So says Dana Priest in an interview about her discoveries in her multi-year investigation of the hidden security apparatus that began at George W. Bush’s orders the day after 9/11. The blockbusting WaPo series with William Arkin and interactive databases are here.
His orders to the CIA and NSA were: Never let this happen again. Every resource is at your disposal; you’ve got it all. And keep it all secret as hell.
In the chilling new Frontline documentary, we’re given more than a glimpse into the extent of multi-billion-dollar programs, installations, and Shadow Government and Military operating parallel to…the other one, of which there is still too much opacity to suit those of us who crave open government and accountability. But this is almost guaranteed to shock you.
From Frontline managing editor Philip Bennet:
“As Priest and her colleague William Arkin show in their new book – richly explored in the FRONTLINE episode of the same name – the landscape of national security secrecy has changed beyond recognition. Even its maps are classified. The big story over the last decade is that the balance between what’s known and what’s secret has tipped decisively to one side. Today we don’t know even the magnitude of what we don’t know.
The results are troubling from every angle. Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the government now creates far more secrets than it can control. The Obama administration, arriving with the promise to create the most open government in U.S. history, is instead the custodian of the world’s largest black box – while becoming a more fierce enforcer of secrecy laws than any previous administration. Since 2001 the news media has by some accounts disclosed more classified programs than during any other period of war in the country’s history. And this was true even before WikiLeaks came along to try to blow up what’s left of the old order.”
In the days of shock and outrage following the planes hit the Twin Towers, it became clear that Bush’s intentions to seek out, target and kill or capture any Al Qaeda member or supporter was not a job for the military; it was made for the CIA, which had been tracking them for several years. Bush and Cheney wanted secrecy above all, fearing that public information of any hint of the any major operation would undermine their objectives, and likely feared any budgetary or other oversight by Congress. Congress issued them a blank check; Priest says that anything having to do with the billions spent, wasted, hidden…is a state secret.
Donald Rumsfeld reportedly fumed over the CIA being given the lead, but the Pentagon clearly had no operational plans for Afghanistan…then.
At an NSA war council on September 15, Director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center (CTC) Cofer Black, career spook, presented Bush with a plan he called Operation Greystone which would launch into Afghanistan, seek intel and cooperation from the Northern Alliance, and seek out and destroy Al Qaeda and any affiliates or supporters. The frightening arrogance and passionate revenge of this True Believer is awesome:
“We’re going to kill them,” Black said. “We’re going to put their heads on sticks. We’re going to rock their world.” And: “”When we’re through with them they will have flies walking across their eyeballs.”
Note: When he left the public sector in 2005, Black became the Vice-chairman of Blackwater USA.
Less than a week after 9/11, Bush wrote a Presidential Finding empowering Cofer Black and the CIA to wage a covert international war with a broad mandate of ‘find the bad guys, kill them, interrupt them, interrogate them…’ Authorizing Covert War by CIA. Scary stuff.
Former adviser to Homeland Security Fran Townsend said:
“In a post-9/11 World…we weren’t going to be so prissy; [snip]…we were going to do what we needed to do to get the information…to protect the American people.”
The early success in eliminating Al Qaeda was aided by passing out boatloads of money to locals and led to the alliance with our partner in corruption Hamid Karzai. Drones with missiles were also sent on kill missions into neighboring countries, again in secret. There were ‘hundreds killed, thousands captured’ according to Priest; but where had the thousands gone?
Interviews with John Rizzo and Cofer Black make it clear that they helped design and often times actually have constructed the web of black site prisons around the globe to which captured ‘Al Qaeda supporters’ and Taliban were sent for torture and inquisition in cooperation with those nations’ governments; Priest estimates that they numbered over two dozen. Rizzo designed the inquisition protocols; a secret prison system built by the US, with torture approved by the President. All done in secret.
Meanwhile Rumsfeld was building his Covert War Fiefdom inside the Penatagon, using Joint Special Operations Command for capture and kill operations that had even less oversight than the CIA operations. We know now that JSOC force covert actions are somewhat out in the open now since the Bin Laden ‘success’; they do partner now with CIA as Jeremy Scahill has so ably documented, and use Blackwater contract forces besides.
Former Terrorism Czar Richard Clarke:
“So in the past, the CIA was authorized to run covert action; the President had to approve covert action, and notify the Congress. Now, a lot of what looks like the same thing: covert action, is done by JSOC. Now they say, when they do it, it’s not a covert action, it’s a military action, so the President does not have to approve, by law, every operation, and the Intelligence Committees are not notified.”
As he geared up his dark operations, Rumsfeld began to prepare the JSOC forces for Iraq, as by 2002 it was clear that the US would go to war with Iraq. In search of a smoking gun connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, Rummy created an all-access group, the Office of Special Plans, that found the connections. Their manufactured intelligence was funneled up the line to Dick Darth Cheney; he ran with it on Meet the Press and other programs. Lies, lies, and damned lies. We know how that went…is still going, rather.
Next up was the ‘need’ to ‘Protect the Homeland’; to prevent another attack, and the NSA was given carte blanche to handle that. Under the direction of Michael Hayden, a massive system of communications intercepts was put in place; warrantless wire-tapping was born, and so much data was collected that even the hordes of contract hirelings couldn’t begin to sift through it. ‘Nothing prissy’ like considering privacy or civil liberties was mentioned by Congress. And we know how that has gone, and how useless it’s been in anticipating or stopping any other bombers and would-be bombers.
But the need for processing intel and information wars provided billions of dollars to private companies, both existing ones and start-ups. Or perhaps it could be said better that the billions of dollars provided the need for the contract security services. Massive amounts of space was rented and constructed to house the operations, and essentially the buildings were off the grid, hidden in plain sight, their uses unknown to locals or local governments, at over 1700 locations across the US.
Priest and Arkin spent over a year mapping all the agencies and buildings and companies involved in the Top Secret Security world: spreading and sharing intel, launching drone strikes, runny cyber wars…who knows what else? Again, the interactive maps and data bases are here.
Fast-forward to footage of Campaign Obama saying that illegal security state measures should be reigned in, and that his administration would be as transparent as daylight. After his inauguration and having been read in on security and classified intelligence, ‘credible threats’, he changed his mind. Of course he was likely manipulated, as the community feared he would dismantle the apparatus.
Almost all of the operations have been extended, of course; drone kills and assassination lists have been ramped up dramatically; Top Secret America has grown under his influence. In his first year in office, DHS began construction on its $3.4 billion administrative complex that will rival the size of the Pentagon. And to date, his administration has classified over 77 million documents. As Dana Priest says:
“These are giant edifices that are gonna stay here, behind the Black Wall.”
Billions from DHS have gone to state and local police with development of high-tech equipment to act as a step toward total information awareness. Fusion centers abound; and no one knows how much of it works, how much overlap there is, how much of it is so sloppy that it’s dangerous. Or what any of it costs, or has already cost. Remember: the costs are a state secret. You have no right to know. Congress has no right to know, little if any oversight. They don’t want it; questions might decrease the $ for the program, and an attack would mean their careers, their Party’s political futures…so: they STFU.
Priest and Arkin leave us with a picture of this nation that is dark and frightening. Watch the program here. There is a button to find local broadcasts.
Again: Today we don’t know even the magnitude of what we don’t know. And what else don’t we know?