That’s because on one level, the NIE, representing
the consensus view of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, recognizes the
obvious: that the invasion of Iraq
has spawned a new generation
of Islamic extremists who are determined to strike at the West, that
Iraq has served as both a recruitment poster and a training ground for
“The Iraq war has made the
overall terrorism problem worse” since Sept. 11, 2001, summarized
one U.S. intelligence official in referring to
the NIE, which was completed in April 2006. [NYT, Sept. 24, 2006]
But to many Americans, this
conclusion comes as no surprise. Indeed, it was one of the central
arguments of the antiwar movement before the invasion more than three
years ago, that an unprovoked invasion of Iraq would inflame
anti-Americanism and increase the terrorist threat at home and abroad.
Indeed, I wrote an article before
the war essentially making that argument.
“The war’s devastation and the U.S. occupation also
could play into the hands of [Osama bin Laden, who] spelled out in
a recent message that he plans to gain a propaganda advantage from
any U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, by presenting himself as the
defender of the Arab people,” I wrote in February 2003. [See
And it wasn’t just journalists and bloggers
offering warnings about the war’s potential to fuel extremism and deepen
the terrorist threat. Respected leaders both inside and outside the U.S.
government offered dire warnings over the war’s potential consequences.
For example, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, who served
as a Middle East envoy for George W. Bush, warned in October 2002 that
by invading Iraq, “we are about to do something that will ignite a fuse
in this region that we will rue the day we ever started.”
Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser in the
first Bush administration, said a strike on Iraq “could unleash an
Armageddon in the Middle East.” Former South African President Nelson
Mandela said Bush was “introducing chaos into international affairs.”
But George W. Bush brushed aside these warnings and
proceeded with the invasion.
As the war and occupation have dragged on, more
concerns were raised that heavy-handed U.S. tactics would further
inflame Arab anger. Those worries were realized in the devastation of
Fallujah, the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, and the massacre at
Haditha – not to mention the grisly daily death toll of Iraqi civilians.
Yet, every step along the way, the Bush
administration and its allies have bullied their domestic critics.
Americans who raised questions before the war were sneered at as
“cowards,” “dupes” and “traitors.”
Then, when the rosy predictions of Iraqis showering
U.S. troops with flowers proved false, the administration berated the
Iraq War critics some more, accusing them of “defeatism” and insisting
that “staying the course” was the only appropriate option.
More recently, the critics have been mocked as
“cut-and-runners,” while Bush calls the Iraq War the “central front” in
the “war on terror,” which, in turn, he says is “the decisive
ideological struggle of the 21st Century.”
But the downward spiral of the Iraq War and the
worsening worldwide terrorism threat are negatives only if one assumes
that creating a more peaceful and secure world was the original goal.
If the goal included changing the character of the
United States as a free and open society – and consolidating one-party
Republican control over the federal budget – then the administration’s
policies would seem to be working like a charm.
In the United States, which Bush calls part of the
“battlefield” in the “global war on terror,” fear has prompted millions
of Americans to surrender constitutional rights willingly and accept
government intrusions that would have been unthinkable before 9/11.
These domestic fears have been fanned by government
claims of last-minute police actions to stop new acts of al-Qaeda
terrorism, which later turn out to be over-hyped public relations
Since opting to charge alleged “dirty bomber” Jose
Padilla with crimes unrelated to original allegations that he was an
“enemy combatant” – to avoid a Supreme Court showdown over presidential
powers – the Bush administration was dealt another blow on Aug. 21 when
a federal judge in Miami
threw out one of the administration’s charges against the alleged
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke dropped a
conspiracy charge against Padilla, saying that it violated
constitutional prohibitions against double jeopardy. But the judge left
intact two other terrorism-related counts against the former Chicago
Nevertheless, it’s becoming increasingly clear that
the original allegations against Padilla – an American citizen who was
held without charges for 3 ½ years – were deeply flawed. The Padilla
case also showed how readily the Bush administration cast aside
constitutional guarantees of a speedy trial in which the government must
present its evidence in public, one of the most fundamental rights
dating back to English common law.
In the administration’s other much-touted victory
against “homegrown” terrorists, the case of the so-called Miami Seven
accused of plotting to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago, it appears
that the alleged plot consisted of little more than loose talk. The
accused had almost no ability to pull the scheme off and the case looks
more like entrapment by federal agents.
According to court records, government informants
provided money and a meeting place for the seven Miami men, gave them
video cameras to conduct surveillance, and
suggested that the first target of terrorism be a Miami FBI office.
Lawyers for the defendants say their clients were lured into the scheme
and had no contact with real al-Qaeda members.
Despite the criticism of FBI tactics, it appears
that the trend may be towards an even more draconian approach to
counter-terrorism efforts. On Aug. 29, the FBI
showcased to reporters a new database with more than 659 million
The “Investigative Data Warehouse,” as it is
called, includes terrorist watch lists, intelligence cables and
financial transactions culled from more than 50 FBI and other government
Unveiling the database was intended in part to
address criticism that the FBI’s technology was outdated as the fifth
anniversary of 9/11 approached. But the database raised concerns from
privacy advocates who worry about how long the government stores such
information and about the right of citizens to know what records are
For instance, anyone who has ever lost or had a
passport stolen could be considered suspect, and anyone who has been put
on the government’s notoriously inaccurate “no-fly” list also could be
flagged in the FBI’s database. The system includes 250 million airline
passenger records, stored permanently.
Gurvais Grigg, acting director of the FBI's Foreign
Terrorist Tracking Task Force, said every data source is reviewed by
security, legal and technology staff members, and a privacy impact
statement is created in order to safeguard civil liberties.
But David Sobel, senior counsel of the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, said the FBI’s use of an internal privacy
assessment undercuts the intent of the Privacy Act.
Also of concern is how this new database might use
information from the National Security Agency’s warrantless domestic
surveillance program. The National Counterterrorism Center’s terrorist
watch list includes at least 325,000 people, and according to an NCTC
official, the database includes names of suspected terrorists provided
by all intelligence organizations, including NSA.
The NSA program has raised concerns because Bush is
asserting that his presidential powers during the “war on terror” trump
the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and
seizures. The eavesdropping is being conducted without court oversight
in apparent violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Security Act,
passed in response to the COINTELPRO scandal of the 1970s.
At the end of a Senate investigation into domestic
intelligence violations, Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, specifically
cautioned against the vast potential for abuse if the NSA targeted
The NSA’s “capability at any time could be turned around on the
American people,” Church warned, “and no American would have any privacy
left … There would be no place to hide.” [NYT,
Dec. 25, 2005]
All of the intelligence organizations, including
the FBI, CIA and the NSA, are overseen by the Director of National
Intelligence, a position
created in early 2005 and now filled by former U.S. Ambassador to
Iraq John Negroponte.
But the DNI’s independence has always been in
doubt. In calling on Congress to create the post of DNI in 2004, Bush
made it clear that the director would serve “at the pleasure of the
Creating the post of DNI also required extensive
revision of the 1947 National Security Act, a Cold War-era law which has
undergone further revision since the creation of the DNI. In legislation
passed by the House this year, the National Security Act was amended to
grant the DNI more power and authority.
The legislation, now before the Senate, provides
the DNI new authority to “have access to all national intelligence …
concerning the human intelligence operations of any element of the
intelligence community,” and authorizes personnel designated by the DNI
“to make arrests without warrant for any offense against the United
States committed in the presence of such personnel.”
The new arrest powers follow similar authority
granted to the U.S. Secret Service. In the reauthorization of the
Patriot Act in 2005, the Secret Service was
granted the same power in identical language.
Civil libertarians question the steady expansion of
government powers within the Executive Branch. This concern has deepened
with the tendency of agencies, such as the Secret Service, to engage in
law enforcement activities that are political in nature.
During the Bush presidency, the Secret Service has
shielded the President from dissenters. Since 2001, the Secret Service
has been establishing “free speech zones” for protesters to gather,
while police have arrested people who express opposition to Bush’s
policies outside of the designated areas.
At a Florida Bush rally in 2001, three
demonstrators – including two elderly women – were
arrested for holding up small protest placards outside the “free
speech zone.” In 2003, also in Florida, seven protesters were arrested
when they refused to be cordoned off into a protest zone hundreds of
yards from a Bush rally at USF Sun Dome.
In general, these demonstrators have been arrested
by local police at the behest of the Secret Service, but this could
change with the new powers granted to the Secret Service by the Patriot
Act reauthorization of 2006.
Not only does the law grant the Secret Service new
powers of arrest, but it also increases fines and penalties for
individuals who “willfully and knowingly … enter or remain in any
posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of a building or
grounds where the President … will be temporarily visiting.”
Beyond expanding powers for the DNI and the Secret
Service, Congress also is moving to grant the President more authority
over the National Guard.
Governors across the nation are complaining about a
bill that has passed the House of Representatives that would expand
Bush’s authority to take over National Guard troops in case of a natural
disaster or a “homeland security threat.”
The legislation was criticized by Arkansas Gov.
Mike Huckabee, a Republican, as symptomatic of a wider federal effort to
make states no more than “satellites of the national government.”
Huckabee, who is chairman of the National Governors
said the legislation would end the historic link between the states
and their Guard units and “violates 200 years of American history.”
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat,
pointed out that for “230-plus years governors have had control of
their National Guard and have done a good job,” but “all of a sudden,
there are one or two lines in a bill that no one has debated and no one
has discussed to take that authority away.”
While the governors express frustration over the
usurpation of authority that has traditionally belonged to the states,
there is a larger concern. That is the trend toward centralized
authoritarianism that will be accelerated by granting Bush total control
over the National Guard.
This trend may speed up even more if Congress
effectively grants amnesty to the administration over violations of the
Geneva Conventions, and essentially gives the President new authority to
interpret Common Article 3, which sets standards for treatment of
prisoners of war.
Although billed as a “compromise,” the
Republican-sponsored legislation provides the Executive Branch legal
cover for authorizing interrogation techniques that are widely
considered violations of domestic and international law.
War on Iran?
As alarming as the drift towards increased
authoritarianism may be, it could pale against what might be in store if
the Bush administration attacks Iran over its nuclear program.
In a report for the Century Foundation, retired Air
Force Colonel Sam Gardiner
asserted that “the summer of diplomacy is over,” and argued that
“the diplomatic activity of the past several months was just a pretext
for the military option.”
Dave Lindorff, writing in The Nation,
reported that the Bush administration and the Pentagon have moved up
the deployment of a major “strike group” of ships to sail to the Persian
Gulf, just off Iran’s western coast.
Lindorff points out that “the Eisenhower Strike
Group, bristling with Tomahawk cruise missiles, has received orders to
depart the United States in a little over a week.” Navy sources
confirmed that the armada is due off the coast of Iran on or around Oct.
The strongest argument against the possibility of
the U.S. striking Iran is that such an attack doesn’t make any sense.
Skeptics point out that the military option would
likely be counterproductive, if not catastrophic. There are fears that
Iran (and perhaps Venezuela) would cut off oil shipments, possibly
sending the price of oil to upwards of $200 a barrel. Iran also could
launch strikes on Israel, and take revenge against American forces in
Furthermore, there is the possibility that
Hezbollah sleeper cells exist in the United States, and could be
activated by Iran in the event of a U.S. attack. Press reports
indicate that the FBI has launched new probes in New York and other
cities targeting alleged members of Hezbollah, in anticipation of a
If the U.S. does launch an attack, it seems clear
that the terrorism threat faced by Americans at home and abroad will
dramatically increase. For such reasons, many observers argue that an
attack on Iran is unlikely.
But Gardiner points out that not making sense won’t
limit what the Bush administration does. “The ‘making sense’ filter was
not applied over the past four years for Iraq, and it is unlikely to be
applied in evaluating whether to attack Iran,” Gardiner
It also could be that “making sense” means
something different for the Bush administration than it does for average
Although the Iraq War has cost about 2,700 American
lives and hundreds of billions of dollars from the Treasury, the war has
created great business opportunities for well-connected corporations
such as Halliburton and Bechtel, which have registered substantial
profits from the occupation and “rebuilding” of Iraq.
Also, although U.S. intelligence agencies now agree
that the terrorist threat has ballooned due to the Iraq War, the Bush
administration has found the conflict useful in simultaneously expanding
its powers, abrogating constitutional rights and justifying more
Those trends seem likely to continue – and even
accelerate – as the “war on terror” remains a powerful excuse for
transforming the United States from a historically free and open society
to a frightened nation where citizens eagerly trade their constitutional
rights for government promises of more security.