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Engelhardt: Entering the Intelligence Labyrinth

By: Tom Engelhardt Tuesday September 30, 2014 8:36 am

This article originally appeared at To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Note for TomDispatch Readers: My new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (with an introduction by Glenn Greenwald), is now available everywhere.  If you’ve been a TomDispatch obsessive all these years, it’s your job to make it a success.  I’m counting on you!  If you want to support TomDispatch in an even bigger way, I’ll send you a signed, personalized copy of the book for a $100 donation to this site (which truly does help keep us alive). Check out the offer at our donation page.

About Shadow Government, Adam Hochschild, author most recently of To End All Wars, had this to say: “Tom Engelhardt is an iconoclast, but he also is the latest exemplar of a great American tradition. Like George Seldes and I.F. Stone before him, he has bypassed conventionally minded newspapers and magazines, and with his remarkable website and in books like this, found a way of addressing readers directly about the issues central to our time. Again and again, he goes to the heart of the matter, drawing on his awesomely wide reading, his knowledge of history, and his acute political radar system that uncovers small but deeply revealing nuggets of news and often makes me feel, enviously: how could I have missed that?”  And then there’s the book’s stunning cover photo (as well as the ones inside) by Trevor Paglen whose shots of the headquarters of our various intelligence services make you feel as if you’ve landed on another planet, which in a way you have. Tom]

Failure Is Success
How American Intelligence Works in the Twenty-First Century
By Tom Engelhardt

What are the odds? You put about $68 billion annually into a maze of 17 major intelligence outfits. You build them glorious headquarters.  You create a global surveillance state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their communications in staggering quantities.  Your employees even morph into avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for… well, the salacious hell of it.  Your employees even use aspects of the system you’ve created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane world, that act of “spycraft” gains its own name: LOVEINT.


Imagine There’re No Countries

By: David Swanson Tuesday September 30, 2014 8:01 am


A serious case has been made repeatedly by unknown scholars and globally celebrated geniuses for well over a century that a likely step toward abolishing war would be instituting some form of global government. Yet the peace movement barely mentions the idea, and its advocates as often as not appear rather naive about Western imperialism; certainly they are not central to or well integrated into the peace movement or even, as far as I can tell, into peace studies academia. (Here’s a link to one of the main advocacy groups for world government promoting a U.S. war on ISIS.)

All too often the case for world government is even made in this way: Global government would guarantee peace, while its absence guarantees war. The silliness of such assertions, I suspect, damages what may be an absolutely critical cause. Nobody knows what global government guarantees, because it’s never been tried. And if national and local governments and every other large human institution are any guide, global government could bring a million different things depending on how it’s done. The serious question should be whether there’s a way to do it that would make peace more likely, without serious risk of backfiring, and whether pursuing such a course is a more likely path to peace than others.

Does the absence of world government guarantee war? I haven’t seen any proof. Of 200 nations, 199 invest far less in war than the United States. Some have eliminated their militaries entirely. Costa Rica is not attacked because it lacks a military. The United States is attacked because of what its military does. Some nations go centuries without war, while others seemingly can’t go more than half an election cycle.  In their book One World Democracy, Jerry Tetalman and Byron Belitsos write that nations do not go to war because they are armed or inclined toward violence but because “they are hopelessly frustrated by the fact that they have no legislative or judicial forum in which their grievances can be heard and adjudicated.”

Can you, dear reader, recall a time when the U.S. public had a grievance with a foreign country, lamented the absence of a global court to adjudicate it, and demanded that Congress declare and the Pentagon wage a war?  How many pro-war marches have you been on, you lover of justice? When the Taliban offered to let a third country put Bin Laden on trial, was it the U.S. public that replied, “No way, we want a war,” or was it the President? When the U.S. Vice President met with oil company executives to plan the occupation of Iraq, do you think any of them mentioned their frustration at the weakness of international law and arbitration? When the U.S. President in 2013 could not get Congress or the public to accept a new war on Syria and finally agreed to negotiate the removal of chemical weapons without war, why was war the first choice rather than the second? When advocates of world government claim that democracies don’t wage war, or heavily armed nations are not more likely to wage war, or nations with cultures that celebrate war are not more likely to wage war, I think they hurt their cause.

When you start up a campaign to abolish the institution of war, you hear from all kinds of people who have the solution for you. And almost all of them have great ideas, but almost all of them think every other idea but their own is useless. So the solution is world government and nothing else, or a culture of peace and nothing else, or disarmament and nothing else, or ending racism and nothing else, or destroying capitalism and nothing else, or counter-recruitment and nothing else, or media reform and nothing else, or election campaign funding reform and nothing else, or creating peace in our hearts and radiating it outward and nothing else, etc. So those of us who find value in all of the above, have to encourage people to pick their favorite and get busy on it. But we also have to try to prioritize. So, again, the serious question is whether world government should be pursued and whether it should be a top priority or something that waits at the bottom of the list.

There are, of course, serious arguments that world government would make everything worse, that large government is inevitably dysfunctional and an absolutely large government would be dysfunctional absolutely.  Serious, if vague, arguments have been made in favor of making our goal “anarcracy” rather than world democracy. These arguments are overwhelmed in volume by paranoid pronouncements like the ones in this typical email I received:

Which Candidate for WI Governor Has a Plan that Relies More Heavily on ObamaCare?

By: WI Budget Project Tuesday September 30, 2014 7:19 am


A Scott Walker campaign ad that criticizes Mary Burke for her stance relating to the Affordable Care Act (aka the ACA or “Obamacare”) is based on a false premise. It incorrectly equates supporting the expansion of BadgerCare with supporting an expansion of “Obamacare.”

Although I don’t think one can say that either candidate for Wisconsin governor supports “expanding Obamacare,” I believe a strong case can be made that the current Governor’s plan relies more heavily on a key part of the Affordable Care Act. For reasons I’ll explain below, his changes to BadgerCare do more than Burke’s alternative to expand the reach of the core part of the ACA – the new federal Marketplace for health insurance and the substantial federal funding to subsidize Marketplace insurance plans.

One of the major problems with the ad is that implementing part of a federal law and taking advantage of federal funding is not the same thing as supporting expansion of that law. Ask any of the nine Republican Governors who have expanded their Medicaid programs and taken the federal funding, which is financing the full cost of covering newly eligible adults. I have no doubt that every one of them would argue very strongly and convincingly that their support for expanding their state Medicaid programs does not equate to supporting an expansion of “Obamacare.”

Even if you think that implementing a part of the ACA is in some way equivalent to supporting its expansion, there’s another substantial problem with applying that reasoning in this case. That problem is summed up by the headline for an MSNBC story that succinctly and accurately described the changes that the Governor incorporated into his last budget bill, “Scott Walker finds an alternative to Medicaid: Obamacare.”

Rather than expanding BadgerCare coverage for childless adults to 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL) and qualifying Wisconsin for full federal funding of newly eligible adults, the Governor’s budget cut in half the eligibility ceiling for parents – reducing it to 100% of the poverty level. His budget uses those savings to partially offset the cost of ending the BadgerCare waiting list for childless adults below 100% of the poverty level. The following table compares the Governor’s plan with prior Wisconsin law and the alternative endorsed by Burke.

Comparison of Alternative Approaches to BadgerCare and Marketplace Eligibility

Prior WI law

Governor’s budget

Burke proposal

BadgerCare eligibility for parents Up to 200% of FPL Up to 100% of FPL Up to 138% of FPL
BadgerCare eligibility for childless adults Up to 200% of FPL, but long waiting list Up to 100% of FPL, no waiting list Up to 138% of FPL, no waiting list
Eligibility for subsidized Marketplace coverage NA Adults between 100% and 400% of FPL Adults between 138% and 400% of FPL

The Governor justifies the decision to knock about 60,000 people out of BadgerCare on the basis of moving them into Marketplace insurance plans. As the MSNBC article put it, “To avoid expanding Medicaid, he is handing off Medicaid patients to another federal program.” As the table helps illustrate, the Governor’s plan puts more people into the “Obamacare” Marketplace, whereas the Burke plan is the closer of the two to prior Wisconsin law.

A recent PolitiFact article reviewed the claim in the Obamacare ad that Burke “supports Obamacare unequivocally and wants to expand it.” After stating that there is no evidence that Burke unequivocally supports the ACA, the PolitiFact article nevertheless calls the ad “half true” because it buys into the premise that expanding BadgerCare is equivalent to expanding ObamaCare.

I often disagree with PolitiFact ratings, but I usually think that they do a good job of laying out the relevant facts and making readers better informed about the subject of the disputed claim. However, in this instance there is absolutely no discussion of the reasons why many people, including nine GOP Governors, would vehemently disagree with the assessment that supporting an expansion of Medicaid (or BadgerCare) can be likened to expanding Obamacare, while making more people eligible for subsidized Marketplace coverage is not.

It’s very important for the public and policymakers to understand how Wisconsin’s BadgerCare choices relate to the ACA. Next year state lawmakers are going to have to figure out how to fill a $760 million hole in the budget for Medicaid and BadgerCare. And as they are grappling with that, some members of Congress will again be trying to repeal the ACA, including the funding that subsidizes Marketplace insurance plans. Thus, I was surprised and disappointed that PolitiFact failed to mention that Wisconsin is now relying on the Marketplace to provide insurance for thousands of parents previously covered in BadgerCare.


Over Easy: Shortwave Radio

By: cmaukonen Tuesday September 30, 2014 4:50 am

Radio News cover

Good morning Firedogs. Thought I would go into a bit of history on communicating thoughts, ideas and positions. There is something different about hearing a voice tell you something rather that reading words on a page. The impact can be quite different, which is probably one of the reasons that even in this day and age broadcasting still endures.

Long before cell phones and satellites and cable and the internet, if a country or group wanted your particular message to get out to the world, shotwave radio was the medium of choice. By international agreement these frequencies are divided up amongst various services.   Usually referred to by their wave length in meters. IE 31 meter band or 60 meter band or 25 meter band. For international broadcasting and marine and aviation and governmental and general utilities and amateur radio.

During the cold war years before satellite use, the shortwave bands or HF – High Frequency bands were hopping I can tell you. Nearly every country large and small had an international broadcast station, broadcasting in their native language as well as English and at least two additional languages. Such as Spanish and French. A number of the larger one broadcasting to some area 24 hours a day. With facilities in a number of countries around the globe, usually current or former colonies.  Each giving their version of The Truth™ AKA propaganda. And lets face it, all broadcasting is propaganda of one type or another.

For all official broadcasting there is of course the opposition, the clandestine radio or pirate radio stations. Those some of these proved to be not what they seemed. Such as Radio Swan or WNYW [Radio New York Worlwide], both of which were funded in whole or partially by the CIA. And both magically disappeared or were sold when this information came out. Of course the governments targeted have tried with very limited success to jam or remove them. Not all pirate radio was political in nature. Radio Caroline   and Radio North Sea International broadcast for years simply to give people an alternative music station. And many more have come and gone. Just a search of clandestine radio on google will bring up page after page dedicated to just this one aspect.

Nearly all of the big broadcasters though have been shut down. Even the Voice of Russia. Sill on the air though are China and Cuba and a lot of the smaller countries. Not to mention those whose intended audience is in their own country or adjacent countries. As well as a score of religious broadcasters. Piping out their messages to non believers and far right broadcasters piping out paranoia that can make FOX look positively tame.

Then there are the Numbers Stations®. Exactly what the name says, stations that come the air that either speak or send lists of number in morse code and that’s all. The current thought being that they are sending messages in a cryptic, probably one time use one way code. Not unlike the Nazi Enigma machine. Amateur and professional and government sleuths have been trying for years to break the codes and pinpoint the locations of these broadcasts but mostly to no avail. And unlike sending of the internet, they seem to be fairly secure.  To this day they can be heard and spark an interest.

So there you have it. And interesting past time. Have your say Firedogs on what ever subject comes to mind. As you can see, others have to world wide listeners.

And old educational video.


US Global Power in the 21st Century: Military or Economic Imperialism?

By: GREYDOG Tuesday September 30, 2014 2:42 am

By James Petras99GetSmart


Despite vast amounts of imperial data to the contrary, the great majority of writers on imperialism continue to describe and analyze US imperialism strictly in economic terms, as an expansion of “capital accumulation”, “accumulation on a world scale”.

In fact the major and minor US imperial wars have more to do with “capital dis-accumulation”, in the sense that trillion dollar flows have gone out from the US, hundreds of billions of dollars in profits from resource sites have been undermined, markets for exports have been severely weakened and exploitable productive labor has been uprooted.  At the same time US imperialist state ‘dis-accumulates capital’, multi-national corporations, especially in the extractive sector are expanding, “accumulating capital” throughout Latin America.

This new configuration of power, the conflicting and complementary nature of 21st century US imperialism, requires that we anchor our analysis in the real, existing behavior of imperial state and extractive capitalist policymakers.  The basic premise informing this essay is that there are two increasingly divergent forms of imperialism:  military driven intervention, occupation and domination; and economic expansion and exploitation of resources, markets and labor by invitation of the ‘host country’.

We will proceed by examining the choices of imperial strategy, in a historical – comparative framework and the alternatives which were selected or rejected.  Through an analysis of the practical decisions taken regarding ‘imperial expansion’ we can obtain insights into the real nature of US imperialism.  The study of imperial strategic choices, past and present, state and corporate, requires three levels of analysis: global, national and sectoral.

Global Strategies:  US Imperial State and the MNC

US imperial state invested trillions of dollars in military expenditures, hundreds of thousands of military personnel into wars in the Middle East (Iraq, Yemen, and Syria), North and East Africa (Libya, Somalia), South Asia (Afghanistan) and imposed sanctions on Iran costing the US hundreds of billions in “capital dis-accumulation”.

The US corporate elite, driven out of Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere where US military imperialism was engaged, chose to invest in manufacturing in China and extractive sectorsthroughout Latin America.

In other words the US imperial state strategists either chose to expand in relatively backward areas (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen) or imposed under-development by  destroying or sanctioning lucrative extractive economies (Iraq, Libya, Iran).

In contrast the MNC chose the most dynamic expanding zones where militarist imperialism was least engaged – China and Latin America.  In other words “capital did not follow the flag” – it avoided it.

Moreover, the zones where extractive capital was most successful in terms of access, profits and stability were those where their penetration was based on negotiated contracts between sovereign nations and CEO’s – economic imperialism by invitation.

In contrast in the priority areas of expansion chosen by imperial state strategists, entry and domination was by force, leading to the destruction of the means of production and the loss of access to the principle sites of extractive exploitation. 

MENA Mashup: Abbas, Bibi, and ISIS

By: CTuttle Monday September 29, 2014 5:30 pm

Seriously, why won’t Abu Mazen sign the Rome Statute…?

This is the question that is etched on everyone’s mind. If there is only one issue that Palestinians agree upon today it is the need for President Mahmoud Abbas to sign the Rome Statute. That would clear the way to file charges in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israeli officials for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

By stalling the process Abbas has committed three cardinal errors. First, he has enabled Israelis to escape punishment; second, he has undermined and squandered the international support for Palestinian rights; and third, he has failed to answer to the call of the ICC and the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) issued one year after Palestine became a non-member state of the UN…

In an obvious attempt to clear the air once and for all, the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda wrote on the Guardian’s Comment is Free pages an article headed “The truth about the ICC and Gaza”. She confirmed that “Palestine could now join the Rome Statute” after the UN General Assembly had formally recognised it as a non-member state on 29 November 2012.

As it stands, the onus is squarely upon Abbas personally. In a letter to the Paris-based legal firm Gilles Devers & Associes, which is acting on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, Bensouda said on 14 August, “In accordance with article 7 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), only the Head of State, Head of Government and Minister of Foreign Affairs are considered lawful representatives of a State by virtue of their functions and without having to produce full powers, for the purpose of expressing a State’s consent to be bound by a treaty.”

Despite the overwhelming support among Palestinians, the Director-General of the human rights organisation Al Haq, Shawan Jabarin, explained that in the past the PA had deferred its signing of the Rome Statute because it was unwilling to anger Israel, America and some European countries. At other times it claimed that it was awaiting the agreement of the Palestinian factions, particularly Hamas. Abbas insisted that the resistance movement should give a written undertaking of support to approach the ICC, acknowledging that it bears full national and international responsibility for the consequences…

As Ali noted in the TRNN clip… PLO officials divided before Abbas UN speech

Talk surely is cheap, Abu Mazen…!

The Re-invent Democracy Platform and MMT

By: letsgetitdone Monday September 29, 2014 4:12 pm

The MMT Uptake Problem

Proponents of the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) approach to macroeconomics have had many successes since the approach was first synthesized in coherent form by Warren Mosler. There have been successful predictions of economic conditions: much work showing that the historical record accords with the MMT point of view, rather than the views of other approaches and paradigms, and also many instances where representatives of other approaches to economics have suddenly begun to use economic views first put forward by MMT economists.

So, it’s surely true that MMT has been making progress in its quest to become the dominant economic paradigm guiding macroeconomic and fiscal policy in nations. But for some of us writing about issues relating to MMT progress seems painfully slow. A big part of the reason for slow progress is the difficulty of getting MMT views into the mass media consistently, which is seen as a necessary step in getting them popular currency.

Can John Oliver Writer Scott Sherman Help Expose Gen. Keane’s General Dynamics Connection?

By: spocko Monday September 29, 2014 4:09 pm

Hey Scott,

I’d love you to do a segment for John Oliver about how the network TV shows aren’t telling the public that the retired generals selling the Syrian bombing and ISIS war actually work for the military contractors who profit from the war. UPDATE: Cost of U.S. campaign against the Islamic State likely closing in on $1 billion

You might be thinking, “Didn’t the New York Times already write this story after the Iraq war?” You are correct sir! It was written in 2008. Link  It was about the last war. Now there are all new retired generals for this war.

Here’s the TL;DR of Dan Bastow’s Pulitzer winning article:

All the networks got busted for their military analysts having financial conflicts of interest.

Then why does Last Week Tonight need to do a segment? Because they are at it again. And they are ignoring the people calling them on it. That’s why we need you.

Two weeks ago Lee Fang of The Nation wrote Who’s Paying the Pro-War Pundits?  The retired generals going on the TV networks pushing for ISIS and Syrian bombing, drone strikes and more “boots on the ground.” In most cases the networks didn’t tell viewers that they actual worked for General Dynamics, Raytheon and whatever name Blackwater is calling itself this week.

Fang’s piece built on an extensive 2013 report, Conflicts of Interest in the Syria Debate by the Public Accountability Initiative. I wrote to Fang and asked what the media response was. Nada.  The TV media ignore journalism critics because they can. “Ohh what are they going to do? Shame us in print? Ohhh I’m so scared.” As you learned at the Daily show, it’s harder for them to ignore comedy TV shows. That’s why we need you.

They even tried to avoid the New York Times piece. My favorite comment from that piece was, “A spokeswoman for Fox News said executives ‘refused to participate’ in this article.”

They had to deal with the Times piece because there was a financial conflict issue. Therefore the network lawyers, accountants and HR people were forced to act, even though the spokespeople didn’t. And that is another reason we need you, not only will everyone at the networks watch the show, it now has a reputation of doing journalism and getting your viewers to act. (BTW, the FCC sends its hate.)

So how did the network’s lawyers, accountants and HR people avoid the financial conflict of interest problems? Easy, they simply don’t hire the generals to be their military analysts anymore! Clever boots eh?

Networks accountants love it, they save money and don’t need to send out all those pesky 1099 forms! Plus, since the generals aren’t employees, they don’t have to follow any annoying HR internal guidelines, corporate ethics rules or SEC reporting rules for a publicly traded company. The retired generals are now just ‘guests’ with opinions!

What this tells us is that unless the TV networks have some sort of legal or financial pressure, they’ll continue to cover for the people making money on this war.

But does it really matter if everyone knows?