Monday, 31 December 2012

It’s easy to camouflage naked, imperial aggression. You simply brainwash Americans into believing the 9/11 attacks miraculously defied the laws of physics and terrorists can do it again. An essential part of the process is a compliant, corporate controlled media committed to propaganda. Project Censored, at Sonoma State University in California, aims to expose modern censorship – “the subtle yet constant and sophisticated manipulation of reality in our mass media outlets”.

The project annually publishes a list of the 25 most important stories ignored by the mainstream media. America’s slide towards a police state topped the list this year. The 2001 Patriot Act passed just six weeks after the September 11 attacks led the assault on civil liberties. It gave the Bush administration vastly increased powers to spy on citizens as part of the war on terror. No probable cause for suspicion had to be shown enabling the FBI to wiretap at will, rifle through personal records and secretly conduct searches of property. Fourth Amendment protections against such tyrannical abuse – in place for over two centuries – were obliterated. Snitching on critics and protesters was encouraged despite First Amendment guarantees of free speech. All of this was sold to terrified Americans as a benign trade-off for their safety and security.

Under President Obama the smiling face of “friendly fascism’ has become the smirk of the hardening security state. The National Defence Authorisation Act for 2012 allows the military to detain indefinitely without trial any US citizen that the government labels a terrorist or an accessory to terrorism. No proof is needed. The American Civil Liberties Union says the act codifies “indefinite military detention without charge or trial into law for the first time in American history. The dangerous detention provisions would authorise the president – and all future presidents – to order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield”. The provisions – which effectively repeal a general prohibition on the use of the army against citizens – “were negotiated by a small group of members of Congress, in secret, and without proper congressional review”.

The National Defence Resources Preparedness Executive Order – signed by President Obama in March – allows him to commandeer the national economy and resources during “emergency and non-emergency conditions”. That’s pretty much at whim. National emergency centres to be established on military installations now appear to be more sinister detention camps. Recent army regulations provide guidance for establishing and managing civilian inmate labour programmes at such facilities.

Construction of a $2 billion National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance centre – five times larger than the US Capitol – is nearing completion in Bluffdale, Utah. It will be able to process and store information from listening posts across the nation that bug everything from phones to refrigerators providing “total information awareness” about all Americans. A supercomputer of incredible speed will detect patterns and unscramble codes. The electricity bill alone is expected to exceed $40 million a year.

Meanwhile, the NSA is expanding its most sophisticated global spying station – the largest in the world – at Menwith Hill in the picturesque Yorkshire Dales of England. According to researchers Mick Farren and John Gibb this US enclave is home to the ECHELON system, “fully capable of monitoring and analysing every phone call, fax, email and telex message sent anywhere in the world”. Every minute of the day it can process three million electronic communications captured by satellites. Farren and Gibb say there’s a clear link between Menwith Hill and domestic surveillance in the US. “It has been well documented that, since 2002, the Bush administration has extended the ECHELON programme to encompass even more domestic surveillance including NSA wiretaps.”

Menwith Hill is vital to the Pentagon. The spy satellites it depends on are not “visible” from any locations in the US. Without British hospitality the US would not be able to run ECHELON, snoop on the world and direct military strikes from space. In the midst of these developments the UK government is considering a Draft Communications Bill. It proposes giving the Home Secretary sweeping powers to order the retention of any kind of communications data by any communications service provider – more plainly “total information awareness” on tap. You don’t need a super computer to connect the dots.

There are other good reasons for being skeptical about this elaborate, leviathan effort to foil terror plots. Research scientists John Mueller and Mark Stewart have investigated the efficacy of the strategy. They estimate that spending on domestic homeland security – not counting the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan – increased by more than $1 trillion since 9/11.

However the annual risk of dying in a domestic terrorist attack was about 1 in 3.5 million. Exclude the nearly 3 000 killed on September 11 and it becomes one of the least likely ways to exit the US. They examined the fifty cases of Islamic terrorism in which the US was or was apparently targeted, at home or abroad, since 9/11 and found that “in the eleven years since the attacks, no terrorist has been able to detonate even a primitive bomb in the United States”.

A total of perhaps 16 people died in these attacks as a result of gunfire. This includes 12 soldiers and a civilian killed by a military psychiatrist at the Fort Hood military deployment centre in Texas, a soldier shot at a military recruitment centre in Little Rock, Arkansas and two employees gunned down at the El Al ticket counter in Los Angeles airport. The first two incidents are described as “lone wolf attacks”, a stereotype of the disgruntled outsider popularised by intelligence agencies, and must therefore be treated with caution. The third was only later considered to be a terror attack. By comparison there were sixty to seventy terrorist incidents, mostly bombings, on U.S. soil every year through the 70s.

The Department of Homeland Security says “terrorists have proven to be relentless, patient, opportunistic, and flexible, learning from experience and modifying tactics and targets to exploit perceived vulnerabilities and avoid observed strengths”. The case studies revealed they were in fact “incompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, ignorant, inadequate, unorganised, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, irrational, and foolish”. Moreover despite warnings of thousands of Al Qaeda cells there has been a dearth of domestic terrorists. The solution has been to create them. The evidence shows police are getting better at this and operatives embedded in terrorist plots now considerably outnumber would-be terrorists.

Nearly half the cases involved undercover agents grooming the gullible, a story that Project Censored placed fourth on its list saying, “The FBI has developed a network of nearly 15,000 spies to infiltrate various communities in an attempt to uncover terrorist plots. However, these moles are actually assisting and encouraging people to commit crimes. Many informants receive cash rewards of up to $100,000 per case.”

Mueller and Stewart found the response to terrorism since 9/11 was massively disproportionate to any danger Al Qaeda presented. To justify the expense the security apparatus would have to foil a major attack almost every day of the year. Although September 11 increasingly seems to be an aberration, the government has stoked fear by inventing a new peril -“homegrown” terrorism – and making foiled terror plots even more frightening than those that succeeded. It’s resulted in internalised anxiety and the startling phenomenon that 35 to 40 percent of Americans still worry about being killed in a terrorist attack – a fear the media exacerbates. America’s response to September 11 they conclude was overwrought, extraordinarily exaggerated, essentially delusional and likely to be perpetual.

They are eminent establishment academics and their paper in the summer edition of “International Security” carries weight. Their conclusion depends entirely, however, on a single, central assumption; the official account that the September 11 attacks were in fact carried out entirely by Al Qaeda; that men armed with box-cutters, directed from a cave in Afghanistan, penetrated the most formidably defended space in history. They suggest a reluctance to accept that such a monumental event could have been conducted by a fundamentally trivial group explains why Al Qaeda’s importance and effectiveness has subsequently been inflated.

If that’s true the US government is shredding the constitution out of wounded pride. That’s unlikely, even in America. The simpler explanation is that civil liberties are being rolled back to ensure there is no domestic resistance to imperialism and austerity. Either way it’s a story of singular importance. That it goes largely unmentioned illustrates the reality of “modern censorship” and the desperate need to tell “the news that didn’t make the news”.


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