Money for Nothing: Whiteness, Terrorism, Surveillance and Profit

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In the aftermath of 9/11 there was a boom in the market for private companies with a vested interest in a social construction of terrorism that heightens the public fear of Islamic terrorism to the maximum extent. In fact, 70% of the U.S. national intelligence budget is now spent on contracts with these private firms. Today there are 1,931 private companies dedicated to national security and the war on terror that profit at a level of about $6 billion a year. None of these companies tell Americans that they are more likely to die falling over piece of furniture in their homes than they are from a terrorist attack, yet they are still afraid and may even believe such an investment in homeland security is vital and necessary. Among the biggest of these profiteers of fear are described below followed by a brief discussion of the way whiteness helps shape and justify American’s fear of Islamic terrorism.

Booz Allen Hamilton: Attained notoriety when it was revealed that these contractors employed NSA leaker Edward Snowden. But in the larger picture Booz Allen has a series of huge government contracts. Thousands of Booz Allen employees provide a variety of tech services to the NSA, including data analysis directly related to the mountains of data the NSA collects on U.S. citizens every day. Booz Allen realizes about $1.3 billion in revenues each year from working with U.S. intelligence. Recently the company announced an additional $5.6 billion contract with the Department of Defense. None of this is surprising in that one of Booz Allen’s vice-presidents is the former director of national security.

Center for Counterintelligence and Security Studies: The Center for Counterintelligence and Security Studies is based in Virginia and is staffed by former FBI, CIA and Defense Department employees. The center has made the most of Homeland Security grants focusing on Islamophobic training. Primarily they provide education and training to employees in the national security community, including local law enforcement agencies. They have trained over 67,000 people. Their educational services are costly to say the least:

  • A five-day course for government employees on the “Global Jihadist Threat Doctrine” costs $39,280.
  • For a class titled “Dying to Kill Us: Understanding the Mindset of Suicide Operations,” the cost is $7,856.
  • For a three-day course on “Informant Development for Law Enforcement to Fight Terrorism,” the cost is $23,568.

The center markets its educational services with the claim that “radical Islam is a new global ideological menace on the order of the old communist threat from the Soviet Union.”  Racial fear….funding of departments

Chertoff Group: The Chertoff Group is a private consulting firm established in 2009 that provides consultation services to companies on security and terrorism. It is virtually impossible to determine how much the Chertoff Group makes from the social construction of terrorism, but following the failed 2010 Christmas Day airliner bombing incident Chertoff began advocating better practices for airline security including the use of full-body scanners by TSA. One of the Chertoff Group’s clients, Rapiscan just happens to manufacture full body scanners and sure enough TSA ordered 300 of those scanners resulting in a $118 million for Rapiscan,

Science Applications International Corporation: Science Applications International Corporation is often jokingly referred to “NSA West” because it employs so many former NSA employees. The CEO of SAIC is former Air Force John P. Jumper. SAIC employs 42,000 people, 20,000 of whom hold U.S. government security clearances. It is the largest external contractor working for the NSA with annual revenues of about $525 million. SAIC created a “Terrorism Protection Manual” for Florida which laid the plans to combat “today’s national terrorist threat and implement recommended security best practices.”  On their webpage SAIC tells us that they have “experience meeting the terrorism incident response training needs of a wide variety of customers, from training for a national Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) scenario, applicable at agency response levels, to lesser levels of incidents affecting a city, a military installation or a special facility.”

Security Solutions International: Security Solutions International is another private firm marketing anti-Muslim training to law enforcement. The company is based in Miami and was founded in 2004. It has strong and pervasive connection to Israeli security agencies. Its president Henry Morgenstern is a dual Israeli-U.S. citizen. Security Solution International has trained over 700 law enforcement agencies. SSI’s three day conference this year costs $400 a person. The company also makes considerable revenues from its magazine which costs $35 a year and has 15,000 subscribers. In 2009 at a conference put on by Police Magazine a SSI instructor touted as being the company’s expert on Islam used a video that showed a terrorist beheading a hostage. SSI’s CEO responding to criticism of the video said, “their religion got linked to terrorism a long time ago.”

Whiteness and the War on Terror: While the odds of dying from a terrorist attack may be extremely low, the fear Americans have of Islamic terrorism is very real.  The irony, however, lies within the fact the US military is one of the most powerful forces on the planet and yet Americans are still afraid and seemingly satisfied with the fact their tax dollars are funneled into private enterprises that promise to offer them even more protection. How have whites come to understand themselves as such a vulnerable population despite the powerfully influential presence of whiteness in today’s global society?

The War on Terror marks, “a significant shift in post colonial articulations of whiteness”.  During colonialism whiteness was caste as superior, powerful, and righteous while after 9/11 and the “revitalization of American imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan”, it was recast as, “vulnerable, endangered, innocent” and as the key subject of the irrational hatred of, “violent, murderous, Islamists”.  At the same time, there has been a return by ruling class elites to coincide whiteness with the concept of “good”. This white alliance with goodness and an increase in the identification of evil personas enables “ruling class hyper whites to appear race neutral” in their discussion of good and evil.  Good is synonymous with Christian, capitalist whiteness and the contemporary use of the word “evil” to describe the violent acts of individuals abroad illustrates the way racism and imperialism in post Jim Crow America is submerged and hidden by a careful selection of words.  The white/nonwhite binary of racial oppression has been replaced by the binary of good and evil both of which continue to perpetuate a racial hierarchy heavily based on cultural and religious differences.

The fear of Islam throughout America has collapsed numerous ethnically diverse groups into a single category of “Muslim” much like the single category of “Black” collapsed numerous ethnic groups from Africa into one racial category of inferiority.  While the social construction of inferior “others” is often associated with white privilege, the prior description of the profits being raked in by private security firms show how white hysteria and racism work to monetarily benefit only a select few who profit from not only demonizing Islam but also by generating false fear among white Americans.  While white America lives in constant fear of the other, white elites continue to perpetuate and heighten that fear as they laugh all the way to the bank.

Holly Sims-Bruno, PhD Candidate
Department of Criminal Justice
Indiana University

Gary Potter, PhD
Professor, School of Justice Studies
Eastern Kentucky University

Sources:

Appelbaum, B. and E. Lipton. 2013, Leaker’s employer is paid to maintain government secrets, New York Times, June 9.

Chakrabarty, N., Preston, J. (2008) Posturing Fear in a World of Performed Evil: Terrorists, Teachers and Evil Neo-Liberals in Fisher, R. Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness pp. 227-238.

Cincotta, T. 2011. Manufacturing the Muslim Menace. Political Research Associates.

Junaid Rana (2007) The Story of Islamophobia, Souls, A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, 9:2, 148-161

Greenwald, G. 2013.Michael Hayden, Bob Schieffer and the media’s reverence of national security officials. The Guardian, August 12.

National Security, Inc. 2010, Washington Post, July 20.

Shorrock, T. 2013, Meet the contractors analyzing you private data. Salon, June 10.

SAIC. 2009. http://www.crocodyl.org/spies_for_hire/saic_science_applications_international_corporation

Thobani, S. (2007) White Wars: Western Feminisms and the War on Terror, Feminists Theory Vol. 8 no. 2 169-185.

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