Sunday, November 4, 2007

Wal-Mart running private intelligence agency to monitor critics

No, this isn't fascism as defined by Benito Mussolini* …
Wal-Mart Stores has been recruiting former military and government intelligence officers for a branch of its global security office aimed at identifying threats to the world's largest retailer, including from "suspect individuals and groups."
Wal-Mart's interest in intelligence operatives comes at a time when the retailer is defending itself against allegations by a fired security employee that it ran surveillance operations against targets including critics, dissident shareholders, employees and suppliers. Wal-Mart denied any wrongdoing.
The jobs were listed with the Analytical Research Center, part of Wal-Mart's Global Security division, which is headed by former senior CIA and FBI senior officer Kenneth Senser. The analytical unit was created over the past year and a half, according to published comments by its head, Army Special Operations veteran David Harrison.
Many corporations hire law enforcement officers for their security departments.
But Steven Aftergood, who runs the government secrecy project for the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists, said Wal-Mart's efforts appear to go beyond what most companies are doing, raising questions about corporate intelligence work outside of the oversight process in place for government spying.
No, it's not fascism; it's a frightening by-product of the corporate right's decades-long assault on the very concept of the state.

Their knee-jerk anti-governmentalism -- as expressed everywhere from the diktats of the international financial institutions to the wholly fraudulent claim that Republicans are for "small government" -- and obsessive deregulation has resulted in a massive, quiet and largely un-debated shift in much of what we used to consider the exclusive tools of state power to the private sector. Here's an example of intelligence work being privatized, but it's also the case that states' former monopoly on the use of violence has been undermined by the proliferation of private security contractors. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it raises serious questions about oversight and accountability (and is, as we've seen in Iraq for example, a bad thing in practical terms).
In this case, we're talking about a company with an atrocious track record -- a record of suppressing workers' rights to organize, of racial and gender discrimination, of dumping on the environment and hiring undocumented workers and locking workers into stores overnight and the dozens of other charges that has made it a symbol of everything that's wrong with the culture of corporate America. Wal-Mart's ownership has proven itself to be reckless and irresponsible again and again -- the idea of their having their own little CIA to keep tabs on their critics is really disturbing.
*It's very unlikely that Mussolini actually said, "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." The quote's disputed, and it pretty much would have contradicted everything else he ever wrote about fascism (more here). I use it here because of its familiarity, and to justify the picture of Mussolini.