Another is Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa), a new intelligence agency created under Donald Rumsfeld that is independent of the CIA. This parallel spy agency outsources 70% of its budget to private contractors; like the department of homeland security, it was built as a hollow shell. As Ken Minihan, former director of the National Security Agency, explained, "Homeland security is too important to be left to the government."
Every aspect of the way the Bush administration has defined the parameters of the war on terror has served to maximise its profitability and sustainability as a market - The document that launched the department of homeland security declares, "Today's terrorists can strike at any place, at any time, and with virtually any weapon," which conveniently means that the security services required must protect against every imaginable risk in every conceivable place at every possible time. And it's not necessary to prove that a threat is real for it to merit a full-scale response - not with Cheney's famous "1% doctrine", which justified the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that if there is a 1% chance that something is a threat, it requires that the US respond as if the threat is a 100% certainty.
The war on terror, is limited by neither time nor space nor target. From a military perspective, these sprawling and amorphous traits make the war on terror an unwinnable proposition. But from an economic perspective, they make it an unbeatable one.
That was the business prospectus that the Bush administration put before corporate America after September 11. The revenue stream was a seemingly bottomless supply of tax dollars to be funnelled from the Pentagon ($270bn in 2005 to private contractors, a $137bn increase since Bush took office), US intelligence agencies and the newest arrival, the department of homeland security.
In addition to the start-ups and investment funds, the disaster industry also gave birth to an army of new lobby firms promising to hook up new companies with the right people on Capitol Hill - in 2001, there were two such security-oriented lobby firms, but by mid-2006 there were 543.
Like the dotcom bubble, the disaster bubble is inflating in an ad-hoc and chaotic fashion. One of the first booms for the homeland security industry was surveillance cameras, 30m of which have been installed in the US, shooting about 4bn hours of footage a year. That created a problem: who's going to watch 4bn hours of footage? So a new market emerged for "analytic software" that scans the tapes and creates matches with images already on file.
And with all the snooping going on - phone logs, wire-tapping, financial records, mail, surveillance cameras, web surfing - the government is drowning in data, which has opened up yet another massive market in information management and data mining, as well as software that claims to be able to "connect the dots" in this ocean of words and numbers and pinpoint suspicious activity.
As an exuberant article in the business magazine Red Herring explained, one such program "tracks terrorists by figuring out if a name spelled a hundred different ways matches a name in a homeland security database. Take the name Mohammad. The software contains hundreds of possible spellings for the name, and it can search terabytes of data in a second." Impressive, unless they nail the wrong Mohammad, which often seems to happen, from Iraq to Afghanistan to the suburbs of Toronto.
This potential for error is where the incompetence and greed that have been the hallmark of the Bush years, from Iraq to New Orleans, becomes harrowing. Anyone can be blocked from flying, denied an entry visa to the US or even arrested and named as an "enemy combatant" based on evidence from these dubious technologies - a blurry image identified through facial recognition software, a misspelled name, a misunderstood snippet of a conversation. If "enemy combatants" are not US citizens, they will probably never even know what it was that convicted them, because the Bush administration has stripped them of habeas corpus, the right to see the evidence in court, as well as the right to a fair trial and a vigorous defence.
If the suspect is taken, as a result, to Guantánamo, he may well end up in the new 200-person maximum-security prison constructed by Halliburton. If he is a victim of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" programme, kidnapped off the streets of Milan or while changing planes at a US airport, then whisked to a so-called black site somewhere in the CIA's archipelago of secret prisons, the hooded prisoner will likely fly in a Boeing 737, designed as a deluxe executive jet, retrofitted for this purpose. According to the New Yorker, Boeing has been acting as the "CIA's travel agent" - blocking out flightplans for as many as 1,245 rendition voyages, arranging ground crews and even booking hotels.
Once the prisoners arrive at the destination, they face interrogators, some of whom will not be employed by the CIA or the military but by private contractors. According to Bill Golden, who runs the job website IntelligenceCareers.com, "Over half of the qualified counter-intelligence experts in the field work for contractors." If these freelance interrogators are to keep landing lucrative contracts, they must extract from prisoners the kind of "actionable intelligence" their employers in Washington are looking for.
Then there is the low-tech version of this application of market "solutions" to the war on terror - During the invasion of Afghanistan, US intelligence agents let it be known that they would pay anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000 for al-Qaida or Taliban fighters handed over to them. Soon enough, the cells of Bagram and Guantánamo were overflowing with goat herders, cab drivers, cooks and shopkeepers - all lethally dangerous, according to the men who turned them over and collected the rewards.
According to the Pentagon's own figures, 86% of the prisoners at Guantánamo were handed over by Afghan and Pakistani fighters or agents after the bounties were announced. As of December 2006, the Pentagon had released 360 prisoners from Guantánamo (out of 759 held between 2001 and the end of 2006). The Associated Press was able to track down 245 of them; 205 had been freed or cleared of all charges when they returned to their home countries. It is a track record that is a grave indictment of the quality of intelligence produced by the administration's market-based approach to terrorist identification.
In just a few years, the homeland security industry, which barely existed before 9/11, has exploded to a size that is now significantly larger than either Hollywood or the music business. Yet what is most striking is how little the security boom is analysed and discussed as an economy, as an unprecedented convergence of unchecked police powers and unchecked capitalism, a merger of the shopping mall and the secret prison.
When information about who is or is not a security threat is a product to be sold as readily as information about who buys Harry Potter books on Amazon or who has taken a Caribbean cruise and might enjoy one in Alaska, it changes the values of a culture. Not only does it create an incentive to spy, torture and generate false information, but it creates a powerful impetus to perpetuate the fear and sense of peril that created the industry in the first place.
Part of the problem is that the disaster economy sneaked up on us. In the 80s and 90s, new economies announced themselves with great pride and fanfare. The tech bubble in particular set a precedent for a new ownership class inspiring deafening levels of hype. That kind of wealth is being generated by the disaster complex today, though we rarely hear about it. While the CEOs of the top 34 defence contractors saw their incomes go up an average of 108% between 2001 and 2005, chief executives at other large American companies averaged only 6% over the same period.
Peter Swire, who served as the US government's privacy counsellor during the Clinton administration, describes the convergence of forces behind the war on terror bubble like this: "You have government on a holy mission to ramp up information gathering and you have an information technology industry desperate for new markets." In other words, you have corporatism: big business and big government combining their formidable powers to regulate and control the citizenry.
Just coz you don't understand it
Doesn't mean it makes no sense!