We Live Under a Total Surveillance State in America – (4 part series)

WW~Notes: For your consideration presented here is the four-part series on America’s total surveillance state written by Fred Branfman.  Most likely a “jew,” however, if he is willing to speak truth to power, then I will give him my full attention, but still remain guarded.  Reading a good majority of the series, it is mostly transparent reiterating much of what is already known.  Yet (and this is found in most cases from American jewish authors) not one whisper of his brethren doing the dirty deeds was mentioned – which I expected.  Those named in the series probably are crypto-jews and/or Christian zionists, and some may be jewish, although, not directly pointed out.  Regardless, Mr. Branfman’s 4-part series is worth the read, just to see the other side for a change.    

Part I: How the Imperial Presidency Threatens U.S. National Security

Editor’s Note:This is the first article of a four-part series by Fred Branfman on the U.S. Executive Branch’s military, police and intelligence agencies which have aggregated far more power, committed far more evil by destroying the lives of countless innocents, and operated far more illegally, than any other governing institution in the world today.


The Executive Branch is also America’s most undemocratic and thus un-American institution. The U.S. Executive justifies its mass murder, incarceration of the innocent, authoritarianism, secrecy, deceit, lawlessness, spying, and prosecution of whistleblowers, the press and activists on the claim that it is protecting U.S. “National Security.” As this article and chart below it entitled “Experts Say U.S. Secret War Is Not Working” demonstrate, however, the Executive’s present campaign in the Muslim World is only the greatest of its many strategic failures to protect U.S. national security. It is in fact today endangering American lives and democracy as never before. A U.S. Executive Branch which constantly deceives its own people, robbing them of the “informed consent” required by the Constitution, cannot legitimately claim to rule in their names. And its citizens are under no moral obligation to obey or support it with their tax dollars, sons or daughters until such time as public and Congressional action have made it subject to truly democratic rule.

If you aren’t familiar with Branfman’s work, here’s some background from his long-time colleague and collaborator, Noam Chomsky [3]: Branfman “worked for years, with enormous courage and effort, to try to expose what were called the ‘secret wars’ [against Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War]. The secret wars were perfectly public wars which the media were keeping secret, government. And Fred …  finally did succeed in breaking through, and [helped prompt] a tremendous exposure of huge wars that were going on.”

Many have expressed surprise that under President Obama – a former Constitutional Law Senior Lecturer who promised transparency [4], protection for whistleblowers [4] and respect for international law [5]when running for office – U.S. Executive Branch agencies have:

  • Built up a fleet of 7,000 drones [6], operating from a growing number of secret bases [7] around the world, as they train [8] more drone than conventional pilots; waged automated war in an ever-expanding [9] number of nations, lawlessly murdering thousands of human beings [10] without [11] even knowing their names, while greatly strengthening America’s foes (see chart below), destabilizing [12] allied governments and, in the case of Pakistan, greatly increasing the risk of nuclear materials [13] falling into anti-American hands;
  • Created the top-secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) consisting of 60,000 [14] persons operating in 75 nations [15], the first unit of American assassins in U.S. history, who have illegally murdered many thousands more [16] people and conducted night raids recalling World War II Gestapo movies which, according to Afghan President Karzai [17], have helped strengthen the Taliban and destabilize his government;
  • Prosecuted more whistleblowers [18] and journalists [19] than even Messrs. Cheney and Bush;
  • Collected records of millions of phone calls of Americans citizens from Verizon [20], Sprint [21], ATT and other phone carriers, and spied [22] on millions more Americans’ search histories, email content, file transfers and live chats while on the Internet;
  • Authorized [23] the use of drones in the United States, which the Federal Aviation Administration estimates could lead to 30,000 drones in U.S. skies by 2020, leading privacy advocates to fear their massive use by police departments to spy on Americans;
  • Claimed the President’s right to kill or imprison without trial [24] any American citizen;
  • Increased paramilitary [25] training and equipment, and created secret police spying operations in thousands of states and cities around the nation (see chapter 7, “Report Suspicious Activity”, Top Secret America, by Dana Priest and William Arkin);
  • Created “huge biometric databases – with fingerprints and iris scans – of nearly 100 million people” (Top Secret America, p. 53);
  • As Priest and Arkin have also revealed, the Executive Branch has created “a jaw-dropping 1,074 federal government organizations, and nearly two thousand private companies involved with programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence in at least 17,000 locations across the United States – all top secret. The biggest growth had come within the many agencies and large corporations that had existed before the attacks and had since inflated to historic proportions.” This has amounted to “a parallel top secret government whose parts had mushroomed in less than a decade into a gigantic, sprawling universe of its own, visible only to a carefully vetted cadre, and its entirety, as Pentagon intelligence chief James Clapper admitted, visible only to God.” (pp. 52, 86).

Under Mr. Obama, America is still far from being a classic police-state of course. But no President has done more to create the infrastructure for a possible future police-state. This infrastructure will clearly pose a serious danger to democratic ideals should there be more 9/11s, and/or increased domestic unrest due to economic decline and growing inequality, and/or massive global disruption due to climate change, and/or a President with even less scruples than Mr. Obama.

What gives? How could a fellow who spoke so eloquently of the need for the rule of law when running for President now be presiding over a lawless “industrial-sized killing machine” [26] abroad and a massive threat to civil liberties at home? Why has Mr. Obama made the U.S. even more hated [27] in the Muslim world than when he took office – even though his stated goal [28] in 2009 was to reshape U.S. policy in the region? How is it that both he and Mitt Romney both ran on essentially the same foreign policy [29], despite significant differences between them on domestic policy?

Much of the answer to such questions lies in something that we rarely do in this nation – seeing the U.S. Executive Branch Mr. Obama nominally heads for what it really is: the most powerful institution in the history of the world, one that has killed, wounded or made homeless well over 20 million human beings (“Dollars and Deaths,”Cong. Record, 5-14-75, p. 14262), mostly civilians, since 1962 – far more than any other government in the world.

Nothing demonstrates this institution’s power more than Mr. Obama himself. The fact that he has so violated his own values and belief system as Commander-in-Chief is not merely a matter of personal hypocrisy; it is a dramatic illustration of how the Executive’s institutional violence, secrecy and deceit overwhelm even Presidents who begin their terms with relatively good intentions.

Just six days before Mr. Obama’s recent speech [30] stating that “perpetual war — through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments — will prove self-defeating”, Pentagon officials gave testimony [31] to Congress calling for just such perpetual war. If Mr. Obama is serious about actually changing present U.S. policy, he will find himself blocked at every turn by powerful Executive Branch officials whose salaries, promotions, agency budgets and future well-paying private sector jobs depend upon perpetual war, at home and abroad.

Americans have been conditioned to focus on the personality of the President, and to see the giant Executive Branch as a mere servant of its “Commander-in-Chief.” Countless books and newspaper stories have been written about the differences between the “Reagan”, “Carter” or “Clinton” foreign policies. There are of course significant differences between Administrations, though often due as much to differing objective conditions as Presidential desires. But the simple fact is that these differences have been far outweighed by a remarkable consistency in U.S. foreign policy since the end of World War II. And a President is far more limited in his options than popular folklore suggests. It is only when one understands the Executive Branch as an institution that one can make sense, not only of Mr. Obama, but much of both America’s postwar history and frightening future.

Famed Watergate reporter Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars reporting on Mr. Obama’s Afghanistan Policy Review in the fall of 2009 provides an instructive case-study of just how limited a President’s options are when faced with institutional opposition from within the Executive Branch.

Woodward reported that after Mr. Obama had acceded to the military demand for an addition 21,000 troops shortly after taking office, he asked them to produce a set of options that would include a reduced U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. The Pentagon refused to do so and instead began publicly lobbying for an additional 40,000 troops. Joint Chief of Staff head Admiral Mike Mullen first pushed [32] for a troop increase at a September 15 Senate Armed Services hearing. White House aides Rahm Emanuel and Tom Donilon were, Woodward reports, “furious. The president is being screwed by the senior uniformed military, they (said). The generals and admirals are systematically playing him, boxing him in.” Mullen apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again.

But then two weeks later, on October 1, 2009, U.S. Afghan military commander Stanley McChrystal committed an act of insubordination far more serious than the later Rolling Stone interviews which got him fired. He again publicly lobbied for more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in a major speech in London. Woodward reports that “McChrystal’s comments marked a seminal moment for the White House staff. What better proof that the military was on a search-and-destroy mission aimed at the president? (National Security Advisor) James Jones said that McChrystal’s speech was either “insubordination or stupid. It read like a direct challenge to the president. ‘It is a firing offense, but McChrystal won’t be fired because we need him.'” Woodward also reported that “Obama felt disrespected and trapped. The White House saw the speech as a scheme on the part of McChrystal, Mullen and Petraeus.”

And Mr. Obama was indeed trapped, far more controlled by the military than its actual “Commander-in-Chief”. As CIA chief Leon Panetta summed up the situation: “no Democratic president can go against military advice, especially if he asked for it. So just do it. Do what they say.” Mr. Obama was thus forced to accede to the Pentagon’s harebrained scheme for a “surge” that increased U.S. troops in Afghanistan by 30,000 (with an additional 10,000 from NATO allies) that achieved little and continued to weaken U.S. national security by worsening conditions in neighboring, and far more important, Pakistan.

The logic behind Panetta’s “give them what they want” mentality is obvious. A President might conceivably survive another 9/11 or losing in Afghanistan – but not if military sources continually leaked information to the media and Congress blaming it on his or her failure to support the military. And, for the same reason, a President is often “trapped” by the NSA, CIA or any other major Executive agency.

A President also rarely takes the initiative in developing such military strategies as drone and ground assassination, or major surveillance operations. Such operations are initiated and developed within the CIA, Pentagon or NSA, and then presented to the President as a near fait accompli. It would require a very high profile in courage indeed for a U.S. President seeking reelection or governing mandate to abort such an operation at that point. Presidents come and go. The Executive Branch endures, often setting the terms under which any President must operate. We understand this when looking at institutions like the Chinese or Soviet Politburo. But we fail to apply this obvious truth when looking at our own Executive Branch.

The U.S. Executive Branch agencies that conduct U.S. foreign military and domestic police operations – the White House, National Security Council, Pentagon, CIA, Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security, National Security Agency and FBI – have an overall budget of well over $1 trillion [33], employ 3-4 million [34] people, and spend more money on the military than the next 10 nations combined [35]. Its enormous power has allowed it to operate unilaterally since the end of WWII, with little meaningful oversight or even the knowledge of Congress and the American people.

The Executive has had one overriding purpose since it emerged from the ashes of World War II: to keep foreign governments deemed “pro-U.S.” in power, and to weaken or overthrow those considered “anti-U.S.” The first key feature of a “pro-U.S.” government is that it permits U.S. corporations and Wall Street investors access to its natural resources and cheap labor. As former Federal Reserve Board Chair Alan Greenspan stated [36], “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” The second is that it allows the U.S. military and spy agencies to operate freely in its territory, including building military bases and conducting clandestine operations.

While convincing its own people that its policies are meant to support “freedom” and “democracy” around the world, its practice has often been exactly the opposite. It has installed and/or supported dozens of brutal, police-state regimes and paramilitary forces in every corner of the globe which are the very antithesis of democracy – including the Somoza family (1936-79) and then Contras in Nicaragua (1980s); death squads in El Salvador (1980s); vicious military regimes in Chile, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil in Latin America from WWII until the 1990s; the Mobutu (1965-97) and South African apartheid regimes (until 1990) in Africa; police-state and military governments in South Vietnam (1956-75), Cambodia (1970-5) and Indonesia (1967 until the present); and the despotic regimes of Mubarak in Egypt (1981-2011), Ben Ali in Tunisia (1987-2011), the Shah of Iran (1952-79), Saudi Arabia (1945-present), and Bahraini (1971-present) in the Middle East. It has also supported the Israeli government’s mistreatment of the Palestinians and refusal to negotiate a settlement based on countless U.N. resolutions.

In general the U.S. Executive prefers to achieve its goals without overt violence. As President Bill Clinton himself later acknowledged [37] with regard to Haiti, for example, his Administration’s “free trade” policies featuring NAFTA and the World Trade Organization impoverished hundreds of millions of poor rural and slum dwellers around the world by giving U.S. corporations unprecedented access to Third World markets and labor, and extending loans that enriched local elites while forcing the population as a whole to repay them by cutting health, education and other social services.

But when such nonviolent means have not sufficed to fulfill Executive Branch aims, it has ruthlessly used massive violence to achieve its goals – from dropping 6.7 million tons of bombs on Indochina and invading it with 550,000 troops; imposing and supporting brutal police-state regimes around the world; and, more recently, relying on drone and ground assassination.

Any individual joining Executive Branch agencies conducting U.S. foreign and police policy automatically finds her or himself part of an institution whose most noteworthy feature is a culture of violence relying upon secrecy and deceit to achieve its goals. Whatever his personal beliefs prior to becoming President Mr. Obama, as the Executive’s titular leader, has necessarily signed up to support the secrecy, lying, and disinformation it employs to enjoy maximum flexibility from democratic oversight in order to pursue its policies of overt and covert violence.

Two important new books – Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars and Mark Mazzetti’s The Way of the Knife – describe how, in near-total secrecy, the U.S. Executive is a world of its own. Over the last 12 years, Executive officials have unilaterally and secretly launched, escalated or de-escalated wars; installed and supported massively corrupt governments, savage warlords, or local paramilitary forces, and overthrown leaders that have displeased it; created the first unit of global American assassins and fleets of machines waging automated war; engaged in vicious turf wars for more money and budget; spied on Americans including the media and activists on a scale unmatched in U.S. history; compiled 3 different sets of global “kill lists” independently operated by the White House, CIA and Pentagon/JSOC; used police-state tactics while claiming to support democracy, e.g. when it fed retina scans, facial recognition features and fingerprints of over 3 million Iraqi and Afghani males into a giant data base; incarcerated and tortured, either directly or indirectly, tens of thousands of people without evidence or trial; and much more.

All of these major activities are conducted entirely by the Executive Branch, without meaningful Congressional oversight or the knowledge of the American people. The foundational principle of the U.S. Constitution is that governments can only rule with the “informed consent” of the people. But the U.S. Executive Branch has not only robbed its people of this fundamental right. It has prosecuted those courageous whistleblowers who have tried to inform them.

The U.S. mass media, dependent upon the Executive for their information and careers, and run by corporate interests benefiting from Executive largesse, predominately convey Executive Branch perspectives on an hourly basis to the American people. Even on the relatively few occasions when they publish information the Executive wishes to keep secret, it has little impact on Executive policies while maintaining the illusion that the U.S. has a “free press”. The U.S. Executive is essentially free to conduct its activities as it wishes.

In future articles in this space we will explore three key features of the U.S. Executive Branch:

(1) Evil – If evil consists of murdering, maiming, and making homeless the innocent, and/or waging the “aggressive war” judged the “supreme international crime” at Nuremberg, the U.S. Executive Branch is today clearly the world’s most evil institution. It has killed, wounded or made refugees of an officially estimated 21 million people in Iraq and Indochina alone, far more than any other institution since the time of Stalin and Mao. President Obama is the first U.S. President to acknowledge, in his recent “counterterrorism” speech, that this number has included killing “hundreds of thousands” of civilians in Vietnam whom it officially claimed it was trying to protect. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara put the total number of Vietnamese killed at 3.4 million. [38]

(2) Lawlessness – If illegality consists of refusing to obey the law, the Executive is clearly the most lawless institution in the world. It routinely violates even timid legislative attempts to control its unilateral war-making. And no nation on earth has signed fewer international laws, and so failed to observe even those it has signed. These include measures like those intended to clean up the tens of millions of landmines and cluster bombs [39] with which it has littered the world, refused to clean up, and which continue to murder and maim tens of thousands of innocent people until today.

(3) Authoritarianism And if “authoritarianism” consists of a governing body acting unilaterally, regularly deceiving its own citizenry, neutering its legislature ,and prosecuting those who expose its lies, the U.S. Executive is clearly the most undemocratic institution in America. Indeed its deceiving its own people – keeping its activities secret and then lying about and covering them up when caught – throws its very legitimacy into question. How can these giant agencies claim to legitimately represent an American people if they do not truthfully inform them about its activities? And how much loyalty do the American people owe to such an institution which does not in fact represent them?

In seeking to understand the U.S. Executive Branch, and its evil, lawlessness and authoritarianism, it is important to note that we are not delving here into “conspiracy theory”. On the contrary. U.S. Executive Branch policy is determined not by conspiracy by a few but rather out of the interaction of hundreds of semi-independent power centers within the bureaucracies and corporate world, the huge agglomeration that Eisenhower [40] termed the “military-industrial complex.” Policy emerges as a result of countless meetings, lobbying sessions, phone calls, meals, negotiations, promises of future jobs in the private sector in return for government contracts, forming and breaking alliances, promoting and demoting individuals.

It is also important to note that when we speak of “evil”, we are not speaking of evil individuals as normally understood. The term is conventionally applied to the clearly demonic monsters who periodically pop up in world history, most notably of course Hitler and other Nazi leaders, i.e. the standard humanist understanding of what most people call evil.

By contrast, most U.S. Executive Branch leaders tend to be rather conventional types before they join the Executive. Like Mr. Obama most have some feeling for their mates, children and/or dogs, give to charity, and hold accepted beliefs about democracy and the rule of law. They do not lie as a matter of course to family and friends, or commit face-to-face violence against those with whom they disagree.

But in the postwar Executive world one need not be classically evil to do evil. It is institutional evil, e.g., mass murder, conducted by normal individuals which poses the greatest threat to human life, decency, democracy and the rule of law in our time. Top Executive Branch leaders are not motivated by grand theories of “purifying the race” or “thousand year Reichs”, but rather simply succeeding in their jobs, advancing in their careers, making more money, being promoted, and gaining more power. Henry Kissinger [41] obviously did not devastate Indochina because he cared about the wellbeing of the 6 million people he helped kill, wound or make homeless; nor did he wish to promote democracy when supporting a savage police-state in South Vietnam which held more political prisoners than the rest of the world combined. Those who know him best say he was motivated by simple careerism – a desire not to be blamed for the fall of Indochina while in office, and to be admired – and rewarded for – being seen as a “statesman” after leaving it.

As important as it is to understand the U.S. Executive’s institutional evil, lawlessness and authoritarianism, however, there is one question that must be addressed first: its claim to be protecting “national security.”

For this claim is the foundational rationale of all Executive action. American democracy has become so debased that most Americans passively accept the fact that the public servants whose salaries they pay routinely lie to them; wage losing and murderous wars that waste trillions of dollars that they need at home to make a living and support their families; send their sons and daughters off to be senselessly killed; and routinely break the domestic and international laws in which all Americans claim to believe, and upon which Executive officials base their right to rule.

They accept these Executive Branch violations of the most basic principles upon which their country was founded for one basic reason: they believe Executive Branch leaders are protecting them, that even clearly illegitimate activities are legitimate because they protect U.S. “national security.”

So deep is the unconscious need to be protected that the words “national security” have acquired a near-mystical power that overwhelms the undeniable factual evidence that U.S. Executive Branch leaders are endangering not protecting Americans, as they lose U.S. influence around the world. The U.S. Executive has maintained much of its influence in key areas where it has not engaged in violence, notably Europe and Japan. But since the end of World War II in more problematic areas:

  • U.S. Executive Branch leaders have not won a single major war they have waged, fighting to a stalemate in Korea, losing massively in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (though destroying these nations’ ability to create alternative economic models), being forced to retreat from Iraq and Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Americans have died, trillions wasted, in war-making that has weakened not strengthened America.
  • They massively miscalculated in the Middle East by supporting the Shah of Iran until the very end. Just three months before the Shah fell, a clueless U.S. Ambassador William Sullivan predicted that ” the riots erupting in provincial cities would play themselves out and were not a cause of major concern.” The regime that replaced the Shah has become America’s major foe in the Muslim world, and the Executive has foolishly strengthened it far further by invading Iraq.
  • By its support for death squads, torture and mass incarcerations by the brutal regimes it imposed upon the people of Central and Latin America, it has understandably turned most of the subcontinent against the U.S. today;
  • U.S. influence is waning in Asia, as China’s rises due to the U.S. financial and corporate sector having exported millions of jobs and ever-more sophisticated manufacturing and high-tech technology there, even as a debt-ridden U.S. economy has allowed its industrial base, infrastructure, and schools to precipitously decline.

U.S. Executive Branch foreign and military policy is characterized above all by two fatal flaws. In the 1960s Senator William Fulbright criticized the Executive’s “arrogance of power”, and this arrogance – combined with ignorance about the countries they attack – has continued until today. U.S. officials regularly try to force local leaders to behave as the Executive wishes, even when these leaders believe it is against their national interests. And the Executive ignores the local public opinion that is increasing the power of anti-U.S. groupings throughout the Third World.

Its second flaw is conducting a short-term, tactics-oriented foreign and military policy at the expense of long-term strategic U.S. interests. For nearly a decade, for example, U.S. Executive military and political leaders were so obsessed with achieving short-term military successes in Afghanistan that they endangered far more important long-term U.S. strategic interests in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

In actual practice U.S. Executive foreign and military policy is above all driven by ambitious politicians, military and intelligence officials looking to further their careers in the short-term, as when David Petraeus managed to become the head of the CIA after totally mismanaged [42] U.S. policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan; bureaucracies fighting vicious turf wars in an attempt to increase their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year; and U.S. corporations seeking to boost next quarter’s profits.

Both arrogance and short-term thinking are in dramatic evidence today in what is the U.S. Executive’s single greatest strategic error since Vietnam: its waging an expanding war in the 1.8 billion strong, nuclear-armed and oil-rich Muslim world. Its policies are turning hundreds of millions of Muslims against the U.S., including countless potential suicide bombers, as it creates far more enemies than it kills. If Executive actions were protecting the U.S., the numbers of U.S. foes would be decreasing. Instead they are exponentially increasing, and spreading to an increasing number of nations.

Executive arrogance, ignorance and short-term thinking are most dangerous today in Pakistan, a nation of 180 million people possessing well over 100 nuclear weapons. This nuclear stockpile, a Harvard Study has reported [43], is the fastest-growing and least stable in the world. It was for this reason that President Obama said “Pakistan” in response to actor George Clooney’s [44] question as to what issue most keeps him up night.

But despite Mr. Obama’s realization of the dangers the U.S. faces in Pakistan, both he and George W. Bush have catastrophically mishandled U.S.-Pakistani relations, irresponsibly putting America at risk. In the immediate wake of 9-11, Pakistan’s powerful ISI (Directorate of Interservices Intelligence) agreed to cooperate with the CIA, and within a few years had helped capture top al-Qaeda operatives Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh. This, Mark Mazzetti reported, “led many top Bush officials to believe the partnership was working.” He also reported that Brigadier-General Asad Munir “thinks about the respect the two spy services had for each other, respect that might have been something approaching trust.”

But the cooperation did not continue because Executive officials decided to pressure Pakistan to support the U.S. war in Afghanistan, against what the ISI and other top Pakistanis felt was their national interest. The Executive also conducted dozens of drone strikes in Pakistan, infuriating the populace and helping to convince [45] 74% of the population – over 125 million people – that the U.S. is their “enemy.” This in turn, as U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson revealed in the Wikileaks cables, made it impossible for the Pakistani government to cooperate with the U.S. on safeguarding its nuclear materials and reduce the risks of nuclear proliferation. She explained [13] that “the negative media attention has begun to hamper U.S. efforts to improve Pakistan’s nuclear security and nonproliferation practices”.

Although Pakistan is the most flagrant example of U.S. Executive incompetence, however, its general pattern of ignoring Arab public opinion has sown a whirlwind throughout the Muslim World, from Egypt to Asia to Africa. Its support for the hated Hosni Mubarak in Egypt until the very end has helped bring the far more anti-U.S. Muslim Brotherhood to power in that pivotal nation. And hatred of the U.S. has also fanned the flames of jihadism and helped extremists increase their power and influence throughout the Muslim World. The U.S. Executive’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq while Mr. Bush was President, and its escalation of drone strikes under Mr. Obama, has dramatically reduced U.S. national security and could well cost many U.S. lives at home and abroad in the coming decade.

Equally significantly, Executive incompetence, by making future 9/11s more likely, has seen it increasingly turn to police-state measures back home. Bob Woodward has warned [46] that “another 9/11 … could happen, and if it does, we will become a police state.” This threat will grow until the U.S. Executive is thoroughly transformed.

As noted, many American accept the Executive’s immorality, illegality and incompetence out of a desire to be protected. But if the public was to realize that Executive policies are in fact endangering their lives, harming not strengthening our national security, it could lead to a movement to rein the Executive in, cut its budgets and demand the transparency upon which Mr. Obama ran for President.

In his recent counterterrorism speech [30] and background briefings, the Obama Administration promised to halt signature drone strikes, target only people actively planning to kill Americans instead of also targeting those only trying to change their own governments, and to make greater efforts to avoid killing civilians.

If implemented, these will be welcome steps. As pushback begins from within the Executive, and from outside it from conservatives, however Mr. Obama will be hard-put to fulfill his pledges. It will also be of great moment to see if these changes can be institutionalized or whether, say, the election of a Republican President in 2016 will undo them.

Policies toward the Muslim World that will enhance U.S. national security are obvious. Above all the U.S. needs to be perceived as an ally not enemy by Pakistan, so that cooperation on safeguarding its nuclear materials can once again become possible. This will require the immediate cessation of allnegative U.S. activities, e.g. drone strikes and other incursions of Pakistani territory, and withdrawing clandestine CIA personnel like Raymond Davis [47] whose murder of two Pakistanis, as Mark Mazetti reports, outraged Pakistanis even more than the capture of Bin Laden.

But these would only be first steps. Far more importantly as Mr. Obama implied in calling for more foreign aid, reducing the anti-U.S. hatred generated over the past decades will require a whole series of new positive steps. First and foremost among them will be extending massive aid to help the Pakistani government achieve its main goal [48]: providing 24 hour a day electricity to every home in the nation. Would America have been safer today had it brought electricity rather than drones, cross-border incursions and violent CIA and JSOC personnel to Pakistan? If it had continued to work with the ISI and been seen as an ally, would it have captured Osama bin Laden years earlier and helped make Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile safer? To ask such questions is to answer them.

As we shall explore in coming articles in this series, achieving the massive shift in U.S. priorities in the Muslim World needed to enhance not weaken U.S. national security will not only require fundamental changes in U.S. policies abroad. Achieving them will also necessitate massive institutional changes within the U.S. Executive branch at home. Over the past 70 years its evil, lawless and authoritarian culture of violence has produced national security disaster after disaster. The institution itself must be changed if the Executive is to genuinely protect the American people.

Mr. Obama himself acknowledged this when he stated that “in the absence of a strategy that reduces the well-spring of extremism, a perpetual war — through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments — will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.” The strategy he called for involved support for democracy and more economic aid in the Muslim world.

This part of his speech was particularly noteworthy because it repudiated the very “National Strategy for Counter-Terrorism” that Mr. Obama released just two years ago, a strategy that called for precisely the “perpetual war” that he now claims is “self-defeating”.

His previous “counter-terrorism” strategy reflected the thought and practice of the U.S. Executive Branch over the past 70 years. To change it so dramatically now, would thus be a tremendous undertaking, requiring dismantling much of the “counter-terror” apparatus the Executive has built up over the past decade, opening up many of its activities to public and Congressional scrutiny, ending prosecution of whistleblowers, bringing Executive officials who violate domestic and international law to justice, and both ratifying and obeying the numerous international laws that the Executive now ignores.

Future articles in this series will explore in greater depth the Executive’s  culture of violence. For  a deeper understanding of how the world’s most powerful institution really operates is required in order to comprehend the vast changes needed for it to actually protect Americans and, equally importantly, strengthen rather than continue to threaten democracy at home.


Admiral Dennis Blair, Former Director Of National Intelligence

“Admiral Dennis Blair, the former director of National Intelligence (in the) New York Times [49]: While “drone attacks did help reduce the Qaeda leadership in Pakistan,” he wrote, “they also increased hatred of America.” He said the drone has also damaged “our ability to work with Pakistan [in] eliminating Taliban sanctuaries, encouraging Indian-Pakistani dialogue, and making Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal more secure.””

–“The Petraeus Projection, Part I: The CIA Director’s Record Since The Surge [50] – Hero Worship Hides The Military Failures Of The CIA Director’s ‘Global Killing Machine'”, by Fred Branfman, Salon, October 3, 2011

Michael Boyle, Former Obama Counter-Terrorism Adviser

“Michael Boyle, who was on Obama’s counter-terrorism group in the run-up to his election in 2008, said the US administration’s growing reliance on drone technology was having “adverse strategic effects that have not been properly weighed against the tactical gains associated with killing terrorists … The vast increase in the number of deaths of low-ranking operatives has deepened political resistance to the US programme in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries.”

–“Us Drone Attacks ‘Counter-Productive’, Former Obama Security Adviser Claims,” January 7, 2013, The Guardian

General James Cartwright, former Vice-Chair, Joint Chiefs of Staff 

“Gen. James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a favored adviser during Mr. Obama’s first term, expressed concern in a speech here on Thursday that America’s aggressive campaign of drone strikes could be undermining long-term efforts to battle extremism. ‘We’re seeing that blowback. If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.’”

–“As New Drone Policy Is Weighed, Few Practical Effects Are Seen”, NYT, March 22, 2013

CIA Station Chief in Islamabad

“The CIA station chief in Islamabad thought the drone strikes in 2005 and 2006 — which, while infrequent at that time, were often based on bad intelligence and had resulted in many civilian casualties — had done little except fuel hatred for the United States inside Pakistan and put Pakistani officials in the uncomfortable position of having to lie about the strikes.”

— The Way of the Knife, Mark Mazetti, Kindle loc. 2275

Council On Foreign Relations 

“There appears to be a strong correlation in Yemen between increased targeted killings since December 2009 and heightened anger toward the United States and sympathy with or allegiance to AQAP … One former senior military official closely involved in U.S. targeted killings argued that `drone strikes are just a signal of arrogance that will boomerang against America’ … A world characterized by the proliferation of armed drones … would undermine core U.S. interests, such as preventing armed conflict, promoting human rights, and strengthening international legal regimes.” Because of drones’ inherent advantages over other weapons platforms, states and non-state actors would be much more likely to use lethal force against the United States and its allies.”

— “Reforming U.S.Drone Strike Policies,” January 2013, Micah Zenko, Council on Foreign Relations

Sherard Cowper-Coles, Former U.K. Special Representative To Afghanistan

“Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, close ally Britain’s Special Representative to Afghanistan, stated that David Petraeus should be “ashamed of himself,” explaining that “he has increased the violence (and) trebled the number of special forces raids.” As Cowper-Coles has explained [51], “for every dead Pashtun warrior, there will be 10 pledged to revenge.”“

–“Obama’s Secret Wars: How Our Shady Counter-Terrorism Policies Are More Dangerous Than Terrorism”, by Fred Branfman, AlterNet, July 11, 2011

Muhammed Daudzai, Karzai Chief Of Staff

Muhammed Daudzai, chief of staff for Afghan president Hamid Karzai, said [52] “when we do those night raids the enemy will get stronger and stronger in numbers.”

–“The Petraeus Projection, Part I: The CIA Director’s Record Since The Surge [50] – Hero Worship Hides The Military Failures Of The CIA Director’s ‘Global Killing Machine'”, by Fred Branfman, Salon, October 3, 2011

Director of National Intelligence’s National Intelligence Estimate

“The final report concluded that Iraq had become a ‘”cause célèbre” for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.’ …  The report predicted that an increasingly decentralized global jihad movement would splinter even further, with regional militant groups proliferating. ”

— The Way of the Knife, Mark Mazetti, Kindle loc. 1945

Andrew Exum, ex-Army Ranger, Fellow, Center for a New American  Security

“We were so focused on getting these high value targets … I think we ended up exacerbating a lot of the drivers of conflict and exacerbating the insurgency … It doesn’t take a genius to realize that by dragging people out of their homes in the middle of the night … could inflame tensions, how this could actually exacerbate drivers of conflict,”

— from Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill, Kindle Loc. 3171

Farea al-Muslimi, Yemeni Villager

“Now, however, when they think of America, they think of the fear they feel at the drones over their heads. What the violent militants had failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant.”

–Testimony, Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, quoted in “Drone Strikes Turn Allies Into Enemies, Yemeni Says”, NYT, April 23, 2013

Robert Grenier, Former Head Of The Cia Counterterrorism Center

“The mentality behind counterterrorism has been described by former head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center in 2005-6, Robert Grenier [53] … has explained that “it’s not just a matter of numbers of militants who are operating in that area, it also affects the motivations of those militants … They now see themselves as part of a global Jihad. They are not just focused on helping oppressed Muslims in Kashmir or trying to fight the NATO and the Americans in Afghanistan, they see themselves as part of a global struggle, and therefore are a much broader threat than they were previously. So in a sense, yes, we have helped to bring about the situation that we most fear.” (Emphasis added)

–“Obama’s Secret Wars: How Our Shady Counter-Terrorism Policies Are More Dangerous Than Terrorism”, by Fred Branfman Alternet, July 11, 2011

“We have gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield. We are already there with regards to Pakistan and Afghanistan,”

–“Drone Attacks Create Terrorist Safe Havens, Warns Former CIA Official”, Guardian, 6-5-12

Michael Hayden, Former Cia Director

“Former CIA Director Michael Hayden has openly criticized the Obama’s administration use of pilot-less drones to assassinate suspected militants around the world. Hayden said, “Right now, there isn’t a government on the planet that agrees with our legal rationale for these operations, except for Afghanistan and maybe Israel.” The drone program began under President George W. Bush but has rapidly expanded under Obama. So far, the Obama administration has carried out drone strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Ethiopia and Libya. Hayden also criticized the U.S. assassination of the U.S. born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Hayden said, “We needed a court order to eavesdrop on him, but we didn’t need a court order to kill him. Isn’t that something?”

–”Former CIA Director Hayden Slams Obama Drone Program”, Democracy Now, February 7, 2012

Mathew Hoh, ex-Combat Vet, Top Civilian Official in Afghanistan Province

“I think we’re engendering more hostility. We’re wasting a lot of very good assets going after midlevel guys who don’t threaten the United States or have no capacity to threaten the United States,”

— from Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill, Kindle Loc. 7393

David Ignatius, Washington Post Columnist

“My quick reaction, as a journalist who has chronicled the growing use of drones, is that this extension to the Libyan theater is a mistake. It brings a weapon that has become for many Muslims a symbol of the arrogance of U.S. power into a theater next door to the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, the most promising events in a generation. It projects American power in the most negative possible way.”

–“Drone attacks in Libya: A mistake”, Washington Post, 4-21-11

ISI – The Pakistan Interservices Intelligence Agency

“The Wall Street Journal reported [54]: Pakistan’s main spy agency says homegrown Islamist militants have overtaken the Indian army as the greatest threat to national security … for the first time in 63 years.

Yes, that’s right. Pakistani military intelligence now rates domestic insurgency a greater threat than India for the first time since Pakistan was created — largely as a result of U.S. actions.”

— “‘Beyond Madness’: Obama’s War on Terror Setting Nuclear-Armed Pakistan on Fire”, Fred Branfman, Alternet, November 3, 2010

Gregory Johnson, Princeton Yemen Expert

“The most enduring policy legacy of the past four years may well turn out to be an approach to counterterrorism that American officials call the “Yemen model,” a mixture of drone strikes and Special Forces raids targeting Al Qaeda leaders … Testimonies from Qaeda fighters and interviews I and local journalists have conducted across Yemen attest to the centrality of civilian casualties in explaining Al Qaeda’s rapid growth there. The United States is killing women, children and members of key tribes. “Each time they kill a tribesman, they create more fighters for Al Qaeda,” one Yemeni explained to me over tea in Sana, the capital, last month. Another told CNN, after a failed strike, “I would not be surprised if a hundred tribesmen joined Al Qaeda as a result of the latest drone mistake.”

–“The Wrong Man for the C.I.A.”, by Gregory Johnson, N.Y. Times, 11-19-12

David Kilcullen, Former Petraeus Counterinsurgency Advisor

“David Kilcullen, Petraeus’ own counterinsurgency adviser in Iraq, has characterized U.S. policy [55] as a fundamental “strategic error … our insistence on personalizing this conflict with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, devoting time and resources toward killing or capturing ‘high-value’ targets … distracts us from larger problems.” As Kilcullen had noted earlier [56], these “larger problems” include the potential “collapse of the Pakistani state,” which he called a calamity that in light of the country’s size, strategic location and nuclear stockpile would “dwarf” all other dangers in the region … Kilcullen has warned [55] that the drone war “has created a siege mentality among Pakistani civilians … [is] now exciting visceral opposition across a broad spectrum of Pakistani opinion in Punjab and Sindh, the nation’s two most populous provinces.” Kilcullen has noted [55],“Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies must be defeated by indigenous forces—not from the United States, and not even from Punjab, but from the parts of Pakistan in which they now hide. Drone strikes make this harder, not easier.”

–From “Replace Petraeus,” by Fred Branfman, Truthdig, June 2, 2009

Colonel David Kilcullen, a key Petraeus advisor in Iraq, who testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee [57] on May 23, 2009, that, “Since 2006, we’ve killed 14 senior Al Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period, we’ve killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area. We need to call off the drones.”

–“Mass Assassinations Lie at the Heart of America’s Military Strategy in the Muslim World”,  by Fred Branfman, Alternet, August 24, 2010

Emile Nakhleh, Senior CIA Analyst

“We are not generating good will in these operations,” Emile Nakhleh … We might target radicals and potential radicals, but unfortunately…other things and other people are being destroyed or killed. So, in the long run … these operations will not necessarily help to  deradicalize potential recruits …”

— from Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill, Kindle Loc. 9824

General Stanley McChrystal

“[General McChrystal says that] for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.”

—  [58]The Runaway General [58],” Rolling Stone [58], 6/22/10

”There’s widespread resentment against drone strikes in Pakistan, says the former commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal. At the launching ceremony of his book, “My Share of the Task”, on Friday evening, the retired general repeated what he had said earlier that US drone strikes were “hated on a visceral level”. He warned that too many drone strikes in Pakistan without identifying suspected militants individually can be a bad thing. Gen McChrystal said he understood why Pakistanis, even in the areas not affected by the drones, reacted negatively against the strikes. He asked the Americans how they would react if a neighbouring country like Mexico started firing drone missiles at targets in Texas. The Pakistanis, he said, saw the drones as a demonstration of America’s might against their nation and reacted accordingly. “What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world,” Gen McChrystal said in an earlier interview. “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes … is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.””

–“McChrystal opposes drone strikes [59]”, Dawn, 2-10-13

Cameron Munter, Former U.S. Ambassador To Pakistan

“The problem is the political fallout … Do you want to win a few battles and lose the war? … The definition is a male between the ages of 20 and 40 … My feeling is one man’s combatant is another man’s—well, a chump who went to a meeting.”

–“A Former Ambassador to Pakistan Speaks Out”, Daily Beast, Nov 20, 2012

Anne Patterson , Ex-U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan

“Patterson’s cables also reveal that U.S. leaders know that present policy is destabilizing Pakistan, thus making a nuclear disaster more likely. Referring to U.S. “unilateral operations” in northwest Pakistan (such as drone strikes, ground assassination and other infringements of Pakistani sovereignty), she wrote that “increased unilateral operations in these areas risk destabilizing the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and military leadership, and provoking a broader governance crisis in Pakistan without finally achieving the goal.” She then added that “to be effective, we must extend the writ of the Pakistani state into the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] in such a way that Taliban groups can no longer offer effective protection to al-Qaeda from Pakistan’s own security and law enforcement agencies in these areas” (9-23-09 cable) [60].

–“WikiLeaks Exposes the Danger of Pakistan’s Nukes”, Fred Branfman, Truthdig, January 13, 2011

Bruce Riedel, Obama “AfPak” Advisor

The evidence is mounting that U.S. assassinations are so ineffective they are actually strengthening anti-American forces in Pakistan. Bruce Riedel, a counterinsurgency expert who coordinated the Afghan review for President Obama, said: [61] “The pressure we’ve put on (jihadist forces) in the past year has also drawn them together, meaning that the network of alliances is growing stronger not weaker.”

–“Mass Assassinations Lie at the Heart of America’s Military Strategy in the Muslim World”, Fred Branfman, Alternet, August 24, 2010

Jeremy Scahill, Author, Dirty Wars, On Somalia

“Many seasoned Somalia analysts belied that a handful of radicals in the country could have been contained and that the central aim of stabilizing the country should have been to disarm an disemplower the warlords. Instead, Washington directly supported an expansion their power and, in the process, caused a radical backlash in Somalia, opening the doors wide for al Qaeda to step in… Al Shabab’s meteoric rise in Somalia, and the legacy of terror it wrought, was a direct response to a decade of disastrous US policy, which had strengthened the very threat it was intended to crush.”

— from Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill, Kindle Loc. 2689

Michael Scheueur, Former CIA Counterterrorism Operative 

“Former CIA counterrorism operative Michael Scheuer has stated [51] that “Petraeus’s ‘decapitation’ approach was also unlikely to work. ‘The Red Army tried that for 10 years, and they were far more ruthless and cruel about it than us, and it didn’t work so well for them.'” 

–“Obama’s Secret Wars: How Our Shady Counter-Terrorism Policies Are More Dangerous Than Terrorism”, by Fred Branfman, Alternet, July 11, 2011

[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/fred-branfman
[3] http://www.alternet.org/print/news-amp-politics/jeremy-scahill-and-noam-chomsky-truth-about-americas-secret-dirty-wars
[4] http://change.gov/agenda/ethics_agenda/
[5] http://www.asil.org/obamasurvey.cfm
[6] http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2013/0401/Are-US-drones-ethical
[7] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/05/29/where_the_drones_are?page=full
[8] http://www.google.hu/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CC8QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thenewamerican.com%2Ftech%2Fitem%2F12322-drone-technology-accelerates-usaf-turns-attention-to-training-drone-pilots&ei=XBm2UdGDKMrdPfTugIAF&usg=AFQjCNFPwEL8teCGFAZ9WXvfsJXcOAN9GQ&bvm=bv.47534661,d.ZWU
[9] http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2013/06/03/may-2013-update-us-covert-actions-in-pakistan-yemen-and-somalia/
[10] http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/
[11] http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6450KT20100506
[12] http://www.alternet.org/story/151596/obama%27s_secret_wars%3A_how_our_shady_counter-terrorism_policies_are_more_dangerous_than_terrorism
[13] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/28/world/20101128-cables-viewer.html#report/Pakistan-09ISLAMABAD1152
[14] http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS21048.pdf
[15] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article7144445.ece
[16] http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-09-02/world/35273073_1_navy-seal-joint-special-operations-command-drones
[17] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/14/AR2010111400002_pf.html
[18] https://knightcenter.utexas.edu/blog/00-13889-obama-administration-has-aggressively-prosecuted-leaks-and-whistleblowers-who-are-they
[19] http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/05/23/192094/obama-administration-targets-reporters.html#.UbSwj9hadEk
[20] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/nsa-phone-records-verizon-court-order
[21] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324299104578529112289298922.html
[22] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data
[23] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/feb/7/coming-to-a-sky-near-you/?page=all
[24] http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_ndaa_and_the_death_of_the_democratic_state_20130211/
[25] http://www.alternet.org/story/153098/police_or_paramilitary_forces_the_militarization_of_american_law_enforcement
[26] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kill-capture/what-is-kill-capture/
[27] http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/03/20/obamas-middle-east-policy-in-tatters-column/2004343/
[28] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/us/politics/04obama.text.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
[29] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/08/us-presidiential-candidates-foreign-policy
[30] http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2013/05/23/prepared-text-obamas-speech-on-terrorism/
[31] http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/05/decades-of-war/
[32] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/world/asia/16mullen.html
[33] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/05/national-security-budget-1-trillion-congress
[34] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_executive_departments
[35] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures
[36] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/sep/16/iraq.iraqtimeline
[37] http://www.democracynow.org/2010/4/1/clinton_rice
[38] http://www.errolmorris.com/film/fow_transcript.html
[39] http://www.alternet.org/news/156215/young_hillary_clinton_used_to_think_kissinger_was_criminal_and_immoral%3A_now_in_laos,_she_follows_in_his_footsteps/
[40] http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.htm
[41] http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/america-keeps-honoring-one-worst-mass-murderers-all-time-henry-kissinger
[42] http://www.salon.com/2011/10/03/petraeus_projection/
[43] http://www.nti.org/index.php
[44] http://www.politico.com/blogs/click/2011/12/george-clooney-on-obama-and-pakistan-108064.html
[45] http://www.pewglobal.org/2012/06/27/pakistani-public-opinion-ever-more-critical-of-u-s/
[46] http://www.infowars.com/articles/ps/woodward_warns_of_ps.htm
[47] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/magazine/raymond-davis-pakistan.html?pagewanted=all
[48] http://www.paktribune.com/news/index.shtml?239837
[49] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/15/opinion/drones-alone-are-not-the-answer.html?_r=2
[50] http://politics.salon.com/2011/10/03/petraeus_projection/singleton
[51] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/25/afghanistan-tactics-profoundly-wrong-ambassador
[52] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/afghanistan-pakistan/kill-capture/interview-mohammad-daudzai/#ixzz59kwQt9cq
[53] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/2011/05/former-cia-drone-chief-questions-policy.html
[54] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703908704575433433670192748.html
[55] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/opinion/17exum.html
[56] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/magazine/05zardari-t.html
[57] http://online.wsj.com/article/NA_WSJ_PUB:SB10001424052748704671904575193943741433332.html
[58] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/17390/119236
[59] http://dawn.com/2013/02/10/mcchrystal-opposes-drone-strikes/
[60] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/226531
[61] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/weekinreview/09sanger.html
[62] http://www.alternet.org/tags/drone-0
[63] http://www.alternet.org/tags/drones-0
[64] http://www.alternet.org/tags/drone-policy
[65] http://www.alternet.org/tags/afghanistan-pakistan-relations
[66] http://www.alternet.org/tags/iraq-0
[67] http://www.alternet.org/tags/middl-east
[68] http://www.alternet.org/tags/president-obama-0
[69] http://www.alternet.org/tags/cia-0
[70] http://www.alternet.org/tags/joint-special-operations-command
[71] http://www.alternet.org/tags/military-0
[72] http://www.alternet.org/tags/national-security
[73] http://www.alternet.org/tags/muslim
[74] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Part II: World’s Most Evil and Lawless Institution? The Executive Branch of the U.S. Government

Editor’s Note: The following is the latest in a series [3] on the Executive Branch of the United States. 


America has a secret. It is not discussed in polite company or at the dinner tables of the powerful, rich and famous.

Parents do not teach it to their children. Best-selling authors do not write about it. Politicians and government officials ignore it. Intellectuals avoid it. High school and college textbooks do not refer to it. TV pundits do not comment on it. Teachers do not teach it. Journalists from the nation’s most highly regarded TV news shows, newspapers and magazines, do not report it. Columnists do not opine about it. Editorial writers do not editorialize about it. Religious leaders do not sermonize about it. Think tanks and professors do not study it. Lawyers do not litigate it and judges do not rule on it.

The courageous few who do not keep this secret, who try to break through to their fellow citizens about it, are marginalized and ignored by society at large.

To begin to understand the magnitude of this secret, imagine that you get into your car in New York City, and set out for a drive south, staying overnight in Washington DC, a four-hour drive. As you leave, you look out your window to the left and see a row of bodies, laid end to end, running alongside you all the way to DC.

You spend the night there, and set out early the next morning for Charleston, South Carolina, an 11-hour drive. Again, looking out your window, you see the line of bodies continues, hour after hour. You are struck that most are middle-aged or older men and women, younger women, or children. You arrive in Charleston, check into your hotel, have a good meal, and get up early the next morning to drive to Miami, another 12-hour drive. And once again, hour after hour, the line of bodies continues, all the way to your destination.

If you can imagine such a drive you can begin to get a feeling for former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s mid-range estimate of 1.2 million civilians killed by U.S. firepower in Vietnam. (The U.S. Senate Refugee Committee estimated 430,000 civilian dead at the end of the war. Later estimates as more information has become available, e.g. by Nick Turse, author of Kill Anything That Movesput [4] the number as high as 2 million.)

And the secret that is never discussed is far larger. To the 430,000 to 2 million civilians killed in Vietnam must be added those killed in Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq and many other nations (see below), all those wounded and maimed for life, and the many millions more forced to leave villages in which their families had lived for centuries to become penniless refugees. All told, U.S. Executive Branch leaders – Democrat and Republicans, conservative and liberal—have killed wounded and made homeless well over 20 million human beings in the last 50 years, mostly civilians.

U.S. leaders have never acknowledged their responsibility for ruining so many lives, let alone apologized or made proper amends to the survivors. Those responsible have not been punished, but rewarded. The memory of it has been erased from national consciousness, as U.S. leaders endlessly declare their nation’s, and their own, goodness. Millions of civilian lives swept under the rug, forgotten, as if this mass murder and maiming, the destruction of countless homes and villages, this epic violation of basic human decency—and laws protecting civilians in time of war which U.S. leaders have promised to observe—never happened.

Over a million innocent human lives in Vietnam alone. Grandparents, parents and children. Decent, hard-working people, each with a name, a face, and loved ones; people with dreams and hopes, and as much of a right to life as you or I. Forgotten. Over one million civilians dead, over 10 million wounded and made homeless in Vietnam alone, forgotten. And particularly remarkable is how this has happened. Totalitarian regimes go to great lengths—strict censorship, prison for those violating it—to cover up their leaders’ crimes. But in America, the information is available. All that is needed to keep America’s secret is to simply ignore it.

Americans keep this secret because facing it openly would upend our most basic understandings about our nation and its leaders. A serious public discussion of it would reveal, for example, that we cannot trust Executive Branch leaders’ human decency, words, or judgment. And more troubling, acknowledging it would mean admitting to ourselves that we have been misleading our own children, that our silence has robbed them of the truth of their history and made it more likely that future leaders will continue to commit acts that stain the very soul of America.

It is a matter of indisputable fact that the U.S. Executive Branch has over the past 50 years been responsible for bombing, shooting, burning alive with napalm, blowing up with cluster bombs, burying alive with 500-pound bombs, leveling homes and villages, torturing, assassinating and incarcerating without evidence more innocent civilians in more nations over a longer period of time than any other government on earth today.

It is also undeniable that it has committed countless acts, as no less an authority than U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry noted [5] in regard to Vietnam, which have been “contrary to the laws of the Geneva Convention, and… ordered as established policies from the top down,” and that “the men who ordered this are war criminals.”

And its crimes against humanity have continued since Vietnam. Thirty years later, a Nuremberg prosecutor speaking of the U.S. invasion of Iraq stated [6] that a “prima facie case can be made that the United States is guilty of the supreme crime against humanity, that being an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation.” And as you read these words the U.S. Executive Branch is adding to it crimes, as it conducts secret drone and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) ground assassinations of individuals without due process.

The rationalizations by which even decent human beings allow themselves to ignore their leaders’ mass murder, e.g. that “these things always happen in war,” or “it’s the other side’s fault,” are just that: rationalizations that allow us to avoid our secret shame. Human civilization, through its body of international law, has defined which acts are both immoral and illegal even in times of war. And a citizen’s first responsibility is to oppose his or her own government’s crimes, not those of others.

Although America’s media, intellectual, political and economic elites turn their heads pretending they just don’t see U.S. leaders’ responsibility for mass murder, dozens of dedicated and honorable scholars and activists led by Noam Chomsky have spent years of their lives meticulously documenting it.

Readers wishing to flesh out the overview below are directed to five important recent books: Kill Anything That Moves, by Nick Turse, about Vietnam; Dirty Wars (and a film), by Jeremy Scahill, about Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia; The Deaths of Others, by John Tirman, covering Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan; The Untold History of the U.S. by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick (and a 10-part Showtime documentary) discussing U.S. policy from World War II to the present; and Drone Warfareby Medea Benjamin.Flyboys, by James Bradley, also offers invaluable information on U.S. aerial mass murder of civilians in World War II, as does The Korean War: A History by Bruce Cumings on U.S. Executive massacres of civilians in Korea. Such careful work has been supplemented by numerous reports from such organizations as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Until now, the issue of U.S. Executive Branch leaders’ disregard for innocent human life has mainly concerned their treatment of “non-people” abroad. But as the sinews of a surveillance state and police-state infrastructure have been steadily strengthened at home since 9/11, an Executive Branch mentality that has been so indifferent to innocent human life abroad will increasingly threaten increasing numbers of Americans in coming years.

No honest human being can deny what the facts below reveal about the U.S. Executive’s institutional evil and lawlessness. The only serious question is what we are willing to do about it.

Can Americans Trust the U.S. Executive Branch?

Columnist George Will recently summarized [7] the fundamental issue underlying not only Edward Snowden’s recent whistleblowing, but all controversies about U.S. Executive Branch behavior: “The problem is we’re using technologies of information-gathering that didn’t exist 20 years ago… and they require reposing extraordinary trust in the Executive Branch of government.”

Former Bush aide Matthew Dowd chimed in on the same talk show, saying “what they’re saying is trust us, trust us.” Trust is indeed the only basis for supporting a U.S. Executive which hides its activities from its own citizens.

But can we trust the Executive’s Branch’s commitment to truth, law and democracy, or even basic human decency? Judging its actions, not words, over the past 50 years is the key to deciding this issue. And we might begin with some basic questions:

How would you regard the leaders of a foreign power who sent machines of war that suddenly appeared over your home, dropped bombs which killed dozens of your neighbors and your infant daughter, wounded your teenage son, destroyed your home, and then forced you into a refugee camp where your older daughter had to prostitute herself to foreigners in order to support you, your wife and legless son? (U.S. Executive Branch officials created over 10 million refugees in South Vietnam.)

What would you think of foreign leaders who occupied your country, disbanded the military and police, and you found yourself at the mercy of marauding gangs who one day kidnapped your uncle and cousin, tortured them with drills, and then left their mangled bodies in a garbage dump? (U.S. Executive Branch officials occupied Iraq, disbanded the police, and failed to provide law and order as legally required of Occupying Powers.)

How would you view a foreign power which bombed you for five and a half years, forced you and your family to live in caves and holes like animals, burned and buried alive countless of your neighbors, and then one day blinded you in a bombing raid that leveled your ancestral village, where you had honored your ancestors and had hoped after your death to be remembered by your offspring? (U.S. Executive Branch leaders massively bombed civilian targets in Laos for nine years, Cambodia for four years.)

What would you think of foreign assassins whom as Jeremy Scahill reports in Dirty Wars, broke into your house at 3:30am as a dance was coming to an end, shot your brother and his 15-year old son, then shot another of your brothers and three women relatives (the mothers of 16 children) denied medical help to your brother and 18-year-old daughter so that they slowly bled to death before your eyes, then dug the bullets out of the women’s bodies to cover up their crimes, hauled you off to prison, and for months thereafter claimed they were acting in self-defense? And how would you feel toward the leaders of the nation that had fielded not only these JSOC assassins but thousands more, who were conducting similar secret and lawless assassinations of unarmed suspects while covering up their crimes in many other countries around the world? (3)

How would you view the foreign leaders responsible right now for drone attacks against you if you lived in northwest Pakistan where, a Stanford/NYU study reported [8]after a visit there, “hovering drones have traumatized millions living in these areas. Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.”

These are not rhetorical questions. Every one of these acts, and countless more, have been committed by the U.S. Executive Branch over the past 50 years, and will continue indefinitely until it is transformed. If we judge them by their actions, not words, we must face the following facts:

— The U.S. Executive Branch killed in Vietnam from a U.S. Senate Refugee Subcommittee estimated 415,000 civilians to the 1.2 million civilians later estimated by Robert McNamara, to the two million civilians estimated [9] by Nick Turse. And it wounded at least 1,050,000 civilians and refugeed at least 11,368,000, according to the Refugee subcommittee (3); assassinated through its Phoenix Program [10] an officially estimated 26,000 civilians, and imprisoned and tortured 34,000 more, on unproven grounds that they were “Vietcong cadre”; created an estimated 800,000-1.3 million war orphans and 1 million war widows [9]; and after the war ended left behind Agent Orange poisons, unexploded cluster bombs, and landmines, creating an estimated 150,000 deformed [11] Vietnamese children; and killing and maiming 42,000 peacetime victims [12].

— The U.S. Executive has, in Laos, conducted nine years of bombing which has beenestimated [13]by Laos’ National Regulatory Authority to have killed and wounded a minimum of 30,000 civilians by bombing from 1964-’73, and another 20,000 since then from the unexploded cluster bombs it left behind. It also created over 50,000 refugees after it had leveled [14] the 700-year-old civilization on the Plain of Jars.

— The U.S. Executive has, in Cambodia, killed and wounded tens of thousands of civilians by carpet-bombing villages from 1969-’75. All told, after Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger secretly bombed and invaded Cambodia, waging a war that made the U.S. Executive responsible for casualties on all sides, the U.S. Senate Refugee Subcommittee estimated that 450,000 persons had been killed and wounded, and 3,990,000 made refugees. (4) Historian Michael Clodfelter has estimated that 600,000 Cambodians died from all causes during the U.S. Executive’s aggressive war.(5)*

— The U.S. Executive under Bill Clinton in Iraq, John Tirman reports in The Deaths of Others, imposed an embargo so severe that “UNICEF estimated that 500,000 children under five years of age had died as a result of the war and sanctions from malnutrition, diseases for which cures were available but medicine in Iraq was not, and poor health at birth due to prenatal effects on mothers.” (6) Dennis Halliday, Assistant UN Secretary General,declared [15] that “I had been instructed to implement a (sanctions) policy that has effectively killed over a million individuals.”

— And after invading Iraq in 2003, the Executive under George W. Bush, as the Occupying Power, was legally responsible for maintaining law and order. Its war was also an aggressive war as outlawed at Nuremberg. It thus bears both the moral and legal responsibility for the deaths of more than130 [16],000 [16]Iraqis(Iraq Body Count) to 654,965 [17] (Lancet [17] Scientific Journal) to 1,220,580 [18] (Opinion Research Business), hundreds of thousands more wounded, and more than officially estimated 5 million refugees.

— The Executive has, in Afghanistan, conducted thousands of night raids familiar to viewers of World War II Gestapo movies – killing over 1500 civilians in 6282 raids in 10 months from 2010 to early 2011 alone, as revealed [19] by investigative reporter Gareth Porter. They have also conducted numerous bombing strikes and supported a corrupt regime which has stolen billions of dollars while their fellow citizens died for lack of healthcare and food.

–The Executive has, in Pakistan and Yemen, killed an estimated 2,800-4,000 persons [20] from drone strikes, only 73 [21] of whom it has named. Most were killed in “signature strikes” in which the victims’ names were unknown, and who in no way threatened the United States.

— Also, over the past 50 years, the U.S. Executive Branch bears a major responsibility for massive death and torture throughout Central and Latin America and in Africa. Church, human rights and others estimate that U.S.-installed, trained, equipped and advised death squads in El Salvador and Contras in Nicaragua killed well over 35,000 [22] and 30,000 [23] persons respectively. The U.S.-supported Rios Montt regime in Guatemala killed an estimated 200,000 [24]. The U.S.-supported coup in Chile brought to power a regime that killed an estimated 3,200-15,000 [25] political opponents and tortured another 30,000 [26]. U.S. support for Indonesian government genocide in East Timor helped kill over 200,000 persons [27]. U.S. support for terrorists led by Jonas Savimbi in Angola helped kill an estimated 1.2 million persons and displaced another 1.5 million. (7)

And how much can you trust the decency of a US. Executive that treats these millions of human beings as mere nameless, faceless “collateral damage” at best, direct targets at worst, as human garbage barely worthy of mention, as “non-people” as Noam Chomsky has observed?

We almost never ask such questions in this country, never try to put ourselves in the shoes of the tens of millions of victims of our leaders’ war-making, because doing so confronts us with a grave dilemma. On the one hand, if we would say these acts are evil if done to ourselves they are obviously also evil when done to others. But admitting that would require most of us to challenge our most basic beliefs about this nation and its leadership. And if we are members of our political, intellectual, media, government and private sector elites, it would threaten our jobs and livelihoods.

We are divided. The honest part of ourselves knows there is only one word that can adequately describe the U.S. Executive Branch’s indifference to non-American life. It is not a word to be used lightly, for overuse robs it of its power. But when appropriate, failing to use it is an act of moral cowardice that assures its continuation. That word is evil.

If we would regard such acts as evil if done to us, they are equally evil if done to others. This is what we teach our children when we teach them the Golden Rule or that America is a nation of laws, not men. It means, simply, that if needlessly ruining the lives of the innocent is evil, the U.S. Executive Branch is the most evil and lawless institution on the face of the Earth today, cannot be trusted, and poses a clear and present danger to countless innocents abroad and democracy at home.

We speak of “institutional evil” here because the greatest evils of our time are conducted by often personally decent, even idealistic, men and women. It is not necessary to be hate-filled or personally violent for an American to commit evil today. One need only be part of, or support the police, intelligence and military activities of the U.S. Executive Branch.

But the practical part of ourselves, the part that needs to make a living and maintain emotional equilibrium, leads us to ignore the mass evil our leaders engage in. It is so much easier. For accepting this truth means accepting that our leaders are not good and decent people; that JSOC commandos are not “heroes” but rather lawless assassins whose very existence shames us all; that we are not being protected, but endangered by leaders who are turning hundreds of millions of Muslims against us; that we must assume that Executive officials are right now secretly engaging in a wide variety of illegal and immoral activities that would shock and disgust us if they were revealed; and that we cannot believe a word they say when these abuses are revealed as they so regularly engage in secrecy and stonewalling, lying when discovered, covering up when the lie is revealed, and claiming it was an aberration and/or blaming it on a subordinate when the coverup fails. (8)

The issue of trust is key since it is the only basis upon which U.S. citizens can support secret Executive actions about which they are not informed. And the issue of trust is ultimately a moral, not legal judgment. We acknowledge that the citizen actually has a moral obligation to resist an unjust law promulgated by an immoral government, whether in the Soviet Union, South Africa, or, as we acknowledge when we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, in America.

Even when the law is used by the likes of David [28]Ignatius [28],David Brooks [29],Tom Brokaw [30], and Nancy Pelosi [31] and to attack Edward Snowden, their key unstated assumption is that they trust the U.S. Executive since they know little more about its secret activities than anyone else. The moral dividing line is clear. Those indifferent to innocent human life and democracy are less angry at Executive mass murder and threats to democracy than at those who reveal this wrongdoing.

Although the principal responsibility for the millions of lives U.S. leaders have ruined lies with the Executive, most of America’s other organs of power have also participated in keeping the screams of America’s victims from reaching the public. Republicans and conservatives have not only shown no concern for America’s innocent victims, but heartlessly cheered on its leaders’ torment of the innocent.

Bush U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, when asked by a New York Times writer about U.S. responsibility to aid the millions of refugees its invasion of Iraq had created, responded [32] that the refugees had “nothing to do with our overthrow of Saddam. Our obligation was to give them new institutions and provide security. We have fulfilled that obligation. I don’t think we have an obligation to compensate for the hardships of war. Helping the refugees flies in the face of received logic. You don’t want to encourage the refugees to stay.”

But particularly striking has been the behavior of centrists and liberals who know full well the horrors U.S. Executive Branch leaders have inflicted upon the innocent, espouse humanitarian values, but simply look the other way. The Times, for example, quite appropriately ran photos and small bios humanizing each of the nearly 3,000 Americans killed on 9/11. But its editors have made a conscious decision not to humanize virtually any of the millions of non-Americans U.S. leaders have killed abroad, as has the rest of the U.S. mass media.

David Petraeus became Afghanistan commander on July 4, 2010, and proceeded to loosen General McChrystal’s rules of engagement, [33] triple bombing [34] and night [35] raids and invade southern Afghanistan, leading to a huge increase in U.S. and Taliban violence against civilians. Within months, the Red Cross said conditions for civilians were theworst [36]they’d been for 30 years.

A Pakistan newspaper reported [37] that things were so bad at the Kandahar Mirwais hospital that civilian casualties “overwhelm the limited bed space. On some days, the floor is red with blood” and that the overflow at Kandahar’s Mirwais hospital has forced hundreds of sick and injured Afghans to cross the border into Pakistan every day to seek medical treatment.” It also noted that “many Afghans are unable to get to basic healthcare” because despite hundreds of billions in U.S. spending on war, thirty years of conflict have left the country’s health care system struggling to cope.”

The Special Representative to Afghanistan of close ally Great Britain said [38] “David Petraeus should be ashamed of himself … He has increased the violence, trebled the number of special forces raids and there has been a lot more rather regrettable boasting from the military about the body count,” and that “Petraeus has ignored his own principles of counter-insurgency which speaks of politics being the predominant factor in dealing with an insurgency.”

But none of this reached the American public. No stories of visits to Kandahar Hospital, no interviews with Britain’s Special Representative appeared in the U.S. mass media. Instead, dozens of U.S. journalists visiting Afghanistan praised General Petraeus, and presented his sanitized version of a war in which only “militants” are killed. Petraeus’ greatest accomplishment,Time magazine columnist Joe Klein informed [39] his readers after a Petraeus-managed trip to Afghanistan, was to turn the U. S. army into a “learning institution.”

And Democratic Party politicians, while at least voicing concern for those in need in this nation and acting honorably for a few brief moments at the end of the Indochina war, have funded the Executive’s killing abroad and limited their own concerns to the wellbeing of America’s soldiers. (9)

In 1967, Chomsky wrote a landmark essay [40] titled “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” arguing that public intellectuals — who had the time, opportunity and freedom to study the pain its leaders inflicted upon the innocent, and to convey it to the larger public—had a special responsibility to do so.

But his argument, by and large, has fallen upon deaf ears, particularly since Vietnam. Thousands of intellectuals, members of Congress, pundits, academics and journalists have turned a blind eye to U.S. mass murder. And many even turned into “liberal hawks”, supporting war against Iraq. The likes of the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, the N.Y. Times’ Thomas Friedman,Slate’s Christopher Hitchens, The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, and many others not only urged a war that brought a living hell to Iraq, but being liberals, justified it on the grounds that it would help the Iraqi people. (See “Bush’s Useful Idiots, [41]” by Tony Judt.)

They even denigrated the millions of decent and honorable Americans who marched to try and head off the Iraq war. It is so easy when making a good living and having access to “official sources” to see oneself as smarter and better-informed than “naïve” students and grandmothers in tennis shoes. Hitchens, for example, called war opponents “moral imbeciles,” “noisy morons,” “overbred and gutless,” “naive” and “foolish.”

And after the war began most of these “liberal war hawks” then turned a blind eye to the civilian carnage resulting from the war they had supported in the name of the Iraqi people, as the body count steadily rose by tens of thousands until over 5 million Iraqis were killed, wounded or made homeless. Nor did they apologize to the millions of their fellow Americans opposing the war whom they had so arrogantly maligned, and who had turned out to be so much wiser and more moral than they were.

Executive Evil in Microcosm: A Personal Report

I first encountered U.S. Executive evil and lawlessness in September 1969, when I interviewed the first Lao rice farmers to come out of communist zones in northern Laos into American zones around the capital city of Vientiane. I was horrified as these gentle Lao, who did not even know where America was, described living under U.S. bombing for five and a half years. I interviewed people who had been blinded and lost limbs and yet were the lucky ones because they had survived. As I learned of grandmothers burned alive, pregnant mothers buried alive, children blown to bits by antipersonnel bombs, and realized that millions of Lao and Vietnamese farmers were still being bombed, I felt as if I had discovered Auschwitz while the killing was still continuing.

As I began to research the bombing, visiting U.S. airbases in Thailand and South Vietnam, talking with U.S. Embassy officials, interviewing a former U.S. Air Force captain over a period of months, I learned it was but a handful of top U.S. Executive Branch leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, who were solely responsible for the bombing. Neither Congress nor the American people had even been informed, let alone offered their consent. The U.S. Executive, I learned, was a power unto its own that could not legitimately claim to represent the American people.

From May 1964 until March 1970, U.S. Executive officials constantly denied they were even bombing in Laos. When the evidence became so great that even Richard Nixon had to admit the bombing, Executive Branch officials continued to lie by denying they had bombed any civilian targets at all—even as I was interviewing over 1,000 refugees on dozens of occasions and hearing from each that their villages had been destroyed and that they had witnessed countless civilian casualties.

One day I was shocked to feel pellets still in the body of an old grandmother and see a 3-year old girl with napalm wounds on her breast, stomach and vagina. That night I read that U.S. Air Attaché Colonel William Tyrrell had testified to the U.S. Senate that “I recall talking to refugees from (the Plain of Jars) and they told me they knew of no civilian casualties during the operation. Villages, even in a freedrop zone, would be restricted from bombing.” (10)

I couldn’t believe it! How could a U.S. official look a U.S. senator directly in the eye and tell so big a lie?

I also read how the Senate had not been told of this mass bombing, how Executive officials had lied to senators even in a closed 1968 hearing. Senator William Fulbright stated at the fall of 1969 hearing that “I think the surprise that is evidenced by the chairman of the subcom­mittee and others, that they did not know the extent of this involve­ment until these hearings, is pretty clear evidence that we were not aware of these activities, although we had had some hearings on it.” (11)

Realizing that a handful of U.S. Executive Branch leaders had the power, all by themselves, to level the Plain of Jars shook me to my core. Every belief I had about America was upended. If a handful of Executive leaders could unilaterally and secretly destroy the 700-year-old civilization on the Plain of Jars, it meant that America was not a democracy, that the U.S. was a government of men, not laws. And it meant that these men were not good and decent human beings, but rather cold-blooded killers who showed neither pity nor mercy to those whose lives they so carelessly destroyed.

On a deeper level, it meant that even core beliefs I took for granted were untrue. Might did make right. Crime did pay. Suffering is not redemptive. Life looks very different in a Lao refugee camp looking up than in Washington, D.C. looking down. In those camps I realized that U.S. Executive Branch leaders lacked even a shred of simple human decency toward the people of the Plain.

I remember once laying in my bed late at night after returning from an interview with Thao Vong, a 38-year old Lao farmer who had been blinded in a U.S. bombing raid. Vong was a gentle soul, displayed no anger to those who had turned him from a provider of four into a helpless dependent. I contrasted him and the other Lao farmers who had been burned and buried alive by bombers dispatched by LBJ, McNamara, Nixon and Kissinger. The latter were ruthless, often angry and violent men, indifferent to non-American life—precisely the qualities threatening all life on earth. Thao Vong was gentle, kind and loving, and he and his fellow Lao wanted nothing more than to be left alone to raise their families, enjoy nature and practice Buddhism — precisely the qualities needed for humanity to survive.

I also thought of sweet-faced Sao Doumma, whose wedding photo had so struck me, and who was killed in a bombing raid executed by Henry Kissinger seven years later. (12)

And I found myself wondering: by what right does a Henry Kissinger live and a Sao Doumma die? Who gave Kissinger and Richard Nixon the right to murder her? Who gave Lyndon Johnson the right to blind Thao Vong? I found myself asking, what just law or morality can justify these “killers in high places” who burned and buried alive countless Lao rice farmers who posed no threat whatsoever to their nation, solely because they could?

I was also troubled by another thought: if even a Thao Vong and his fellow subsistence-level farmers were not safe from this kind of brutal savagery, who was? If I believed that a society is judged by how it treats the weakest among us, what did this say about my nation?

And I found myself particularly reflecting on the question I found most troubling of all: beyond the issue of lawless and heartless American leaders, what does it say about my species as a whole that the most powerful could so torment the weakest for so long with virtually no one else knowing or caring? I was anguished not only about this extreme form of mass murder, but what it implied about humanity.

I shuddered in 1969 as I reflected on what I was seeing with my own eyes. I shudder today as I write these words.

One particular fact puzzled me during my investigations of the air war. All the refugees said the worst bombing occurred from the end of 1968 until the summer of 1969. They were bombed daily, every village was leveled, thousands were murdered and maimed. But I knew from U.S. Embassy friends that there were no more than a few thousand North Vietnamese troops in Laos at the time, and that there was no military reason for the sudden and brutal increase in U.S. bombing. Why, then, had this aerial holocaust occurred?

And then, to my horror, I found out. At Senator Fulbright’s hearing, he asked Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns why the bombing of northern Laos had so intensified after Lyndon Johnson’s bombing halt over North Vietnam. Stearns answered simply:

“Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn’t just let them stay there with nothing to do.” (13)

U.S. officials had exterminated thousands of people of the Plain of Jars, destroying their entire civilization, because the U.S. Executive just couldn’t let its planes sit around with nothing to do. The fact that innocent human beings were living there was irrelevant. No one hated the Lao. For Executive policy-makers in Washington, they just didn’t exist, had no more importance than cockroaches or mosquitoes.

And that wasn’t all. Once the planes became available, they did in fact discover a purpose for them, as the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Refugees reported in September 1970: The United States has undertaken a large-scale air war over Laos to destroy the physical and social infrastructure in Pathet Lao held areas. Throughout all this there has been a policy of secrecy. The bombing has taken and is taking a heavy toll among civilians.”

Once the planes became available, the people of the Plain of Jars were not “collateral damage” to military targets. They were the target.

Chomsky, who interviewed the refugees in 1970 and is the world’s expert on U.S. war crimes abroad, has called [42] the bombing of northern Laos “one of the most malevolent acts of modern history,” and N.Y. Times columnist Anthony Lewis termed it “the most appalling episode of lawless cruelty [43] in American history.” Chomsky has also stated that though U.S. leaders did not achieve their primary goal of winning militarily in Indochina, they did destroy a possible independent economic alternative to the U.S. model for developing countries.

“Malevolence.” “Lawless.” “Cruel.” These are not words we normally apply to the Executive Branch as an institution, or the individuals who head its powerful agencies. But if we are to decide whether we can trust the Executive Branch with our own lives we must face the truth of its evil lawlessness.

Executive Evil Lawlessness: Might Makes Right

In the movie The Fog of War, McNamara stated [44] that after World War II, General Curtis Lemay, who had firebombed Tokyo killing 100,000 civilians and dropped the atomic bomb “said, `if we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He, and I’d say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?”

Good question. U.S. leaders dropped 6.7 million ton of bombs and fired an equal amount of ground artillery in Indochina, killed 1.2 million Vietnamese civilians, wounded over a million more, leveled towns and villages, created 10 million refugees, and poisoned Vietnam’s forests and soil. This was precisely “the indiscriminate destruction of cities, towns, and villages,” and “other inhumane acts committed against civilian populations” as so painstakingly documented in Kill Anything That Moves, for which the U.S. executed Nazi leaders at Nuremberg. Had the same judgment been rendered on Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, and other top officials in their administration like Henry Kissinger and Robert McNamara, they too would have been executed, as McNamara acknowledged.

But the truth is that we live in a world, and an America, in which the rule of law does not prevail and might makes right. Our leaders endlessly inform us that America is a “nation of laws not men,” even though they only escape punishment for their massive violations of basic human decency and the law, as Robert McNamara suggested, because they are too powerful to be punished.

Even if one believes the U.S. had a right to intervene in Indochina, no decent human being can possibly excuse its disregard for civilian life after doing so. You do not need to be a lawyer to know this was wrong. You just need a conscience.

In addition to one’s own sense of right and wrong, there is another basis for deciding whether Americans can “trust” the Executive Branch: its willingness to observe the rule of international law. Laboriously, over more than a century, humanity has slowly evolved a body of international law that spells out what “geopolitical evil” consists of.

This body of international law is what determines whether a given nation is or is not acting lawfully. Any nation —from North Korea to Russia to the United States—can pass its own domestic laws legalizing its war-making, e.g. North Korea giving itself the right to attack South Korea, or George Bush using the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force,” authorizing him only to respond appropriately to 9/11, to justify his illegal invasion of Iraq, failure to meet the legal responsibilities of an Occupying Power, and subsequent mass murder.

But domestic laws cannot be said to truly constitute the “rule of law” unless they also conform to international standards. The second of the Nuremberg Principles [45] specifically states that “the fact that internal law does not impose a penalty for an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law.”

And the third and fourth principles specifically state that the fact that one is a head of state, government official, or was acting under orders “does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.”

No nation on earth has refused [46] to ratify so many laws [47] seeking to protect civilians in times of war, and so violated even those it has signed, than the U.S. The U.S. did ratify the “Fourth Geneva Convention Relative To The Protection Of Civilian Persons In Time Of War, 1949,” but has massively violated it ever since.

Those laws seeking to protect civilians in times of war that the U.S. has refused to ratify include (1) Protocol II to the Geneva Convention, passed in 1977, “relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts”; (2) the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC); (3) the Rome Statute Of The International Criminal Court; (4) the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which prohibits the abduction and secret detention of the state; (5) the Optional Protocol To The Convention Against Torture; (6) the Mine Ban Treaty; (7) the Cluster Bomb Treaty. And though the U.S. ratified (8) the Chemical Weapons Convention, it has gutted it by demanding exceptions for itself.

The responsibility for the U.S. failure to ratify treaties protecting innocent people is shared between the Executive Branch and U.S. Senate conservatives. But there is little doubt that if a president and giant Executive Branch agencies, especially the Pentagon, lobbied for them they would probably be ratified. In almost every case, however, it is Pentagon lobbying and presidential indifference which has prevented ratification. Former Vietnam Veterans Foundation chief Bobby Muller personally lobbied then-President Bill Clinton to sign the land mine treaty, for example. Clinton responded that it was up to Muller to “get the military on board” but showed no interest himself in trying to do so.

The Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly defines “grave breaches” which are to be considered “war crimes.” Those that U.S. leaders have committed on a massive scale include ‘launching an indiscriminate attack affecting the civilian population or civilian objects in the knowledge that such attack will cause excessive loss of life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects. (Protocol 1, Article 85). [48]

U.S. Executive Branch leaders have tried to escape their legal responsibilities in their current war-making by claiming they do not apply to today’s “War on Terror” against “non-state” actors. But this is, of course, as valid as North Korea giving itself the right to attack South Korea. As U.N. Rapporteurs on Torture [49] and Drone [50] strikes have stated, there is no serious doubt that U.S. leaders have massively violated both the spirit and letter of international law seeking to protect civilians in wartime.

Among the most obvious and important violations of international law to which U.S. leaders are a signatory include:

(1) Failing to meet their responsibilities for “Protection Of Civilian Persons In Time Of War,”including Article 25 [51] of the 1907 Hague Convention which states that “attack or bombardment of towns, villages, habitations or buildings which are not defended, is prohibited.” In Vietnam alone U.S. leaders dropped 6.7 million tons of bombs and used an equal amount of ground artillery. As Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick report, “Unexploded ordnance blanketed the countryside. Nineteen million gallons of herbicide poisoned the environment. In the South, the U.S. had destroyed 9,000 of 15,000 hamlets. In the north it rained destruction on all six industrial cities leveling 28 of 30 provincial towns and 96 of 116 district towns … Nearly 4 million of their citizens had been killed. The landscape had been shattered. The beautiful triple-canopy forests are largely gone. In 2009 land mines and unexploded bombs still contaminated over a third of the land in six central Vietnamese provinces. Over 16 million acres remained to be cleared. Beyond the terrible toll of the war itself, 42,000 more Vietnamese were killed by leftover explosives.” (14)

(2)Failing to meet their responsibilities as an Occupying Power inIraq as required by the Hague Convention Article 43 [52] which states that “the authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to ensure … public order and safety.” As discussed, U.S. Executive leaders failed to provide public order and safety; the U.S. military was revealed in the Wikileaks cables to be turning over captives to be tortured by the Iraqi police; and, of course, the U.S. was itself murdering, maiming, torturing and incarcerating the innocent. (15)

(3) Engaging in the “Crimes Against Peace”defined [45] at Nuremberg to include “planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances,” and defined by U.S. Chief Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

There is no doubt that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was such a “crime against the peace.” U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan unambiguously stated, as reported [53] in a BBC article titled “Iraq War Illegal, Says Annan”: “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.”

Benjamin Ferencz, who was a U.S. Nuremberg prosecutor who convicted 22 Nazis has stated [6] that a “prima facie case can be made that the United States is guilty of the supreme crime against humanity, that being an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation.”

He also noted that the British deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry had stated that “I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force against Iraq without a second Security Council resolution … [A]n unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances that are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.”

Only in America could leaders convince their citizens they are not launching an aggressive war when they unilaterally attack foreign nations thousands of miles away which pose no serious threat to them.

*Correction:This article originally stated that “Historian Michael Clodfelter  has estimated that 600,000 Cambodian civilians died from the bombing” and has been corrected to read that he has estimated that “600,000 Cambodians died from all causes during the U.S. Executive’s aggressive war.”


(1) Robert McNamara, “The Post-Cold War World; Implications for Military Expenditures In Developing Countries,” in Proceedings of the World Bank Annual Conference on Development Economics, 1991 (Washington D.C.: International Bank of Reconstruction and Development, 1991)

(2) See “Dollars and Deaths,” Congressional Record, May 14, 1975, p. 14262

(3) Kindle loc., 7078ff.

(4) “The Study Mission Report for the Subcommittee to Investigate Problems Connected With Refugees and Escapees,” January 27, 1975, p. 31

(5) Vietnam in Military Statistics, p. 278

(6) The Deaths of Others, Kindle loc. 3653

(7) The Deaths of Others, Kindle loc. 3311

(8) The Deaths of Others, kindle loc. 5988

(9) The two times Congress has limited Executive war-making were its vote to halt bombing over Cambodia in August 1973, and when it cut military aid to Thieu from $1.2 billion to $700 million in the fall of 1974.

(10) “United States Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad, Kingdom of Laos,”Hearings Before the Subcommittee on United States Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Ninety-First Congress, First Session, Part 2, October 20, 21, 22, and 28, 1969, p. 514

(11) “United States Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad, Kingdom of Laos,” ibid.p. 547

(12) Sao Doumma’s wedding photo appears on the cover of Voices From the Plain of Jars, recently republished, which is the only book of the Indochina war written by the peasants who suffered most and were heard from least.

(13) ”United States Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad, Kingdom of Laos,” ibid., p. 484

(14) The Untold History of the United States, p. 387, 395

(15) In The Death Of Others, John Tirman makes a convincing case that the 110,000 Iraqi dead estimated by the Iraq Body Count organization is far too law since they were limited to the relatively few deaths reported in English language newspapers, and located in Baghdad is far too low. He notes it depends upon English language newspapers, that most murders occur outside Baghdad in areas where few journalists visit, media coverage of Iraq plummeted post-invasion, and people often do not report deaths, particularly to the Iraqi authorities they mistrust. He also makes a strong case for believing the Johns Hopkins University estimates published in the Lancet scientific journal of more than 600,000 Iraqi dead. (Kindle loc. 5797 ff.)

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[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/fred-branfman
[3] http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/executive-branch-threatens-us-national-security
[4] http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175635/
[5] http://www.nbcnews.com/video/meet-the-press/50587574#50587574
[6] http://www.alternet.org/story/38604/could_bush_be_prosecuted_for_war_crimes
[7] http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/video/week-roundtable-privacy-security-19359675
[8] http://livingunderdrones.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Stanford-NYU-LIVING-UNDER-DRONES.pdf
[9] http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175635/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_a_war_victim%27s_question_only_you_can_answer/
[10] http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/two-new-programs-initiated-in-south-vietnam
[11] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3798581.stm
[12] http://www.nbcnews.com/id/32236846/ns/world_news-asia_pacific/t/vietnam-land-mines-still-line-million-acres/
[13] http://www.nra.gov.la/uxoproblem.html
[14] http://www.amazon.com/Voices-Plain-Jars-Perspectives-Studies/dp/029929224X/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_1/190-5189880-9423303
[15] http://iqq.sagepub.com/content/58/2/1.abstract
[16] http://www.iraqbodycount.org/
[17] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/oct/11/iraq.iraq
[18] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ORB_survey_of_Iraq_War_casualties
[19] http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/11/isaf-data-show-night-raids-killed-over-1500-afghan-civilians/
[20] http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/
[21] http://www.longwarjournal.org/pakistan-strikes.php
[22] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_squad#El_Salvador
[23] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contras
[24] http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/Latin-America-Monitor/2013/0517/What-does-genocide-conviction-of-Rios-Montt-mean-to-Guatemalans-abroad
[25] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_government_of_Chile_%281973%E2%80%9390%29#cite_note-15
[26] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augusto_Pinochet
[27] http://www.chomsky.info/articles/199910–.htm
[28] http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-06-12/opinions/39923299_1_cia-diary-philip-agee-national-security-agency
[29] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/opinion/brooks-the-solitary-leaker.html
[30] http://www.mediaite.com/tv/brokaw-mocks-snowden-on-letterman-cant-have-a-high-school-dropout-deciding-which-secrets-to-expose/
[31] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/13/nancy-pelosi-nsa_n_3436512.html
[32] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/13/magazine/13refugees-t.html?pagewanted=all
[33] http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2010/0805/Afghanistan-war-Will-the-new-Petraeus-rules-of-engagement-make-troops-safer
[34] http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/12/afghan-ultra-violence-petraeus-triples-air-war/
[35] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/8066718/General-David-Petraeus-special-forces-eliminate-300-Taliban-and-al-Qaeda.html
[36] http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/12/15/us-afghanistan-icrc-idUSTRE6BE2LJ20101215
[37] http://archives.dawn.com/archives/11856
[38] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/25/afghanistan-tactics-profoundly-wrong-ambassador
[39] http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2088041,00.html
[40] http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19670223.htm
[41] http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n18/tony-judt/bushs-useful-idiots
[42] http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2013/5/23/video_jeremy_scahill_noam_chomsky_on_secret_us_dirty_wars_from_laos_to_yemen_to_pakistan
[43] http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1964&dat=19730710&id=IPwsAAAAIBAJ&sjid=A80FAAAAIBAJ&pg=1169,3911401
[44] http://www.errolmorris.com/film/fow_transcript.html
[45] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuremberg_principles
[46] http://www.hrw.org/news/2009/07/24/united-states-ratification-international-human-rights-treaties
[47] http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=kurtz_28_3
[48] http://www.icrc.org/ihl/WebART/470-750111
[49] http://jonathanturley.org/2013/03/05/u-n-investigator-criticizes-obama-for-record-on-torture/
[50] http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=32764&Cr=alston=#.UcKbUNh5cnE
[51] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerial_bombardment_and_international_law
[52] http://www.hpcrresearch.org/sites/default/files/publications/OccasionalPaper1.pdf
[53] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3661134.stm
[54] http://www.alternet.org/tags/executive-branch
[55] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Part III: New Hope for Defending Democracy Against Executive Power

Editor’s Note: The following is the latest in a  [3]series [4] on the Executive Branch of the United States.  

dem by the peep resize

Edward Snowden’s revelations have illuminated the most critical political issue facing America today: how an authoritarian U.S. Executive Branch which has focused on war abroad for the last 50 years now devotes increasing resources to surveillance, information management, and population control at home, posing a far greater threat to Americans’ liberties than any conceivable foreign foe.

Snowden’s view of the basic issue is [5] that “I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship,is recorded. That’s not something I’m willing to live under.”

Whether millions of other Americans accept the new surveillance status quo will determine the future not only of privacy but democracy in this nation. For even the critical issue of U.S. government of surveillance is only a part of a far larger pattern of undemocratic and unaccountable Executive Branch behavior, at home and abroad. The problem is not only that the Executive Branch operates in antidemocratic secrecy, with an “Insider Threat Program” [6] that even requires its employees to inform on each other or risk losing their jobs. It has also subverted the Congress, judiciary and mass media, so that they no longer provide constitutionally mandated checks and balances, and are instead largely today extensions of Executive power.

How do you feel about the fact that as you read these words the U.S. Executive Branch is storing information about your phone calls and Internet messages which, even years from now, could be used to embarrass, control and/or harass you, defeat you in an election, cause you to lose a job, break up your marriage, or even threaten you with imprisonment? Many say “I have nothing to worry about, I’m not a Muslim terrorist.” But this displays a naïve complacency about the massive pools of data the Executive is collecting that have nothing to do with protecting us from a relative handful of Muslim terrorists, and could easily be misused by secret and unaccountable government agencies in the future.

Even centrists like Tom Friedman [7] and Bob Woodward [8] have warned that America could turn into a “police-state” should another 9/11 occur. And the Executive Branch has created more of an infrastructure [4] for such a state than ever in our history under a Democratic president who professes a belief in civil liberties. Should a Republican become president in 2016, with a Cheney-like mindset using “unitary Executive theory” [9] to grab even more power, democracy could become little more than a pleasant daydream.

What is most troubling about America’s political class today, who have mostly castigated Snowden but not even dared criticize a Dianne Feinstein for keeping U.S. Executive surveillance secret from the American people she theoretically represents, is not only that they are “willing to live under” a Surveillance State. It is that they don’t even want to know.

They shoot the messenger rather than dare face his message, displaying precisely the kind of complacency that causes democracy to die.

Even decent pundits who oppose excessive wiretapping have buried their heads in the sand about Executive threats to democracy. N.Y. Magazine’s Jonathan Chait has put [10] it in the category of just another “non-scandal” like Benghazi or the IRS, writing “but when the president is carrying out duly passed laws and acting at every stage with judicial approval, then the issue is the laws themselves, not misconduct.” This is seconded [11] by Paul Krugman: “as Chait says, NSA stuff is a policy dispute, not the kind of scandal the right wing wants.”

Putting the relevance of NSA spying in the context of whether it benefits or harms the Republican party, and falsely claiming that there are meaningful legislative or judicial checks on Executive power, is absurd. It points up our psychological difficulty in accepting the fact that the government we have been taught since birth protects democracy is today the greatest threat it faces.

It requires profound changes in the mindsets that map our lives to realize that we are now paying our leaders vast sums to deceive, lie to, spy on, monitor and track us; that our own government threatens freedom of the press and information far more than any foreign foe; and that Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, who believe that the U.S. government should not murder innocents abroad and spy on Americans at home, shame the rest of us with their moral commitment to try to save democracy.

And the Executive Branch is geometrically increasing its threats to democracy at the very moment the U.S. president has told [12] us that serious external terrorist threats have significantly declined, pose a far smaller threat to our lives than our own automobiles, and are best dealt with by careful police work conducted jointly with foreign allies. Domestic surveillance is clearly increasing because powerful Executive agencies seek more power, budget and staff, not because they need more money to protect us. There is nothing new about this. It is what unaccountable bureaucracies do.

The “Fiction That Everybody in Congress Knows”

But democracy depends on the other branches of government, and the Fourth Estate, checking its power. And nothing shames America’s leaders more than their knowingly perpetrating the fiction that Congress, the judiciary and mass media are doing so.

On June 5, 2013, for example, President Obama stated [13] that ”the programs are secret in the sense that they are classified. They are not secret, in that every member of Congress has been briefed,”

Asked about this two days later by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Rep. Keith Ellison replied, [14] “I am not aware of this program that was revealed today. So I think it’s a fiction, it’s a fiction that everybody in Congress knows. We don’t know what we don’t know.”

And those members who serve on the Intelligence committees learn only what the Executive allows them to know, “don’t know what they don’t know,” and are muzzled from doing anything meaningful about even the limited information they receive. As Jeremy Scahill has explained [15], “there are a handful of U.S. senators that are allowed to go to what’s called a secured classified intelligence facility, a SCIP, and to review certain memos, not all, but certain memos the White House has deemed appropriate to share with Congress.” And they must come alone without staff, and “they’re not allowed to bring a writing utensil. They can’t bring paper. They’re not allowed to bring anything with a battery. And they look at certain memos, not all that the White House has agreed to show them. And then, they’re not permitted to share what they’ve seen with anyone. Not their constituents. Not other lawmakers.”

There may be no more dramatic revelation of the truth of unaccountable Executive power than when Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden stated [16] in 2011, “I believe that the American people would be absolutely stunned, I think members of Congress, many of them, would be stunned, if they knew how the PATRIOT Act was being interpreted andapplied in practice. I’m going to insist in significant reform in this area.”

He was right. But unlike a patriotic and courageous whistleblower who has risked his very life to bring this information to the American people, even an elected legislator who knew it was a “stunning” abuse of power did not dare reveal it to the American people.

The notion that Executive power is subject to meaningful judicial review is another fiction. The FISA court rubber-stamped [17] 1,788 out of 1,788 applications for wiretapping, allowed by the Executive only to rule on the processes it claimed to follow not the actual people being wiretapped. And, even more disturbing, the N.Y. Times has revealed [18] that the 11-member secret FISA court, including 10 conservative Republicans appointed by John Roberts, has become an antidemocratic Star Chamber that has not only failed to limit but actually expanded Executive Power to spy on us.

Adjudicating a case in which the ACLU sued to obtain illegal Executive “kill lists,” federal judge Colleen McMahon wrote [19], “I find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.” The Patriot Act was specifically designed [20] to preclude meaningful judicial review.

And the U.S. mass media, although some journalists have done important work revealing Executive wrongdoing, primarily serves to convey Executive “talking points” to the public on an hourly basis.

The media dutifully broadcast [21] around the nation former FBI agent and current House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers’ unproven claim [22] that Edward Snowden is a traitor because of “changes we can already see being made by the folks who wish to do us harm.” The media then reported that Senate Intelligence Committee member Saxby Chambliss said [23] that “the bad guys are now changing their methods of operation.” Then, after we were told that this program would help the enemy if revealed, anonymous NSA officials were suddenly made available to discuss it with the Washington Post, Reuters, CNN, and the AP, which ran [24] a story headlined “Al-Qaida Said To Be Changing Its Ways After Leaks” that appeared in newspapers around America.

The charge was hardly credible since the NSA provided no evidence to support its claim, Snowden had a strong self-interest in not providing details which could have helped his prosecution for espionage, and the unnamed “folks who wish to do us harm” have long known their emails and phone calls were monitored. But the Executive Branch had succeeded in its goal of using the mass media to bombard the American people with these messages to support its indicting him as a spy.

Authoritarian secrecy and deception is the beating heart of Executive power. Former Obama administration official Ronan Farrow, who had a top-secret clearance, has reported [25] that “trillions of new pages of text are classified each year,” and that “a government agency was found to be classifying the equivalent of 20 million filing cabinets filled with text.” It is obvious that almost none of this would be of use to “Muslim terrorists,” and that the Executive’s main goal is to keep information of its abuses and mismanagement from reaching taxpayers, which might threaten its funding. When the Justice Department indicted whistleblower Thomas Drake [26] for espionage, after he had futilely gone through proper internal channels to try and correct serious NSA mismanagement, the Executive’s goal was clearly not “to protect national security” but to keep the evidence of its incompetence from reaching American taxpayers.

Eisenhower and the Myth of Presidential Control Over the Executive Branch

Although those who suggest the U.S. Executive Branch is subverting democracy are often maligned as radicals, alarmists, unpatriotic, or worse, it was one of America’s most respected generals and popular presidents who first brought this issue to public attention 52 years ago. On January 17, 1961, Dwight David Eisenhower famously warned [27] that the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence by the military industrial complex. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

The man who embodied patriotism itself warned us that our liberties were threatened at home by the “military-industrial complex” which we call here the U.S. Executive Branch, meaning the powerful Executive agencies and private corporations which lobby for and benefit from Executive funding, and have today morphed into one entity of mutual self-interest operating behind a wall of secrecy.

The U.S. Executive Branch derives much of its legitimacy from the public’s belief that it is under the control of a democratically elected “Commander-in-Chief,” the president. But in reality, Executive agencies are far more powerful than any president. The rarely quoted but most important passage of Eisenhower’s speech was that: “this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment.”

Even Eisenhower, who knew firsthand the dangers the Executive Branch posed to democracy, could not control it. He presided over a period of tremendous growth in Executive Branch power, and only warned of its threat to freedom as he was leaving office. And if even Ike could not control it then, how can a far weaker Obama control far more powerful, sophisticated and insidious Executive Branch power today?

Yes, citizens get to vote for president every four years. But the candidates of both major parties support the same basic Executive Branch military policies. Voters in the 2012 presidential election had no one to vote for if they opposed drone strikes, threats to attack Iran, continued senseless war in Afghanistan, or the global deployment of U.S. assassins. And even when they vote for a candidate like Obama who promised greater Executive transparency in 2008, such promises are broken post-election.

But the myth of presidential control over the Executive Branch goes far deeper. Because Americans expect their president to function as Commander-in-Chief, presidents are forced to pretend to be in charge of what they are not. Barack Obama did not admit that he felt “trapped” by the military into escalating in Afghanistan, as Bob Woodward has reported. Neither a president nor Secretary of State Clinton admitted publicly what they acknowledge privately: that because of military opposition they were forced to betray their own values by failing [4] even to fight for ratification of such basic humanitarian measures as banning landmines and cluster bombs, let alone even beginning to bring the military-industrial complex to heel.

As giant Executive agencies relentlessly act out their bureaucratic imperatives of seeking to justify bigger budgets by manufacturing new missions—whether spying on millions of Americans, establishing a network of police operations around the country, conducting signature drone strikes against unnamed suspects, and expanding assassination around the globe—the notion that even a president who wants to can significantly reduce these activities is not only naive but dangerous to preserving democracy itself.

A Threat to Rationality

Executive claims that its immense spying on countless Americans at home is needed to protect them from terrorists abroad threatens rationality itself.

Imagine an old fashioned scale with U.S. Executive power on the left side, and the threat it claims to be protecting us against on the right. On the left we have the 1.4 million employees of the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, Department of Homeland Security and FBI, etc., 1,000 other government entities and 2,000 private companies located in 17,000 buildings collecting data on hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone calls and Internet communications a year, and the world’s largest arsenal of weaponry.

On the right we have the handful of Al-Qaeda members whom Mr. Obama on May 23 downgraded to a minor threat, and a few thousand Pakistani, Yemeni and North African tribesmen who would focus entirely on their domestic concerns if our leaders would stop bombing and assassinating them. Can anyone in the right mind claim we need to fund the giant apparatus at the left to protect us from the minuscule group of folks on the right?

There may no greater evidence of the ability of fear, self-interest and fantasy to overwhelm rationality than the fact that the U.S. Congress does not even discuss whether the Executive really needs to spend over $1 trillion [28] a year to protect us in a world in which China and Russia are no longer even our enemies, and the most effective way to reduce whatever terrorist threats do exist is clearly to engage in old-fashioned police work with local police forces who see us as allies, not enemies.

And the single most irrational fact of American “national security” policy today, as several dozen of America’s most knowledgeable national security experts have attested [4], is that this $1 trillion a year is actually not protecting but endangering [29] us, by creating far more enemies than it kills, increasing the risk of more 9/11s, destabilizing friendly governments, and making it more likely that Pakistani nuclear materials will fall into anti-American hands.

Information Management to Protect a Failed Institution

Although the Executive is America’s most powerful institution, it has an Achilles heel. The private sector produces wealth and builds; the Executive consumes wealth and destroys. It thus depends for its life on convincing taxpayers to fund it despite its 70-year record of failure, wasted resources and innumerable lies.

The U.S. Executive Branch has not won any of the major wars it initiated over the past 50 years, sending [30] over 62,697 American youths to their deaths and wounding over 185,625 in Indochina and Iraq, on the basis of lies. Its support for the Shah of Iran and invasion of Iraq brought to power and strengthened its major Middle East foe; its costly intelligence agencies supported the Mujahidin in Afghanistan who became al Qaeda and the Taliban, failed to prevent 9/11, falsely claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and failed to predict the Arab Spring. It has today turned most of Latin America against it and wasted $4-6 trillion long-term [31] on its losing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even as China has invested similar sums in buying up many of the world’s resources, leading the clean energy revolution, and moving to become the dominant Asian power.

The Executive Branch has succeeded on its own terms, steadily accumulating power for 70 years now. But it is clearly an institution that has failed the American people. If Americans realized this truth they might likely dramatically reduce its funding and control its activities.

As a result, Executive officials’ top priority is to maintain secrecy about their countless failures, and actively propagandize the American public about real and imagined successes.

For such officials “truth” and “lies” are not operational categories of thought. The purpose of any communication with the public or Congress is to further their agency’s mission. Lying is rewarded not punished, as when General Stanley McChrystal was promoted after knowingly [32] lying when he said that Pat Tillman was killed by enemy rather than friendly fire. The only firing offense is telling the truth, as when State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was dismissed for stating [33] that “what is being done to Bradley Manning is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the Department of Defense.”

Executive Branch officials almost always lie in those cases where they are acting illegally or could be embarrassed, as when National Intelligence Director James Clapper responded [34] “no, not wittingly,” when asked on March 26 by Senator Ron Wyden “does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” (Clapper further compounded his lie [35] by claiming he had misunderstood the simple question. Senator Wyden had sent it over to him the day before.)

Given their decades-long record of misleading the American public about life-and-death issues, from the Tonkin Gulf to Iraq’s fictional weapons of mass destruction, it is naive to give Executive officials the benefit of the doubt when they respond to charges of abuses. It is only logical to assume they are lying unless they provide evidence to the contrary. This is why they need to be sworn in and indicted for perjury when they lie to Congress.

The Pentagon Papers is the gold standard for understanding how Executive officials think since they have rarely written down their inner thoughts since. The Pentagon Papers reveal that Executive Branch leaders were not only indifferent to Vietnamese life, they were even willing to betray American youth for their own political ends. While the Johnson administration publicly claimed it was sending U.S. troops to help the people of Vietnam, Deputy Defense Secretary John McNaughton described [36] U.S. Executive Branch objectives as “70% to avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat. 20% to keep SVN (South Vietnam) from Chinese hands. 10% to permit the people of SVN to enjoy a better, freer way of life.”

And while Robert McNamara was publicly claiming the U.S. never killed civilians, he privately wrote [37] that “the picture of the world’s greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission (might) produce a costly distortion in the American national consciousness and in the world image of the United States.”

McNamara did not express concern about his mass murder. He focused only on keeping it secret from the world and the American citizens he claimed to represent.

Daniel Ellsberg, in Secrets, tells of accompanying McNamara on a plane trip from Saigon to Washington, during which McNamara privately stated “we’ve put more than a hundred thousand more troops into the country over the last year and there’s been no improvement. Things aren’t any better at all. That means the underlying situation is reallyworse!” But when McNamara deplaned he told a crowd of reporters:

“Gentlemen, I’ve just come back from Vietnam, and I’m glad to be able to tell you that we’re showing great progress in every dimension of our effort. I’m very encouraged by everything I’ve seen and heard on my trip.” (2)

Such countless lies betrayed a generation of American youth. Many volunteered to fight in Vietnam because they idealistically believed their leaders’ public statements that the U.S. goal was to help the Vietnamese people. Others were forced to fight and die as their leaders concealed from them that they knew their strategy wasn’t working. And U.S. Executive Branch leaders’ lawless mass murder of the innocent fatally divided their nation at home, creating deep fissures which continue until today. Had Americans simply been told the truth by their leaders, had U.S. leaders said in public what they wrote in private, the war might well have ended years earlier, and thousands of American lives and tens of billions of dollars would have been saved.

As the Executive Branch now extends its operations in the U.S., its bureaucratic interests are similarly opposed to those of the American people. Huge sums given to the Pentagon, CIA and NSA diverts money from the public’s top economic needs: investment in infrastructure, education and a high tech manufacturing base. And so the Executive must wage constant disinformation campaigns offering relief from exaggerated fear, false accomplishments and, above all, operations to defeat criticism.

The key concept for understanding how the U.S. Executive manages to convince taxpayers to fund it despite its countless failures is that of “information operations.” In The Operators Michael Hastings explained that the military officially draws a distinction between its behavior toward the American and foreign publics, as when David Petraeus explained in April 2008 that “public affairs is there to inform [domestic audiences] and Information operations is there to influence foreign audiences.” (3)

The latter refers [38] to “actions taken to affect adversary information and information systems while defending one’s own information and information systems.”

But Hastings learned in Iraq and Afghanistan that there was no real distinction between information operations directed at foreign or domestic audiences. Referring to General William Caldwell’s attempts to gain more funding for training Afghan troops, Hastings reported that “despite his own statements that information operations are for ‘foreign audiences’, he’ll assign a team of American information operation specialists to target the U.S. public. The IO team, which had received training in conducting psychological operations, is tasked with convincing visiting senators and other VIPs to give Caldwell more funds.” (4)

The concept of “information operations” is the most accurate one to describe Executive Branch officials’ communications with the American people as well. When Dick Cheney appeared [39] on “Meet the Press” to warn of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, ties to al Qaeda and to claim the U.S. would be greeted as liberators, he was conducting information operations designed to build support for the Bush invasion and occupation of Iraq. It did not even occur to him to think in terms of “lies” or “truths.”

Hastings reported that the U.S. military employs spends $4.7 billion a year to employ 27,000 “information operation specialists”—the equivalent of the army’s largest division—as well as private P.R. firms. (5) Yes, a whole division of troops is deployed not to fight the “enemy,” but to manipulate the American public.

The other Executive agencies—the CIA, NSA, FBI, Departments of Homeland Security, State and Defense—spend billions more to convince Americans to fund them. Every day Executive Agencies send out countless messages on an hourly basis, through briefings of journalists, press releases, press conferences, congressional testimony, appearances on radio and TV, etc., designed to build public support for its activities.

Overall, these information operations in the U.S. seek to 1) build a positive image of Executive actions—claims of military success, captures or kills of terrorists, turning Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) assassins into heroes, etc. 2) sell its main product, “protection.” The Executive sells “relief from fear,” seeking to convince a fearful post-9/11 public that is protecting them despite the massive evidence that it is not; and 3) to “attack adversary information” emanating from U.S. journalists, liberal Members of Congress and whistleblowers which reveals truths that Executive officials fear could reduce public support for their funding and activities.

Anatomy of Two Information Operations: From a Remote Afghan Village to the White House

Nothing more embodies the Executive’s Information Operations than JSOC. We have already noted Jeremy Scahill’s report describing how JSOC assassins cold-bloodedly murdered a pro-American Afghan police chief and four other family members, and then dug the bullets out of the bodies of three mothers they had murdered to try and cover up their crimes. (6)

Since they dug the bullets out of these bodies while still on the scene, they clearly knew almost immediately that they had made a mistake. But they placed hoods and shackles on seven surviving family members, took them to prison, mistreated them and finally released them after three days. They then issued a series of press releases falsely claiming they had taken fire, that “insurgents” had killed the three women in an “honor killing,” been killed by knives rather than bullets, that JSOC commandoes were “heroes” who had tried to rescue them.

Eventually a British reporter named Jerome Starkey published the truth in the Times of London. McChrystal’s press team then declared the story “categorically false,” and attacked Starkey personally claiming he was not a “credible journalist.” Finally, as the entire pro-American province was up in arms about the murders, JSOC was forced to admit they had killed the women but continued to falsely claim the unarmed men at the dance had shown “hostile intent.” And, Scahill reports, he has now spent three years fruitlessly trying to obtain internal military reports on the incident. The cover-up has continued until today.

This incident contains all the essential elements of the Executive Branch’s typical media strategy, even or especially when they know they have committed a crime: (1) acting in secret; (2) lying if the secret is revealed; (3) attacking journalists or others who reveal their lies; (4) conducting a cover-up; and (5) claiming it was a justified mistake or aberration if the cover-up fails. The strategy has worked. Nothing more illustrates the success of Executive “information operations” that its turning a band of lawless JSOC assassins into America’s greatest heroes.

Under Bush but vastly expanded by Obama, the Executive secretly switched [40] from a small number of “targeted drone strikes” aimed at “senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders” to indiscriminate “signature strikes” killing thousands of people whose names they did not know based on patterns of association. Under Obama a large infrastructure of drones, drone operators and targeting personnelhad been assembled, but they had run out of named targets. So they moved on to “signature strikes” which, a study [41] has just revealed, are often even more bloody than conventional bombing despite Executive claims to the contrary.

So when Mr. Obama told [42] Americans in September 2012 that a drone strike “has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States,” he was conducting an “information operation” designed to aid his presidential campaign and build support for U.S. drone killing.

Apologists for drone assassination often cite polls showing that a large majority of Americans support drone strikes. But who wouldn’t support a fictional version of drone strikes only surgically conducted against people actively planning to kill Americans who cannot be stopped any other way?

But suppose the American people were told the truth. Imagine if the polling question read “do you support drone strikes which General McChrystal, former Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair, and dozens of other experts say are creating far more enemies than they kill, primarily kill many civilians and low-level militants who pose no threat to America, and are thus both endangering your life and immoral?”

Consent obtained through lies is not consent. It is victimization, and should be treated as a felony. And again, when warmaking Executive Branch officials lie, their lies kill Americans as well as countless foreigners.

Executive Subversion of Congress

The Executive subversion of Congress has gone even beyond muzzling members of the Intelligence committees. Scahill reports that it has redefined JSOC assassination and torture activities as “Advance Force Operations,” so they can avoid even Senate Intelligence Committee oversight and be “carried out with minimal external oversight for a significant period of time.” (6)

The structural reasons for congressional rubberstamping Executive warmaking include matters that have often been discussed since Eisenhower declared that the military-industrial complex’s “total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.”

The Pentagon has spread huge military bases around America, providing local constituencies for military spending in every state and dozens of congressional districts, as do the large corporations they fund. Conservative veterans have been a potent domestic lobby for Executive war-making, and are often elected to Congress. And of course a dominant factor is campaign contributions from corporations which benefit from military spending.

Why do even powerful US. senators so fear the Executive Branch? Part of it is indeed its real power back in their states or districts. But the answer goes even deeper. The term “National Security” is the closest thing to a secular religion in this country, and being accused of violating it is the political equivalent of being accused of heresy during the Middle Ages. No senator or congressman believes that she or he could survive politically were the Executive to mount a campaign accusing them of violating “national security.” And even more, if the charge could be proved, they fear being incarcerated themselves.

Executive Subversion of the Mass Media

The mass media’s main function today is to serve as a public relations arm for the Executive. There are dozens of honest and talented investigative reporters who expose Executive wrongdoing. But they constitute a small minority of the nation’s mass media, and while they often deserve their Pulitzers they have at best a marginal impact on overall Executive behavior.

Washington Post reporter Dana Priest with Bill Arkin deservedly won plaudits for Top Secret America, one of the most important books of the decade. But their reporting had no noticeable impact on the growth of the Executive Surveillance State. Much such “adversarial” reporting even has the paradoxical effect of maintaining the illusion of “free press” while Executive officials continue their war-making unimpeded by media reporting, congressional action, or public opinion. There are also dozens of reporters who, day to day, report essential facts about Executive activities. The diligent reader, looking for a story here, a paragraph there, can piece together much useful information about U.S. warmaking abroad.

The heart of Executive information operations in America are the constant stream of media reports based on the statements by Executive Branch officials. Journalists do this because their jobs depend upon it. Top journalists, e.g., covering the Defense, State or Homeland Security departments, depend on their Executive Branch “sources.” Maintaining their relationships with these officials is critical to their careers and livelihoods.

Over the last several decades there has been so much intermingling between top journalistic and Executive officials that they have become indistinguishable from each other, a collusion that is on display each year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

CBS correspondent Bernie Kalb capped off his career by becoming a spokesman for Reagan’s State Department, defending Central American death squad and contra murders. The present White House spokesman, Jay Carney, is a former   executive. Former Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs and political director David Axelrod have landed lucrative gigs with MSNBC, as have dozens of other Executive Branch officials.

And the ties go even deeper. As the Washington Post has reported [43], “ABC News President BenSherwood is the brother of Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a top national-security adviser to President Obama. His counterpart at CBS, news division president David Rhodes, is the brother of Benjamin Rhodes, a key foreign-policy specialist.CNN’s deputy Washington bureau chief, Virginia Moseley, is married to Tom Nides, who until earlier this year was deputy secretary of state under Hillary Rodham Clinton. White House press secretary Jay Carney’s wife is Claire Shipman, a veteran reporter for ABC. And NPR’s White House correspondent, Ari Shapiro, is married to a lawyer, Michael Gottlieb, who joined the White House counsel’s office in April. Biden’s current communications director, Shailagh Murray is married to Neil King, one of the Wall Street Journal’s top political reporters.”

What emerges out of this combination of careerism, well-paying jobs, revolving doors, and even intermarriage between top Executive officials and journalists is a shared mindset. Yes, a top journalist can occasionally point to stories that embarrass government officials. But even such stories are a drop in the bucket compared to their day-to-day, hour-by-hour stories conveying Executive Branch information operations to the public. The Executive Branch does not tell mass media journalists what to write. It has absorbed them.

Executive Subversion of the Judiciary

Although judicial rubberstamping of Executive activities is significant, the Executive Branch subversion of judicial power goes far deeper, and is far more serious. Because the Executive dominates Congress, it has had Congress pass numerous of laws that increase its power and shield it from judicial redress.

One of the most significant is the “State Secrets Privilege” [44] which allows the Executive to exclude from any legal proceeding any evidence that chooses to call “state secrets,” entirely on its own say-so. Under George Bush this excluded massive evidence of torture and rendition of suspects from judicial review.

Another example is an amendment to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, introduced by Senate Carl Levin at the behest of the Executive. Guantanamo detainee lawyer Barry Wingard has summed [15] it up: “The scariest development in the indefinite detention battle is that under the National Defense Reauthorization Act of 2012 recently signed, you as an American citizen can be detained forever without trial, while the allegations against you go uncontested because you have no right to see them.”

The NDAA amendment has been challenged in court by a lawsuit brought by Chris Hedges and others, including Dan Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky. On September 12, 2012, Judge Katherine Forrest ruled in favor of Hedges et al., stating [45] that “the due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment require that an individual understand what conduct might subject him or her to criminal or civil penalties. Here, the stakes get no higher: indefinite military detention—potential detention during a war on terrorism that is not expected to end in the foreseeable future, if ever. The Constitution requires specificity. Courts must safeguard core constitutional rights.”

The Obama administration then appealed her ruling, and the issue is currently pending either changes in the law by Congress or a higher court ruling.

Although the NDAA amendment is currently in legal limbo, its meaning is not. The Executive Branch asserts its right to indefinitely imprison any American it chooses without even letting them see the charges against them let defend themselves in court. The Executive seeks to effectively eliminate judicial control of its powers to incarcerate and murder Americans as well as foreigners.

But the most striking example of how the Executive threatens both democracy and an independent judiciary is revealed in the case brought by the ACLU and N.Y. Times in late 2012 demanding information regarding the administration’s legal justification for its kill program, including its murder of 16-year-old Abdul-Rahman Al-Awlaki in Yemen, as explained by Jeremy Scahill. (8)

Federal Judge McMahon wrote that White House secrecy raised “serious issues about the limits on the power of the Executive Branch under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and about whether we are indeed a nation of laws not men.” She strongly criticized the Obama administration for refusing to reveal its criteria for its program of secret and lawless murder, saying that doing so would “allow for intelligent discussion of a tactic (like torture before it) remains hotly debated. It might also help the public understand the scope of the ill-defined yet vast and seemingly ever-growing exercise.”

But even this judge, who clearly believed that the Executive was taking actions “incompatible with our Constitution and laws,” felt she could not grant the ACLU’s request because Congress had given the Executive the power to keep “the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”


It is clear that anyone who genuinely cares about America’s core values, not to mention its people, has no choice but to oppose the threat to democracy posed by the U.S. Executive Branch. The issue is not simply opposing any particular Executive injustice. It is recognizing that the Executive Branch itself is an antidemocratic, authoritarian institution which does not represent either the interests or values of the American people.

The American people thus owe it neither their moral allegiance nor their tax dollars, unless and until it truly comes to represent them. What this implies for each of will be the subject of the conclusion to this series.


(1)  Obama’s Wars, by Bob Woodward, Kindle Location 3410

(2)  Secrets, by Dan Ellsberg, pp. 141-2

(3)  The Operators, by Michael Hastings, Kindle Location 3904

(4)  The Operators, by Michael Hastings, Kindle Location 3991

(5)  The Operators, by Michael Hastings, Kindle Location 448

(6) Dirty Wars, by Jeremy Scahill, Kindle Location 7078

(7) “United States Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad, Kingdom of Laos,”Hearings Before the Subcommittee on United States Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Ninety-First Congress, First Session, Part 2, October 20, 21, 22, and 28, 1969, p. 484

(8)  Dirty Wars, by Jeremy Scahill, Kindle Location 10813

[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/fred-branfman
[3] http://www.alternet.org/investigations/executive-branch-evil-and-lawless
[4] http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/executive-branch-threatens-us-national-security
[5] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/08/edward-snowden-surveillance-excess-interview
[6] http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/06/20/194513/obamas-crackdown-views-leaks-as.html#.Ud13Vqz_mgQ
[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/12/opinion/friedman-blowing-a-whistle.html
[8] http://www.infowars.com/articles/ps/woodward_warns_of_ps.htm
[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unitary_executive_theory
[10] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/06/obama-scandals-used-to-be-a-thing.html
[11] http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/28/whitewater-down/?_r=0
[12] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/23/obama-drones-guantanamo-speech-text
[13] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/07/obama-nsa_n_3403389.html
[14] http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/video/week-roundtable-privacy-security-19359675
[15] http://occupyamerica.crooksandliars.com/diane-sweet/interview-jeremy-scahill-nsa-oversight#sthash.5WAoD022.dpbs
[16] http://www.politico.com/blogs/joshgerstein/0211/Mueller_hints_FBI_used_PATRIOT_Act_to_track_hydrogen_peroxide_purchases.html
[17] http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2013/05/fisacases.pdf
[18] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/us/in-secret-court-vastly-broadens-powers-of-nsa.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
[19] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/03/us/judge-rules-memo-on-targeted-killing-can-remain-secret.html?_r=0
[20] http://www.onthemedia.org/2012/nov/09/grading-obamas-first-term/transcript/
[21] http://blogs.reuters.com/jackshafer/2013/06/27/what-an-nsa-charm-offensive-looks-like/
[22] http://swampland.time.com/2013/06/13/lawmakers-terrorists-change-tactics-after-leaks/#ixzz5ENmkEjyJ
[23] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/13/mike-rogers-nsa_n_3437874.html
[24] http://bigstory.ap.org/article/al-qaida-said-be-changing-its-ways-after-leaks
[25] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/28/nsa-surveillance-too-many-documents-classified
[26] http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/23/110523fa_fact_mayer
[27] http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.htm
[28] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/05/national-security-budget-1-trillion-congress
[29] http://www.alternet.org/story/151596/obama%27s_secret_wars%3A_how_our_shady_counter-terrorism_policies_are_more_dangerous_than_terrorism
[30] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_casualties_of_war
[31] http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-03-28/world/38097452_1_iraq-price-tag-first-gulf-war-veterans
[32] http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/08/opinion/la-oe-tillman-mcchrystal-20100808
[33] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/13/pj-crowley-resigns-bradley-manning-remarks
[34] http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/304697-wyden-wants-investigation-into-clappers-testimony-on-nsa-surveillance?utm_campaign=briefingroom&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitterfeed
[35] http://www.salon.com/2013/06/12/james_clapper_must_go/
[36] https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/pentagon3/pent7.htm
[37] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/may/19/theobserver
[38] http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/dod/jp3_13.pdf
[39] https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/bush/cheneymeetthepress.htm
[40] http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/05/06/us-pakistan-usa-cia-idUSTRE6450KT20100506
[41] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/02/us-drone-strikes-afghan-civilians
[42] http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/09/obama-talks-drone-strikes
[43] http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-06-12/lifestyle/39925193_1_cbs-news-benghazi-news-media
[44] https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying/state-secrets-privilege
[45] http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/12834-federal-judge-permanently-blocks-indefinite-detention-under-ndaa
[46] http://www.alternet.org/tags/executive-0
[47] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Part IV: We Live Under a Total Surveillance State in America — Can We Prevent It from Evolving into a Full-Blown Police State?

Editor’s Note: This is the conclusion of an original AlterNet series on the U.S. Executive Branch. Part 1 [3] was “How The U.S. Executive Branch Threatens U.S. National Security,” Part 2 [4] “The World’s Most Evil And Lawless Institution,” Part 3 [5] “A Clear and Present Danger to Our Democracy“ and Part 4 [6] “New Hope For Defending Democracy Against Executive Power.”

“Knowledge (of) the scale of our capability would raise public awareness generating unwelcome publicity for us and our political masters.”—Classified UK NSA document [7]

“To approve such a program, the Court must have every confidence that the government is doing its utmost to ensure that those responsible for implementation fully comply with the Court’s orders. The Court no longer has such confidence.”—U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Order [8], p. 12, 3-9-2009


For those alarmed by the steady growth of lawless, violent and authoritarian U.S. Executive power for the last 50 years, the events of the past few months have been exciting. The emergence of a de facto coalition of progressives and conservatives opposing the National Defense Authorization Act [9] law giving the Executive the right to unilaterally detain or execute American citizens without a trial, and NSA mass surveillance [10] of phone and Internet data, has been unprecedented, and offers the first hope in 70 years that Executive power can be curbed.

The most important development has been the public and congressional reaction to President Obama’s proposal to strike Syria. A huge majority of the American people opposed even a limited military action by the Executive Branch. Reading the polls, the President decided to seek congressional authorization for a limited military action. For the first time in living memory, Congress clearly opposed him. It is too soon to say what this will mean for the future, but the implications clearly extend beyond just this particular strike or President.

The main arena besides the Middle East where the issue of the Executive Branch vs. Congress and the American people will play out in coming months will concern attempts to limit not only Executive surveillance of innocent Americans, but its other assaults on the very foundation of democracy itself.

The fundamental issue involved amidst the ongoing cascade [11] of revelations about NSA wrongdoing is this: what must be done to roll back the Executive Branch’s creation of a surveillance state, which is just one more major economic crisis or 9/11—as even centrists like Bob Woodward [12] and Tom Friedman [13] warn—from becoming a police-state.

Most of the focus until now has been on trying to absorb the dimensions of the surveillance state we have suddenly learned we are living in since June 6. But it is now time to focus on the actions needed to end its assaults on democracy.

This is not a simple question, either politically or technically. Politically, it is impossible to envision ending the surveillance state without a broad left-right coalition both in Congress and among the public devoted to doing so. But it will be difficult to maintain a coalition of progressives and Tea Partiers, liberals and conservatives, who neither trust nor respect one another—particularly when fought by an Executive that will hit back against attempts to control it with everything it has.

The technical questions are even trickier. How does Congress write and pass laws to prevent Executive Agencies from undertaking surveillance and population control measures when, to paraphrase Congressman Keith Ellison [14], “Congress doesn’t know what it doesn’t know”? How can Congress control Executive wrongdoing when Executive officials invoke the mantra of national security to avoid providing it with information?

Had Edward Snowden not risked life imprisonment or worse to reveal that the U.S. Executive Branch has created a surveillance state, we would still know virtually nothing about it. The ranking Senate and House Intelligence committee chairs, Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers, would still be covering up Executive wrongdoing, and even those members angered at its criminality would still be muzzled from saying anything. The Judiciary would still not only be rubberstamping Executive actions, but expanding Executive Branch power. The mass media would still be routinely conveying its denials of wrongdoing to the American people whenever the issue arose.

At present, when the heads of the Senate or House Intelligence Committees assure us that they are overseeing the Executive, what they mean is that they are dutifully repeating Executive talking points on documents provided them with the words “top secret” stamped on them, but only consisting of what Executive agencies want them to know. They have no means of independent oversight, which means they have no meaningful oversight. And the judiciary has not only acknowledged this, but said [8] they no longer have “confidence” in the Executive.

If even the secret FISA Court no longer has confidence in the Executive, neither can the rest of us. During the 1960s, the FBI regularly used its secret intelligence to blackmail and threaten not only activists but politicians, presidents and Martin Luther King, Jr. As Internet security expert C.J. Radford has written [15], “the issue is what happens if this data, and these capabilities, fall into the wrong hands. A malicious government employee, a change in government, court rulings, regulations or leadership could all open this information, and these capabilities, up to cross agency analysis, open use, or criminal activity.”

That is, not only can this information be misused by government employees, but private sector companies, criminals and foreign governments as well. With the NSA spending 70% [16] of its funding on contracts with private sector firms, which are even more corruptible than government agencies, this is a matter of urgent concern.

It is the height of naiveté to have any confidence whatsoever in the current system. It is clear that the heart of any serious attempt to create democracy in this nation must involve not only stopping such obvious assaults on democracy as the mass collection of phone and Internet records of innocent Americans, but a fundamental restructuring of the relationship between our three branches of government.

Since neither the courts nor Congress can any longer have confidence in NSA assertions, they clearly must give themselves the capacity—including experts with full access to raw data, answerable to them and not the Executive—to fulfill their constitutionally required mandate to check and balance Executive power.

This restructuring of relationships between the three branches of government must also profoundly alter the Executive’s ability to hide its wrongdoing from the American people by classifying trillions of pages annually on the false grounds of “national security.” In an article entitled “Ex-MI6 Deputy Chief Plays Down Damage Caused By Snowden Leaks,” for example, the Guardian reported [17] that Nigel Inkster said that “Al-Qaida leaders in the tribal areas of Pakistan had been ‘in the dark’ for some time… referring to counter measures they had taken to avoid detection by western intelligence agencies. Other ‘serious actors’ were equally aware of the risks to their own security from NSA and GCHQ eavesdroppers, he said.”

The Executive Branch, as does the U.K.’s NSA as quoted above [7], keeps its secrets from the American people primarily to avoid the “political embarrassment” of having its fraud, waste, abuse and illegality revealed.

As a Brennan Center For Justice study [18] on classification has noted, “Over-classification is rampant, and nearly everyone who works with classified information recognizes the problem. In 1993, Senator John Kerry, who reviewed classified documents while chairing the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, commented, ‘I do not think more than a hundred, or a couple of hundred, pages of the thousands of [classified] documents we looked at had any current classification importance.’ The classification system must be reformed if we are to preserve the critical role that transparent government plays in a functioning democracy.”

President Obama cannot seriously talk of “transparency” without supporting efforts to reduce present classification of government documents by the 90% that experts like Secretary of State John Kerry and Pentagon whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg [19] estimate would in no way harm national security.

The following steps are needed.

The Bottom Line: No Bulk Collection Of Americans’ Phone And Internet Metadata, Destroy Files That Exist

Obama on August 8 announced [20] a response to Snowden’s revelations: “First, I will work with Congress to the following measures in pursue appropriate reforms to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the program that collects telephone records.  Second, we can take steps to make sure civil liberties concerns have an independent voice in appropriate cases by ensuring that the government’s position is challenged by an adversary (before) the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court …

Number three, the Department of Justice will make public the legal rationale for the government’s collection activities under Section 215 of the Patriot Act …  Fourth, we’re forming a high level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies.”

These were clearly illusory reforms, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted [21], that would continue mass surveillance of Americans. First, the Executive would continue to only tell Congress and the Judiciary what it felt was “appropriatefor them to know—including the FISC “adversary”; second, the “legal rationales” for Executive wrongdoing are just that: rationales which no one concerned about Executive surveillance can take seriously; and thirdly four of the five “outside experts” Obama wound up appointing are all deeply implicated in Executive wrongdoing [22], including former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell, and they are to report to director of National Intelligence James Clapper, a key architect of the surveillance state.

Predictably, the first meeting [22] of this Potemkin Panel did not even discuss NSA surveillance of innocent Americans and only confined itself to private sector concerns. Open Technology Institute director Sascha Meinrath, who attended the meeting, declared [22] that “My fear is it’s a simulacrum of meaningful reform … Its function is to bleed off pressure, without getting to the meaningful reform.”

N.Y. Times editorial accurately noted [23] that “President Obama proposed a series of measures on Friday that only tinker around the edges of the nation’s abusive surveillance programs. It is the existence of these programs that is the problem, not whether they are modestly transparent. As long as the N.S.A. believes it has the right to collect records of every phone call … then none of the promises to stay within the law will mean a thing.”

Mr. Obama’s “reforms” thus still envision continued Executive collection of hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone and Internet records. Believers in democracy must set their own “red line” against surveillance of innocent Americans.

A line must be drawn somewhere. Once we allow the Executive to store all our emails and Internet communications for all time, why not allow them to read them if they decide it might protect somebody, somewhere, sometime? Why should a court get involved? Don’t we trust them? As Edward Snowden has said [24], “the Internet is on principle a system that you reveal yourself to in order to fully enjoy, which differentiates it from, say, a music player. It is a TV that watches you.”

But this does not “protect” us nearly as efficiently as would a real TV or flat screen equipped with a transponder allowing them to watch us whenever they wish. Where do we draw the line?

Mr. Obama and present congressional leaders’ typically honeyed words mean nothing absent a complete halt to gathering information on innocent Americans. Republican House Judiciary Chair Robert Goodlatte, for example, recently declared “I am committed to … our nation’s intelligence collection programs includ(ing) robust oversight, additional transparency, and protections for Americans’ civil liberties.” But at the same time he stated that “eliminating this program altogether without careful deliberation would not reflect our duty, under article I of the constitution, to provide for the common defense,” and had opposed the Conyers-Amash amendment in July that would have ended NSA surveillance of innocent Americans.

The “reforms” proposed by Goodlatte and other Republican House leaders are clearly meant to head off any significant reform of NSA mass surveillance. A serious attempt to bring democracy to America must have the following bottom line: no mass surveillance of any kind of Americans about whom there is no evidence of wrongdoing. None.

The first and necessary  step toward creating a “functioning democracy” in America is for both the House and Senate to pass the Conyers-Amash amendment forbidding NSA mass collection of phone and Internet American records of innocent Americans.

Institute Genuine Congressional Oversight

At the moment, congressional oversight of the Executive has become a pathetic joke. The Senate and House Intelligence Committees have clearly failed in their constitutional obligation to provide “checks and balances” on the Executive. Three major reforms are needed.

A. Elect Committees Who Oversee Not Promote Executive Wrongdoing, Beginning By Replacing Senator Dianne Feinstein And Rep. Mike Rogers.

The present heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers, and ranking minority party members Senator Saxby Chambliss and “Dutch” Ruppersberger, have merely served as spokespeople for the Executive, delivering a long series of deceptive “talking points” provided by the NSA meant to excuse rather than correct Executive abuses.

Mr. Rogers, a former Executive Branch FBI agent, has particularly distinguished himself by insulting the intelligence of both his fellow House members and the American people.

He has declared [25] on Meet the Press that Snowden “went outside all of the whistleblower venues that were available to anyone in this government, including people who have classified information. We get two or three visits from whistleblowers every single week in the committee, and we—we investigate every one thoroughly. He didn’t choose that route.”

This is absurd. Mr. Rogers already knew, and had done nothing about, Snowden’s concern that the Executive was collecting Americans’ phone and Internet records. There was obviously no point for Snowden to go to Rogers, and the latter is clearly insulting the intelligence of the American people in continuing to make this crude claim.

Rogers’ claim that other whistleblowers have avenues within government to correct Executive abuses is also untrue. The New Yorker has reported on how although NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake did go through official channels, nothing was done. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank recently reported how DOD whistleblower Gina Gray was fired for seeking to correct DOD mismanagement at the Arlington National Cemetery, after using internal channels.

Milbank also commented “President Obama, in his news conference this month, said that Edward Snowden was wrong to go public with revelations about secret surveillance programs because ‘there were other avenues available for somebody whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions.’ This is a common refrain among administration officials and some lawmakers. But it’s a load of nonsense. Ask Gina Gray.”

Among their many other major failures of NSA oversight:

—Both Feinstein and Rogers claimed [26] on ABC News on June 9 that NSA surveillance had been responsible for the capture of NY Subway Bomber Najibullah Zazi and Mumbai bomber David Headley. But two days later, in a story titled”NSA Surveillance Played Little Role In Foiling Terror Plots, Experts Say,” the Guardian revealed [27] that both men had been captured through surveillance in the UK, with no NSA input.

—Mr. Rogers first claimed [28] that Snowden should be charged with espionage because his revelations had led to “changes in the way they communicate that we can already see being made by the folks who wish to do us harm.” He then supported the administration’s claim [29] a few weeks later that a worldwide travelers’ alert was based on the NSA overhearing the two top Al Qaeda “bad guys” —Ayman al-Zawari and Yemen’s Wuhayashi—communicate with each other. Both statements cannot be true, and perhaps neither were. Furthermore, if true, releasing the information about this specific phone call was clearly a breach of national security, as it tipped off the two top Al Qaeda leaders  that their phone calls were being overheard. If true, Rogers clearly would have committed precisely the act of revealing “sources and methods” that he claimed justified the charge of treason for Mr. Snowden.

—Both Feinstein and Rogers, like Obama, repeatedly claimed the NSA was not conducting illegal surveillance. Even after the Washington Post published [30] its story on “thousands” of abuses involving tens of thousands of individual cases, Feinstein declared [31] that “as I have said previously, the committee has never identified an instance in which the NSA has intentionally abused its authority to conduct surveillance for inappropriate purposes,” and Roger said [31] that he had seen he had seen “no intentional and willful violation of the law.”

The paper also reported that “Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) did not receive a copy of the 2012 audit until the Post asked her staff about it.”

Feinstein then changed her story, claiming that she had received the report under a different name. But the point was undeniable: she has clearly failed her oversight duties, not even bothering to read whatever study she saw revealing NSA abuses, let alone doing anything about them or even informing her own constituents of them.

—Numerous members have accused [32] the House  Intelligence Committee of withholding information from them. As the Guardian reported on August 14, “Morgan Griffith, a Republican who represents Virginia’s ninth district, has been critical of the committee for blocking attempts by non-members to obtain information about classified programs. On August 4, the Guardian published a series of letters [33] he had written to the committee requesting more details, all of which had gone unanswered.

Congress needs to elect Members of the Senate and House Intelligence committees who see their job as checking and balancing Executive power, not merely serving as spokespeople for it.

B. Indict Executive Branch Officials When They Commit Perjury

Executive Branch officials not only regularly lie to but hide information from Congress, most notably recently when director of National Intelligence James Clapper denied [34] in open session that the NSA was collecting data on American citizens, and then compounded his lie a few days later by claiming he had misunderstood the question. Senator Wyden quickly revealed that he had sent the question over to him the day before the hearing. NSA chief Keith Alexander has also repeatedly lied to Congress. The N.Y. Daily News reported [35] on a June 18 House Intelligence Committee hearing, for example, that ”NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander testified his agency’s programs are subject to strict oversight.” Alexander also testified at the same hearing that NSA surveillance had caught the N.Y.C. Subway and Mumbai bombers, another lie revealed [27] by the Guardian as noted above.

But though senators and representatives know they are being lied to by Executive Branch officials, they have not had the courage to indict them for perjury when they do so. Congress has allowed director Clapper and General Alexander to remain in their posts after knowing beyond any doubt that they have committed perjury before it. This lack of courage must end. The only way to stop Executive officials from lying to Congress and the American people is for Congress to swear them in and punish them when they are caught lying, at very least by dismissal from their posts, but ideally by criminal prosecution.

C. Give Congress the Right to Declassify Data Indicating Waste, Fraud, Abuse and Crimes By the Executive

One of the most shocking revelations concerning congressional oversight is that even when a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee like Sen. Wyden learns that the Executive is committing crimes against the American people, that senator is muzzled [36] from revealing it to them. Although the senator could release this information on the floor of the Senate without fear of prison, he or she fears being attacked for jeopardizing national security, being removed from the Intelligence Committee, censure by colleagues, and/or losing the next election.

It is clearly time for the legislative representatives of people, not unelected members of the Executive, to be given the legal and moral right to declassify and make public Executive actions that they believe are illegal or immoral.

Someone must decide, after all, whether a given body of information should be kept secret from the American people. In a democracy, those who make this decision should represent the people of the nation, not gigantic, secret bureaucracies which regularly deceive the people and are accountable to no one but themselves.

D.  Congress Must Have The Capacity To Genuinely Oversee Executive Agencies

Members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees must assert their right to be treated as genuine representatives of the governed. To begin with, they must demand the right to take notes on classified material the Executive shows them and to have properly cleared staff members accompany or represent them at briefings. They must punish NSA staff members who play Orwellian word games with them, refusing to answer questions honestly unless the exact words are used as the NSA defines them, which they keep secret.

Members must also insist that they be given all information on NSA activities. At present, the NSA withholds significant information even from Senate and House Intelligence Committee members. Legislators must severely punish Executive Branch officials who continue to hide significant information from them.

Most importantly, however, Congress cannot exercise constitutionally-required oversight of Executive Branch activities unless they can independently investigate them. The Intelligence Committees, like the FISA courts (please see below), must hire significantly more staff, with the knowledge, power and mandate to oversee Executive Branch military, intelligence and police activities that potentially threaten the democratic rights of the American people.

Give the Judiciary the Capacity to Genuinely Oversee Executive Agencies Like the NSA

Meaningful judicial oversight of Executive Branch officials is the other fundamental pillar of the constitutionally-mandated system of checks and balances  upon which democracy rests.

President Obama  lied once again when he stated [37] at a June 7 press conference  that “federal judges are overseeing the entire program throughout.”

In fact, the Judiciary exercises no meaningful oversight of the Executive whatsoever. The FISA court established to oversee NSA surveillance, for example, is not allowed to judge specific cases and has only been given the right to approve the guidelines the NSA claims it is following—although the court does not know if it is in fact following them. Even more importantly, the Executive has asserted its right to withhold any information it wishes from the Judiciary, for example prosecuting individuals but not providing the court evidence of their wrongdoing on the grounds of “national security.”

In response to this absence of judicial oversight, President Obama has promised simply to allow an “adversary” to argue against the NSA during a FISA court hearing. But since the Executive will continue to withhold any information it feels might harm its case on the grounds of “national security,” this “reform” is meaningless.

FISA Court Head Judge Reggie Walton, a conservative who has betrayed his mandate by expanding Executive power rather than overseeing it, has revealed the heart of the problem with proper judicial oversight when he stated [38] that, “The FISC (Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court) is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court. The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance.”

There is thus clearly one key step that must be taken if the Judiciary is to be given meaningful oversight over the Executive: it must be given the capacity, knowledge and information to make an informed judgment of Executive compliance with the law.

If the FISC is to provide genuine oversight over the NSA, it must be given a vastly expanded budget that allows it to hire hundreds if not thousands of its  own intelligence experts, with the proper clearances and access to information.

And where might funds for the judiciary to hire its own analysts come from? As Dana Priest and William Arkin point out in Top Secret America, hundreds of billions of dollars have been given to the NSA and other intelligence agencies to expand their activities, to the point, they say, where “its entirety, as Pentagon intelligence chief James Clapper admitted, (is) visible only to God.”

The intelligence community is clearly far too large and is wasting huge amounts of money, beginning with its storing of all phone and Internet records of American citizens. There is no rational relationship between the vast amount of money it spends and its results. Ending its surveillance of Americans will be an obvious first place to cut their budgets, and a portion of the savings should spent to give both the Legislative and Judicial branches the “capacity” to evaluate Executive Branch police and intelligence activities.

Provide Strong Whistleblower Protection

Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch executive director, has noted [39] that “the whistleblower protection provided to government employees who expose evidence of wrongdoing does not extend to those who disclose what is deemed national security information. Whistleblowers facing prosecution can’t even defend themselves by showing that their disclosures caused no harm and promoted the public interest. Wrongdoing involving this information is supposed to be revealed only to an agency’s inspector general or to the congressional intelligence committees. Yet government employees who tried to use these procedures to complain about NSA overreaching faced retaliation and even prosecution — which might help explain why Snowden skipped these mechanisms and went directly to the media. The problem is aggravated by the government’s temptation to protect information that is simply embarrassing or politically fraught rather than truly a matter of national security.”

Genuine whistleblower protection would have two aspects. First, internal: ensuring that whistleblowers who do go through official channels have an independent body evaluate their charges, and provide them  with full protection from punishment by superiors whose wrongdoing they have revealed.

Second, external: The Executive Branch must end its prosecution of whistleblowers who reveal classified information to the media or public; or, in those rare instances where there is a case for actual damage having been done to “national security,” the whistleblower must receive a fair trial by a jury that is given access to the information in question so that it can determine to what extent national security was harmed, and that takes into account the whistleblower’s motivation.

Restructure the Present System of Classification

Executive over-classification of information lies at the heart of its many threats to democracy. It classifies enormous amounts of information that could be of no conceivable use to our enemies, e.g. the equivalent of 20 million filing cabinets one agency classified in one 18-month period alone. Secrecy is by its very nature undemocratic. Executive classification of documents is also at the very heart of its threats to journalists and whistleblowers seeking to uncover Executive abuses.

Daniel Ellsberg has written an important article [19] on how and why the Executive over-classifies information:

“One of the most experienced security authorities in the Pentagon, William F. Florence, who had drafted many of the Department of Defense regulations on classification, testified as an expert witness in Congressional hearings and in my trial that at most 5% of classified material actually satisfied the official criteria of potential relevance to national security (which he had played a major role in formulating) at the moment of original classification; and that perhaps 1/2 of 1% continued to justify protection after two or three years.”

If 95% of what is classified would not help our enemies, why does it remain classified? Part of the answer is that if it was revealed it would embarrass Executive Branch officials, and/or reveal waste, fraud, abuse and illegal acts that could lead to calls to cut their budgets, their dismissal, and/or prosecution.

As Dana Priest and Bill Arkin also note in Top Secret America, a top-secret classification is a “passport to prosperity for life.” It provides well-paying jobs and its holders are far less likely to face unemployment than those in the private sector.

Ellsberg also tellingly explores the psychological dimensions of the classification system:

“I suggest that there are psycho-social aspects (that) apply to ‘secret societies’ ranging from the Mafia or associations like the Masons to the CIA. It is a mark of worth, of membership in a valued group, possession of a valuable identity. It is a sign of being trusted by other members of the prestigious group: a token of being perceived by them as trustworthy, worthy of membership, of being ‘one of them,’ a ‘brother’ or ‘member of the family.’ Not only the membership in the group, but the specific acceptance of one’s loyalty — to the group, to its purposes, to the other members, and its secrets— conveys and expresses a new, prestigious status, a positive identity, a source of self-respect and pride and a basis for the respect and deference of others.”

While members of the Executive Branch thus have powerful practical, material and psychological motivations for hiding vast amounts of information from the American people that have nothing to do with national security, the American people have a correspondingly strong interest in preventing them from doing so any longer.

Ellsberg ends his article with a list of steps needed to curb Executive abuses of the classification system. They include: reducing the number of documents that are classified by over 90%, and keeping those that remain classified for no more than three years; at most administrative penalties not criminal prosecutions for leaks not involving communications intelligence, nuclear weapons data and identities of clandestine agents, and not even administrative sanctions for Executive Branch whistleblowers giving information to appropriate Members of Congress; effective whistleblower protection to all federal employees; vastly beefed up Freedom of Information Act processes; limiting the “States Secret privilege” allowing Executive officials to withhold information from even the judiciary; including in all secrecy agreements a clause that states that nothing in the agreement permits them give false or misleading testimony to Congress or the Judiciary; required briefing of all federal employees, military officers and members of Congress that the Oath of Office they all take to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States” requires them to disobey illegal orders.

Conclusion: A Non-Violent Call to Arms

The unprecedented coalition of liberals/progressives and conservatives/Tea Partiers which on July 24 almost passed a bill forbidding NSA spying on innocent Americans has offered the only hope that the U.S. Executive Branch’s danger to democracy can be challenged.

Executive power is so great that a major moral and political struggle will be necessary to bring it under meaningful democratic control. Only a major “Coalition for Freedom” inside Congress and on the streets of America can prevent it from choking off what remains of democracy. Is democracy worth fighting for? Only if millions of us decide it is will America become a functioning democracy.

[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/fred-branfman
[3] http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/executive-branch-threatens-us-national-security
[4] http://www.alternet.org/investigations/executive-branch-evil-and-lawless
[5] http://www.alternet.org/print/investigations/why-us-executive-branch-clear-and-present-danger-our-democracy
[6] http://www.alternet.org/investigations/why-us-executive-branch-clear-and-present-danger-our-democracy
[7] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/05/nsa-gchq-encryption-codes-security
[8] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/10/nsa-violated-court-rules-data-documents
[9] http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/2012/05/11/the-smith-amash-amendment-what-it-says-and-means/
[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/25/us/politics/house-defeats-effort-to-rein-in-nsa-data-gathering.html?pagewanted=all
[11] http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2013/09/09/ten-things-weve-learned-about-the-nsa-from-a-summer-of-snowden-leaks/
[12] http://www.infowars.com/articles/ps/woodward_warns_of_ps.htm
[13] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/12/opinion/friedman-blowing-a-whistle.html
[14] http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/video/week-roundtable-privacy-security-19359675
[15] http://www.usatoday.com/story/cybertruth/2013/09/11/legal-framework-needed-to-secure-privacy/2800803/
[16] http://www.salon.com/2013/06/10/digital_blackwater_meet_the_contractors_who_analyze_your_personal_data/
[17] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/12/mi6-plays-down-damage-edward-snowden-leaks
[18] http://www.brennancenter.org/publication/reducing-overclassification-through-accountability
[19] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-ellsberg/secrecy-and-national-secu_b_2469058.html
[20] http://www.npr.org/2013/08/09/210574114/transcript-president-obamas-news-conference
[21] https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/08/three-illusory-investigations-nsa-spying-are-unable-succeed
[22] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/12/obama-nsa-review-surveillance-changes
[23] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/10/opinion/a-weak-agenda-on-spying-reform.html
[24] http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-06-09/world/39856622_1_intelligence-powers-single-point
[25] http://www.nbcnews.com/id/52273831/ns/meet_the_press-transcripts/t/june-durbin-coburn-rogers-sanchez-gibbs-murphy-reed-fiorina-todd/#.UjyHi3_FgVA
[26] http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/06/intelligence-committee-leaders-defend-nsa-surveillance/
[27] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/12/nsa-surveillance-data-terror-attack
[28] http://swampland.time.com/2013/06/13/lawmakers-terrorists-change-tactics-after-leaks/#ixzz5ENmkEjyJ
[29] http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/08/03/19844862-al-qaeda-threat-is-real-and-serious-intelligence-committee-chief?lite
[30] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-broke-privacy-rules-thousands-of-times-per-year-audit-finds/2013/08/15/3310e554-05ca-11e3-a07f-49ddc7417125_story.html?hpid=z1
[31] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/08/16/feinstein-nsa-hasnt-intentionally-abused-its-authority/
[32] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/14/nsa-intelligence-committee-under-pressure-document
[33] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/04/congress-nsa-denied-access
[34] http://www.salon.com/2013/06/12/james_clapper_must_go/
[35] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/nsa-50-plots-thwarted-surveillance-article-1.1375742#ixzz2fSVnqu00
[36] http://occupyamerica.crooksandliars.com/diane-sweet/interview-jeremy-scahill-nsa-oversight#sthash.5WAoD022.dpbs
[37] http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2013/06/07/transcript-what-obama-said-on-nsa-controversy/
[38] http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/court-ability-to-police-us-spying-program-limited/2013/08/15/4a8c8c44-05cd-11e3-a07f-49ddc7417125_story.html
[39] http://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/surveillance-obama-privacy-nsa-reform-96236.html
[40] http://www.alternet.org/tags/democracy
[41] http://www.alternet.org/tags/civil-liberties
[42] http://www.alternet.org/tags/security-0
[43] http://www.alternet.org/tags/nsa
[44] http://www.alternet.org/tags/authoritarian
[45] http://www.alternet.org/tags/orwellian
[46] http://www.alternet.org/tags/spying
[47] http://www.alternet.org/tags/drones-0
[48] http://www.alternet.org/tags/war-0
[49] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

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