The Goodness Of The American System

by digby

So the House Judiciary Committee is dealing with the new illegal wiretapping bill today, and you can follow the latest over on FDL and at the ACLU website, here. There's a lot going on, but I've never been convinced that it would be so impossible for the government to get warrants after the fact.The FISA court has virtually never said no to anything the government's asked for. It was designed that way. Why the administration can't simply hire and train enough people to fill out the proper paper work within a reasonable amount of time and present it to this secret court for a rubber stamp is beyond me. You can only conclude that they are either too lazy or they are doing something so wrong, that a secret, kangaroo court won't even go along. Excuse me, but that raises some red flags.

however, they seem to have convinced the congress that the burden fo getting a warrant even after the fact is just not possible so we are going to create some new regime of warrantless wiretapping. (I hate to say it but, you know, that really does mean the terrorists have won...)

Other than the fact that the government has bulldozed this nonsense through the congress, what also interests me in all this is Michael McConnell, the DNI, whom I think is a very strange man. I understand that everyone on the Hill thinks he is some sort of Big Daddy whom we all must trust to keep us safe in our little beddy-byes at night, but everything about him screams "wrong" to me. This interview, you'll recall, was very disconcerting:

Q. So you're saying that the reporting and the debate in Congress means that some Americans are going to die?

A. That's what I mean. Because we have made it so public. We used to do these things very differently, but for whatever reason, you know, it's a democratic process and sunshine's a good thing. We need to have the debate. The reason that the FISA law was passed in 1978 was an arrangement was worked out between the Congress and the administration, we did not want to allow this community to conduct surveillance, electronic surveillance, of Americans for foreign intelligence unless you had a warrant, so that was required. So there was no warrant required for a foreign target in a foreign land. And so we are trying to get back to what was the intention of '78. Now because of the claim, counterclaim, mistrust, suspicion, the only way you could make any progress was to have this debate in an open way.

It's a very, very bad idea for the nation's spy chief to go around demagoguing like that. I guess he listens to Rush and O'Reilly. But there's more to McConnell than just a whiff of Strangelove. There's this too:

Admiral McConnell is not simply the boss of sixteen separate U.S. intelligence and security agencies. In the netherworld where private security firms and public institutions do business, he was a principal architect of the system that led to the Blackwater USA disaster, with its revelations of trigger-happy hired gunmen shooting innocent civilians in the name of the State Department.

In 1996, when McConnell retired from government service after a 30-year career in the Navy and the National Security Agency (NSA), few critical tasks in intelligence or security were delegated to private companies. The NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency performed most of the former duties, while the military – the Marines, in the case of the State Department – handled the latter.

A decade later, half of an estimated $45 billion in annual U.S. intelligence outlays, along with an unspecified amount of the general security budget, pays for work “outsourced” to the private sector. The Washington Post reported last year that private contractors now make up more than 70 percent of a key Pentagon intelligence unit, as well as 50-60 percent of the workforce in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service.

Up to 30,000 military contractors are currently in Iraq, part of an overall private employment force that is larger than the 160,000-strong conventional U.S. military presence there.

Blackwater, with its $1 billion in government receipts from 2001 to 2006, is the tip of an immense iceberg.

Where was Admiral McConnell in that decade of maxi-privatization?

He was senior vice-president of Booz Allen Hamilton, a private security firm conveniently located near Langley, Virginia, home of the CIA. With an army-for-hire of some 10,000 operatives, it is in the vanguard of contractors that achieved unprecedented power (and profit) as sensitive national objectives were farmed out for cash.

More important, McConnell was also chairman of the board at the 1,500-member Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA), an industry association that is the primary voice of private security and intelligence firms in Washington.

The Contractor's Architect

Admiral McConnell was extraordinarily successful at INSA’s helm. Equipped with a vast network of contacts from his years in the Navy, at the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as director of the NSA, he was instrumental in the massive shift of security duties to private firms.

In 2002, Consulting Magazine named him “one of the top 25 most influential consultants” in the United States.

“When I think of government, military, or intelligence community – whatever – the government doesn't make things,” Admiral McConnell said in his confirmation hearings before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 7. “If you need to buy something like a tank or a satellite or airplane or whatever, that's done by the private sector.”

The unmistakable implication is that you may also look to the private sector for intelligence or security personnel. In a word, you buy mercenaries, just as you buy tanks, satellites, airplanes or as the admiral put it, “whatever.”

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, “the government found itself in need of special skills and special talent, and they were not available inside the government,” he continued at the hearings. “So the government turned to the private sector to get some special skills and capabilities. So I think – from the way I think about it, that's the goodness of the American system…”

Admiral McConnell’s appointment as Director of National Intelligence was unanimously recommended by the Committee, with only cursory attention paid to his contracting experience. The full Senate confirmed the appointment in a voice vote, without debate.

It's pretty clear why McConnell is so hellbent on immunity for telcoms isn't it? This man is one of the architects of a new shadowy, privatized defense industry that's sprung up over the past few years, an industry that's paid for by you and me, but over which we don't have any say, either as individuals or through our representatives in congress. It makes Ike's military industrial complex look positively benign by comparison.

His insistence on this telcom liability and, considering his job, rather bizarre willingness to engage in demagogic public relations makes you wonder: Who is Michael McConnell working for?

And what's the purpose of all this "privatizing anyway?

The logic for hiring such men, according to Admiral McConnell and other advocates of private contracting, revolves around the related issues of necessary skills and costs.

Their arguments on both counts don’t stand up well to close scrutiny. There is no good reason why professionals of any sort cannot be trained and employed directly by our national intelligence agencies and military institutions, as they were for most of the 20th century.

There's one good reason: profits. The "goodness of America."