Water Man Spouts

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The War on Dissent

"And the federal government has a long history of using domestic intelligence for just such purposes. J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI, was adept at using information so acquired not only to pursue those he suspected of Communist or 'un-American' activisties, but also to maintain his power and influence for 47 years over presidents, members of congress and other power brokers. The FBI's COINTELPRO activity's use of such information to harass and discredit Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a particularly glaring example of such abuse. And Nixon's access to such information gave him the inside track on how to neutralize those on his long 'enemies list.'
Would you trust a Karl Rove, a Dick Cheney, an Eliot Abrams, a Roberto Gonzales, an I. Lewis Libby, a David Addington or a John Bolton with such information?"
-- Ray McGovern; "High Tech, Low Legality: The NSA Spies on American Citizens"; Washington Report on Middle East Affars; March 2006 - Vol. XXV, No.2; pages 26-7.
Ray McGovern, a CIA employee for 27 years who is today a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), has an interesting article in the current edition of Washington Report. This non-partison publication, which is produced by retired US foreign service officers, attempts to provide US citizens with a balanced look at US- Middle Eastern affairs. It has offered a series of articles on both the Plame and neocon/AIPAC spy scandals that I think people would enjoy reading. ( See http://www.wrmea.com )
McGovern notes that two of the groups most likely to be "sucked up" by the NSA domestic spying program include members of Congress and journalists. This is because of the nature of their work, including their international calls and contacts. He makes clear that with hundreds of phone calls and e-mails being monitored daily, it poses the risk that government officials will be tempted to use "intelligence" for political advantage.
One need look no farther than the White House Iraq Group's use of Valerie Plames Wilson's identity for a "particularly glaring example of such abuse." The news about TSA attorney Carla J. Martin's behavior in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui should also raise questions about the judgement of individuals in government, even in case involving terrorists. More, when NY Times reporter James Risen explains that "roughly 500 people in the U.S. every day over the past three or four years" are targets of the domestic spying, it seems obvious that a wide net is being thrown.
In questions of civil liberties, it is important to remember that, according to even conservative Congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex), neoconservatives "view civil liberties with suspicion, as unnecessary restrictions on the federal government." (John Dean; "Worse Than Watergate"; page 104) Irving Kristol puts this neoconservative belief in the context of "a set of attitudes derived from historical experience." (ibid) Perhaps we should look at some related historical experiences.
My favorite book on the history of the executive branch using the tensions associated with "war" to accumulate power beyond what the US Constitution intends is Arthur Schlesinger, Jr's 1973 classic, "The Imperial Presidency." He notes how the infamous "enemies list" began, including John Dean's August 16, 1971 memo that has been described as the classicexpression of the Nixon administration's philosophy: "This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration. Stated a bit more bluntly -- how can we use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies."
The "enemies list," Schlesinger points out, "pretty much ignored the bomb-throwers of the New Left and concentrated on what the White House plainly saw as the real Enemies -- the eastern 'establishment' with its attendant politicians, lawyers, journalists, television commentators, professors and preachers." (Schlesinger; page 258) Nixon himself demanded "proof" that the New Left was "receiving foreign support" for disruptive activities. The CIA , as Seymour Hersch reported in the NY Times on May 23, 1973, conducted extensive investigations that proved this was groundless. The administration continued to, as Haldeman told Dean, "put out the story" that there was evidence that foreign communist interests were donating funds which were tied to George McGovern (Schlesinger; page 259)
Many of the most dangerous policies advocated by the Nixon administration were part of what was known as the Huston Plan. This was a proposed coordinated effort, involving national, state, and local intelligence and police agencies, which threatened to institute a police state in America. There are a number of chilling accounts of the Huston Plan available for those not familiar with that bit of our history. I am particularly impressed with the works of David Wise, the co-author of "The Invisible Government," which was widely credited with documenting the need to re-examine the role of the Agency in a democratic society. His 1976 book "The American Police State" examines the Huston Plan, and also offers a fascinating warning: "Since technology has outpaced efforts at political control of the intelligence agencies -- indeed until quite recently there were virtually no efforts at all -- the prospects for the future are not pleasant. The super-sophisticated techniques developed by the National Security Agency to intercept telephone and other conversations, or to tap, uninvited, into computers, may mean that in the not too distant future those who dissent from established policy may literally have no plce to hide." (page 407)
Two of the best recent books that deal with the current threats to democracy are John Dean's "Worse Than Watergate," and Senator Robert Byrd's "Losing America." While both of these gentlemen have at earlier times been involved on the wrong side of the struggle -- Dean in the above-quoted memo, and Byrd in his March 29, 1968 call on the Senate floor for Rev. King's constitutional rights to be denied -- both provide wonderful evidence of the ability to grow, and to represent an evolutionary "set of attitudes derived from historical experiences."
I'll close with a recent family experience. My nephew and a friend were driving three blocks from one of their homes to pick up a pizza. The local police pulled them over. They had done nothing illegal: both are the type of young men that every community should want. But they both have brown skin. They were held for three hours, while the local police "checked up" on them. I realize that this is not as bad as being sent to Guantanamo Bay. But I am alarmed at people who believe that this represents a small inconvenience for the sake of our freedoms. I would hope that picking up a pizza would be one of those freedoms.
When I told my friend Rubin Carter about this -- and Rubin has some historical experience with being pulled over for skin color -- he said, "It's time to move out." I told my nephew, and he esponded, "No, this is our country. It's worth fighting for the Constitution." I hope that thinking that way doesn't get young people pulled over more often.


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