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The Orwellian Prophecy

One of my first assignments as a cub reporter for my high school newspaper was to interview a history teacher who, my editor said, was head of the history department and someone who was interesting.  With little to go on I made the appointment and showed up in his office to find a scholarly but lively gentleman surrounded by papers, books, and shelves lined with more papers and books. He immediately assumed I knew more than I did and started talking about his government job as historian for the predecessor of the newly created CIA.  He wouldn’t let me use the term CIA or Central Intelligence Agency because the existence of that agency was supposed to be a secret.   He said he was writing a history of our intelligence service during WWII, the age of Wild Bill Donovan, and that was it.  I recall reporting that he was writing a history for an agency of the US government whose very existence was supposed to be a secret, even though by that time its name was already being circulated in the national press. 

The CIA is no longer intelligence central.  (It certainly isn’t a secret.)  The Homeland Security Administration is supposed to be intelligence central, gathering both domestic and foreign intelligence into the maw of one huge database.  The problem we have is with the terminology.  The CIA was never central; foreign intelligence was its focus. That was the flaw that created the opening that allowed 9/11 to happen.  The CIA’s knowledge about foreign agents was not shared with the FBI, the State Department, INS or the FAA.  The new HSA is supposed to cure that flaw by bringing the FBI, CIA and NSA and other intelligence gathering entities (some 16 of them, we hear) into one huge database. Does increasing size mean better?  It seldom does. Quality is always sacrificed to quantity.  More is not better.  We can assume that it is the bigness and the slowness of Homeland Security that produces nightmarish treatment of immigrants caught in the maw of the INS; that produces the failure to process visas on a timely basis so visiting professors can’t visit, so exchange students can’t exchange, so parents get ripped from their homes and deported leaving their children, born in the United States, stranded. The flood of data collected by the NSA is, of course, laughable. Every tweet, email, electronic communication is tracked and recorded and saved in a giant warehouse.  The collecting and tracking had been a boon to collectors and trackers (and hackers), but it has hardly made us safer.     

The very name “Homeland” is arrogance in a land of immigrants.  When does a land become a “homeland”?  Are we not the homeland of the Iroquois, the Sioux and Navaho and other tribes?  How do we get off saying this is our homeland when we have only been here 300 years or so?  Homeland is an uncomfortable notion and the administration of that name is an unfortunate creation. We were warned by George Orwell about newspeak. We were warned about glorifying the state. We have fallen into the trap.  Can we escape before it closes in on us?