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Max Blumenthal on Security Forum

(it's Alternet, so caveat lector)


Shocking 'Extermination' Fantasies By the People Running America's Empire on
Full Display at Aspen Summit

Security Forum participants expressed total confidence in American empire,
but could not contain their panic at the mention of Snowden.

July 25, 2013  |  

Seated on a stool before an audience packed with spooks, lawmakers, lawyers
and mercenaries, CNNâ??s Wolf Blitzer introduced recently retired CENTCOM chief
General James Mattis. â??Iâ??ve worked with him and Iâ??ve worked with his
predecessors,â?? Blitzer said of Mattis. â??I know how hard it is to run an
operation like this.â??

Reminding the crowd that CENTCOM is â??really, really important,â?? Blitzer urged
them to celebrate Mattis: â??Letâ??s give the general a round of applause.â??

Following the gales of cheering that resounded from the room, Mattis, the
gruff 40-year Marine veteran who once volunteered his opinion that â??itâ??s fun
to shoot some people,â?? outlined the challenge ahead. The â??war on terrorâ?? that
began on 9/11 has no discernable end, he said, likening it to the â??the
constant skirmishing between [the US cavalry] and the Indiansâ?? during the
genocidal Indian Wars of the 19th century.

â??The skirmishing will go on likely for a generation,â?? Mattis declared.

Mattisâ?? remarks, made beside a cable news personality who acted more like a
sidekick than a journalist, set the tone for the entire 2013 Aspen Security
Forum this July. A project of the Aspen Institute, the Security Forum brought
together the key figures behind Americaâ??s vast national security state, from
military chieftains like Mattis to embattled National Security Agency Chief
General Keith Alexander to top FBI and CIA officials, along with the bookish
functionaries attempting to establish legal groundwork for expanding the war
on terror.

Partisan lines and ideological disagreements faded away inside the darkened
conference hall, as a parade of American securitocrats from administrations
both past and present appeared on stage to defend endless global warfare and
total information awareness while uniting in a single voice of condemnation
against a single whistleblower bunkered inside the waiting room of Moscow
International Airport: Edward Snowden.

With perhaps one notable exception, none of the high-flying reporters
junketed to Aspen to act as interlocutors seemed terribly interested in
interrogating the logic of the war on terror. The spectacle was a perfect
window into the world of access journalism, with media professionals
brown-nosing national security elites committed to secrecy and surveillance,
avoiding overly adversarial questions but making sure to ask the requisite
question about how much Snowden has caused terrorists to change their

Jeff Harris, the communications director for the Aspen Institute, did not
respond to questions I submitted about whether the journalists who
participated in the Security Forum accepted fees. (It is likely that all
relied on Aspen to at least cover lodging and travel costs). CNN sponsored
the forum through a special new website called CNN Security Clearance,
promoting the event through Twitter and specially commissioned op-eds from
participating national security figures like former CIA director John

Another forum sponsor was Academi, the private mercenary corporation formerly
known as Blackwater. In fact, Academi is Blackwaterâ??s third incarnation (it
was first renamed â??Xeâ??) since revelations of widespread human rights abuses
and possible war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan threw the mercenary firm into
full damage control mode. The Aspen Institute did not respond to my questions
about whether accepting sponsorship from such an unsavory entity fit within
its ethical guidelines.

'Exterminating People'

John Ashcroft, the former Attorney General who prosecuted the war on terror
under the administration of George W. Bush, appeared at Aspen as a board
member of Academi. Responding to a question about U.S. over-reliance on the
â??kineticâ?? approach of drone strikes and special forces, Ashcroft reminded the
audience that the U.S. also likes to torture terror suspects, not just
â??exterminateâ?? them.

â??It's not true that we have relied solely on the kinetic option,â?? Ashcroft
insisted. â??We wouldn't have so many detainees if we'd relied on the ability
to exterminate peopleâ?¦We've had a blended and nuanced approach and for the
guy who's on the other end of a Hellfire missile he doesn't see that as a

Hearty laughs erupted from the crowd and fellow panelists. With a broad smile
on her face, moderator Catherine Herridge of Fox News joked to Ashcroft, â??You
have a way with words.â??

But Ashcroft was not done. He proceeded to boast about the pain inflicted on
detainees during long CIA torture sessions: â??And maybe there are people who
wish they were on the end of one of those missiles.â??

Competing with Ashcroft for the High Authoritarian prize was former NSA chief
Michael Hayden, who emphasized the importance of Obamaâ??s drone
assassinations, at least in countries the U.S. has deemed to be Al Qaeda
havens. â??Here's the strategic question,â?? Hayden said. â??People in Pakistan? I
think that's very clear. Kill 'em. People in Yemen? The same. Kill 'em.â??

â??We donâ??t smoke [drug] cartel leaders but personally Iâ??d support it,â??
remarked Philip Mudd, the former deputy director of Bushâ??s Counterterrorism
Center, earning more guffaws from his fellow panelists and from Herridge.
Ironically, Mudd was attempting to argue that counter-terror should no longer
be a top U.S. security priority because it poses less of a threat to
Americans than synthetic drugs and child obesity.

Reflection was not on the agenda for most of the Security Forumâ??s
participants. When asked by a former US ambassador to Denmark the seminal
question â??This is a great country, why are we always the bad guy?,â?? Mudd
replied, â??They think that anything the U.S. does [in the Middle East], even
though we helped Muslim communities in Bosnia and Kuwait, everything is
rewritten to make us the bad guys.â??

The clamoring about U.S. invasions, drone strikes, bankrolling of Israelâ??s
occupation, and general political meddling, could all be written off as
fevered anti-Americanism borne from the desert canyons of the paranoid Arab

And the wars could go on.

Delusions of Empire

Throughout the three days of the Security Forum, the almost uniformly white
cast of speakers were called on to discuss recent geopolitical developments,
from "Eye-rak" and "Eye-ran" to Egypt, where a military coup had just toppled
the first elected government in the countryâ??s history.

Mattis carefully toed the line of the Obama administration, describing the
overthrow of Egyptâ??s government not as a coup, but as â??military muscle
saddled on top of this popular uprising.â??

Warning that using terms like â??coupâ?? could lead to a reduction in U.S. aid to
Egypt, where the military controls about one-third of the countryâ??s economy,
Mattis warned, â??We have to be very careful about passing laws with certain
words when the reality of the world wonâ??t allow you to.â??

Wolf Blitzer mentioned that Egyptâ??s new military-imposed foreign minister,
Nabil Fahmy, had been a fixture in Washington during the Mubarak days. â??These
are people the West knows, the U.S. knows,â?? he said of the new cabinet in
Cairo. â??I assume from the U.S. perspective, the United States is so much more
happy with this.â??

Later, one of the few Arab participants in the forum, Al Jazeera DC bureau
chief Abderrahim Foukara, claimed that the Arab revolts were inspired by the
U.S. invasion of Iraq. â??The iconic image of Saddam being pulled out of a hole
did something to the dynamic between ruler and ruled in the Arab world,â??
Foukara claimed.

With the revolts blurring the old boundaries imposed on the Arab world during
the late colonial era, former CIA director John McLaughlin rose from the
audience to call for the U.S. to form a secret, Sikes-Picot-style commission
to draw up a new set of borders.

â??The American government should now have such a group asking how we should
manage those lines and what should those lines be,â?? McLaughlin told the
panelists, who dismissed the idea of a new Great Game even as they discussed
tactics for preserving U.S. dominance in the Middle East.

ABCâ??s Chris Isham asked Jim Jeffrey, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, why,
with a recession on its hands and Middle Eastern societies spiraling out of
control, should the U.S. remain militarily involved in the region. Without
hesitation, Jeffrey rattled off the reasons: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel,
and â??world oil markets.â??

â??What could we have done better?â?? Isham asked the ambassador.

â??Probably not too much.â??

NSA Heroes, Saving Lives of Potential Consumers

While participants in the Security Forum expressed total confidence in
American empire, they could not contain their panic, outrage, and fear at the
mere mention of Snowden.

â??Make no mistake about it: These are great people who weâ??re slamming and
tarnishing and itâ??s wrong. Theyâ??re the heroes, not this other and these
leakers!â?? NSA chief General Keith Alexander proclaimed, earning raucous
applause from the crowd.

Snowdenâ??s leaks had prompted a rare public appearance from Alexander, forcing
the normally imperious spy chief into the spotlight to defend his agencyâ??s
Panopticon-style programs and its dubious mechanisms of legal review.
Fortunately for him, NBCâ??s Pete Williams offered him the opportunity to lash
out at Snowden and the media that reported the leaks, asking whether the
"terroristsâ?? (who presumably already knew they were being spied on) had
changed their behavior as a result of the leaks.

â??We have concrete proof that terrorists are taking action, making changes,
and itâ??s gonna make our job harder,â?? Alexander declared, offering nothing to
support his claim.

Alexander appeared in full military regalia, with colorful decorations and
medallions covering his left breast. Casting himself as a stern but caring
father who has the best interests of all Americans at heart, even if he can't
fully disclose his methods, he turned to the crowd and explained, â??The bad
guysâ?¦hide amongst us to kill our people. Our job is to stop them without
impacting your civil liberties and privacy and these programs are set up to
do that.â??

â??The reason we use secrecy is not to hide it from the American people, but to
hide it from the people who walk among you and are trying to kill you,â??
Alexander insisted.

Corporations like AT&T, Google and Microsoft that had been compelled to hand
over customer data to the NSA â??know that weâ??re saving lives,â?? the general
claimed. With a straight face, he continued, â??And thatâ??s good for business
because thereâ??s more people out there who can buy their products.â??


So who were the "bad guysâ?? who â??walk among us,â?? and how could Americans be
sure they had not been ensnared by the NSAâ??s all-encompassing spying regime,
either inadvertently or intentionally? Nearly all the Security Forum
participants involved in domestic surveillance responded to this question by
insisting that the NSA had the worldâ??s most rigorous program of oversight,
pointing to Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)
courts as the best and only means of ensuring that â??mistakesâ?? are corrected.

â??We have more oversight on this [PRISM] program than any other program in any
government that Iâ??m aware of,â?? Alexander proclaimed, ramming home a talking
point repeated throughout the forum.

â??I can assure these are some of the judges who are renowned for holding the
government to a very high standard,â?? John Carlin, the Assistant US Attorney
General for National Security, stated.

But in the last year, FISA courts received 1,856 applications for
surveillance from the government. In 100 percent of cases, they were
approved. As for Congress, only two senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall,
demanded the NSA explain why PRISM was necessary or questioned its legality.
Despite the fact that the entire regime of oversight was a rubber stamp, or
perhaps because of it, none of those who appeared at the Security Forum to
defend it were willing to consider any forum of independent civilian review.

â??You have to do [domestic surveillance] within a closed bubble in order to do
it effectively,â?? Dennis Blair, the director of National Intelligence conceded
under sustained grilling from the Washington Postâ??s Barton Gellman, one of
the reporters who broke Snowdenâ??s leaks and perhaps the only journalist at
the Security Forum who subjected participants to tough scrutiny.

When Gellman reminded Alexander that none of the oversight mechanisms
currently in place could determine if the NSA had improperly targeted
American citizens with no involvement in terror-related activity, the general
declared, â??we self-report those mistakes.â??

â??It can't be, let's just stop doing it, cause we know, that doesn't work,â??
Alexander maintained. â??We've got to have some program like [PRISM].â??

The wars would go on, and so would the spying.

Reinstituting Public Confidence

During a panel on inter-agency coordination of counter-terror efforts, Mike
Leiter, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCC),
suggested that one of the best means of preserving Americaâ??s vast and
constantly expanding spying apparatus was â??by reinstituting faith among the
public in our oversight.â??

Even as current NCC director Matthew Olsen conceded, â??There really are limits
in how transparent we can be,â?? Leiter demanded that the government â??give the
public confidence that thereâ??s oversight.

Since leaving the NCC, Leiter has become the senior counsel of Palantir
Technologies, a private security contractor that conducts espionage on behalf
of the FBI, CIA, financial institutions, the LAPD and the NYPD, among others.
In 2011, Palantir spearheaded a dirty tricks campaign against critics of the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce, including journalists, compiling electronic
dossiers intended to smear them. Palantirâ??s target list included progressive
groups like Think Progress, SEIU and U.S. Chamber Watch.

In the friendly confines of the Aspen Instituteâ??s Security Forum, Leiter did
his best to burnish his companyâ??s tarnished image, and do some damage control
on behalf of the national security apparatus it depends on for contracts.
Like most other participants, Leiter appeared in smart casual dress, with an
open collar, loafers, a loose-fitting jacket and slacks.

â??Just seeing us here,â?? he said, â??that inspires [public] confidence, because
weâ??re not a bunch of ogres.â??

Max Blumenthal is the author of Republican Gomorrah (Basic/Nation Books,
2009). Twitter at @MaxBlumenthal.