Category Archives: Spooks

Militarizing academia, a list and an omission

We begin with the latest edition of Days of Revolt, the new weekly broadcast series from Chris Hedges produced by The Real News Network for  Telesur English:

Days of Revolt – Militarizing Education

Program notes:

In this episode of Days of Revolt, host Chris Hedges discusses the militarization of higher education institutions with journalist Alexa O’Brien. They uncover the trail of money and influence from the national security state to college programs. Hedges and O’Brien identify the ways in which this apparatus has long-been in effect, and what it could mean for the future.

While we generally agree with her critique of the military’s increasing grasp on the military, we find one peculiar omission from the list of the 100 most militarized universities she published in VICE News.

Not on the list is the University of California, now headed by former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

Lest we forget, it was UC Berkeley’s own Robert Oppenheimer who headed the immense World War II scientific research program responsible for developing the atomic bomb. Berkeley is still involved in running Lawrence-Livermore National Laboratory, where new nuclear weapons are developed, and appoints three members to the board of Los Alamos National Laboratory, birthplace of the atomic bomb. And it was UC Berkeley’s John Yoo who provided the guiding legal advice justifying torture in the wake of 9/11.

The University of California also provided nearly half of the scientists of the Jason group, the secret, self-selected cabal of academics who provide research and advice to the Pentagon.

Among the Jasons’ “gifts” to humankind are the border patrolling drone and border-installed remote sensing devices, developed for the Vietnam War under the rubric of the Air-Supported Anti-Infiltration Barrier [PDF].

A 2007 College Quarterly review of Ann Finkbeiner’s 2006 book The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite, noted:

She was able to contact a number of Jasons and succeeded in interviewing thirty-six (published estimates of the total roster range from forty to about one hundred). Some refused to be interviewed. Some agreed only on condition of anonymity. Her book reveals that the $850 a day now paid to Jasons, while worthwhile, seems to be among the least of the motives for joining. More important is the sense of self-importance to be had from playing the part of a confident Washington insider. More likely still are altruistic, if naïve, beliefs that the Jasons make positive contributions to society by, if nothing else, exposing strategic errors or technological flaws in government plans and, of course, also solving real scientific problems in the bargain. They certainly have the skills to do so. Nobel laureates and giants of the intellectual community including Dyson, Hans Bethe, Steven Weinberg and the legendary Murray Gell-Mann have been Jasons. Too often, however, Finkbeiner concludes that their bargain is ultimately Faustian.

Jason has applied its collective braininess to such projects as the “electronic infiltration barrier” that did not, as it happens, protect South Vietnam from North Vietnam’s flow of troops (they tunnelled underground). Jason also worked out puzzles in adaptive optics, allowing telescopes to correct for atmospheric interference – information kept under wraps for a decade until the military found a use for it in Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”). Today, they may be providing advice on the occupation of Iraq; but, we won’t get the details on that soon, if ever.

The Jasons have also served as a model for other nations, as noted in a 10 November 2009 report in Nature, the world’s leading scientific journal:

The British government has recruited a group of academics to tackle tricky scientific problems related to defence, Nature has learned.

The programme is similar to a group known as the JASONs, which the US government has consulted on technical issues since the 1960s. “You hear a lot about the JASONs and how much credibility they have in the United States,” says Mark Welland, the UK Ministry of Defence’s chief scientific adviser. Britain needs a similarly “fast-moving, free-floating entity”, he says.

Scientific advice is frequently sought in Britain, but on security-related issues the advice usually comes from inside the government. Scientists at government labs such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston are consulted on sensitive topics, in part because academic researchers lack the necessary security clearances.

Though the Pentagon created the group in 1958, it was only in 1971 that their existence became known to the public, thanks to the leak of the Pentagon Papers.

While the group’s membership remains a secret, some names surfaced in 1972, thanks to the release of the in-depth report on the group, authored by UC Berkeley Professor Charlie Schwartz and colleagues.

According to one published estimate, fully half of the Jasons have come from the University of California, primarily Berkeley.

The Federation of American Scientists maintains a database of declassified Jason reports.

So any way you look at it, the University of California belongs on any list of the nation’s most militarized universities.

Bernie Sanders: Not a real socialist, but. . .

Socialism means the social ownership of the means of production, and by that standard, Sen. Bernie Sanders isn’t a real socialist.

Sanders instead belongs to that strain of Western European politics we might call ameliorism, in which the state creates institutions designed to protect the weakest from the worst ravages of unrestrained predatory capitalism.

“Social democracy,” as the political movement is called, arose as a compromise between the pulls of radical socialism and anarcho-syndicalism on the Left and nationalistic capitalists on the Right.

A key role in its formation were the events in Germany at the end of the First World War when socialism split as revolution swept the country after the deposition of Kaiser Wilhelm I. German socialism was doomed the moment Social Democratic President Friedrich Ebert called in the military to repress the workers and soldiers of the Left, granting the military impunity for their subsequent violent repression — including the murders of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.

Ebert’s moves both doomed the German socialist movement and paved the way for the subsequent rise of the Nazi Party.

Modern European social democracy took form in the wake of the Second World War, and was created, in part by and with the active assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency, which sought to create an alternative Left to counter the influence of the Soviet Union.

Bernie Sanders is an exemplar of the American version of social democracy, best exemplified by the programs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who convinced his friends in the economic elite that without social relief programs, Americans might well opt for communism over the brutal conditions of daily life in the Great Depression.

That said, the Roosevelt version of social democracy is far better for most Americans that the frankly oligarchic and theocratic mischief peddled by most GOP and Democratic Party candidates.

Which brings us to this discussion from the Left of the politics of Bernie Sanders.

Featured are Paul Jay of The Real News Network and Doug Henwood, a widely published writer, founder and editor of the Left Business Observer, and host of KPFA’s’ Behind the News.

From The Real News Network:

Sanders Defines his Social Democracy

Program notes:

Doug Henwood and Paul Jay discuss the speech by Bernie Sanders explaining his vision of what social democracy means in the U.S. today.

Laura Flanders: Surveillance and community

Los Angeles has always been one of the bastions of the surveillance state, where all means, fair and foul, were used to investigate and discredit not only criminals but activists who were deemed a threat to the city’s powerful business interests.

Bombs, sex, blackmail, and — quite possibly — murder were tools in the hands of the city’s “Red Squad” and its successors, the Public Disorder Intelligence Division, the Organized Crime Intelligence Division, and the Anti-Terrorist Division.

We have written before about our own journalistic experience with these organizations, as have other journalists, and the record is indeed grim [see this timeline from the Anderson Valley Advertiser for more details].

While a series of lawsuits forced significant reforms in LAPD’s surveillance regime, they have been significantly undone thanks to the political expediency of the “War on Terror.”

From the Laura Flanders Show via Telesur English:

Hamid Khan: The Surveillance-Industrial Complex

Program notes:

Surveillance, spying, and infiltration has a long history in the United States — from the Police Red Squads in the 1880s to the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) to today. This week’s guest says The “surveillance-industrial complex” has profound but poorly understood impacts on our political, structural, economic, and cultural lives. Hamid Kahn is the director of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, and serves on the boards of several organizations, including the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Political Research Associates, and Youth Justice Coalition. Also in this episode, we meet the students that forced Columbia University to divest from private prisons. All this, and Laura discusses US government spying on Black Lives Matter movement activists.

In October, 2011, Larry Aubry described one notorious Los Angeles Police surveillance program for readers of his column in the LA Sentinel, a publication serving that city’s African American community:

The Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Order 11 (SO 11) is the lead model of the National Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) initiative launched in 2008. SO 11 trains and authorizes LAPD officers to gather street level intelligence and information based entirely on “observed behavior.” Such purely, and/or largely subjective and arbitrary police action signals a “surveillance industrial/governmental complex” at the local level. Through SO 11, LAPD and the Department of Homeland Security have established a vague and ambiguous reporting system combined with vague and virtually unlimited authority. SO 11 solidifies a system that normalizes racial profiling and places the brunt of repressive policies on Blacks, other communities of color and immigrants.

SO 11’s fundamental premise is that each and every person is a suspect, hence, a threat to national security. It codifies “suspicious activities” through a LAPD, Suspicious Activities Report (SAR) that documents “any reported or observed activity or criminal act, or attempted criminal act which an officer “believes may reveal a nexus to foreign or domestic terrorism,” which is downright scary.

Here are excerpts from LAPD Special Order on SAR, APPENDIX B: “Information reported in a SAR may be the result of observations or investigations by police officers, or may be reported to them by private parties. Incidents (over 40 listed) which shall be reported on a SAR include the following: “Engages in suspected pre-operational surveillance (used binoculars or cameras, takes measurements, draws diagrams, etc.); appears to engage in counter-surveillance efforts (doubles back, changes appearance, evasive driving, etc.); engages security personnel in questions focusing on sensitive subjects (security information, hours of operation, shift changes, what security cameras film, etc.);

“Takes measurements (counts footsteps, measures building entrances or perimeters, distances between security locations, distances between cameras, etc.; takes pictures of video footage (with no apparent aesthetic value, i.e., camera angles, security equipment, security personnel, traffic lights, building entrances, etc.); in possession of, or solicits, sensitive event schedules (i. e., Staples, Convention Center) ” , etc., etc…….” God forbid!

And Darwin Bond-Graham and Ali Winston wrote about the newest twists in LAPD’s panopticon ambitions for LA Weekly in February 2014:

Los Angeles and Southern California police. . .are expanding their use of surveillance technology such as intelligent video analytics, digital biometric identification and military-pedigree software for analyzing and predicting crime. Information on the identity and movements of millions of Southern California residents is being collected and tracked.

In fact, Los Angeles is emerging as a major laboratory for testing and scaling up new police surveillance technologies. The use of military-grade surveillance tools is migrating from places like Fallujah to neighborhoods including Watts and even low-crime areas of the San Fernando Valley, where surveillance cameras are proliferating like California poppies in spring.

The use of militarized surveillance technology appears to be spreading beyond its initial applications during the mid-2000s in high-crime areas to now target narrow, specific crimes such as auto theft. Now, LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff are monitoring the whereabouts of residents whether they have committed a crime or not. The biggest surveillance net is license plate reading technology that records your car’s plate number as you pass police cruisers equipped with a rooftop camera, or as you drive past street locations where such cameras are mounted.

If history teaches anything, it’s that the forces of repression will exploit any tragedy to augment their own powers. The history of the LAPD offers ample proof.

Allen Dulles, America’s murderous spymaster

David Talbot is a veteran San Francisco journalist who founded Salon, served as a senior editor at Mother Jones and feature editor for the San Francisco Examiner. He’s written to the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Time, and The Guardian, among others, and written four major books.

His latest book, The Devil’s Chessboard, focuses on one of the darkest figures of 20th Century American history, former Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles,

Aaron Wiener of Mother Jones offers a concise synopsis:

Talbot offers a portrait of a black-and-white Cold War-era world full of spy games and nuclear brinkmanship, in which everyone is either a good guy or a bad guy. Dulles—who deceived American elected leaders and overthrew foreign ones, who backed ex-Nazis and thwarted left-leaning democrats—falls firmly in the latter camp.

Dulles killed with impunity, sending his officers and agents out to plot, overthrow, and murder politicians and activists in other lands who failed to hew the Washington line.

And it’s an open question as to whether or not he did the same thing much closer to home.

Perhaps the most controversial claim Talbot makes is one long familiar to esnl, namely that Allen Dulles, fired from his post by President John Kennedy after the failure of the Bay of Pigs, the CIA-planned invasion of Cuba in 1961, played a direct role in Kennedy’s assassination two years later.

Before you dismiss the contention out of hand, esnl heard similar allegations from two sources in the intelligence community more than thirty years ago, and absent convincing evidence to the contrary, Talbot’s contention is certainly well within the realm of possibility.

With that, here’s an extended interview with Talbot by RT America’s Alexey Yaroshevsky:

‘Allen Dulles did whatever he wanted to do,’ whether presidents knew or not – David Talbot

Program notes:

The Devil’s Chessboard, author David Talbot’s new book, presents new insights into the activities of CIA head Allen Dulles during the 1950s. New findings include US Intelligence’s cooperation with Nazis during WWII, CIA targeting of governments such as the Congo, Guatemala, Iran and even allied governments like France. Talbot discusses his book with RT’s Alexey Yaroshevsky in this extended interview.

Quote of the day: Snowden on torture hypocrisy

Speaking to Swedish journalists Lena Sundström and Foto Lotta Härdelin for the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter:

It’s really just crazy, the way that the US Government has handled the issue of torture. Because it’s so clear that is what they’ve done. We’ve even had an investigation in the intelligence committee, which almost never does anything meaningful. They usually act more like cheerleaders for the intelligence community, than watch-dogs. When they get a report that’s so clear and when there were indications that there were people in the CIA, who wanted to talk about these things, but who felt stressed. Some even asked to be moved, because they couldn’t cope with the things they were witnessing and they wanted to do something about it. But instead of providing some path for these individuals to report the wrongdoings that they were witnessing, the CIA actually asked them to stop documenting the abuse.

And the only person, who, to this point, has been convicted of this kind of wrongdoings, is the CIA officer who reported the waterboarding.

Map of the day: Caution, spooks at work

From the US Forum on Combating Globalization:

BLOG Spooks

Headline of the day II: We are not surprised

From Der Spiegel:

Governments and NGOs: Germany Spied on Friends and Vatican

Efforts to spy on friends and allies by Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, were more extensive than previously reported. SPIEGEL has learned the agency monitored European and American government ministries and the Vatican.