‘Many of the benefits from keeping terrorism fear levels high are obvious. Private corporations suck up massive amounts of Homeland Security cash as long as that fear persists, while government officials in the National Security and Surveillance State can claim unlimited powers and operate with unlimited secrecy and no accountability.’
— Glenn Greenwald, Senior Editor/Writer, Intercept
‘The truth at any cost lowers all other costs.’
— Robert David Steele, Open Source Intelligence advocate, principal, Public Intelligence Blog.
‘Secrecy, being an instrument of conspiracy, ought never to be the system of a regular government.’
— Jeremy Bentham, British philosopher, jurist, social reformer; founder of modern utilitarianism, aka The ‘panopticon man’.
‘There is nothing we like to communicate to others as much as the seal of secrecy together with what lies under it.’
— Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher.
‘If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.’
— George Orwell, 1984
—*—Brief: With democratic values and legal principles such as free speech, the rule of law, privacy, habeus corpus, press freedom and civil liberties now decidedly ‘old school’—all increasingly displaced by secrecy, surveillance and subterfuge, along with unremitting subversion of the erstwhile Republic’s operating manual the US Constitution and its back-up plan the Bill of Rights—the future looks bleak for The Imperial Homeland of the erstwhile Brave and Free. In this first of two companion pieces covering similar territory, we contemplate the possibility that America, on the road to the Rubicon and beyond in hot pursuit of its unabashed hegemonic ambitions, may have already crossed a bridge too far. The main consideration herein is whether, in the frequently uncontested ‘forward march of freedom’, Uncle Sam’s praetorian guard-dogs of empire may have burned their “bridges” behind them.
— The Grand Deception – (Mind of the State v State of the Mind) —
It should come as no surprise that from an early age master espionage storyteller John Le Carre reportedly had “limitless fascination” with the human propensity for secretive behaviour.
Given his literary specialty and the fact he—like his contemporary Ian Fleming—was a former British intelligence officer, he is someone who knew a thing or three about secrecy’s attendant ‘pathologies’.
These “pathologies” included stealth, sabotage, subterfuge, subversion, surveillance and sedition (and we might safely speculate, seduction, as it was purportedly he who coined the phrase “honey-trap”), and the inter-connections between all things clandestine and covert.
In short, we’re talking here the ‘smoke ‘n mirrors’, ‘cloak ‘n dagger’, Spy v Spy Thing. (For some ‘deep ‘n meaningful’ ruminations on “The Thing”, see the previous posts—here, here, and here.)
Ironically though, le Carre himself was not a big fan of secrecy in political life. In the wake of, and in response to, the Watergate Scandal—at the time the quintessential text-book manifestation not just of the U.S. government’s predisposition for engaging in grand, deceptive political “cloak ‘n dagger”, but [for its ruling elites], creating big, ugly secrets and then ruthlessly attempting to preserve their status as such so as to avoid accountability for their creation—le Carre had this to say:
“Until we have a better relationship between private performance and public truth…[We] as the public are right to remain suspicious, contemptuous even, of the secrecy and misinformation which is the digest of our news.”
On April 27 1961, shortly after he was handed the keys to the White House by a new generation of then justifiably hopeful Americans—and tellingly, less than two weeks after the calamitous Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba—the then president of the United States John F Kennedy (JFK) presented a speech, the oft-cited content of which has never been more relevant in its portent, not just for the current generations, but those of the immediate future.
From this address it seems clear that like le Carre’s earlier comment indicates, Number 35—by all accounts a big fan of spy novels and the subversive fictional narrative, including those of le Carre and Fleming—was far from naive about the secretive practices of the power elites. Although JFK’s address should be read in its entirety to appreciate its full import for the here and now, for our purposes the following ‘radio-friendly’ version provides an inkling of his views:
“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society….We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers [which are] cited to justify it….there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions….in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.” [My emphasis]
Doubtless the more worldly, disdainful view of secrecy evidenced by the temper of JFK’s address derived less from his reading of spy fiction than it did from his recent experience of the catastrophically bungled Cuban invasion that was the infamous Bay of Pigs.
Which is to say, the pear-shaped outcome of the BoP can safely be said to have acquired its richly deserved reputation as one of the biggest and most portentous cock-ups in U.S. foreign policy history (a big call to be sure) because so many of the planners—mostly in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and to a slightly lesser extent, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon—kept far too many secrets, few of which they shared with the young president prior to his regrettable, and for him personally, hugely regretted, decision to green-light this game changing, hubris infused mission.
(This was not necessarily because the BoP was poorly planned, which indeed it was. Yet if it was “poorly planned” by DCI Allen Dulles and his gung-ho cohort in Langley, there was decidedly, as more recent evidence now reveals, a method in their madness in doing so.)
Either way, it appears Kennedy and le Carre might have been kindred spirits. That the speech was presented before the then American Newspaper Publishers Association—that august bastion representing at the time the so-called Fourth Estate, whose collective remit was allegedly holding to account those folks in public office who are required to formally swear an oath to protect, preserve and uphold the Constitution, which itself interestingly enshrines such things like the freedom of the press—provides us with another layer of substance and import to its content.
We will return to the themes of Kennedy’s speech in a follow-up piece, and with it more broadly [to] the role of the media—specifically the role of investigative journalists and government whistleblowers—in “insuring” against “the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts” in the unequivocal support of a “free and open society”.
But first we need to fast forward to the here and now. When a “new(er) generation” of interminably—and one might opine also, pathetically—hopeful Americans handed Barack Obama the keys to the White House in 2008, one of the pre-conditions in doing so was linked to the expectation his administration would be more transparent and accountable than just about any previous one since POTUS George—that being George Washington, not that of Obama’s estimable predecessor George Bush.
Attendant with this promise was the expectation the U.S. government under Obama would be more protective of citizens’ rights, privacy and civil liberties; more inclined to safeguard whistle-blowers and investigative journalists; and [prepped to] reinstate and uphold a greater level of respect for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the unalloyed freedom of the press. It was to be expected [that] Obama would significantly delimit “official censorship and concealment”; one might say a New Age of American ‘glasnost‘ beckoned!
That a “New Age” of ‘perestroika‘ within and across the out-of-control National Security and Surveillance State/Military Industrial Complex might have also been explicitly promulgated by the then aspiring president and expected by those who bought into the “hope and change” shill of his campaign is probably true, but is perhaps a consideration for another time.)
After eight years of sleight-of-hand governance, shell-game political expediency, and ‘excessive and unwarranted concealment’ of information by president Bush, his vice-president Dick Cheney and their cabalistic caucus of secretive gatekeepers, most democracy-minded Americans were—understandably enough—eagerly prepared for a new experiment in transparency and accountability. It sounded like a good idea at the time. Sadly it was never meant to be. Those “democracy-minded Americans” appear to be all but an endangered species.
Or put it another way, Americans were perhaps audaciously hoping for something akin to a ‘de-Bushification’ of The Beltway, to ‘re-mint’ a phrase in popular usage around the time of the Iraq invasion, said “invasion” itself being an imperial adventure whose principal motivations were both defined and demarcated by rampant secrecy, stealth and subterfuge in the way the government of the day operated, and lack of candour in the manner its leaders and functionaries communicated with “we the people” about such operations.
This not to mention the rampant incompetence that accompanies—and the monumental blowback which inevitably results from—[the] fashioning by a few powerful and frequently unelected elites of an all-encompassing, strategic foreign policy designed to fulfil a hidden yet preordained agenda via what we might charitably call ‘creative’ national intelligence assessments! Almost all of which have little if anything to do with national security or that of its ostensible first cousin, the ever moving feast defined as the national interest.
How’s that “experiment” going then? By most objective accounts, not very well it would seem. Along with an unprecedented number of cases during Obama’s tenure, the prosecution, conviction and imprisonment of former CIA case officer Jeffrey Sterling earlier this year for alleged offences under the ancient Espionage Act is ample testament to this, a case to which we will return in our follow-up piece.
At this point it is instructive enough to recall here that Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Reince Priebus once declared that Obama was either ‘exceptionally naive or wilfully disingenuous’ when he vowed to change the way Washington works. The way Priebus saw it,
‘The very promise of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ was rooted in uprooting the Washington modus operandi. But instead of rejecting it, [Obama] embraced it all—the secrecy, the closed doors, the political favors, the near-criminal negligence.’
With a nod of fairness to Obama, one is compelled to consider if the RNC Chair was critiquing the degree of the president’s perceived lack of integrity on righteous moral or ethical grounds for, as he defined it, embracing “it all”, or that the GOP poster-boy simply preferred the Republican ’embrace’ of ‘the Washington modus operandi’.
As if any Republican administration never engaged in closed-door secrecy, [never] knowingly remitted political largesse for services rendered, and/or were total strangers to criminal negligence. As if indeed.
One also wonders if Priebus was completely oblivious to—or simply in pathological denial of—the indisputable reality the Republicans’ perennially revered Golden Boy the Gipper (aka Ronald Reagan), carved out for himself a whole presidential career by decrying Washington’s MO, whilst going on to not just embrace, but ‘pig out’ on, the whole enchilada once he was ensconced in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
And at all events Obama to a large degree then took his cue from those who had already set the bar pretty high, something even Priebus would be hard pressed to repudiate with a straight face. This is so even in an era when repudiating undeniable facts and ridiculing bare-faced realities with a straight face whilst ‘whistling’ Dixie’ is now almost de rigeuer for maintaining an active, on-going GOP membership, or even for that matter keeping one’s place on Washington’s A-List right-wing ‘social register’!
That it is also one with which many Democrats feel far too comfortable is an undeniable reality. Which many would argue [that] therein lies the major problem as perceived by those who have become disillusioned with the one-party/two wings reality of contemporary politics. And it is certainly one of the key contributing factors to ‘making sense’ of Washington and the way it works. No that ‘making sense’ of how Washington works enables one to get their heads around it!
America’s Surveillance State
The full, Press TV series about the current state of domestic surveillance in the U.S., as well as some other clips of political speeches relevant to this issue.
— In a Sea of Secrets (Not Waving, Drowning) —
As it stands though, even a superficial knowledge of George Orwell‘s classic 1984—whose key memes, tropes and themes ironically it would seem [that] the more we become aware of them and are able to parrot in the spirit of the zeitgeist—reveal an intriguing, then frustrating anomaly.
Which is to say, the less we are prepared to absorb it as the warning the author originally intended, the less inclined we are to act on and respond to it. Along with being a defining example of cosmic irony, this also showcases Gustave le Bon‘s contention—one with which Orwell was almost certainly familiar—that goes like this:
‘The masses have never thirsted for the truth. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master…. Whoever attempts to destroy those illusions is always their victim.’
Moreover it leads us to believe that, in the secrecy, surveillance and subterfuge stakes, Obama would be showing 1984‘s resident bad-guy poster-boy ‘Big Brother’—and we could say, both ‘Dubya’, his ‘Grand Vizier’ of Stealth Dick Cheney and their cohort—a clean pair of Cuban boot-heels.
It should be stressed that Orwell intended 1984 as a dystopian narrative alerting us of the dangers of unwarranted secrecy, widespread surveillance and malevolent subterfuge and all its attendant pathologies. It was not intended as some wags have cautioned, an ‘instruction manual’ for folks harbouring imperial ambitions and predisposed to achieving their hegemonic goals via megalomaniacal, dictatorial means. If ever Lord Acton’s adage, ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ manifested itself more portentously and indelibly in the literary canon outside of 1984, this writer would be keen to know about it.
Yet all in all, in this the RNC Chairman may have a point, especially the bit about “the secrecy” and “the closed doors”.
And like many others he made, Obama’s explicit promise in these matters is up there with our most memorable examples such as, “Yes, I will still love you in the morning!” and “Your cheque is in the mail!“, to name just two of the three perennial ‘family favourites’, that last of which cannot be mentioned herein because this is after all, a family show!
Of course it’s not just hard-assed Republicans of the Priebus cast, Tea-Party poopers and Obama haters in general who decry, albeit disingenuously, the president’s admittedly lax track record in open and transparent government, and his abject failure to live up to his 2008 election commitments.
Again which is to say, this reality has hardly gone unnoticed by some of the president’s most ardent supporters including even dismayed U.S. allies, whose own secrets Washington has sought to ‘get the skinny on’ whilst insuring its own ‘dirty linen’ is kept well away from the olfactory antennae of the overly nosey.
In this case one might contend that Obama, in chowing down on the whole Washington ‘enchilada’, has inflicted untold damage on Uncle Sam’s already amply shop-soiled international reputation as the global go-to good guy, a ‘rep’ that has always been more a mythical construct than a discernable reality.
And few would argue Obama has visited irreparable detriment on the future preparedness of otherwise politically disenchanted and disenfranchised American citizens who, in response to his snake-oil infused “hope” and “change” carny-barker shill, actually went out of their way to both campaign and vote for him in 2008, many on both counts for the first (and we can safely assume now, certainly last) time ever.
For American democracy, this may be the most unforgivable failure on Obama’s part and the most tragic outcome of his tenure. By this yardstick, this makes him an even worse POTUS than Dubya, a sentence I never ever considered I would ever utter!
Moreover, it is likely the manifestly ugliest blot on the landscape of his by now singularly tarnished legacy. With barely 12 months to go before he rides off into the political sunset then, it is difficult to imagine how Number 44 is going to redeem himself before doing so, even if we assume he defines as satisfactory, a legacy cast in such terms.
For the power elites themselves—from those occupying the White House, the Pentagon and on up to Wall Street, from Fort Meade, the Langley ‘Farm’ to Foggy Bottom, from the neoconservative cabals and liberal interventionist groupies on either bank of the politically polluted Potomac to the self-appointed praetorian guardians of the status quo in the corporate media and academia—such an outcome was always going to work in their interests in any event. It has always been that way; and indeed, they wouldn’t have it any other way. Short of an impending revolution (Anonymous anyone?), it is unlikely to change anytime soon.
In short, the ‘crypto-statists’ found under Obama ever more reasons for denying Americans their hitherto inalienable right to privacy, and doing so at the same speed, and with the same zeal and presumption, they are justifying their not so inalienable nor legitimate, yet increasingly presumed and asserted, ‘right’ to secrecy.
And it does not stop there. Not by a long shot from the Texas School Book Depository Building. As president, Obama has effectively declared an amnesty for the traitorous, criminally subversive crypto-statist elites (‘Dubya’?, ‘Rummie’, ‘Deadeye’? anyone?) who, via their sleight-of-hand intrigues and sleazy subversions, engineered—indeed, prefabricated—the War on Terror and wreaked utter havoc on the already faltering Republic in blood, treasure and credibility. To say nothing as it were, of both the objects and subjects of their imperial ‘affection’.
By the same token, the Judas Goat President Obama—the one POTUS who best fits that description since Ronald Reagan—himself likewise declared open warfare with extreme prejudice on those true American patriots who have sought to expose the iniquitous intrigues and subversive, self-serving manifestos of these very same people and hold them truly accountable—upon pain of serious threat to their prospects of a comfortable retirement surrounded by friends and family in domiciles and locales of their preferred choice—under the Constitution and the rule of international law!
And for those folks who either contend that such tendencies towards secrecy, surveillance and subterfuge are the exclusive domain of the American power elites, it is to Britain we might look to dispel such notions. With its widespread prevalence of security cameras long a pointer to the U.K. as a pioneering, preeminent national security and surveillance state, along with its cherished, centuries old tradition of espionage and secrecy that sustained and nourished the empire throughout its halcyon daze (sic, again) until they inevitably overstretched themselves and were forced to reluctantly hand the imperial baton on to their wayward children across the Big Pond, we might say that the U.S. is only really reinventing the wheel as it were.
Herein, it is iconic novelist, essayist and U.K. citizen himself George Orwell of course who is for all of us still arguably the most important touchstone in these matters, and to whom we might return for additional reflection.
In a recent piece in the Guardian, Heather Brooke—British-American journalist and high-profile freedom of information activist—actually did this, employing enticing, judicious hyperbole designed one imagines to underscore for us all just how serious the situation has become, and just how difficult it will be to turn back the clock.
In an article commenting on the U.K.’s investigatory power bill recently introduced into Parliament, Brooke observes that when in relation to the passing of the bill, ‘intelligence agencies make off-the-record briefings outlining how they failed to get what they wanted’, [it can] mean only one thing: they [actually] ‘got what they wanted.’ It represents the old reverse psychology shell-game to be sure!
She asked: Why were they trying to fool the press and the public that they had lost?….simply because ‘they had won’. Here’s what she had to say further:
‘I never thought I’d say it, but George Orwell lacked vision. The spies have gone further than he could have imagined, creating in secret and without democratic authorisation the ultimate panopticon. Now they hope the British public will make it legitimate….This bill is characterised by a clear anti-democratic attitude. Those in power are deemed to be good, and are therefore given the benefit of the doubt. “Conduct is lawful for all purposes if …” and “A person (whether or not the person so authorised or required) is not to be subject to any civil liability in respect of conduct that …”: these are sections granting immunity to the spies and cops.’
But it is Stateside where the main game is played without doubt.
With Uncle Sam’s aggressive and insidious attempts then to know more and more about what his own citizens and those of other nations are up to (Edward Snowden, William Binney et al. anyone?) increasing in inverse proportion to what folks purporting to act in his interests want those stakeholders to know about what they are up to and why (Julian Assange? WikiLeaks? et al. anyone?), Scott Horton‘s book released earlier this year, is a timely and necessary expose of the national security, secrecy and surveillance state.
Aptly titled The Lords of Secrecy – The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Foreign Policy, human rights activist and lawyer Horton identifies the “lords” as the national security state elites.
These are first and foremost the heads of the various law enforcement, surveillance, intelligence and security agencies such as the FBI, CIA, DIA, the Pentagon, the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to name just a few of the better known ones.
Horton makes it clear from the off that one of his primary aims is to zero in on the fundamental question of how ‘national security decisions are managed in a democratic state on three levels—the public, Congress, and the executive.’
Whilst he acknowledges the president and members of his administration will always be the “formulators” and “implementers” of national security and foreign policy, his key point is to highlight the ever-increasing role of ‘largely anonymous’ elites, unelected people who occupy key decision- and policy-making positions mostly within the agencies mentioned. Washington is, in Horton’s assessment, drowning in “a sea of secrets”.
(This is without considering the role of the corporate mainstream media and increasingly, the so-called national security industrial complex and not-so peripheral actors such as lobbyists, plays in decision- and policy-making. In both camps, there appears to be no dearth of “lords”.)
After revealing that they seek increasingly to bypass the Congressional oversight required by the Constitution to go to war, he notes somewhat dryly the White House increasingly has to “fish deeply in its reserve of legal talent” to find someone with sufficient chutzpah to “go to Capitol Hill” and argue the case there.
Further, Horton states that the “lords” are the “sources of secrecy”, and control, “through classification powers”, what they want the American public to know. They use secrecy (in essence, the need to know in extremis) to enhance their own influence, position, power, authority and careers, “both in notorious intra-agency rivalries and at the expense of Congress and the public.”
One might also say without overstating it, “at the expense of democracy!”
In fact, echoing both JFK’s and le Carre’s sentiments cited earlier, Horton observes the following:
‘Secrecy is highly corrosive to any democracy. When facts are declared secret, decisions that need to be made with knowledge of those facts are removed from the democratic process and transferred to the apex of the secrecy system, where only the lords of secrecy can influence them. What is properly public thus becomes the property of a private and secretive group who claim to hold a proxy for the public. The public may learn of neither the issue that has arisen nor the decisions taken, nor even the lethal steps deployed in their name. [My emphasis].
There are four key elements Horton considers when arguing for a rehabilitation of sorts of what he calls a “knowledge based democracy”. Horton defines such a democracy as one where access to information, accompanied by genuine accountability and transparency of the decision makers, reigns over secretive behaviours and belligerent, knee-jerk, need to know responses, especially in matters related to war and peace.
Along with the teachings of the Anglo-American sociologist Edward Shils, all of these elements Horton traces back to the work of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan was one of the last of Washington’s old school consensus politicians and by all accounts that rarest of breed, a true intellectual and (later) authentic statesman (itself a species of public figure now all but extinct), and one that was once highly regarded on both sides of the aisle.
Moynihan was also very knowledgeable about national security issues and as Horton notes, “deeply engaged in oversight of the intelligence community”.
In sum, like JFK and le Carre, Moynihan knew a thing or three about security and secrecy, and the power that secrets commanded between and amongst the key players in and around the Beltway. He once wrote that, “Secrecy is for losers. For people who do not know how important the information really is.” In recognition of this “power” then and how it was wielded, he both privately and officially found much to lament.
As Horton relates it, this was borne out by his chairmanship of the Commission of Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy from 1994-1997. The Moynihan Commission’s findings were both profound and disturbing, and can be summed up in four basic conclusions.
a) is a form of government regulation;
b) keeps information away from decision makers;
c) thwarts accountability; and
d) undermines democracy.
We have already seen in many respects how these findings play out in reality, and we will see more soon enough.
— One Man’s Privacy (Another Man’s Secrecy) —
Much was also made in Moynihan’s worldview of the distinctions and dynamic interplay between secrecy, privacy, and publicity, themselves derived from the writings and teachings of Shils.
With that “interplay” constantly changing and the “distinctions” blurring almost daily, readers now will begin to get a clearer insight into the importance of Moynihan’s work.
As “profound and disturbing” the Moynihan findings may have been though, they were moreso for those standing on the outside looking in, and did little to change the way Washington actually worked. The Potomac power players weren’t overcome with righteous concern at the findings much less queuing up to ’embrace’ any reforms. The closest they ever got was paying lip service to it, with as already observed the most recent notable example being the incumbent Oval One.
To the extent some progress might have been made in the aftermath of the release of the Moynihan findings, the election some three years later of Bush and Cheney (in Horton’s words, the “Dark Overlord of Secrecy”), and the events of 9/11, put paid to any of it. From there on in it was “Back to the future”, and as we will see, with Obama it was “Back to the Future” Redux.
Almost two decades ‘down the mountain’ the four discrete findings articulated by Moynihan are less arguable conclusions than they are now irrefutable reality.
It is also, in feedback loop fashion, infecting American allies such as Canada, Australia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom with the same mindset.
All of these countries have experienced “violent events”, though one hesitates to label any of them authentic terrorist attacks, however one might define the words “authentic” or “terrorist” in this day and age.
In the tried and true spirit of Operation Gladio and its attendant ‘strategy of tension’, these incidents have been used as pretexts by the respective power elites for increased secrecy, surveillance and curtailment of civil liberties, most of which take their cue from the dystopian visions found in 1984.
Or more precisely from the crypto-statist cabal in the U.S. by way of Orwell.
To be sure Horton is a long way from being the only observer of the USG’s predisposition for self-servingly blurring the distinctions between secrecy, privacy and publicity, but he is amongst the most insightful and credible. Overall, although many are doing so at their own peril, Washington’s compulsive-obsessive urge to push the envelope in such matters provides rich fodder for some brave journalists and commentators in both mainstream and alternative media circles.
Revelations of secretive machinations indeed are coming think and fast, with Common Dreams staff writer Nadia Prupis recently reporting on the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), (that wholly owned subsidiary cum franchise of the U.S. National Security Agency), spying on both British and American journalists “working for some of the largest media organisations”, effectively placing them in the same category as terrorists and sundry jihadists by “scooping up their emails”.
This analysis arrived courtesy of a Guardian newspaper investigation that examined NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden and going as far back as 2008.
After noting that The Guardian analysis of the NSA files comes following “heated debate” over government surveillance and “its risks to civil liberties”, Prupis further reports that British Prime Minister David Cameron personally,
And here in Australia earlier this year, bouncing back from a political near death experience courtesy of some dire opinion polling results, our estimable Prime Minister at the time Tony Abbott was using the putative terrorist threat to divert attention away from his own domestic political troubles, which if such a strategy worked at all, as things transpired it only served to delay the inevitable.
After noting that Mr Abbott was dogged by “unresolved questions about his leadership” and “disastrous opinion polling”, Matt McDonald and Suzanna Far-Ramirez from The Conversation observed the following:
“[Mr Abbott’s] return to the safe conservative ground of national security suggests itself as an obvious diversionary tactic. While a way of refocusing domestic attention, there is also a basis for suggesting that emphasising national security threats and responses serves the government’s political agenda more directly.”
For Mr Abbott and most Western leaders then it seems there is no end to the benefits to be gained by politicians in stoking terrorist fears and acting as human echo chambers for Washington, lending ample credence to HL Mencken‘s mischievous adage that ‘the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, (and hence clamorous to be led to safety), by menacing them with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.’
Now Mr Abbott’s ill-fated tenure as PM was marked by any number of defining characteristics, not least of which was menacing Australians with ‘an endless series of hobgoblins’, of which the “death-cult” ISIS (aka Daesh, IS etc.)—whose very provenance, raison d’être and apparent ongoing status as the U.S. national security state’s bogey-man du jour owes much to the secrecy and subterfuge of those who like to portray it as the biggest threat to global security since the last entity that was portrayed thusly—was by far the most “menacing” in Uncle Sam’s relentlessly ‘endless series of hobgoblins’.
To be fair, as the PM of another of Washington’s dutiful and plentiful vassal states, Abbott was eagerly quaffing then spewing out the same Beltway bilge that all the other ‘vassal states’ such as Canada, the U.K., France, Germany and other EU countries were regurgitating. Say what you like about the Pirates of the Potomac, but they are all suckers for a good suck-up from their minions in the imperial dominion. And don’t the minions know that!? As we might say here in Australia, “too bloody right mate!” Few political careers are harmed by doing so!
Meanwhile back in the “Homeland”, amongst many others to do so, James Bovard commented earlier this year on Obama’s “sordid” record on transparency and accountability, and was happy to let the math underpin the narrative.
After observing that there was an almost thirty-five percent increase in the amount of documents classified “secret” or “top-secret” between 2010 and 2012, he notes somewhat drolly that the amount of information so designated under the Obama administration is ‘multiplying even faster than congressional ethics scandals.’
Moreover he says, the U.S. Justice Department has launched ‘more than twice as many federal prosecutions’ for alleged violations of the Espionage Act as all previous administrations combined.
What makes Obama’s security ‘initiatives’ even harder to swallow than those of the Bush administration is his past history as a constitutional lawyer and much-touted civil liberties enthusiast, the latter attributes something that Bovard in fact underscores with no small measure of irony and dismay. Obama leveraged both of these purported USPs to great effect in his first campaign. In essence, this is anomalous as it is incongruous, very much like Obama’s war-mongering record is to his Nobel Peace Prize winning accolade.
But as any objective observer might be expected to do, Bovard is careful to ‘spread the love’. Along with citing the present administration’s spurious justifications for bombing Libya and ousting Muammar Gaddafi, and then arming the so-called Syrian “moderates” purportedly to relieve Bashar al-Assad of the burdens of power in that country, he recalls Bill Clinton‘s depiction in 1999 of the “murderous” Kosovo Liberation (sic) Army as “freedom fighters” (itself reminiscent of Ronald Reagan‘s impressively euphemistic descriptor of the (in)comparably “murderous” Nicaraguan Contras), and the Bush/Cheney administration’s own notoriously bogus rationalizations for invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein.
In doing so Bovard is scathing of all three administrations. Seemingly evincing in tandem the sentiments inherent in ‘the circle goes round and round‘ and ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’, the secretive and totally deceptive manner in which each administration justified their respective counterfeit claims he says,
“…..paved the way to foreign debacles. If Americans had had contemporaneous access to the information in government files, there would have been far more opposition to launching new military assaults. Naturally, politicians do not want that constraint on their power….. The more information the government withholds, the easier it becomes to manipulate public opinion with whatever ‘facts’ are released. By selectively disclosing only details that support the administration’s policies, government prevents citizens from fairly assessing the latest power grabs or interventions.”
Tom Englehardt, the author of Shadow Government – Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World also weighed in with some recent musings on his website on the themes herein. He notes amongst other things that,
“this vast world of information overload has been plunged into a world of secrecy in which, if it weren’t for leakers and whistleblowers, we would never have any intelligence that they didn’t want us to have”.
For Englehardt, the crypto-state system has become intrusive in ways even totalitarian states of the past couldn’t have dreamed of, as well as abusive in ways [that are] degrading “almost beyond imagination”.
The crypto-statists have he says, “collected more information about all of us than can even be grasped”. Along with being “eternally a step behind” in delivering actionable and useful information to the government on “just about any subject we can mention“, he goes on to say that irrespective of whether it “works or not, is legal or not, [or] is useful or not”, [it] doesn’t make any difference to the disparate power players in Washington because,
“…..the intelligence community is unassailable. It emerges from every imbroglio stronger, not weaker. Its leadership …. is never held accountable for any of them and is always promoted and honored….The visibly Orwellian nature of American intelligence is now widely accepted, at least in Washington, as a necessity of our age, of our need for… safety and security. [I]ts bureaucratic expansion, secret wars, global kill lists, and other activities are largely beyond challenge.”
Although possibly not in so many words, as my own Irish grandmother would have been wont to say, (Greg) it’s hard to see any good coming from any of this. To be sure, to be sure!
And when we consider the costs involved for those willing to stand up and be counted when changes such as those highlighted herein are in the offing (which we will do in a follow up piece), it is fitting the final word here should go to the estimable Mark Twain:
“In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a brave and scarce man, hated and scorned. When the cause succeeds, however, the timid join him…for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.”
© Greg Maybury, 2015.
Coming Soon (To a Website Near You, and Me):
Inside the Inner Sanctuary (Of the Secret Mind)
More of the same:
Heroes or dangerous zealots? Meet the key figures, including Edward Snowden, who’ve blown the whistle on government surveillance around the globe. This documentary–produced by German media outlet WDR–is a must watch. This program was recently aired by Four Corners, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) flagship current affairs/investigative journalism program.