Saturday, August 2, 2014

How Long Will It Take For The National Security State To Make Us All Delusional And Paranoid?

The CIA is running amok. Its director has lied to Congress, and underlings have hacked Senate staffers computers. CIA director John Brennan should be fired. The fact that he hasn't further supports my belief that President Obama was disingenuous about his stance on civil liberties when he ran in 2008 and my decision not to vote for him in 2012.

Conor Friedersdorf theorizes that President Obama has not asked Brennan to resign because Brennan knows where skeletons are buried.
When John Brennan assured the country that the CIA hadn't improperly monitored the Senate team that compiled a report on Bush-era torture, he fed us false information. That much is clear from Thursday's news that "the C.I.A. secretly monitored a congressional committee charged with supervising its activities." Either the CIA director was lying or he was unaware of grave missteps at the agency he leads. There are already calls for his resignation or firing from Senator Mark Udall, Trevor Timm, Dan Froomkin, and Andrew Sullivan, plus a New York Times editorial airing his ouster as a possibility.
President Obama could surprise the country by axing his former counterterrorism adviser, explaining that under Brennan's management, employees broke laws and undermined the separation of powers core to our democracy. Obama may well make a good-faith effort to act in the national interest. But it's impossible to believe that he won't be aware of the following: No U.S. official knows more than Brennan about Obama's many drone killings. Some of the killings were solidly grounded in international law. And others may have violated the Fifth Amendment, international law, or the laws of war.
Given the possibility that Republicans will take the Senate and  hold dozens of hearings with an angry Brennan as a star witness, Obama's decision to keep him on the job seems politically prudent albeit self-serving.

Friedersdorf goes a step further and suggests that Brennan is still on the job because Obama is worried about legacy.
But I can imagine details that could cause Obama's image to suffer, now and in the eyes of history. He might be subject to travel bans or indictments in absentia in certain countries, for example. We don't now know what sort of legal authority Obama had the first time he ordered Anwar al-Awlaki to be killed, or why his 16-year-old son, an innocent American teenager searching abroad for his absentee father, ended up dead. There's still much classified information about innocent people killed in drone strikes. 
I am not suggesting that Brennan is blackmailing Obama, or even that he would necessarily retaliate if fired. Still, if Obama is like most people in positions of power, he fires no subordinate without first asking himself, "Could this person damage me?" If Obama is a normal person, rather than an unusually principled person, the answer factors into his decision.
Friedersdorf might be committing psychology without a license but given that Americans use the imperative sentence shortened to acronym CYA as a de facto 11th Commandment, the analysis makes sense.

Writing at Political Animal, Martin Longman ventures into deep conspiratorial weeds. It's all about Lee Harvey Oswald and the CIA.
 . . .you don’t have to subscribe to such conspiracy theories to understand that no leader of any country will lightly take on their own intelligence agencies and hold them accountable for actions they may have taken with a prior executive’s approval.
These type of considerations, more than the self-serving motivations attributed to President Obama by Conor Friedersdorf, probably explain why John Brennan isn't being fired. Without question, John Brennan should be fired. That he isn't being fired shows that the president is simply afraid to fire him. Friedersdorf explains this fear as trepidation that Brennan will spill damaging secrets that make Obama look like some kind of war criminal himself. I think the fear is more related to the kind of murderous rage than might ensue if the CIA is held to account for their performance in the aftermath of 9/11. Whether this fear is well-founded or not, it is not irrational.
It would be easy to laugh and attribute this analysis to Longman having watched one too many episodes of Scandal or House of Cards. I suspect, however, that Longman's analysis is an early indicator that the NSA's warrantless wiretaps and other elements of the national security digital panopticon will make us all paranoid. Black helicopters will no longer be the sole province of the right wing fringes of the American political landscape. Those conspiracy theories make great spy novels but lousy national policies.

1 comment:

M Larson said...

Obama messed up on this one, in my opinion. He needs to replace John Brennan. Remember, it was Ronal Reagan that gave the NSA the power to spy on us.