The State of the Police State

Tuesday’s New York Times reported an outbreak of corruption among border guards along the U.S.-Mexican border. Although most of the corruption reported involves the smuggling of illegal aliens, similar corruption could introduce drugs, weapons and/or terrorists to the U.S. In short, the corrupt border agents do the opposite of what they were hired to do.

Should we be surprised? Not by the time we’ve finished the article. Here are a few data points:

One – the number of border guards will have doubled between 2001 and the end of 2009, from 10,000 to 20,000. As we’ve seen with the military, when we need to recruit larger numbers, we lower our standards. The Border Patrol is finding that criminals are applying for jobs with the intention of subverting the system and using their authority to enrich themselves through smuggling.

Two – When the Department of Homeland Security was created in 2003, the internal affairs units at Customs and Border Protection – the police who police the police – was disbanded. So just as you’re doubling the size of the border guards, you send the message that you’re not even going to look for corruption. Internal affairs has now been reconstituted, but it’s hopelessly backlogged, so 155 retired criminal investigators have been hired to perform background checks on new border guards.

As that last sentence testifies, a police state is good for the police. Anyone who was wearing a badge before 9-11 can now double, triple or quadruple their salary working as a consultant to all the new federal law enforcement agencies that have been born as a result of the shrill rhetoric from politicians who’ve been trying to scare us for the last seven years.

A police state is not good for anyone else. We all know the downsides of having our civil liberties taken away and our behavior closely monitored, but what else results from a police state?

Inefficiency. After 9-11, we were told one reason the hijackers were successful was because the FBI and the CIA didn’t play nicely. Seven years later they still don’t and the multiple police agencies that have burst forth on the federal scene since all compete with each other, hoping for the big score when appropriations time comes around. It was great electioneering for the Republican Party, at least for a while. (“We’ll put more officers on the street/airport/border.”) But “just add cops” won’t work – and hasn’t worked – because none of the fundamental conflicts ever got resolved. When Hurricane Katrina came, all those cops couldn’t figure out how to get a bunch of buses into New Orleans and drive people out before the storm hit.

Corruption. Aside from the border guard story, there have been the abuses of power by private security companies in Iraq, the contractors who take taxpayer dollars and neglect the duties they are paid to undertake. (See the Washington Post’s series on abuses in the immigrant detention system.)

The free market system touted by the same people who gave us all these cops practically guarantees criminals will find those police officers who are susceptible to bribes or blackmail. Watch again the opening scene from “Schindler’s List.” It’s fun to watch Oskar Schindler, who turns out to be a good guy, corrupt the bad guy Nazis with a few drinks and blondes. It’s not as much fun (but more realistic) in reverse, when the corrupters are the bad guys and the guys selling out for a few rounds of scotch are supposed to be the good guys. Think I’m exaggerating? Go Google Kyle “Dusty” Foggo and see what you find. You find the number three guy at the CIA, the guy in charge of ethics, selling out his government for booze and whores and bribes.

Unaccountability. As the Post series points out, much of our massive immigrant detention system (33,000 detainees on any given day) has been outsourced to private companies, each of which has an incentive to cut corners and send the extra money to the bottom line. Then result will be less security for Americans and more brutality for the people caught in the system, most of whom just came here looking for a better life for their families. As with the contractors in Iraq, there is little to no oversight. If it weren’t for journalists poking their noses in now and again, we’d never know it was happening. (Maybe we don’t want to know.)

You don’t have to be an anarchist to dread the birth of the American police state. Anyone who can read 20th century history can tell you, a police state is a broken state.

© Mark Floegel, 2008

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