Privacy SOS

DHS vs Occupy: the battle for the returning veterans of America’s foreign wars

Photo credit: Joe Mabel

As the occupy movements continue to grow nationwide, thousands of veterans are returning to the United States from battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the trickle turning into a flood over the next few months. There are already 240,000 unemployed Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in the US, and the national unemployment rate continues to hover at around nine percent. So as these vets come home, many of them physically injured or suffering from trauma, the US government is scrambling to put them to work.

But as some veterans are learning, the US they are coming home to doesn't resemble the country they thought they were fighting for — and isn't offering them the kind of future they'd hoped for upon their return. The same concerns driving the occupy movements — skyrocketing economic inequality and what many Americans see as a justice system in which the powerful remain above the law while the weakest are punished severely for the most mundane of crimes — have motivated some veterans to get involved in the fight for justice in the US. Among their targets? A system in which unemployment levels among undereducated and Americans of color are at their highest levels since the Great Depression.

At least one veteran has made a direct connection between the defense/security industry and poverty at home. Jerry Bordeleau, an Iraq war veteran, was one of about one hundred veterans who marched on Wall Street in early November after their comrade, Marine Scott Olsen, had been shot and seriously injured by Oakland police. He told the Wall Street Journal:


"Wall Street corporations have played a big role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Bordeleau, 24, who attends college in New York.
He said private contractors have reaped big profits in those countries "in pursuit of corporate interests that have had a devastating effect on our economy and our country, benefiting only a small number of people."
"The 99 percent have to take a stand," Bordeleau said.
Many of the firms Bordeleau is speaking about are those same companies making billions off of the vast and growing surveillance state, which enables government monitoring of ordinary Americans and activists alike. (Unfortunately and overwhelmingly, courts have thus far failed to modernize privacy laws to keep up with the increasingly digital nature of our private lives, tragically enabling government warrantless spying on everyone, veterans included.) 
This is the context in which thousands of US veterans will return to the United States, a shell economy wherein among the few opportunities for economic growth one of the most prevalent fields is the surveillance/war industry. It shouldn't come as a surprise to learn, then, that veterans are being ushered into "homeland security" work, further blurring the lines between foreign wars and domestic policing. The occupy movements have provided ample food for the endlessly hungry security beast to continue growing. Advertisements to hire intelligence contractors, surveillance technology experts and other DHS-related businesses abound

So as the veterans continue to stream home from Iraq and Afghanistan, those qualified to work in the 'security' industry will face a choice. They could join the ranks of the secretive surveillance state apparatus, or they could get involved with movements in the United States seeking to challenge anti-democratic policy, be it economic inequality, Patriot Act-type anti-democracy legislation or the militarization of the police at home.

It seems DHS hopes to get a jump on the occupy movement insofar as recruitment is concerned. The agency reportedly plans to hire 50,000 returning veterans in the coming months.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.