Children and journalists used to play a little game called “Connect the Dots.”
I gather children still do.
It's no longer the thing to do in newsrooms, but being an old-fashioned sort of journalist, I do it anyway. I'm following dots placed by the White House, and the picture I see keeps me from sleeping sometimes. A couple of other old-line journalists I know have been coming up with similar unsettling images.
Maybe when all the dots are connected, the picture will turn out to be something entirely different from the present sketchy image, but probably not. If not, we're looking at something almost unimaginably ugly.
It will be interesting to learn what others see, if anything.
A cautionary note: Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler's propaganda genius, once said of his “big lie” technique that some lies are too big to be disbelieved.
What's coming up here, if my interpretation is correct, isn't exactly a big lie, but it is so outrageous that most people will be unable to accept even the possibility that what they see could be real.
The Bush administration's private army continues to grow rapidly. It's best-known and largest component is Blackwater USA, based in North Carolina, but there are several other units under different commanders and different names. Together they total tens of thousands of troopers who are better trained and, other than aircraft, far better equipped in than the official U.S. military. Equipped with our money, by the way.
The most recent estimate I've seen came from Jeremy Scahill, an author and an investigative reporter for The Nation, who on May 10 told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense that there now are 126,000 mercenaries in Iraq, which almost equals the number of legitimate military personnel there. We have something like 145,000 to 150,000 active duty troops in Iraq. As Bush's escalation of Army troops took place, a largely unreported escalation in the number of mercenaries also was made.
The mercenaries are deployed elsewhere, too, but pinning down numbers and places is impossible for a lone writer sitting in Minneapolis. The Bush armies are privately owned companies; they don't say what they're doing or for whom. They don't report to Congress, they don't talk to the press.
More on this in a separate piece (below), but keep in mind that the mercenaries take no oaths and owe no allegiance to anyone other than those who pay them. The private armies are made up of soldiers of fortune from all over the world.
Under George W. Bush and, more realistically, Dick Cheney, intelligence gathering for the U.S. government, also has been “privatized” to a very large extent. Understand this: Much of our intelligence operation, the official agencies, are in the hands of private businesses. As the Washington Post reported about two weeks ago, private “contractors” make about one third of the Central Intelligence Agency work force. There doesn't seem to be any solid reporting on how many other contract spooks are working, or for whom.
Under some Congressional pressure, the CIA said it will trim its mercenary staff by 10 percent, a small and probably temporary concession. Supposedly, the CIA contractors don't make commitments on behalf of the government, but the agency's director, Michael Hayden, told the Post that contractors do “case officer work” and “are conducting operations.” Private spies owe only those who pay them.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has noted that the average CIA employee earns $126,500 a year, while contractors cost us $250,000 a year each on average, “including overhead.”
In April and May, at least three usually reliable on-line news letters reported that a couple of members of the White House in-crowd said the Bush administration is “fixing it” so that no matter what happens in the 2008 elections, this country will be unable to withdraw its troops from Iraq. The reportedly gleeful neocon tipsters refused to say how the fix was being accomplished.
(Will there be 2008 elections? Stay tuned.)
The reports had the feel of authenticity, but I, of course, cannot verify the truth of what was said.
On May 9, 2007, the White House quietly released a new “national security presidential directive.”
In that directive, George Bush gives himself the power to take over "leadership" of all branches of our government in case of a “catastrophic emergency.” He does, so the directive says, for the purpose of “ensuring constitutional government.” There is no precise definition of "leadership" under the order.
Got that? The directive states it will guarantee the continued functioning of the three separate branches of government, but it also states flatly that “The President shall lead the activities of the Federal Government.” Note that the White House has made clear its belief that the power of the president is unlimited.
Bush alone decides his role under the directive, and he alone defines and declares a “catastrophic emergency,” which under his directive can be “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government function.”
That could mean any natural disaster, a terrorist attack in or outside the United States, it even could mean a sudden demand from China for payment in full on our enormous debt to that country, which certainly would cause extreme damage to our economy. The possibilities are so endless as to give unfettered choice to Bush.
Reporter Matthew Rothschild did a fair piece on the directive in the May 18 Progressive. The great majority of corporate media ignored the document, and a handful did cursory reports of a few paragraphs. You can look at the directive yourself by searching the Internet for National Security Presidential Directive/NSPD 51.
In January, 2006, Kellogg Brown & Root, an arm of Dick Cheney's company, Halliburton, received a $385 million contract from the Army Corps of Engineers to build “detention centers” for the Department of Homeland Security.
That's the same subsidiary supposedly under investigation, but never brought to justice, for literally dozens of fraudulent charges to the government, failures to perform services for which it was paid by the government and various other frauds amounting to many millions of taxpayer dollars.
The number of the detention centers – in plain language, concentration camps or prison camps – was not revealed, although it was specified that each camp must be able to house 5,000 prisoners. No member of government or the Corps of Engineers would say where the camps were to be built. Nor would anyone say who was to be imprisoned in the camps.
Public relations officers for the various agencies involved said that...oh, um, ah...they might be used to hold “an unexpected influx of immigrants” or maybe for housing victims of a natural disaster or, disturbingly, “for new programs that require detention space.” No one would give even a hint of what the “new programs” might be.
The corporate media, with perhaps half a dozen exceptions, also ignored that contract. The handful of big-city newspapers that mentioned it gave few details; their stories averaged about five inches of type. I've not seen or heard anything new on the contract or the camps in more than a year, but we have to assume that construction is underway.
Several military and Bush administration insiders have told reporters in recent weeks that our occupation of Iraq – they imply a reduced occupation force but don't say when or by how much – probably will continue for decades. The president himself has said in recent speeches that our stay in Iraq will be akin to our continuing presence in South Korea.
That's suddenly an analogy he and Cheney and Condi are trying to make, although the causes and other circumstances of the two armed conflicts, and the geographic and political situations, bear almost no resemblance to each other.
Roughly once a month, more often in some, one of the big daily newspapers has an op-ed piece – rarely a news story – focusing on the ongoing debate within the White House over a possible attack on Iran. Similar reports pop up with about the same frequency in the solid on-line news operations. So many good reporters have written about those discussions that it would be silly to think they're not taking place. The most frightening ones, and there have been several, are those reporting that the craziest of the White House neocons still are arguing for a nuclear attack on Iran.
It's in our American nature to dismiss those reports as highly exaggerated, or at least to assume that the people who make the decisions are neither so stupid nor so insane as to act on the arguments of the megalomaniacs.
But. If no one takes them seriously, why are the crazies still in the White House? Remember that virtually everything done on the international front by the Bush White House, including the invasion of Iraq, the dumping of habeas corpus, the policy of illegal and secret imprisonment, the decision to torture prisoners, all came from that same bunch of madmen. Dick Cheney, with his unnatural and unprecedented power in the White House, is one of the megalomaniacs.
The Bush/Cheney administration is building an enormous, enormously expensive seat of government in Baghdad. It supposedly is a new U.S. Embassy, but everything we know about it says that it is the place from which the White House intends to rule Iraq. People involved in its design and construction and some in government and the news business call it “the chancery,” according to a June 17 report by the Los Angeles Times.
It sits on 104 acres in the Green Zone behind a series of protective walls, a fortress within a fortress. Scheduled for completion by the end of this summer, it has 27 buildings and will cost, conservatively estimated, $592 million. It has its own water purification and waste treatment systems, a fire station, power plant, school and housing for almost 400 families.
All told, the complex is ten times the size of the second largest U.S. embassy, now under construction in China. Nothing else is even that close. Yet there are complaints in the Bush administration that the complex isn't anywhere near big enough. The Washington Post said the plans failed to provide room for “hundreds of staff working in reconstruction, development, the inspector general's office and other security programs, who, though considered temporary, will need, at least for a few more years, somewhere to live.”
Never mind what those extra hundreds might actually be doing. The point is that the thing actually is being built as a permanent installation, and it goes a hundred times beyond anything that might be needed for the normal work of an embassy.
This one represents a very large number of little dots, just one of many that eventually will help fill in the details of the picture. I chose it rather than another only because it was at the top of the pile:
This country has a critical shortage of diplomatic personnel, as even the Bush/Cheney administration sometimes has admitted when pressed.
There have been numerous stories in newspapers around the country of the administration downgrading high-level diplomats, even pushing them into early retirement because, whatever their professional qualifications, they were not regarded as sufficiently loyal to Bush himself and the neocon agenda.
Just this month, careful combers of the news have learned that the State Department has suspended and is continuing to suspend the security clearances of dozens of experienced Foreign Service officers.
That effectively ends the careers of those who are suspended; they can't function without clearances, can't be assigned to posts abroad. One fairly comprehensive report, by William Fisher, was distributed in the Truthout on-line news compilation on June 18.
Grounds for the suspensions are flimsy to obviously fictitious, says the Concerned Foreign Service Officers organization, which was created to fight the fraudulent suspensions and defend the diplomats whose careers are being cut off. The diplomats can fight the suspensions, but the administration is dealing with that by taking years to complete the “investigations.”
Much more detail recently has seeped out, but the nutshell version is that, as with U.S. attorneys and FEMA directors and many more positions, the only criterion that matters under Bush/Cheney is unquestioning loyalty to the administration. Professional competence, or excellence, doesn't count. Adherence to the law sometimes is a negative. Those who are not storm-trooper loyal must go.
That's enough dots for now. Do you see a cow in a pasture? Or perhaps a group of obvious madmen, all wearing crowns, inside a fortified palace that looks something like the White House?