Greater Egret

Monday, September 27, 2010

Spy vs. Spy

I was in a rather heated discussion on a conservative blog recently regarding the koran burning epsode. I brought up the fact that our military was asking for a bit of sanity, and pleading with the wackjob preacher not to burn the koran, on the grounds that it could endanger the U.S. Military in Afghanistan and the middle east.

The military have a hard job as it is, and don't need it to get any more difficult. Agatha, my able adversary, replied that liberals had no similar qualms when the New York Times ran Abu Graib headlines for 41 straight days.

My retort was that there is a real difference between state sponsored torture and a lone citizen's depraved insanity. That Americans expect more from their government. That the media exists in part to reveal similar behaviors that the government sometimes like to sweep under the rug. Think My Lai, Watergate, the Pat Tillman coverup, that sort of thing. That sometimes things are best aired out in the light of day so that we can take our medicine. Fundamental bulwark of a free and responsible society. She failed to acknowledge a difference in governmental and individual activities.

I bring this whole line of enquiry up on the heels of the DIA (Defense Information Agency) decision to buy all of the available 9500 copies of Army Reserve Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer's memoir, Operation Dark Heart. Shaffer claims that the intelligence apparatus was briefed on the activities of 9/11 bomber Mohammed Atta prior to the infamous bombing. He personally tells Dr. Phillip Zelikow, head of the 9/11 Commission about the information at a hearing in the story he recounts in the book. In addition he reveals the existence of an early data mining operation called "Able Danger."

Lt. Gen Ronald Burgess of Defense Intelligence Agency said the DIA "identified significant classified information, the release of which I have determined could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to national security." Burgess said the manuscript contained information about classified projects of the U.S. Special Operations Command, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Security Agency.

Interestingly enough, the book cleared the Army censors but somebody in the Defense Department apparently had second thoughts and got scared. Shaffer had led a black ops team in Afghanistan and won a Bronze Star for his efforts. He said that he had no intention of either jeopardizing American lives or damaging national security.

The few copies that evaded destruction are reportedly selling for over two grand on Ebay. Which is stupid, because in a digital world, everything comes out eventually, and these things will be digitized and in your mailbox in a split second.  The New York Times published an article that not only points out the stupidity of the redacted edits but also claims that the clumsy censorship will only flag the offenses to a greater degree. And why strike John Wayne's name from this sample page? Because there is no rhyme or reason to the redaction. Not to mention any accountability to the American people.

Obama has been pretty much a carbon copy of his predecessor in terms of secrecy, wiretapping and the rest of the "spook" stuff. He continues the Bush era policy of outlawing the publication of "mosaic" information on the grounds of national security. Mosaic information is the notion that while the separate parts may not reveal classified information, their collective aggregation might. Which while almost understandable, is also a mighty convenient way to suppress information that possibly does not show illegal or immoral behavior, but maybe stupid or embarrassing or politically undesirable behavior. That is the information that I think I have a right to see as an American citizen.

I just finished Frank Snepp's book Decent Interval, chronicling the fall of Saigon. Snepp was the CIA's lead security analyst in Vietnam. Like Shaffer, a devoted and true American who put his life on the line for his country. His book illustrated criminally negligent and criminally stupid behavior on the part of Snepp's boss, Tom Polgar and the Ambassador and Kissinger protege, Graham Martin during the last stage of the Indochinese conflict.

Fantastic book. A book whose issuance caused the spooks to go to the Supreme Court to ban. Which they successfully did, without benefit of brief or discussion. Now Snepp has to have anything that ever comes out of his pen vetted by the CIA. From his website ...ex-CIA agent been ordered to hand over to the U.S. Treasury all profits, past and future, from his Agency memoir, Decent Interval; he’d been saddled with a permanent gag order, obliging him to submit to CIA censors anything he might write about his professional past or its emotional fallout, classified or not, fiction or non-fiction, for the rest of his life.

Snepp wrote another book Irreparable Harm, which I have not yet read, about the way he felt his first amendment rights were trampled at the Supreme Court, how the CIA rigged the case, with the complicity of Justice Powell. Not because he offered any classified information, because he made the government look stupid.

We were talking at coffee about the Obama Administration's new directives to monitor internet communication, requiring developers to leave little trap doors for the snoops. I was wondering where in the constitution it gave the government the right to monitor every bit and method of our communication? They asked me if I had ever heard of the Patriot Act. And it is true and the recipe is so simple: keep the country in a perpetual declared state of war, against countries or just terrorists at large and you can, as Judge Scalia says, "ratchet civil rights down to a minimum." And call me a cynic or pessimist, but those are the rights that like a genie, never get fit back into the bottle.


WildBill said...

"They asked me if I had ever heard of the Patriot Act."

I once again refer to Naomi Wolf's book/movie which draws parallels between oppressive regimes and the patriot act, etc.

The info below is from Wikipedia, but I saw it in the 2008 film (it's on Netflix streaming):

The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot is one of the more recent books released by author Naomi Wolf.  The End of America argued that events of the previous six years paralleled steps taken in the early years of the twentieth century's worst dictatorships. The book illustrated ten common steps which Wolf stated could be witnessed in the transitions of open societies into closed regimes.

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
2. Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
3. Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
4. Set up an internal surveillance system.
5. Harass citizens' groups.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
7. Target key individuals.
8. Control the press.
9.Treat all political dissidents as traitors.
10. Suspend the rule of law.

Anonymous said...

I'd been reading about Op Dark Heart, so really enjoyed your research in your blog. Thanks, Neill