Friday 17 February 2006
They called it "Cyber Storm," and it was a war-game exercise run last week by the Department of Homeland Security. The war game had nothing to do with testing the security of our shipping ports, borders, infrastructure or airports. "Cyber Storm" was testing the government's ability to withstand an onslaught of information and protest from bloggers and online activists.
"Participants confirmed," wrote the Associated Press, that "parts of the worldwide simulation challenged government officials and industry executives to respond to deliberate misinformation campaigns and activist calls by Internet bloggers, online diarists whose "Web logs" include political rantings and musings about current events."
Say what? Online expressions of political opinion are so dangerous that the Department of Homeland Security must war-game scenarios to deal with them? Bloggers are potential terrorists now? Bloggers are the enemy? Last week, as far as DHS was concerned, they were.
We hear a great deal about enemies these days. Don't criticize the war, or you'll embolden the enemy. The enemy is clever and cruel. Stick with the White House and we'll defeat the enemy. Since the Bush administration no longer likes to mention the name Osama bin "Stayin' Alive" Laden in public, lest everyone remember a dramatic promise long broken, any specific definition of an enemy changes with the moment.
Sometimes, the enemy is in Iraq, and we fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here. Sometimes, the enemy is in Iran, allegedly toiling with all its collective might to manufacture nuclear weapons. Sometimes, the enemy is in Palestine, where Hamas used George W. Bush's exported democracy to take over the government.
Sometimes, the enemy is an American face on a television offering criticism of the White House. Last week, the enemy was a blogger making a political expression.
The enemy is never in Saudi Arabia, though that nation is the very birthing bed of international terrorism. The enemy is never in Israel, though that nation's far-right leadership has been a good deal of the impetus behind the Bush administration's calamitous push into Iraq. The enemy is never in China, even when they smack our planes out of the sky, because they own a substantial portion of our debt. The enemy is never in Pakistan, though that nation's fundamentalist wing allies itself with the Taliban, and though they actually do possess nuclear weapons. The enemy is occasionally mentioned as being in North Korea, but not often, because we want no part of that fight.
For a time, the enemy was in the United Arab Emirates. Two of the hijackers of the September 11 aircraft were citizens of the United Arab Emirates, and the funding behind those attacks was wired through the UAE's banking system. Republican and Democratic Senators believe the UAE has been used as a conduit for the proliferation of nuclear technology.
That was then, however. A company named Dubai Ports World intends to spend $6.8 billion to gain control of the management of shipping ports in New York and New Jersey, as well as in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Miami. Dubai Ports World is foreign-owned, but is backed financially by the government of the United Arab Emirates. In other words, a nation suspected of being a significant player in the September 11 attacks is being allowed to take control of our borders. For the record, US ports handle an estimated two billion tons of cargo annually, with only 5% of that cargo undergoing inspection. The deal has already been granted regulatory clearance by the White House.
We hear a great deal about enemies, both real and contrived. Let us ponder, for a moment, the existence of another enemy so insidious that it operates fully in daylight but beyond control. This enemy seeks to destroy the rule of constitutional law in the United States. This enemy seeks to destroy the seed-corn defense against tyranny in this nation, the separation of powers. This enemy gathers more and more power to itself to achieve these goals, and uses fear and division to do so. This enemy will lie with impunity, stonewall endlessly and ruin anyone who might disrupt its plans.
This enemy stood by and did nothing while a major American city was devoured by the ocean. When New Orleans was drowned, many voices were raised in panicked unison that the White House must do something, and do something now. A conference call was held between key members of the Department of Homeland Security and other administration officials on August 29th, the day the catastrophe began for real. Investigators are seeking the transcript of this call, but administration officials claim the transcript has somehow disappeared. There are many transcripts of calls before and after this one, but the five-hour call on August 29th, the specific call investigators want to see, simply cannot be found.
This enemy deliberately reached out and destroyed the career of a deep-cover CIA agent named Valerie Plame, because her husband dared to criticize the White House about its "uranium from Niger" lie regarding Iraq. Plame, among other things, worked clandestinely to track any person, group or nation that would give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists; in other words, Plame worked to track the individuals this White House never fails to label as the enemy. Her work was derailed and her network destroyed because this White House did not want any discussion of the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, despite miles of claims that the stuff was there.
TruthOut correspondent Jason Leopoldreported this week that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is refusing to turn over incriminating emails to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, emails that allegedly indicate the involvement of Vice President Dick Cheney and other high-ranking administration officials in the unmasking of Agent Plame. "The emails Gonzales is said to be withholding contained references to Valerie Plame Wilson's identity and CIA status and developments related to the inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," reported Leopold. "Moreover, according to sources, the emails contained suggestions by the officials on how the White House should respond to what it believed were increasingly destructive comments [Plame's husband] Joseph Wilson had been making about the administration's pre-war Iraq intelligence."
I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, was recently indicted by Fitzgerald for lying under oath during the investigation into this matter. Recently, Libby stated that he was authorized by his superiors to expose the classified name of Valerie Plame. Given his position, Libby's main superior is none other than Cheney himself. Cheney recently claimed that he is authorized by an Executive Order to declassify any information he pleases. "I have certainly advocated declassification. I have participated in declassification decisions," said Cheney this week.
"There's an executive order that specifies who has classification authority, and obviously it focuses first and foremost on the president, but also includes the vice president."
This is a new trend for the White House: rendering an illegal act legal retroactively by fiat. The trend manifested itself in another area of illegal activity by the White House, the warrantless wiretapping of thousands of American citizens by the National Security Agency, in defiance of the black-letter law contained within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. For several weeks now, Congress has been threatening to hold hearings on the matter. Bush advisor Karl Rove worked feverishly behind the scenes to keep such hearings from taking place, and has succeeded. Rather than investigate the matter, Congress will instead rewrite the FISA law, thus rendering retroactively legal White House activities that blatantly broke the law.
We hear a great deal about enemies these days, and many of them are quite real and quite perilous. It is difficult to imagine a more perilous enemy, however, than the one operating out of Washington today. This enemy would set itself on high, beyond control or censure, and create of itself that permanent faction James Madison so earnestly warned us of. This enemy deletes or hides evidence of its calumny, or simply alters existing laws that would otherwise derail its plans. This enemy destroys lives out of hand, lives by the tens of thousands, and reaps a pretty profit in the process.
The difference between the enemies we hear about and the one in Washington is simple and deadly: only the enemy in Washington can annihilate the constitutional government we have enjoyed for more than two centuries. The idea that is America cannot be terminated by terrorists or rogue states. Were the nation entire to be somehow obliterated, the idea that is America would endure. Only its keepers can kill it completely. They are well on their way.
"As nightfall does not come at once," wrote Justice William O. Douglas, "neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we all must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become victims of the darkness."
We must deal with the enemy within the halls of our government, the enemy whose power to destroy far outstrips any enemy beyond our borders. In doing so, we save that which is unique in the world. In doing so, we deal a death blow to all other enemies. In doing so, we save ourselves from that darkness.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.