Nat Hentoff: What Obama Doesn’t Know December 18, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, George W. Bush.
Tags: cheney, cia, Condoleezza Rice, edgar hoover, eric holder, fbi, FISA, fourth amendment, frank church, George Bush, Homeland Security, john yoo, justice department, leahy, mukasey, nat hentoff, national security agency, nsa, Obama, orwell, privacy rights, Robert Mueller, roger hollander, rumsfeld, special operations, specter, surveillance, torture, transition team
add a comment
Much has been hidden from the new president by the Bush team
Nat Hentoff, Village Voice
December 18, 2008
No presidential transition team in recent history has ranged as widely as Barack Obama’s in its attempt to find out what minefields he may be walking into. For example,The Washington Post notes, 10 teams of 135 explorers, wearing yellow badges, have descended on dozens of Bush administration offices and agencies to look into their programs, policies, and records.
However, I keep remembering a dark warning to the successors of the Bush-Cheney legacy in a January 3 letter to The New York Times by Arthur Gunther of Blauvelt, New York: “Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have so deeply embedded tacit approval for illegal acts in government agencies that wrongdoing by their philosophical sympathizers will continue in shadow operations for years to come.”
How many of those shadow sympathizers will remain deep in the CIA, the FBI, Homeland Security—and, as I shall later emphasize, in the omnivorous National Security Agency, with its creatively designed submarine that, on the bottom of the ocean floor, will be tapping into foreign cables carrying overseas communications, including those of Americans?
Will the Obama sleuths be able to peer into plans of the military Special Operations forces around the world, whose SWAT-style moves can quickly inflame even our allies? Covertly authorized four years ago by Donald Rumsfeld, these warriors are empowered to attack secretly any apparent terrorist venture, anywhere. No press allowed.
Will the new president, cognizant of the proliferation of retaliatory nuclear arms, presumably among our enemies, insist on signing off on each of those Special Operations forays?
Back at home, will President Obama order the countermanding of the FBI’s return to the unbounded surveillance practices of J. Edgar Hoover? In an order implemented as recently as this December—by FBI Director Robert Mueller (who says he’d like to stay on) and Attorney General Michael Mukasey—the FBI can start an investigation without requiring any evidence of wrongdoing. That is not change we can believe in.
Among many Obama voters, much optimism is created when he pledges that we will not torture. But even if he makes his intent official, emphasizes Mark Kukis (Time, December 8), “the Executive Order would have to be sweeping and reach deep into the government’s darker recesses. That’s because the Bush team has written so many legal memos okaying various techniques for interrogators working at a wide range of agencies [not just the CIA]. Some of these opinions have been disclosed publicly, but an unknown number remain classified.”
It will be up to the new Attorney General, Eric Holder—not a notably passionate constitutionalist in his previous role in the Justice Department—to, as Kukis adds, “issue new legal guidance that supersedes all those legal opinions, seen or unseen, if he hopes to prevent a return to such practices in the future” (emphasis added).
So, keep an eye on Mr. Holder. And if he does bury those John Yoo–style torture memos and other (and, here, I use the term loosely) “legal opinions,” Holder should be tasked by the president to reveal what they permitted.
For a long time, Senate Judiciary chairman Pat Leahy, a Democrat, and leading Republican member Arlen Specter have been trying to get those deeply hidden authorizations for war crimes that contradicted the broken-record insistence (”We do not torture!”) of George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice.
Of all our intelligence agencies, the most unabashedly un-American is the NSA, because it has the continually expanding technological resources to make George Orwell’s Big Brother look like a cantankerous infant. No American president has come close to reining in the NSA, let alone bringing its officials up on charges of murdering our Fourth Amendment privacy rights.
In case you’ve forgotten, those specific constitutional protections were a result of the general searches conducted by British soldiers that turned American colonists’ homes and offices upside down. NSA’s eavesdropping on our phones and Internet activities have largely destroyed some of our rights as mentioned in the Constitution: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall be issued but on probable cause. . . .” (Computers and the Internet are now included.)
Of all the investigators of the formidably guarded privacy of the NSA, the most feared by these omnipresent spies is James Bamford, who for years has been penetrating their secrets in his books—Body of Secrets, The Puzzle Palace, etc. This year, he’s gone much deeper into that bottomless cavern than ever before, in The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA From 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America (Doubleday). I hope President Obama reads this book himself and demands that his intelligence directors also plumb it and give him their reactions—or better yet, their confessions of complicity with NSA.
There will be more on the “Shadow Factory” next week, as well as on Senator Obama’s startling (to me) vote for the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendments of 2008—after he had insisted he would filibuster against its passage. In view of the sweeping spying powers that this law, championed by George W. Bush, provides the NSA, will President Obama be a dependable restorer of at least some of our privacy rights?
John McCain, of course, would not have been.
Bamford ends his new book by bringing back one of my Bill of Rights heroes, the late Senator Frank Church of Idaho, whose Senate investigating committee, during the 1970s, first uncovered the frightening range and depth of NSA’s spying on us. “That capability,” said Church, “at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such [is the NSA's] capability to monitor everything. . . . There would be no place to hide. . . . If this government ever became a tyranny . . . the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because resistance . . . is within the reach of the government to know.”
After quoting that warning from Frank Church, Bamford ends: “There is now the capacity to make tyranny total in America. Only law ensures that we never fall into that abyss—the abyss from which there is no return.” Are you listening, President Obama?
Custodians of Empire November 26, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: Afghanistan, Barack Obama, cia, foreign policy, frida berrigan, hawk, henry kissinger, hillary clinton, Iraq, james l. jones, john brennan, mike mullen, newt gingrich, pakistan, Pentagon, roger hollander, rogert gates, surge, tom engelhardt, transition team, weapons
add a comment
Tuesday 25 November 2008
by: Tom Engelhardt, The Nation
The Obama national security “team” – part of that much-hailed “team of rivals” – does not yet exist, but it does seem to be heaving into view. And so far, its views seem anything but rivalrous. Mainstream reporters and pundits lovingly refer to them as “centrist,” but, in a Democratic context, they are distinctly right of center. The next secretary of state looks to be Hillary Clinton, a hawk on the Middle East. During the campaign, she spoke of our ability to “totally obliterate” Iran, should that country carry out a nuclear strike against Israel. She will evidently be allowed to bring her own (hawkish) subordinates into the State Department with her. Her prospective appointment is now being praised by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Henry Kissinger.
The leading candidate for National Security Advisor is General James L. Jones, former Marine Corps commandant and NATO commander, who remained “publicly neutral” during the presidential campaign and is known to be personally close to John McCain and, evidently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as well. Not surprisingly, he favors yet more spending for the Pentagon. The reputed leading candidate for Director of the CIA, John Brennan, now head of the National Counterterrorism Center, was George Tenet’s chief of staff and deputy executive director during the worst years of the CIA’s intelligence, imprisonment, and torturing excesses.
The new Secretary of Defense is odds on to be… the old secretary of defense, Robert Gates, a confidant of the first President Bush. Still surrounded at the Pentagon by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s holdovers, he has had a long career in Washington as a clever apparatchik. He was the adult brought in – the story of how and by whom has yet to be told – to clean up the Bush foreign policy mess (and probably prevent an attack on Iran). He did this. He now favors no fixed timelines for an Iraq withdrawal, but a significant American troop “surge” in Afghanistan, “well north of 20,000,” in the next 12-18 months. He has overseen the further growth of the bloated Pentagon budget and has recently come out for the building of a new generation of nuclear weapons. (Other candidates for Defense include former Clinton Navy Secretary and key Obama advisor Richard Danzig, who may end up – for the time being – as an undersecretary of defense, Clinton former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre, and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who might instead land the job as the Director of National Intelligence.)
Drop down a tier, as Yochi Dreazen of the Wall Street Journal wrote last week, and you find the Obama transition people using a little known think-tank, the Center for a New American Security (CNSA), as a “top farm team” to stock its national security shelves. The founders of the center are – don’t be shocked now – former Clinton administration officials providing yet more “centrists” to an administration that seems to believe the essence of “experience” is having been in Washington between 1992 and 2000. CNAS, by the way, is officially against a fixed timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. In that, it seems typical of the coalescing national security team, almost none of whom, so far, opposed the invasion of Iraq (other than the president-elect). Having been anti-war is evidently a sign of inexperience and so a negative.
Add in the military line-up – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen, Centcom Commander David Petraeus, Generals Raymond Odierno and David McKiernan, the U.S. commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan – all second term Bush picks, all reportedly ready to push for a major “surge” in Afghanistan, all evidently against Obama’s timeline for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq.
Now, mind you, so far we’ve only been considering the foreign policy issues of empire that face the next team. Domestically, if Gates remains, the Air Force might get kneecapped (perhaps losing the F-22 Raptor, the weapons system it wants for a war that will never be fought), but the Army and Marines will expand, as (so he promises) will the Navy. The essence of the matter is simple enough, as Frida Berrigan, arms expert for the New America Foundation and TomDispatch regular, indicates in her latest piece, “Weapons Come Second”: Even in the toughest of economic times, the Pentagon, bloated budget and all, is likely to prove relatively untouchable.
The Obama transition team’s explanation for the remarkably familiar look to its emerging national security line-up, suggested David E. Sanger in a recent front-page think piece in the New York Times, is “that the new administration will have no time for a learning curve. With the country facing a deep recession or worse, global market turmoil, chaos in Pakistan and a worsening war in Afghanistan, ‘there’s going to be no time for experimentation,’ a member of the Obama foreign policy team said.” In other words, we need the sort of minds, already imprisoned in Washington’s version of “experience,” who helped lead us into this mess (long term), to get us out of it. “Experimentation” is obviously for times when it isn’t needed. For these custodians of empire, Better a steady hand and the same-old thoughts. No?