Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category
The Snowden revelations appear to have damaged one major element of America’s global image: its reputation for protecting individual liberties. In 22 of 36 countries surveyed in both 2013 and 2014, people are significantly less likely to believe the U.S. government respects the personal freedoms of its citizens. In six nations, the decline was 20 percentage points or more.
Read the whole thing. More charts and graphs at the link.
From a good report in the New Yorker by Amy Davidson. Markus R. is the German working in the BND who was spying for the US:
Markus R. would be a lesser figure if the Germans were not still enraged about the N.S.A.’s unabashed spying on its citizens, including the agency’s eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s telephone calls. (Merkel, whose own life in East Germany gives her some perspective on spying, said this week that she wasn’t angry, just really disappointed.) Even before that, there was the case of a car salesman from the German city of Ulm whom the C.I.A. accidentally kidnapped because his name was similar to someone whom they were interested in—and who was then held in a secret prison for months, even after the Agency realized its mistake.
Also: the CIA tortured him, and when he was released he was simply dumped in the countryside in Macedonia, and the US has refused to apologize, allow him to sue for damages, or even to acknowledge our actions (presumably because of shame, but it’s not a constructive response).
I’m beginning to think that it’s not our freedoms that makes others hate us—or perhaps it is, in a way: that the US feels it’s free to do whatever it damn pleases and to refuse to accept any accountability for its actions.
Roberto Savio explains at the Inter Press Service News Agency:
Addressing this column to the younger generations, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, offers ten explanations of how the current mess in which the world finds itself came about.
ROME, Jul 11 2014 (IPS) – While the Third World War has not been formally declared, conflicts throughout the world are reaching levels unseen since 1944.
Of course, for the large majority of people throughout the world, news about these conflicts is just part of our daily news, but another share of our daily news is about the mess in our countries.
This is so complex and confusing that many people have given up the effort to attempt any form of deep understanding, so I thought it would be useful to offer ten explanations of how we succeeded in creating this mess.
1) The world, as it now exists, was largely shaped by the colonial powers, which divided the world among themselves, carving out states without any consideration for existing ethnic, religious or cultural realities. This was especially true of Africa and the Arab world, where the concept of state was imposed on systems of tribes and clans.
Just to give a few examples, none of the present-day Arab countries existed prior to colonialism. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, the Gulf Countries (including Saudi Arabia) were all parts of the Ottoman Empire. When this disappeared with the First World War (like the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian empires), the winners – Britain and France – sat down at a table and drafted the boundaries of countries to be run by them, as they had done before with Africa. So, never look at those countries as equivalent to countries with a history of national identity.
2) After the end of the colonial era, it was inevitable that to keep these artificial countries alive, and avoid their disintegration, strongmen would be needed to cover the void left by the colonial powers. The rules of democracy were used only to reach power, with very few exceptions. The Arab Spring did indeed get rid of dictators and autocrats, just to replace them with chaos and warring factions (as in Libya) or with a new autocrat, as in Egypt.
The case of Yugoslavia is instructive. After the Second World War, Marshal Tito dismantled the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and created the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. But we all know that Yugoslavia did not survive the death of its strongman.
The lesson is that without creating a really participatory and unifying process of citizens, with a strong civil society, local identities will always play the most decisive role. So it will take some before many of the new countries will be considered real countries devoid of internal conflicts.
3) Since the Second World War, the meddling of the colonial and super powers in the process of consolidation of new countries has been a very good example of man-made disaster.
Take the case of Iraq. When the United States took over administration of the country in 2003 after its invasion, General Jay Garner was appointed and lasted just a month, because he was considered too open to local views.
Garner was replaced by a diplomat, Jan Bremmer, who took up his post after a two-hour briefing by the then Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice. Bremmer immediately proceeded to dissolve the army (creating 250,000 unemployed) and firing anyone in the administration who was a member of the Ba’ath party, the party of Saddam Hussein. This destabilised the country, and today’s mess is a direct result of this decision.
The current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whom Washington is trying to remove as the cause of polarisation between Shiites and Sunnis, was the preferred American candidate. So was the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, who is now virulently anti-American. This is a tradition that goes back to the first U.S. intervention in Vietnam, where Washington put in place Ngo Dihn Dien, who turned against its views, until he was assassinated.
There is no space here to give example of similar mistakes (albeit less important) by other Western powers. The point is that all leaders installed from outside do not last long and bring instability.
4) . . .
Talk about stating the obvious! As Kevin Drum points out, our current migration crisis is completely due to an obstructionist political party. Christopher Ingraham and Tom Hamburger write in the Washington Post:
The federal government is failing now more than ever. That’s the conclusion of a unique taxonomy of federal ball-dropping just released by Paul C. Light, a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Light analyzed 41 high-profile cases of federal failure from 2001 to the present day, culled from the Pew Research Center’s News Interest Index. Because it’s ultimately derived from news accounts, the contours of the list are roughly what you’d expect. It starts with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and ends – for now – with the VA waiting list debacle in Phoenix. In between it covers everything from the search for WMDs in Iraq to Hurricane Katrina to Operation Fast and Furious. You check out the full list in an interactive over at the Brookings website, or scroll to the bottom of this post.
As with any qualitative taxonomy, there’s plenty of room quibble over which government mishaps made the cut and which didn’t. For instance, last year’s government shutdown, and the debt ceiling brinkmanship that led to the loss of S&P’s AAA credit rating for U.S. debt in 2011, didn’t make the cut. This is because Light focused only on “management/delivery failures by agencies. Some of these failures involved poorly crafted policy as a contributor, but failure had to come from the bureaucracy in some way.” So business-as-usual gridlock in Congress doesn’t make the cut.
Setting aside questions of inclusion/exclusion, Light’s work is the only methodologically rigorous account of government failures we know of, so it’s worth hearing what he has to say about these failures, what caused them, and how similar missteps can be avoided in the future.
Light breaks down the myriad factors that contribute to each of the failures he studies – bad policy, limited resources, and structural, leadership and cultural shortcomings. The study tracks the growing failure rate through the past five presidents. While many factors contribute to the generally increasing frequency of bureaucratic failures, the fluctuating numbers do reflect on an administration’s overall managerial competence. Light believes that Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush led especially competent White House teams. Reagan, his study shows, averaged 1.6 failures per year during the final part of his term.
On the other hand, George W. Bush’s administration was the most failure-ridden of them all. W. averaged 3.1 failures per year – overseeing more than twice as many annual failures as his father. . .
Continue reading. Article includes graphs, and also includes this quotation from Light’s report:
Republicans exploited the Democratic cowardice by doing everything in their power to undermine performance. They stonewalled needed policy changes, and made implementation of new programs as difficult as possible; they cut budgets, staffs, and collateral capacity to a minimum, proving the adage that the logical extension of doing more with less is doing everything with nothing; they used the presidential appointments process to decapitate key agencies, and appointed more than their share of unqualified executives; and they muddied mission, tolerated unethical conduct, and gamed the performance measure process to guarantee failing scores for as many government policies as possible.
As the WaPo article notes:
Republicans exploited the Democratic cowardice by doing everything in their power to undermine performance. They stonewalled needed policy changes, and made implementation of new programs as difficult as possible; they cut budgets, staffs, and collateral capacity to a minimum, proving the adage that the logical extension of doing more with less is doing everything with nothing; they used the presidential appointments process to decapitate key agencies, and appointed more than their share of unqualified executives; and they muddied mission, tolerated unethical conduct, and gamed the performance measure process to guarantee failing scores for as many government policies as possible.
Rebecca Gordon has a good column at TomDispatch.com:
Once upon a time, if a character on TV or in a movie tortured someone, it was a sure sign that he was a bad guy. Now, the torturers are the all-American heroes. From 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, it’s been the good guys who wielded the pliers and the waterboards. We’re not only living in a post-9/11 world, we’re stuck with Jack Bauer in the 25th hour.
In 2002, Cofer Black, the former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told a Senate committee, “All I want to say is that there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.” He wanted them to understand that Americans now live in a changed world, where, from the point of view of the national security state, anything goes. It was, as he and various top officials in the Bush administration saw it, a dangerous place in which terrorists might be lurking in any airport security line and who knew where else.
Dark-skinned foreigners promoting disturbing religions were driven to destroy us because, as President George W. Bush said more than once, “they hate our freedoms.” It was “them or us.” In such a frightening new world, we were assured, our survival depended in part on brave men and women willing to break precedent and torture some of our enemies for information that would save civilization itself. As part of a new American creed, we learned that torture was the price of security.
These were the ruling fantasies of the era, onscreen and off. But didn’t that sorry phase of our national life end when Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney departed? Wasn’t it over once Barack Obama entered the Oval Office and issued an executive order closing the CIA black sites that the Bush administration had set up across the planet, forbidding what had euphemistically come to be called “enhanced interrogation techniques?” As it happens, no. Though it’s seldom commented upon, the infrastructure for, the capacity for, and the personnel to staff a system of institutionalized state torture remain in place, ready to bloom like a desert plant in a rain shower the next time fear shakes the United States.
There are several important reasons why the resurgence of torture remains a possibility in post-Bush America:
* Torture did not necessarily end when Obama took office.
* We have never had a full accounting of all the torture programs in the “war on terror.”
* Not one of the senior government officials responsible for activities that amounted to war crimes has been held accountable, nor were any of the actual torturers ever brought to court.
Torture Did Not Necessarily End When Obama Took Office
The president’s executive order directed the CIA to close its detention centers “as expeditiously as possible” and not to open any new ones. No such orders were given, however, to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a clandestine force composed of elite fighters from several branches of the U.S. armed forces. JSOC had run its own secret detention centers in Iraq. At Camp Nama, interrogations took place in the ominously named “Black Room.” According to the New York Times, the camp’s chilling motto was “no blood, no foul.” JSOC is presently deployed on several continents, including Africa, where gathering “intelligence” forms an important part of its duties.
The president’s executive order still permits “rendition” — the transfer of a terror suspect to another country for interrogation, which in the Bush years meant to the prisons of regimes notorious for torture. It does, however, impose some constraints on the practice. Such “transfers” must be approved by a special committee composed of the director of national intelligence, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the secretary of homeland security, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is to be chaired by the attorney general. The committee must not “transfer… individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control.”
This last constraint, however, has been in place at least since 1994, when the Senate ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment. That did not prevent the rendition of people like Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian citizen sent by the United States to Syria, where he endured 10 months of torture in an underground cell. Nor did it save Binyam Mohammed, whose Moroccan jailers sliced his chest and penis with a scalpel — once a month for 18 months, according to British human rights lawyer Andy Worthington.
Nor has the CIA itself been prepared to end all its torture programs. In his confirmation hearings, Obama’s first CIA director Leon Panetta told members of Congress that “if the approved techniques were ‘not sufficient’ to get a detainee to divulge details he was suspected of knowing about an imminent attack, he would ask for ‘additional authority’ to use other methods.” It is, however, unlikely that such “other methods” could be brought to bear on the spur of the moment. To do so, you need an infrastructure and trained personnel. You need to be ready, with skills honed.
Torture, though by another name, still goes on in the American prison complex at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. President Obama came into office promising to close Guantánamo within a year. It’s a promise he repeats occasionally, but the prison is still open, and some detainees are still being held indefinitely. Those who use the only instrument they have to resist their hellish limbo — a hunger strike — are strapped into chairs and force-fed. In case you think such “feeding” is a humanitarian act, Guantánamo prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel described the experience in a New York Times op-ed in April 2013:
“I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat, and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.”
The U.S. has a long history of involvement with torture — from its war in the Philippines at the dawn of the twentieth century on. It has also, as in Latin America in the 1960s, trained torturers serving other regimes. But until 9/11 top officials in this country had never publicly approved of torture. Whatever might happen behind closed doors (or in training sessions provided by the School of the Americas, for example), in public, everyone — government officials, the press, and the public — agreed that torture was wrong.
That consensus no longer exists today. After 9/11 those “gloves” came off. Waterboarding prisoners who might have information about a plot that could threaten us was a “no brainer” for Vice President Dick Cheney, and he wasn’t alone. In those years, torture, always called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a phrase the media quickly picked up), became a commonplace, even celebrated, feature of our new landscape. Will it remain that way?
We Have Never Had a Full Accounting of All the Torture Programs Used in the “War on Terror”
Thanks to the work of persistent reporters, we now know many pieces of the torture puzzle, but we still have nothing like a complete, coherent narrative. And if we don’t know just what happened in those torture years, we are unlikely to be able to dismantle the existing infrastructure, which means we won’t be able to keep it from happening again.
In addition, . . .
The US is becoming a frightening place as it becomes ever more frightened. Many men fear to go in public unless they are armed. (Some were upset at not being able to carry a gun into the polling place, so frightening is it to be unarmed in America today.) Having to arm yourself to go to the store is a new kind of United States.
This article by Michael Lind in Salon makes a very good case, IMO.
In 1914, the American Century began. This year the American Century ended. America’s foreign policy is in a state of collapse, America’s economy doesn’t work well, and American democracy is broken. The days when other countries looked to the U.S. as a successful model of foreign policy prudence, democratic capitalism and liberal democracy may be over. The American Century, 1914-2014. RIP.
A hundred years ago, World War I marked the emergence of the U.S. as the dominant world power. Already by the late nineteenth century, the U.S. had the world’s biggest economy. But it took the First World War to catalyze the emergence of the U.S. as the most important player in geopolitics. The U.S. tipped the balance against Imperial Germany, first by loans to its enemies after 1914 and then by entering the war directly in 1917.
Twice more in the twentieth century the U.S. intervened to prevent a hostile power from dominating Europe and the world, in World War II and the Cold War. Following the end of the Cold War, America’s bipartisan elite undertook the project of creating permanent American global hegemony. The basis of America’s hegemonic project was a bargain with the two major powers of Europe, Germany and Russia, and the two major powers of Asia, Japan and China. The U.S. proposed to make Russia and China perpetual military protectorates, as it had already done during the Cold War with Germany and Japan. In return, the U.S. would keep its markets open to their exports and look after their international security interests.
This vision of a solitary American globocop policing the world on behalf of other great powers that voluntarily abandon militarism for trade has been shared by the Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama administrations. But by 2014 the post-Cold War grand strategy of the United States had collapsed.
China and Russia have rudely declined America’s offer to make them subservient military satellites, like Japan and Germany. China has been building up its military, engaging in cyber-attacks on the U.S., and intimidating its neighbors, to promote the end of American military primacy in East Asia.
Meanwhile, Russia has responded to the expansion of the U.S.-led NATO alliance to its borders by going to war with Georgia in 2008 to deter Georgian membership in NATO and then, in 2014, seizing Crimea from Ukraine, after Washington promoted a rebellion against the pro-Russian Ukrainian president.
There are even signs of a Sino-Russian alliance against the U.S. The prospect excites some neoconservatives and neoliberal hawks, who had been quiet following the American military disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in a second Cold War against a Sino-Russian axis, the European Union, with its economy comparable to America’s, will not provide reliable support. Russia is a nuisance, not a threat to Europe. China doesn’t threaten Europe and Europeans want Chinese trade and investment too much. In Asia, only a fool would bet on the ability of a ramshackle alliance of the U.S., Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia to “contain” China.
The U.S. still has by far the world’s most powerful and sophisticated military — but what good is it? Russia knows the U.S. won’t go to war over Ukraine. China knows the U.S. won’t go to war over this or that reef or island in the South China Sea. As Chairman Mao would have said, America is a paper tiger.
The U.S. military was able to destroy the autocratic governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — but all the foreign policy agencies of the U.S. have been unable to help create functioning states to replace them. Since 2003, Uncle Sam has learned that it is easier to kick over anthills than to build them.
In addition to having a huge military that for the most part can neither intimidate strong adversaries nor pacify weak ones, America has an economy that for decades has failed to deliver sustained growth that is widely shared. . .
Extremely good; written in August of 2010, republished because it’s still appropriate.
In September 1998, I was handed a submission for a proposed book by Chalmers Johnson. I was then (as I am now) consulting editor at Metropolitan Books. 9/11 was three years away, the Bush administration still an unimaginable nightmare, and though the prospective book’s prospective title had “American Empire” in it, the American Empire Project I now co-run with my friend and TomDispatch regular Steve Fraser was still almost four years from crossing either of our minds.
I remembered Johnson, however. As a young man, I had read his book on peasant nationalism in north China where, during the 1930s, Japanese invaders were conducting “kill-all, burn-all, loot-all” operations. Its vision of how a revolution could gain strength from a foreign occupation stayed with me. I had undoubtedly also read some of Johnson’s well-respected work on contemporary Japan and I knew, even then, that in the Vietnam War era he had been a fierce opponent of the antiwar movement I took part in. If I didn’t already know it, the proposal made no bones about the fact that he had also, in that era, consulted for the CIA.
I certainly turned to his submission — a prologue, a single chapter, and an outline of the rest of a book — with a dubious eye, but was promptly blasted away by a passage in the prologue in which he referred to himself as having been a “spear-carrier for empire” and, some pages in, by this passage as well:
“I was sufficiently aware of Mao Zedong’s attempts to export ‘people’s war’ to believe that the United States could not afford to lose in Vietnam. In that, too, I was distinctly a man of my times. It proved to be a disastrously wrong position. The problem was that I knew too much about the international Communist movement and not enough about the United States government and its Department of Defense. I was also in those years irritated by campus antiwar protesters, who seemed to me self-indulgent as well as sanctimonious and who had so clearly not done their homework [on the history of communism in East Asia]… As it turned out, however, they understood far better than I did the impulses of a Robert McNamara, a McGeorge Bundy, or a Walt Rostow. They grasped something essential about the nature of America’s imperial role in the world that I had failed to perceive. In retrospect, I wish I had stood with the antiwar protest movement. For all its naïveté and unruliness, it was right and American policy wrong.”
I was little short of thunderstruck. I knew then — and I think it still holds today — that no one of prominence with Johnson’s position on the war and in his age range had ever written such a set of sentences. At that moment, knowing nothing else, I made the decision to publish his book. It was possibly the single most impulsive, even irrational, and thoroughly satisfying decision I’ve made in my 30-odd years as an editor in, or at the fringes of, mainstream publishing.
Though I didn’t have expectations for the book then, the rest is, quite literally, history. After all, its title would be Blowback, a term of CIA tradecraft that neither I nor just about any other American had ever heard of, and which, thanks to Johnson, has now become part of our language (along with the accompanying catch phrase “unintended consequences”). On its publication in 2000, the book was widely ignored. In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, however, it seemed nothing short of prophetic, and so, in paperback, stormed those 9/11 tables at the front of bookstores, and soared to bestsellerdom.
That I ever edited Blowback or Johnson’s subsequent books was little short of a fluke, one of the luckiest of my life. It led as well to a relationship with a man of remarkable empathy and insight, who was then on a no less remarkable journey (on which I could tag along). Now, a new book of his, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope, has arrived, focused on the many subjects — from our empire of bases to the way the Pentagon budget, the weapons industries, and military Keynesianism may one day help send us into great power bankruptcy — that have obsessed him in recent years. It’s not to be missed. Tom
The Guns of August
Lowering the Flag on the American Century
By Chalmers Johnson
In 1962, the historian Barbara Tuchman published a book about the start of World War I and called it The Guns of August. It went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. She was, of course, looking back at events that had occurred almost 50 years earlier and had at her disposal documents and information not available to participants. They were acting, as Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara put it, in the fog of war.
So where are we this August of 2010, with guns blazing in one war in Afghanistan even as we try to extricate ourselves from another in Iraq? Where are we, as we impose sanctions on Iran and North Korea (and threaten worse), while sending our latest wonder weapons, pilotless drones armed with bombs and missiles, into Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, Yemen, and who knows where else, tasked with endless “targeted killings” which, in blunter times, used to be called assassinations? Where exactly are we, as we continue to garrison much of the globe even as our country finds itself incapable of paying for basic services?
I wish I had a crystal ball to peer into and see what historians will make of our own guns of August in 2060. The fog of war, after all, is just a stand-in for what might be called “the fog of the future,” the inability of humans to peer with any accuracy far into the world to come. Let me nonetheless try to offer a few glimpses of what that foggy landscape some years ahead might reveal, and even hazard a few predictions about what possibilities await still-imperial America.
Let me begin by asking: What harm would befall the United States if we actually decided, against all odds, to close those hundreds and hundreds of bases, large and small, that we garrison around the world? What if we actually dismantled our empire, and came home? Would Genghis Khan-like hordes descend on us? Not likely. Neither a land nor a sea invasion of the U.S. is even conceivable.
Would 9/11-type attacks accelerate? It seems far likelier to me that, as our overseas profile shrank, the possibility of such attacks would shrink with it.
Would various countries we’ve invaded, sometimes occupied, and tried to set on the path of righteousness and democracy decline into “failed states?” Probably some would, and preventing or controlling this should be the function of the United Nations or of neighboring states. (It is well to remember that the murderous Cambodian regime of Pol Pot was finally brought to an end not by us, but by neighboring Vietnam.)
In other words, the main fears you might hear in Washington — if anyone even bothered to wonder what would happen, should we begin to dismantle our empire — would prove but chimeras. They would, in fact, be remarkably similar to Washington’s dire predictions in the 1970s about states all over Asia, then Africa, and beyond falling, like so many dominoes, to communist domination if we did not win the war in Vietnam.
What, then, would the world be like if the U.S. lost control globally — Washington’s greatest fear and deepest reflection of its own overblown sense of self-worth — as is in fact happening now despite our best efforts? What would that world be like if the U.S. just gave it all up? What would happen to us if we were no longer the “sole superpower” or the world’s self-appointed policeman?
In fact, we would still be a large and powerful nation-state with a host of internal and external problems. An immigration and drug crisis on our southern border, soaring health-care costs, a weakening education system, an aging population, an aging infrastructure, an unending recession — none of these are likely to go away soon, nor are any of them likely to be tackled in a serious or successful way as long as we continue to spend our wealth on armies, weapons, wars, global garrisons, and bribes for petty dictators.
Even without our interference, the Middle East would continue to export oil, and if China has been buying up an ever larger share of what remains underground in those lands, perhaps that should spur us into conserving more and moving more rapidly into the field of alternative energies.
Meanwhile, whether we dismantle our empire or not, China will become (if it isn’t already) the world’s next superpower.
Noam Chomsky writes at TomDispatch.com:
The question of how foreign policy is determined is a crucial one in world affairs. In these comments, I can only provide a few hints as to how I think the subject can be productively explored, keeping to the United States for several reasons. First, the U.S. is unmatched in its global significance and impact. Second, it is an unusually open society, possibly uniquely so, which means we know more about it. Finally, it is plainly the most important case for Americans, who are able to influence policy choices in the U.S. — and indeed for others, insofar as their actions can influence such choices. The general principles, however, extend to the other major powers, and well beyond.
There is a “received standard version,” common to academic scholarship, government pronouncements, and public discourse. It holds that the prime commitment of governments is to ensure security, and that the primary concern of the U.S. and its allies since 1945 was the Russian threat.
There are a number of ways to evaluate the doctrine. One obvious question to ask is: What happened when the Russian threat disappeared in 1989? Answer: everything continued much as before.
The U.S. immediately invaded Panama, killing probably thousands of people and installing a client regime. This was routine practice in U.S.-dominated domains — but in this case not quite as routine. For first time, a major foreign policy act was not justified by an alleged Russian threat.
Instead, a series of fraudulent pretexts for the invasion were concocted that collapse instantly on examination. The media chimed in enthusiastically, lauding the magnificent achievement of defeating Panama, unconcerned that the pretexts were ludicrous, that the act itself was a radical violation of international law, and that it was bitterly condemned elsewhere, most harshly in Latin America. Also ignored was the U.S. veto of a unanimous Security Council resolution condemning crimes by U.S. troops during the invasion, with Britain alone abstaining.
All routine. And all forgotten (which is also routine).
From El Salvador to the Russian Border
The administration of George H.W. Bush issued a new national security policy and defense budget in reaction to the collapse of the global enemy. It was pretty much the same as before, although with new pretexts. It was, it turned out, necessary to maintain a military establishment almost as great as the rest of the world combined and far more advanced in technological sophistication — but not for defense against the now-nonexistent Soviet Union. Rather, the excuse now was the growing “technological sophistication” of Third World powers. Disciplined intellectuals understood that it would have been improper to collapse in ridicule, so they maintained a proper silence.
The U.S., the new programs insisted, must maintain its “defense industrial base.” The phrase is a euphemism, referring to high-tech industry generally, which relies heavily on extensive state intervention for research and development, often under Pentagon cover, in what economists continue to call the U.S. “free-market economy.”
One of the most interesting provisions of the new plans had to do with . . .
It has been, like other initiatives by George W. Bush, a monumental failure. David Cole has a good post at the New Yorker:
Ten years ago Saturday, the Supreme Court ruled, in Rasul v. Bush, that foreign “enemy combatants” held at Guantánamo Bay Naval Station had a right to challenge the legality of their detention in court. The decision, the first to extend such a right to the enemy in an armed conflict, was widely and justifiably hailed as a major victory for the rule of law. The Court had rejected President George W. Bush’s claims of uncheckable authority to deprive people of their liberty without review. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, in a companion case issued the same day, “a state of war is not a blank check for the President.”
Ten years later, the remaining prisoners at Guantánamo—a hundred and forty-nine of them—may wonder what all the fuss was about. They obtained the theoretical right to seek judicial review, but in most cases that review has proved virtually meaningless. At first, the district courts ruled that many detainees were unlawfully detained. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which had earlier denied the detainees any review at all, upheld the government in every appeal it filed. Moreover, the detainees themselves cannot see most of the evidence against them, and therefore often cannot participate meaningfully in their own defense. After a decade, not a single detainee has been released because of the government losing or exhausting its appeals. (The Administration chose not to appeal some release orders, but given its record in the court of appeals these releases were, for all practical purposes, voluntary.) The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has repeatedly declined to step in.
In this respect, the Rasul decision recalls another Supreme Court opinion: Brown v. Board of Education. When Brown was decided, in 1954, the Court unanimously declared that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. In a ruling on remedies shortly thereafter, however, the Court announced that the problem did not need to be fixed immediately but, rather, “with all deliberate speed.” Segregation persisted for years; practically speaking, it persists to this day. Progress required the active involvement of Congress and the President, through the passage of civil-rights laws in the sixties, and such initiatives as President Eisenhower’s ordering troops to Little Rock to protect newly integrated students.
The Court in Rasul issued no such open invitation to delay, but the effect has been much the same. The Court addressed only the question of whether detainees could have a day in court, but it provided no guidance for how such judicial review should be exercised, or even what the government would have to show to justify continued detention. It rested its decision on statutory grounds, which prompted Congress to amend the law to deny judicial review. It was another four years before the Court invalidated that statute, and held, in Boumediene v. Bush, that judicial review was constitutionally compelled. Even then, it said nothing about what rights detainees might have once they got into court. . .
Corporate gloves being removed: Blackwater manager threatened to murder State Dept investigator; investigation halted in response
I imagine this is not the only instance—such threats might explain why the SEC seems so inept at its investigations. In the NY Times James Risen reports (still—he’s probably headed for jail for not letting the US government know his sources for his reporting; Obama hates whistleblowers):
Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.
American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.
After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”
“The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law,” he said, adding that the “hands off” management resulted in a situation in which “the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control.”
His memo and other newly disclosed State Department documents make clear that the department was alerted to serious problems involving Blackwater and its government overseers before the Nisour Square shooting, which outraged Iraqis and deepened resentment over the United States’ presence in the country.
Today, as conflict rages again in Iraq, four Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour Square shooting are on trial in Washington on charges stemming from the episode, the government’s second attempt to prosecute the case in an American court after previous charges against five guards were dismissed in 2009.
The shooting was a watershed moment . . .
(I included the category “terrorism,” because what Blackwater was doing in Iraq was exactly terrorism—e.g., gunning down 17 civilians over NO PRETEXT. That’s terrorism: actions to induce terror, like a marketplace bombing. Or an appearance of Blackwater… troops? And they even threaten a US State Department Investigator—and get totally away with it! It does show that some sort of tide has turned.
UPDATE: And read what Paul Krugman wrote.
Analysis of foreign affairs problems often ends in a mental block. As we have seen in each of our recent crises — Somalia, Mali, Libya, Syria, Iraq, the Ukraine and Iran — “practical” men of affairs want quick answers: they say in effect, ‘don’t bother us with talk about how we got here; this is where we are; so what do we do now?’ The result, predictably, is a sort of nervous tick in the body politic: we lurch from one emergency to the next in an unending sequence.
This is not new. We all have heard the quip: “ready, fire, aim.” In fact those words were not just a joke. For centuries after infantry soldier were given the rifle, they were ordered not to take the time to aim; rather, they were instructed just to point in the general direction of the enemy and fire. Their commanders believed that it was the mass impact, the “broadside,” that won the day.
Our leaders still believe it. They think that our “shock and awe,” our marvelous technology measured in stealth bombers, drones, all-knowing intelligence, our massed and highly mobile troops and our money constitute a devastating broadside. All we have to do is to point in the right direction and shoot.
So we shoot and then shoot again and again. We win each battle, but the battles keep happening. And to our chagrin, we don’t seem to be winning the wars. By almost any criterion, we are less “victorious” today than half a century ago.
Professionally, I find it disturbing to keep repeating such simple observations. Like some of my colleagues, I had hoped that the “lesson” of Vietnam would be learned. It was not. Indeed, the guru of the neoconservatives, Sam Huntington, memorably proclaimed that there was no lesson that could be drawn from Vietnam. He led the way, but today he has had many acolytes. They are still acting as guides of our government and the media.
So what do they tell us? Like Huntington they say that we have nothing to learn from the expenditure of our blood, sweat and tears — not to quibble about the trillions of dollars. As each crisis explodes, our guides told us that it is unique, has no usefully analyzed background, is not to be seen in a sequence of events and decisions. It just is. So it requires immediate action of the kind we know how to take — a broadside.
Also never-mind what motivates the “other-side.” What they think might be of interest to ivory-tower historians or a few curious members of the chattering class, but in the real world they do not command attention. Real men just act!
Examples abound. Take Somalia: those wretched people are just a bunch of terrorists living in a failed state — the pirates of the modern world. Simple. We knew what to do about them! That “appreciation,” as they say in the intelligence trade, was reached some years ago , and we are still doing “our thing.”
As a few of us pointed out, “our thing” did not stop out-of-work, hungry and able men from doing “their thing.” When fishermen found their fishing sites virtually destroyed by industrial-scale fleets, armed with sonar, radar and mile-long drag nets and, unable to catch fish and they faced starvation, they discovered piracy. Since they already had boats, were good sailors and were near a major cargo-shipping lane, transition to that new trade was easy. We knew the answer: military force. However, we have seen that sending the Navy is expensive and it did not stop desperate men. No one considered stopping the overfishing before the fishermen turned pirate.
Also, in Somalia, we smugly talk about the “failed state.” But, as the Somalis see themselves, they are not a state at all; rather, they are a collection of separate societies living under a shared cultural-religious system. That, in fact, is how all our ancestors lived until the nation-state system evolved in Europe. Now most of us find it almost inconceivable that the Somalis do not adopt our system. Why are they so backward? If they would just shape up, piracy would end and peace would come. So we try to attach our institutions to their social organization. But, when the Somalis stubbornly try to retain their system, we try our best to modernize, reform, subvert or destroy it. We are still trying each of these or all of them together.
Variations on the Somali theme can be witnessed around the world as we jump from one crisis to the next. We prove to be good tacticians but not strategists, shooters but not aimers, and, above all, loud talkers but poor listeners.
In Syria also we see exemplified our penchant to rely on force, for leaping before we look. . .
Estremely good column by Eric Alternman at billmoyers.com:
In a column entitled “Bush’s toxic legacy in Iraq,” terrorism expert Peter Bergen writes about the origins of ISIS, “the brutal insurgent/terrorist group formerly known as al Qaeda in Iraq.”
Bergen notes that, “One of George W. Bush’s most toxic legacies is the introduction of al Qaeda into Iraq, which is the ISIS mother ship. If this wasn’t so tragic it would be supremely ironic, because before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, top Bush officials were insisting that there was an al Qaeda-Iraq axis of evil. Their claims that Saddam Hussein’s men were training members of al Qaeda how to make weapons of mass destruction seemed to be one of the most compelling rationales for the impending war.”
There was no al Qaeda-Iraq connection until the war; our invasion made it so. We have known this for nearly a decade, well before the murderous ISIS even appeared. In a September 2006 New York Times article headlined “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat,” reporter Mark Mazetti informed readers of a classified National Intelligence Estimate representing the consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ the analysis cited the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology: “The Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,’ said one American intelligence official.”
The Bush Administration fought to quash its conclusions during the two years that the report was in the works. Mazetti reported, “Previous drafts described actions by the United States government that were determined to have stoked the jihad movement, like the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.” Apparently, these were dropped from the final document, though the reference to jihadists using their training for the purpose of “exacerbating domestic conflicts or fomenting radical ideologies” as in say, Syria, remained.
At the beginning of 2005, Mazetti notes, another official US government body, the National Intelligence Council, “released a study concluding that Iraq had become the primary training ground for the next generation of terrorists, and that veterans of the Iraq war might ultimately overtake Al Qaeda’s current leadership in the constellation of the global jihad leadership.”
On the one hand, it is impressive how well our intelligence agencies were able to predict the likely outcome of the Bush Administration’s foolhardy obsession with invading Iraq. On the other, it is beyond depressing how little these assessments have come to matter in the discussion and debate over US foreign policy.
As we know, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the other architects of the war did everything possible to intimidate, and when necessary, discredit those in the intelligence agencies who warned of the predictable consequences of war. Cheney and his deputies made repeated trips to Langley to challenge professional intelligence work and used pliant members of the media — including Robert Novak of The Washington Post and Judith Miller of The New York Times, among many, many others — to undermine the integrity of people like Joseph P. Wilson and Valerie Plame lest the truth about the administration’s lies come out. Rather incredibly, they even went so far as to ignore the incredibly detailed planning documents, created over a period of a year at a cost of $5 million by the State Department, that had a chance of providing Iraq with a stable postwar environment. Instead, they insisted on creating an occupation that generated nothing but chaos, mass murder and the terrorist victories of today.
One of the many horrific results was the decision to support Nouri al-Maliki as a potential leader of the nation. Maliki’s sectarian attacks on Sunni Muslims on behalf of his Shiite allies are the immediate cause of the current murderous situation. And his placement in that job, as Fareed Zakaria aptly notes, “was the product of a series of momentous decisions made by the Bush administration. Having invaded Iraq with a small force — what the expert Tom Ricks called ‘the worst war plan in American history’ — the administration needed to find local allies.”
One could go on and on (and on and on and on) about the awful judgment — the arrogance, the corruption, the ideological obsession and the purposeful ignorance — by the Bush Administration that led to the current catastrophe. As Ezra Klein recently noted, “All this cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives.” And this is to say nothing of the destruction of our civil liberties and poisoning of our political discourse at home and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died, the millions of refugees created, the hatred inspired in the world toward the United States.
But to focus exclusively on the administration begs an obvious question. How did they get away with it? Where were the watchdogs of the press?
Much has been written on this topic. No one denies that the truth was available at the time. Not all of it, of course, but enough to know that certain catastrophe lay down the road the administration chose to travel at 100 miles per hour. Top journalists, like those who ran the Times and The Washington Post, chose to ignore the reporting they read in their own papers.
As the Post itself later reported, its veteran intelligence reporter Walter Pincus authored a compelling story that undermined the Bush administration’s claim to have proof that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. It only made the paper at all because Bob Woodward, who was researching a book, talked his editors into it. And even then, it ran on page A17, where it was immediately forgotten.
As former Post Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks later explained, “Administration assertions were on the front page. Things that challenged the administration were on A18 on Sunday or A24 on Monday. There was an attitude among editors: ‘Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?” The New York Times ran similarly regretful stories and its editors noted to its readers that the paper had been “perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper.” (Bill Moyers’ documentary special “Buying the War: How Big Media Failed Us” tells the story, and in conjunction with that Moyers report, you can find an Interactive Timeline as well as post-March 2003 coverage of Iraq.)
Many in the mainstream media came clean, relatively speaking, about . . .
James Fallows has a must-read post, filled with must-follow links. It begins:
If you’re anything like me, when you hear the words “wise insights about the Iraq war,” two names that immediately come to mind are Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby.
Fortunately the Hertog Institute has engaged them both to teach a course, “The War in Iraq: A Study in Decision-Making.”
I will confess that when someone told me about this today, I assumed it was an Onion-style joke. As in, “The Work-Family Balance: Getting It Right,” co-taught by John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer. But it turns out to be real. Or “real.”
In the cause of public knowledge, I am happy to offer royalty-free use of several items for the reading list. Like:
• “The Fifty-First State?” from the year before the war. The Wolfowitz-Libby “study in decision-making” might consider why on Earth so many obvious implications of the war were blithely dismissed ahead of time, including by these two men. Or …
• “Blind into Baghdad,” about the grotesque combination of arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence that characterized decision-making about the war. Or …
• “Bush’s Lost Year,” about the sequence of advantages squandered, opportunities missed, and crucial wrong bets made in the months just after the 9/11 attacks. Students might find this one particularly interesting, since it begins with a long interview with their own Professor Wolfowitz. For the Cliff’s Notes version, see after the jump.
Somehow I am guessing that the professors might pass up my generous offer. So instead, here’s another “at first I thought this was a joke” candidate: a new essay by William Kristol and Frederick Kagan in Kristol’s Weekly Standard with advice about Iraq: . . .
Do click through and read the entire article. It is astonishing that men who are ON RECORD as being totally wrong about the Iraq War are still giving public advice on re-engaging. They should sit down and shut up. And follow the link in the post above to read Andrew Bacevich’s article.
Two other articles to read: Frank Rich’s very strong article on the cheering section for the Iraq War, who are (with some exceptions) a shameless and dishonest lot, and an interview with James Fallows on his warnings before the war.
I think the world would be much better off if the US had not invaded Iraq based on what were patently a bunch of lies. George W. Bush can truly say that he left the world worse than he found it, a lot worse.
An interesting interview at Democracy Now! with Richard Clarke:
Richard Clarke served as the nation’s top counterterrorism official under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before resigning in 2003 in protest of the Iraq War. A year before the Sept. 11 attacks, Clarke pushed for the Air Force to begin arming drones as part of the U.S. effort to hunt down Osama bin Laden. According to Clarke, the CIA and the Pentagon initially opposed the mission. Then Sept. 11 happened. Two months later, on November 12, 2001, Mohammed Atef, the head of al-Qaeda’s military forces, became the first person killed by a Predator drone. According to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, U.S. drones have since killed at least 2,600 people in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Clarke has just written a novel about drone warfare called, “Sting of the Drone.” We talk to Clarke about the book and his concerns about President Obama’s escalation of the drone war. “I think the [drone] program got out of hand,” Clarke says. “The excessive secrecy is as counterproductive as some of the strikes are.”
Democracy Now! also has this brief clip from a program that they will air next week:
Take a look at these stories. I didn’t copy the links in the original article—go to the original for those.
Book Reveals Wider Net of U.S. Spying on Envoys, by Charlie Savage in the NY Times. Begins:
In May 2010, when the United Nations Security Council was weighing sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, several members were undecided about how they would vote. The American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, asked the National Security Agency for help “so that she could develop a strategy,” a leaked agency document shows.
The N.S.A. swiftly went to work, developing the paperwork to obtain legal approval for spying on diplomats from four Security Council members — Bosnia, Gabon, Nigeria and Uganda — whose embassies and missions were not already under surveillance. The following month, 12 members of the 15-seat Security Council voted to approve new sanctions, with Lebanon abstaining and only Brazil and Turkey voting against.
Later that summer, Ms. Rice thanked the agency, saying its intelligence had helped her to know when diplomats from the other permanent representatives — China, England, France and Russia — “were telling the truth … revealed their real position on sanctions … gave us an upper hand in negotiations … and provided information on various countries ‘red lines.’ ”
The two documents laying out that episode, both leaked by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, are reproduced in a new book by Glenn Greenwald, “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the N.S.A., and the U.S. Surveillance State.” The book is being published Tuesday.
Elements of the N.S.A.’s role in helping aid American diplomatic negotiations leading up to the Iran sanctions vote had been previously reported, including in an October 2013 article in the French newspaper Le Monde that focused on the agency’s spying on French diplomats.
Mr. Greenwald’s book also reproduces a document listing embassies and missions that had been penetrated by the N.S.A., including those of Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, the European Union, France, Georgia, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Venezuela and Vietnam. Aspects of that document were reported in June by The Guardian. . . .
Snowden’s Story, Behind the Scenes, a book review by Michiko Kakutani:
he title of the journalist Glenn Greenwald’s impassioned new book, “No Place to Hide,” comes from a chilling observation made in 1975 by Senator Frank Church, then chairman of a select committee on intelligence. The United States government, he said, had perfected “a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air.” That capability, he added, could at any time “be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.”
That was nearly 40 years ago, and as the documents leaked last year by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed, the N.S.A.’s ability to spy on our daily lives has grown exponentially to Orwellian proportions. The documents provided by Mr. Snowden revealed that the agency has an ability to monitor or collect information from hundreds of millions of people around the globe, that it has broken into the communications links of major data centers across the world, that it has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption that protects sensitive data on the Internet, and that, according to its own records, it has broken privacy laws or exceeded its authority thousands of times a year. The first journalist Mr. Snowden approached by email was Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for The Guardian and former constitutional lawyer who had frequently written about civil liberties, the dangers of enhanced executive power, and surveillance abuses in post-Sept. 11 America. (Mr. Greenwald has since left The Guardian to work with Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, on building a new media venture, which includes the news site The Intercept, of which Mr. Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill are founding editors.) . . .
The reviewer seems to take exception at Greenwald’s condemnation of mainstream media for failure to cover controversial issues, but she completely ignores how Bill Keller of the NY Times held back the story of George W. Bush’s completely illegal wiretaps until after Bush was elected (and reported it then only because the reporter, who had understandably left to work at another paper that would actually publish such stories, was about to break the story anyway). Another example is how the Times airbrushed out of a story about Bank of America’s illegal actions, as noted here. Greenwald may be wrong about the press’s subservience to power, but he is not far wrong.
No Place to Hide’ by Glenn Greenwald, on the NSA’s sweeping efforts to ‘Know it All’, by David Cole in the Washington Post:
At a meeting with his British counterparts in 2008, Keith Alexander, then head of the National Security Agency, reportedly asked, “Why can’t we collect all the signals, all the time?” The NSA has since sought to dismiss that remark as a quip taken out of context. In his new book, “No Place to Hide,” Glenn Greenwald, one of three recipients of the voluminous, top-secret material that NSA contractor Edward Snowden chose to leak, uses those documents to prove that this was indeed the agency’s guiding principle.
In one remarkable slide presented at a 2011 meeting of five nations’ intelligence agencies and revealed here for the first time, the NSA described its “collection posture” as “Collect it All,” “Process it All,” “Exploit it All,” “Partner it All,” “Sniff it All” and, ultimately, “Know it All.”
Much has been written about the NSA’s omnivorous appetite for personal data — much of it by Greenwald for the Guardian and other outlets. In his new book, however, he offers a revealing and disturbing overview, illustrated by dozens of reproduced secret documents, of just how far the NSA has gone to achieve Alexander’s vision of collecting and knowing it all. Relying on newly disclosed and already disclosed documents, Greenwald shows that the scope of the NSA’s surveillance not only exceeds our imagination but the agency’s capacity even to store, much less analyze, it all.
In a one-month period last year, for example, a single unit of the NSA, the Global Access Operations unit, collected data on more than 97 billion e-mails and 124 billion phone calls from around the world; more than 3 billion of those calls and e-mails were collected as they passed through the United States. As of 2012, the agency was processing more than 20 billion telecommunications per day. In a single month in 2011, the NSA collected 71 million calls and e-mails from Poland alone — not a major hub of terrorist activity, the last I checked. The NSA has admitted that “it collects far more content than is routinely useful to analysts.” These numbers call to mind Sen. Everett Dirksen’s quip about government spending: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
The NSA achieves these ends by working hand in hand with private telecommunications and Internet service providers. .. .
Some of Greenwald’s most disturbing disclosures concern not the NSA but its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). His documents reveal that the GCHQ engages in “online covert action” against loosely defined “hacktivists” designed to disrupt, degrade and discredit their online presence. Taking a page from COINTELPRO, the FBI’s 1960s campaign against U.S. radicals, the GCHQ’s tactics include luring targets to sexually compromising Web sites, posting false blogs and launching other “info ops to damage reputations.” . . .
“Collect It All”: Glenn Greenwald on NSA Bugging Tech Hardware, Economic Espionage & Spying on U.N., an interview at Democracy Now!, with video and a transcript. The blurb:
Nearly a year after he first met Edward Snowden, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald continues to unveil new secrets about the National Security Agency and the surveillance state. His new book, “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State,” is being published today. It includes dozens of previously secret NSA documents, including new details on how the NSA routinely intercepts routers, servers and other computer hardware devices being exported from the United States. According to leaked documents published in the book, the NSA then implants backdoor surveillance tools, repackages the devices with a factory seal and sends them on. This gives the NSA access to entire networks and all their users. The book includes one previously secret NSA file that shows a photo of an agent opening a box marked CISCO. Below it reads a caption: “Intercepted packages are opened carefully.” Another memo observes that some signals intelligence tradecraft is “very hands-on (literally!).”
Greenwald joins us in the studio to talk about this and other new revelations about the NSA, including its global economic espionage, spying at the United Nations, and attempting to monitor in-flight Internet users and phone calls. For his reporting on the NSA, Greenwald recently won a George Polk Award and was part of the team from The Guardian that just won the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service.
“Once people understood that this extraordinary system of suspicionless surveillance, which was truly unprecedented in scope, had been created completely in the dark, it became more than a surveillance story,” Greenwald says. “It became a story about government secrecy and accountability and the role of journalism, and certainly privacy and surveillance in the digital age.”
How the NSA tampers with US-made internet routers, by Glenn Greenwald, in an extract from his book printed in The Guardian:
For years, the US government loudly warned the world that Chinese routers and other internet devices pose a “threat” because they are built with backdoor surveillance functionality that gives the Chinese government the ability to spy on anyone using them. Yet what the NSA’s documents show is that Americans have been engaged in precisely the activity that the US accused the Chinese of doing.
No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State
by Glenn Greenwald
Tell us what you think: Star-rate and review this book
The drumbeat of American accusations against Chinese internet device manufacturers was unrelenting. In 2012, for example, a report from the House Intelligence Committee, headed by Mike Rogers, claimed that Huawei and ZTE, the top two Chinese telecommunications equipment companies, “may be violating United States laws” and have “not followed United States legal obligations or international standards of business behaviour”. The committee recommended that “the United States should view with suspicion the continued penetration of the US telecommunications market by Chinese telecommunications companies”.
The Rogers committee voiced fears that the two companies were enabling Chinese state surveillance, although it acknowledged that it had obtained no actual evidence that the firms had implanted their routers and other systems with surveillance devices. Nonetheless, it cited the failure of those companies to cooperate and urged US firms to avoid purchasing their products: “Private-sector entities in the United States are strongly encouraged to consider the long-term security risks associated with doing business with either ZTE or Huawei for equipment or services. US network providers and systems developers are strongly encouraged to seek other vendors for their projects. Based on available classified and unclassified information, Huawei and ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems.”
The constant accusations became such a burden that Ren Zhengfei, the 69-year-old founder and CEO of Huawei, announced in November 2013 that the company was abandoning the US market. As Foreign Policy reported, Zhengfei told a French newspaper: “‘If Huawei gets in the middle of US-China relations,’ and causes problems, ‘it’s not worth it’.”
But while American companies were being warned away from supposedly untrustworthy Chinese routers, foreign organisations would have been well advised to beware of American-made ones. A June 2010 report from the head of the NSA’s Access and Target Development department is shockingly explicit. The NSA routinely receives – or intercepts – routers, servers and other computer network devices being exported from the US before they are delivered to the international customers.
The agency then implants backdoor surveillance tools, repackages the devices with a factory seal and sends them on. . .
From Martin Luther King to Anonymous, the state targets dissenters not just “bad guys”, by Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian. This is also an extract from the book:
A prime justification for surveillance – that it’s for the benefit of the population – relies on projecting a view of the world that divides citizens into categories of good people and bad people. In that view, the authorities use their surveillance powers only against bad people, those who are “doing something wrong”, and only they have anything to fear from the invasion of their privacy. This is an old tactic. In a 1969 Time magazine article about Americans’ growing concerns over the US government’s surveillance powers, Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, assured readers that “any citizen of the United States who is not involved in some illegal activity has nothing to fear whatsoever”.
The point was made again by a White House spokesman, responding to the 2005 controversy over Bush’s illegal eavesdropping programme: “This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people.” And when Barack Obama appeared on The Tonight Show in August 2013 and was asked by Jay Leno about NSA revelations, he said: “We don’t have a domestic spying programme. What we do have is some mechanisms that can track a phone number or an email address that is connected to a terrorist attack.”
For many, the argument works. The perception that invasive surveillance is confined only to a marginalised and deserving group of those “doing wrong” – the bad people – ensures that the majority acquiesces to the abuse of power or even cheers it on. But that view radically misunderstands what goals drive all institutions of authority. “Doing something wrong” in the eyes of such institutions encompasses far more than illegal acts, violent behaviour and terrorist plots. It typically extends to meaningful dissent and any genuine challenge. It is the nature of authority to equate dissent with wrongdoing, or at least with a threat.
The record is suffused with examples of groups and individuals being placed under government surveillance by virtue of their dissenting views and activism – Martin Luther King, the civil rights movement, anti-war activists, environmentalists. In the eyes of the government and J Edgar Hoover’s FBI, they were all “doing something wrong”: political activity that threatened the prevailing order.
The FBI’s domestic counterintelligence programme, Cointelpro, was first exposed by a group of anti-war activists who had become convinced that the anti-war movement had been infiltrated, placed under surveillance and targeted with all sorts of dirty tricks. Lacking documentary evidence to prove it and unsuccessful in convincing journalists to write about their suspicions, they broke into an FBI branch office in Pennsylvania in 1971 and carted off thousands of documents. . .
Glenn Greenwald, How I Met Edward Snowden. This is another extract from Greenwald’s book, posted at TomDispatch.com. This extract seems to be chapter 1 of the book.
Anand Gopal writes at TomDispatch.com:
It was a typical Kabul morning. Malik Ashgar Square was already bumper-to-bumper with Corolla taxis, green police jeeps, honking minivans, and angry motorcyclists. There were boys selling phone cards and men waving wads of cash for exchange, all weaving their way around the vehicles amid exhaust fumes. At the gate of the Lycée Esteqial, one of the country’s most prestigious schools, students were kicking around a soccer ball. At the Ministry of Education, a weathered old Soviet-style building opposite the school, a line of employees spilled out onto the street. I was crossing the square, heading for the ministry, when I saw the suicide attacker.
He had Scandinavian features. Dressed in blue jeans and a white t-shirt, and carrying a large backpack, he began firing indiscriminately at the ministry. From my vantage point, about 50 meters away, I couldn’t quite see his expression, but he did not seem hurried or panicked. I took cover behind a parked taxi. It wasn’t long before the traffic police had fled and the square had emptied of vehicles.
Twenty-eight people, mostly civilians, died in attacks at the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, and elsewhere across the city that day in 2009. Afterward, U.S. authorities implicated the Haqqani Network, a shadowy outfit operating from Pakistan that had pioneered the use of multiple suicide bombers in headline-grabbing urban assaults. Unlike other Taliban groups, the Haqqanis’ approach to mayhem was worldly and sophisticated: they recruited Arabs, Pakistanis, even Europeans, and they were influenced by the latest in radical Islamist thought. Their leader, the septuagenarian warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani, was something like Osama bin Laden and Al Capone rolled into one, as fiercely ideological as he was ruthlessly pragmatic.
And so many years later, his followers are still fighting. Even with the U.S. withdrawing the bulk of its troops this year, up to 10,000 Special Operations forces, CIA paramilitaries, and their proxies will likely stay behind to battle the Haqqanis, the Taliban, and similar outfits in a war that seemingly has no end. With such entrenched enemies, the conflict today has an air of inevitability — but it could all have gone so differently.
Though it’s now difficult to imagine, by mid-2002 there was no insurgency in Afghanistan: al-Qaeda had fled the country and the Taliban had ceased to exist as a military movement. Jalaluddin Haqqani and other top Taliban figures were reaching out to the other side in an attempt to cut a deal and lay down their arms. Tens of thousands of U.S. forces, however, had arrived on Afghan soil, post-9/11, with one objective: to wage a war on terror.
As I report in my new book, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, the U.S. would prosecute that war even though there was no enemy to fight. To understand how America’s battle in Afghanistan went so wrong for so long, a (hidden) history lesson is in order. In those early years after 2001, driven by the idée fixe that the world was rigidly divided into terrorist and non-terrorist camps, Washington allied with Afghan warlords and strongmen. Their enemies became ours, and through faulty intelligence, their feuds became repackaged as “counterterrorism.” The story of Jalaluddin Haqqani, who turned from America’s potential ally into its greatest foe, is the paradigmatic case of how the war on terror created the very enemies it sought to eradicate.
The Campaign to Take Out Haqqani: 2001
Jalaluddin Haqqani stands at about average height, with bushy eyebrows, an aquiline nose, a wide smile, and an expansive beard, which in its full glory swallows half his face. In his native land, the three southeastern Afghan provinces known collectively as Loya Paktia, he is something of a war hero, an anti-Soviet mujahedeen of storied bravery and near mythical endurance. (Once, after being shot, he refused painkillers because he was fasting.) During the waning years of the Cold War, he was beloved by the Americans — Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson called him “goodness personified” — and by Osama bin Laden, too. In the 1980s, the U.S. supplied him with funds and weapons in the battle against a Soviet-backed regime in Kabul and the Red Army, while radical Arab groups provided a steady stream of recruits to bolster his formidable Afghan force.
American officials had this history in mind when the second Afghan War began in October 2001. Hoping to convince Haqqani (who had backed the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the post-Soviet years) to defect, they spared his territory in Loya Paktia the intense bombing campaign that they had loosed on much of the rest of the country. The Taliban, for their part, placed him in charge of their entire military force, both sides sensing that his could be the swing vote in the war. Haqqani met with top Taliban figures and Osama bin Laden, only to decamp for Pakistan, where he took part in a flurry of meetings with Pakistanis and U.S.-backed Afghans.
His representatives also began meeting American officials in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, and the United Arab Emirates, and the Americans eventually offered him a deal: surrender to detention, cooperate with the new Afghan military authorities, and after a suitable period, he would be free to go. For Haqqani, one of Loya Paktia’s most respected and popular figures, the prospect of sitting behind bars was unfathomable. Arsala Rahmani, an associate of his, who would go on to serve as a senator in the Afghan government, told me, “He wanted to have an important position in Loya Paktia, but they offered to arrest him. He couldn’t believe it. Can you imagine such an insult?”
Haqqani declined the American offer, but left the door open to future talks. The prevailing ethos in the U.S., though, was that you were either with us or against us. “I personally always believed that Haqqani was someone we could have worked with,” a former U.S. intelligence official told journalist Joby Warrick. “But at the time, no one was looking over the horizon, to where we might be in five years. For the policy folks, it was just ‘screw these little brown people.’”
In early November, the U.S. began bombing Loya Paktia. Two nights later, warplanes attacked Haqqani’s home in the town of Gardez, near the Pakistani border. He was not present, but his brother-in-law and a family servant died in the blast. The next evening, U.S. planes struck a religious school in the village of Mata China, one of many Haqqani had built in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which provided room, board, and education to poor children. Malem Jan, a Haqqani family friend, showed up the next morning. “I had never seen anything like it,” he said. “There were so many bodies. The roof was flattened to the ground. I saw one child who was alive under there, but no one could get him out in time.” Thirty-four people, almost all children, lost their lives. . .
The Ugly American has returned, but now he’s armed with drones firing Hellfire missiles.