The lords of secrecy

Scott Horton has a new book out titled LORDS OF SECRECY: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Warfare. A summary of the book states:

Forty years ago, a majority of Americans were highly engaged in issues of war and peace. Whether to go to war or keep out of conflicts was a vital question at the heart of the country’s vibrant, if fractious, democracy. But American political consciousness has drifted. In the last decade, America has gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, while pursuing a new kind of warfare in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan. National security issues have increasingly faded from the political agenda, due in part to the growth of government secrecy.

In lucid and chilling detail, journalist and lawyer Scott Horton shows how secrecy has changed the way America functions. Executive decisions about war and peace are increasingly made by autonomous, self-directing, and unaccountable national security elites. Secrecy is justified as part of a bargain under which the state promises to keep the people safe from its enemies, but in fact allows excesses, mistakes, and crimes to go unchecked. Bureaucracies use secrets to conceal their mistakes and advance their power in government, invariable at the expense of the rights of the people. Never before have the American people had so little information concerning the wars waged in their name, nor has Congress exercised so little oversight over the war effort. American democracy is in deep trouble.

Dan Froomkin of The Intercept has an interview with Horton in which he asks him to identify three of these lords.

The Lords of Secrecy are the heads of the national security and intelligence agencies who exercise the power to create secrets.

But I think we have to designate, as the dark overlord of the Lords of Secrecy, Richard Bruce Cheney. I don’t think there’s anybody else who even comes close. The man who invented stamps with his own special security classifications. He is a cult figure for the Lords of Secrecy.

Horton says that these people, especially head of the CIA John Brennan, have become untouchable which explains their arrogant attitude. President Obama seems to have become totally enamored of Brennan from the time the latter managed to become his advisor in the White House.

And he was able to use that to develop a very powerful psychological relationship with the president. The people I’ve spoken with have consistently told me that people on the outside didn’t sufficiently understand or value this relationship that Brennan had cultivated with Obama. And by the way, Brennan used it to fill Obama’s ear with unadulterated bullshit.

Horton points to other problems, especially the culture in Washington and the media.

One thing that just amazes me about the Beltway culture in Washington is the way these claims of secrecy are just accepted. There doesn’t seem to be any will or spirit to fight back and challenge that. And that’s true for most of the press that covers it.

There’s no consideration given to how this subverts the democratic process of the United States. This question of running a 10-year war in Pakistan should have been the subject of deliberation, discussion and decisions taken through our democratic process, which involves a public articulation of the basis of the action by the executive, and a discussion and voting up or down of the proposal by the Congress, with the public being informed about it.

The media is a big part of the problem. I think we have to say, of course, that there are really excellent topnotch reporters out there who risk their careers and do terrific work. But increasingly we have a corporate media culture that does not encourage or meaningfully support such journalists. And instead it tends to cultivate and support a different kind of journalist: not the watchdog but the lapdog.

I know my own sources within the CIA repeatedly describe to me how the agency has picked its cooperating journalists. They’ve also described to me how they have placed their people with broadcasters.

When I refer to the US being a national security state, people sometimes think I am exaggerating. If at all, I have been understating the powerful control that the intelligence agencies and their sponsors in the executive and legislative branches exert on national life and the way they have corrupted the very ideals of democracy.


  1. says

    When I am feeling properly paranoid I wonder whether the way David Petraeus was publicly destroyed as a possible political candidate has anything to do with a demonstration of the kind of information the national security state can dredge up. The FBI in the course of an “ordinary investigation” (oh, yeah, what? and why and were they driftnet searching?) discovered that he was having a perfectly legal extramarital affair. The affair was outside of DoD policy but there were challenges that could be made to the policy — but how did they get emails and txt messages going back years? What was their probable cause? It’s as if someone decided to take Petraeus off the table and had the FBI dig where they knew there was going to be dirt. And what about Eliot Spitzner? Sure, the guy was a stupid troglodyte who left his ass hanging in the wind but he’s hardly the first politician to do that. But the FBI had his credit card expenditures going back for a long time… And I guess, um, probable cause what huh? Meanwhile, it’s clear that some other up-and-coming plutocrat lickspittles are given room to act and only get thrown under the bus when they’re obviously, mind-bendingly stupid, like Rep Weiner of the InstaWeinerGrams -- you know the NSA and FBI have access to all those pictures. I guess no probable cause… It’s as if the security state will allow you to be a successful politician as long as you play along but they drop the hammer on you if you’re a threat.

    History shows again and again how human nature points up the folly of man -- when the reins of power become too centralized, someone -- either a would-be dictator or the commander of the praetorian guard -- decides that he can wield them singlehandedly… Poof! Junta!

  2. says

    they have corrupted the very ideals of democracy

    In fairness, the US was never anything more than a sham democracy at best. At worst it was a power-sharing arrangement between a bunch of mutually untrusting oligarchs who successfully pulled off a massive treason in order to protect the massive wealth they had accrued through smuggling, slavery, and genocide. The arrangement held together until they were all safely in the dirt, then collapsed in a brutal civil war, just like so many dictatorships do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *