reboot the republic daily July 31, 2010

The CIA: Beyond Redemption and Should be Terminated

Posted: 31 Jul 2010 04:56 PM PDT

From Veterans Today

By Sherwood Ross

The Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) has confirmed the worst fears of its creator President Harry Truman that it might degenerate into “an American Gestapo.” It has been just that for so long it is beyond redemption. It represents 60 years of failure and fascism utterly at odds with the spirit of a democracy and needs to be closed, permanently.

Over the years “the Agency” as it is known, has given U.S. presidents so much wrong information on so many critical issues, broken so many laws, subverted so many elections, overthrown so many governments, funded so many dictators, and killed and tortured so many innocent human beings that the pages of its official history could be written in blood, not ink. People the world over regard it as infamous, and that evaluation, sadly for the reputation of America, is largely accurate. Besides, since President Obama has half a dozen other major intelligence agencies to rely on for guidance, why does he need the CIA? In one swoop he could lop an estimated 27,000 employees off the Federal payroll, save taxpayers umpteen billions, and wipe the CIA stain from the American flag.

If you think this is a “radical” idea, think again. What is “radical” is to empower a mob of covert operatives to roam the planet, wreaking havoc as they go with not a care for morality or, for that matter, the tenets of mercy implicit in any of the great faiths. The idea of not prosecuting CIA interrogators (i.e., torturers), as President Obama has said, is chilling. These crimes have to be stopped somewhere, sometime, or they will occur again.

“The CIA had run secret interrogation centers before—beginning in 1950, in Germany, Japan, and Panama,” writes New York Times reporter Tim Weiner in his book “Legacy of Ashes, The History of The CIA”(Random House). Weiner has won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the intelligence community. “It had participated in the torture of captured enemy combatants before—beginning in 1967, under the Phoenix program in Vietnam. It had kidnapped suspected terrorists and assassins before…”

In Iran in 1953, for example, a CIA-directed coup restored the Shah (king) to absolute power, initiating what journalist William Blum in “Rogue State” (Common Courage Press) called “a period of 25 years of repression and torture; while the oil industry was restored to foreign ownership, with the US and Britain each getting 40 percent.” About the same time in Guatemala, Blum adds, a CIA-organized coup “overthrew the democratically-elected and progressive government of Jacobo Arbenz, initiating 40 years of military government death squads, torture, disappearances, mass executions, and unimaginable cruelty, totaling more than 200,000 victims—indisputably one of the most inhuman chapters of the 20th century.” The massive slaughter compares, at least in terms of sheer numbers, with Hitler’s massacre of Romanian and Ukranian Jews during the holocaust. Yet few Americans know of it.

Blum provides yet other examples of CIA criminality. In Indonesia, it attempted in 1957-58 to overthrow neutralist president Sukarno. It plotted Sukarno’s assassination, tried to blackmail him with a phony sex film, and joined forces with dissident military officers to wage a full-scale war against the government, including bombing runs by American pilots, Blum reported This particular attempt, like one in Costa Rica about the same time, failed. So did the CIA attempt in Iraq in 1960 to assassinate President Abdul Kassem. Other ventures proved more “successful”.

In Laos, the CIA was involved in coup attempts in 1958, 1959, and 1960, creating a clandestine army of 30,000 to overthrow the government. In Ecuador, the CIA ousted President Jose Velasco for recognizing the new Cuban government of Fidel Castro. The CIA also arranged the murder of elected Congo Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in 1961 and installation of Mobutu Seko who ruled “with a level of corruption and cruelty that shocked even his CIA handlers,” Blum recalls.

In Ghana, in 1966, the CIA sponsored a military coup against leader Kwame Nkrumah in 1966; in Chile, it financed the overthrow of elected President Salvador Allende in 1973 and brought to power the murderous regime of General Augusto Pinochet who executed 3,000 political opponents and tortured thousands more. In Greece in 1967, the CIA helped subvert the elections and backed a military coup that killed 8,000 Greeks in its first month of operation. “Torture, inflicted in the most gruesome of ways, often with equipment supplied by the United States, became routine,” Blum writes.

In South Africa, the CIA gave the apartheid government information that led to the arrest of African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, who subsequently spent years in prison. In Bolivia, in 1964, the CIA overthrew President Victor Paz; in Australia from 1972-75, the CIA slipped millions of dollars to political opponents of the Labor Party; ditto, Brazil in 1962; in Laos in 1960, the CIA stuffed ballot boxes to help a strongman into power; in Portugal in the Seventies the candidates it financed triumphed over a pro-labor government; in the Philippines, the CIA backed governments in the 1970-90 period that employed torture and summary execution against its own people; in El Salvador, the CIA in the Nineties backed the wealthy in a civil war in which 75,000 civilians were killed; and the list goes on and on.

Of course, the hatred that the CIA engenders for the American people and American business interests is enormous. Because the Agency operates largely in secret, most Americans are unaware of the crimes it perpetrates in their names. As Chalmers Johnson writes in “Blowback”(Henry Holt), former long-time CIA director Robert Gates, now Obama’s defense secretary, admitted U.S. intelligence services began to aid the mujahideen guerrillas in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet invasion in December, 1979.

As has often been the case, the CIA responded to a criminal order from one of the succession of imperial presidents that have occupied the White House, in this instance one dated July 3, 1979, from President Jimmy Carter. The Agency was ordered to aid the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul—aid that might sucker the Kremlin into invading. “The CIA supported Osama bin Laden, like so many other extreme fundamentalists among the mujahideen in Afghanistan, from at least 1984 on,” Johnson writes, helping bin Laden train many of the 35,000 Arab Afghans.

Thus Carter, like his successors in the George H.W. Bush government — Gates, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, and Colin Powell, “all bear some responsibility for the 1.8 million Afghan casualties, 2.6 million refugees, and 10 million unexploded land mines that followed from their decisions, as well as the ‘collateral damage’ that befell New York City in September 2001 from an organization they helped create during the years of anti-Soviet Afghan resistance,” Johnson added. Worse, the Bush-Cheney regime after 9/11 “set no limits on what the agency could do. It was the foundation for a system of secret prisons where CIA officer and contractors used techniques that included torture,” Weiner has written. By some estimates, the CIA in 2006 held 14,000 souls in 11 secret prisons, a vast crime against humanity.

That the CIA has zero interest in justice and engages in gratuitous cruelty may be seen from the indiscriminate dragnet arrests it has perpetrated: “CIA officers snatched and grabbed more than three thousand people in more than one hundred countries in the year after 9/11,” Weiner writes, adding that only 14 men of all those seized “were high-ranking authority figures within al Qaeda and its affiliates. Along with them, the agency jailed hundreds of nobodies…(who) became ghost prisoners in the war on terror.”

As for providing the White House with accurate intelligence, the record of the CIA has been a fiasco. The Agency was telling President Carter the Shah of Iran was beloved by his people and was firmly entrenched in power in 1979 when any reader of Harper’s magazine, available on newsstands for a buck, could read that his overthrow was imminent—and it was. Over the years, the Agency has been wrong far more often than it has been right.

According to an Associated Press report, when confirmed by the Senate as the new CIA director, Leon Panetta said the Obama administration would not prosecute CIA officers that “participated in harsh interrogations even if they constituted torture as long as they did not go beyond their instructions.” This will allow interrogators to evade prosecution for following the clearly criminal orders they would have been justified to disobey.

“Panetta also said that the Obama administration would continue to transfer foreign detainees to other countries for questioning but only if U.S. officials are confident that the prisoners will not be tortured,” the AP story continued. If past is prologue, how confident can Panetta be the CIA’s fellow goons in Egypt and Morocco will stop torturing prisoners? Why did the CIA kidnap men off the streets of Milan and New York and fly them to those countries in the first place if not for torture? They certainly weren’t treating them to a Mediterranean vacation. By its long and nearly perfect record of reckless disregard for international law, the CIA has deprived itself of the right to exist.

It will be worse than unfortunate if President Obama continues the inhumane (and illegal) CIA renditions that President Bill Clinton began and President Bush vastly expanded. If the White House thinks its operatives can roam the world and arrest and torture any person it chooses without a court order, without due process, and without answering for their crimes, this signifies Americans believe themselves to be a Master Race better than others and above international law. That’s not much different from the philosophy that motivated Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich. It would be the supreme irony if the American electorate that repudiated racism last November has voted into its highest office a constitutional lawyer who reaffirms his predecessor’s illegal views on this activity. Renditions must be stopped. The CIA must be abolished.

(Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based public relations consultant and columnist who formerly reported for the Chicago Daily News, the New York Herald-Tribune, and wire services. Reach him at


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The Nonviolent Black Market of Information

Posted: 31 Jul 2010 11:58 AM PDT

From The Mises Institute

Unlike most black markets, the black market for information is characterized by peace and stability. There is a near-perfect harmony between the supply and the demand for movies, music, songs, and other digital content that falls under the control of intellectual-property legislation.

In the market for information, we do not see the kinds of conflicts that are rampant in other black markets. There are no turf wars between gangs for the right to offer the latest pop hit or blockbuster movie; there are no robberies committed by would-be users who need the money to get their fix. The vast majority of copyright violators go about their business without harming anyone.

In fact, those who upload, host, and share illegal content are not in any significant danger at all. What sets the black market in information apart from other black markets? Why is it nonviolent?


Perhaps the most easily recognizable reason why we do not see violence associated with sharing illegal content has to do with technology. Let’s briefly examine the most common method for downloading illegal content: BitTorrent. BitTorrent works, not by hosting the vast amounts of downloadable content in a single place, but merely by connecting users with the thousands of others who are sharing the file.

Searching for desired content takes only a few moments. There are numerous websites that host torrent files, including many that can boast high community standards of quality and security.

Because the torrent files are themselves very small, users download them instantaneously. How quickly the content is obtained is a function of how many “seeders” there are to share the file(s), as well as the speed of the user’s internet connection. Combine a popular (and therefore well-seeded) file with good bandwidth, and it takes a user only seconds to acquire a song, and only minutes to acquire an entire film.

In other words, the black market for information is generally efficient, anonymous, convenient, and safe. The costs to the user are negligible: Bandwidth and hard drive space are cheap and plentiful. Bittorent websites, and the content they make available, are free to access. Labor is but a few clicks and keystrokes, and — as was mentioned above — it hardly takes any time.

Determining the quality of the digital product is usually a trivial afterthought, especially for that content in greatest demand. The community at large serves as a guard against broken files or malware, with certain torrent communities offering layers of security by restricting membership or verifying content before it is offered to the public. Products in other black markets, in contrast, are notoriously inconsistent with respect to their quality — with many such products posing serious health risks.[1] Checking for quality is itself an inconvenient or even dangerous task, since the mere possession of the good is a crime and users must keep their consumption a secret.

Another important feature of the black market in digital content is its flat hierarchy. Most black markets are characterized by the importance placed on power and rank. These hierarchies distort by exaggeration the importance — and profits — of suppliers and well-positioned middlemen, while those lower in rank suffer most of the hardships for far less pay. Money flows “up” the chain of command to those with the most power, while the grittier aspects of the business flow “down” to those on the streets: dealers, users, money collectors, and the like.

Those dealing with illegal information need not hazard the same power games. The Internet provides the means to move the data around relatively anonymously, and few distinctions are made among users so long as they are part of the system and contribute to the community by their activity. Torrents work in part because of this homogeneity, by making suppliers and consumers peers. For any given file, you could be uploading to or downloading from anyone. In most cases, the user uploads the file to others while he is still in the process of downloading it.

Finally, one of the chief advantages enjoyed by consumers of illegal information is the connectivity of the Internet, which ensures that distribution costs are minimized. There is no place of business for those offering the latest movie, and therefore there are no turf wars. There is no distribution network to finance, and therefore no middlemen looking for a cut of profits. There are no palms to grease. There are no equivalents to pimps or pushers. Entering or leaving the trade poses no risk to the person from rival dealers or angry consumers.

When one compares all of the above technological advantages to the black markets in virtually every other good, it is no wonder that the latter are dangerous, seedy enterprises. Far from enjoying negligible costs and few risks, there are substantial costs and life-threatening risks associated with doing business in other illegal goods. The state has made it so that these black market entrepreneurs risk everything to participate. Not only must they evade or bribe government agents, and live under the constant threat of being caught, but because competition cannot be done openly, would-be black market entrepreneurs face the threat of violence from their competition — and even colleagues — as well.

Information and Praxeology

The technological advantages of sharing information point us to an important praxeological principle that also explains the nonviolence of this black market. Unlike the goods people exchange money for, information is nonscarce. Being nonscarce, it is a nonrivalrous good and, as such, it is free.

In fact, as Rothbard points out, nonscarce goods cannot even be economized — that is, they cannot be made the object of human action.[2] To see the relevance of this point to illegal movie downloads, consider another nonscarce good: air. For the most part, air remains only a part of the general conditions of human action and does not factor into the economizing of means to achieve ends. One can breathe as much air as he likes without exhausting its supply or decreasing the amount (or quality) of air left for everyone else.

It takes special circumstances to make air a scarce good and thus something that acting man must economize. For example, one might decide to dive to the bottom of the sea with the assistance of oxygen tanks — and thus face decisions on what to do with the limited amount of air available. Or, if the earth were to become polluted enough, the world’s breathable air supply could itself become a scarce good and an ongoing concern in human affairs.

We should observe that air, since it is a physical good, is scarce in principle but may be considered nonscarce insofar as its supply and ubiquity exceeds all of the potential uses to which acting persons can put it. But ideas and information are not physical goods, and therefore they are not only nonscarce in practice but also nonscarce in principle. It is impossible to diminish their supply or reduce their quality.

If information cannot be made the object of human action, and illegal digital content is but information, how is it possible for there to be a black market for it? What is it that really happens when users obtain illegal digital content? It is clear that no ideas are altered, exchanged, or diminished. Instead, the black market in information is simply individuals cooperating in order to manipulate their own private property — namely, altering the physical state of their computers in certain patterns. We term these patterns “songs,” “movies,” and the like, informally treating them like physical objects. But at no point does copying a pattern inhibit anyone else’s ability to enjoy that same pattern. It turns out that copying is not theft.

If the content in question were not merely information — if the content was itself only a scarce, physical good — then there is no doubt the black market for that good would look radically different. Suppose that there was no way to copy DVDs or transfer their contents to another medium. Any illegal copies of films would have to be sold on the black market. But with this reimagined black market would come all of the limitations we have already discussed: the restricted number and quality of goods, the need to avoid authorities, the inevitable establishment of turf and turf wars, and so on. The market for illegal movies would quickly resemble that for other black markets: shady, marginalized, and dangerous.

Yet hubs of pirated content on the Internet do not function like the streets and back alleys of other black markets. A user need not pay money to acquire some quantity of a forbidden good. Indeed, the user’s own private property remains secure throughout his interaction with others. The only thing being exchanged between dealers and consumers is access to certain patterns of information — in the case of torrents, the file that coordinates downloads and uploads.

What is nonscarce cannot itself be homesteaded or owned. Since the use of a pattern requires a consumer to already possess the proper media, people entering the black market for information have no need to fight with others, because there is no scarce thing to fight over.

And so we have reached the crux of the matter: the black market in information is nonviolent primarily because its goods are of a different kind than those of all other black markets. All of the technological advantages enjoyed within the black market for information stem from this feature of its products. The information is nonscarce, free, and easy to share — one need not even give over any property to participate. Should it be so surprising if there is a flourishing supply to meet the demand?

Conclusion: Intellectual Property and the State

In this article, we have avoided speaking of the state as much as possible in order to examine the nature of digital content in its own right. We have seen that it is nonscarce and free, and thus easy to share and consume.

Unfortunately, the state will not — to use a cliché — let information be free. But can legislation alter the laws of the universe? Ideas are not scarce, and neither can one make them scarce by claiming they are “protected.” Nothing but chaos has emerged from the onslaught of intellectual-property laws.

Intellectual-property legislation attempts to turn nonscarce, unownable information into a scarce, ownable thing. It imputes to information a government-mandated and regulated property right that is then assigned, by bureaucratic means, to individuals and corporations. All of this, as Stephan Kinsella explains, violates legitimate rights (including the rights of innocent third parties).

The purpose of the market is to improve the human condition in the most effective way possible. Through improvements in technology and resource management, we manage to produce more with less. In other words, the purpose of the market is to make useful things relatively less scarce. With information, that goal is already here.

Indeed, in information and ideas we possess the “holy grail” of the economy: a universal, free good. Sadly, the state has taken this magnificent human triumph away from us via intellectual-property laws. Intellectual property is thus a tragic regression in human affairs.


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The Real U.S. Government

Posted: 31 Jul 2010 08:39 AM PDT

From Salon Magazine

By Glenn Greenwald

The Washington Post’s Dana Priest demonstrates once again why she’s easily one of the best investigative journalists in the nation — if not the best — with the publication of Part I of her series, co-written with William Arkin, detailing the sprawling, unaccountable, inexorably growing secret U.S. Government: what the article calls “Top Secret America.” To the extent the series receives much substantive attention (and I doubt it will), the focus will likely be on the bureaucratic problems it documents: the massive redundancies, overlap, waste, and inefficiencies which plague this “hidden world, growing beyond control” — as though everything would better if Top Secret America just functioned a bit more effectively. But the far more significant fact so compellingly illustrated by this first installment is the one I described last week when writing about the Obama administration’s escalating war on whistle blowers:

Most of what the U.S. Government does of any significance — literally — occurs behind a vast wall of secrecy, completely unknown to the citizenry. . . . Secrecy is the religion of the political class, and the prime enabler of its corruption. That’s why whistle blowers are among the most hated heretics. They’re one of the very few classes of people able to shed a small amount of light on what actually takes place.

Virtually every fact Priest and Arkin disclose underscores this point. Here is their first sentence: ”The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.” This all “amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight.” We chirp endlessly about the Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Democrats and Republicans, but this is the Real U.S. Government: functioning in total darkness, beyond elections and parties, so secret, vast and powerful that it evades the control or knowledge of any one person or even any organization.

Anyone who thinks that’s hyperbole should just read some of what Priest and Arkin chronicle. Consider this: ”Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications.” To call that an out-of-control, privacy-destroying Surveillance State is to understate the case. Equally understated is the observation that we have become a militarized nation living under an omnipotent, self-perpetuating, bankrupting National Security State. Here’s but one flavoring anecdote:

Command centers, internal television networks, video walls, armored SUVs and personal security guards have also become the bling of national security.

“You can’t find a four-star general without a security detail,” said one three-star general now posted in Washington after years abroad. “Fear has caused everyone to have stuff. Then comes, ‘If he has one, then I have to have one.’ It’s become a status symbol.”

What’s most noteworthy about all of this is that the objective endlessly invoked for why we must acquiesce to all of this — National Security — is not only unfulfilled by “Top Secret America,” but actively subverted by it. During the FISA debate of 2008 — when Democrats and Republicans joined together to legalize the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping program and vastly expand the NSA’s authority to spy on the communications of Americans without judicial oversight — it was constantly claimed that the Government must have greater domestic surveillance powers in order to Keep Us Safe. Thus, anyone who opposed the new spying law was accused of excessively valuing privacy and civil liberties at the expense of what, we are always told, matters most: Staying Safe.

But as I wrote many times back then — often by interviewing and otherwise citing House Intelligence Committee member Rush Holt, who has been making this point repeatedly — the more secret surveillance powers we vest in the Government, the more we allow the unchecked Surveillance State to grow, the more unsafe we become. That’s because the public-private axis that is the Surveillance State already collects so much information about us, our activities and our communications — so indiscriminately and on such a vast scale — that it cannot possibly detect any actual national security threats. NSA whistle blower Adrienne Kinne, when exposing NSA eavesdropping abuses, warned of what ABC News described as “the waste of time spent listening to innocent Americans, instead of looking for the terrorist needle in the haystack.” As Kinne put it:

By casting the net so wide and continuing to collect on Americans and aid organizations, it’s almost like they’re making the haystack bigger and it’s harder to find that piece of information that might actually be useful to somebody. You’re actually hurting our ability to effectively protect our national security.

The Government did not fail to detect the 9/11 attacks because it was unable to collect information relating to the plot. It did collect exactly that, but because it surveilled so much information, it was incapable of recognizing what it possessed (“connecting the dots”). Despite that, we have since then continuously expanded the Government’s surveillance powers. Virtually every time the political class reveals some Scary New Event, it demands and obtains greater spying authorities (and, of course, more and more money). And each time that happens, its ability to detect actually relevant threats diminishes. As Priest and Arkin write:

The NSA sorts a fraction of those [1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of daily collected communications] into 70 separate databases. The same problem bedevils every other intelligence agency, none of which have enough analysts and translators for all this work.

The article details how ample information regarding alleged Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hassan and attempted Christmas Day bomber Umar Abdulmutallab was collected but simply went unrecognized. As a result, our vaunted Surveillance State failed to stop the former attack and it was only an alert airplane passenger who thwarted the latter. So it isn’t that we keep sacrificing our privacy to an always-growing National Security State in exchange for greater security. The opposite is true: we keep sacrificing our privacy to the always-growing National Security State in exchange for less security.

* * * * *

This world is so vast, secretive and well-funded that it’s very difficult to imagine how it could ever be brought under control. That’s particularly true given its inextricable intertwining with the private sector: the billions upon billions of dollars funneled from the Government to its private-sector “partners,” which is the subject of the not-yet-published second installment of the Priest/Arkin article. As I wrote when examining the revolving public/private shuttling of former DNI and Booz Allen executive Michael McConnell:

In every way that matters, the separation between government and corporations is nonexistent, especially (though not only) when it comes to the National Security and Surveillance State. Indeed, so extreme is this overlap that even McConnell, when he was nominated to be Bush’s DNI, told The New York Times that his ten years of working “outside the government,” for Booz Allen, would not impede his ability to run the nation’s intelligence functions. That’s because his Booz Allen work was indistinguishable from working for the Government, and therefore — as he put it — being at Booz Allen “has allowed me to stay focused on national security and intelligence communities as a strategist and as a consultant. Therefore, in many respects, I never left.”

As the NSA scandal revealed, private telecom giants and other corporations now occupy the central role in carrying out the government’s domestic surveillance and intelligence activities — almost always in the dark, beyond the reach of oversight or the law.

Long before the Priest/Arkin article, Tim Shorrock has been documenting this sprawling, secretive, merged public/private world that combines unchecked surveillance and national security powers with enormous corporate profits. So long as the word Terrorism continues to be able to strike fear in the hearts of enough citizens and media stars — as Communism did before it — the political class, no matter who is elected, will be petrified to oppose any of this, even if they wanted to, and why would they want to? They wouldn’t and they don’t. And it thus grows and becomes more powerful, all justified by endless appeals to The Terrorists.

That’s why it is difficult to imagine — short of some severe citizen unrest — how any of this will be brought under control. One of the few scenarios one can envision for such unrest involves growing wealth disparities and increasingly conspicuous elite corruption. In The New York Times today, investment banker and former Clinton Treasury official Roger Altman announced that the alleged “tension between President Obama and the business community” can be solved only if the political class is willing to “fix Social Security” – i.e., to slash Americans’ retirement security. Sooner or later (probably sooner), one way or another (probably this way), that’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. As George Carlin put it several years ago, in an amazingly succinct summary of so many things:

And now, they’re coming for your Social Security money – they want your fucking retirement money – they want it back – so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They’ll get it. They’ll get it all from you sooner or later. Because they own this fucking place. It’s a Big Club: and you’re not in it.

That’s really the only relevant question: how much longer will Americans sit by passively and watch as a tiny elite become more bloated, more powerful, greedier, more corrupt and more unaccountable — as the little economic security, privacy and freedom most citizens possess vanish further still? How long can this be sustained, where more and more money is poured into Endless War, a military that almost spends more than the rest of the world combined, where close to 50% of all U.S. tax revenue goes to military and intelligence spending, where the rich-poor gap grows seemingly without end, and the very people who virtually destroyed the world economy wallow in greater rewards than ever, all while the public infrastructure (both figuratively and literally) crumbles and the ruling class is openly collaborating on a bipartisan, public-private basis even to cut Social Security benefits?

* * * * *

The answer, unfortunately, is probably this: a lot longer. And one primary reason is that our media-shaped political discourse is so alternatively distracted and distorted that even shining light on all of this matters little. The New York Times‘ Peter Baker had a good article this weekend on how totally inconsequential squabbles dominate the news more or less continuously: last week’s riveting drama was the bickering between the White House and Nancy Pelosi over Robert Gibbs’ warning that Democratic control of the House was endangered. Baker quotes Democratic strategist Chris Lehane as follows: ”Politics in D.C. have become Seinfeldesque. Fights about nothing.”

If you read and write about politics full-time and are thus forced to subject yourself to the political media — as I am — what’s most striking aren’t the outrages and corruptions, but the overwhelming, suffocating, numbing stream of stupidity and triviality that floods the brain. One has to battle the temptation to just turn away and ignore it all. Every day, day after day, is consumed by some totally irrelevant though distracting melodrama: what Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page, some “outrageous” snippet of a comment made by John Boehner or Harry Reid, some “crazy,” attention-attracting statement from some fringe idiot-figure or TV blowhard that is exploited for superficial partisan gain or distraction value (hey, look over there: I think Michelle Bachmann just said something outrageous!!!!). I can’t recall an incident that better captures our political culture than this, from a Politico report on one of last week’s fascinating Royal Court dramas — the insult-trading between Palin and Mitt Romney:

Asked about the comments by POLITICO, a longtime Palin aide unloaded on Romney’s staff. . . . “For Washington consultants to sit around and personally disparage the governor anonymously to reporters is unfortunate and counterproductive and frankly immature,” said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A Palin aide, hiding behind Politico-granted anonymity, complaining that petty comments were made anonymously by a Romney aide: a perfect expression of what our politics are. The Drudge and Politico sewers still rule our world — “fights over nothing” – and happily distract us from Top Secret America, what it does and what it takes.

And whatever these petty distractions fail to achieve, active media distortion takes care of the rest. This superb article by Mark Prendergast, the Ombudsman for Stars & Stripes, details the billions of dollars secretly (and probably illegally) spent by the Pentagon — much of it on private contractors — to subject not only foreign nationals but also American citizens to pure propaganda campaigns. The Pentagon propaganda program exposed by David Barstow is but a representative sliver of the weapons used by the National Security State and its private partners to control media behavior and shape public opinion. Billions upon billions of dollars are spent for this propagandistic purpose at exactly the time that real journalistic outlets are failing. Television journalists think they’re covering war zones when they submit to Pentagon embedding and then broadcast what they’re allowed to see, while repeating government lies about war without challenge. And when all else fails, we’re told to look over there at all those Bad, Evil things done by those Other Countries (hey, look at Pakistan, whose citizens are pumped full of myths and disinformation while their wealthy manipulate the law so as to not pay their fair share of taxes!! – and Iran detains people without charges and China tortures!! — can you believe them?).

Meanwhile, the Real U.S. Government — the network of secret public and private organizations which comprise the National Security and Surveillance State — expands and surveills and pilfers and destroys without much attention and with virtually no real oversight or accountability. It sucks up the vast bulk of national resources and re-directs the rest to those who own and control it. To their immense credit, Dana Priest and William Arkin will spend the week disclosing the details of what they learned over the past two years investigating all of this, but the core concepts have long been glaringly evident. But Sarah Palin’s Twitter malapropism from yesterday will almost certainly receive far more attention than anything exposed by the Priest/Arkin investigation. So we’ll continue to fixate on the trappings and theater of government while The Real Government churns blissfully in the dark — bombing and detaining and abducting and spying and even assassinating — without much bother from anyone.


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WikiLeaks Posts Mysterious ‘Insurance’ File

Posted: 31 Jul 2010 07:48 AM PDT

The force is strong with Assange…. Smart!

From Wired

In the wake of strong U.S. government statements condemning WikiLeaks’ recent publishing of 77,000 Afghan War documents, the secret-spilling site has posted a mysterious encrypted file labeled “insurance.”

The huge file, posted on the Afghan War page at the WikiLeaks site, is 1.4 GB and is encrypted with AES256. The file’s size dwarfs the size of all the other files on the page combined. The file has also been posted on a torrent download site as well.

WikiLeaks, on Sunday, posted several files containing the 77,000 Afghan war documents in a single “dump” file and in several other files containing versions of the documents in various searchable formats.

Cryptome, a separate secret-spilling site, has speculated that the file may have been posted as insurance in case something happens to the WikiLeaks website or to the organization’s founder, Julian Assange. In either scenario, WikiLeaks volunteers, under a prearranged agreement with Assange, could send out a password or passphrase to allow anyone who has downloaded the file to open it.

It’s not known what the file contains but it could include the balance of data that U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning claimed to have leaked to Assange before he was arrested in May.
In chats with former hacker Adrian Lamo, Manning disclosed that he had provided Assange with a different war log cache than the one that WikiLeaks already published. This one was said to contain 500,000 events from the Iraq War between 2004 and 2009. WikiLeaks has never commented on whether it received that cache.

Additionally, Manning said he sent Assange video showing a deadly 2009 U.S. firefight near Garani in Afghanistan that local authorities say killed 100 civilians, most of them children, as well as 260,000 U.S. State Department cables.

Manning never mentioned leaking the Afghan War log to WikiLeaks in his chats with Lamo, but Defense Department officials told The Wall Street Journal that investigators had found evidence on Manning’s Army computer that tied him to that leak.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen strongly condemned WikiLeaks’ publication of the Afghan War log at a Pentagon press briefing on Thursday.

Gates said the leak had “potentially severe and dangerous for our troops, our allies and our Afghan partners” and said that “tactics, techniques and procedures will become known to our adversaries” as a result.

Mullen was even more direct and said that WikiLeaks “might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier” or an Afghan informant who aided the United States.

Several media outlets have found the names of Afghan informants in the documents WikiLeaks published, as well as information identifying their location in some instances. A Taliban spokesman told Britain’s Channel 4 news that the group was sifting through the WikiLeaks documents to get the names of suspected informants and would punish anyone found to have collaborated with the United States and its allies.


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