Posted 4 months ago on June 4, 2014, 5:39 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Official Secrets: Absolute Control
Wednesday, 04 June 2014 11:32
By Beatrice Edwards, Berrett-Koehler Publishers | Book Excerpt
Daniel Ellsberg writes of The American Corporate Security State: "Edwards is an extraordinary writer who brilliantly captures the essence of what whistleblowers such as Snowden have sacrificed their careers and jeopardized their personal liberties to convey." Get the book by contributing to Truthout here.
Reason to be afraid #2
Control of information by the government-corporate complex is expanding.
The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it, or exactly how many agencies do the same work.
On July 19, 2010, the Washington Post published an investigative story by Dana Priest and William Arkin that revealed the expanding parameters of the security state. The information that the NSA and the Justice Department struggled for years to control was seeping out, despite the attacks on the NSA whistleblowers and the censorship and harassment of journalists.
The effort to conceal the government's secret surveillance programs undoubtedly ramped up after Alberto Gonzales had a brush with perjury three years before the Priest/Arkin story appeared. Bush's hapless attorney general nearly revealed in an open congressional hearing that there were more surveillance programs than the Senate knew about. Gonzales admitted to "other intelligence activities," beyond the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program, in a testy back and forth with Senator Charles Schumer.
The FBI raids on the homes of the three NSA whistleblowers and Diane Roark occurred two days after Gonzales referred to "other intelligence activities," and four months later, on November 28, 2007, the FBI raided Thomas Drake's house. Drake was the official who communicated with Siobhan Gorman at the Baltimore Sun.
The FBI incursion and search of the Drake house was the same drill as the attacks on the others: a dozen or so agents stormed across the lawn in the early morning. The raid lasted eight hours, and toward noon ABC News and Fox News drove slowly up the street outside and parked their large boom vans at the curb to film it. The episode was broadcast twice that night and the next morning. For weeks afterward, Drake had to explain to his friends and neighbors why the FBI treated him like a dangerous criminal, a spectacle they'd seen on television repeatedly the day it happened as well as the following day.
The FBI raids in 2007 were one of the first manifestations of the extreme steps the government would take to secure its secrets. After 9/11, the US Defense Department both expanded and tightened its security regime, but it took awhile to build it out and cover it up. According to investigative journalists Priest and Arkin, 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies in about 10,000 locations across the United States worked on counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence.
Despite the campaign promises in 2008, the Obama administration did not arrest the trend toward more security-related secrecy. In 2011, Obama's agencies made 92 million decisions to classify documents, a dramatic increase over years past. The following year, the Public Interest Declassification (PID) board wrote the president about the dangers of increasing secrecy:
At its most benign, secrecy impedes informed government decisions and an informed public; at worst, it enables corruption and malfeasance.
The extent of information collected and stored at public expense—but withheld from the public—is astonishing. The PID board's 2012 report identified one government agency that was classifying one petabyte of new data every 18 months, the equivalent of 20 million filing cabinets filled with text, or 13.3 years of high-definition video. Moreover, the cost of storing and safeguarding all of this is high: roughly $11.3 billion in 2011, up from about $4.7 billion in 2001.
The knowledge we now have about the national security operations of the United States suggests that we've moved from an embryonic position— where data collection is voluminous and secret but disorganized—to a more sophisticated state, in which the government's information about Americans is categorized, searchable, and centralized. The national security picture exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013 reveals a domestic surveillance system that is greatly advanced over the one Priest and Arkin described only three years before.
The government of the United States has two ways to withhold information from us, and they overlap for good measure. The first is to classify government documents as confidential, secret, or top secret for purposes of protecting national security. Classification withholds information from disclosure if requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A second method is to invoke any of the nine exemptions or three exclusions of FOIA, one of which withholds classified information.
Shortly after he took office, Barack Obama committed his administration to openness and transparency. In choosing him to be president, Americans effectively showed their displeasure with the arrogance of the Bush/ Cheney administration, which concealed the machinations of governing behind a veil of secrecy and national security.
Obama was a Democrat, not a Republican. He was a progressive not a conservative, and he represented a younger generation than Bush and Cheney. He was to be different. He said as much in a statement released on his first day in office:
My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.
It was not to be.
An assessment by the Associated Press (AP) in 2010 showed Obama using FOIA exemptions to withhold information more than Bush did during his last year in office, even though the Obama administration had received fewer requests for documents. The AP's review showed that after one year in office, the Obama administration had increased the use of virtually every FOIA exemption in order to withhold information.
The record on the classification and declassification of documents is no better. Obama's own PID board wrote to him to say: "[P]resent practices for classification and declassification of national security information are outmoded, unsustainable, and keep too much information from the public."
Thirty-three civil society organizations supported many of the board's recommendations and also wrote the president to emphasize the importance of the issue:
[T]ransformation of the classification system has become a democratic and security imperative, and the critical moment in this effort has now come."
That was April 23, 2013. The moment came and went.
Despite these consistent signs of growing secrecy in executive agencies and the regular warnings from sources familiar with government secrecy, the Snowden disclosures during the summer of 2013 occasioned an uproar among experts on national security law, cyber- intelligence, and document classification. People did not know what to think when the enormity of the revelations hit them. There is no precedent for what Snowden showed.
The disclosures came one after the other in digestible increments: metadata, PRISM, XKeyscore, illustrated with slides and official documents. Nothing was simply the opinion of the whistleblower. All of it was documented.
Thanks to Snowden, everyone who read or saw the news anywhere knew, for example:
The US national intelligence program includes sixteen spy agencies that directly employ 107,035 people.
For fiscal 2013, the classified "black budget" requested of Congress by the White House was $52.6 billion. The amount far exceeded what we previously thought to be true.
The CIA and NSA increasingly engage in massive cyber-operations to hack into foreign computer networks of both allies and enemies to steal data and sabotage infrastructure.
Perhaps most unsettling, the United States has spent more than $500 billion on intelligence since 9/11, an amount that exceeds equivalent Cold War spending levels.
In brief, the Snowden disclosures show that the Constitution and the government of the United States have parted ways. We are no longer a democratic nation of laws. That's new in America. We've had our differences about various presidents, and most of us have little respect for the Congress, but in general, the judicial system enjoys a certain deference, and the country—including our government—as a whole is the subject of devotion. We still place our hands over our hearts and pledge allegiance to the flag—and to the republic for which it stands. The perception that the machinery of the state—including the executive, legislative, and judicial branches—does not respond to the will of the people, actively conceals its law breaking, and when exposed, deceives in a coordinated and deliberative fashion, is a first in living memory.
The Watergate scandal of the 1970s was also a constitutional crisis, but it was confined to the executive branch. It was also confined to one president, Richard Nixon. When he was gone, it was over. The same is true of the Iran-Contra scandal. Ronald Reagan broke the law and defied congressional intent, but the legislature reacted when the news broke, and the secret program stopped.