February 2014 archive

Competely True

Conspiracy Theories

CASS R. SUNSTEIN University of Chicago – Law School

ADRIAN VERMEULE  Harvard University – Harvard Law School

January 15, 2008

Of course some conspiracy theories, under our definition, have turned out to be true. The Watergate hotel room used by Democratic National Committee was, in fact,  bugged by Republican officials, operating at the behest of the White House. In the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency did, in fact, administer LSD and related drugs under Project MKULTRA, in an effort to investigate the possibility of “mind control.” Operation Northwoods, a rumored plan by the Department of Defense to simulate acts of terrorism and to blame them on Cuba, really was proposed by high-level officials (though the plan never went into effect).



For our purposes, the most useful way to understand the pervasiveness of conspiracy theories is to examine how people acquire information. For most of what they believe that they know, human beings lack personal or direct information; they must rely on what other people think. In some domains, people suffer from a “crippled epistemology,” in the sense that they know very few things, and what they know is wrong. Many extremists fall in this category; their extremism stems not from irrationality, but from the fact that they have little (r elevant) information, and their extremist views are supported by what little they know. Conspiracy theorizing often has the same feature. Those who believe that Israel was responsible for the attacks of 9/11, or that the Central Intelligence Agency killed President Kennedy, may well be responding quite rationally to the informational signals that they receive. Consider here the suggestive fact that terrorism is more likely to arise in nations that lack civil rights and civil liberties. An evident reason for the connection is that terrorism is an extreme form of political protest, and when peo ple lack the usual outlets for registering their protest, they might resort to violence. But consider another  possibility: When civil rights and civil liberties are restricted, little information is available, and what comes from government cannot be trusted. If the trustworthy information justifies conspiracy theories and extremism, and (therefore?) violence, then terrorism is more likely to arise.



Cognitive infiltration

Rather than taking the continued existence of the hard core as a constraint, and addressing itself solely to the third-party mass audience, government might undertake (legal) tactics for breaking up the tight cognitive clusters of extremist theories, arguments and rhetoric that are produced by the hard core and reinforce it in turn. One promising tactic is cognitive infiltration of extremist groups. By this we do not mean 1960s-style infiltration with a view to surveillance and collecting information, possibly for use in future prosecutions. Rather, we mean that government efforts might succeed in weakening or even breaking up the ideological and epistemological complexes that constitute these networks and groups.

How might this tactic work? Recall that extremist networks and groups, including the groups that purvey conspiracy theories, typically suffer from a kind of crippled epistemology. Hearing only conspiratorial accounts of government behavior, their members become ever more prone to believe and generate such accounts. Informational and reputational cascades, group polarization, and selection effects suggest that the generation of ever-more-extreme views within these groups can be dampened or reversed by the introduction of cognitive diversity. We suggest a role for government efforts, and agents, in introducing such diversity. Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.

In one variant, government agents would openly proclaim, or at least make no effort to conceal, their institutional affiliations. A recent newspaper story recounts that Arabic-speaking Muslim officials from the State Department have participated in dialogues at radical Islamist chat rooms and websites in order to ventilate arguments not usually heard among the groups that cluster around those sites, with some success. In another variant, government officials would participate anonymously or even with false identities. Each approach has distinct costs and benefits; the second is riskier but  potentially brings higher returns. In the former case, where government officials  participate openly as such, hard-core members of the relevant networks, communities and conspiracy-minded organizations may entirely discount what the officials say, right from the beginning. The risk with tactics of anonymous participation, conversely, is that if the tactic becomes known, any true member of the relevant groups who raises doubts may be suspected of government connections. Despite these difficulties, the two forms of cognitive infiltration offer different risk-reward mixes and are both potentially useful instruments.

There is a similar tradeoff along another dimension: whether the infiltration should occur in the real world, through physical penetration of conspiracist groups by undercover agents, or instead should occur strictly in cyberspace. The latter is safer, but  potentially less productive. The former will sometimes be indispensable, where the groups that purvey conspiracy theories (and perhaps themselves formulate conspiracies) formulate their views through real-space informational networks rather than virtual networks. Infiltration of any kind poses well-known risks: perhaps agents will be asked to perform criminal acts to prove their bona fides, or (less plausibly) will themselves  become persuaded by the conspiratorial views they are supposed to be undermining;  perhaps agents will be unmasked and harmed by the infiltrated group. But the risks are generally greater for real-world infiltration, where the agent is exposed to more serious harms.

Indeed, for some sycophantic OLC conception of “It’s legal if the President does it” that was Nixon’s last refuge from the rule of law.  Even England rejected this concept of despotic rule 799 years ago.

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Living In A Surveillance State: A Primer

The news today on Government spying has been unrelentingly grim.  Here’s last night’s piece from Jason Jones on living in a Surveillance State.

Destroying Reputations and Disrupting Activity

So earlier today we learned about a system of directed government Internet trolling designed to destroy the reputation of and disrupt the activities of any targeted organization or individual without any judicial process or oversight.

Here are some examples of how these techniques and programs were used against Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

The Real News Network

(Note: Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange.)

Transcript

One was that Julian Assange was put on a list called “Manhunting”. [incompr.] say it again: “Manhunting”. And normally on that NSA list there’s people who the NSA, and perhaps and presumably the U.S. government as well, suspects are al-Qaeda terrorists or something like that. This list also had, interestingly enough, Palestinians on it. But it also had Julian Assange on it.

Now, the list is made up of people the U.S. wants to locate, prosecute, and/or kill. In the case of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, what they wanted to do was get WikiLeaks and Julian Assange prosecuted everywhere they could in the world. Again, this is 2010. This is right after WikiLeaks introduces what are called the Afghan war logs that indicated that thousands and thousands of civilians were killed in Afghanistan. Those war logs come out. Then the NSA documents come out that put Julian Assange on the “Manhunting” list.

And what the substance of it is is it says that we have to make an effort to get Julian Assange prosecuted everywhere in the world. And at that point they pointed to four, maybe five countries–the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, the U.S., Iceland. Those are the countries that are going to go after him in. And, obviously, there are other countries added as they go along. But this just demonstrates how the U.S. in one set of the documents say, we want to get this journalist if we can.



The second set has this odd name called ANTICRISIS GIRL. Who knows what that means. This interestingly is not an NSA program. This is a program from GCHQ, which is the British intelligence company that’s the corresponding intelligence agency in the U.K. And this is really a nasty piece of business. What the slides show [snip] GCHQ has a system of tapping into fiber optics [snip] from Snowden got before. But this one, they say, we have the ability any time anyone makes a search on their computer for WikiLeaks to find either the website of WikiLeaks or anything else about WikiLeaks, we can find out what computer is making that search, know the IP address from that–that’s the, you know, unique address on every computer–and ultimately find out whose computer that is. That’s everybody in the world who look for WikiLeaks.

Then what they say: we also have the capacity to go onto the WikiLeaks website, or to look at that website, and everybody who visits the WikiLeaks websites, search or not, according to WikiLeaks.org, you visit the website, we have an ability to track their IP addresses. So here you have not just the U.S. intelligence going after WikiLeaks, the NSA, but you have GCHQ as well, and, in this second case, going after anybody who has even an interest in WikiLeaks, even if it’s an interest against WikiLeaks, everybody who looks at WikiLeaks.



And the third program, the third program is what we can call the “malicious foreign actor”. I’ll say that again: “malicious foreign actor”. And there’s a document in here in which the NSA goes to their counsel in the NSA–people in the NSA go to the general counsel and say to the general counsel, we’d like your opinion. We want to classify WikiLeaks as a, quote, malicious foreign actor. It’s a term of art, but it’s interestingly a term of art that none of us who work in this area legally, who look around, you know, try and sue, stop the NSA, have ever heard that term about.

What it apparently means is that the NSA can do the broadest surveillance on that target. In this case, it would be WikiLeaks. They admitted in this document they already had Anonymous targeted like that, and now they were going to go after WikiLeaks like that. We don’t know whether it was approved or not. I suspect, considering what’s been going on with WikiLeaks and considering the documents that came out from WikiLeaks after these programs have been put into place, which include the Afghan war logs, as well as Cablegate, which is what really got the United States, apparently, very angry, that that program has been implemented and that WikiLeaks is more likely than not classified as a “malicious foreign actor”.

So you have those three programs used against, we believe, as an effort to destroy, utterly destroy a publisher and journalism, and destroy not just them but to track, really, and get at all of their supporters and everybody who–anybody who has any interest in WikiLeaks–a very, very nasty piece of business. And what’s important about it is not just to show how the U.S. government, in cahoots with the U.K. government, or together–what I call them is two wings of the same surveillance bird, two wings of the same surveillance bird. That’s these two countries.

Democracy Now

Transcript

Assange: We’ve heard a lot in the propaganda pushed on this issue by Clapper and others in the U.S. national security complex that, of course, this pervasive surveillance is justified by the need to stop U.S.-stop terrorist attacks being conducted on the United States and its allies. But we’ve seen example after example come out over the last few months showing the National Security Agency and its partners, GCHQ, engaged in economic espionage.

And here we have an example where the type of espionage being engaged in is spying on a publisher-WikiLeaks, the publishing organization, and a publisher-me, personally. And the other material that came out in relation to GCHQ was from 2012, and that shows that GCHQ was spying on our service and our readers, so not just the publisher as an organization, not just the publisher as a person, but also the readers of a publisher. And that’s clearly, I believe, not something that the United States population agrees with, let alone other people.



Ratner: Well, what I was really shocked by was the extent the U.S. and U.K. have gone through to try and get and destroy WikiLeaks and Julian Assange and their network of supporters. I mean, it’s astounding. And it’s been going on for years. And it also, as Julian pointed out, tells us why he is in the Ecuadorean embassy and why Ecuador has given him asylum. He has every reason to heavily fear what would happen to him in this country, in the United States, if he were to be ever taken here. So I think, for me, that’s a very, very critical point, justifies every reason why Ecuador gave him asylum.

And the document you’re addressing, Amy, what they call the manhunt timeline, which is extraordinary because it groups him among, you know, a whole bunch of people who the U.S. considers terrorists, it also, interestingly, groups them-groups them among Palestinians, which is pretty interesting in itself. But to have Julian on that list as a manhunt timeline, and it says prosecute him wherever you can get him, is pretty extraordinary. It doesn’t say you necessarily need a good reason to prosecute him; it just says, basically, prosecute him. And what it’s reminiscent, to me, is of the program that took place in this country in the ’60s and the ’70s, COINTELPRO, counterintelligence procedures, when the FBI said, “We have to basically destroy the black civil rights movement, the New Left and others, and prosecute them, get them however you can, get rid of them.” And so, the manhunt timeline, even its name is chilling. But that’s what it is. It’s an effort to try and get WikiLeaks and their personnel, wherever they are in the world.

And, of course, we’ve seen some of that. You’ve had people on this show. When people cross borders who are associates with WikiLeaks, they get stopped. They get surveilled all the time. We’ve seen-we’ve seen efforts to take-to basically destroy WikiLeaks by stealing their laptops on a trip that went from Sweden to Germany. We’ve seen efforts across the board, in country after country. Germany, they surveil conferences when WikiLeaks people speak there, everywhere. So, actually, this program is not just an abstraction. This program has been implemented. And the manhunt timeline, I think, is incredibly significant, considering that the manhunt is an effort to locate, find and destroy-in some cases, kill-kill people.

Cartnoon

On This Day In History February 25

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 25 is the 56th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 309 days remaining until the end of the year (310 in leap years).

On this day in Japan, the Plum Blossom Festival is held. The Festival at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto is one one of the most beautiful. The shrine was built in 947, to appease the angry spirit of bureaucrat, scholar and poet Sugawara no Michizane, who had been exiled as a result of political maneuvers of his enemies in the Fujiwara clan.

The shrine was dedicated to Michizane; and in 986, the scholar-bureaucrat was deified and the title of Tenjin (Heavenly Deity) was conferred.

The grounds are filled with Michizane’s favorite tree, the red and white ume or plum blossom, and when they blossom the shrine is often very crowded. Open-air tea ceremonies are hosted by geiko and apprentice maiko from the nearby Kamishichiken district. The plum festival has been held on the same day every year for about 900 years to mark the death of Michizane.

Sugawara no Michizane, August 1, 845 – March 26, 903, was a scholar, poet, and politician of the Heian Period of Japan. He is regarded as an excellent poet, particularly in Chinese poetry.

He was educated in a private school run by his father where he studies to become an official in the Court of the Japanese Emperor. His training and skill with Classical Chinese language and literature afforded him many opportunities to draft edicts and correspondences for officials in the Court in addition to his menial duties. Records show at this time he composed three petitions for Fujiwara no Yoshifusa as well as the Emperor. Michizane also took part in receiving delegations from the Kingdom of Parhae, where Michizane’s skill with Chinese again proved useful in diplomatic exchanges and poetry exchange. In 877, he was assigned to the Ministry of the Ceremonial, which allowed him to manage educational and intellectual matters more than before. While serving as governor of Sanuki Province, he intervened in a Court matter on the side Emperor Uda over Fujiwara no Mototsune and at the end of his term returned to the Court in Kyoto where he served in many positions.

He was appointed ambassador to China in the 890s, but instead came out in support of abolition of the imperial embassies to China in 894, theoretically in consideration for the decline of the Tang Dynasty. A potential ulterior motive may have lain in Michizane’s almost complete ignorance of spoken Chinese; most Japanese at the time only read Chinese, and knew little to nothing about the spoken language. Michizane, as the nominated ambassador to China, would have been presented with a potential loss of face had he been forced to depend on an interpreter. Emperor Uda stopped the practice of sending ambassadors to China by what he understood as persuasive counsel from  Michizane.

Within the end of Emperor Uda reign in 897, Michizane’s position became increasingly vulnerable. In 901, through the political maneuverings of his rival, Fujiwara no Tokihira, Michizane was demoted from his aristocratic rank of junior second to a minor official post at Dazaifu, in Kyushu‘s Chikuzen Province. After his lonely death, plague and drought spread and sons of Emperor Daigo died in succession. The Imperial Palace’s Great Audience Hall (shishinden) was struck repeatedly by lightning, and the city experienced weeks of rainstorms and floods. Attributing this to the angry spirit of the exiled Sugawara, the imperial court built a Shinto shrine called Kitano Tenman-gu in Kyoto, and dedicated it to him. They posthumously restored his title and office, and struck from the record any mention of his exile. Sugawara was deified as Tenjin-sama, or kami of scholarship. Today many Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to him.

Government Trolling

Transcript

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations

By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

24 Feb 2014, 6:25 PM EST

No matter your views on Anonymous, “hacktivists” or garden-variety criminals, it is not difficult to see how dangerous it is to have secret government agencies being able to target any individuals they want – who have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crimes – with these sorts of online, deception-based tactics of reputation destruction and disruption. There is a strong argument to make, as Jay Leiderman demonstrated in the Guardian in the context of the Paypal 14 hacktivist persecution, that the “denial of service” tactics used by hacktivists result in (at most) trivial damage (far less than the cyber-warfare tactics favored by the US and UK) and are far more akin to the type of political protest protected by the First Amendment.

The broader point is that, far beyond hacktivists, these surveillance agencies have vested themselves with the power to deliberately ruin people’s reputations and disrupt their online political activity even though they’ve been charged with no crimes, and even though their actions have no conceivable connection to terrorism or even national security threats. As Anonymous expert Gabriella Coleman of McGill University told me, “targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for expressing their political beliefs, resulting in the stifling of legitimate dissent.” Pointing to this study she published, Professor Coleman vehemently contested the assertion that “there is anything terrorist/violent in their actions.”

Government plans to monitor and influence internet communications, and covertly infiltrate online communities in order to sow dissension and disseminate false information, have long been the source of speculation. Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, a close Obama adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-“independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.

Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government. Ironically, the very same Sunstein was recently named by Obama to serve as a member of the NSA review panel created by the White House, one that – while disputing key NSA claims – proceeded to propose many cosmetic reforms to the agency’s powers (most of which were ignored by the President who appointed them).

But these GCHQ documents are the first to prove that a major western government is using some of the most controversial techniques to disseminate deception online and harm the reputations of targets. Under the tactics they use, the state is deliberately spreading lies on the internet about whichever individuals it targets, including the use of what GCHQ itself calls “false flag operations” and emails to people’s families and friends. Who would possibly trust a government to exercise these powers at all, let alone do so in secret, with virtually no oversight, and outside of any cognizable legal framework?

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Rotting from the head down.

Spy Chief James Clapper: We Can’t Stop Another Snowden

Eli Lake, The Daily Beast

02.23.14

He is the nation’s top intelligence officer at a time when the intelligence community is derided because it can’t keep its secrets, and loathed because some of the secrets it has tried to hide  concern the same American citizens it was charged with protecting. Thanks to rogue contractor Edward Snowden, the machinations of the shadow bureaucracy Clapper heads have for the last eight months been exposed one news story at a time.



Add to this the fact that the legal authority Clapper needs to command the 16 intelligence agencies under his control is murky at best.

And in the last eight months at least, a growing chorus in Congress and the media are calling for him to resign.



Not only did Snowden’s first published disclosure expose a major intelligence operation-the collection of millions of call records under section 215 of the Patriot Act. It also led some members of Congress to conclude that Clapper had lied to them. Last March, Clapper was asked in an unclassified hearing by Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, whether the National Security Agency collects data on hundreds of millions of Americans. Clapper said no such data was collected “wittingly.” He would later say he misunderstood Wyden’s question and thought he was referring to another classified intelligence program. But the damage was done.

Wyden in a statement told The Daily Beast, “It’s true that no one knows what is going through a witness’s head when they are sitting at the witness table, other than the witness himself. Unfortunately, over the past several years a number of senior officials have repeatedly made misleading and inaccurate statements about domestic surveillance at congressional hearings and in other public settings.” Others are less charitable. Last month Sen. Rand Paul, the libertarian Republican from Kentucky, said if Snowden was to face justice, he should “share a jail cell with James Clapper” for lying to Congress.



The Snowden leaks would be horrible to any spy chief, but for a man like Clapper they were particularly horrifying. “This is his life,” said Norton Schwartz, a retired Air Force general who is a friend of Clapper. “This is his community, the thing that he did professionally to defend the nation.”

When Clapper spoke publicly at first about the Snowden disclosures he described the feeling as “literally gut-wrenching.” Here was a man who had spent his life in espionage wars with the Russians, the Viet Cong, and al Qaeda, a man who had spent years railing against leaks. And now, this. “You have to appreciate the sadness that he felt,” Schwartz said. “This was not the result of an act of genius from a foreign intelligence adversary but rather the act of an insider who got past even the most rudimentary of controls.”

And maybe the worst part for Clapper is, he still doesn’t get why Snowden did it. Clapper sees himself as the man who’s opened up the intelligence community to public scrutiny, who keeps the Constitution on his wall, and who’s endured the endless congressional grillings-all while keeping Americans safe. How could Snowden, a fellow intelligence analyst and contractor, not see that? “Maybe if I had I’d understand him better because I have trouble understanding what he did or what he’d do,” the director said. “From my standpoint, the damage he’s done. I could almost accept it or understand it if this were simply about his concerns about so-called domestic surveillance programs. But what he did, what he took, what he has exposed, goes way, way, way beyond the so-called domestic surveillance programs.”

Inside the Mind of James Clapper

By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

24 Feb 2014, 7:50 AM EST

It’s been rather amazing to watch not only the standard roster of government-loyal American journalists, but also those who fancy themselves some sort of cynical critics, uncritically regurgitate the government’s evidence-free assertion that Snowden took and then gave to journalists 1.7 million documents. It amazes me because: (1) anyone at this point who is willing to equate evidence-free government assertions with Truth is drowning in some extreme levels of authoritarianism, by definition; and (2) the government clearly has no idea what Snowden took, as report after report has made crystal clear.



Recall how House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers and former CIA/NSA chief Mike Hayden “joked” at a hearing that Snowden should be put on the U.S. government’s “hit list” and murdered. Last month, BuzzFeed quoted several anonymous Pentagon and intelligence community officials as they laid out their fantasies for how they would like to murder Snowden (“Going back to his flat and he is casually poked by a passerby. He thinks nothing of it at the time starts to feel a little woozy and thinks it’s a parasite from the local water. He goes home very innocently and next thing you know he dies in the shower”). Former CIA chief James Woolsey said “he should be hanged by his neck until he is dead” if convicted of treason, while former UN Ambassador John Bolton revealed an even more detailed fantasy: “My view is that Snowden committed treason, he ought to be convicted of that, and then he ought to swing from a tall oak tree.”

Not only does this underscore the warped pathologies among the glorious leaders of America’s National Security State, but it also highlights the inanity of believing that these kinds of people can and should be trusted with invasive spying powers to be exercised in the dark.



It’s hardly surprising that President Obama regards a proven liar as a “straight shooter”. That’s the same President who regards torture-and-rendition-advocating John Brennan as his high moral priest when deciding who should be put on his “kill list”.

But what’s remarkable here is the self-pity on display from Clapper. He’s gone around the country over the last month branding journalists as “accomplices” for the crime of reporting on the NSA without the slightest regard for the effects that this thuggish behavior has on those journalists, their families, and the news-gathering process.

But what’s even more amazing is that Clapper considers himself some sort of victim rather than what he is: the completely undeserving beneficiary of a system of “justice” in which ordinary and powerless people are imprisoned for trivial offenses at greater numbers than any other nation in the world, while those who wield political power, like him, are free to commit crimes without even losing their powerful jobs, let alone being prosecuted for them. James Clapper should look in the mirror every morning and be extremely grateful for the corrupted political system that has shielded him from the consequences of his crimes even as he tries to criminalize others for doing things that the U.S. Constitution guarantees them the right to do.

Instead, he sees himself as the victim. He has medals on his chest and an important national security state position. It is simply outrageous that some people suggest that he has no right to commit felonies, and it’s infuriating that his adult son has to hear some people (almost none in the media) suggest that his criminal conduct should have the same consequences as when ordinary citizens commit less serious crimes. That’s the refusal to accept any personal responsibility, the view of powerful U.S. officials that they are and must be entirely above the law, the obsessive self-regard, that more than anything else has destroyed Washington’s political culture.

Deep State, the Secret Government Exposed

Former GOP congressional staff member with the powerful House and Senate Budget Committees and author of “The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle Class Got Shafted,” Mike Lofgren was a guest on “Moyers and Company” and discussed with host, Bill Moyers, how elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests.

The Deep State Hiding in Plain Sight



Transcript can ge read here

Mr. Lofgren also wrote this essay in conjunction with the show: Anatomy of the Deep State

There is the visible government situated around the Mall in Washington, and then there is another, more shadowy, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists at the White House or the Capitol. The former is traditional Washington partisan politics: the tip of the iceberg that a public watching C-SPAN sees daily and which is theoretically controllable via elections. The subsurface part of the iceberg I shall call the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power.

During the last five years, the news media has been flooded with pundits decrying the broken politics of Washington. The conventional wisdom has it that partisan gridlock and dysfunction have become the new normal. That is certainly the case, and I have been among the harshest critics of this development. But it is also imperative to acknowledge the limits of this critique as it applies to the American governmental system. On one level, the critique is self-evident: In the domain that the public can see, Congress is hopelessly deadlocked in the worst manner since the 1850s, the violently rancorous decade preceding the Civil War.

As I wrote in The Party is Over, the present objective of congressional Republicans is to render the executive branch powerless, at least until a Republican president is elected (a goal that voter suppression laws in GOP-controlled states are clearly intended to accomplish). President Obama cannot enact his domestic policies and budgets: Because of incessant GOP filibustering, not only could he not fill the large number of vacancies in the federal judiciary, he could not even get his most innocuous presidential appointees into office. Democrats controlling the Senate have responded by weakening the filibuster of nominations, but Republicans are sure to react with other parliamentary delaying tactics. This strategy amounts to congressional nullification of executive branch powers by a party that controls a majority in only one house of Congress.

Despite this apparent impotence, President Obama can liquidate American citizens without due processes, detain prisoners indefinitely without charge, conduct dragnet surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant and engage in unprecedented – at least since the McCarthy era – witch hunts against federal employees (the so-called “Insider Threat Program”). Within the United States, this power is characterized by massive displays of intimidating force by militarized federal, state and local law enforcement. Abroad, President Obama can start wars at will and engage in virtually any other activity whatsoever without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress, such as arranging the forced landing of a plane carrying a sovereign head of state over foreign territory. Despite the habitual cant of congressional Republicans about executive overreach by Obama, the would-be dictator, we have until recently heard very little from them about these actions – with the minor exception of comments from gadfly Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Democrats, save a few mavericks such as Ron Wyden of Oregon, are not unduly troubled, either – even to the extent of permitting seemingly perjured congressional testimony under oath by executive branch officials on the subject of illegal surveillance.

These are not isolated instances of a contradiction; they have been so pervasive that they tend to be disregarded as background noise. During the time in 2011 when political warfare over the debt ceiling was beginning to paralyze the business of governance in Washington, the United States government somehow summoned the resources to overthrow Muammar Ghaddafi’s regime in Libya, and, when the instability created by that coup spilled over into Mali, provide overt and covert assistance to French intervention there. At a time when there was heated debate about continuing meat inspections and civilian air traffic control because of the budget crisis, our government was somehow able to commit $115 million to keeping a civil war going in Syria and to pay at least ¬£100m to the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters to buy influence over and access to that country’s intelligence. Since 2007, two bridges carrying interstate highways have collapsed due to inadequate maintenance of infrastructure, one killing 13 people. During that same period of time, the government spent $1.7 billion constructing a building in Utah that is the size of 17 football fields. This mammoth structure is intended to allow the National Security Agency to store a yottabyte of information, the largest numerical designator computer scientists have coined. A yottabyte is equal to 500 quintillion pages of text. They need that much storage to archive every single trace of your electronic life.

Yes, there is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose. My analysis of this phenomenon is not an expos√© of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day. Nor can this other government be accurately termed an “establishment.” All complex societies have an establishment, a social network committed to its own enrichment and perpetuation. In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself. That said, it is neither omniscient nor invincible. The institution is not so much sinister (although it has highly sinister aspects) as it is relentlessly well entrenched. Far from being invincible, its failures, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, are routine enough that it is only the Deep State’s protectiveness towards its higher-ranking personnel that allows them to escape the consequences of their frequent ineptitude.

The entire article is a must read.

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