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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Why Is the U.S. Spying on China?


The federal government’s arrest of former CIA agent Jerry Chun Shing Lee for allegedly spying for China confirms, once again, that for the U.S. national-security branch of the federal government, the Cold War never ended. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Lee is suspected of having revealed the existence to Chinese authorities of Chinese citizens who were serving as spies for the U.S. national-security establishment. Those Chinese citizens, not surprisingly, were subsequently executed by Chinese officials for serving as spies for the U.S. government.

Wait a minute! Forgive me for asking a question that it doesn’t even occur to the mainstream media to ask: What in the world is the U.S. government doing spying on China? I thought the Cold War was over. I thought that it ended in 1989. I thought China was supposed to be a friend of the United States. Why is the U.S. government hiring Chinese citizens to spy on their own government? (Perhaps it’s worth asking, as an aside, why U.S. national-security state officials also spy on supposed friends like Germany.)

In fact, look at the dark irony involved here: U.S. officials are essentially alleging that Lee is a bad person because he allegedly spied for China by disclosing to China the identities of Chinese officials who were serving as spies for the United States. I suppose the argument is that a spy is a bad person when he spies for another country and is a good person when he spies for the United States. Obviously, the communist regime in China takes the same position in reverse, which is why they executed those Chinese citizens who were serving as spies for the U.S. government.

The big question is: Should the U.S. government be spying on anyone? The bigger question is: Should the U.S. government be hiring foreign citizens to spy on their own government, thereby putting their lives at risk? The biggest question is: Should the U.S. government even be a national-security state, which is the same type of governmental system that exists in China, North Korea, Vietnam, and other communist states?

Keep in mind: the United States is not at war with China. Oh sure, U.S. officials and the mainstream press say that China is a potential “rival” — that it is being increasingly “assertive” — that it is a rising “regional hegemon.” But none of that means that a state of actual war exists between the United States and China. It’s really just “empire-speak” — the use of terms historically used by empires to describe other nations that remain independent of the empire’s control.

The U.S. spying on China confirms, once again, that for the U.S. national-security establishment, the Cold War never ended. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. For some 45 years, the Cold War kept the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, the CIA, and the NSA in high cotton. Having convinced Americans that the Reds were coming to get them, the Cold War guaranteed ever-increasing budgets for the national-security establishment.

Many Americans today think that the structure of the federal government is the same as it has been since the country’s inception. That’s because they have been born and raised in a national-security state and been taught that this is compatible with a free society. This is especially true of millennials, whose entire lives have been lived under the post-9/11 “war on terrorism” and who have been taught (i.e., indoctrinated) into profusely thanking the troops for protecting our “rights and freedoms,” notwithstanding the quite obvious fact that no one overseas is trying to take away our rights and freedoms.

But the fact is that the United States was founded as limited-government republic, not a national-security state. What that means is that for more than 150 years, there was no giant, permanent military establishment, military-industrial complex, CIA, or NSA. That’s because Americans didn’t want that type of governmental structure. They feared that type of governmental structure as the real threat to their rights and freedoms.

Everything changed at the end of World War II. The federal governmental structure was changed, radically. The federal government was converted into a national-security state, the same type of governmental structure that characterized the Soviet Union, Red China, and North Korea. That meant a giant military establishment, an empire of foreign military bases, a secretive intelligence agency that wielded omnipotent powers, and the NSA, which had all surveillance powers similar to those in the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea. That’s when it became a forever game of “spy vs. spy” between national-security states.

This radical change in U.S. governmental structure was accomplished without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment. The justification? We need to become like the communists in order to defeat the communists, U.S. officials said. We need to become a national-security state, just like them. Otherwise, America will lose the Cold War and end up becoming Red.

So, you can imagine the grave concern in 1989 among U.S. national-security officials when Russia suddenly announced that the Cold War was over as far as it was concerned. Suddenly, the Reds weren’t coming to get us anymore. Suddenly, people might ask important questions, ones that would pierce much more deeply than simply asking for a “peace dividend”: Since the Cold War was over, can we have our limited-government republic back? Can we now dismantle the communist-like structure known as a “national-security state”? Can we dismantle the enormous permanent military establishment, the military industrial complex (which President Eisenhower had described as the real threat to our rights and freedoms, the CIA (which former President Truman had described as a sinister force after the JFK assassination), and the NSA, which had all the characteristics of Russia’s KGB?

But the national-security establishment wasn’t exactly willing to go quietly into the night. First, they went into the Middle East and began provoking hornet’s nests, knowing full well that this would produce terrorist “blowback,” which would then be used to justify their continued existence and the resumption of ever-increasing budgets.

Equally important, they weren’t about going to let go of the Cold War justification for their existence without a fight. That’s why they broke their promise to dismantle NATO and instead used it as vehicle to absorb former members of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, where they instigated one of their infamous pro-U.S. coups, with the aim of installing U.S. bases and missiles on Russia’s borders, which, needless to say, would ensure a continuation of Cold War hostilities with Russia and ever-increasing budgets for the U.S. national-security establishment.

But let’s not forget that the biggest official enemy in the Cold War wasn’t the Soviet Union. It was communism, which encompassed Red China, and, to a lesser extent, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Chile. Remember: the Reds were coming to get us from everywhere. That’s why it was necessary to spy on them, just as the commies were spying on us. That’s why it’s still necessary to have a brutal economic embargo on Cuba. That’s why it’s still necessary to spy on China.

The biggest mistake in U.S. history was in converting the U.S. government into a national-security state. The way to fight communism was not by becoming like them and adopting their type of governmental structure, policies, and practices but instead by continuing adhere to the principles of freedom and limited government.

The U.S. government never had any business behaving like communist regimes, including drug experiments on unsuspecting Americans (MKULTRA), assassination, kidnapping, torture, coups, partnerships with dictators, indefinite detention, and engaging in the business of spying and secret surveillance.

It’s time to end America’s political experiment with totalitarianism. The restoration of a constitutional, limited government republic to our land is far past due. It’s time to dismantle, not reign or reform, the national-security establishment. It’s time for America to be America once again.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.