The recent revelations about the activities of the National Security Administration have brought the notion of national security and the extent to which our civil liberties must be limited in its protection to the forefront of public debate. Given the widely divergent notions on the subject that surface here on Daily Kos and elsewhere, it seems useful to ask just what is national security. It turns out that the answer to that is rather complicated.
The term came into use as a recurring feature of US law and policy with the National Security Act of 1947. It laid the foundation of the nation's cold war strategy. It consolidated the various military services into the Department of Defense and established the CIA and the National Security Council which has since morphed into the NSA. Prior to WWII the US had very little in the way of an intelligence apparatus. The Office of Strategic Services was an ad hoc effort to put one together in the middle of the war. Following the war's end the US faced major choices about its role on the global stage. In the face of apparent rising international tensions, President Truman opted to place the country on a permanent war time footing and the cold war was on.
From that point until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 Washington and Moscow were the two poles of a bipolar world with all of the angst that the psychiatric connotations of that word imply. This global power struggle was framed in mostly military terms with a continuing arms race that steadily multiplied the power of both sides to wipe out life on the planet. The resulting nuclear checkmate essentially rendered mass warfare such as had occurred during WWII obsolete. We had entered a cloak and dagger world where the military had to confine their war toys to small scale proxy wars.
With the demise of the great red menace there was talk of an era of global peace presided over by the benign and freedom loving sole surviving super power. Somehow it really hasn't worked out like that. Although Americans long ago gave up digging air raid shelters in the backyard, and are not particularly afraid of getting nuked, we have regularly been served up an ever growing list of different aspects of National Security that pose an ever present threat to our national identity. Here are some frequently heard examples of "essential" components of national security
Energy and Natural Resource Security
Everything on this list involves issues that are important subjects of public and economic policy. They are things that we have to work on just like any other nation. However, making a link of an issue to the overriding concern of national security makes it politically possible to bring it under the reach of the security state. That invokes the powers of security and surveillance. The government then becomes empowered to limit the information available to the public.
The attacks of 9/11/2001 were the greatest bonanza to the national security state since Pearl Harbor. We now have a Dept. of Homeland Security linked closely to the NSA. There has been a comprehensive development of pulling local law enforcement, national security apparatus and the military into ever closer cooperation. The justification for this is the threat of terrorism. There was a period of 10 years from the demise of the USSR until 9/11 when the US was deprived of an all purpose alien menace to keep its level of existential anxiety finely tuned. Fortunately we have been saved from descending into a torpor of quietly going about our everyday affairs.