Chapter One: How Big Brother Came to Power

The Washington Post is running a Big Deal investigative piece on our secretive national security infrastructure. This investigation has been going on for two years. It covers “The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.”

I have not read the entire thing yet, but the gist of it is that this national security infrastructure is big and secretive, and pretty much ineffectual. It’s ineffectual because it is so big and clumsily organized, and so secret it’s a mystery even to itself. It gathers far more data than anyone can analyze and cranks out far more reports than anyone has time to read. It’s so big it’s a challenge even for the Guys In Charge to know what all the parts of the infrastructure are, never mind what they’re finding. Apparently there is no coordinating agency and no way for anyone to know what all the parts are up to at any given moment or how much of what the parts are doing is duplicating what the other parts are doing.

Now, this much isn’t really news. I know I have blogged about such complaints before, although I’m not finding the posts. Very basically, after September 11 the Bush Administration went into overdrive creating new intelligence nets without bothering to come up with a coordinated, systemic way of sorting and analyzing the intelligence. And here’s no way to know if and how much the parts are skirting the law and the Constitution regarding the rights of citizens.

If we were living in a futuristic political novel, this would be Chapter One of how Big Brother Came to Power. As Glenn Greenwald says, “we keep sacrificing our privacy to the always-growing National Security State in exchange for less security.” What’s growing is a surveillance network that is scarier than al Qaeda. This is how dictatorships begin.

Naturally, the usual suspects who scream perpetually about Big Government have a different view.

TownHall: ObamaCare is worse.

Fox News: Obama should be ashamed.

Weekly Standard: La la la nothing to see here move along hey isn’t that Lindsey Lohan?

Daily Caller: The Washington Post piece is a national security threat!

I can see it already. The GOP will try to hang the blame for this dysfunction onto the Obama Administration, even though the dysfunction was a creation of the Bush Administration. And when the Dems point out that this was Bush’s doing, the GOP will screech oh, yes, everything is always Bush’s fault.

Not everything, but yeah, most of it. Bush so screwed the national pooch it may never be unscrewed, and what unscrewing is possible will take many years. I’m not letting Obama off the hook entirely, however, because he has appeared to be way too comfortable with the surveillance infrastructure the Bushies bequeathed to him.

Final comment: For all their swaggering about how they were efficient people of business and not bureaucrats, the upper levels of the Bush Administration was staffed almost entirely by people whose careers were made in academia, government, or by family connections. The fact that they fancied themselves to be other than an assortment of hothouse flowers is a testament to their persistent self-delusion. And then there was Karl Rove, whose entire career was as a political operative, and yet who was put in charge or projects like the cleanup after Katrina that required entirely different skill and experience sets.

These people were idea people, albeit with really bad ideas, not people who knew how to do concrete things. They all seemed to have the attitude that once they put their ideas into motion, the details would fall into place. Like charging into Iraq with absolutely no idea what they would do after the invasion. Yes, the unscrewing will take years.

12 thoughts on “Chapter One: How Big Brother Came to Power

  1. The Post article is interesting, if only as further evidence of something we already knew. It would be nice if we could put names on all of these anonymous statements. Unfortunately, the system is self-perpetuating and the whistleblowers would surely be fired.

    Probably even more notable is that the article only mentions the military-industrial complex once, and only does so to say that this intelligence complex is different. Well, not really. The entire “defense” network, regardless of whether we’re talking weapons, intelligence, or training institutions, is all dedicated to the same goals — expansion of influence, power, fame, and wealth. The agents of this “defense” network have become self-declared protectors of the innocent, and they have no intent on stopping or slowing down. Regardless of whether what they do actually helps anyone.

    These problems arise because people allow themselves to be manipulated by their fear and anxieties, and end up massively overstating real threats and falling under the veil of deep delusions. Al Qaida was, and still is, a real threat. But it is a small and limited threat. Not an existential threat to the very continuation of the United States, or any other country for that matter. Saddam Hussein was a real threat. But not to the United States, in any direct or meaningful manner. He was a threat mainly to his own people.

    What people desperately need to understand here is that when you seek out enemies where they are none, you will inevitably create enemies where there were none. Responses to real threats must be proportional, directed, and intelligent — or the effects of the response become more of a threat to oneself than the original cause itself.

  2. maha,
    I don’t think it will ever be unscrewed. I read the article earlier this morning, and it is scary.
    Once created, this monstrous monolith made up of many parts, will continue unabated. I too, an disappointed in Obama for not taking some of the steps to eliminate all of this survelliance. But think about it. Not only is he the first Black President, he’s a Democrat. And he follows a bunch of inept, evil clowns who didn’t even blink when it came to using torture. If, when, this country has another massive terror event, Obama can’t be the one who dismantled this. Democrats have always been accused of being weak on national defense and the Republicans are practically praying for another terror event that they think will put them back in power. The reality that he and the Democrats will be attacked unmercifully anyway, doesn’t enter their minds. They must keep moving the madness forward, or the look insane, for allowing risk by stopping, or slowing this down.
    So, this mess of agencies, who don’t communicate, and produce too much information for anyone to try to make sense of, will continue on. I’m deeply troubled that this is a new, and permanent, reality that we will have to live with – as best we can.
    This, will grow, as did nuclear weapons, for reasons of national security. That they make us less secure, is a rational, not a political, reality.
    To put a stop to this, to end electronic survellaince, and to return privacy to Americans would take an act of political will that is unheard of anymore. I’m not trying to take any of the blame from Obama, I’m just trying to tell you what I think the reality of the situation is.
    We’ve been heading in the direction of dictatorship and tyranny for a while now. Ever since Reagan, with the ‘war on drugs (and probably before that),’ we have watched the slow drip, drip, drip of privacy erode. It went from a drip to a fire hose under Bush. And it continues today. I don’t want to hold Obama blameless, but I’m not sure there’s a politician alive that would have the courage to dismantle this. It’s sad, but true…
    Another sad thing is that a lot of people will cheer for a dictatorship. As long as it’s a Republican one.
    I know I sound like a Tea Party nut, but I’m coming at this from the opposite side of the argument. Their definition of Liberty and Tyranny comes from their opposition to tax increases, and the government being a source of social equality. The concern should be the complete erosion of privacy, and the creation of a police state.
    And make no mistake about it, we are at that point, if not already past it.
    And when we get that dictatorship, make no mistake about it, taxes will increase. They’ll be called “Mandatory National Security Increases.” And after all, who won’t want to pay for to keep this great “Free” country “Free!”. And there’ll be government social equality. We’ll all be equal suspects under the law.
    And somewhere, George Orwell is thinking to himself, “Damn, why did’t I think of that!”

    Sorry about the length of this. I’m very, very worried.

  3. Nothing we didn’t already know..just discouraging to be reminded of it. Almost makes me want to become a teabagger( the political kind).

    I remember reading back when Bush was in his heyday they unleashed this foolish quest of capturing all electronic data to insure that Al Qaida didn’t activate any of their many sleeper cells. At the time it was reported that from England to the United States alone there were 4 billion electronic transmissions on a daily basis. All of it had to be recorded and analyzed if ever there was to be any hope of being an effective method to battle Al Qaida.. Now multiply that figure by the amount of countries in the world because there is no guarantee from where a possible message from Al Qaida could originate from. It can be seen how exponentially the task grows beyond human capacity.

    It becomes apparent that any attempt to tackle that task will only result in a massive waste of time and money. I’m a firm believer in make work projects to stimulate the economy, but I also believe that make work projects should produce a tangible result. This whole super secret terrorist tracking nonsense is the biggest scam to come down the pike in my lifetime. What a major joke!

  4. The three of you about said it all. I recently ran across a listing of the ‘ditches’ Bush managed to pull off during his reign: Kyoto, Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty, Germ Warfare Protocol, Biological Weapons Convention, Comprehensive Test-ban Treaty, International Criminal Court, Land-mine Treaty.

    Not only is this an example of an inability to think beyond today, a severe case of aberrant short-sightedness – we might well need these various treaties etc. some day – it’s an example of an aberrant belief in one’s own judgement and rightness – I’m right and everyone else is wrong.

    It’s a bit of a miracle that eight years of Republican rule only led to unprecedented despair, economic chaos and two ruinous wars given who was running the country.

  5. “I can see it already. The GOP will try to hang the blame for this dysfunction onto the Obama Administration, even though the dysfunction was a creation of the Bush Administration”

    The company I work for got some of the private DOD contracts dolled out like candy in the wake of 9-11. It’s been kinda cool, I got to travel and see some pretty disturbing stuff. But guess what the contract was discontinued last year as part of a DOD review initiated by the “new administration” so much for reckless spending!

  6. I realized what this reminds me of –

    “The Winchester Mystery House is a well-known California mansion that was under construction continuously for 38 years, .. construction proceeded around-the-clock, without interruption, from 1884 until her death on September 5, 1922, at which time work immediately ceased. The cost for such constant building has been estimated at about US $5.5 million (if paid in 1922, this would be equivalent to almost $70 million in 2008 dollars).

    The mansion is renowned for its size and utter lack of any master building plan. According to popular belief, Winchester thought the house was haunted by the ghosts of individuals killed by Winchester rifles, and that only continuous construction would appease them.”

    We’re appeasing ghosts….

  7. Doug,
    I believe in the spying and espionage business, they’re known as “spooks.”

  8. Putting Rove in charge of projects was par for the course. The Bush Maladministration was all about arrogant clueless ideologues creating a transparently phony facade while politically corrupting and manipulating government resources to shovel money to their corporate cronies as fast as they could – Iraq, Katrina, DOJ, Minerals Management Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission.

    Nobody gave a crap about effectiveness or results – because that was never the point.

  9. “under construction continuously for 38 years, .. construction proceeded around-the-clock, without interruption, from 1884 until her death on September 5, 1922, at which time work immediately ceased”

    It was about time?

  10. Going for today’s succinctness prize (actually posting day after today):

    Less is more!

  11. bill,
    You got a real good point. Hoo-boy, have I gotten long-winded lately…

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