When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled “made in Germany”; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism;it will be called, of course, “Americanism.” Halford E. Luccock, Keeping Life Out of Confusion
Times were good for many Americans—or, at least, times were good if appearances were to be believed. Even some of our sharper minds were deluded. After stapling the 1960’s and 1980’s in place with The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Bonfire of the Vanities, journalist-by-novel Tom Wolfe addressed the impending aughts with the historically inapt essay, What Life Was Like at the Turn of the Second Millennium: An American’s World, from Hooking Up.
Wolfe employs a Proletarian air-conditioning “mechanic” as everyAmerican—the sort of character David Brooks would later clothe in madras shorts and pop-neurology for the purpose of contriving New Yorker columns explaining his we to us. Wolfe’s pen is nimbler than Brooks’ iPad, but An American’s World still suffers from Ozymandian conceits, exemplified by messes like:
…[H]is own country, the United States, was now the mightiest power on earth, as omnipotent as Macedon under Alexander the Great, Rome under Julius Caesar, Mongolia under Genghis Khan, Turkey under Mohammed II, or Britain under Queen Victoria. His country was so powerful, it had begun to invade or rain missiles upon small nations in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean for no other reason than that their leaders were lording it over their subjects at home…
Which was true, far as it went. Everyone was getting mad-rich and feeling tres sexy, thank you very much—we told ourselves, and we believed us when we heard: these are the good old days. Yet, as Wolfe’s mechanic cavorts in St. Kitts among the ruins of Marxism, one detects a whiff of regret among the words, as though the writer is struggling to find a narrative peg on which he might hang a complaint:
…[I]t was standard practice for the successful chief executive officer of a corporation to shuck his wife of two to three decades’ standing for the simple reason that her subcutaneous packing was deteriorating, her shoulders and upper back were thickening like a shot-putter’s—in short, she was no longer sexy… the [new wife] and her big CEO catch were invited to all the parties, as though nothing had happened.
Many of us had similar misgivings at the time, I think. I remember scholar, blogger and writer Paul Kerschen giving a first-listen report on Radiohead’s 2000 release, Kid A that folded the nameless nagging into useful context: “It’s like two hours,” he said, “—an excellent two hours, understand, but two hours—of rain drizzling on the rusted shroud of a semi-functional HVAC unit. Things are not OK.”
There was plenty of evidence to help us shuffle through a decades-long sleep-walk. The federal budget was in surplus. Peace, erupting everywhere: Bono partied in Sarajevo, Arafat chilled at Camp David, East Timor lurched at independence, Sinn Fein had lain down its guns, and many Rwandans committed to turning from a decade of barbarism and evil.
We focused attention on what seemed to work, ignoring what did not: Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount and the ensuing second intifada, for one non-starter. We glossed over others: Russian war crimes in Chechnya, Chechen war crimes in Chechnya, the sudden absence of diversion for central Europe’s dedicated Mujahids, queer diseases of the mind infecting humans who’d eaten meat from cows fed—for efficiency’s sake—with the brains and bones of other cows.
Americans failed to consider they were buying pets.com stock with money borrowed from retirement funds, paying for vacations with home-equity loans, or that they stood a greater chance of seeing an American manufacturing plant while partying in Tijuana than at home, in Toledo, Ohio.
But even those palliative facts were hard to come by in summer 2001. The transition from news to infotainment was complete by then, and Fox, having by its creation exposed a previous bias in favor of its non-existence, combined with Matt Drudge’s Report to frame the national conversation in inane leading questions seeming to consist of whether sharks were angry at swimmers, whether celebrity sex videos were good or bad, whether the erotic proclivities of U.S. Congressmen were interesting or not, and whether Liberals were evil, stupid or just plain un-American.
Dull, sated and conditioned by the Clinton carnival to watch politics rather than engage in them, Americans allowed a Presidential contest to be determined first by a group of screaming frat-boys in Florida, then by a group of scribbling nudges in Washington, D.C., in the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court. Given the margin of error in the Florida recount, it’s likely we can never know for certain who won the 2000 U.S. Presidential election; what matters is we were told who won, and these years on, it is clear who lost.
“Winner,” George W. Bush plucked the residents of the Project for A New American Century—a neoconservative, Straussian think-tank that had for a decade clamored to remake the Middle East in its own image through regime change brought, in one proffered scenario, by catastrophic “pearl-harbor-type events”. Bush placed the tank’s alleged thinkers at the heart of America’s foreign policy apparatus. The list includes Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Dick Cheney, Francis Fukuyama, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and William Kristol.
Lacking any adult supervision, they went about three tasks: cozying up to energy cartels, including the disgusting Saudi royals, preparing for war with Saddam Hussein, and ignoring with extreme diligence any intelligence on threats to U.S. “interests” that did not comport with a worldview they already held.
Despite warnings—in person, from Richard Clarke, and in a written brief titled Bin Laden Determined To Strike In US, President George W. Bush and cohort continued their Freudian obsession with “the guy who tried to kill my dad,” and brought America’s national delusion to its penultimate phase.
Remember the American Colossus? Shopping, screwing, drinking, drugging, investing on margin, engaging in voyeurisms of all sorts and to the last stroke before blindness lying, mostly to itself, but also to the world, lying and denying until there was almost no truth left; all this, all of it, while the unquiet, dissatisfied planet wobbled between its knees.
The 9/11 Commission Report is a bloated, condescending, piece-of shit doorstop. God willing, future historians will regard this fetid bilge-tank of doublespeak as symptomatic of the decline of one society, presaging the need, and rise, of another. For now, it is accepted “history,” a narrative that must be addressed on its own terms. Those terms are best defined in negative space, looking to what’s denied, rather than admitted. The Report is the civic equivalent of a mall-kiosk hidden-image poster.
Thomas Kean, who chaired the Commission that released this steaming turd, warned ahead of its release that neither Clinton nor W. were “well-served” by the FBI and CIA. As a result, the report made extensive recommendations for changes to prevent another attack, including the creation of an extra layer of bureaucracy atop the country’s dozens of publicly-acknowledged intelligence agencies, and a massive new Homeland Security apparatus. Implemented, all.
But remember, now: Osama bin Laden, a Saudi, was a son of the Saudi Royal Family’s chief architect and civil engineer, beloved by many for modernizing Mecca’s infrastructure and connecting the Kingdom’s cities with paved roads. Osama bin Laden lived in Arabia for much of his life, as well as Yemen and Sudan, but only Yemen and Sudan when he—and his evolving beliefs—had worn out his welcome in the Kingdom.
Bin Laden’s organization, al-Qaeda, was, and probably is, a shaky quasi-theological crime-syndicate built on a grab-bag of adulterated Salafist martyr-cult stupidity and the exported-on-cassette paranoiac rantings of the Egyptian Sayyid al-Qutb, further interpolated by Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon who lusted bin Laden’s purse—fatter or thinner, depending on how Saudi benefactors regarded bin Laden’s most recent antics—to realize the goal of a post-Nasserite Egyptian theocracy.
After the Taliban secured victory over Northern Alliance foes in post-Soviet Afghanistan, bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, having been drawn to the Jihad, found themselves without a worthy foe in the wild-east of the Afghan/Pakistani no-man’s land. Motivated by the objectively sickening U.S./Saudi alliance, which had given the Pentagon a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula, and secondarily by U.S. support for Israeli interests, they sought to take al-Qaeda, an Eastern-Hemisphere annoyance, global.
Al-Qaeda had dozens of documented contacts with Saudi Royals, Saudi government functionaries and Saudi citizens, at levels from the Court, to the Intelligence bureaus, to the parlors of fellow travelers.
Al-Qaeda and its aims were known to anyone paying attention. I remember discussing them in great detail in a law school International Relations seminar, in 1998. We spoke of Bin Laden’s interest in the subcontinent—because of the Pakistani “Islamic Bomb,”—and how the Kashmir/Jammu conflict could be manipulated by demagogues, as well as the dangers inherent in partnering with the ISI, which we regarded as a poisoned honeycomb, dripping with corruption, taking aid money with one hand, shaking the hands of jihadis with the other.
The University of Toledo College of Law is a fine school—but it is not the Kennedy School, Georgetown, nor The War College; if we knew those things, our betters should also have known them. It is disheartening to read, in the Report, and in Wright’s Looming Tower, how willfully blind America’s leaders were four years on; they should have known better. They did know better.
Acknowledging the obvious dovetails between bin Laden and his Saudi patrons, The Commission admitted fifteen of the hijackers were Saudi, but “found no evidence the Saudi government as an institution or senior officials within the Saudi government funded al-Qaeda.” Without delving into the obvious fallacy we’re offered, i.e., that no evidence of is evidence of no, it’s easy to see enough room left between the words of the Report’s phrasing to rebuild the Kobar Towers with cash from Bandar’s BAE slush & bribe fund and drive a full tanker-truck right up next to them.
Formal or informal Saudi complicity, whether from sympathy or to buy internal peace, are real Acts of War. In any sane period of history, Bandar and his corrupt platoon of brothers would be rotting in the stocks of Leavenworth, or better yet, hung in Saudi for domestic crimes or omissions, from gallows fashioned by the hands of Saudis themselves—or, rather, gallows paid for with Saudi money and fashioned by the hands of Indian and Philipino craftsmen.
In our remembering Americans must not forget, no matter how deeply buried in the Report, or made a non-subject by the American media, that bin Laden’s story, 9/11’s story, our story, is peopled by a cast of characters dominated more or less by Egyptians and ideas popularized by Egyptians, and more, much more, by Saudis and Saudi culture, specifically metastasizing, exported Wahhabism, and other distinctly Saudi problems, like bin Laden himself. We must remember to remember:
This why George W. Bush sent American teenagers to Iraq.
No, it doesn’t make sense. And Americans must remember it doesn’t make sense, because the world as it is mapped today is nonsensical. Only by keeping to mind that America went down the rabbit-hole in the middle of the last decade can it begin to find its bearings.
Egyptian ideas, Saudi money. Say it over and over until it stops making sense; say it and repeat yourself sane:
This why George W. Bush sent American teenagers to Iraq.
According to the Report, while meetings between al-Qaeda representatives and Iraqi government officials occurred, the panel had no credible evidence Saddam Hussein assisted al-Qaeda in preparing or executing the 9/11 attacks.
That is cold, late comfort to thousands of dead Iraqis and the confused, homesick soldiers Bush and the Boys sent to “defend our freedom.” Because from the President of the United States to various party flunkies at the local level, American leaders conflated Iraq, Islamism, Jihadis, al-Qaeda, bin Laden, terrorism, Israeli national security, the emotion terror, Islam itself, Afghanistan, the Taliban, Iraqis fighting Americans post-invasion, a group of terrorists the U.S. Media learned to call al-Qaeda in Iraq (as though bin Laden dealt in franchise licenses from Tora Bora), U.S. national security, Palestinian causes, Egyptian radicals and various other Middle Eastern regimes. Fox News anchors, in tone, gesture and connotation, abetted this slander 24/7/365, reducing complex foreign policy concerns to either/or polls and making a mockery of legitimate analysis.
Relatedly, and of pressing, current interest, the report also offered evidence of increased contact between Iran and al-Qaeda.
So, you know, stay tuned.
A pause, now, while we address the “conspiracy thing”: the Report ignores many incongruent threads of fact that, if only treated plausibly by people who could treat them, might dispense with inevitable counter-narrative spinning; so much so, that other Committees were compelled to address some of them in supplemental memoranda. Yet this is the nature of tales, even of many eye-witnessed events.
We might consider here the words of Hunter S. Thompson, whom, it should be noted, numbered among “truthers.” He wrote these lines long before 9/11, though, in bittersweet nostalgia for the Summer of 1967:
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of ‘history’ it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
Our problem is we are without any sweet to measure against the bitter. It is at least flattering to think someone with real power cared enough to throw, help throw, or allow the planet to be thrown into chaos, rather than think for a minute that a sickly Bond-villain hiding under a rock in Pakistan could play Jenga with Manhattan landmarks all by his lonesome.
Either way, it doesn’t matter. The truth, as received, is horrible enough.
During the remaining Bush years, Americans became convinced by talk-radio idiots like Sean Hannity and the entire Fox roster, as well as anyone running for public office from either major party, anywhere in the country, that American shores, schools and courts faced imminent invasion from Sharia-spouting Jihadis and that individual Americans were at great risk of personal attacks from Muslims.
Americans tossed away freedoms—a subject to which we shall return presently—as well as the keys to the public treasury. No price seemed too high, no DARPA project too outlandish, no Pentagon request too expensive. Trillions spent, that’s with a T, and counting, with interest, if you care to amortize.
Little time-bombs of a more lethal, but less obvious character, began to blow in the middle-part of the decade. Bill Clinton had brokered a devil’s deal with Wall Street to break down the firewalls between investment banking (i.e., endlessly debt-ridden derivative speculation) and regular banking, where depositors loan a bank money for free, which the bank then loans to other people, at a profit. Clinton and Congress made this bargain with the likes Robert Rubin, the appalling Sen. Phil Gramm and Alan Greenspan, then the insipid, spittle-flicking, polysyllabic, idiot-savant Federal Reserve Chairman.
For their part, they had been inspired by a misanthropic, chain-smoking, Russian dwarf named Ayn Rand. When not wrecking the homes of ardent disciples, Rand spent her time subjecting the world of popular philosophy to the agonizing resolution of an Elektra Complex that had seized her after rampaging Bolsheviks collectivized her father’s business. Rand had discovered—and you can too!—that, despite hundreds of years of human economic experience, capital markets, if left to tend themselves, would put fuzz on bunnies and photosynthetically generate Vitamin C in babies’ bodies. All that stood in the way of a Capitalist Utopia were the sorry collective impulses that had robbed her childhood of privilege.
Amid the wars emptying the American treasury, PNAC’s ongoing project of American global dominance financed with the Federal Reserve’s Platinum Credit Card, and unrestrained by sensible New Deal legislation, the chain of bubbles supporting Western capitalism since 1980 began to collapse. Seems allowing banks to gamble on margin borrowed at a thousand-times deposits wasn’t a smart thing to do. One evening, thanks to Clinton, Cronies, Congress and Dwarf, Christian civilization learned it was bankrupt.
George W. Bush attempted to step aside for his—and our—true masters, and have Congress acclaim Henry Paulson, of Goldman Sachs, Emperor of the United States. This is not hyperbole, not cited to The Onion—look it up. To its credit, Congress balked at coroneting Paulson; still, as though to make amends, the Federal establishment fell all over itself borrowing money from the Chinese government on behalf of unborn Americans to satisfy debts owed by its friends, individual and corporate, to parties unknown, incurred at the trillion-dollar global banking mega-casino. In 2008, America was bruised, broke, angry and paranoid. Americans elected—without the help of the Supreme Court—a black man with an Arabicized name to fix this bullshit.
I overheard an old woman in Troy, Ohio, exclaim, after voting, “I think America hates Bush more than it loves racism.”
[we are aware Bush wasn’t officially running—ed.]
In 2009, Barack Obama took office. He made a nice speech to Muslims in Cairo. Angry people, organized under the name of a thrilling sexual pastime, yelled at him, though they seemed unsure why. Obama appointed the same bankers who ruined the economy to fix it. He threw twice as much free money into the bottomless pit at Wall Street, rigged the health-care system to guarantee in perpetuity, by law, paying customers for insurers. Then, without breaking a sweat, he picked up the PNAC project exactly where his predecessors left it. He even found some places it might be improved.
He also authorized a Navy Seal team to kill Osama Bin Laden. They obliged.
President Obama usually avoided getting his shoes dirty en route to signing catastrophic-when-not-ineffectual laws, as the paths through the White House grounds have been repaved with the clean, pure aspirations of those who trusted him, and sealed with the distilled, water-tight essence of what we once knew as the American Dream.
How many wars? Iraq; Afghanistan; Yemen; Libya. Four? Probably more underway, under various definitions, forms and dispensations, if we had the information an informed citizenry should.
And we don’t.
At first, this lack of information was a function of our incompetent and negligent press; following 9/11, the flow was stymied by gate-keepers whose access to the cocktail party circuit would’ve been curtailed if they had done their jobs. When the resolve of those tasked with keeping State Secrets, and disseminating State Propaganda, splintered, the press itself came under attack. There is now no real refuge for useful public knowledge. The very concept is an Enemy of the State.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves—I mention the count of wars because, focused as we are now on, if not in, Afghanistan, and with the—gasp—newly discovered, Pakistani loyalty problem, we generally forget the aspect of The Global War on Terror that affects Americans most. 2,752 people died in the September 11, 2001 attacks. Hundreds of thousands have died in the ensuing conflicts. Still, the least mourned victim is the American Republic itself. What over a million died protecting in the years between Independence and V-J Day was traded away on the memory of several thousand and a promise it wouldn’t be permitted to happen again.
The truest memorial America could offer those who died on 9/11 is to refuse to fall into the moral orbit of the death-cults we claim to abhor. No reflecting pools, no spires at 1776 feet, none of it. We shouldn’t have become the photo-negative of jihadis seeking martyrdom, cowering in the skirts of craven politicians promising to shield us from harm and make our streets safe for commerce.
We should have rebuilt the towers exactly as they were, within a year. We should have marked the ground with a small, tasteful plaque, and held annual parades celebrating the season we brushed off the worst Osama bin Laden and his pals could dish, then turned on the demagogues screeching from the most shameful perspectives present in our national dialogue when they asked us to pay for the victims’ deaths with civil liberties. We should be whooping and hollering and singing songs about how al-Qaeda bored us, how bin Laden died from neglect, his corpse reeking in the stank of his own sick creed, how not one American teenager died thinking he or she was fighting Saddam over 9/11, and no Afghani or Iraqi teenager died thinking American teenagers were invaders, or occupiers.We should be celebrating how we were centered enough to tar and feather our own vilest blowhards and ride them to Harlem on a rail.
Alas, little more than six weeks after the attacks, Congress had a spryly captioned bill in the hopper—The USA PATRIOT Act.
The timing is a bit suspicious; anyone experienced with the Federal bureaucracy would be forgiven for asking, really? It can take longer than six weeks to get an acknowledgment that you, a constituent, have contacted your Representative in writing; it’s worse if you need action on an important matter. Washington does not move quickly. Is it beyond the pale to suggest that this law, or some version of it, had been pre-written, and was collecting dust in a drawer somewhere, awaiting the right calamity?
The Patriot Act is a travesty. It can be read to enshrine the noxious Korematsu doctrine that interned the Japanese Americans in World War II. It does not explicitly allow detention of U.S. Citizens, but without recourse to due process, a detainee has no forum to which he may claim habeas corpus, and assert his citizenship. It permits clandestine, secret searches of homes and businesses, allows the FBI to search phone, email and financial records without warrants, and lays open library borrowing records to law enforcement agencies.
The erotica you borrow from your public library is, by standing U.S. law, the intelligence community’s business. These are the same folks who claimed surprise at learning bin Laden himself enjoyed a blue movie now and then—if that was the case, and not some disinformative psy-op.
Worse—and it gets much worse—The Patriot Act represents what Americans were willing to give up, not what has been lost. Much more has been lost, as much more has been taken.
The Patriot Act is the public face of a ghost that has possessed the machine of the American Body Politic. Possession came welcomed, one assumes, upon the adoption of the Unitary Executive theory that Dick Cheney and Department of Justice ringers cooked up to allow Cheney himself, and the President, to operate outside six-hundred years of established Anglo-Saxon law. Under that specious theory, an American wartime executive enjoys immunity from impeachment for crimes committed pursuant to national security initiatives, domestic prosecution for acts taken pursuant to authority as Commander in Chief, and perhaps some defense to international war crimes proceedings.
What Cheney hath wrought, Obama embraces—under the 44th President, whom I remind you, was hired to fix this bullshit, an Orwellian cancer has spread to the national lymph nodes. Obama has not even tried to stem it; his administration is part of it, thrives on it, is one with it. This totalitarian demon, which infuses almost every aspect of American life, is of a width and breadth unimaginably vast, and its aims seem nothing less than total awareness, total power and total obedience to its shifting whims.
Legal scholar, writer and Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald has done yeoman’s work providing an outline of its forms and habits; he has taken to calling this unclean thing the National Security State.
It needs perpetual war. Without it, claim to the powers it craves are laughable, on their face, to a free people. What luck then, that the external war in which we are now engaged has no fixed enemy, no fixed field, no fixed milestones for victory. After 9/11, America didn’t declare war on anything, except an abstraction—the emotion of fear, of terror. As such, the only end to the external war in which we are now engaged comes when our species evolves beyond fear of its own demise, or beyond the crippling empathy inspired by learning that harm may come to a loved one.
The National Security State is fragile. Only by knowing more about its citizens than its citizens know of it can the Beast coerce obedience to directives against the citizenry’s interests. George W. Bush and Barack Obama hid, and hide, their least defensible orders under the aegis of National Security, which usually terminates further discussion or challenge in public fora.
The National Security State’s expansive, wholly illegal wiretapping of the entire American telecommunications infrastructure under George W. Bush (or further back—Bush extended National Security protections retroactively, to protect former Presidents’ documents, if they want them classified) was shielded first under this notion, then retroactively ratified by a Congress that included then-Senator Obama. That Congress went as far as immunizing telecom companies from liability for violating the privacy of Americans, a reward for cooperating with illegal demands.
A successor NSA program currently rakes the telecom grid for bad-guys, and is overwhelmingly effective, because it does not differentiate between friend and foe; the NSA holds a record of your digital life, and mine, as well as those who might be planning to commit crimes. This initiative violates the long-standing ideal that citizens judge citizens in citizen tribunals—our military and intelligence apparatus operates outside our borders, not within them. Everyone knows this program is illegal, immoral and unconstitutional, but the National Security State must be fed with data, so highfalutin legal concerns be damned. Knowing the program is evil is not a sin; the sin lies in saying it is. Well meaning, good hearted real patriots, in good faith, have tried to warn us; the National Security State has destroyed their lives in return.
The Bush administration fostered the program; while the Obama administration acknowledges it, the Administration regards criteria set for its use as a State Secret, and has revealed its claims to the program’s legitimacy and legality only to select Members of Congress, who, when not rubber-stamping such things, are prevented by from making their knowledge public. If they have concerns that might incline them to disclose criminal activity by the President or his subordinates, they are put in a double-bind—treason by silence, or treason by disclosure? Silence is the safer choice.
The National Security State is sadistic. America, as well as any other entity seized of corporate authority, ever, has and will torture. The idea that Dick Cheney invented water-boarding is ludicrous; however, Cheney, as an acolyte and High Priest of the National Security State, introduced the positively barbaric notion that torture should be euphemized into normality, and when it could not that permissions for it be written into the standing, published law of this once Constitutional Republic—probably in anticipation of possible criminal proceedings resulting from orders he, or they, have given. Nevermind “torture” is a poorly cloaked rape-fantasy inspired by Jack Bauer fandom and snuff-films; never mind it is methodologically unsound and disavowed by those, like the CIA, who should be inclined to use it; never mind that in a scenario where it would work, it would be likely done anyway.
There is something in the hoary nature of familiar evil that desires recognition, even as it obscures its own identity. Our current interrogation regime is a testament to this violent, literally tortuous facet of the National Security State’s multiple personality disorder.
The TSA is another tip-of-the-iceberg public aspect of the hidden thing, this National Security State, that has subsumed what was once America. For our safety, the National Security State has employed what seem to be the least observant, least capable, least fit examples of the population—many with personal, vocational or situational axes to grind with the world at large—and placed them in positions of authority, armed them the imprimatur of Homeland Security, and tasked them with enforcement of no-exceptions, no-common-sense- required, black-letter policies. America’s airports, in 2011, are kakistocracies. The only people inconvenienced by the TSA are those with someplace to go; idiots with C4 in their skivvies seem to get along, and get past, just fine. But that’s the point: the National Security State requires legalized brutality, humiliation, degradation and inhumanity because the National Security State gets off on it.
The National Security State fears Due Process and enumerated rights. At its core, the National Security State cannot justify itself without innuendo, hyperbole and fear; open and just civilian tribunals—for criminals, terrorists, “leakers,” for any accused person—expose the Beast’s dearest parts, its regions most sensitive to comment, criticism and ridicule. From that need comes FISA, secret detentions, black-site prisons, military tribunals, and the shameful Guantanamo Bay facility. The National Security State skulks in the curtilege because its reasons for being exist not for long, and only in shadow.
Finally, the National Security State requires control of the Word. Information is its antidote—the more accurate, the more timely, the more comprehensive, the more potent. While indefensible, pursuing “leakers,” in Washington is at least understandable, but the National Security State can brook neither dissent, nor the exposure of sunlight to its deeds if that exposure will inspire dissent, no matter from what direction the light comes.
Remember Bradley Manning, who has done allegedly to GWOT what Daniel Ellsberg did, to great acclaim, to Vietnam? Manning, very likely, now lies naked, fetal, in the throes of a long-term, dehumanizing breakdown and brainwash, for no purpose other than to be made an example of—his crime, allegedly, is having given information embarrassing to the powerful to someone who would make it public.
Julian Assange, while in turns complicated and unsympathetic, is a hero. Full stop. Hero. In Assange’s case, students of the history and practices of espionage will read “alleged rapist” on his vita as “dumbass poon-hound caught in a honey-pot.” He has much more bad to do before the good he has done is offset.
The Assange case is reminiscent of an earlier, deft move by the nascent National Security State on U.S. intelligence operative Scott Ritter, during the months preceding the Iraq war. Ritter, who worked as a contract employee with Central Intelligence and whose ongoing interests in sex with young girls would have been—or should have been—a matter of polygraph record, was nevertheless considered fit to serve on the U.N. Weapons Inspection Team in Iraq.
He was deemed unfit to comment in public, by the mainstream media, on the subject of whether those weapons existed, when he decided they did not. The reason? Not his qualifications, but an earlier sex sting arrest. Suddenly, his criminal past was highly relevant, available and a point of commentary from every interviewer who addressed him.
Flacking someone like Ritter, or in a better example, Assange, personally, is not enough to satisfy the National Security State when the information flow will not cease with personal destruction. As an independent source, Wikileaks itself is under constant DOS battery; the National Security State apparently thinks the exposure of policy and facts relating to the causes of death of innocents in the conduct of American foreign policy is a greater harm than the actual loss of human life. The concept of unmediated disclosure of “classified” material is what’s at issue, not the material itself. The Beast requires both the head, and the carcass, it seems.
If the National Security State cannot tell us its story, there can be no story at all.
And so it goes. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five
God knows what bin Laden envisioned ten years on.
One assumes he would be pleased that if we did not collapse explicitly, we have come to take for granted that the democratic elements of the Republic have ossified to the point of uselessness and we have yielded wholly to autocratic elements imbued with a spirit of Fascism, which have expanded to fill the roles required for the operation of a functioning nation-state. Since 9/11, our systems—financial, moral, legal, constitutional and philosophical have gone bankrupt. To the extent they continue to work at all, they serve those who can afford them. Our politics are nauseating: America’s “left” is right-wing and its right wing is fucking batshit crazy. Neither have anything relevant to say or constructive to propose.
Two successive presidents have spoken differently while acting uniformly; trillions of dollars have gone wasted on “security,” yielding arrests in conspiracies that law enforcement agencies appear to have concocted themselves, mostly for the purpose of making arrests. The law enforcement and intelligence community trumpet the apprehension of a few sorry wannabes like Jose Padilla, while real plots usually seem to be foiled by Muslim beef-frank vendors, airplane passengers or sharp-eyed locals.
With war upon war upon economic calamity upon natural disaster besetting America, the beleaguered Yank—perhaps an everyAmerican air-conditioning mechanic—who once might have been set to howling at the slightest encroachment upon his prerogatives, now learns the Central Intelligence Agency has set up shop within the New York City Police Department in order to spy on them, even though they are fucking American citizens who just happen to call God’s name in Arabic—he learns the CIA has done this, without compunction, with impunity, in bald violation of its charter.
And the “mechanic,” shrugs. It’s just one more thing.
Other one-more-things are coming—one-more-things akin to the general strikes, riots and conflagrations of the Maghreb, of Tel Aviv, or London and Paris, or Athens and Rome and Madrid and Reykjavík, which illustrate the real war unfolding between a financier elite and those of us they intend to have serve them, or at least service debts they claim are owed.
You can hear echoes, see the stirrings, on the San Francisco BART, can’t you? It’s almost an odor, rife with potential, terrifying and exhilarating at once—
On arrival of these somethings-else, these other, new things, our poor everyYank may find himself ill-suited to mark the time. In the course of human events he may find he surrendered more than convenience in his deal with the National Security State. He may find he surrendered the best parts of his humanity as well—the cruelest irony being the surrender will have been in bin Laden’s name, to exorcise the fear that the unexpected strike inspired and nurtured, but in bin Laden’s name all the same.
When he requires the tools he entrusted to the National Security State for safekeeping—his civil liberties, the rule of law, human rights—the mechanic may find they are not where the National Security State promised him they’d be. He may find, in buying his purported enemy’s defeat with what should have been the last things he would spend, he will have ensured the realization of his enemies’ ultimate aims.
Of all the things to reflect upon this sordid anniversary, and if only to keep a pinch of truth alive in dark times, we should note the facts of the post-9/11 American experiment, as they coalesce around us: unless we remember ourselves, unless we remember what we promised the world we could be, 9/11 will not only mark the day we began giving up our dearest ideals, it will mark the day America gave up altogether.