The Other 'Top Secret America'
Editor’s Note: The Washington Post’s series on the gigantic size of the new post-9/11 “counter-terror” apparatus represented a worthy attempt to quantify the newest federal bureaucracy dedicated to national security, as it joins its powerful older brother, the “military-industrial complex.”
The new price tag for this intelligence-dominated enterprise is officially listed at $75 billion, 2 ½ times the pre-9/11 intelligence budget, but – as author Douglas Valentine notes – the CIA’s expanded hall of mirrors has other implications for a free society:
After Dana Priest’s and William M. Arkin's three-part series, “Top-Secret America,” appeared in the Washington Post, pundits began falling all over themselves in a rush to describe the size and implications of the elephant in the living room, though few saw fit to even notice the elephant before.
The commission – co-chaired by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and President Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles – is talking about cuts to Social Security, Medicare and middle-class benefits like the home mortgage deduction rather than focusing on three key causes of the deficit: massive war and weapons spending, giant tax cuts for the wealthy, and the faltering economy.
By contrast, 40 leading economists, including Nobel Prize winners, issued a statement calling for more government action in the short-term while treating the federal debt as a longer-range problem.
“We recognize the necessity of a program to cut the mid- and long-term federal deficit but the imperative requirement now, and the surest course to balance the budget over time, is to restore a full measure of economic activity,” the signers wrote.
“As in the 1930s, the economy is suffering a sharp decline in aggregate demand and loss of business confidence. Long experience shows that monetary policy may not be enough, particularly in deep slumps, as Keynes noted.
“The urgent need is for government to replace the lost purchasing power of the unemployed and their families and to employ other tax-cut and spending programs to boost demand.
“Making deficit reduction the first target, without addressing the chronic underlying deficiency of demand, is exactly the error of the 1930s. It will prolong the great recession, harm the social cohesion of the country, and continue inflicting unnecessary hardship on millions of Americans.”
The Obama deficit commission is working against this urgent need. And, in pushing proposals that will weaken the middle class the commission risks stirring anger among American voters who are already unhappy with the administration’s handling of the economy.
In my view, the time is now to build opposition to the commission’s expected recommendations and to urge Congress and the administration to cut programs that will not make the economy worse for most Americans. When I testified before the commission I urged:
-Cuts in military spending as this makes up half of U.S. discretionary spending and is filled with waste and bloat.
-Cuts to corporate welfare, especially to the oil and gas industry which is scheduled to received billions in tax breaks despite massive profits
-Tax the purchase of stocks, bonds and derivatives, areas where even a tiny micro tax could raise tens of billions annually.
-Tax the estates of the wealthiest Americans, raising more than $10 billion annually.
Click here to read my full testimony.
These are just a few of the areas where cuts in spending and higher taxes on wealth could balance the budget and avoid the need to cut Social Security and Medicare or raise taxes on the middle class.
Despite alarmist rhetoric, Social Security is in good financial shape for the next decades and merely raising the cap on Social Security taxes would make the program secure for the 21st Century. And the economy needs a stronger elderly economic class.
The disappearance of pensions, stock market losses, and savings transformed into debt have left too many Americans dependent on the measly $14,030 annual average benefits Social Security provides.
Medicare’s challenge is not the Medicare program itself but the cost of health care. Cuts to Medicare will worsen health problems for seniors and require more expensive emergency care.
Also, the new Obama health law does not do much to control costs and the President bypassed the real solution for affordable health care: ending the wasteful role of the private insurance industry and replacing it with a lower-cost Medicare-for-all system.
The commission is preparing its report for release after the mid-term elections in November, so the voters will have less influence on the recommendations.
If voters want to protect Social Security and Medicare – and insist on cuts in spending for weapons and war and demand getting more tax dollars from the wealthy who profited from the past decade’s bubble-and-bust economy inflated by tax cuts and deficit spending – they need to express their views now.
You can begin to respond to the deficit commission by writing to President Obama and your representatives in Congress by clicking here.
Beyond stopping the deficit commission from making matters worse, Americans will also need to focus on re-making the economy by narrowing the wealth divide that has allowed the richest 1 percent to hoard the nation’s wealth. There are also negative effects from the concentration of corporate power and from crony capitalism which diverts tax dollars into the pockets of the well-connected few.
But the immMore important, however, is the fact that the elephant has dimensions that Priest and Arkin don’t touch upon. Let me tell you a story.
In 1985, I was contacted by Larry, a CIA officer who had had a breakdown and wanted to talk to me. He had served as a deep-cover agent overseas for over 15 years at that point.
He had been recruited from the Marines in Vietnam, and given a fake life in which his father had been an Australian soldier in World War II, and his mother a Filipino who died in childbirth. The Australian soldier had abandoned the mother before she gave birth.
The father had later died in World War II, and Larry was adopted as an infant by a couple in the United States.
In the legend created by the CIA, Larry's foster parents told him about his real parents while he was a Marine in Vietnam. Larry took advantage of his proximity to the Philippines to travel there and claim his right to Filipino citizenship. In this way, the CIA established an agent in the Philippines, with impeccable credentials. Larry eventually was even elected to public office.
To make a long story short, after Larry's breakdown, the CIA got him a job as a manager of a Playboy club in Detroit. Later, they transferred him to Washington, D.C., as manager of a posh restaurant off DuPont Circle. When I met him there, his Filipino wife and entourage were staffing the facility, along with a CIA associate who handled finances.
This restaurant was the fanciest place I had never been in my life. It was a place where State Department officials, foreign dignitaries and business tycoons enjoyed the finest wines and the most haute cuisine. Each lavishly appointed room had its own dining table and waiter.
As I sat in a leather booth in the wood-paneled basement bar with Larry, he explained that each room was bugged by the CIA.
As we were talking, a group of well-dressed younger people in the company of one older man took the booth next to us. The rest of the basement bar was empty. They ordered drinks, but remained silent and alert as Larry explained the ins and outs of his CIA experience to me.
At one point he nodded to the older man at the other table; then he informed me that the young people were junior officer trainees from CIA headquarters at Langley, who were also listening to the conversation.
Larry explained that the CIA manages a parallel society to American society, where deep-cover agents like him, as well as retired CIA officers and their agents, are provided with comfortable employment in their retirement years, or when they otherwise need recompense for their service.
Many of these agents have no résumé that is suitable in the modern professional world. So there is this parallel universe that they are folded into, as managers of the local Ford dealership, as proprietors of a Chinese restaurant or a hotel, or in hundreds of other jobs.
Think of it as a sort a witness-protection program – and since 1985 it has grown substantially. It is, of course, another piece of Top-Secret America, a subculture of highly trained operatives with a dangerous set of skills.
As John Lennon said, "Imagine."
Douglas Valentine is author of The Phoenix Program, which is available through Amazon, as well as The Strength of the Wolf and the new book Strength of the Pack. His Web sites are http://www.douglasvalentine.com/index.html, http://www.members.authorsguild.net/valentine/, and http://trineday.com/paypal_store/product_pages/Strength_of_the_Pack.html
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