial stance, it bears a greater relationship to the Inquisition courts of Medieval Europe than any other American court. Its motto might be, "guilty - there are no innocents." We have no word for what it actually is. The activity it performs is still called "judicial oversight," but "undersight" would be a more accurate description.

FISA judge: There is, in essence, nothing for a FISA judge to judge. FISA judges never rule against the wishes of the national security state. Hence, a more accurate term for this position might be "FISA rubberstamp."

Congressional oversight: When a congressional representative forgets to do something. (Historical note: this phrase once had another meaning, but since 9/11, years in which Congress never heard a wish of the national security state that it didn't grant, no one can quite remember what it was.)

National Security Agency (NSA): A top-secret spy outfit once nicknamed "No Such Agency" because its very existence was not acknowledged by the U.S. government. It is now known as "No Such Agency" because its work has been outsourced to high-priced high-school dropouts, or "No Snowden Anywhere" because it couldn't locate the world's most famous leaker.

American security (or safety): The national security state works hard to offer its citizens a guarantee of safety from the nightmare of terror attacks, which since 9/11 have harmed far more Americans than shark attacks, but not much else that is truly dangerous to the public. For this guarantee, there is, of course, a necessary price to be paid. You, the citizen and taxpayer, must fund your own safety from terrorism (to the tune of trillions of dollars heading into the national security budget) and cede rights that were previously yours. You must, for instance, allow yourself to be "seen" in myriad ways by the national security state, must allow for the possibility that you could be assassinated without "due process" to keep this country safe, and so on. This is called "striking a balance" between American liberty and security. Or as the president put it, "You can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience... We're going to have to make some choices as a society... There are trade-offs involved." By the way, in return for your pliancy, this guarantee does not extend to keeping you safe from cars, guns, cigarettes, food-borne diseases, natural disasters of any sort, and so on.

The Global War on You (GWOY): This term, not yet in the language, is designed to replace a post-9/11 Bush administration name, the Global War on Terror (GWOT), sometimes also called World War IV by neocons. GWOT was famously retired by President Obama and his top officials, turning the ongoing global war being fought on distant battlefields and in the shadows into a nameless war. That may, however, change. You are, after all, being called to the colors in a war on... you. Congratulations, son or daughter, Uncle Sam wants you (even if not in the way he used to in your grandparents' day). You, after all, are the central figure in and the key to GWOY and the basis upon which the new global security state will continue to be built. your social media marketing partner


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Founder, Reader Supported News

+7 # 666 2013-07-03 18:28
i suggest you just read the doublespeak dictionary on line...
+5 # Walter J Smith 2013-07-03 22:38
The same elected officials who give license to Monsanto and other toxix corporations to poison us and derange our gene pool is out to control every one of us who is not a major corporate campaign cash donor.

Enjoy the ride, because it is all downhill from here.
+5 # DurangoKid 2013-07-03 22:47
And what's the purpose of all this, you might well ask? Well, here it is.

1. Global oil production, regardless of what the fracking cheerleaders are telling you, is stagnating. As the supply of oil grew, so did the economy. Now we see little growth in oil supplies and the rates of depletion of new plays beyond all historical norms.

2. The era of cheap oil is over. Whether its a crisis in finance, inflation, or rising production costs, economies predicated on $20/bbl oil are in trouble.

3. Crises in oil production will precipitate social crises. Is it a mere coincidence that Egypt's oil production is in serious decline and people are in the streets? The part you don't see much press coverage of is the price of oil and food in Egypt. It's not pretty. In a few years Egypt will no longer export oil. No more oil revenue. How will they pay for all the food they import?

4. States always claim their security apparatus is for external threats. Expect that when our population gets restless it will be turned on us.

5. The strategic planners in the US have known for decades this day was coming. They've chosen to do nothing to get us off the oil habit because there is no profit in switching. So far, they've been content with different modes of demand destruction. As long as supply and demand meet, there's still a profit to be had.

6. Underneath the abstract finance economy is the real economy of energy to do work. No work, no economy.
+3 # curmudgeon 2013-07-04 00:12
All of this makes one rethink motivation and planning behind 9/11...

Especially when the rich and GW and the FBI and NSA and CIA were not concerned about all the pointers unearthed by FBI whistleblowers Rowley and Sibel Edmonds ( who by the way also had Chechen ties of Neocons)

In fact they all deterred any meaningful pursuit of clues or investigations after.

And had a 'Patriot Act ' ready!

Think about it
+4 # Milarepa 2013-07-04 01:14
Indeed, Tom, war is the new(speak) peace. Orwell is smiling happily in his heaven. The world has gone nuts. Snowden has done an Augean job, uniting South America against the US even as I write this. Obama goons are salivating in frustrated rage.
Thank you, Edward Snowden. The longer you stay free the stronger freedom becomes. As for the future, clearly it's gonna get worse - and much much better!
+4 # Peace Anonymous 2013-07-04 03:14
Follow the money! Follow the money! The people pay with our tax dollars and the lives of our children, but who profits from all of this? We pay and are being controlled. And the worst of it that many of us believe that big brother is doing this for us. Sheeple please follow the money.
+2 # cordleycoit 2013-07-04 03:23
ur tombstones will read we saw it coming and most of us(journalists and public intellectuals) did and said nothing until it was far too late...
+3 # Charles3000 2013-07-04 04:38
The 9/11 attackers did us some harm but in a broad view it was not significant damage. We have and do suffer more from car accidents, heart diseases, gun violence and natural events like floods and storms. But the real harm to our nation was not from the 9/11 attack but from the reaction of our country to those attacks. We could have recovered very quickly with minimal effort from the attack but our government's reaction to the attack has accomplished what the attacker organization could never have accomplished or perhaps never dreamed of accomplishing. That is the very sad irony of 9/11.
+2 # Arden 2013-07-05 20:26
9/11 was a crime more than an attack. An attack doesn't have the same need to be investigated as a crime does. 9/11 was never investigated properly, except by those who wondered why the right questions were never asked. And of course, some people saw thru it right away.

For me, it was an eye-opener. I had never even heard of "false flags" before 2005. It took that long before I began to learn the truth of what actually happened. Prior to that, I tried to learn all I could about Muslims, because I knew Bush's axis of evil had to be a lie.
+3 # Inspired Citizen 2013-07-04 05:34
Englehardt referenced "the ascendant national - morphing into global - security state." Let's consider what roles the U.S. has taken on.

1) Judge,
2) Jury,
3) Policemen,
4) Prison warden,
5) Prison guard,
6) Executioner.
7) Policy makers (hegemonic "legislature")

The U.S. has become a de facto world government in all but name. The idea that we could have an American Spring or Autumn that would accomplish what the Arabs are doing is laughable. The fringe elements of American political life, the libertarians, the anarchists and socialists, could peacefully deconstruct the American Empire/world gov't, but they funders of elections will make certain that the fringe elements, esp on the left, do not have a chance to attain the power necessary to have influence in the world capitol, Wash. DC.
+3 # Inspired Citizen 2013-07-04 06:42
"must allow for the possibility that you could be assassinated without "due process" to keep this country safe,"

Obama did this in Oct. of 2011. Romney never raised that impeachable offense because he probably would do the same thing.

Congress has not impeached Obama for killing Anwar al-Awlaki because most Republicans would do the same thing.

Obama should be impeached...

...but he won't be.

Republic, lost.
+2 # Milarepa 2013-07-04 08:49
Within a matter of weeks Edward Snowden has moved into an unprecedented position of power at the fulcrum of contemporary history. Far beyond any impact his unveiling of hitherto secret US documents could have been imagined to produce, his actions now profoundly affect the political balance of the world, thus the future of humanity. He is emerging as the world’s liberator from United States colonization efforts, a contemporary Simon Bolivar on a global scale.
+1 # MendoChuck 2013-07-04 11:40
Now this should have been Number One!

U.S. Constitution: A revered piece of paper that no one pays much actual attention to any more, especially if it interferes with American safety from terrorism.
+2 # mwlaird 2013-07-04 13:43
The framework for this discussion - that the current version of the surveillance state started as a result of 911 - needs to be investigated. During the Clinton years a program quite similar to PRISM existed, called ECHELON.
Have a look at this article from 15 years ago:

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