When security becomes the real threat03/10/2007 Written by tripwire
The unbelievable security failures of 9⁄11 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.