State of Surveillance

ae hedgesAuthor Chris Hedges on the NDAA, domestic spying and civil resistance

This month marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which signalled the end of almost 30 years of a totalitarian society. But mass surveillance and government control have increased elsewhere since that nonviolent revolution in 1989. “The [East German] Stasi State was the most efficient security and surveillance state. Until our own,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges. “We’ve outdone anything the Stasi ever dreamed of.”

Dedicated to resisting what he calls a “corporate totalitarian state” in the U.S., Hedges remains grounded in a moral imperative and nonviolent anarchist tradition that embraces compassionate action. He will speak about these strategies in a talk titled “Defending our Civil Liberties” on Sunday, Nov. 23, at Inner Light Ministries in Santa Cruz.

The event was organized by the Romero Institute and Food Not Bombs, to generate support for declaring Santa Cruz a Constitution Protection Zone (, and raise awareness of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Hedges was lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the NDAA, which was signed into law on Dec. 31, 2011. Longtime civil rights lawyer Daniel Sheehan and Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry will also speak. Hedges is author of numerous books, including War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and the forthcoming Wages of Rebellion, available in the spring. GT recently talked to him about the NDAA, mass surveillance and civil resistance.

What are your greatest concerns about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)?

Section 1021 of the NDAA overturns over 150 years of domestic law that prevents the U.S. military from domestic policing. It authorizes the military to carry out, in essence, extraordinary rendition of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil who, in the words of that section, “substantially support” Al Qaida, the Taliban or something called “associated forces.”  This is not materially support, which is a defined legal term. It strips citizens of due process and holds them in military facilities until, in the language of this section, “the end of hostilities.” In an age of permanent war, that means probably forever.

Tell me about the federal lawsuit you filed against President Obama challenging the NDAA?

In January 2012, I met with lawyers and we sued the president. Judge Katherine B. Forrest declared that not only was the law unconstitutional, but that it opened the way for the government to criminalize whole categories of people and hold them in military detention facilities. She brought up the 110,000 Japanese Americans who were interned in military camps without due process during World War II.

The Obama administration immediately appealed the decision. They demanded that Judge Forrest lift the temporary injunction, and put the law back into effect. To Judge Forrest’s credit, she refused. That next morning, the government attorneys went to the Second Circuit [Court of Appeals] and asked them to put the law back into effect in the name of national security. I suspect there probably are U.S-Pakistani dual nationals already being held in places like Bagram or other “black sites.”

You were also a plaintiff in an earlier lawsuit challenging warrantless wiretapping, even before the Edward Snowden revelations.

We brought the case Klapper vs. Amnesty International because we suspected mass surveillance was happening. The government attorneys said that I and the other plaintiffs had no right to bring the case because any charge that we were being monitored by the government was, in the words of these lawyers, “speculation.” They went on to say that if we were being monitored, the government would tell us. All of this we now know is false because of the Snowden revelations. Not only am I being monitored, everyone’s being monitored.

What can be done to resist current policy?

Any kind of resistance is important. I come out of the Dorothy Day, Christian Anarchism tradition. Anarchism is an understanding that power is the problem no matter who holds it. We have to build movements that threaten centers of power. Strong labor and mass movements are key to a healthy, open society.

How do you respond to people who say, ‘I don’t mind being watched; I don’t do anything wrong?’

Those people don’t understand how totalitarian systems work. They better turn off their televisions and start reading Hannah Arendt. Totalitarian systems carry out wholesale surveillance not to find crimes. It’s so they have information should they seek to shut down an individual or a group. As a reporter, I covered the Stasi State in East Germany. When you are watched 24 hours a day, as we all are, you can’t use the word liberty. That’s the relationship between a master and a slave.

The “Defending Our Civil Liberties” talk is at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 23 at Inner Light Ministries, 5360 Soquel Drive., Aptos. Tickets are $15 at the door ($5 students).

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