Thursday, October 29, 2009

FBI's Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide to Premediation

An article in today's New York Times reports that the FBI has released its "Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide" as a consequence of a Freedom of Information suit. The article makes it clear that the FBI is authorized to commence investigations not only on evidence of actions that threaten national security but more importantly on the premediation of actions that might threaten national security.

Valerie Caproni, the FBI's general counsel, makes this point explicit: "'Those who say the F.B.I. should not collect information on a person or group unless there is a specific reason to suspect that the target is up to no good seriously miss the mark,'" Ms. Caproni said. 'The F.B.I. has been told that we need to determine who poses a threat to the national security — not simply to investigate persons who have come onto our radar screen.'"

The FBI manual encourages agents to premediate potential security threats, authorizing them "to open an 'assessment' to 'proactively' seek information about whether people or organizations are involved in national security threats." That is, rather than investigating national security threats that have already "come onto [their] radar screen," agents are encouraged to premediate threats that may not already exist.

The metaphor of the "radar screen" is telling, as radar is a real-time technology of monitoring or surveillance linked closely with the media formations and disciplinary apparatus in place when the FBI emerged in the beginning of the twentieth century. No longer tied to monitoring national security threats in real time, the FBI is now empowered to open assessments and conduct investigations based on its premediation of potential security threats in the future. Rather than using technologies of audio-visual surveillance to spot such threats, FBI agents now use technologies of premediation to incite, encourage, or enable individuals to join potential terrorist plots.

This move from surveillance to premediation, from constraining or preventing terrorist behavior to encouraging or enabling it, characterizes the emergence of the current regime of securitization. I describe the distinction between surveilance and securitization in a passage from my forthcoming book: "As opposed to fundamentally disciplinary technologies like surveillance, confinement, and constraint, which aim to 'predict, survey, [and] prohibit' potentially illicit or disruptive activities in order to maintain social and political control, technologies of securitization aim to let happen, open up, and circulate, to encourage mobility and the proliferation of transactions of transportation, communication, and mediation."

Paradoxically, the new powers granted to the FBI in its Domestic Investigations and Operation Guide do not constrain individual freedom of movement, collaboration, or assembly, as would have been the aim of an earlier disciplinary regime of surveillance, but rather encourage it in the name of premediating threats to the nation's security that have yet to, and may never, materialize. And it is precisely on the basis of their potentiality that such threats will be assessed and may eventually become the objects of "preliminary" or "full" investigations.

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