New documents released by Edward Snowden reveal that the NSA surveillance program is larger than anybody knew and it’s growing. That brings up a good question. What is the mystic power that size seems to have over Americans? We obsessively pursue bigger cars, bigger houses, bigger TVs, and bigger governments. While the first three cost us dearly in dollars and cents, too many people don’t equate a bigger government with bigger government expense, yet the two are inextricably linked.
At the same time, most conservatives don’t equate a bigger military with a bigger government, yet those two are inextricably linked too. Here we come face to face with our neurosis: every ideology working inside government and politics today is working for a bigger government while claiming the opposite is true. The “Tea Party Caucus” elected in 2010 to “fix Washington” has a many members that have become reliable votes to grow government. See South Dakota Congressman Kristie Noem who has yet to lay eyes on a trillion dollar “Farm Bill” she hasn’t loved.
What then are the prospects for a return to the halcyon days of republican rule, paid for by a mere 3 percent of the American GDP? I won’t bore you with cliches about unsustainability, snowballs, and Lucifer but you get the point. We are confronted with what looks increasingly like a surveillance state, and the time to find those solutions is now, before it’s too late. The questions we should be asking at this point are: are there any solutions to this delusional state of mind? If so, what are they?
In his 1980 book Human Scale, Kirkpatrick Sale tackled this issue head on but not just from the American point of view but from the human point of view. Sale’s theme is that everything a citizen interacts with, including his government, ought to be regulated by scale, and that this principle is demonstrated throughout human history. Whenever anything grows too large, including nation-states, it stops functioning the way it’s supposed to. At that point, inertia becomes the biggest enemy to reform as the behemoth’s own size prohibits its re-ordering. Re-ordering is possible, but only by getting rid of the current order, or put in a less frightening manner: decentralization.
For example,the NSA was created by an executive order from President Truman on 4 November, 1952. Its primary role was to handle what was called COMSEC or communications security. As the Military Industrial Complex expanded so did the need for COMSEC. By 1958 NSA was handling COMSEC for the U.S. military, “the entire U.S. government, British commonwealth allies plus NATO and SEATO allies.” It was a modest set of tasks, considering how rare electronic communications were at the time.
Fast forward 56 years and the NSA now consumes tens of billions of dollars annually and according to Snowden, collects then stores the phone traffic of an entire nation, for 30 days. That’s just what it does before breakfast — it then proceeds to collect the entire planet’s metadata, then finds time to moonlight as a fake, Facebook server. In fact the agencies’ directives are so numerous and so widespread, no one knows exactly what it does! I’d say this is a not only a problem of unimagined constitutional peril but also of Sale’s simple assessment. It is out of scale. Way out of of scale and has thus defied any and all attempts to reign it in. Indeed, as I type, a piece of illegally placed NSA malware is probably relaying my words and search queries to a “yet to be completed,” monstrous, data collecting outpost in Utah.
We can apply the problem of scale to every facet of the national government, budgets debt, deficits, program size etc. The problem also applies to over half of the current 50 states of the American Union, lest you think a dissertation on the Tenth Amendment is forthcoming. In the compilation “Rethinking The American Union For the Twenty First Century”, Sale updated his earlier work and wrote that “there is more a less an optimum size for a successful state, somewhere in the range of 3-5 million people.” This would put 29 American states/countries on the good side of human scale but leave 21 in need of decentralization.
To further explain the benefits of living inside states with optimally scaled populations, imagine Vermont as an independent nation with a population of 625,000. On what scale would she be able to organize and fund a spying outfit like NSA, and what threat would that pose to the rest of the in-scale, 28 United States? Scale is not just about government, there are other qualities of life made more attainable by resizing government more manageably. In measures of GDP per capita, the CIA’s 2012 “World Factbook” ranks 263 sovereign entities with an economy. As a matter of fact, eight of the top ten countries are as small or smaller in geographic size than Vermont with Lichtenstein and Luxembourg sitting at number 2 and 3 behind natural gas-rich Qatar.
During the time since the Snowden document drop began we have also learned (or re-learned) that there almost 5 million Federal employees with security clearances. What nation on earth since WWII has fielded what amounts to a cyber army of that gargantuan size? How can anyone hope to “reform” something that large, with that many lobbyists who have a personal stake in their own perpetual employment? To add insult to this oppressive injury, consider that James Clapper, Director of the NSA, wishes to hire more agents and spend tens of billions writing new software so those 5,000,000 can be more closely monitored in case they, to coin a phrase, go Snowden.