Neocons: the Echo of German Fascism

Exclusive: The “f-word” for “fascist” keeps cropping up in discussing aggressive U.S. and Israeli “exceptionalism,” but there’s a distinction from the “n-word” for “Nazi.” This new form of ignoring international law fits more with an older form of German authoritarianism favored by neocon icon Leo Strauss, says retired JAG Major Todd E. Pierce.

By Todd E. Pierce

With the Likud Party electoral victory in Israel, the Republican Party is on a roll, having won two major elections in a row. The first was winning control of the U.S. Congress last fall. The second is the victory by the Republicans’ de facto party leader Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel’s recent election. As the Israeli Prime Minister puts together a coalition with other parties “in the national camp,” as he describes them, meaning the ultra-nationalist parties of Israel, it will be a coalition that today’s Republicans would feel right at home in.

The common thread linking Republicans and Netanyahu’s “national camp” is a belief of each in their own country’s “exceptionalism,” with a consequent right of military intervention wherever and whenever their “Commander in Chief” orders it, as well as the need for oppressive laws to suppress dissent.

William Kristol, neoconservative editor of the Weekly Standard, would agree. Celebrating Netanyahu’s victory, Kristol told the New York Times, “It will strengthen the hawkish types in the Republican Party.” Kristol added that Netanyahu would win the GOP’s nomination, if he could run, because “Republican primary voters are at least as hawkish as the Israeli public.”

The loser in both the Israeli and U.S. elections was the rule of law and real democracy, not the sham democracy presented for public relations purposes in both counties. In both countries today, money controls elections, and as Michael Glennon has written in National Security and Double Government, real power is in the hands of the national security apparatus.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership role in the U.S. Congress was on full display to the world when he accepted House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress. Showing their eagerness to be part of any political coalition being formed under Netanyahu’s leadership, many Congressional Democrats also showed their support by attending the speech.

It was left to Israeli Uri Avnery to best capture the spirit of Netanyahu’s enthusiastic ideological supporters in Congress. Avnery wrote that he was reminded of something when seeing “Row upon row of men in suits (and the occasional woman), jumping up and down, up and down, applauding wildly, shouting approval.”

Where had he heard that type of shouting before? Then it came to him: “It was another parliament in the mid-1930s. The Leader was speaking. Rows upon rows of Reichstag members were listening raptly. Every few minutes they jumped up and shouted their approval.”

He added, “the Congress of the United States of America is no Reichstag. Members wear dark suits, not brown shirts. They do not shout ‘Heil’ but something unintelligible.” Nevertheless, “the sound of the shouting had the same effect. Rather shocking.”

Right-wing Politics in Pre-Nazi Germany

While Avnery’s analogy of how Congress responded to its de facto leader was apt, it isn’t necessary to go to the extreme example that he uses to analogize today’s right-wing U.S. and Israeli parties and policy to an earlier German precedent. Instead, it is sufficient to note how similar the right-wing parties of Israel and the U.S. of today are to what was known in 1920s Weimar Germany as the Conservative Revolutionary Movement.

This “movement” did not include the Nazis but instead the Nazis were political competitors with the party which largely represented Conservative Revolutionary ideas: the German National People’s Party (DNVP).

The institution to which the Conservative Revolutionaries saw as best representing German “values,” the Reichswehr, the German Army, was also opposed by the Nazis as “competitors” to Ernst Rohm’s Brownshirts. But the Conservative Revolutionary Movement, the DNVP, and the German Army could all be characterized as “proto-fascist,” if not Fascist. In fact, when the Nazis took over Germany, it was with the support of many of the proto-fascists making up the Conservative Revolutionary Movement, as well as those with the DNVP and the Reichswehr.

Consequently, many of the Reichstag members that Uri Avnery refers to above as listening raptly and jumping up and shouting their approval of “The Leader” were not Nazis. The Nazis had failed to obtain an absolute majority on their own and needed the votes of the “national camp,” primarily the German National People’s Party (DNVP), for a Reichstag majority.

The DNVP members would have been cheering The Leader right alongside Nazi members of the Reichstag. DNVP members also voted along with Nazi members in passing the Enabling Act of 1933, which abolished constitutional liberties and dissolved the Reichstag.

Not enough has been written on the German Conservative Revolutionary Movement, the DNVP and the Reichswehr because they have too often been seen as victims of the Nazis themselves or, at worst, mere precursors.

The DNVP was the political party which best represented the viewpoint of the German Conservative Revolutionary Movement. The Reichswehr itself, as described in The Nemesis of Power by John W. Wheeler-Bennett, has been called a “state within a state,” much like the intelligence and security services of the U.S. and Israel are today, wielding extraordinary powers.

The Reichswehr was militaristic and anti-democratic in its purest form and indeed was “fascist” in the term’s classic definition of “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.” Mussolini merely modeled much of his hyper-militaristic political movement on the martial values of the Reichswehr.

German Army officers even had authority to punish civilians for failing to show “proper respect.” In its essence, the viewpoint of the DNVP and the Conservative Revolutionaries was virtually identical to today’s Republican Party along with those Democrats who align with them on national security issues.

These groups have in common a worshipful attitude toward the military as best embodying those martial virtues that are central to fascism. Sister parties, though they may all prefer to be seen as “brothers in arms,” would be Netanyahu’s “national camp” parties.

German Conservative Revolutionary Movement

The Conservative Revolutionary Movement began within the German Right after World War I with a number of writers advocating a nationalist ideology but one in keeping with modern times and not restricted by traditional Prussian conservatism.

It must be noted that Prussian conservatism, standing for militaristic ideas traditional to Prussia, was the antithesis of traditional American conservatism, which professed to stand for upholding the classical liberal ideas of government embedded in the U.S. Constitution.

Inherent to those U.S. constitutional ideas was antipathy toward militarism and militaristic rule of any sort, though Native Americans have good cause to disagree. (In fact, stories of the American conquest of Native Americans with its solution of placing them on reservations were particularly popular in Germany early in the Twentieth Century including with Adolf Hitler).

Historians have noted that when the German Army went to war in World War I, the soldiers and officers carried with them “a shared sense of German superiority and the imagined bestiality of the enemy.” This was manifested particularly harshly upon the citizens of Belgium in 1914 with the German occupation. Later, after their experience in the trenches, the Reichswehr was nearly as harsh in suppressing domestic dissent in Germany after the war.

According to Richard Wolin, in The Seduction of Unreason, Ernst Troeltsch, a German Protestant theologian, “realized that in the course of World War I the ethos of Germanocentrism, as embodied in the ‘ideas of 1914,’ had assumed a heightened stridency.” Under the peace of the Versailles Treaty, “instead of muting the idiom of German exceptionalism that Troeltsch viewed with such mistrust, it seemed only to fan its flames.”

This belief in German “exceptionalism” was the common belief of German Conservative Revolutionaries, the DNVP and the Reichswehr. For Republicans of today and those who share their ideological belief, substitute “American” for “German” Exceptionalism and you have the identical ideology.

“Exceptionalism” in the sense of a nation can be understood in two ways. One is a belief in the nation’s superiority to others. The other way is the belief that the “exceptional” nation stands above the law, similar to the claim made by dictators in declaring martial law or a state of emergency. The U.S. and Israel exhibit both forms of this belief.

German Exceptionalism

The belief in German Exceptionalism was the starting point, not the ending point, for the Conservative Revolutionaries just as it is with today’s Republicans such as Sen. Tom Cotton or Sen. Lindsey Graham. This Exceptionalist ideology gives the nation the right to interfere in other country’s internal affairs for whatever reason the “exceptional” country deems necessary, such as desiring more living space for their population, fearing the potential of some future security threat, or even just by denying the “exceptional” country access within its borders — or a “denial of access threat” as the U.S. government terms it.

The fundamental ideas of the Conservative Revolutionaries have been described as vehement opposition to the Weimar Republic (identifying it with the lost war and the Versailles Treaty) and political “liberalism” (as opposed to Prussia’s traditional authoritarianism).

This “liberalism,” which offended the Conservative Revolutionaries, was democracy and individual rights against state power. Instead, the Conservative Revolutionaries envisaged a new reich of enormous strength and unity. They rejected the view that political action should be guided by rational criteria. They idealized violence for its own sake.

That idealization of violence would have meant “state” violence in the form of military expansionism and suppression of “enemies,” domestic and foreign, by right-thinking Germans.

The Conservative Revolutionaries called for a “primacy of politics” which was to be “a reassertion of an expansion in foreign policy and repression against the trade unions at home.” This “primacy of politics” for the Conservative Revolutionaries meant the erasure of a distinction between war and politics.

Citing Hannah Arendt, Jeffrey Herf, a professor of modern European history, wrote: “The explicit implications of the primacy of politics in the conservative revolution were totalitarian. From now on there were to be no limits to ideological politics. The utilitarian and humanistic considerations of nineteenth-century liberalism were to be abandoned in order to establish a state of constant dynamism and movement.” That sounds a lot like the “creative destruction” that neoconservative theorist Michael Ledeen is so fond of.

Herf wrote in 1984 that Conservative Revolutionaries were characterized as “the intellectual advance guard of the rightist revolution that was to be effected in 1933,” which, although contemptuous of Hitler, “did much to pave his road to power.”

Unlike the Nazis, their belief in German superiority was based in historical traditions and ideas, not biological racism. Nevertheless, some saw German Jews as the “enemy” of Germany for being “incompatible with a united nation.”

It is one of the bitterest of ironies that Israel as a “Jewish nation” has adopted similar attitudes toward its Arab citizens. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently proclaimed: “Those who are with us deserve everything, but those who are against us deserve to have their heads chopped off with an axe.”

Within Israel, these “Conservative Revolutionary” ideas were manifested in one of their founding political parties, Herut, whose founders came out of the same central European political milieu of interwar Europe and from which Netanyahu’s Likud party is descended.

Ernst Junger

Author Ernst Junger was the most important contributor to the celebration of war by the Conservative Revolutionaries and was an influence and an enabler of the Nazis coming to power. He serialized his celebration of war and his belief in its “redeeming” qualities in a number of popular books with “war porn” titles such as, in English, The Storm of Steel, The Battle as an Inner Experience, and Fire and Blood.

The title of a collection of Junger essays in 1930, Krieg und Krieger (War and the Warriors) captures the spirit of America in the Twenty-first Century as much as it did the German spirit in 1930. While members of the U.S. military once went by terms such as soldier, sailor and marine, now they are routinely generically called “Warriors,” especially by the highest ranks, a term never before used to describe what were once “citizen soldiers.”

Putting a book with a “Warrior” title out on the shelf in a Barnes and Noble would almost guarantee a best-seller, even when competing with all the U.S. SEALS’ reminiscences and American sniper stories. But German philosopher Walter Benjamin understood the meaning of Junger’s Krieg und Krieger, explaining it in the appropriately titled Theories of German Fascism.

Fundamental to Junger’s celebration of war was a metaphysical belief in “totale Mobilmachung” or total mobilization to describe the functioning of a society that fully grasps the meaning of war. With World War I, Junger saw the battlefield as the scene of struggle “for life and death,” pushing all historical and political considerations aside. But he saw in the war the fact that “in it the genius of war permeated the spirit of progress.”

According to Jeffrey Herf in Reactionary Modernism, Junger saw total mobilization as “a worldwide trend toward state-directed mobilization in which individual freedom would be sacrificed to the demands of authoritarian planning.” Welcoming this, Junger believed “that different currents of energy were coalescing into one powerful torrent. The era of total mobilization would bring about an ‘unleashing’ (Entfesselung) of a nevertheless disciplined life.”

In practical terms, Junger’s metaphysical view of war meant that Germany had lost World War I because its economic and technological mobilization had only been partial and not total. He lamented that Germany had been unable to place the “spirit of the age” in the service of nationalism. Consequently, he believed that “bourgeois legality,” which placed restrictions on the powers of the authoritarian state, “must be abolished in order to liberate technological advance.”

Today, total mobilization for the U.S. begins with the Republicans’ budgeting efforts to strip away funding for domestic civilian uses and shifting it to military and intelligence spending. Army veteran, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, exemplifies this belief in “total mobilization” of society with his calls for dramatically increased military spending and his belief that “We must again show the U.S. is willing and prepared to [get into] a war in the first place” by making clear that potential “aggressors will pay an unspeakable price if they challenge the United States.”

That is the true purpose of Twenty-first Century Republican economics: total mobilization of the economy for war. Just as defeated German generals and the Conservative Revolutionaries believed that Germany lost World War I because their economy and nation was only “partially mobilized,” so too did many American Vietnam War-era generals and right-wing politicians believe the same of the Vietnam War. Retired Gen. David Petraeus and today’s neoconservatives have made similar arguments about President Barack Obama’s failure to sustain the Iraq War. [See, for instance, this fawning Washington Post interview with Petraeus.]

What all these militarists failed to understand is that, according to Clausewitz, when a war’s costs exceed its benefits, the sound strategy is to end the costly war. The Germans failed to understand this in World War II and the Soviet Union in their Afghan War.

Paradoxically in the Vietnam War, it was the anti-war movement that enhanced U.S. strength by bringing that wasteful war to an end, not the American militarists who would have continued it to a bitter end of economic collapse. We are now seeing a similar debate about whether to continue and expand U.S. military operations across the Middle East.

Carl Schmitt

While Ernst Junger was the celebrant and the publicist for total mobilization of society for endless war, including the need for authoritarian government, Carl Schmitt was the ideological theoretician, both legally and politically, who helped bring about the totalitarian and militaristic society. Except when it happened, it came under different ownership than what they had hoped and planned for.

Contrary to Schmitt’s latter-day apologists and/or advocates, who include prominent law professors teaching at Harvard and the University of Chicago, his legal writings weren’t about preserving the Weimar Republic against its totalitarian enemies, the Communists and Nazis. Rather, he worked on behalf of a rival fascist faction, members of the German Army General Staff. He acted as a legal adviser to General Kurt von Schleicher, who in turn advised President Paul von Hindenburg, former Chief of the German General Staff during World War I.

German historian Eberhard Kolb observed, “from the mid-1920s onwards the Army leaders had developed and propagated new social conceptions of a militarist kind, tending towards a fusion of the military and civilian sectors and ultimately a totalitarian military state (Wehrstaat).”

When General Schleicher helped bring about the political fall of Reichswehr Commander in Chief, General von Seekt, it was a “triumph of the ‘modern’ faction within the Reichswehr who favored a total war ideology and wanted Germany to become a dictatorship that would wage total war upon the other nations of Europe,” according to Kolb.

When Hitler and the Nazis outmaneuvered the Army politically, Schmitt, as well as most other Conservative Revolutionaries, went over to the Nazis.

Reading Schmitt gives one a greater understanding of the Conservative Revolutionary’s call for a “primacy of politics,” explained previously as “a reassertion of an expansion in foreign policy.”

Schmitt said: “A world in which the possibility of war is utterly eliminated, a completely pacified globe, would be a world without the distinction of friend and enemy and hence a world without politics. It is conceivable that such a world might contain many very interesting antitheses and contrasts, competitions and intrigues of every kind, but there would not be a meaningful antithesis whereby men could be required to sacrifice life, authorized to shed blood, and kill other human beings. For the definition of the political, it is here even irrelevant whether such a world without politics is desirable as an ideal situation.”

As evident in this statement, to Schmitt, the norm isn’t peace, nor is peace even desirable, but rather perpetual war is the natural and preferable condition.

This dream of a Martial State is not isolated to German history. A Republican aligned neoconservative, Thomas Sowell, expressed the same longing in 2007 in a National Review article, “Don’t Get Weak.” Sowell wrote; “When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.”

Leo Strauss, Conservative Revolutionaries and Republicans

Political philosopher Leo Strauss had yearned for the glorious German Conservative Revolution but was despondent when it took the form of the Nazi Third Reich, from which he was excluded because he was Jewish regardless of his fascist ideology.

He wrote to a German Jewish friend, Karl Loewith: “the fact that the new right-wing Germany does not tolerate us says nothing against the principles of the right. To the contrary: only from the principles of the right, that is from fascist, authoritarian and imperial principles, is it possible with seemliness, that is, without resort to the ludicrous and despicable appeal to the droits imprescriptibles de l’homme [inalienable rights of man] to protest against the shabby abomination.”

Strauss was in agreement politically with Schmitt, and they were close friends.

Professor Alan Gilbert of Denver University has written: “As a Jew, Strauss was forbidden from following Schmitt and [German philosopher Martin] Heidegger into the Nazi party. ‘But he was a man of the Right. Like some other Zionists, those who admired Mussolini for instance, Strauss’ principles, as the 1933 letter relates, were ‘fascist, authoritarian, imperial.’”

Strauss was intelligent enough when he arrived in the U.S. to disguise and channel his fascist thought by going back to like-minded “ancient” philosophers and thereby presenting fascism as part of our “western heritage,” just as the current neocon classicist Victor Davis Hanson does.

Needless to say, fascism is built on the belief in a dictator, as was Sparta and the Roman Empire and as propounded by Socrates and Plato, so turning to the thought of ancient philosophers and historians makes a good “cover” for fascist thought.

Leo Strauss must be seen as the Godfather of the modern Republican Party’s political ideology. His legacy continues now through the innumerable “Neoconservative Revolutionary” front groups with cover names frequently invoking “democracy” or “security,” such as Sen. Lindsey Graham’s “Security Through Strength.”

Typifying the Straussian neoconservative revolutionary whose hunger for military aggression can never be satiated would be former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams of Iran-Contra fame and practitioner of the “big lie,” who returned to government under President George W. Bush to push the Iraq War and is currently promoting a U.S. war against Iran.

In a classic example of “projection,” Abrams writes that “Ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world.” That can as truthfully be said of his own Neoconservative Revolutionary ideology and its adherents.

That ideology explains Bill Kristol’s crowing over Netanyahu’s victory and claiming Netanyahu as the Republicans’ de facto leader. For years, the U.S. and Israel under Netanyahu have had nearly identical foreign policy approaches though they are at the moment in some disagreement because President Obama has resisted war with Iran while Netanyahu is essentially demanding it.

But at a deeper level the two countries share a common outlook, calling for continuous military interventionism outside each country’s borders with increased exercise of authority by the military and other security services within their borders. This is no accident. It can be traced back to joint right-wing extremist efforts in both countries with American neoconservatives playing key roles.

The best example of this joint effort was when U.S. neocons joined with the right-wing, Likud-connected Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies in 1996 to publish their joint plan for continuous military interventionism in the Mideast in “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” which envisioned “regime change” instead of negotiations. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How Israel Outfoxed U.S. Presidents.”]

While ostensibly written for Netanyahu’s political campaign, “A Clean Break” became the blueprint for subsequent war policies advocated by the Project for the New American Century, founded by neocons William Kristol and Robert Kagan. The chief contribution of the American neocons in this strategy was to marshal U.S. military resources to do the heavy lifting in attacking Israel’s neighbors beginning with Iraq.

With these policy preferences goes a belief inside each country’s political parties, across the spectrum but particularly on the Right, that Israel and the United States each stand apart from all other nations as “Exceptional.” This is continuously repeated to ensure imprinting it in the population’s consciousness in the tradition of fascist states through history.

It is believed today in both the U.S. and Israel, just as the German Conservative Revolutionaries believed it in the 1920s and 1930s of their homeland, Germany, and then carried on by the Nazis until 1945.

Israeli Herut Party       

The Knesset website describes the original Herut party (1948-1988) as the main opposition party (against the early domination by the Labor Party). Herut was the most right-wing party in the years before the Likud party came into being and absorbed Herut into a coalition. Its expansionist slogan was “To the banks to the Jordan River” and it refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Kingdom of Jordan. Economically, Herut supported private enterprise and a reduction of government intervention.

In “A Clean Break,” the authors were advising Netanyahu to reclaim the belligerent and expansionist principles of the Herut party.

Herut was founded in 1948 by Menachem Begin, the leader of the right-wing militant group Irgun, which was widely regarded as a terrorist organization responsible for killing Palestinians and cleansing them from land claimed by Israel, including the infamous Deir Yassin massacre.

Herut’s nature as a party and movement was best explained in a critical letter to the New York Times on Dec. 4, 1948, signed by over two dozen prominent Jewish intellectuals including Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt.

The letter read: “Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the ‘Freedom Party’ (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.

“It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine. (…) It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin’s political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents. …

“Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism, whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state. It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real character; from its past actions we can judge what it may be expected to do in the future.”

According to author Joseph Heller, Herut was a one-issue party intent on expanding Israel’s borders. That Netanyahu has never set aside Herut’s ideology can be gleaned from his book last revised in 2000, A Durable Peace. There, Netanyahu praises Herut’s predecessors the Irgun paramilitary and Lehi, also known as the Stern Gang, a self-declared “terrorist” group. He also marginalizes their Israeli adversary of the time, the Hagana under Israel’s primary founder and first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

Regardless of methods used, the Stern Gang was indisputably “fascist,” even receiving military training from Fascist Italy. One does not need to speculate as to its ideological influences.

According to Colin Shindler, writing in Triumph of Military Zionism: Nationalism and the Origins of the Israeli Right, “Stern devotedly believed that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ so he approached Nazi Germany. With German armies at the gates of Palestine, he offered co-operation and an alliance with a new totalitarian Hebrew republic.”

Netanyahu in his recent election campaign would seem to have re-embraced his fascist origins, both with its racism and his declaration that as long as he was prime minister he would block a Palestinian state and would continue building Jewish settlements on what international law recognizes as Palestinian land.

In other words, maintaining a state of war on the Palestinian people with a military occupation and governing by military rule, while continuing to make further territorial gains with the IDF acting as shock troops for the settlers.

Why Does This Matter?

Sun-Tzu famously wrote “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

When we allow our “Conservative Revolutionaries” (or neoconservative militarists or proto-fascists or whatever term best describes them) to make foreign policy, the United States loses legitimacy in the world as a “rule of law” state. Instead, we present a “fascist” justification for our wars which is blatantly illicit.

As the American political establishment has become so enamored with war and the “warriors” who fight them, it has become child’s play for our militarists to manipulate the U.S. into wars or foreign aggression through promiscuous economic sanctions or inciting and arming foreign groups to destabilize the countries that we target.

No better example for this can be shown than the role that America’s First Family of Militarism, the Kagans, plays in pushing total war mobilization of the U.S. economy and inciting war, at the expense of civilian and domestic needs, as Robert Parry wrote.

This can be seen with Robert Kagan invoking the martial virtue of “courage” in demanding greater military spending by our elected officials and a greater wealth transfer to the Military Industrial Complex which funds the various war advocacy projects that he and his family are involved with.

Kagan recently wrote: “Those who propose to lead the United States in the coming years, Republicans and Democrats, need to show what kind of political courage they have, right now, when the crucial budget decisions are being made.”

But as Parry pointed out, showing “courage,” “in Kagan’s view is to ladle ever more billions into the Military-Industrial Complex, thus putting money where the Republican mouths are regarding the need to ‘defend Ukraine’ and resist ‘a bad nuclear deal with Iran.’” But Parry noted that if it weren’t for Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, Kagan’s spouse, the Ukraine crisis might not exist.

What must certainly be seen as neo-fascist under any system of government but especially under a nominal “constitutional republic” as the U.S. claims to be, is Sen. Lindsey Graham’s threat that the first thing he would do if elected President of the United States would be to use the military to detain members of Congress, keeping them in session in Washington, until all so-called “defense cuts” are restored to the budget.

In Graham’s words, “I wouldn’t let Congress leave town until we fix this. I would literally use the military to keep them in if I had to. We’re not leaving town until we restore these defense cuts.”

And he would have that power according to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s “unitary executive theory” of Presidential power, originally formulated by Carl Schmitt and adopted by Republican attorneys and incorporated into government under the Bush-Cheney administration. Sen. Tom Cotton and other Republicans would no doubt support such an abuse of power if it meant increasing military spending.

But even more dangerous for the U.S. as well as other nations in the world is that one day, our militarists’ constant incitement and provocation to war is going to “payoff,” and the U.S. will be in a real war with an enemy with nuclear weapons, like the one Victoria Nuland is creating on Russia’s border.

Today’s American “Conservative Revolutionary” lust for war was summed up by prominent neoconservative Richard Perle, a co-author of “A Clean Break.” Echoing the views on war from Ernst Junger and Carl Schmitt, Perle once explained U.S. strategy in the neoconservative view, according to John Pilger:

“There will be no stages,” he said. “This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there . . . If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy but just wage a total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now.”

That goal was the same fantasy professed by German Conservative Revolutionaries and it led directly to a wartime defeat never imagined by Germany before, with all the “collateral damage” along the way that always results from “total war.”

Rather than continuing with this “strategy,” driven by our own modern Conservative Revolutionaries and entailing the eventual bankrupting or destruction of the nation, it might be more prudent for Americans to demand that we go back to the original national security strategy of the United States, as expressed by early presidents as avoiding “foreign entanglements” and start abiding by the republican goals expressed by the Preamble to the Constitution:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Todd E. Pierce retired as a Major in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps in November 2012. His most recent assignment was defense counsel in the Office of Chief Defense Counsel, Office of Military Commissions. In the course of that assignment, he researched and reviewed the complete records of military commissions held during the Civil War and stored at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. 




The Tangle of US-Israeli Double Standards

For decades, U.S. administrations have engaged in linguistic gymnastics to avoid applying international law to Israel. Now, with the fig leaf of the two-state solution gone, President Obama must confront this tangle of double standards and double talk, says Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

As Israeli voters went to the polls, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared he would oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. In what The New York Times called a “racist rant,” he also proclaimed, “right-wing rule is in danger” because “Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations.”

James Besser, Washington correspondent for Jewish newspapers for 24 years, wrote that Israeli voters, “more clearly aware of Netanyahu’s intent than ever,” have chosen “the apartheid path.”

Netanyahu’s remarks were met with outrage in the United States and around the world. The Obama administration reacted by saying the United States would “reassess” its policy toward Israel. And, significantly, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told a J Street conference that “an occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state.”

Netanyahu’s words create a golden opportunity for Barack Obama to radically transform his policy of uncritical support for Israel’s ongoing violations of the law.

Israel took over the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) by military force in 1967 and has held it under military occupation ever since. Security Council Resolution 242, passed in 1967, refers to “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and calls for “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Yet Israel continues to occupy the Palestinian territories it acquired in the “Six-Day War.”

Since 1967, Israel has transferred more than a half million of its own citizens into these territories. Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank, which is occupied Palestinian territory. A state that is occupying territory that is not its own cannot build settlements on that territory and transfer its own citizens into them.

Under the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC), such action constitutes a war crime. Article 8.2(b)(viii) of the statute defines “the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” as a war crime.

The ICC can investigate and prosecute these crimes. Yet, in order to prevent such investigation and prosecution, the United States has consistently opposed Palestine becoming a party to the Rome Statute. Congress passed a law that would automatically discontinue the United States’ $400 million annual aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) if Palestine were to bring charges against Israel in the ICC. Palestine will join the ICC on April 1. If Palestine files charges in the ICC, Obama should find indirect ways to provide funding to the PA to prevent its collapse.

Under the National Emergencies Act, the president has the power to declare an emergency response to a foreign policy crisis. Obama should designate the Israeli settlements an emergency. He could then regulate or prohibit any foreign exchange transaction that directly or indirectly contributes to the expansion of the illegal settlements.

Dozens of organizations designated as 501(c)(3) nonprofits by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) funnel tens of millions of dollars annually to illegal Israeli settlements. Funding illegal activities violates IRS guidelines. The IRS should undertake a thorough investigation of the activities of these organizations.

War Crimes During Operation Protective Edge

In July 2014, Israel invaded Gaza and killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians. Nearly 10,000 Palestinians were wounded, more than 2,000 of them children. Tens of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes and infrastructure was severely damaged. Numerous schools, United Nations (UN) places of refuge, hospitals, ambulances and mosques were intentionally targeted.

Israel used the “Dahiya doctrine” to apply “disproportionate force” and cause “great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilians populations,” as defined in the 2009 UN Human Rights Council (Goldstone) report. These acts constitute evidence of war crimes under Article 8 (2)(a) of the Rome Statute.

Flavia Pansieri, the UN deputy high commissioner for human rights, said that human rights violations “fuel and shape the conflict” in the occupied Palestinian territories, adding that, “[h]uman rights violations in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are both cause and consequence of the military occupation and ongoing violence, in a bitter cyclical process with wider implications for peace and security in the region.”

Nevertheless, the United States has opposed the investigation and prosecution of these crimes in the ICC. The United States has joined Israel in boycotting the UN Human Rights Council’s investigation of international law violations during the July 2014 attack (known as Operation Protective Edge). The U.S. government should support this process and the ICC investigation.

The United States provides Israel with $3.1 billion in military assistance each year. Under the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), countries that receive U.S. military aid can only use weapons for legitimate self-defense and internal security. Israel did not act in self-defense during Protective Edge and its actions went far beyond protecting internal security. Obama should suspend future deliveries of the weapons described in the AECA.

Moreover, under the Leahy Law, military units that commit human rights abuses cannot receive U.S. training or weapons, and individuals who commit human rights abuses are denied U.S. visas. The U.S. State Department’s annual report has documented Israeli violations.

And the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 prohibits assistance to any country “which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

Obama should enforce these laws.

Illegal Barrier Wall

Israel constructed a wall that encroaches on Palestinian land. The International Court of Justice (ICJ, or the World Court) – the legal arm of the UN system – concluded that the construction of that wall and its associated regime impedes the liberty of movement of the inhabitants of the occupied Palestinian territory as guaranteed under Article 12 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The ICJ also determined that the wall impedes the right to work, to health, to education and to an adequate standard of living as required by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The ICJ ruled that Israel should dismantle the wall, make reparation for the damage it has caused and return the land, orchards, olive groves and other immovable property it seized to construct the wall – or compensate the aggrieved persons for the damage suffered.

The U.S. government should tell Israel to dismantle the wall in accordance with the ICJ’s ruling.

After 50 years of denial about Israel’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, the U.S. Defense Department has finally admitted that Israel has nuclear weapons. The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended, prohibits U.S. military assistance to countries that acquire or transfer nuclear reprocessing technology outside of international nonproliferation regimes; yet this law has been honored in its breach.

While the United States prods other countries to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), requiring international inspections, Israel refuses to sign the NPT, thereby avoiding inspections. Obama should enforce the law.

The United States has a policy of opposing all resolutions in the UN Security Council that condemn Israel’s illegal colonization of Palestinian territory, or that define the parameters of a two-state solution.

Indeed, the United States vetoed a resolution in February 2011 that would have condemned the building of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory. And in November 2014, the United States opposed a draft resolution demanding Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank within three years.

Obama has put all of his eggs in the “peace process” basket. But now that Netanyahu has stripped away all pretense of negotiating for a Palestinian state, Obama must drop his opposition to such resolutions in the council.

A senior White House official told The New York Times that the Obama administration might lend its support to a resolution “embodying the principles of a two-state solution that would include Israel’s 1967 borders with Palestine and mutually agreed swaps of territory.” The 1967 borders are those that existed before the “Six-Day War,” in which Israel took the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula and Jerusalem.

The U.S. Constitution requires that the president “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Netanyahu has dropped any pretense of good faith. It is high time for the U.S. government to halt its longstanding policy of turning a blind eye to Israel’s many violations of the law. Obama has a constitutional duty to enforce the law.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, a former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.




Journalists Who Hate Whistleblowers

A disturbing trend in mainstream U.S. media is how many “star” journalists side with the government in its persecution of whistleblowers and even disdain fellow reporters who expose secret wrongdoing, an attitude that is destroying what’s left of American democracy, as John Hanrahan explains.

By John Hanrahan

Following the late January guilty verdicts in the espionage trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, more proof emerged, if any more were needed, that many elite mainstream journalists abhor whistleblowers and think they should go to prison when they divulge classified information.

One would think that a business that has relied on confidential informants for some of the major investigative stories of this and the previous century would applaud whistleblowers who risk everything on behalf of the people’s right to know what their government is doing in the shadows.

But looking back at cases over the last five years, we see the unedifying spectacle of some of the nation’s best-known print and broadcast journalists venting their outrage at whistleblowers’ disclosures and expressing their preference for being kept in the dark by the government in the name of national security.

Most recently, Walter Pincus of The Washington Post and an opinion writer for The Economist both weighed in critically against Sterling after his conviction. Pincus also strongly defended the integrity of the Operation Merlin program, details of which Sterling was accused of leaking to New York Times reporter James Risen, and contended that Risen gave an erroneous portrayal of portions of the program in his 2006 book State of War. (More about these later.)

Sterling, who has never admitted leaking any classified information, nevertheless with his conviction joined the ranks of those whistleblowers and conduits for whistleblowers who have come under fire from prominent journalists for disclosing classified information to the press, e.g., Wikileaks, Julian Assange, Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, Edward Snowden, John Kiriakou, and others.

Journalistic heavyweights — New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman and David Brooks, Washington Post columnists David Ignatius and Richard Cohen, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, NBC’s former Meet the Press host David Gregory, and the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin — are among the journalistic heavyweights who have in one instance or another come to the defense of the government’s secrecy policies and who have pilloried those making the leaks.

Sounding Like Press Officers

And, in the process, they frequently sounded more like government press officers than independent, skeptical watchdogs of the public interest. Of course, some of these outraged members of press royalty have themselves benefited from “approved” government leaks designed to make the leaking parties look good, the kind of leaks that don’t get prosecuted.

For example, Ignatius, a veteran writer known for his CIA sources and insider information, derided whistleblowers in the aftermath of Snowden’s June 2013 National Security Agency mass surveillance revelations as “malcontents and self-appointed do-gooders who may get security clearances.” He darkly hinted that Snowden “looks these days more like an intelligence defector, seeking haven in a country hostile to the United States, than a whistleblower.”

The ever imaginative Thomas Friedman, in criticizing the NSA leaks, offered up a modern-day version of the Vietnam War’s “we had to bomb the village in order to save it” as the reason to condemn Snowden’s revelations. [Read it here.]

In Friedman’s telling, Americans must not overly concern themselves about our government spying on citizens and must accept a curtailment of privacy and civil liberties today in order to protect the nation and ward off a repeat of 9/11, which, if it occurred, would lead to an even more serious crackdown on civil liberties.

As he wrote: “[W]e don’t live in a world any longer where our government can protect its citizens from real, not imagined, threats without using big data under constant judicial review. It’s not ideal. But if one more 9/11-scale attack gets through, the cost to civil liberties will be so much greater.” Yes, a little authoritarianism today will forestall really big authoritarianism down the line.

We have even witnessed some journalists suggesting that Glenn Greenwald be charged with crimes for being the primary reporter of Snowden’s NSA disclosures, most notably, NBC’s David Gregory. (Gregory has snottily referred to Greenwald as someone who “claims that he’s a journalist”, as if true journalists are only those, like Gregory, who always bow to government authority.)

In June 2013, two weeks after the Snowden revelations, Gregory asked Greenwald on Meet the Press: “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” [See the video how Greenwald demolished Gregory.]

Over the years, Greenwald, first with Salon and The Guardian and now with The Intercept, has been the most vigilant documenter of the hostility of many in the mainstream press to whistleblowers and their support for secrecy in all matters connected to whatever the government claims involves a national security issue. [See, for example, his 2010 column on the reaction of many journalists, politicians and others to the Wikileaks disclosures.]

Mocking the Muckrakers

There is also the example of Bill Keller, then executive editor of The New York Times, who famously trashed Julian Assange in the Sunday Times Magazine in early 2011. Although Wikileaks provided a horde of secret documents that the Times used for major news stories, Keller, nevertheless, decided to do a gossipy hit-job on Assange, certainly one of the most peculiar acts of journalistic ingratitude and dumping of one’s source in the modern age.

In Sterling’s case, a Jan. 29 article on the “Democracy in America” blog of The Economist came up with a particularly disturbing headline: “Why locking up leakers makes sense.” It was signed with the initials D.R., per The Economist’s tradition of not disclosing full names in bylines.

The anonymous blogger takes a sort of “I’m-all-right-Jack-f-you” attitude toward whistleblowers in their dealings with reporters. Noting that James Risen was excused by the Justice Department from testifying in the Sterling case after making it clear that he would not name his sources for a botched CIA nuclear-component-designs-for-Iran operation that he described in his 2006 book State of War, the Economist article stated:

“The conflict between society’s desire for a vigorous free press that holds government to account and its need for the state to keep secrets from foreign enemies can never be resolved. But Mr. Risen’s reprieve and Mr. Sterling’s conviction could shift the balance in the right direction.”

Let that sink in: A writer for a magazine adjudged in journalistic circles to be a serious, prestigious publication, says it strikes a nice balance to have a whistleblower go to jail. The writer skims over the fact that this reprieve for Risen was the result of a policy only recently adopted by outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder and that today’s policy can change from one administration to the next, or even from one attorney general to another in the same administration.

There was no binding precedent set in Risen being let off the hook; there is no guarantee that the next brave reporter who refuses to name a source in a national security case won’t end up in jail. And no guarantee that reporter won’t be indicted as a co-conspirator if an attorney general decides to cross that line.

In this regard, the Obama administration has already indicated that reporters who benefit from classified leaks can be considered partners in an illegal activity, as was divulged in 2013 in the investigation of a 2009 national security leak to Fox News reporter James Rosen. Rosen was described as a co-conspirator in a government investigator’s affidavit seeking a search warrant to obtain Rosen’s personal e-mails in a leaks case involving North Korea’s nuclear weapons testing.

Stephen Kim, a State Department official with particular expertise in North Korea’s nuclear program, was subsequently indicted and pleaded guilty in April 2014 to one count under the Espionage Act of divulging classified information to Rosen. Kim’s case marked an especially egregious misuse of the Espionage Act, as reported by Peter Maass in The Intercept here.

Rehabilitating Merlin

Also in the Sterling trial aftermath, Walter Pincus, the Washington Post’s veteran national security reporter, weighed in with the journalistic equivalent of an amicus brief in support of the bizarre CIA scheme, Operation Merlin.

The CIA’s plan, as Risen’s State of War discloses, was to give flawed nuclear weapons component designs to the Iranians in the hope the supposedly clueless recipients would waste years going down this wrong path. Pincus asserts, as did CIA witnesses at trial, that Operation Merlin, far from being botched and possibly even helpful to the Iranians in their nuclear research, as Risen portrayed it, was really a marvelous success until its cover was blown with the publication of State of War.

Pincus’s argument that Risen got it wrong dovetails nicely with the CIA’s effort to rehabilitate what Risen described as “what may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.”

A May 2013 Politico article stressed Pincus’s closeness to the CIA and that agency’s point of view, quoting Post columnist Dana Milbank as saying: “Walter conveys the sense of what the intelligence community is thinking on any given subject.” Yes, he does.

Even before the Sterling case came to trial, Pincus had displayed animosity toward whistleblowers and some reporters’ dealings with them. He had even said it’s fine for the FBI to get secret warrants to rummage through reporters’ telephone records in investigating leaks, as was the case with six Associated Press reporters and editors. [See here and here.]

And in the month after Snowden’s June 2013 NSA disclosures, Pincus penned a speculative, innuendo-filled column, the gist of which was what he saw as the sinister possibility that Julian Assange, Wikileaks, Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras had all colluded with Snowden to leak secret documents for them to publish.

Greenwald challenged Pincus’s piece over much of a two-day period before the Post finally appended multiple corrections to the article that shot down the key “conspiracy” points Pincus had laid out.

Obama’s Obsession

Even at this late date, with a record number of at least eight individuals charged by the Obama administration under the 1917 Espionage Act (compared to three such prosecutions for all of Obama’s predecessors combined), many prominent journalists can’t see, or won’t admit, or don’t believe, that an attack on whistleblowers is also an attack on the press and on the First Amendment.

They appear either not to care or to have scant awareness of the chilling effect on the symbiotic relationship between investigative reporters and their sources every time whistleblowers are charged or convicted for crimes that could land them in prison for decades, if not a lifetime.

They also appear to accept at face value the stories spun by the CIA, the NSA, the Pentagon or other members of the vast U.S. national security state apparatus. It matters not to them the number of times those agencies have been shown to be liars, whether it be over non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or the extent of the vast surveillance operations directed at American citizens and people worldwide.

Why do these stars of the news media so readily brush off concerns about our dangerous warfare/surveillance state revealed by Snowden, Manning and the others? Why do they cheer on the government’s crackdown on unauthorized leaks and tell us surveillance and the diminishment of our civil liberties is really for our own good in a scary world, rather than side with the Bill of Rights and the handful of other journalists and whistleblowers who expose secrets that people in a free society should have the right to know?

Why do they sound as if they are angling for a position on the National Security Council or membership in the Council on Foreign Relations, rather than aspiring to be another I.F. Stone (who lived by the tenet, “all governments lie”) or Edward R. Murrow or Seymour Hersh?

James Risen, of course, “gets” why whistleblowers are vital to investigative reporting and a free press, as he explained to an unsympathetic David Gregory on “Meet the Press” shortly after Snowden’s disclosures in June 2013. [See cringe-worthy video excerpts here of Gregory and correspondent Andrea Mitchell lecturing to one of the premiere investigative reporters of this generation why whistleblowers like Snowden are so dangerous.]

Risen fielded his colleagues’ pro-secrecy, anti-whistleblower comments deftly, pointing out to them the obvious: “The only reason we’ve been having these public debates” over surveillance and civil liberties “and that we’re now sitting here talking about this is because of a series of whistleblowers. That the government has never wanted any of this reported, never wanted any of it disclosed.

“If it was up to the government over the last ten years, this surveillance infrastructure would have grown enormously with no public debate whatsoever. And so every time we talk about how someone is a traitor for disclosing something, we have to remember the only reason we’re talking about it is because of it.”

Given the co-dependency of confidential sources and journalists, it would be worthwhile to remind mainstream reporters and editors that when it comes to investigative reporting you, too, are a species of whistleblower. And when a whistleblower goes to jail, a part of our press freedom goes to jail, too.

John Hanrahan is a former executive director of The Fund for Investigative Journalism and reporter for The Washington Post, The Washington Star, UPI and other news organizations. He also has extensive experience as a legal investigator. Hanrahan is the author of Government by Contract and co-author of Lost Frontier: The Marketing of Alaska. He has written extensively for NiemanWatchdog.org, a project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. [This article originally appeared at ExposeFacts.org.]




GOP Senators Take Orders from AIPAC

By reaching out to Iran in a bid to sabotage negotiations to limit its nuclear program, Sen. Tom Cotton and his 46 Republican colleagues not only show their contempt for President Obama and the U.S. Constitution but their obeisance to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and AIPAC, explains Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

The “open letter” from Sen. Tom Cotton and 46 other Republican senators to the leadership of Iran, which even Republicans themselves admit was aimed at encouraging Iranian opponents of the nuclear negotiations to argue that the United States cannot be counted on to keep the bargain, has created a new political firestorm.

It has been harshly denounced by Democratic loyalists as “stunning” and “appalling”, and critics have accused the signers of the letter of being “treasonous” for allegedly violating a law forbidding citizens from negotiating with a foreign power. But the response to the letter has primarily distracted public attention from the real issue it raises: how the big funders of the Likud Party in Israel control Congressional actions on Iran.

The infamous letter is a ham-handed effort by Republican supporters of the Netanyahu government to blow up the nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran. The idea was to encourage Iranians to conclude that the United States would not actually carry out its obligations under the agreement i.e. the lifting of sanctions against Iran.

Cotton, R-Arkansas, and his colleagues were inviting inevitable comparison with the 1968 conspiracy byRichard Nixon, through rightwing campaign official Anna Chennault, to encourage the Vietnamese government of President Nguyen Van Thieu to boycott peace talks in Paris. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason.’“]

But while Nixon was plotting secretly to get Thieu to hold out for better terms under a Nixon administration, the 47 Republican senators were making their effort to sabotage the Iran nuclear talks in full public scrutiny. And the interest served by the letter was not that of a possible future president but of the Israeli government.

The Cotton letter makes arguments that are patently false. The letter suggested that any agreement that lacked approval of Congress “is a mere executive agreement”, as though such agreements are somehow of only marginal importance in U.S. diplomatic history. In fact, the agreements on withdrawal of U.S. forces from both the wars in Vietnam and in Iraq were not treaties but executive agreements.

Equally fatuous is the letter’s assertion that “future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.” Congress can nullify the agreement by passing legislation that contradicts it but can’t renegotiate it. And the claim that the next president could “revoke the agreement with the stroke of a pen,” ignores the fact that the Iran nuclear agreement, if signed, will become binding international law through a United Nations Security Council resolution, as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has pointed out.

The letter has provoked the charge of “treason” against the signers and a demand for charges against them for negotiating with a foreign government in violation of the Logan Act. In a little over 24 hours, more than 200,000 people had signed a petition on the White House website calling such charges to be filed.

But although that route may seem satisfying at first thought, it is problematic for both legal and political reasons. The Logan Act was passed in 1799, and has never been used successfully to convict anyone, mainly because it was written more than a century before U.S. courts created legal standards for the protection of First Amendment speech rights. And it is unclear whether the Logan Act was even meant to apply to members of Congress anyway.

AIPAC Marching Orders

The more serious problem with focusing on the Logan Act, however, is that what Cotton and his Republican colleagues were doing was not negotiating with a foreign government but trying to influence the outcome of negotiations in the interest of a foreign government.

The premise of the Senate Republicans reflected in the letter that Iran must not be allowed to have any enrichment capacity whatever did not appear spontaneously. The views that Cotton and the other Republicans have espoused on Iran were the product of assiduous lobbying by Israeli agents of influence using the inducement of promises of election funding and the threat of support for the members’ opponents in future elections.

Those members of Congress don’t arrive at their positions on issues related to Iran through discussion and debate among themselves. They are given their marching orders by AIPAC lobbyists, and time after time, they sign the letters and vote for legislation or resolution that they are given, as former AIPAC lobbyist MJ Rosenberg has recalled.

This Israeli exercise of control over Congress on Iran and issues of concern to Israel resembles the Soviet direction of its satellite regimes and loyal Communist parties more than any democratic process, but with campaign contributions replacing the inducements that kept its bloc allies in line.

Rosenberg has reasoned that AIPAC must have drafted the letter and handed it to Senator Cotton. “Nothing happens on Capitol Hill related to Israel,” he tweets, “unless and until Howard Kohr (AIPAC chief) wants it to happen. Nothing.”

AIPAC apparently supported the letter, but there may be more to the story. Sen. Cotton just happens to be a protégé of neoconservative political kingpin Bill Kristol, whose Emergency Committee on Israel gave him nearly a million dollars late in his 2014 Senate campaign and guaranteed that Cotton would have the support of the four biggest funders of major anti-Iran organizations.

Cotton proved his absolute fealty to Likudist policy on Iran by sponsoring an amendment to the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013 that would have punished violators of the sanctions against Iran with prison sentences of up to 20 years and extended the punishment to “a spouse and any relative, to the third degree” of the sanctions violator.

In presenting the amendment in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Cotton provided the useful clarification that it would have included “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids”.

That amendment, which he apparently believed would best reflect his adoption of the Israeli view of how to cut Iran down to size, was unsuccessful, but it established his reliability in the eyes of the Republican Likudist kingmakers. Now Kristol is grooming him to be the vice-presidential nominee in 2016.

So the real story behind the letter from Cotton and his Republican colleagues is how the enforcers of Likudist policy on Iran used an ambitious young Republican politician to try to provoke a breakdown in the Iran nuclear negotiations. The issue it raises is a far more serious issue than the Logan Act, but thus far major news organizations have steered clear of that story.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. [This story first appeared at Middle East Eye.]




LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason’

From the Archive: The letter to Iran from 47 Republicans senators, seeking to kill President Obama’s talks on limiting Iran’s nuclear program, recalls other GOP sabotage of foreign policy by Democratic presidents, including Richard Nixon’s scheme to stop a Vietnam peace deal in 1968, as Robert Parry wrote in 2012.

By Robert Parry (Originally published on March 3, 2012)

On May 14, 1973, Walt W. Rostow, who had been national security adviser during some of the darkest days of the Vietnam War, typed a three-page “memorandum for the record” summarizing a secret file that his former boss, President Lyndon Johnson, had amassed on what may have been Richard Nixon’s dirtiest trick, the sabotaging of Vietnam peace talks to win the 1968 election.

Rostow reflected, too, on what effect LBJ’s public silence may have had on the then-unfolding Watergate scandal. As Rostow composed his memo in spring 1973, President Nixon’s Watergate cover-up was unraveling. Just two weeks earlier, Nixon had fired White House counsel John Dean and accepted the resignations of two top aides, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman.

Three days after Rostow wrote the memo, the Senate Watergate hearings opened as the U.S. government lurched toward a constitutional crisis. Yet, as he typed, Rostow had a unique perspective on the worsening scandal. He understood the subterranean background to Nixon’s political espionage operations.

Those secret activities surfaced with the arrest of the Watergate burglars in June 1972, but they had begun much earlier. In his memo for the record, Rostow expressed regret that he and other top Johnson aides had chosen for what they had deemed “the good of the country” to keep quiet about Nixon’s Vietnam peace-talk sabotage, which Johnson had privately labeled “treason.”

“I am inclined to believe the Republican operation in 1968 relates in two ways to the Watergate affair of 1972,” Rostow wrote. He noted, first, that Nixon’s operatives may have judged that their “enterprise with the South Vietnamese” in frustrating Johnson’s last-ditch peace initiative had secured Nixon his narrow margin of victory over Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey in 1968.

“Second, they got away with it,” Rostow wrote. “Despite considerable press commentary after the election, the matter was never investigated fully. Thus, as the same men faced the election in 1972, there was nothing in their previous experience with an operation of doubtful propriety (or, even, legality) to warn them off, and there were memories of how close an election could get and the possible utility of pressing to the limit and beyond.” [To read Rostow’s memo, click here, here and here.]

Rostow also was aware that as the Watergate scandal deepened in late 1972 and early 1973 Nixon’s men had curiously approached the retired President Johnson with veiled threats about going public with their knowledge that Johnson had ordered wiretaps to spy on their Vietnam peace sabotage in 1968. Apparently, Nixon thought he could bully Johnson into helping shut down the Watergate probe.

Instead, the threat had infuriated Johnson, who was still pained by his failure to end the Vietnam War before he left office on Jan. 20, 1969, a tragic lost opportunity that he blamed on Nixon’s treachery and deceit. Just a couple of weeks after Nixon’s strange overture about the 1968 bugging and two days after Nixon was sworn in for a second term, Johnson died of a heart attack on Jan. 22, 1973.

‘The X Envelope’

So, in spring 1973, Rostow found himself in a curious position. As Johnson’s presidency ended in 1969 and at Johnson’s instruction Rostow had taken with him the White House file chronicling Nixon’s Vietnam gambit, consisting of scores of “secret” and “top secret” documents. Rostow had labeled the file “The ‘X’ envelope.”

Also, by May 1973, Rostow had been out of government for more than four years and had no legal standing to possess this classified material. Johnson, who had ordered the file removed from the White House, had died. And, now, a major political crisis was unfolding about which Rostow felt he possessed an important missing link for understanding the history and the context. So what to do?

Rostow apparently struggled with this question for the next month as the Watergate scandal continued to expand. On June 25, 1973, John Dean delivered his blockbuster Senate testimony, claiming that Nixon got involved in the cover-up within days of the June 1972 burglary at the Democratic National Committee. Dean also asserted that Watergate was just part of a years-long program of political espionage directed by Nixon’s White House.

The very next day, as headlines of Dean’s testimony filled the nation’s newspapers, Rostow reached his conclusion about what to do with “The ‘X’ envelope.” In longhand, he wrote a “Top Secret” note which read, “To be opened by the Director, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, not earlier than fifty (50) years from this date June 26, 1973.”

In other words, Rostow intended this missing link of American history to stay missing for another half century. In a typed cover letter to LBJ Library director Harry Middleton, Rostow wrote: “Sealed in the attached envelope is a file President Johnson asked me to hold personally because of its sensitive nature. In case of his death, the material was to be consigned to the LBJ Library under conditions I judged to be appropriate.

“The file concerns the activities of Mrs. [Anna] Chennault and others before and immediately after the election of 1968. At the time President Johnson decided to handle the matter strictly as a question of national security; and in retrospect, he felt that decision was correct.

“After fifty years the Director of the LBJ Library (or whomever may inherit his responsibilities, should the administrative structure of the National Archives change) may, alone, open this file. If he believes the material it contains should not be opened for research [at that time], I would wish him empowered to re-close the file for another fifty years when the procedure outlined above should be repeated.”

Opening the File

Ultimately, however, the LBJ Library didn’t wait that long. After a little more than two decades, on July 22, 1994, the envelope was opened and the archivists began the process of declassifying the contents. (Some documents, including what appears to be the oldest document in the file, an Aug. 3, 1968, “top secret” memo from White House national security aide Bromley Smith to Johnson, remain partially or wholly classified even today.)

Still, the dozens of declassified documents revealed a dramatic story of hardball politics played at the highest levels of government and with the highest of stakes, not only the outcome of the pivotal 1968 presidential election but the fate of a half million U.S. soldiers then sitting in the Vietnam war zone.

Relying on national security wiretaps of the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington and surveillance of right-wing China Lobby activist Anna Chennault, Johnson concluded that Nixon’s Republican presidential campaign was colluding with South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu to derail the Paris peace talks and thus deny a last-minute boost to Democratic presidential nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

At the time, Johnson thought a breakthrough was near, one that could have ended a war which had already claimed the lives of more than 30,000 American troops and countless Vietnamese. Nixon, like Humphrey, was receiving briefings on the progress as the negotiations gained momentum in October 1968.

The Johnson administration was encouraged when North Vietnam agreed on a framework for peace talks. However, America’s South Vietnamese allies began to balk over details about how the negotiations would be conducted, objecting to any equal status for the South Vietnamese Viet Cong insurgents.

“Top Secret” reports from the National Security Agency informed President Johnson that South Vietnam’s President Thieu was closely monitoring the political developments in the United States with an eye toward helping Nixon win the Nov. 5 election.

For instance, an Oct. 23, 1968, report presumably based on NSA’s electronic eavesdropping quotes Thieu as saying that the Johnson administration might halt the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam as part of a peace maneuver that would help Humphrey’s campaign but that South Vietnam might not go along. Thieu also appreciated the other side of the coin, that Johnson’s failure would help Nixon.

“The situation which would occur as the result of a bombing halt, without the agreement of the [South] Vietnamese government would be to the advantage of candidate Nixon,” the NSA report on Thieu’s thinking read. “Accordingly, he [Thieu] said that the possibility of President Johnson enforcing a bombing halt without [South] Vietnam’s agreement appears to be weak.” [Click here and here.]

By Oct. 28, 1968, according to another NSA report, Thieu said “it appears that Mr. Nixon will be elected as the next president” and that any settlement with the Viet Cong should be put off until “the new president” was in place.

Nixon’s Go-Between

The next day, Oct. 29, national security adviser Walt Rostow received the first indication that Nixon might actually be coordinating with Thieu to sabotage the peace talks. Rostow’s brother, Eugene, who was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, wrote a memo about a tip from a source in New York who had spoken with “a member of the banking community” who was “very close to Nixon.”

The source said Wall Street bankers at a working lunch to assess likely market trends and to decide where to invest had been given inside information about the prospects for Vietnam peace and were told that Nixon was obstructing that outcome.

“The conversation was in the context of a professional discussion about the future of the financial markets in the near term,” Eugene Rostow wrote. “The speaker said he thought the prospects for a bombing halt or a cease-fire were dim, because Nixon was playing the problem to block.

“They would incite Saigon to be difficult, and Hanoi to wait. Part of his strategy was an expectation that an offensive would break out soon, that we would have to spend a great deal more (and incur more casualties) a fact which would adversely affect the stock market and the bond market. NVN [North Vietnamese] offensive action was a definite element in their thinking about the future.”

In other words, Nixon’s friends on Wall Street were placing their financial bets based on the inside dope that Johnson’s peace initiative was doomed to fail. (In another document, Walt Rostow identified his brother’s source as Alexander Sachs, who was then on the board of Lehman Brothers.)

A separate memo from Eugene Rostow said the speaker had added that Nixon “was trying to frustrate the President, by inciting Saigon to step up its demands, and by letting Hanoi know that when he [Nixon] took office ‘he could accept anything and blame it on his predecessor.’” So, according to the source, Nixon was trying to convince both the South and North Vietnamese that they would get a better deal if they stalled Johnson.

In his later memo to the file, Walt Rostow recounted that he learned this news shortly before attending a morning meeting at which President Johnson was informed by U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker about “Thieu’s sudden intransigence.” Walt Rostow said “the diplomatic information previously received plus the information from New York took on new and serious significance.”

That same day, Johnson “instructed Bromley Smith, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council, to get in touch with the Deputy Director of the FBI, Deke DeLoach, and arrange that contacts by Americans with the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington be monitored,” Rostow wrote.

The White House soon learned that Anna Chennault, the fiercely anticommunist Chinese-born widow of Lt. Gen. Claire Chennault and a member of Nixon’s campaign team, was holding curious meetings with South Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Bui Diem. On Oct. 30, an FBI intercept overheard Bui Diem telling Mrs. Chennault that something “is cooking” and asking her to come by the embassy.

Johnson Complains

On Oct. 31, at 4:09 p.m., Johnson his voice thick from a cold began working the phones, trying to counteract Nixon’s chicanery. The Democratic president called Republican Senate Leader Everett Dirksen and broached a concern about Nixon’s interference with the peace talks. Johnson said he considered Nixon’s behavior a betrayal because he had kept Nixon abreast of the peace progress, according to an audio recording of the conversation released by the LBJ Library in late 2008.

“I played it clean,” Johnson said. “I told Nixon every bit as much, if not more, as Humphrey knows. I’ve given Humphrey not one thing.”

Johnson added, “I really think it’s a little dirty pool for Dick’s people to be messing with the South Vietnamese ambassador and carrying messages around to both of them [North and South Vietnam]. And I don’t think people would approve of it if it were known.”

Dirksen: “Yeah.”

Referring to his political trouble with Democrats as well as Republicans, Johnson continued, “While they criticized my conduct of the war, they have never told the enemy that he’d get a better deal, but these last few days, Dick is just gotten a little shaky and he’s pissing on the fire a little.”

Johnson then told Dirksen, “We have a transcript where one of his partners says he’s going to frustrate the President by telling the South Vietnamese that, ‘just wait a few more days,’   he can make a better peace for them, and by telling Hanoi that he didn’t run this war and didn’t get them into it, that he can be a lot more considerate of them than I can because I’m pretty inflexible. I’ve called them sons of bitches.”

Dirksen responded by expressing the Republican concern that Johnson might spring a breakthrough on the peace talks right before the election. “The fellas on our side get antsy-pantsy about it,” the Illinois Republican said. “They wonder what the impact would be if a cease-fire or a halt to the bombing will be proclaimed at any given hour, what its impact would be on the results next Tuesday,” Election Day.

Johnson denied he would play politics with the war and recalled Nixon’s pledges to support his handling of the war. Johnson said, “With Nixon saying ‘I want the war stopped, that I’m supporting Johnson, that I want him to get peace if he can, that I’m not going to pull the rug out [from under] him,’ I don’t know how it could be helped unless he goes to parting under the covers and gets his hand under somebody’s dress.”

Knowing Dirksen would report back to Nixon, Johnson also cited a few details to give his complaint more credibility. “He better keep Mrs. Chennault and all this crowd tied up for a few days,” Johnson said.

Bombing Halt

That night, Johnson announced a bombing halt of North Vietnam, a key step toward advancing the peace process. The next morning at 11:38, he discussed the state of play with Sen. Richard Russell, D-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Johnson again mentioned Nixon’s secret maneuverings though expressing hope that his warning to Dirksen had worked.

Nixon has “had these people engaged in this stuff,” said Johnson, amid loud honking to clear his sinuses. “Folks messing around with both sides. Hanoi thought they could benefit by waiting and South Vietnam’s now beginning to think they could benefit by waiting, by what people are doing. So he [Nixon] knows that I know what he’s doing. And this morning they’re kind of closing up some of their agents, not so active. I noticed that one of the embassies refused to answer their call.”

However, on Nov. 2, Johnson learned that his protests had not shut down the operation. The FBI intercepted the most incriminating evidence yet of Nixon’s interference when Anna Chennault contacted Ambassador Bui Diem to convey “a message from her boss (not further identified),” according to an FBI cable.

According to the intercept, Chennault said “her boss wanted her to give [the message] personally to the ambassador. She said the message was that the ambassador is to ‘hold on, we are going to win’ and that her boss also said, ‘hold on, he understands all of it.’ She repeated that this is the only message ‘he said please tell your boss to hold on.’ She advised that her boss had just called from New Mexico.”

In quickly relaying the message to Johnson at his ranch in Texas, Rostow noted that the reference to New Mexico “may indicate [Republican vice presidential nominee Spiro] Agnew is acting,” since he had taken a campaign swing through the state.

That same day, Thieu recanted on his tentative agreement to meet with the Viet Cong in Paris, pushing the incipient peace talks toward failure. That night, at 9:18, an angry Johnson from his ranch in Texas telephoned Dirksen again, to provide more details about Nixon’s activities and to urge Dirksen to intervene more forcefully.

“The agent [Chennault] says she’s just talked to the boss in New Mexico and that he said that you must hold out, just hold on until after the election,” Johnson said. “We know what Thieu is saying to them out there. We’re pretty well informed at both ends.”

Johnson then renewed his thinly veiled threat to go public. “I don’t want to get this in the campaign,” Johnson said, adding: “They oughtn’t be doing this. This is treason.”

Dirksen responded, “I know.”

Johnson continued: “I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter of this importance. I don’t want to do that [go public]. They ought to know that we know what they’re doing. I know who they’re talking to. I know what they’re saying.”

The President also stressed the stakes involved, noting that the movement toward negotiations in Paris had contributed to a lull in the violence. “We’ve had 24 hours of relative peace,” Johnson said. “If Nixon keeps the South Vietnamese away from the [peace] conference, well, that’s going to be his responsibility. Up to this point, that’s why they’re not there. I had them signed onboard until this happened.”

Dirksen: “I better get in touch with him, I think.”

“They’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war,” Johnson said. “It’s a damn bad mistake. And I don’t want to say so. You just tell them that their people are messing around in this thing, and if they don’t want it on the front pages, they better quit it.”

A Worried Nixon

After hearing from Dirksen, Nixon grew concerned that Johnson might just go public with his evidence of the conspiracy. Nixon discussed his worries with Sen. George Smathers, a conservative Democrat from Florida, who, in turn, called Johnson on the morning of Nov. 3, just two days before the election.

Smathers recounted that “Nixon said he understands the President is ready to blast him for allegedly collaborating with [Texas Sen. John] Tower and [Anna] Chennault to slow the peace talks,” according to a White House summary of the Smathers call to Johnson. “Nixon says there is not any truth at all in this allegation. Nixon says there has been no contact at all. Nixon told Smathers he hoped the President would not make such a charge.”

At 1:54 p.m., trying to head off that possibility, Nixon spoke directly to Johnson, according to an audiotape released by the LBJ Library.

“Mr. President, this is Dick Nixon.”

Johnson: “Yes, Dick.”

Nixon: “I just wanted you to know that I got a report from Everett Dirksen with regard to your call. I just went on ‘Meet the Press’ and I said that I had given you my personal assurance that I would do everything possible to cooperate both before the election and, if elected, after the election and if you felt that anything would be useful that I could do, that I would do it, that I felt Saigon should come to the conference table.

“I feel very, very strongly about this. Any rumblings around about somebody trying to sabotage the Saigon government’s attitude, there’s absolutely no credibility as far as I’m concerned.”

Armed with the FBI reports and other intelligence, Johnson responded, “I’m very happy to hear that, Dick, because that is taking place. Here’s the history of it. I didn’t want to call you but I wanted you to know what happened.”

Johnson recounted some of the chronology leading up to Oct. 28 when it appeared that South Vietnam was onboard for the peace talks. He added: “Then the traffic goes out that Nixon will do better by you. Now that goes to Thieu. I didn’t say with your knowledge. I hope it wasn’t.”

“Huh, no,” Nixon responded. “My God, I would never do anything to encourage Saigon not to come to the table. Good God, we want them over to Paris, we got to get them to Paris or you can’t have a peace.”

Nixon also insisted that he would do whatever President Johnson and Secretary of State Dean Rusk wanted, including going to Paris himself if that would help. “I’m not trying to interfere with your conduct of it; I’ll only do what you and Rusk want me to do,” Nixon said, recognizing how tantalizingly close Johnson was to a peace deal.

“We’ve got to get this goddamn war off the plate,” Nixon continued. “The war apparently now is about where it could be brought to an end. The quicker the better. To hell with the political credit, believe me.”

Johnson, however, sounded less than convinced. “You just see that your people don’t tell the South Vietnamese that they’re going to get a better deal out of the United States government than a conference,” the President said.

Still professing his innocence, Nixon told Johnson, “The main thing that we want to have is a good, strong personal understanding. After all, I trust you on this and I’ve told everybody that.”

“You just see that your people that are talking to these folks make clear your position,” Johnson said.

Nixon protested that some of his Democratic rivals were citing the bombing halt as good news for Humphrey’s campaign. “Some of Humphrey’s people have been gleeful,” Nixon said. “They said the bombing pause is going to help them and our people say it hurts.”

“I’ll tell you what I say,” Johnson cut in. “I say it doesn’t affect the election one way or the other. I don’t think it will change one vote.”

Trying to end the conversation on a pleasant note, Nixon inserted, “Anyway, we’ll have fun.”

According to some reports, Nixon himself was gleeful after the conversation ended, believing he had tamped down Johnson’s suspicions. However, privately, Johnson didn’t believe Nixon’s protestations of innocence.

What to Do?

In a 2:18 p.m. phone conversation with Secretary of State Rusk about the messages from the Nixon camp to the South Vietnamese leadership, Johnson said, “I don’t think they say these things without his knowledge.”

Rusk: “Well, certainly not without Agnew’s knowledge, some cutouts somewhere.”

Johnson: “Well, what do we do now? Just say nothing?”

Rusk: “I would think we ought to hunker down and say nothing at this point.”

However, on Nov. 4, the White House received another report from the FBI that Anna Chennault had visited the South Vietnamese embassy. Johnson also got word that the Christian Science Monitor was onto the story of Nixon undermining the peace talks.

The FBI bugging of the South Vietnamese embassy picked up a conversation involving journalist Saville Davis of the Monitor’s Washington bureau, seeking a comment from Ambassador Bui Diem about “a story received from a [Monitor] correspondent in Saigon.” Rostow relayed the FBI report to Johnson who was still at his Texas ranch.

The “eyes only” cable reported: “Davis said that the dispatch from Saigon contains the elements of a major scandal which also involves the Vietnamese ambassador and which will affect presidential candidate Richard Nixon if the Monitor publishes it. Time is of the essence inasmuch as Davis has a deadline to meet if he publishes it. He speculated that should the story be published, it will create a great deal of excitement.”

Davis also approached the White House for comment about the draft article, which had arrived from correspondent Beverly Deepe. Her draft began: “Purported political encouragement from the Richard Nixon camp was a significant factor in the last-minute decision of President Thieu’s refusal to send a delegation to the Paris peace talks at least until the American Presidential election is over.”

The Monitor’s inquiry gave President Johnson one more opportunity to bring to light the Nixon campaign’s gambit before Election Day, albeit only on the day before and possibly not until the morning of the election when the Monitor could publish the story.

So, Johnson consulted with Rusk, Rostow and Defense Secretary Clark Clifford in a Nov. 4 conference call. Those three pillars of the Washington Establishment were unanimous in advising Johnson against going public, mostly out of fear that the scandalous information might reflect badly on the U.S. government.

“Some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have a certain individual [Nixon] elected,” Clifford said. “It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country’s interests.”

Johnson concurred with the judgment, and an administration spokesman told Davis, “Obviously I’m not going to get into this kind of thing in any way, shape or form,” according to another “eyes only” cable that Rostow sent Johnson. The cable added:

“Saville Davis volunteered that his newspaper would certainly not print the story in the form in which it was filed; but they might print a story which said Thieu, on his own, decided to hold out until after the election. Incidentally, the story as filed is stated to be based on Vietnamese sources, and not U.S., in Saigon.”

Rostow’s cable also summed up the consensus from him, Rusk and Clifford: “The information sources [an apparent reference to the FBI wiretaps] must be protected and not introduced into domestic politics; even with these sources, the case is not open and shut.

“On the question of the ‘public’s right to know,’ Sec. Rusk was very strong on the following position: We get information like this every day, some of it very damaging to American political figures. We have always taken the view that with respect to such sources there is no public ‘right to know.’ Such information is collected simply for the purposes of national security.

“So far as the information based on such sources is concerned, all three of us agreed: (A) Even if the story breaks, it was judged too late to have a significant impact on the election. (B) The viability of the man elected as president was involved as well as subsequent relations between him and President Johnson. (C) Therefore, the common recommendation was that we should not encourage such stories and hold tight the data we have.”

According to a “memorandum for the record,” presumably written by Walt Rostow, “our contact with the man in New York” reported on Election Day, Nov. 5, that Nixon remained nervous about the election’s outcome and thus reneged on his commitment to Johnson not to exploit the peace-talk stalemate for political gain.

“On the question of the problem with Saigon, he [Nixon] did not stay with the statesman-like role but pressed publicly the failure of Saigon to come along as an anti-Democrat political issue,” the memo said. So, even as Johnson refused to exploit evidence of Nixon’s “treason,” Nixon played hardball until the last vote was cast.

Nixon’s Victory

Nixon narrowly prevailed over Humphrey by about 500,000 votes or less than one percent of the ballots cast.

On the day after the election, Rostow relayed to Johnson another FBI intercept which had recorded South Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem saying, prior to the American balloting, that he was “keeping his fingers crossed” in hopes of a Nixon victory.

On Nov. 7, Rostow passed along another report to Johnson about the thinking of South Vietnam’s leaders, with a cover letter that read: “If you wish to get the story raw, read the last paragraph, marked.”

That marked paragraph quoted Major Bui Cong Minh, assistant armed forces attaché at the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, saying about the peace talks: “Major Minh expressed the opinion that the move by Saigon was to help presidential candidate Nixon, and that had Saigon gone to the conference table, presidential candidate Humphrey would probably have won.”

The White House also learned that Anna Chennault remained in contact with Ambassador Bui Diem, including a cryptic conversation on Nov. 7, in which she told him she had conveyed a message from President Thieu to “them,” presumably a reference to the Nixon team.

The cable read: “She advised she had given ‘them’ everything when she finally got back to her office to call, that ‘they’ got the whole message. Chennault continued that ‘they’ are still planning things but are not letting people know too much because they want to be careful to avoid embarrassing ‘you’, themselves, or the present U.S. government. Therefore, whatever we do must be carefully planned. Chennault added that Senator John Goodwin Tower had talked to her today. and Chennault and Tower plan to meet [Ambassador] Diem ‘either Monday.’”

After reading the cable on the morning of Nov. 8, Rostow wrote to Johnson, “First reactions may well be wrong. But with this information I think it’s time to blow the whistle on these folks.” Of course, as the president-elect, Nixon was now in the driver’s seat and there wasn’t anything Johnson could do to change that.

Another report on Nov. 8 described a breakfast meeting between Ambassador Bui Diem and “a reliable and trustworthy American,” who discussed President Thieu’s revised approach to the Paris talks which “gave the GVN [South Vietnam] a more prominent status than the NLF [Viet Cong] and put negotiations on a Vietnamese-to-Vietnamese basis rather than a U.S.-to-Vietnamese basis.

“Asked if he [Bui Diem] thought there was much chance of Hanoi’s acceptance, he replied ‘no,’ but he added that it put the GVN on the offensive rather than in the position of appearing to scuttle negotiations.”

In other words, the South Vietnamese government was making a public relations move to ensure the talks would fail but without Thieu getting the blame. Bui Diem also expressed satisfaction that the U.S. elections had ousted key anti-war senators, Wayne Morse, Ernest Gruening and Joseph Clark. [Click here, here and here.]

Pressuring Nixon

The report upset Johnson, but he chose to continue trying to persuade Nixon to live up to his pre-election commitment to do whatever he could to push the peace process toward success. At 2:54 p.m. on Nov. 8, Johnson spoke again with Sen. Dirksen to stress the urgency of Nixon getting Thieu to reverse his position on the peace talks.

“Hell, no, this ought to go right now,” Johnson declared. “If they [the South Vietnamese] don’t go in there this week, we’re just going to have all kinds of problems. We want Thieu to get a message so he can get a delegation from Saigon to Paris next week. We think we’ve held up each day, we’re killing men. We’re killing men.

“Saigon now thinks that they will play this out and keep this thing going on until January the 20th [Inauguration Day] and we think that’s a mistake.”

That evening at 9:23, Nixon called Johnson from Key Biscayne, Florida, where Nixon was taking a vacation after the grueling election. Nixon sounded confident and relaxed, even as Johnson continued to push regarding the peace talks. Johnson recounted the evidence of the continued interference by Nixon’s emissaries and even described the Republican motivation for disrupting the talks, speaking of himself in the third person.

“Johnson was going to have a bombing pause to try to elect Humphrey; they [the South Vietnamese] ought to hold out because Nixon will not sell you out like the Democrats sold out China,” Johnson said.

“I think they’ve been talking to [Vice President-elect Spiro] Agnew,” Johnson continued. “They’ve been quoting you [Nixon] indirectly, that the thing they ought to do is to just not show up at any [peace] conference and wait until you come into office.

“Now they’ve started that [boycott] and that’s bad. They’re killing Americans every day. I have that [story of the peace-talk sabotage] documented. There’s not any question but that’s happening. That’s the story, Dick, and it’s a sordid story. I don’t want to say that to the country, because that’s not good.”

Faced with Johnson’s threat, Nixon promised to tell the South Vietnamese officials to reverse themselves and join the peace talks. However, nothing changed.

At a Nov. 11 dinner party, President Thieu discussed what he termed a U.S. “betrayal” of him when he was getting pressured regarding the Paris peace talks, according to a “secret” U.S. government report on Thieu’s comments. The report added, “Thieu told his guests that during the U.S. election campaign he had sent two secret emissaries to the U.S. to contact Richard Nixon.” [Click here, here, here, here, here and here.]

On Nov. 13, South Vietnam’s Minister of Information Ton That Thein held a press conference criticizing Johnson and his diplomats for rushing matters on the peace talks. Thein also acknowledged possible pre-election contacts with elements of Nixon’s campaign.

A U.S. Embassy cable reported that “Asked whether Nixon had encouraged the GVN [the government of South Vietnam] to delay agreement with the US, Thein replied that, while there may have been contacts between Nixon staffers and personnel of the [South Vietnamese] Embassy in Washington, a person of the caliber of Nixon would not do such a thing.” [Click here, here and here.]

On Nov. 15, ten days after the election, suspicions of the peace-talk sabotage began seeping into the U.S. news media. Columnist Georgie Anne Geyer reported, “Top Saigon officials are boasting privately they helped assure the election of Richard M. Nixon. They are pleased about it. ‘We did it,’ one of them said. ‘We helped elect an American President.’”

Columnists Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson noted in a Nov. 17 column that Johnson “learned that Saigon’s Ambassador Bui Diem had been in touch secretly with Richard Nixon’s people. There were unconfirmed reports that South Vietnamese leaders had even slipped campaign cash to Nixon representatives.”

‘Lady Still Operational’

As the weeks passed and the peace talks remained stalled, Anna Chennault kept up her contacts with South Vietnam’s Embassy, briefing a senior diplomat there on Dec. 9, 1968, about Nixon’s selection of “her very good friend” Melvin Laird to be Secretary of Defense.

According to the FBI cable, “She went on to say that ‘we’ should be very happy about this [and] not to be too concerned about the press’s references about a coalition government. Chennault indicated that Laird is a very strong man.” Rostow forwarded the cable to Johnson on Dec. 10, with the notation, “The Lady is still operational.”

But Johnson’s White House remained tight-lipped about its knowledge of Nixon’s treachery. According to the documents in “The ‘X’ Envelope,” the first detailed press inquiry about the peace-talk sabotage came from St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Tom Ottenad who contacted Rostow on Jan. 3, 1969, just 17 days before Johnson would leave office.

Ottenad outlined the activities of Anna Chennault on behalf of the campaign and pressed Rostow to confirm that the administration was aware of the subterfuge. Rostow responded, “I have not one word to say about that matter.”

An FBI intercept also picked up the Post-Dispatch questioning Bui Diem about contacts with Chennault. While he denied any improper contacts with the Nixon administration, Bui Diem acknowledged that Chennault “has visited the Vietnamese embassy from time to time, but not frequently.”

As published, Ottenad’s article began, “A well-known top official of committees working for the election of Richard M. Nixon secretly got in touch with representatives of South Vietnam shortly before the presidential election. It was in connection with an apparent effort to encourage them to delay in joining the Paris peace talks in hopes of getting a better deal if the Republicans won the White House.”

But there was little follow-up to Ottenad’s scoop. A sketchy account also appeared in author Teddy White’s The Making of a President 1968, which was published in summer 1969, drawing a response from Chennault, who called the accusations an “insult.”

Even in retirement, Rostow remained mum about the Chennault episode, rebuffing another overture from Ottenad on Feb. 11, 1970. Ottenad also approached ex-President Johnson, but he too chose to hold his tongue, though his legacy had been devastated by his conduct of the Vietnam War and by his failure to end it.

After Ottenad’s inquiry, Johnson’s aide Tom Johnson offered a heads-up to Nixon’s chief of staff “Bob” Haldeman about another possible story on this touchy topic. To a somewhat baffled Haldeman, Tom Johnson volunteered that ex-President Johnson had given no authorization to anyone to discuss the matter.

“Haldeman said he was most appreciative that we had advised him of this information and would keep the telephone call completely confidential,” Tom Johnson’s memo to ex-President Johnson read. “Haldeman seemed genuinely pleased and surprised that we would call on such a matter and expressed his thanks again for the attitude we have been taking toward President Nixon.” [Tom Johnson later served as president of CNN.]

More Dead

From the start of Nixon’s presidency in 1969, the U.S. participation in the Vietnam War continued for more than four years at horrendous cost to both the United States and the people of Vietnam. Having allegedly made his secret commitment to the South Vietnamese regime, Nixon kept searching for violent new ways to get Thieu a better deal than Johnson would have offered. Seeking what he called “peace with honor,” Nixon invaded Cambodia and stepped up the bombing of North Vietnam.

In those four years, the war bitterly divided the United States, as anti-war protests turned increasingly confrontational; parents turned against their children and children against their parents; “hard-hats” attacked “hippies”; Nixon baited one group of angry protesters with his “V” for victory sign and called other protesters “bums”; four students were gunned down at Kent State.

But it seemed nothing could stop the war, not massive protests, not even disclosures about the deception that had gotten the United States into the conflict. Former Defense Department official Daniel Ellsberg leaked the “Pentagon Papers,” a secret history of the war’s early years, but the conflict still ground on.

Fatefully, Nixon struck back at Ellsberg by organizing a White House “plumbers unit” that broke into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. The “plumbers,” including ex-CIA operatives, later switched their attention to Nixon’s political rivals, burglarizing the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate building in search of intelligence, including what dirt the Democrats might have on Nixon.

Before U.S. participation in the war was finally brought to a close in 1973, on terms similar to what had been available to President Johnson in 1968, a million more Vietnamese were estimated to have died. Those four years also cost the lives of an additional 20,763 U.S. soldiers, with 111,230 wounded.

Ironically, as the Democrats stayed mum, Nixon apparently judged that they were more concerned about the information regarding his Vietnam War “treason” coming out than he was. So, after some of his “plumbers” got arrested at the Watergate on June 17, 1972, Nixon began to view the 1968 events as a blackmail card to play against Johnson to get his help squelching the expanding probe.

Nixon discussed the 1968 bugging in his Oval Office meetings about Watergate as early as July 1, 1972. According to Nixon’s White House tapes, his aide Charles Colson touched off Nixon’s musings by noting that a newspaper column claimed that the Democrats had bugged the telephones of Anna Chennault in 1968 when she was serving as Nixon’s intermediary to Thieu.

“Oh,” Nixon responded, “in ’68, they bugged our phones too.”

Colson: “And that this was ordered by Johnson.”

Nixon: “That’s right”

Colson: “And done through the FBI. My God, if we ever did anything like that you’d have the ”

Nixon: “Yes. For example, why didn’t we bug [the Democrats’ 1972 presidential nominee George] McGovern, because after all he’s affecting the peace negotiations?”

Colson: “Sure.”

Nixon: “That would be exactly the same thing.”

By early November 1972, as Nixon was cruising to an easy victory over McGovern but was worried about future problems with the Watergate scandal, the tale of Johnson’s supposed wiretaps of Nixon’s campaign was picked up by the Washington Star, Nixon’s favorite newspaper for planting stories damaging to his opponents.

Washington Star reporters contacted Rostow on Nov. 2, 1972, and, according to a Rostow memo, asked whether “President Johnson instructed the FBI to investigate action by members of the Nixon camp to slow down the peace negotiations in Paris before the 1968 election. After the election [FBI Director] J. Edgar Hoover informed President Nixon of what he had been instructed to do by President Johnson. President Nixon is alleged to have been outraged.” But Rostow still was unwilling to help on the story.

Hoover apparently had given Nixon a garbled version of what had happened, leading him to believe that the FBI bugging was more extensive than it was. According to Nixon’s White House tapes, he pressed Haldeman on Jan. 8, 1973, to get the story about the 1968 bugging into the Washington Star.

“You don’t really have to have hard evidence, Bob,” Nixon told Haldeman. “You’re not trying to take this to court. All you have to do is to have it out, just put it out as authority, and the press will write the Goddamn story, and the Star will run it now.”

Haldeman, however, insisted on checking the facts. In The Haldeman Diaries, published in 1994, Haldeman included an entry dated Jan. 12, 1973, which contains his book’s only deletion for national security reasons.

“I talked to [former Attorney General John] Mitchell on the phone,” Haldeman wrote, “and he said [FBI official Cartha] DeLoach had told him he was up to date on the thing. A Star reporter was making an inquiry in the last week or so, and LBJ got very hot and called Deke [DeLoach’s nickname], and said to him that if the Nixon people are going to play with this, that he would release [deleted material, national security], saying that our side was asking that certain things be done.

“DeLoach took this as a direct threat from Johnson,” Haldeman wrote. “As he [DeLoach] recalls it, bugging was requested on the [Nixon campaign] planes, but was turned down, and all they did was check the phone calls, and put a tap on the Dragon Lady [Anna Chennault].”

In other words, Nixon’s threat to raise the 1968 bugging was countered by Johnson, who threatened to finally reveal that Nixon’s campaign had sabotaged the Vietnam peace talks. The stakes were suddenly raised. However, events went in a different direction.

On Jan. 22, 1973, ten days after Haldeman’s diary entry and two days after Nixon began his second term, Johnson died of a heart attack. Haldeman also apparently thought better of publicizing Nixon’s 1968 bugging complaint.

Several months later with Johnson dead and Nixon sinking deeper into the Watergate swamp Rostow, the keeper of “The ‘X’ envelope,” mused about whether history might have gone in a very different direction if he and other Johnson officials had spoken out in real time about what Johnson called Nixon’s “treason.” Still, Rostow chose to keep the facts from the American people.

And the silence had consequences. Though Nixon was forced to resign over the Watergate scandal on Aug. 9, 1974, the failure of the U.S. government and the American press to explain the full scope of Nixon’s dirty politics left Americans divided over the disgraced president’s legacy and the seriousness of Watergate.

Many Republicans viewed Watergate as a Democratic plot to reverse the landslide results of the 1972 election. Other observers saw the scandal as an isolated event provoked by Nixon’s personal paranoia. But almost no one made the connection that Rostow did, that Nixon’s high-handed political espionage had involved an earlier scheme that dragged out the Vietnam War for four bloody years.

If the public had known that  story, including the evidence that some of Nixon’s Wall Street friends were using inside knowledge of the  peace-talk sabotage to play the markets,  the Republicans would have been hard-pressed to argue that Nixon was simply a victim of partisan Democratic scandal-mongering.

Over the years, pieces of the story about Nixon’s “treason” did surface from time to time, but never getting much traction with the major U.S. news media or the political classes. It fell into that hazy category between “conspiracy theory” and “old news.”

In 1980, Anna Chennault published an autobiography entitled The Education of Anna, in which she acknowledged that she, indeed, had been a courier for messages between the Nixon campaign and the South Vietnamese government.

She quoted Nixon aide John Mitchell as calling her a few days before the 1968 election and telling her: “I’m speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It’s very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position and I hope you made that clear to them.” But still there was no outcry for a serious investigation.

An October Reprise?

The lack of interest in Nixon’s Vietnam peace-talk gambit also might have encouraged the Republicans to dig into Nixon’s bag of dirty tricks again in 1980 when some of his old allies, including George H.W. Bush and William Casey, were key figures in Ronald Reagan’s campaign and saw another prospect for ousting another Democratic president over another “October Surprise.”

After all, if Nixon could get away with sabotaging Vietnam peace talks when half a million U.S. soldiers were in harm’s way, what was the big deal about upsetting President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 U.S. embassy employees then held hostage in Iran? And if the Democrats eventually did get wind of any GOP-Iran hanky-panky, what were the chances that they would hold anyone accountable?

Wouldn’t these Democrats be just as susceptible as Johnson’s team was to appeals that telling the whole sordid tale wouldn’t be good for the country? The Democrats had even taken a strange sort of pride in keeping these dirty Republican secrets secret.

As it turned out, Democrats did show the same reluctance to seriously investigate allegations of Republican interference in Carter’s hostage negotiations with Iran as they did regarding the Nixon campaign’s sabotage of Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks. [For details on the 1980 reprise of Nixon’s “treason,” see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege or America’s Stolen Narrative or Consortiumnews.com’s “New October Surprise Series.”]

Democrats also presided over timid investigations of Reagan’s later arms-for-hostage deals with Iran, known as the Iran-Contra Affair, and of Reagan’s secret military support for Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, the so-called Iraq-gate scandal.

In 1992, I interviewed R. Spencer Oliver, a longtime Democratic Party figure whose phone was one of those that had been bugged at Watergate. Oliver also was one of the few Washington Democrats with the toughness and tenacity to push serious investigations into these Republican scandals.

When I asked him why the Democrats so often retreated in the face of fierce Republican resistance, he explained that the Watergate scandal though it led to the ruin of one Republican president had taught the Republicans how to thwart serious inquiries: “What [the Republicans] learned from Watergate was not ‘don’t do it,’ but ‘cover it up more effectively.’ They have learned that they have to frustrate congressional oversight and press scrutiny in a way that will avoid another major scandal.”

While Oliver was surely right, there was also the tendency of Democrats to avoid the risks required to stand up to Republican abuses. The failed investigations of the 1980 October Surprise case, the Iran-Contra Affair and Iraq-gate seemed part and parcel with avoiding a confrontation with Nixon over the Vietnam peace talks in 1968.

In all those cases, there was the echo of Rostow’s musings in 1973, wondering whether the silence of Johnson’s White House regarding Nixon’s “treason” in 1968 had proved not to be “good for the country” after all.

By not holding the Republicans accountable, Rostow had reflected, “There was nothing in their previous experience with an operation of doubtful propriety (or, even, legality) to warn them off, and there were memories of how close an election could get and the possible utility of pressing to the limit and beyond.” But even with that recognition, Rostow still had kept silent.

Indeed, if Rostow had had his way, “The ‘X’ envelope” today would still be locked away from the American people for another decade and possibly 50 years longer.

By the time Rostow died on Feb. 13, 2003, the Republican Party had muscled its way back into power once more, via the tainted election in 2000 and the latest GOP president, George W. Bush, was marching the United States into another destructive war behind another smokescreen of lies and distortions, in Iraq.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




How the GOP Undermines America

The world might find the goofy behavior of the “last remaining superpower” comical if it weren’t so scary. Though Democrats surely have their share of unfunny clowns, the Republicans took center stage in this circus of buffoonery with an open letter to Iran advertising U.S. unreliability, ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

Sen. Tom Cotton’s sophomoric stunt of an open letter to the Iranians telling them not to have confidence in whatever the United States puts on the negotiating table has received the broad and swift condemnation it deserves. Some of the strong criticism has come from editorial pages and other sources of commentary that generally are not very friendly toward the Obama administration in general or even to its policies on Iran in particular.

A bright side to this incident that embarrasses and disgraces half of the United States Senate comes in the clarity it provides in terms of what games are being played and what is at stake. Even before this latest antic, Cotton deserved credit for being more honest about his objective than most of his colleagues who are engaged in the same destructive efforts to undermine diplomacy on Iran.

Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, has stated openly and explicitly that his goal is to kill off any agreement at all with Iran. Unlike many others, he has not tried to fool us with the subterfuge that legislative sabotage is aimed at getting a chimerical “better deal” with Iran. Now with the letter, the unwritten alliance between American hardliners and Iranian hardliners in opposing any agreement is made more open than ever.

What is going on here is not just the work of Tom Cotton. The outrageous letter to the Iranians flows naturally from a broader ongoing process. The fact that the great majority of Republican senators signed the letter is the most obvious indication of that.

There no doubt is today much regret in the senatorial offices involved, but the fact is that 47 of them signed it. There are a couple of possible interpretations of what took place among the members, neither of which makes those members look good.

One is that they are so distracted or careless that they can let a 37-year-old who has been in the Senate only two months rope them into doing something this stupid. The other, which is the more plausible interpretation, is that Cotton’s letter was only the latest vehicle for a journey that the whole party has already been taking for some time.

The letter was a natural next step after bringing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Capitol for the express purpose of denouncing and opposing U.S. policy toward Iran. In each case it was a matter of Congressional Republicans enlisting foreigners to try to sabotage a major element of current U.S. foreign policy.

Because Israel is considered an “ally,” Netanyahu got to use the podium in the House chamber whereas Iranian hardliners do not get that privilege. But the fundamental nature and purpose of what was taking place was the same.

The impact of all of this on the immediate prospects for completing a nuclear deal between the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and Iran is certainly important and has been the subject of much of the immediate commentary about the letter. There is a basis for optimism that this clownish overplaying of their hand by some of those who would like to sabotage the diplomacy will lessen the danger of such sabotage.

The episode at least demonstrates why, if one wants U.S. policy toward Iran to be formulated and executed in a responsible and adult way, then for the time being the less Congressional involvement there is the better.

We ought to reflect also, however, on how the kind of irresponsible behavior we have just seen is part of a bigger pattern that goes well beyond policy toward Iran and has deleterious effects on U.S. interests abroad besides what happens to an Iranian nuclear deal. This behavior damages U.S. credibility.

There is an irony here in that some of those who signed Cotton’s letter have been among those who have bemoaned supposed diminishing of America’s international credibility because of other matters, usually involving issues of whether the United States should persist in prosecuting overseas military operations where any direct U.S. interests being protected are questionable.

U.S. credibility is not determined by military doggedness in such situations. It is partly determined by the United States living up to negotiated multilateral agreements that are clearly in its interests, as would be the case with a P5+1 agreement to restrict Iran’s nuclear program. Probably the single most remarkable, and egregious, aspect of the Cotton letter is that it was blatantly and expressly designed to damage U.S. credibility.

In the future, it will lack credibility for any signatory of this letter to complain about alleged damage to U.S. credibility regarding anything else.

The connection between the sort of behavior we are talking about and the standing of the United States overseas, however, is even broader than that and extends to the handling of domestic policy. Foreigners and foreign governments observe how the United States, the superpower with the world’s largest economy, handles its own affairs, and they draw conclusions about how viable and reliable an interlocutor the United States would be on international matters.

The foreigners are looking to see whether there is consistency and rationality in how the U.S. political system pursues U.S. national interests. If they do see those things, then the United States is someone they can do business with, whether as a rival or as an ally, even if U.S. interests differ from their own. If they do not see those things, then opportunities are lost for doing business that would benefit both the United States and the foreign state.

A nation does not represent itself as a viable interlocutor, whose execution of policy can be trusted by other nations, if passionate internal divisions supersede sober pursuit of the nation’s interests. As an outsider we encounter such situations in, say, Iraq, where sectarian loyalties and hatreds make it impossible to rely on a government in Baghdad consistently pursuing an Iraqi national interest.

We also see it in Bangladesh, where the personal animosity between the “two begums” who head each of the major political parties there have made Bangladeshi politics so dysfunctional that in the recent past the military has had to step in.

A pattern that is similar in some respects has, tragically, come to prevail in the United States. Foreigners could hear the then minority (now majority) leader of the United States Senate state a few years ago that his number one priority was not any particular U.S. national interest in either domestic or foreign affairs but instead the prevention of a second term for the incumbent U.S. president. Foreigners then were able to see the senator’s party act along the same lines, using extortionate legislative methods to push a partisan agenda even at the expense of damaging the country’s credit rating and causing disruptive interruptions to government operations.

Once the same party achieved a majority in both houses of Congress there was much talk about how this would lead to newly responsible behavior, but the opening gavel of the new Congress had hardly fallen when once again there was the tactic of holding the operations of a government department hostage to press a specific partisan demand (this time on immigration) in opposition to the president’s policies.

Foreigners can see today in the same party an animosity toward the other party and especially to the current U.S. president that is as passionate as the sectarian hatreds in Iraq or the personal hatreds between the begums in Bangladesh, and that leads to at-all-costs efforts to defeat any achievements by this president.

The biggest such achievement in foreign policy would be an accord to restrict the Iranian nuclear program, hence all the pulling out of stops, aided by the role of Netanyahu and the Iranian hardliners, to defeat such an agreement.

The biggest achievement in domestic policy has been the Affordable Care Act, hence while those proverbial crumbling roads and bridges in the U.S. infrastructure continue to crumble, the House of Representatives spends its time and effort on voting 56 times to repeal the Act. The campaign to destroy Obamacare has become an Ahab-against-the-white-whale obsession that is being endlessly pursued despite mounting evidence of the Act’s success; observant foreigners must be shaking their heads wondering how a country in which such obsessions govern the political system ever got to be a superpower.

The closing of eyes even to the performance of public programs within the United States is but one example of an all-too-conspicuous denial of reality on other matters. Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, gave another demonstration of this the other day when he tossed a snowball in the Senate chamber to emphasize his disbelief in climate change, a prank that rivals what the youngster Cotton has done in demeaning the world’s supposedly greatest deliberative body.

The foreign perceptions of all this that matter include not only whether CO2-belching China will live up to its side of international agreements to save the planet but also more broadly what foreigners think about the prospect of doing any business on anything with a government that has a major part of it so far apart from the reality-based community and so disinclined to work responsibly on behalf of its own national interests.

Sen. Cotton’s letter deserves all the scorn it has received as far as the Iranian nuclear issue is concerned. It also should dismay us because of the bigger problem it illustrates of domestic political passions undermining the standing of the United States in the world and its ability to do business with the rest of the world.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




Official Washington’s Delusions on Delusions

Exclusive: Official Washington operates in its own bubble of self-delusion in which the stars of U.S. politics, policy and media don’t realize how the rest of the world sees their sociopathic behavior. This craziness is now reaching a crisis point on Iran and Russia, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The chasm between reality and the U.S. political/media elite continues to widen with Official Washington’s actions toward Iran and Russia making “the world’s sole remaining superpower” look either like a Banana Republic (on Iran) or an Orwellian Dystopia (regarding Russia).

On Iran and the international negotiations to rein in its nuclear program, the American people witnessed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu striding into the U.S. Congress like some imperial proconsul to deliver a faux State of the Union address that undermined the sitting U.S. president. Then, 47 Republican senators furthered Netanyahu’s intent to denigrate President Barack Obama by sending an open letter to Iranian leaders designed to prevent a deal.

Yes, I know many Republicans and their overwhelmingly white “base” don’t consider the African-American Obama the legitimate President despite his two election victories. But never in American history has a major political party as brazenly challenged the constitutional authority of a sitting president to conduct foreign policy.

The letter to the Iranian leaders warned that once Obama is out of office in 2017, “the next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.” In other words, the Republicans were telling Iran’s leaders that whatever they plan to sign with Obama and five other world leaders isn’t worth the paper that it’s written on.

This stunning congressional intervention into U.S. diplomacy was signed not just by a few backbenchers but by the Senate’s Republican leadership and several prospective GOP presidential candidates, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who had been viewed by some on the Left as well as the Right as a person who would not toe the Israeli line on Middle East issues.

This double whammy of Netanyahu’s extreme rhetoric on Iran and the Republicans’ extraordinary subversion of the Iranian nuclear talks left people around the world wondering whether the U.S. government had completely lost its bearings. Meanwhile, the U.S. news media continued veering off into its own Bermuda Triangle.

What is particularly striking about this current moment is how the madness that permeates the U.S. government equally pervades the mainstream U.S. media, which is now incapable of covering major international events except through the lens of State Department propaganda, a situation that has reached extreme levels in the reporting on the Ukraine crisis.

The only filter that the MSM can place on the events in Ukraine is one endlessly vilifying Russian President Vladimir Putin. Though this technique of personalizing foreign policy disputes has become standard operating procedure for the U.S. press corps think of Daniel Ortega, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, Viktor Yanukovych, etc. the U.S. media’s “group think” on Russia may even surpass those earlier examples.

Plus, nothing from the Ukraine crisis can ever be blamed on the U.S. government, even though Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland helped orchestrate the violent coup that overthrew Ukraine’s elected government in February 2014 and threw the nation of 45 million people into a bloody civil war.

Everything must be blamed on Putin and any alternative analysis, recognizing another side to the story, must be dismissed as “Russian propaganda.” [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Still Pretends No Coup in Ukraine.“]

‘Russian Propaganda’

On Monday, the Washington Post delivered what could become a textbook case of journalistic self-delusion noting that the Russian people have developed an intensely negative view of the United States but only because the Russian media portrays the U.S. government in a hostile way.

The Post article by Michael Birnbaum blamed the collapse of U.S. popularity on “furious rhetoric [that] has been pumped across Russian airwaves a passionate, conspiracy-laden fascination with the methods that Washington is supposedly using to foment unrest in Ukraine and Russia.”

Citing recent polling, the article noted that more than 80 percent of the Russian people hold negative views of the United States. But that couldn’t be because of American behavior! No, it’s impossible that anyone looking at the U.S. today could possibly find anything to criticize! It had to be Putin’s fault, spreading spurious criticism of the U.S. via Russian media. Or as the Post put it:

“Fed by the powerful antagonism on Russian federal television channels, the main source of news for more than 90 percent of Russians, ordinary people started to feel more and more disillusioned [about the U.S.]. The anger seems different from the fast-receding jolts of the past, observers say, having spread faster and wider.”

The article quoted Lev Gudkov, director of the polling firm Levada Center, explaining: “This anti-Western propaganda radically changed the atmosphere in the society. It has become militarist.”

Another voice cited by the Post was Maria Lipman, described as “an independent Moscow-based political analyst,” saying: “What the government knew was that it was very easy to cultivate anti-Western sentiments, and it was easy to consolidate Russian society around this propaganda.”

In other words, it wasn’t what the U.S. government has done around the world that has provoked this antipathy from the endless boasting about America’s “indispensable” and “exceptional” qualities to its destructive behavior, including spreading bloody havoc via “regime change” schemes in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere.

And, it’s not that the U.S. government looks clownish when the majority party in Congress expresses doubts about global warming and other scientific judgments. Nor is it the continued examples of racism and the police shootings of unarmed blacks. Nor the global spying by the National Security Agency. Nor the national self-degradation when members of Congress behave like trained seals jumping up and down to applaud Israel’s Netanyahu.

No, the only reason that the Russian people look askance at the United States is that they are being deceived by the lying “propaganda” dictated by the evil Vladimir Putin. By contrast, the American people always get the straight story from their mainstream U.S. news media, the gold standard for the world!

Official Washington and the mainstream U.S. media have taken on the characteristics of a male stalker who can’t understand why his female target finds him repulsive. It must be because someone is poisoning her mind with negative comments about his sterling personality. We now live in a system of delusions built upon delusions.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




US Intel Vets Oppose Brennan’s CIA Plan

The original idea of the CIA was to have independent-minded experts assessing both short- and longer-term threats to U.S. national security. Mixing with operations and politics was always a danger, which is now highlighted by CIA Director Brennan’s reorganization, opposed by a group of U.S. intelligence veterans.

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

SUBJECT: John Brennan’s Restructuring Plan for CIA

Mr. President, the CIA reorganization plan announced by Director John Brennan on Friday is a potentially deadly blow to the objective, fact-based intelligence needed to support fully informed decisions on foreign policy.  We suggest turning this danger into an opportunity to create an independent entity for CIA intelligence analysis immune from the operational demands of the “war on terror.”

On Feb. 5, 2003, immediately after Colin Powell’s address to the UN, members of VIPS sent our first VIPS memorandum, urging President George W. Bush to widen the policy debate “beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

The “former senior officers” whom Brennan asked for input on the restructuring plan are a similar closed, blinkered circle, as is the “outstanding group of officers from across the Agency” picked by Brennan to look at the Agency’s mission and future. He did not include any of the intelligence community dissidents and alumni who fought against the disastrous politicization of intelligence before the attack on Iraq. Nor does Brennan’s plan reflect the lessons learned from that debacle.

You have continued to express confidence in Brennan despite the CIA’s mediocre record under his leadership. We urge you to weigh Brennan’s plan against the backdrop of Harry Truman’s prophetic vision for the CIA. We need to stop wasting time and energy trying to prevent the baby Truman wanted from being thrown out with the bathwater. Let the bathwater run off, with the baby high and dry.

An independent group for intelligence analysis would be free to produce for you and your National Security Council the medium- and long-term strategic intelligence analysis that can help our country steer clear of future strategic disasters. And we offer ourselves as advisers as to how this might be accomplished.

Our concern over what we see as the likely consequences stemming from what Brennan intends, together with our many years of experience in intelligence work, have prompted this memo, which we believe can profit from some historical perspective.

President Harry Truman wanted an agency structure able to meet a president’s need for “the most accurate … information on what’s going on everywhere in the world, and particularly of the trends and developments in all the danger spots.” In an op-ed appearing in the Washington Post exactly one month after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Truman added, “I have been disturbed by …  the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment … and has become an operational and at times policy-making arm of the Government.”

Truman added that the “most important thing” was to guard against the chance of intelligence being used to influence or lead the President into unwise decisions. His warning is equally relevant now 52 years later.

Bay of Pigs

Truman was referring to how CIA Director Allen Dulles tried to mousetrap President Kennedy into committing U.S. armed forces to finish what a rag-tag band of CIA-trained invaders of Cuba began by landing at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, a few months before you were born. Kennedy had repeatedly warned the CIA brass and covert action planners that under no circumstances would he commit U.S. forces. But they were old hands; they knew better; they thought the young President could be had.

Allen Dulles’s handwritten notes discovered after his death show how he drew Kennedy into a plan that was virtually certain to require the support of U.S. forces. Dulles wrote that Kennedy would be compelled by “the realities of the situation” to give whatever military support was necessary “rather than permit the enterprise to fail.”

Kennedy fired Dulles, a quintessential Washington Establishment figure something one does only at one’s own peril. As young CIA officers at the time, some of us experienced first-hand the deep reservoir of hate in which many a CIA covert action operator swam. Many could not resist venting their spleen, calling Kennedy a “coward” and even “traitor.”

Analysis Also Corrupted

You are fully aware, we trust, that our analysts’ vaunted ethos of speaking unvarnished truth to power was corrupted by Director George Tenet and Deputy Director John McLaughlin, who outdid themselves in carrying out the instructions of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The new ethos boiled down to this: If the President wants to paint Iraq as a strategic threat, it is our job to come up with the “evidence” even if it needs to be manufactured out of whole cloth (or forged, as in “yellowcake uranium from Africa” caper).

Honest analysts were admonished not to rock the boat. A concrete example might help to show this in all its ugliness. When the only U.S. intelligence officer to interview “Curve Ball” before the war saw a draft of Powell’s Feb. 5, 2003 speech citing “first-hand descriptions” by an Iraqi defector of a fleet of mobile bioweapons laboratories, he strongly questioned the “validity of the information.” The interviewer had, from the outset, expressed deep reservations about Curveball’s reliability.

Here’s what the interviewer’s supervisor, the Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Iraqi Task Force, wrote in an email responding to his misgivings:

“Let’s keep in mind the fact that this war’s going to happen regardless of what Curve Ball said or didn’t say, and that the Powers That Be probably aren’t terribly interested in whether Curve Ball knows what he’s talking about. However, in the interest of Truth, we owe somebody a sentence or two of warning, if you honestly have reservations.”

This was not an isolated occurrence. Commenting on the results of a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee five-year study of pre-Iraq-war intelligence, Chairman Jay Rockefeller described it as “unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent.” He was alluding to information (in)famously described as a “slam dunk” by then-CIA Director George Tenet who was singularly responsible for advancing the career of John Brennan.

In a departure from customary diplomatic parlance, then-Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence Carl Ford, speaking to the authors of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, had harsh words for Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin. Ford said that the evidence and analysis they gave policy makers was “not just wrong, they lied … they should have been shot.”

It is unfortunately true that short of quitting and blowing the whistle there is little one can do to prevent the skewing of “intelligence” when it is directed from the top whether by the Bush-Tenet-McLaughlin consequential deceit on the threat from Iraq, or the ideological/careerist conceit of William Casey-Robert Gates in insisting up until the very end of the Soviet regime that the Soviet Communist Party would never relinquish power and that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was merely cleverer than his predecessors.

Thankfully, Not All Gave Up

There is hope to be drawn from those occasions where senior intelligence officials with integrity can step in, show courageous example, and despite multiple indignities and pitfalls in the system can force the truth to the surface. We hope that you have been made aware that, after the no-WMD-anywhere debacle on Iraq, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence Thomas Fingar did precisely that during 2007, supervising a watershed National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that concluded unanimously, “with high confidence,” that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003.

President Bush concedes in his memoir that this put the kibosh on his and Dick Cheney’s earlier plan to attack Iran during their last year in office. So, character (as in Fingar) counts, and people of integrity can make a difference and even help thwart plans for war even in the most politicized of circumstances.

Restructuring

Accordingly, the primary objective in any restructuring should be to make it easier for people of integrity, like Thomas Fingar, to create an atmosphere in which analysts feel free to tell it like it is without worry about possible harm to their careers, should they come up with a politically “incorrect” conclusion as the one on Iran clearly was.

The problem is that the Brennan restructuring effort does just the opposite. It puts the politicization on steroids. Placing intelligence analysts and operations officers together fosters a quite different kind of atmosphere the kind that increases the likelihood of what Truman called the “most important thing” to guard against leading “the President into unwise decisions.”

Truman saw the general problem and went even further, saying he “would like to see the CIA restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President … and its operational duties terminated or properly used elsewhere.” We think Truman was right then; and he is right now.

Decades of experience show that Truman’s fears were well founded. Indeed, from the outset, putting analysis and covert action operations together in the same agency was the first structural fault, so to speak, when it was created in 1947.

It was occasioned primarily by insistence that WWII OSS operatives who could match the KGB in what is now called “regime change” remain in government, and then a myopic choice to place them with the analysts in the newly created CIA. As Melvin Goodman points out in his The Failure of Intelligence: the Decline and Fall of the CIA, the early “CIA leadership itself was opposed to having responsibility for covert action, believing that the clandestine function would ultimately taint the intelligence product, a prescient observation.”

During the 1980s, President Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz, correctly accused CIA Director William Casey and his deputy, Robert Gates, of slanting intelligence, charging that their operational involvement “colored” the Agency’s analysis. Shultz openly charged William Casey with giving President Reagan “faulty intelligence” to bolster Casey’s own policy preferences, including the ill-conceived arms-for-hostages-swap with Iran.

Shultz added that, because he had a sense of this analysis-operations toxic mix, he harbored “grave doubts about the objectivity and reliability of some of the intelligence I was getting.” Shultz was a strong advocate of separating the analysis from operations, likening the need to that of separating investment from commercial banking.

“War on Terrorism” as Business Model

The business model chosen by Brennan is fashioned to the “War on Terrorism,” and he holds up the Counterterrorism Center (CTC) as a model to emulate. There the analysts and operations officers sit side by side charged primarily with hunting, targeting, and killing in that war.

But truth, it has been pointed out, is the first casualty of war. This can be seen right off the bat in the exaggerated way the supposed “successes” of the Center are advertised. Some of us have worked in or closely with these CIA Centers, after which ten new “Mission Centers” are patterned. And we are taken aback by the hyperbolic plaudits being given them and especially to the CTC.

That a quintessential politicizer, and big Curve Ball promoter, like former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin is reported to have advised Brennan on the restructuring, and lauds the benefits of “putting analysts and operators together” adds to our concern.

Very much in step, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, for instance, claims that existing Centers have “proven to be a very powerful combination” and that the Counterterrorism Center is “the most successful agency component over the last decade.”

Morell remains focused on the business model of war. Just days ago he conceded that he did not think he would live to see the end of al-Qaeda: “My children’s generation and my grandchildren’s generation will still be fighting this fight,” said Morell.

Does it occur to Morell or others who have played senior intelligence roles that there ought to be a different kind of center, like what used to exist in parts of the Directorate of Intelligence, where analyst talent might be used not simply for targeting terrorists, but for figuring out what their grievances are, and whether there may be more promising ways to address them?

Do we really believe that terrorists slip out of the womb screaming “I hate America”?  And is there a cost to drone-killing them as the preferred method of eliminating terrorists (together with others who may be in the wrong place at the wrong time)?

Brennan has announced that the new Centers will “bring the full range of operational, analytic, support, technical, and digital personnel and capabilities to bear on the nation’s most pressing security issues and interests.”

We need to learn more of the specifics, but the integrated Mission Centers sound very much like fertile field for politicization and centralized control under which subordinates will feel pressure to fall in line with prosecuting the war de jour and to sign on to politically correct solutions dictated from the 7th floor under guidance from your staff in the White House.

Is this the kind of CIA we need — everyone marching in step, as major parts of the Agency are transformed into a private army at your disposal, with virtually no Congressional oversight? We don’t think so.

A Watershed

With the present restructuring plan we see little promise for the kind of agenda-free, substantive intelligence that you and other senior policy makers need. But the train seems to have left the station headed toward Brennan’s restructuring plan. The sweeping reorganization scheme is of such importance that it should be the subject of hearings in the intelligence committees of House and Senate, but there is no indication that either committee intends to do so.

Let the analysts inclined toward targeting terrorists and providing other direct operational support to war sign up for these war-on-terror and like Centers. You and your successors will still need an agency devoted to unfettered intelligence analysis able to critique honestly the likely medium- and long-term consequences of the methods used to wage the “war on terror” and other wars.

We can assure you it is far better for those analysts doing this demanding substantive work NOT to be simultaneously “part of the team” implementing that policy.

It is time to revert to what Truman envisaged for the CIA. We are ready to make ourselves available to assist you and your staff in thinking through how this might be done. That it needs to be done is clear to us, and this would seem an opportune time.

In our view, we need to stop wasting time and energy trying to prevent the baby from being thrown out with the bathwater. Let the bathwater run off. Save the baby, even if that means a separate institution in which analysts of the kind that completed that NIE on Iran in 2007 can flourish. This just might help stop a new unnecessary war, as the combat support officers try to bring an end to old ones.

In sum, we are convinced that a separate entity for intelligence analysis the kind of agency Truman envisaged for his CIA would be an invaluable asset to you and your successors as president.

For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

Fulton Armstrong, National Intelligence Officer for Latin America (ret.)

Larry Johnson, CIA analyst & State Department/counterterrorism, (ret.)

John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer

David MacMichael, USMC & National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Ray McGovern, Army Infantry/Intelligence officer & CIA presidential briefer (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Torin Nelson, former HUMINT Officer, Department of the Army

Coleen Rowley, retired FBI Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel

Peter Van Buren, former diplomat, Department of State (associate VIPS)

Kirk Wiebe, Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA (ret.)

Lawrence Wilkerson, Colonel (USA, ret.), Distinguished Visiting Professor, College of William and Mary

Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army reserve colonel and former US diplomat (resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War)




ACLU’s Strange Fight for ‘Redskin’ Trademark

The Washington Redskins football team makes millions of dollars on merchandise under the U.S. government’s trademark of the name, a revenue flow now threatened by a decision to revoke the protection on grounds of racism, an action that the ACLU has chosen to fight on First Amendment grounds, notes Nat Parry.

By Nat Parry

The American Civil Liberties Union has weighed in on the debate over the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to cancel the trademark for the Washington Redskins franchise on the grounds that it is disparaging to Native Americans. Unfortunately though, the group has taken an overly legalistic, narrow and absolutist approach to the controversy that is also somewhat disingenuous.

Although the ACLU has called on the Washington team to change its name due to the clearly outdated and inherently racist nature of the “Redskins” team name and mascot, the organization criticizes the government’s decision to revoke the trademark, noting in an amicus brief filed last week on behalf of the Redskins that the law cited by the government in canceling the trademark the Lanham Act is unconstitutional because it “not only condones but mandates viewpoint-based discrimination in the provision of trademark registration.”

Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act prohibits the registration of any trademark that is considered immoral, scandalous or disparaging to any persons, institutions, beliefs or national symbols. But according to the ACLU, “by authorizing the government to deny registration of certain marks because of a viewpoint-based determination about the character of expressive speech, Section 2(a) violates the First Amendment.”

The group cites the 1989 decision in Texas v. Johnson, which held that “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

One obvious problem with the ACLU’s position is that there is no prohibition of speech taking place. The cancellation of the Redskins’ trademark registration does not prohibit the franchise from using this racist slur in its merchandising, it simply denies the franchise the government’s legal stamp of approval for the brand, which at worst might affect the team’s marketing strategy but in no way fundamentally “abridges the freedom of speech,” as stated in the First Amendment.

In other words, no one is prohibited from using the slur, it’s just that the Department of Commerce will no longer sanction this offensive speech and enable the franchise to profit off of the disparagement of an entire race of people.

Another problem with the ACLU’s position is that the group’s entire argument is based on the premise that the government is simply making a subjective “viewpoint-based determination” on what is considered disparaging speech. In fact, the ACLU argues that “the plain language of Section 2(a)requires viewpoint discrimination” because it prohibits registration if the mark “[c]onsists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”

This language, according to the ACLU, unconstitutionally empowers the government to impose its own viewpoint to discriminate against disfavored groups promoting speech that the government has unilaterally determined to be disparaging. The problem with this view is that it is not some monolithic and unaccountable entity known as “the government” simply making this determination out of whole cloth, but rather, the overwhelming views of the affected communities namely the Native Americans who raised the objections to the trademark in the first place.

In presenting their case against the trademark, the Native American petitioners laid out two categories of evidence to prove that the term Redskins, even when considered solely as used with football, was disparaging: 1) a general analysis of the word; and 2) the specific views of the referenced group.

After 22 years of litigation, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board finally determined that the petitioners were correct that the trademark registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered.

As the TTAB explained in its decision, issued June 18, 2014, “In deciding whether the term ‘redskins’ may disparage Native Americans, we look not to the American public as a whole, but to the views of the referenced group (i.e., Native Americans).” At trial, one of the plaintiffs, Jillian Pappan, testified that as a Native American, she views the use of the term “redskin” as analogous to the term “nigger,” and argued that people should not profit by dehumanizing Native Americans.

The Board also examined the evidence that most directly reflects the sentiments of Native Americans. In its opinion, the TTAB wrote, “concerning the general analysis of the word, we focus on the testimony and reports provided by the parties’ respective experts, dictionary definitions and reference books. For the specific views of Native Americans, we focus on the National Congress of American Indians’ (‘NCAI’) 1993 Resolution 93- 11, the deposition of NCAI Executive Director, Ms. JoAnn Chase, the deposition of Harold Martin Gross, and various newspaper articles, reports, official records and letters.”

The TTAB’s opinion noted that an examination of dictionary definitions of the word “redskin” over several decades “shows a clear trend beginning in 1966 to label this term as offensive and by 1986 the dictionaries are unanimous” in describing the word as offensive and/or disparaging. In response to the claims that many people generally do not view the word as offensive, the TTAB retorts that this view pertains to general “American culture” rather than to the Native American viewpoint, and is thus irrelevant to the question at hand.

This Native American viewpoint was most clearly articulated by the NCAI, which as the TTAB noted, is “the oldest and largest intertribal organization nationwide representative of and advocate for national, regional, and local tribal concerns.”

In 1993, the NCAI passed a resolution calling for the cancellation of the Washington Redskins trademark, noting inter alia, that “[T]he term REDSKINS is not and has never been one of honor or respect, but instead, it has always been and continues to be a pejorative, derogatory, denigrating, offensive, scandalous, contemptuous, disreputable, disparaging and racist designation for Native Americans.”

Considering these citations and references, any fair reading of the TTAB’s opinion would not support the ACLU’s claims that the decision to cancel the Redskins trademark was simply a “viewpoint-based determination” made by the government, but rather a carefully considered determination based on verifiable facts and objective reality.

It is therefore rather astounding and disappointing that the ACLU would take this absolutist free-speech position which essentially holds that the government must not only allow racist speech but proactively provide trademarks in order to enable the profiting off of language that is inherently offensive to entire communities.

One wonders how the argument might go if a new NFL expansion team decided that it wanted to call itself the Niggers and use an emblem of an African-American on the helmet, and demanded that the government issue a trademark for this inherently offensive mascot. Would the ACLU insist that the government give its stamp of approval to this name, and grant a trademark so that the franchise owner can make millions of dollars while disparaging a whole race of people?

It is hard to say for sure, but perhaps for the sake of consistency, the ACLU would in fact take this position, which would be just as indefensible as the position it is taking in the Redskins trademark dispute. As the ACLU itself has stated, “’Redskin’ is a vile name. It’s a name that people who hate American Indians often call them.”

“Hopefully the team will soon adopt a name that isn’t racially derogatory,” wrote Senior ACLU Staff Attorney Stephen Pevar last November. And hopefully the ACLU will stop insisting that the government issue trademarks for vile, hateful, racially derogatory names.

Nat Parry is the co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.




Seeing the Stasi Through NSA Eyes

In January when former Western intelligence officials, including from the U.S. National Security Agency, toured the old offices of East Germany’s Stasi, it was a look back into a dystopian past but also a chilling reminder of how far modern surveillance has come in the past quarter century, writes Silkie Carlo.

By Silkie Carlo

The Stasi offices in Berlin have been frozen in time since they were stormed by activists on Jan. 15, 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall three months earlier. As tourists creep around, room by room, through this monument to fascism, it feels as though millions of secrets are still ingrained in the fabric of the chairs and the fibers of the ubiquitous oak furniture.

The museum that now occupies the building is an oddly mundane reminder of another era: Indistinguishable rooms of desks, phones and filing cabinets, fenced by aging net curtains filtering the sunlight. It is the walls adorned with surveillance photos of supposed state enemies, and exhibits of household gadgets planted with audio recording devices, that color the office’s banality with a shade of darkness.

But the specter of Big Brother lingers, as I’m reminded by the man who is accompanying me through the exhibits: William Binney, the former technical director of the U.S. National Security Agency who helped design mass surveillance systems for the NSA before spending a decade warning the world about the risks of those systems.

As we tread past identical desks, retro rotary dial phones, and electromechanical typewriters, the Stasi’s quaint spying technology reminds him of his NSA office in the 1980s, he says. Except the NSA today is estimated to hold one billion times more data than the Stasi held.

“The NSA’s agenda is to control the government, and control the population,” Binney says.

I had come to the â€‹Stasi Museum with a group of U.S. and UK intelligence whistleblowers, who had congregated in Berlin to award Binney with the 2015 â€‹Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence. The first award, presented in 2002, went to former FBI agent Coleen Rowley, who testified to Congress about intelligence failures prior to 9/11; last year’s award went to Edward Snowden.

In the years before September 11, Binney, then the technical director of world geopolitical and military analysis at the NSA, developed a surveillance program known as ThinThread. A spying tool for the Twenty-first Century, it was designed to sift global digital signals and procure important intelligence in a way that the NSA never had.

Because it scanned a sizable amount of international communications traffic, it swept up Americans’ data in the process; to address that problem, Binney installed privacy features that anonymized American data, while it scanned for patterns that suggested a search warrant would be needed to explore the data further.

Protecting the privacy of Americans was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and in the agency’s core directives. “I was giving privacy to everyone in the world,” he says.

After his creation was tested in the wild in 2000 and 2001, Binney proposed that ThinThread, which he says cost the NSA only $3.2 million to build, would require an additional $9.5 million to follow the surveillance targets that the program identified.

But then-NSA Director Michael Hayden was determined to ditch the program in favor of another data analysis program called Trailblazer. Proposed around the same time as ThinThread was born, and developed by a defense contractor called Science Applications International Corporation with â€‹close ties to the NSA, the program collected a much broader swath of information, but lacked the privacy controls of ThinThread. It was also far more expensive, at a cost that would ultimately reach an estimated $1.3 billion. Nevertheless, a month before the attacks of September 11, ThinThread was quietly put aside.

Binney warned that not only was this kind of program unconstitutional, conjuring “the Stasi on steroids,” but would lead to “data bulk failure,” whereby real security threats would be lost in the global haystack of information. Information overload would make terrorist attacks, like the kind that would happen in Boston and Paris, more difficult to prevent.

Soon after, everything changed. As three World Trade skyscrapers turned to dust on September 11, so did Americans’ sense of safety. In the days after the attacks, Bush authorized the NSA and other government agencies to begin hoovering up every bit of data they could, under a secret wartime decree that appeared to override the Constitution.

In the last week of September 2001, Binney watched as piles of hardware were carried into the agency’s SIGINT Automation Research Center in Maryland. These were the instruments of a new spying system focused on domestic communications, built on the innovative architecture of ThinThread, Binney would learn.

The new surveillance system, codenamed “Stellar Wind,” would capture data both outside and inside the U.S., harvesting Americans’ emails, web-browsing data, telephone communications, and financial transactions. Over the years, the system would grow, evolve, and be overseen, officially, by a secret court, which is now charged with approving domestic surveillance searches. (Of the thousands of surveillance requests to the FISA court in recent years, almost none have been denied.)

As we walked through the Stasi’s walls of reinforced filing cabinets, it was hard to visualize this modern data collection. By one estimate, it would require an estimated 42 trillion Stasi filing cabinets to hold hard copies of all the NSA’s virtual files.

Binney, who resigned from the NSA in October 2001, speaks of the secret powers of the state from personal experience. In 2002, he and two other NSA veterans formally complained to the Department of Defense about what they saw as fraud, waste, and abuse at the NSA. In 2005, New York Times report about the NSA’s surveillance program led the Justice Department to open a leak investigation. Binney and his fellow whistleblowers became prime suspects.

Although Binney had been cleared of any wrongdoing, in July 2007 the FBI initiated an eight-hour raid on his home, confiscating a computer, disks, and personal and business records; as he was coming out of his shower, he says one agent pointed a gun at his head. Binney, as the most senior intelligence whistleblower, is certain the U.S. government still keeps a close eye on him.

Binney suggests that the attacks of 9/11 were “allowed to happen.” He explained: “There’s an agenda that’s after money, and not solving the problem. If you solve the problem you don’t have the problem to get more money. It gave them all the money they could want.” Binney insists that the NSA wasn’t just negligent in preventing 9/11, but is guilty of a “deliberate cover up.”

What he told me next was alarming: that the NSA sought to mislead the 9/11 Commission in its investigation of intelligence failures. Binney said Tom Drake, a former NSA colleague also turned whistleblower, “took our program, ThinThread, and ran it on NSA data after 9/11. It showed the dispersal pattern of the people who actually didn’t hijack the planes,” like suspects and accomplices in the hijackers’ support network, and “it showed the dispersal of them going back and getting out of the country. It also showed all those people and where they were and what they were doing long before 9/11. All the data was there.”

Binney and his former colleagues would detail this failure in their confidential report to the Pentagon’s Inspector General.

“But NSA suppressed all of that data,” he says. “The first thing they did was kill the program that Tom used, because it would show all the warts. The Congressional Investigating Committees didn’t get truth from the intelligence agencies.”

Drake, who was also touring the Stasi museum with us, told me the NSA has “huge culpability in the failure to protect the U.S. from the 9/11 attackers, and has gone to great lengths to suppress the truth.” During his investigation into ThinThread and data the NSA had, he says, he discovered “all kinds of critical, actionable intelligence, that painted the tragic picture of what NSA could have known, should have known, and didn’t share that they did know.”

Years after he warned Congressional investigators about NSA wrongdoing, Drake also â€‹became a target of the government’s leak investigation; his home was raided, and he was charged with violating the Espionage Act, facing 35 years in prison.

After a lengthy legal battle, the government’s case against him collapsed, but the agency’s inspector general found that his allegations of NSA retaliation were unfounded, even though, as McClatchy recently reported, the inspectors examined only two years out of the ten years detailed in his complaint.

In response to Binney’s accusations of deliberate malfeasance and a cover-up, a spokesperson for the NSA said that his concerns are a “matter of public record” and suggested I “review all of the related information that has been in the public domain for several years.” However, Drake’s testimony to 9/11 Commission investigators remains classified.

After examining Binney’s claims about the NSA’s choice of Trailblazer over ThinThread, the Defense Department agreed with him. In â€‹a 2004 report, it concluded that Trailblazer had “disregarded important solutions to urgent security needs,” was “poorly executed” and “overly expensive.” And it found that ThinThread’s ability to sort through data in 2001 was far superior to that of Trailblazer in 2004. (Much of the report, including the NSA’s response, remains classified.)

Hayden himself admitted in 2005 that Trailblazer was hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. Five years and over a billion dollars later, the program was terminated, only to be replaced with more powerful mass surveillance systems, as evidenced by documents provided by Edward Snowden.

The refrain that the NSA collects “just metadata” now? “That’s false,” Binney says. “I put this â€‹in a sworn affidavit that I submitted to court. All emails are collected and the content of about 80 percent of everyone’s phone calls are recorded. Currently, I think phone calls are stored for about 20 to 30 days. Although, if you’re targeted for surveillance, you’re screwed. Everything collected, everything stored.”

Binney alludes to even more extreme intelligence practices that are not yet public knowledge, including the collection of Americans’ medical data, the collection and use of client-attorney conversations, and law enforcement agencies’ “direct access,” without oversight, to NSA databases.

Vanee Vines, an NSA spokeswoman, would not comment directly on Binney’s claims, but suggested that I “contact other U.S. institutions about law enforcement and other domestic matters.”

She added that the United States “is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security, and that we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures.”

Signals intelligence, she said, is only carried out “where there is a foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose for doing so,” including “terrorist plots from al-Qaeda, ISIL, and others; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; foreign aggression against ourselves and our allies; and international criminal organizations.”

Why would the NSA, I asked Binney, want to collect a phone conversation that Average Joe has with his mother, for instance? “Because Average Joe can turn into somebody objecting, and you don’t want any opposition. You can’t allow those people to organize,” he said.

So, what kind of encryption technology does Binney use to communicate now? “Nothing,” he says. Although Binney broadly agrees with Snowden that “crypto works,” he knows that the NSA circumvents encryption by targeting the computer systems of recipients of encrypted mail, and sometimes even breaks encryption, as revealed in the Snowden documents.

In his acceptance speech, Binney thanked Snowden for his disclosures about widespread surveillance, since now he and other whistleblowers “can talk about it more easily.” Despite â€‹the government’s attempt to gag whistleblowers, he added, “I will not give up my First Amendment right to free speech, particularly to speak of information already in the public domain, for anyone.”

The bugging devices we were observing in the Stasi museum looked almost comedic next to the kind of tools Binney was talking about. The Stasi’s weird little watering cans with hidden cameras, plug sockets with listening devices, and steam machines for opening intercepted mail, they looked crude compared to the all-seeing surveillance apparatus constructed by today’s government spies.

I thought we were visiting Stasi HQ to glimpse at a dystopian past, but the more I spoke to my fellow museum-goers, it felt like we were looking back at the beginning of something.

Silkie Carlo is a London based journalist, musician, and co-author of the book, Information Security for Journalists. [This story originally appeared at Motherboard.