The Power of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA
by Jacob G. Hornberger
In their quest for “safety,” many Americans refuse to confront a discomforting thought: That the national-security establishment, consisting principally of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA, which purportedly exists to keep them “safe,” has actually cost them their freedom and now considers itself to be a permanent part of the U.S. government.
In his Farewell Address, President Dwight Eisenhower warned the American people of the grave danger posed by what he called the military-industrial complex:
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.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, himself experienced the power of the Pentagon. According to Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev, during U.S.-Soviet negotiations to settle the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bobby Kennedy told Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin:
The President is in a grave situation and does not know how to get out of it. We are under very severe stress. In fact we are under pressure from our military to use force against Cuba. Probably at this very moment the President is sitting down to write a message to Chairman Khrushchev. We want to ask you, Mr. Dobrynin, to pass President Kennedy’s message to Chairman Khrushchev through unofficial channels. President Kennedy implores Chairman Khrushchev to accept his offer and to take into consideration the peculiarities of the American system. Even though the President himself is very much against starting a war over Cuba, an irreversible chain of events could occur against his will. That is why the President is appealing directly to Chairman Khrushchev for his help in liquidating this conflict. If the situation continues much longer, the President is not sure that the military will not overthrow him and seize power. The American army could get out of control.
That’s not all. As Wikipedia points out regarding the movie Seven Days in May, which posited the possibility of a military coup in the United States:
President John F. Kennedy had read the novel and believed the scenario as described could actually occur in the United States. According to [John] Frankenheimer in his director’s commentary, production of the film received encouragement and assistance from Kennedy through White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, who conveyed to Frankenheimer Kennedy’s wish that the film be produced and that, although the Pentagon did not want the film made, the President would conveniently arrange to visit Hyannis Port for a weekend when the film needed to shoot outside the White House.
That was more than 50 years ago. Today, the military-industrial complex is infinitely more powerful than it was in the early 1960s. Not only does it have countless congressmen in its hip pocket, it also has a legion of loyal journalists in the mainstream press ready to come to its assistance when circumstances warrant it. Moreover, it has every congressional district and untold number of private-sector businesses now dependent on its largess.
Thirty days after Kennedy’s assassination, former President Harry S. Truman wrote about another important part of the national-security state–the CIA—in the Washington Post:
For some time I have been disturbed by the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas.
I never thought that when I set up the CIA it that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations. Some of the complications and embarrassment I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue—and a subject for cold war enemy propaganda.
Moreover, most everyone is familiar with the way that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover blackmailed members of Congress and even Kennedy himself with secret information about their private lives. In a June 23, 2013, New York Times article entitled, “Where Did Our “Inalienable Rights” Go?” Max Frankel, the Times’ editorial page editor from 1977-1986 and executive editor from 1986-1994, wrote:
Given the history of misused “secrets” in Washington, such questions are by no means paranoid. J. Edgar Hoover used F.B.I. investigations and files to smear the reputations of individuals — even to the point of intimidating presidents. Throughout the government, “security” monitors leaked personnel files to Congressional demagogues like Senator Joseph R. McCarthy to wreck the careers of officials and blacklisted citizens with claims of disloyalty. President Lyndon B. Johnson and other officials used secret files from the Internal Revenue Service to harass and intimidate political opponents. President Richard M. Nixon tried to use the C.I.A. to cover up his Watergate crimes.
In my June 11, 2013, article “Why They Really Spy on the Citizenry,” I pointed out that the real reason that governments wish to acquire information about the private lives of the citizen is to ensure that they don’t buck the system. Once people realize or suspect that the government knows their deepest and most private secrets, some of them are more likely to go along with whatever the national-security state is doing. Otherwise, the implicit threat is: Buck us and we will leak your most private secrets to our loyal operatives in the mainstream press.
Would the NSA ever do such a thing to either the citizenry or government officials? Why wouldn’t it? Read this ominous article on Washingtonsblog.com, which quotes NSA whistleblower Russel Tice, “a key source in the 2005 New York Times report that blew the lid off the Bush administration’s use of warrantless wiretapping”:
Tice: They went after–and I know this because I had my hands literally on the paperwork for these sort of things–they went after high-ranking military officers; they went after members of Congress, both Senate and the House, especially on the intelligence committees and on the armed services committees and some of the–and judicial. But they went after other ones, too. They went after lawyers and law firms. All kinds of–heaps of lawyers and law firms. They went after judges. One of the judges is now sitting on the Supreme Court that I had his wiretap information in my hand. Two are former FISA court judges. They went after State Department officials. They went after people in the executive service that were part of the White House–their own people. They went after antiwar groups. They went after U.S. international–U.S. companies that that do international business, you know, business around the world. They went after U.S. banking firms and financial firms that do international business. They went after NGOs that–like the Red Cross, people like that that go overseas and do humanitarian work. They went after a few antiwar civil rights groups. So, you know, don’t tell me that there’s no abuse, because I’ve had this stuff in my hand and looked at it. And in some cases, I literally was involved in the technology that was going after this stuff….
Collins: Now Russ, the targeting of people that you just mentioned, top military leaders, members of Congress, intelligence community leaders and the—oh, I’m sorry—it was intelligence committees, let me correct that—not intelligence community, and then executive branch appointees. This creates the basis, and the potential for massive blackmail.
Tice: Absolutely! And remember we talked about that before, that I was worried that the intelligence community now has sway over what is going on. Now here’s the big one. I haven’t given you any names. This was is summer of 2004. One of the papers that I held in my hand was to wiretap a bunch of numbers associated with, with a 40-something-year-old wannabe senator from Illinois. You wouldn’t happen to know where that guy lives right now, would you? It’s a big white house in Washington, DC. That’s who they went after. And that’s the president of the United States now.
Yesterday, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald posted an article that preempted an upcoming smear campaign against him by the New York Daily News. Greenwald’s article is entitled “The Personal Side of Taking on the NSA: Emerging Smears.” Greenwald, of course, is the journalist who released the information that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked about the NSA’s massive secret surveillance scheme on the American people and the people of the world.
The New York Daily News article discloses some personal matters in Greenwald’s life many years ago, such as his owing some back taxes to the IRS, his failure to timely pay some other debts, and his involvement with a company that provided adult videos to hotels. (For a hilarious ridicule of the New York Daily News “revelations,” take a look at the following Twitter hashtag, where people are posting all sorts of funny “revelations” about Greenwald: #ggscandals.)
What does that information have to do with the NSA scandal? Nothing. It has absolutely nothing to do with the scandal at all. It is obviously designed to smear Greenwald so that people would be distracted from the real story — the national-security state’s massive secret surveillance scheme on the American citizenry and the people of the world.
As I indicated in my article, “Why They Really Spy on the Citizenry,” this is why national-security state officials broke into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. They figured that if they could smear him with revelations of psychological problems he was having, that would distract attention away from the Pentagon’s lies about the Vietnam War that Ellsberg had exposed with his release of the Pentagon Papers.
Did the New York Daily News acquire some or all of its information about Greenwald from national-security state officials? I don’t know. But I do know this: If it did, it wouldn’t surprise me and my hunch is that no one else would be surprised. This is precisely why governments love to acquire information about people’s private lives—so that they can shut people up by threatening to leak their personal secrets to their loyal agents in the mainstream press. It’s true that this type of garbage doesn’t work to shut up principled people like Greenwald, but it does send a powerful message to everyone else: “Reveal our secrets and we will reveal yours.”
Of much more concern, of course, is Russel Tice’s suggestion that President Obama was among those who have been wiretapped before he became president. Is that within the realm of possibility? Why not? That’s precisely the type of thing J. Edgar Hoover was doing—acquiring private information about members of Congress and presidents to make certain that they went along with what he wanted.
One thing’s for sure: That would certainly explain Obama’s extreme, unusual, and unexplained flip-flop on civil liberties after he assumed the presidency. (For a recapitulation of the Obama’s flip-flop statements, see “Obama’s Transformation from National Security Dove to Hawk Is the Norm: Presidents Are Captive to America’s Imperial Power” by Gary Younge in the June 22, 2013, issue of the Guardian.)
Finally, if you have any doubts of the power of what has effectively become a fourth branch of the U.S. government–the most powerful branch–the national-security branch–the branch consisting of the military establishment, the CIA, and the NSA—take a look at this photograph of important people viewing the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Notice who is sitting in the head chair and who is sitting in the side chair.