You know it is the end of the year when a Reuters writer tries (and fails) to quote Chomsky in an article about the secret security services. End of year editing is lax.
There has been a swath of opinion pieces and state-sponsored propaganda promoting the security services recently. The promotion of these agencies is nothing new, but along with an uptick of militarism around the world, it is something to be wary of. Even Germany and Japan are on a military propaganda binge as they seek to convince their populations that they can be trusted and that their excesses in state violence of the past is not relevant today.
The intelligence and security services have been through hard years in the press. They have lost the trust of the public – if they ever had it – through being exposed for all the things we are not surprised that they do. From promoting bad intelligence to starting wars, torturing prisoners, rendition to black sites, unnecessary mass surveillance, to the violent acts against peaceful protesters. Only true believers on the right-wing can really think that these state services are really on the side of the people.
This is a problem for the state, especially since security services are receiving huge and increasing amounts of public money to do their work.
The Reuters journalist’s poor quote of Chomsky was about how security services are often used as the “other” when talking about the bad things the state does to protect powerful entrenched interests. “Oh, those sneaky nasty things ‘they’ do,” say officials as if they were not ordered to do those things or as if they were some rogue element outside of state power. Nothing could be farther from the truth, of course, since the security services are a direct extension of State.
State propaganda is sophisticated. To a point that we do not even call it “propaganda” any more. Narratives glorifying soldiers of war, spies, and good cops defending the poor and innocent from external threats are everywhere in Western media. All celebrating the moral individual fighting an immoral other. Or, the take down of a rogue by a broken system of good people.
Depending on the demographic they target, they will change their form. Movies, books, opinion articles in papers read by the highly educated, and speeches in ornate social settings of the elite. It is back in fashion to discuss the needs of security services to do those nasty things that we are told no one wants to acknowledge but are needed to secure civilization. The narrative of security is the fall-back for the apologist because it is partly true – obviously, there are people out there trying to do harm.
Unfortunately, like the war on drugs, stopping harm is not what the violent arms of state power are mostly about. Society knows how to deal with the causes of crime, violence, addictive drugs, and bad people. Some states around the world are able to reduce these things without resorting to expensive violence through putting that money into addressing those causes.
As socialists, we must understand that the role of security services, their relation to the elite’s interests, and their activities against legitimate protest to drive an informed conversation about the resources going into the services. And to combat the misunderstand that to have security you must have violent state power. It is this understanding that allows us to see through the propaganda that denounces true independence struggles, liberation movements, and those who seek social justice.