The Aftermath of 9/11: America’s Second Great Transformation and the Emergence of a Brave New World

John Chuckman

I call America’s pattern of behavior since 9/11 a “great transformation” because it involves revolutionary changes for the country and, unavoidably, the entire world. In its internal affairs, America has effectively weakened the protections of the Bill of Rights and instituted many of the practices of police states – all under the insidious rationale of “protection from terrorists,” a subject heading which incapacitates the courts and serves to draw a great dark cloak over matters vital to all. Secrecy, always a favorite tool of cowardly politicians, now has assumed an enormous, central position in America. Spying, both on your own people and on those abroad, has become pervasive.

America has increased spending on military and intelligence to levels dangerously high both for the stability of the world and the future integrity of its own society. These resource-wasting establishments also will entangle any state in all sorts of costly unanticipated difficulties over time. Foreign policy has shifted to adopt the once-laughable, malevolent fantasies of the Neocons as official America policy, including an unapologetic and unprincipled use of America’s military strength around the world and a savage effort to remake the entire Middle East to its own liking, ignoring the region’s acute problems and treating the hopes of tens of millions for better lives as so much collateral damage from a bombing run.

These massive changes add to a social and governing structure which already had grown far away from the people, a structure which in many ways resembles that of pre-revolutionary, 18th century France, a state ruled by and for a class of landed aristocrats, a class of church aristocrats, and a ruling family and its armies. In contemporary America, the great hierarchies are the Pentagon, a web of sixteen intelligence agencies, and the great corporations with their immensely wealthy owners.

America’s first great transformation was the Civil War, a war which was not about slavery as is commonly believed and generally taught in public schools but about the division of powers between states and the federal government, affecting the very economic and political structure of the nation. The United States under the original Constitution was a very different place than we have come to know it. The Civil War reduced authorities of the states, demolished many formidable internal barriers to trade and to federal political power, and elevated the federal government from a mere debating forum between states into a powerful central authority. The Civil War transformed, too, the United States into a world-class industrial nation and military power which would in coming decades embark on new colonial wars and adventures. The Civil War made possible the growth of mighty national industries and the coming Age of Robber Barons and was a necessary precursor to the changes now underway.

For a good deal of time, America grew a healthy middle class, and for a brief golden era even industrial workers in America prospered remarkably. Political rights and freedoms tended to expand with that growth. But real per capita income of middle to lower-middle class Americans has dropped for many years now, a result in great part of globalization and new competitors coming up in the world. That has been a major impetus for social change as American middle class families attempt to hold their positions with incomes from two careers and lower costs in a seemingly infinite sprawl of cheap hinterland suburbs. And for years now, the American establishment has made the keenest political issue of taxes, but an issue only in the sense of by just how much to lower them, most particularly those affecting the wealthy.

To some extent a fortress-like mentality had taken hold of the middle class for years as they saw themselves on their way to work passing parts of rotting cities – doors always locked on their tank-like SUVs and vans – struggling to raise their position in the world by fending off taxes as much as possible, and, even, in a growing number of instances, living in “gated communities” out of fear of crime spreading from rotted cities. I think that kind of prevailing mentality helps greatly for accepting America’s new, more oppressive measures.

One might think the United States would have learned from the country it now copies closely: Israel has had a paralyzing web of secret police, border restrictions, secret prisons, and a massive military establishment for 65 years, yet it has never enjoyed genuine peace and lives in a chilling, unpleasant relationship with all of its neighbors. The average Israeli too does not enjoy a great life in an economically-inefficient society (whose interests, moreover, are heavily tilted towards those of its privileged groups), and then there’s that “great mob of Arabs out there” regarded in much the same way America regards its poor blacks. And were it not for immense subsidies and special favors keeping Israel afloat, that security state likely would collapse under the weight of its economic inefficiency. When any state puts absolute security above everything else, much of what it achieves is not worth having. Stalin perhaps provides history’s bleakest, most extreme example of running an absolute security state.

Of course, security, as understood by what Stalin called “wreckers of the revolution” and what Israel and the United States call “terrorism,” is not the complete reason for secret prisons and building walls and networks and police forces and spy systems. Those with great power and wealth and special interests have always had an instinctive impulse to control their environment, including the other people who inhabit it. Vast guarded estates and fences and bodyguards and summary justice for those trespassing have always been features of life for the great and powerful, and the same impulses exist for powerful organizations within a state, especially militarized states. Close control over behavior unacceptable to an establishment – including behavior that is merely different or dissident or embarrassing or slightly shady or emotionally off-balance or politically threatening – is at the heart of the matter. A gigantic network has been created in the United States which will detect, track, and file away information on these behaviors in perpetuity. The potential for blackmail and intimidation of political opponents or NGO leaders or writers or the press is enormous. While this may not be the case at first, over time, can you think of any apparatus that has gone unused by those with power, any apparatus which has not been abused? We should not forget that as recently as the 1960s, the FBI was actively trying to get Martin Luther King to commit suicide with anonymous letters threatening to reveal secret recordings. America is, after all, a country that has used atomic weapons, twice, and both times on civilian targets.

America is now also doing something no other country is in a position to do: it is exploiting the dollar’s privileged position as the world’s reserve currency to pay for much of its gigantic waste through massive future devaluation of an asset held by millions around the world. Unconscionable? Arrogant? Bullying? Those words I think are fairly applied to the changes. It may be no consolation for those being steamrolled by America that its behavior is unavoidably weakening its position in the world, but that is a fact. The bullying will prevail for a time, but it does speed the day when world leadership shifts to new hands, not necessarily to any single country like China but possibly to a consortium of rapidly-growing large states – India, Russia, Brazil, and China – with interests of their own.

It is no wonder that the conspiracy-oriented regard 9/11 as some kind of black operation used to shift the direction of the country towards a brave new world. The only conspiracy I see in the events around 9/11, though, are the American government’s refusal to explain to its own people what happened while exploiting events to its benefit, doing things it likely long has wanted to do. It is covering up both the incompetence and destructiveness of the operations of its own intelligence and military establishments as well as the deadly stupidity of some of its foreign policies, policies which seem fixed in amber through the tireless work of special interests. Dishonesty now has become a hallmark of American government. Those with power feel no obligation to explain to the people they nominally serve what happened in almost any event of genuine importance, and a long-term practice has only become more intense and pervasive.

America’s press, still sometimes is heard patting itself on the back as the “fourth estate” protecting peoples’ interests and handing out meaningless journalism awards to itself, actually works as a silent partner with government, never once investigating the genuinely important stuff. A merged, corporate press has no interest in investigating a corporate government, indeed it depends on government agencies for the leaks and interviews and data access which make it appear as though it is investigating and reporting day-in, day-out. It often provides the security agencies with cover for their overseas operations, it frequently has hired them, sometimes unwittingly, onto its staff, and it provides an outlet for the agencies’ disinformation, again sometimes unwittingly. And of course the corporate advertising which sustains the press puts the scrutiny of many corporate matters out of bounds, including many cozy and anti-democratic relationships with government and its major agencies.

Just as there is a natural cycle in the life of great industries – the scores of early American car manufacturers are now reduced to a few functioning as an oligopoly, an historical pattern repeated in industry after industry  – there appears to be a life cycle for a government organized like that of the United States. The duopoly which runs the American government consists of two parties which differ in almost no particulars except some social issues, but even that difference is rather a sham because the American government no longer has any interest in social issues. It is concerned overwhelmingly with representing and furthering the interests of the nation’s three great power centers of the military-industrial-intelligence complex. Social issues now are soap-box stuff for street-corner politicians and members of NGOs.

But in any case, all players in this political duopoly, no matter to which office they may be elected, know they can never challenge the immense authority and virtual omnipresence of America’s military, intelligence, corporate hierarchies and special interests like the Israel Lobby, powerful anti-democratic institutions which literally shape the space America’s politicians must inhabit.

Americans today quite simply could not vote in an informed manner if they wanted to do so (and many are not interested in voting at all, as we shall see): they are completely in the dark as to what happens inside their government, both its operations within the country and in international affairs. No one knows the full extent of spending on intelligence, nor do they know what dark programs are underway. No one knows the full extent of spending on the military, nor do they know to what questionable tasks it is being put around the world. No one knows the immense extent and complexity of lobbying and special interests in the American government. And of course no one is privy to the planning and operations of the great corporations, nor do they know anything of the dealings and financing arrangements between those corporations (or the wealthy individuals who own and run them) and the people’s supposed representatives, who all must spend a substantial part of their time just raising money for the next election (the average American Senator is said to spend two-thirds of his or her time doing just that).

Americans’ votes in elections have become to a remarkable extent meaningless, although an elaborate political stage play keeps the appearance of meaning and keeps those interested in politics involved and entertained. Almost certainly as a result of sensing how little their votes count, Americans often simply do not vote and do so in increasing numbers. The further down the political totem pole you go from the presidential elections which generate the most noise owing to the obscene amounts of money spent on marketing and advertising, the greater is this truth. Maybe 60% vote for president, a minority vote in other national elections, and a tiny fraction vote in state and local elections.

For those who cherish rights and values won since the Enlightenment, it is a disheartening prospect we face. A nasty bully, armed to the teeth and endowed with a profound sense of entitlement and scant regard for the other 95% of humanity, casts a long shadow over the entire planet. Not so terrifying a figure as a Stalin or a Hitler, he is frightening enough, and his insincere words about rights and values and fairness fool many as he proceeds to do just as he pleases, including killing any individual on the planet he decides in secret to be an opponent. It is indeed a brave new world, not Shakespeare’s and something far grimmer than Huxley’s.



John Chuckman

The resignation of both the director and an important deputy director of any large organization is noteworthy, but when that organization is the CIA we have an event of global interest.

Several official, and likely-embarrassing, reports concerning CIA activities – including one dealing with the Agency’s generous estimates of Iraq’s non-existent weapons – are expected to appear soon. The timing of the resignations may well reflect these coming reports.

You might think the men who resigned, Director George Tenet and Deputy Director for Operations James Parvitt, should have been fired long ago. Never mind the nonexistent weapons in Iraq or phony invoices for uranium, the Agency’s failure around the events leading to 9/11 was stunning, but the intelligence business is one of the few where job performance is almost unconnected with keeping your job.

There are many examples, but the incredibly bizarre career of James Angleton, CIA’s Chief of Counterintelligence during the 1960s and into the 1970s, is perhaps the most striking. The activities of Angleton, a man certainly suffering from paranoid delusions, came close to destroying the Agency in the 1960s, but his career didn’t end until William Colby became Director and forced Angleton to resign in 1974. Even then, he was kept on as a consultant, in the typical generosity of an organization with unlimited funds and afraid of revelations by an extremely angry, sick old man.

The disconnect between performance and job in Big Intelligence exists for many reasons, but four key ones are the fear of discrediting or embarrassing the Agency at a time of difficulty, the organizational difficulty of holding particular individuals responsible for bad intelligence, the chummy, old-boy atmosphere that invariably pervades such a vast and privileged bureaucracy, and unavoidably-political nature of all work by Big Intelligence.

These points have been demonstrated many times. The CIA does not appear to have paid a price for its monstrous failings before and after President Kennedy’s assassination (which included no anticipation of an event intimately related to its activities in Cuba and, afterward, acts like Angleton’s destroying important evidence), nor does it appear to have paid for decades of wildly-inaccurate assessments of the Soviet Union’s capacities. Since raw intelligence from many sources is digested and filtered through an elaborate bureaucracy, the second point is virtually axiomatic for Big Intelligence. Kim Philby’s amazing career with Britain’s SIS may be the greatest-ever example of the third point.

John Kerry’s reaction to the resignations provides a perfect example of the political trash dumped time and again at the Agency’s doorstep, “We must reshape our intelligence community for the 21st century and create a new position of ‘director of national intelligence’ with real control of all intelligence personnel and budget.” What do you do with a cheap, gas-bag slogan like that?

I guess Kerry missed the fact that his suggestion closely fits the job description given the Director when President Truman created the CIA half a century ago. Kerry also seems unaware that the CIA has been reshaped and adjusted time after time in its brief history – after the nightmare revelations of the Church Committee, after James Angleton’s reign of terror in counterintelligence, and after Reagan’s election – to little meaningful or lasting effect. It remains the world’s largest bureaucracy for the production of costly flops.

The ancient Greeks gave us many timeless legends and warnings, but the myth of Cassandra, who received both the gift of telling the truth and the curse of not being believed, fixes for all time a fundamental relationship in human affairs.

Governments always feel an irresistible impulse to obtain intelligence. You might call it the God Impulse, wanting to know everything that’s going to affect you, yet governments are condemned by their nature not to want to hear truth on many subjects. That applies just as much to democracies as dictatorships. Government policies are shaped by attitudes, preconceptions, and wishes. When these confront disagreeable facts, the preconceptions generally prevail.

There is also an inherent conflict between the idea of an agency charged with providing facts and the needs of a government which more often than not involve actively hiding or manipulating facts for political goals.

But Big Intelligence is not exactly comparable to Cassandra. It has not been blessed with always knowing the truth, so that after spending frightful amounts of money, it often works feverishly to hide its ignorance and protect its image of godlike knowledge. The cloak of secrecy is used to protect Big Intelligence from embarrassment as much as it is used to protect genuine information.

Big Intelligence shares the same preconceptions as the politicians it serves. After all, its leaders are appointed from a pool of people friendly to a government’s intentions. You do not get people like Ralph Nader appointed to high posts in the CIA. No, you get people like Daddy Bush, always.

If you want a whiff of the unavoidably bureaucratic and political nature of Big Intelligence, go find some of the op-ed pieces written by Robert M. Gates who served as Director from 1991 to 1993. The good old New York Times often published his puff pieces. Gates was a career CIA bureaucrat, I believe the only one ever given the top job. His pieces, bromides expressed in oily institutional prose, are not worth reading except for the sense they convey of a decades-long career of throbbingly-dull, inconclusive reports.

Later, John M. Deutch, an extraordinarily arrogant, plodding academic served as Director. He should have faced trial for taking top-grade secret material home and storing it on a personal computer later shown to have accessed many pornographic Internet sites. Some national security.

On the other end of the scale of Directors, there was a violence-prone thug like William Casey, 1981 to 1987, a throwback to the days of “Wild” Bill Donavon who ran the OSS, World War II forerunner of the CIA. Casey was a good chum of the late Great Communicator and relished the dirty-tricks part of Big Intelligence. He utterly failed in the CIA’s great tasks, from understanding revolutionary developments then occurring in the Soviet Union to knowing enough about the Middle East to prevent Reagan’s disastrous, embarrassing landing and blowing-up of Marines in Lebanon.

Intelligence agencies do succeed at certain kinds of tasks, but they are not necessarily tasks sensible people want done in a free society. The KGB was very effective at keeping the population of Soviet Union watched and intimidated. The FBI in the United States was pretty effective at the same task. Many members of the American government, in both legislative and executive branches, for decades lived in dread of revelations from the special files Director Hoover kept on them. As a part of its defensive arsenal against Hoover, officials at the CIA – the Agency and the FBI fought like wild dogs over every scrap of bone – are reported to have kept salacious items like a Peeping Tom photograph of Mr. Hoover having oral sex with his assistant Clyde Tolson.

The CIA has at times been successful at overthrowing, or contributing to the overthrow of, governments America doesn’t like, even when they were elected, although it often fails here, too, the most notable example being its years of costly, stupid effort to overthrow Castro. The Agency also pays selected politicians, leaders, and parties all over the world both to assist them and compromise them should it become necessary later to apply pressure. The new Prime Minister of Iraq’s so-called independent government is one of these CIA creatures.

Many of the CIA’s most costly operations appear successful when viewed superficially. Its operation in Afghanistan during the 1980s, where it spent billions to help drive out the Soviets, is a good example. Eventually, the Soviets left and were embarrassed by their failure, but if you examine the operation over a longer time-horizon, you see that it was in fact a catastrophic failure.

The truth is, so long as the Soviets held sway in Afghanistan, no one had to worry about terror or instability from the region. The CIA’s “success” gave birth to those very things. With no strategic foresight, the CIA was not greatly concerned about such matters – instead, it was concerned with staging a set of gigantic, deadly frat-boy pranks to embarrass and damage the Soviets. The horrible excesses of the Taleban (the British spelling for those ready to e-mail a correction) owe much to the CIA’s “success.” The Soviets, for all their flaws, always promoted secular government and practices such as women being educated as professionals, and they did this in Afghanistan. Their efforts were swept away by the terrible governments the CIA’s “success” gave the country.

Not only was the Soviet Union already beginning to unravel during those years – again, momentous developments of which the CIA as an institution remained ignorant – but the training, money, arms, and incitement the CIA contributed to Afghan rebels virtually created the groups associated with 9/11. The CIA’s practice of bringing shadowy characters back and forth by the hundreds to the United States on visas American embassies were forced to issue without examination unquestionably helps explain how nineteen suicide-bombers entered the country on legitimate visas. The shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles the CIA supplied wild mountain men to shoot down Soviet helicopters found their way later to various places for attacks on civilian airliners. How’s that for a return on your tax dollar?

Most Americans have little idea how much money is wasted on Big Intelligence. The budgets are, of course, top secret, but, before 9/11, it was a common estimate that the CIA went through $30 billion a year. Of course, the U.S. also maintains an even more-secret, technical outfit called the NSA, various branches of military intelligence (pardon the oxymoron), intelligence sections in the State Department, the FBI (now spreading its tentacles around the globe with offices being established abroad – oh, wouldn’t J. Edgar be happy! He and Clyde might have done weekends in London or Paris), and other lesser-known agencies. After 9/11, we can be sure that the dinner plates of all these agencies were so heaped with extra ladles of gravy, they slopped trails on their way back to the table.

For what America wastes on Big Intelligence, every beat-up classroom in the nation could be re-equipped or replaced over a few years. Were that ever to happen, the world might be blessed by a generation of Americans whose international behavior displayed a notable increase in genuine, effective intelligence.