Monday, October 28, 2013


If you didn't see "The Deputy Director" program last night you can find the 60 Minutes interview with former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell here

The Morell interview demonstrated how our national security state has become so entrenched in our society that a culture of militarism, rather than the spirit of democracy, is what drives our nation's security elite. Specifically, as Chalmers Johnson pointed out long ago, our nation's security institutions are now putting institutional preservation (theirs) ahead of our democratic structures. 

Worse, our nation's long-term security needs and democratic traditions are under strain and being compromised in the process. Here's why. 

Three points from former CIA Deputy Director Morell's 60 Minutes interview stand out because of what it reveals to us about our national security leaders thinking. It's not impressive ...

1. SNOWDEN: Former Deputy Director Morell is not happy with the Edward Snowden national security leaks
2. TORTURE & AMERICAN VALUES: While defending the activities of CIA operatives, Morell strangely claimed to oppose torture because it goes against our values (his discussion on our "coercive techniques" was framed in the now standard "it's not torture" meme).
3. OUR "JUST SAY NO" CONGRESS: Our biggest threat today is not al Qaeda but lawmakers in Washington who seem more concerned with political point scoring rather than rebuilding the economy. I agree with him here. But Morell's baffled by the development. I'm not (more on this below).

One thing's clear. While the former no. 2 guy at the CIA seems to have been an informed and steady hand while at the CIA, he appears to have lost sight of America's larger mission, and how the CIA and our growing national security state have contributed to the gradual erosion of America's historical place in the world. Here's the 60 Minutes clip (discussion below) ...

Here's what came to mind as I listened to Morell's comments:

It's no secret that Deputy Director Morell would be opposed to the security leaks from Edward Snowden. His industry trade was compromised. But here's what Morell misses. The Snowden leaks are the product of the CIA allowing profit-driven private contractors - instead of career national security employees - to handle both background checks and sensitive material. 

In a few words, privately vetted nationals and private "patriots" don't have the same interests and motives to do their job as people who have made life decisions to serve their country. Snowden's not the problem here. The decision to privatize (outsource) national security plus the CIA's sloppily outsourced vetting process are the issue. 

Don't blame Snowden because the CIA wanted to do national security on the cheap.


As I pointed out in 2010 (here and here), starting with the Cold War our nation has slowly become an overly militarized and highly secretive state. As Chalmers Johnson argued in The Sorrows of Empire the U.S. no longer has a foreign policy based on diplomacy with war as the ultimate threat. Today the U.S. has a military empire (p. 22) with a growing military bureaucracy - both private and public - that places a primacy on institutional preservation, growth, and self-importance. 

From this we have seen an explosion in secrecy and the over-classification of mundane matters. So much so that President Obama had to sign into law "The Reducing Over-Classification Act" (H.R. 533) to prompt government agencies to share information with one another, and to stop classifying  stuff that doesn't need to be classified. 

What the over-classification of information has done is create a cottage industry of top secret organizations and new intelligence personnel across the nation. This cult of secrecy undermines the integrity of our democracy. Our evolving cult of secrecy is so well developed that exposing the growth and absurdities behind some of those secrets - which Edward Snowden did - has now become a national security emergency.

Apart from undermining the democratic spirit of transparency and openness, there's a very compelling reason why over-classification and our growing secrecy culture is unnecessary. If some of the useless and misleading information that President Bush used in the run up to war had been de-classified experts without a political agenda could have questioned the veracity of people like "Curveball," who (wrongly) claimed that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of biological weapons and mobile plants.

This was never done, and the Bush administration ran with his allegations all the way towards the UN, and war. 

This points to perhaps the greatest absurdity that has happened to our nation since 9/11: We've become so paranoid that our efforts at intelligence gathering has grown far in excess to the actual threats that exist in our world. 

Think about this. According to the Center for Disease Control you are 110 times more likely to die from contaminated food than you are from a terrorist attack. You're also more likely to be hit by lightening or win the lottery than die at the hands of a terrorist. Heck, you just might be killed by a toddler before you are killed by a terrorist. 

Yet, we have decided to weaken the 1st and 4th amendments by building a national security infrastructure that's designed to monitor speech and violate the sanctity of our personal effects, every minute of every day. Why? To catch terrorists.

The end result, as the Washington Post revealed in "Top Secret America," is that ...

* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counter terrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the U.S.
* Nearly 1 and 1/2 times the number of people who live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
* In the D.C. metropolitan area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since 9/11. They occupy the equivalent of three Pentagons.
* Many security and intelligence agencies do the exact same work, creating redundancy and waste.
* 50,000 intelligence reports are issued each year (about 1,000 a week), which even senior officials admit cannot possibly be digested.

This national security apparatus, with all of its secrecy and paranoia, grows every day.

While former Deputy Director Morell discussed "coercive techniques" instead of "torture" the reality is - especially if we apply international law, or go by U.S. standards used in World War II and Vietnam - we tortured people. While the claim that the terrorists are bad guys is real, the fact is - as Senator John McCain put it - it's not about who they are, it's about who we are.

The real problem with our national security teams' torture mentality is the conceptual aerobatics that these guys go through to justify their torture policies. It might make sense in their minds, but it doesn't make sense when we look at America's place in the larger stretch of history (the real thinkers out there know what this means). 

But wait, the impact of our cult of secrecy and evolving militarism gets better (or is that worse?). 

In spite of the fact that we're not in a real war on terror (how do you fight an abstract concept?) - nor are in a predicament remotely as dangerous as the Founding Fathers or the Greatest Generation faced - we not only tell ourselves that we needed to torture, but that we need to build more military bases to confront our terrorist fears. We have at least 725 around the world, and perhaps over 1,000

We also tell ourselves that we need to spend even more money on defense, in spite of the fact that we spend more than the next 10 nation-states combined (of which 9 are considered allies). 

We then tell ourselves that we need to conduct drone strikes in other nations, even if civilians are killed and international law is compromised in the process. 

We even tell ourselves that we need to spy on our friends and allies, and have gotten so sloppy at it that they're finding out on a regular basis (for the record, getting caught spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is not an aberration). 

Finally, we have Deputy Director Morell's inability to understand what's happening in Washington. This is understandable. He's been focused on trying to protect our nation. But the gridlock and acrimony in Washington does have a source. 

Let's make this real simple. 

Gerrymandered districts create politically safe districts, which allow politicians to grandstand and stay in office. Throw in an unlimited amount of political money from corporate lobbyists (thank you Citizens United) and it's easy to understand why America's democracy has been turned into one big auction house. But instead of of buying used goods at bargain prices America's lobbyists are buying influence with politicians who just want to get re-elected. 

What makes this situation cancerous is that our politicos are simply echoing corporate lies about free markets when the reality is that our market wheels are greased with favorable legislation, reckless deregulation, cheap money from the Federal Reserve, and trillion dollar bailout programs from the Treasury Department and the Fed. 

With safe (gerrymandered) districts for the trouble makers in Congress it should come as no surprise that we have the GOP's 2009 promise not to cooperate with President Obama, their record (or threats of) filibusters in the Senate, their presentation of phony budgets with no numbers, the perpetual but phony debt ceiling crisis, no real jobs proposals, allowing the interests of Wall Street to run herd over Main Street, and general political grandstanding have become the norm in Washington. 

The end result of rising militarism and political gridlock in Washington? American democracy is in danger, big time. 

- Mark 

UPDATE: I overlooked this one, which should have ended up in section no. 4 (or 3) of this post. In a few words, NSA director General Keith Alexander thinks the U.S. government should "come up with a way of stopping" the release of information that the media gets from people like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. In essence, Alexander is saying dilute or get rid of 1st amendment protections, which effectively erases his pledge - or the pledge of any military agent who agrees with him - to uphold and defend the Constitution. 

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