MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
I am currently reading two books that brilliantly illustrate the destruction and corrosion caused by the exponentially expanding covert branch of government: Tom Engelhardt's Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World; and James Risen's Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War. (Shadow Government is currently a Truthout Progressive Pick of the Week, and Pay Any Price will become one in about two weeks.)
Engelhardt, editor of the venerable TomDispatch.com, writes of an increasingly sprawling post-9/11 shadow government that is growing into a covert parallel government, with only token accountability to Congress and the FISA court. In a Truthout interview with Engelhardt (which will be posted on October 30), he describes the US surveillance and "global security" state as a "proselytizing warrior religion": "As with so many religions, its god an eye in the sky, an all-seeing being who knows your secrets." Of course, the implication is that those who are the high priests also paradoxically control the image and power of the God they worship. In their minds, the chiefs of all the homeland security offshoots are both believers and deities.
It's not only the power of faith in this intelligence and military cult that keeps it expanding at a feverish pace. As James Risen recounts in Pay Any Price, so much taxpayer money has been tossed at post-9/11 "Homeland Security" projects that there is a new class of members of the oligarchy: those who joined the 1% as a result of US government privatized intelligence and military contracts.
According to VICE:
Very little attention, however, has been paid to these companies' digital counterparts [to military contractors such as the former Blackwater], even though 70 percent of the entire US intelligence budget is spent on hiring private contractors, and the NSA "black budget" (budgets allocated to covert operations, essentially) – as published by Washington Post – is over $10 billion (£6 billion), a lucrative landscape for anyone with the technical know-how.
The proliferation of cheap information technology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries is one reason for this mass outsourcing. "There's been such an explosion of spy apparatus since 9/11 that they had to, otherwise they can't keep up," according to former MI5 agent Annie Machon.
VICE quotes a former employee of one of the largest US contractors, Booz Allen Hamilton (which derived 99% of its $5.7 billion in 2013 revenue from the US government, according to BloombergBusinessweek):
"Especially since 9/11, the NSA has increasingly outsourced much of its core mission, relying on private contractors to do the dirty work of government," said Thomas Drake, a former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor and NSA employee who left the agency to blow the whistle on American citizens' privacy being violated. The extent that the NSA relies on contractors is massive: "We're talking down to the desktop; we're talking the entire network," Drake told me.
The most noted alumnus of Booz Allen Hamilton, of course, is Edward Snowden.
Risen - a New York Times reporter still threatened with imprisonment by the Obama administration for not revealing a source for his 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration - provides detailed examples of waste, fraud and scams that have occurred on a massive scale in the shadow government vividly dissected in Engelhardt's book.
The US government apparently wants to make an example of Risen because he continues to expose the failures, profiteering and incompetence of the secret underside of the post-9/11 government in the shadows. He is a threat to the opaque cloak that protects the vast intelligence and covert military power centers by revealing their fecklessness and sense of entitlement to invade privacy and kill overseas at will. Risen's work is also a threat to those making fortunes off of programs that are often half-baked and in violation of the US Constitution.
Engelhardt connects the virulent growth of the shadow state to the US government's addiction to an "overwrought empire." He explores "why Washington can't stop" in one of his chapters, describing an unchecked superpower that simply can't cease fomenting wars and building data profiles of such massive numbers that they require a behemoth new storage center for internet servers – and a special cloud technology that Amazon is developing under contract for the CIA.
The metaphor Engelhardt uses of the shadow government adhering to a secret religion is compelling. Another equally effective image, BuzzFlash proposes, is that there is a cancer spreading just under the surface of democracy at a rapid pace. Like some melanomas, you may not be able to see anything other than a mottled mark on the skin, but beneath the epidermis, the cancer may be spreading throughout the body.
In the case of what Risen calls "greed, power and endless war," the malignancy of the classified surveillance-military state is metastasizing and destroying the fundamental pillars of democracy. Unfortunately, those who seek transparency cannot initiate chemotherapy, because the source and specifics of the cancer remain largely hidden from view.
This cancer will continue to grow upon the US body politic until it is disinfected by sunlight.