Throughout American history, intelligence services often did little more than advance and protect corporate profits and solidify state repression and imperialist expansion. War, for big business, has always been very lucrative and used as an excuse to curtail basic liberties and crush popular movements. “Inter arma silent leges,” as Cicero said, or “During war, the laws are silent.” In the Civil War, during which the North and the South suspended the writ of habeas corpus and up to 750,000 soldiers died in the slaughter, Union intelligence worked alongside Northern war profiteers who sold cardboard shoes to the Army as the spy services went about the business of ruthlessly hunting down deserters. The First World War, which gave us the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act and saw President Woodrow Wilson throw populists and socialists, including Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs, into prison, produced $28.5 billion in net profits for businesses and created 22,000 new millionaires. Wall Street banks, which lent $2.5 billion to nations allied with the United States, made sure Wilson sent U.S. forces into the senseless trench warfare so they would be repaid. World War II—which consumed more than 50 million lives and saw 110,000 Japanese-Americans hauled away to internment camps and atomic bombs dropped on defenseless civilians—doubled wartime corporate profits from the First World War. Why disarm when there was so much money to be made from stoking fear?
The rise of the Iron Curtain and nuclear weapons provided the justification by big business for sustaining a massive arms industry, for a huge expansion of our surveillance capabilities and for more draconian assaults against workers and radicals. The production of weapons was about profits rather than logic. We would go on to produce more than 70,000 nuclear bombs or warheads at a cost of $5.5 trillion, enough weapons to obliterate every Soviet city several times over. And in the early days of the Cold War, with Hoover and Joe McCarthy and his henchmen blacklisting anyone with a conscience in government, the arts, journalism, labor unions or education, President Harry S. Truman created the National Security Agency, or NSA.
Throughout this evolution, Americans were steadily shorn of their most basic constitutional rights and their traditions of limited government. U.S. intelligence agencies were always anchored in a system of secrecy—with little effective oversight from either elected leaders or ordinary citizens. Meanwhile, totalitarian states like East Germany offered a sterling example of what our corporate masters might achieve with pervasive, unchecked surveillance that turned citizens into informers and persecuted people for what they said in the privacy of their homes. Today I would like to thank the architects of this East German system, especially Erich Mielke, once the chief of the communist East German secret police. I want to assure them that the NSA has gone on to perfect what the Stasi began.
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