They went without saying a word. In the dead of night, the last U.S. troops slipped out of Iraq and across the Kuwaiti border. There was no victory parade. No departure ceremony. They never said goodbye. They didn’t even cancel scheduled meetings with their Iraqi counterparts. They just up and left, weeks before their departure deadline in December 2010.
The Americans took home their weapons and vehicles, of course. They took much of their heavy equipment and electronics gear, too. They also took something far more intimate, something you might assume belonged to the Iraqi people, something you probably never knew existed: “a massive database packed with retinal scans, thumb prints, and other biometric data identifying millions of Iraqis,” as Spencer Ackerman put it when he wrote about those digital records in 2011.
In the years after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the U.S. military collected biometric data on around three million Iraqis. It’s done the same for millions of Afghans. And it’s keeping this information in perpetuity. Back in 2011, a spokesman for the Tampa, Florida-based U.S. Central Command told Ackerman, “We have this information, and rather than cull through it all and say ‘bad guy, good guy, bad guy, good guy,’ it’s better to just keep it.” Just why may be unclear, but the capture and retention of this data fit a pattern: the U.S. drive to expand its national security state into a global security initiative.
This includes vacuuming up billions of pieces of intelligence from worldwide computer networks (13.5 billion from Pakistan in March of this year alone), spying on European allies, and hacking the computer and telecommunications systems of its largest foreign creditor, among other activities. The goal is to possess the world’s data, then do who knows what with it.
Muslims using computers in Pakistan or those whose retinas were scanned by the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan are not, of course, the only ones to fall under the gaze of U.S. surveillance. Since 9/11, as Matt Harwood makes clear in his inaugural article for TomDispatch, American Muslims have been disproportionately targeted compared to right-wing Christian groups. The roots of this discrimination stretch back hundreds of years, beyond the birth of this country, and reveal blind spots and shortcomings that no amount of data, computing power, or cyber-prowess can correct. Nick Turse
Political Violence and Privilege
Why Violent Right-wing Extremism Doesn’t Scare Americans
By Matthew Harwood
The evangelical Christians of Greenville County, South Carolina, are afraid.
There has been talk of informants and undercover agents luring young, conservative evangelicals across the South into sham terrorist plots. The feds and the area’s police want to eliminate a particularly extreme strain of evangelical Christianity opposed to abortion, homosexuality, and secularism, whose adherents sometimes use violent imagery and speech. They fear such extreme talk could convince lone wolves or small groups of Christian extremists to target abortion clinics, gay bars, or shopping malls for attack. As a result, law enforcement has flooded these communities with informants meant to provide an early warning system for any signs of such “radicalization.”
Converts, so important to the evangelical movement, are now looked upon with suspicion — the more fervent, the more suspicious. In local barbecue joints, diners, and watering holes, the proprietors are careful not to let FOX News linger onscreen too long, fearing political discussions that could be misconstrued. After all, you can never be too sure who’s listening.
Come Sunday, the ministers who once railed against abortion, gay marriage, and Hollywood as sure signs that the U.S. is descending into godlessness will mute their messages. They will peer out at their congregations and fear that some faces aren’t interested in the Gospel, or maybe are a little too interested in every word. The once vibrant political clubs at Bob Jones University have become lifeless as students whisper about informants and fear a few misplaced words could leave them in a government database or worse.
Naturally, none of this is actually happening to evangelical Christians in South Carolina, across the South, or anywhere else. It would never be tolerated. Yet the equivalents of everything cited above did happen in and around the New York metropolitan area — just not to white, conservative, Christian Americans. But replace them with American Muslims in the New York area and you have a perfect fit, as documented by the recent report Mapping Muslims. And New York is hardly alone.
Since 9/11, American law enforcement has taken a disproportionate interest in American Muslims across the country, seeing a whole community as a national security threat, particularly in California and New York City. But here’s the thing: the facts that have been piling up ever since that date don’t support such suspicion. Not at all.
The numbers couldn’t be clearer: right-wing extremists have committed far more acts of political violence since 1990 than American Muslims. That law enforcement across the country hasn’t felt similarly compelled to infiltrate and watch over conservative Christian communities in the hopes of disrupting violent right-wing extremism confirms what American Muslims know in their bones: to be different is to be suspect.
Conducting Suspicionless Surveillance
In the aftermath of 9/11, law enforcement has infiltrated Muslim American communities and spied on them in ways that would have outraged Americans, had such tactics been used against Christian communities after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, or after any of the other hate crimes or anti-abortion-based acts of violence committed since then by right-wing extremists.