In his new book, PAY ANY PRICE: Greed, Power and Endless War, which I finished reading last week, James Risen revealed the mass of corruption, waste, incompetence and failure hidden behind the wall of secrecy around the CIA and the rest of the Homeland Security state.
The CIA and other secret agencies after 9/11 acquired enormous new powers of surveillance and control of ordinary American citizens. But this only worked in one direction. Ordinary American citizens had no knowledge of how their money was being wasted nor any way to hold culprits accountable.
The basic problem was that, after 9/11, the security agencies were literally given more power and more money than they knew what to do with.
The decision-makers did not have a plan in place to wage a “war on terror,” but they plunged ahead anyway.
The imperatives of government bureaucracy are such that if you have money and resources, you had better use them, usefully or not, or else some other government bureaucracy will claim them. Much of policy was shaped by the struggle for power and prestige.
One reason the CIA embraced torture was to expand its role in the war on terror. One reason the American Psychological Association changed its ethics code to allow cooperation with CIA interrogators was to improve the standing of psychologists at the expense of psychiatrists.
Two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who had been trainers for the Air Force on how to withstand torture if taken prisoner, received millions of dollars in grants to reverse engineer the program for CIA interrogators.
The problem, as is now well known, is that the training program was based on Communists techniques intended to elicit false confessions. It generated false statements about Saddam Hussein to justify the Iraq invasion, but, as the Senate torture report confirmed, it never produced useful information. I find it hard to believe that torture never produced any useful information, but multiple sources, not just Risen, say this is so.
While the CIA attempted to duplicate the mission of Special Operations troops, the Pentagon set up an intelligence operation to compete with the CIA. The Pentagon set up dummy corporations which became entangled with money launderers and arms smugglers in the Middle East.
The program was terminated, and Special Operations spokesman denied knowledge of the dummy corporations. An FBI investigation was begun and then called off. Risen uncovered many suspicious associations but no proof of wrongdoing. Probably nobody except those directly involved will know for sure.
Kellogg Brown Root, originally a Halliburton subsidiary, is a prime example of profiteering in Iraq. KBR was given a no-bid contract to supply troops in Iraq, a job which otherwise would have to be done by troops. This helped make it possible for the USA to go to war without a draft. But there was no oversight, either of quality or waste of money. Some 18 American troops died of electrocution blamed by faulty wiring installed by KBR.
Calling attention to problems through regular channels didn’t help. Risen told of loyal employees within the government who reported lawbreaking, graft and waste to higher authority, all going through proper channels, and were sidetracked and reprimanded for their pains.
There are individuals who have much to answer for, but the corruption that Risen described is systemic. It is the predictable result of what happens if you give people enormous authority and funding to use in secret, without meaningful accountability from above and without being subject to the law and Constitution.
The only people suffering legal consequences are the truth-tellers. Risen himself is being prosecuted by the government for refusing to reveal his sources of information for his previous book, State of War. His response, he wrote, is to go on writing.
The Government War Against Reporter James Risen by Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler for The Nation. [Added 12/30/14]