Fooled Again? False security premised on less democracy and more war

With its Total Information Awareness program, from which came the Prism Program, the United States government still cannot produce incontrovertible or even compelling evidence to justify bombing Syria (in fact, it has produced no evidence). Déjà vu Iraq 2003. The planned war is, again, one of choice — public opinion, evidence and law be damned. But with billions spent on global snooping, one must ask: Why can’t the U.S. produce any evidence against the alleged evildoer du jour? What does this suggest?

In late June, “Who’s Zooming Who?”( addressed the media obfuscation of the actual significance of the Silicon Valley-NSA Prism Program. At that time, I said I would return to this story in September. Here, I will update the Prism Program revelations, the fallout, and argue that the anti-democratic policies implemented within the U.S. are directly related to its global militarism post-9/11. Less freedom at home allows more war abroad, and vice versa.

The Russian diplomatic initiative to put Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under international control is a mere bump on the road in America’s war path, as conventional weapons continue to flood into Syria, and U.S. foreign policy continues to shamelessly flout international law by pursuing regime change. General Wesley Clark states that less than 10 days after 9/11, then-Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld issued a directive calling for war and regime change in 7 states (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia) within 5 years. Then came Afghanistan, America’s longest war.

Over the past three months we have seen more revelations from the leak of the Prism Program published in The Guardian and elsewhere, the leaker/whistleblower Edward Snowden granted temporary asylum in Russia on August 1, more diplomatic wrangling between America, Russia, and Europe, and more war-mongering in the Middle East and North Africa.

We have learned that the scope of the privacy intrusions are greater than previously known, including the systemic breaking of encryption, that allies have routinely been spying on one another and their own people, and that tech companies have been both in bed with and at odds with government. Powerful players speaking piously about privacy have subsequently been exposed as hypocrites. Technology has made snooping standard practice – and privacy obsolete. World leaders have been acting like rats in a barrel as they attempt to spin their exposed misdeeds. In-fighting exposes the discrepancy between words and deeds, but the mainstream press is silent on governmental hypocrisy, and silent on the relationship between civil liberties violations at home, and war-fighting abroad.

Media parroting officialdom abets a fragmented perception of the world. As Lance Bennett teaches, the establishment media uses framing, agenda-setting, personalization, dramatization, fragmentation, and authority-disorder bias – all serving to keep us lost in the spin. Here, I will try to connect the dots between propaganda, diminution of individual liberty, and the institutional war mentality which results in wasted resources and lives.

Truth is the first casualty of war, and secrecy spells the death of democracy. James Madison wrote: “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germs of every other… In war too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended… and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war.” As historian Andrew Bacevich lucidly argues, continual war is precisely the post-9/11 framework established by the Bush Cabinet. 2009 Nobel peace prize recipient Obama has essentially adopted his predecessor’s endless war framework.

As Wikileaks helped us to better understand the reality of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Snowden’s leak also reduces secrecy and helps us gain better understanding. Democracy demands informed citizens. Secret budgets, programs, and courts are antithetical to democracy. The information leaked by Snowden has, for instance, given us our most complete information on how the government is spending our money.

We now know that more than $50 billion will be spent on CIA operations this year. Prior to Snowden’s leak the public was in the dark, as the executive branch has been using national security to justify hiding intelligence spending from public scrutiny in a “black budget.” With more than $20 billion separately spent on military intelligence, and more than $10 billion spent each on the NSA and the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates surveillance satellites, it seems that more than $100 billion is spent annually on intelligence work. See Scott Shane, “Budget Leak reveals US spending on Intelligence,” August 31, 2013 IHT. Lawyer journalist Glenn Greenwald notes that close to 50% of all U.S. tax revenue now goes to military and intelligence spending.

Dana Priest documents in her “Top Secret America” series in The Washington Post that excessive spending has hurt our intelligence. And bad intelligence abets bad policy. More accurately, greed abets destructive policy. Our global collective security system was established by the Allied powers after WWII. Now, imperial America brazenly flouts international law in promoting regime change. Saddam had to go. Kaddafi had to go. How are Iraq and Libya doing today? Are they better off? As Jeffrey Sachs writes, since then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged U.S. support for the Free Syrian Army and declared “We think Assad must go” on April 1, 2012, the Syrian conflict has entered a more destructive phase – of military escalation and rising civilian casualties.

Any attack on Syria without UN Security Council authorization violates international law, which only permits the use of military force in self-defense or via Security Council approval. President Obama has made a moral case for acting when chemical weapons are used against civilians. But the US itself used millions of gallons of chemical weapons in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and used them again more recently in Falluja. Kosovo is praised as precedent for bombing Syria, but the military action in Kosovo was unlawful, and Libya is a better comparison. The media faithfully parrots the Pentagon’s “surgical strike” talk, but commonsense allows people to see that cruise missiles cannot possibly bring about any helpful political solution to Syria’s many challenges.

Regime change as policy objective violates international law yet has been the cornerstone of U.S. Mideast policy. So too is the ongoing threat of use of force in Syria unlawful, as Art 2(4) of the UN Charter prohibits “the threat or use of force by states.” It seems that in Syria, as in the Iran-Iraq war, the policy of the U.S. and its allies is to bleed and weaken the target country, flooding it with arms and eroding its governability and sovereignty. A hurdle to the drumbeat for war has come out of Moscow. The Russian initiative to put all Syrian weapons under international control lays bare the choice between diplomatic political solutions and war.

Law has been debased in the name of security. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, established by Congress in 1978 as a check against wiretapping abuses, has been creating an ever-broader secret body of law, expanding established surveillance standards, reaching beyond the scope of the cases before it. The secret court hears only from government lawyers, not those being spied on – an affront to the adversarial process which ensures due process/basic fairness. 12 of the 14 judges who have served on the court in 2013 are Republicans. Between 2001 and 2012, FISA judges approved 20,909 surveillance and search requests, rejecting only 10. See Eric Lichtblau, “Court gives NSA more power with secret rulings,” July 8, 2013 IHT, and “Silence in court,” The Economist, July 13, 2013.

The lapdog press has been exposed as it turns on the real journalists. Seeing establishment journalists turn on their colleagues who are shining light on corrupt and depraved practices of those in power (some even calling for their colleagues’ criminal prosecution as traitors under the 1917 Espionage Act) has been revealing. It reminds us how major media outlets feed the war machine. See David Barstow’s Pulitzer Prize report “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand,” NYT, April 20, 2008. Twelve years after 9/11, people are skeptical of the message-makers and disseminators. Fortunately, we have alternative perspectives as our digital technology revolution unleashes new voices and information.

It is certainly a sad state of world affairs when Russia is preaching international law and morality to the West ( ) Reportedly, Mr. Snowden spent two days in the Russian consulate in Hong Kong before flying to Moscow on June 23, suggesting that Russia was involved early on in manipulating events for its own propaganda purposes. The outdated dysfunctional UN Security Council has bred contempt for our global collective security framework, and we may yet see the UN go the way of the League of Nations if unilateralism trumps multilateralism.

A framework agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons was reached on Sept. 14, but there are many obstacles to peace. The conventional arms trade continues to fuel war in Syria and too many other places. Mr. Putin is correct that American exceptionalism is a threat to global security, but so too is his country under his leadership. So long as greed bolstered by jingoism guides policy, wars will be waged. But there is cause for hope, and it does not come from our so-called leaders.

It does seem that ordinary people are more skeptical of the pro-war propaganda they are daily fed. The American and British publics are both steadfastly against military intervention in Syria, forcing their politicos to back away from a further escalation of the war in Syria for now. Perhaps the war-mongers have overplayed their hand, cracking down too much on their people’s freedoms, and telling too many lies to justify too many wars, in too short a time. No doubt, the vilified leakers have hastened our learning curve.

The author, an attorney and constitutional law scholar, has written for TNP since 2006. He lectures on law, ethics and critical thinking, and is currently teaching a course at New York University on The Philosophy of Law.

published: 15. 9. 2013

Datum publikace:
15. 9. 2013
Autor článku:
William A. Cohn