by Matthew Harwood
July 24, 2015
The Future of Freedom Foundation

Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World
by Tom Engelhardt (Haymarket Books 2014), 200 pages.

“A shadow government has conquered twenty-first-century Washington. We have the makings of a thug state of the first order.”
No two sentences more clearly and disturbingly summarize what Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World is about: a Leviathan national-security state rampaging around the world in pursuit of perfect security and creating chaos wherever it puts its grotesque girth down.

The editor of, which he launched in November 2001, Engelhardt has spent the last 13 years trying to understand our post–9/11 world, where al-Qaeda’s atrocities in lower Manhattan, Northern Virginia, and a field in Pennsylvania led the United States to shed any pretense of being a democracy and embrace its imperial ambitions without reservation. (Full disclosure: I’m a regular contributor to The book itself is a collection of TomDispatch pieces originally published between 2011 and 2014, modestly revised and updated, and woven into book form. Whether it’s torture, kidnapping, weaponized drones strikes, special forces’ raids, or the rise of the surveillance state, Engelhardt has been there to document the corruption and savage violence that has seeped into our nation’s policymakers and warriors, who obey no restrictions — whether legal or moral — to their ambitions of total global domination.

And have no doubt: This is a book about corruption.

There’s no other word that better describes how in little more than a decade, the Pentagon and the intelligence community and their legions of contractors have mutated into a shadow government that is the antithesis of what the United States is supposed to stand for: an open, democratic nation that understands there are limits to the power it wields at home and overseas. But these wolves don’t dress themselves up as sheep, but as shepherds protecting the American people from the predators that would devour them if their vigilance ever faltered.

Our new state religion

Engelhardt sees this national-security state — this Deep State so often shrouded in secrecy — led by proselytizers of a warrior religion. “The leaders of this faith-based system are, not surprisingly, fundamentalist true believers,” he observes.

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