In 1980, James Bamford was the first reporter to divulge the existence of the NSA. Since then, he has published three books on the agency: “The Puzzle Palace,” “Body of Secrets” and “The Shadow Factory.” Bamford has proven not only accurate, but clairvoyant. “Body of Secrets,” written in 1982, explains how, post 9/11, the NSA focused on collecting intelligence on American citizens. So why is Congress acting as if this was a total surprise? If our representatives spent more time overseeing the executive branch and less time on circuses, they might be better informed.
One of the real scandals about the NSA/NRO/CIA/DIA and a host of other “intelligence” organizations is not about Edward Snowden, but why over two million civilians have Top Secret clearances. Another scandal is the yearly intelligence budget of over $70 billion is growing exponentially. What of government agencies hiding their sins of omission and commission behind the catch-all phrase “national security?” Why do these two words send the public and the press into a catatonic silence?
Over 25 years working in the Department of State, I had access to documents beyond Top Secret, and I can recall only a handful that, if revealed to the enemy (the Soviets at the time), might have caused harm to our national security as the term was originally intended to mean. Many classified documents were embarrassing to either the U.S., or a foreign power; many more (if not the majority) fell in the “CYA” category. Quite a few were classified to keep them out of another agency’s loop (AKA “protecting one’s turf’”), or out of the real enemy’s hands: Congress. Finally, a vast number were classified solely to make them inaccessible to the public through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Since Eisenhower, there have been sporadic attempts at bringing the classification process under control but all have failed. The ability to classify confers a certain self-importance and prestige on the person who wields the Top Secret stamp. When in doubt, classify and go for the highest classification you can get away with, is the motto. There’s no price to pay for over-classifying any document, but hell to pay leaving it unclassified and having it fall into the hands of the press.
After 9/11, Bush and Cheney whipped up our fear demons, and the sheep in Congress reacted predictably; with less than a day’s debate, they passed the Patriot Act which makes a mockery of the Fourth Amendment. The Libertarians and the Tea party were AWOL in this debate. Only a few liberals asked: Is it worth losing personal liberties to fight people armed with AK-47s and box cutters?
Congress, backed by the security/industrial/military/intelligence (SIMI) complex, has convinced many of us that we can achieve 100 percent security if we throw enough money at the problem. It’s a fool’s errand. Let’s borrow a page from Republicans: run a cost/benefit analysis on the so-called War on Terror. Can we accept being 90 percent safe while spending “only” $30 billion on intelligence, instead of spending $70-plus billion, and lose our civil liberties, to be 95 percent safe? Is that extra 5 percent safety really worth $40 billion?
Right-wingers love everything “Pentagon” and “national security.” 9/11 was a godsend to them for it allowed George Bush to advance us inexorably toward a militarized, national security state financed by Wall Street fraudsters and banksters. President Obama is only marginally better — he lies less than Dubya. The people have lost the battle but not yet the war, so let’s pass the pitchforks and go to the barricades!