In one of the Democratic debates last fall, Bernie Sanders turned to Hillary Clinton and made his now infamous remark: “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” The audience erupted in wild applause. Hillary smiled and even chuckled. I cheered.
At the time, it seemed like a principled and noble gesture on Bernie’s part. After all, he wanted to keep the presidential campaign focused on the “real issues” and he was constantly reprimanding the corporate media for failing to do so.
But as more and more information about the “damn emails” surfaced, I began to doubt the wisdom of his stance. Eventually I came to see it as both a moral and strategic blunder. Rather than being a distraction from the “real issues,” the email controversy was part and parcel of a YUGE issue, perhaps the most critical one of all.
The issue was not just about Hillary flaunting government procedures and policies, putting national secrets and national security at risk, or lying to government officials and the public, as Republicans were inclined to portray it. I came to see that it had more to do with larger questions of who controls and has access to information, what kind of information is relayed to the public and in what form, and how the government and power-brokers use a vast technological apparatus to secretly gather information from an unwary citizenry.
An informed and educated populace is the most essential prerequisite for an authentic, participatory democracy. It was Thomas Jefferson who said: “Free-flowing information is the currency of democracy.” Unfortunately, much of what passes for “information” today—such as the nightly TV news–is a wooden nickel sort of currency. It is not worth much.
“In a society where truth becomes treason, we’re in big trouble.”
– Congressman Ron Paul
The government will always try to hide the important stuff, with the willing collusion of the corporate media. It seems that Hillary has made a career of hiding what she is doing–for good reason–and the gullible public does not object, for the most part. If Bernie had been reading more of the WikiLeaks disclosures and less of the mainstream media, perhaps he would have had the sense to call her on it and even consider including foreign policy issues in his presidential campaign.
This might be ancient history for many, but you may recall late 2010, when WikiLeaks released a treasure-trove of documents—250,000 leaked US embassy cables–as an early Christmas gift to the American public. Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State and she called the disclosures “an attack on the international community” that endangered innocent people. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks were vilified by Senator Joe Lieberman, Attorney General Eric Holder and much of the media. Members of Congress labeled Assange a “terrorist” and called for his assassination.
Amazon terminated its hosting of the WikiLeaks website and PayPal, MasterCard and Visa followed suit by withdrawing the ability to make donations to WikiLeaks. Of course, a few figures on the left, including Ralph Nader, Daniel Ellsberg and Tom Hayden, publicly defended WikiLeaks.
Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul asked his colleagues on the House floor which events caused more deaths, “Lying us into war, or the release of the WikiLeaks papers? In a free society,” he said, “we’re supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we’re in big trouble.”
Paul Craig Roberts called the US “an incipient fascist state” and wrote: “Today the press is a propaganda ministry for the government. Any member who departs from his duty to lie and spin the news is expelled from the fraternity.” He continued: “Today no one believes that our country’s success depends on an informed public and a free press. America’s success depends on its financial and military hegemony over the world.” The ranting of a wild-eyed, drug-crazed lefty, you think? Not quite. He was the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal.
This past March, WikiLeaks launched a new archive of over 30,000 emails and attachments sent to and from Hillary Clinton’s private email server while she was Secretary of State. Emails continue to be released by the State Department in response to a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request and a court case initiated by the conservative organization Judicial Watch.
The latest batch of emails has revealed two forms of flagrant political collusion that should have incited Bernie to continue his campaign outside the Democratic Party. First was the collusion between Hillary’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to rig the election against Sanders. The second, and probably most egregious, is the cozy partnership revealed between the Clintons, the Clinton Foundation and the State Department.
In what some have characterized as a “pay to play” racket, the emails have exposed how the Clinton Foundation and Hillary’s State Department worked together to grant political and monetary favors to individuals and nations in return for contributions to the foundation.
An investigation by the International Business Times, as reported in Mother Jones, revealed how various nations and corporations that donated to the Clinton Foundation reaped an increase in arms deals while Hillary oversaw the State Department. During a two-year time span, the State Department approved $165 billion in commercial arms sales to 20 nations that had donated to the foundation, as well as $151 billion of Pentagon-brokered arms deals for 16 of those countries, a 143 percent increase over the same time frame under George Bush.
In State Department cables published by WikiLeaks, Hillary complained that countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates were supporting terrorists and their financiers and/or generally not doing enough to assist the US in its counter-terrorism efforts. All of these countries contributed to the Clinton Foundation and received increased weapons exports from the Clinton-run State Department.
Saudi Arabia, a country with a disturbing human rights record and deeply implicated in the 9/11 attacks, was cleared by the State Department for an enormous arms deal in 2011. A group of US defense corporations, led by Boeing, would sell $29 billion worth of fighter jets to the kingdom. Prior to Hillary taking over the reins at the State Department, Saudi Arabia had contributed $10 million to the Clinton Foundation. Two months before the jet deal was finalized, Boeing coughed up $900,000 for the foundation.
Sanders was not shy when it came to advocating for “breaking up the banks,” which were responsible for making life miserable for the bottom 99 percent of US citizens. What was disheartening was his reticence to call for breaking up the military-industrial complex, which has been a disaster for the entire planet.
According to William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, the US accounted for more than half the value of all global arms transfer agreements in 2014, the most recent year for which full records are available. Russia, the world’s second largest arms dealer, lagged far behind with a paltry 14 percent. During his first six years in office, Barrack Obama, our “peace president,” contracted to sell more than $190 billion in weapons worldwide, more than any US administration since World War II.
Julian Assange has commented that this year’s presidential race is a choice between cholera and gonorrhea. Pick your poison. But it’s important to look beyond November 8th. Bernie was right that the system is rigged. He was right that we need a revolution. He was right that it will take much more than one person to transform our country.
But access to information and knowledge is power. It is essential if we are to create authentic democracy and halt the slide toward an authoritarian state. As sickening and tiresome as they may be, we need to see all the “damn emails,” at least in a metaphoric sense.
Especially today, when our “free press” is sold to the highest bidder, we need more modern revolutionaries: the hackers and leakers and whistle-blowers. Some may not be as eloquent as Tom Paine, but they match him in fervor and courage.
The guy in the White House, the one who makes the pretty speeches, promised us “transparency” in government. Instead, he has done everything in his power to plug the flood of leaks, to keep the secrets safely hidden in the temple. In other words, to prevent us citizens from discovering the truth about our government.
Before Obama took office, his website promised he would “protect whistleblowers;” it praised their “acts of courage and patriotism,” and said they “should be encouraged rather than stifled.” But instead, he has prosecuted more whistle-blowers than all other presidents combined. Let’s look at some of these courageous patriots:
- Thomas Drake: the first American charged with espionage in nearly 40 years, he is a decorated Air Force and Navy veteran and former senior executive of the National Security Agency (NSA). The Obama administration indicted him after he spoke out on secret mass surveillance programs, multibillion-dollar fraud, and intelligence failures from 9/11. He faced 35 years in prison until the government dropped its charges.
- John Kiriakou: a former CIA analyst and counter-terrorism officer, he was the first CIA official to publicly discuss and criticize the agency’s various forms of torture, including waterboarding. He served two years in prison.
- Jeffrey Sterling: an attorney and covert officer for the CIA, he was arrested, charged and convicted of violating the Espionage Act for supposedly revealing details about Operation Merlin to reporter James Risen. He has completed a little over a year of a 3.5-year prison sentence but his health is in serious jeopardy and prison officials refuse to provide adequate treatment.
- James Risen: the New York Times journalist who has fought both the George W. Bush and Obama justice departments that have tried to compel him to reveal his source for his 2006 book on the Merlin project. Risen won a Pulitzer Prize for this book as well as for his reporting about warrantless spying on Americans by the NSA.
(Operation Merlin was a CIA plan to sabotage Iran’s budding nuclear program by having a Russian spy give Iranians flawed nuclear blueprints. The botched program may have aided Iran in its plans to develop a nuclear weapon.)
- Jeremy Hammond: a Chicago activist who hacked into a Texas-based private security firm’s system and turned the data over to WikiLeaks and Rolling Stone. The security firm did work for Homeland Security, the Marines, the Defense Intelligence Agency and defense contractors. The three million emails released by Hammond and five others exposed the security firm’s infiltration, monitoring and surveillance of protesters and dissidents, particularly those in the Occupy movement. Reporter Chris Hedges said the information “provided chilling evidence that anti-terrorism laws are routinely used by the federal government to criminalize non-violent, democratic dissent and falsely link dissidents to international terrorist organizations.” Hammond is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence in Kentucky.
Of course, let’s not forget Edward Snowden, who would be in prison if our government could catch him, and Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, who is in prison and recently attempted suicide.
“Now the secret of every totalitarian system is secrecy itself.”
– Lewis Mumford
I’d like to close by quoting at length from Chris Hedges, a veteran war correspondent and former divinity student who, according to the jacket blurb on one of his books, “survived ambushes in Central America, imprisonment in Sudan, and a beating by Saudi military police. He has seen children murdered for sport in Gaza and petty thugs elevated into war heroes in the Balkans.”
Hedges has lately written extensively about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and other devices the Obama administration has employed to restrict the ability of the press to do its job and to curtail the constitutional rights of citizens. In 2012, Hedges and others brought suit against Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta over the NDAA, which Hedges says “can be used by the military to seize and detain citizens and deny legal recourse to anyone who defies the corporate state.”
Says Hedges: “The 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act, the employment of the Espionage Act by the Obama White House against six suspected whistle-blowers and leakers, and the Homeland Battlefield Bill [NDAA] have crippled the work of investigative reporters in every major newsroom in the country. Government sources that once provided information to counter official narratives and lies have largely severed contact with the press. They are acutely aware that there is no longer any legal protection for those who dissent or who expose the crimes of state. The NDAA threw in a new and dangerous component that permits the government not only to silence journalists but imprison them and deny them due process because they “substantially supported” terrorist groups or ‘associated forces.’ ”
In 2014, Hedges posted a fictitious speech covering all the things Obama would have told the American people if he had told the truth. I’ll quote a few paragraphs from this document:
In the 1960s, the US Government spied on civil rights leaders, the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement and critics of the Vietnam War, just as today we are spying on Occupy activists, environmentalists, whistle-blowers and other dissidents. Partly in response to these revelations decades ago, especially regarding the FBI’s covert dirty tricks program known as COINTELPRO, laws were established in the 1970s to ensure that our intelligence capabilities could not be misused against our citizens. In the long, twilight struggle against communism, and now in the fight against terrorism, I am happy to report that we have eradicated all these reforms and laws. The crimes for which Richard Nixon resigned and the abuses of power that prompted the formation of the Church Commission are now legal … The FBI can now freely issue “national security letters” to your bank, doctor, employer or public library or any of your associates without a judicial warrant. And you will never be notified of an investigation. We can collect and store in perpetuity all metadata of your email correspondence and phone records and track your geographical movements. We can assassinate you if I decide you are a terrorist. We can order the military under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act to arrest you, strip you of due process and hold you indefinitely in military detention centers. We can continue to throw into prison those who expose the illegality of what we are doing … And we can torture.
The horror of September 11th was masterfully manipulated by the security state and our for-profit-military-industrial complex. These forces used the attacks as an excuse to increase the massive pilfering of taxpayer dollars, especially by the Department of Homeland Security, which has a public budget of $98.8 billion. The truth, however, is the system of internal security is so vast and so secret no one in the public has any idea how large our programs are or how much we spend. It is true that our 16 intelligence agencies missed the numerous signs and evidence leading up to the 9/11 attacks. In short, they screwed up, just as they did when they failed to anticipate the fall of the Shah of Iran or the collapse of the Soviet Union, or when they told us Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But we have a rule in Washington: never reform failed bureaucracies or hold government officials accountable; rather, give them more money. Keep failure secret.
New capabilities and new laws have turned us into the most efficient killers on the planet. Relationships with foreign intelligence services have expanded, creating one immense, global corporate system of surveillance and security that obliterates the rights of people at home and abroad … This will ensure endless war, which ensures endless profits for those who make war–which is the point.
According to a 2010 article in The Atlantic, the federal government classifies about 16 million documents each year as top secret. That’s a lot of secrets! One can hardly blame Hillary if she gets confused now and then about which she should delete and which she should keep on her private server.
I’ll wrap this up with a few pertinent lines from Lewis Mumford, the great historian and social philosopher. Writing in the 1960s in his book, The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power, he talked about the scientists working on the Manhattan Project, inventing the atom bomb. “While their liberties as men and citizens were curtailed by the need for maintaining military secrecy, their scope and authority as specialists were immensely increased,” he wrote. “Thus sovereign power of pharaonic dimensions was secretly re-established at the heart of a constitutional government of limited powers supposedly under constant public surveillance and control.
“At the same time, never before had scientists been compelled to work under conditions so unfavorable to free intellectual intercourse: they were not merely prevented from communicating with the outside world, but even from speaking freely about their several tasks among themselves. Though these precautions had the wartime justification of military secrecy, secrecy itself became valued as a badge of authority and a method of enforcing control.
“Now the secret of every totalitarian system is secrecy itself. The key to exercising arbitrary power is to restrict the communications of individuals and groups by subdividing information, so that only a small portion of the whole truth will be known to any single person.”
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