The first American charged under the Espionage Act after the attacks asks whether empire has permanently replaced the republic.
Twenty years later, the specter of September 11, 2001 and its aftermath continues to shape and influence U.S. and world history. Even after two decades, I am still triggered by the “what ifs” of history, with the certain knowledge that 9/11 was preventable and that the United States government utterly failed to provide for the common defense and keep its people out of harm’s way.
On reflection, we must ask whether the world is a better place for the enormous response to the terror attacks that day. The latest front-page news of America’s evacuation and departure from Afghanistan after almost 20 years is a case study that fully demonstrates the utter hypocrisy and hubris of American exceptionalism.
The failure of the national security state born during the early years of the Cold War to ostensibly protect people and prevent surprises paradoxically created the very conditions for the twin failures of the bright and shining lies of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This systemic failure also unleashed the largely secret Global War on Terror, including the very dark torture regime and mass surveillance programs, and a host of other “off the books” executive actions supported by the war porn industry and powerful interests to profit and plunder from conflict.
For example, JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) and CIA paramilitary units were greatly expanded in this post 9/11 world for worldwide shadow missions, as was the role of private military security companies like Blackwater Worldwide.
9/11 was also my first day on the job as a National Security Agency senior executive hired from the outside to help meet the enormous demands of the then-nascent digital era.
When I arrived at NSA shortly after 5 a.m. on that fateful morning, little did I know what would happen in just a few short hours — although the warning light was blinking red for three years, ever since then-CIA Director George Tenet issued his memo warning about spectacular asymmetric threats posed by Al Qaeda that were largely ignored by most in the national security arena.
What I also did not know that same morning as I drove into the main NSA complex was how the U.S. would respond to the attacks. But I soon became an eyewitness to decisions at the highest levels of government, up to and including the president of the United States, with America abandoning the bedrock Law of the Land, namely the Constitution. For all intents and purposes the United States unchained itself from its founding principles — the Bill of Rights — after 9/11, and employed state secret executive fiat rules by exception and the use of emergency conditions that justified the breaking of law in the name of national security.
I watched Pandora’s Box open up directly in front of me and the furies escape. I could have attempted to shut the lid, ignored what I discovered and went on acting like nothing had happened. However, I could not stand by as an eyewitness to the subversion of the very Constitution I took an oath to defend, even when it meant defending it against my own government.
Shortly after 9/11, I heard more than mere rumblings about secret electronic eavesdropping and data mining against Americans that bypassed the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — the exclusive means in the law for conducting such activity, with severe criminal sanctions when violated. Such shortcuts were not necessary. Lawful alternatives — including the very best of American ingenuity and innovation — actually existed that would have also vastly improved our intelligence capability against legitimate threats and contributed enormously in the duty to warn and keep people out of harm’s way.
I became a whistleblower and ended up getting charged under the Espionage Act in 2010, facing down 35 years in prison for allegedly causing exceptionally grave damage to national security for disclosing what was later acknowledged as wholly unclassified information to a reporter. The information I shared regarded secret surveillance, massive fraud, waste, and abuse plus egregious and unconscionable 9/11 intelligence failures and the subsequent cover up regarding NSA and other agencies’ culpability.
I blew the whistle on unaccountable and irresponsible government behavior that I believed to be illegal and unconstitutional. To the government, I was a traitor who committed crimes against the state. As an American, however, I could not stand by and become an accessory to the willful subversion of our freedoms.
The government’s penchant for operating in secrecy and hiding behind the executive branch “state secrets” doctrine has damaged our long-term national security and national character by sacrificing the general welfare and civil liberties of people, and has given rise to an enormously persistent and profitable military industrial-intelligence-congressional complex.
It is a core precept when taking the oath to support and defend the Constitution as a government employee and providing for the common defense that you do not sell out intelligence or national security to the highest bidder, or keep our nation’s decision-makers in the dark, or turn information into a political tool or leave it to self-interest or cover up to protect your own hide from embarrassment and accountability.
Such egregious behavior sends a chilling message about what the government can and will do to those who speak truth to power and turns into a direct form of political repression, the suppression of public interest information and brazen censorship.
Once exposed, these unconstitutional detours are too often justified by vague and undefined claims of ‘national security,’ aided and abetted by officials’ shameless fearmongering while they cover up their own actions and keep them secret from the public.
We must then ask of ourselves the hardest of questions going forward, as the entrails of U.S. Empire show the utter futility of pursuing plunder and profit at the expense of human lives, when the original failure arose from the breakdown in the duty to warn and protect against harm and improve the quality of life for people instead of turning vast tracts of the world into killing fields in the pursuit of “security.”
Pentagon Paid the Arms Industry at Least $4.4 Trillion Since 9/11 | Dave DeCamp | ANTIWAR.COM |
Brown University’s Costs of War Project released a new report Monday detailing post-9/11 spending by the Pentagon. The study found that of the over $14 trillion spent by the Pentagon since the start of the war in Afghanistan, one-third to one-half went to private military contractors.
The report, authored by William Hartung of the Center for International Policy, said $4.4 trillion of the total spending went towards weapons procurement and research and development, a category that directly benefits corporate military contractors. Private contractors are also paid through other funds, like operations and maintenance, but those numbers are harder to determine.
Out of the $4.4 trillion, the top five US weapons makers — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman — received $2.2 trillion, almost half. To put these huge numbers into perspective, the report pointed out that in the 2020 fiscal year, Lockheed Martin received $75 billion in Pentagon contracts, compared to the combined $44 billion budget for the State Department and USAID that same year.
Besides getting paid for weapons and research, US corporations profit from private contractors that are deployed to warzones. The most notorious private security contractor previously employed by the Pentagon is Blackwater, the mercenary group whose employees massacred 17 people in Iraq’s Nisour Square back in 2007.
Besides armed mercenaries, the Pentagon employed private contractors for just about every task in US warzones. Demonstrating the Pentagon’s reliance on contractors, at the end of the Trump administration, only 2,500 US troops were left in Afghanistan, but over 18,000 Pentagon contractors were still in the country.
A Forever Foreign Policy Debate | Lawrence Davidson | To The Point Analyses | 11 Sept 2021
Part I—An Insider Debate
It was predictable. As America’s longest war—the 20-year conflict in Afghanistan—wound down, a debate over the nation’s foreign policy wound up. One might assume that is just what the country needs: a thorough public examination of its doings abroad, the motives behind them, and the results realized. Unfortunately, this debate is a more restricted affair. As James Dorsey, an always insightful scholar and analyst, puts it, the debate consists of “a series of reports published by Washington-based think tanks populated by former government officials as well as prominent United States scholars.” Not a lot of this is likely to reach, much less grab the attention of, of a public whose interest in foreign policy is minimal at best. Yet amongst the public is where a debate is most needed. After all, the way things have gone over the past fifty years, U.S. foreign policy has produced a lot of killing fields—and among the dead are Americans.
Nonetheless, it is important to look at this debate just because it is going on among those to whom policy makers pay attention. And, through such an examination, to realize that any exchange at this level of insiders is unlikely to get at the core problems of U.S. foreign policy.
Part II—Parameters of the Insider Debate
The debate is between two different schools of thought concerning the country’s commitments to foreign states and regions, especially the Middle East. The questions raised go something like this: Should such commitments be maintained in terms of the U.S. as an equal partner of allies, or should the nation pursue a “world policeman” approach? What are the comparative roles of military force and diplomacy? What are the comparative merits of anti-terrorism operations (going after Al Qaida) and anti-insurgency ones (going after the Taliban)?
Please note that these questions are mostly about tactics. There are no isolationists here, no challenges to powerful special interests like the corporations making up the military-industrial complex, no challenges to the influence of ethnic or religious special interests pressing for war with Cuba or Iran, no questioning of the current list of friends and enemies, and no questioning of American exceptionalism and world leadership.
Currently the so-called liberal side of this debate is represented by a relatively new (2019) research center named the the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft (QI). It is to be noted that this institute is funded by two very rich and very different men—George Soros and Charles Koch.
QI argues that the United States should not be the world’s policeman, nor should it be in the business of “nation building.” The recent case of Afghanistan, to say nothing of Vietnam, shows that such approaches are not sustainable. Thus, the U.S. should emphasize “military restraint and diplomatic engagement and cooperation with other nations” rather than “policies that prioritize the maintenance of US global dominance through force.” The one exception here is protecting the U.S. and its allies through selective “counter-terrorism operations.” Finally, QI asserts that moving away from “dominance through force” should not be taken as a sign of U.S. “weakness and decline.”
The rival position, which has been dominant over the last two decades, is represented by such organizations as the Atlantic Council and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as well as ex-government officials, some of whom worked for the Bush Jr. administration and advocated for the invasion of Iraq. Their position can be summed up as follows: the ability and willingness to project military force is necessary to promote “national interests”; the world is primarily made up of friends and enemies; the U.S. must be seen as a reliable ally by one’s friends (in the Middle East this means Israel) and implacably hostile by one’s enemies (e.g., Iran); the withdrawal from Afghanistan (which over 20 years turned into an anti-insurgency campaign to protect an American installed-government), and before that the abandonment of “longtime allies” such as Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, sends the message to others that the United States is not a dependable partner; this, in turn strengthens “Russian and Chinese portrayals of the US as a decaying power that cannot be relied upon.
Part III—A Prescient Warning Goes Unheeded
Again, this is an insider debate. And, for most of those on the inside, their debating points are the only points that are real and relevant. In the process, much is left unexamined. Some of what is left out is indicated above, but encapsulating it all is the fact that the debaters never define “national interests,” nor do they pay attention to who might decide what those interests are. Doing so would lead them into a realm of special interests too entrenched and too powerful for “in-house” people to critique. Such challenges can only be made from outside the debaters’ “thought collective” (a variant of the groupthink phenomenon).
There are many other places readers can go for alternative, out-of-the-box, points of view. However, under current circumstances, one has to be careful to avoid conspiracy theories, fake news, and other forms of propaganda. My preference is for news and opinion found on the rational Left: AlterNet, Counterpunch, Op-Ed News, The Intercept, Consortium News, Daily Kos, and Democracy Now, as well as Al Jazeera and Middle East Eye.
This being said, one might be surprised to learn that one of the early, prescient warnings of an evolving special interest capable of skewing both foreign and domestic policy to fit parochial interests came from an insider—President Dwight Eisenhower. On 17 January 1961 Eisenhower delivered his “farewell address.” In part it went as follows:
There is a “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry. …The total influence [of which]—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Therefore, he continues, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
Essentially, Eisenhower was urging people to confront the fact that there can be special interests within the country that may represent a danger to the democratic system. Very few were moved by Eisenhower’s warning. It turned out that there was no “knowledgeable citizenry” in this regard—almost no one who was willing to think challengingly about a rising government-corporate complex that supplied a growing number of “good” jobs.
Part IV—The Nature of U.S. Democracy
Significantly, this failure to take heed of Eisenhower’s warning can be blamed on American democracy itself. To realize this, one just has to understand the system properly. The United States is not a democracy of individuals, but rather of competing interest groups. This fact has skewed both the shaping and analysis of foreign policy. Here is how this comes about:
—First, the fact of natural localism. Under normal conditions, a majority of people will naturally focus on their local environment. To use a Darwinian formula, it is the local environment that supplies the majority with knowledge necessary to make useful everyday predictions, and thus a concentration on this arena has particular survival value. Therefore, even in this age of international travel, the worldwide web, and economic globalization, most of us are still, in our daily practice, village oriented.
—Second, the few exceptions. While most people are indifferent to foreign affairs, there have always been other Americans who, for various reasons (economic, ethnic, moral), are motivated to politically influence foreign policy.
—Third, the interest group process. Such motivated individuals with similar interests and goals come together and form interest groups through which they pool their financial resources, activism, and voting numbers. Then, as a lobby, they use these resources to influence politicians and government officials to shape legislation and policy to their parochial liking.
—Fourth, a bad combination. The interest group nature of our politics combined with popular indifference to foreign affairs maximizes the influence over foreign policy formulation of those lobbies that do have interests abroad.
Part V—Negative Consequences
The consequences of this process for government policy formulation are all negative:
- The problematic nature of national interest when it comes to foreign policy. American citizens assume that such a thing as national interest exists and, in some formal way, guides the government in formulating the nation’s foreign policies. However, can this assumption be true in an environment where foreign policy is often the product of the desires of dominant lobbies pursuing parochial interests?
- The corruption of politicians. Policy makers are politicians. They and their appointees work within a system in which powerful interest groups supply a good bit of the money that makes campaigning possible and/or helps rally the votes that ensure electoral success. Under these circumstances, how are politicians, confronted by influential lobbies with vested interests abroad, likely to define “national interest”? The answer to this question is that national interest becomes what suits the interests of their most influential supporters.
- The inability to accurately assess particular threats. Here is a good example. U.S. policy in the Middle East since World War II has sought to (1) maintain the sale of weapons to friendly powers, (2) maintain unquestioned support of Israel, (3) deter the influence of anti-American elements in the region, and (4) maintain the support of autocratic regimes that are accepting of (1), (2), and (3). Over the years these policies have generated enormous resentment of the U.S. among Muslim populations in general and Arab Muslim populations in particular. There is no doubt about this last point. It is quantifiable in terms of the increasing number of attacks (including 9/11) on U.S. personnel and property by both religious and secular oppositional forces in the region. However, it has proved impossible for politicians and their staffs to accurately understand the causes of these threats, much less determine the most efficient and least damaging way to address them. Why so? Because to do so involves a hard and honest assessment of U.S. national behavior. As 9/11 proved, if someone attacks the United States, it is deemed irrelevant and indeed unpatriotic to ask why they did so if the answer will compromise already established policy goals.
So, to what purpose is the present insider debate on foreign policy? It is, in fact, a gambit to maintain the established, special-interest-influenced ways of doing things by restricting the discussion to tactics—occasioned by the failure of those employed in Afghanistan. And, as is the case with most “thought collectives,” it goes on unconsciously by its participants and unrecognized by a mostly ignorant public.
That $14 Trillion Spent by Pentagon Since 9/11 | Jake Johnson | | 14 Sept 2021
Corporate behemoths such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing and General Dynamics have been hoovering up much of that money, according to this analysis.
Up to half of the estimated $14 trillion that the Pentagon has spent in the two decades since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan has gone to private military contractors, with corporate behemoths such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, and General Dynamics hoovering up much of the money.
Published just days after the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and two weeks after the last U.S. military plane departed Afghanistan, the paper documents the extent to which the massive post-9/11 surge in Pentagon spending benefited weapon makers, logistics firms, private security contractors and other corporate interests.
[Related: A People’s Guide to the War Industry]
According to Hartung’s analysis, from “one-third to one-half” of the Pentagon’s $14 trillion in spending since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan on October 2001 went to defense contractors, which spend heavily on government lobbying.
“A large portion of these contracts — one-quarter to one-third of all Pentagon contracts in recent years — have gone to just five major corporations: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman,” Hartung writes. “The $75 billion in Pentagon contracts received by Lockheed Martin in fiscal year 2020 is well over one and one-half times the entire budget for the State Department and Agency for International Development for that year, which totaled $44 billion.”
“Halliburton’s Pentagon contracts grew more than tenfold from FY2002 to FY2006 on the strength of its contracts to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure and provide logistical support for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the new paper reads. “By 2009, over half of DynCorp’s revenues were coming from the Iraq and Afghan wars.”
Hartung argues that the Pentagon’s growing reliance on private contractors to carry out U.S. foreign policy in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks “raises multiple questions of accountability, transparency, and effectiveness.”
“This is problematic because privatizing key functions can reduce the U.S. military’s control of activities that occur in war zones while increasing risks of waste, fraud, and abuse,” he writes. “Additionally, that the waging of war is a source of profits can contradict the goal of having the U.S. lead with diplomacy in seeking to resolve conflicts.”
In order to rein in war profiteering and increase government “accountability over private firms involved in conducting or preparing for war,” Hartung recommends several broad policy changes, including:
- Slashing overall spending on war and military operations overseas;
- Increasing “the role of diplomacy” in U.S. foreign policy;
- Implementing more strict regulations and “strengthening the role of inspectors general, auditors, and contracting officers in rooting out corruption”; and
- Enacting “revolving door reforms” such as “longer cooling off periods between government service and employment in the arms industry, closing loopholes in current laws, and increasing detailed reporting on revolving door employment.”
“Reducing the profits of war ultimately depends on reducing the resort to war in the first place,” Hartung writes. “Likewise, making war less profitable decreases the incentive to go to war. Given the immense financial and human costs of America’s post-9/11 wars — and the negative security consequences generated by many of these conflicts — adopting a new, less militarized foreign policy should be a central goal of the public and policymakers alike.”
This article is from Common Dreams.