Taming the Military Industrial Complex: One Successful Battle
We’ve just experienced Congress again handing multi-billions of dollars, completely unquestioned, to the military without a whimper of protest from the general voting public. There is no present military threat to the US, and there was no reduction because the war in Afghanistan stopped — or showed the military top brass’s incompetence.
By focusing on expensive weaponry, including drones,the military leaders had just lost a war to farm boys armed with AK-47s. They were defeated by an enemy who understood the art of war as the American generals didn’t. In the Afghanistan terrain and culture, intelligence was key. The remote villagers only heard a message from the Taliban. The American led NATO forces made no effort to reach out to these villagers to counter the Taliban propaganda. So the Taliban had an unending supply of these farm boys willing to die to rid the country of the great American evil.
Yet, somehow the military-industrial complex has successfully convinced the American public that an extravagant budget is still an absolute necessity for winning a war. In a December 9, 2021 article in LA Progressive, Medea Benjamin & Nicolas J. S. Davies exposed the fallacy of the need for a budget of such colossal proportions — and the military’s success at winning budgets while losing wars.
The Military: The Dangerous Friend
In every country and throughout history, the military have believed that they are the only ones who fully understand the real threats to a country, not only from the outside, but also internally. The internal threats, in their view, come from anyone whose political views they disagree with. They are a dangerous right wing conservative group within any country. They are of the type that believes they are infallible — and that they are doing good while actually doing harm. Their self-deception justifies a high level of Machiavellian manipulation.
Recognizing this, all Western governments have realized the danger of giving the military too much power and have made them subject to political control.
In recent years the military did lose one important battle in a grasp for greater direct power over the American people.
The Power Grab First Exposed in the 1970s
The US military’s grasp for political control of America was recognized in 1975 after a series of intelligence community abuses came to light. Sen. Levin documented the internal dangers in a report that noted:
“As the subcommittee will recall, the hearings in February and March 1971 disclosed that Army intelligence had carried out a widespread program of surveillance against “dissident” groups and individuals in the late 1960's.
The subcommittee estimated that at the height of the surveillance, Army intelligence alone engaged over 1,500 plainclothes agents to collect information on civilians.”
Levin concluded: “Say what you will, the only protection which the American people have against a return to the military spying of the past is a regulation of the Defense Department itself.”,
The Senate formed a committee to supervise the military intelligence community. One of its most shocking revelations, called Project Shamrock, foreshadowed the Snowden disclosures. Since 1945, the major telecommunication companies had been sharing data with the CIA which was creating a watchlist of anti-war protestors and other dissidents.
Eventually the senate formed a permanent committee, called the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. A posting on its websitesays it was created to “provide vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States to assure that such activities are in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
On March 12, 2013, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore ) of this committee asked the Director of National Intelligence, General James Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”. Director Clapper answered, “No, sir … not wittingly.” A clip of this false testimony is available on YouTube.
An employee of a subcontractor for the CIA heard this testimony and knew it was not only a blatant lie, but much worse. The National Security Agency NSA had an extensive program called Prism that was collecting massive amounts of data on US citizens that could be used against dissidents.
Snowden remembered how J. Edgar Hoover had collected information on groups he thought were a threat to America such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement. He also knew that the whistleblower statute for the intelligence community was not meant to effect reform but to identify employees who had a conscience and didn’t want to go along with instructions to break the law. When the department refused to stop breaking the law, and there was leaked evidence of the criminal acts to the press, the department would know it was this complainant. Breaking the protection of confidentiality in the whistleblower statute, the department would leak the complainant information to the Department of Justice to prosecute the whistleblower.
The Great Danger of Speaking Truth to Power in the United States
If you want to know why Snowden did it the way he did, you have to know the story of Thomas Drake,who blew the whistle on the very same NSA activities 10 years before Snowden did.
Someone anonymously leaked harmful Information about the NSA practices to the press, absolutely nothing classified, but much about waste and the usual government department stupidity. Although Drake’s whistleblower complaint was supposed to remain confidential by the wording of the statute, the Defence Department Inspector General leaked Drake’s name to the Department of Justice in violation of that statut
Drake was arrested at dawn by gun-wielding FBI agents, charged with 10 felony counts including 5 violations of the Espionage Act that could have sent him to prison for life, stripped of his security clearance, and fired. Because the DOJ didn’t have the slightest evidence of Drake leaking classified information, it had to withdraw those charges. Drake pleaded to a misdemeanor offence about the improper use of a computer.
Nonetheless, the intelligence community successfully ruined Drake financially and professionally. The only job he could find afterwards was working in an Apple store in suburban Washington. His warnings about the dangers of the NSA’s surveillance programme were largely ignored because he didn’t have the evidence. It was all classified.
Drake’s story had a profound impact on Snowden, who told an interviewer in 2015 that: “It’s fair to say that if there hadn’t been a Thomas Drake, there wouldn’t have been an Edward Snowden.”
Snowden knew he had to expose the danger of collecting this information, for even in its darker aspect: knowledge is power. This surveillance data could give the intelligence community invisible power over a number of politicians and endanger freedom of speech. He understood that freedom of speech protects the opinions of those we disagree with. He also knew, from the Drake affair, of the danger of speaking truth to power in the present day United States.
The intelligence community could successfully deny any improper behavior using classification of the data as a barrier. So he took the data to make evidence of the violations public.
And to ensure that the intelligence community could not falsely say he had endangered the lives of troops or agents, he did not give the data to WikiLeaks. He gave it to responsible reporters, including Glenn Greenwald, at The Guardian, who vetted the data to ensure they released only what was necessary to prove the violations. The intelligence community tried, but could not prove that any harm came because of the Snowden release
The Media’s Muddled Message
The media presented a selective narrative emphasizing the violation of privacy rights. In a wish to be balanced, it also carried the intelligence community’s explanation that surveillance of Americans was in fact necessary to catch homegrown terrorist plots and should be allowed. So, what the NSA and CIA had been doing was with the best of intentions.
Media reports often quoted average Americans saying that, as they had nothing to hide, they were not worried about the NSA reading their emails if it would help to catch terrorists. The use of the data to suppress progressive movements and blackmail politicians was completely passed over.
Obama appears to have accepted the intelligence community’s spin. He promoted new legislation to supposedly put better controls to prevent surveillance of Americans. That was unnecessary, the existing laws were completely adequate. The need for new legislation implied that the intelligence community had not really done anything illegal, but were taking advantage of a gap in the legislation that was now closed. Americans need not get upset, it wasn’t a big deal and it’s all been taken care of; they could go back to sleep.
However, even these reforms were, like so many pieces of legislation, purely cosmetic, but did nothing to control abuses by the intelligence community. That topic is an article in itself, but Glenn Greenwald has given it such a thorough explanation in The Guardian captured in its title, Obama’s NSA ‘reforms’ are little more than a PR attempt to mollify the public, there is no need for repetition here. In response to political scandal and public outrage, official Washington repeatedly uses the same well-worn tactic.
Where Are the Powerful and the Truthful
Snowden won a crucial battle to stop the intelligence arm of the military from using this clandestine method for increased political power. General Clapper, who lied before a Senate Committee, is now honored by CNN as its national security analyst. Russia is protecting truth teller Snowden from the US.