Saturday, July 8, 2017

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones's "We Know All About You"

A native of Harlech, Wales, Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones studied at the Universities of Michigan and Harvard, where he was active in the 1960s free speech movement. Founder and current president of the Scottish Association for the Study of America, he writes and lectures widely on US social and intelligence history. His book The American Left: Its Impact on Politics and Society since 1900 (Edinburgh and Oxford University Presses) won the Neustadt prize for the best UK book on American politics published in 2013.

Jeffreys-Jones applied “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, We Know All About You: The Story of Surveillance in Britain and America, and reported the following:
Telling the story of surveillance in the USA and UK, We Know All About You has chapters on McCarthyism as it affected each country. Page 99 falls into the chapter on American McCarthyism, and contains the observation that although the 1947 National Security Act prohibited the CIA from operating at home, in practice that exclusion “would never be absolute”.

In subsequent references to the CIA, the book shows how Americans were especially sensitive to surveillance that affected them in their own country. They tolerated CIA actions abroad, such as assassination, the overthrow of democratically elected governments, and drone attacks that contravened the laws of target nations. But domestic infractions, such as the agency’s program of spying on anti-Vietnam War protestors, caused uproar and major political upheaval. In more recent times, suggestions that the NSA has been placing American citizens under mass surveillance have caused similar turmoil.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden recognized Americans’ sensitivity to domestic issues, and the chapter on him argues that in order to maximize his impact he tried to focus on the spying-at-home activities of the NSA. In practice, a relative shortage of evidence made him fall back on the NSA’s foreign intelligence activities, a circumstance that dented his reputation.

Page 99 also frames the sentence, “Private employers and agencies had for decades compiled blacklists and now [in America’s McCarthy years] had official encouragement”. This refers to the book’s major theme, that modern surveillance is as much a private as a state phenomenon. Because of our pro-private, anti-statist bias, we tend to overlook this. Private surveillance can be benign, for example in the case of credit assessments without which business could not operate. But it can also underpin practices such as blacklisting and, through data fusion, it facilitates mind control in the interest of commercial gain – your loyalty card may be exchanging data with your smart phone, and watching you.
Discover more about We Know All About You at the Oxford University Press website.

Learn about Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones's top ten classic spy novels.

The Page 99 Test: In Spies We Trust.

--Marshal Zeringue