Sunday, December 24, 2006

Digg

Digg is a website that publishes links to articles submitted by its users. The most popular stories get displayed on the front page of the Digg website. I joined Digg on December 24, 2006. None of the articles I wrote ever made the front page of Digg, unfortunately. But at one point, in reaction to an article about Tibet, I wrote a comment on Digg that questioned the wisdom of protesting in Tibet. I argued that protesting would only lead to the suffering of the Tibetan people, as the Chinese government cracked down on them. Subsequently, my government had “made” me believe that someone in China had noticed that comment and had started tracking me online.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Church Committee Report On U.S. Spy Agencies

The University of Kentucky hosted a panel called, “Who’s Watching the Spies: Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans – A Look Back at the Church Committee Report.” Walter Mondale, Walter Huddleston, and Fred Schwartz participated in the discussion.

On December 22, 1974, the New York Times published an article written by Seymour Hersh called “Huge C.I.A. Operation Reported in U.S. Against Antiwar Forces, Other Dissidents in Nixon Years.” As the title of this article suggests, the Times had uncovered an illegal CIA operation against U.S. citizens living in America. In reaction to this story and others, Congress would began to take a closer took at the activities of the CIA, FBI, and NSA. Initially, many members of Congress were reluctant to investigate the inner workings of our intelligence agencies.

“I talked to several of the veteran Senators,” said Senator Huddleston. “And most of them said, ‘We don’t want to know. I don’t want to know what the CIA is doing. I don’t want to know what the intelligence committee is doing.’ Well, that was fine until these revelations began to come.”1

On January 27, 1975, the Senate decided to create a committee to investigate the allegations. This committee would become known as the Church Committee, which was named after Frank Church, the Senator who led the committee. Both Senator Mondale and Senator Huddleston were members of the Church Committee while Schwartz acted as the committee’s chief counsel.

“It was the first time ever in the history of the country that any group ever sat down and looked at the entire intelligence operation of our country at the same time,” said Senator Huddleston.

Not only that, but according to Senator Mondale, the Church Committee was probably the only committee that ever had unrestricted access to FBI documents.

The committee quickly discovered that our intelligence agencies had repeatedly violated the law. And their illegal activities were not limited to the Nixon administration. They happened in every administration since FDR. Congress was astounded by what they discovered. One of the officials who examined the COINTELPRO documents said, “I can’t believe what I read today.”

COINTELPRO was a program conducted by the FBI. As part of this program, the FBI carried out a series of activities meant to discredit and disrupt political organizations inside America. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the targets of this program. Of course, he ended up getting assassinated. The Church Committee never said that our government killed him, but I’m thinking the fact that our government targeted him and the fact that he ended up dead can’t be a coincidence.

“A major part of what we uncovered was activities against American citizens in this country,” said Senator Huddleston. “It was very extensive and beyond what most people even realize today. It was the kind of thing that couldn’t continue to happen.”

The committee also discovered an extensive assassination program conducted by the CIA.

“If we didn’t like somebody, we sent a visitor to see them,” said Senator Mondale. “That is what happened in Chile. They had elected a democracy and somebody decided we didn’t like him. And we went down there and helped others kidnap General Schneider, whose sin was that he believed that they should follow the constitution. So he was removed and assassinated. And I think Chile has taken almost 30 years to get over it because our involvement became known.”

“The government and the agencies assumed everything would always be secret forever and they’re not going to be secret forever,” said Schwartz. “And when they become known, there’s a price that’s paid.”

The Church Committee also discovered that, at one point, the CIA tried to get the mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro.

“The fact that the United States of America would call in two mafia people to help us eliminate some guy illegally by murder because we disagreed with him is the kind of thing we were confronted with almost across the board during this investigation,” said Senator Huddleston.

The panel agreed that our intelligence agencies were able to break the law because the oversight of those agencies was insufficient.

“When not observed we found in our despair, time and time again over in American history there’s something about us that we tend to do more than we should when we are not being watched,” said Mondale.

According to Schwartz, over the years, all of the intelligence agencies suffered from a “mission creep” problem. In the beginning, their actions would be reasonable. But over time, they would expand their mission and their powers to a point where they were breaking the law. As an example of this, Schwartz cited the NSA. Originally, the NSA examined diplomatic cables sent by foreign governments. But later on, the NSA began to spy on antiwar and civil rights leaders in the U.S.

“What happened with the NSA happened with all the other agencies,” said Schwartz. “Because they were immune from oversight, because they believed what they were doing would always be secret, what started small expanded from the acceptable to the unacceptable.”

“It shows why you can’t rely on generalizations coming from people defending their programs,” said Schwartz “Find out what the real facts are.”

The moderator of the panel, Tracy Campbell, noted that the Church Committee was reviled by the media.

“I have never seen a group generate the kind of hostility that the Church Committee did,” said Campbell. “In fact, TV Guide wrote an editorial that said, ‘A hundred KGB agents working overtime for the Kremlin would hardly have undermined the CIA as effectively as Senator Church’s Committee. It was a shocking and immeasurably harmful blow to our national security.’ And they weren’t alone. There was a number of people who said that.”

The panel disagreed with that assessment. According to Senator Mondale, several FBI and CIA directors said the Church Committee was the best thing to happen to their organizations. In fact, Senator Huddleston argued that the Church Committee saved the CIA.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that we saved the CIA,” said Senator Huddleston. “If things had kept going as they were with the various press releases coming out, as people saw some of the things that were happening and we have just touched on two or three here tonight. The list of the activities of our intelligence community against the individual rights of the citizens of this country would fill volumes. During our over year and a half of investigating, we couldn’t even cover maybe half of them. And some of the ones we did, we had to do it in a rather cursory manner. But that could not have continued. They were losing their effectiveness once the people began to understand, not only the people in this country, but our enemies understood how they operated. They were losing what effect they could have. Plus they were losing the confidence of the American people.”

Senator Mondale argued the U.S. was better off when our government upheld our ideals.

“We have a big stake as Americans in guaranteeing that our system of constitutional law is sustained,” said Senator Mondale. “Every big power that was around when America was born decided its future was to be found in some kind of imperial, magisterial power with no rights to the citizen. We started with the idea that this would be a government of the people, by the people, and under the law. Read the oath of office, read the constitution, read the federalist papers. We wanted a government that was accountable. And that has made America, I believe, more than anything else, the greatest, strongest nation on earth. And we lose something when we take lightly this idea of constitutional and legal rights of our people.”

The panel seemed to believe the Church Committee and the issues it raised were particularly important now, during the Bush administration. Several members of the panel attacked the Bush administration for its disregard of the law.

“What is being debated now is a really radical position that the current administration is taking,” said Schwartz. “Their position is that the United States President has the right to break the law if he thinks it is important to do that. Now that is not the way our country was constructed. It was not constructed to set up a monarch. In fact we revolted against the English because we didn’t want a monarch.”

For his part, Senator Mondale blamed Congress for refusing to rein in the President.

“In the last three or four years, it’s been what the New York Times called a Kabuki Congress,” said Senator Mondale. “It operates with the appearance of power but not the substance and it doesn’t work.”

Senator Mondale believed that America needed to start discussing the issues of governmental power and oversight.

“We should have a dialogue in the United States that’s based on facts, it’s not based on fear, and wrestle with these tough issues in a responsible way,” said Senator Mondale. “And I think Jefferson was right when he said an informed public is usually going to get it right. Now the public isn’t sufficiently informed today, in part because of secrecy and in part because of fear … We need to put our trust in the people and hope for that kind of open dialogue which we were lucky enough to have in 1975 and 1976.”

Walter Mondale closed the panel with this statement.

“I think the history of America has repeatedly shown the tension between fear and faith, fear that our system doesn’t work, fear about each other and our patriotism, fear about our ability to confront an enemy, and fear about our capacity to even protect ourselves. On the other hand, faith in our laws, faith in our constitution, faith in what democracy and enlightened people can produce, and the willingness to trust that system to be the most basic source of security for us all. I think today, once again, just like in World War II, we became afraid of Japanese Americans, and we rounded them all up and put them in concentration camps, even though many of their sons were in the U.S. Army over there in Europe. It was irrational. We were afraid. And so we did something that we’re sorry about now. Because in our fear, we acted. Time and time again. The alien sedition act. In my state, in World War I, we rounded up a lot of the German American mayors and threw them out of office because we were afraid of them. That fear always impedes us, always makes us look weaker to the world, less sure of ourselves. We’ve got an adversary. We have to deal with that adversary, but let’s do it with faith and competence and strength.”

Now those are all fine words, but in many respects the Congress of the Church Committee was as much a Kabuki Congress as the current one. Remember, the FBI and CIA referred to the Church Committee as the best thing that ever happened to their organizations. The Church Committee gave the appearance of oversight. The subsequent FISA legislation gave the appearance that Congress had reined our intelligence agencies. But that never really happened.

The panelists spoke the right words, but I don’t believe they said them with any real conviction. The Church Committee failed. They failed to rein in our intelligence agencies. They failed to hold the criminals accountable for their actions.

We must have accountability. We must have transparency. The public must be told the truth. Immediately. History must end.


1 Presumably, the reason why Congress never wanted to investigate our intelligence agencies was because our intelligence agencies were manipulating our members of Congress.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Dark Side

Ironically, politicians are a godsend for bureaucrats, as they take the blame for all the dumb ideas that the bureaucrats dream up. The story of Dick Cheney is a good illustration of this.

On June 20, 2006, PBS aired a program produced by Frontline called “The Dark Side.” According to Frontline, after 9/11, Dick Cheney urged the President to go after Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, the CIA claims that they opposed invading Iraq, as Saddam Hussein had no connection to the 9/11 attacks.

According to Frontline, Cheney had no faith in the CIA. Cheney believed the CIA had been wrong about the collapse of the Soviet Union, wrong about the Iranian Revolution, wrong about whether or not Saddam would invade Kuwait, and wrong about whether or not Saddam had a nuclear weapons program before the Gulf War. As such, Cheney took it upon himself to become “the chief architect of the war on terror,” according to Frontline. The way Frontline describes it, Cheney had basically taken over the government and recreated it in his image.

“We’ve never had a vice president as powerful as Dick Cheney,” said Melvin Goodman, a former CIA officer.

According to Frontline, Cheney had installed his people throughout the administration. Cheney dramatically expanded the Office of the Vice President, adding political, legal, and policy units to the office. And Cheney had Rumsfeld create a new intelligence operation at the Pentagon. John Brennan, a former CIA official, accused the Pentagon of trying “to chew away at CIA’s traditional authorities and responsibilities.”

“[Cheney] needed an office that would produce the intelligence that the CIA wouldn’t produce,” said Goodman.

Meaning that, Cheney wanted an agency which would provide him with information that connected Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden. Frontline argued that the people the Pentagon hired weren’t very good. According to Frontline, the Pentagon hired “politically connected policy analysts,” instead of people who had experience analyzing intelligence information.

Apparently, this new intelligence agency produced all sorts of faulty intelligence, including a report that claimed that one of the 9/11 hijackers had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent and another report claiming that Iraq had provided chemical weapons training to Al Qaeda. The CIA discounted both reports.

In the run up to the war, Congress wanted as much information as possible, and so they asked the CIA for their National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. Incredibly, the CIA told Congress that they hadn’t made an NIE on Iraq. Bob Graham was shocked.

“Stunning,” said Graham. “We do these on almost every significant activity, much less significant than getting ready to go to war.”

To rectify this situation, Congress told the CIA to produce an NIE on Iraq. The CIA accused Dick Cheney of pressuring them into writing an NIE that would convince Congress and the American public that we needed to invade Iraq. Vincent Cannistraro, another former CIA official, called the NIE a “fatally flawed document” that “should never had seen the light of day.”

After viewing the report, President Bush said, “Is this all we got?”

To which George Tenet replied, “Don’t worry, Mr. President. It’s a slam dunk.”

Frontline claims that before Tenet, the CIA director told the president the “unvarnished truth.” But Tenet had a different kind of relationship with the president. He had a friendship with the president and to maintain that friendship, Tenet told the president what he wanted to hear.

Paul Pillar wrote a good portion of the NIE. After the report was discredited, he tried to blame Cheney for the report he wrote. He said the purpose of the report was to convince the American public to go to war. He said it was not appropriate for the CIA to publish that kind of document. And he said he regretted having a role in producing the document.

“Cheney pretty much got everything he wanted for in terms of the CIA,” said James Bamford. “They still have a CIA, but all the power is now with his team over at the Pentagon. So largely, Cheney won.”

This story, as told by Frontline, is the conventional wisdom on how the Bush administration worked. Dick Cheney took over the administration and nothing could stop him and his dastardly plans. Yes, America spends $80 billion on its intelligence bureaucracy every year, but when Cheney came in he just took everything over man.

Really.

The CIA could do nothing to stop him. Every dipshit policy America adopted during the Bush administration originated from one man’s brain.

Really.

In reality, in a democracy, the bureaucrats run the show and the politicians are there to take the blame. That is the reason why the CIA claimed they did not have a NIE on Iraq – they needed to write the NIE while Cheney was “hounding” them so they could blame Cheney for the bullshit report.

This “theatrical system of government” has other benefits too. In a given administration, different officials will take different positions on a given issue. Their true beliefs may or may not match the positions they publicly support. At any given time, if the government wants to adopt a certain policy, the official(s) who espouse that policy will seem strong while the official(s) who oppose that policy will be made to appear weak. Cheney, of course, was the administration’s hawk while Colin Powell and the State Department had a more dovish outlook (incidentally, the government made Cheney out to be more pro-Asia while they made Powell out to be more pro-Europe). The benefit to using this system is that it makes it easy for our government to switch positions on an issue. For example, in the Bush administration, Cheney was the hawk. But if America wanted to adopt a more dovish approach, our government could simply get rid of Cheney (or humiliate him or discredit him), and then they could adopt a new approach. You will be able to see how some of this played out on this blog.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, the nice thing about this system, for bureaucrats, is that you never have to take the blame for any dipshit idea you have. The bureaucrats, in this case the CIA, probably rationalize this system by saying that they have to remain on good terms with their counterparts overseas. After all, politicians come and go but bureaucrats remain in place forever. Using this system, the CIA can go to Europe (or anywhere else) and say…
We don’t want to invade Iraq. Really. But Cheney, man, the dude is crazy. We can’t control him. There’s nothing we can do. We have tried to make him see reason but the dude is just plain nuts. We’re sorry. Really. We’re still friends, right?
In police work, this strategy is referred to as the good cop / bad cop routine.

By the way, Japan used this routine during World War II when they claimed that their Army had taken control of the country.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

I get tired of moving from hotel to hotel

Of course, while moving from hotel to hotel, I always visited the casino and walked around the area where my hotel was located. On several occasions, I noticed that someone was following me. The person was usually a man who had sunglasses on and who wasn’t with anyone else. At the time, I thought these people were employed by either my family or my employer as a means of checking up on me. It wasn’t until later that I realized that these people were probably working for the government.

By March of 2006, I had gotten tired of constantly moving around from one hotel to another. I decided to move into a place – the Budget Suites. The Budget Suites is actually more like a hotel than an apartment. It comes furnished, housekeeping cleans your room every week, and the cost of your utilities is included in the rent.

Remarkably, my allergies and asthma went away almost completely after moving to Las Vegas. I have not had to use an antihistamine for my allergies since I moved here. Nor have I had to use a corticosteroid for my eczema. Occasionally, probably less than once a month, I get a runny nose for a few hours, but that’s about it.

This turnaround, for me, is remarkable. I do think that the lack of vegetation in Las Vegas is helpful for my allergies. However, it is hard for me to believe that this is the sole reason why my allergies have gone away almost completely. In fact, I believe that my government has been administering drugs to me without my consent (either through the shower water or through the air). Suppressing my allergies is not the only effect that these drugs have. I started having hallucinations when I closed my eyes in bed. If I remember correctly, these hallucinations began after I moved into the Budget Suites.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

al-Askari bombing

On February 22, someone destroyed the golden dome of the al-Askari Mosque. This bombing would set off a wave of sectarian violence. During this new phase of the war, the violence in Iraq would reach its pinnacle.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Shotgun-gate ends

On February 17, Harry Whittington left the hospital. Amazingly, when he left the hospital, he issued a statement in which he apologized to Dick Cheney.

“My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week,” said Whittington. “We send our love and respect to them as they deal with situations that are much more serious than what we had this week.”

Notice how Whittington downplays the seriousness of what has happened to him. Notice how he implies that Cheney and his family had suffered more during the past week than he and his family. The only way this statement makes sense is if Cheney never shot Whittington to begin with. In that case, Whittington would have never been in any danger while Cheney could have had been charged with a crime he didn’t commit.

Presumably, our government told Whittington to issue this statement. Presumably, they wanted other governments to know that the whole episode was nothing more than political theater. Cheney never shot Whittington. Our government faked the shooting because they wanted to make it seem like they might use this incident to get rid of Dick Cheney.

Often, the best way to change a policy direction is to get rid of the people who support the current policy. That was the promise of Shotgun-gate. America had the chance to rid itself of Dick Cheney. Cheney was a hawk who pursued a hard line on Iraq and the war on terrorism. Europe hated him and Rumsfeld. I am sure they would have liked to see Cheney leave the administration. Our government could have used Shotgun-gate to force Cheney to resign. That would have happened, presumably, had the local police charged Cheney with a crime. Presumably, something like that would have happened had Europe given us what we wanted, whatever that was. But, apparently, they didn’t.

In an apparent protest of our refusal to get rid of Dick Cheney, in the next few days, something would happen in Iraq that would plunge the country into a new level of violence.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cheney dodges a bullet

On February 16, the local police end their investigation into the shooting of Harry Whittington. They will not charge Dick Cheney of committing a crime.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Cheney accepts responsibility

On February 15, Dick Cheney said he was responsible for shooting Harry Whittington.

“You can't blame anybody else,” said Cheney. “I’m the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Harry Whittington takes a turn for the worse

On February 14, the media reported that Harry Whittington suffered a heart attack due to the injuries he suffered when Dick Cheney shot him.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Shotgun-gate begins

On February 12, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported that Dick Cheney had accidentally shot Harry Whittington with a shotgun while on a hunting trip.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

I try to learn Japanese

On February 7, in an attempt to learn the Japanese language, I ordered a set of Pimsleur audio CDs from Amazon.com. Prior to this, I never really had a strong urge to learn Japanese, despite the fact that my ancestors came from Japan. I now believe that my government “made” me try to learn the language. My limited knowledge of Japanese would come in handy in the future, as part of the New Diplomacy.