Police State 2.0
A recent story by ABC News was disturbing at face value:
U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo Bay allegedly softened up detainees at the request of Chinese intelligence officials who had come to the island facility to interrogate the men -- or they allowed the Chinese to dole out the treatment themselves, according to claims in a new government report.
Buried in a Department of Justice report released Tuesday are new allegations about a 2002 arrangement between the United States and China, which allowed Chinese intelligence to visit Guantanamo and interrogate Chinese Uighurs held there.
According to the report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, an FBI agent reported a detainee belonging to China's ethnic Uighur minority and a Uighur translator told him Uighur detainees were kept awake for long periods, deprived of food and forced to endure cold for hours on end, just prior to questioning by Chinese interrogators.
But this U.S. cooperation with Chinese intelligence offers a glimpse of something much larger and more dangerous. The real story is Naomi Klein's Rolling Stone article about China's increasingly literally Orwellian police state. Because her story isn't really about China.
Remember how we've always been told that free markets and free people go hand in hand? That was a lie. It turns out that the most efficient delivery system for capitalism is actually a communist-style police state, fortressed with American "homeland security" technologies, pumped up with "war on terror" rhetoric. And the global corporations currently earning superprofits from this social experiment are unlikely to be content if the lucrative new market remains confined to cities such as Shenzhen. Like everything else assembled in China with American parts, Police State 2.0 is ready for export to a neighborhood near you.
Shenzhen is a city of 12.4 million people. Thirty years ago, it didn't exist.
Back in those days, it was a string of small fishing villages and collectively run rice paddies, a place of rutted dirt roads and traditional temples.
Then, the Communist Party chose it as one of four areas where capitalism would be allowed. As a test. To see if China could compartmentalize and profit off private industry while remaining otherwise ostensibly socialist.
The result was a city of pure commerce, undiluted by history or rooted culture — the crack cocaine of capitalism. It was a force so addictive to investors that the Shenzhen experiment quickly expanded, swallowing not just the surrounding Pearl River Delta, which now houses roughly 100,000 factories, but much of the rest of the country as well.
Klein is not writing to criticize China. This is more important than that. Part of it is this: you want to know why our government doesn't stand up to China? Besides the obvious lack of crediblity? This might have something to do with it:
(T)here is a good chance that at least half of everything you own was made here: iPods, laptops, sneakers, flatscreen TVs, cellphones, jeans, maybe your desk chair, possibly your car and almost certainly your printer.
But it's even worse. There's money to be made. Tons of it.
As The New York Times recently reported, aiding and abetting Beijing has become an investment boom for U.S. companies. Honeywell is working with Chinese police to "set up an elaborate computer monitoring system to analyze feeds from indoor and outdoor cameras in one of Beijing's most populated districts." General Electric is providing Beijing police with a security system that controls "thousands of video cameras simultaneously, and automatically alerts them to suspicious or fast-moving objects, like people running." IBM, meanwhile, is installing its "Smart Surveillance System" in the capital, another system for linking video cameras and scanning for trouble, while United Technologies is in Guangzhou, helping to customize a "2,000-camera network in a single large neighborhood, the first step toward a citywide network of 250,000 cameras to be installed before the Asian Games in 2010." By next year, the Chinese internal-security market will be worth an estimated $33 billion — around the same amount Congress has allocated for reconstructing Iraq.
And it's even worse than that. You see, the real point of Klein's article is that China's a testing ground for the latest in high tech police state apparatus.
China today, epitomized by Shenzhen's transition from mud to megacity in 30 years, represents a new way to organize society. Sometimes called "market Stalinism," it is a potent hybrid of the most powerful political tools of authoritarian communism — central planning, merciless repression, constant surveillance — harnessed to advance the goals of global capitalism.
Now, as China prepares to showcase its economic advances during the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, Shenzhen is once again serving as a laboratory, a testing ground for the next phase of this vast social experiment. Over the past two years, some 200,000 surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the city. Many are in public spaces, disguised as lampposts. The closed-circuit TV cameras will soon be connected to a single, nationwide network, an all-seeing system that will be capable of tracking and identifying anyone who comes within its range — a project driven in part by U.S. technology and investment. Over the next three years, Chinese security executives predict they will install as many as 2 million CCTVs in Shenzhen, which would make it the most watched city in the world. (Security-crazy London boasts only half a million surveillance cameras.)
The security cameras are just one part of a much broader high-tech surveillance and censorship program known in China as "Golden Shield." The end goal is to use the latest people-tracking technology — thoughtfully supplied by American giants like IBM, Honeywell and General Electric — to create an airtight consumer cocoon: a place where Visa cards, Adidas sneakers, China Mobile cellphones, McDonald's Happy Meals, Tsingtao beer and UPS delivery (to name just a few of the official sponsors of the Beijing Olympics) can be enjoyed under the unblinking eye of the state, without the threat of democracy breaking out. With political unrest on the rise across China, the government hopes to use the surveillance shield to identify and counteract dissent before it explodes into a mass movement like the one that grabbed the world's attention at Tiananmen Square.
So, Chinese businesses are thriving by building the tools of repression. A fascinating combination, and anyone who has read Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism would say an obvious combination. Built with the help of U.S. businesses. And the same tools of repression exported around the globe, from the U.S. to England to Dubai. And the same tools repression being used even to keep an omnipresent eye on the workers who build them.
China's market for surveillance cameras enjoyed revenues of $4.1 billion last year, a jump of 24 percent from 2006.
A growth industry if there ever was one.
One Shenzhen-based company, China Security & Surveillance Technology, has developed software to enable the cameras to alert police when an unusual number of people begin to gather at any given location.
In 2006, the Chinese government mandated that all Internet cafes (as well as restaurants and other "entertainment" venues) install video cameras with direct feeds to their local police stations. Part of a wider surveillance project known as "Safe Cities," the effort now encompasses 660 municipalities in China.
Indeed, China has seen levels of political unrest in recent years unknown since 1989, the year student protests were crushed with tanks in Tiananmen Square. In 2005, by the government's own measure, there were at least 87,000 "mass incidents" — governmentspeak for large-scale protests or riots.
This increased unrest — a process aided by access to cellphones and the Internet — represents more than a security problem for the leaders in Beijing. It threatens their whole model of command-and-control capitalism. China's rapid economic growth has relied on the ability of its rulers to raze villages and move mountains to make way for the latest factory towns and shopping malls. If the people living on those mountains use blogs and text messaging to launch a mountain-people's-rights uprising with each new project, and if they link up with similar uprisings in other parts of the country, China's dizzying expansion could grind to a halt.
The rural villages that are obliterated to create these industrial centers leave millions homeless. They become migrants, lucky to find work, hired on where needed, with none of the rights or privileges accorded to local permanent residents. What struck me is that on a grander and more sinister scale, it's similar to American businesses that replace full-time employees with part-timers, who work less hours, but who are then not legally required to be given health care or pension benefits. It's almost slave labor. There are now about 130,000,000 of these migrant workers in China, and by 2025 that number will nearly triple. And the means to keep them tightly controlled will soon all be tied together.
This is how this Golden Shield will work: Chinese citizens will be watched around the clock through networked CCTV cameras and remote monitoring of computers. They will be listened to on their phone calls, monitored by digital voice-recognition technologies. Their Internet access will be aggressively limited through the country's notorious system of online controls known as the "Great Firewall." Their movements will be tracked through national ID cards with scannable computer chips and photos that are instantly uploaded to police databases and linked to their holder's personal data. This is the most important element of all: linking all these tools together in a massive, searchable database of names, photos, residency information, work history and biometric data. When Golden Shield is finished, there will be a photo in those databases for every person in China: 1.3 billion faces.
Similar technology was used during the crackdown on Tibet. A live test. The black-domed cameras that look like street cameras had begun appearing all over Lhasa, last year. Even in places of worship. As in Burma, monks are obviously considered to be dangerous.
As soon as the protests gathered steam, China reinforced its Great Firewall, blocking its citizens from accessing dozens of foreign news outlets. In some parts of Tibet, Internet access was shut down altogether. Many people trying to phone friends and family found that their calls were blocked, and cellphones in Lhasa were blitzed with text messages from the police: "Severely battle any creation or any spreading of rumors that would upset or frighten people or cause social disorder or illegal criminal behavior that could damage social stability."
The videos were later edited, so that the Chinese saw on their TV screens what appeared to be angry, violent Tibetan mobs hell-bent on attacking innocent Chinese. We all know too well how such propaganda feeds nationalism and xenophobia, building support even for the government's repressive tactics on its own people. And these Chinese businesses are now working around the clock in preparation for the next government test. The winners will get huge government contracts. The goal?
The idea is to measure the effectiveness of face-recognition software in identifying police suspects. Participants will be given a series of photos, taken in a variety of situations. Their task will be to match the images to other photos of the same people in the government's massive database.
Whoever can match a single face with one from a 10,000,000 face database in one second wins! It's no surprise that the business owners deny that the technology will be used on political activists, although similar technology was, to hunt down leaders of the unrest in Tibet. And Klein goes on to show how an American company, in apparent violation of American law, has been helping. Once again, it's good business. Among the company's board members is former CIA director George Tenet. In fact, the company is already making millions off U.S. government contracts. Its annual revenues are expected to hit a billion a year within three years! Are you wondering that the company isn't being investigated for its cooperation with the Chinese company? It certainly doesn't publicize the cooperation, and was more than a little evasive when Klein tried to contact it. But does anyone believe that Klein is the first person to notice the cooperation? Does anyone believe that our government isn't very keen to see the results of the million face test?
You have probably never heard of L-1, but there is every chance that it has heard of you. Few companies have collected as much sensitive information about U.S. citizens and visitors to America as L-1: It boasts a database of 60 million records, and it "captures" more than a million new fingerprints every year. Here is a small sample of what the company does: produces passports and passport cards for American citizens; takes finger scans of visitors to the U.S. under the Department of Homeland Security's massive U.S.-Visit program; equips U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan with "mobile iris and multimodal devices" so they can collect biometric data in the field; maintains the State Department's "largest facial-recognition database system"; and produces driver's licenses in Illinois, Montana and North Carolina. In addition, L-1 has an even more secretive intelligence unit called SpecTal. Asked by a Wall Street analyst to discuss, in "extremely general" terms, what the division was doing with contracts worth roughly $100 million, the company's CEO would only say, "Stay tuned."
It is L-1's deep integration with multiple U.S. government agencies that makes its dealings in China so interesting: It isn't just L-1 that is potentially helping the Chinese police to nab political dissidents, it's U.S. taxpayers. The technology that Yao purchased for just a few thousand dollars is the result of Defense Department research grants and contracts going as far back as 1994...
Both here and in China, the businesses are merely out to make some money. Tons of money. And everyone from Honeywell to General Electric to IBM to United Technologies is cashing in. But what the Chinese government is doing also fits perfectly with what the Bush Administration has been trying to do here.
One of the first people to sound the alarm on China's upgraded police state was a British researcher named Greg Walton. In 2000, Walton was commissioned by the respected human-rights organization Rights & Democracy to investigate the ways in which Chinese security forces were harnessing the tools of the Information Age to curtail free speech and monitor political activists. The paper he produced was called "China's Golden Shield: Corporations and the Development of Surveillance Technology in the People's Republic of China." It exposed how big-name tech companies like Nortel and Cisco were helping the Chinese government to construct "a gigantic online database with an all-encompassing surveillance network — incorporating speech and face recognition, closed-circuit television, smart cards, credit records and Internet surveillance technologies."
When the paper was complete, Walton met with the institute's staff to strategize about how to release his explosive findings. "We thought this information was going to shock the world," he recalls. In the midst of their discussions, a colleague barged in and announced that a plane had hit the Twin Towers. The meeting continued, but they knew the context of their work had changed forever.
Walton's paper did have an impact, but not the one he had hoped. The revelation that China was constructing a gigantic digital database capable of watching its citizens on the streets and online, listening to their phone calls and tracking their consumer purchases sparked neither shock nor outrage. Instead, Walton says, the paper was "mined for ideas" by the U.S. government, as well as by private companies hoping to grab a piece of the suddenly booming market in spy tools. For Walton, the most chilling moment came when the Defense Department tried to launch a system called Total Information Awareness to build what it called a "virtual, centralized grand database" that would create constantly updated electronic dossiers on every citizen, drawing on banking, credit-card, library and phone records, as well as footage from surveillance cameras. "It was clearly similar to what we were condemning China for," Walton says.
Domestic spying, data-mining, perpetual surveillance. We have an administration that takes its cues directly from Orwell, Huxley, and Zamyatin, while technologies are on the verge of being able to make it all happen.
The global homeland-security business is now worth an estimated $200 billion — more than Hollywood and the music industry combined. Any sector of that size inevitably takes on its own momentum. New markets must be found — which, in the Big Brother business, means an endless procession of new enemies and new emergencies: crime, immigration, terrorism.
New markets? Klein interviewed a former U.S. intelligence officer who is now a business consultant in China, and he has no doubt that Bush would like to do what China is doing. But who is to say he isn't? Kagro X recently reported that the Bush Administration is already arguing in court that it can disappear any American citizens it wants, just so Bush labels them "enemy combatants." According to the Bush Administration, the imposition of a police state has already been authorized by Congress, with war resolutions and the "Patriot" Act. But the administration also has argued that such authorization wasn't even needed, anyway. Bush is the Unitary Executive. He is not only above the law, he is the law! And those great leaders of the Democratic Congress have done exactly nothing to even suggest that Bush is wrong. With China testing the means, and Republicans believing they have the authority, it just might be time for the Democrats to take a stand before taking a stand is no longer even possible.