By Tom Engelhardt
When my daughter was little and I read to her regularly, one illustrated book was a favorite of ours. In a series of scenes, it described frustrating incidents in the life of a young girl, each ending with the line - which my tiny daughter would boom out with remarkable force - "that makes me mad!" It was the book's title and a repetitively cathartic moment in our reading lives. And it came to mind recently as, in my daily reading, I stumbled across repetitively mind-boggling numbers from the everyday life of our National Security Complex.
For our present national security moment, however, I might amend the book's punch line slightly to: That makes no sense!
Now, think of something you learned about the Complex that fried your brain, try the line yourself... and we'll get started.
Are you, for instance, worried about the safety of America's "secrets"? Then you should breathe a sigh of relief and consider this headline from a recent article on the inside pages of my hometown paper: "Cost to Protect US Secrets Doubles to Over $11 Billion."
A government outfit few of us knew existed, the Information Security Oversight Office or ISOO, just released its "Report on Cost Estimates for Security Classification Activities for Fiscal Year 2011" (no price tag given, however, on producing the report or maintaining ISOO). Unclassified portions, written in classic bureaucratese, offer this precise figure for protecting our secrets, vetting our secrets' protectors (no leakers please), and ensuring the safety of the whole shebang: US$11.37 billion in 2011.
That's up (and get used to the word "up") by 12% from 2010, and double the 2002 figure of $5.8 billion. For those willing to step back into what once seemed like a highly classified past but was clearly an age of innocence, it's more than quadruple the 1995 figure of $2.7 billion.
And let me emphasize that we're only talking about the unclassified part of what it costs for secrets protection in the National Security Complex. The bills from six agencies, monsters in the intelligence world - the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence - are classified. The New York Times estimates that the real cost lies in the range of $13 billion, but who knows?
To put things in perspective, the transmission letter from Director John P Fitzpatrick that came with the report makes it utterly clear why your taxpayer dollars, all $13 billion of them, are being spent this way: "Sustaining and increasing investment in classification and security measures is both necessary to maintaining the classification system and fundamental to the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration." It's all to ensure transparency. George Orwell take that! Pow!
Now let's try the line again, this time with more gusto: That makes no sense!
On the other hand, maybe it helps to think of this as the Complex's version of inflation. Security protection, it turns out, only goes in one direction. And no wonder, since every year there's so much more precious material written by people in an expanding Complex to protect from the prying eyes of spies, "terrorists", Freedom fighetrs and, well, you....and ZIOCONNED America and the criminal Western World.....
The official figure for documents classified by the US government last year is - hold your hats on this one - 92,064,862. And as WikiLeaks/CIA managed to release hundreds of thousands of them online a couple of years ago, that's meant a bonanza of even more money for yet more rigorous protection.
You have to feel at least some dollop of pity for protection bureaucrats like Fitzgerald. While back in 1995 the US government classified a mere 5,685,462 documents - in those days, we were practically a secret-less nation - today, of those 92 million sequestered documents, 26,058,678 were given a "top secret" classification. There are today almost five times as many "top secret" documents as total classified documents back then.
Here's another kind of inflation (disguised as deflation): in 1996, the government declassified 196 million pages of documents. In 2011, that figure was 26.7 million. In other words, these days what becomes secret remains ever more inflatedly secret. That's what qualifies as "transparency, participation, and collaboration" inside the Complex and in an administration that came into office proclaiming "sunshine" CIA policies. (All of the above info thanks to another of those ISOO reports.) And keep in mind that the National Security Complex is proud of such figures!
So, today, the "people's" government (your government) produces 92 million documents that no one except the nearly one million people with some kind of security clearance, including hundreds of thousands of private contractors, have access to. Don't think of this as "overclassification," which is a problem. Think of it as a way of life, and one that has ever less to do with you.
Now, honestly, don't you feel that urge welling up? Go ahead. Don't hold back: That makes no sense!
How about another form of security-protection inflation: polygraph tests within the Complex. A recent McClatchy investigation of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which oversees US spy satellites, found that lie-detector tests of employees and others had "spiked" in the last decade and had also grown far more intrusive, "pushing ethical and possibly legal limits." In a program designed to catch spies and ZIO-terrorists..., the NRO's polygraphers were, in fact, being given cash bonuses for "personal confessions" of "intimate details of the private lives of thousands of job applicants and employees ... including drug use ... suicide attempts, depression, and sexual deviancy." The agency, which has 3,000 employees, conducted 8,000 polygraph tests last year.
McClatchy adds: "In 2002, the National Academies, the nonprofit institute that includes the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that the federal government shouldn't use polygraph screening because it was too unreliable. Yet since then, in the ZIO-Defense Department alone, the number of national-security polygraph tests has increased fivefold, to almost 46,000 annually."
Now, think about those 46,000 lie-detector tests and can't you just sense it creeping up on you? Go ahead. Don't be shy! That makes no sense!
Or talking about security inflation, what about the "explosion of cell phone surveillance" recently reported by the New York Times - a staggering 1.3 million demands in 2011 "for subscriber information ... from law enforcement agencies seeking text messages, caller locations and other information in the course of investigations"?
From the Complex to local police departments, such requests are increasing by 12%-16% annually. One of the companies getting the requests, AT&T, says that the numbers have tripled since 2007. And lest you think that 1.3 million is a mind-blowingly definitive figure, the Times adds that it's only partial, and that the real one is "much higher." In addition, some of those 1.3 million demands, sometimes not accompanied by court orders, are for multiple (or even masses of) customers, and so could be several times higher in terms of individuals surveilled. In other words, while those in the National Security Complex - and following their example, state and local law enforcement - are working hard to make themselves ever more opaque to us, we are meant to be ever more "transparent" to them.
These are only examples of a larger trend. Everywhere you see evidence of such numbers inflation in the Complex. And there's another trend involved as well. Let's call it by its name: paranoia. In the years since the barbaric False Flag 9/11 attacks, the Complex has made itself, if nothing else, utterly secure, and paranoia has been its closest companion. Thanks to its embrace of a paranoid worldview, it's no longer the sort of place that experiences job cuts, nor is lack of infrastructure investment an issue, nor budget slashing a reality, nor prosecution for illegal acts a possibility.
A superstructure of "security" has been endlessly expanded based largely on the fear that ZIO-terrorists will do you harm. As it happens, you're no less in danger from avalanches (34 dead in the US since November) or tunneling at the beach (12 dead between 1990 and 2006), not to speak of real perils like job loss, foreclosure, having your college debts follow you to the grave, and so many other things. But it matters little. The promise of safety from ZIO-terror has worked. It's been a money-maker, a stimulus-program creator, a job generator - for the Complex.
Back in 1964, Richard Hofstadter wrote a Harper's Magazine essay entitled "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." Then, however, paranoia as he described it, while distinctly all-American, remained largely a phenomenon of Zioconned American politics - and often of the political fringe. Now, it turns out to be a guiding principle in the way we are governed.
Yes, we're in a world filled with dangers. (Paranoia invariably has some basis, however twisted, in reality.) And significant among them is undoubtedly the danger the national security state represents to our lives, which are increasingly designed to be open books to its functionaries. Whether you like it or not, want it or not, care or not, you are ever more likely to be on file somewhere; you are ever more liable to be polygraphed until you "confess"; your cell phone, email, and texts are no longer your property; and one of the 30,000 employees of the Complex assigned to monitor American phone conversations and other communications may be checking you out. So it goes in twenty-first-century Zioconned America.
Maybe if you haven't said it yet, you're finally feeling the urge. Go on then, give it a try.
That makes no sense!
There's just one catch. The direction your government has taken - call it "transparency" or anything else you want - may boggle the mind. It may seem as idiotically wrong-headed as having 17 significant agencies and outfits in a single government on a budget of $180 billion-plus a year call the product of their work "intelligence." It may not make sense to you, but it does make sense to the National Security Complex. For its "community," the coupling of security with redundancy - with too much, too many, and always more - means you're speaking the language of the gods, you're hearing the music of the angels.
So much of what the Complex does may seem like overkill and its operations may often look laughable and inane. Unfortunately, the joke's on you. In our country, the bureaucrats of the Zioconned Complex increasingly have the power to make just about any absurdity they want the way of our world not just in practice, but often in court, too. And if you really think that makes no sense, then maybe you better put some thought into what's to be done about it.
(A note of thanks: to my friend John Cobb for reminding me of Hofstadter's essay and to Nick Turse from whose book title, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, I've long lifted the idea of the National Security Complex.)
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.
The TSA, DHS and countless other security agencies have been established to keep America safe from terrorist attacks in post-9/11 America. How far beyond that does the feds’ reach really go, though?
The attacks September 11, 2001, were instrumental in enabling the US government to establish counterterrorism agencies to prevent future tragedies. Some officials say that they haven’t stopped there, though, and are spying on everyone in America — all in the name of national security.
Testimonies delivered in recent weeks by former employees of the National Security Agency suggest that the US government is granting itself surveillance powers far beyond what most Americans consider the proper role of the federal government.
In an interview broadcast on Current TV’s “Viewpoint” program on Monday, former NSA Technical Director William Binney commented on the government’s policy of blanket surveillance, alongside colleagues Thomas Drake and Kirk Wiebe, the agency's respective former Senior Official and Senior Analyst.
The interview comes on the heels of a series of speeches given by Binney, who has quickly become better known for his whistleblowing than his work with the NSA. In their latest appearance this week, though, the three former staffers suggested that America’s spy program is much more dangerous than it seems.
In an interview with “Viewpoint” host Eliot Spitzer, Drake said there was a “key decision made shortly after 9/11, which began to rapidly turn the United States of America into the equivalent of a foreign nation for dragnet blanket electronic surveillance.”
These powers have previously defended by claims of national security necessity, but Drake says that it doesn’t stop there. He warns that the government is giving itself the power to gather intel on every American that could be used in future prosecutions unrelated to terrorism.
“When you open up the Pandora’s Box of just getting access to incredible amounts of data, for people that have no reason to be put under suspicion, no reason to have done anything wrong, and just collect all that for potential future use or even current use, it opens up a real danger — and to what else what they could use that data for, particularly when it’s all being hidden behind the mantle of national security,” Drake said.
Although Drake’s accusations seem astounding, they corroborate allegations made by Binney only a week earlier. Speaking at the Hackers On Planet Earth conference in New York City earlier this month, Binney addressed a room of thousands about the NSA’s domestic spying efforts. But in a candid interview with journalist Geoff Shively during HOPE, the ex-NSA official candidly revealed the full extent of the surveillance program.
“Domestically, they're pulling together all the data about virtually every U.S. citizen in the country and assembling that information, building communities that you have relationships with, and knowledge about you; what your activities are; what you're doing. So the government is accumulating that kind of information about every individual person and it's a very dangerous process,” Binney said.
Drake and Binney’s statements follow the revelation that law enforcement officers collected cell phone records on 1.3 million Americans in 2011. More news articles are emerging every day suggesting that the surveillance of Americans — off-the-radar and under wraps — is growing at an exponential rate....
The US economy is teetering on the brink of another recession. The bad news is, if it goes down again, policymakers won't have many options, and like a weary heavyweight, if it hits the mat again, it's down for good. The recovery has been terribly disappointing - growth is hardly 2%, and unemployment hangs above 8%.
Manufacturing and exports powered the expansion but are now weakening. Consumer spending and existing home sales are flagging, because policymakers failed to aid underwater homeowners as generously as the banks.
President Barack Obama is doubling down on slow growth policies - new restrictions on offshore oil and carbon dioxide emissions, and financial regulations that haven't stopped Wall Street banks from trading recklessly and rigging markets.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has reverted to shopworn Republican prescriptions - tax cuts, free trade and deregulation. With the federal government spending 50% more than it takes in, no competent economist could endorse big tax-rate cuts, beyond renewing the Bush tax cuts.
China, by manipulating its currency and shutting out Western products, helped cause the Great Recession and is now constraining recovery in the United States and Europe. More free trade agreements won't fix that.
Dodd-Frank may be bureaucratic and ineffective, but no sane person could claim banks can regulate themselves - smarter solutions, like breaking up unmanageable and unsuperviseable institutions, is needed.
Many analysts ask if another big innovation - like the automobile or computer - could save the economy. The problems are many new products are creating more jobs in Asia than in the West, and many technology companies are consolidating or facing extinction - consider the smart phone, Hewlett Packard and Yahoo.
A lot of US innovation is starting to look more like French art than American commerce. Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter made great contributions to the economy and culture but simply don't have business models that generate enough revenue and jobs.
Google succeeded by cannibalizing newspapers - the net effect has been to destroy more - and branching into software and media - which displaces workers elsewhere.
The profitable core of finance - investment banking - is shrinking. Burdensome regulations are a problem, but many clients - ranging from municipalities to wealth managers to foreign governments burned by Wall Street schemes - are less interested in what Goldman Sachs and others peddle.
To save European governments, several trillions of dollars in sovereign debt must be written down.
Beyond lacking a plan to equitably distribute the loss, Germany and other stronger states have not accepted that they cannot continue to pursue export-driven growth strategies and import more if southern Europe is to recover.
China's policies hold itself and the West hostage. Europe and the United States can't keep printing and borrowing ever more money to sustain its export-driven growth strategy.
China must slow down because it is too late to reorient its economy toward domestic consumption without wrenching dislocations
When the United States entered the recent crisis, its budget deficit was $161 billion. Now it is $1.3 trillion, and the Federal Reserve is already maintaining rock bottom interest rates.
Even if congress and the president extend the George W Bush tax cuts, any hiccup in Europe or China could throw the US economy into a recession. And the world's biggest economy could hit the skids on its own.
Capital markets simply won't be able to absorb a $2.5 trillion to $3 trillion federal deficit to further stimulate the US economy, without sucking badly needed funds from struggling European and developing-country economies. The Fed could only print money to finance it and set off hyperinflation, but it can't lower interest rates much further.
Having failed to adequately address what caused the Great Recession - China's trade surplus and the imbalance in demand between the Middle Kingdom and the United States, the cowboy culture on Wall Street and the plight of underwater homeowners - not much can be done.
Get ready for a very bad ride....