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Covert Government


Since 9/11, a collection of secret intelligence groups called the United States Intelligence Community (IC) has become a monstrous, overlapping hodge-podge of spooks with some 850,000 people having top secret clearances, according to the Washington Post. The clandestine tangle of CIA spooks and related “national security” groups like military intelligence, civilian contractors and mercenaries has grown so much that its actual cost, or size, is unknowable and out-of-control according to the Post’s series of articles. The mainstream media icon is publishing Top Secret America after a two year investigation of the huge US intelligence complex. The expose paints a troubling picture of turf wars in a disconnected spy network that can’t “connect the dots”. It is especially disturbing because the Post is an establishment and neo-liberal oriented paper. It is usually supportive of a rather hawkish foreign policy and expenditures for the military industrial complex. The articles reveal a vast and unmanageable assortment of spooky, snoopy spies.

According to their websites the United States Intelligence Community (IC) is a cooperative federation of 16 separate US government agencies that work separately and together to conduct intelligence activities they consider necessary for the conduct of foreign relations and the protection of the national security of the United States. Member organizations of the IC include military intelligence, civilian intelligence and analysis offices in federal executive departments. The IC is headed by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) who is said to be subject to the authority, direction and control of the President and is responsible for overseeing and directing national security by serving as the head of the sixteen-member IC.

The DNI website says the Washington Post’s series of articles “do not reflect the Intelligence Community we know. We accept that we operate in an environment that limits the amount of information we can share. However, the fact is, the men and women of the Intelligence Community have improved our operations, thwarted attacks, and are achieving untold successes every day.” Actually, the fact is, spooky infighting at enormous expense.

Obama’s first intelligence chief was Admiral Dennis Blair who had friction with the White House and turf fights with CIA Director Leon Panetta. According to media reports, one of Blair’s senior aides said they were frustrated with a lack of guidance from the White House and likened their situation to an invisible dog fence. The aide and Blair joked with each other that they never knew where the no-go lines were “until we got zapped.”

I don’t know much about spooks thwarting attacks, or their turf fights, but I did stand in a line of anti-war protestors and got zapped for it by the spooks in 2004. Dick Cheney came to my hometown of Columbia, South Carolina in 2004 to a fund-raiser for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign at the home of an insurance company bigwig. Along with about 30 other peace activists I stood in a line across the street from the event holding a hand painted sign proclaiming “Dick Cheney is a War Criminal.” Local police on duty at the event who knew me were friendly, but I was photographed and asked to identify myself by a grim-faced spook with Cheney’s entourage.

About three months later my wife and I were waiting to board a flight at the Columbia airport when one of the security officers who was my friend told me he was required to meticulously search through my baggage. I asked him why and he said, “You are on the search list”.

Retired Air Force General James Clapper has been nominated by Obama to be the fourth chief spook since the DNI was established. Pledging to increase trust with Congress, Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee he would be candid with lawmakers, if confirmed as the next director of national intelligence.

Senators at Clapper’s confirmation hearing voiced skepticism about the ability of the next overseer of the nation’s 16 spy agencies to manage the sprawling intelligence community which the last three directors struggled with, mainly because of turf fights between the National Security Council and the CIA.

Clapper insisted he would be able to exercise the necessary authority using the powers the DNI already has, rather than “going through the trauma,” of another reorganization and “would not agree to take the position if I was going to be a titular figure or hood ornament.”

During his confirmation hearing he also said his 46 years’ experience working in the intelligence field makes him uniquely qualified for the job

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California praised Clapper after the hearing. Feinstein is the committee chairwoman and said she thought Clapper would be “a strong DNI…whose will was going to prevail.” She also said Clapper’s friendship with CIA Director Leon Panetta meant clashes between the two were less likely. I reckon we should clap for Clapper, a spook for 46 years who learned how to lie with a straight face a long time ago.

Democracy dies when government lies. Secrecy sucks. How many of us are on the lists of suspects with so many spooks and spies running amuck?

TOM TURNIPSEED is an attorney, writer and peace activist in Columbia, SC. His blog is





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