Ex-FBI Agent Claims Opposing Illegal Mass Surveillance Is “White Privilege”

Blog / Thursday, June 4th, 2015

salon privilege rand paul

In yet another example on the long list of how right-wingers co-opt identity politics in order to serve their extremely reactionary politics, an ex-FBI agent published an article on 1 June claiming that opposing the US government’s illegal mass surveillance—which disproportionately targets people of color and Muslims—is a product of white privilege:

“What if Rand Paul were Muslim? The white, privileged assumptions behind his Patriot Act ‘principles'”

It is not satire. It is serious.

In the article, author Naveed Jamali, a former undercover FBI agent, extols the virtues of the US military and police. He writes (emphasis mine)

I can’t speak for every child of immigrants, but in my case being first generation made me want to be the most American I could. Indeed, my background pushed me to want to serve. However, after my time as a double agent ended, I found myself fighting a new battle: The Assumption War. Based on nothing but my last name, people assumed that my stint with the FBI had involved terrorism. I know this because even now I constantly field questions like “Where were you born?” or “Are you Sunni or Shia?” As soon as those questions are asked, I feel that all of the work I’ve done, from fighting to expose the Russians to joining the military (activities that prove my loyalty), is erased and I’m nothing but my last name.

Ancestry bias, which is not confined to Russian intelligence operatives but is widespread, makes me a staunch supporter of any method or system that brings an objective approach to identifying potential spies and terrorists. As an intelligence professional I’ve been taught to be aware of my natural bias when analyzing information. I’ve been encouraged to not draw conclusions first and then look for information to support a claim, but, rather, to let the information dictate the conclusion. Which is why I have no qualms about taking a wide-net, mass-data approach rather than selectively profiling based on background or heritage. I see no point in removing a powerful tool that encourages an evidence-based approach to intelligence gathering.

Perhaps to those like Sen. Rand Paul who’ve never had to fight assumptions based on one’s ethnicity or the color of one’s skin, the thought of cell phone data being pooled and analyzed is disconcerting. However, as someone who regularly puts up with extra scrutiny, whether it’s at an airport or a shopping mall, I welcome the leveling of the playing field that bulk data collection brings. I urge our government not to follow the Russian method of profiling, but, instead, to use bulk data collection to arrive at objective analyses.

First of all, once again, the NSA’s mass surveillance program is illegal. End of story.

Second of all, also once again, the US government’s illegal mass surveillance program is used in order to disproportionately target people of color and Muslims. They bear the brunt of the surveillance state; it oppresses them. This alone is adequate reason to oppose it, against, not on behalf of, white privilege.

Third of all, as Glenn Greenwald et al. have made clear,

there have been multiple commissions since Edward Snowden came forward, including one convened by the Obama White House itself, that gave that commission access to all of the classified data, and they issued a report saying that this domestic metadata program has never, ever been successful in stopping even a single terrorist plot.

The federal court, which in 2013—2014 said that the program was unconstitutional, said there was no evidence that the NSA or the Justice Department could point to that this program has ever stopped a terrorist plot.

And Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, who have access to all of the classified information, have all said the same thing, that there’s no role that these programs play in stopping terror plots.

Similarly, in the words of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden himself

One of the unfortunate, truly unfortunate, sort of amplifiers of the tragedy of narrowing your rights in this context of terrorism is the fact that we know these programs don’t help mitigate terrorism. In the United States, we had programs appointed by the White House, two different independent panels with access to classified information, that looked at these programs and found that in not a single case had mass surveillance produced information that made a concrete difference in any terrorism investigation.

Ludicrous articles such as these serve as a reminder that identity politics is objectively right-wing. In Europe, the so-called “identitarian” movement is a literal fascist, white supremacist movement.

Yes, the personal is political, but when you elevate the personal above the political and reduce politics to identities—as so many liberals and self-identifying “radicals” are wont to do today—you end up with reactionary non-politics that simply serves the status quo. It does not matter how “radical” your rhetoric is and hip your self-varnished veneer of “rebellion” is.

Next, dogmatic partisan Democrats will publish think pieces claiming opposing imperialist US wars (that kill countless people of color in the Global South) is a product of white privilege because it is easy for white people to oppose “humanitarian” military intervention that will purportedly “protect” the people being invaded.