Wednesday, January 14, 2015

the cyber-security industrial complex


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

January 14, 2015


                Yesterday on CNN International ( ), journalist and co-founder of The Intercept said of recent news reporting on the “terrorist” threat represented by the Paris attacks:

“CNN and MSNBC and Fox are engaging in the terrorism expert industrial complex, where you have people on as paid analysts that are largely frauds who have made a lot of money off of portraying themselves as terror experts and have no actual on-the-ground experience.”


                Yesterday, too, on “Democracy Now” ( ), Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald joined Scahill in a segment headlined “How to Be a Terror "Expert": Ignore Facts, Blame Muslims, Trumpet U.S. Propaganda.”

                They, together with other internationally informed reports I have heard, agree that terrorism has no reasonable substance to it.  It has become a computer/internet-generated game of guilt by (claim of) association with the US caricature of “the bad guys”—currently Muslims to qualify for terrorist watch lists.  Its domestic counterpart is the computer-generated, systematically fed, COMPSTAT system that NYPD pioneered using to press police to keep minor public order arrests and contraband seizures up, and index crime reports down.  Now the Commissioner assures the public that arrests and fine revenues are and will continue to increase.  Once again, NYPD will subscribe to the “broken windows” standard of police performance: by clearing the streets of minor offenses, you cut off serious crime at its roots, and demonstrate serious crime reductions.  It is a tautology that proving law enforcement effective has increasingly been pressed on police nationwide since the beginning of computer analyses of crime and criminality became possible to researchers and policy makers since the late sixties, heralded by the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice Task Force Report on Assessment in 1967.  Soon, we are assured the NYPD will be back on the track of demonstrating that arrests and summonses are up, while crime stays under control.  Enforcement is up, crime is down.

                An admission of bias:  task force director Lloyd Ohlin and commission director James Vorenberg introduced me to crime measurement in their crime, law and society class.  The major exam question at the end of the term was to advise a congressional committee on what to make, for instance, of the fact that the pioneering national victim surveys showed crime to be much greater than that reported to the police.  My advice was that because the police were probably so detached from most crime, didn’t even know about it, let alone care to report it, that what happened behind closed doors for instance might be much more violent than what police found on the streets…I got one of my two law-school C’s, the other was in corporations.  Beginning with my dissertation study of police-offense reporting in a high-crime area of Minneapolis in 1972, I continued to focus on issues of measuring crime and criminality for over a decade, until I shifted my sights onto structures of violence and their transformation.  To me, reports about “terrorist threats” are just a primitive form of crime and criminality analysis in the cyber-age.  It is an exercise in profiling by religion and national origin.  It has become an inter-national security industry.

                Back to policing.  There is a good deal of reporting of how ethnically and racially diverse the NYPD is becoming, and with it, more culturally diverse attitudes about policing that younger officers in particular bring to the force, one that entails giving respect and service to those for whom they police.  On the bright side, homicides of and by police don’t seem as bad as they were when I was first studying crime.  For better or worse, the technology that spawned COMPSTAT also increases the likelihood that police use of deadly force, and deaths of police officers too, will be recorded, will be noticed, will be nationally reported.  It is typically the case that peacemaking initiatives have low social visibility—seldom get looked for, let alone reported.  I don’t imagine times have changed much since I rode with the police:  Some officers are trouble, many if not most are pretty socially skilled at defusing violence, and seldom find more force than a frisk and uneventful handcuffing to be necessary when they arrest.  Officers will back each other up if one gets into trouble; better to avoid working with bullies.  All in all, perhaps police will get to know those they police in less confrontational, more personal respects.

                I hope and dream for something more direct.  COMPSTAT is founded on the myth of the dangerous young black or brown man, and profiling by association within these groups has become a larger and more entrenched cyber-guarantor of national and local security.  As far as I can see, trends and shapes of “crime” have never had to do much security.  The occasional (and statistically, they are occasional!) incidents of police killings of young people of color are but symptoms of a chronic climate of fear, anger and distrust between police and communities of color, an old climate whose casualties have now appeared to us in an unprecedented cyber-cluster.  The fact that protests are so large and widespread indicates that police administration and training divides police from those they police.  Trust rests on safe familiarity.  The COMPSTAT machine, meanwhile, demands confrontation and separation of people from their community.  Whether homicides of and by police go up or down, the daily problem so many protestors and people of color generally report are a testament to police-community estrangement.  When you are policing people you don’t know personally, you are reduced to profiling those you meet—as potential threats and violators, or as people you can trust to remain cordial.  Whoever initiates it (and for all I know it IS initiated and unreported), police and those they police need to get to know each other including settings, where the police aren’t armed and uniformed, aren’t on duty.  For the NYPD and many other police forces around the world, COMPSTAT has institutionalized policing according to racial and ethnic stereotypes.  Internationally, the cyber-security terrorism/industrial complex is its counterpart.  I’m a dreamer: May the paradigm shift to securing police-community relations.  Love and peace, hal


No comments:

Post a Comment