Monday, July 14, 2008

Surveillance States: Philippine Colonial Police and Political Transformations in America's Insular Empire (A Public Lecture)

22 July 2008 (Tuesday), 10:00-11:30 a.m.
Third World Studies Center
Lower Ground Floor, Palma Hall
College of Social Sciences and Philosophy
University of the Philippines
Diliman, Quezon City


From the first hours of the US occupation in August 1898, the Philippines served as the site of a protracted social experiment in the use of police as an instrument of state power. Indeed, America's ad hoc innovation with colonial policing was mutually transformative, central in both the formation of the Philippine polity and an American national security state. At this periphery of empire, freed from the constraints of courts, constitution, and civil society, the US colonial regime fused new information technologies, the product of America's first information revolution, to create a modern police apparatus and fashion what was arguably the world's first full "surveillance state."

In its pacification of a deeply rooted Philippine national revolution, the US Army plunged into a crucible of counterinsurgency, forming its first field intelligence unit, the Division of Military Information, which combined sweeping data gathering and dissemenation of specific tactical intelligence. Significantly, the colony's police, called Philippines Constabulary, became the first US federal agency with a fully developed covert operational capacity. Under US rule, colonial police, particularly the Constabulary, shaped the country's political development by destroying radical nationalist movement and advancing political moderates. Colonialism, moreover, made police a central facet of the modern Philippine state, both in actual administration and in popular perception that equated good governance with effective policing.

A decade later, these illiberal lessons percolated homeward through the invisible capillaries of empire to foster domestic surveillance in America itself during the social crisis surrounding World War I. In the first weeks of war, a small cadre of Philippine veterans established US Military Intelligence, creating a counter-intelligence capacity as a unique fusion of federal internal security agencies and citizen adjuncts that persisted for the next half century, shaping a succession of controversial events from the mass surveillance of World War I to the anti-communist purges during the Cold War. Advances in policing at this periphery of empire thus served as both blueprint and bellwether for a later metropolitan transformation--as bellwether for surveillance of American citizens and blueprint for the formation of the US Army's Military Police and Military Intelligence.

The Lecturer

Alfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After earning his Ph.D. in Southeast Asian history at Yale in 1977, his writing on this dynamic region has focused on two topics--the political history of the modern Philippines and the politics of opium in the Golden Triangle.

His first book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (New York, 1972), sparked controversy over the CIA’s attempt to block its publication, but is now regarded as the standard work on the subject of illicit narcotics. It has been in print for over 30 years, and been translated into nine languages, most recently Thai and German. His latest book, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror (New York, 2006), continues his exploration of the covert netherworld and its influence upon U.S. foreign policy and domestic society. Its analysis served as much of the basis for the film Taxi to the Darkside (New York, 2007), which won the Oscar in 2008 for “Best Documentary Feature.”

His forthcoming book on Philippine police during the 20th Century, Surveillance States (Madison, 2009), draws together these two strands in his research, organized crime and modern Philippine history, to explore the role of police, information, and scandal in the simultaneous formation of the both the modern Philippine polity and US national security state.

Three of his books on Philippine history have won that country's National Book Award. In March 2001, the Association for Asian Studies awarded him the Goodman Prize for his career contributions to the historical study of the Philippines.

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