June 21, 2013 § 1 Comment
C’MON, PEOPLE. “BRILL” told you that 14 years ago — and it was decades-old news even back then.
I recall that in the ’90s, before Enemy of the State, the NSA’s massive electronic eavesdropping capability was discussed regularly in “fringe” and Bible prophecy literature, Internet nooks and crannies, and citizen meetings at American Legion halls — sources most people back then would’ve dismissed as kooks and extremists, talking about stuff that “everybody knows couldn’t possibly be true.”
A fundamentalist ministry gospel tract warning about the NSA was reprinted in Walter Bowart’s mind-bending Operation Mind Control (Researchers Edition, 1994).
Investigative reporter James Bamford published The Puzzle Palace, his first book on the NSA which covered the secret warrantless surveillance program, in 1982.
Yet it goes back years before that. The United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, aka Church Committee, was convened in 1975 to investigate various crimes and unaccountable secret programs of the cryptocracy. While the committee barely scraped the surface (as Bowart’s book and others reveal), among its hair-raising revelations was the story of Project SHAMROCK. Exactly as Brill explained to an incredulous Dean in the electromagnetically shielded warehouse, “The government’s been in bed with the entire telecommunications industry since the ’40s.”
In 1945, to be exact, Western Union, RCA and ITT began to let the Armed Forces Security Agency (later National Security Agency) intercept and read all telegraphic traffic those companies handled, whether domestic or foreign.
Later, other transmissions were included: phone, fax, satellite, and eventually, of course, traffic on the Defense Department–created Internet.
By the 1960s, in the name of fighting the Cold War, the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand forged a secret shared-eavesdropping agreement, creating what has come to be known as the ECHELON network. (Over the years, people have come to apply “ECHELON” loosely to cover the entire electronic surveillance dragnet of the NSA, foreign or domestic.)
“But how on earth could they listen to everybody?” says the scoffer. Obviously they cannot have live humans listening to and reading every call, email, website or Tweet, as they had people reading international and domestic telegraphic traffic back in the ’40s. However, they could, did, and do, have a vast array of computers with speech-recognition and recording capabilities. The computers to do the heavy lifting, sifting through vast amounts of noise to find the specific keywords the human programmers want, then record the conversation and kick it over to human analysts if certain red flags are raised. Increasing artificial intelligence allows even more automatic sorting, pattern recognition, social-network mapping – it practically does all the work for them. And yes, according to various accounts, this massive universal surveillance capability that can suck up literally everything from the ether has existed since the ’70s.
“What? I didn’t have access to speech-recognition software until a few years ago. How’d they have it back in the ’70s?” Are you kidding? The theory of digital communication was worked out by Bell Labs in the late 1920s, though the necessary hardware was lacking. Fast-forward to the early ’60s — then we begin to see the earliest (public) experiments with actual digital audio encoding, storage and decoding via computers. Of course, these were room-sized computers with refrigerator-sized hard drives, and of course, the average consumer could not afford them. But if you know anything about the cryptocracy, you know that it has never lacked either space or money — whether the funds come from the long-suffering taxpayers or from various “off-the-books” fundraising activities (by which, we’re not talking about bake sales). The NSA, in fact, was one of the biggest developers of computers, period, since it was the main customer. By the late ’70s, as the public was just beginning to hear about microcomputers for the consumer market, as either a business tool or an exotic toy for nerds, best believe the NSA had had the best technology on the planet for years.
All this is not to say that the NSA is giving, or could give, every American citizen the loving attention it gave to Will Smith and Gene Hackman’s characters in the 1999 action thriller. Nevertheless, if the agency, or some rogue group within, felt a need to single you out — for reasons “legitimate,” illegitimate, or mistaken — it certainly could. Visited any “subversive” websites lately? Have you associated with any “antigovernment” persons in the last few years? There’s a “War on Terror” going on, you know.
What with all the loose talk in some circles equating Tea Party and other opposition groups with “terrorists” or … enemies of the state, how do we know NSA surveillance capabilities haven’t been unleashed on such groups, with the data then turned over to the politicized IRS for punishment? That prospect, in itself, is enough to chill critical speech by any citizen — completely apart from the Obama administration’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers.
Also, chew on this: What if the shadowy NSA itself serves as a front for even shadowier private interests — interests wholly unregulated, even by the nominal, easily circumvented legal apparatus that allegedly restrains the “official” NSA?
Consider whether the private business interests who’ve for so long been in bed with the government — the telecoms like AT & T and Verizon, the contractors like Snowden’s employer Booz Allen Hamilton — aren’t in fact running the show, or at least, running an important part of it. Think of the potential for private corporate espionage and high-level, above-the-law insider trading. What if you could have instant access to information about what any corporate entity was going to do? What if you knew which direction the markets were going to go? How would you use that information? How rich would such information make you and your cronies? If you have to spend more than half a second concluding that that does in fact happen, you need to get up to speed. For as long as the craft of intelligence has existed it has worked mainly on behalf of private privilege. International banking houses, such as the house of Rothschild, had efficient spy networks long before the Washington empire officially formed its peacetime intelligence agencies.
The NSA’s older and less geeky sister, CIA, was in fact literally born on Wall Street, the birth attended by international bankers and their lawyers, such as the Dulles brothers; CIA officers today openly moonlight as corporate spies.
For these reasons, more than one observer or whistleblower has suspected or charged that the CIA, in so many words, a Corporate Intelligence Agency owned by the super-elite — one the government just gets to borrow sometimes. (The classic work on the CIA’s real work is L. Fletcher Prouty’s The Secret Team.) With electronic communication so much more prevalent today, the sensible assumption is that NSA serves much the same purpose. The so-called congressional oversight is a joke, as Congressman Loretta Sanchez reveals.
By the way, don’t give me the jive about all the patriotic hard-working honorable men and women, blah blah — I don’t think people who work inside totally secret and unaccountable black boxes are entitled to any such benefit of the doubt even if 95 percent of them happen to be good 95 percent of the time; that still leaves plenty of space to get away with mischief, mayhem or murder — as well as space for honorable yet fallible people to make big mistakes with dangerous consequences.
So this has been going on since at least the 1940s, and you’re just finding out about this — at least in a major way — now, in 2013. How’s that make you feel about your “democracy” and the vigilance of the media?
No, history isn’t what it used to be. Yes, most of what you think you know about America — especially in the last century, and especially especially since 1933 — is wrong, or is a cover for deeper and blacker truth.
So what exactly do we do about the big elephant of the national security state, now that it’s standing right on our living room coffee table, trumpeting its presence so loud we can’t possibly miss it? That’ll come in subsequent posts.
- When you read the Wikipedia articles on SHAMROCK, be sure to see the several other sister or successor programs linked to the SHAMROCK page.
June 11, 2013 § Leave a comment
FOR THE SAKE OF argument, let’s accept the defense advanced by Obama — and every president in a similar situation since Truman, it seems — that it’s just impossible to know or control what one’s employees are up to. Bad, bad bureaucrats! Always sneaking around and getting into trouble behind our backs.
When politicians say this, it leads us to conclude that either
a) The politician is dangerously incompetent as a manager;
b) The government is dangerously ungovernable, and therefore, needs to be drastically slashed in size and power so that it can be responsibly managed, or
c) Both a) and b).
Anyway. Let’s talk about every one being shocked, shocked! that such things go on in Washington. Who knew?Except any one who’s paid attention knows that the IRS easily can be, and is, used politically.
Hell, over 130 years ago, when the notion of taxing individual incomes in peacetime was just that — a notion — a man often quoted here warned against such folly:
The object at which [a graduated income tax] aims, the reduction or prevention of immense concentrations of wealth, is good; but this means involves the employment of a large number of officials clothed with inquisitorial powers; temptations to bribery, and perjury, and all other means of evasion, which beget a demoralization of opinion, and put a premium upon unscrupulousness and a tax upon conscience; and, finally, just in proportion as the tax accomplishes its effect, a lessening in the incentive to the accumulation of wealth, which is one of the strong forces of industrial progress.
Events have borne out Henry George’s prediction. To understand the present scandal, we could look back to the Clinton presidency. The Obama administration and the general zeitgeist have been largely a replay of the Clinton administration in several ways, and the use of IRS as political thugs is one.
In the Clinton days, the target wasn’t called the Tea Party; it was called the Republican Revolution, the Patriot movement, the “Far Right,” conservative media organizations, and private citizens who posed threats to the Clinton’s political fortunes.
After Paula Jones sued Clinton for sexual harrassment, she found herself not only targeted by a media smear campaign (like several other women who came forth with similar stories), but slapped with an IRS audit on top of that.
Elizabeth Ward Gracen, too, came forth saying she’d had an affair with Bill Clinton, and “received threats warning her not to talk about it before she too ended up receiving an audit notice,” writes Jack Minor of WorldNetDaily. (Such facts, and the fact that many of the Tea Party groups targeted by Obama’s IRS are led by women — puts a very strange light on the repeated Democrat accusations that the right is waging a “war on women.”)
Back in the ’90s, the reliably Republican talker Rush Limbaugh was the biggest mouth, but not the biggest threat. Limbaugh, the reliable Republican, stayed within partisan lines, meaning he could always be dismissed. Furthermore, a Rush Limbaugh could never threaten to unite the American people; all he could do was keep up the cozy divided-and-conquered status quo game the Establishment needed to retain its power.
The real threats were the independent activists and media organizations whose discontent crossed party lines. The king of the independent media in those days was Chuck Harder , and it was he and his organization who were singled out for the most brutal IRS attack.
Harder and his wife started a national radio network and not-for-profit organization from their garage in White Springs, Florida, in 1989. For several heady years in the early-to-mid ’90s, the People’s Radio Network (PRN) functioned as the real NPR — one that didn’t talk down to the public but actually invited the public to converse on the public’s airwaves.
As a college student, I listened to PRN whenever I could, completing my transition away from a music radio listener to a near full-time talk addict. (I also garnered material and sources for my own column in my college newspaper).
At its peak, Harder’s flagship program “For the People,” was heard on 300 outlets nationwide, including one in Washington, D.C. itself, as well as satellite TV and international shortwave. By 1996, if memory serves, all programming was streaming online as well.
PRN didn’t run whispery-talking pseudointellectuals and long, boring “personal narratives” where illegal immigrants or irrelevant people recollect their childhoods. Harder & Co. made life a lot harder for both the outgoing Bush administration and their business partners, the Clintonistas — exposing the full range of their crimes and shady dealings both in Arkansas and in the White House, and opposing their globalist policies.
PRN was key in publishing the full North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) text at a price that working people could actually afford, and helping to publicize its contents, allowing people to organize opposition.
In light of the above, it must be entirely a coincidence that immediately after Clinton’s election in 1992, the IRS came to camp out in Harder’s office — and for eighteen years, never went away.
The early ’90s was the time populism went mainstream. The residue of the never-resolved late ’80s Iran-Contra scandal remained below the surface. The end of the Bush era, the Persian Gulf War, the recession, and the election of the Clintons kindled a populist brushfire ranging across the contrived political spectrum, as bipartisan as the elite Washington consensus itself.
The grassroots were angry about the corporate globalist policies being crammed through by Republican and Democrat elites. The labor left was angry about the appearance that government was doing the bidding of the Fortune 500 and “banksters”; much of the so-called far right was upset about the same policies, but focused more on the loss of national sovereignty abroad and personal freedoms at home.
The right was also moved to outrage and fear by the perceived increase in hostility of the federal government against its own citizens, such as the Weaver family in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and the Christians in Waco.
With the rise of alternative media venues, word was beginning to get out about government drug smuggling and other sordidness besmirching the carefully cultivated, shiny, happy “family values” image of the Reagan-Bush years. The drug smuggling scandal, with several others, was one that directly linked Bush’s Washington and Clinton’s Arkansas.
With “left” and “right” comparing notes and substantially converging — with States passing “state sovereignty” resolutions and people increasingly talking impeachment — it was clear the Clinton neoliberal team needed help, fast.
THE CAVALRY CAME in on April 19, 1995, when a federal building in Oklahoma City blew up and two United States Army veterans, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, were blamed.
Clinton and his surrogates on the controlled left had their grand opportunity. They immediately seized OKC and with all their might used it to cudgel any critic — whether the Wall Street Journal, Rush Limbaugh, the National Rifle Association or Chuck Harder — with all their might, labeling them sinister “far-right extremists.” Contrary to the facts, they spread the propaganda that McVeigh and Nichols were militia members. (That was a lie; militia groups had rejected them, suspecting them of actually being federal provocateurs).
They claimed the bombing suspects had allegedly fed their “hate” by listening to “far-right talk radio”; and that constitutionalists, gun-rights advocates, alternative media people, conservatives, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, and any other group that thought the Clintons to be corrupt or their policies bad, were part of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” that would carry out terrorist bombings. We now know, of course, that the truth about OKC is very nearly the opposite of what the Clintonistas claimed.
The People’s Radio Network and its contributors were at the forefront in the OKC investigation; Harder and other hosts hammered away daily at the inconsistencies in the government story, and aired new facts and new sources, later compiled into the book “Death Trap: Oklahoma City.”
However, the Clintonistas’ slanderous propaganda barrage did strike a serious blow to the network’s financial support, forcing it to seek outside financing in an ill-advised business deal that turned out to be a swindle — perhaps even a Clinton-orchestrated takedown — involving the corrupt United Auto Workers union.
After the UAW muscled in, it muscled Harder off his own network and partially reneged on the $3 million buyout they’d agreed to pay him in just such a case. The labor-monopoly organization also began firing workers, and — in the most appalling irony — fired longtime producer David Hand for attempting to organize a union.
It was made clear to workers that UAW’s mission was not the founding mission of advocating “America First” policies and made-in-America products, but to re-elect the Clintons to the White House using the shadiest methods.
In addition to these thug tactics that the worst union-busting corporate lawyers would applaud, the Clinton-surrogate labor monopoly reneged on promised incentives for its sales force, misled employees about benefits, and dictated programming and viewpoints to on-air talent.
Before long the once 300-station network — renamed United Broadcasting Network under UAW management — dwindled to 60. Finally, management filed bankruptcy for the network in July 1997. The great friend of the workers, UAW, had squashed and downsized its own labor forced and deliberately bankrupted its own operation, in two and a half short years.
And it all started with a politically motivated IRS audit.
The whole grim story is told at the following sites: The original WorldNetDaily story from 1998, and a follow-up from 2010 reporting the still-ongoing 18-year audit — surely a national record. Michael Munday also did a great job following the story for years in Insight Magazine.
Finally, here’s a C-SPAN simulcast of a “For the People” broadcast from the fall of 1993, where Harder and Ralph Nader break down what’s wrong with the NAFTA deal.
June 6, 2013 § Leave a comment
Mr. Goldman writes:
For communitarian conservatives, liberty means civil freedom tempered by social interdependence and moral restraint.
That is also a good definition of libertarianism or individualism.
As individualists know, we don’t oppose community. Individualism and communitarianism are not opposites but complements; it’s just that each has its proper sphere.
We must recognize that people do tend to one side or the other. Partly that’s politics; partly it’s a matter of inborn temperaments, which may in part drive the political division. Masculine vs. feminine differences, for instance, have been expertly exploited. For all the feminist rhetoric about women being strong and independent, feminists are the loudest voices clamoring for dependency. When you have dismantled marriage and the family — the building blocks of real community — you have to depend on the state. There is nothing else left.
Across the sexes, too, people differ. We tend to be either introverts or extroverts. At its best, the American ideal was really to be about creating a minimum floor of liberty so that the introvert really could be left alone if he wished (much as we’ve been brainwashed that wanting to be left alone is evil and un-American). Allowing people their right to be left alone does not in any sense stop the social butterfly from flitting freely, or the brothers’ keeper dispensing the milk of human kindness hither and yon through all the channels of voluntary civil society. It just means they are unable to force everyone to be just like them via the sword of government.
But let’s note well: to say that people have the right to be left alone is not to say that many people actually want to be left alone all the time. That is the cartoon caricature that the collectivists have drawn up (and some on the right have actually bought into).
Sen. Mike Lee said it well:
Ours has never been a vision of isolated, atomized loners. It is a vision of husbands and wives; parents and children; neighbors and neighborhoods; volunteers and congregations; bosses and employees; businesses and customers; clubs, teams, groups, associations… and friends.
The essence of human freedom, of civilization itself, is cooperation. This is something conservatives should celebrate. It’s what conservatism is all about. ….
Ironically, the atomism of which left-leaners are apt to bemoan grew up not in an age of individualism, but of Big Government and Big Business partnership, presided over by the collectivist Big Media — in particular, the tempermentally extroverted medium of television. These forces were all along promising us that “We” were using the apparatus of the state to do Great Things – building Great Public Works, creating a Great Society, fighting Great Wars (against poverty, cancer, drugs, terror, ad infinitum), going to space — all to realize and display our Greatness, under the direction of the “Best and Brightest.” Meanwhile, as the state and its corporate client class waxed Great, real community withered. Of course organic community withers when its functions are usurped by “professionals” — especially those who are professionally interested in seeing the problems remain, or get worse.
Our argument is that many social problems are actually local problems: Yes, though they have been State-ized and nationalized and complicated in all manner of ways, all in the name of “solving” them.
There is a limited place for collective action of a government or quasi-governmental sort at appropriate levels – local on up to national, then international. For that, I would refer to Henry George and like minds: if society needs services that in their nature are monopolies, then it is less dangerous to run such monopolies collectively than to award them to private individuals. Hardly any one wants privately owned toll roads, for example.
However, it is easy to separate such common infrastructure and resources from things in their nature individual: education, health care, housing food, etc. Not many of the vicarious extroverts who speak of the “social” or the “commons,” however, seek to distinguish the one class of good from the other.
”public schools in some states, such as Massachusetts, are excellent”:
I submit we have no idea what an “excellent” school even is, because we are so far from the cutting edge that we don’t even know a cutting edge exists. Comparing state school systems amongst themselves is something like watching a turtle race and getting excited that one turtle is out-crawling the other.
“Washington is not the focal point of American democracy”:
Hear, hear. Am I the only one who’s sick of the media just pounding Washington into my face all day, every day?
However, make no mistake: State collectivization of individual decisions may be a smaller-scale evil than federal collectivization — and an evil that one can move away from — but it is still an evil.
An insurance mandate is, to me, an unacceptable limit to freedom. Plus, insurance is a bad way to pay for routine care anyway; it’s designed for rare, unexpected events.
Further, I do not believe illness is “ineradicable”; in America, most illness (especially when one counts by dollars expended) is avoidable — even mainstream organizations like the heart and cancer associations admit that. If you listen to the experts on the cutting edge, like the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine or Life Extension Foundation, just about everything is reversible, on up to many aspects of the toxicity/degeneration syndrome we mistakenly call “aging.” But is the current system set up to solve such problems? Far from it: the current system is in a business partnership with sickness; that’s what powerful industry protectionism and government regulation demand. The system cannot cure illness since that is its golden goose.
Re: local government:
I work in the office of a township. Probably not 1/1000 citizens of my State realize that the township is the only government level with a Constitutional mandate to provide assistance to the poor. There is a work requirement for assistance; despite the work program being conducted inefficiently, this is much more efficient than having no work requirement.
The food pantry program receive much assistance from groceries, restaurants, charities and individuals. An eyewear store provides free exams and glasses to qualified individuals. Etc . These are all voluntary relationships. We need more of this and less of the impersonal bureaucratic types of “assistance” and their long train of negative unintended(?) consequences.