Blowback, leaks, and U.S. national security

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What threatens U.S. national security more: blowback from previous U.S. governmental actions inimical to the well-being of the bottom 99% in the US and internationally or the revelations of whistleblowers? This article attempts to raise these heterodox questions along side the current orthodox answers using the Broad political discourse template. This brief introduction is followed by a table summarizing selected aspects of the history of U.S. relations with other countries. The future of the U.S. and the world could be influenced by how well this analysis is conducted and translated into improvements in U.S. government policies, if needed.

Heterdox - Research - Orthodox table[edit | edit source]

heterodox research needed orthodox
The United States (and indeed every individual and group) needs a strong, effective defense. Governments need to keep certain types of information secret, e.g., design of weapon systems, plans for current military operations that have otherwise been approved by appropriate civilian authority, military plans for contingencies explicitly authorized by civilian review, and details of active criminal investigations.

However, the U.S. government has on numerous occasions secretly organized military coups to destroy democracy in foreign countries to replace governments that expressed more concern with the well-being of their own citizens than U.S. international business interests. Have these decisions on average benefited the bottom 99% of the population in the U.S. and internationally?

Similarly, documents have been classified to prevent public access to information about experiments on the effect of radiation on human health and to block lawsuits.[1] Release of this kind of information could engender public debate and embarrass public officials, but is it legitimate to claim that such release would cause serious damage to national security?

More specifically, what policies regarding government secrecy would most enhance national security?

There are many anecdotes:

  • Edward Snowden, who leaked details of top-secret U.S. and British government mass surveillance programs, made it to Russia and has been offered political asylum in at least three countries almost certainly because of questionable actions by previous U.S. administrations.[2]

Are these aberrations? Or is current US national security policy actually counterproductive? The present controversy suggests a need for a careful review of government secrecy and covert actions against its citizens and against foreign governments. A review of this nature was completed in 1997 by the Moynihan Commission on Government Secrecy. They concluded that

excessive secrecy has significant consequences for the national interest when
  • policy makers are not fully informed,
  • the government is not held accountable for its actions, and
  • the public cannot engage fully in informed debate.

Andrew Bacevich claimed that "Eisenhower ... was the last president to work through and with the national security bureaucracy.” Every president since has distrusted the reports provided by the various intelligence services.[3] Worse, he claims that U.S. national security practices undermine more than enhance our security.[4]

In 1972, then-Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, wrote, "The story of the Pentagon Papers is a chronicle of suppression of vital decisions to protect the reputations and political hides of men who worked an amazingly successful scheme of deception on the American people. They were successful not because they were astute, but because the press had become a frightened, regimented, submissive instrument, fattening on favors from those in power".

National security is invoked to keep secrets about free trade negotiations. How can public disclosure of details about free trade negotiations imperil national security? Are the electorate and congress enemies of the U.S.?

Daniel Ellsberg claims there are hundreds of people in the US government today faced with a dilemma: They swore to protect and defend the constitution of the United States, and they are asked to keep secret violations of law and the constitution. If they remain silent, they could become complicit in starting an ill-advised war in Iran. If they speak out, they will likely be persecuted like Snowden, Manning and Ellsberg.[5]

Are the problems mentioned above minor relative to the benefits the U.S. public has obtained from previous U.S. governmental actions taken in secret? Or do we have a problem with government officials suppressing vital information to protect the reputations and political hides of officials who deceive the American people?

  1. A new review on government secrecy updating the work of the Moynihan Commission on Government Secrecy published in 1997 and the 1975 Church Committee.
  2. A substantive, open review of the history of U.S. meddling in the internal affairs of foreign countries, the extent to which that was done in secret, and its implications for the rules of secrecy in the U.S. government. This could be crowdsourced on Wikiversity. Leading scholars could help clarify the information that should be included in each review of another nation's history with the U.S. and how that information should be organized to maximize its utility. If this effort receives adequate attention, it could increase the quality of the public debate and the conclusions of a new governmental review of secrecy, suggested above.
President Obama, Senator Feinstein and others have strongly condemned the actions of Bradley Manning, Edward Showden and WikiLeaks.[citation needed]
If part of the problem is government officials using fraudulent claims of national security to deceive the public, then a solution could include the following:
  • Substantive government funding for investigative journalism. If U.S. presidents distrust (with justification) their intelligence services, as suggested by Bacevich,[6] then improving investigative journalism would help improve the information available to government officials while also elevating the quality of public debate.
  • Severely limit the circumstances under which documents can be classified and actions taken in secret against foreign governments and people in the U.S.

McChesney & Nichols cite other research indicating that Americans without college degrees are not nearly as informed as their counterparts in UK, Denmark and Finland, countries covered in surveys of public awareness of international and domestic hard news; see the accompanying figure.[7]

International comparison of political knowledge v. 2007 per capita investment in public media in the United States and the United Kingdom v. Denmark and Finland. "Political knowledge" here is percent correct answers to calibrated questions about international and domestic hard news. Source: McChesney and Nichols (2010, ch. 1, charts 7-8 and ch. 4, chart 1)

Might deficiencies in the political literacy in the U.S. documented in the accompanying figure make it easier for unscrupulous media executives and politicians to stampede the public into an ill-advised war on essentially fraudulent grounds? If yes, this plot suggests that this problem could be ameliorated by increasing public funding for journalism. Foreign nations are now funding news broadcasts in the U.S., .e.g., RT, funded by Russia, and Al Jazeera, funded by Qatar. McChesney and Nichols note that after World War II, the U.S. forced Germany and Japan to subsidize independent news media to reduce the opportunities for demogogery.[8] They suggest several ways that might be done in the U.S. today:

  1. Heavy postal subsidies for publications with low circulation and less than 25% advertising. (When the United States Postal Service was founded in 1792, the rate for newspapers was extremely low precisely to increase the political literacy of the electorate.)
  2. Establish a journalism division of AmeriCorps to provide internships for aspiring young journalists with appropriate nonprofits.
  3. Dramatically increase funding of high school newspapers and radio stations.
  4. Increase public funding for journalism. "The international record shows that the journalism produced by public-broadcasting services in many industrial nations is more independent of the government in power than commercial journalism."[9]
  5. Citizen funding specified with your income tax, whereby each taxpayer could designate non-profit news organization(s) of their choice to receive up to some amount like $200.[10]
More international comparisons of the nature, levels, and consequences of political corruption in different nations around the world. This could be compared with the level of political literacy of the population and the structure and funding of the news media, similar to those cited by McChesney and Nichols (2010, ch. 1, charts 7-8 and ch. 4, chart 1). Taxpayers should not have to subsidize media whose biases and editorial policies offend them.[citation needed]

Table of the history of U.S. relations with selected countries[edit | edit source]

The following table focuses on the history of U.S. relations with selected countries. The key question here is the extent to which critical decisions made by U.S. government officials increased or decreased the quality of life for the vast majority of people in the U.S. and the other countries. The future of the U.S. and the world could be influenced by how well this analysis is conducted and translated into improvements in U.S. government policies, if needed.

Nation Coup d'état Elections US security supplies, training & US military presence Comments
Iran 1953: US president Eisenhower secretly approved the destruction of democracy, because it was "communist". The Shah ruled autocratically until deposed by the nonviolent 1979 Iranian revolution. US support for the Shah's military and secret police[citation needed] US provided chemical and biological warfare technology, weapons of mass destruction, to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).

References[edit | edit source]

Becevich, Andrew (2008). The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. Metropolitan. ISBN 9780805088151. 

McChesney, Robert W.; Nichols, John (2010). The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again. Nation Books. ISBN 9781568586052. 

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. April 17, 1947 Atomic Energy Commission memo from Colonel O.G. Haywood, Jr. to Dr. Fidler at the Oak Ridge Laboratory in Tennessee, [[w:Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments|]], retrieved July 15, 2013.
  2. In 1991 Russia began implementing reforms recommended by the United States and the International Monetary Fund. By 1998 the Russian Gross Domestic Product had fallen by roughly 40 percent. Life expectancy fell by 7 years for men and 3 for women. Russian-U.S. history also includes the participation of the United States military in the [[w:Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War|]], attempting to restore the power of the Tsar after he was overthrown in 1917. A vast majority of the soviet population supported the Communists and helped them defeat the [[w:White movement|]] and its foreign allies supporting the Tsar. As of July 7, 2013, Snowden had received offers of asylum from Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Tracking Snowden's asylum options, CNN World, July 6, 2013, retrieved July 7, 2013 The U.S. has a long history of involvement in the internal affairs of Bolivia including supporting many military coups. Recent history includes numerous allegations of U.S. support for opposition political movements in Bolivia including a secessionist movement in the Department of Santa Cruz, which includes over a third of Bolivian territory and a quarter of its population. [[w:Daniel Orgega|]], the current president of Nicaragua, was also president during the 1986 w:Iran-Contra affair, when it was established that U.S. government officials sold arms to Iran to get money to fund the [[w:Contras|]] in their war against the Nicaraguan government; at that time existing U.S. law prohibited both trade with Iran and support for the Contra war. The U.S. is widely believed to have instigated the [[w:2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt|]].
  3. Bacevich (2008, p. 89)
  4. “The ineptitude of the federal government is especially acute when it comes to national security ... . The national security state that evolved during World War II and through the long decades of the Cold War endangers the nation it was created to protect. It undermines rather than enhances security.” Bacevich (2008, p. 72)
  5. Goodman, Amy (July 4, 2013), How the Pentagon Papers Came to be Published By the Beacon Press Told by Daniel Ellsberg & Others, Democracy Now, retrieved July 9, 2013 "The Next War", Harper's Magazine, October 2006, retrieved July 9, 2013
  6. Bacevich (2008, p. 89)
  7. McChesney and Nichols (2010, pp. 51-53, 191-192, 267-268, 274, 283-284, 308)
  8. McChesney and Nichols (2010, p. 168 and appendix 2)
  9. McChesney and Nichols (2010, p. 191)
  10. McChesney and Nichols (2010, p. 201)