Chalmers Johnson on Intelligence Privatization!

Posted on August 1st, 2008 in Culture,Politics by Robert Miller

In a recent TomDispatch, Chalmers Johnson , author of the trilogy of books on Blowback describes what has happened to the intelligence community as a component of the Military-Industrial complex over the past ten years. In his most recent book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic , the third volume of his Blowback Trilogy , he called for the CIA to be shut down. As a former CIA consultant, he doesn’t hesitate to describe the entire organization as not only worthless, but destructive to our own self-interests and our constitutional form of government. Johnson is one of the most knowledgeable scholars we have on this topic, as he worked as a consultant for the agency earlier in his career when he was on the other end of the political spectrum. He currently views the giant intelligence community as a threat to our democracy and goes much further in his book by charging that the secrecy of the CIA agency is almost purely a ploy to save itself from public embarrassment. If the public knew of the silly actions that this agency has undertaken, many of which have created our current problems in Iran, Iraq and South America through Blowbacks, the agencies survivability would and should be in serious jeopardy. But instead, we see giant growth.

Not only is our intelligence budget growing dramatically (it is a top secret budget, but estimates run as high as $ 66 billion, meaning it has doubled in the last ten years). There are 16 agencies that constitute our intelligence community. This community is in the process of making its presence permanent and unalterable because it is fast becoming a new jobs program, through industrial extensions. Not only is this program growing, but its expansion into a privatized intelligence community represents a new runaway threat to our constitutional government. The secrecy of these organizations is largely unknown even to Congress, which has been overly compliant for every expansion of these agencies. The privatization of this branch of government is welcomed by industry, because it gives the private industries the same protection and secrecy we afford the government agencies that feed them. Indeed, this is one of the great advantages to the entire military-industrial complex that began under FDR, but was greatly expanded by Truman and Eisenhower and has not been seriously examined since Eisenhower warned us about it in his famous speech on the military-industrial complex. Through this type of mechanism, we are steadily marching towards a secretive totalitarian state where huge industrial sectors are unaccountable for their expenditures or their actions. You have only to look at the actions of Blackwater in Iraq to see where we are headed as a nation for the nature of future security operations. Remember that Blackwater was present in New Orleans after Katrina and we have no idea what they did there, except we know that the Blackwater mercenaries earned a lot more money than we pay our foot soldiers.

As this sector grows in its magnitude with its actions protected by government sanctioned secrecy, we will have no idea whether an action or an event in some other country or even in our own neighborhood is the result of some obscure US agency or the result of a true external threat. In many ways, we are there already and one has to look at this new thrust of growth in secrecy privatization as another major notch in the gunbelt of a new form of dictatorship–a corporatist dictatorship. It doesn’t have the repressive feel of fascism, but it is a mind-numbing, can you trust your neighbor kind of environment. Perhaps the worst part of it, is that it is being perpetrated by people who are truly boring.

The privatization of our intelligence community is nothing more than a component of increasing privatization of our entire government. This new model of business development is entirely agreeable with the new conservative business community and certainly the neocons, who will not go away, feel comfortable in this new corporatist state: it comes pre-approved for military action. In Johnson’s article, he refers to a book written by Sheldon S. Wolin, one of our leading theorists on Democracy. From his book Democracy Incorporated which he separately reviewed , he extracted the following quotation:

“The privatization of public services and functions manifests the steady evolution of corporate power into a political form, into an integral, even dominant partner with the state. It marks the transformation of American politics and its political culture, from a system in which democratic practices and values were, if not defining, at least major contributory elements, to one where the remaining democratic elements of the state and its populist programs are being systematically dismantled.” (p. 284)

So, as we see the elevation and privatization of our intelligence community over the past ten years, during the same period, how much of a decline in our health insurance benefits have we experienced? We are clearly unwinding or drawing down our public support structure in order to fund the corporatist state that Wolin describes. Obama is not going to reverse this trend. He will join it with gusto and popularize and accelerate its development. Public health, personal health support and education are all becoming less affordable as we develop this monstrous government-corporatist state. How many government industries can you name? We have a defense industry, the true giant, and now we have an intelligence industry, we have a partially privatized army, as there are as many defense contractors in Iraq as we have soldiers (how much of Haliburton’s annual income is governmental?). As the privatization list grows, public services shrink. Oh yes, let’s not forget, that due to the Bear Stearns buyout arrangement and what we have done for Fannie May and Freddie Mac, we now have an arrangement where the financial industry has given us their risk, and in exchange, we have given them access to guaranteed profits–so we have a securities industry that is government protected. How many more can you name? It is not socialism, it is corporatism! The savings and loan scandal of the 1980s cost us about $ 120 billion, but the kind of risk we have assumed in the most recent support guarantees are in the $ trillions. Next thing you now, we will all be providing labor for a new pyramid!

Another disturbing feature of Johnson’s article comes from his reference to another book written by Tim Shorrock, an investigative journalist and the leading authority on the subject of privatized security operations. The book is Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing . In this book Shorrock points out the magnitude of the intelligence community growth and privatization, but also highlights its growing incompetency as it tries to deal with massive levels of information and information technology. In 2001, before 9/11, there were 144 companies that could be identified as support for NSA. As of 2006, the number of companies supporting the same agency is 5,400! I urge you to read Johnson’s article in the Tomgram and his review of Wolin’s book found in Truthdig.

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