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Beast of the Month - June 2006
George W. Bush's Secret Police, Constitutional Threat
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
Stephen Colbert, before the White House Correspondents Association dinner, on April 29, 2006
Historically speaking, the choices for Pulitzer Prize have been even more dubious than the Academy Awards. And yet, in a year where many Oscar watchers are still scratching their heads (even Jack himself sounded dumbfounded when he announced Crash had beaten Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture) it's pretty clear, for once anyway, that the Pulitzer Jury got it right. Besides giving the Biloxi Sun Herald and New Orleans Times-Picayune awards for Public Service for their Hurricane Katrina coverage, they recognized reporting on both the Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham scandals which have been followed with convictions for political corruption. And yet, perhaps the most telling awards were given to Dana Priest of the Washington Post and James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times.
Priest won for her reports on secret black site prisons created to fight George W. Bush's "War on Terror" campaign. More specifically, these black sites are covert internment camps on foreign soil (apparently to evade U.S. laws which make trivial things such as holding prisoners in secret prisons illegal) where more than 100 alleged Al Qaeda and Taliban members have been held against their will, not charged with any crime, and apparently systematically tortured. Part of the program included the "rendition" of some prisoners, still facing no charges, to third party countries where systematic torture of prisoners is the norm. Note that this is in addition to the 750 already held at Guantanamo Bay in military camps.
Meanwhile, Risen and Lichtblau received their prize for stories (expounded in Risen's recent book State of War) on secret domestic eavesdropping, specifically letting the National Security Agency listen in on international phone calls and read international email by Americans and others inside the United States, all without court-approved warrants. As one former senior official put it: "This is really a sea change. It's almost a mainstay of this country that the NSA only does foreign searches."
How did the right wing respond to the revelations in these two stories and their subsequent awards? Unsurprisingly, they termed the recognition as a "Pulitzer Prize for Treason." On his radio show, "Book of Virtues" author and former Drug Czar William Bennett declared, "I think what they did is worthy of jail." (No word if he's placed bets on that happening between dominatrix sessions in Las Vegas.) Yes, that is correct: for revealing the secrets of criminal and un-American conduct by the Bush Team in these two stories, it is these reporters and not Bush and his cronies who deserve prison.
(This brings to mind the famous exchange from The Adventures of Robin Hood. After Errol Flynn as Robin denounces the criminal reign of Prince John, Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian exclaims, "Why, you speak treason!" Flynn's flippant response: "Fluently.")
Priest, Risen and Lichtblau may be joined next year in the "Treason Pulitzer Club" by Leslie Cauley of USA Today, for her report that the NSA has a massive database of the entire phone records for an estimated 225 million Americans. (That USA Today should take some time off from presenting cool multi-colored diagrams and graphs to report this story reveals the urgency of the situation.) These records include a listing of every phone call made, the number dialed, time of call and its durations by all customers of AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth (hence the 225 million) since 9-11. In addition, the three telecom's supplied all their historical data, which likely extends to at least 1984 (fittingly enough) when Ma Bell was officially broken up. "It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," one source told Cauley, adding the NSA's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made." All told, the information covers 80 percent of all land-line and half of the wireless users in the USA.
(To its credit, Qwest is the solitary member of the big four remaining phone companies to refuse to supply data. According to his lawyer, former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio concluded that these requests violated the privacy requirements of the Telecommunications Act. The NSA countered with threats that refusal to cooperate would jeopardize future government contracts. Coincidentally, within a year, Nacchio was out as CEO under charges of insider trading, and Qwest stock fell below $2 per share.)
Faced with the stunning report, Bush did what he usually does when facing heat: he lied. Dubya declared: The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities. Were not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Of course, by definition, obtaining the phone records of 225 million Americans is mining and trolling through their personal lives and a gross violation of their privacy. Kevin Bankston, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), shot back in an interview, There is simply no legal process for this kind of wholesale invasion of privacy. What they claim to be doing with the data is irrelevant because the fact is they could do whatever they choose without any oversight. The term "whatever they choose" would likely include monitoring the phone records of political opponents, spying on unfriendly news reporters and collecting non-criminal but embarrassing information on people for blackmail purposes.
(For those of you out there who are shocked shocked! - at the claim that Bush and his cronies would use secret information collected by intelligence agencies for naked political purposes, there are in fact two major examples of Bush and his supporters doing precisely that. In Texas, during the battle over redistricting in 2003, scandal-plagued ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay personally requested the Department of Homeland Security - as well as the FAA, FBI, and Department of Justice - help hunt down 51 Democratic state lawmakers who blocked the GOP plan by fleeing the state. And then, of course, there is the more infamous example of the Treasongate outing of Valerie Plame as CIA agent by the White House squatters. Oddly, William Bennett has never declared what Scooter Libby and Karl Rove did is jail-worthy.)
Speaking of spying on unfriendly news reporters, that is precisely what Brian Ross and Richard Esposito of ABC News were warned was happening to them last month. After issuing further reports on CIA's secret prisons in Romania and Poland, a confidential source informed them that the Bush Administration was tracking their calls (as well as those by the New York Times and Washington Post) in an effort to uncover whistleblowers of their illegal activities. The source added this bit of advice: "It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick."
So let's quickly review the revelations:
* Secret prisons where prisoners are held without charges indefinitely and then brutally tortured
* Eavesdropping on phone calls and email by US citizens without a warrant
* Collection of all phone records for 225 million Americans
* Surveillance of journalists whose sole crime is critically reporting the actions of the administration
Without any hyperbole, the only way to refer to these actions is to call them the works of a secret police. And these actions are no longer merely alleged by paranoid conspiracy theorists on the Internet, they are the published reports from the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today and ABC News.
So let's stop beating around the Bush and call those behind these actions what they are: George W. Bush's Secret Police. And it is this secret police that is The Konformist Beast of the Month.
Who are the leaders of Shrub's Secret Police? Let's start at the top with GEORGE W. BUSH, the main guy behind this attack on civil liberties and the US Constitution. With this citation, his eighth in a Beast of the Month prize, Dubya takes over sole possession of the record for BOTM awards (he previously shared it with Richard "Donkey Dick" Cheney at seven.) Nice work, George!!!
Of course, just by his lone self, Bush would be nothing more than a lazy idiot, loafing around the White House barking intelligible dictatorial commands. No, Bush's secret police is a team effort, with the following main players behind it and its creation:
* MICHAEL HAYDEN - A US Air Force General, Hayden previously was head of the NSA for six years, longer than any other NSA director ever. During his tenure, the NSA implemented both the warrantless eavesdropping program and the phone records collection operation. Despite this, he was confirmed as Bush's pick for CIA director on May 26, 2006 to replace Porter Goss (by a Senate vote of 78-15, no less.) His selection puts the CIA and every spy program in Washington under military control.
* PORTER GOSS - A "former" CIA operative who served in Congress for nearly sixteen years, during which time he co-sponsored the PATRIOT Act and was a co-chair of the Joint 9/11 Intelligence Inquiry. He personally opposed an investigation of the Treasongate leak in 2003, declaring: "Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I'll have an investigation." In an interview with Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 9/11, declared that those worried about abuse with the PATRIOT Act can call an 800 number to voice concerns. As there is no 800 number, Moore listed Goss' office number instead, resulting in hundreds of calls. Was picked to replace George Tenet as CIA director in late 2004, despite claiming in the same Fahrenheit interview, "I couldn't get a job with CIA today. I am not qualified." Apparently, he was right, as his failed reign was only nineteen months, during which the CIA's torture program was finally uncovered. While most establishment mouthpieces claim his "resignation" was attributed to bureaucratic infighting, some (including the New York Daily News) allege that his sudden unemployment was due to involvement in the sex-and-bribery scandal (charmingly dubbed "Hookergate") surrounding Duke Cunningham and military contractors. Allegedly, both Goss and Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, a Goss crony chosen as CIA executive director by Goss himself, were regulars at weekly poker & prostitution parties (or perhaps that should be "poker & poke her parties") held at the infamous Watergate Hotel by San Diego defense contractor Brent Wilkes.
* GEORGE TENET - Though he has been unfairly made a scapegoat for the false WMD intelligence used to push the Iraq War (conveniently shielding Bush and the neocons for their obsessive push for war, and shifting responsibility to the lone Clinton appointee) Tenet has yet to receive deserved blame for being CIA chief when the torture program was begun, reportedly under his specific authorization. One victim of the program is currently suing Tenet and other officials with the help of the ACLU.
* JOHN NEGROPONTE - CIA director is an intelligence small-fry as compared to Negroponte, the first man to serve in the new post of Director of National Intelligence. Confirmed on a vote of 98-2, he previously served under Bush as Ambassador to the UN, and then as Ambassador to Iraq after the June 2004 "handover of sovereignty." Negroponte spent the eighties as Honduras Ambassador denying terrorism in Latin American under US-backed death squads: his nomination as UN Ambassador was so controversial because of this, it was blocked until September 11. (He was confirmed unanimously three days after the attack, despite the unseemliness of having a terrorist apologist fill the post.) In between his stints as Director of the NSA and CIA, Michael Hayden was Negroponte's second-in-command.
* JOHN POINDEXTER - If the desire to create "the largest database ever assembled in the world" sounds familiar, it's because it is. A Reagan-era National Security Advisor convicted of five felony counts of lying to Congress during Iran-Contra, Poindexter (who also was Tom Clancy's model for his hero Jack Ryan) was Director of the Information Awareness Office from December 2002 to August 2003. IAO was a DARPA project whose most infamous program was Total Information Awareness. TIA was a $200 million per year project described to "break down the stovepipes" that separate commercial and government databases, combing and combining records to citizens' credit card purchases, travel itineraries, telephone calls, email, medical histories and financial information. Its occultic symbol was a globe with a pyramid behind it, with the Eye of Horus, shining a ray of light over the entire globe, at the top of the pyramid. The Latin phrase "Scienta Est Potentia" ("Knowledge Is Power") was the program's slogan. The IAO was also behind Policy Analysis Market, an online futures trading market in which anonymous speculators could bet on wonderful things such as terrorist attacks, assassinations, coups and other political calamities. (No word if William Bennett ever set up an account.) Unfortunately, the slogan "Bet on terrorism for fun and profit" seemed a tad politically incorrect, and due to the twin scandals, Poindexter resigned and the IAO was defunded by Congress. Still, since the purpose of TIA was "to create computer dossiers on 300 million Americans" according to William Safire, it appears the NSA phone database was part of a plot to covertly continue the kreepy program. Incidentally, while he was National Security Advisor, the NSC came up with REX-84, another brilliant idea thought up by the ever-patriotic Ollie North to declare a state of emergency and lock up political dissidents in concentration camps.
* ALBERTO GONZALES - The CIA and NSA would never have started any of these secret programs without the blessings of lawyers. Gonzales, Bush's former White House Counsel and current Attorney General, has led the legal brigade in signing off on criminal actions. Among his greatest hits: drafted an Executive Order shortly after 9-11 to restrict FOIA requests on former presidents records, specifically on President's Reagan and Poppy Bush; argued in 2002 that Dick Cheney and his energy policy task force records shouldn't be subject to open-government laws; authored a January 2002 memo that argued Article III of the Geneva Convention didn't apply to Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters captured in Afghanistan; and cleared a secret 2002 DOJ memorandum that claimed laws prohibiting torture do "not apply to the president's detention and interrogation of enemy combatants" and that interrogation must cause injuries "such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions" to constitute torture. Due to his "torture memos" he was a controversial pick as AG, and during his confirmation hearings, he lied to Congress. When Senator Russ Feingold asked whether the White House could spy on US citizens without a warrant, he claimed this was a "hypothetical situation" and thus impossible to answer, then added it was "not the policy or the agenda of this president" to authorize actions that conflict with the law. Even more disturbing, Senator Richard Durbin asked, "Can U.S. personnel legally engage in torture under any circumstances?" Gonzales answer: "I don't believe so, but I'd want to get back to you on that." He was confirmed by a 60-36 vote. He has since threatened to prosecute the whistle-blowing journalists at the Times, Post and USA Today for their reports.
* JOHN YOO - Currently a Cal Berkeley law professor, Yoo was a member of the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel from 2001-3. Contributed to the PATRIOT Act and wrote memos advocating the legality of torture, denial of the Geneva Convention and authorized warrantless NSA surveillance of US citizens. Developed what is known as the "Yoo Doctrine" (or "Unitary Executive Theory") which argues the President has near unlimited war powers that Congress and the courts have little power to restrict. When asked in a December 2005 debate by Notre Dame professor Doug Cassel if any law could stop a President from crushing the testicles of a persons child in his "Commander-in-Chief" role, Yoo replied, "No treaty," then thoughtfully added, "I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that."
* PAT ROBERTS - Where has Congress been during these gross violations of the US Constitution? Urging the BushMob to "Bring 'em on!" A perfect example of the latter is Pat Roberts, the Republican head of the Senate Intelligence Committee. On February 16, 2006, the Committee voted to create an oversight subcommittee of the NSA's surveillance program, rather than investigate the Bush Team's violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The New York Times declared that Roberts was "trying to give legal cover to the president's trampling on the law and the Constitution." During the Hayden confirmation hearings, he declared, "You have no civil liberties if you are dead" to excuse the gross violations of the law. Perhaps this is the most telling quote of all, as it directly contradicts one of the most American of statements by Founding Father Patrick Henry: "Give me liberty or give me death."
The good news, if any, is that the American korporate press is finally beginning to wake up to the dangers facing the US over Shrub and his minion's war on the US Constitution. Perhaps as important, the legislative branch is actually beginning to wake up as well. After a May 20 raid of Democratic Congressman William Jefferson's office, even GOP leaders were frothing at the mouth. The unprecedented FBI raid on a congressional office was both politically motivated (a naked attempt to link a Democrat to the parade of political sleaze and corruption in the Abramoff-Cunningham era) and a gross violation of Constitutional Separation of Powers between the executive and legislative branches. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich declared in an email that the action is the most blatant violation of the Constitutional Separation of Powers in my lifetime... I am shaken by this abuse of power. Meanwhile, current House Speaker Dennis Hastert called it overreaching and abuse of power by the executive branch," then added:
The Founding Fathers were very careful to establish in the Constitution a Separation of Powers to protect Americans against the tyranny of any one branch of government. They were particularly concerned about limiting the power of the Executive Branch.
Insofar as I am aware, since the founding of our Republic 219 years ago, the Justice Department has never found it necessary to do what it did Saturday night, crossing this Separation of Powers line, in order to successfully prosecute corruption by Members of Congress... Nothing I have learned in the last 48 hours leads me to believe there was any necessity to change the precedent established over those 219 years.
Coincidentally, soon after his speech on May 24, Brian Ross of ABC News reported the FBI had begun an investigation into Hastert's connections to Abramoff. The story was leaked to Ross by "federal officials." Alberto Gonzales has yet to denounce this leak.
Perhaps this is another case of chickens coming home to roost. It's ironic to hear Bush's GOP apologists in Congress suddenly proclaiming outrage at his overt attacks on civil liberties and the US Constitution when they are suddenly the victims. But hopefully, this is a positive sign that they now realize if they don't stop Bush and his secret police now, they will be next.
In any case, we salute George W. Bush and his Secret Police Chiefs as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, dudes!!!
Cauley, Leslie. "NSA Has Massive Database of Americans' Phone Calls." USA TODAY 11 May 2006.
Priest, Dana. "CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons." Washington Post 2 November 2005.
Risen, James. State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. New York: Free Press, 2006.
Risen, James and Lichtblau, Eric. "Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts." New York Times 16 December 2005.
Ross, Brian and Esposito, Richard. "Federal Source to ABC News: We Know Who You're Calling." ABC News 15 May 2006 <http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2006/05/federal_source_.html>.
Safire, William "You Are a Suspect." New York Times 14 November 2002.
Watts, Philip. "Bush Advisor Says President Has Legal Power to Torture Children." Information Clearing House 8 January 2006 <http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article11488.htm>.
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