Is America Inching Toward a Police State?

In his book, Whitehead warns of the gradual transformation of America into a police state in which stronger law enforcement and a robust surveillance apparatus might give rise to a state governed by the strong arm of the law.

He contends that the lines between foreign and domestic surveillance and between law enforcement and military agencies are dissipating. This has resulted in an increasing number of military-style SWAT raids and the rapid growth of the government surveillance programs led by the National Security Agency (NSA).

In addition, he argues, the use of high-technology surveillance systems and the militarization of the police force have weakened the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure and the rarely invoked Third Amendment, which forbids the government from quartering soldiers in civilians’ homes without their permission.

Whitehead has been researching the growth of the NSA since the 1980s. But the rapid growth under the Obama administration is astonishing, he said.

Whitehead said NSA personnel told him that a new facility in Utah has a computer that downloads 1 trillion bytes of information from the Internet every month.

“The new computer they have is so powerful, it can actually download the entire content of the Library of Congress in six hours,” Whitehead said.

NSA has been under fire for its collection of phone and email records under its PRISM program, which was leaked to the press by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The Washington Post reported that Obama presided over the program’s “exponential growth.”

Last month, an amendment to a military spending bill sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would have terminated the government’s funding to collect the phone records of America citizens was narrowly defeated on the House floor. President Obama opposed the legislation, saying the “blunt approach” was not the product of an informed and open process.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI are involved in the same type of surveillance, Whitehead mentions in his book.

He also talks about the often criticized “fusion centers” – data collection agencies created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 that fall under DHS supervision. These centers, with help from the NSA, monitor everything from web searches to text messages, emails, and phone calls. This data is then passed on to government agencies like the CIA and the FBI. As of 2009, the government has admitted to having at least 72 fusion centers.

Shortly following the creation of fusion centers, their focus shifted from this exclusive interest in the dissemination of terrorism-related intelligence to one of “all hazards” to the public – a broad term used to describe virtually anything that may be deemed a threat to the public.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations uncovered widespread problems at fusion centers. The panel’s October 2012 report found significant intelligence gaps, frequent communications breakdowns, and pervasive bureaucratic waste.

At the book discussion, Whitehead cautioned that instances in which the growing power of the states clash with personal freedoms will only get more common until the American people stand up and refuse to accept what he calls “a major infringement on our constitutional liberties.”