Privacy SOS

The purpose state secrecy serves, from SEAL Team 6 down to Boston Police

The New York Times has published a long, detailed history of the Navy's special operators in SEAL Team 6, also known as the Special Warfare Development Group, or by its insider name, DEVGRU. This paragraph caught my attention.

The unit’s advocates express no doubts about the value of such invisible warriors. “If you want these forces to do things that occasionally bend the rules of international law,” said James G. Stavridis, a retired admiral and former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, referring to going into undeclared war zones, “you certainly don’t want that out in public.” Team 6, he added, “should continue to operate in the shadows.”

That perfectly sums up the mentality in the US National Security State, from the most elite Navy SEALs all the way down through the FBI, and increasingly, to our local police.

Just last week, the Boston Police Department and FBI killed a man in a confrontation in Roslindale, Massachusetts. The cops have said that Usaama Rahim was plotting to kill police officers, although they never prepared an arrest warrant for him. Instead of preparing to arrest him by obtaining a warrant and sending a tactical team to do it safely, a few plainclothes JTTF officers shot him dead after approaching him to have what they describe as a 7am chat in a CVS parking lot. The Feds say the FBI and BPD were following him 24 hours a day during the week preceding his killing. But asked how Rahim initially came to the attention of investigators, Boston police commissioner William Evans said he cannot say. That information, he says, is "classified."

When we hear claims like this, it's crucial to recall what purpose secrecy usually serves in the security context. The truth of the matter was spelled out in unusually frank terms by the former NATO commander quoted in the NYT story about special operators cited above. "If you want these forces to do things that occassionally bend the rules of…law, you certainly don't want that out in the public."

That's an unacceptable approach to foreign war fighting. It borders on the authoritarian here at home. And we cannot lose sight of the connection between the two.

Assuming general tolerance for official secrecy regarding forever wars abroad won't trickle down to the domestic policing space is a fool's errand. We now see clearly what that trickle down means in Boston. Police and FBI killed a man, and now they're saying National Security prevents them from talking about why. That should send a chill down your spine.

© 2018 ACLU of Massachusetts.