The Rise of America’s Surveillance State: Q&A with “Watchers” author Shane Harris



In his new book The Watchers: The Rise of the America’s Surveillance State , Washington, D.C., reporter Shane Harris chronicles 25 years of the intelligence community’s efforts to “connect the dots” on terrorist threats in the United States.

Harris explains why we should have caught the Christmas Day bomber, how one promising electronic surveillance system was wiped out due to privacy concerns, and what it’s like to be a spy in the age of Google.

In his day job, Harris covers electronic surveillance, intelligence, and counterterrorism for National Journal.

Reason senior editor Katherine Mangu-Ward interviewed Harris in February 2010. Shot by Dan Hayes and Meredith Bragg; edited by Bragg.

Go to for links and downloadable versions.

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48 thoughts on “The Rise of America’s Surveillance State: Q&A with “Watchers” author Shane Harris

  1. @LIGHTRONIX

    We DO need to throw-out the National Socialists (NAZIS) both NeoCon and Democrat, BUT resistance to tyranny is NOT futile!

  2. " Those who give up some of their liberty in order to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty, nor safety." Ben Franklin was speaking to John Dickinson, in Congress.

    Find a camera, destroy a camera!!

  3. Find a camera, destroy a camera!

    Ben Franklin said; " Those who give up some of their liberty in order to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty, nor safety." He was speaking to John Dickinson, in Congress.

    Times change, toys change, human nature NEVER changes. See 7 deadly sins.

  4. @MiranUT

    Oh…And to answer your question, citizens will often turn on a government which fails to protect them. Overwhelming a country makes THAT COUNTRY'S government less popular to it's citizens.

    It's what happened in Japan and Germany towards the end of WWII.

  5. @MiranUT

    We did no such thing in Iraq. The closest we got to using overwhelming force was a "surge." Afghanistan…Pretty much the same strategy.

    I'm no war hawk, mind you, but I figure that if you're going to do something, do it right and get it over with.

    I agree with you regarding Japan…Also, Germany, Turkey, and everywhere else we've got bases. Let these nations pay for their own defense (or, at least pay us for the service). ESPECIALLY if they don't want us there.

  6. @caltrop69 @ – all of those countries. What makes you think "winning" (or destroying a country as you put it – and isn't that what we did in Iraq and Afghanistan?) makes friends? Even in Japan, which has good, if not strained, bilateral relations, the Japanese are pissed about continued US occupation in Okinawa. The PM just resigned over his failure to close/move the Futmenma Marine base.

  7. @MiranUT

    Which one of those countries did we use my suggested strategy in?

    None. Perhaps you misunderstood. I dunno…Perhaps you can't read.

    Either leave people alone or win. This in-between crap is expensive and only accomplishes making enemies, as you've accidentally pointed out.

  8. @MiranUT

    Exactly what it says. Do you need me to get you a dictionary? Also, if you're going to quote me don't misspell the quotes.

  9. @MiranUT

    Not just from fire but yes fire damage is one of the major reasons for the collapse of the buildings. Please point me to what you think is a flaw in the report and I'll be happy to address it. Yes, I have researched every side of the debate. Of course there is an explanation for why so few of the jets followed protocol. It was human error in the delays in the time the FAA took to report the rouge aircraft.

  10. @zetsway5000 – the 9/11 report BS: "…sought to be independent, impartial, thorough…" (xv). "This report is only a summary… citing only a fraction of the sources… We have not interviewed every knowledgeable person…" (xvii). Did you notice the way the report makes it look like the USA only had 4 or 5 fighters to scramble? There's no explanation for why so few followed protocol. You haven't researched "every side of the debate". Do you really think three buildings imploded from fire?

  11. @caltrop69 – you need to brush up on your history a bit. Targeting countries (Indonesia, North Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Panama Iraq, Pakistan, etc) with "terrorists" is exactly what has gotten us into this mess. Do you think you would love China if it came in and wiped out the banksters to "save" you?

  12. @suedeslounge Um, I really fail to see how its apologist?

    Unless you think looking at somebody's face book /my space/twitter account is somehow domestic spying, if you think it is that I got news for you, you'll not be able to build enough prisons to hold all the people who have been "domestic spying" because everybody looks of those things, looking at PUBLIC information isn't a violation of anyone's rights.

  13. WHAT IS THIS? Is this CNN or what?

    When I clicked this link I expected criticism of government surveillance out of principle, not criticism regarding TOO LITTLE SURVEILLANCE and the government NOT DOING ENOUGH?! I expect this shit on CNN. If I want to hear this kind of MSM crap I'd watch Anderson Cooper.

  14. 9/11 and the Beirut Marine bombings were both INSIDE JOBS!

    No, the 'government' did not do it, but a factio within the government did.

    9/11 were was the US Air Force?? Stand down? Beirut….the Marines were told to remove the bullets from their weapons 48 hours before the attack. Stand down??

  15. @Mauhadeeb28

    You have not cited specifically what in the 911 report you are against and no saying "go to Cia dur hurr website I am right even though I haven't directed you on what to read on the website or what it's refuting or even arguing" is not a valid source. Cut your rhetoric and post what you think is wrong in the 911 report and be specific.

  16. @zetsway5000 lolololol The CIA website is not a valid source? If that isn't a valid government source than nothing is to you. Like I said, it doesn't matter what I say you will always disagree for the sake of disagreeing. Even to the point of calling the CIA "some random website".
    Peace and good fortune to you my friend. I hope you do some real investigation on future issues because I guarantee what you are being told is not the whole or true story. Peace.

  17. @Mauhadeeb28

    Saying go to said random website is not a valid source. You've also yet to post a specific part of the 911 report you think is false. Try again.

  18. @Mauhadeeb28

    I actually seek the truth by actually researching every side of a debate and I change my positions on issues based on new surfacing evidence, unlike yourself. You post broad claims because in reality you don't know what you're talking about so you mock talking heads that sound intelligent to you, but when someone calls you out you don't know what to say so you talk out of your ass. Again, which SPECIFIC parts of the 911 report do you think are false, provide a valid source.

  19. @zetsway5000 LOL I don't watch Alex Jones. That guy is way over the top. He is a media whore no better than Glenn Beck.
    I told you to go to the CIA website and look for it. I am not gonna do the work again, I have already done it. It is on the website so if you want the truth GO AND GET IT!

  20. @zetsway5000 They may be broad, but I find more truth in that than what the politicians and MSM have said. I am not here to teach you. When you are ready to know the truth you will seek it out for yourself, as many many other people all over the world have. You wouldn't believe anything I say anyways so none of this matters. All you want to do is name call and curse and act like a child. Fine. It is your choice but I choose to always be open to differing opinions.

  21. @Mauhadeeb28

    I have an open ear which is why am asking you for specific claims and sources to back those claims. You on the other hand don't know what the hell you're talking about and regurgitate bullshit from your messiah Alex Jones. Again, Stop talking out of your ass and post a specifically which part of the 911 report is false and provide a credible source. If not then don't bother replying to me.

  22. @zetsway5000 This goes all the way back into the 70's, my friend. We don't even have a real enemy we are facing. We are fighting a fictitious entity called "terrorism". That can be anything. They like it this way. It keep us scared to give them unlimited unconstitutional power.
    I find it funny that all you can do is name call. Name calling is the epitome of strawman. You are trying to debase my character regardless of the words I speak instead of simply having an open ear.

  23. @Mauhadeeb28

    You talking out of your ass and posting broad claims and no sources is not telling me "the whole truth". Your answer is about as valid as the shit I took this morning.

  24. @Mauhadeeb28

    I never said I believed in their word face value without proof you uneducated straw man peddler. I said their evidence is sound, and then I asked you what part of the evidence you think is wrong and to provide a source which you haven't. They are backed back physics, be specific in your idiotic claims and provide a source in your next reply or don't even bother replying to me you pseudo intellectual.

  25. @Mauhadeeb28

    Muslims have attacked us before we've ever even been to the middle east. Again learn what you're talking about and stop using straw man arguments. You don't need classified documented to show that we have bombed those countries. You're a pseudo intellectual. Stop posting before you show even more people on how big of an uneducated moron you are.

  26. @zetsway5000 Calling you out for believe the governments word for face value is not strawman but you calling me an idiot certainly is. You obviously do not want to question anything the government says and are choosing to disregard the overwhelming evidence that the statements they have made about 9/11 are not backed up by physics, most scientists, and their own recorded documents of the very very short investigation.
    If you don't seek out the truth you will never know it.

  27. @zetsway5000 Wrong. Dead wrong. We have been bombing those countries for over decades. There are plenty of declassified documents on the CIA website to prove that. Just go hunting the site for a short period and that is clear. We constantly meddle in other countries affairs than wonder why their citizens attack us.

  28. @zetsway5000 I do believe the government had information before it happened that could have stop it from happening. I do not believe that all the towers fell from just fire. I did not dodge anything and calling me an idiot is about as straw man as it gets.

  29. @Mauhadeeb28

    When did I say I blindly follow anything? I review all evidence in the issues I follow. Again, refrain from using straw man arguments as it makes you look illegitimate.

  30. @Mauhadeeb28

    We've been attacked by Muslim extremists in the past before we were even involved in the middle east in any way. I agree with you that we have done harm with our military and the vast majority of our presence in the middle east should be retracted, but to say that the government doesn't protect us in any way is intellectually dishonest. Which lies have I spoken? Please be specific instead of throwing out straw mans.

  31. @Mauhadeeb28

    Nice, you dodged the question. I'll be more direct since you can't give a clear response. Do you believe 911 was a government inside job? Why don't you believe the official story? What part of the official story do you not believe? Please be specific.

  32. Just destroy the countries where they came from, and then offer them peace. Let's quit with this half-assed crap. Find out where they came from and use everything against that country. The citizens will be turned against their own country's policies.

    "Speak softly and carry a big stick"…One of the few realistick things that Teddy said.

  33. @suedeslounge Between my home, Canada and the US our national anthems mention the true north strong and free and the home of the brave but all I see is a bunch of cowards scared of their own shadows. How mass murder of another race makes for a safer future is beyond me. The US has over 5000 nukes, UAV's global satellite surveillance, laser guided missiles, troops in 150+ countries etc. all totaling half of the worlds spending on military and who's out to get who exactly? Beware of the feeble!

  34. What a bunch of apologist crap from Reason.

    WTF is this junk.

    The government needs to do less spying on Americans, not more. The government needs to get out of the middle east, not target people there.

    If we quit bombing the crap out of them and funding their enemies we wouldn't have to worry about terrorism in the first place.

    Lets not forget you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being killed in a terrorist attack.

    All this money is being wasted.

  35. Capitalism strikes again!! The intelligence agencies are applying the same idea of looking out for their self interests and "greed is good" – we are an insane society!!

  36. @zetsway5000 For any other questions I revert to my first comment: Anyone who blindly follows the words of those in power is crazy.

  37. @zetsway5000 As far as being a "9/11 truther", am surely don't believe we were told the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I do believe there needs to be a private investigation of everyone in that administration and everyone in congress at the time. Do I believe the official story? No, but if by truther you mean "one who seeks the truth", than yes I am.

  38. @zetsway5000 So you really don't believe that our foreign policy may have something to do with the angst of some other nations? I didn't say the military is for show, but practically everything it has done over the past 30 years has done much more harm than good. The folks running the show do not give a crap about winning, losing, our soldiers or citizens, they only care about the orders given to them from the true powerhouse of the country. I speak truth to power. You speak lies to self.

  39. If he really wanted to connect dots he'd realize that lapses in so-called "intelligence" have been very beneficial to the same group of individuals over time (the elite) and very detrimental to the same group of individuals over time (the victim commoners). Do the math and connect those dots and see what picture becomes clear.

  40. @Mauhadeeb28

    Yes, the government can't protect us from anyone or anything, and the military, well that's just for show(sarcasm). Just stop posting. It's better to be silent and be thought of as a fool then to speak and remove all doubt.

  41. @Mauhadeeb28

    You're an idiot. He wasn't questioning authority. He was trying to throw out a conspiracy theory. Are you a 911 truther? I'm guessing you are based on your stupid comment.

  42. @Prime8888888 I totally agree. The government can not keep us safe from others. They can only try to keep us safe from ourselves.

  43. @zetsway5000 Questioning authority doesn't make someone a "nut". Following a governments words blindly after repeated lies is crazy.

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