What 'Wall'?
Sat Aug 4, 2007 14:46

What 'Wall'?
by margieburns on Sat 04 Aug 2007 08:40 AM EDT |
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Of all the rightwing canards, few have had more longevity than the notion of a ‘wall’ between federal agencies that somehow prevented, on well-intentioned moral grounds, any communication between domestic anti-terrorism and overseas anti-terrorism.

Every time I hear or read a ref to that complaint, my instantaneous reaction is the same: what ‘wall’?

This enlightened skepticism should be the instant, gut-level, skilled response of every American who loves his or her country, which is the overwhelming majority of us.

For a good rational overview, start with a simple process: just state the above proposition to yourself, clearly, in the most straightforward terms, using undisputed information in the common knowledge, and sit back and give your better judgment a chance.

Here, thus formulated, is the proposition: Notwithstanding the secrecy, power and massive funding received by our federal intelligence agencies – many thousands of employees, and hundreds of billions of dollars, over the years since at least 1947 – there has never been any breach of any rule separating foreign intelligence-gathering from domestic intelligence. There has never been any domestic surveillance by our federal intelligence agencies with overseas capabilities. Thus the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA, for example, were totally and permanently unable to get in touch with each other sufficiently before 9/11 to maintain adequate surveillance even of known terrorists that they already had in their sights.


Let’s flesh out that proposition a bit more:

* The number of employees in our 16 to 26 federal intelligence agencies or parts of agencies handling intelligence is classified; the intelligence budget for each of these entities is classified; even the TOTAL annual budget for federal intelligence operations is classified or has been classified until very recently.
* Identities of personnel involved in intelligence for our federal government are classified; any disciplinary actions within those agencies or entities are classified; and ‘personnel matters’ are held away from public scrutiny – i.e. the press – even in agencies not dealing with classified material.
* The Bush-Cheney administration has a known and (by now) widely reported propensity for dispensing with or sidestepping either statute or the constitution when the laws or the constitution impede its political objectives.
* The big media outlets have tended since the Reagan years to give the CIA and the NSA a free pass. Only very recently have major breakdowns at the CIA been anything like adequately reported, and not until at least a couple of years after 9/11. Even neocon Charles Krauthammer wrote, years ago, that the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward functioned like an unofficial spokesperson for the CIA.
* When Ross Perot spoke out against fraud, waste and abuse at the federal level in 1992 and 1996, arguing that one step toward reducing the federal budget deficit and the national debt would be to reduce fraud, waste and abuse, the big media outlets not only shut down discussion on the topic but ridiculed Perot individually as ‘inspector Perot’; other criticisms of the intelligence agencies tended to be sidelined as ‘conspiracy theory’. (For my take on this ‘conspiracist’ line, see the pertinent chapter in the book Big Bush Lies, RiverWood Books, 2004.)
* The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was followed by intensive investigation and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of security contracts. Federal, state and local agencies worked together to try to ensure the safety of the WTC site.
* Any time any political candidate, usually Democratic, campaigned on efforts to bring federal intelligence agencies under public scrutiny or to hold them accountable for abuses, the GOP and the rightwing noise machine tried to destroy his/her career. Same goes for any reporter or journalist who criticized the CIA or similar entities.

The assumption that powerful and feared federal agencies beyond public scrutiny, with access to troves of information beyond the reach even of other government agencies and with financial support unequalled even elsewhere in government, would somehow be unable to breach a jurisdictional ‘wall’ upheld by federal employees below them in the power structure is – to put this nicely – not a given.

And yet the corporate media outlets treat this ridiculous proposition as though it were beyond dispute. Then they wonder why they’re losing audience share to the Internet.

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I have a small personal stake in this topic. In late 2001 or early 2002, my own home telephone -- which had never given problems before, in the house where I have lived with the same number since 1986 – abruptly started having troubles with sound quality and noise on the line, and kept having them. Phone conversations had always been normal before, but from that time on, anyone calling on my line heard 1) noisy static and 2) a distant, echoing, un-musical resonance on the line.

At that time I was still writing columns weekly or bi-monthly for a little community newspaper chain, the Prince George’s Journal. First I tried replacing the phone itself; no help. After I called Verizon several times to complain, demonstrating the problem – “Can you hear what this sounds like?” -- Verizon eventually sent a repairman. The lineman who came, by the way, seemed to recognize the problem. He took out part of the line, replaced it and left me a cell # for future reference that I wish I’d called.

But for the next few years, my land line still made us sound – everyone who called the house commented on this -- as though we were speaking from the bottom of a well, or from across the ocean. Without ever being on speaker phone, I always sounded as though I were on speaker.

Even now, with the sound quality improved, I still hear incoming callers over a loud silence, much like that bypass-the-line effect you get when the phone company is trying to work out a problem on your house phone – when you can’t cut off the caller even by hanging up your phone, even by disconnecting your phone.

This is not a matter for litigation. I have no harms to claim, nothing so far as I know that courts would take notice of. I wish my telephone line would sound normal, but after almost six years, I’m used to sounding amplified over an Atlantic-sized void every time I turn down a plea from a charity. Privacy? – well, that would be nice, but one cannot put a monetary value on it, so there’s little protection for it aside from the constitution. You have to give up part of it even to complain about its loss.

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