Yves here. As you may have noticed, I’m taking a bit of a break (I’m currently in Maine). I had hoped that this would be a quiet period, but the ugly Syrian war-mongering has no respect for calendars (particularly since Obama might hope that acting during a Congressional recess would reduce their ability to squawk). Nevertheless, it is a welcome surprise to see the Administration’s plan to rush into Syria with the British and French go a bit pear-shaped, thanks to the UK parliament showing an unexpected bit of spine. It seems that after Iraq, the public and legislatures aren’t accepting WMD scare stories on executive say-sos. Quelle surprise!
The effort to take action before UN inspectors could complete their review was highly sus, as have been the shifting claims by the Administration as to what precisely the attacks consisted of and why the officialdom is so certain Assad is the perp (for instance, early pronouncements that the toxic agent was a nerve gas or otherwise “military grade” have been questioned by experts who have studied the footage closely).
This setback would seem to disprove the argument of Gaius’ post below, that the power of the military-industrial complex has reached the democracy-threatenign scale that President Eisenhower warned against when he left office over 50 years ago. Edward Snowden’s document releases are becoming a horror film version of the Wizard of Oz. In both the book and the Hollywood version, the scary sorcerer was revealed to be a harmless fake. Here, even though the public knew there was a lot going on behind those curtains that was likely not on the up and up, few imagined that the Big Brother project was so far advanced. So it isn’t surprising that some observers are seeing the plan for the US to intervene in Syria as a way to defend the surveillance state project: raising the specter of bad guys in the Middle East who have WMD, the claims that US snooping provided the “proof” that Assad was indeed behind the apparent attack (oh, and a twofer, using nerve gas!), or just what I call airplane effect (“Look, over there, an airplane!”) as in a major news story that would pull public attention away from the Snowden disclosures.
Gaius focuses on the question of the degree to which the military-surveillance complex is already calling the shots in the US. While he uses the current sanitized formulation, “deep state,” I wish he and others in the opposition would use a more accurate, if perhaps less tidy, turn of phrase, like “slow motion military coup.”
By Gaius Pubius, a professional writer living on the West Coast. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius. Cross posted from AmericaBlog
Is the upper echelon of the American intelligence community running the country? I know that’s an explosive idea, and easily dismissed as being so far out of the mainstream that it’s got no stream at all.
But if you’re willing to ask the question, and then consider it along with what we know so far, it may not be too off the mark.
Obviously I don’t know the answer (though I do have a guess). Everything we know, however, says that this could be true if the generals in charge of the NSA want it to be true. After all, J. Edgar Hoover got quite far down that road with far fewer tools. It’s not like it can’t be done.
As an aid to your reflection, consider the extent of the spying as described in the following interview with Russell Tice, the original NSA whistle-blower.
Tice offers first-hand knowledge of eavesdropping on the phone calls, for example, of people like Barack Obama and Samuel Alito, plus their families and friends, prior to 2006, as well as on generals, media figures and a number of well-placed others, including at the State Dept.
In a separate interview, Tice adds that “they went after members of Congress, both Senate and the House, especially on the intelligence committees and on the armed services committees and some of the–and judicial [committees].”
He says he personally had papers ordering these surveillances in his hand.
Who is Russell Tice? In 2005, information from Tice formed the basis of the first big reporting on the NSA. Wikipedia (my emphasis and some reparagraphing):
Russell D. Tice (born 1961) is a former intelligence analyst for the U.S. Air Force, Office of Naval Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and National Security Agency (NSA). During his nearly 20 year career with various United States government agencies, he conducted intelligence missions related to the Kosovo War, Afghanistan, the USS Cole bombing in Yemen, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In December, 2005, Tice helped spark a national controversy over claims that the NSA and the DIA were engaged in unlawful and unconstitutional wiretaps on American citizens. He later admitted that he was one of the sources that were used in The New York Times reporting on the wiretap activity in December 2005.
After speaking publicly about the need for legislation to protect whistleblowers, Tice received national attention as the first NSA-whistleblower in May 2005 before William Binney, Thomas Andrews Drake, Mark Klein, Thomas Tamm and Edward Snowden came forward.
As Tice says in the interview below, the only difference between himself and Edward Snowden is that Snowden has the “tangible evidence,” the “proof of what I’ve said in the past.”
The language of my first sentence is Tice’s; I added nothing. And while he doesn’t offer proof of the suggested conclusion, he does offer educated guesses and labels them as such.
Keep in mind also that Tice is career military, a self-identified conservative, and a lifelong Republican — and as you’ll hear below, he’s both intelligent and careful in his wording. Again, just listen and consider.
Is the upper echelon of the intelligence community running the show? They’re in position to be doing it if they want to, according to Russell Tice.
I’ll let the interview speak for itself, with just a few notes below it. The interviewer is Abby Martin. Tice has given a number of interviews like this, by the way; just is just one of them. Please listen if the NSA story interests you; it’s not that long:
A few notes:
▪ At 1:42 and following he details the scale of the effort:
[NSA was] targetting news organizations … U.S. companies doing international business … financial companies … but they were also going after the State Department … high-ranking military generals … law firms and lawyers … [members of] the Supreme Court [including] Justice Alito … wannabe Senator Barack Obama.
▪ At 4:54 he’s asked, “Who is administering the [Bush-era] surveillance?” His answer:
… I don’t know … it looked like it was being done in the evenings … on the sly. … A high-level person at NSA told me it was being done from the Vice President’s office [Cheney]. I don’t know that for sure, but I was told that by a very senior person at NSA.
▪ At 5:30 and following, Martin and Tice discuss the reason for all the data-gathering on political figures, media figures and the like. Their speculative answer — and mine — is blackmail:
[Martin:] Why was it being done? The first thing that comes to my mind is blackmail.
[Tice:] I don’t know the answer to that … [but] I think you hit the word. … That would be a means of control … if you were to listen in on everyone’s conversations for years on end …
▪ And the kicker, the headline speculation, comes at 6:24. Martin and Tice consider who’s actually running “the show,” meaning the country:
[Tice:] … Is there some kind of leverage that’s being placed on our three branches of government to make sure the intelligence community gets what they want? In other words, is the intelligence community running this country, not our [elected] government?
[Martin:] Is there some sort of shadow government at play? … Who’s running the show here?
[Tice:] I don’t know for sure … but if I had to guess, I would say that it’s the upper echelon of the intelligence community running the show.
Remember, the NSA, according to this same interview, is spying on generals and admirals, starting at about three stars and above, including Gen. Patreus, who is named in the interview. That may well be why Tice says the “upper echelon of the intelligence community” and not the “upper echelon of the Pentagon” are running things. The intelligence community is run by a fairly small group.
▪ Finally, I want to point to this, about what’s so wrong with this spying. At 7:30, when Martin asks, “Politicians have been spying on each other for decades, so how is this different now?” Tice answers:
What’s different about this is … the Orwellian scale. This is the “everything scale” … everybody and everything. Content, not just the metadata. And when the’re say (the spying is) not that far, they are lying.
What’s different is “Orwellian scale, the everything scale.” All Data, in other words. There’s also a megalomaniac scale, which leads to this man.
Who is the “Upper Echelon of the Intelligence Community”?
The top dog of “intelligence community” is clearly this man — Gen. Keith Alexander. His picture is at the start of this piece, in case you pass him on the street.
And here’s what digby says about him, in a piece entitled “Dinner with Alexander the Great“:
Everything I read about this guy [Keith Alexander] makes me think he’s a megalomaniac and dramatically unsuited to the role he’s in. He’s in love with his technology and himself. And there is no limit to the amount of power he thinks he needs to “do his job” — which in his mind, is to save the world.
There are others in this upper echelon — confessed liar-before-Congress James Clapper is another — but I suspect Alexander’s in charge if anyone is. The group would have to be small, 10 to 15 people perhaps, but with wide support within the military (all that spying on generals and admirals probably doesn’t hurt).
The project looks doable to me — especially if they kept their fingers out of every pie that didn’t concern them; if they let the political process, in other words, look like the whole process. So far, though, it’s still speculation.
My Own Best Guess
The “deep state” is the part that can’t be touched by the political process. Does Gen. Alexander help run it? If I had to give my own best guess, I’d say — add the “upper echelon billionaires” to the intel guys, and you’ve probably listed everyone who counts as someone with a say in what happens when.
Do we go into Syria? That’s probably a fairly open conversation, with lots of voices, including Obama’s, having a say (though none of those voices are yours). Do we send every cop in an Occupy city to join the spook state in a national one-day takedown? With a Yes from every full-blown billionaire and each junior-mint Keith Alexander, Obama couldn’t stop it if he wanted to.
Could you therefore describe modern America as a joint operation between the billionaires and the intelligence community (national spook apparatus), with the political operation serving either or both? Occam’s switchblade has a very sharp edge; yes, you could.
That’s it for now; I’ll come back to Tice’s theory as more develops. Proof of blackmail by the intel folks may well emerge, lending credence to Tice’s speculation.
Of course, proof may not emerge; after all, no one wants to be the next stain on the pavement, do they. Some of these folks may have a taste for vengeance that would wipe that smile off anyone’s face.