Scahill & Greenwald: The Wrong Target (& the wrong context)

 

che statliberty with gunSo there we have it: Jeremy Scahill and Glen Greenwald, regarded by many people as two of the best (and last) investigative journalists of the US, have delivered their first jointly written article:

What a big disappointment for all people who are still able to think for themselves. Why? Read on to understand why this ostensible “revealing” of a “secret role” of the NSA is a red herring …

1 WHAT IS THE TOPIC OF THE ARTICLE?

The gist of it is that the authors are pointing out the “unreliability of the NSA’s targeting methods” because it results in the killing of “innocent people” abroad. N.B.: This is presented in the context of the GWOT (“Global War on Terror”), the tireless “counterterrorism” activities of US-government agencies which (conveniently) escalated after 9/11.

This exciting game of “geo-locating” suspected evil-doers in foreign lands (or rather their SIM-card) with modern surveillance and wireless technology, blown up to STASI meets GESTAPO-like proportions by the NSA, enables the “the CIA and U.S. military to conduct night raids and drone strikes to kill or capture the individual in possession of the device.”

The criticism rests on the fact that mostly signal intelligence (SIGINT) is used as the basis for these military “missions”. The victims violent death (whose identity was never verified by people on the ground) is caused by “unreliable metadata”, observed “activities on a SIM-card”, in other words IT-systems, algorithms, computer programs, etc. so in the end electronic devices determine how and if a “target” is selected (or so it seems).

An algorithm is a step-by-step list of directions that need to be followed to solve a problem. The instructions should be simple enough such that each step can be done without thinking about it. […]

(That sounds about right for the “intelligence” community …and by the way How can you solve complex political problems with mathematical formulae?)

Unlawful Death by Algorithmic Logic?

Deputy chief minister of Pakistan's NortThe NSA did not care to comment on the effectiveness of the “we track ‘em you whack ‘em” co-operation between the NSA, the CIA and the “special forces” of the US military. Only a spokesperson for the NSC told the authors that they do rely on human intelligence (HUMINT in spook parlance) after people have been murdered if there is reason to believe that civilians are among the casualties. That’s something, isn’t it?

The undisclosed source for this article is a former JSOC drone operator who “remains highly disturbed” about the targeting tactics used to locate the cell phones of “terror suspects” because (as the article explains in more detail) they are “fundamentally flawed”.

At the same time we learn that this guy “is adamant that the technology has been responsible for taking out terrorists and networks of people facilitating improvised explosive device attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan  […].”  The obvious “doublethink” of this guy apparently does not bother the authors.

The anonymous former drone operator, who killed strangers in foreign lands with hellfire missiles, cluster bombs and other ghastly weapons, is also quoted with this telling remark:

“It’s of course assumed that the phone belongs to a human being who is nefarious and considered an ‘unlawful enemy combatant. This is where it gets very shady.”

(The importance of this remark and the context in which it is presented will be analysed below).

The article goes on to say that the Taliban “are increasingly aware of these tactics and have begun to confuse their trackers: “… they have purposely and randomly distributed SIM cards among their units in order to elude their trackers.”

I am not going into any more “details” of the article here because in my opinion it is a journalistic charade (or “psy-op”, if you will) and distracts from the real BIG ISSUE behind the drone program and all other surveillance, tracking and “lethal operations” (read: murder)” activities of the US in foreign countries:

2 GLOBAL MURDER INC.: THE LEGAL PERSPECTIVE

The war on terrorism is a bunch of crap.”

Brendan Bryant, former drone-sensor operator on German TV, Nov 28, 2013.

brandon-bryant

Scahill and Greenwald tell us that the story is corroborated by Brendan Bryant, another after-the-fact kind of military “whistle-blower” who left the US Air Force in 2011. The article also says that Bryant “is committed to informing the public about lethal flaws in the U.S. drone program”. This is a misleading understatement:

Bryant appeared in a political Talk-Show on German public TV (ARD) at the end of November last year. The topic of the discussion was “The Secret War”- examining the role of the German government in facilitating illegal US military operations abroad. (“AFRICOM” is headquartered in Ramstein, Germany –drone strikes in Somalia were directed from there, a violation of German and international law).

NO-ONE DESERVES TO DIE”

Bryant said at the beginning: “I was supposed to protect people” (he originally worked as a video-analyst) but as a drone-sensor operator he realized it was all about “killing people and destroying things”. When the talk-show host, Beckmann asked him what he saw on his screen, he answered: “You see people dying … how can you just sit and watch death and destruction?”

He realized that the individual – a human being in a foreign country – is being reduced to a “target” (a thing … stripped of his humanity) and added: “…(but) you see how they interact with their kids, play soccer, etc. …  there is not the intimacy of a battle on the ground but [in contrast to bomber pilots] still you see the consequence of your actions (people dying, their body ripped apart by ghastly weapons…)… … it’s not an “aseptic killing” (just pushing a button to hit a “target”) … there should be no way to accept it (the self-deluding, exculpatory ideology behind the drone strikes). His most important statement regarding the “target” was probably this:

“He has a life just like you … they want us to think that if they say he is an extremist, he deserves to die. With this mind-set they could say the same about you one day … No-one deserves to die.”

Then he added that the cold-blooded murder of the American Muslim cleric Awlaki and his teenage-son Abdulrahman in Yemen (also mentioned in the article and often told by Jeremy Scahill before)

Abdulrahman

gave him the final creeps as he realized that these “missions” were criminal acts, severe violations of the US constitution: “..the pursuit of liberty and justice for all” cannot be reconciled with the concept of “extrajudicial or targeted killings”. Call it what you like, the fact remains the same:

All these “operations” in foreign countries are grave breaches of international law (the hard-earned principle of the inviolability of state sovereignty), the Human Rights Charta of the UN and of course the legal principle of due process, habeas corpus, etc. which protect individuals from the abuse of state-power. Bryant stressed that everybody has a right to “a fair and speedy trial” – in other words the government must prove their alleged guilt in a courtroom beyond a reasonable doubt and the whole concept of killing a “terror-suspect” because he might be planning to do something against the wishes of the US-hegemon is ludicrous and mad.

But of course we all know that the synthetic terror of 9/11, 7/7, the Madrid bombings, etc. were the big “game changer” in the legal dimension. Like the Nazis did in the 1930s, “emergency laws” were passed quickly and the fear induced by the new version of the “Manichean devil” (Bin Laden / Al Qaeda®) was used to drive the “bewildered herd” but also many so called “intellectuals” into mental submission by simply using the immunizing stigma-word  “conspiracy theory”:

The first and simplest stage of discipline, which can be taught even to young children,is called in Newspeak,Crimestop. Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought.[…]

Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.

George Orwell, 1984

When I read the comments on the article, many people thanked Scahill and Greenwald for their “excellent job”, etc. But I don’t think they deserve any gratefulness from us because by narrowing the debate to a technical level (flawed and unreliable methods) they do us a great disservice.

Violence has become the nation’s leading industry…How could we even discuss these issues, if we cannot face up to this arrogant sense of our own superiority, this assumption that it is our God-given role to be the dominant power of the world?”

Senator J. William Fulbright: The Arrogance of Power (1967)

Stressing the point that “the wrong people” get killed by the NSA / CIA / JSOC joint murder operations helps to distract attention from the real concerns of paramount importance:

THE US HAS NO RIGHT WHATSOEVER TO TRACK, OBSERVE, LET ALONE HARM OR KILL ANYBODY IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY.

THE WHOLE “WAR ON TERROR” IS A MONUMENTAL SCAM based on the BIG LIE: 9/11.

The article is written in the spirit and context of “counter-terrorism” in other words it does not even once question / criticize

  • the validity of the underlying premise of the “War on Terror”: that the US is protecting its citizens from harm by killing “suspected” terrorists
  • the illegality of the drone operations and all other (more or less covert) activities of US agencies in foreign countries
  • the cowardice, criminality and bestiality of murdering people with drones (often executing a second strike when family members or other bystanders are trying to aid the first victim …)
  • the utter contempt of the US government for the fundamental legal principles of a civilized society
  • the real guiding principles of American foreign policy and its gargantuan “national security” apparatus
  • that the whole “counter-terrorism” (to protect lives) context is a charade designed to cloak its real purpose: serving as a pretext to undermine the legal restraints achieved after two world wars and re-instate the jus ad bellum although officially the US is not at war (with Pakistan, Yemen, etc.)
  • the fundamental structures of American power

The article’s obvious concern with an “unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people” seems noble but is missing the point:

“They might have been terrorists,” he says. “Or they could have been family members who have nothing to do with the target’s activities.” We’re not going after people – we’re going after their phones, in the hopes that the person on the other end of that missile is the bad guy.”

Even if the person (carrying the targeted phone or SIM card) is “a bad guy” and the decision to “geo-locate” this individual is based on “information from a variety of sources and methods before we draw conclusions”, even if Obama did “kill terrorists with the utmost precision” the US HAS

  • NO RIGHT WHATSOEVER TO TERRORIZE THESE PEOPLE IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES WITH ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE, NIGHTLY RAIDS, LET ALONE  DRONE ATTACKS.
  • NO RIGHT TO INTERFERE IN THE INTERNAL AFFAIRS OF ANY NATION, NO MATTER HOW NOBLE THE PRETEXT

At first sight the article seems to be critical of the drone strikes but there are some revealing sentences which call into question the real purpose of its publication:

“The government does not appear to apply the same standard of care in selecting whom to target for assassination.”

The former JSOC drone operator goes on to say that almost 90% of the drone attacks was “triggered by SIGINT,’ which means it was triggered by a geo-location cell [a special unit within the NSA]. Scahill and Greenwald then lament the fact that the WaPo published an article heralding “the NSA’s claims about its effectiveness at locating terror suspects (and relying only on government sources).

drone wars

Any journalist who cares for democratic principles and the rule of law (among civilized peoples) must be aware of the implicit meaning of this sentence: instead of worrying about the inadequate standards used to select “targets for assassination” the outrage ought to be directed against the real and huge problem –

The notion that a “superpower” can terrorize and kill anybody anywhere as long as the media narrative provides some moral fig-leaf for the illegal and inhumane “missions”.

The information that the CIA “utilizes a pod on aircraft that vacuums up massive amounts of data from any wireless routers, computers, smart phones or other electronic devices that are within range” might raise alarm bells in the minds of the readers but this disturbing emotion is quickly “balanced” with the mentioning of the big black bogeyman, Al Qaeda (AQ): if communication devices are “believed to be used by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula then of course we surely understand the need to “vacuum up massive amounts of data” …and call this Orwellian operation “VICTORYDANCE”, semantically celebrating the great achievement of the joint NSA/CIA effort to “map the Wi-Fi fingerprint of nearly every major town in Yemen.” (Soon coming to a major town here?)

Another revealing sentence is this one:

 “JSOC acknowledges that it would be completely helpless without the NSA conducting mass surveillance on an industrial level,” the former drone operator says. “That is what creates those baseball cards you hear about,” featuring potential targets for drone strikes or raids.

I find the use of the word “helpless” in this context very odd: JSOC is a “special forces” team, meaning tough guys prepared to commit all sorts of crimes in foreign countries only because they have been told how “elite” and secret their unit is and that they are carrying out noble missions for the greatest country on earth (the same indoctrination was used by the Nazis for the Waffen-SS). Why put such a statement into the article?

To “balance” the impact of the critique concerning the “flawed methods” of the NSA? This could even be seen as an attempt to legitimize the mass surveillance of the NSA …

who are the real terroristsWhy do Scahill / Greenwald mention

  • that the village in Al-Majala province where women and 22 children were massacred with Tomahawk missiles (releasing hundreds of cluster bomblets which “each explode into over 200 sharp steel fragments that can cause injuries 150m away” – see also his excellent video-documentary “Dirty Wars”) was “an alleged AQ camp”  – to make the brutality and illegality of the attack appear more “reasonable”?
  • that it is “not clear whether the strike was based on metadata collection?
  • What difference does it make to the victims and their relatives if these people were murdered based on HUMINT or SIGINT or a combination of both?  Again, the brutality and illegality of these crimes against humanity (and the unbearable arrogance and self-delusion behind it) must be the focus of the journalistic work not the “flawed tactics” of an insane surveillance system
  • this statement of the former JSOC drone operator:  ‘This isn’t a science. This is an art.’ It’s kind of a way of saying that it’s not perfect.”

Wow. So terrorizing people (whose identity you don’t even know) in faraway countries with a totalitarian surveillance system and “stand-by” killer-drones (with no accountability whatsoever for the perpetrators) is considered “an art” by these people.

reaper Pakistan

The authors make us realize that the application of these new technologies, mean a “deviation from standard operating methods of war” and “represent the dawn of a new era” (comparing their impact to the first atomic bombs dropped in Japan) the military apparently salivating at the thought of how immensely powerful they become with weapons like these) but again they frame the issue (downplay it) by ignoring the legal (illegal) and immoral dimension of the whole “mission” and by using the same misleading military jargon as the perpetrators of these crimes …

KEEP FEEDING THE BEAST

mlk beyoond vietnam--spiritual death

Martin Luther King said in his best speech (“Beyond Vietnam” – for which he was killed exactly one year later):

“My government is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

This was true in the 1960s but it is also true today (even more so). Perhaps Scahill and Greenwald should concern themselves with the “bigger picture” before writing about drone wars and the flaws of surveillance systems but the only journalists capable of understanding the real (moral) dimension of what is going on seems to be the wonderful Chris Hedges …

That the whole charade of “national security” is (and always has been) a billion dollar game of deception and intrigue so that the military-intelligence-finance-organized crime-complex gets more power and more influence to conduct their psychological, ideological and “kinetic” wars. A good start would be the books and interviews of Colonel Fletcher Prouty who witnessed the establishment of the CIA as a shadowy network reaching into all civilian and military power structures of the United States and over time became a global covert force (see also the GLADIO operations in Europe). CIA, NSA, JSOC, NSC, whatever their names and acronyms are, taken together they constitute a state within a state and if Obama thinks he is the “commander in chief” he should think twice …

Another extremely important book to see through the maze of deception called “national security” is Ideal Illusions by James Peck. Peck combed through the national archives very thoroughly and exposed how the national security managers deluded themselves (and others) by projecting their own criminal intentions and ideological self-indoctrination on the “enemy” (then “communism” with the embodiment of evil, the Soviet Union). The book is also a treasure-trove for political quotations – here is just a small selection – still relevant today (just replace communism with “terrrorim”, the indoctrination and hypocrisy are the same …)

“More can be won by illusion than by coercion”. Harold Laswell

Isn’t it true that we very often tend to accuse someone with whom we are a rival of the very thing that we have in mind ourselves?”

Senator Fulbright, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Hearings on psychological aspects on foreign policy, June 1969

 

Just because Goebbels and the Kremlin debased it, that is no reason why we cannot elevate it …”

C.D.Jackson, 1947  expert of psychological “operations” under Eisenhower

 

Americans are funny kids … they are always sticking their noses into somebody’s business which isn’t any of theirs. We send missionaries and political propagandists to China, Turkey, India, and everywhere to tell people how to live … Russia won’t let them in. But when Russia puts out propaganda to help our parlour pinks – well, that’s bad – so we think. There is not any difference between the two approaches except one is ‘my approach’ and the other is ‘yours’. Just a ‘moat and beam’ affair.”

The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman (1980)

 

 “You all start with the promise that democracy is some good. I don’t think it is worth a damn .. people say, ‘if Congress were more representative of the people it would be better’. I say the Congress is too damn representative. It’s just as stupid as the people are, just as uneducated, just as dumb, just as selfish.”

Dean Acheson (oral interview, Truman Presidential Library) p.24

 “No – but two wrongs never make a right. You Americans are shocked when we are neutral between the two of you. We are not neutral as between freedom and slavery, democracy and dictatorship, but we are neutral as between great power rivalry.

We don’t see the Russian fleet in Oriental waters. We see only the American fleet. We don’t see the Russian Army in mainland China but we see a good deal of the US army in Formosa, Japan, Korea, and Okinawa and the Philippines.”

(Report on the image of the US in other countries (George Allen, Director of the US Information Agency in India asking if thepeople did condone the totalitarian internal policies of the soviets the answer was –)

In my opinion the key and eye-opening insight of the book is (in a nutshell) this:

– highly relevant today also in the context of the “war on terror” and the “promotion of democracy” charade (the latest victim being Ukraine)-

“The cold war then was never about protecting- or even accepting – the sovereignty of other nations … but rather about finding ever more effective ways to break down barriers to American influence. It was always about penetrating other nations, which is why weaker nations were insisting upon the principle of non-intervention in other countries internal affairs and have been ever since. ..”

but

THE NAKED EMPEROR IS STILL ADMIRED FOR HIS WONDERFUL CLOTHES (see Geneva and Sochi “reporting”) … the media is just an assembly line for “pasteurized” news … the  reality is unspeakable:

The United States is a rogue state .. it has committed more crimes (“peacetime operations” in CIA parlance) than any other country on this planet … it is the ultimate terrorist … and yet manages to pose as a moral authority … (see Harold Pinter’s Nobel speech in 2005) and  keeps lecturing others on democracy and freedom …

Full spectrum dominance indeed … (the ultimate power is thought control …)

 

 

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