The CIA spying scandal, Watergate and the decay of American democracy

Eric London

In the nine days since Senator Dianne Feinstein revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency had spied on Senate Intelligence Committee staffers investigating CIA torture programs, the issue has been all but dropped by the political establishment and the media.

The White House and Congress, including Feinstein herself, are seeking to move any further discussion of the matter behind closed doors. The aim is to prevent any broader public airing of the fundamental democratic issues at stake in both the spying and the underlying crime, torture, which the CIA and the Obama administration are seeking to cover up.

Involved are impeachable offenses implicating the intelligence agencies and top officials in the administration, including the president. In her remarks on the Senate floor last week, Feinstein charged that the CIA violated the “separation of powers” principle embedded in the US Constitution as well as the Fourth Amendment and legal prohibitions against domestic spying. Since these remarks, the White House has publicly defended CIA Director John Brennan and acknowledged that the Obama administration deliberately withheld documents relating to the Senate investigation.

It is instructive to compare the actions of the CIA and the White House today to the Articles of Impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon approved by the House Judiciary Committee on July 27, 1974. Nixon was accused of engaging in a criminal conspiracy to steal Democratic Party documents relating to the 1972 elections from an office in the Watergate Hotel. He used the CIA and other intelligence agencies to cover up the break-in and intimidate political opponents in order to obstruct the investigation into the incident.

Report confirms illegality of NSA bulk-collection programs

Eric London

A report issued January 23 by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) on the legality of the government’s domestic spying programs amounts to an admission that the programs are against the law and that the Obama administration may have violated the US Constitution. But far from representing a serious attempt to curb the growth of the police state apparatus, the panel’s report is an exercise in damage control.

The make-up and history of the panel are indications of the panel’s true character. PCLOB was formed in 2004 by Congress as a hollow response to the public opposition engendered by the anti-democratic measures of the Bush administration. But despite the government’s repeated violations of civil liberties over the past decade, the panel had not held hearings on any substantive matter until November 2013.

Its five members—whose only “powers” are to make recommendations to the president—are hand picked by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The current members represent the pinnacles of the political establishment: they were respectively appointed from the Department of Justice, the federal judiciary, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Chamber of Commerce.

The content of the report makes clear that the authors are motivated not by a genuine desire to defend democratic rights, but rather by a desire to limit the damage that has been done by the Snowden revelations.

Bradley Manning’s statement: A forced “confession” concludes a drumhead tribunal

Eric London

Army PFC Bradley Manning addressed the military tribunal at Ft. Meade, Maryland yesterday in the eleventh day of post-trial sentencing hearings. The 25-year-old whistle-blower was found guilty last month on 19 counts, including six charges of espionage. He faces up to 90 years in prison.

Manning’s comments yesterday reflect the tremendous element of coercion in the entire proceedings. In all, the episode more closely resembled a Stalinist show trial than a democratic court of law.

“First, your honor, I want to start off with an apology,” he told Army Col. Denise Lind, the military judge overseeing the proceedings. “I’m sorry that my actions hurt people, and I’m sorry that it hurt the United States. I understand what I was doing and the decision that I made. I’m sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions.”

Noting that he would “have to pay a price for my decisions and actions,” Manning pled for a lower sentence.

“How on Earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly believe I could change the world for the better over those with the proper authority? I know that I can and will be a better person. I hope that you can give me the opportunity to prove, not through words but through conduct, that I can return to a productive place in society.”

Manning delivered these comments in a visible state of despondency—he shook and grew tearful as he spoke. That a defendant in a legal proceeding is forced to apologize for and denounce his acts of opposition underscores the advanced state of decay of American democracy. Such sordid events bear the badge of a police state.

US government using license plates to track movements of millions

Eric London

A report issued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Wednesday details an immense operation through which nearly 1 billion license plate records of hundreds of millions of drivers are tracked and huge databases are amassed, providing the American government with access to the history and recent whereabouts of the majority of the US population.

For years, a network of federal security agencies, local police departments and private companies have been using automatic license plate readers on police cruisers, in parking lots, at traffic intersections—even through smartphone apps—to photograph cars and their drivers and to record license plate numbers with the matching time, date and location.

“More and more cameras, longer retention periods, and widespread sharing allow law enforcement agents to assemble the individual puzzle pieces of where we have been over time into a single, high-resolution image of our lives,” the report says.

“The systems can also plot all vehicles at a particular location, such as the location where a crime—or a political protest—took place” through a procedure called “geofencing,” whereby “law enforcement or private companies can construct a virtual fence around a designated geographical area, to identify each vehicle entering that space.”

The use of this technology for such authoritarian procedures gives the lie to the claims of the government and security apparatus that the purpose of the license-tracking program is to stop crime.

A letter from Professor Geoffrey R. Stone, liberal advocate of a police state

Tom Carter

We invited Professor Geoffrey R. Stone to respond to the article, “Liberal advocates of a police state turn savagely against Edward Snowden,” by David North and Eric London, posted on the World Socialist Web Site on June 14 [reproduced below]. In the article, the authors condemned those erstwhile liberal commentators who had jumped on the reactionary campaign to label NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a “traitor” and a “criminal.” Specifically, North and London observed that Professor Stone’s recent anti-Snowden article in the Huffington Post “advances arguments in support of authoritarian rule that totally contradict positions” he previously advanced. Professor Stone responded by email to Eric London on June 19. His letter, in its entirety, reads as follows:

“Thanks for sharing. What you seem not to understand is that situations are different and not everything is or should be on one side of the line or the other. Everything I’ve said about Snowden is perfectly consistent with everything I’ve ever said on this subject. Although I think we need a healthy distrust of our public officials, I also oppose the arrogance of a single, unelected individual who takes it upon himself, with no lawful authority or justification, to disclose properly classified information to persons unauthorized to receive it just because HE thinks the information shouldn’t be classified. The plain and simple fact is that Snowden betrayed the rule of law and the trust of the American people when he decided, without any legal authority, to disregard the judgments of the executive branch, the Congress and the judiciary in a way that put the security of the nation at risk. Even if what he did has beneficial consequences, he had no legal or moral right to do it. He is a criminal.”

The WSWS takes the opportunity presented by Professor Stone’s response to reply to his letter and explain its significance. From the first line to the last, Professor Stone’s letter confirms the WSWS’s frequent warning that the entire political establishment—including its “liberal” sections—is openly hostile to the democratic principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and in the later Civil War amendments. Professor Stone speaks for a significant section of academic intellectuals who are repudiating their previous commitment to democratic rights and advancing positions that would legitimize the establishment of a military-police dictatorship in the United States. Let us proceed to an examination of Stone’s condemnation of Edward Snowden.

Congress, intelligence officials, join in attacking NSA whistleblower Snowden

Eric London

Alexander and company are given center stage not to “let the public know the true facts,” but rather to peddle a series of lies in an attempt to quell widespread opposition to the international programs of government surveillance.

Government and intelligence officials appeared before Congress yesterday as part of the cover-up of the Obama administration’s massive international surveillance programs. The meeting was convened as a joint effort to attack whistleblower Edward Snowden and downplay the assault on democratic rights that he has made public.

The title of House Intelligence Committee hearing — “How Disclosed National Security Agency Programs Protect Americans, and Why Disclosure Aids Our Adversaries” — made clear its anti-democratic purpose and content.

The committee meeting came one day after Snowden issued a defiant response to the government threats, saying in an Q&A on the Guardian website that more revelations are in store, and that the “[t]ruth is coming and it cannot be stopped.”

Republican House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rodgers responded by saying in his opening remarks: “It is at times like these when our enemies within become almost as damaging as the enemies outside.”

The testimonies provided by NSA head General Keith Alexander, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce, NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis, General Counsel to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Robert Litt, and Deputy Attorney General James Cole followed a similar script, consisting of unsubstantiated tales of thwarted terrorist attacks mixed with threats of future attacks.

NSA whistleblower Snowden issues defiant response to government threats and media lies

Eric London

Whistleblower Edward Snowden spoke publicly yesterday for the first time in a week and issued a defiant response to denunciations of his actions by both corporate-controlled parties in the US. He declared, “All I can say right now is the US government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming and it cannot be stopped.”

Since releasing documents exposing secret spying programs targeting Americans and non-Americans alike, Snowden has been the target of an increasingly vicious campaign in the media and from government officials. The Obama administration is preparing criminal charges, and Democrats and Republicans have denounced him as a “traitor.” Meanwhile, polls show broad public support for the 29-year-old former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA).

In comments posted Monday on the web site of the British Guardian newspaper, Snowden maintained that he is not deterred by the political establishment’s slanderous campaign or the fact that he could be targeted for assassination by US intelligence agencies. [He] issued a stinging response to accusations from former Vice President Dick Cheney and others that he is a “traitor.” He said,

“[I]t’s important to bear in mind that I’m being called a traitor by men like former Vice President Dick Cheney. This is a man who gave us the warrantless wiretapping scheme as a kind of atrocity warm-up on the way to deceitfully engineering a conflict that has killed over 4,400 and maimed nearly 32,000 Americans, as well as leaving over 100,000 Iraqis dead."

“Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, [Democratic Senator Dianne] Feinstein, and [Republican Representative Peter] King, the better off we all are. If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school.”

By the rich, and for the rich: The Fifty Wealthiest Members of Congress

Eric London

The lives of these members of Congress compare starkly with the realities that their constituents face on a day-to-day basis.

Last week’s report by Washington, D.C. political blog The Hill details the vast wealth of the nation’s legislative representatives and serves as an indictment of the anti-democratic nature of the American political system. The “50 Wealthiest Lawmakers” list shows that dozens of congressional politicians have amassed huge fortunes while simultaneously slashing the wages, benefits and social services of the American people.

In other words, not only are these members of Congress overseeing a massive transfer of wealth from the working class to the ruling class; they are also profiting from this transfer.

The report reveals the bipartisan composition of the extremely wealthy in congress. Seven of the top 10 richest members of congress are Democrats; overall, Republicans make up 60 percent of the list.

According to The Hill, 17 members of Congress have amassed fortunes of over $20 million, and a total of 35 members of Congress have a net worth valued at over $10 million.

These numbers are slightly skewed compared with past surveys. Due to the passage of the STOCK Act, members of Congress now are legally required to report mortgages as liabilities. The STOCK Act was passed after revelations were made regarding banks giving members of Congress and their staffs “friendly” deals on their personal mortgages in return for favorable legislation.

The list also sheds light on the nature of wealth accumulation amongst the super-rich in America. Among the elite today, wealth accumulation has less to do with productive work than it does with parasitism, inheritance, and family ties.

Wisconsin shooting reveals connections between US military and fascist groups

Eric London

The American government and military must increasingly rely on the most reactionary ideological views to justify its imperialist wars, occupations and brutal subjugation of foreign populations.

A critical element, which has been virtually ignored in all the media coverage of last Sunday’s massacre at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin is the close connections between the US Armed Forces and various fascistic and white supremacist organizations. Wade Michael Page, a neo-Nazi and former US Army service member, murdered six people and critically wounded three others August 5 before reportedly turning the gun on himself after being shot by police.

US Armed Forces recruiters, officers and high-ranking executive branch officials have quietly provided fascist organizations with opportunities to recruit soldiers into the ranks of the National Socialist Movement, Hammerskins, White Military Men and National Alliance.

Page, a self-described member of the Hammerskins, first began to actively sympathize with neo-Nazism during his time in the US military, which lasted from 1992 to 1998. Afterwards, Page made his fascist sympathies clear in hundreds of posts on various neo-Nazi websites and also attempted to purchase goods from the National Alliance in 2000. Both the Hammerskins and the National Alliance advocate a genocidal “racial holy war” and the establishment of a government modeled on Hitler’s Nazi regime.

“He really started to identify with neo-Nazism during his time in the military,” said University of Nebraska criminologist Pete Simi, who met Page during a 2001 study on white power groups. “And specifically, what he told me at one point was that, if you join the military and you’re not a racist, then you certainly will be by the time you leave.”

The Hammerskins, National Alliance, and a variety of other neo-Nazi groups were continuously involved in recruitment efforts at numerous Armed Forces bases across the US during the time of Page’s military service, according to reports by the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center. The findings point to especially high levels of fascist activity at Fort Bragg Army Base in North Carolina, where Page was stationed between 1995 and 1998.

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