Intelligence committee chairs want you scared. You should be angry

Feinstein and Rogers invoke the old boogeyman of rising terrorism in a cheap attempt to defend surveillance state

Topics: Terrorism, Afghanistan, Iraq, Drones, War on Terror, Counterterrorism, intelligence, NSA, Spying, Mike Rogers, Dianne Feinstein, Senate Intelligence Committee, House Intelligence Committee, National security, Al-Qaida, ,

You’ve been flippant, America. You forgot to be scared. Or, perhaps you’ve been scared about your communications being swept into NSA spy dragnets. But you forgot to be scared of terrorists, silly America. You wanted constitutional protections? Well, that’s because you’re not scared enough. But listen up, America, the chairs of the House and Senate intelligence committees have something to say: Be afraid, be very afraid.

So went the playbook of intelligence committee chairs Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers in their Sunday morning talk-show appearances. Relying on undefined and overly broad definitions of terrorism, the pair worked to de facto defend the invasive and problematic work of U.S. intelligence agencies, invoking the reliable boogeyman of terrorism-on-the-rise.

“I think terror is up worldwide, the statistics indicate that. The fatalities are way up. The numbers are way up. There are new bombs, very big bombs. Trucks being reinforced for those bombs. There are bombs that go through magnetometers. The bomb maker is still alive. There are more groups than ever. And there is huge malevolence out there.” You hear that, kids? Huge Malevolence! Bombs! Death! Oh my! And you wanted privacy? In the face of unnamed malevolence existentially threatening your nation, your home, your kids and your puppies and — don’t forget — your freedom. Malevolence hates your freedom.

What Feinstein and Rogers did not note, however, was that statistics showing an uptick in terrorism tell a more nuanced geopolitical story than their non-specific fear-mongering. For example, as Mike Masnick pointed out in TechDirt, “nearly all of the ‘terrorist’ attacks in that original report that Feinstein is obviously relying on, appear to take place in areas that are considered war zones: Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. And, um, I hate to bring this part up, but part of the reason why those are war zones is because, you know, the U.S. invaded both places.”

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Feinstein and Rogers did not mention that anti-U.S. sentiment has been stoked in drone-struck Yemen and Pakistan. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) found that from June 2004 to September 2012 U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan alone killed between 474 and 881 civilians, including 176 children. Last year, when Yemeni youth and human rights activist Baraa Shiban spoke to Congress about Yemenis responding to civilian deaths by U.S. drone fire, he said, “What does the U.S. mean to these people now? A blasted car, and gruesome footage of dead families?” But in describing rage at the U.S. as “malevolence,” Feinstein tacitly rejects that the anger and radicalization may be grounded in responses to U.S. violence. It was Feinstein, after all, who erroneously claimed that civilian deaths by U.S. drone strikes each year have “typically been in the single digits.”

Feinstein and Rogers said nothing, either, about reports of U.S. special forces carrying out war crimes — civilian murders and disappearances — in beleaguered Afghanistan. They didn’t bring up recent news of a drone strike in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, which, according to locals, killed 14 civilians, most of them relatives. “There were pieces of my family all over the road,” said Miya Jan, a 28-year-old farmer.

Similarly, the intelligence chairs did not point out that the terror attacks on U.S. soil have not seen an uptick in the wake of 9/11. Unless you follow the bogus logic of the government’s green-scare, which labeled animal rights and environmental activists as “terrorists” for attacks on property that not once hurt a person or an animal.

“We’re not safer today,” said Rogers. Whatever truth resides in his remark owes much to the U.S.-led war on terror. But it will — or at least should — take more than empty fear-mongering and threats of general “huge malevolence” to defend shadowy and vast surveillance operations and the government’s preemptive treatment of millions of Americans as potential terror threats. Feinstein and Rogers want you scared, America. It seems more appropriate to be furious.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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