In the Dead of the Night

As the latest massive corruption and incompetence of our nation's intelligence bureaucracy was being revealed, top administration brass huddled in secrecy to work out the details of their next ratchet step toward a police state. Their furtive power grab reveals an increasingly clear pattern of behavior from the Bush White House.

Shortly after 9/11, A.G. Ashcroft ramrodded through the USA Patriot Act, granting federal cops unprecedented power to spy on and detain broadly defined "terrorists" and those who "aid" them, effectively suspending much of the Bill of Rights. Congress lacked the chance to debate or even read the bill prior to the vote, after being oh so conveniently forced to vacate their offices by an anthrax scare likely perpetrated by a top government scientist still on the loose. Only Wisconsin's Senator Feingold had enough doubts to vote nay.

Now, reeling from mounting evidence that the administration allowed the 9/11 attacks through gross stupidity, negligence or lust for power, the Washington Post reports that four top White House officials were tasked to secretly draw up plans for the new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. For 10 days starting on April 23, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge, chief counsel Alberto Gonzales and budget director Mitchell Daniels met “in a bunker-style, secure conference room beneath the White House.”

Like everything else in this long-running drama, the timing is oh so convenient because on May 3, the very day the first draft was compete, the story that the FBI ignored warnings of pending attacks broke in the media, subsequently snowballing into the usual finger-pointing and culminating in last week's congressional testimony from FBI “whistleblower” Coleen Rowley. The upshot of these revelations is that our federal bureaucracy, under the control of the president, is woefully unprepared to protect us from terrorists. This certainly isn't news to those who've been paying attention.

The new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was finally sprung on us just last week as an administration fait accompli. And just in case you thought your country even resembled a democracy, think again. The White House thought the “element of surprise would give their proposal a better chance of success. Early leaks…would have allowed opponents, particularly committee chairmen who stand to lose authority under the proposal, to gain the initiative.” That’s right, telling citizens what their government is planning would give them a chance to discuss the matter in public, and maybe even try to stop this latest power grab. But turf wars in Congress will probably give way quickly as Republican backers offer generous porky payouts, while threatening the patriotism card against any who balk, or try change the subject back to the failure of the Bush administration to stop the attacks.

DHS combines “22 federal agencies under one umbrella with a $37.5 billion budget and 170,000 employees,” making it “the biggest US government department after the Pentagon.” And with the Pentagon’s ongoing wars continuing to manufacture ever more enemies of America, and the FBI/DEA/ATF/INS/BLM/SS creating its share of disaffected indigenous victims, those numbers are sure to grow as the creation of a terror-free homeland becomes as illusive as a drug-free one, and for many of the same reasons.

This massive new bureaucracy will not prevent future attacks. As they become flooded with oodles of data from their ubiquitous eavesdropping, sorted and mined for nuggets with expensive new computers and software, they won't be able to separate the signal of pending attacks from the noise. What DHS will provide is the hammer to aggressively enforce the USA Patriot Act, and they could even brand as terrorist facilitators those Americans who visit certain websites, blow off steam online, or engage in healthy political speech. "If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists," says our leader, and soon he'll have the muscle to back it up.

Only affected cabinet secretaries and a few senior Republican congressmen were given one day's notice of the new plan. Once Tom Ridge is likely made Secretary Ridge, our revamped federal government will effectively be run by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ridge and Ashcroft, with Congress relegated to the status of a yapping Chihuahua, and the American people reduced to a cowering giant kept submissive with daily doses of propaganda and antidepressants.

The analogy to godfather II Michael Corleone secretly plotting his vengeful ascendancy with his consigliere and head thug is truly frightening, as the ongoing Washington soap opera of power politics plays out like a slow motion putsch. With this history of furtive paranoia, “chilling” doesn’t begin to describe what these people are capable of when the “inevitable” next attack comes, as they operate like the scariest of terrorist cells hatching their dangerous schemes in complete secrecy while hunkering in their hardened bunkers.

These facts are just what's been reported in the press. With freedom of information officially rendered DOA by this administration, it may be years before we can know the really scary details.

Civil libertarians, terrified of appearing extreme, are expressing their usual bland “concerns.” Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, thinks we need to “ask larger questions about where this administration is taking the U.S. government,” but from their extreme actions it’s pretty clear where that is. As Bob Dylan told us years ago, “You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.”

June 12, 2002