The origins of our surveillance state in our colonial conquest of the Phillipines
In 1898, Washington occupied the Philippines and in the years that followed pacified its rebellious people, in part by fashioning the world's first full-scale "surveillance state" in a colonial land. The illiberal lessons learned there then migrated homeward, providing the basis for constructing America's earliest internal security and surveillance apparatus during World War I ....
Here's a little litany of "progress" to ponder while on the road to today's every-email-all-the-time version of surveillance.
Within just a few years, the union of Thomas A. Edison's quadruplex telegraph with Philo Remington's commercial typewriter, both inventions of 1874, allowed for the accurate transmission of textual data at the unequalled speed of 40 words per minute across America and around the world.
In the mid-1870s as well, librarian Melvil Dewey developed the "Dewey decimal system" to catalog the Amherst College Library, thereby inventing the "smart number" for the reliable encoding and rapid retrieval of limitless information.
The year after engineer Herman Hollerith patented the punch card (1889), the US Census Bureau adopted his Electrical Tabulating machine to count 62,622,250 Americans within weeks - a triumph that later led to the founding of International Business Machines, better known by its acronym IBM.
By 1900, all American cities were wired via the Gamewell Corporation's innovative telegraphic communications, with over 900 municipal police and fire systems sending 41 million messages in a single year.
On the eve of empire in 1898, however, the US government was still what scholar Stephen Skowronek has termed a "patchwork" state with a near-zero capacity for domestic security. That, of course, left ample room for the surveillance version of modernization, and it came with surprising speed after Washington conquered and colonized the Philippines.
Facing a decade of determined Filipino resistance, the US Army applied all those American information innovations - rapid telegraphy, photographic files, alpha-numeric coding, and Gamewell police communications - to the creation of a formidable, three-tier colonial security apparatus including the Manila Police, the Philippines Constabulary, and above all the Army's Division of Military Information.
In early 1901, Captain Ralph Van Deman, later dubbed "the father of US Military Intelligence," assumed command of this still embryonic division, the Army's first field intelligence unit in its 100-year history. With a voracious appetite for raw data, Van Deman's division compiled phenomenally detailed information on thousands of Filipino leaders, including their physical appearance, personal finances, landed property, political loyalties, and kinship networks.
Starting in 1901, the first US governor-general (and future president) William Howard Taft drafted draconian sedition legislation for the islands and established a 5,000-man strong Philippines Constabulary. In the process, he created a colonial surveillance state that ruled, in part, thanks to the agile control of information, releasing damning data about enemies while suppressing scandals about allies.
When the Associated Press's Manila bureau chief reported critically on these policies, Taft's allies dug up dirt on this would-be critic and dished it out to the New York press. On the other hand, the Division of Military Information compiled a scandalous report about the rising Filipino politician Manuel Quezon, alleging a premarital abortion by his future first lady. Quezon, however, served the Constabulary as a spy, so this document remained buried in US files, assuring his unchecked ascent to become the first president of the Philippines in 1935. ...
After the US entered World War I in 1917 without an intelligence service of any sort, Colonel Van Deman brought his Philippine experience to bear, creating the US Army's Military Intelligence Division (MID) and so laying the institutional foundations for a future internal security state.
In collaboration with the FBI, he also expanded the MID's reach through a civilian auxiliary organization, the American Protective League, whose 350,000 citizen-operatives amassed more than a million pages of surveillance reports on German-Americans in just 14 months, arguably the world's most intensive feat of domestic surveillance ever.
After the Armistice in 1918, Military Intelligence joined the FBI in two years of violent repression of the American left marked by the notorious Luster raids in New York City, J. Edgar Hoover's "Palmer Raids" in cities across the northeast and the suppression of union strikes from New York City to Seattle.
When President Wilson left office in 1921, incoming Republican privacy advocates condemned his internal security regime as intrusive and abusive, forcing the Army and the FBI to cut their ties to patriotic vigilantes. In 1924, Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone, worrying that "a secret police may become a menace to free government," announced "the Bureau of Investigation is not concerned with political or other opinions of individuals." Epitomizing the nation's retreat from surveillance, Secretary of War Henry Stimson closed the Military Intelligence cipher section in 1929, saying famously, "Gentlemen do not read each other's mail."
After retiring at the rank of major general that same year, Van Deman and his wife continued from their home in San Diego to coordinate an informal intelligence exchange system, compiling files on 250,000 suspected "subversives."
A fascination article, read it all. I edited out the connections to Nixon and the present day because I thought the origins in our first colonial/imperial venture were so interesting.
NOTE My Euro- and especially Anglo focus often deceives me (as it does others). For example, it's quite clear that Europe's World War II was pre-figured in the trench warfare of the Civil War. We might also regard the Reconstruction South as the world's first fascist state. In the same way, the work of the United States in the Phillipines surely pre-figures the Stasi, yet for me and for many, the Stasi remain the point of reference.