You people all hate them Muslims and want to see them go to hell, amiright? Well, maybe some do, and American can-do companies are filling that market niche. May God, Allah, Buddha and whoever else is out there have mercy on our blackened souls.
First up, you need some Muslim-hating ammo. Sure, a regular round can kill your average Terrorist, no problem, but then he is off to those virgins awaiting him in Paradise. Can’t have that, so you need to use Jihawg Ammo, made by South Fork Industries in Idaho. This speciality ammunition is actually coated with pork in the idiotic belief that if it penetrates a Muslim body said Muslim will die and go to hell as he is impure. This is based on the only-in-Idaho interpretation of the Koran that the dead guy is now spiritually unclean and thus unworthy. Guys, really, I remember my first beer, too, but just shut up.
Here is what the company actually says about itself:
In the fall of 2010, patriots from Idaho County, Idaho sat around a campfire enjoying an adult beverage. The discussion turned to concern and disgust that a mosque was being built at ground zero. Everyone in attendance agreed that freedom of religion is paramount for all peoples of Earth but this showed poor taste and had a sense of “rubbing our noses” into 9/11 tragedy. The discussion turned toward possible solutions to stop such a great insult.
With Jihawg Ammo, you don’t just kill an Islamist terrorist, you also send him to hell. That should give would-be martyrs something to think about before they launch an attack. If it ever becomes necessary to defend yourself and those around you our ammo works on two levels.
These bullets are “Peace Through Pork” and a “peaceful and natural deterrent to radical Islam” so a Christian shooter “Put Some Ham in MoHAMed.” “The nullifying principle of our product is only effective if you are attacked by an Islamist in Jihad.”
Yes, they have a Facebook page. Good news: since the pork ammo is still ammo, you can also use it to kill your Christian girlfriend after you get drunk and start yelling at her for wearin’ those cheap outfits like some Jezebel.
Bible Verse Military Rifle Sites
Bringing the wrath of the Christian God against Muslims cannot be done solely with the eyes God gave to the shooter. No, righteous killing requires a good scope to put steel on flesh properly.
Luckily, the Trijicon company has a $660 million multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to the Marine Corps, and additional contracts to provide sights to the U.S. Army, all inscribed with references to New Testament Bible passages about Jesus Christ. The sights were used by our brave crusaders in Iraq and continue to bring Jesus’ message of love thy neighbor to Afghanistan.
Trijicon confirmed to ABCNews.com that it adds the biblical codes to the sights sold to the U.S. military. Tom Munson, director of sales and marketing for Trijicon said the inscriptions “have always been there” and said there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them. Munson said the issue was being raised by a group that is “not Christian.” The company has said the practice began under its founder, Glyn Bindon, a devout Christian from South Africa, where in the past Jesus’ message of love was enshrined in the Apartheid system.
Good news: the same sights with the same Bible references are exported for use by the Israeli military to also slap down Muslims in their way toward God’s vision of heaven on earth.
But it doesn’t really matter all that much, because as one Christian commentator remarked, it is unlikely any actual Muslim cares, because to do so they’d have to:
– have access to an expensive US military rifle sight by this specific manufacturer
– can read (Afghanistan’s literacy rate is 28%, according to the CIA)
– can read English
– know enough about the English-language Bible to recognize an abbreviated reference at the end of a string of letters and numbers
– either have the reference memorized or have access to a Bible or Torah; and
– are offended by the presence of that reference.
Luckily for us, there are no Muslims in the U.S. military, no one on the bad guys’ side can use Google Translate and our literacy programs in Afghanistan have been a failure. God is truly on our side!
Hate-Based Coloring Books for Kids
But guns don’t shoot themselves. All that cool bullet and sight tech means nothing if you don’t have a righteous human Christian killer behind it, and what better way to achieve that than to indoctrinate them young.
Into the breach is coloringbook.com, a frightful pus-filled sore of a web site that sells coloring books to kids with titles such as The Tea Party Coloring Book Why America Loves You, Global Terrorism True Faces of Evil Never Forget and We Shall Never Forget 9/11, The Kids Book of Freedom.
The Tea Party book promises “many activities including how to start a tea party in your town, a tea party debate club at school and learn about freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom to be who you are! The genius of America is how The Tea Party truly reflects, represents and respects its homeland.”
The 9/11 books are super-keen. They are about:
Good vs. Evil. To a terrorist, this is a way of life and they do not consider themselves to be radicals, they consider themselves as soldiers. Current examples of modern evil are the Radical Islamic Muslim Tsarnaev brothers,Tamerlan and Dzhokhar one of which became a US Citizen on 9/11/2012. Designed as a consumer friendly, family publication for use with children and adults, this excellent graphic coloring novel helps expand understanding of the factual details and meanings in the War on Terror. Included are detachable printed show case cards with “Faces of Global Terrorism” very similar to the FBI’s ads featuring photos of murderous terrorists and suspects.
Also included are “terrorist trading cards, inspired by real people, real life and reflecting the truth. Vol. II also includes a government labeled cyber terrorist named Assange and modern day weather underground founder/leader Bill Ayers, a current educator in Chicago Illinois.”
And here’s some inspiring text from the coloring book, designed of course for children:
Terrorist Trading Cards clearly identifies the evil that may sit next to you on an airplane, or it could be an avowed Atheist in the lot of your local grocer on a sunny morning.The world should look at them, make fun of them, name them – shame them, recognize who the terrorists are and rid the earth of them.
Onward Christian soldiers!
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Obama, the president of the United States, Commander-in-Chief and self-proclaimed leader of the free world, says he did not know about his own government’s spying on multiple allied world leaders until quite recently. This means that Obama learned of this amazing thing same as we did, basically via Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing.
We’ll take a moment on behalf of the president to say:
“Thanks” Edward for bringing this to my attention. It appears that not all of our allied world leaders have been pleased to learn that my government has been (maybe still is? I gotta check Buzzfeed) spying on them, right down to the level of sitting in on Chancellor Merkel’s personal cell phone chats. Since these revelations affect the foreign standing and policy of the United States globally, I guess Edward I have to say I am grateful you let me know about this all. Hope Moscow is treating you well. Say hi to Julian for me!
Well, well, about that Mr. President who-don’t-know-nuthin’, there are two possible ways this can go:
1) Obama really did not know the NSA was spying on world leaders he called friends. This would mean that the NSA and who knows who else inside the government has gone rogue, taking actions independently that threaten the very allied relations the US depends upon to facilitate trade and commerce, build coalitions to support American aims and otherwise deal with a complex, multi-polar world. As such, the NSA has committed the essential elements of treason, aiding foreign powers and damaging the credibility and security of the United States. Obama should thus immediately fire the top several layers of NSA leadership, and appoint an independent prosecutor to look into charges against them.
Oops– instead of firing anyone, Obama spokesperson Jay “Goebbels was an Amateur” Carney cheered the American public by saying that “the president has full confidence in General Keith Alexander and the leadership at the NSA.”
2) That leaves only the conclusion that Obama lied. He lied straight into the eyes of the American people, ever gullible, even as those spied-upon world leaders rolled their own eyes in disbelief that the self-proclaimed World’s Most Powerful Man could not come up with a better excuse than total and complete ignorance.
We Must Protect America (from Spiders!)
On the subject of lies, the only justification the White House has offered on why it is necessary to conduct all this espionage is that it is necessary to protect America from terrorists. This is indeed important– a recent poll showed that among Americans’ deepest fears, Number One is Death, Number Two is Spiders and Terrorism is Third. Roll them up into terrorist spiders that can kill you and it is one scary image. So Obama is right to want to protect Americans from terrorist spiders.
The problem is that it is quite unclear how listening in on Merkel’s cell phone might in any way contribute to the fight to protect Americans against terrorists. Is Merkel a terrorist herself, a super sleeper agent spending years working her way into the seat of power of Europe’s leading economy? Does Merkel butt dial terrorists? Does she reveal inside dope on terrorists only on her cell phone calls home asking what’s for dinner?
Information is Power
No, no, of course not. Spying on someone like Merkel (or the President of Mexico, et al) has only one purpose: to gather information that can be employed by the United States to coerce, blackmail, threaten or otherwise manipulate.
Oh sure, the NSA might pick up some tidbits about a negotiating position, or whatever, but that info can be gathered elsewhere at much lower risk and with much more ease. Indeed, the CIA and others are out there as we speak offering money and other sweet goodies to code clerks, systems administrators and foreign diplomats to gather that kind of stuff.
The NSA and Obama want to know who sleeps with whom. They want to know who has a mistress, who is in an unhappy marriage, who gossips too much. who drinks too much, who likes to gamble, who visits prostitutes, who takes drugs, who has some weakness or vulnerability that can be quietly, maybe cleverly, exploited. This is a very big thing. Nothing as crude as Obama ringing up the Minister of Silly Walks in France and threatening to send over some incriminating photos like in the old KGB/Stasi days. But how about a quiet word dropped in the right place about a powerful leader with some odd connections to a guy who knows a guy who moves dope across southern Europe?
Information is power, straight as that, and Obama used and will continue to use the NSA to achieve it.
Oh, by the way, all that NSA spying on Americans, maybe corporate leaders, journalists and other politicians? Yep, same thing.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Convening Authorities can reduce or eliminate a convicted soldier’s sentence. They use this power when they feel the court martial failed to deliver justice. As Commanding General of the Military District of Washington, Major General Jeffrey S. Buchanan is the only other individual besides President Obama (and there ain’t no joy there unless Manning qualifies as a Syrian kid) with the power to lessen Pvt. Manning’s sentence.
This process is not new, nor unique. Though a slightly different judicial procedure, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals only in June of this year reduced the sentence of a former Ramstein Air Base staff sergeant who advertised babysitting services to gain access to three young girls he repeatedly sexually assaulted. Staff Sgt. Joshua A. Smith’s sentence was reduced such that Smith, 30, would be eligible for parole after a decade or more. The appellate judges, in their written opinion, said that despite the heinousness of Smith’s crimes against the girls — ages 3, 4 and 7 — the sentence handed down in November 2010 by military judge Col. Dawn R. Eflein and approved by the Third Air Force commander was “unduly severe.”
If you wish to add your voice to the many now asking for Manning’s sentence to be reduced, the instructions on how to do so are straightforward.
Here is what I wrote:
Major General Jeffrey S. Buchanan
Commanding General, U.S. Army Military District of Washington, DC
I write to request that as the Convening Authority in the case of U.S. v. Bradley E. Manning you move to reduce Pvt. Manning’s sentence to time served. Pvt. Manning has, in the course of several difficult years of confinement, taken responsibility for his actions and has been punished.
As the leader of a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Iraq, I was embedded with the 10th Mountain Division, 2nd Brigade at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer at the same time Manning was deployed there (though we never met.) I worked closely with Colonel Miller and his team to implement U.S. goals, and came away with great respect for him and his officers, and the enlisted men and women of the Commandos.
At the same time, I experienced first-hand the austere conditions at FOB Hammer, and the difficult lives the soldiers led. As you are aware, one young soldier tragically took his own life early in the deployment at Hammer. Many veteran soldiers, some who served in the Balkans, also talked about the rough conditions at our FOB. I saw that at times computer security was imperfect. While none of this excuses Pvt. Manning (nor should it; he himself has plead guilty to multiple counts), it does in part help explain it. I ask that you consider these factors in your decision.
As a State Department employee, I had access to the same databases Pvt. Manning in part disclosed, and back in Washington played a small roll in State’s “damage review.” I thus know better than most outsiders what Pvt. Manning did and, significantly, did not disclose, and am in a position to assess dispassionately the impact. As the State Department and the DoD reluctantly concluded at Manning’s trial, little if any verifiable damage was indeed done to the United States. There is no denying that the disclosures were embarrassing and awkward, but that is not worth most of a man’s life.
Justice elevates us all, and reflects well on our beloved nation. The revenge inherent in a 35 year sentence against Pvt. Manning does not.
Peter Van Buren
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
A recent post, Forbes: State Department Number Three Dream Employer, about how popular working for the State Department is among people who have never actually worked for the State Department, merited a follow-on. Here it is.
Daniel Garrett was a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Japan 2008-2010. The State Department decided he just wasn’t their kind of guy, and let him go. I have never met Dan, but his farewell to the Department of State and his advice to Japan bear quoting at length. People considering a career in the Foreign Service should also consider the price they’ll pay.
Dan, if you’re out there, look me up. I want to shake your hand and buy you a beer. You dodged a bullet, and you should be proud that State pushed you out. Here’s what Dan said:
I used to walk from the US Embassy over to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If the message I was to deliver was one I didn’t agree with, I used to walk a little slower, wondering if I was selling my soul for a diplomatic passport. Once, for example, I was asked to deliver a demarche about the US position on cluster munitions (basically that the new generation of these weapons was much safer). Japan, of course, has signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and the US has not. These horribly indiscriminate weapons (new generation or not) are rightfully banned. For Japan’s signature though to have any real meaning, it cannot allow its major defense ally to store them in Japan: to do so is to be complicit. The US position (as it is with landmines) is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.
Once I was asked to deliver a demarche asking that Japan not support a U.N. resolution calling for research into the health effects of depleted uranium. As the children stillborn, or born deformed in Fallujah and elsewhere testify, depleted uranium weapons pose a horrible health risk even after their initial explosive destructiveness. The US position is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.
Once I was asked to deliver a demarche to the government of Japan asking them not to vote in the U.N. Human Rights Council to accept the Goldstone report from the U.N. fact-finding mission to the Gaza conflict. Had this report been written by a US State Department Human Rights Officer (as I was) about a country that wasn’t a US ally, it would have been widely praised by the Secretary of State. The US position was wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.
Once, as a Human Rights Officer, I was approached by a Japanese group, the Victims of the Red Purge, asking that I deliver a letter to President Obama, asking for an official apology for this US occupation-instigated action that cost so many innocent Japanese their jobs and dignity. I wrote a cable which included their letter, to be delivered to Washington with the recommendation that the US move past this mistaken cold war overreaction and issue a formal apology. The Embassy however overruled my recommendation. In fact, US intervention in the domestic affairs of Japan to insure it had a loyal anti-communist ally, driven largely by a hysteric level of anti-communist demagoguery in US domestic politics, resulted in a profound warping of Japanese democracy, a warping which has persisted for a very long time. The US position is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for not being successful in obtaining both an apology and a formal statement that during the Cold War, while the US posed as a champion of freedom, and in some cases may have actually been so, in far, far too many countries and locales, it was deeply and criminally complicit in the suppression of many peoples who wanted that freedom, but were so unfortunate as to be under regimes that touted their anti-communist credentials.
In my own defense, I did try to raise my concerns in various venues. I sent two Dissent Channel cables on climate change, and still recall with a smile the day in the Ambassador’s mahogany-paneled conference room sitting at his magnificently long table across from a solid line of sparkling medal-bedecked military officers when, following a presentation on anti-missile defense, I pointed out that numerous studies (including from our own Congressional Budget Office) have determined that anti-missile defenses don’t work and it seemed to me that we were doing little more than making Raytheon and other corporations and consultants, rich. Ah, the wonderful awkwardness of that moment as if one could almost palpably hear the air escaping from so many punctured pompous balloons.
And this is where I now ask the people of Japan for help. My country is no longer the country I once knew, a country moving at least in the direction of providing opportunity for all, regardless of income. The tendency to paranoia and international law-breaking was always there, at a low fever, in clandestine and semi-clandestine actions around the world, driven by visions of American exceptionalism pandered onto an all too naïve public. Though I like to believe that there was the intention at least to make the world a better place, in fact these actions were frankly not just frequently amateurish and inept, they resulted in the suffering and death of many. Nor it seems, have any of the lessons been learnt.
Since 9/11, the United States has adopted a national security policy that can most charitably be described as one of anaphylactic shock. Terrorism ranks with shark attacks in terms of real risk. We have, however, so over-reacted, and misreacted to the tragedy that we have become a danger both to ourselves and to others. We have squandered our treasure in the sands of hubris and misunderstanding, and I often wonder now if the real good that we do has become just a fig leaf to cover our obscenely over-muscled shadowhand-tattooed as it is with empty slogans- that wields death and destruction at the press of a button, but doesn’t know how to build, and doesn’t seem to have the slightest grasp of history. Out of the excesses of our fears, we have perverted our own Constitution, and become a surveillance state in which the government itself moreover has become, in the words of Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, a “government of the 1% by the 1 % and for the 1%.” With a populace mired in debt, befuddled by vapid corporate media-tainment, and worshiping mindlessly at the rat-race temple of empty consumerism, America is now essentially run by the type of military-industrial-political-banker cabal that President Eisenhower warned about.
Japan please think twice, thrice about the things America asks you to do. Please be a good friend and send as much of our military home as possible. We cannot afford it anymore. Our poor are getting poorer, our education systems are falling behind, and our infrastructure is crumbling. Say that you are happy to work with us, but only if we find a way to either harness or rein in our greed so as to conserve and restore the earth’s natural systems which are all now rapidly being destroyed. Say that you would be happy to be our friend and ally in the greatest battle ever fought, the battle to preserve humanity and the earth from the now rapidly advancing onslaught of climate change. But do not get caught in the misguided adventurism of a decaying empire that is flailing about at phantoms, while the real dangers that haunts it, -climate change, environmental degradation, and the rapidly growing level of inequality of its own people- have essentially been sacrificed on the altar of a military-industrial-political-financial machine that is its own worst enemy.
(This article originally appeared on Fire Dog Lake)
Whistleblower Edward Snowden had one of the highest levels of security clearance, and exposed the most secret of NSA work. Chelsea Manning held a Top Secret clearance, and disclosed hundreds of thousands of classified records to Wikileaks. Aaron Alexis held a security clearance and used a shotgun to murder twelve people at the Washington Navy Yard. Over four million other Americans today hold some form of security clearance from the Federal government. Can we trust them? How did they obtain those clearances? Are Snowden, Manning and Alexis exceptions, or was the process one that could never have been expected to work in the first place? What can be done to make the clearance process work the way it was intended?
What is a Security Clearance?
A security clearance is issued by a part of the U.S. Government (Department of Defense, CIA, the State Department) and says that as a result of some sort of background investigation, and perhaps a polygraph examination, the holder can be trusted to handle sensitive documents and duties and to do so in secret. At the low end, this may mean a contractor like Alexis can enter the Navy Yard without a body search, or at the extremes mean that a person will assume a completely new identity, live abroad, and conduct sensitive, clandestine actions on behalf of the U.S.
Government-wide there are three basic levels of classification and access: Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. There are formal definitions, but the basic idea is that the higher you go up the ladder, the more harm and damage disclosure would create. Added to this three-tiered system are many subcategories, including Sensitive But Unclassified, for well, unclassified things that are still sensitive, such as an applicant’s social security number, Law Enforcement Sensitive and the self-explanatory like. Once more or less the top of hill, Top Secret, TS, is now supplemented by Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI), often used to denote information obtained from intelligence sources. There also many, many flavors of Special Access Programs (SAP) that require both a very high level clearance and permission to access just that single project. A clandestine operation against Iran, or the identities of spies in Syria, might be in this category. The military also creates its own lexicon of classifications.
While the range of what “cleared” people do for the United States covers much territory, the clearance process is largely a variation on a single note: let’s look into what this person has said and done in his/her life prior to seeking a clearance, and then try to extrapolate that into what they will do once cleared. But because, like with your mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future success, the process is inherently flawed.
How To Get Cleared
Despite the wide variety of clearances available, the process of obtaining one is similar. What changes is less the process of looking into someone’s life than the depth and granularity of the look.
Most everyone seeking a clearance begins at the same place, filling out Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, form SF-86. The form itself is no secret, and available on line, though many agencies have supplemental forms and requirements not public.
The SF-86 is mainly a very detailed autobiography, the raw material that fuels the rest of the process. Young people filling out their first SF-86 invariably end up on the phone to mom, gathering old addresses they lived at as kids, birthdays of disconnected relatives, foreign countries visited on family trips and more, a lot more: the SF-86 runs some 129 pages. Some interesting stuff is near the end; almost silly questions such as “Have you ever engaged in an act of terrorism?” and a follow-up requiring you to describe, in one line, “The nature and reason for the terror activity.”
However, after a hundred pages of names and dates and silly questions, the SF-86 dips into the deal breakers, the questions that weed out quickly those who are unlikely to get very far in the clearance process. Applicants are asked to self-describe financial problems, debts, drug use, gambling, drinking, mental health issues, legal troubles, job firings and more. Whether out of duty and honor, or more likely a thought process that the agency will find out anyway and lying is an automatic disqualification (it usually is; if one lies on a security check, what else is fair game to lie about?), most applicants do tell the truth and easily disqualify themselves.
First Level of Background Checks
Though the details vary from agency to agency, everyone gets some standard checks run on them. Since U.S. Citizenship is the most basic and unwaivering requirement for a clearance, every applicant’s claim is verified. In my own case (I held a Top Secret clearance for 22 years), investigators obtained a certified paper copy of my actual birth certificate from a distant city, and were nice enough to give it to me when the process was over in case I needed it for something. I’m not sure they’re as nice these days.
Every applicant then gets a run through whatever databases and electronic records can be found. This step is increasingly detailed as more and more of our lives move on line. The goal is to verify quickly as much of the self-provided data on the SF-86 and to skim off the low-hanging fruit. A serious arrest record, neck-deep financial problems and the like will be easily found. Checks are also run through the various intelligence files (a “National Agency Check”) to make sure while you’re applying for a job at the State Department you are not on some secret list of bad guys over at CIA. Before everything went on line that used to happen once in awhile, though now the biggest problem is both too much irrelevant information and the need to wonder about the accuracy of what was found; that record entry from the Pigeon Hollow local police department from 1983– accurate enough to deny someone a career over?
Absent any whoppers uncovered, most applicants are given a chance to explain abnormalities. Some say this is to be fair, some say it makes the agency’s job much easier if the applicant will either self-incriminate with even more details, or just voluntarily withdraw knowing she was caught.
For some low-level or short-term clearances, the process can stop here and a decision is made. The time period varies, but usually is in the area of a couple of months for a background-only clearance. Much of this work, due to the volume and perceived simplicity of the process, is farmed out now to private contractors. Alexis, the Navy Yard killer, had such a background-only clearance, done by a contracting firm in Northern Virginia that specializes in such work for the government. The same firm worked on a part of Edward Snowden’s clearance.
Full Background Investigation
For higher level clearances, including Top Secret, a full spectrum background investigation is required. Someone, typically a combination of someones including agency investigators and contractors, will comb through the SF-86 and whatever the electronic searches uncover and conduct field interviews. The investigator really will visit an applicant’s home town school teachers, her second-to-last-boss, her neighbors, her parents and almost certainly the local police force and ask questions in person. As part of the clearance process, an applicant will sign the Mother of All Waivers, basically giving the government permission to do all this as intrusively as the government cares to do. This is old fashioned shoe leather police work, knocking on doors, eye balling people who say they knew the applicant, turning the skepticism meter up to 11. The investigator will ask each interviewee to keep quiet about the interview, but typically the applicant will get a hushed phone call or email from some old acquaintance saying the Feds just knocked. Many of the contract investigators at this level are retired FBI or Secret Service people and often will present their old ID to add some gravitas to the procedure. If an applicant lived abroad, the process is tasked out to various liaisons and the nearest U.S. Embassy.
The process is proactive; the investigator must find people to talk to who know the applicant. If he can’t (say wrong addresses, or no one from the USG can track down an old college roommate now in Tehran) the investigation often “pauses,” sometimes indefinitely. Not being able to find adequate information on an applicant is a big negative.
As you can imagine, this process is not quick. Most full background investigations take at least a year and complex lives, especially if the applicant has lived abroad and has many foreign contacts, can drag… on… for… years… All this on-the-street work does not come cheap. It is hard to put a number on it, as obviously the complexity of the applicant’s life will dictate costs, but a full background investigation can run $15-20,000.
For many agencies, including the CIA and NSA, another step in the clearance process is the polygraph, the lie detector. The federal government polygraphs about 70,000 people a year in connection with security clearances.
What portion of the polygraph process that isn’t shrouded in movie drama is classified, but the basics are simple; even TV’s Mythbusters show looked into it. The process is based on the belief that when one fibs one’s body involuntarily expresses stress in the form of higher blood pressure, changes in pulse, breathing and perspiration rate. Those things can be precisely monitored. Did you ever steal anything? No? That’s a lie– see here, your heart rate went up 15 percent when you answered.
The reality is much more complex. Though I have never been polygraphed, I have spoken with many government employees who have been. Here’s what they had to say.
The whole polygraph experience is set up as a mind game. Subjects can be kept waiting a long time, or left in a too-cold or too-hot room, and interviews can be scheduled and then canceled to create stress. A planted staffer in the waiting room can tell the applicant they are being watched, even make a comment such as “You shouldn’t read that kind of magazine while waiting, they judge that too.” There may be mirrors, real or imagined two-way viewing panels. This is referred to as the pre-test. It sets the stage.
Some say that the presence of the polygraph machine itself may be mostly for show, and the real nuts and bolts of the process are actually just clever manipulation and interrogation techniques as old as dirt. An awful lot of information obtained via a polygraph has nothing to do with the needles and dials per se, but the applicant’s fear of them and belief that they “work.” Polygraphers are allowed considerable freedom in style, and some get more into role-playing than others.
That said, most polygraphers will first establish baseline readings with irrelevant questions– “Is your name John?” Yes. “Is your name Micheal?” No. He will try and put the subject at ease, asking softball questions such as “Do you plan to tell the truth today?” Nobody can answer no honestly (it is believed) and this helps create a trusting atmosphere where the polygrapher assures the subject that everyone has told little lies and his job is to sort those out from the “big” ones. The polygrapher will also likely point out things on the charts or “explain” the details of his work; the goal is to plant the idea in the subject’s head that the machine is an accurate way to detect lies. This sets up the next phase.
The polygrapher will have reviewed the background investigation results and slowly move into the meat of the interview, asking both broad questions– “Do you have a drinking problem?” and specific ones– “Then why did you have this DUI in March 2003?” Many times the got ya’ question, including a why or when or who, is really a way to play off the applicant’s fear and get her to talk. Look at the sequence above. It is unlikely that someone will admit to a drinking problem, yet the next query is about an actual DUI. The applicant’s natural inclination will be to explain, to talk about the DUI, all the time knowing her answer is being run through a “lie detector.” Often the applicant will self-incriminate.
Lastly, there is the post-interview test, often the time when the most information is disclosed. The subject feels at ease, having “finished” the polygraph. One tactic is, after a lengthy review of the charts and after much hemming and hawing, maybe a sigh or two and a consultation with “another expert” outside the interviewing room, the polygrapher comes in and says “I think you’re a nice kid, and I like you. I know you want this job and I want to help you get it. The problem is, here (gestures to some squiggly line marked in red), where you said you never used drugs, the machine indicates you might not have told the truth. Now, look, I’ll turn off the machine and you just tell me what really happened and I’ll try to go to bat for you.” Self-incrimination follows, game over, thanks for playing today!
In some instances, only a limited polygraph will be conducted, as opposed to a full-lifestyle test. In a “coordination of expectations” test, used in many military and update-only situations, very specific and limited questions will be asked. Sometimes the subject will even know the questions in advance, such as “Since your last polygraph, have you transferred classified information without authorization?”
There exists a point of view that the polygraph is indeed more useful than simply as a prop, and that you can “fool the box” physically and pass the test. There are people who purport to teach tricks and techniques designed to do so. The basic idea is to register false anxiety during true relevant questions, thus making your real anxiety on lies less clear. People are taught to clench their sphincter to induce a measurable but false stress reaction, to bite their tongue or to place a tack inside their shoe to poke themselves and send pain-induced stress indicators. Others teach a kind of meditation. As counter-countermeasures, there are rumors of polygraphers placing real or fake “stress” pads on the seats of chairs, and inspecting applicants’ shoes. For the most part, however, the Feds just poo-pooed these ideas, claiming over the years that they were a waste of money because they just did not work.
Interestingly, however, the government has very recently changed its position, and is now actively seeking to prosecute those who teach “how to beat the box.” Prosecutors have raised the specters of terrorists infiltrating the CIA, or pedophiles securing sensitive positions. The possibility that the prosecutions are only security theater is also real, an expansion of the mind game, given that despite the prosecutions strategies for passing a polygraph are still just a Google away, including on the ever-so-pedestrian WikiHow.
Up to this point the clearance process has been mostly the aggregation of information. Along the way some applicants might be picked off, people whose U.S. Citizenship wasn’t verifiable, people who made whopping self-incriminations, applicants scared off or afraid what the process might reveal. But overall, most applicants for a clearance end up in Adjudication. And in Adjudication lies the core problem in the clearance process: it relies on human judgment.
The basics of an adjudication look at vulnerabilities, and especially at past examples of trust kept or violated.
Vulnerabilities are more concrete, and thus easier, to determine. Historically, people betray their country’s trust for (in rough order) money, sex, ego or ideology. People with loads of debt or a gambling problem are more susceptible to bribes. People with records of infidelity or a pattern of poor judgment with partners might be lured into sexual encounters that could be used to blackmail them. In the bad old days when most gay and lesbian applicants were deeply closeted, this was used as a one-size-fits-all pseudo-reason to deny them employment. Ego is a tougher one to pin down, but persons who lack self-esteem or who want to play at being a “real spy” might be tempted to become “heroes” for the other side. Ideology is a growing issue as more and more hyphenated Americans seek government work and, needing qualified language employees, more and more are recruited by the government. Will a Chinese-American’s loyalty fall to her new home or to the old country? What about a born-and-bred whitebread American, but with a spouse from Egypt? Would his allegiances be blurred? Even if he bleeds red, white and blue, could the Egyptians cajole, blackmail or threaten his spouse’s parents back home to make him cooperate?
Back in the good old days, when qualification for high level positions required one to be male, pale and Yale, these things were less of concern. Fathers recruited sons, professors noted promising students and no one thought much about the messy range of people now eligible– or sought– for government work. Need fluent Pashtu speakers? You’re going to have to recruit farther afield than the country club. Agencies who used to toss back into the pond pretty much anyone without a pristine background now face unfilled critical positions. So, standards change, always have changed and will continue to change. Security clearances just work that way.
If vulnerabilities seem sometimes ambiguous to adjudicate, the next category, trust, is actually much harder. Persons who have kept trusts extended to them, not been fired, not broken laws, paid their bills, saw to their responsibilities, are in the Nice category. Those who didn’t end up over in Naughty. The adjudication part becomes important because very few people are perfect, and very few are really bad. Most everyone falls in the middle, and so agencies must make judgment calls.
For example, in modern America some casual drug and alcohol abuse is not outside the boundaries of normal, especially when it is self-admitted, and done when a person was young and maybe in an experimental phase of life such as college. So, while twenty years ago copping to smoking some weed was an automatic no for a clearance, now, hypothetically, a 26 year old grad student who says she might have smoked a joint four years ago at a party but didn’t like it so did not do it again, and who passes her current urine test, might be approved. Same for debt; it is not unusual for an American today to carry heavy credit card debt or a six figure student loan, but if he’s paying it off, maybe not so bad. Mental health issues are tricky; again, nowadays seeing a mental health professional and taking common meds like anti-depressants is a very commonplace thing with little stigma attached. The key issue under question is whether or not an applicant’s judgment is impaired by a mental health condition, and often real medical professionals get involved to sort this out.
There are rules and standards for these adjudications, some of which are even on line. The problem is not having or knowing the rules, the problem is figuring out how to apply them. In one of my own assignments at the State Department, I was part of a group that reviewed background investigative reports. I saw a lot of them, mostly new applicants, and was part of a process that was used to help determine “suitability” for employment. The easiest way to win a fight is not to get into a fight, and so instead of formally denying a security clearance and opening a potential can of worms, some agencies conduct a suitability review to basically weed out people unlikely to get a clearance, on a more amorphous, less-challengeable, vaguer not-so-legalistic basis. Different hallway to the same exit door, it is the clearance process at work nonetheless.
The adjudication process as I saw it was taken seriously. We were taught to look for patterns of life and not at isolated incidents. The goal was to try and come up with a picture of the person, and then project that picture forward into what they might be like on the job. Like any human-powered process that attempts to predict the future, it was flawed. After pushing the Eagle Scouts to one side and the convicted arsonists to the other, there was always a big pile left in the middle. And we knew that at least statistically we probably made some errors approving the Eagle Scouts and some mistakes turning down at least a couple of the arsonists. The race is not always to the swift and sure, but that’s the way you have to bet.
So How Did Snowden, Manning and Alexis Get Cleared?
Snowden is the easy case. Based on what is publicly available, Snowden was a slam dunk approval. He had held high level clearances with the government for many years without issue. He did not have any drinking, drug, debt, mental health or personal problems. He seemed like a relatively dull guy actually. Nothing in the security clearance process could have ever peeked into his head and found that he was a person of conscience who decided to blow the whistle and radically alter his life to bring the NSA’s sleazy, illegal activities into daylight. While the NSA certainly should be blamed for unbelievably lax internal controls on who could access and copy its data, the clearance process worked exactly as it was designed to work. Claims that short cuts in the process were at fault are wrong.
Chelsea Manning is at best a gray area, and likely should never have been given a clearance. She made little attempt to hide her gender confusion inside a hyper-macho world, struggled against the Army system at every turn, fought physically with her supervisors and was alienated and ostracized by her peers. Despite all that, she was deployed into an environment where counseling was unavailable, where security and supervision were lax to the point of criminality and where the stresses of combat conditions pressed heavy on everyone. It is unclear why she was cleared, though the most likely reason was that the Army was desperately short of analysts and could not afford to lose one, even one stuck in a slow-motion train wreck.
Alexis, the Navy Yard killer, should never have been granted any security clearance. His was a preventable tragedy. Because he held only a lower level clearance, it is very likely that no field investigation took place. All those friends and family members the media found who readily told of his problems with hearing voices, violence and drink were likely never interviewed by the government contractor assigned his case. One screaming red flag, Alexis’ lying about a gun-related arrest, was not considered significant. The system failed for various reasons to pick up on his string of other arrests, and no one seemed to care about his uneven service record in the Navy. Clear human error, likely as a result of turning such clearances over to the for-profit sector.
Picking up on Alexis in particular, it is important to note that the clearance process is not a real-time endeavor. Someone applies, some sort of background check is done and a clearance decision is adjudicated. Next case, please. Most clearances are only reviewed every five years and then investigators lean heavily on anything new or changed, and especially on the subject’s performance those five years. There is no 24/7 continuous reevaluation process. A felony arrest properly documented might pop up, and many agencies yearly run standard credit checks and conduct random drug tests. But overall, absent something self-reported or too obvious to ignore, a clearance rides for five years, sometimes literally with no questions asked. How could it be otherwise with over four million active cleared Americans strung across the globe?
Following Snowden, Manning and now Alexis, much noise will be generated about “doing something.” But what? Dramatically increasing the number and scope of on-the-street investigations will spiral wildly into crazy expenses and even longer waiting periods. It could bring the hiring process to its knees, and spawn more and more “temporary clearances,” a self-defeating act. This all with no assurance of better results due to both limitations on the whole concept (see Snowden) or human judgment errors (Alexis). If done properly, such changes might catch a few of the Alexis’ out there, but to be honest, there are few Alexis’ out there to begin with and most of them will be sending up obvious danger signals at work long if anyone would pay attention before a clearance review catches up.
It is certain that many in the government will call for more aggressive “monitoring” of employees, having them sign away basically all of their civil rights in return for a job. The government will turn its vast intelligence gathering tools further inward and end up pointlessly compiling CIA officers’ credit card receipts from Applebee’s, the web browsing habits of diplomats’ children and so forth. In truth, a lot of that is probably already going on now anyway (the CIA and other intel agencies have had for years robust counterintelligence operations designed specifically to spy on their own spies.) Yet as noted, even ramped up, real-time monitoring would not have caught the current Snowden and is unlikely to catch the next Snowden (albeit to the nation’s broader benefit!) You just can’t see into a person’s head, or his heart.
In addition to a huge waste of money and resources, these measures will inevitably lead to more mistrust and paranoia inside government. Lack of sharing (the CIA believes things it shares with State get leaked, the Army won’t give things away to the Navy, the FBI hoards info so as to not let another agency get credit for the bust, the NSA doesn’t trust anyone, and so forth) is already an issue among agencies, and even inside of agencies, and helped pave the way for 9/11. In addition, handing even more power to security teams will also not work well in the long run. Hyper-scrutiny will no doubt discourage more decent people from seeking government work, unwilling to throw their lives open for a job if they have prospects elsewhere. The Red Scare of the 1950s, and the less-known Lavender Scares, when labeling someone gay inside government would see him fired, show what happens when security holds too many cards. James Jesus Angleton’s paranoid mole hunting at CIA, which ruined many careers, is still a sore point at Langley. In my own case, my unblemished clearance of 22 years was suspended because of a link on my blog. The link was pedestrian but the blog offended the State Department politically, and security was the tool they tried to use to silence me. No, unleashing the bullies won’t help.
Fixing It: Less is More
As a wise man once said, cut through all the lies and there it is, right in front of you. The only answer to the clearance problem is to simply require fewer cleared people inside government.
This will require the tsunami of document classification to be dammed. In FY2009 alone, 54 million U.S. Government documents were classified. Every one of those required cleared authors and editors, system administrators and database technicians, security personnel and electronic repair persons. Even the cafeteria personnel who fed them lunch needed some sort of vetting.
With fewer people to clear, always-limited resources can be better focused. Better background checks can be done. Corners need not be cut, and unqualified people would not be issued clearances out of necessity. Processing time would be reduced. Human judgment, always the weak link, could be applied slower and more deliberately, with more checks and balances involved.
More monitoring won’t help and will very likely hurt. In a challenge as inherently flawed as the clearance process, the only way forward is less, not more.
So a person attacks the Capitol building and gets gunned down by the cops, just two weeks after the Navy Yard mass shooting. A man set himself on fire on the National Mall, just outside one of the closed Smithsonian museums. The NSA continues to lie about spying on Americans, get caught lying, then says, OK, we lied about that, but not this next thing. Over 5,000 Iraqis have died in sectarian violence in the past ten months (65 yesterday alone) but despite a recent nine year American invasion, occupation and retreat, that story isn’t really news. Afghanistan devolves daily, with the U.S. bailout there scheduled for next year. Two out of ten American children live below the poverty line. The U.S. government, meanwhile, is… closed.
Did I miss anything? I haven’t checked the news in the last hour. Some days it feels like I woke up huffing paint.
As the Vietnam War’s futility became evident, and as most-trusted man-in-America Walter Cronkite came out against it, then-president LBJ said “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” When was the last time we weren’t cynical about politics and government, when we had hope for change? Yeah, that was that 2008 thing. LECTOR SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE
Well America, when you’ve lost the young people, you’ve lost the future. We welcome a new friend of the blog today, who sends this message:
An open letter to the Ladies and Gentlemen of the 113th United States Congress:
Most kids tend to grow out of the “I want to be President” stage at around age 12, I however did not. That is, until today. Today is October 1, 2013, the day Congress led the federal government to a shutdown, simultaneously leaving thousands of federal employees out of work and crushing the last bits of hope and trust I had for our government and my future (Not to mention cutting off the panda cam at the national zoo. Not OK.)
I grew up less than 25 minutes from DC my entire life, and spent my childhood wandering around the monuments and the national mall, daydreaming about how one day I would be a part of that elite “inside the beltway” club. I have spent the last decade of my life telling anyone who would listen that one day I would become Speaker of the House, and then eventually, President of the United States, and each time I did, I was met with responses such as “stay away from politics – it is a dirty game” and “wouldn’t you rather have a job that helps people?’. Time and time again, I would look those people straight into their disapproving eyes and tell them that not all politicians were bad and that some truly did care and work to get things done. Usually my responses were met with condescending remarks about how cute I was and how I’d learn when I was older, but I meant every word. I spent four years in college studying Government and Politics, racking up debt that I will likely be re-paying until I am 65, to prove to those people that our government is not all bad and that I could make a difference in the field.
Little did I know, I was wrong. So wrong.
Over the past several weeks I have seen just how ridiculous and petty the people who hold some of the highest and most prestigious offices in our nation can be. I have seen my role models let their stubbornness and ignorance shut down an entire nation. Honestly, I have seen better cooperation in a first grade classroom, or better yet in the Great Ape House at the National Zoo (which is now closed). It is hard for me to comprehend how educated adults, who the people have entrusted to run our country, can be so childish as to allow THE ENTIRE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO SHUT DOWN. You are literally shutting a nation down because you can not learn to compromise and agree with one another, do you not realize that? These are skills you should have learned in elementary school. Though I guess it isn’t your fault if you didn’t since our educational system isn’t where it should be. Oh wait. That is your fault.
So basically, I just wanted to thank you for opening my eyes to what Congress and the Federal government are really all about. Thank you for crushing the hopes and dreams I have carried with me since I was twelve years old, and leaving me with a useless degree, and no trust in my government. Oh yeah, and thanks for almost completely shutting down the city I love more than any other place in the world. At least I can take comfort in the fact that you are still receiving your paychecks and that your families won’t go hungry.
If any of your friends in the private sector are hiring, kindly let me know.
Outside America’s non-working Capitol Building yesterday, cops killed an unarmed woman with a baby in her car after the car had crashed and was stationary. When the cops had her stopped the first time, she did not fire any shots or give any indication she had a weapon.
Not that anyone noticed, but cops in the DC area killed another unarmed citizen on Tuesday. No indications this one was mentally ill, just wouldn’t stop running when told to do so by the cops (Did he hear the order? Was his adrenaline rush too much? Was he scared of being hand cuffed and beaten?)
Typical rules of engagement for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan require someone to brandish a weapon before he can be blasted away. Not always followed, but cops in America do not even have the paper restriction. I’ve written elsewhere about making life-and-death decisions in ambiguous wartime situations.
We all know that cops have a dangerous job; they know that too. I know they are scared, dealing with unclear, threatening situations. The dead woman at the Capitol was likely mentally ill (Did she have access to psychological care?)
But none of that grants them the right to conduct executions on our streets.
Readers may recall D. Inder Comar, a San Francisco lawyer who is seeking to do what the Obama Administration refuses to do, hold the Bush Administration accountable for the unnecessary invasion of Iraq and its ongoing, horrific, aftermath.
On March 13, 2013, Comar filed two lawsuits in California against George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz on behalf of an Iraqi client and himself. He alleges the defendants planned and waged a “war of aggression” in violation of laws set down at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946 and seeks to hold the defendants personally liable for their actions.
Well, we can’t have that.
So, because every other problem in America has been resolved, Obama’s Department of Justice requested that the Bush Gang be granted procedural immunity. DOJ claims that in planning and waging the Iraq War, the Bushies acted within the legitimate scope of their employment and are thus immune from suit. This is the “Westfall Act Certification,” defense, submitted pursuant to the Westfall Act of 1988. The Act permits the Attorney General, at his or her discretion, to substitute the United States as the defendant and essentially grant absolute immunity to individual government employees for actions taken within the scope of their employment.
To save you non-lawyers the expense of a Google: In 1988, Congress amended the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) to reinforce federal employees’ immunity from tort actions. These amendments — commonly known as the Westfall Act because they were a response to Westfall v. Erwin, 484 U.S. 292, 300 (1988) — provide that an action against the United States is the only remedy for injuries caused by federal employees acting within the scope of their employment. 28 U.S.C. SS 2679(d)(1). There some limited exceptions to when Westfall can be used, such as an action “which is brought for a violation of the Constitution of the United States.” Hmm.
Now to be fair, this is actually a fairly standard defense by the government. The idea in theory is that if a government official follows the rules and say, denies you a passport lawfully because you did not present the required documentation, you can’t sue the guy. I can say in my own State Department career assisting American Citizens abroad, most of whom had been arrested for something (top three reasons for arrest: drugs, drugs and drugs), more than one wanted to sue me personally because of something well out of my control, such as a foreign judge thought they were scum sucking freaks. I was just doing my job, and followed the rules, and thus the government protected my actions.
Still, while understanding the Department of Justice wants to just dismiss cases like Comar’s as routinely as possible, it leaves a sour taste to learn that the current administration wants to immunize the Bushies over a terrible war that nearly bankrupted America and resulted in so many needless deaths.
Comar does raise a good point: since much of the planning for the Iraq War was done long before guys like Rumsfeld, Rice and Wolfowitz actually took office, they should not be protected by Westfall. In addition, there is that “violation of the Constitution of the United States” clause that must figure into this all somehow.
The ongoing case against Bush is Saleh v. Bush (N.D. Cal. Mar. 13, 2013, No. C 13 1124 JST).
Welcome to our world.
The scene in Congress is as ugly as it has been in some time, perhaps resembling the ultimate breakdown of our system of government last seen in the days before the Civil War. At that point the lines had been drawn and were no longer negotiable, literally black and white. There were no compromises left to explore as Congressmen acted simply out of self-interest (“I wish to support using human beings as livestock”) with no regard for the nation as a whole.
The issue today is selfishly drawn– Congress acts simply based on a cold calculus of what it thinks will increase chances for reelection. No one seems to care a touch for the nation. This demonstrates the extent of our failure. Even as the U.S. is trending toward our own form of fascist exceptionalism, where real power is controlled by industry with the complacence of government, backed up by a surveillance state that views citizens as the enemy, we can’t even get the damn trains to run on time.
Meanwhile, some 16 million of our children, 22 percent, live below the federal poverty level. That line is set at $23,550 a year for a family of four. Anybody out there with enough scratch for a computer and an internet connection want to try that on? In fact, on average, a family of four needs at least double the money just to cover basic expenses. Using that standard, actually 45 percent of our children live in low-income families. Meanwhile, our Secretary of Labor spends his time concerned about kids in other countries being forced to work to survive.
While we spend lavishly on schools, bridges, roads and utilities in Afghanistan (the latest is over $100 million so a few kids can go to college in Kabul for free) and previously in Iraq, our own infrastructure is crumbling.
I could easily cite similar facts on education, crime, incarceration rates, employment and the like showing the growing disparity not just of income, but of life, between our tiny rich and our growing poor. It is almost as if our government is actively seeking to create a permanent underclass to drive down wages. We are witnessing an apartheid of dollars.
I will admit to not yet knowing enough about Obamacare to offer an intelligent opinion on its likely effectiveness. But I know this: My family lived in the UK for a few years, where free healthcare was available to every person. While there are criticisms about that system, I can only say the care we received was extraordinary. We lived also in Japan, where healthcare is available to all at very low cost. While there are criticisms about that system, I can only say the care we received was extraordinary. A comprehensive health care system can indeed work. In fact, in the dozens of countries where we lived or traveled, healthcare was available at costs far below the U.S. In any of the first-world places, no child was left to suffer for lack of money. In the third world, that was not the case. It is obvious which pole the U.S. is tumbling toward.
Federal workers, welcome to a taste of our world, where everything is uncertain and your life is on the line if you lose your job. Now, I understand that whenever Congress eventually gets around to re-funding the government you’ll be back at your jobs-for-life, with nice benefits. More power to you. But, if you can, take these days of pseudo-unemployment to spare a thought for what is going on in our country outside the Beltway.
I enjoyed all that job security and good benefits too, in my more than twenty years working at the State Department. I live now on a retiree’s Federal pension. But none of that precludes me from thinking about others. In fact, I feel it requires me to do so.
What I’d like to end with is to say that as long as we don’t have a working government, providing us the services we paid for via our taxes, we should not have to pay those taxes. Unfortunately, that would result in me going to prison, a service that is still quite robust. Instead, for us the living, the immediate task is simple. Congresspersons are acting in their own self-interest, hoping to get reelected, and our own lives be damned. Do this: vote for anyone except an incumbent. If a noticeably large number of incumbents never see office again, perhaps– perhaps– someone in our own government will remember us out here.
The path downwards in our post-Constitutional America starts with the large failures, and will end in petty indignities. Such is the nature of a fascist state. It must crush any dissent, however pointless, and it must control everything.
Having swept aside the Bill of Rights with ease, the NSA under the control of the White House, now descends to pettiness.
Two days after the first revelations of NSA mendacity, an entrepreneur named Dan McCall put up a handful of T-shirts and bumper stickers for sale on the custom goods marketplace Zazzle. Each of those items had a faux NSA logo, emblazoned with the slogan “Peeping While You’re Sleeping,” plus the joke line “The only part of the government that actually listens.”
Within an hour or two Dan received an email from Zazzle stating:
Design contains an image or text that may infringe on intellectual property rights. We have been contacted by the intellectual property right holder and we will be removing your product from Zazzle’s Marketplace due to infringement claims. Specifically, your product contained content which infringes upon the intellectual property rights of National Security Agency. We have been contacted by legal representatives from the National Security Agency, and at their request, have removed the product from the Zazzle Marketplace.
The NSA had stepped in, quickly enough to surmise they had been monitoring the transaction, citing Public Law 86-36, from 1959. Specifically, the NSA referenced Section 15 (a) which states in its entirety (emphasis added):
No person may, except with the written permission of the Director of the National Security Agency, knowingly use the words ‘National Security Agency’, the initials ‘NSA’, the seal of the National Security Agency, or any colorable imitation of such words, initials, or seal in connection with any merchandise, impersonation, solicitation, or commercial activity in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such use is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the National Security Agency.
Leaving aside the reality that many others online (as well as every street vendor in Washington, DC) sells NSA gear, including Zazzle competitor Cafe Press, there is no evidence that Dan’s use of the NSA logo in any way conveys the impression that the use is approved or authorized by the NSA. Quite the opposite; his open mocking of the NSA and amended seal convey that he thinks the NSA is a bunch of bullying wankers.
Not that any of this is new; my own former employer, the Department of State, went after me for using its seal in a piece of journalism protected by the First Amendment. In 2005 the George W. Bush White House demanded that The Onion stop using George’s seal.
The NSA stated that “At any time that NSA is made aware that the NSA Seal is being used without our permission, we will take appropriate actions.” Well, NSA, better turn those satellite dishes and unleash the lawyers against this site, where Dan McCall is now selling his NSA faux logo gear.
And, in fact, you better go after this blog, as well as the New York Times, Buzzfeed and a zillion other places, because we all have and continue to violate Public Law 86-36 by “knowingly us(ing) the words ‘National Security Agency’, the initials ‘NSA’, the seal of the National Security Agency.”
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Update: My article, below, was intended as satire, but yet another very real mass shooting took place just a few hours ago in Chicago, leaving 13 more wounded and dead.
(Sorry, it’s been a few days since the last shooting, so this may no longer be timely. This memo was found near the Washington Post offices, with the words “Watergate Uber Alles” scrawled across it in what appears to be human blood. I have been unable to confirm its authenticity, but while reading it a person identifying himself as a Washington Post reporter recently reassigned from foreign correspondent to the Style section came up to me begging for spare change and said it “looked real.”)
TO: All Washington Post Staff
FROM: Jeff Bezos, owner
SUBJECT: Coverage of Mass Shootings
It seems that mass shooting is more than a passing fad now, so we need to regularize our coverage. This is not only for consistency’s sake, but also, given recent and future staff cuts (don’t worry, most of those laid off from the paper will be offered positions at Amazon’s New Delhi hub), to save time and money. Here are the new SOPs. Anyone not following these will feel a Zappo up the backside from me.
On the Day
1) Psychotic killers will be referred to as “shooters.” Anything bigger than a handgun, a “long rifle.” Any long rifle, shotgun, lengthy piece of wood, etc., will be an “assault rifle” or a “military-style weapon” starting in para two. Try to use the word “tactical” whenever possible. The shooter will have worn “military-style clothing” regardless of whether or not the photos show him in a Hello Kitty t-shirt.
2) While fresh photos of grieving relatives are crucial, specific interviews are a waste of resources. Recycle. Anyone who was in the military in any form is a “veteran who survived combat tours only to ironically meet his demise at home.” Anyone over 28 years old will have “left behind children.” Quote a neighbor as saying the deceased was a regular guy/gal who liked to barbecue, coached Little League, that kind of thing. Throw in a hobby– “He loved fly fishing” or “…his beloved taxidermy collection.” Even if the dude was a convicted drug dealer murderer, in death he was “a good man, well-loved by his pit bull and customers.”
3) The “shooter” was not a good man. He had an (undiscovered until you dug it up) history of mental illness, though throw in in the lede that he purchased his long gun, assault rifle, grenade launcher or cluster munition legally. Quote a neighbor as saying the shooter “seemed like a regular guy, you know, kept his lawn nice and all.” Quote his mom saying she didn’t know where things went wrong for him, then have her reference unironically the thirty strangled cats she found in his room.
4) Somebody will need do something “incredibly brave.” Use a cop if necessary, but it’s much better if you can tell about some ordinary office worker who did an extraordinary thing. Quote him/her as “just doing my job” if a cop, “I did what I had to do” if a civilian.
The Days After
5) The President will go on TV and say what a tragedy, a nation grieves, blame Congress and/or the other party for inaction, need to possibly think about someday looking into gun control, yadda, yadda but you know, Second Amendment and all that. Just use the last speech’s text again. If presidential approval ratings are below 50%, he’ll appoint a blue ribbon commission to look into this terrible day. When Obama leaves office, remember to change the name.
6) Re-run the editorial about gun control. If it doesn’t fit in the front section, drop Family Circle from the comics page for a day and stick it there.
7) Next day, run a photo of flags at half-mast (might as well leave ‘em there to save wear and tear!), and print a couple of letters to the editor. Same cranks write in every time so don’t spend a lot of energy on this. Second Amendment, need to have armed guards in schools and public restrooms, think of the children, the violence has to stop, etc.
Finally, don’t milk it. These stories are good for a day or two, maybe a little more if local, but nothing past that unless a celebrity is involved. Don’t worry about filling the space, there’ll be another mass shooting coming soon enough.
Wednesday night at 7pm, at the Library of Congress, I will be speaking as part of a panel on the topic “Freedom, Security and America’s Role in the World.” Senator Rand Paul will be on the panel as well.
If you can come out to join us, please do. For those not in DC, the event will be live-streaming Wednesday at 7pm as well.
My position is clear:
While for much of our history America did well by not going out in search of monsters, our turn away from that policy has produced very poor results for the United States. As part of the final act of the Iraq War, assigned to the last of the reconstruction teams, I saw first-hand how unneeded, unfocused foreign intervention took lives, wasted our economy and created the perception of America the bully boy, not America the necessary policeman. The results in Afghanistan 12 years on, chaotic Libya and across the Middle East cry out for more thought and caution, even as the U.S. deliberates on whether to intervene in Syria, once again lacking unambiguous strategic goals, meaningful multi-lateral support and a clear nexus between our actions and our nation’s true needs.
Hope to see you there!
The Washington Post (slogan: We Still Type Well, now Powered by Amazon!) this weekend out did itself in jingoism and war mongering, throwing in some puke-colored pablum about American Exceptionalism to complete a pile that resembles the doggy mess I scoop up every morning using the plastic bag the Post comes in (the bag is so perfectly sized for picking up poop that I still subscribe just to get a new one each morning.)
Dana Milbank Teaches American Exceptionalism
We begin with “journalist” Dana Milbank. Dana was of course a Yale Bonesman, which equipped him to properly catch as Washington politicians pitch him. Dana also fancies himself a sometimes “humorist” in the vein of Mark Twain, assuming Twain had suffered from syphilis or, had it been available, dropped a hell of a lot of bad acid.
Dana leads his “piece” on Putin with a zinger in the tradition of the greats Murrow and Cronkite:
I know I speak for many American people when I congratulate you on your English. It was flawless, with none of those dropped articles that plague so many of your countrymen. Please don’t be offended, but I have to ask: Did Edward Snowden help you with your letter?
Now that’s yer journalism right there ladies and gents! Be sure to tip your waitress.
Dana then drops some Google Translate knowledge on ya’
This makes your [Putin's] crack about “American exceptionalism” all the more perplexing. “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional,” you wrote… But I’m guessing what went wrong here is your translators let you down when they defined exceptional for you as luchshyy (better) rather than razlichnyy (different).
That’s a funny. According to Google (see, I am the journalist too [or is it to?] “funny” in Russian is smeshnoy. I can Google it in other languages if you like, because that’s my job, to Google stuff for you.
But Dana saves the best “material” for the whip-snap turn from “funny” (smeshnoy) to a Serious Point:
When we say we are exceptional, what we really are saying is we are different. With few exceptions, we are all strangers to our land; our families came from all corners of the world and brought all of its colors, religions and languages. We believe this mixing, together with our free society, has produced generations of creative energy and ingenuity, from the Declaration of Independence to Facebook, from Thomas Jefferson to Miley Cyrus. There is no other country quite like that.
Americans aren’t better than others, but our American experience is unique — exceptional — and it has created the world’s most powerful economy and military, which, more often than not, has been used for good in the world. When you question American exceptionalism, you will find little support from any of us, liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, doves or hawks.
(Does anyone else still use the terms “doves and hawks”?)
(Wiping patriotic tears from my eyes) Ah yes, the immigrant experience, like America is the only country with inbound immigration ever in the history of the world. And hey, isn’t Russia made up of a bunch of different nationalities anyway? No mind, the Declaration of Independence stands beside Facebook, as does Jefferson beside Miley, as proof of our exceptional Exceptionalism. That of course is stupid enough, but what Dana did not apparently learn at Yale is that America’s immigrants quickly turned to slaughtering the Native Americans they displaced, even using biological weapons (typhus infected gifted blankets for the win!) In between Miley’s birth and descent into TV slut-for-pay, American Exceptionalism kidnapped and enslaved millions of Africans and still today treats them as second class citizens (it was only within my own lifetime that Virginia legalized interracial marriage.) Of course all those immigrants– the Dagos, the Hunkies, the Kikes, the Polacks, the Micks, et al– were welcomed with open arms and no discrimination.
As for that American Exceptional “military, which, more often than not, has been used for good in the world,” one guesses there are few Vietnamese, Grenadans, Libyans, Iraqis, torture victims, indefinately detained people and assorted drone victims in the circles that jerk Dana enters.
Dana, a quick comment: anyone who goes around telling everyone else they’re exceptional isn’t. Same as people who go around saying they’re funny, or handsome. It works best when other people acknowledge your specials, not when you bray about it yourself.
But There is More: Sebastian Junger
Appalling in the same pages of the Washington Post (slogan: We’re Still Dining Out on that Watergate Thing, now Powered by Amazon!) is Sebastian Junger. Junger was actually was a real journalist at one time, though as of late his best effort is a U.S. military hagiography piece Restrepo, where Afghans appear only as targets for the plucky Americans, joking one minute, machine gunning some rag heads the next, a sad retelling of every WWII war movie where GI Joe shoots some Japs or Krauts before sitting down for a Lucky Strike and a black and white letter (Google Translate: email) from his bestest gal back home.
Junger’s article is pretty basic White House talking points reiterated, the need to Protect the Children as long as they are foreign children on the side we support and their deaths are well-covered by media. Nothing real new there. There are however a couple of true blue winners tucked in among the boilerplate:
We are safe in our borders because we are the only nation that can park a ship in international waters and rain cruise missiles down on specific street addresses in a foreign city for weeks on end.
First of all, at a minimum, the Russians, the Chinese, the British and the French can rain cruise missiles onto foreign streets if they like. They just don’t do it all the time like America does. Our safety within our borders is arguable, not only for the odd acts of terrorism, or the near-constant gun violence in our cities, but of course for the total abandonment of our freedoms to “secure” us.
There’s more. Junger, likely dripping with his own manly juices as he dictated the next line to his “valet” Manual, said:
I find it almost offensive that anyone in this country could imagine they are truly pacifist while accepting the protection and benefit of all that armament. If you have a bumper sticker that says “No Blood For Oil,” it had better be on your bike.
First, I for one did not ask for the U.S. military to go around the world killing foreigners on my behalf. Second, I do not believe that constantly, aimlessly killing people who are not threatening us does much more than create an endless cycle of revenge and thus more war and of course, that oil thing. Junger my man, why does the U.S. have to bleed for oil? Let’s pretend we didn’t– what would the oil producing states then do, drink the shit? No, capitalism is a reliable tool. Nations with oil would continue to sell oil, because they like being very rich. They would sell oil to countries with money to buy oil. What would be different is that American companies would not control the oil flow and would not assure themselves of obscene profits. So the slogan isn’t No Blood for Oil (you can’t put a bumper sticker on a bike anyway), it is No Blood for Corporate Profits.
The United States is in a special position in the world, and that leads many people to espouse a broad American exceptionalism in foreign affairs. Even if they’re correct, those extra rights invariably come with extra obligations. Precisely because we claim such a privileged position, it falls to us to uphold the international laws that benefit humanity in general and our nation in particular.
Riiiiight, those darned international laws. Like not torturing people. Like not indefinitely detaining people without due process. Not not violating other nation’s sovereignty (Google Translate calls that an “invasion”) with drones and special forces. Like not refusing to sign the landmine and cluster munitions treaties. Like not rendering people. Like not possessing our own chemical weapons. Like not being the only nation in history to use a nuclear weapon, twice, against civilian populations. Like not withdrawing from the International Criminal Court because we’re afraid they will prosecute our leaders for these crimes. Like not invading Iraq for no reason but empire and spite. If you are going to set yourself up as the International Law guy, you can’t cherry pick which laws you’ll uphold and which you’ll trod upon.
As for all the wonder we accomplsihed in the Balkans (including bombing the Chinese Embassy in violation of international law) there are those collateral damages (Google Translate: Slaughtering innocent people who got in the way of our Exceptionalism). Junger’s got that covered:
The civilian casualties where there were strikes were terribly unfortunate, but they constituted a small fraction of casualties in the wars themselves.
See, that’s exceptional. We can kill innocent people as long as we keep the head count (ba bing!) to whatever Junger decides is a small fraction. But least he is consistent. As for that thing about 100,000 already dead in Syria but 1400 dying by gas is a reason for war:
The civil war in Syria has killed more than 100,000 people essentially one person at a time, which is clearly an abomination, but it is not defined as a crime against humanity.
See, it is all about how you say things. Words are important, they teach that in journalist school, even the online ones Washington Post (slogan: We DOn’t Have Editoors ANymorer, Powered by Amazon!) writers attend.
We’ll give Junger one more line:
At some point, pacifism becomes part of the machinery of death, and isolationism becomes a form of genocide.
Dude, dude, another thing they teach in J-School is not to plagiarize. The correct line is “War is Peace, and Peace is War.”
“There is no spying on Americans,” said Obama to talk show host Jay Leno in August.
In the latest revelations about the extent of NSA spying on Americans, we now learn that Obama secretly (of course) won permission from a secret surveillance court in 2011 to reverse restrictions on the National Security Agency’s use of intercepted phone calls and e-mails, permitting the agency to search deliberately for Americans’ communications in its massive databases.
In addition, the court extended the length of time that the NSA is allowed to retain intercepted U.S. communications from five years to six years — and or more, under special (secret) circumstances. The court order, as now available on the web, still contains significant “blacked out” sections, suggesting there may be even more of concern not yet known to Americans (who are referred to as “targets” in the actual document.)
What had not been previously acknowledged, according to the Washington Post, is that the secret court in 2008 imposed an explicit ban — at the government’s request — on those kinds of searches, that officials in 2011 got the court to lift the bar and that the search authority has been used.
The Post goes on to nail it:
Together the permission to search and to keep data longer expanded the NSA’s authority in significant ways without public debate or any specific authority from Congress. The administration’s assurances rely on legalistic definitions of the term “target” that can be at odds with ordinary English usage. The enlarged authority is part of a fundamental shift in the government’s approach to surveillance: collecting first, and protecting Americans’ privacy later.
DNI Clapper lied to Congress when he said the NSA does not spy on Americans. The President of the United States lied to his own people when he said the NSA does not spy on Americans. That’s all for today, because hell, that’s enough.
Today’s fairy tale is about the American Axle company, semi-located in Detroit. It was spun off from General Motors by a former GM executive, Richard Dauch. Dauch set himself up as a modern-day working class hero, who was going to prove that manufacturing was not dead in America, and only needed smart management to revive. He even wrote a book American Drive: How Manufacturing Will Save Our Country, all proud of himself for his can-do spirit and all.
Back on earth, it seems he didn’t focus in the book about how much of his manufacturing actually takes place abroad, where he has some 10,000 workers. Only 8500 left in the U.S. now, many in white collar running-the-numbers kind of jobs.
While blaming his workers and their union for driving up his manufacturing costs, CEO Richard Dauch paid himself a cool as ice $8.3 million in 2011. Better yet, he got his own father appointed chairman of the board for American Axle and paid Pop $11.4 million for 2011. Dad did work for his money– in interviews with Detroit papers, old dad raised the idea of moving jobs to Mexico if American Axle couldn’t lower wages. The father then made a point two weeks into the strike of very publically vacationing in Florida while workers in Detroit and Buffalo picketed in the snow.
Joke’s on us: all those out there screaming their opposition to wealth redistribution in the United States are actually only complaining about redistribution downward; excessive redistribution up seems not to be a problem. It’s an American success story!
I’ll have more to say about Detroit and American Axle in my new book, Ghosts of Tom Joad, A Story of the #99Percent, due out in March 2014.
Labor Day Bonus: All those jobs being created we keep hearing about? All those people who say if you don’t like the minimum wage, go get a better job? The answer is what jobs are those?
In order of the number of people employed, the jobs that account for the most workers in the U.S. right now are retail salespeople, cashiers and restaurant workers, along with janitors. All of those pay minimum wage or nearly so. In fact, most of those restaurant workers get less than minimum wage as they’re expected to make up the difference in tips.
A new book by Andrew Kreig, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters, explores the complex and interrelated backgrounds of our recent presidents and presidential candidates. While I have not yet read the entire volume, I am pleased to offer a sample chapter excerpt here.
Prescott Bush: Roots of the Bushes
The Bush and Walker families, forebears of President George Herbert Walker Bush, have been prominent in American life for many generations. The analysis over the next three chapters covers multiple generations of the Bush Family. That way, the disreputable methods and dire consequences for the public are understandable as part of a pattern, not mere aberrations. As one example, both George H. W. Bush and his father, Prescott Bush, presented themselves as war heroes to help launch their careers, despite serious questions about the facts. This raises doubt about their ultimate loyalties, given the central role that war-making, armaments, and energy have played in advancing the fortunes of their families and their armies of business cronies.
The history of the Yale College secret society Skull and Bones is a good place to start. William H. Russell founded the society in the 1830s after observing a model for it during his studies in Germany. Russell, who became a prominent educator and pro-union abolitionist, was a cousin of the wealthy Samuel W. Russell, a silk, tea, and opium merchant based in China for many years. Skull and Bones, also known as “The Order,” is incorporated as the Russell Trust Association and is exempt from Connecticut’s normal requirements for annual reports. Several researchers suggest the secret status proved useful in 1961 for laundering payments to CIA-orchestrated Bay of Pigs invaders of Cuba.
The Order traditionally invites fifteen of the school’s wealthiest and otherwise most outstanding juniors to forge a lifelong mutual assistance bond. This includes a rite in the longtime headquarters, a windowless stone building called “The Tomb” in New Haven. Each initiate lies in a coffin to confide intimate sexual experiences. George H. W. Bush and his father were members, as was son George W. Bush. Author Alexandra Robbins summarized the society’s importance as follows:
The men called their organization the “Brotherhood of Death,” or, more informally, “The Order of Skull and Bones.” They adopted the numerological symbol 322 because their group was the second chapter of the German organization, founded in 1832. They worshipped the goddess Eulogia, celebrated pirates, and covertly plotted an underground conspiracy to dominate the world. Fast forward 170 years. Skull and Bones has curled its tentacles into every reach of American society. This tiny club has set up networks that have thrust three members to the most powerful political position in the world… Skull and Bones has been dominated by approximately two dozen of the country’s most prominent families — Bush, Bundy, Harriman, Lord, Phelps, Rockefeller, Taft, and Whitney, among them — who were and are encouraged by the society to intermarry so that the society’s power is consolidated. In fact, the society forces members to confess their entire sexual histories so that Skull and Bones, as a eugenics overlord, can determine whether a new Bonesman will be fit to carry on the bloodlines of the powerful Skull and Bones dynasties.
Understandably brimming with self-confidence, Prescott found himself humiliated in 1918, a little more than a year after his Yale graduation. While Prescott was on his way to Allied front lines in the final months of World War I, his hometown newspaper in Columbus, Ohio printed a front-page story describing him as a hero acclaimed by three nations. The reason? Prescott, according the report, courageously used a “bolo knife” as a baseball bat to swat away an incoming shell, thereby protecting his unit. In fact, he had not yet reached the front lines. The paper published this preposterous tale as a news story, and included such flattering biographical detail as his college leadership of the Yale Glee Club and his election to Skull and Bones. But the bolo knife as baseball bat yarn prompted ridicule. And so, four weeks later, the paper published on its front page a brief letter from Prescott’s mother saying that the original story was in error.
Bush himself is reputed to have said the story arose because he wrote a humorous cable to a friend, who thought it was real and placed it in the paper. The incident was all the more embarrassing because Prescott’s father, Samuel P. Bush, was the United States official in charge of World War I purchases of small arms (including machine guns) and ammunition. Details remain shrouded because of destroyed records. Samuel Bush’s wartime post helped illustrate the kind of ongoing relationships between the nation’s Wall Street, munitions, energy, and media tycoons that would endure through the generations. Bush’s work buying ammunition and arms put him in a position to provide troops with goods from the Rockefeller-controlled Remington Arms, the nation’s largest grossing arms dealer during the war. Bush worked directly under Wall Street’s trusted Bernard Baruch, head of the War Industries Board. Baruch, a native of South Carolina, was nicknamed “The Long Wolf” because of his investment acumen but was reputed more quietly to be also to be an important liaison between Europe’s Rothschild banking family and their United States partners. The nation’s finances, including for war industries, were highly dependent also on the work of War Finance Chairman Eugene Meyer, the future Post owner who would cement friendships with the Bush and other major dynasties during this period of explosive federal growth.
After the war, Prescott Bush found marriage, and professional success through The Order and similar elite connections. He married Dorothy Walker, daughter of W.A. Harriman Brothers CEO and Co-founder Herbert “Bert” Walker, a private banker and sports fan whose successes included building Madison Square Garden, serving as New York State Racing commissioner and running the Belmont Race Track as president. But Bert Walker’s main business was to help create support for U.S. entry into World War I, and postwar to build up Harriman Brothers. Other co-founders included W. Averell Harriman, a member of The Order from Yale’s class of 1913. He chaired the firm and co-owned it with his younger brother, Roland “Bunny” Harriman. The latter was a Bonesman in the same Yale Class of 1917 as Prescott Bush. Bunny took the lead in arranging for Prescott to become the firm’s vice president. Another co-founder was Percy Rockefeller, a Bonesman in the Yale class of 1900 and the family’s controller of Remington Arms Prescott’s brother attended Yale, and both of their sisters married Yale men.
If this all seems cozy, that’s because it was. And to a significant extent, it still is. Rather remarkably, for example, 2004 Presidential candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry were Yale Bonesmen in the mid-1960s, as were at least two of the leading news commentators on their campaigns.
Prescott Makes His Mark
Prescott Bush, tall and self-righteous, worked hard to advance himself and Harriman Brothers. Among his major early successes was helping William Paley obtain financing to buy CBS. Paley later ran CBS for many years as chairman, with Bush as a director. Like CBS, NBC and later ABC were spinoffs from the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), and thus had many overlapping relationships with banks, and other financiers.
At Harriman Brothers, Bush also created a strong United States financial base for the German industrialist, Fritz Thyssen. Thyssen used Harriman Brothers as an agent for his efforts in the United States. In 1926, Thyssen also became mesmerized by up-and-coming German politician Adolf Hitler and so became Hitler’s leading financier.
Harriman Brothers was well-positioned for this business after being involved in global activities that included projects in Russia after World War I. In 1931, Harriman had merged with Brown Brothers, which had been the nation’s major shipping line for the slave trade before the Civil War, thus enabling extensive overseas offices. The new company became Brown Brothers Harriman, the world’s largest private investment bank. Bush ran the New York office, and focused heavily on Thyssen and related business. That was among Harriman’s biggest income sources as Hitler ramped up his country’s development after seizing power in 1933. Meanwhile, a Depression stagnated much of the United States.
Given Hitler’s warmongering and racist policies, however, Thyssen-related income became increasingly awkward for the firm. Thyssen himself broke with Hitler before the war, and fled to France in 1941, doubtless hoping his United States assets would remain available under the safekeeping of Brown Brothers Harriman. In 1942, the United States government seized some assets under the Trading with the Enemy Act. But Averell Harriman was one of President Roosevelt‘s top foreign policy advisors, with many henchmen installed in high places. Not surprisingly, the Hitler-Thyssen-Harriman-Bush matter was resolved discreetly, for the most part, until investigative reporting arose a half-century later.
Prescott Bush survived the Nazi taint with relatively little damage to his reputation. He was elected as a U.S. senator representing Connecticut as a Republican from 1952 to 1963. Bush’s patron Averell Harriman, a U.S. ambassador to Russia during the war, continued to hold several of the highest federal foreign affairs positions under the postwar presidency of Harry Truman. Bush served on the Armed Services Committee, and fostered close friendships with President Eisenhower and other top officials.
During the 1940s, Bush and tobacco heir Gordon Gray, fostered a friendship and alliance between their families that would affect the nation’s history for decades. Gray’s son, Boyden Gray, would augment that tradition by helping lead a secret, decade long-effort by power brokers to create “the tea party,” which was sold to the public as a spontaneous grassroots organization of patriots arising in 2009 to fight the Obama administration. The sham’s historical roots are intertwined with the power of the nation’s great dynasties.
Gordon Gray, an heir to the R.J. Reynolds tobacco fortune, was a Yale Law School graduate and newspaper publisher among his accomplishments. In the 1940s, he and his wife became leaders in the eugenics movement along with Prescott Bush. The Harriman and Rockefeller families heavily funded eugenics and sterilization, which later evolved into more socially acceptable Planned Parenthood organization and decades of U.S. Agency for International Development birth control programs for Third World nations. Gray and his wife helped lead a pilot program to reduce birthrates by sterilizing hundreds of black boys and girls who performed poorly on school intelligence tests. The trial project was in segregated Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where Gray published a newspaper.
Gray became secretary of the Army in the Truman administration. Gray’s interests would include the mind-control drug experiments by the fledgling CIA on unsuspecting test subjects whose reactions could be studied. Gray would go on to hold important national security positions under both Republican and Democratic presidents into the Ford administration during the mid-1970s.
In 1953, President Eisenhower appointed former Harriman lawyers John Foster and Allen Dulles to lead the State Department and CIA, respectively. Averell Harriman became governor of New York State for one term before losing reelection in 1958 to Nelson Rockefeller, a Dartmouth graduate. Rockefeller’s many influential posts before his four terms as governor included one with the quaint title of Special Assistant to President Eisenhower for psychological warfare. Gray became Eisenhower’s national security advisor. Gray and Prescott Bush were frequent golfing companions with President Eisenhower, with Vice President Nixon often rounding out their foursome.
Illustrating the capacity for political jousting even among the highest levels of the governing elite, Prescott Bush damaged the national aspirations of Nelson Rockefeller by savagely attacking the scion of his longtime financial allies for obtaining a divorce and remarrying. Prescott’s tirade was doubtless in part because of Nelson’s notorious reputation as a philanderer, with Rockefeller’s staff regarded as especially vulnerable to his charms. Another motive for the sabotage was the Bush Family’s increasing interest in working with oil-rich Texas conservatives who were reshaping the Republican Party toward perspectives shaped by Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.
Prescott retired from the Senate in 1963, just as his son George’s political career was beginning in Texas. Prescott resumed his post as Brown Brothers Harriman managing director until his death in 1972. In 2004, The Guardian in the United Kingdom published an extensive investigation seeking to answer questions about Prescott Bush’s role assisting Thyssen and Hitler. The series noted that Bush enjoyed success in public life after the war, and was never prosecuted. However, it quoted John Loftus, a former federal prosecutor in the nation’s Nazi hunt that began in the 1970s, as arguing that he would have sought Bush’s indictment as a war criminal if he were still alive. The Guardian noted that the Bush Family had always declined to respond to such comments.
The news story continued:
“There is no one left alive who could be prosecuted but they did get away with it,” said Loftus. “As a former federal prosecutor, I would make a case for Prescott Bush, his father-in-law (George Walker), and Averell Harriman [to be prosecuted] for giving aid and comfort to the enemy. They remained on the boards of these companies knowing that they were of financial benefit to the nation of Germany.”
Loftus said Prescott Bush must have been aware of what was happening in Germany at the time. “My take on him was that he was a not terribly successful in-law who did what Herbert Walker told him to. Walker and Harriman were the two evil geniuses; they didn’t care about the Nazis any more than they cared about their investments with the Bolsheviks.
My recent article/post on post-Constitutional America brought in more mail than usual. With the permission of the writer, I’d like to share a particularly poignant comment. In my list of signs that we have devolved into a post-Constitutional America, I left out one very important milestone: The Destruction of New Orleans in 2005.
Here’s what one person had to say:
Your article was better than any I’ve read that connect the dots between the collapse of rule by law and the Constitution domestically and our imperial exploits since the invasion of Afghanistan. It is a topic rarely discussed and one which few citizens have even the most remote understanding of.
There is also a brief story I would like to relate. In late August – early September I was among a group of veterans (in my case, from the American War in Viet Nam) that had traveled to the New Orleans area in the wake of Katrina to try and lend a hand. We were encamped on the grounds of an elementary school in Covington, LA which is located a few miles north of Lake Pontchartrain. By the time I arrived, the three-layer deep armed perimeter around New Orleans was fully in place and few were allowed to penetrate to the city or Algiers, across the river. One of our number, however, was certified as an EMT and so he and a few helpers were still being allowed through. He was therefore able to report on developments others had seen only the beginnings of – like the “drowning victims” still laying in the streets with entry wounds in the back and gaping exit wounds in front.
The talk turned to the mercenary forces brought to the city to guard private property by CACI, Titan, and the then-named Blackwater, among others. The EMT-qualified activist made an observation I had never considered but which the developments your article catalogs proves to have been prescient.
He observed that it has always true that empires test new tactics and weapons in the colonies before deploying them for use at home.
With the Bradley Manning sentencing decision expected in about a week, much attention has turned to his statement in court on August 14 essentially begging for leniency, and thus his life. Many people who support Manning are confused and maybe saddened by his apology and contrition. Others seem gladdened, feeling that Manning humiliated himself and chose not to call himself a whistleblower.
I see it differently.
Manning watched over more than three years as the government denied him first his rights, then attempted to break him psychologically, then subjected him to a drumhead court martial based on denied defense motions, limits on witnesses he could call, exaggerated and stacked charges and a lack of transparency. He saw that he was convicted of espionage even after the government admitted that they could show no actual harm done by his disclosures and that no foreign power was helped. He spied for no one, and aided no one but the American people in better understanding how America makes war and conducts diplomacy.
The totality of this left Manning with no choice but to exercise the last chance at justice he had left, a sentence actually in line with what he actually did, as opposed to the defacto death sentence the government seeks. I am saddened that the process pressed Manning into this final act of subjugation as his only hope for a whiff of fairness.
Wikileaks said something similar:
“The only currency this military court will take is Bradley Manning’s humiliation. In light of this, Mr. Manning’s forced decision to apologize to the U.S. government in the hope of shaving a decade or more off his sentence must be regarded with compassion and understanding… Bradley Manning’s apology was extracted by force, but in a just court the US government would be apologizing to Bradley Manning. As over 100,000 signatories of his Nobel Peace Prize nomination attest, Bradley Manning has changed the world for the better. He remains a symbol of courage and humanitarian resistance.”
(A quick Google search for images with the term “Manning” turns up more pictures of NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli than Bradley. He’s already slipping down the Memory Hole.)
I know it is hard for us as a nation to think back past last night’s episode of Breaking Bad, but try and remember when Obama, a former constitutional law lecturer, campaigned on a pledge to ensure that national security policy remained consistent with American laws and values. He also made the now-ironic pledges about protecting whistleblowers. Good times, yes?
Strawmen Tell No Tales
Obama now continues to defend his unfettered spying on, well, pretty much the whole world. In his most recent press conference, Obama pulled out the old Bush-era strawman argument: whatever the government does is essential to protecting the United States. It is either chaotic liberty or apocalyptic daily terror attacks, pick one or the other, baby. The money shot statement from the press conference: “(Terrorists) have the capacity, potentially, to go after our businesses.” You can take our liberty, but don’t mess with our money. Americans, as we go to war, be sure to keep shopping!
Manning Begat Snowden
In addition, Obama found time in his press conference to mock Edward Snowden personally, saying he was not a patriot (Snowden, not Obama) and saying he (Snowden, not Obama) should come to the Das Homeland for a fair trial before being sent away for life.
Obama, as he has not realized after killing al Qaeda’s No. 1 and No. 2′s repeatedly for years without effect, has not realized that despite his aggressively hunting down and smiting whistleblowers whenever the Empire can catch one, new whistleblowers keep emerging. Manning begat Snowden and so forth. Among a handful of The People at least, a fire still burns.
Your Guide to Smiting Whistleblowers
So, as a public service knowing more whistleblowers are sure to emerge, here is a handy guide on how to respond. The pattern following a whistleblower’s disclosure must come from some joint media-government handbook, because it is always the same:
– Initially deny everything and hope the story fades away. Claim the info is from an unreliable web site, or a foreign news source, is just bad guy propaganda.
– When that doesn’t work, denigrate the whistleblower on personal grounds (gay, lazy, narcissistic, unpatriotic) and work hard to focus people on the messenger, not the message.
– When that doesn’t work, say, you know, come to think of it, the disclosures are not that big a deal. The whistleblower really did not say anything important, so best to just ignore him.
– When that doesn’t work, claim the whistleblower is a criminal, violated his oath, his military commission, his Netflix terms of service, that little checkbox when you install software, whatever sticks.
– When that doesn’t work, say the whistleblower should have gone through channels (as if in reality they exist). Do not explain what/where these channels are, for say, an Army private in the middle of the Iraqi desert.
– When that doesn’t work, claim the whistleblower must “face justice” and “take responsibility,” though only in the form of jail time and on the government’s terms. Maybe three years of pretrial detainment to soften things up? Perhaps a little sleep deprivation? Hmm, you have relatives still in Germany, yes?
– When that doesn’t work, switch gears and claim whatever was disclosed is a grave threat to the U.S. Cite the danger to American lives, and especially to “the troops.” Say blood is on the whistleblower’s hands. No evidence needed.
– Repeat as needed.
BONUS: Here’s an article that pretty much covers most of the points above, The Five Nastiest Things the White House Has Said About Snowden.
(This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post)
While poets and psychologists talk about soldiers bringing the battlefield home with them, in fact, the U.S. is doing just that. More and more, weapons, tactics, techniques and procedures that have been used abroad in war are coming home, this time employed against American Citizens.
Armor, Drones and Armed Drones
Others have written about the rise of warrior cops. Armored military-style vehicles are now part of most big-city police forces, as are military-style weapons. The FBI has admitted to using drones over America. In a 2010 Department of Homeland Security report, the Customs and Border Protection agency suggests arming their fleet of drones to “immobilize TOIs,” or targets of interest.
Stingray Knows Where You Are
Much of the technology and methodology the NSA and others have been shown to be using against American Citizens was developed on and for the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular the advanced use of cell phones to track people’s movements.
A technique now at use here at home is employing a fake cell phone tower under a program called Stingray. Stingrays spoof a legitimate cell phone tower in order to trick nearby cellphones and other wireless devices into connecting to the fake tower instead of a nearby real one. When devices connect, stingrays can harvest MAC addresses and other unique identifiers and data, as well as location information. To prevent detection, the stingray relays the call itself to a real tower so the pickup is transparent to the caller. By gathering the wireless device’s signal strength from various locations, the Feds can pinpoint where the device is being used with much more precision than they can get through data obtained from the mobile network provider’s fixed tower location.
Better yet, stingray bypasses the phone company entirely. Handy when the phone company is controlled by the enemy, handy when laws change and the phone companies no longer cooperate with the government, handy when you simply don’t want the phone company to know you’re snooping on its network.
Also refined in Iraq, Afghanistan and the greater archipelago of the war of terror was the use of metadata and data-mining, essentially amassing everything, however minor or unimportant, and then using increasingly powerful computers to pull out of that large pile actionable information, i.e., specific information to feed back to combat commanders and special forces to allow them to kill specific people. Knowing, for example, the name of a guy’s girlfriend leads to knowing what car she drives which leads to knowing when she left home which leads to listening to her make a date via cell phone which leads a credit card charge for a room which leads to a strike on a particular location at a specific time, high-tech flagrante delicto.
The FBI has followed the NSA’s wartime lead in creating its Investigative Data Warehouse, a collection of more than a billion documents on Americans including intelligence reports, social security files, drivers’ licenses, and private financial information including credit card data. All accessible to 13,000 analysts making a million queries monthly. One of them called it the “uber-Google.”
Welcome Home Aerostat
The latest (known) example of war technology coming home is the aerostat, a medium-sized blimp tethered high above its target area. Anyone who served in Iraq or Afghanistan will recognize the thing, as one or more flew over nearly every military base of any size or importance (You can see photos online).
What did those blimps do in war? Even drones have to land sometime, but a blimp can stay aloft 24/7/forever. Blimps are cheaper and do not require skilled pilots. Blimps can carry tons of equipment, significantly more than a drone. The blimps can carry any sensor or technology the U.S. has available, suspending it at altitude to soak up whatever that sensor is aimed at– cell calls, radio waves, electronic whatevers. The aerostats also carried high-powered cameras, with heat and night vision of course. While in Iraq, I had the aerostat video feed on my desktop. Soldiers being soldiers, occasional diversions were found when a camera operator spotted almost anything of vague interest, including two dogs mating, an Iraqi relieving himself outdoors or on really dull days, even a person hanging out laundry. The device obviously also had much less benign tasks assigned to it.
The war has come home again, as the Army announced this week that by 2014 at least two of these aerostats will be permanently over Washington DC. They will be run by the Army, using operators who likely learned their trade at war. The aerostats are brought to you by the Raytheon company, who also makes some of America’s favorite weapons and surveillence gear.
It’s All Good
No need to worry Citizens, as the aerostats will only be used for your own good. In fact, their sensors will scan for incoming cruise missiles, mine-laying ships, armed drones, or anything incoming from hundreds of miles away, because of course Washington is constantly being attacked by those sorts of things (I love the idea of protecting the city from mine-laying ships sneaking up the Potomac River).
Those DC-based aerostats will certainly not have employed the Gorgon Stare system, now in use in Afghanistan to rave reviews. Gorgon Stare, made up of nine video cameras, can transmit live images of physical movement across an entire town (four km radius), much wider in scope than any drone. Might be handy for VIP visits and presidential stuff, however, right?
And of course the temptation to mount a stingray device where it can ping thousands of cell phones would be ignored.
But I could be wrong about all the 1984-stuff, in which case the multi-million dollar aerostat program to protect against mines in the Potomac would be noteworthy only as another waste of taxpayer money. Remember when that was what made us the maddest about the government?
This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
I get a lot of conspiracy emails at my blog, wemeantwell.com. Various “truthers” want me to believe that the CIA or the Mossad or the Spiders from Mars did 9/11, and that Obama was born on the Planet Mongo and is thus not even human, never mind an American Citizen. C’mon folks, try it again, using “facts” this time.
At the same time, I find myself worrying a bit. Stuff that fell into the conspiracy theory catalog last year now is old news: the government is indeed reading your email, your snail mail, your Facebook, all the while listening in on your calls. Torture and indefinite extra-judicial imprisonment are just another thing the government does. Whatever really happened to bin Laden will likely never be known, as the records were secretly moved into CIA hands where they will not be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. Drones have been used in the U.S. Oh, and a secret court is making secret laws that affect all of us, in secret.
So, given all that, this next item is probably nothing. Another coincidence.
Two burglars broke into a Dallas law firm, bashing through a wall, and stealing only three computers while leaving other valuables behind. The law firm targeted represents State Department whistleblower Aurelia Fedenisn. Fedenisn revealed that she’d seen internal investigations called off by higher ups. The State Department accused her of removing “highly sensitive, internal documents” containing “personal information and unsubstantiated allegations,” and explained that it was working to secure the documents once again. The thieves also tried to pry open a filing cabinet at the lawyer’s office. Coincidence.
An office across the hallway from the whistleblower’s lawyers that was left unlocked and was full of valuables, as well as fourteen other computers, was untouched by the thieves. Coincidence.
Not too long ago, a thief entered the offices of the Government Accountability Project, one of America’s premier whistleblower representatives, and stole only some attorney laptops. Nothing else, not even purses left out. The theft occurred just as the government’s case against NSA whistleblower Tom Drake was collapsing. His attorneys’ computers were taken. Coincidence.
In 1971 John Ehrlichman, assistant to president Nixon, approved a covert operation to break into Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office and examine his medical files. The purpose was to get a “mother lode” of information about Ellsberg’s mental state to use to discredit him.
Naw, I think I’ve just seen to many spy dramas on TV lately. I mean, who could think that the government would be involved in anything like breaking into a law office in search of info on one of its whistleblower critics?
Also coincidences: Death of Andrew Breitbart, the coroner who handled Breitbart’s case and died of arsenic poisoning, and Michael Hastings, where the LAPD refuses to release the accident and toxicology reports, or make the crashed Mercedes available for inspection. Nothing to see here you proles, go about your business.
To my State Department colleagues: Did you really sign up to help restrict the rights of an American to speak freely and to seek asylum?
This will make us all proud to implement: Lindsey Graham demanded the State Department coordinate with lawmakers on setting penalties against nations that seek to help Edward Snowden avoid extradition to the United States. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the proposal unanimously by voice vote as an amendment to next year’s $50.6 billion diplomacy and international aid bill.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said “[Russia] still has the opportunity to do the right thing and return Mr. Snowden to the United States.” The Department made similar statements to China and Hong Kong, as well as several European and Latin American nations. You know; you delivered the demarches and the place-holder extradition requests to forty-some countries recently.
The White House and the State Department complained that the Russian government permitted Snowden to meet with human rights groups at the Moscow airport. “Providing a propaganda platform for Mr. Snowden runs counter to the Russian government’s previous declarations of neutrality,” Jay Carney said.
Obama has pressured Russia privately, and publically seeks “clarity” about Snowden’s request for asylum. Ever seen that before?
The U.S. criticized Snowden for speaking to internationally-respected groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In fact, the Obama administration urged human rights groups not to help Snowden. In response, the Human Rights Watch General Counsel said Snowden “should be allowed at least to make that claim and have it heard.” Has that ever happened before in your careers? Lifetimes?
Here’s a link to what some in the old USSR might have considered a propaganda platform, a speech by dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn after he was granted refuge in the United States. We facilitated the U.S. giving such “propaganda platforms” to prisoners and fugitives and enemies of (other) states such as Nelson Mandela and Aung Su Kyi.
I understand we all were hired to represent the views of the U.S. government overseas, and that part of the deal is of course we may not always agree with those views. I publically supported the USG’s position under multiple presidents, Reagan, through to Obama, for 24 years, though I blew the whistle on State mismanagement of the Iraq reconstruction at the end as an act of conscience, and gave up my career in return.
We also were hired to protect American citizens abroad, even though we may not always agree with their views. Some of those Amcits we helped were criminals in jail, and not very nice people and we all did it, proud that our country cared about all its citizens without prejudice, simply because they were American. That to me always represented the best of us. I am still proud of that despite all the ugliness that passed between the Department and me.
About a year ago the U.S. gave Chinese dissident Chen Guang Cheng refuge in our embassy in Beijing before allowing him to enter the United States. Chen had escaped from Chinese government house arrest and was a fugitive upon reaching the U.S. embassy. You know better than most pundits the agreements the U.S. has signed on asylum, and you have cited them to foreign governments on the behalf of the United States. Are some fugitives more equal than others? Some governments? When threats are the only you wield, is that still called diplomacy?
We are sworn under oath to support and defend the Constitution. Violations of the Constitution are not a policy or view of the United States that we are bound to support and defend.
The key question is: Are we Americans or just employees?
This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.
As a State Department whistleblower, I think a lot about Edward Snowden. I can’t help myself. My friendships with other whistleblowers like Tom Drake, Jesslyn Radack, Daniel Ellsberg, and John Kiriakou lead me to believe that, however different we may be as individuals, our acts have given us much in common. I suspect that includes Snowden, though I’ve never had the slightest contact with him. Still, as he took his long flight from Hong Kong into the unknown, I couldn’t help feeling that he was thinking some of my thoughts, or I his. Here are five things that I imagine were on his mind (they would have been on mine) as that plane took off.
I Am Afraid
Whistleblowers act on conscience because they encounter something so horrifying, unconstitutional, wasteful, fraudulent, or mismanaged that they are overcome by the need to speak out. There is always a calculus of pain and gain (for others, if not oneself), but first thoughts are about what you’ve uncovered, the information you feel compelled to bring into the light, rather than your own circumstances.
In my case, I was ignorant of what would happen once I blew the whistle. I didn’t expect the Department of State to attack me. Snowden was different in this. He had the example of Bradley Manning and others to learn from. He clearly never doubted that the full weight of the U.S. government would fall on him.
He knew what to fear. He knew the Obama administration was determined to make any whistleblower pay, likely via yet another prosecution under the Espionage Act (with the potential for the death penalty). He also knew what his government had done since 9/11 without compunction: it had tortured and abused people to crush them; it had forced those it considered enemies into years of indefinite imprisonment, creating isolation cells for suspected terrorists and even a pre-trial whistleblower. It had murdered Americans without due process, and then, of course, there were the extraordinary renditions in which U.S. agents kidnapped perceived enemies and delivered them into the archipelago of post-9/11 horrors.
Sooner or later, if you’re a whistleblower, you get scared. It’s only human. On that flight, I imagine that Edward Snowden, for all his youthful confidence and bravado, was afraid. Would the Russians turn him over to Washington as part of some secret deal, maybe the sort of spy-for-spy trade that would harken back to the Cold War era?
Even if he made it out of Moscow, he couldn’t have doubted that the full resources of the NSA and other parts of the U.S. government would be turned on him. How many CIA case officers and Joint Special Operations Command types did the U.S. have undercover in Ecuador? After all, the dirty tricks had already started. The partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke Snowden’s story, had his laptop stolen from their residence in Brazil. This happened only after Greenwald told him via Skype that he would send him an encrypted copy of Snowden’s documents.
In such moments, you try to push back the sense of paranoia that creeps into your mind when you realize that you are being monitored, followed, watched. It’s uncomfortable, scary. You have to wonder what your fate will be once the media grows bored with your story, or when whatever government has given you asylum changes its stance vis-a-vis the U.S. When the knock comes at the door, who will protect you? So who can doubt that fear made the journey with him?
Could I Go Back to the U.S.?
Amnesty International was on target when it stated that Snowden “could be at risk of ill-treatment if extradited to the U.S.” As if to prove them right, months, if not years, before any trial, Speaker of the House John Boehner called Snowden a “traitor”; Congressman Peter King called him a “defector”; and others were already demanding his execution. If that wasn’t enough, the abuse Bradley Manning suffered had already convinced Snowden that a fair trial and humane treatment were impossible dreams for a whistleblower of his sort. (He specifically cited Manning in his appeal for asylum to Ecuador.)
So on that flight he knew — as he had long known — that the natural desire to go back to the U.S. and make a stand was beyond foolhardy. Yet the urge to return to the country he loves must have been traveling with him, too. Perhaps on that flight he found himself grimly amused that, after years of running roughshod over international standards — Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” “black sites” — the U.S. had the nerve to chide Hong Kong, China, and Russia for not following the rule of law. He certainly knew that his own revelations about massive NSA cyber-spying on Hong Kong and China had deeply embarrassed the Obama administration. It had, after all, been blistering the Chinese for hacking into U.S. military and corporate computers. He himself had ensured that the Chinese wouldn’t turn him over, in the same way that history — decades of U.S. bullying in Latin America — ensured that he had a shot at a future in someplace like in Ecuador.
If he knew his extradition history, Snowden might also have thought about another time when Washington squirmed as a man it wanted left a friendly country for asylum. In 2004, the U.S. had chess great Bobby Fischer detained in Japan on charges that he had attended a 1992 match in Yugoslavia in violation of a U.S. trade ban. Others suggested that the real reason Washington was after him may have been Fischer’s post 9/11 statement: “It’s time to finish off the U.S. once and for all. This just shows what comes around, goes around.”
Fischer’s American passport was revoked just like Snowden’s. In the fashion of Hong Kong more recently, the Japanese released Fischer on an immigration technicality, and he flew to Iceland where he was granted citizenship. I was a diplomat in Japan at the time, and had a ringside seat for the negotiations. They must have paralleled what went on in Hong Kong: the appeals to treaty and international law; U.S. diplomats sounding like so many disappointed parents scolding a child; the pale hopes expressed for future good relations; the search for a sympathetic ear among local law enforcement agencies, immigration, and the foreign ministry — anybody, in fact — and finally, the desperate attempt to call in personal favors to buy more time for whatever Plan B might be. As with Snowden, in the end the U.S. stood by helplessly as its prey flew off.
How Will I Live Now?
At some point every whistleblower realizes his life will never be the same. For me, that meant losing my job of 24 years at the State Department. For Tom Drake, it meant financial ruin as the government tried to bankrupt him through endless litigation. For CIA agent John Kiriakou, it might have been the moment when, convicted of disclosing classified information to journalists, he said goodbye to his family and walked into Loretto Federal Correctional Institution.
Snowden could not have avoided anxiety about the future. Wherever he ended up, how would he live? What work would he do? He’s just turned 30 and faces, at best, a lifetime in some foreign country he’s never seen where he might not know the language or much of anything else.
So fear again, in a slightly different form. It never leaves you, not when you take on the world’s most powerful government. Would he ever see his family and friends again? Would they disown him, fearful of retaliation or affected by the smear campaign against him? Would his parents/best friend/girlfriend come to believe he was a traitor, a defector, a dangerous man? All whistleblowers find their personal relationships strained. Marriages are tested or broken, friends lost, children teased or bullied at school. I know from my own whistleblower’s journey that it’s an ugly penalty — encouraged by a government scorned — for acting on conscience.
If he had a deeper sense of history, Snowden might have found humor in the way the Obama administration chose to revoke his passport just before he left Hong Kong. After all, in the Cold War years, it was the “evil empire,” the Soviet Union, which was notorious for refusing to grant dissidents passports, while the U.S. regularly waived such requirements when they escaped to the West.
To deepen the irony of the moment, perhaps he was able to Google up the 2009-2011 figures on U.S. grants of asylum: 1,222 Russians, 9,493 Chinese, and 22 Ecuadorians, not including family members. Maybe he learned that, despite the tantrums U.S. officials threw regarding the international obligation of Russia to extradite him, the U.S. has recently refused Russian requests to extradite two of its citizens.
Snowden might have mused over then-candidate Obama’s explicit pledge to protect whistleblowers. “Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government,” Obama then said, “is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism… should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration.” It might have been Snowden’s only laugh of the flight.
I Don’t Hate the U.S., I Love It Deeply, But Believe It Has Strayed
On that flight, Snowden took his love of America with him. It’s what all of us whistleblowers share: a love of country, if not necessarily its government, its military, or its intelligence services. We care what happens to us the people. That may have been his anchor on his unsettling journey. It would have been mine.
Remember, if we were working in the government in the first place, like every federal employee, soldier, and many government contractors, we had taken an oath that stated: “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” We didn’t pledge fealty to the government or a president or party, only — as the Constitution makes clear — to the ultimate source of legitimacy in our nation, “the people.”
In an interview, Snowden indicated that he held off on making his disclosures for some time, in hopes that Barack Obama might look into the abyss and decide to become the bravest president in our history by reversing the country’s course. Only when Obama’s courage or intelligence failed was it time to become a whistleblower.
Some pundits claim that Snowden deserves nothing, because he didn’t go through “proper channels.” They couldn’t be more wrong and Snowden knows it. As with many of us whistleblowers facing a government acting in opposition to the Constitution, Snowden went through the channels that matter most: he used a free press to speak directly to his real boss, the American people.
In that sense, whatever the fear and anxiety about his life and his future, he must have felt easy with his actions. He had not betrayed his country, he had sought to inform it.
As with Bradley Manning, Obama administration officials are now claiming that Snowden has blood on his hands. Typically, Secretary of State John Kerry claimed: “People may die as a consequence to what this man did. It is possible that the United States would be attacked because terrorists may now know how to protect themselves in some way or another that they didn’t know before.” Snowden had heard the same slurs circling around Bradley Manning: that he had put people in danger. After the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to speak of the war on terror, there is irony too obvious to dwell upon in such charges.
Flying into the unknown, Snowden had to feel secure in having risked everything to show Americans how their government and the NSA bend or break laws to collect information on us in direct conflict with the Fourth Amendment’s protections. Amnesty International pointed out that blood-on-hands wasn’t at issue. “It appears he is being charged primarily for revealing U.S. and other governments’ unlawful actions that violate human rights.” Those whispers of support are something to take into the dark with you.
I Believe in Things Bigger Than Myself
Some of the charges against Snowden would make anyone pause: that, for instance, he did what he did for the thrill of publicity, out of narcissism, or for his own selfish reasons. To any of the members of the post-9/11 club of whistleblowers, the idea that we acted primarily for our own benefit has a theater of the absurd quality to it. Having been there, the negative sentiments expressed do not read or ring true.
Snowden himself laughed off the notion that he had acted for his own benefit. If he had wanted money, any number of foreign governments would have paid handsomely for the information he handed out to journalists for free and he would never have had to embark on that plane flight from Hong Kong. (No one ever called Aldrich Ames a whistleblower.) If he wanted fame, there were potential book contracts and film deals to be had.
No, it was conscience. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere along the line Snowden had read the Declaration of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal: “Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.”
Edward Snowden undoubtedly took comfort knowing that a growing group of Americans are outraged enough to resist a government turning against its own people. His thoughts were mirrored by Julian Assange, who said, “In the Obama administration’s attempt to crush these young whistleblowers with espionage charges, the U.S. government is taking on a generation, a young generation of people who find the mass violation of the rights of privacy and open process unacceptable. In taking on the generation, the Obama administration can only lose.” Snowden surely hoped President Obama would ask himself why he has pursued more than double the number of Espionage Act cases of all his presidential predecessors combined, and why almost all of those prosecutions failed.
On that flight, Edward Snowden must have reflected on what he had lost, including the high salary, the sweet life in Hawaii and Switzerland, the personal relationships, and the excitement of being on the inside, as well as the coolness of knowing tomorrow’s news today. He has already lost much that matters in an individual life, but not everything that matters. Sometimes — and any whistleblower comes to know this in a deep way — you have to believe that something other, more, deeper, better than yourself matters. You have to believe that one courageous act of conscience might make a difference in an America gone astray or simply that, matter or not, you did the right thing for your country.
The Commerce Department in 2012 claimed it suffered a foreign cyberattack that put its entire computer network at risk. It had to do with Trayvon.
Commerce destroyed hardware worth $175,000, stopping only when they ran out of funding. Meanwhile, an outside cybersecurity contractor was hired at $823,000 to implement a $688,000 unneeded “solution.” After that, Commerce bought $1.1 million worth of new computers. The expenses ate up half the department’s technology budget.
A year later, the Commerce Department’s inspector general determined the devastating attack was nothing of the sort, actually just a small malware infection on six computers that could have been erased with off-the shelf anti-virus tools.
Have a look at some of the explanations:
– “In an environment of heightened vulnerability to cyberattacks, once you’re infected you often overact.”
– “You feel violated.”
– “All you feel is somebody’s in my house and I’ve got to get them out. And you get overly conservative.”
– “[Commerce] did not know what it was facing. Under those circumstances, given the cyber risks, one has to be cautious.”
– “It’s a question of which side do you want to err on?”
– “Fear of foreign cyberattacks was so high that the department called in help from the Homeland Security and Energy departments, the National Security Agency and a private cybersecurity contractor.”
– “Fear led the Office of the Chief Information Officer not to question the accuracy of the extent of the malware infection, despite a lack of supporting evidence.”
At first brush this story is just another government screw up. Instead of assessing the situation, incompetent bureaucrats faced with a problem spent taxpayer money, lots of money. Expensive beltway bandit contractors sucked up panic spending cash to implement unneeded solutions. The whole thing was then hidden away until another beleaguered Inspector General stumbled upon it. The story gets reported with an eye-roll, fodder for the Daily Show.
But look a bit deeper for the real lesson. Anyone controlled by fear will act this same way, desperate for solutions to the scary things they think are hiding under the bed. Actions capture more emotion than fact. That’s always the problem, isn’t it, trying to stay inside the lines when you’re boiling inside your heart.
Even in 2001, considerably more Americans died of drowning than from terror attacks. Since then, the odds of an American being killed in a terrorist attack in the U.S. or abroad have been about one in 20 million, even less if you don’t work for the U.S. government or military. This real-world low risk isn’t evidence that homeland security spending has worked: It’s evidence that the terror threat was never as great as we thought.
Indeed, from 2005 to 2010, federal attorneys declined to bring any charges against 67 percent of alleged terrorism-related cases referred to them from law enforcement agencies; the cases just weren’t terrorism.
What you get is a society controlled by its fears. A lot like a guy I knew, Depression Kid, he kept old aluminum foil and shopping bags folded up in the basement, never threw out anything, used to lick the dinner plates clean in the kitchen when he thought nobody was looking. No matter what he achieved, Eagle Scout, college degree, captain’s rank, he could never rest. Nothing was ever, could ever, be enough.
This leads in a direct line to gunning down an unarmed teenager because you fear the way he is dressed or the color of his skin. It leads to an internal spying system that can’t stop itself from trying to vacuum up everything for fear of missing something. It leads to a foreign policy that abandons hundreds of years of standards, norms and morality over a single “fugitive” person. It leads to an endless war on someone (Reds, Terrorists). You ban nail clippers on airplanes and force millions of travelers to trod through airports without shoes.
Once you give in to the fear there is no end to things to be afraid of. When most of those fears turn out to be just made-up shadows– even non-viruses inside a computer network– unreal and unsubstantiated, nothing you can do can make them really go away. They don’t live externally and are not vulnerable to your countermeasures. Safety and security are fleeting, grabbed only in moments before the next threat grows inside you. Armed, you look for targets.
Like an old Twilight Zone episode, the boogie men are inside you. Once you’re infected you often overreact.
Like they say, these things just write themselves. Here are two Tweets that came drifting my way, separated by only minutes.
These guys aren’t even trying any more to fool us, they’re just going through the motions of fibbing for their own amusement.
Edward Snowden, in front of officials from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, made clear both his own bona fides as a whistleblower, and the hypocrisy of the United States in its manhunt for him.
Whistleblower? Snowden’s remarks reinforce the basic tenet of whistleblowing, that it is an act of conscience. He made clear what he gave up– home, family, perhaps even his liberty and life– and what we gained, learning what a government which claims to be “of the people” is doing to the people. Snowden still loves America, if not its government and its intelligence services. He reinforced the idea that one courageous act of conscience might make a difference in a nation gone astray.
Snowden also touched on the most fundamental of points: that the America he is defending is not limited to physical safety, but extends deeper, to the freedoms from unwarranted search and seizure that define America. We are better people than we are now.
Hypocrisy? Of the countries that offered to help Edward Snowden, the U.S. itself has accepted 3,103 of their own asylees, 1,222 from Russia and 1,762 from Venezuela. The U.S. took those people in without a hint of regard for anyone’s opposition. This is in fact how the asylum system, codified by various UN treaties the U.S. has signed, should work.
The concept of asylum reaches back to the original democracy, Greece, and it is shameful that the United States today, in only this one case, refuses to recognize it as a fundamental right of a free people. Our Founders, who pledged their own lives, fortunes and sacred honor to such ideals, would weep.
Irony? During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was notorious for refusing to grant dissidents passports, while the U.S. regularly waived such requirements when they escaped to the West. Indeed, it was only about a year ago that the U.S. gave Chinese dissident Chen Guang Cheng refuge in our own embassy in Beijing before allowing him to enter the United States. Chen had escaped from Chinese government house arrest and was a fugitive to reach the U.S. embassy.
Bonus: Please also see my article, Edward Snowden’s Long Flight, as there seem to be some overlaps between what I wrote and today’s statement.
The Troll: The problem has been around for a long time. Did you hear about the time Lincoln suspended habeas corpus? In this day and age, however, the threats are magnified and the opportunity to conduct surveillance is magnified. When one of you comes up with a way to protect my liberty and my security fully and equally, please share.
A whistleblower who reveals something that is clearly illegal according to our own laws, such as torture, is one thing. A whistleblower who reveals the inner workings of a program that is highly disturbing in its scope but is nevertheless the law of our land is another. And if by revealing this information, he cripples our capacity to protect ourselves and exposes our intelligence resources (as in people) to danger, then I am not so sanguine about him and the whistle he rode in on. Heh.
Me: (Deep sigh) Is the internet broken at your house? Let me help.
Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus was strictly provided for in the Constitution by the Founders, in cases of rebellion or invasion (Article One, Section 9, Clause 2). What he did was fully Constitutional, if controversial, and was during a clear state of declared war in response to a specific problem. He reinstated habeas as soon as possible. The draconian measures you believe are protecting you (By the way, exactly how does the NSA spying on our EU partners protect you from terrorists?) have been in place for twelve years, following a single attack on the U.S., the perpetrators of which are all in jail or dead. None of these measures have been allowed to be tested in open court.
I dream of a president someday who is brave enough to stand with Lincoln, fighting the fight when required and then returning our great country to peace as soon as practical. Terrorism? It is nothing– for God’s sake 3000 people died on 9/11, while 51,000 died at Gettysburg alone. Get off Facebook and look it up.
Wait. Those rough men are actually clowns. The truth is more that the FBI is creating its own terror plots using some of the dumbest, most gullible would-be internet jihadis on the planet, and then claiming it stopped another attack on Das Homeland. This is the equivalent of a firefighter committing arson so he could look like a hero for putting out the fire.
So this guy, probably based out of his parents’ basement, posts some stuff on a jihadi web site. The NSA takes note. Then he emails himself a link to the al Qaeda online magazine Inspire. The NSA spends billions of dollars to snoop and take note. With the incriminating evidence of unallowed actions of free speech in hand, two FBI undercover employees posing as jihadists contacted the guy, met up with him in Chicago, gave him fake explosives and a bum detonator, and helped him plan an attack. The FBI then arrested him when he tried to blow up a Chicago bar with the non-working gear supplied to him by the FBI. Senator Diane Feinstein raised this very case last year as justification for extending the existing surveillance laws.
But Wait, There’s More!
You’d think that was enough heroism for one case. However, in a sleazy attempt to avoid creating the grounds for a Constitutional challenge to the surveillance laws, the government is refusing to acknowledge that those laws were employed in this case. See, if the government admits it used its super snooping powers in a particular case, the defendant gains standing to pursue the issue all the way to the Supreme Court. The government dearly wishes to avoid having its actions tested for Constitutional legitimacy. Yeah, democracy!
Indeed, the most serious attempt, by the ACLU and others, to challenge the Constitutionality of the surveillance laws was denied by the courts because the ACLU lacked standing. The ACLU could not prove it had been surveilled and thus could not sue. Neat.
Remember, if you see something (you children especially, keep an eye on your parents’ internet use!), say something. Seriously, just say it out loud, because the NSA is listening.
Radio host Ian Masters, of radio station KPFK-FM, spent an interesting July 4, asking people to define “patriotism.”
Our interview covered not only my own definition of the word Patriotism (“Love your country, despise your government”), but branched off into a discussion of the Bill of Rights, particularly the Fourth Amendment, in light of Edward Snowden’s disclosures about NSA spying. We focus on the final lines of the Declaration of Independence, where the Founders pledged “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” That implies an act of conscience behind the Declaration, and in that sense ties it to the actions of whistleblowers like Snowden.
Listen to the whole twelve minute interview for more.
A decision by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the military’s highest court, overturning a Marine’s murder conviction based on violations of the Fifth Amendment, may have positive implications for Bradley Manning. The Court held that the Marine’s being held in solitary confinement for seven days without access to a lawyer, after refusing to incriminate himself, made his subsequent statements invalid as his Fifth Amendment rights were violated. The technicalities differ, but the similarity between that Marine’s situation and Manning’s may prove significant.
The facts in Marine Lawrence Hutchins’ case are clear. On patrol in Iraq in 2006, Hutchins ordered his squad to kidnap and execute in cold blood an Iraqi civilian, and then make it look like they had ambushed a high-value insurgent in a “good shoot.” The squad would be praised for its work in the war on terror. The truth came out, and Hutchins was arrested in Iraq. After he refused to talk to investigators and asked for a lawyer, Hutchins was instead locked into a shipping container for seven days and nights, denied the chance to contact a lawyer, and held under mind-numbing solitary conditions. After seven days of this, and still without a lawyer, Hutchins was asked to consent to a search of his belongings, and started to incriminate himself.
The Court of Appeals ruled that Hutchin’s Fifth Amendment rights were stomped upon when the investigators, after a seven day solitary confinement softening up, spoke to him again with a lawyer.
Former Navy officer David Glazier, now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said “Here this guy’s conviction is overturned on the basis that he was mistreated by the government during his initial apprehension, and yet he’s already served five years in prison. If the conviction was unjust in the first place, it’s kind of appalling it’s taken the military justice system five years to resolve it.”
That leaves us with the question of Private Manning. The military held him for three years, much of the time without a lawyer, much of the time under overtly inhumane conditions. While we don’t know what statements Manning did or did not make prior to seeing a lawyer, or at what point if any he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, one would think his current attorney would be reading the Hutchins’ decision word-by-word today.
And hey, Bradley Manning did not murder anyone.
BONUS: Whistleblower Jesslyn Radack’s firing from the Department of Justice was based in large part on her assertions that the so-called American Taliban, John Walker Lindh, was held under inhuman conditions, interrogated without a lawyer even after he requested one, and thus denied his Fifth Amendment rights. DOJ fired her, and threw Lindh and most of the Constitution into prison.
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