A Look at a National Security State: Interview with “Enemies of the People” Author Kati Marton


I am really enjoying journalist Kati Marton’s new book — an expose on her own family — titled Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America.
The book is a poignant red flag for what people, seemingly decent citizens, can do to each other in a paranoid national security state. Marton was writing about her family’s travails in Hungary — but the book could be about a future, even a present, America.
I enjoyed this conversation with Kati Marton, who is a board member of the New America Foundation — and despite that affiliation, I feel quite unbiased about recommending the book highly.
And for another perspective on the book, read Jonathan Yardley’s superb review.
— Steve Clemons


7 comments on “A Look at a National Security State: Interview with “Enemies of the People” Author Kati Marton

  1. Outraged American says:

    Police state? Eastern Europe/ the USSR has nothing on the
    “National Security Agency” which is building the mother of all
    police states.
    I think that Wig’s obsession with H. Clinton has skewered her
    police state radar, because we’re in for gulags.
    Bamford is very credible, and yes, I have interviewed him, more
    than once. Check-out his creds.
    Who’s in Big Brother’s Database?
    h/t the New York Review of Book via antiwar.com
    Unlike Borges’s “labyrinth of letters,” this library expects few
    visitors. It’s being built by the ultra-secret National Security
    Agency—which is primarily responsible for “signals intelligence,”
    the collection and analysis of various forms of communication—
    to house trillions of phone calls, e-mail messages, and data
    trails: Web searches, parking receipts, bookstore visits, and
    other digital “pocket litter.” Lacking adequate space and power
    at its city-sized Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters, the NSA is
    also completing work on another data archive, this one in San
    Antonio, Texas, which will be nearly the size of the Alamodome.
    Just how much information will be stored in these windowless
    cybertemples? A clue comes from a recent report prepared by
    the MITRE Corporation, a Pentagon think tank. “As the sensors
    associated with the various surveillance missions improve,” says
    the report, referring to a variety of technical collection methods,
    “the data volumes are increasing with a projection that sensor
    data volume could potentially increase to the level of Yottabytes
    (1024 Bytes) by 2015.”[1] Roughly equal to about a septillion
    (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text, numbers
    beyond Yottabytes haven’t yet been named. Once vacuumed up
    and stored in these near-infinite “libraries,” the data are then
    analyzed by powerful infoweapons, supercomputers running
    complex algorithmic programs, to determine who among us may
    be—or may one day become—a terrorist. In the NSA’s world of
    automated surveillance on steroids, every bit has a history and
    every keystroke tells a story.
    Whole article


  2. WigWag says:

    I stayed up half the night to read Ms Marton’s excellent biography of her parents; it was both vivid and sublime. What an extraordinary opportunity it must have been to learn so much about them from their secret police files. It’s almost enough to make one hope that some police organization is keeping a massive dossier on you so that your grandchildren or even great grandchildren might come to know you better.
    Ms Marton briefly references in the book the idea that struck me over and over again as I was reading; the similarities between Ilona and Endre Marton and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Both families were Jews of the secular variety; both were passionate about politics; both had homes that were full of interesting guests disliked by the State; both were despised by their own governments; both were accused of espionage and both took great chances with their liberty even though they had very young children.
    Of course there were differences too. The politics of each family probably diverged from the other; the Rosenbergs were communists; the Martons were anticommunists. Most importantly, the Marton story had a happy ending; the Rosenberg story did not.
    While I was reading, I wondered whether Ms Marton (or her sister) has ever met Michael or Robert Meeropol. While the experiences of the Meeropol boys were certainly more extreme than the experience of the Marton girls, to a certain extent their experiences were similar. It would be very interesting to read a Kati Marton interview with the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In fact, a smart newspaper or website would be wise to commission Micahel Meeropol (who was an academic himself and thus can probably write) to review Ms Marton’s book.
    Steve in his post says “Marton was writing about her family’s travails in Hungary — but the book could be about a future, even a present, America.” With all due respect to Steve, he is trivializing the experiences of Ilon and Endre Marton to suggest that the police state tactics used ubiquitously by the Hungarian Government against the Martons bears any similarities to present day America. Ms Marton describes a situation in which virtually every person the Martons came in touch with was recruited to inform on them; their nanny, their cleaning girls; their neighbors; their hair dressers and barbers; even their dentist. If Steve thinks this type of spying on one’s neighbors is common in the United States today than he is either a little paranoid or he’s spending too much time reading the comment section at the Washington Note.
    As for Steve’s admonition that the state of civil liberties in Hungary in the 1950s might come to foreshadow the situation for civil liberties in the United States in the future; Steve is conflating the future with the past. Throughout American history there have been times when civil liberties have been sharply curtailed. One need only reflect on John Adams’ “Alien and Sedition Acts,” Lincoln’s suppression of Habeus Corpus, the “Red Scare,” the “Palmer Raids” or the “McCarthy Era.” The reality is that the arc of American history (to paraphrase Obama) is in the direction of greater civil liberties for Americans. Even during the height of the Bush/Cheney era (as bad as it was) American civil liberties were far more protected than at almost any time in American history. Does Steve think the United States was a freer society under the Administration of George W. Bush or the Administrations of Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy or Richard Nixon? Were American civil liberties more intact during the time George Bush was President or during the Administration of Woodrow Wilson?
    Yes, Bush/Cheney did a lot of unsavory things. In this they were abetted by most members of Congress including then Senator Obama who voted for the Patriot Act. But comparisons between the United States in the early 21st century and Hungary in the mid 20th century just don’t hold water.
    Everyone should read Kati Marton’s wonderful book.


  3. WigWag says:

    Greetings Paul.
    One good thing about the Kindle is that it is easy to change the print size. Actually the print can be made quite large which helps alot. The machine will also read to you aloud in either a female or male voice (you get to chose) but the voice is a little mechanical sounding. I only use this feature when my eyes are particularly tired.
    I’ve already read the first couple of chapters of Ms Marton’s book. Steve is right; it is a page turner.
    I think you will enjoy it.


  4. ... says:

    “The book is a poignant red flag for what people, seemingly decent citizens, can do to each other in a paranoid national security state.”
    sounds like usa circa the 21st century, with encouragement from some of the local resident posters here, wigwag, kotz, nadine and…..
    “Marton was writing about her family’s travails in Hungary — but the book could be about a future, even a present, America.”
    i note how this was turned into a little propaganda blitz against countries where the muslim faith is practiced… if it’s being given by a person of the jewish faith, it doesn’t come across as well… i can think of a paranoid national security state in a country where the jewish faith is practiced as well…
    lets single out the christian faith while we’re at it… i thought that was what the usa is mostly…
    playing wigwags game… welcome back wigwag.. i noticed you had a small vacation for a few days.. not to worry… nadine and questions did a good job covering for ya…


  5. Paul Norheim says:

    And WigWag, if your eyes should get worse, this of course also implies that you can
    transfer or copy Joyce, Cervantes and Proust from your Kindle to your PC, and read them
    on a huge screen…


  6. Paul Norheim says:

    Hi WigWag,
    I`ll ignore the part of your comment that I disagree with here, just to say that I read
    that Amazon is developing software for e-books – not only on iPhones (I have one), but
    more importantly, on Windows PC and Mac computers.
    This means that I can soon sit comfortably in my chair at home, in my boat on the fjords
    of Norway (according to OA) or on my white horse in la la land (according to Nadine)
    reading Kati Marton`s book on my excellent 24″ screen. This is good news.


  7. WigWag says:

    Thank you so much for this interview, Steve. I’ve already downloaded the book on my Kindle and I’m looking forward to getting started on it tonight. (Thank you Ms Marton for having your publisher release the book for the Kindle).
    I am a little disappointed in your written commentary though. Based on her comments, Ms Marton makes clear that her parents were strong partisans of the United States and that they viewed the United States as a major force for good in the world. The suggestion in your commentary that the experiences they had could even happen in the United States while true, diminishes the reality that secret police tactics are used routinely in totalitarian nations throughout the world; they are used extremely often in many Muslim nations.
    The irony is that foreign policy realists believe the United States should ignore regimes that employ totalitarian tactics unless some “interest” of the United States is impacted. Somehow I have the sneaking feeling that the Czechs, Hungarians and Poles (who mostly hate the Russians and Germans) are glad that the United States put principles over interests during the Cold War.
    I wish you would have asked Ms Marton how her parents would have felt about American policies in Afghanistan or Iran; would they have hoped that the United States ignored the gestapo-like tactics of the Taliban or Iranian Mullahs or would they want the United States to assist the Iranian and Afghan people the way the United States assisted the Hungarian people?
    Anyway, your interview with Ms Marton is very timely. Next week is the 54th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Hungary (November 4, 1956).
    It looks like a good book and Ms Marton seems like a very engaging person.
    Thanks again for the recommendation.


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