Back in the Summer of 2013, I wrote the following piece because the news was rife with the My Government at all levels, started a vigorous national debate, that flashed through the headlines and was met by rationalizations from our Foreign Policy, Military and Homeland security establishment touting fears of terrorism. Like most really serious issues in American politics, by the Fall of that year, the debate on government spying had dropped off of the radar of our mainstream media after the initial firestorm of information In the ensuing years, the discussion of government spying has gone through the stages of grief from denial up to acceptance. By the current general media silence on the issue, even in a rather contentious year of Presidential candidates and primaries, we can deduce that government spying has been accepted as normal. My own belief, informed by novels such as “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, is that government spying on our private lives is a big deal indeed, because it is through such information that government intimidates, prosecutes and rules.
One of the greatest novels I’ve ever read was Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22”. It is in turns humorous, tragic and distressing. It is finally one of the best commentaries on the insanity of the human condition, especially in wartime. Catch 22’s protagonist is Yossarian, an Air Force Bombardier in World War II, who no longer wants to keep flying the increasingly deadly missions over Germany. So desperate is Yossarian that he is willing to act out in any way possible that will get him grounded and he is hoping that he will be declared unfit for duty due to insanity. The problem is a military regulation that is described as “Catch 22”.
“The “Catch-22″ is that “anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy” Hence, pilots who request a mental fitness evaluation are sane, and therefore must fly in combat. At the same time, if an evaluation is not requested by the pilot, he will never receive one and thus can never be found insane, meaning he must also fly in combat. Therefore, Catch-22 ensures that no pilot can ever be grounded for being insane even if he is.”
The revelations of NSA spying have become a great topic of discussion these days, though it is merely a continuance of what we know our government has been doing since the origins of the Cold War, fueled by an ever more sophisticated technology in this digital age. A few people that have been privy to the use of secrecy to hide the many violations of constitutional rights, human rights and war crimes.
These few people have acted out of conscience to expose these violations only to face imprisonment and vilification by not only the Intelligence establishment, but by the bi-partisan Washington Establishment and their pundit minions. The most prominent of these “whistle blowers” have been Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. The Establishment I refer to represents the Corporate/Military/Intelligence Complex (CMIC) that is and has been, in control of our country. They are the “Permanent Government” of the United States and have been for most of our history. The CMIC owns or controls most of our supposed “free press” which includes the major media outlets from which Americans get their news and form their opinions. Despite the outrage of many in the public, I believe that almost nothing will stop this perversion of this country under the guise of protecting it because of the logic inherent in Catch 22.
The New York Times, although vilified by many conservatives as a “liberal propaganda outlet”, is in reality the most Establishment of media outlets. That it sometimes allows diverse opinions to dominate its’ Editorial and Op Ed pages, when it comes to the crunch, the “Times” caters to the financial elite of this country. On 6/10/13, at the height of this secrecy controversy, they ran an article with the headline: “Debate on Secret Data Looks Unlikely, Partly Because of Secrecy”. In reading it I immediately thought of Heller’s book.
“Edward J. Snowden said he had leaked secret documents about National Security Agency surveillance to spark a public debate about civil liberties. President Obama, while deploring the leak, endorsed the same goal of a vigorous public discussion of the “trade-offs” between national security and personal privacy. “I think it’s healthy for our democracy, “ he said on Friday of the prospect of re-examining surveillance policy. But the legal and political obstacles to such a debate, whether in Congress or more broadly, are formidable. They only begin with the facts that the programs at issue are highly classified and that Mr. Snowden is now a hunted man, potentially facing a prison sentence for disclosing the very secrets that started the discussion that Mr. Obama welcomed.
On Monday, the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, was pressed about just how the surveillance dialogue the president invited might take place.
Asked whether Mr. Obama would himself lead the debate or push for new legislation, Mr. Carney demurred. “I don’t have anything to preview,” he said, adding that the president’s major national security speech May 23, before the N.S.A. disclosures, showed “his interest in having the debate and the legitimacy of asking probing questions about these matters.”
So the President welcomes a national debate on the issue of the NSA invading the privacy of all of the public’s electronic communications, but since all of the NSA’s doings are highly classified, the only way they can be openly discussed is to risk prosecution for violating secrecy laws. Manning disclosed some secrets and wound up in solitary confinement. Assange is forced to remain in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, or risk extradition and prosecution, while Snowden is now on the run in Russia, being vilified as a traitor. President Obama is of course being disingenuous in calling for a national debate on this issue, when in truth this is made impossible by our secrecy laws. We can’t even debate the effectiveness of this program in deterring terrorism, because the instances where this has supposedly happened are classified for national security. You cannot have an honest debate, with one side holding onto all of the relevant information and basically stating “Trust us the evidence is there, but we can’t let you see it because then we would have to arrest you”. The President’s position is essentially a Catch 22 position. Incidentally, the President has it within his power to actually allow a debate:
“Steven Aftergood, who runs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said: “If President Obama really welcomed a debate, there are all kinds of things he could do in terms of declassification and disclosure to foster it. But he’s not doing any of them.”
Nor is it clear that political pressure from either Congress or the public will be sufficient to prompt the administration to open the door wider on government surveillance. Congressional leaders of both parties have so far expressed support for the newly disclosed initiatives, and the legislation governing such surveillance was renewed for five years at the end of 2012.”
So the logic of this situation is this:
A. We profess to be a country governed by the Constitution and ultimately by the people through the electoral process.
B. To be able to exercise our rights as citizens, via the electoral process, we need information on the major issues of how our government is operating.
C. To “protect us” from our “enemies” we need intelligence agencies gathering information to discern threats to our country and this “gathering” must include information on all of our citizens.
D. The operations of these intelligence agencies must be cloaked in secrecy to keep our “enemies” from knowing what we know.
E. Only a very few of our elected representatives are allowed information on the operations of our intelligence community as putative oversight.
F. These intelligence representatives are precluded by secrecy laws from disclosing what they learn to their legislative colleagues.
G. If they can’t disclose any intelligence information that they find disturbing, then in effect they have no oversight ability over the Intelligence Establishment, since they can’t get legislation to counter it.
H. Without oversight the Intelligence Agencies can do as they please.
I. Therefore when it comes to Intelligence the American people are unable to exercise their rights as citizens via informed votes in the electoral process.
In the end we are discussing an Intelligence Catch 22. Another example of this, is the various legislators and pundits who have welcomed the “helpful” information that Snowden supplied, but vilified him for not going up the “chain of command”, rather than going public. This begs the question, which is that had Snowden gone up the “chain of command” the “helpful” information would never have been disclosed.
Russ Baker, who I consider one of the best investigative journalists in the business, read this New York Times story and did an article for his website http://whowhatwhy.com. The story is titled: Why Obama Cannot Undo the Surveillance Society—But We Can. Russ Baker writes:
“Today, the New York Times, in a news/analysis article, essentially declared that there was no hope for any kind of restraint of growing government spying on the public. Not if it is up to the people’s representatives.” Baker goes on:
“When even an establishment-serving entity like the New York Times virtually concedes that there’s no hope for reform even when the vast majority might want it, this is a signal that something is deeply amiss in this society.”
“What the Times and other media will not and perhaps cannot say, is this: not only is Congress impotent in these matters, but it wouldn’t even matter if the president himself chose to act. Here’s why.
As history shows us, when it comes to the overall direction of American governance, absent generally minor tweaks of foreign policy and somewhat more robust swings on certain domestic issues that rouse voting bases (notably things like gay and reproductive rights and, lately, immigration), Presidents of both parties rarely deviate from a kind of “consensus” cobbled together by people in academia, media and government, a consensus that almost always serves the interests of a fairly small number of wealthy people and interests. (If you’ve never heard this notion, a visit to one of our remaining public libraries might be in order.)
This is not a partisan issue. It doesn’t matter who is president. No “ordinary American who can dream of one day becoming president” is in a position to alter the basic equation, which would involve bucking the vast military-financial-industrial-academic complex that drives the American economy, funds our political elections and keeps people in line through any means necessary. That’s as true of Obama as it was of Kennedy or Nixon or…fill in the blank. For more on this, see our 2010 piece “What Obama is Up Against.”
Russ Baker continues in the article discussing the “What” and the “Why” that no president has the power to take on the Oligarchy that rule this nation and it makes a compelling case. The conclusion that Russ leaves us with is his belief that where the President and Congress lack the power, we do have the power if we act.
“We all like to believe we are free, and that we determine the direction of this country, but it has seldom been true in the past and it is even less true now.
Many of us find this too upsetting to contemplate, or, given the comforts that financial security affords, confuse economic with political freedom. Either way, blinders are the preferred apparel.
And yet there is real reason to wake up, and pay attention. The truth is that the “powerful” individuals in whom we invest our hope have little power. But, paradoxically, the individuals who actually have power—or rather could have power—are….ourselves.
Most of us feel better believing we cannot do anything, because then we do not have to do anything. But if each of us did something, even a little, and got a few others to do something, before you knew it, we might actually have democracy.
I remember covering the fall of communism in East Germany. I personally witnessed individuals take action to make sure that the window of opportunity got wider—holding covert meetings, getting onto buses with ski masks to hand out leaflets, signaling resistance to the authorities in small ways so that the establishment workers would themselves begin letting go of the status quo.
If it can happen in one “surveillance society,” it can happen in our “surveillance-society-in-the-making.” Spread the word: freedom is not so bad, once you get used to it.”
I believe with Russ Baker that our last best hope to have the kind of country that it is run under our Constitutional principles, is to dissent and to “do something”, with the idea that if most of us do a little something, our power to defeat the oligarchy’s hold on this country can work in the end. So I think it time that people begin to inject the issue of NSA spying into the race for the Presidency in 2016 and that is why I’m posting this piece. However, my site is a small one, in the back woods of the Internet, but better I speak out than remain silent.
In trying to confront the oligarchy that rules us we are bucking the trend of millions of years of evolution and tens of thousands years of human society, to be led by rulers whose motivation is self-interest and greed. In the end either we as humans evolve in our societies, or we will become extinct at our own hands. My belief is that those who’ve ruled us thus far have done well for themselves, but have turned our world into a more dangerous place, with their jockeying for power and glory. Our Constitution represented a great leap in the human evolution of government, yet it was a flawed document more than 2 centuries ago and remains so today. The powers of NSA spying is such that it has the capacity to make the premonitions of “1984” a reality, if that is not already true. If you remember the book, it wasn’t just that all citizens were under constantly surveillance by “Big Brother”, but that they were also distracted by amorphous “enemies” that supposedly threatened their very existence. Today our amorphous enemy is ISIS and terrorism and from the NSA’s perspective we must relinquish our privacy to defeat this “enemy”. I am reminded though of that great quote from Walt Kelly, who drew the “Pogo” comic strip.
“Traces of nobility, gentleness and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too, do those characteristics which are ugly. It is just unfortunate that in the clumsy hands of a cartoonist all traits become ridiculous, leading to a certain amount of self-conscious expostulation and the desire to join battle. There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blasts on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us. Forward!” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pogo_%28comic_strip%29#.22We_have_met_the_enemy_and_he_is_us..22