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Secrecy

October 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Secrecy makes for thrilling movies but unaccountable government. The unimpeded exercise of power requires that those over whom power is exerted do not know the truth. If they want to be our masters, there is some information they must control first. They want you to believe they are good people who win wars for freedom, that their policies make everything better, that they are uncorruptible supermen, and the more information we have, the more clearly we can see this is a lie. Free flowing information is the only safeguard against tyranny. We only ever find out about these secrets thanks to a few intrepid reporters and brave whistleblowers. The scandals keep coming, from the Pentagon Papers to Watergate to Iran-Contra and now Bradley Manning, who is being held in solitary confinement without charge under order of a president who came into office promising transparency.

Why do you think they do not want you to know what they are doing? Ostensibly, during wartime at least (which has become all the time), it is to prevent the enemy from finding out the secrets that could compromise national security. But who is the government’s enemy? Anyone who disagrees with their policies. That is why governments around the world have conducted a war on journalists. If journalists are being killed and arrested, how will we have any protection against propaganda?

There is no reason governments have to keep what they do secret from you except to maintain power. Not only does power corrupt but it is proportionally more dangerous when we are uninformed. When people’s backs are turned, power becomes a major force of corruption, and the powerful can do whatever they want.

Governments control trillions of dollars of money they stole from taxpayers, and creates trillions more in fiat money, which acts as a tax that lowers the value of the money everyone already has. What do they do with that money? Over the past few years, the New York Fed has quietly bailed out large banks all over the world to the tune of about $16t. We never knew about it until an audit of the Fed took place this year. This type of secret remains secret because its revelation could mean serious anger on the streets. This is not a call for more and better auditing. It is a call for the elimination of one group’s ability to extort money through taxes and give it to the already-privileged.

Here are some more things that we were not allowed to know about. Former senior US National Security Agency official Thomas Andrews Drake blew the whistle on his agency’s violation of the fourth amendment with the billion-dollar Trailblazer intelligence-gathering project. Of course, like Bradley Manning, like Daniel Ellsberg 40 years ago, Drake was prosecuted. American soldiers nearly got away with killing Afghan civilians for fun because their crimes were covered up. The death of football player Pat Tillman in Iraq was also covered up, originally said to have occurred “in the line of devastating enemy fire”, until it was revealed that he was killed by friendly fire. Were people actually surprised that a government covered up an unpopular event? The entire war, like all wars, was a lie. Why believe anything the government ever says?

Then there are the Wikileaks files. When the document dump began, one heard many voices speaking vaguely in support of Wikileaks, but I wondered if they had an understanding of what it all meant. Here is why everyone who is not in the government should support Wikileaks and its spinoffs.

Governments are self-important. They believe that their knowledge is superior to that of us little people, that they are wiser and in a position to decide for the rest of us. As such, they are right to take our money, impose their will on us, regulate every aspect of our lives and send us overseas to kill people who had the misfortune of being born in the wrong country. They need secrecy because if other people had the same knowledge, they would learn how poorly government policies actually function, despite the authorities’ supposedly superior wisdom. Now governments are being exposed, and people are finding out.

Statists from all corners have attacked Wikileaks with such cliched accusations as exposing troops to danger. (Viz. Iran-Contra criminal Oliver North: “This is an act of terrorism.“) However, they would presumably be in less danger if they had remained at Fort Worth. If anyone has put them in danger, it is those who voted for and approved of sending them overseas in the first place, and those who lie to keep them there. Naturally, having enemies requires secrecy; but since the enemies are just contrived, all the secrecy had accomplished was to eliminate accountability for the liars who had claimed otherwise.

Joel Hirst of the Council on Foreign Relations attempted to put things in perspective.

For those who applaud Mr. Assange and his particular version of cyber-terrorism, I would ask them how they feel about the rupture of other codes established to govern our relations in society. How would they like to see reports of treatment for their male-pattern baldness in downloadable format; or the details of their divorce settlements in an online database — displayed in vivid technicolor across the worldwide web. While this information may appear benign, and may be explained by cyber-thieves as an attempt to increase transparency, it will likely be viewed by the victims as damagingly intrusive. This is also true in the world of international diplomacy.

Unfortunately, Mr Hirst has missed the point. The treatment of my male-pattern baldness is purely a private matter. The actions and beliefs of influential public servants and the disastrous results of wars fought with our money by our friends in our names are not. To those who attacked Wikileaks and the act of whistleblowing, let me make clear the position you took. You are in favour of covering up and hiding from the public

-the repeated urging of the despotic (and with relation to the US government, influential) House of Saud and other Middle Eastern governments to start a war between the US and Iran;

-the US’s ally Saudi Arabia’s funding of al Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba;

-the detention of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay prison for no reason (see here and here);

-the extent of the corruption of the Afghan government, which US, Canadian and other foreign taxpayers are funding;

-the intentional killing of reporters by helicopter in Iraq;

-an accurate picture of the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including the extent of civilian casualties, such as the shooting in the head of Iraqi children and other things that should have the people who funded them up in arms;

-and perhaps most disturbing of all, that US government contractor DynCorp threw a party at which children were prostituted (see also here), meaning that US taxpayers paid for sex with minors.

But Wikileaks is just one anti-secrecy activist group. Any whistleblowers who uncover the secrets that keep us from realising how corrupt our masters are deserve praise and protection. Instead, they get called terrorists and get imprisoned. (Governments will do anything to pinch these guys, from trumped-up rape charges on Julian Assange to God knows what Bradley Manning is charged with. Why? Because powerful people want to cover up their sins and protect their interests and will break the constitution to do so. Strong, accountable government? Don’t make me laugh.

Does the leaking of confidential documents erode public trust in government? It is now clear that there was no basis for such trust to begin with. Wikileaks has exposed not only the loose tongues of a few diplomats but the bankruptcy of statist arguments for secrecy. Wikileaks brought us, in stark relief, a more accurate picture of government wheeling and dealing than we were getting from the mass media; or as Slavoj Žižek notes, the Wikileaks document dump revealed that the emperor truly had no clothes.

Another whistleblower I like is BlogDelNarco.com. Mexican media outlets are highly concentrated, and as such they are in bed with the government. They tend not to report the gruesome but highly informative images from the Mexican drug war. But a fearless blogger is feeding the huge market for the truth.

The pundits at the top of the security apparatus of the US government spent countless hours devising contingency plans for every possible step the Soviet Union could have made. An air of paranoia and groupthink has influenced most national security decisions made in Washington since WW2, which is why the central planners of the US military believed first in the “bomber gap”, that the USSR had far more bombers than the US did (when it didn’t), and then the “missile gap”, that the USSR had vast quantities of nuclear missiles that it could deploy preemptively to knock out US capabilities (when it didn’t).

They spent billions on intelligence services and did not predict the detonation of a Soviet atom bomb; the Korean War and China’s entry into it; the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion; the size and determination of the Viet Cong; the fall of the Soviet Union; the breakup of Yugoslavia; of course 9/11, (though admittedly there is a mountain of evidence they knew something was going to happen and did nothing); the Arab world’s reaction to the invasion of Iraq (though that one may have been outsourced to the think tanks); and several intelligence agencies told the world Saddam Hussein had a whole bunch of missiles that did not exist. Sure, it is not fair to expect anyone to predict such black swans. But then, what are intelligence agencies for?

Perhaps they are to make work for spies. An enormous quantity of intelligence has been gathered since 9/11. Because of its sheer volume, only 10% of it has even been analysed. The spies are a bureaucracy and as such, they are an entrenched pressure group. In his excellent book The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich explains the role of national security services (eg. the CIA). “Over the course of their existence, these entities have done far more harm than good…. [I]nstitutions nominally subordinate to executive authority pursue their own agendas, and will privilege their own purposes over whoever happens to occupy the White House.” Presidents frequently disregard what the security agencies tell them. But they tell the public the security apparatus is necessary because it provides legitimacy for “political arrangements that are a source of status, influence and considerable wealth.”

In the end, government secrecy is little more than immunity for the mafia that poses as your superiors. There is no reason why government knowledge is better than yours, or why governments should impose their will on you. Now that ordinary people have the chance, thanks to anonymous whistleblowers and Wikileaks, to spy on their governments, they may have a better idea of how secrecy destroys accountability. If democrats truly want accountable government, they should embrace Wikileaks. The good news is that most governments have mostly lost their monopoly on information. The Wikileaks dumps, the spread of cell phone cameras and attacks by anonymous hackers have seen to that. Embrace openness and deny the government its monopoly on information.

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