Chapter 3. Situational Awareness of the Security Industry
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37 Chapter 3 Situational Awareness of the Security Industry Whereas television series such as 24 normalize torture in the public imaginary and shape political discourse, U.S. government agencies actively partner with the security industry to propagate fear of terrorist attacks and cultivate a desire for prevention through technological means. This partnership is a component of larger trends in the privatization of national security , which spreads across many theaters of operation. It can be witnessed in the growth of military contractor organizations that operate with little oversight or accountability and are sometimes given “shoot to kill” authorization by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for domestic security provision.1 It can be spotted at mega-events—such as Olympic Games—where security companies profit amazingly from what are essentially grand commercials advertising their wares to other governments and private industries, while the needs and rights of citizens are neglected or trampled.2 It can be detected in the not-so-new awarding of government defense and security contracts to universities that then seek patents, public-private partnerships, and private company spin-offs to gain financially from what was originally a “public” investment.3 It manifests, sometimes most acutely, at border zones with the implementation of biometric identification systems, x-ray machines, metal and bomb-residue detectors, “backscatter” body scans that view beneath clothing, motion sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles, video surveillance, and so on—most of which are purchased by government agencies but supplied by private companies.4 The privatization of security entails much more than the awarding of government contracts to private companies, however. It is fundamentally about the realigning of national security interests with the profit motives of private companies. Thus, a first step in this development is the restructuring of governmental agencies and reorienting their missions to stress security provision , as was discussed in chapter 1. Once reoriented toward security provision , all agencies—and potentially all organizations—are positioned as in need of security equipment and relationships with security companies. With these developments, the stated national security goal is to achieve “situational awareness” in order to protect the country and its critical infrastructures better . In the parlance of Homeland Security, situational awareness means an accurate understanding of what is happening on the ground. With the use of advanced technologies of motion sensors, video surveillance cameras, mapping and visualization applications, and so on, commanders can achieve situational awareness so that they can respond intelligently and effectively in crisis situations. Because national security imperatives trump all others in this governance era, not only are individuals expected not to complain about these changes, they are compelled to participate in the consumption binge. As Nikolas Rose argues, “modern individuals are not merely ‘free to choose,’ but instead obliged to be free, to understand and enact their lives in terms of choice.”5 Choice, in this context, means choosing market-based solutions to individual needs or social problems. Governance mutates into the disciplining of those who are not adequately consuming or whose very existence threatens the logics of neoliberalism. The consumption of security serves as a universal response to any given need, from the level of the state to the individual, and thereby becomes the ultimate need and ultimate commodity, seldom achieved yet rapaciously sought after. Security cultures, therefore, are inflected by the ongoing privatization of national security. Lest these seem to be overly abstract or functionalist observations , it is worth attending to the agential shaping of these governance regimes, especially to the mobilization of security discourses. To this end, I will now turn to an analysis of one such theater of operation—the security conference—where private companies, government agencies, and “first responders ” (police, firefighters, and rescue workers, for example) meet to collectively construct national security needs through the consumption of the latest security technologies. Reconnaissance at a Homeland Security Conference Security conferences are highly ritualized insider events that offer a window into the values and assumptions of national security provision. As I arrived at the 9th Annual Technologies for Critical Incident Preparedness Conference and Exposition in San Francisco in 2007, the woman at the registration desk had some difficulty with my name, so I joked with her that it is hard to make up a name like mine. Without cracking a smile she stared me straight in the eyes and asked if it was a fabricated name; her tense body posture indicated that she was all too ready to call for backup should I say anything other than “no, ma’am...


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Subject Headings

  • National security -- United States
  • Internal security -- United States.
  • Electronic surveillance -- United States.
  • Technology -- Social aspects.
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