Sunday Sermon: The Truth Leaks Out

This has become a theme of mine: who knows what, and when.

It’s an important issue, and if you believe there is such a thing as “right” and “wrong” it’s got to make things a bit more complex – because it brings the element of time into your moral calculus. Kant, for example, was famously concerned with “telling the truth”, in a contrived scenario: suppose that you have a particular guest and would-be murderer shows up at your door and asks “do you have any ${so-and-so} in your house?” Kant ponders whether or not we should always tell the truth, even in that scenario. As far as I am concerned, the fact that Kant even considers such a scenario, places him in the stack of pointless philosophers for Sam Harris to rummage through – it’s not even a question that should be taken seriously, because it ignores time and the effects of subsequent events.

Today, we’re being treated to examples of this problem all over the place. Let’s just look at two, which are so head-hurtingly deplorable it’s hard to know where to start.

So, I’ll start with the worst: Omarosa.

But first I need some disclaimers. I am not attacking Omarosa. I am critiquing the media and American society’s reaction to Omarosa. I don’t think it’s worth attacking Omarosa because it ought to be pretty clear to anyone that she doesn’t care at all what anyone thinks of her except for how it’s convenient to her. I say “it’s clear” because if she did care what people think of her, it would have been impossible for her to do the things she’s done. There is a whole rat-hole we could go down on that topic but I will refrain unless you pull us there.

Back to Omarosa: she has apparently realized that she was complicit in Donald Trump’s lying to everyone, and helped him win the White House by helping him hide what a deplorable person he is. [nyp]

“I was complicit with this White House deceiving this nation,” she said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “They continue to deceive this nation by how mentally declined he is, how difficult it is for him to process complex information. How he has not engaged in some of the most important decisions that impact our country.”

Omarosa is a Renfield. She helped import a master vampire, became its abject servant, and eventually stopped supporting the master vampire because it discarded her service. [stderr] Now she is cashing in on a book which tells about the dirty laundry and blood-draining practices of her former master. But the victims of the master vampire are perfectly justified in asking:

“Why did you help bring this predator among us? Why didn’t you say something when something you could have said might have mattered?”

That’s without even getting into the question of the book deal.

Dracula: I have seen men live and flourish, and I have seen men beg to die. I will show you that your soul, too, is a hunter.

Suddenly we are supposed to find it interesting that Omarosa claims that Trump uses overtly racist language. It’s as shocking as discovering that Trump engages in crude, sexist, “locker room talk” when he feels safe around another approving Renfield. Meanwhile, ignore the fact that plenty of people, including Omarosa had access to that information, but kept quiet about it because it was not convenient for them to release it, at that time. Ignore the fact that it appears Access Hollywood may have other tapes, or there may be other tapes but they are under non-disclosure. This is why the moral problem engages forward and backward in time – we could ask Kant, “what if the guest that your murderer wants to kill is the scientist who will eventually develop a practical fusion reactor?” Or “what if you’re not sure that the person at the door is a murderer? They might just be there to deliver a beating.” Our understanding of the significance of a decision changes, and often changes dramatically, even within our own lifetime. I don’t think Omarosa is operating based on any kind of moral philosophy, but perhaps some people following this situation are: what if she had said what she knows back in the summer of 2016 when it might have made a difference?

That’s my problem with the idea that there is a “moral calculus” we can engage in: in order to make a useful assessment of the consequences of an action, we have to know what those consequences will be. Not merely what “I think they will be” because it’s hard to get that right and if we’re willing to accept that our moral calculus is based on wild-ass guesses we may as well stop pretending that we have any idea of the moral value of any particular action above and beyond a vacuous “I hope this works out for the best.” If we go back in time to when Omarosa didn’t say anything about Trump (back when she was still getting paid a lot) would it have changed the outcome of the election if she had acted? Or what if the holders of Donald Trump saying ${we know not what} had decided that $1.5million was a pretty tiny amount of money compared to how much the US economy was about to lose if Trump became president and tossed a $1tn tax cut to the rich? If you look at the consequences, as a consequentialist pretends to try to do, it’s pretty obvious in hindsight. What about foresight? It ought to have been equally obvious that a significant torpedo could have been fired into the water-line of the Trump campaign for a measly $1.5 million. The Democrats have managed to do a fair job of obscuring the amount of money they paid Fusion GPS for the Steele dossier,[cbs] but maybe they should have spent $1.5 million covering the legal expenses for releasing the Trump videos, damn the non-disclosure.

The rat hole goes deeper when you consider that there’s more information, such as the whole collection of payouts from Trump, which stories were bought and suppressed by Trump’s friend – the epoynmous Mr Pecker – at the National Enquirer. [nymag] I’m not singling Omarosa out for blame, she’s just one of the lumps of nasty stuff that has floated to the top of this whole affair, which appears to be chock full to the brim with people who knew stuff and chose not to say anything until after Trump was elected. Like any yuge big master vampire, Trump has a gigantic flock of Renfields. The very best Renfields.

And what those Renfields did was make it impossible to have any kind of realistic moral calculus. Sure, anyone ought to be able to just look at Donald Trump and conclude he is a dangerous mountebank who acts like a late-stage methamphetamine addict – but doesn’t our idea of “moral calculus” imply that we should be able to know that and take it into account in our actions? Omarosa knew things that the general public did not: she deliberately threw the general public’s moral calculus off by denying them information that they should have had.

Let’s look at another one; another instance in which people’s moral calculus was deliberately thrown off. It’s particularly egregious since it involves evidence for a crime – evidence which was suppressed until after decisions with potentially far-reaching consequences were made. In theory people were making an informed decision, but because the evidence was suppressed until the decision was past, they can continue to pretend they didn’t know, so they didn’t have to pretend to care. To go back to Kant’s story, imagine that the person knocking at the door may be a murderer but we’re not sure they’re a murderer, so we tell them, “of course that person is in here, come on in!” Whoever knew that person was a murderer, and said nothing, You cannot perform any kind of meaningful moral calculus if you’re basing your decision on “well, they may be a murderer, or they may not.” You may as well flip a coin.

One of the CIA’s victims.

I’m referring, of course, to Gina Haspel and the torture program. As I have predicted elsewhere, a program like that leaves lots of evidence – it’s not simple to clean up by “destroying the tapes” – there are budget requests, bloody floors to clean, medical advisors, travel expenses, and an entire cloud of additional circumstantial evidence. [stderr]

Someone writes the checks, approves the plans, assigns the staff, puts out bids for the gear, ships the black suburbans and weapons and straps and cattle prods. Someone makes the video tapes, sets up the communications and email systems, audits the site security, does the background checks. I’ve been involved in executive operations of small businesses and medium-businesses with around $10m/year budgets and I know: there are lots of moving parts and it doesn’t work if lots of people don’t pitch in and do their part. Which means that they know their part and they can’t pretend that none of it happened.

The New York Times has a bad habit of sitting on important information until it has been approved for release by the US government. We now know, for example, that the New York Times killed the warrantless wiretapping story for at least 13 months, prior to Edward Snowden coming forward with it on his own. Consequences? Would Snowden have been taken more seriously, treated like a proper whistle-blower, if the New York Times was already covering the story? Consequences. What are the consequences of the New York Times’ willingness to keep a secret for a little longer? James Risen has pointed out that the New York Times bears partial responsibility for the Iraq war, since they chose not to publish the fact that much of the intelligence being presented by the Bush Administration was fabricated. [intercept] Risen and the New York Times are both Renfields – they chose to edit our truth in order to protect their access and their paychecks. I can’t imagine anything more humiliating for a journalist; I can only conclude that they’re not journalists – they’re merely propagandists. They’re a bit better than the Russian troll-farms because they have better access but they’re less honest.

Now we learn (as I predicted) that there is lots of ancillary information about the CIA’s torture program, and it directly implicates Gina Haspel in conspiracy to commit torture (torture a capital federal crime in the US and a crime against humanity in most of the rest of the world). [nyt] As I said elsewhere, psychopaths don’t destroy their mementos – they’re not actually ashamed of them, they’re just afraid of getting caught. [See also: Donald Trump]

As the chief of the base, Ms. Haspel would have written or authorized the cables, according to Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive, a research organization at George Washington University. The cables, obtained by the archive in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, were redacted to eliminate the names of interrogators and C.I.A. officers involved.

ProPublica previously reported on cables from the Thailand black site, which also offered details of the C.I.A.’s methods. Like those documents, the new cables describe the waterboarding of Mr. Nashiri as well as the use of other torture techniques.

I suspect even “cables” is a lie. Presumably we are talking about classified reports, sent over the CIA’s messaging system from SCIF to SCIF. They’re not exactly emails but they’re carefully logged and tracked – which is probably when Haspel and her crew tried to cover up their involvement, they couldn’t. But that’s not what I want you to think about:

Though heavily redacted, the documents suggest that, as a 2014 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded, the waterboarding and other brutal treatment of Mr. Nashiri produced little or no new intelligence about existing plots or imminent attacks.

Right. So the “cables” were part of that. In other words, the Senate Intelligence Committee knew that Haspel was involved in torture long before her promotion, and the big kabuki theater confirmation hearings playacting.

But the interrogators appear to have ultimately concluded that Mr. Nashiri was not lying. Some of the cables back to headquarters, apparently written by Ms. Haspel, described him as “compliant and cooperative,” according to the 2014 report on the interrogation program by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Officials at C.I.A. headquarters were displeased by such comments, directing the field officers to stop making such “sweeping statements” about Mr. Nashiri’s compliance. The superiors in Langley, Va., insisted that he knew more than he was saying.

The idea that there were ‘tapes’ that were ‘destroyed’ starts to look pretty thin. It appears that one of many pieces of evidence was destroyed in an attempt to conceal a crime, but the reason it’s not being pursued is because the criminals roped the Congressional Intelligence Committee into the conspiracy.

… And that is the point of this sunday sermon: people like Omarosa, or Bill Cosby’s long-time bodyguard, or Gina Haspel, or the New York Times’ editors, have made themselves complicit by selecting when and what to disclose – at times for their own convenience, or when they know they’re safe. I think that’s despicable behavior; it’s worse than not saying anything at all, because it leaves no doubt whatsoever of the person’s unconcern for what happens.

------ divider ------

Psychopaths and mementoes – I’ve been involved in investigation support for tracking down child porn producers. In a lot of ways, they are similar to psychopaths and I suspect that some of them are. In the course of conversations with other investigators, one who had investigated a multiple-murdering psychopath said, “we knew there would be video somewhere. There always is.” Eventually, they found it. That conversation plays heavily through my mind whenever I think of the CIA torturers, who appear to be as conscience-less as psychopaths. The CIA is possibly the world’s foremost jobs fair for sociopaths and psychopaths.

The previous said, I am not sure that psychology’s idea of psychopathy is a valid diagnosis of an actual disorder. The APA may appear to agree with me, having broken psychopathy into a bunch of exhibited traits in DSM-V. I.e.: they no longer say it’s a disorder – it’s a collection of undesirable behaviors. [nlm] Is there an underlying reason for them? Uh, (hand waving)

New York Times on Nashiri: [nyt]

Nearly a decade after C.I.A. interrogators tortured a Saudi man suspected of involvement in Al Qaeda’s bombing of the American destroyer Cole in 2000, the prisoner continued to experience lingering psychological consequences, including “nightmares that invoked being chained, naked and waterboarded,” newly declassified documents show.

Part of what is happening with the CIA torture story is, I believe, a variant of the “too big to fail” strategy. Basically, they managed to loop so many people into knowing about the torture program that it’d be impossible to go after any individual with charges of conspiracy because everyone is in on it.


  1. says

    By the way, this is why I don’t think Mueller is going to get rid of Trump. Look at all the shit about the man that has been suppressed. Some of it’s leaking out, but there are too many Renfields who are gathering around the master vampire to protect it. The only thing that could take down Trump is someone worse – i.e.: more ruthless, but not a compete amphetamine-addled jackass. A Stalin to Trump’s Lenin. We do not want that.

  2. says

    Why didn’t you say something when something you could have said might have mattered?

    Mattered? Really? Are you sure? Before the 2016 presidential election we already knew that Trump is completely awful and utterly disgusting. Not being a US citizen, I don’t follow American politics closely. Yet even I knew that Trump was really bad already before the election. A couple of days before the election, I made a bet with my sex slave—I was betting that Clinton will win and he was betting that Trump will win. At that time I couldn’t believe that Americans could possibly elect somebody as awful as Trump. My sex slave, on the other hand, had a much more pessimistic opinion about the intellectual abilities of the average American voter (and he turned out to be correct). A couple of years ago I wasn’t as cynical as I am now. Trump getting elected gave me an additional dose of cynicism. The point is—even before the election everybody knew that Trump was a disgusting monster, and he got elected anyway. Who gives a fuck about some additional dirt on Trump getting leaked after the election. . . USA and this planet in general is already doomed, it’s all hopeless and nothing can be done about it. All we can do is watch the fireworks as the humanity destroys itself.

    people like Omarosa, or Bill Cosby’s long-time bodyguard, or Gina Haspel, or the New York Times’ editors, have made themselves complicit by selecting when and what to disclose – at times for their own convenience, or when they know they’re safe. I think that’s despicable behavior

    “When they know they’re safe”—you know, thinking about your own safety is a reasonable thing for a human being to do. You may consider me a coward if you wish, but I do care about my wellbeing and safety. For people who are working for some celebrity like Bill Cosby, this might not be such a big problem, but when it comes to state secrets, leaking out those is ridiculously dangerous. Snowden spoke out, and he ended up stuck in a shithole called “Russia.” And, frankly, he was incredibly lucky—many other whistleblowers ended up in an even worse shithole called “American prisons.” So yeah, if you don’t want to become a martyr (and let’s be realistic, martyrdom really sucks, it’s fucking painful), thinking about your own safety is reasonable.

    I’m probably so afraid of abusive states because of being very familiar with their methods (I have been reading a lot about this part of history). USSR had Gulag and all the prisons. German Democratic Republic was more sinister and, arguably, even worse. See:

    I know that people getting scared is part of the problem. If you are a janitor who gets assigned to clean some government building, and you discover some blood stains and torture equipment, the state wants you to be afraid to speak about what you saw. “See what we did with the last whistleblower? You don’t want that happening with you, don’t you?” Intimidation serves a purpose in maintaining a political regime engaging in crimes against humanity. But still, it’s only normal for people to get scared. I cannot blame anybody for that.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Marcus Ranum @ # 1: The only thing that could take down Trump is someone worse …

    Not to sound optimistic, for crysake, but pls tell us how that logic applies to the fall of Richard M. Nixon.