Like other world governments, but much more so, the U.S. Government (over many presidential administrations) utilizes concern over "national security" to advance policies and procedures that often are anti-democracy, against the public welfare, and even arguably against the interests of national security itself.
Recent torture of Abu Ghraib detainees is a good example. The U.S. detained thousands of Iraqis in order to track down "terrorists" in the Iraqi population. While the U.S. has admitted to only a few individual cases of torture in the form of water-boarding, we know that other forms of torture were commonplace, such as sensory deprivation, sensory overload to loud noise and other inputs, sexual humiliation, terrifying fear of trained attack dogs, and other forms of inhumane treatment. There is absolutely no doubt that Iraqis and Arabs from around the Middle East were so outraged by the evidence of these acts by U.S. forces in the name of "national security" that insurgents (called terrorists in the press) volunteered by the thousands to revenge their fellow Arabs and Moslems. No doubt thousands of U.S. casualties occurred due to the efforts of Arabs who were provoked by U.S. conduct in the name of "national security" who would have never engaged in those attacks otherwise.
But what is "national security" to begin with? Does it mean existential threat to the U.S. as a nation? Does it mean military threat of significance? Does it mean something else?
Surely, the experience of the U.S. and most other nations in wartime reveal that few threats to security can equal existential threats. The U.S. is not under imminent existential threat by anyone at this time, though perhaps a provoked Russia could launch a nuclear attack that would destroy the U.S. as we know it, but the threat of retaliation and mutually assured destruction is an effective counter to such a possible threat, and always will be.
Do "national security" threats indicate a threat of defeat of the U.S. in a military sense? Again, this is virtually impossible, because the U.S. is virtually impregnable to foreign invasion and occupation and the U.S. military has capabilities, including the use of weapons of mass destruction in a variety of methods and technologies that it would certainly bring to bear against an enemy before suffering military defeat. Of course, the U.S. has proved its ability to lose wars in the absence of military defeat, because victory or defeat in warfare is far more complex than body counts or terrain occupied by force. Victory in warfare in the modern era is more about population control and the will to withstand hardship to achieve national goals, and the U.S. has repeatedly shown deficits in its ability to accomplish military objectives when outgunned "enemies" are able to preserve despite horrendous battlefield losses.
So, if national security is not about threats to existence or military victory then why casualties in warfare fatally compromise national security? Obviously, not. U.S. "enemies" in war zones taken much higher casualties than U.S. forces do, and yet the Koreans fought us to a stalemate, the Vietnamese defeated us, and the Iraqis and Afghans have resisted the U.S. effectively despite large scale casualties. Saddam Hussein did not surrender or abdicate due to U.S. demands even though he obviously knew full well his people would sustain massive casualties and would likely suffer military defeat on the battlefield. The North Vietnamese has not used "national security" as an excuse to accede to U.S. demands, nor have the Iranians. The Palestinians, who have small arms and rocks to throw at the Israelis, who wield jet attack aircraft, tanks, helicopters and Hellfire missiles, do not hide behind a "national security" screen to compromise their goals of statehood and international recognition of human rights.
So, "national security" is not a concept applied in absolute terms, because if national security was at stake in a military sense, then the nation would have to calculate the cost/benefit of its actions in military terms. Obviously, the preemptive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the torture of U.S. detainees (none convicted of crimes, by the way) provoke more threats to military force of the U.S. than they deter. This creates a question of whether "national security" concerns are a farce designed to benefit the class of persons who benefit from warfare.
A strong argument can be made and has been made that warfare is one of the most profitable of human endeavors. When one considers the U.S. budget for military activities, hardware and supplies, it is clear that warfare is a "Big Ticket" item in the U.S. budget, perhaps the biggest single item paid for by the U.S. taxpayer. Many of those funds go to armaments makers and to investors in those corporations which profit on warfare and enrich themselves on the spilling of blood, human suffering AND threats to national security. So national security threats are Big Business and good for a few investors and warmongers. Perhaps they is why the United Nations and its scriptural theme of "beating swords into plowshares" is not popular among the warmongering class.
But more is involved. When the events of 9/11/2001 took place, commercial air travel was suspended in the U.S. The stock market lost hundreds of millions of dollars almost instantly. Commerce suffered to the extent that national campaigns to resume shopping and commerce went public. It is undeniable that some "national security" threats are also threats to consumer confidence. This is a matter of utmost urgency in political terms, because economic might drives political influence as well as military power in general. Economic activity mollifies the public and distracts the public from close scrutiny to government words and deeds. A happy, shopping consumer is the best friend of a government, which promotes policies that pretend to be consumer-friendly but which are actually harmful to the general interests of the public at large.
It is also common for "national security" to be invoked as a means of protecting government officials from scrutiny and from accountability for their malfeasance and their crimes. The Abu Ghraib scandal would have never created waves if the media had not gotten photos of the victims. But many photos were never showed to the public. And the government and military quickly used "national security" interests to block access to the truth about government involvement in torture policy and planning, and has effectively shielded officials at all levels from criminal accountability, while allowing a small number of low-ranking military personnel to take punishment for their minor roles in the overall picture.
The evidence is strong that "national security" concerns are largely a smokescreen and a farce. The U.S. cannot and will not fall as a nation due to outside attack. The U.S. economy could suffer, but not fatally. The U.S. public is more at risk of losing its freedom by actions of its own government than by anything done by the foreign governments or terrorists. Only the U.S. government can weaken or ignore the U.S. Constitution. Only the U.S. government, using the smokescreen of national security concerns, can evade accountability, detain its own citizens indefinitely, torture them, and then claim it is fighting to protect "national security".
One statesman of the past, Benjamin Franklin, is remembered as saying words to this effect: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
For some reason, the public media ignores this issue. All the government has to do is to raise concerns over "national security" and the lapdog media accepts the rationale with total, unthinking, compliance. The media should be a watchdog, not a lap dog. The media should practice the art of questioning authority, not acting as its stenographer.
Unless the U.S. media learns to do this and do it soon in this age of "terrorism", our very freedoms are at stake and we are already seeing them vanish in front of our eyes. The Obama Administration is no exception.