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the sole difference between me and an extremist is that I’m not extreme

Before reading my own thoughts on Cameron’s latest “anti-terror” initiative, I very much encourage readers to follow the link to read Nafeez Ahmed’s “Open Letter to Britain’s Violent Extremist” which begins as follows:

It is with deep disappointment that I read excerpts of your speech provided by Downing Street to the press, purporting to set out a five-year strategy to tackle fundamentalist terrorism, which — whatever its intentions — is thoroughly misguided, and destined to plunge this country, as well as the Middle East, into further chaos and misery.

I am writing this open letter to request you, as a matter of urgency, to abide by your obligations as a human being, a British citizen, a Member of Parliament, and as our Prime Minister: to undertake proper due-diligence in the formulation of Britain’s foreign, counter-terrorism and security policies, based on the vast array of evidence from scientific and academic studies of foreign policy, terrorism and radicalisation, rather than the influence of far-right extremist ideology, and of narrow vested interest groups keen to profit from war and fear. 1

Click here to read the whole of Nafeez Ahmed’s informed and impassioned response to David Cameron.

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EDOs: a brief introduction

“Theresa May will also announce that the Conservative manifesto will contain pledges to introduce banning orders for extremist groups and extremism disruption orders for extremists who spread hate but do not break existing laws.” Conservative briefing note.

The home secretary’s manifesto plan to silence extremists by banning their access to the web and television is cast far wider than the Islamist “preachers of hate” of tabloid headlines. As David Cameron pointed out, the Conservatives now want to look at the “full spectrum of extremism” and not just the “hard end” of that spectrum that counter-terrorism policy has focused on up to now. [bold highlight as original]

That comes from a Guardian article published nearly a year ago after ‘Extremism Disruption Orders’ (EDOs) were first announced by Home Secretary, Theresa May, at the Conservative Party’s Birmingham conference. May had told an enthusiastic audience that they would feature as a central part of the party’s 2015 election manifesto.

The article continues:

So what would an “extremism disruption order” involve? The police will be able to apply to the high court for an order to restrict the “harmful activities” of an extremist individual. The definition of harmful is to include a risk of public disorder or even a risk of harassment, alarm or distress or the vague-sounding “threat to the functioning of democracy”. These are very low thresholds. The restrictions would include a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web, social media or in print. Taking part in public protests or speaking at any public event would also be banned.

Click here to read the full Guardian article.

Here is BBC news reporting on May’s announcement on the same day:

Under the Tories’ new proposals, groups that cannot currently be proscribed could be subject to banning orders should ministers “reasonably believe” that they intend to incite religious or racial hatred, to threaten democracy or if there is a pressing need to protect the public from harm, either from a risk of violence, public disorder, harassment or other criminal acts.

The granting of a ban, which would be subject to immediate review by the High Court, would make membership or funding of the organisation concerned a criminal offence.

The police would also be given new powers to apply to a court to impose extreme disruption orders on individuals, using the same criteria.

This could result in those targeted being stopped from taking part in public protests, from being present at all in certain public locations, from associating with named people, from using of conventional broadcast media and from “obtaining any position of authority in an institution where they would have influence over vulnerable individuals or children”.

Breach of the restrictions – which would be time limited – would be a criminal offence.

And though as the Guardian was keen to point out, “the Liberal Democrats blocked the plan’s immediate introduction on free speech grounds”, as the BBC added:

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he did not think some of the measures were sufficiently tough, and called on Mrs May to reintroduce powers to relocate terror suspects to other parts of the country.

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

Please note that I added the above section with a view to better framing the latest “anti-extremism” initiatives. The post originally opened with the quote from and link to Nafeez Ahmed’s article (as above) directly followed by my own views below.

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On Monday [July 20th], David Cameron set forth the government’s ‘five-year strategy’ to tackle what he calls the “struggle of our generation”. During a long-winded and propagandistic pep talk, he drilled the nation on our collective need to face up to the threat posed by Islamic extremism:

[Our effort “to confront and defeat this poison”] begins – it must begin – by understanding the threat we face and why we face it. What we are fighting, in Islamist extremism, is an ideology. It is an extreme doctrine.

And like any extreme doctrine, it is subversive. At its furthest end it seeks to destroy nation-states to invent its own barbaric realm. And it often backs violence to achieve this aim – mostly violence against fellow Muslims – who don’t subscribe to its sick worldview.

The real sickness, Cameron informed us throughout, is its subversive and “sick worldview”.  Although in place of “worldview” (the term he returns to six times) he might instead have substituted Weltanschauung – “worldview” in German – a word that has a dreadful history all of its own. A dreadful history that is distressingly pertinent.

For the parallel Cameron tacitly draws between Islamist extremism and Nazism is clear enough, not that Cameron was first to draw it. With the black uniforms, the love of militarism, and the longing to return to the strict social order of a golden age, not to mention such unquenchable thirst for blood; if Nazism was a religion founded upon hatred of the other, which it was (and still is), then al-Qaeda and ISIS might be regarded as its identical twin nemesis.

However, in calling for a clampdown not upon terrorists themselves, but upon on a “subversive worldview” (words repeatedly applied by Cameron and conjoined by me), Cameron is setting his sights far beyond the violent extremists of al-Qaeda and its offspring ISIS and casting the net much wider again:

But you don’t have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish.

Ideas which are hostile to basic liberal values such as democracy, freedom and sexual equality.

Ideas which actively promote discrimination, sectarianism and segregation.

Ideas – like those of the despicable far right – which privilege one identity to the detriment of the rights and freedoms of others.

And ideas also based on conspiracy: that Jews exercise malevolent power; or that Western powers, in concert with Israel, are deliberately humiliating Muslims, because they aim to destroy Islam. In this warped worldview, such conclusions are reached – that 9/11 was actually inspired by Mossad to provoke the invasion of Afghanistan; that British security services knew about 7/7, but didn’t do anything about it because they wanted to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash.

And like so many ideologies that have existed before – whether fascist or communist – many people, especially young people, are being drawn to it. We need to understand why it is proving so attractive. 2

Yet, in spite of Cameron’s claims to seek to “understand” the attraction to ISIS (limited as it is in reality – the vast majority of Muslims despise it as much as the rest of us), he presents no “understanding” whatsoever. Instead, what he does is to conflate everything he finds disagreeable beneath a single label. The Islamists, the far-right, the far-left, along with anyone who disavows the official narrative of certain pivotal terrorist events; all are “extremists”.

Following which he speaks of “confronting groups and organisations that may not advocate violence – but which do promote other parts of the extremist narrative.” Indeed, if we listen more carefully to Cameron it begins to sound like every act of violent extremism stems from… well, read for yourself:

… we should together challenge the ludicrous conspiracy theories of the extremists. The world is not conspiring against Islam; the security services aren’t behind terrorist attacks; our new Prevent duty for schools is not about criminalising or spying on Muslim children. This is paranoia in the extreme.

In fact that duty will empower parents and teachers to protect children from all forms of extremism – whether Islamist or neo-Nazi.

We should challenge together the conspiracy theories about our Muslim communities too and I know how much pain these can cause.

We must stand up to those who try to suggest that there is some kind of secret Muslim conspiracy to take over our government, or that Islam and Britain are somehow incompatible.

People who say these things are trying to undermine our shared values and make Muslims feel like they don’t belong here, and we will not let these conspiracy theorists win.

Or there is this (again from his speech):

We must demand that people also condemn the wild conspiracy theories, the anti-Semitism, and the sectarianism too. Being tough on this is entirely keeping with our values. We should challenge every part of the hateful ideology spread by neo-Nazis – so why shouldn’t we here?

And this (also from his speech):

It may begin with hearing about the so-called Jewish conspiracy and then develop into hostility to the West and fundamental liberal values, before finally becoming a cultish attachment to death. Put another way, the extremist world view is the gateway, and violence is the ultimate destination.

Do you remember when cannabis was talked about as “the gateway” to harder drugs? This was once given as the primary justification for its criminalisation. Well, here Cameron is saying that an “extremist world view is the gateway” to “violence”. So ought we therefore to infer that he intends to see the “extremist world view” criminalised too? – thoughtcrime prosecuted in order to fight the “war on terror”, just as dope smokers were jailed as we intensified our futile and reprehensible “war on drugs”.

It is little more than six months since the pen-waving spectacle of Je Suis Charlie, with Cameron and the rest of the leaders of the ‘free world’ hailing our inalienable right to have freedom of speech, and already Cameron is asking us to reconsider:

Ask yourself, how is it possible that when young teenagers leave their London homes to fight for ISIL, the debate all too often focuses on whether the security services are to blame? And how can it be that after the tragic events at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, weeks were spent discussing the limits of free speech and satire, rather than whether terrorists should be executing people full stop?

When we allow the extremists to set the terms of the debate in this way, is it any wonder that people are attracted to this ideology?

So does Cameron really believe that we need to have some kind of a debate on “whether terrorists should be executing people full stop?” No, that’s a rhetorical question – his rhetorical question. He is telling us to shut up.

To reiterate: “you don’t have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish.” That’s according to Cameron remember. So what according to our current legislation makes an extremist, an extremist?

Following the murder of Lee Rigby in May 2013, the UK government produced its own definition in a report produced by a newly formed Extremism Task Force chaired by Cameron. The report, released in December, also outlined the government’s reformulated definition of “the ideology of Islamic extremism”:

Islamist extremists deem Western intervention in Muslim-majority countries as a ‘war on Islam’, creating a narrative of ‘them’ and ‘us’. They seek to impose a global Islamic state governed by their interpretation of Shari’ah as state law, rejecting liberal values such as democracy, the rule of law and equality. Their ideology also includes the uncompromising belief that people cannot be Muslim and British, and insists that those who do not agree with them are not true Muslims. 3

[bold emphasis added]

I have highlighted the opening section not only to underscore the unremitting hypocrisy of our “war on terror”, which is hinged upon a narrative of ‘them’ and ‘us’ as declared by George W. Bush in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but also because this statement usefully redefines how combatants of today’s ever-murkier battlefield are distinguished and identified. Some factions of the Islamists denounced and bombed (like AQAP and ISIS) whilst other factions are differentiated as “moderates” (Jahbat al-Nusra perhaps the best example), not because they refrain from the massacre of unbelievers or from committing atrocities like beheadings and crucifixions, but simply because the western powers feel able to do business with them – temporarily, at least.

cartoon by Brian Gable

Returning to Cameron’s official report, and we read how extremism, more generally, has been conveniently redefined as follows (and in full):

“vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas”. 4

[bold emphasis added]

Beyond this definition the document then adds:

There is a range of extremist individuals and organisations, including Islamists, the far right and others.

Note that “…and others.” Reflect upon it.

On BBC Radio 4’s flagship news programme Today, Theresa May has also recently argued [May 13th] that the British government’s strategy to tackle extremism was to combat people who are “seeking to divide us”. When pressed she added that “the key values that underline our society are being undermined by extremists”. Once again, and in strict accordance with the government’s redefinition, May returned to the refrain that, “extremism” becomes identifiable once it challenges our “fundamental British values”. In response, veteran interviewer John Humphrys described the new definition as ‘woolly’, but in view of historical precedents a better word would surely be ‘sinister’:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02r8z20/player

Since then, and in the immediate aftermath of last week’s Chattanooga shooting, when asked by msnbc news anchor Thomas Roberts “how do we fix self-radicalised lone wolfs domestically” (a leading question if ever there was one), General Wesley Clark replied:

Well we’ve got to identify the people who are most likely to be radicalised. We’ve got to cut this off at the beginning. There are always a certain number of young people who are alienated – they don’t get a job, they lost a girlfriend, their family doesn’t feel happy here – and we can watch the signs for that, and there are members of the community who will reach out to those people and bring them back again and encourage them to look at their blessings here.

Reading between the lines, here is another chilling statement. “Cut[ting] this off at the beginning” by “identify[ing] people who are most likely to be radicalised” might have come straight out of Science Fiction thriller Minority Report, with its specialised PreCrime police units. Not that the idea of PreCrime is quite as novel as it may sound, but just the renaming of an old pseudoscience tracing back to Late Victorian Social Darwinist notions of criminal atavism.

Clark then goes on to justify the need for the introduction of more draconian measures on the grounds that we are already at war – and pay close attention to his choice of language throughout:

But I do think on a national policy level, we need to look at what self-radicalisation means, because we are at war with this group of terrorists; they do have an ideology. In World War Two if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp. They were prisoners of war.

“Self-radicalisation” means what precisely? That this person – this “lone wolf” – became “radicalised” because they read a few pamphlets and (most importantly) visited some internet sites. This formed their extremist ideology, complete. Somehow they were alienated and indoctrinated in a perfectly isolated bubble. Society had little to no influence, and therefore, takes little to no blame.

Additionally, the “lone wolf” is particularly hard to find and to track. They lie low and strike when you least expect it. It follows therefore that we must heighten surveillance. Indeed, what better case for mass surveillance could anyone make? Although, given how the cause of their radicalisation was contact with an extreme ideology then we must also restrict access to sources of those ideologies. So what better justification could there be for placing restrictions on the internet, and on freedom of speech more generally? But then perhaps I am an extremist for distrusting the motives of the powers-that-be…?

Of course, this war Clark speaks of is the very same “war on terror” that Bush Jnr declared as the rubble of the Twin Towers still lay smouldering. Ostensibly, the goal had been to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice, although the ensuing war was destined instead to bring political instability to almost the entire Middle East region as well as North Africa, as the flames were steadily fanned such that this first war of the Twenty-First Century might go on forever and ever.

But then, this spread of wars across the Middle East and beyond had been the true neo-con intention from the outset, as Wesley Clark famously told us; leaking to the world that notorious hit list of ‘seven countries in five years’. Back then, Clark was eager to distance himself from The Pentagon’s loonier inner circle, and so he said that he was shocked by what he’d heard. Evidently Clark is now back with programme, and keen to push ahead all guns blazing:

So, if these people are radicalised, and they don’t support the United States, and they’re disloyal to the United States, as a matter of principle, fine that’s their right – it’s our right and our obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict. And I think we’re going to have to increasingly get tough on this. Not only in the United States but our allied nations like Britain and German and France are going to have to look at their domestic law procedures.

[bold emphasis added]

For as the new hundred years’ war (on terror) serves as the excuse for neo-imperialist adventuring in perpetuity, the threat posed by those “self-radicalised lone wolf domestic terrorists” provides rationale for the steady erosion of our rights, which is why presumably, as Cameron announced his new ‘five-year strategy’ to deal with the “struggle of our generation”, he reminded us again of the official root cause of this never-ending battle:

Some argue it’s because of historic injustices and recent wars, or because of poverty and hardship. This argument, what I call the grievance justification, must be challenged.

So when people say “it’s because of the involvement in the Iraq War that people are attacking the West”, we should remind them: 9/11 – the biggest loss of life of British citizens in a terrorist attack – happened before the Iraq War. 5

As with Nazism, the poisonous doctrine of Islamism has only been able to grow in strength and thrive because of perceived injustices, both real and imagined. As with Nazism (and fascism more broadly), support for such extremist ideologies bursts forth not from nowhere and for no reason, but out of political vacuums created by regional instability. To state the obvious, says Cameron, is to offer “grievance justification”.

Instead, the important point is to be afraid, be very afraid… of the terrorists. And to forget all about Saddam’s yellowcake and those missing WMDs in Iraq (the falsification of which involved conspiracies at the highest levels) because the attacks of September 11th permit every evil inflicted by the western powers – and always will. So says every neo-con and so parrots David Cameron.

Meanwhile, if you are in any doubt about who the ‘domestic extremists’ really are – since both David Cameron and Theresa May are unable to provide clear definitions, whereas Wesley Clark says only that those who “don’t support the United States” need to be “segregate[d]… from the normal community for the duration of the conflict”– then I refer you to a presentation given by our City of London police:

The presentation, which was obtained by the Guardian following a Freedom of Information request, is part of an expanding City of London police initiative dubbed Project Fawn.

It is aimed at preparing nursery and school staff for the possibility that London could be hit by attacks such as on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, Mumbai and the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis, which it names. However, it also refers to domestic extremism, student protests and climate issues.

The presentation – which gives advice on dealing with bomb threats, screening mail and hostile reconnaissance – covers the threat posed and methodologies used by Isis, al-Qaida, so-called lone actors and dissident Irish Republicans.

Under the heading of domestic extremism, it also refers to “xrw” and “xlw” (apparent acronyms for extreme left and right wing), as well as single issue groups, animal rights and politics. 6

Click here to read the full report in last weekend’s [July 19th] Guardian.

As we enter a phase of worsening hardships due to the never-ending economic broadside called “austerity” piling up our agonies at home whilst unremitting wars unleash horrors abroad, the officially sanctioned “clash of civilisations” narrative serves both as an excuse for the latter and a wonderful distraction from the former. Furthermore, whilst the violence inflicted by our own western forces is routinely legitimised with euphemisms such as ‘surgical’ and ‘humanitarian’, by stripping ‘terror’ out of ‘terrorism’ the violence of the other has been decontextualised, and made to appear as if it erupts volcanically without real justification or good cause. But Cameron now goes further saying, in effect, how dare our opponents hold grievances over “historic injustices and recent wars, or because of poverty and hardship” when we are their liberators! And though it is sheer madness to try to destroy any ideology whatsoever by simply blasting it with bombs, we keep on bombing because as Wesley Clark reminds us “we are at war”.

Meanwhile, those who dare to oppose the official line too vehemently – irrespective of religious, political or other affiliations – might be lumped together under this loose categorisation of “domestic extremist”. As I say, according to the definitions given, as one who opposes the official line in so many ways, I am certainly an extremist – a proud one. Since you are reading this, you very possibly qualify as an extremist too.

I am extremist whenever I point to how the Islamist cause has been furthered not only as a consequence of “blowback”, but due to the backing of our Gulf State allies. When I point out how Nato’s role in the bombing of Libya prepared the way for the Islamist factions to get a foothold in North Africa. If I add that Turkey has further enabled Islamist fighters free access across its porous border into Syria. Or that by training “the rebels” who fight in Syria, we deliberately enabled the Islamist fighters to gain an advantage over the forces of the Syrian army?

For now at least, Cameron wishes to lay the blame for all of the hatred and the violence at the door of the “conspiracy theorists” – and in his speech he returned to this theme no less than eight times. It is a theme he borrowed directly from neo-con lawyer Cass Sunstein, the husband of US Ambassador to the United Nations and pre-eminent warmonger, Samantha Power.

Sunstein proposed cognitive infiltration as the best method for undermining such subversive beliefs and opinions, whereas Cameron, May and Wesley Clark are intending now to criminalise dissident voices altogether. If they succeed, then soon we will all become “domestic extremists” – all of us who disagree, that is. Those of us who refuse to adopt the authorised Weltanschauung as our own. And the more loudly we speak out against the sanctioned “worldview”, the more extremist we shall be!

A full transcript of Cameron’s speech was reprinted by the Independent.

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Update:

If suggested parallels with the PreCrime units in the movie Minority Report sound far-fetched then please reflect upon this story entitled “London child aged THREE in terror alert of radicalisation” published by the London Evening Standard on July 27th [the day after I posted]:

A three-year-old child is among hundreds of young Londoners who have been identified as potential future extremists or at risk of radicalisation.

The same article continues:

Although most counter-extremism schemes focus on older children and adults, primary or nursery age youngsters can also be referred under the Prevent scheme because of concerns about the conduct of their families. Police have used the family courts 30 times to bring care proceedings to protect young children. Measures include removing the children’s passports.

Click here to read more about the ‘Prevent’ scheme.

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1 From “An Open Letter to Britain’s Leading Violent Extremist: David Cameron” written by Nafez Ahmed, published in INSURGE intelligence on July 20, 2015. https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/an-open-letter-to-britain-s-leading-violent-extremist-david-cameron-abb568861784

2 Taken from Cameron’s “extremism speech” delivered at Ninestiles School, Birmingham on July 20, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-extremism-speech-read-the-transcript-in-full-10401948.html

3 From Section 1.3 of the HM Government report “Tackling extremism in the UK: Report from the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism” published December 2013. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/263181/ETF_FINAL.pdf

4 From Section 1.4 of the HM Government report “Tackling extremism in the UK: Report from the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism” published December 2013. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/263181/ETF_FINAL.pdf

5 Taken from Cameron’s “extremism speech” delivered at Ninestiles School, Birmingham on July 20, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-extremism-speech-read-the-transcript-in-full-10401948.html

6 From an article entitled “City of London police put Occupy London on counter-terrorism presentation with al-Qaida” written by Ben Quinn, published on July 19, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/19/occupy-london-counter-terrorism-presentation-al-qaida

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, police state, USA

September 11th remembered

On November 10th 2001, George W. Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly with these words:

“We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire and ash, the last phone calls, the funerals of the children.”

And true to his word, Bush, along with Cheney and the rest of the gang, did indeed remember the victims of 9/11, and especially so, whenever they needed cover for their imperialist adventures, or as pretext to undermine the American constitution, and, perhaps most deplorably of all, when using the horror of that day to legitimise imprisonment without trial and the use of torture. In short, they never shirked from reminding us of the terrible suffering of the victims of 9/11 as they inflamed new wars, bringing terror to many more millions of innocent people.

Yet, we should also remember how Bush, and the White House administration as a whole, made no great efforts to find out what really happened on September 11th. Indeed, how they first delayed, and then hampered at every turn, an investigation that they were eventually forced to conduct. So, overarching all the other questions that still surround the events of September 11th, there is one that echoes loudest: cui bono? Who actually benefited?

Was it Osama Bin Laden, already suffering from kidney failure (or so we were told) and now forced to scuttle around from cave to cave, presumably with his dialysis machine in tow, as bunker-busting bombs and “daisy-cutters” flattened all around him? Perhaps – Or how about the administration in Washington, suddenly positioned and enabled to embark on an endless war against a mysterious “axis of evil”.

The Kean-Hamilton 9/11 commission report is revealing but not in the way supposed. It is a surprising read. For instance, of the four-hundred plus pages, you discover that a mere fifty address the main events of the day itself. These few pages cover the total evidence provided by the testimony of all the first responders and other survivors. All condensed to fill just a single chapter: “Heroism and Horror”. Whilst, in the next chapter, something more startling is revealed.

Headed “Wartime”, the discussion has already moved on. Having no direct bearing on the events of the day of September 11th – and thus more in keeping with the report in general – the emphasis here is shifted to the urgency of an effective response. The concluding section to the chapter, which is subtitled: “‘Phase two’ and the question of Iraq”, begins as follows (and this is a direct quote):

President Bush had wondered immediately after the attack whether Saddam Hussain’s regime might have had a hand in it. Iraq had been an enemy of the United States for 11 years, and was the only place in the world where the United States was engaged in on-going combat operations. … He told us he recalled Iraqi support for Palestinian suicide terrorists as well. Speculating about other possible states that could be involved, the President told us he also thought about Iran. [Richard] Clarke has written that on the evening of September 12, President Bush told him and some of his staff to explore possible Iraqi links to 9/11. “See if Saddam did this,” Clarke recalls the President telling them. “See if he’s linked in anyway.”1

So is this really how America of the twenty-first century constructs its foreign policy? Founding it on the hunches and suppositions of its great leader.

Meanwhile, we learn that September 11th was the ideal cover for governments to “bury bad news” as someone close to Tony Blair once carelessly put it. So what ought we to make of Donald Rumsfeld’s announcement to The Pentagon on September 10th of the disappearance of some 2.3 Trillion Dollars from US Defense expenditure accounts?2

Now obviously, 2.3 Trillion is one hell of a lot of money by anyone’s standards, but this was actually only one half of the bad news that Rumsfeld was delivering that day. He also had another axe to grind:

Perhaps this adversary sounds like the former Soviet Union, but that enemy is gone: our foes are more subtle and implacable today. You may think I’m describing one of the last decrepit dictators of the world. But their day, too, is almost past, and they cannot match the strength and size of this adversary.

The adversary’s closer to home. It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy. Not the people, but the processes. Not the civilians, but the systems. Not the men and women in uniform, but the uniformity of thought and action that we too often impose on them.

In this building, despite this era of scarce resources taxed by mounting threats, money disappears into duplicative duties and bloated bureaucracy—not because of greed, but gridlock. Innovation is stifled—not by ill intent but by institutional inertia.

Just as we must transform America’s military capability to meet changing threats, we must transform the way the Department works and what it works on. We must build a Department where each of the dedicated people here can apply their immense talents to defend America, where they have the resources, information and freedom to perform.

Our challenge is to transform not just the way we deter and defend, but the way we conduct our daily business. Let’s make no mistake: The modernization of the Department of Defense is a matter of some urgency. In fact, it could be said that it’s a matter of life and death, ultimately, every American’s.”3

This “modernization of the Department of Defense” Rumsfeld was calling for actually meant nothing less than the beginnings of privatisation of the US military. Here was news that few within the military could be expected to take lying down, but given the events soon to follow, could there have been any better occasion to bury the awful news and to stifle internal dissent?

Click here to read a transcript of Rumsfeld’s address to The Pentagon.


Chasing after justice, a few of the victims (including first responders, many of whom have since died, or are dying, of respiratory illnesses caused by inhaling toxic dust that the government was also fully aware of) got to have an inquiry. Right from the start they were deeply unhappy with how it had been delayed, was underfunded, and lacked independence. Afterwards, when they’d read the commission report, they felt betrayed for a second time. In response, they put together a documentary film called “9/11: Press for Truth”.4

Based in part around Paul Thompson’s carefully researched book ‘The Terror Timeline’, the film is compelling viewing and should be aired worldwide:

All the delays, the distortions, the changes in timelines, the endless deceptions that frustrated Kean and Hamilton (at least according to their own hand-washing account “Without Precedent”5) also troubled others on the 9/11 Commission.

The following overview was put together by Daniel Taylor (with linked references throughout):

Senator Max Cleland, who resigned from the 9/11 Commission after calling it a “national scandal”, stated in a 2003 PBS interview,

“I’m saying that’s deliberate. I am saying that the delay in relating this information to the American public out of a hearing… series of hearings, that several members of Congress knew eight or ten months ago, including Bob Graham and others, that was deliberately slow walked… the 9/11 Commission was deliberately slow walked, because the Administration’s policy was, and its priority was, we’re gonna take Saddam Hussein out.”

Cleland, speaking with Democracy Now, said,

“One of these days we will have to get the full story because the 9-11 issue is so important to America. But this White House wants to cover it up”.

In 2006 the Washington Post reported that several members of the 9/11 Commission suspected deception on part of the Pentagon. As reported,

“Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon’s initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public rather than a reflection of the fog of events on that day, according to sources involved in the debate.”

9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey also has unanswered questions. As reported by Salon, he believes that there are legitimate reasons to believe an alternative version to the official story.

“There are ample reasons to suspect that there may be some alternative to what we outlined in our version,” Kerrey said. The commission had limited time and limited resources to pursue its investigation, and its access to key documents and witnesses was fettered by the administration.

Commissioner Tim Roemer, speaking to CNN, stated that Commission members were considering a criminal probe of false statements. As quoted,

“We were extremely frustrated with the false statements we were getting,” Roemer told CNN. “We were not sure of the intent, whether it was to deceive the commission or merely part of the fumbling bureaucracy.”

Click here to read the original article posted on September 11th 2009.

But there is another point here, and within the bigger scheme it is the more important one. Just like the commission itself, those who work within the media have a responsibility. It is their duty to demand the truth, even if only to apportion blame. Of course this is precisely what inquiries are supposed to do, but if, as is so often the case, the inquiry can’t deliver, then we rely upon journalists to step up to the mark. But they did not. During the four hundred and forty days when the administration dragged its heels before reluctantly opening its inquiry, the media kept their silence. And in decade since they have maintained this “impartial” stance, which really means defending the official version of events against all dissenting opinion.

Colonel Robert Bowman, a physicist who headed the “Star Wars” project, and also a former combat pilot who flew over a hundred missions during the Vietnam War, has put it this way:

“What are they trying to hide? Are they trying to hide guilt or incompetence? We don’t know, but we should know. Either way the American people deserve to know.”

Bob Bowman, ran for Congress as a Democrat candidate in 2006, determinedly trying to raise support for a full and totally independent re-investigation. He has frequently described the official theory of 9/11 as “a bunch of hogwash”, summing up the case against the Bush administration with these words:

“The very kindest that we can say is that they were aware of the impending attacks and let them happen. Now some people will say that’s much too kind. However, even that is high treason and conspiracy to commit murder.”

A decade has passed, Bush has gone, and nothing has changed. The deeply flawed version of events published by the 9/11 commission remains officially unchallenged. Meantime, the mainstream media, which remains just as eager as ever to reinforce the fears lurking at the back of our collective memories, has next to nothing to say when it comes to questions of justice. Even the barring of first responders and other survivors from attending the tenth anniversary memorial ceremony at Ground Zero barely makes the news:

But the campaign for justice led by the families and first responders goes on. Here, for instance, are two headline stories from yesterday’s Democracy Now! :

Former Senator Calls on Obama to Reopen 9/11 Investigation with Focus on Saudi Family

Former Florida senator, Bob Graham, is calling on President Obama to reopen the investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks after new information has emerged about the possible role of prominent Saudis in the 9/11 attack. According to recent news reports, a wealthy young Saudi couple fled their home in a gated community in Sarasota, Florida, just a week or so before 9/11, leaving behind three cars and nearly all of their possessions. The FBI was tipped off about the couple but never passed the information on to the Sept. 11 Commission, even though phone records showed the couple had ties to Mohamed Atta and at least 10 other al-Qaeda suspects. Former Senator Bob Graham described the news as “the most important thing about 9/11 to surface in the last seven or eight years.” Graham said, “The key umbrella question is: What was the full extent of Saudi involvement prior to 9/11 and why did the U.S. administration cover this up?’’

Former FBI Agent Accuses CIA of Withholding Intelligence Before 9/11

A former FBI agent has accused the CIA of deliberately withholding photographs and information about two al-Qaeda operatives living in the United States before the Sept. 11 attacks. The agent, Ali Soufan, writes in a new book that the CIA rejected repeated FBI requests for information before 9/11 about possible al-Qaeda operatives. Then, hours after the World Trade Center was attacked, Soufan claims a CIA official in Yemen finally turned over the material that the FBI had requested months earlier. The CIA’s files included photographs of two of the hijackers who had been living in California. The CIA reportedly became aware of one of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi, a few days after he attended a secret planning meeting of al-Qaeda in Malaysia in January 2000.

Charlie Skelton also published an excellent article on the Guardian news blog, reporting on a symposium of critical thinkers that was also held in New York on the day of the tenth anniversary:

What I heard, from speaker after speaker, was a heartfelt desire to turn away from the path of destruction, militarism and lies that America has been set upon after 9/11. Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst, mourned for Iraq: “One million dead, 4m displaced, and that’s a victory?” […]

He drew attention to an extraordinary story, barely touched by the mainstream press, that Richard Clarke, who was the White House counter-terrorism czar at the time of the attacks, has recently accused the CIA of deliberately suppressing information before 9/11, information that might have prevented the attacks. Clarke claimed: “There was a high-level decision in the CIA ordering people not to share information.” And who made this decision? “I would think it would have been made by the director”.

So that would be George Tenet. Director of the CIA from 1997-2004, now a managing director of an investment bank. The former CIA man, McGovern, ends his speech by saying: “Of all the people who should be put in prison, he’d be top of my list.”6

Another speaker at the conference was Wayne Madsen:

History, documentation, facts. A respect for life, and a respect for truth. This is what I heard, over and over again, at this remarkable conference. Wayne Madsen – a former naval officer and NSA operative – spoke of the atmosphere of “hype and fear” that still grips America, 10 years after 9/11. A fear that’s pumped into us, relentlessly, through our flatscreen HD Orwellian “telescreens”.

Madsen called for the release of the commission findings that Ludkowski told me about last night: “Let’s get those documents out of the National Archives!” But he noted that the man whose job it is to decide what gets released, the administrator of the White House office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, is one Cass Sunstein. The same Cass Sunstein that in 2008 urged the government to “cognitively infiltrate” alternative groups like the 9/11 Truth Movement. So releasing those documents probably isn’t top of his to-do list.

Skelton summed up as follows:

We have to do something. Even if that something is simply to Google ‘Cass Sunstein’ and start from there. Begin your own cognitive infiltration. Google ‘Vigilant Guardian’ or ‘Able Danger’. Crosscheck ‘Abdel Hakim Belhadj’ and ‘Al-Qaida’. Begin digging. Begin thinking. And stop believing.

Click here to read his full article.

1 Extract from Kean-Hamilton 9/11 commission report, p.334, Section 10.3 entitled “Phase two” and the question of Iraq.

2 “On Sept. 10, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared war. Not on foreign terrorists, “the adversary’s closer to home. It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy,” he said. He said money wasted by the military poses a serious threat. “In fact, it could be said it’s a matter of life and death,” he said. Rumsfeld promised change but the next day – Sept. 11– the world changed and in the rush to fund the war on terrorism, the war on waste seems to have been forgotten.

“According to some estimates we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions,” Rumsfeld admitted. $2.3 trillion — that’s $8,000 for every man, woman and child in America.”

extract from “The War On Waste: Defense Department Cannot Account For 25% Of Funds — $2.3 Trillion” CBS News, Los Angeles, Jan. 29, 2002.

3 Extract from “DoD Acuquistion and Logistics Excellence Week Kickoff – Bureaucracy to Battlefield: Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, The Pentagon, Monday, September 10, 2001”. http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=430

4 “Like Paul Thompson [author of The Complete 9/11 Timeline], twenty-something filmmakers Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy had been touched by September 11th but never thought much further about it. In the spring of 2003, during their last semester of film school at Columbia College in Chicago, a friend mentioned The Complete 9/11 Timeline in passing. That evening, Duffy and Nowosielski decided to take a look. They found themselves unable to stop reading, scrolling through the web site until being interrupted by sunrise. Though the filmmakers had never had any interest in the genre of documentary, as the months passed, they grew to believe that this was a story the American public needed to hear. By the 2nd anniversary of September 11th, they were seeking the funding for what would eventually become 9/11: Press for Truth.” taken from official website at http://www.911pressfortruth.com/#

5 “Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon’s initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public rather than a reflection of the fog of events on that day, according to sources involved in the debate.

“Suspicion of wrongdoing ran so deep that the 10-member commission, in a secret meeting at the end of its tenure in summer 2004, debated referring the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation, according to several commission sources. Staff members and some commissioners thought that e-mails and other evidence provided enough probable cause to believe that military and aviation officials violated the law by making false statements to Congress and to the commission, hoping to hide the bungled response to the hijackings, these sources said.

“In the end, the panel agreed to a compromise, turning over the allegations to the inspectors general for the Defense and Transportation departments, who can make criminal referrals if they believe they are warranted, officials said.

“‘We to this day don’t know why NORAD [the North American Aerospace Command] told us what they told us,” said Thomas H. Kean, the former New Jersey Republican governor who led the commission. “It was just so far from the truth. . . . It’s one of those loose ends that never got tied.’”

Extract from an article entitled, “9/11 Panel Suspected Deception by Pentagon: Allegations Brought to Inspectors General”, written by Dan Eggen, Washington Post Staff Writer, published on Wednesday, August 2, 2006; A03. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/01/AR2006080101300.html?sub=new

6 From an article entitled “How the world changed after 9/11” written by Charlie Skelton and published on the Guardian news blog on September 12, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/sep/12/9-11-symposium-charlie-skelton

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12 steps to tyranny — the state of America under Obama

In April 2007, Naomi Wolf published an article in the Guardian entitled: “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps”.1

Her article began:

If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways.

But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy – but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.

Click here to read Naomi Wolf’s full article

Of course, we no longer have the spectre of a Bush administration, and barely a year had elapsed after the publication of Naomi Wolf’s wake-up call, before the election of Barack Hussein Obama meant we should worry no longer.

Obama, with his offers of “change we can believe in”, and mantra of “hope” and “progress”. Surely, he would undo the damage of the Bush years. Surely those 10 steps that Wolf outlined would begin to be retraced. However, with the tenth anniversary of the events of 9/11 fast approaching, has anything really changed?

Let me begin from Wolf’s own analytical breakdown of the Bush Years, applying her same criteria to Obama’s term in office, point by point, before considering what, if any, new threats we may now be facing.

1 Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a “war footing”; we were in a “global war” against a “global caliphate” intending to “wipe out civilisation”.

We still live in a world deformed by the events of 9/11. John Ashcroft’s so-called Patriot Act still stands, and on February 27th 2010, Obama signed a one-year extension of the act.

The three sections of the Patriot Act that Obama agreed to extend included:

  • Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.
  • Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, which is a non-US citizen engaged in terrorism who many not be part of a recognized terrorist group.
  • Allow court approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations2

Then, on May 26th, 2011, just minutes before another deadline, Obama approved a further four-year extension of the Patriot Act powers, maintaining provisions for roving wiretaps, searches of business records and conducting surveillance of “lone wolves”.3

Where Bush played up the threat from Al Qaeda, according to Obama, the bigger threat is now from “lone wolves”. So whereas the Bush administration justified civil rights infringements on the grounds that it needed to protect America from Al Qaeda, Obama is saying that America’s most wanted are no longer external enemies, but those with altogether more domestic grievances, and with a very different agenda than Holy Jihad. In making this claim he has widened the net, and set the stage for even tighter restrictions on the civil liberties.
2 Create a gulag

Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal “outer space”) – where torture takes place.

At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, “enemies of the people” or “criminals”. Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders – opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists – are arrested and sent there as well.

In spite of Obama’s election pledge, Guantánamo remains open. But Guantánamo is, in any case, just one of many secret (or at least out-of-sight) US detention centres still operating around the world. There is, thankfully, less talk of the need for torture. Torture is almost a dirty word again. The Obama administration prefers to talk of “enhanced interrogation” and “debriefing”. But does anyone seriously believe that torture (by whatever name it chooses to call itself) is no longer sanctioned at Guantánamo and in those other darker corners.

Undoubtedly, the most high-profile case of the Obama years involves the detention of alleged wikileaks source Bradley Manning, who has been held for over a year in the Quantico marine base in Virginia awaiting court-martial in what have been described as “degrading and inhumane conditions”:

Under the terms of his detention, he is kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, checked every five minutes under a so-called “prevention of injury order” and stripped naked at night apart from a smock.4

However, and as Mehdi Hasan writing for the Guardian in April of this year points out, the case of Bradley Manning represents only the tip of the iceberg:

[But] it wasn’t a Republican Congress that forced [Obama], for instance, to double the size of the Bagram facility – where human rights groups have documented torture and deaths – and deny prisoners the right to challenge their detention. He did that on his own. Bagram is Obama’s Guantánamo.5

More recently, Jeremy Scahill has also shone light on CIA operations at secret sites in Somalia:

Meanwhile, Obama has consistently refused to allow the prosecution of those who openly called for and approved the use of torture, and has thus failed to draw a necessary line under the crimes of the previous administration.6

3 Develop a thug caste

When leaders who seek what I call a “fascist shift” want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.

The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America’s security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad.

It’s hard to get precise numbers here due to the covert nature of many US operations, but it seems that the Obama administration has actually increased the use of “military contractors”. For instance, by June 2009, although the number of military contractors in Iraq was reduced, in Afghanistan, it rose to almost 74,000, far outnumbering the roughly 58,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground at that point.7 Under Obama, the use of mercenaries has also spilled over into neighbouring Pakistan.8 In March 2011, there were more contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq than “uniformed personnel”.9

4 Set up an internal surveillance system

In Mussolini’s Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China – in every closed society – secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.

In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens’ phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.

In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about “national security”; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.

So that was Naomi Wolf in September 2007, and here is Charlie Savage reporting for The New York Times in June 2011:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.

The F.B.I. soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents.

The article continues:

Some of the most notable changes apply to the lowest category of investigations, called an “assessment.” The category, created in December 2008, allows agents to look into people and organizations “proactively” and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity.10

More generally, as National Journal correspondent, Shane Harris, explained to Democracy Now! in February 2010, spying on US citizens has actually become easier under the Obama administration’s national security strategy:

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.
5 Harass citizens’ groups

The fifth thing you do is related to step four – you infiltrate and harass citizens’ groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.

Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 “suspicious incidents”.

The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track “potential terrorist threats” as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as “terrorism”. So the definition of “terrorist” slowly expands to include the opposition.

And again, here is Charlie Savage from the same article of June 2011:

The new manual will also remove a limitation on the use of surveillance squads, which are trained to surreptitiously follow targets. Under current rules, the squads can be used only once during an assessment, but the new rules will allow agents to use them repeatedly. Ms. Caproni said restrictions on the duration of physical surveillance would still apply, and argued that because of limited resources, supervisors would use the squads only rarely during such a low-level investigation.

The revisions also clarify what constitutes “undisclosed participation” in an organization by an F.B.I. agent or informant, which is subject to special rules — most of which have not been made public. The new manual says an agent or an informant may surreptitiously attend up to five meetings of a group before those rules would apply — unless the goal is to join the group, in which case the rules apply immediately.

Click here to read the full article.

6 Engage in arbitrary detention and release

This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a “list” of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.

In 2004, America’s Transportation Security Administration [TSA] confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela’s government – after Venezuela’s president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens. […]

It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can’t get off.

About a year after Obama took office, in January 2010, the “watch” and “no-fly” lists were expanded to “improve our watchlisting system as well as our ability to thwart future attempts to carry out terrorist attacks”.11

There are videos all over youtube which show how searches conducted by TSA contractors are in direct violation of the fourth amendment. Even children are now subjected to routine harassment. Here, for example, a distraught mother watches as her six-year-old girl is searched, presumably for explosives, by TSA ‘officers’:

7 Target key individuals

Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don’t toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile’s Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.

Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not “coordinate”, in Goebbels’ term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically “coordinate” early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.

Perhaps the most high-profile case since Obama took office has been attempts to prosecute National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake. According to The New Yorker, the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act of 1917 to press criminal charges in a total of five alleged instances of national security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous administrations combined.12

Democracy Now! spoke to former Justice Department whistleblower, Jesselyn Radack, about the case of Thomas Drake in May 2011:

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.

In June 2011, on the eve of the trial, the whole case against Thomas Drake was dropped:

Days before his trial was set to begin, former National Security Agency manager and accused leaker Thomas A. Drake accepted a plea deal from the government Thursday that drops the charges in his indictment, absolves him of mishandling classified information and calls for no prison time.

In exchange, Drake, who was facing 35 years in prison if convicted of violating the Espionage Act, will plead guilty to a misdemeanor of exceeding authorized use of a computer. He will pay no fine, and the maximum probation time he can serve will be capped at one year.13

8 Control the press

Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. […]
You won’t have a shutdown of news in modern America – it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth.

In a fascist system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.

“Who cares what the media says about anything? They are bought and paid for a thousand times over. They couldn’t tell the truth if they could find it.” So said Gore Vidal in October 2006.14

Five years on, and the mainstream media is no less bridled; the same small corporate cartel, that is bent on privileging the special interests of a few powerful owners and sponsors, maintains its dominance. And although, in the meantime, the challenge from independent voices has been steadily on the rise via the internet, it is in precisely these areas of the “new media” where controls are now being brought in.

But applying restrictions requires justification, and so these latest attacks against freedom of speech are couched as a necessary response to what the government deems, and thus what the public is encouraged to believe, to be a threat. The following extract is taken directly from the wikipedia entry on Cass Sunstein, who, in September 2009, was appointed as Obama’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (the original footnotes to references are preserved)15:

[Cass] Sunstein co-authored a 2008 paper with Adrian Vermeule, titled “Conspiracy Theories,” dealing with the risks and possible government responses to false conspiracy theories resulting from “cascades” of faulty information within groups that may ultimately lead to violence. In this article they wrote, “The existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be.” They go on to propose that, “the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”,[22] where they suggest, among other tactics, “Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.”[22] They refer, several times, to groups that promote the view that the US Government was responsible or complicit in the September 11 attacks as “extremist groups.”

Sunstein and Vermeule also analyze the practice of recruiting “nongovernmental officials”; they suggest that “government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes,” further warning that “too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed.”[22] Sunstein and Vermeule argue that the practice of enlisting non-government officials, “might ensure that credible independent experts offer the rebuttal, rather than government officials themselves. There is a tradeoff between credibility and control, however. The price of credibility is that government cannot be seen to control the independent experts.” This position has been criticized by some commentators,[23][24] who argue that it would violate prohibitions on government propaganda aimed at domestic citizens.[25] Sunstein and Vermeule’s proposed infiltrations have also been met by sharply critical scholarly critiques.[26][27]

So which is the greater threat, a few people with alternative views and accounts, or the kinds of subversion of (or even outright clampdown on) free speech proposed, and now being put into effect by Cass Sunstein?

Simply being out of step with the official line is now enough to get you categorised as an “extremist”, and so a distinction that was once reserved for those who threatened the use of violent overthrow, is now directed against anyone who merely disagrees.

9 Dissent equals treason

Cast dissent as “treason” and criticism as “espionage’. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of “spy” and “traitor”.

wrote Wolf back in 2007, and as we have seen the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act of 1917 on more occasions than any other administration.

There is also the continuation of the “Threat Fusion Centers” created under Bush, which been found guilty of targeting, amongst other groups, anti-war activists:

In late February[2009], the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized a leaked intelligence bulletin from the North Central Texas Fusion System asking law enforcement officers to report on the activities of Islamic and anti-war lobbying groups, specifically the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the International Action Center (IAC). CAIR is a national Muslim advocacy group, while IAC is an American activist organization that opposes all U.S. military intervention overseas.16

Wolf’s analysis continues:

And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year – when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 – the president has the power to call any US citizen an “enemy combatant”. He has the power to define what “enemy combatant” means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define “enemy combatant” any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.

Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin’s gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo’s, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)

We US citizens will get a trial eventually – for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. “Enemy combatant” is a status offence – it is not even something you have to have done.

In 2009, the Military Commissions Act was amended to “remove some of its worst violations of due process”, but, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “the legislation still falls far short of the requirements imposed by the Constitution and Geneva Conventions.”17:

[The Military Commissions Act of 2009 ] continues to apply the military commissions to a much broader group of individuals than should be tried before them under the United States’ legal obligations, it does not completely bar all coerced testimony as required by the Constitution and does not even prohibit military commission trials of children.

Click here to read the full ACLU press release.

After legal challenges and pressure from federal judges, in March 2009, the Obama administration “jettisoned the Bush-era term ‘enemy combatant’ but maintained a broad right to detain those who provide ‘substantial’ assistance to al-Qaeda and its associates around the globe.” A report from the Washington Post continues:

Many human rights groups expressed dismay yesterday that the administration had not made a more radical change in tactics and policies.

Tom Parker, Amnesty International advocacy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights, said, “It’s symbolically significant that he’s dropped the term ‘enemy combatant,’ but the power to detain individuals within the ‘indefinite detention without charge’ paradigm remains substantially intact.”

The legal filing is the latest signal that Obama’s team is not radically departing from many of the terrorism-related legal policies of the previous administration.18

Click here to read the full article.
10 Suspend the rule of law

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency – which the president now has enhanced powers to declare – he can send Michigan’s militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state’s governor and its citizens. […]

Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act – which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch’s soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias’ power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.

Section 1076, which allowed the President to declare a public emergency and station the military anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, was repealed in 2008. But then, on January 11th 2010 “in order to strengthen the partnership between federal and state governments in protecting the nation against all manner of threats, including terrorism and natural disasters,” President Obama signed an Executive Order, which established a body of ten state governors directly appointed by Obama to work to help advance the “synchronization and integration of State and Federal military activities in the United States” (see item (d) from section 2).

So does this open the door again for US troops to be brought in to control civil unrest in the aftermath of a national emergency? Well, the US Patriot Act is still in operation, which means that the US remains in a state of emergency.

*

Obama then has not substantially moved away from the policies he inherited from Bush. Nearly everything that Bush & co put into place following the 9/11 attacks remains in place, and so if Wolf is right, then America is just as close to tyranny as it was before his election. But actually there are reasons to belief that the situation is even worse, and that brings me to steps 11 and 12.

11 Collapse of the economy

Wolf wrote her article in April 2007. But it was only later, and in the wake of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, when the seriousness of the current banking crisis first became apparent to most people. The response of the Bush administration was the shameless and underhand Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) which was signed into law on October 3rd 2008.19 But we should also remember that the whole TARP, which came in two stages, involved a total banker bailout of $700 billion, and the second half of this money was cleared by Obama’s incoming administration.20

Bailing out the “troubled assets” hasn’t worked and never could. It was intended to save the bankers, or at least prop them up a while longer, but following the TARP and then quantitative easing QE1 followed by QE2, America, along with the rest of the developed world, is still heading towards outright financial meltdown. As Alan Greenspan correctly pointed out at the time of all the hoo-hah about raising the debt ceiling, there is no danger of a debt default because the US can always print more money. But how much more is needed? And how long before QE3 or even QE4? If they print enough then America faces the prospect of hyperinflation, and of course hyperinflation was precisely the final straw that collapsed the Weimar Republic and allowed Hitler to come to power. The lesson from history is a stark one.

12 Rule by a Super Congress

Another piece of the fallout of last month’s raising of the debt ceiling fiasco, was the largely unreported establishment of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. This new “Super Congress” which consists of twelve members of Congress, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with Obama retaining an overall right to veto, is mandated to make proposals to reduce the federal budget deficit by a total of at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years. In the event that Congress then refuses to pass those proposals, “a trigger mechanism” will enact $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts:

This “Super Congress” of twelve will recommend cuts that will basically go unchallenged. They must make their recommendations by Thanksgiving, then the congress must have up or down votes with no changes. A simple yes or no vote to enact new law with vast implications on the lives of every American. That this group will be appointed and not elected is bad enough, but if their cuts hopefully done with a scalpel are not voted in, there will be a trigger that takes effect and makes even more draconian cuts, most likely with a butcher knife or ax.21

So an unelected committee eager to dish out some more “austerity” is now determining America’s economic future, and thus, by extension, forcing decisions in every area of governance. Why bother having coups when you can take control so sneakily?

Going back to Naomi Wolf, she writes:

Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini’s march on Rome or Hitler’s roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.

Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere – while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: “dogs go on with their doggy life … How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster.”

All of this is absolutely right, of course, and unfortunately under Obama the ‘process of erosion’ that began after 9/11 has continued; and, perhaps more importantly, it has become normalised. Bush was an obvious tyrant, whereas Obama is more the persuader. And the big difference between Bush and Obama has really been style, with Obama, by virtue of being far the more stylish, also arguably the more dangerous. In any case, the stage remains set for whoever comes to power next, because as Wolf put it in 2007:

What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack — say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani — because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.

*

In 2008, Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stein produced a documentary film based on Naomi Wolf’s book “The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot”, on which her 2007 Guardian article had been based. Released on DVD and online in October 2008, the film offers a chilling warning of the dangers that America still faces. As Naomi Wolf concluded in her 2007 article:

We need to look at history and face the “what ifs”. For if we keep going down this road, the “end of America” could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before – and this is the way it is now.

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands … is the definition of tyranny,” wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

1 “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps” by Naomi Wolf, published in the Guardian on April 24, 2007.

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2064157,00.html

2 Taken from an article entitled: “President Obama Signs One-Year Extension of Patriot Act”, by Julie Kent, published on February 28, 2010 in Cleveland Leader. http://www.clevelandleader.com/node/13183

3 “Obama, in Europe, signs Patriot Act extension” published on May 27, 2011 from msnbc.

Minutes before a midnight deadline, President Barack Obama signed into law a four-year extension of post-Sept. 11 powers to search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of terrorists.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43180202/ns/us_news-security/t/obama-europe-signs-patriot-act-extension/#.Tk6Wk10neaI

4 Taken from an article entitled: “Bradley Manning; top US legal scholars voice outrage at ‘torture’” by Ed Pilkington, published on April 10, 2011 in the Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/10/bradley-manning-legal-scholars-letter

5 Taken from an article entitled, “Forget Sarah Palin and Donald Trump: Obama needs a challenge from the left”, written by Mehdi Hasan, published on May 11, 2011 in the Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/may/11/barack-obama-primaries-palin-trump

6 “Despite overwhelming evidence that senior Bush administration officials approved illegal interrogation methods involving torture and other ill-treatment, the Obama administration has yet to pursue prosecutions of any high-level officials or to establish a commission of inquiry.” from Human Rights Watch, World Report 2011, p. 624

7 According to an article entitled: “Afghanistan Contractors Outnumber Troops” by August Cole, published August 22, 2009 in The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125089638739950599.html

8 For more information read Jeremy Scahill’s article entitled “The Secret US War in Pakistan”, published December 7, 2009 in The Nation. http://www.thenation.com/article/secret-us-war-pakistan

9 According to a Congressional Research Service report entitled “Department of Defense Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background and Analysis” by Moshe Schwartz & Joyprada Swain, published May 13, 2011:

10  From an article entitled “F.B.I Agents Get Leeway to Push Privacy Bounds” by Charlie Savage, published June 12, 2011 in The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/13/us/13fbi.html?_r=1

11  See BBC News article “US steps up flight security lists”, published January 5, 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8440591.stm

12  See the New Yorker article “The Secret Sharer: is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state?” by Jane Mayer, published on May 23, 2011. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/23/110523fa_fact_mayer

13  See the Washington Post article “Ex-NSA official Thomas Drake to plead guilty to misdemeanor”, by Ellen Nakashima, published June 9, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/ex-nsa-manager-has-reportedly-twice-rejected-plea-bargains-in-espionage-act-case/2011/06/09/AG89ZHNH_story.html

14  Taken from an interview he gave at the Texas Book Festival on October 29th, 2006. In response to a question about the government cover-up surrounding the September 11th attacks and the indifference of the media response.

15  Taken from the section entitled: “’Conspiracy Theories’ and government infiltration” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cass_Sunstein#.22Conspiracy_Theories.22_and_government_infiltration

16  From an article entitled, “Fusion Centers Under Fire in Texas and New Mexico”, written by Matthew Harwood from March 9, 2009.

http://www.securitymanagement.com/news/fusion-centers-under-fire-texas-and-new-mexico-005314

17 “While this bill contains substantial improvements to the current military commissions, the system remains fatally flawed and contrary to basic principles of American justice. While the bill takes positive steps by restricting coerced and hearsay evidence and providing greater defense counsel resources, it still falls short of providing the due process required by the Constitution. The military commissions were created to circumvent the Constitution and result in quick convictions, not to achieve real justice.

“Because of their tainted history, these proceedings, if carried on in any form, would continue to be stigmatized as unfair and inadequate, would be plagued by delay and controversy and would keep alive the terrible legacy of Guantánamo. As long as we are using anything but our time-tested federal court system, the military commissions will remain a second class system of justice.”

From American Civil Liberties Press Release of October 8, 2009.

http://www.aclu.org/national-security/house-passes-changes-guantanamo-military-commissions

18  From an article entitled, “U.S. Retires ‘Enemy Combatant,’ Keeps Broad Right to Detain, by Del Quentin Wilber and Peter Finn, published on March 14, 2009 in the Washington Post.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/13/AR2009031302371.html

19  “The man charged with monitoring the $700 billion financial rescue has launched more than a dozen investigations into possible misuse of the money, according to a report sent to Congress today.

“In findings that are not likely to soothe agitated taxpayers who are wondering what return they are getting from the bailouts, Neil Barofsky — Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP — said billions of taxpayer dollars are vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse.

“Barofsky — who detailed the bailout fund perils in a 250-page tome [pdf] — said that the criminal probes are looking into possible public corruption, stock, tax, and corporate fraud, insider trading and mortgage fraud. There would be no details on the targets, according to the report, ‘until public action is taken.'”

From an article entitled, “TARP Fraud Probes Begin” written by Elizabeth Olson, from April 21st 2009.

http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/daily-brief/2009/04/21/tarp-fraud-probes-begin/

20  “In a decisive and hard-fought victory for President-elect Barack Obama, the Senate cleared the way today for Obama’s incoming administration to spend the second $350 billion of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“A measure to block the funds was voted down 42 to 52 after an intense lobbying campaign by the Obama economic team and by Obama himself.

“Just hours before the vote, Obama economic adviser Larry Summers wrote a letter promising the Senate that the Obama administration would take specific steps to ensure the money is spent more responsibly and with more transparency than the Bush Administration spent the first $350 billion in TARP cash.”

Taken from an article entitled, “Obama Wins $350B Senate TARP Vote”, written by Jonathan Karl on January 15, 2009 for ABC World News.

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Economy/story?id=6654133&page=1

21 From an article entitled, “The Super Congress We Did Not Elect” written by R.W. Sanders, published on August 2, 2011 by The Huffington Post.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rw-sanders/the-super-congress-we-did_b_914635.html

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