When security becomes the real threat

03/10/2007 Written by tripwire

The unbe­liev­able secu­rity fail­ures of 911 exposed, among many other issues, the effects of more than two decades of cut­ting resources to the pub­lic sec­tor and out­sourc­ing gov­ern­ment func­tions together with essen­tial secu­rity ser­vices to profit-​driven pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions.

It clearly came out that, while every­thing seems fine and dandy when busi­ness is as usual, this way of man­ag­ing secu­rity crum­bles to pieces as soon as some­thing goes wrong.

As an exam­ple, think of the North Amer­i­can air tran­sit sys­tem, which was pri­va­tised, dereg­u­lated and down­sized, with the vast major­ity of air­port secu­rity jobs per­formed by under­paid, poorly trained, unmo­ti­vated, barely Eng­lish speak­ing work­ers.

On Sep­tem­ber 10, when fly­ing was as easy as tak­ing a bus and air­ports looked like a mix between a mega shop­ping cen­tre and a Luna Park, none of that seemed to mat­ter: busi­ness was good, prof­its were as high as pos­si­ble, and the per­ceived risk was close to zero.

But on Sep­tem­ber 12, putting 6-​dollars-​an-​hour con­tract work­ers in charge of air­port secu­rity seemed an unfor­giv­able fool­ish­ness — which, in fact, it is.

Secu­rity is a way to elim­i­nate or mit­i­gate poten­tial risks and, as such, is a sort of self insur­ance: we pay in advance today to avoid pay­ing poten­tially much more in the future. This said, secu­rity can­not be looked exclu­sively under a profit-​driven, eco­nom­i­cally effi­cient point of view: to be effec­tive, more often than not it must not be just “effi­cient”.

We could use a ther­mo­dy­namic metaphor, com­par­ing the secu­rity process to the way a refrig­er­a­tor works: you can achieve a high order inside only at the expense of a higher dis­or­der out­side — that is, you can­not have an absolute net gain (a.k.a. a profit) from an energy con­ver­sion. If you are good at it, you can hope to com­pletely avoid greater, future losses, and that’s the only ratio­nal aim of the secu­rity game: but more on this later.

After 9/​11, for a short time, these things were dis­cussed openly and there was a huge, once-​in-​a-​lifetime option to ratio­nally review the über-​privatization that took place in the pre­vi­ous 20 years, to make a step back, and to real­ize that on a national or global scale secu­rity can­not be bought as cheaply as pos­si­ble like any other good on the free mar­ket, nor it can be com­modi­tized: it takes care­ful plan­ning, huge com­mit­ment and resources, money, edu­ca­tion and ded­i­ca­tion to achieve qual­ity in the secu­rity processes, some­thing that doesn’t fit into the turbo-​capitalist equa­tion, since in real­ity it doesn’t con­sider “qual­ity” as a value by itself.

But that win­dow of oppor­tu­nity closed quickly, and the neo­con estab­lish­ment quickly begun to exploit the fears that the nation suf­fered, mov­ing fur­ther towards its “hol­low gov­ern­ment” objec­tive, in which every­thing from war fight­ing to dis­as­ter response to national secu­rity is auto­mat­i­cally con­sid­ered a for-​profit endeav­our, on the (false) assump­tion that only pri­vate firms own the know-​how and inno­va­tion skills to meet the new secu­rity chal­lenges at the low­est pos­si­ble cost.

By doing so, they pur­posely cre­ated a whole new polit­i­cal, eco­nom­i­cal and leg­isla­tive frame­work to sup­port such a rad­i­cal out­sourc­ing of secu­rity ser­vices, and even a brand for sell­ing it — The War On Ter­ror™, which was designed from the ground up to become a huge, self-​reinforcing pri­va­tized busi­ness.

At the same time, the polic­ing, sur­veil­lance, intel­li­gence, coun­tert­er­ror­ism, deten­tion and war-​waging pow­ers of the Exec­u­tive branch were dra­mat­i­cally increased by pres­i­den­tial decrees — some­thing that future his­to­ri­ans will prob­a­bly define as the End of the Amer­i­can Repub­lic.

The results are that, since 2001, tril­lions were fed to Cor­po­rate Amer­ica in the form of tax cuts on the one hand, and very well-​paid con­tracts on the other, many offered secre­tively, with no com­pe­ti­tion and scarcely any pub­lic over­sight, to a expan­sive net­work of indus­tries: tech­nol­ogy, media, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, incar­cer­a­tion, engi­neer­ing, energy, edu­ca­tion, weapons, elec­tronic sur­veil­lance, health­care, secu­rity and mer­ce­nary ser­vices, and so on.

The Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity, the brand-​new arm of the state, between 2001 and 2006 poured a whop­ping $130 bil­lion into pri­vate con­trac­tors pock­ets — money that was not in the pri­vate sec­tor before, and that is more than the GDP of Chile or the Czech Repub­lic: not talk­ing about the “black projects”, which are not accounted for offi­cially, but are cer­tainly worth as much if not more money.

Fur­ther­more, the Oil Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are cost­ing in the range of 200 mil­lion dol­lars a day, since 5 years, and this amaz­ing stream of wealth goes directly to the industrial-​military com­plex, which for the most is pri­vately owned.

This is why the CEOs of the top 34 defence con­trac­tors saw their incomes go up an aver­age of 108% between 2001 and 2005, while chief exec­u­tives income at other large Amer­i­can com­pa­nies grew only 6% over the same period.

As Naomi Klein acutely wrote in her last book, “The Shock Doc­trine: The Rise of Dis­as­ter Cap­i­tal­ism”:

« In just a few years, the home­land secu­rity indus­try, which barely existed before 9/​11, has exploded to a size that is now sig­nif­i­cantly larger than either Hol­ly­wood or the music busi­ness. Yet what is most strik­ing is how lit­tle the secu­rity boom is analysed and dis­cussed as an econ­omy, as an unprece­dented con­ver­gence of unchecked police pow­ers and unchecked cap­i­tal­ism, a merger of the shop­ping mall and the secret prison.

When infor­ma­tion about who is or is not a secu­rity threat is a prod­uct to be sold as read­ily as infor­ma­tion about who buys Harry Pot­ter books on Ama­zon […], it changes the val­ues of a cul­ture. Not only does it cre­ate an incen­tive to spy, tor­ture and gen­er­ate false infor­ma­tion, but it cre­ates a pow­er­ful impe­tus to per­pet­u­ate the fear and sense of peril that cre­ated the indus­try in the first place.

We don’t know where this will lead us in the next months and years, but one thing is for sure: the world is def­i­nitely *not* a more secure place to live in than it was before the War On Ter­ror™ was declared, putting our secu­rity in the hands of this out-​of-​public-​control, pri­vately owned transna­tional secu­rity com­plex, which sees new threats as poten­tial prof­its. As we already said, on the oppo­site, threats should be con­sid­ered poten­tial losses, and man­aged accord­ingly.

We’re going towards a neo-​medieval, godfather-​like way of con­ceiv­ing secu­rity: which is one of the biggest, and one of the few real global secu­rity threats nowa­days.

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