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Lies and Spies - The Tools of Despots

Lies and Spies - the Tools of Despots

If you think that government can be relied upon to act in fair and reasonable ways - it is time to have a re-think. Democratic countries, even those at the top of democracy lists - can transform if they come under the authoritarian rule of elected (and unelected) representatives who abuse existing laws or make new ones to consolidate their power, repress criticism and give them a leg up on the competition.

Eritreans inadvertently elected authoritarian rulers at their first democratic election. That was a very sad story. The US, a powerful, formerly highly regarded democratic country - is transforming before our eyes.
For more on Eritrea, you may be interested in -

Power is like an an aphrodisiac to some people. Absolute power is the goal of people with a certain mind set - as is historically evident from the very long list of authoritarian rulers / dictators who assumed control of the countries they eventually ruled. 

Dictators are generally the worst in terms of exerting totalitarian control on the population. But there is a spectrum of autocratic rulership, and a despot may go through various phases as power is acquired. Dictators (bar military coups), generally don't assume power over night. They evolve. Besides seizing power following a military coup or war, how do despots and oligarchical power elites come into power and maintain power? (A list of "modern" dictators. Have a look at how they gained power.)

Evolution of authoritarian rule

An ambitious individual or group who are seizing power can send legions of frighteningly suited and armed men and machines into the streets - with the implicit threat to citizens that they had better not resist. They can physically beat any and all overt resistors and put them in prison - as examples of what can happen to anyone who dares to challenge the rulers. They can encourage the population to report anyone critical to the government; and they can physically send spies amongst the people to do the same thing - in order to find citizens resisting their rulership in a more covert fashion. Opposition can be jailed or otherwise suppressed.

But, generally, before such a show of strength (bar in the case of a military coup), actions must be taken to consolidate power; and laws must be changed to legalize repressive and oppressive acts first.

Role of lies and spies in the downfall of democracy

Changing laws that will allow the transformation to authoritarian rule starts with lies and propaganda in order to prevent opposition. Outright lies, half truths, secrecy, denial and dirty tricks are necessary to hide what is happening to the government - in order to allow changes to be made to laws that will allow for unopposed repressive and oppressive authoritarian rule to be obtained and maintained.

Lies, propaganda and the use of secret police were core tools of the fascist, authoritarian Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler.

Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda said:
"The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the State." Goebbels
Irrespective of the claimed use of surveillance to track down spies and criminals - one of the main tools of modern authoritarian governments to find and gag opposition, is surveillance. Surveillance is primarily used to suppress criticism of the government (or the interests of cronies of those in power), repress dissent, and overcome or eliminate competition.

Most democratic countries don't allow surveillance of their own citizens. (But domestic surveillance is the norm in autocratic countries and dictatorships). The power elite in governments and agencies can be devious in getting around such laws by using a pretext of an arms length involvement by farming out dirty tricks to contractors and mercenaries; and by getting information through the back door (by one country giving their "allies" the tools to spy on them, with the understanding that the foreign spying country will send the information obtained on their citizens back to them.) 
This is one of the reasons the proposed GCSB Bill needs a major re-haul. For the Machiavellian (assuming they are prepared to obey the law at all) - if something is not explicitly disallowed in law, and is to their advantage - then the law will be interpreted in the way they prefer. Back-door loop holes need to be identified and closed.
While surveillance can be and often is used by incumbent governments to their advantage to consolidate power - rising despots (or those wanting to protect their position) tend to be particularly careful to eliminate all forms of opposition. 

Despots and oligarchs don't want the public to be informed of what is going on - because the public en masse and angry may threaten and overturn their power. Despots and oligarchs are consequently afraid of the truth getting out, and will lie, deny and hide the truth. Propaganda is the tool of despots.

Role of truth and knowledge in defending democracy

If lies are primary tools in the usurpation of democratic governance - then, truth tellers who tell the people what is actually happening and what it means are the enemies of the liars.

That is why in countries that are undergoing transition to autocratic rule - the press becomes more heavily influenced by government, and the media is regularly used as a means of distributing government propaganda (or shut down if the owners do not comply with government demands that only articles or programs partisan to the government's perspective are published, and opposing points of view censored). Journalists who disclose the truth to the public are often persecuted and may be imprisoned (and, as we have seen of late, their sources are searched for, with a determination that the Stasi would have been proud of.)

Whistle-blowers who report government wrong-doing to the public - are an anathema to rising despots (or those who want to hang on to their power). Whistle blowers tell the truth. Despots fear the consequences of the truth becoming known - not just because of the embarrassment it is likely to cause them in the eyes of other leaders; but because of how disgust and anger may cause the public to rise up against them. Consequently, government whistle-blowers are hated and feared by despots.

Spying is an activity cloaked in secrecy - and the actions of spies tend to be further muddied by lies and deception. There is very little objective evidence of any benefit to domestic unfocussed warrantless spying, in New Zealand or anywhere else. (What politicians claim versus cases that have been proven in court are very different).

To Goebbels - the "truth" was the enemy of the fascist Nazi state. Lies, spies and propaganda were tools of control.

In a democracy - lies, propaganda and other forms of deception, along with pervasive surveillance - are the enemy of the interests of the people.

If members of government or government agencies lie to the people - then they are acting against the interest of the people. 

The people want truth and knowledge,
not a litany of lies and spies.



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