RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES: Timely books bring depth to public debates and issues

At the University of Wisconsin Press, we’ve published many books on topics that seem ripped from current news headlines. Whether fiction or nonfiction, they offer broader or deeper perspectives on current events.

Deadly LieThis August, as the country was shocked by photos of heavily armed Ferguson, Missouri, police wearing camo and patrolling in a massively armored truck, former soldiers commented, “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone.” We had just published Lev Raphael’s Assault with a Deadly Lie, a novel of suspense touching on many hot-button issues—plagiarism, bullying, suicide, academic freedom, stalking—but most of all on the militarization of police in American towns and cities. Raphael wrote op-eds in the Huffington Post: Why Are We Arming Our Police Departments for War? and Do College Towns Really Need Tanks to Keep Them Safe?

The death of several unarmed black men this summer at the hands of police also underscoredSister the continuing importance of the story of Daniel Bell, murdered by two Milwaukee policemen in 1958. His sister, Sylvia Bell White, tells the story of her whole life, including Daniel’s murder and her quest for the truth to come out, in the book Sister: An African American Life in Search of Justice. Sylvia Bell White is a powerful witness to systemic racial injustice and public indifference to the wrongful deaths of African Americans.

This fall, we’ve published The Great Sand Fracas of Ames County, a novel by Jerry Apps. When Apps started plotting the novel several years ago, he was thinking about historic trees and various threats to them. A frac sand mine seemed like a good plot element; there were Apps-Great-Sand-Fracas-cabout ten mines being developed in western Wisconsin. By the end of 2013, sand mining had boomed. There were already more than 120 mines active or in development. Frac sand mining became the center of Apps’s story, as he portrayed the battles over land use in a fictional Wisconsin town. “Through fiction I’ve tried to illustrate, in an entertaining way, how complicated local development issues can be,” Apps wrote in a blog.

As Barack Obama was running for president, historian Bruce Mouser was finishing a book for us on George Edwin Taylor, an African American who ran for president in 1904 as the nominee of the National Liberty Party. In the fall of 2013, as President Obama made a case for airstrikesTorture against Syrian chemical weapons, we were preparing to publish Chris Edelson’s legal history of Emergency Presidential Power. Alfred McCoy’s Torture and Impunity, published shortly after revelations of torture and humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, probes the political and cultural dynamics that have made impunity for torture a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government from the 1950s to the present.

Our list in Russian and Eastern European Studies has frequently intersected with world events, as well. War in the Balkans in the 1990s resulted in Yugoslavia dividing into seven countries by 2008, creating avid interest among diplomats, armies, and aid organizations in the language textbooks books we’d been publishing for Macedonian, Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, and Albanian. In 2012, as the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot was arrested for the vaguely defined crime of Microsoft Word - LaPierreCoverDesign.docx“hooliganism,” we were publishing Hooligans in Khrushchev’s Russia: Defining, Policing, and Producing Deviance during the Thaw by Brian LaPierre.  As Russian troops recently invaded Ukraine to reclaim the Crimean peninsula, we were publishing Russian–Ottoman Borderlands, edited by Lucien J. Frary and Mara Kozelsky, a historical overview of the frequent territorial disputes in the Balkans, Black Sea region, and Caucasus.

With a strong list of gay- and lesbian-interest books, we’ve published several that presaged or contributed to social conversations around gay family rights: Just Married: Gay Marriage and the Expansion of Human Rights by Canadians Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell;  Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family by American Joel Derfner; and The Paternity Test, Michael Lowenthal’s novel about gay parenthood.Lawfully

The Last Deployment: How a Gay, Hammer-Swinging Twentysomething Survived a Year in Iraq by Bronson Lemer was published in the midst of the final “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy debate. Joy Ladin’s moving memoir Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey between Genders prompted one reviewer to comment, “It is a fierce story of regular old human life: hideous choices, endless repercussions, occasional glory, frequent humiliation, abiding difficulty. It could have happened to us.” Her story continues to make news.

Remaking RwandaAnd when we published Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence, edited by Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf, the book achieved a level of sales unexpected for an edited volume of scholarly essays. The cause of its success? A public denunciation of the book by the Rwandan government.

 

UNIVERSITY PRESS WEEK BLOG TOUR: Take a fascinating tour of other blogs from university presses.

Alfred McCoy explains why impunity for torture is a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government. #torture

Torture and ImpunityMany Americans have condemned the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used in the War on Terror as a transgression of human rights abhorrent to American principles and traditions. But the United States has done almost nothing to prosecute past abuses or prevent future violations. Tracing this knotty contradiction from the 1950s to 2012 in his book Torture and impunity, historian Alfred W. McCoy probes the political and cultural dynamics that have made impunity for torture a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government.

During the Cold War, McCoy argues, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency covertly funded psychological experiments designed to weaken a subject’s resistance to interrogation. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the CIA revived these harsh methods, while U.S. media was flooded with seductive images that normalized torture for many Americans. Ten years later, the U.S. had failed to punish the perpetrators or the powerful who commanded them, and continued to exploit intelligence extracted under torture by surrogates from Somalia to Afghanistan. Although Washington has publicly distanced itself from torture, disturbing images from the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are seared into human memory, doing lasting damage to America’s moral authority as a world leader.

As 2014 draws to a close, a U.S. Senate investigation has documented the use of extensive use of many kinds of torture by the CIA in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and has presented further evidence that such techniques were not actually effective for gaining crucial information.

In 2012, an Italian court convicted 23 CIA operatives of kidnapping a Muslim cleric under the U.S. program of “extraordinary rendition.” The cleric, Abu Omar, was seized from the streets of Milan in 2003 and taken to U.S. bases in Italy and Germany before being sent to Egypt, where he was tortured during a four-year imprisonment. The Americans were all convicted in absentia after the United States government refused to hand them over. View a 2012 interview with Alfred McCoy about this policy of impunity.

Alfred W. McCoy

Alfred W. McCoy

Alfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin– Madison. His many books include Policing America’s Empire and A Question of Torture. Torture and Impunity is published by the University of Wisconsin Press as part of the book series, Critical Human Rights, edited by Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus.

“A masterful account of an appalling national drift toward accepting torture as part of our culture and polity.”—Alex Gibney, director, Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side

“This book gives the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about the use of torture by the United States intelligence services.”—Jennifer Harbury, author of Truth, Torture, and the American Way

“A fascinating and disturbing book, providing the most authoritative account of torture yet available and conforming to the best traditions of scholarship.”—Richard Falk, Princeton University

“McCoy, our finest thinker on the issue of torture, describes its legalization under Bush and the damage caused to morality, law, and our future by Obama’s granting of impunity to the torturers. Readers will come away with the understanding that the United States’ commitment to human rights was tested by 9/11—and it failed.”—Michael Ratner, president emeritus, Center for Constitutional Rights

Books are great gifts!

books_equal_gifts

For your holiday shopping convenience, we have suggestions of University of Wisconsin Press books that would be great gifts! At this special gift suggestions page, find a wide range of selections: biographies, fiction, movies, poetry, traveler’s tales, natural history, Civil War, hunting and fishing, farm stories, classics in translation, Wisconsin, and more. Or just use the “custom search” box in the left sidebar to search our books using the key words of your choice.

Gambler and Politician William Thomas Scott Was African American Presidential Candidate in 1904

WILLIAM THOMAS SCOTT was an entrepreneur and political activist from East Saint Louis and Cairo, Illinois, who in 1904 briefly became the first African American nominated by a national party for Featured imagepresident of the United States. He is alleged to have been one of the wealthiest African Americans in Illinois at the peak of his career.

A new book, A Black Gambler’s World of Liquor, Vice, and Presidential Politics: William Thomas Scott of Illinois, 1839–1917, by Bruce L. Mouser, is the first biography of Scott, whose story has been largely forgotten except in the Cairo area. The book is published by the University of Wisconsin Press and has a foreword by Harvard professor, author, and documentary filmmaker Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Scott’s story is set in a time when Black Americans were experiencing enormous change. Born in Ohio in 1839, Scott was a free man before the Civil War. He joined the Union Navy in 1863 and served at Cairo, Illinois, the headquarters of Union Forces in the West during the Civil War. He saw the end of slavery and was already a political player when African Americans obtained the right to vote in 1870.

Cairo, Illinois during the Civil War (National Historical Society photo)

Cairo, Illinois during the Civil War (National Historical Society photo)

“The biography is a fascinating and informative look into the life of a forgotten but important African American leader who charted his own course from the Civil War to the eve of America’s entry into World War I,” says Roger Bridges, historian at Illinois State University.

“William Thomas Scott was a maverick who worked tirelessly to promote and advance the black community (while at the same time lining his own pockets in the sordid world of gambling, prostitution, and tavern-keeping). Scott emerges in Mouser’s biography as a powerful, interesting, and enigmatic leader working on both sides of the law to further his own interests and those of the larger African American community,” Bridges notes.

As Mouser discovered, Scott was a charismatic hustler who built his fortune in Illinois in the Cairo–East Saint Louis area through illegal liquor sales, gambling, and operating houses of ill repute. He also branched into legal businesses including hotels, saloons, and real estate. Eventually he became the publisher and editor of what may have been America’s first African American daily newspaper, the Cairo Gazette, and became active in politics.

“The post-Civil War era in the United States was a time of promise for African Americans, but in the late nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries they lost ground with the rise of Jim Crow laws and scientific racism,” says the book’s author, Bruce Mouser. “William Scott struggled into the twentieth century to retain the progress made by African Americans.”

William Thomas Scott

William Thomas Scott

Scott was an outspoken advocate for equal rights. Like many in his era, he believed in political patronage and frequently led rebellions against political bosses who failed to deliver jobs and reforms in exchange for votes.

“Scott refused to be complicit in backing politicians who took him and the broader base of first-generation black voters for dupes,” notes Henry Louis Gates, Jr. “He saw the political game for what it was: a game of power.”

When nearly all voting Blacks were Republicans—the party of Abraham Lincoln—William Scott broke away to become a Democrat. In his journalism and speeches he encouraged Blacks to look beyond Lincoln’s party and cast their votes in support of their own economic interests and civil rights. Scott became disillusioned with Democrats of the era as well and helped build the National Negro Liberty Party (NNLP) to forward economic, political, and legal rights for his race.

Although arrested numerous times on charges related to bootleg liquor sales, gambling, and prostitution, Scott had remained a popular public speaker, journalist, and political power broker in Illinois. But the hustling that had brought him business success proved his undoing as a national political figure. Although he was the NNLP’s initial presidential nominee in 1904, revelations about his scandalous past forced him to step aside for another candidate.

The author of the biography, Bruce L. Mouser, is a retired professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. He first became aware of Scott’s story while he was writing a different book about another early African American journalist and politician, George Edwin Taylor.

George Edwin Taylor

George Edwin Taylor

“I had initially thought that George Edwin Taylor was the first African American nominated to run for president of the United States. Taylor was indeed the first to get on the ballot, but as I found out in my research, William Thomas Scott was actually the first nominee of the National Negro Liberty Party, but he was soon replaced by Taylor,” Mouser says. “Taylor was better educated and more socially acceptable as a candidate. William Scott’s past arrests for vice trades wouldn’t play well in the national political arena.”

Mouser-Bruce-2014-c

Bruce Mouser

(Mouser tells Taylor’s story in his 2011 book For Labor, Race, and Liberty: George Edwin Taylor, His Historic Run for the White House, and the Making of Independent Black Politics.)

William Thomas Scott’s life, as depicted in A Black Gambler’s World of Liquor, Vice, and Presidential Politics, reveals the roots of African American disillusionment with the Republican Party and the dynamics of interest-group politics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Omar H. Ali, professor of African American Studies at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, says, “Bruce Mouser has carefully retrieved from dusty archives the documentary evidence to write an exceptionally thoughtful and compelling biography of independent black leader William Thomas Scott. Scott’s biography shows how African Americans during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries negotiated Democratic authority and Republican complacency (or the reverse), by either creating new coalitions or breaking out on their own.”

The biography is available through local and online booksellers and libraries, or from the University of Wisconsin Press at 800-621-2736 or this web page. (If not in stock at a local store or library, it can be requested.) It is published in paperback, and an e-book version will be available soon from many e-book vendors and libraries.

FRAC SAND DECISIONS CHALLENGE RURAL COMMUNITIES

Apps-Jerry-2014-cby Jerry Apps, author of The Great Sand Fracas of Ames County

When I first heard about the successes with hydraulic fracturing as a new way to extract natural gas and oil buried deep in the bedrock of several regions of the American Northeast, West, and Southwest, I was intrigued. But I was also skeptical about the promise of job opportunities and economic development offered by this relatively new technique.

frac-sand-map_09-2012-289x300Then I learned that the special kind of sand needed for the fracturing process could be found primarily in Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota and southeast Iowa. As a native of the “sand counties” of Wisconsin, I became even more interested and concerned. After many decades of working in and observing rural Wisconsin, I’ve learned that usually what sounds so good—more jobs and economic development—often has a down side, too.

I began reading newspaper reports that said frac sand mining was spreading, and that companies were buying entire farms in western Wisconsin to turn them into frac sand mines. I contacted the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey offices, and from the WGNHS I learned more about hydraulic fracturing and especially about sand mining—what it is, how it is done, and some of the challenges it presents.

By then I knew that the topic of frac sand mining would fit perfectly within the series of books I’ve been writing about a fictional county in Wisconsin, my Ames County saga. So far I have written five novels, all published by the University of Wisconsin Press and focusing on issues the people in that county have faced in past and recent history: soil conservation, land use planning, water pollution, and large-scale farming.

Apps-Great-Sand-Fracas-cSo that’s how the idea for the new novel, The Great Sand Fracas of Ames County, was born. I continued reading reports from many Wisconsin newspapers to see the ways local people were debating whether and how to allow frac sand mines to open in their communities.

Many people saw sand mining as an economic bonanza bringing much-needed jobs and tax revenues to their communities. Others worried greatly about environmental effects: processing the sand requires great amounts of water; fine dust from the process can cause respiratory problems; rivers and streams could become silted or contaminated with runoff; lights, noise, trucks and trains would transform the quiet countryside.

And, as is often the case with new endeavors, especially those expanding rapidly, laws and rules governing frac sand mining lag well behind the growth of the industry. Sand mining rapidly became a political issue, forcing local officials to vote yea or nay on zoning, regulations, taxation, and other policy issues regarding the mines.

In many of the communities affected, especially in western Wisconsin, emotions flared. Citizens who once were friends became adversaries as they took positions for or against a frac sand mine in their neighborhood.

In my novel The Great Sand Fracas of Ames County, I illustrate how a small Wisconsin community (fictional Link Lake) copes with the possibility of a sand mine opening in the location of their revered community park. The local historical society becomes involved when the sand mine officials declare that they must cut down the Trail Marker Oak, a historic landmark along an old Menominee trail, to gain access for large equipment. With the hope for increasing the tax base and keeping more jobs in the village, the Link Lake Village Board approves leasing the park to the mining company, with a resulting uproar that divides everyone in the village.

Through fiction I’ve tried to illustrate, in an entertaining way, how complicated local development issues can be. Too often emotions can trump logic, historic fact, and scientific findings. Clear thinking can disappear in a cloud of angry words.

Cranberry RedIn cases such as my Ames County story, and in my other five novels that all take place in this fictional Wisconsin county, I advocate the need for critical thinking, which allows for economic, environmental, historical, and political views to be examined in a clear-headed and deliberate way to make wise choices for our present and our future.

TamarackIn a PickleBlue ShadowsIncrease Joseph

David Mitchell in the Labyrinth of Time: Review of THE BONE CLOCKS and Preview of an Interview with the Author

As an online preview of a special issue of SubStance devoted to David Mitchell’s fiction, we are posting a review-essay of his book by Paul Harris and an excerpt of an interview with the author. The interview will appear in the special issue in spring 2015.


 

The Bone Clocks coverA Review of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks
by Paul A. Harris, Editor, SubStance

David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, the latest iteration of his fractal imagination, follows a central character’s life through six decades in six sections that simultaneously succeed as stand-alone stories. Protagonist Holly Sykes narrates the first and final chapters; in the middle ones, her life is seen prismatically through the lenses of others who cross her path: Cambridge student Hugo Lamb, war journalist Ed Brubeck, bad-boy author Crispin Hershey, and Horologist Marinus. Navigating this narrative proves to be a rollicking ride: the plot is a propulsive page-turner, picking up momentum as it goes; the narrative is kaleidoscopic-episodic, unfolding in a series of juxtapositions and sometimes sudden shifts; the style is protean, skipping skillfully among different rhetorical registers, allusive layers, and literary genres.

At the same time, The Bone Clocks is a tightly woven text that recursively loops through Mitchell’s previous books and ultimately interlaces all his books into an intricate, sprawling intertext. Returning Mitchell readers will encounter familiar faces (Lamb, Marinus), and recognize allusions to his other books (“The Voorman Problem,” a story attributed to Hershey, is from Number9Dream; the “symmetrical structure” of Hershey’s novel Dessicated Embryos can be read as an allusion to Cloud Atlas, and there’s even a comical reference to the movie). Back-stories in The Bone Clocks turn into/out of back-stories to episodes/elements from previous novels (Magistrate Shiroyama’s killing Abbot Enomoto in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet; the Prescients in Cloud Atlas).

More broadly, the form of The Bone Clocks is a synthesis of globe-trotting Ghostwritten and time-traveling Cloud Atlas. In tone and style, Holly Sykes’s rebellious teen sojourn into the countryside is straight out of contemporaneously-set Black Swan Green (she’s a slightly older avatar of Jason Taylor). While each chapter of that novel covered a calendar month over a year, each section of The Bone Clocks is set in a specific decade, beginning thirty years ago and ending thirty years into the future. Eventually, one surmises that the heterogeneous characters and events in The Bone Clocks, and its central plot conflicts, are all always already written into something called “The Script,” a self-reflexive motif for the text itself, and perhaps for Mitchell’s body of work as well. (more…)

MASTER CHEESEMAKERS OF WISCONSIN book showcased at National Book Festival in Washington

NatlBookFestThe fourteenth annual National Book Festival, organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress, will take place Saturday, August 30, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC.

4464The book Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin has been chosen to represent the University of Wisconsin Press in the state of Wisconsin display at the Festival’s Pavilion of the States. Its authors, James Norton and Becca Dilley, are a professional food writer and photographer who grew up in Madison and graduated from UW-Madison. They profile 43 Wisconsin cheesemakers who have earned the prestigious and arduous certification as a Master Cheesemaker. The Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker certification program was established in 1994 through joint sponsorship of the UW-Madison Center for Dairy Research, UW-Extension, and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

Free and open to the public, the National Book Festival features books, authors, and illustrators in pavilions dedicated to subjects ranging from history and biography to mysteries, thrillers, poetry and prose, and books for families and young people. More than 200,000 people typically attend the festival.

The Wisconsin Center for the Book organizes the state’s display and will feature Wisconsin publishers, literary organizations, and books. The Wisconsin Center for the Book is an all-volunteer organization that celebrates books and the book arts, encourages the joy of reading and writing, and honors Wisconsin’s literary heritage. It is affiliated with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and with the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee School of Information Studies.

America’s Cops View Citizens as “The Enemy”

By Lev Raphael, originally published on The Huffington Post

That’s right. And not just black citizens. All citizens. Skin color doesn’t matter.

A sea change has been taking place over the last decade that’s been invisible to most Americans. Across the country, in big cities and small towns, police forces have been turning into armies. It’s taken the events in Ferguson to blow things wide open.

The fancy word is “militarization,” but it sounds too clinical for what’s been going on. Even before 9/11, the Pentagon was lavishing cops in every state with military equipment, but that’s escalated since 2006 as the Pentagon has unloaded surplus assault rifles; armored vehicles; planes and helicopters. The total dollar amount has now reached into the billions since that terror attack has made everyone think they’re the next target, now matter how improbable it might seem.

Even tiny towns want armored personnel carriers. And they use them. For things like serving warrants and drug raids. That’s right. For ordinary police work that used to done without military hardware.

45,000 SWAT team raids take place in this country every year. The U.S. is now a war zone and our police have morphed into soldiers. They raid at night for maximum shock and awe, break down doors, use flashbang grenades, shoot people’s dogs, wreck homes, and commit violence on innocent citizens. They often raid the wrong house because their information is out of date. Sometimes they even kill unarmed citizens. And they haven’t really been accountable to anyone, despite the string of news stories that have been appearing on local TV stations and in local and national newspapers for years.

I started reading about these epidemic SWAT raids about five years ago and how police forces were recruiting ex-military and radically shifting their consciousness and their perceived mission. Forget serving the public. The public is the enemy, at least potentially, and the enemy has to be crushed. As more ex-soldiers have entered the police force and more cops have been trained by the military, the danger has increased to the general public everywhere.

You know this is a searing problem when organizations as different as the ACLU and The Heritage Foundation agree that America’s police are out of control.

That’s one reason I wrote Assault With a Deadly Lie, a novel of suspense that explores the crushing effects of police brutality on innocent people. Because nowadays, none of us are really innocent in the eyes of the law. We’re all criminals, no matter who we are or where we live. As the defense lawyer in my book says, after 9/11, “You think you have rights and freedoms, but everything is contingent now.”

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Lev Raphael is the author of twenty-five books in a dozen different genres: http://www.levraphael.com

Follow Lev Raphael on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LevRaphael

Mass Surveillance Began with World War I

One hundred years ago, the outbreak of World War I in Europe eventually led to extensive domestic spying in the United States on German Americans and a startling array of other citizens and residents. Al McCoy’s article below, which was originally published in January 2014 on the blog Tom Dispatch, describes a century of surveillance cycles, documented in far greater detail in his award-winning UW Press book, POLICING AMERICA’S EMPIRE: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State. Of related interest is another UW Press book, UNSAFE FOR DEMOCRACY: World War I and the U.S. Justice Department’s Covert Campaign to Suppress Dissent by William H. Thomas Jr.

 

Surveillance and Scandal

Time-Tested Weapons for U.S. Global Power 

For more than six months, Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) have been pouring out from the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, Germany’s Der Spiegel, and Brazil’s O Globo, among other places. Yet no one has pointed out the combination of factors that made the NSA’s expanding programs to monitor the world seem like such a slam-dunk development in Washington. The answer is remarkably simple. For an imperial power losing its economic grip on the planet and heading into more austere times, the NSA’s latest technological breakthroughs look like a bargain basement deal when it comes to projecting power and keeping subordinate allies in line — like, in fact, the steal of the century. Even when disaster turned out to be attached to them, the NSA’s surveillance programs have come with such a discounted price tag that no Washington elite was going to reject them.

For well over a century, from the pacification of the Philippines in 1898 to trade negotiations with the European Union today, surveillance and its kissing cousins, scandal and scurrilous information, have been key weapons in Washington’s search for global dominion. Not surprisingly, in a post-9/11 bipartisan exercise of executive power, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have presided over building the NSA step by secret step into a digital panopticon designed to monitor the communications of every American and foreign leaders worldwide.

What exactly was the aim of such an unprecedented program of massive domestic and planetary spying, which clearly carried the risk of controversy at home and abroad? Here, an awareness of the more than century-long history of U.S. surveillance can guide us through the billions of bytes swept up by the NSA to the strategic significance of such a program for the planet’s last superpower. What the past reveals is a long-term relationship between American state surveillance and political scandal that helps illuminate the unacknowledged reason why the NSA monitors America’s closest allies.

Not only does such surveillance help gain intelligence advantageous to U.S. diplomacy, trade relations, and war-making, but it also scoops up intimate information that can provide leverage — akin to blackmail — in sensitive global dealings and negotiations of every sort. The NSA’s global panopticon thus fulfills an ancient dream of empire. With a few computer key strokes, the agency has solved the problem that has bedeviled world powers since at least the time of Caesar Augustus: how to control unruly local leaders, who are the foundation for imperial rule, by ferreting out crucial, often scurrilous, information to make them more malleable.

A Cost-Savings Bonanza With a Downside

Once upon a time, such surveillance was both expensive and labor intensive. Today, however, unlike the U.S. Army’s shoe-leather surveillance during World War I or the FBI’s break-ins and phone bugs in the Cold War years, the NSA can monitor the entire world and its leaders with only 100-plus probesinto the Internet’s fiber optic cables.

This new technology is both omniscient and omnipresent beyond anything those lacking top-secret clearance could have imagined before the Edward Snowden revelations began.  Not only is it unimaginably pervasive, but NSA surveillance is also a particularly cost-effective strategy compared to just about any other form of global power projection. And better yet, it fulfills the greatest imperial dream of all: to be omniscient not just for a few islands, as in the Philippines a century ago, or a couple of countries, as in the Cold War era, but on a truly global scale.

In a time of increasing imperial austerity and exceptional technological capability, everything about the NSA’s surveillance told Washington to just “go for it.”  This cut-rate mechanism for both projecting force and preserving U.S. global power surely looked like a no-brainer, a must-have bargain for any American president in the twenty-first century — before new NSA documents started hitting front pages weekly, thanks to Snowden, and the whole world began returning the favor.

As the gap has grown between Washington’s global reach and its shrinking mailed fist, as it struggles to maintain 40% of world armaments (the 2012 figure) with only 23% of global gross economic output, the U.S. will need to find new ways to exercise its power far more economically. As the Cold War took off, a heavy-metal U.S. military — with 500 bases worldwide circa 1950 — was sustainable because the country controlled some 50% of the global gross product.

But as its share of world output falls — to an estimated 17% by 2016 — and its social welfare costs climb relentlessly from 4% of gross domestic product in 2010 to a projected 18% by 2050, cost-cutting becomes imperative if Washington is to survive as anything like the planet’s “sole superpower.” Compared to the $3 trillion cost of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the NSA’s 2012 budget of just $11 billion for worldwide surveillance and cyberwarfare looks like cost saving the Pentagon can ill-afford to forego.

Yet this seeming “bargain” comes at what turns out to be an almost incalculable cost. The sheer scale of such surveillance leaves it open to countless points of penetration, whether by a handful of anti-war activistsbreaking into an FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania, back in 1971 or Edward Snowden downloading NSA documents at a Hawaiian outpost in 2012.

Once these secret programs are exposed, it turns out that nobody really likes being under surveillance. Proud national leaders refuse to tolerate foreign powers observing them like rats in a maze. Ordinary citizens recoil at the idea of Big Brother watching their private lives like so many microbes on a slide.

Cycles of Surveillance

Over the past century, the tension between state expansion and citizen-driven contraction has pushed U.S. surveillance through a recurring cycle. First comes the rapid development of stunning counterintelligence techniques under the pressure of fighting foreign wars; next, the unchecked, usually illegal application of those surveillance technologies back home behind a veil of secrecy; and finally, belated, grudging reforms as press and public discover the outrageous excesses of the FBI, the CIA, or now, the NSA. In this hundred-year span — as modern communications advanced from the mail to the telephone to the Internet — state surveillance has leapt forward in technology’s ten-league boots, while civil liberties have crawled along behind at the snail’s pace of law and legislation.

The first and, until recently, most spectacular round of surveillance came during World War I and its aftermath. Fearing subversion by German-Americans after the declaration of war on Germany in 1917, the FBI and Military Intelligence swelled from bureaucratic nonentities into all-powerful agencies charged with extirpating any flicker of disloyalty anywhere in America, whether by word or deed. Since only 9% of the country’s population then had telephones, monitoring the loyalties of some 10 million German-Americans proved incredibly labor-intensive, requiring legions of postal workers to physically examine some 30 million first-class letters and 350,000 badge-carrying vigilantes to perform shoe-leather snooping on immigrants, unions, and socialists of every sort.  During the 1920s, Republican conservatives, appalled by this threat to privacy, slowly began to curtail Washington’s security apparatus. This change culminated in Secretary of State Henry Stimson’s abolition of the government’s cryptography unit in 1929 with his memorable admonition, “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”

In the next round of mass surveillance during World War II, the FBI discovered that the wiretapping of telephones produced an unanticipated byproduct with extraordinary potential for garnering political power: scandal. To block enemy espionage, President Franklin Roosevelt gave the FBI control over all U.S. counterintelligence and, in May 1940, authorized its director, J. Edgar Hoover, to engage in wiretapping.

What made Hoover a Washington powerhouse was the telephone. With 20% of the country and the entire political elite by now owning phones, FBI wiretaps at local switchboards could readily monitor conversations by both suspected subversives and the president’s domestic enemies, particularly leaders of the isolationist movement such as aviator Charles Lindbergh and Senator Burton Wheeler.

Even with these centralized communications, however, the Bureau still needed massive manpower for its wartime counterintelligence. Its staff soared from just 650 in 1924 to 13,000 by 1943. Upon taking office on Roosevelt’s death in early 1945, Harry Truman soon learned the extraordinary extent of FBI surveillance. “We want no Gestapo or Secret Police,” Truman wrote in his diary that May. “FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail.”

After a quarter of a century of warrantless wiretaps, Hoover built up a veritable archive of sexual preferences among America’s powerful and used it to shape the direction of U.S. politics.  He distributed a dossier on Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson’s alleged homosexuality to assure his defeat in the 1952 presidential elections, circulated audio tapes of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philandering, and monitored President Kennedy’s affair with mafia mistress Judith Exner. And these are just a small sampling of Hoover’s uses of scandal to keep the Washington power elite under his influence.

“The moment [Hoover] would get something on a senator,” recalled William Sullivan, the FBI’s chief of domestic intelligence during the 1960s, “he’d send one of the errand boys up and advise the senator that ‘we’re in the course of an investigation, and we by chance happened to come up with this data on your daughter…’ From that time on, the senator’s right in his pocket.” After his death, an official tally found Hoover had 883 such files on senators and 722 more on congressmen.

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 Get more information about Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation by Alfred W. McCoy, or Unsafe for Democracy by William H. Thomas J.