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HEROES AND VILLAINS: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 25, 2021 at 12:39 am

Next hero: Marie Yovanovitch, the former United States ambassador to Ukraine (2016 – 2019). She had joined the Foreign Service in 1986, and served as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan (2005 – 2008) and Armenia (2008 – 2011).

In May 2019, on President Donald Trump’s orders, the State Department recalled Yovanovitch as ambassador to Ukraine. She had earned respect from the national security community for her efforts to encourage Ukraine to tackle corruption.

But she had been criticized by Right-wing media outlets—notably Fox News Network—and by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

Marie L. Yovanovitch.jpg

Marie Yovanovitch

CNN reported that Yovanovitch stopped Giuliani from interviewing witnesses in his search for politically damaging information against former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son, Hunter, had had business dealings in Ukraine.

On October 11, 2019, she appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA). She did so in defiance of orders by the White House and State Department to not attend.

“She was a hero even before she hit the hearing room,” wrote Charles Pierce for Esquire magazine.

“She told them to stuff their directives, she would answer a congressional subpoena like a citizen is supposed to do. And she didn’t sneak in through the basement. She walked into the Capitol through the front doors, and she didn’t do so to fck around.”

Testifying for nearly 10 hours, Yovanovitch said that Trump had removed her from her post owing to “unfounded and false claims” and “a concerted campaign against me.”

She believed that associates of Trump’s personal lawyer, Giuliani, might have thought “that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”

And she warned that the State Department was being “attacked and hollowed out from within. State Department leadership, with Congress, needs to take action now to defend this great institution, and its thousands of loyal and effective employees.”

Another victim on Trump’s hate-list was Chis Krebs.

During the 2016 Presidential race, Russian propaganda had played a major role in convincing millions of Americans to vote for Donald Trump. Social media platforms—especially Facebook and Twitter—were flooded with genuinely fake news to sow discord among Americans and create a pathway for Trump’s election.

And where Internet trolls left off, Russian computer hackers took over.

Trump didn’t win a majority of the popular vote. But he got enough help from Putin to triumph in the Electoral College.

So notorious was the role played by Russian trolls and hackers in winning Trump the 2016 election that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was determined to prevent a repetition in 2020.

And point man for this was Chris Krebs.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1977, Krebs had received a B.A. in environmental sciences from the University of Virginia in 1999, and a J.D. from the George Mason University School of Law in 2007.

Chris Krebs official photo.jpg

Chris Krebs

Krebs had served as Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Infrastructure Protection, and later worked in the private sector as Director for Cybersecurity Policy for Microsoft.

Now he was director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS.

In preparation for the 2020 Presidential election, Krebs launched a massive effort to counter lies spread by Russians—and Americans—on social media platforms. Among his duties:

  • Sharing Intelligence from agencies such as the CIA and National Security Agency with local officials about foreign efforts at election interference.
  • Ensuring that domestic voting equipment was secure.
  • Attacking domestic misinformation head-on.

As a result, Krebs was widely praised for revamping the department’s cybersecurity efforts and increasing coordination with state and local governments. 

By all accounts—except Trump’s—the November 3, 2020 election went very smoothly. 

As a result of the vast increase in election security, Trump not only failed to win the popular vote again but couldn’t get the help he expected from Putin. 

On November 17, Trump fired Chris Krebs. 

The reason: Krebs had not only countered Russian propaganda lies—he had dared to counter Trump’s as well. For example: He rejected Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud: There “is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

In a November 17 story on the CNN website, CNN reporters Kaitlan Collins and Paul LeBlanc bluntly concluded:

“[Krebs’] dismissal underscores the lengths Trump is willing to go to punish those who don’t adopt his conspiratorial view of the election.

“Since CNN and other outlets called the race for President-elect Joe Biden, Trump has refused to accept the results, instead pushing baseless conspiracies that his second term is being stolen.”

Yet, by depriving Trump of Russian help, Krebs ensured a victory for democracy.

On January 6, the House and Senate counted the Electoral Votes—and pronounced Joseph Biden the winner—bringing an end to Trump’s reign of criminality and treason.

In his 1960 poem, “Conversation With an American Writer,” the Russian poet, Yevgeney Yevtushenko spoke for those Russians who had maintained their integrity in the face of Stalinist terror:

“You have courage,” they tell me.
It’s not true. I was never courageous.
I simply felt it unbecoming
to stoop to the cowardice of my colleagues.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Republicans in the United States Senate and House of Representatives in the face of Trump terror.

HEROES AND VILLAINS: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 24, 2021 at 12:11 am

Next up: Nikolai Sergeyvich Zhilayev (pronounced Zill-lay-ev) was a Russian musicologist and the teacher of several 20th-century Russian composers.

Among these: Dimitri Shostakovich (September 25, 1906 – August 9, 1975)

Among his friends—to his ultimate misfortune—was Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky, the former military hero now falsely condemned and executed as a traitor by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In 1938, Zhilayev (November 18, 1881 – January 20, 1938) also became a casualty of what has become known as The Great Terror.

In his posthumously-published memoirs, Testimony, Shostakovich, his pupil and friend, described how Zhilayev faced his end with a calmness that awed even the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) secret police sent to arrest him.

Image result for images of Dmitri Shostakovich

Dimitri Shostakovich

“He had a large picture of Tukhachevsky in his room, and after the announcement that Tukhachevsky had been shot as a traitor to the homeland, Zhilayev did not take the picture down.

“I don’t know if I can explain how heroic a deed that was….As soon as the next poor soul was declared an enemy of the people, everyone destroyed in a panic everything connected with that person….

“And naturally, photographs flew into the fire first, because if someone informed on you, reported that you had a picture of an enemy of the people, it meant certain death.

“Zhilayev wasn’t afraid. When they came for him, Tukhachevsky’s prominently hung portrait amazed even the executioners.”

“What, it’s still up?” one of the secret police asked.

“The time will come,” Zhilayev replied, “when they’ll erect a monument to him.”

As, in fact, has happened. 

Meanwhile, Stalin has been universally condemned as one of history’s greatest tyrants.

Third hero—Brett Crozier, the former commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Graduating from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1992, he received his Master’s Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College in 2007.

From 2017 to 2018 he commanded the USS Blue Ridge. In November, 2019, he was given command of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

On March 24, 2020, reports circulated that three members of the crew had tested positive for COVID-19. The next day the number of stricken sailors increased to eight. A few days later, it was “dozens.” The sailors reportedly became ill at sea, two weeks after a port call at Danang, Vietnam.

The initial cases were airlifted to a military hospital. The Roosevelt was ordered to Guam. After the ship docked on March 27, 2020, all 5,000 aboard were ordered to be tested for the virus. But only about 100 stricken sailors were allowed to leave the ship. The rest remained on board.

On March 30, Crozier emailed a four-page internal letter to multiple Naval officials, pleading to have the majority of the crew evacuated and quarantined on shore. Given the crowded sleeping quarters and narrow passageways of the vessel, Crozier wrote that it was impossible to follow social distancing and quarantine procedures: 

“This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do. We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset—our Sailors….

“This is a necessary risk. Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”

Brett E. Crozier (2).jpg

Brett Crozier

Crozier sent his letter via a non-secure, unclassified email to 20 to 30 recipients, as well as the captain’s immediate chain of command. He reportedly believed that his immediate supervisor would not allow him to send it.

And his superior later confirmed that he would not have allowed Crozier to send it.

On March 31, someone leaked the letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, which published it.

On April 1, the Navy ordered the aircraft carrier evacuated. A skeleton crew of 400 remained aboard to maintain the nuclear reactor, the fire-fighting equipment, and the ship’s galley. 

On April 2, Crozier was relieved of command by acting United States Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly.

By that time, about 114 crew members—out of a total of around 4,000—reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.  

As Crozier disembarked, sailors loudly saluted him with a standing ovation: “Cap-tain Cro-zier!”   

Modly claimed that Crozier’s letter “raised alarm bells unnecessarily. It undermines our efforts and the chain of command’s efforts to address this problem, and creates a panic and this perception that the Navy’s not on the job, that the government’s not on the job, and it’s just not true.”

Actually, the Trump administration had frittered away January and February, with President Donald Trump giving multiple—and misleading—press conferences. In these, he played down the dangers of COVID-19, saying that “we’re on top of it”—even as the virus spread across the country. 

“It was a betrayal. And I can tell you one other thing: because he did that he put it in the public’s forum and it is now a big controversy in Washington, DC,” continued Modly. [Italics added] 

This was the United States Navy under Donald Trump—who threw “betrayal” and “treason” at anyone who dared reveal the truth about institutional crimes and failures.

HEROES AND VILLAINS: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 23, 2021 at 12:18 am

…A truly great man is ever the same under all circumstances. And if his fortune varies, exalting him at one moment and oppressing him at another, he himself never varies, but always preserves a firm courage, which is so closely interwoven with his character that everyone can readily see that the fickleness of fortune has no power over him.
The conduct of weak men is very different. Made vain and intoxicated by good fortune, they attribute their success to merits which they do not possess. And this makes them odious and insupportable to all around them. And when they have afterwards to meet a reverse of fortune, they quickly fall into the other extreme, and become abject and vile.
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

Four heroes, three villains.

Two of the heroes are Russians; three are Americans.

The villains: One Russian (actually, Georgian); two American.

First up—in order of disappearance: Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky (pronounced too-ka-chev-sky).

Tukhachevsky (February 4, 1893 – June 12, 1937) was a major Soviet military leader and theoretician from 1918 to 1937. 

He commanded the Soviet Western Front during the Russian-Polish War (1920-21) and served as Chief of Staff of the Red Army (1925-1928).

He fought to modernize Soviet armament, as well as develop airborne, aviation and mechanized forces.  Almost singlehandedly, he created the theory of deep operations for Soviet forces.

Tukhachevsky.png

Mikhail Tukhachevsky

All of these innovations would reap huge dividends when the Soviet Union faced the lethal fury of Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht.

In 1936, Tukhachevsky warned Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin that Nazi Germany might attack without warning—and ignite a long and murderous war.

Stalin—the son of a Georgian cobbler—resented Tukhachevsky’s coming from a noble family. A monumental egomaniac, he also hated that Tukhachevesky’s fame rivaled his own.

Warned of the approaching German danger, Stalin shouted: “What are you trying to do—frighten Soviet authority?”

Joseph Stalin

The attack that Tukhachevsky warned against came five years later—on June 22, 1941, leaving at least 26 million Russians dead.

But Tukhachevsky wasn’t alive to command a defense.

The 1930s were a frightening and dangerous time to be alive in the Soviet Union. In 1934, Stalin, seeing imaginary enemies everywhere, ordered a series of purges that lasted right up to the German invasion.

An example of Stalin’s paranoia occurred one day while the dictator walked through the Kremlin corridors with Admiral Ivan Isakov. Officers of the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) stood guard at every corner. 

“Every time I walk down the corridors,” said Stalin, “I think: Which one of them is it? If it’s this one, he will shoot me in the back. But if I turn the corner, the next one can shoot me in the face.”

In 1937-38, the Red Army fell prey to Stalin’s paranoia.

Its victims included:

  • Three of five marshals (five-star generals);
  • Thirteen of 15 army commanders (three- and four-star generals);
  • Fifty of 57 army corps commanders; and
  • One hundred fifty-four out of 186 division commanders.

And heading the list of those marked for death was Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

Arrested on May 22, 1937, he was interrogated and tortured. As a result, he “confessed” to being a German agent plotting to overthrow Stalin and seize power. 

On his confession, which survives in the archives, his bloodstains can clearly be seen.

On June 11, 1937, the Soviet Supreme Court convened a special military tribunal to try Tukhachevsky and eight generals for treason.

It was a sham: The accused were denied defense attorneys, and could not appeal the verdict—-which was foregone: Death.

In a Russian version of poetic justice, five of the eight generals who served as Tukhachevsky’s judges were themselves later condemned and executed as traitors.

Within hours of the verdict, Tukhachevsky was summoned from his cell and shot once in the back of the head.

From 1937 until 1956, Tukhachevsky was officially declared a traitor and fifth-columnist.

Then, on February 25, 1957, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev delivered his bombshell “Secret Speech” to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

In this, he denounced Stalin (who had died in 1953) as a ruthless tyrant responsible for the slaughter of millions of innocent men, women and children. He condemned Stalin for creating a “personality cult” around himself, and for so weakening the Red Army that Nazi Germany was able to easily overrun half of the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1943.

On January 31, 1957, Tukhachevsky and his co-defendants were declared innocent of all charges and were “rehabilitated.”

Today, he is once again—rightly—considered a Russian hero and military genius. And Stalin is universally—and rightly—seen as a blood-stained tyrant.

Image result for Images of Statues to Mikhail Tukhachevsky

Mikhail Tukhachevsky appears on a 1963 Soviet Union postage stamp

Next hero: Nikolai Sergeyvich Zhilayev (pronounced Zill-lay-ev)

Zhilayev (November 18, 1881 – January 20, 1938) was a Russian musicologist and the teacher of several 20th-century Russian composers. Among these: Dimitri Shostakovich.

Zhilayev, a member of the Russian Academy of Art-Sciences, taught at the Moscow Conservatory. Among his friends—to his ultimate misfortune—was Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

In 1938, he, too, became a casualty of what has become known as The Great Terror.

In his posthumously-published memoirs, Testimony, Shostakovich, his pupil and friend, described how Zhilayev faced his end with a calmness that awed even the NKVD secret police sent to arrest him. 

TRUST YOUR BOSS LIKE HE’S GOD–AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS

In Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 10, 2014 at 12:25 am

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says women don’t need to ask for a raise. They should just trust “the system.”

Speaking on October 9 at an event in Phoenix to celebrate women in computing, Nadella was asked: What advice do you have for women who feel uncomfortable asking for a raise?

His reply:  “It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.

“Because that’s good karma.  It’ll come back because somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust.”

Satya Nadella

This from a CEO at whose company women comprise only 29% of its more than 100,000 employees.  And where its CEO has a net worth of $45 million.

Click here: Satya Nadella – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

If it’s true that corporations are people, then they are exceptionally greedy and selfish people.

A December, 2011 report by Public Campaign, highlighting corporate abuses of the tax laws, makes this all too clear.

Click here: For Hire: Lobbyists or the 99%?
Public Campaign is a national nonpartisan organization dedicated to reforming campaign finance laws and holding elected officials accountable.

Summarizing its conclusions, the report’s author writes:

“Amidst a growing federal deficit and widespread economic insecurity for most Americans, some of the largest corporations in the country have avoided paying their fair share in taxes while spending millions to lobby Congress and influence elections.”

Its key findings:

  • The 30 big corporations analyzed in this report paid more to lobby Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, despite being profitable.
  • Despite making combined profits totaling $164 billion in that three-year period, the 30 companies combined received tax rebates totaling nearly $11 billion.
  • Altogether, these companies spent nearly half a billion dollars ($476 million) over three years to lobby Congress. That’s about $400,000 each day, including weekends.
  • In the three-year period beginning in 2009 through most of 2011, these large firms spent over $22 million altogether on federal campaigns.
  • These corporations have also spent lavishly on compensatng their top executives ($706 million altogether in 2010).

Among those corporations whose tax-dodging and influence-buying were analyzed:

  • General Electric
  • Verizon
  • PG&E
  • Wells Fargo
  • Duke Energy
  • Boeing
  • Consolidated Edison
  • DuPont
  • Honeywell International
  • Mattel
  • Corning
  • FedEx
  • Tenet Healthcare
  • Wisconsin Energy
  • Con-way

The report bluntly cites the growing disparity between the relatively few rich and the vast majority of poor and middle-class citizens:

“Over the past few months, a growing protest movement has shifted the debate about economic inequality in this country.

“The American people wonder why members of Congress suggest cuts to Medicare and Social Security but won’t require millionaires to pay their fair share in taxes.

“They want to know why they are struggling to find jobs and put food on the the table while the country’s largest corporations get tax breaks and sweetheart deals, then use that extra cash to pay bloated bonuses to CEOs or ship jobs overseas.

“….At a time when millions of Americans are still unemployed and millions more make tough choices to get by, these companies are enriching their top executives and spending millions of dollars on Washington lobbyists to stave off higher taxes or regulations.”

Assessing the results of corporate tax-dodging, the report states:

  • Using various tax dodging techniques, including stashing profits in overseas tax havens and tax loopholes, 29 out of 30 companies featured in this study succeeded in paying no federal income taxes from 2008 through 2010.
  • These 29 companies received tax rebates over those three years, ranging from $4 million for Corning to nearly $5 billion for General Electric and totally nearly $11 billion altogether.
  • The only corporation that paid taxes in that three-year period, FedEx, paid a three-year tax rate of 1%, far less than the statutory rate of 35%.

The report bluntly notes the hypocrisy of corporate executives who call themselves “job creators” while enriching themselves by laying off thousands of employees:

“Another area where these corporations have decided to spend lavishly is compensation for their top executives ($706 million altogether in 2010).

“Executives doing particularly well work for General Electric ($76 million in total compensation in 2010), Honeywell International ($54 million), and Wells Fargo ($50 million).

“Executives who have seen the greatest increase work for DuPont (188% increase), Wells Fargo (180% increase) and Verizon (167% increase).

Despite being profitable, some of these corporations have actually laid off workers.

Since 2008, seven of the corporations have reported laying off American workers. The worst offenders–by 2011–are Verizon, which laid off at least 21,308 workers, and Boeing, which fired at least 14,862 employees.

Insisting that “corporations are people” wins applause from the wealthiest 1% and their Right-wing shills. But it does nothing to better the lives of the increasingly squeezed poor and middle-class.

If the nation is to avoid economic and moral bankruptcy, Americans must demand that powerful corporations be held accountable–and punished harshly when they behave irresponsibly.

GOVERNMENT AS IT REALLY WORKS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 22, 2014 at 12:40 am

In 1972, 41 years before Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency was spying on the Internet, David Halberstam issued a warning about government secrecy.

As a young reporter for the New York Times covering the early years of the Vietnam war, Halberstam had repeatedly confronted government duplicity and obstruction.

David Halberstam (on left)

Halberstam arrived in South Vietnam in 1962.  Almost at once he realized that the war was not going well for the United States Army and its supposed South Vietnamese allies.

The South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) was ill-trained and staffed with incompetent officers who sought to avoid military action.

Reports to military superiors were filled with career-boosting lies about “progress” being made against Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers.

“Screw up and move up” was the way Americans described the ARVN promotion system.

Halberstam soon learned that the phrase applied just as much to the American Army as well–for reasons of the same incompetence and duplicity.

Returning from Vietnam and resigning from the Times, Halberstam set to work on his landmark history of how the United States had become entangled in a militarily and economically unimportant country.

He would call it The Best and the Brightest, and the title would become a sarcastic reference to those men in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations whose arrogance and deceit plunged the United States into disaster.

Halberstam outlined how the culture of secrecy and unchecked power led American policymakers to play God with the lives of other nations.

Out of this grew a willingness to use covert operations.  And this meant keeping these secret from Americans generally and Congress in particular.

This ignorance allowed citizens to believe that America was a different country.  One that didn’t engage in the same brutalities and corruptions of other nations.

Thus, President Lyndon B. Johnson claimed to be the peace candidate during the 1964 election.  Meanwhile, he was secretly sending U.S. Navy ships to attack coastal cities in North Vietnam.

When North Vietnam responded militarily, Johnson feigned outrage and vowed that the United States would vigorously resist “Communist aggression.”

The history of covert operations has had its own in- and -out-of seasons:

  • During the Eisenhower Administration, the Central Intelligence Agency overthrew the governments of Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954).
  • During the Kennedy Administration, the CIA repeatedly tried to assassinate Cuba’s “Maximum Leader,” Fidel Castro.
  • During the Nixon Adminisdtration, the CIA plotted with right-wing army leaders to successfully overthrow Salvador Allende, the Leftist, legally-elected President of Chile (1973).
  • In 1975, the CIA’s history of assassination attempts became public through an expose by New York Times Investigative Reporter Seymour Hersh.
  • Following nationwide outrage, President Gerald Ford signed an executive order banning the agency from assassinating foreign leaders.

After 9/11, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney decided to “take off the gloves.”

The CIA drew up an ever-expanding list of targets and used killer drones and Special Operations troops (such as SEALs and Green Berets) to hunt them down.

Predator drone firing Hellfire missile

And when these weren’t enough, the CIA called on expensive mercenaries (such as Blackwater), untrustworthy foreign Intelligence services, proxy armies and mercurial dictators.

In his 2013 book, The Way of the Knife, New York Times national security correspondent Mark Mazzetti traces the origins of this high-tech, “surgical” approach to warfare.

Within the course of a decade, the CIA has moved largely from being an intelligence-gathering agency to being a “find-and-kill” one.

And this newfound lethality came at a price: The CIA would no longer be able to provide the crucial Intelligence Presidents need to make wise decisions in a dangerous world.

While the CIA sought to become a more discreet version of the Pentagon, the Pentagon began setting up its own Intelligence network in out-of-the-way Third World outposts.

And, ready to service America’s military and Intelligence agencies at a mercenary’s prices, are a host of private security and Intelligence companies.

Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA general counsel, warns of the potential for trouble: “There is an inevitable tension as to where the contractor’s loyalties lie.  Do they lie with the flag?  Or do they lie with the bottom line?”

Mazzetti warns of the dark side of these new developments. On one hand, this high-tech approach to war has been embraced by Washington as a low-risk, low-cost alternative to huge troop commitments and quagmire occupations.

On the other hand, it’s created new enemies, fomented resentments among allies and fueled regional instability.  It has also created new weapons unbound by the normal rules of accountability in wartime.

Finally, it’s raised new and troubling ethical questions, such as:

  • What is the moral difference between blowing apart a man at a remote distance with a drone-fired missile and shooting him in the back of the head at close range?
  • Why is the first considered a legitimate act of war–and the second considered an illegal assassination?

In time, there will be answers to many of the uncertainties this new era of push-button and hired-soldier warfare  has unleashed.  And at least some of those answers may come at a high price.

GOVERNMENT AS IT REALLY WORKS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 21, 2014 at 1:03 am

Millions of Americans are outraged to find that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been running a program to spy on the Internet.

National Security Agency

Created in 1952, the NSA is the largest signals-intercepting and code-cracking agency in the world, using specially designed high-speed computers to analyze literally mountains of data.

Headquartered at Fort Meade, Maryland, the NSA dwarfs the better-known Central Intelligence Agency in both its budget (which is classified) and number of employees (40,000).

NSA’s program–entitled PRISM–collects a wide range of data from nine Internet service providers, although the details vary by provider.

Here are the nine ISPs:

  • AOL
  • Microsoft
  • Google
  • Yahoo
  • Skype
  • Facebook
  • PalTalk
  • Apple
  • YouTube

And here is what we know (so far) they provide to the ever-probing eyes of America’s Intelligence community:

  • Email
  • Videos
  • Stored data
  • Photos
  • File transfers
  • Video conferencing
  • Notification of target activity (logins)
  • Online social networking details
  • VolP (Voice Over Internet Porocol)
  • Special requests

“Trailblazer,” NSA’s data-mining computer system

The program has been run by the NSA since 2007.  But its existence became front-page news only in early June, 2013, when a former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, leaked its capabilities to The Guardian, a British newspaper.

While millions of Americans were surprised at this massive electronic vacuuming of data, at least one man could not have been.

This was Neil Sheehan, the former New York Times reporter who, in 1971, broke the story of the Pentagon Papers.  A secret Pentagon study, it documented how the United States became entangled in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.

Its existence had been leaked by Daniel Ellsburg, a former defense analyst for the RAND corporation.

Among the Pentagon Papers’ embarrassing revelations:

  • Four Presidents–Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson–had misled the public about their intentions.
  • At least two Presidents–Kennedy and Johnson–committed increasing numbers of ground forces to Vietnam out of fear.  Not fear for the South Vietnamese but fear that they (JFK and LBJ) would be charged with being “soft on Communism” and thereby not re-elected.
  • Kennedy knew the South Vietnamese government to be thoroughly corrupt and inept, and plotted to overthrow its president, Ngo Dinh Diem, to “save” the war effort.
  • During the Presidential campaign of 1964, Johnson decided to expand the war but posed as a peacemaker.  He claimed that his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, wanted to bomb North Vietnam and send thousands of American soldieers into an unnecessary war.

A memo from the Defense Department under the Johnson Administration summed up the duplicity behind the war.  It listed the real reasons for American involvement: “To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat.”

  • 70% – To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat.
  • 20% – To keep South Vietnam and the adjacent territory from Chinese hands.
  • 10% – To permit the people of South Vietnam to enjoy a better, freer way of life.
  • ALSO – To emerge from the crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used.
  • NOT – To ‘help a friend’.

The study implicated only the administrations of Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

But then-President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican, saw the release of the papers as a dangerous breach of national security.

After the New York Times began publishing the study, Nixon ordered the Justice Department to intervene.

For the first time in United States history, a federal judge legally forbade a newspaper to publish a story.

The Times frantically appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Meanwhile, the Washington Post (having gotten a second set of the documents from Ellsburg) rushed its own version of the story into print.

On June 30, 1971, the Supreme Court ruled, 6–3, that the government had failed to meet the burden of proof required for prior restraint of press freedom.

For Sheehan, reading the Papers was an eye-opener, a descent into a world he had never imagined possible.

As David Halberstam wrote in The Best and the Brightest, his best-selling 1972 account of how arrogance and deceit led the United States into disaster in Vietnam:

Sheehan came away with the overwhelming impression: that the government of the United States was not what he had thought it was.

Sheehan felt that he had discovered an inner U.S. government, highly centralized, and far more powerful than anything else.  And its enemy wass not simply the Communists but everything else–its own press, judiciary, Congress, foreign and friendly governments.

It had survived and perpetuated itself, often by using the issue of anti-Communism as a weapon against the other branches of government and the press.  And it served its own ends, rather than the good of the Republic.

This inner government used secrecy to protect itself–not from foreign governments but to keep its own citizens ignorant of its crimes and incompetence.

Each succeeding President was careful to not expose the faults of his predecessor.

Essentially the same people were running the government, wrote Halberstam, and so each new administration   faced virtually the same enemies.

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