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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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July 19, 2013

US intelligence and the rise of a national security state

By Arthur Scott

Only two Presidents have alerted the American public to the dangers of a National Security State. One was Dwight D. Eisenhower who in his Farewell Address to the American public warned the nation of the threat posed by the military –industrial complex when he said:

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.”

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” (

John F. Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs realized the danger emanating from the burgeoning Intelligence Industry that was aligned to the Military –Industrial Complex. He declared afterwards that “I want to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds” firing Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell from the Agency, and in the process alienating powerful operatives.

JFK was confronted by a powerful Cold War military establishment led by a hawkish Joint Chiefs of Staff that was intent on flexing its nuclear muscle during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Relations between the White House and the military were so stormy over Cuba and Vietnam that JFK feared a coup d’état, and to stay its emergence  he advocated release of the  film “Seven Days in May” directed by John Frankenheimer as a warning to the American public of how fragile democracy is.

JFK warned America of the dangers of “secret societies” in his speech to the American Newspaper Publishers Association, and how they threatened American civil liberties when he pointed out:

       “And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know." (

This background provides the historical context to discuss the Intelligence Crisis America finds itself confronted with today by the Edwin Snowden affair.  Intelligence is an appropriate July 4 topic as it revolves around the basic freedoms guarantee by the Bill of Rights (Fourth Amendment) that are being undermined by an expansive National Security State allied with an expansive Corporate Plutocracy and Military Intelligence.

 The origins of National Security State go back to the Cold War and the passage by Congress of the National Security Act in 1947 which created the National Security Council, which advises the President on foreign affairs, and the Central Intelligence Agency which was to acquire intelligence about American enemies. The CIA had two arms: one overt that collected data and the other covert that was engaged in Black ops. In 1949 President Truman established what became known as the National Security Agency with the task of eavesdropping on individual or groups posing a clear national danger.

 Ironically, intelligence operations (Black Ops) under Eisenhower brought about the CIA overthrow of Mosadeq in Iran, Arbenz in Guatemala, and a clandestine operation to depose Castro in the spring of 1961. Though Congressional oversight was written into the legislation through the Armed Services Committee it was rather loosely applied until 1977 when the Senate Church Committee accused the CIA of being a loose cannon, guilty of plotting assassinations of foreign leaders,  and even looked into the assassination of JFK.

Under Johnson and Nixon the reach of the CIA and Intelligence expanded. It was largely responsible for managing the dirty secret war in Southeast Asia that involved the use of napalm, and unauthorized air strikes into Cambodia and Laos, without the approval of Congress or public discussion. (Cf for a more comprehensive list of CIA activities)

Under Nixon, domestic surveillance exploded leading to the creation of the “Plumbers” who were a “specialized investigative group” hired to compromise Daniel Ellsberg for releasing the Pentagon Papers, spying on the Democratic National Committee located in the Watergate, and marginalizing leaders of the civil rights /anti- war movements. The other agency that was deeply involved in pirating the constitution was the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), headed by Attorney General John Mitchell, which had established a secret slush fund to manage the dirty tricks to insure that Nixon was re-elected in 1974. (Cf.campaign_conspiracy=nixon_and_watergate_tmln__plumbers).

 In the 1980’s, the needs of the National Security State again raised its ugly head under President Ronald Reagan leading to the Iran-Contra Crisis or Iran-Gate. Two critical players in this deception were CIA Director Bill Casey and Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council. The context was that the Ayatollah Khomeini needed missiles to combat Iraq, and that in exchange for these missiles Tehran agreed to release the 52 American hostages on the very day Regan was sworn in as President as well as pay handsomely for delivery through Israel. The Contra leg involved training and supplying the American counter-terrorist unit called the Contras to bring about the overthrow of socialist Danny Ortega in Nicaragua despite the fact that Congress through the Bohlen Amendment had prohibited any intelligence involvement. The monies made in selling missiles to Teheran were then funneled to the Contras leading to Congressional hearing and the near impeachment of President Ronald Regan. (

Then George W. Bush came, along with 9/11, and the Patriot Act/Domestic Surveillance, which was then extended by Barack Obama in 2011. Obama’s version even expanded provisions around roving wiretaps, libraries and surveillance of individuals suspected of terrorism. ( The cumulative effect of the Patriot Act was that by now the Intelligence Community, under the National Security Agency led by General Keith Alexander, had shredded the Fourth Amendment/Privacy, and America today found itself living lives in George Orville’s 1984.  For example, it was not until 2007 that National Security Agency’s “Stellar–Wind”, an intelligence surveillance program, which had operated without any oversight and had access to AT&T/Verizon, Yahoo/Google/Microsoft records, was forced to seek approval from the U. S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court called FISA. (

One of the sad ironies of the Patriot Act is that very few in Congress ever read it from cover-to-cover as pointed out in black humor by  Michael Moore in “Fahrenheit 9/11”. Besides “Stellar-Wind” the FBI has a carte blanche investigative powers through “National Security Letters” in which information about suspects must be turned over by telecommunications companies violating due process/protection under the law. (new-details-on-nsas-new-spy-center-and-secrets-from-domestic-eavesdropping-operation-stellar-wind/).

The only check on this exploding Surveillance lies with the FISA Court. The Court consists of 11 judges drawn from the federal district court by Chief Justice Roberts. The problem, however, as raised by Massimo Calabresi of Time, is that FISA “remains too close to the FBI and NSA”. The Court consists of 11 judges drawn from the federal district court selected by Chief Justice Roberts.  In 2012, FISA never turned down one intelligence request out of 1,789. More disturbing according to Edward J. Snowden is that it never rejects metadata inquiries about personal email, cell phones, or I-phones.  Its “Star Chamber” actions have led to the creation of “a secret body of law” based on a legal theory according to NYT columnist Eric Lichtblau of “special needs” that is beyond Congress, the people in whose name it acts, which is dangerous to democracy and transparency. The FISA Court lacks accountability, checks/balances and violates separation of powers emerging in surveillances as a parallel Supreme Court.  Its constitutionality needs to be challenged. (Cf, Massimo  Calbresi, “Watching the Watchers”, Time Magazine,p.12;Eric Lichtblau,  “In Secret, Court Vastly Broadens Powers of N.S.A,” NYT, July 7.).

 In conclusion, Intelligence /Spying have become endemic to the U.S warfare arsenal. It’s part and parcel of the American Empire/Imperial Presidency in which basic freedoms are shredded in the name of National Security which becomes a cover for the Military-Intelligence-Corporate Plutocracy that governs America. Tragically the new rich of Silicon Valley, who claim to adhere to a democratic work ethic, have violated the public trust by capitulating to the needs of Intelligence Agencies. They have been seduced by money/power, by glamour and speed of new technology, and by the need for what Andy Warhol called “fifteen minutes of fame” provided by
FaceBook, Twitter, instant messaging and other social media.

What is shocking is the general apathy of the American public to revelations about the degree of governmental voyeurism and the danger that “spying” poses to an “open society”. The surveillance controversy hopefully will trigger a profound national debate about freedom/security, the relationship between the two, and the undemocratic role of National Security Agencies not to play fair but rather to manipulate, deceive and intimidate the people.  The enemy from within is infinitely more dangerous to basic rights than Al Quaeda.  Snowden perhaps represents a metaphor for “a new generation of Americans”, the Millennials, who although technologically savvy unlike prior generations, Boomers/ Xers, are committed to information transparency, openness and freedom, and who see Intelligence as globally liberating and not politically enslaving. .” Because of the intelligence cover-up, Obama’s popularity, as reported by CNN, has fallen precipitously among young Americans by 17 points.( Cf.,

At present Congress is holding Intelligence hearings and Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan declared “This is unsustainable, it’s outrageous and must be stopped immediately.” This issue of intelligence/privacy will not go away, and will become more heated as Congressional election, 2014, and presidential election, 2016, heat up. The Intelligence controversy has all the makings of another Watergate/Iran-Contra watershed in which America has the opportunity to get its democratic values straight, and to curtail the insidious growth of spying, and the national security agencies that thrive on it.

But as the great Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran wrote:

“And if it is a despot you would dethrone,
            see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed.
For how can a tyrant rule the free and the proud,
            but for a tyranny in their own freedom and a shame in their own pride?
And if it is a care you would cast off, that care has been chosen by you
            rather than imposed upon you.
 And if it is a fear you would dispel, the seat of that fear is in your heart
            and not in the hand of the feared."

Arthur Kane Scott is Professor of Humanities and Cultural Studies at the Dominican University of California and Fellow of American Institute of International Studies