WhoWhatWhy http://whowhatwhy.com Groundbreaking Investigative Journalism Tue, 21 Oct 2014 18:08:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 America’s Policy: War Now, Justifications Later http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/21/americas-policy-war-now-justifications-later/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/21/americas-policy-war-now-justifications-later/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 15:36:11 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11876 War on the Imminence Front: A Reaper drone rains down Hellfire missiles

War on the Imminence Front: A Reaper drone rains down Hellfire missiles

In the counterterrorism realm, “imminence” is the magic word these days. The government need only utter it to hand itself a virtual license to kill.

Understanding how language can be marshaled for controversial and even bloody purposes requires the ear of a linguist and the mind of a contracts lawyer.

But the time to go back to school is now—with “imminence” seemingly exploding everywhere.

In the past few years, the term has been invoked again and again in reference to the thousands targeted by the United States drone program. And it pops up just about every time the U.S. plans another drone attack or military commitment.

Consider the repetition of the word in the latest round of justifications for more air strikes in Iraq and Syria.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned that the U.S. must be ready for stronger commitments to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria because it poses an “imminent threat to every interest we have.” The Khorasan group—a purported al-Qaeda “super” cell—landed on the American targeting list because it was planning an “imminent attack” against the West, said Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.

So in light of the continued use of the word, it may be worthwhile to take a closer look at what U.S. officials actually mean when they use it.

Imminence: Wassat?

Under international law, targeted killings may be justified if the attacking party acts in self-defense. That’s pretty understandable criteria. But disagreement abounds over what constitutes self-defense.

According to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, member states have an inherent right to self-defense if an armed attack occurs against them. But many politicians and intellectuals see this understanding of self-defense as restrictive. That’s because it only allows states to react after an attack takes place.

The newfound pre-eminence of “imminence” springs from a desire to give the notion of self-defense a more flexible, modern definition.

An imminent threat is typically understood to involve urgency. In other words, it refers to a situation in which “the necessity of that self-defense is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation.” That standard, known as the Caroline test, has for years been the guiding definition for the international community.

But this more lenient construction wasn’t permissive enough for the U.S. The Justice Department, seeking elbow room, invoked imminence in an internal memo justifying the killing of Americans who are senior leaders of al-Qaeda or an associated group. It argued that such citizens could be killed legally because they present a threat of imminent attack.

License to Kill

Yet the definition of imminent, in the logic of that particular memorandum, is a flabby one at best. It “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

International experts harrumph at this. That viewpoint “is deeply contested and lacks support under international law,” according to Philip Alston, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions.

So the solution is simple: flout international law, and you have a virtual license to kill. Indeed, says Alston, the U.S. viewpoint advocates for a more “robust” form of self-defense that ignores established legal frameworks and “reflects an unlawful and disturbing tendency in recent times to permit violations of (international humanitarian law).”

The new-look imminence principle owes much to the “Bush Doctrine” of preemptive strikes. The latter policy declared that the U.S. is willing to take “anticipatory action to defend” itself “even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.”

The Obama administration’s definition of “imminence” appears to be little more than an expanded continuation of the Bush-era’s indulgent interpretation of “preemption.”

Droning on About Pakistan

And it gets worse.

We have already seen how America’s very liberal interpretation of imminence has given rise to the “license to kill” that experts like Alston warned it would.

On top of that, there’s proof that the imminence doctrine has been twisted around to suit immediate political and diplomatic needs. In the process, the flimsiness of the excuses required to declare something or someone an imminent threat has been exposed.

The evidence comes from one of the lowest points in Pakistani-American relations. In 2011, an attack by U.S.-led NATO forces killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers. In the ensuing diplomatic ruckus, Pakistan demanded that the U.S. stop drone strikes on its territory. Washington tried to sooth tensions by halting the drone campaign for a few months.

But wait a minute: how could the U.S. suddenly stop an urgent campaign—then in its seventh year—to destroy the myriad national security menaces roaming the wilds of Pakistan? Did all the imminent threats just dry up overnight, even though hundreds had been found and killed since 2004?

This becomes an especially perplexing riddle when one considers this: there were more drone attacks in Pakistan in the year before the program’s hiatus than in any one before or since. If the pause in U.S. drone strikes was a political maneuver, then the imminent nature of the U.S.-described threats can and should be questioned.

Good-Will Kills

That’s not the only time the government has used the cover of imminence to suit political ends. The New York Times reported in 2013 that “American officials have at times tried to placate Pakistani officials by killing militants who pose a greater threat to Pakistan than they do the United States.” Some officials in Washington called such strikes “good-will kills.”

If that’s the case, then it means that international political and diplomatic considerations figure into the American calculus. Yet how can the U.S. justification of its targeted killing program—striking imminent threats to the United States—apply to the defense of other nations?

Many international observers predicted that the imminence doctrine would only encourage more war. They’ve been proven right. And since international law is only as strong as the weakest of the most powerful nations enforcing it, America’s respect for its letter and spirit will have an enormous global impact.

So the U.S. adoption of this bold new “imminence” may set precedent for other nations to follow. If it becomes the norm, the threshold for justifying state violence and war will be lowered significantly.


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What Venezuela’s UN Seat Illuminates About US Hypocrisy http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/17/what-venezuelas-un-seat-illuminates-about-us-hypocrisy/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/17/what-venezuelas-un-seat-illuminates-about-us-hypocrisy/#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 00:07:00 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11743 Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro at the UN. (UN photo)

Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro at the UN. (UN photo)

The impending arrival of Venezuela on the United Nations Security Council is provoking a firestorm of media criticism in the U.S. Virtually all the stories focus on the human rights record of this South American nation with an avowedly leftist government.

In addition to the five permanent members of the Security Council – the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China—the U.N. General Assembly votes to fill 10 other seats, on a rotating basis, for two-year terms.

On Oct. 16, Venezuela won the seat reserved for a Latin American or Caribbean nation unopposed. The last time Venezuela was up for a seat, in 2006, the U.S. succeeded in blocking its bid.  This time, U.S. officials have had to be content with issuing dire warnings about a dangerous new player on the international community’s most prestigious and powerful panel.

An article in the New York Times suggested the newly appointed country “may well use its perch on the Council for delivering anti-American diatribes.” A Foreign Policy story entitled “Venezuela’s Revenge” described the Venezuelan delegation as cult followers of late president Hugo Chavez, then quoted Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations:

Venezuela’s conduct at the U.N. has run counter to the spirit of the U.N. charter and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the [U.N.] charter’s letter.

The Christian Science Monitor uncritically repeated American officials’ condemnations, and added that some “conservative critics say” Venezuela has “provided Iran with entree into the Western Hemisphere.”

But is Venezuela really an unrivaled human-rights monster, worthy of universal condemnation?

A look at some established human-rights metrics offers a more nuanced view:


The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives protection from the deprivation of life as well as cruel punishment. “The death penalty violates both of these fundamental rights,” Amnesty International said.

Venezuela abolished the death penalty in 1863, although security forces have been involved in extrajudicial killings and have often gotten away with it.

The U.S. has executed 30 people this year. Last year, it executed 39, the fifth most in the world, according to Amnesty. Police killings of unarmed “suspects” have made headlines in the American press all too frequently.


The Universal Declaration states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including… medical care.”

Venezuelans are guaranteed the right to health care under the country’s constitution. While the system is plagued by shortages of medicine, patients are not turned away based on their inability to pay.

The U.S., despite its position among the richest societies in the world, scores poorly in terms of healthcare among its peers. The U.S. charges high fees to the uninsured, resulting in a situation in which the majority of bankruptcies filed by U.S. citizens are caused by medical debt.

Hand-in-hand with this trend, American citizens are far more likely to forego medical care because of cost than citizens of comparably prosperous societies.  It’s too soon to tell how Obamacare will affect this situation.


Thanks to an excessive police response, Amnesty International sent an observation team to Ferguson, Missouri, during the unrest—the first time Amnesty has deployed observers in the United States. It has been estimated that routine practices at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp may violate as many as 19 of the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration.

In Venezuela, police abuse and prison violence—the worst in Latin America—remain serious problems. Security forces enjoy impunity for extrajudicial violence, according to Human Rights Watch.


Venezuela’s government has routinely targeted TV stations, websites and publications critical of the government with administrative enforcement actions. It has yanked TV stations with opposing political views off the air with little or no warning, or threatened their licenses.

Despite occasional harassment (and even imprisonment) of reporters who fail to cooperate with courts by revealing the names of sources, the United States is generally rated a bastion of press freedom. An issue that has generated increasing controversy is whether freelance investigators deserve the same Constitutional protections as credentialed journalists for mainstream publications.


The U.N. in resolution 64/292 declared the right to safe water and sanitation an essential human right.

In June, a group of experts who report to the UN called the cut-offs of water supply to Detroit families unable to pay water bills a violation of human rights. “In other words, when there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections,” said Catarina de Albuquerque, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

About three-fourths of Venezuelans living in rural areas had access to potable water in 2007, according to the World Bank. Venezuela claims it has given water access to 96 percent of the public, but the latest World Bank reports have no correlating data.


None of this is to say that Venezuela is not a large-scale violator of human rights, as it most certainly is. Even the United Nations has taken it to task for attacks by security forces on university students and protesters. Rather, the facts demonstrate a selective national blindness on the part of many Americans toward their own government’s human rights record.

To the mainstream American media, the term “human rights violations” refers to events in which a country commits violations that the United States does not.

Samantha Power’s diplomatic rhetoric is to be expected, and hypocrisy is part of the game in such a setting. What is more telling is the American media’s complacency with a double standard that pretends to objectivity where there is none.

To ignore the very real criticisms coming from the U.N. and other countries about human-rights violations in the U.S. is to perpetuate a failure to see ourselves as others see us—a failure that can prove self-defeating to any nation that seeks to advance its interests in an international forum it does not control.


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fbiPhone: This Violates Your Privacy. Again. http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/16/fbiphone-this-violates-your-privacy-again/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/16/fbiphone-this-violates-your-privacy-again/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 22:38:04 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11734 The FBI says it can’t crack the iPhone.

The FBI says it can’t crack the iPhone.

FBI Director James Comey is no fan of the latest iPhones.

In fact, where millions around the world are drooling over Apple’s latest mobile phone, Comey sees a “black hole” where criminals can hide beyond the reach of the FBI. Public safety, of course, is at risk from this phenomenon that Comey dubbed “Going Dark” in the very same speech in which he proclaimed that he is no scaremonger.

The newest hobgoblin we’re being asked to fear is the advanced encryption in the iPhone and Google’s Android devices. It is so strong that the FBI can’t break it and the companies themselves can’t get in, so it’s like a closet that can’t be unlocked, Comey said. And the FBI needs to be able to break it when it has a court order, or else criminals and terrorists might get away.

Apple and Google are reacting to market demand for greater privacy caused by Edward Snowden’s revelations of NSA snooping. But “the place they are leading us is one we shouldn’t go to without careful thought and debate as a country,” he said.

That’s a statement hermetically sealed off from history, since we have been down this road before. And privacy won. It’s also out of touch with the present state of encryption technology, and the FBI’s own prior public stance toward data protection.

The Government’s New Godzilla

Start with this fact—encryption tools exist in myriad forms, free to anyone with an Internet connection. And the FBI is on the record encouraging people and businesses to use it to protect their personal and business data from foreign hackers and governments. As well it should be, since there have been three major data breaches this year including one into the faux Fort Knox cybervaults of J.P. Morgan.

So why target Apple and Google? To make life easier for FBI agents who are stuck with what Comey called inefficient and costly legal means of investigation. If companies build encryption with no means of interception, it would leave “the government at a dead end—all in the name of privacy and network security,” Comey said.

FBI Director James Comey.

FBI Director James Comey.

It’s notable that Comey made this assertion the centerpiece of his first law-enforcement policy speech, delivered today at the Brookings Institution and perfunctorily leaked in advance to the New York Times.

The speech is part of a growing drumbeat from the national security machinery that claims that encryption is, like any threat the government decides to describe as the new Godzilla, a mortal one. Comey is preparing to ask Congress to change the wiretap laws to reflect modern technology, so his motive is abundantly clear.


You’ve got to give Comey credit—he employed the phrase “FOMO,” or fear of missing out, to make his case:

With Going Dark, those of us in law enforcement and public safety have a major fear of missing out—missing out on predators who exploit the most vulnerable among us…missing out on violent criminals who target our communities…missing out on a terrorist cell using social media to recruit, plan, and execute an attack.

Then he described a series of cases where encryption could have prevented arrests. Among the crimes he mentioned were two involving children: a beating death of a two-year-old girl and the murder of a 12-year-old by a known sex offender.

To be sure that never happens, the FBI needs a front door—not a back door—that Google, Apple and others should provide, Comey said.

The notion that the marketplace could create something that would prevent that closet from ever being opened, even with a properly obtained court order, makes no sense to me.

It does make sense, however, to the companies in Silicon Valley, which went through a similar debate two decades ago. Back then, the government proposed the “Clipper chip” backdoor and lost the battle resoundingly. Now, federal law explicitly protects the right of companies to create encryption without a backdoor.

“We have, as a country, decided that people should be able to encrypt their information and should be able to control it,” Jeremy Gillula, a staff technologist with the Electronic Freedom Foundation, told WhoWhatWhy. Comey’s attempt to reopen the debate is unfortunate, he said.

The EFF in the 1990s litigated the landmark case which established that encryption programs are protected speech under the First Amendment. Prior to that, encryption technology was classified a munition subject to government regulation.

Nothing to Fear But FOMO Itself

The stakes for Silicon Valley are higher this time around, because of the impact of the Snowden leaks. The loss of confidence in American companies as a result may cost them as much as $35 billion in the next two years.

And as others have pointed out, if American companies buckle to U.S. government demands to weaken privacy protection, countries with no privacy protections will demand similar access. That would in turn cause an even greater erosion of consumer trust.

That didn’t stop Comey from arguing that the citizenry has nothing to fear from U.S. government privacy intrusions, because they will be lawful and only done with a court order—unlike in the past. The public is now too distrusting of government to have a debate about privacy versus security, he said.

Perhaps it’s time to suggest that the post-Snowden pendulum has swung too far in one direction—in a direction of fear and mistrust.

But what about the government’s role in carrying out wholesale surveillance? Did Comey mention that? No.

Comey closed in asking: “Are we so mistrustful of government—and of law enforcement—that we are willing to let bad guys walk away…willing to leave victims in search of justice?”

It’s a perfect ad hominem argument to deflect blame away from the goverment: is the public willing to give up more privacy to ensure no baby-killers and terrorists get away?

A better question is whether the FBI is willing to work harder to investigate with the ample surveillance arsenal it has, instead of asking for another dilution of privacy in the name of safety.


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New Fukushima terror, Voter Fraud Fraud, Michelle dances with turnip—and more headlines http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/16/new-fukushima-terror-voter-fraud-fraud-michelle-dances-with-turnip-and-more-headlines/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/16/new-fukushima-terror-voter-fraud-fraud-michelle-dances-with-turnip-and-more-headlines/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:43:37 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11725
• “Voter fraud” is…a fraud, says Reagan judge

• Michelle Obama dances with a turnip

And more headlines… ]]>
Michelle Obama dances with turnip. Outrageous!

Michelle Obama dances with turnip. Outrageous!

• Reagan-appointed judge decries fake “Voter Fraud” alarms (PR Watch)

• Deportations keep growing under Obama (Moyers and Company)

• Mainstream media ignore Fukushima water radioactivity (BuzzFlash)

• Video: Premeditated beating of protester by Hong Kong police (Slate)

• Louisiana’s desperate battle to reclaim land from sea (Guardian)

• List of targeted Al Qaeda-affiliated groups is….classified (Secrecy News)

• Here’s what democracy looks like—Vermont debate all inclusive! (RealClearPolitics)

• Obama-haters’ excuse of the day: Michelle dances with a turnip (Washington Post)

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What You Missed About the Secret Service Director’s Resignation http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/14/the-one-thing-you-missed-about-the-secret-service-directors-resignation/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/14/the-one-thing-you-missed-about-the-secret-service-directors-resignation/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 17:37:13 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11710 Former Secret Service Director Julia Pierson in Congress. By NPR.

Former Secret Service Director Julia Pierson in Congress. By NPR.

You’ve probably seen that the Secret Service’s first female director, Julia Pierson, resigned after a series of embarrassing presidential security fiascoes.

At first glance, it looks like Pierson was felled by the most basic rules of Official Washington: don’t make a bigger mess after you were hired to clean up another one. And don’t embarrass the boss, which in her case, can translate to putting his life at literal risk. Professional hara-kiri looks like the obvious choice.

But let’s back up a bit. In Pierson’s case, the disaster she inherited was a scandal over agents enjoying the services of Colombian hookers while preparing for a presidential visit to Cartagena in 2012.

Her predecessor, Mark Sullivan, was allowed to retire with his full 30 years of service despite the revelations of improper revelry. Unknown to the public then was that Sullivan had overseen an utterly bungled investigation into a shooting incident at the White House in 2011. It took the agency four days just to figure out that bullets had hit the presidential residence. Despite getting shouted at by First Lady Michelle Obama and scolded by the president, Sullivan left with accolades.

That kind of graceful exit is indicative of the special logic that seems to apply to the Secret Service, which does have one of the most challenging missions in the world.

Even so, big failures usually don’t attract the biggest punishments. In fact, they seem to attract rewards.

Fail Hard and Prosper

Consider this: James Joseph Rowley was in charge when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He stayed in office for another decade. Rowley’s publicly promoted legacy is that he modernized the agency’s training and methods—after Kennedy’s death. The much-discredited Warren Commission recommended he be given that opportunity, and went easy on him for the staggering negligence and/or malfeasance seen in Dallas.

Rowley’s reward for the ultimate mission failure? The Secret Service emblazoned his name on its agent training center.

The career of H. Stuart Knight, in charge during the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, also survived that near-miss. Instead, it was an internal Treasury Department power struggle that brought him down more than a year later. Like Rowley, he too was credited with improving the agency’s training and methods.

So where, then, does that leave Pierson’s legacy?

She’s already made history by becoming the first woman to lead the Secret Service. She’ll also be remembered for being in charge when a knife-wielding intruder sprinted deep inside the White House, an incident that demonstrated frightening incompetence and inattention—at best.  Not to mention the incident in which an armed felon was allowed into an elevator with President Obama.


Predictably, there are two overarching arguments for why Pierson got the boot, each of which align with a partisan ideology. One says she was treated differently because she was a woman. The other argues that she was fired because she failed to do what she was supposed to do, and in part, bore the burden for the mistakes of her predecessors.

Indeed, there was bipartisan outrage at the fiascoes, and Pierson didn’t acquit herself well during a Congressional grilling.

Both sides agree that there is a great need for reform, and that’s what new acting Director Joe Clancy—who headed President Obama’s personal protective detail—is supposed to do.

It’s an interesting move by the president, because he recalled Clancy from the private sector. So Clancy ought to come without all of the political entanglements and divided loyalties a serving officer would have. And his hiring may show that President Obama understands the deep institutional constraints and risks he faces at the pinnacle of government power.

An Unintended Reform

And then we must consider a big factor that’s often been ignored: the Secret Service, once embedded in the Treasury Department, has for the last 11 years been part of the overstuffed Department of Homeland Security. Agents say that’s subjected the Secret Service to the bureaucratic infighting, political meddling and inefficiency that characterizes DHS. Perhaps that’s why Pierson failed to make any real reforms.

But the Secret Service has needed real changes for more than a half-century. It rewarded one director who oversaw the ultimate failure of the agency’s mission: protecting the president’s life. And it has sent others who oversaw egregious episodes of ineptitude into comfortable retirements.

For that reason, Pierson’s legacy may become one of unintended reform: It’s the first time a Secret Service director has had to pay the real price of failure.


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A Trillion Ways To Build a New Military Industrial Complex http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/11/a-trillion-ways-to-build-a-new-military-industrial-complex/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/11/a-trillion-ways-to-build-a-new-military-industrial-complex/#comments Sat, 11 Oct 2014 11:00:54 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11613 Nearly a trillion dollars have been invested in the Security-Industrial Complex, above.

Nearly a trillion dollars have been invested in the Security-Industrial Complex, above.

Just when did the United States government start referring to the country as the “homeland?”

If you were to answer “after 9/11,” you would be wrong. That’s the surprise. What is not at all surprising is the exponential expansion of what some call the “security-industrial complex” since that day in September thirteen years ago.

What’s happening now—the government’s search for self-justifying excuses to claim broader powers against a menace it says is ubiquitous—is a cycle that’s been repeated since America launched its first “War on Drugs” in the 1930s.

Today’s on-going proliferation of the national security state has created a new profit center for a large number of American companies with deep ties to military and intelligence agencies. And as bureaucracies and profits have grown, personal liberties have suffered their biggest contraction in a century, thanks to the Patriot Act and other legislation designed to increase surveillance in the name of eternal vigilance.

1And here’s the irony: It all began before 9/11, with the kind of bipartisan commission usually convened to bury a hot-potato issue beneath a slurry of platitudes.


In 1998, President Bill Clinton tasked former Senators Gary Hart, a Colorado Democrat, and the late Warren Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican, to chair the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century. The Commission panel was a cross-section of the military-industrial-media complex. Its members included Leslie Gelb, longtime New York Times correspondent and editor; Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed-Martin; and Army General John Galvin.

Not If, but…  When

The panel gave its report and recommendations in January 2001. Both Senators Rudman and Hart concluded that it was not a matter of “if” the U.S. would suffer a mass-casualty terrorist strike but “when.”  Among the panel’s recommendations was the massive integration of all of the nation’s domestic security, disaster planning and recovery functions into one behemoth called the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

After 9/11, President George W. Bush faithfully executed the Hart-Rudman blueprint and President Obama and the Congress have continued to commit hundreds of billions to it. And so it was that the envisioned “peace dividend” cutbacks—which the end of the Cold War was supposed to have brought to the defense budget (and the bottom line of defense contractors)— were buried for good.

Report on the Surveillance-Industrial Complex, which parallels the Security-Industrial Complex.

Report on the Surveillance-Industrial Complex, which parallels the Security-Industrial Complex.

By 2011, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, the total cost for post-9/11 Homeland Security had already reached $649 billion and annual spending since then is running at about $70 billion a year.

At that rate, the price tag for the entire post 9/11 Homeland Security domestic undertaking is only a year or two away from reaching a trillion dollars. So what’s the return been on that investment?

Spreading War and Terror

Indeed, and of supreme irony, the main effect of the War on Terror, as executed so far, has been  not to eliminate terror, but to spread it—and to generate a state of perpetual war.

Although the government swears it’s just airstrikes, the fact is that the U.S. is back in combat in Iraq. It took the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria just a matter of months to undo years of American efforts to rebuild a nation the U.S. had previously destroyed.

President Obama, a civilian who like most presidents can’t be expected to know what to do in these situations, logically put the blame on the vaunted U.S. intelligence establishment for both underestimating the formidable nature of the threat posed by ISIS and overestimating the Iraqi military’s ability to contain it.

Yes, that’s the same intelligence establishment that got WikiLeaked and Snowdened. The same cluster of agencies that the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan angrily blamed for missing the implosion of the Soviet Union, as well as  both World Trade Center attacks. The very same subset of departments that’s claimed ever-increasing amounts of the public treasury even as Congress retrenched on food stamps and long-term unemployment benefits. The same intelligence establishment that insists on its right to monitor virtually all electronic communications here and abroad in the name of counter-terrorism.

3The post-9/11 incompetence of the nation’s security machinery has been highlighted by the Keystone Kops-style misadventures of the Secret Service that have put the President and his family repeatedly at risk.

This series of fiascoes recently led to the sacrificial-lamb resignation of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson—though so far, there is no indication of substantive changes. Perhaps the most egregious of these failures was Army veteran Omar Gonzalez’ sprint across the lawn and into the White House while carrying a knife. This breakdown of security at what may be the most closely guarded residence in the country harked back to the curiously lackadaisical approach of John F. Kennedy’s protection detail in Dallas.

The latest embarrassments reflect the increasing dysfunction at the Secret Service since the agency was transferred from the Treasury Department to DHS in 2003, according to author and investigative reporter Ronald Kessler. What happened, says Kessler, is that the agency became more politicized, more responsive to political operatives, and less attentive to its own security protocols and whistle-blowers within its ranks.

Julia Pierson

Julia Pierson

“Agents and officers are afraid to voice their opinion and point out these very obvious problems because they will be punished,” Kessler said in a C-SPAN interview. “That’s how corrupt the agency is.”

When the agency came under DHS control, it “became political, more compliant, more subject to political pressures and that’s when this laxness and corner-cutting began,” Kessler added.

Supporters of the DHS counter that it has clearly succeeded in its primary mission of protecting “the homeland,” because the U.S. hasn’t experienced another terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11.

Yet these same supporters cite the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing as proof that America needs still greater vigilance against terrorism at home. That’s despite the dozens of unanswered questions about what really happened in Boston, including serious ones about the FBI’s prior relationship with alleged bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

All of this is somehow resolved in the paradoxical assertion —that DHS is a success, but that  more and more money and power is required to expand its reach and effectiveness.

The War on Whatever’s Handy at the Time

This particular mix of institutional self-congratulation and fear-mongering is not a new story in the United States. Against the backdrop of a newly identified menace to the American Way of Life, new laws are passed and a powerful new entity is added to the government’s law enforcement machinery, with dire effects on the civil liberties of ordinary Americans.

One instructive example comes from a subset of the history of the so-called War on Drugs, the campaign against marijuana.

That particular battle was conjured up in the 1930s to give the ranks of federal agents that had enforced Prohibition in the 1920s something to do after alcohol became legal again. The target became “pot,” which until 1937, was widely available as a patent medicine.

A clever bureaucrat named Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930-1962, painted marijuana as the single greatest threat to U.S. values and morals. He did this through a publicity campaign abetted by a compliant media. Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover were among his strongest allies.

5When Communism became the common enemy in the 1950s, Anslinger declared marijuana and drug trafficking in general to be part of a global conspiracy to advance the Reds’ goal of world domination. In a flight of self-serving rhetoric unconnected to any facts, he blamed “evil masterminds” in Communist China for seeking to hook America’s youth on debilitating substances. Subsequent historical research has thoroughly debunked Anslinger’s geo-political story line.

But the effect of Anslinger’s campaign, best exemplified by the baseless hysteria of the propaganda film-turned-cult classic “Reefer Madness,” was felt for decades. The same sentiments fueled the creation of President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs; in 1971 Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy number one.”

6It took nearly 84 years before the federal government’s War on Drugs dogma loosened up enough to allow the legal sale of recreational marijuana, a demonstration of how bureaucratic inertia can prolong policies well past their expiration dates.


More and more people are realizing how badly the U.S. needs to critically re-evaluate the unchecked expansion of the War on Terror and its propagation of an all-encompassing surveillance state. But a veritable army of latter-day Harry Anslingers have a stake in preventing such a public discussion.

They’re the same officials who drafted and executed the Homeland Security strategy in the first place. Many have parlayed their government service into lucrative commercial enterprises and reputation-enhancing sidelines as TV talking heads, discussing national security issues on an endless round of Sunday morning news shows. There, they are mostly identified by their former titles—with no mention of their current involvement in the global counterterrorism industry.

Former DHS head Tom Ridge

Former DHS head Tom Ridge

Examples include DHS’s first leader, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. He formed Ridge Global to offer multinational companies advice on risk management, energy consulting, trade and maritime management. Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff now heads The Chertoff Group, which draws on a bench of former military and intelligence officials from the United States and Europe, such as General Michael Hayden, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

In just its first year of business, the Chertoff Group helped facilitate $2.1 billion in deals involving biometrics, personnel protection security training, cyber security and data analytics. And that’s just a tiny fraction of the money in play.

Eisenhower’s farewell warning

Eisenhower’s farewell warning

Occasional voices of reason have been heard above the din of the fear-mongers. The House Committee on Homeland Security has raised a warning flag. It documented that DHS in its first five years racked up $15 billion in failed contracts—or about a third of its contracting budget. Among the committee’s list of costly fiascoes: a deeply flawed $25 billion makeover of the Coast Guard’s aging fleet, and expensive airport and border screening technologies that failed to deliver greater security.

General Michael V. Hayden, former director, NSA

General Michael V. Hayden, former director, NSA

As recently as May, DHS Inspector General John Roth admitted in Congressional testimony that his agency was still coming up short when it came to contracting. He added that DHS continues “to struggle with acting as an integrated, single entity to accomplish its mission.”

It’s been said that war is too important to be left to the generals. That certainly holds for the War on Terror. It also holds for the metastasizing security-industrial complex, whose evolving surveillance state promises real threats to the American way of life.


Photo Credits:

IMAGE: 3 Stooges

IMAGE: Drinking Coffee

IMAGE: Surveillance-Industrial (ACLU)

IMAGE: Keystone Kops

IMAGE: Julia Pierson

IMAGE: Old Marijuana poster

IMAGE: Reefer Madness

IMAGE: Tom Ridge

IMAGE: Eisenhower’s Farewell

IMAGE: Michael Hayden


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Bid to Solve 9/11 Mystery Via NYC Ballot Ends After Court Ruling http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/09/bid-to-solve-911-mystery-via-nyc-ballot-ends-after-court-ruling/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/09/bid-to-solve-911-mystery-via-nyc-ballot-ends-after-court-ruling/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 16:03:28 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11599 Building 7 before it collapsed

Building 7 before it collapsed

An effort to put a new investigation into the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 up for vote in New York City won’t be on the November ballot, after a New York State Supreme Court judge upheld a ruling dismissing the proposed referendum.

The High-Rise Safety Initiative, which raised $350,000 and collected about 100,000 signatures to support its effort, decided not to appeal the decision by Judge Paul Wooten. Why? To keep open an avenue to try again at the next election in 2016, according to Ted Walter, the group’s executive director.

“We are going to take a little break, and try to evaluate whether we can redraft the petition to be successful in the future,” he told WhoWhatWhy.

The chances of winning on appeal now are slim and a loss now would foreclose an opportunity to counter the City’s use of a particular technicality to successfully scuttle this attempt, Walter said. That involved a finding that the High-Rise Safety Initiative’s proposed ballot measure was “merely advisory” and therefore not allowed. A special referee assigned to oversee the case (whose findings Judge Wooten upheld) also ruled that the group’s plan to finance the investigation wasn’t legally permissible.

That the High-Rise Safety Initiative made it this far should be considered against this fact: only two proposed referenda have made it to the ballot in New York City in the last 50 years. And neither of those cost money to implement, as the High-Rise Safety Initiative would have. New York City electoral laws are written such that it’s next to impossible to get any similar measures in front of voters.

In a few months, the High-Rise Safety Initiative will discuss whether to try again, considering three factors before proceeding, Walter said.

Those are: 1) Whether it can propose a plan to finance the investigation that can’t be challenged 2) Whether it can surmount the City’s legal argument that the proposed referendum is “merely advisory” and 3) If it can raise the minimum $300,000, especially now that this round in court has demonstrated just how long the odds against success are.

Until that happens, the question of how Building 7 collapsed so swiftly and uniformly will remain a baffling part of the story of 9/11 still unanswered by the official probe.


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Please Subsidize Marriott, Fossil Fuels Doomed, Cost of Destructive Kid—and More Headlines http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/08/please-subsidize-marriott-fossil-fuels-doomed-cost-of-destructive-kid-and-more-headlines/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/08/please-subsidize-marriott-fossil-fuels-doomed-cost-of-destructive-kid-and-more-headlines/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 14:30:47 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11589
• Marrriott and Shriver want you to subsidize maids

• A destructive (comic) kid’s tab toted up

And more headlines…]]>

Study assesses cost of a destructive six-year old

Study assesses cost of a destructive six-year old

•  Big bank report says fossil fuel industry doomed as solar, other techs grow (CleanTechnica)

• Mexican police accused in mass student murders (New York Times) See WhoWhatWhy on US police issues

• Rich giving less to charity while struggling middle class gives more (Buzzflash)

• Opinion: Right’s election plans–stoke fear with Ebola, immigrants and ISIS (Salon)

• Amazon workers’ lawsuit—standing in long lines to be searched, no compensation (Bloomberg)

• Marriott and Maria Shriver want guests to subsidize hotel’s starvation wages (National Memo)

• Experienced teachers’ low wages chronicled (AmericanProgress.org)

• Actual costs of raising kid in Calvin and Hobbes – a six year old’s destruction tab calculated (PNIS.co)

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Cops, Cameras and The Thin Blue Lie http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/07/cops-cameras-and-the-thin-blue-lie/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/07/cops-cameras-and-the-thin-blue-lie/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 17:37:31 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11581 Will cameras stop this kind of police treatment?

Will cameras stop this kind of police treatment?

The state of modern American law enforcement went on garish display in Ferguson, Missouri, as police from multiple municipalities donned military gear and descended upon the town like an occupying army.

While the focus was on the equipment they carried and the racial issues, there’s a more crucial matter Ferguson raised: who is reining in the errant behavior of police officers?

Officers like Lt. Ray Albers, who aimed his assault rifle at peaceful protestors and journalists while barking such orders as “I will f***ing kill you, get back!”—while he knew his words and behavior were being recorded and livestreamed for the world to see.

And then there’s Officer Dan Page, who rose to national prominence after shoving a CNN journalist on camera. He got suspended from duty not for that, but for an earlier videotaped speech he gave at an Oath Keepers meeting:

“I personally believe in Jesus Christ as my lord and savior, but I’m also a killer. I’ve killed a lot. And if I need to, I’ll kill a whole bunch more. If you don’t want to get killed, don’t show up in front of me. I have no problems with it. God did not raise me to be a coward… I’m into diversity — I kill everybody. I don’t care.”

These are some of the individuals entrusted with police authority and military gear. Knowing Page’s and Albers’ names and faces made them unusual among their colleagues occupying Ferguson. But which officers fired tear gas and bean bags at TV news teams early in the protests? Who operated the sound cannons to disorient protestors before commanding them to disperse?

The authorities haven’t said.


Those specifics aside, Ferguson has fast-tracked an important debate: whether all officers should be wearing body-mounted cameras. There’s already a petition at the White House for a “Mike Brown Law” to require all officers to wear cameras, so named for the young man whose shooting by police touched off Ferguson.

The arguments in favor have united what are ordinarily opposing sides in the debate over police powers. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and law enforcement supporters have said they’re a good idea, albeit for different reasons. Broadly speaking, the idea is to protect citizens from bad policing and honest cops from false accusations.

Already, though, the ubiquity of cameras has shown a glimpse of what a fully recorded future of police-public interactions might hold. The question is whether that will lead to better relations.

When No One’s Watching

Footage out of Ferguson showed how some American police treat innocent people when they know the world is watching. If they behave this badly in front of witnesses, what do some officers do when no one is watching?

One apt example can be found in Officer Daniel Holtzclaw, arrested in August on suspicion of raping at least eight women while on duty, threatening to arrest them if they didn’t comply with his demands. Holtzclaw’s victims knew he had the status quo on his side: in the absence of any evidence, the accusation of a lone cop would suffice to arrest an innocent woman.

And if there’s no evidence, some officers are willing to plant it to make a case. In 2011, a former narcotics detective for the NYPD testified that he and his colleagues routinely planted drugs on people to make their arrest quotas.

The news surprised nobody who pays attention: former U.S. attorney and New York criminal judge Irving Younger warned in 1967 that the criminal justice system gave cops plenty of “unique opportunities (and unique temptations) to commit perjury. Yet the long-established practice of “testilying” resurfaces as a problem decade after decade, and remains rampant today with no solution in sight.

50 Years of Testilying

So half a century ago, the existence of lying police officers was already an open secret in the American legal system. And worse still: even cops proven to be liars don’t necessarily face any consequences.

Take the case of six Milwaukee officers who were found to have impeded an investigation by prosecutors into a police practice of carrying out illegal strip and body cavity searches on drug suspects:

“One officer told authorities she had not witnessed an improper search even though a video showed she was standing just a few feet away. Five others were suspected of violating a court order …. The six officers may have broken the law or violated department rules, the video and documents show, but none of them faced criminal charges or discipline by the Police Department,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote.

Of course they didn’t. There are six cops in Milwaukee today who still wield legal authority over fellow citizens, despite a record of them helping other officers commit crimes against people and/or hampering any efforts to stop it.

All the Way to the Supreme Court

The notion that impunity for law enforcement has its place in law enforcement has even reached the Supreme Court. In 2009, when current Justice Elena Kagan was Solicitor General defending the government, she argued in Pottawatomie v. McGhee that prosecutors who fabricate evidence to convict innocent people should retain their absolute immunity from lawsuits.

Failing to preserve immunity, she argued, would force prosecutors to divert their energy toward defending themselves instead of enforcing the law. The wrongfully convicted have other avenues of restitution, she wrote:

In the exceedingly rare case in which provable wrongdoing by a prosecutor is left uncompensated, “it has been thought in the end better to leave unredressed the wrongs done by dishonest officers than to subject those who try to do their duty to the constant dread of retaliation.”

In the Pottawatomie case, the crime in question was murder. So Kagan’s argument was, in essence, that even if innocents go to prison while killers walk free, dishonest prosecutors still shouldn’t be held accountable for framing someone who isn’t guilty.

Once upon a time the legal fiction of inherent police trustworthiness might’ve been a necessary evil, but ubiquitous and inexpensive recording technology has made that excuse vanish. Why not require police testimony be backed by audiovisual records?

The Ever-present Eye

Even before Ferguson, various municipalities throughout the U.S. started requiring officers to wear body cameras at all times while on duty (in addition to the dashboard cams already found in many, though not all, police cars). A real-time experiment by the Rialto, California, police department, in which officers were made to record their on-duty actions, had stunning results. The use of force by police officers declined over 50% and complaints against them by the public fell by nearly 90 percent.

Of course, that still leaves the problem of police deliberately turning off their cameras before engaging in questionable activity. For example, the Daytona, Florida, police department fired two officers who arrested a female drug suspect. One officer switched his camera off in the middle of the apprehension. The woman ended up hospitalized with her teeth knocked out. The telling video was missing.

Yet even the issue of police turning off body cameras or “losing” dashcam footage wouldn’t be such a problem if the legal system would abandon the stubborn belief in proven fictions: that police are always telling the truth when they’re on the witness stand, and that their word is better than that of a suspect.


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The Hidden Government Group Linking JFK, Watergate, Iran-Contra and 9/11 http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/05/the-hidden-government-group-linking-jfk-watergate-iran-contra-and-911/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/05/the-hidden-government-group-linking-jfk-watergate-iran-contra-and-911/#comments Sun, 05 Oct 2014 16:30:39 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11542 Captains America Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, rigged to self-destruct. By Mr. Fish

Captains America Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, rigged to self-destruct. By Mr. Fish

Peter Dale Scott is considered the father of “Deep Politics”— the study of hidden permanent institutions and interests whose influence on the political realm transcends the elected, appointed and career officials who come and go.

A Professor of English at Berkeley and a former Canadian diplomat, he is the author of several critically acclaimed books on the pivotal events of our country’s recent past, including Deep Politics and the Death of JFK ; Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina (War and Peace Library); The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America
 American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan (War and Peace Library)He is also a poet, whose long work, Coming to Jakarta: A Poem about Terror, was hailed as “the most important political poem to appear in the English language in a very long time,” by Robert Hass, Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997. 

01Daniel Ellsberg said of his book Drugs, Oil and War, “It makes most academic and journalistic explanations of our past and current interventions read like government propaganda written for children.”

What follows is based on a recent Scott lecture entitled “The JFK Assassination and Other Deep Events”, and will be expanded on further in his next book, The American Deep Statedue out in November.


For some time now, I have been analyzing American history in the light of what I have called structural deep events: events, like the JFK assassination, the Watergate break-in, Iran-Contra, or 9/11, which repeatedly involve law-breaking or violence, are mysterious to begin with, are embedded in ongoing covert processes, have political consequences that enlarge covert government, and are subsequently covered up by systematic falsifications in the mainstream media and internal government records.

The more I study these deep events, the more I see suggestive similarities between them, increasing the possibility that they are not unrelated external intrusions on American history, but parts of an endemic process, sharing to some degree or other a common source.

 A deep state event seen from deep space. New York City, 9/11.  NASA Photo

Deep State Event—Deep View. New York City, 9/11. NASA Photo

For example, one factor linking Dallas, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and 9/11, has been the involvement in all four deep events of personnel involved in America’s highest-level emergency planning, known since the 1950s as Continuity of Government (COG) planning, or more colloquially inside the Pentagon as “the Doomsday Project.” A few of these actors may have been located at the top, as overseers of the secret COG system. Others – including some I shall talk about today – were located further down in its secret communications network.

I see this planning group as one among many in what I have chosen to call the American deep state, along with agencies like the CIA and NSA, the private groups like Booz Allen Hamilton to which more than half of the US intelligence budget is outsourced, and finally the powerful banks and corporations whose views are well represented in the CIA and NSA. But if only one group among many, the COG planning group is also special, because of its control of and access to a communications channel, not under government control, that can reach deeply into the US social structure. I discuss these matters at some length in my next book, The American Deep State, due out in November.

03COG planning was originally authorized by Truman and Eisenhower as planning for a response to a crippling atomic attack that had decapitated government. In consequence its planning group contemplated extreme measures, including what Alfonso Chardy in 1987 called “suspension of the Constitution.” And yet in Iran-Contra its asset of a secret communications network, developed for the catastrophe of decapitation, was used instead to evade an official embargo on arms sales to Iran that dated back to 1979. My question today is whether the network could have been similarly misused in November 1963.

The Iran-contra misuse has been well-documented. Oliver North supervised the sale of arms to Iran by using his resources as the National Security Council action officer for COG planning, under cover of a “National Program Office” that was overseen by then Vice-President George H. W.  Bush. North and his superiors could thus use the COG emergency network, known then as Flashboard, for the arms sales to Iran that had to be concealed from other parts of the Washington bureaucracy as well as the public. So when North had to send emergency instructions for arms delivery to the US Embassy in Lisbon, instructions that directly contravened the embargo prohibiting such sales, he used the Flashboard network to avoid alerting the Ambassador and other unwitting personnel.

04The documented example of Iran-Contra allows me to explain what I am saying about the users of the COG network, and also what I am not saying. To begin with, I am not saying that a single “Secret Team” has for decades been using the COG network to manipulate the US Government from outside it. There is no evidence to suggest that North’s actions in Iran-Contra were known to any of his superiors other than CIA chief William Casey and probably George Bush. The point is that a very small group had access to a high-level secret network outside government review, in order to implement a program in opposition to government policy. They succumbed to the temptation to use this secure network that had been designed for other purposes. I have argued elsewhere that this secure network was used again on 9/11, to implement key orders for which the 9/11 Commission could find no records. Whether it was also used for illicit purposes is not known.

It is certain that the COG emergency network program survived North’s demise, and continued to be secretly developed for decades, at a cost of billions, and overseen by a team including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. It is relevant that the two men’s presence on the committee spanned three administrations – those of Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton — even though at one point under Clinton neither man held a position inside the U.S. government. Such continuity was essential for a group so secret that few records existed of its activities. And on 9/11 COG plans were officially implemented for the first time, by Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, the two men who had planned them for so many years.

Whether or not they knew about Iran-Contra, Cheney and Rumsfeld were on the COG planning committee at the time of Iran-Contra. There is no such obvious link between COG planning and Watergate, but the involvement of COG personnel in Watergate is nonetheless striking. James McCord, one of the Watergate burglars, was a member of a small Air Force Reserve unit in Washington attached to the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) that was assigned “to draw up lists of radicals and to develop contingency plans for censorship of the news media and U.S. mail in time of war.” His unit was part of the Wartime Information Security Program (WISP), which had responsibility for activating “contingency plans for imposing censorship on the press, the mails and all telecommunications (including government communications) [and] preventive detention of civilian ‘security risks,’ who would be placed in military ‘camps.’” In addition, John Dean, perhaps the central Watergate figure, had overseen secret COG activities when serving as the associate deputy attorney general.

05In the case of the JFK assassination, I wish to focus on two men who functioned as part of the communications network of the Office of Emergency Planning (OEP), the agency renamed in 1968 as the Office of Emergency Preparedness (to which McCord was attached), and renamed again in 1982 as the National Program Office (for which Oliver North was the action officer).

These two men (there are others) are Winston Lawson, the Secret Service advance man who from the lead car of the motorcade was in charge of the Secret Service radio channels operating in the motorcade; and Jack Crichton, the army intelligence reserve officer who with Deputy Dallas Police Chief George Lumpkin selected the Russian interpreter for Marina Oswald’s first (and falsified) FBI interview.

Lawson has drawn the critical attention of JFK researchers, both for dubious actions he took before and during the assassination, and also for false statements he made after it (some of them under oath). For example, Lawson reported after the assassination that motorcycles were deployed on “the right and left flanks of the President’s car” (17 WH 605). On the morning of November 22, however, the orders had been changed (3 WH 244), so that the motorcycles rode instead, as Lawson himself testified to the Warren Commission, “just back of the President’s car” (4 WH 338; cf. 21 WH 768-70). Captain Lawrence of the Dallas Police testified that that the proposed side escorts were redeployed to the rear on Lawson’s own instructions (7 WH 580-81; cf. 18 WH 809, 21 WH 571). This would appear to have left the President more vulnerable to a possible crossfire.

Early on November 22, at Love Field, Lawson installed, in what would become the lead car, the base radio whose frequencies were used by all Secret Service agents on the motorcade. This radio channel, operated by the White House Communications Agency (WHCA), was used for some key decisions before and after the assassination, yet its records, unlike those of the Dallas Police Department (DPD) Channels One and Two, were never made available to the Warren Commission, or any subsequent investigation. The tape was not withheld because it was irrelevant; on the contrary, it contained very significant information.

06The WHCA actually reports to this day on its website that the agency was “a key player in documenting the assassination of President Kennedy.” However it is not clear for whom this documentation was conducted, or why it was not made available to the Warren Commission, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, or the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB). It should have been.

For one thing, the WHCA tape, as Vincent Palamara has written, contains the “key” to the unresolved mystery of who, after the shooting, redirected the motorcade to Parkland hospital. The significance of this apparently straightforward command, about which there was much conflicting testimony, is heightened when we read repeated orders on the Dallas Police radio transcript to “cut all traffic for the ambulance going to Parkland code 3” (17 WH 395) – the ambulance in question having nothing to do with the president (whose shooting had not yet been announced on the DPD radio). In fact the ambulance had been dispatched about ten minutes before the assassination to pick someone from in front of the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD), who was wrongly suspected of having suffered an epileptic seizure.

Lawson later reported to the Secret Service that he heard on his radio “that we should proceed to the nearest hospital.” He wrote also that he “requested Chief Curry to have the hospital contacted,” and then that “Our Lead Car assisted the motorcycles in escorting the President’s vehicle to Parkland Hospital” (17 WH 632), cf. 21 WH 580). In other words, after hearing something on the WHCA radio, Lawson helped ensure that the President’s limousine would follow the route already set up by the motorcycles for the epileptic. (In his very detailed Warren Commission testimony, Lawson said nothing about the route having already been cleared. On the contrary he testified that “we had to do some stopping of cars and holding our hands out the windows and blowing the sirens and horns to get through” (4 WH 354).

The WHCA radio channel used by Lawson and others communicated almost directly to the WHCA base at Mount Weather in Virginia, the base facility of the COG network. From there, Secret Service communications were relayed to the White House, via the

batteries of communications equipment connecting Mount Weather with the White House and “Raven Rock” — the underground Pentagon sixty miles north of Washington — as well as with almost every US military unit stationed around the globe.

Jack Crichton, head of the 488th Army Intelligence Reserve unit of Dallas, was also part of this Mount Weather COG network. This was in his capacity as chief of intelligence for Dallas Civil Defense, which worked out of an underground Emergency Operating Center. As Russ Baker reports, “Because it was intended for ‘continuity of government’ operations during an attack, [the Center] was fully equipped with communications equipment.” In retrospect the Civil Defense Program is remembered derisively, for having advised schoolchildren, in the event of an atomic attack, to hide their heads under their desks.But in 1963 civil defense was one of the urgent responsibilities assigned to the Office of Emergency Planning, which is why Crichton, as much as Secret Service agent Lawson, could be in direct touch with the OEP’s emergency communications network at Mount Weather.

07Jack Crichton is of interest because he, along with DPD Deputy Chief George Lumpkin of the 488th Army Intelligence Reserve unit, was responsible for choosing a Russian interpreter for Marina Oswald from the right-wing Russian community. This man was Ilya Mamantov, who translated for Marina Oswald at her first DPD interview on November 22. What she allegedly said in Russian at this interview was later used to bolster what I have called the “phase one” story, still promoted from some CIA sources, that Russia and/or Cuba were behind the assassination.

As summarized by the FBI, Mamantov’s account of Marina’s Russian testimony was as follows:

MARINA OSWALD advised that LEE HARVEY OSWALD owned a rifle which he used in Russia about two years ago. She observed what she presumed to be the same rifle in a blanket in the garage at [Ruth Paine’s residence]…. MARINA OSWALD stated that on November 22, she had been shown a rifle in the Dallas Police Department…. She stated that it was a dark color like the one that she had seen, but she did not recall the sight.

These specific details – that Marina said she had seen a rifle that was dark and scopeless – were confirmed in an affidavit (signed by Marina and Mamantov, 24 WH 219) that was taken by DPD officer B.L. Senkel (24 WH 249). They were confirmed again by Ruth Paine, who witnessed the Mamantov interview, (3 WH 82). They were confirmed again the next night in an interview of Marina by the Secret Service, translated by Mamantov’s close friend Peter Gregory. But a Secret Service transcript of the interview reveals that the source of these details was Gregory, not Marina:

(Q) This gun, was it a rifle or a pistol or just what kind of a gun? Can she answer that?

(A) It was a gun

Mr. Gregory asked: Can you describe it?

NOTE: Subject said: I cannot describe it because a rifle to me like all rifles.

Gregory translation: She said she cannot describe it. It was sort of a dark rifle just like any other common rifle…

Subject in Russian: It was a hump (or elevation) but I never saw through the scope….

Gregory translation: She says there was an elevation on the rifle but there was no scope – no telescope.

We have to conclude not just that Gregory had falsified Marina’s testimony (“a rifle to me like all rifles”); but so probably had his friend Mamantov, who later testified no less than seven times to the Warren Commission that Marina had used the word “dark” to describe the gun. There were others in Dallas who claimed that Oswald’s gun indeed had been scopeless, until Oswald had a scope installed on it by Dallas gunsmith Dial Ryder. The Warren Report elaborately refuted this corroborated claim, and concluded that “the authenticity of the repair tag” used to support it was “subject to grave doubts.” (WR 317).

We can see here, what the Warren Commission did not wish to see, signs of a conspiracy to misrepresent Marina’s testimony, and possibly to link Oswald’s gun to a dark and scopeless rifle he had in the Soviet Union. Our concerns that Mamantov misrepresented her lead us to concerns about why two Army Intelligence Reserve officers from the 488th unit (Jack Crichton and Deputy DPD Chief George Lumpkin) selected Mamantov as her interpreter. Our concerns are increased when we see that B.L. Senkel, the DPD officer who took Marina’s suspect affidavit, was the partner of F.P. Turner, who collected the dubious rifle repair tag (24 WH 328), and that both men spent most of November 22 with DPD Deputy Chief Lumpkin. For example, they were with Lumpkin in the pilot car of the motorcade when Lumpkin was communicating with Winston Lawson in the lead car behind them.

I conclude that when we look at the conduct of the two men we know to have been parts of the COG emergency communications network in Dallas, we see patterns of sinister behavior that also involved others, or what we may call conspiratorial behavior. These concatenated efforts to implicate Oswald in a phase-one conspiracy narrative lead me to propose a hypothesis for which I have neither evidence nor an alternative explanation: namely, that someone on the WHCA network may have been the source for the important unexplained description on the Dallas Police tapes of a suspect who had exactly the false height and weight (5 feet 10 inches, 165 pounds) recorded for Oswald in his FBI and CIA files.

08Note that there are no other known sources ascribing this specific height and weight to Oswald. For example, when he was arrested and charged in Dallas that same day, Oswald was recorded as having a height of 5’9 ½ inches, and a weight of 131 pounds. The first reference to Oswald as 5’10”, 165 pounds, was that offered by Oswald’s mother Marguerite to FBI Agent Fain in May 1960, when Oswald himself was absent in Russia.

The DPD officer contributing the description on the Police Channel was Inspector Herbert Sawyer, who allegedly had heard it from someone outside the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD) whom he could not identify or describe. The Warren Report said categorically that his source was Howard Brennan (WR 5), and that on the evening of November 22, Brennan “identified Oswald as the person in the lineup who bore the closest resemblance to the man in the window but he said that he was unable to make a positive identification” (WR 145). But there are many reasons to doubt this, starting with conflicts in Brennan’s own testimony (as Anthony Summers reported in Conspiracy, pp. 109-10) . And Ian Griggs has made a strong case that Brennan never saw Oswald in a line-up that evening. (There are police records placing Oswald in three line-ups that day, and corroborating witness reports of them; but there is no evidence whatever that Brennan attended any of the three.)

There is another strong reason to doubt that the source was Brennan. Brennan testified later to the Warren Commission that he saw his suspect in a window of the Texas School Book Depository, “standing up and leaning against the left window sill.” Pressed to describe how much of the suspect he saw, Brennan answered, “I could see probably his whole body, from his hips up. But at the time that he was firing the gun, a possibility from his belt up” (3 WH 144).

The awkwardness of Brennan’s language draws attention to the fundamental problem about the description. It is hard to imagine anyone giving a full height and weight estimate from seeing someone who was only partially visible in a window. So there are intrinsic grounds for believing the description must have come from another source. And when we see that the same description is found in Oswald’s FBI and CIA files — and nowhere else – there are reasons to suspect the source was from government secret files.

We have seen that there was interaction in Dallas between the WHCA and DPD radio channels, thanks to the WHCA portable radio that Lawson had installed in the lead car of the presidential motorcade. This radio in turn was in contact by police radio with the pilot car ahead of it, carrying Dallas Police Department (DPD) Deputy Chief Lumpkin of the 488th Army Intelligence Reserve unit. At the same time, as noted above, it was in contact with the COG nerve center at Mount Weather, Virginia. And Mount Weather had the requisite secret communications to receive information from classified intelligence files, without other parts of the government being alerted.

Permit me at this moment an instructive digression. It is by now well established that Kennedy in 1963 was concerned enough by “the threat of far-right treason” that he urgently persuaded Hollywood director John Frankenheimer “to turn [the novel] Seven Days in May into a movie.” In this book, to quote Wikipedia, a

charismatic superior officer, Air Force General James Mattoon Scott, intend[s] to stage a coup d’état …. According to the plan, an undisclosed Army combat unit known as ECOMCON (Emergency COMmunications CONtrol) will seize control of the country’s telephone, radio, and television networks, while the conspiracy directs the military and its allies in Congress and the media from “Mount Thunder” (a continuity of government base based on Mount Weather).

It is no secret also that in 1963 Kennedy had aroused major right-wing dissatisfaction, largely because of signs of his increasing rapprochement with the Soviet Union. The plot of the book and movie reflects the concern of liberals at the time about generals like General Edwin Walker, who had resigned in 1961 after Kennedy criticized his political activities in the Army. (Walker had given his troops John Birch Society literature, along with the names of right-wing candidates to vote for.) We can assume however that Kennedy had no firm evidence of a Mount Weather conspiracy: if he had, it is unlikely his response would have just been to sponsor a fictionalized movie.

It is important at this stage to point out that, although COG elements like Mount Weather were considered part of the Pentagon, the COG “government in waiting” was at no time under military control. On the contrary, President Eisenhower had ensured that it was broadly based at the top, so its planners included some of the nation’s top corporate leaders, like Frank Stanton of CBS. By all accounts of COG leadership in the decades after Reagan took office in 1981, this so-called “shadow government” still included CEOs of private corporations, like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, as well as three former CIA directors: Richard Helms, James Schlesinger, and George Bush.

Alfonso Chardy wrote in 1987 that the “virtual parallel government” empowering North to run Iran-Contra had also developed “a secret contingency plan that called for suspension of the Constitution, turning control of the United States over to FEMA.” Subsequently North was questioned in the Iran-Contra Hearings about this charge, but was prevented by the Committee Chairman, Democratic Senator Inouye, from answering in a public session.

Later, investigating the powerful COG planning group, CNN called it “a hidden government [in the USA] about which you know nothing.” James Mann emphasized its hawkish continuity, unaffected by changes of presidency in the White House:

Cheney and Rumsfeld were, in a sense, a part of the permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States, inhabitants of a world in which Presidents come and go, but America always keeps on fighting.”

Cheney and Rumsfeld in 1974

Cheney and Rumsfeld in 1974

Going one step further, Andrew Cockburn quoted a Pentagon source to support a claim that a COG planning group under Clinton was now for the first time staffed “almost exclusively with Republican hawks.” In the words of his source, “You could say this was a secret government-in-waiting. The Clinton administration was extraordinarily inattentive, [they had] no idea what was going on.”

The Pentagon official’s description of COG planners as a “secret government-in-waiting” under Clinton (which still included both Cheney and Rumsfeld) is very close to the standard definition of a cabal, as a group of persons secretly united to bring about a change or overthrow of government. A very similar situation existed under Jimmy Carter, when some of those who would later figure in Iran-Contra (notably George H.W. Bush and Theodore Shackley) worked with chiefs of foreign intelligence services (the so-called Safari Club) “to start working with [former DCI Richard] Helms [then U.S. Ambassador to Iran] and his most trusted operatives outside of Congressional and even Agency purview.” This group began by backing guerrilla forces in Africa (notably UNITA of Jonas Savimbi in Angola), which they knew would not be backed by the CIA under William Colby or Stansfield Turner.

But some of these figures, notably Alexandre de Marenches of the French spy agency SDECE, became involved with Casey, Bush, Shackley, and others in a 1980 plot – the so-called Republican “October Surprise” – to prevent the reelection of Jimmy Carter. The essence of this plot was to frustrate Carter’s efforts to repatriate the hostages seized in the U.S. Tehran Embassy, by negotiating a Republican deal with the Iranians that would be more to their liking. (The hostages in fact were returned hours after Reagan took office in 1981.)

This Republican hostage plot in 1980 deserves to be counted as a fifth structural deep event in recent US history. Unquestionably the illicit contacts with Iran established by the October Surprise Group in 1980 became, as Alfonso Chardy wrote, the “genesis” of the Iran-Contra arms deals overseen by the COG/ Mount Weather planners in 1984-86.

In an important interview with journalist Robert Parry, the veteran CIA officer Miles Copeland claimed that a “CIA within the CIA” inspired the 1980 plot, having concluded by 1980 that Jimmy Carter (in Copeland’s words) “had to be removed from the presidency for the good of the country.” Copeland made it clear to Parry that he shared this view that Carter “represented a grave threat to the nation,” and former Mossad agent Ari Ben-Menashe told Parry that Copeland himself was in fact “the conceptual father” of the 1980 arms-for-hostages deal, and had “brokered [the] Republican cooperation with Israel.” And Copeland, together with his client Adnan Khashoggi whom he advised, went on with Shackley to help launch the 1984-85 Iranian arms deals as well.

However, just as Knebel in Seven Days may have overestimated the military component in the COG Mount Weather

Peter Dale Scott, Russ Baker, David Talbot, Daniel Ellsberg, Jefferson Morley at a recent lunch

Peter Dale Scott, Russ Baker, David Talbot, Daniel Ellsberg, Jefferson Morley at a recent lunch

leadership, so Copeland may have dwelt too exclusively on the CIA component behind the October Surprise Group. In The Road to 9/11, I suggested that this CIA network overlapped with a so-called “Project Alpha,” working at the time for David Rockefeller and the Chase Manhattan Bank on Iran issues, which was chaired by the veteran establishment figure John J. McCloy.

I will conclude by again quoting James Mann’s dictum that the Mount Weather COG leadership constitutes a “permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States, … a world in which Presidents come and go, but America always keeps on fighting.” And I would like this audience to investigate whether elements of this enduring leadership, with its ever-changing mix of CIA veterans and civilian leaders, may have constituted “a secret government-in-waiting,” not just under Clinton in the 1990s, not just under Carter in 1980, but also under Kennedy in November 1963.





[1] Peter Dale Scott, The American Deep State: Wall Street, Big Oil, and the Attack on U.S. Democracy (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014 [forthcoming]). 1.

[2] For a partial list of anomalies between the JFK assassination and 9/11, see Peter Dale Scott, The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War (New York: Skyhorse, 2013), 341-96.

[3] Tim Shorrock, Spies for Hire (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 6.

[4] Alfonso Chardy, “Reagan Aides and the Secret Government,” Miami Herald, July 5, 1987, http://bellaciao.org/en/article.php3?id_article=9877: “Some of President Reagan’s top advisers have operated a virtual parallel government outside the traditional Cabinet departments and agencies almost from the day Reagan took office, congressional investigators and administration officials have concluded.”

[5] Iran-Contra Committee Counsel Arthur Liman, questioning Oliver North, “had North repeat his testimony that the diversion was Casey’s idea” (Arthur Liman, Lawyer: a life of counsel and controversy [New York: Public Affairs, 1998], 341).

[6] James Bamford, A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the abuse of America’s intelligence agencies (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 72.

[7] Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 213-14, 219-29.

[8] Bamford, A Pretext for War, 71-81.

[9] Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, All the President’s Men (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974), 23.

[10] Jim Hougan, Secret Agenda (New York: Random House, 1984), 16. For more on WISP, see David Wise, The Politics of Lying: Government Deception, Secrecy, and Power (New York: Random House, 1973), 134-37.

[11] John Dean, Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush (New York: Little Brown, 2004), 120. In addition Howard Baker, in 1973 the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee that investigated Watergate, was later  part of the COG secret leadership (CNN Special Assignment, November 17, 1991).

[12] James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet (New York: Viking, 2004), 142.

[13] Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. 9, p.106 (or 9 WH 106) ; Scott, Deep Politics, 275-76; Russ Baker, Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces That Put It in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009), 119-22.

[14] “White House Communications Agency,” Signal Corps Regimental History, http://signal150.army.mil/white_house_communications_agency.html.

[15] In the 1990s the WHCA supplied statements to the ARRB concerning communications between Dallas and Washington on November 22 (NARA #172-10001-10002 to NARA #172-10000-10008).  The Assassination Records Review Board also attempted to obtain from the WHCA the unedited original tapes of conversations from Air Force One on the return trip from Dallas, November 22, 1963. (Edited and condensed versions of these tapes had been available since the 1970s from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas.) The attempt was unsuccessful: “The Review Board’s repeated written and oral inquiries of the White House Communications Agency did not bear fruit. The WHCA could not produce any records that illuminated the provenance of the edited tapes.” See Assassinations Records Review Board: Final Report, chapter 6, Part 1, 116, http://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/review-board/report/chapter-06-part1.pdf.

[16] 17 WH 394-95, 23 WH 841; 17 WH 368, 395; Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, 273-74, 278. The alleged epileptic walked away from the ambulance after it arrived at Highland (Warren Commission Document 1245, 6-10).

[17] Statement of Special Agent Winston E. Lawson [to Secret Service],” 17 WH 632; Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, 278.

[18] Richard Pollock, “The Mysterious Mountain,” The Progressive, March, 1976; cf. “Mount Weather’s ‘Government-in-Waiting,’” http://www.serendipity.li/jsmill/mt_weather.htm.

[19] Russ Baker, Family of Secrets, 121.

[20] Dee Garrison , Bracing for Armageddon: Why Civil Defense Never Worked

(New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 46.

[21] Warren Commission Exhibit 1778, 23 WH 383-84.

[22] Commission Document 344 – SS Howard Tape Copy of 01 Dec 1963, p. 23.

[23] Lee Harvey Oswald fingerprint card, 17 WH 308. The heaviest Oswald actually weighed was 150 pounds, when he left the Marines in 1959 (19 WH 584, 595).

[24] FBI report by Special Agent Fain, dated May 12, 1960, 17 WH 706. In the same report Marguerite named Oswald’s father as “Edward Lee Oswald.” His actual name was Robert Edward Lee Oswald (WR 669-70).

[25] Testimony of Inspector Herbert Sawyer, 6 WH 321-22:  “I remember that he was a white man and that he wasn’t young and he wasn’t old.” Cf. Dallas Police Channel Two Tape at 12:25 PM (23 WH 916).

[26] Ian Griggs, “Did Howard Leslie Brennan Really Attend an Identification Lineup?”


[27] Statement of Secret Service Winston Lawson, 17 WH 630: “I checked with Chief Curry as to location of Lead Car [at  Love Field] and had WHCA portable radio put in and checked.”

[28] “The lead car was in radio contact with the pilot car by police radio, and with the Presidential limousine by Secret Service portable radios” (Pamela McElwain-Brown, “The Presidential Lincoln Continental SS-100-X,” Dealey Plaza Echo, Volume 3, Issue 2, 23, http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/viewer/showDoc.do?docId=16241&relPageId=27). Cf. Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, 272-75 (Lumpkin).

[29] David Talbot, Brothers: the hidden history of the Kennedy years (New York: Free Press, 2007), 148.

[30] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Days_in_May.

[31] Jonathan M. Schoenwald, A time for choosing: the rise of modern American conservatism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), .

[32] Hope Yen, “Eisenhower Letters Reveal Doomsday Plan: Citizens Tapped to Take Over in Case of Attack,” AP, Deseret News, March 21, 2004, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/595050502/Eisenhower-letters-reveal-doomsday-plan.html?pg=all.

[33] CNN Special Assignment, November 17, 1991.

[34] Alfonso Chardy, “Reagan Aides and the Secret Government,” Miami Herald, July 5, 1987, http://bellaciao.org/en/article.php3?id_article=9877: “Some of President Reagan’s top advisers have operated a virtual parallel government outside the traditional Cabinet departments and agencies almost from the day Reagan took office, congressional investigators and administration officials have concluded.”

[35] Iran-Contra Committee Counsel Arthur Liman, questioning Oliver North, “had North repeat his testimony that the diversion was Casey’s idea” (Arthur Liman, Lawyer: a life of counsel and controversy [New York: Public Affairs, 1998], 341). Cf. The “October Surprise” allegations and the circumstances surrounding the release of the American hostages held in Iran: report of the Special Counsel to Senator Terry Sanford and Senator James M. Jeffords of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Volume 4, p. 33 (October Surprise Group).

[36] CNN Special Assignment, November 17, 1991.

[37] James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans, 145.

[38] Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy (New York: Scribner, 2007), 88.

[39] Joseph J. Trento, Prelude to terror: the rogue CIA and the legacy of America’s private intelligence network (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005), 61.

[40] Piero Gleijeses, Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria and the struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, [2013]), 66-68; Elaine Windrich, “The Laboratory of Hate: The Role of Clandestine Radio in the Angolan War,” International Journal of Cultural Studies 3(2), 2000.

[41] Alfonso Chardy, “Reagan Aides and the Secret Government,” Miami Herald, July 5, 1987, http://bellaciao.org/en/article.php3?id_article=9877: “The group, led by campaign foreign policy adviser Richard Allen, was founded out of concern Carter might pull off an “October surprise” such as a last-minute deal for the release of the hostages before the Nov. 4 election. One of the group’s first acts was a meeting with a man claiming to represent Iran who offered to release the hostages to Reagan.

Allen — Reagan’s first national security adviser— and another campaign aide, Laurence Silberman, told The Herald in April of the meeting. they said McFarlane, then a Senate Armed Services Committee aide, arranged and attended it. McFarlane later became Reagan’s national security adviser and played a key role in the Iran-contra affair. Allen and Silberman said they rejected the offer to release the hostages to Reagan.” [The Iranian was Houshang Lavi, and after Lavi’s death Robert Parry confirmed from Lavi’s diary that the meeting did take place].

[42] Alfonso Chardy, “Reagan Aides and the Secret Government,” Miami Herald, July 5, 1987, http://bellaciao.org/en/article.php3?id_article=9877.

[43] “America’s False History Allows the Powerful to Commit Crimes Without Consequence,” Mark Karlin Interview of Robert Parry, January 15, 2013, Truthout Interview, http://www.truth-out.org/progressivepicks/item/13904-americas-false-history-allows-the-powerful-to-commit-crimes-without-consequence.

[44] Robert Parry, Trick or Treason, 175.

[45] Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America

(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 81-83, 88. A key figure was CIA veteran and Copeland friend Archibald Roosevelt, in 1980 a Carter foe and also  employee of the Chase Manhattan Bank.

[46] Mann, Rise of the Vulcans, 145.


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