18 June 2013 — Power of Narrative
You may at first think the following is a bad joke, but I assure you it is not a joke at all. At the very end of this NYT story about Booz Allen and the complex interconnections between nominally “private” business and the national intelligence community, we read:
But the legal warnings at the end of its financial report offered a caution that the company could be hurt by “any issue that compromises our relationships with the U.S. government or damages our professional reputation.”
By Friday, shares of Booz Allen had slid nearly 6 percent since the revelations. And a new job posting appeared on its Web site for a systems administrator in Hawaii, “secret clearance required.”
Yes, that appears to be Edward Snowden’s old job.
Crappy spy fiction doesn’t look quite so crappy now, does it? In many respects — in fact, I would argue in every critical respect — the spy business is actually that dumb.
In an earlier post about the NSA/surveillance stories, I discussed the profoundly offensive elitism involved in the argument that “special” people in both government and journalism, people endowed with understanding and judgment that is the envy of the gods and forever denied to all us ordinary schlubs, should decide what information will be provided to the motley mass of humans who merely pay for all of it, and for whose benefit all this godlike work is supposedly undertaken. Talk about idiocies: “We’re doing all this for you! You’re too stupid to be told most of what we’re doing!” Put it on a bumper sticker, baby, so we can throw rotten eggs at it.
I also talked about how especially unconvincing the insistence on secrecy is, given the numbers of people who have access to Top Secret information. The NYT story helpfully offers some numbers. Booz Allen “boasts that half its 25,000 employees have Top Secret clearances…”Wait, that’s nothing:
Of the 1.4 million people with Top Secret clearances, more than a third are private contractors. (The background checks for those clearances are usually done by other contractors.)
The biggest open secret all these creepy jerks are hiding is the secret of corporatism (or what Gabriel Kolko calls “political capitalism“):
There is nothing in the world that can’t be turned into a huge moneymaker for the State and its favored friends in “private” business, at the same time it is used to amass still greater power. This is true in multiple forms for the fraud that is the “intelligence” industry.
The pattern is the same in every industry, from farming, to manufacturing, to every aspect of transportation, to the health insurance scam, to anything else you can name. In one common version, already vested interests go to the State demanding regulation and protection from “destabilizing” forces which, they claim, threaten the nation’s well-being (by which, they mean competitors who threaten their profits). The State enthusiastically complies, the cooperative lawmakers enjoying rewards of many kinds and varieties. Then they’ll have to enforce all those nifty regulations and controls. The State will do some of it but, heck, it’s complicated and time-consuming, ya know? Besides, some of the State’s good friends in “private” business can make a killing doing some of the enforcing. Give it to them! Etc. and so on.
It is for these reasons, among others, that I have stated:
[G]iven the nature of the State and its manner of operation, it simply isn’t possible for any enterprise to become and remain notably successful … without becoming enmeshed in the State apparatus. It’s possible that a company may escape more complex involvement with the State in its early years, but if a company maintains its dominance over a significant period of time, it necessarily must be the recipient of State favoritism.
And so, as but one minor example, the Times tells us that “background checks for those clearances are usually done by other contractors.”
But that’s chump change. The real money is elsewhere — in, for instance, foreign policy itself. You probably thought foreign policy was about dealing with threats to “national security,” spreading democracy, ensuring peace, and whatever other lying slogans they throw around like a moldy, decaying, putrid corpse. The State’s foreign policy efforts are unquestionably devoted to maintaining the U.S.’s advantages — but the advantages they are most concerned about are access to markets and, that’s right, making huge amounts of money. Despite the unending propaganda to the contrary, they aren’t terribly concerned with dire threats to our national well-being, for the simple reason that there aren’t any: “No nation would dare mount a serious attack on the U.S. precisely because they know how powerful the U.S. is — because it is not secret.”
How does the public-“private” intelligence industry make foreign policy? The NYTstory offers an instructive example in its opening paragraphs:
When the United Arab Emirates wanted to create its own version of the National Security Agency, it turned to Booz Allen Hamilton to replicate the world’s largest and most powerful spy agency in the sands of Abu Dhabi.
It was a natural choice: The chief architect of Booz Allen’s cyberstrategy is Mike McConnell, who once led the N.S.A. and pushed the United States into a new era of big data espionage. It was Mr. McConnell who won the blessing of the American intelligence agencies to bolster the Persian Gulf sheikdom, which helps track the Iranians.
“They are teaching everything,” one Arab official familiar with the effort said. “Data mining, Web surveillance, all sorts of digital intelligence collection.”
See how perfect this is? All the special people are making tons of money — and, when the day arrives that the U.S. wants to ramp up its confrontational stance with Iran, well, there’s the UAE helping to “track the Iranians” with all the tools that the U.S. has given them and taught them to use. And how easy would it be to get the UAE to provide the U.S. with just the right kind of new and disturbing “intelligence” that would get lots of people screaming about the “grave Iranian threat”? You know the answer to that: easy peasy. A wink and a nod — and off the U.S. goes, with bombing runs or whatever it decides to do. But whatever it does will be determined in greatest part not by a genuine threat to U.S. national security (there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Iran’s leaders are all suicidal), but by what will make the most money for the State and its good friends.
I remind you once again of what I call The Higgs Principle. As I have emphasized, you can apply this principle to every significant policy in every area, including every aspect of foreign policy. Here is Robert Higgs explaining it:
As a general rule for understanding public policies, I insist that there are no persistent “failed” policies. Policies that do not achieve their desired outcomes for the actual powers-that-be are quickly changed. If you want to know why the U.S. policies have been what they have been for the past sixty years, you need only comply with that invaluable rule of inquiry in politics: follow the money.
When you do so, I believe you will find U.S. policies in the Middle East to have been wildly successful, so successful that the gains they have produced for the movers and shakers in the petrochemical, financial, and weapons industries (which is approximately to say, for those who have the greatest influence in determining U.S. foreign policies) must surely be counted in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
So U.S. soldiers get killed, so Palestinians get insulted, robbed, and confined to a set of squalid concentration areas, so the “peace process” never gets far from square one, etc., etc. – none of this makes the policies failures; these things are all surface froth, costs not borne by the policy makers themselves but by the cannon-fodder masses, the bovine taxpayers at large, and foreigners who count for nothing.
How much is the intelligence-security industry worth? The NYTstory offers this toward the end:
Only last month, the Navy awarded Booz Allen, among others, the first contracts in a billion-dollar project to help with “a new generation of intelligence, surveillance and combat operations.”
The new push is to take those skills to American allies, especially at a time of reduced spending in Washington. So while the contract with the United Arab Emirates is small, it may be a model for other countries that see cyberdefense — and perhaps offense — as their future. The company reported net income of $219 million in the fiscal year that ended on March 31. That was up from net income of $25 million in 2010, shortly after Mr. McConnell returned to the company.
They’re just getting started. Note that the $219 million is net income. Earlier, the Times told us that “more than half its $5.8 billion in annual revenue [is] coming from the military and the intelligence agencies.” The story also informs us that: “Booz Allen is one of many companies that make up the digital spine of the intelligence world, designing the software and hardware systems on which the N.S.A. and other military and intelligence agencies depend.”
It’s all about wealth and power. Here and there, in episodes notable only for their rarity, “the intelligence world” might actually provide a small piece of information actually related to “national security.” Again, I turn to Gabriel Kolko:
It is all too rare that states overcome illusions, and the United States is no more an exception than Germany, Italy, England, or France before it. The function of intelligence anywhere is far less to encourage rational behavior–although sometimes that occurs–than to justify a nation’s illusions, and it is the false expectations that conventional wisdom encourages that make wars more likely, a pattern that has only increased since the early twentieth century. By and large, US, Soviet, and British strategic intelligence since 1945 has been inaccurate and often misleading, and although it accumulated pieces of information that were useful, the leaders of these nations failed to grasp the inherent dangers of their overall policies. When accurate, such intelligence has been ignored most of the time if there were overriding preconceptions or bureaucratic reasons for doing so.
The incessant chatter about the indispensable, critical importance of “intelligence” to “national security” is marketing, the time-tested phrases that the ruling class knows are so popular with most Americans. And Americans dearly love the marketing:
So all of the feigned bafflement and incessant caterwauling about the supposedly indecipherable actions of the United States — Why, oh why, did we invade Iraq?, and Why, dear God, are we in Afghanistan? — represent only the capitulation of the purported critics to precisely those arguments U.S. leaders hope you will engage. They want you to spend all your time on those arguments, because they’re only marketing ploys having nothing at all to do with their actual goals. As I said the other day, if you want to stop this murderous madness — and I dearly hope you do — forget about what they say their goals are (fostering “democratic” governments, “regional stability,” “security,” and all the associated claptrap), and focus on the real problem: the carefully chosen policy of U.S. geopolitical dominance over the entire globe.
In the midst of the rush of revelations concerning the NSA and surveillance, almost everyone forgets that the “intelligence” industry is founded on one of the most momentous lies in the history of statecraft. As I write this, I see the following:
National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander told a House committee Tuesday that 50 terror threats in 20 countries have been disrupted with the assistance of two secret surveillance programs that were recently disclosed by former defense contractor Edward Snowden.
Ooooohhhhh! 50 terror threats in 20 countries, and “At least 10 of the plots targeted the U.S. homeland.” These guys suck stylistically, too. It’s exactly 50! And exactly 20! But kinda around 10 that targeted the “homeland.” C’mon, Keith. Precision is important in propaganda. Emulate a master: “I have here in my hand a list of 205 terror plots…!!”
Of course, they will never provide any evidence to prove the truth of these claims. You’re too stupid to be trusted with such information. You just have to take their word for it. Right. I wonder how many of these frightening plots were ones dreamed up by government agents themselves. And I wonder how many of them were, in fact, discovered by mundane, old-fashioned “police work.” Not incidentally, I wonder how many of these plots occurred at all.
I repeat again, for approximately the fiftieth time, that “intelligence” is almost always wrong. Don’t take my word for it: read the excerpt from Chalmers Johnson here. Read this. And this. See all the articles linked at the conclusion of this article. I’ve been writing about this subject for almost a decade. With the exception of 14 or 15 people, no one listens to a goddamned word I say on this subject (or on any other; don’t worry, I don’t love you any less — but I suggest you keep in mind that the least charitable interpretation of that last statement is the correct one). Many of you are now commencing to piss me off in a serious way.
The intelligence-security industry isn’t about protecting the United States or you, except for extraordinarily rare, virtually accidental occurrences. It’s about wealth and power. Yet every politician and every government functionary speaks reverently of the sacred mission and crucial importance of “intelligence” in the manner of a syphilitic preacher who clutches a tatty, moth-eaten doll of the Madonna, which he digitally manipulates by sticking his fingers in its orifices. Most people would find his behavior shockingly obscene, if they noticed it. But they don’t notice it, so mesmerized are they by the preacher with his phonily awestruck words about the holy of holies and the ungraspably noble purpose of his mission. Even as the suppurating sores on the preacher’s face ooze blood and pus, his audience can only gasp, “We must pay attention to what he says! He wants only the best for us! He’s trying to save us!”
What the preacher says — what every politician and national security official says on this subject — is a goddamned lie. The ruling class has figured out yet another way to make a killing, both figuratively and literally. They want wealth and power, and always more wealth and power. That’s what “intelligence” and “national security” is about, and nothing else at all. When you hear Keith Alexander, or James Clapper, or Barack Obama talk about “intelligence” and surveillance, how your lives depend on them, and why you must trust them to protect you if you wish to continue existing at all, think of the preacher. Think of his open sores, of the blood and pus slowly dribbling down his face.
All of them are murdering crooks running a racket. They are intent on amassing wealth and power, and they’ve stumbled on a sure-fire way to win the acquiescence, and often the approval, of most people. They are driven by the worst of motives, including their maddened knowledge that there will always remain a few people and events that they will be unable to control absolutely. For the rest of us, their noxious games are a sickening display of power at its worst. For us, on a faster or slower schedule, in ways that are more or less extreme, their lies and machinations are only a Dance of Death.