The Real McCoy: Alfred McCoy on the Surveillance State


For over one hundred years U. S. government authorities have imported draconian police state techniques and technology developed overseas back to the American homeland, whether involving torture, surveillance, and suspension of human rights and liberties, using the overseas country as a laboratory for counterinsurgency and rearming local security forces for repression. We saw evidence of this recently on the streets in Boston and Watertown with martial law maneuvers used in Iraq and Afghanistan. I witnessed Professor Alfred W. McCoy deliver these same illuminating remarks at the University of Tulsa and had an opportunity to briefly discuss aspects of his internationally recognized research on CIA covert operations, the global narcotics trade, and the origins of the National Security State with him. He is the author of The Politics  of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Traffic (New York: Lawrence  Hill Books, revised, 2003), and Policing  America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the  Surveillance State (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009). From suppressing the Filipino Insurrection following the Spanish-American War to the destructive counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, these martial exercises in unlawful, extra-constitutional behavior have continued unabated. And like the prodigal son of New Testament scriptures, they have come home.

April 15, 2010

Opium, Wars, and the Surveillance State

Professors Peter Dale Scott and Alfred W. McCoy are world-class authorities on the intersection of the National Security State with the global narcotics trade, and how this symbiotic relationship has shaped American foreign and domestic policy.  Scott’s incisive LRC article today on Opium and the CIA, as well as McCoy’s crucial analysis of the Opium Wars in Afghanistan, make for powerful reading in regards to what I have previously described at LRC as “Hidden History:  Where Organized Crime and Government Meet.” Earlier this week I had the opportunity to privately discuss Professor McCoy’s Afghanistan article with him after he delivered the University of Tulsa’s Settle/Cadenhead Memorial Lecture, “The Surveillance State, Foreign Wars and the Rise of the U. S. Internal Security Apparatus.”  This fascinating presentation confirmed in spades everything I have learned from Garet Garrett, Murray Rothbard, Ron Paul, Chalmers Johnson, and Stephen Kinzer about the American Imperial State — about the decline of the republic and the rise of empire.   McCoy outlined the birth of the Surveillance State in the information technology revolution of the 1870s and 1880s (invention of the telephone, typewriter, widespread photographic film processing, electrical and telegraph networks, punch cards, and biometrics such as fingerprinting) and its later convergence with the imperatives of empire in the American colonial occupation of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War.

It was during the Philippine Insurrection that modern police and military intelligence techniques and data collection technology emerged, later becoming the key component of the National Security State.  McCoy particularly pointed to the ongoing seminal role Ralph Henry Van Deman played in this process.  His spell-binding presentation was largely based upon his two recent books, Policing the Empire:  The United States, The Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State; and Colonial Crucible:  Empire in the Making of the Modern American State, edited by McCoy and Francisco A. Scarano.  Dr. McCoy, in our conversation, also alluded to his upcoming article on the drug-drenched dictators Ngo Dinh Diem and Hamid Karzai (which appeared today).  It too is must reading.

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