James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Business as usual, two comments

The following comment on the "Picture of Dorian Bush" essay below is from Peter Barus, an East Coast reader now in the processing of moving to Vermont:

The part about suspending diplomats is creepy indeed,

I had not heard of it before. Seems to me that, rather than repeat the horrible mistakes of past reichs, this one is going to play it pretty cool until something forces their hand. So the dots will keep on piling up and piling up, and then one day we will be in a police state without anybody really noticing much of a change. Those that do will have no voice and no access to anything, so it won't even be necessary to go down to the slums and pick them up; just let 'em rot in place.

Meanwhile, the people who count economically will continue to live in a tightening circle of happy-talk while the famines and pestilences really get rolling outside. Truly something Poe would have written up if it weren't for the fact that he was a humorist. I guess he more or less covered it in Masque of the Red Death. Anyway I don't expect this process to make much noise, it'll seem like business as usual to most folks.


I've been somewhat surprised at the number of people who have responded to the connect the dots piece by saying they have similar fears for the future. Many apparently have come independently to the conclusion that the neocons will not leave unless they are forced out, and that they will go to previously inconceivable extremes to retain their hold on power.

So here's the question: If the White House bombs Iran, if it makes a nuclear attack on the country, what will you do? If they blatantly steal another election, or simply refuse to leave and declare that there is a national emergency that demands they stay in power, what will you do?

My belief is that the only thing that could counter such outrages is for the people of this country to shut it down. Refuse to work, get out and block the streets and airports, stop everything and let nothing function that isn't needed for sustaining life, and to hold that position until the thugs are out of the White House and in prison. I don't think there is the slightest chance of that happening, however.

In such circumstances, the people of the U.S. would mumble and grumble and go on as usual -- so far as the newly reconstituted government allows. As Peter says above, most would hardly notice the difference.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Picture of Dorian Bush

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?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Whose army? Not our army

The question has been nagging at me for years, the need for an answer growing stronger by the year:

Why do our president, George W. Bush, and his overseer/mentor, Dick Cheney, need a large private army?

That's the stuff of Afghani war lords and Colombian drug barons. It's not something that's ever been required before in the brief but significant history of the United States of America.

Private armies mean private agendas, operating outside the law, conducting illegal warfare out of sight of the public and hidden from those who are supposed to provide checks and balances. Private armies mean conspiracies against the public good, and plots to subvert the government. Often, they mean revolution or illegal takeover of that government or at least gutting its power so that the warlord can rule.

You would not be unreasonable to think "Brown Shirts" when thinking "private army."

It's an open fact that Bush and his bunch of neocons have worked tirelessly to give our government to their corporate friends. Much of the work of most major government agencies now is done by corporate “contractors” at much greater expense and with much less efficiency than when government employees did the work.

The “bureaucracy” so hated by the right wing was and is demonstrably better and less costly than the corporate greedheads who charge big bucks and, often obviously, do lousy jobs, if they do them at all.

Private contractors took over operations of Walter Reed Hospital and turned it into a nightmare for injured soldiers. Private contractors – most especially Dick Cheney's own Halliburton – took over military mess halls, and supply lines and much more in Iraq, and from the very beginning robbed us blind. Even operation of government data bases and collecting of taxes has been turned over to private contractors.

The corporations, always chosen for their support of Republican candidates and causes and because of personal relationships with Bush, Cheney and crew, “save money” by paying their employees less than government employees earned and by simply not doing what needs to be done. The savings are eaten up and then some by huge executive pay and profits, and the public suffers because of the failures to perform.

All of that I understand. Bushies hate government, Bushies don't give a damn about anyone who is not them, Bushies believe wealth and profit are the only true “values.”

Since our invasion of Iraq, says a recent report in Hightower Lowdown, the value of government contracts given to Cheney's enterprise, Halliburton, mostly without the bother of competing bids, has increased by 600 percent. Nobody else has done quite that well, but friends and relatives are growing very, very fat at the trough.

But private armies are a special category.

Although they are extremely profitable for those who own and run them, and all of those that work for Bush & Co. are owned and run by wealthy right wing extremists who support Bush's wars, I still want a full explanation of the goal and purpose for nurturing and using private armies running to tens of thousands of troops.

Congress should demand complete disclosure, but Congress should do a great many things that it won't do because the great majority of its members are cowardly little shits.

A writer for a small but important public affairs magazine recently reported that a few members of Congress asked him for information about the mercenary armies because the Bush administration and the companies stonewalled them when they sought such information. And they put up with it and meekly asked a reporter for information.

Ye gods.

Most Americans undoubtedly are unaware that there are almost as many private army troops in Iraq as there are members of the legitimate U.S. armed forces. The latest report I've seen, published in May, shows Blackwater USA et al troop strength at 126,000 and growing.

Most Americans undoubtedly also are unaware that private troops are responsible for protection of the U.S. ambassador in Iraq and, get this, for protection of the general who heads the U.S. Army contingent in that miserable country.

Can you imagine Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley or, m'gawd, George Patton using hired guns rather than any of their own troops as body guards? Two bit dictators in revolution-a-month countries have hired gunsels for bodyguards, not U.S. ambassadors and American Army generals.

Except that now they do.

Another interesting fact: Private army troops, not the U.S. Army, guard U.S. Army bases in Iraq. Our soldiers apparently can't protect themselves as well as the mercenaries.

But then, the mercenaries make five, ten, fifteen times what our soldiers earn.

The corporate press, to its everlasting shame (but then it now is totally shameful on many counts) continues to report now and then on the death of “contractors” and will not report, though it is true, that most of the contractors who are killed are mercenary soldiers.

Neither does the corporate media tell the public who those soldiers are. Some small but important and trustworthy publications have dealt with that a bit, however.

Those soldiers are former members of “elite” U.S. military outfits such as the Rangers and the SEALS, who got their training at our expense and then moved to Blackwater or Kroll, Inc. or Custer Battles or one of the other outfits to make upward of $150,000 a year – often way upward. They're also former members of various Israeli commando-type units and spook units, and former members of the French Foreign Legion and kill-for-hire Turks and Germans and sometimes Kurds, though the Kurds and others from so-called Third World countries are paid less than the others, or so I've read.

The Washington Post (June 16) said that – this is amazing – about 100 “security companies” are operating in Iraq. They are headquartered in various places around the world, though the British seem to be the biggest operators after the U.S. entrepreneurs.

The mercenaries in Iraq are outside the law, Iraqi law, our law, any law. They're supposed to be licensed to operate in Iraq, but few, if any, are licensed. Blackwater had a license a couple of years ago, but it expired; Blackwater is still there in ever greater force. The excuse is that the licensing process is too slow and – you have to love this – those controlling licenses are corrupt.

Our government says, when pushed, that the private troops are there because of chronic personnel shortages in our own military.

Some thinking person might suggest that the chronic shortages are directly tied to the fact that we are in an illegal, immoral and losing conflict in Iraq, but that wouldn't cut any ice with Bush/Cheney.

The Post said that the military plans to “outsource” at least $1.5 billion in “security operations” in Iraq to the private armies this year, but the fact is that no one but the players know how much those armies really are costing us. The true costs undoubtedly are far greater than the reported numbers. All you have to do is count people, get a vague idea of average salaries and a rough idea of the high-tech equipment and that becomes obvious.

Those mercenaries are costing us – you and me. All of that money is our tax money, but it doesn't show up on any budget that's available for public viewing.

So, OK. There's a reason for the buildup of private armies: They can hide the cost.

Doesn't seem like a complete answer, though, given that the government, the Pentagon and, like no other administration in history, the Bush crowd are expert in hiding facts from the public anyway.

Oh: And no one monitors the mercenaries' operations, they are not under the command of the U.S. Army or its officers – except, presumably, the personal guards of the generals.

For some years, the private troops avoided battle in Iraq, but recently they've been in the thick of some fights. The New York Times reported last month that the death toll for “contractors” (still using that word) “soared to record levels this year.” At least 146 mercenaries were killed in the first three months of the year, the Times said, bringing the total killed since the invasion to 917 and the number of wounded mercenaries (my word) to more than 12,000.

The latter numbers undoubtedly include quite a few who really were not mercenary soldiers, though. Many of them were mercenary truck drivers, tank mechanics and the like.

OK, another reason for private armies: As a rule, no one reports casualty numbers. The Times figure may or may not be accurate, but the fact is that the numbers of dead, maimed and mentally destroyed would be much higher if the mercenaries were included or if U.S. military personnel were there instead of the mercenaries. The true human cost of the war can be hidden this way.

An often reported fact: While U.S. military personnel still – STILL, DAMN IT –are not fully equipped, the mercenaries have the latest and best of everything, including heavily armored vehicles and even some sophisticated aircraft. We pay for their equipment.

I keep thinking back to Hurricane Katrina and the fact that Blackwater troops were sent into New Orleans after the storm. Nobody seemed to know what they were there for, nobody admitted hiring them or sending them in. At first they were armed with automatic and even heavier weapons and moved sometimes in heavy armored vehicles. Later, they went around more lightly armed.

The Blackwater people in New Orleans told a few reporters that they had been deputized, were licensed to arrest and to shoot if they thought it necessary. Every police agency in the city and region denied having given them any police powers, however.

Some of the mercenaries guarded the homes of the very rich in and around New Orleans for awhile. It was not clear that the others did anything. Eventually they went away as mysteriously as they arrived.

The company somewhat later claimed that it was employed to provide security, transportation, logistics and airlift services and “humanitarian support services.”

Perhaps it was a training exercise, but if so, training for what?

Sorry, I do not see a legitimate reason for the huge growth of private armies at our expense – or at anybody's expense for that matter.

Never forget: The leaders and members of a mercenary force take no oaths of allegiance to a country. They are loyal only to whomever pays them – and then, I suspect, only if they share their patrons' ideology.

Speaking of ideology:

Blackwater USA, still by far the biggest mercenary army working for Bush & Co. -- in fact, the largest mercenary army in the world -- was founded just ten years ago by two men, Erik Prince and Al Clark. Prince is the key player.

It has headquarters and a huge training facility in North Carolina. The training ground is variously reported at 6,000 or 7,000 acres. It offers tactics and weapons training not only to its own personnel but also to other military, government and law enforcement bodies (not necessarily American). In fact, it will train anybody who can pay – supposedly only if they can pass background and criminal checks, but who knows?

In addition to the very best in personal armor and weapons, Blackwater has top-line land vehicles and several types of military helicopters.

Prince is a former Navy SEAL. He also is a billionaire right winger and super fundamentalist Christian. He comes from a highly connected Republican family from Michigan, he's a big contributor to the Republicans and was a White House intern under Bush the First. He campaigned for Pat Buchanan in 1992. His father, Edgar Prince, was a co-founder with Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council, as right wing a Christian fundamentalist organization as can be found, and Erik Prince also was an intern in that organization.