The Best Defense Against Good Intelligence: NDAA & the Illegitimate Expansion of Homeland “Security”

The Hancock 38 staging a "die-in" at Air Base in NY in protest of dronestrikes.

A little over two months ago I published an article about the extrajudicial killing of Yemeni-American citizen and US “terror” suspect Anwar Awlaki. In this article I described how the official US definition of a military target, as defined by the US Air Force, calls for the killing of not only armed combatants, but more disturbingly, those who express “ideas” which the military has “selected for destruction.” As I write this, the US Congress is attempting to expand the scope of this doctrine through the National Defense Authorization Act. This act, which Amnesty International has condemned for containing “detention provisions that would violate human rights and undermine the rule of law”, marks the culmination of a process that has its origins in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks.

Obama at the National Counterterrorism Center
Following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, the National Security apparatus of the US experienced a level of growth that has no similar precedent in American history. These facts can be verified through transcripts produced by the US Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. One of their latest hearings was held this past October on the topic “Domestic Threat Intelligence.” A simple reading of the proceedings speaks volumes about the historical context that gave rise to the NDAA and its most problematic provisions. In a presentation before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence FBI director Robert Mueller states that “Since 9/11, the FBI has more than doubled the number of agents and analysts assigned to its national security mission from 3,537 (2,514 agents/1,023 analysts) to 7,933 (4,815 agents/3,118 analysts).”  This massive increase in the number of “analysts” was part and parcel of a more fundamental transformation whereby “the Bureau shifted resources from criminal investigations to national security matters,” or as Chairman Rogers stated “the FBI has the challenging task of balancing prosecutorial equities with intelligence considerations, but when there is friction between these two objectives, intelligence must always win out.  Preventing a future attack is more important than securing a prison sentence.” How poignant these words are given the US foreign policy of state assassination and its concomitant glorification within the educated classes.  

It should be noted that this national “security” model is reflected not only through the FBI’s organizational structure of “intelligence sharing”  but also in the legal code. One of the more notable pieces of legislation passed in response to this expansion the National ‘Security’ apparatus was the The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.  This act is one of the foundational documents of the National Counterterrorism Center, the largest intelligence gathering body in the US which operates under a model of “strategic operational planning” through 16 separate agencies. Furthermore, the Prevention Act defines the terror suspect as a group or individual “reasonably believed” to associate with those who the US government designates as terrorists. This broad and arbitrary definition of terrorism is the reason why reputable human rights organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights are denouncing this act as a “radical piece of legislation that makes indefinite military detention without charge or trial a permanent feature of the American legal system.”

In lieu of this justified criticism, there are some more elementary considerations to be touched upon. One is the unequal application of this proposed law. If an American citizen like Anwar Awlaki can get incinerated by a predator drone for making Youtube videos why is it permissible for the US Drug Enforcement Agency to launder millions of dollars of Mexican drug money and actively participate in the brutal death of nearly 50,000 Mexican citizens? In addition to this the The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has “allowed [drug] traffickers to smuggle weapons across the U.S.-Mexico border in hopes that it would catch bigger fish” in their farcical “war on drugs.”  Surely these activities would meet the criteria of material support for “terrorism” if the NDAA is signed into law. Why not kidnap the head of the DEA and the ATF, strip them of their constitutional rights, and throw them in a Guantanamo style prison to be held indefinitely? When questions like this are asked the totalitarian character of this act is revealed most clearly. And there are more “unacceptable” conclusions that can be drawn from the ideological foundations of this piece of legislation.  In late September a Bangladeshi national by the name of Rezwan Ferdaus was arrested by the FBI in Boston for “planning to attack the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol Building using remote-controlled aircraft filled with explosives.” While this, if proven to be true, is undoubtedly a terrorist plot, it pales in comparison to much more horrendous acts of terrorism coordinated in Syracuse, New York. Here individuals employed by the Air National Guard base at Hancock Field use “remote-controlled aircraft filled with explosives”, what the State Department calls predator drones, to execute bombings in Pakistan. Latest figures from a report published by the Civic Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict show that these remote-controlled bombings have killed over 700 Pakistani civilians in 2009 alone, which makes up 90% of all civilian casualties recorded in Pakistan that year. So why isn’t there a call in the media to “send in the troops” to raid this military base, arrest all the employees, and bring them before a military tribunal? That is if the troops can restrain themselves from murdering them first, a practice which they have perfected with an almost religious commitment.    

If anyone were to examine this situation they would discover that the proper authorities did respond to these acts of terror, namely by arresting a group of individuals who chose to protest this mass slaughter of Pakistani civilians. On April 22nd of this year 38 peace activists, widely known as the Hancock 38, “trespassed”  onto the grounds of the Air National Guard base in Syracuse and staged a “die-in” as an act of civil disobedience against the use of MQ-9 Reaper drones. For this act of civil disobedience 31 of the 38 activists were found guilty and given a range of sentences from prison time to community service. In response to this miscarriage of justice, Former US attorney general, Ramsey Clark, denounced the usage of drones, calling them “assassination and murder weapons” that “ought to be prohibited.” Perhaps the State Department and its henchmen in the media will denounce Clark as a “terrorsymp” the newest word in the lexicon of the intelligence community to distinguish those who may have some inclination to “sympathize” with the fate of a Pashtun boy after he commits the crime of existing in a country that the CIA has transformed into a bombing range. This crime of existence is trumpeted by our “leaders” in the State Department, people like the White House’s top counterterrorism advisor John Brennan who stated and defended the lie that “there hasn’t been a single collateral death [from drone strikes] because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that [the military] has been able to develop.'”    

These realities and a series of others make transparent the utter absurdity of this act. Moreover, they disprove the statement of one of the high-ranking members of the US intelligence community, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. Speaking on The Evolution of the Terrorism Threat Against the United States he stated that “good intelligence is the best defense against terrorism.” This unchallenged growth of the intelligence community under the guise of “counterterrorism” has done nothing to produce “good” intelligence. In fact, this intelligence gathering has often facilitated terrorism. From the false intelligence about WMDs in Iraq to the manufactured intelligence about an Iranian nuclear program, the chief objective of the intelligence gathering organs in the US has invariably been to legitimize power and not to ensure the safety of the public. The raison d’être of these information bodies has increasingly become the systematic silencing of dissent. For an example of this one should examine the Obama administration’s egregious record on civil liberties.   

“Good intelligence”, at least what the power centers consider “good”, is not the best defense against terrorism. Rather state terrorism is the sole defense against actual good intelligence and the FBI, CIA, National Counterterrorism Center, and other governmental agencies are now using this tool of state terrorism to defend themselves against the entire population. The significance of this should not be underestimated especially in lieu of the massive Occupy protests sprouting up all around the country. It is in situations such as these that it becomes imperative for the people of the world to develop their own intelligence gathering projects, much in the same way Wikileaks was able to acquire information outside of the tight grip of the state. We don’t have to think back too far to remember the hysteria and calls for murder that came from the highest positions of power when Julian Assange leaked hundreds and thousands of State Department cables late last year. Unlike the diligent work of the FBI, this was not “good” intelligence. For these reasons, we should remain mindful that the same vitriol that was directed at Assange will inevitably be directed at all conscientious citizens of the US if this act is signed into law. The kidnappings, torture, death, and destruction that the US has brought down on the rest of the world from Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Pakistan, and Palestine has long ago roused the indignation of all thinking people, people like the Hancock 38 who have chosen to stand in solidarity with the people who Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth.” These international bonds must be strengthened and made more clear.  Because if this act is made into law, how can we say, with any measure of certainty, that these people, people who our government has terrorized, will stand in solidarity with us?   





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