Mission Statement

Mission Statement

Thursday, February 9, 2017



When the uninitiated think of the “Deep State,” they tend to imagine a group of men getting together in a room, smoking cigars and plotting world domination. But the Deep State is not one coordinated network of people controlling the government from the shadows. 

Instead, it refers to individuals and groups that have the resources to shape the direction of the world to their benefit and don’t hesitate to make use of them. At times, the interests of different factions of the Deep State collide. That often happens when the direction of the world is rapidly changing, as is the case now after the election of Donald Trump. 

Nobody knows this better than Peter Dale Scott, the foremost expert on the US Deep State. Below, you will find a new introduction to the paperback version of The American Deep State: Big Money, Big Oil, and the Struggle for U.S. Democracy, Updated Edition (copyright 2017), (with permission of the publisher, Rowman & Littlefield. All rights reserved).

This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Please go here to read Part 2.

  Peter Dale Scott, is a former Canadian diplomat, Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, co-founder of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Berkeley, poet, and 2002 recipient of the Lannan Poetry Award. 

  The following is Part 2 of a two-part series, excerpted from The American Deep State: Big Money, Big Oil, and the Struggle for U.S. Democracy, Updated Edition (copyright 2017) (paperback); by Peter Dale Scott with permission of the publisher, Rowman & Littlefield. All rights reserved.
Please go here to see Part 1.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017




This is the third of a five-part series exploring the Iran-Contra Affair and its consequences. Part 1 described the Reagan Administration’s secret wars and illegal arms deals exposed in the scandal. Part 2 explained how the constitutional crisis unfolded as a result of Congress’s failure to address the CIA’s power to wage secret wars in the name of avoiding a world-ending nuclear confrontation between the Superpowers. Part 3 exposes the roots of Iran-Contra in the Watergate scandal, but congressional abdication of responsibility and judicial deference backfired in the restoration of the Imperial Presidency, suppressing civil liberties and expanding wars justified as necessary to fighting the Cold War, even as the Cold War ended with collapse of the Soviet Union. Part 4 will survey the era of global insecurity we entered in the second Bush and Obama Administrations, while Part 5 examines the role key members of the incoming Trump team played in creating this permanent state of war by immunizing themselves from the consequences of past criminality.

The author, Doug Vaughan, spent years as an investigative reporter in Latin America covering the horrors of the 1970s and 80s. In this series, he connects the secret wars and warriors past and present to their most recent incarnation as architects of an aggressive approach to re-impose their will on the world that has escaped their control.

— Russ Baker, Editor in Chief

Tuesday, February 7, 2017



"Ignorance is Strength" -- George Orwell

In a strange but revealing way, popular culture and politics intersected soon after Trump first assumed the presidency of the United States. On the side of popular culture, George Orwell's dystopian novel, 1984, surged as the number one best seller on Amazon both in the United States and Canada. This followed two significant political events. First, Kellyanne Conway, Trump's advisor, echoing the linguistic inventions of Orwell's Ministry of Truth, coined the term "alternative facts" to justify why press secretary Sean Spicer lied in advancing disproved claims about the size of Trump's inauguration crowd. Second, almost within hours of his presidency, Trump penned a series of executive orders that compelled Adam Gopnik, a writer for The New Yorker, to rethink the relevance of 1984. He had to go back to Orwell's book, he writes, "Because the single most striking thing about [Trump's] matchlessly strange first week is how primitive, atavistic and uncomplicatedly brutal Trump's brand of authoritarianism is turning out to be."

In this amalgam of Trump's blatant contempt for the truth, his willingness to embrace a blend of taunts and threats in his inaugural address, and his eagerness to enact a surge of regressive executive orders, the ghost of fascism reasserts itself with a familiar blend of fear and revenge. Unleashing promises he had made to his angry, die-hard ultranationalist and white supremacist supporters, Trump targeted a range of groups whom he believes have no place in American society. These include Muslims, Syrian refugees and undocumented immigrants, whom he has targeted with a number of harsh discriminatory policies. The underlying cruelty, ignorance and punishing, if not criminogenic, intent behind such policies was made all the clearer when Trump suggested that he intended to roll back a wide range of environmental protections. He asserted his willingness to resume the practice of state-sponsored torture and deny funding to those cities willing to provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.
Trump reaffirmed his promise to lift the US ban on torture by appointing Gina Haspel as the new CIA deputy director. Haspel not only played a direct role in overseeing the torture of detainees at a black site in Thailand, she also participated in the destruction of videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations. Trump's enthusiasm for committing war crimes was matched by his willingness to roll back many of the regulatory restrictions put in place by the Obama administration in order to prevent the financial industries from repeating the economic crisis of 2008. In Trump's worldview, there exists no contradiction between the principles and ideals of a democracy, on the one hand, and implementing state-sponsored torture, running "black sites" and waging an assault on poor people, immigrants, health care and the environment.

And this is just the beginning. The ruling elites, banks and other major financial institutions now find their savior in Trump as they will receive more tax cuts and happily embrace the loosening of government regulations, while their greed spins out of control. Should we be surprised?
The memory of totalitarianism, with its demand for simplistic answers, intoxication with spectacles of vulgarity, and a desire for strong leaders, has faded in a society beset by a culture of immediacy, sensations and civic illiteracy. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to underestimate the depth and tragedy of the collapse of civic culture and democratic public spheres, especially given the profound influences of a permanent war culture that trades in fear, and the ever-present seductions of consumerism, which breeds depoliticization and infantilism.

Another shocking and revelatory indication of the repressive fist of neo-fascism in the Trump regime took place when Trump's chief White House right-wing strategist, Steve Bannon, stated in an interview that "the media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.... You're the opposition party. Not the Democratic Party.... The media is the opposition party. They don't understand the country." This is more than an off-the-cuff angry comment. It is a blatant refusal to see the essential role of a robust and critical media in a democracy. Such comments suggest not only a war on the press, but the very real threat of suppressing dissent, if not democracy itself. Unsurprisingly, Bannon referred to himself in the interview as "Darth Vader." A more appropriate comparison would have been to Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in the Third Reich.

What is clear is that the dire times that haunt the current age no longer appear as merely an impending threat. They have materialized with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Trump and his administration of extremists epitomize the dire dangers posed by those who longed to rule American society without resistance, dominate its major political parties, and secure uncontested control of its commanding political, cultural and economic institutions. The consolidation of power and wealth in the hands of the financial elite along with the savagery and misery that signifies their politics is no longer the stuff of Hollywood films, such as Wall Street and American Psycho. If George W. Bush's reign of fearmongering, greed and war on terror embodied the values of a kind of militarized Gordon Gekko, Trump represents the metamorphosis of Gekko into the ethically neutered Patrick Bateman. Yet, Trump's ascent to the highest office in America is already being normalized by numerous pundits and politicians who are asking the American public to give Trump a chance or are suggesting that the power and demands of the presidency will place some restraints on his unrestrained impetuousness and often unpredictable behavior. Those members of Congress who railed against both Obama's alleged imperial use of executive orders and later, during the Republican primaries, denounced Trump as unfit for office now exhibit a level of passivity and lack of moral courage that testifies to their complicity with the dark shadow of authoritarianism.

Wrongheaded Calls to "Give Trump a Chance"

As might be expected, a range of supine politicians, media pundits and mainstream journalists are already tying themselves in what Tom Engelhardt calls "apologetic knots" while they "desperately look for signs that Donald Trump will be a pragmatic, recognizable American president once he takes the mantle of power."As comedian John Oliver pointed out on his show, "Last Week Tonight," Trump is not ordinary and his politics forebode the storm clouds of an American version of authoritarianism. Oliver brought his point home by shouting repeatedly "This is not normal," and, of course, he is right! It is even more surprising that Lesley Stahl's "60 Minutes" interview with Trump portrayed him less as a demagogue than as a transformed politician who was "subdued and serious." In addition, NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported approvingly upon the transition, as if proposed White House counselor Steve Bannon and proposed attorney general Jeff Sessions, two men with racism in their pasts, were ordinary appointments. High-profile celebrity, Oprah Winfrey, stated without irony, in an interview with "Entertainment Tonight" that "I just saw President-elect Trump with President Obama in the White House, and it gave me hope." This is quite a stretch given Trump's history of racist practices, his racist remarks about Blacks, Muslims and Mexican immigrants during the primary and the presidential campaigns, and his appointment of a number of cabinet members who embrace a white nationalist ideology. The New York Times's opinion writer, Nicholas Kristof, sabotaged his self-proclaimed liberal belief system by noting, in what appears to be acute lapse of judgment, that Americans should "Grit [their] teeth and give Trump a chance." Bill Gates made clear his own and often hidden reactionary worldview when speaking on CNBC's "Squawk Box." The Microsoft cofounder slipped into a fog of self-delusion by stating that Trump had the potential to emulate JFK by establishing an upbeat and desirable mode of "leadership through innovation."

Such actions by the mainstream media and such highly visible pundits not only point to a retreat from responsible reporting and discourse, and a flight from any vestige of social responsibility, they also further the collapse of serious journalism and thoughtful reasoning into the corrupt world of a corporate-controlled media empire and an infantilizing celebrity culture. Normalizing the Trump regime does more than sabotage the truth, moral responsibility and justice; it also diminishes and sidelines the democratic institutions necessary for a future of well-being and economic and political justice. New York Times columnist Charles Blow observes insightfully that under a Trump administration:
The nation is soon to be under the aegis of an unstable, unqualified, undignified demagogue [who surrounds] himself with a rogue's gallery of white supremacy sympathizers, anti-Muslim extremists, devout conspiracy theorists, anti-science doctrinaires and climate change deniers.... This is not normal [and] I happen to believe that history will judge kindly those who continued to shout, from the rooftops, through own weariness and against the corrosive drift of conformity.
Blow is right. Any talk of working with a president who has surrounded himself with militarists, racists, neo-fascists, anti-intellectuals and neoliberal fundamentalists should be resisted at all cost. It is well worth remembering that Trump chose Steve Bannon, a notorious anti-Semite and white supremacist to occupy the center of power in the White House. As Reuters reported, "White supremacists and neo-Nazis have rarely, if ever, in recent history been so enthusiastic about a presidential appointment as Donald Trump's choice of Steve Bannon to be his chief White House strategist." Trump has also surrounded himself with militarists and corporate ideologues who fantasize about destroying all vestiges of the welfare state and the institutions that produce the public values that support the social contract. Neal Gabler argues that the normalizing of Trump by the mainstream media is about more than the dereliction of journalistic duty. In his piece "And So It Begins: Normalizing the Election," he writes:
Far more serious is their normalization not of Trump but of his voters. The former is typical cowardice under threat of reactionary populism. The latter is an endorsement of reactionary populism that may have far-reaching consequences for whether the country can ever be reunited after having been torn asunder.
Normalization is code for a retreat from any sense of moral and political responsibility, and it should be viewed as an act of political complicity with authoritarianism and condemned outright. What is being propagated by Trump's apologists is not only a reactionary popularism and some fundamental tenets of an American-style authoritarianism, but also a shameless whitewashing of the racism and authoritarianism at the center of Trump's politics. In addition, little has been said about how Trump and his coterie of semi-delusional, if not heartless, advisors embrace a version of Ayn Rand's view that selfishness, war against all competition and unchecked self-interest are the highest human ideals. In addition, arguments in defense of such normalization appear to overlook with facile indifference how the rhetoric of authoritarianism has become normalized in many parts of the world, to grave effect, and that the Trump administration has clearly demonstrated an affinity with that sort of hateful rhetoric. How else to explain the support that Trump has received from a number of ruthless dictators who head reactionary governments, such as the Philippines, Turkey and Egypt, among others? Such a danger is all the more ominous given the current collapse of civic literacy and the general public's increasing inability to deal with complex issues on one hand, and the attempt, on the other hand, by those who maintain power to ruthlessly promote a depoliticizing discourse of lies, simplicity and  manufactured distortions.

Ominous Echoes of a Totalitarian Past

The United States has entered a new historical conjuncture that echoes elements of a totalitarian past. Hannah Arendt, Sheldon Wolin and Robert Paxton, the great theorists of totalitarianism, believed that the fluctuating elements of fascism are still with us and that as long as they are, they will crystalize in different forms. Far from being fixed in a frozen moment of historical terror, these theorists believed that totalitarianism not only "heralds as a possible model for the future" but that its "protean origins are still with us." Arendt, in particular, was keenly aware that a culture of fear, the dismantling of civil and political rights, the ongoing militarization of society, the attack on labor, an obsession with national security, human rights abuses, the emergence of a police state, a deeply rooted racism and the attempts by demagogues to undermine education as a foundation for producing critical citizenry were all at work in American society. Historical conjunctures produce different forms of authoritarianism, though they all share a hatred for democracy, dissent and human rights. More recently, Robert Paxton in his seminal work, The Anatomy of Fascism, provides a working definition of fascism that points to both its anti-democratic moments and those elements that link it to both the past and the present. Paxton's point is not to provide a precise definition of fascism but to understand the conditions that enabled fascism to work and make possible its development in the future. Accordingly, he argues that fascism is:
A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints, goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
It is too easy to believe in a simplistic binary logic that strictly categorizes a country as either authoritarian or democratic and leaves no room for entertaining the possibility of a mixture of both systems. American politics today suggests a more updated if not different form of authoritarianism or what might be called the curse of totalitarianism. In Trump's America, there are strong echoes of the fascism that developed in Europe in the 1920s and 30s. For instance, there are resemblances to a fascist script in Trump's scapegoating of the "other;" his claim that the United States is in a period of decline;  his call to "Make America Great Again;" his blatant appeal to ultra-nationalism;  his portrayal of himself as a strongman who alone can save the country; his appeal to aggression and violence aimed at those who disagree with him; his contempt for dissent; his deep-rooted anti-intellectualism, or what Arendt called "thoughtlessness" (i.e., denial that climate change is produced by humans) coupled with his  elevation of instinct and emotion over reason; his appeal to xenophobia, national greatness and support for a politics of disposability; his courting of anti-Semites and white supremacists; his flirtation with the discourse of racial purity; his support for a white Christian public sphere; his use of a kind of verbal waterboarding to denigrate Muslims, Blacks, undocumented immigrants and women's reproductive rights; his contempt for weakness and his enthusiasm for hyper-masculinity.

Trump's totalitarian mindset was on full display both during his inaugural speech and in his actions during his first few days in office. In the first instance, he presented a dystopian view of American society laced with racist stereotyping, xenophobia and the discourse of ultra- nationalism. Frank Rich called the language of the speech "violent and angry -- 'This American carnage stops right here' -- reeking of animosity, if not outright hatred [and that] the tone was one of retribution and revenge." As soon as the speech ended, the normalizing process began with the expected tortured clichés from various Fox News commentators calling it "muscular," "unifying," "very forceful," "just masterful," and Charles Krauthammer stating that it was "completely nonpartisan." The fog of self-delusion and denial was in full swing at CNN when the historian Douglas Brinkley called Trump's inaugural address not only "presidential" but "solid and well-written" and the "best speech" Trump has made "in his life."
Once in the Oval Office, Trump not only enacted measures to facilitate building a wall on the Mexican border and prevent people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, he also cleared the way for resurrecting the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Trump's broader assault on environmental protections is indicative of his disregard for the rights of the Native Americans who protested the building of a pipeline that both crossed their sacred burial lands and posed a risk to contaminating the Missouri River, which is the primary water source for the Standing Rock Sioux. In response to Trump's inaugural address and early policy measures, Roger Cohen, a columnist for The New York Times, wrote a forceful commentary suggesting that Trump's neo-fascist tendencies were on full display and that his presence in American politics contains echoes of former dictators and augurs badly for American democracy. He argued:
But the first days of the Trump presidency ... pushed me over the top. The president is playing with fire. To say, as he did, that the elected representatives of American democracy are worthless and that the people are everything is to lay the foundations of totalitarianism. It is to say that democratic institutions are irrelevant and all that counts is the great leader and the masses he arouses. To speak of "American carnage" is to deploy the dangerous lexicon of blood, soil and nation. To boast of "a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before" is to demonstrate consuming megalomania. To declaim "America first" and again, "America first," is to recall the darkest clarion calls of nationalist dictators. To exalt protectionism is to risk a return to a world of barriers and confrontation. To utter falsehood after falsehood, directly or through a spokesman, is to foster the disorientation that makes crowds susceptible to the delusions of strongmen.
The grave period Americans are about to enter into under a Trump regime cannot be understood without an acknowledgement of the echoes of a totalitarian past. With Trump's election, the crisis of politics is accompanied by a crisis of historical conscience, memory, ethics and agency exacerbated by an appeal to a notion of common sense in which facts are regarded with disdain, words reduced to slogans, and science confused with pseudo-science. Under such circumstances, language is emptied of any meaning and constitutes a flight from ethics, justice and social responsibility. As language rapidly loses meaning, the American public is inundated with empty slogans such as "post-truth" and "fake news." This culture is part of what Todd Gitlin calls "an interlocking ecology of falsification that has driven the country around the bend." Against the background of an infantilizing culture of immediacy, spectacle and sensationalism, Trump will govern as if he is running a reality TV show, endlessly performing for an increasingly depoliticized public. But there are more dangers ahead than the toxic seduction of politics as theater and the transformation of the mainstream media as an adjunct of the entertainment industry or for that matter, a growing distrust of democracy itself.

The Complicity of the Media and Attacks on the Press

Under casino capital, the alleged celebration of the principle of a free press hides more than it promises. Noam Chomsky, Bill Moyers and Robert McChesney, among others, have observed that the mainstream media now work in conjunction with the financial elite and the military-industrial-academic complex as an echo chamber while further indulging in the rituals of shock, celebrity culture and spectacularized violence in order to increase their ratings. Earlier this year, CBS CEO Les Moonves stated that his network's inordinate and disastrous coverage of Trump "may not be good for America but it's damn good for CBS." Moonves openly gloated not only because the network was pumping up its ratings but was also getting rich by inordinately covering Trump's presidential campaign. As he put it, [T]he money's rolling in ... [T]his is going to be a very good year for us.... It's a terrible thing to say, but bring it on, Donald. Go ahead. Keep going." Moonves made it clear that the power of mainstream media in general has little to do with either pursuing the truth or holding power accountable. On the contrary, its real purpose was to normalize corruption, lies, misrepresentation, accumulate capital and allow the transformation of the press to become an adjunct of authoritarian ideologies, policies, interests and commodified values -- if that is what it takes to increase their profit margins.

Normalization is about more than dominant media outlets being complicit with corrupt power or willfully retreating from any sense of social responsibility; it is also about aiding and abetting power in order to increase the bottom line and accumulate other cowardly forms of power and recognition. This is evident in the fact that some powerful elements of the mainstream press not only refused to take Trump seriously, they also concocted embarrassing rationales for not holding him to any viable sense of accountability. For instance, Gerard Baker, the editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, publicly announced that in the future he would not allow his reporters to use the word "lie" in their coverage. NPR also issued a statement arguing that it would not use the word "lie" on the grounds that "the minute you start branding things with a word like 'lie,' you push people away from you." In this truly Orwellian comment, NPR is suggesting that calling out lies on the part of governments and politicians should be avoided by the media on the grounds that people might be annoyed by having to face the contradiction between the truth and misinformation. This is more than a retreat from journalism's goal of holding people, institutions and power to some measure of justice; it also legitimizes the kind of political and moral cowardice that undermines informed resistance, the first amendment and the truth. While such actions may not rise to the level of book burning that was characteristic of various fascist and authoritarian regimes in the past, it does mark a distinctive retreat from historical memory and civic courage that serves to normalize such actions by making dissent appear, at best, unreasonable and at worst, an act of treason.

Such actions become apparent in efforts by the mainstream press to rage against the rise of "fake news," suggesting that by doing so, their integrity cannot be questioned. Of course, the term "fake news" is slippery and can be deployed to political ends -- a maneuver which is on full display particularly when used by Trump and his merry band of liars to dismiss anyone or any organization that holds him accountable for his fabrications. Hence, there were no surprises when Trump at his first president-elect press conference refused not only to take questions from a CNN reporter because his network had published material critical of Trump but also justified his refusal by labeling CNN as fake news -- reducing the term to a slogan used to silence the press. Clearly, we will see more of this type of bullying repression and censorship, and traditional democratic public spheres, such as higher education, will also feel the brunt of such an attack.

Any analysis of the forces behind the normalization of the Trump administration and its assault on the truth, if not democracy itself, must include the powerful role of the conservative media in the United States. Former conservative radio talk show host Charles Sykes recently published a remarkable op-ed arguing that over the last few decades, right-wing media played a major role in discrediting and delegitimizing the fact-based media. In doing so, it destroyed "much of the right's immunity to false information." According to Sykes, conservatives, including himself, created a "new post-factual political culture" that has become so powerful that even when the Trump administration is caught lying, it does so with impunity because it believes that "the alternative-reality media will provide air cover" that allows it to pollute "political discourse" and discredit "independent sources of information."
Evidence of this major assault on truth can be measured in part by the magnitude of the lies the administration produces, which are truly Orwellian. For instance, Kellyanne Conway attempted recently to justify Trump's executive order banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries by referring to what she called the "Bowling Green massacre, an alleged terrorist attack by Iraqi refugees that was to have taken place in 2011. According to Conway, Obama instituted a six-month ban on Iraqi resettlements. The attack never happened, no Iraqis were involved and the Obama administration never instituted such a ban. It gets worse. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently claimed that Iran had committed an act of war by attacking a US Naval vessel. That never happened. What did happen is that a Saudi ship off the coast of Yemen was attacked by Houthi rebels.

Normalization has many registers and one of the most important is the control by the financial elite over commanding cultural apparatuses that produce, legitimize and distribute highly selective media narratives that shore up the most reactionary ideologies and financial interests. The mainstream press says little about how such actions serve as an apology for the egregiously reactionary nature of Trump's ideology and policies. Moreover, they fail to note how distortions of the truth, the endless production of lies by governments, politicians and corporations, along with the media's flight from civic literacy, serve to bolster authoritarian societies willing to distort the truth while simultaneously suppressing dissent. Under such circumstances, it should not be surprising that Trump's authoritarian and hateful discourse, threats of violence, loathing of dissent and racist attitudes toward Muslims, Blacks and Mexican immigrants are downplayed in the mainstream media. These structured silences have become more and more apparent given the benign manner in which the supine press and its legion of enervated anti-public intellectuals and pundits treat Trump's endless nighttime Twitter outpourings and his incessant choreographed public fabrications.

For instance, The Wall Street Journal's refusal to address critically Trump's endless lies and insults is matched by the highbrow New Yorker's publishing of a piece on Trump that largely celebrates uncritically how he is viewed by conservative intellectuals, such as Hillsdale College president, Larry Arnn. Arnn supports Trump because he shares his view that "the government has become dangerous." If Arnn were referring to the rise of the surveillance and permanent war state, it would be hard to disagree with him. Instead, he was referring to the government's enforcement of "runaway regulations." What Arnn and Kelefa Sanneh, the author of the New Yorker article, ignore or conveniently forget is the fact that the real danger the government poses is the result of it being in the hands of demagogues, such as Trump, who are truly dangerous and threaten the planet, American society and the rest of the world. When Kelefa Sanneh mentions Trump's connection to the "alt-right," he underplays the group's fascist ideology and refuses to use the term "white supremacist" in talking about such groups, reverting instead to the innocuous-sounding term, "white identity politics." Trump's misogyny, racism, anti-intellectualism, Islamophobia and hatred of democracy are barely mentioned. Sanneh even goes so far as to suggest that since Trump has disavowed the "alt-right," his connection to neo-fascist groups is tenuous. This is more than an apology dressed up in the discourse of ambiguity; such reporting is a shameful retreat from journalistic integrity -- an assault on the truth that constitutes an egregious act of normalization. This is only one example of what is surely to come in the future under Trump's rule.

The Hard Road Ahead          

Under Trump's regime of economic, religious, educational and political fundamentalism, compassion and respect for the other will almost certainly be viewed with contempt while society will increasingly become more militarized and financial capital will likely be deregulated in order to be free to engage in behaviors that put the American public and planet in danger. A form of social and historical amnesia appears set to descend over American society. A culture of civic illiteracy will likely be produced and legitimated along with a culture of fear that will enable a harsh law and order regime.

Policies will almost certainly be enacted in which public goods, such as schools, will be privatized, and a culture of greed and selfishness will be elevated to new heights of celebration. There will likely be a further retreat from civic literacy, civic courage and social responsibility, one matched by a growing abandonment by the state of any allegiance to the common good. Fear and the threat of state violence are threatening to shape how problems are addressed, and a growing culture of dissent may soon be ruthlessly suppressed in all of the public spheres in which it has functioned in the past. The free-market mentality that gained prominence under the presidency of Ronald Reagan will likely accelerate under the Trump administration and continue to drive politics, destroy many social protections, celebrate a hyper-competitiveness and deregulate economic activity. Under Donald Trump's reign, almost all human activities, practices and institutions are at risk of becoming subject to market principles and militarized. The only relations that matter will likely be defined in commercial terms, just as civil society will be organized for the production of violence.

It is most likely that the most dangerous powers of the state will be unleashed under Trump against protesters, Black people, Muslims and undocumented immigrants. They will also be unleashed against the environment and against public and higher education. Surely, all the signs are in place given the coterie of billionaires, generals, warmongers, Islamophobes, neoliberal cheerleaders and anti-public demagogues Trump has appointed to high-ranking government positions. Americans may be on the verge of witnessing how democracy ends and this is precisely why Trump's election as the president of the United States must not be normalized.

Trump's repressive and poisonous attitudes and authoritarian policies will not change his role as president. If his first two weeks in office are any indication, he plans to consolidate his power and will be more reckless than he was during the primaries and presidential campaigns. Trump's narcissism, indifference to the truth and intensive use of the spectacle will further increase his view of himself and his policies as unaccountable, especially as he institutes a mode of governance that suppresses the opposition and deals with his audience directly through the social media.

Fortunately, a number of diverse groups, including unions, immigrant rights groups, anti-fascist organizations, Black liberation groups, congregations and faith-based organizations, legal coalitions and reproductive rights groups, along with teachers, actors and artists are organizing to protest Trump's neo-fascist ideology and policies. As George Yancy pointed out to me in a personal correspondence, such actions are unique in that they make the political more pedagogical by elevating protests, modes of resistance and criticism to the level of the cultural rather than allowing such criticism to reside in the voice and presence of isolated, prophetic intellectuals. Moreover, a number of independent publications, along with various public intellectuals, such as Anthony DiMaggio, Robin Kelley and members of the Black Lives Matter Movement, are producing instructive articles on both the nature of resistance and what forms it might take.

The current onslaught of revenge and destruction produced by Trump's updated version of authoritarianism is glaringly visible and deeply brutal, and points to a bleak future in the most immediate sense. We live at a time in which totalitarian forms are with us again. US society is no longer at the tipping point of authoritarianism; we are in the midst of what Hannah Arendt called "dark times." Individual and collective resistance is the only hope we have to move beyond this ominous moment in our history. Fortunately, the arrogant presence of this neo-fascist regime is not going entirely unchecked: The great collective power of resistance has ignited. Hope and a sense of humanity are in the air and the relevance of mass action has a renewed urgency. Demonstrations are taking place every day; some mayors are refusing to allow their cities to be placed under Nazi influence; and marginalized people and their co-strugglers are marching in record-breaking numbers to protect their rights. This resistance will continue to grow until it becomes a movement whose power is on the side of justice not injustice, bridges not walls, dignity not disrespect, compassion not hate. Let's hope this resistance will dispel Orwell's nightmarish vision of the future in our own time.

Note: This piece draws on some ideas that appeared first in "Normalizing Trump's Authoritarianism Is Not an Option," an article published by Tikkun Magazine on January 19, 2017.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Henry A. Giroux

Henry A. Giroux currently is the McMaster University Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest and The Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His most recent books include The Violence of Organized Forgetting (City Lights, 2014), Dangerous Thinking in the Age of the New Authoritarianism (Routledge, 2015),  coauthored with Brad Evans, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle (City Lights, 2015), and America at War with Itself (City Lights, 2016). Giroux is also a member of Truthout's Board of Directors. His website is www.henryagiroux.com.



In the wake of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the FBI assumes an importance and influence it has not wielded since J. Edgar Hoover’s death in 1972. That is what makes today’s batch of stories from The Intercept, The FBI’s Secret Rules, based on a trove of long-sought confidential FBI documents, so critical: It shines a bright light on the vast powers of this law enforcement agency, particularly when it comes to its ability to monitor dissent and carry out a domestic war on terror, at the beginning of an era highly likely to be marked by vociferous protest and reactionary state repression.

In order to understand how the FBI makes decisions about matters such as infiltrating religious or political organizations, civil liberties advocates have sued the government for access to crucial FBI manuals — but thanks to a federal judiciary highly subservient to government interests, those attempts have been largely unsuccessful. Because their disclosure is squarely in the public interest, The Intercept is publishing this series of reports along with annotated versions of the documents we obtained.

Trump values loyalty to himself above all other traits, so it is surely not lost on him that few entities were as devoted to his victory, or played as critical a role in helping to achieve it, as the FBI. One of the more unusual aspects of the 2016 election, perhaps the one that will prove to be most consequential, was the covert political war waged between the CIA and FBI. While the top echelon of the CIA community was vehemently pro-Clinton, certain factions within the FBI were aggressively supportive of Trump. Hillary Clinton herself blames James Comey and his election-week letter for her defeat. Elements within the powerful New York field office were furious that Comey refused to indict Clinton, and embittered agents reportedly shoveled anti-Clinton leaks to Rudy Giuliani. The FBI’s 35,000 employees across the country are therefore likely to be protected and empowered. Trump’s decision to retain Comey — while jettisoning all other top government officials — suggests that this has already begun to happen.

When married to Trump’s clear disdain for domestic dissent — he venerates strongman authoritarians, called for a crackdown on free press protections, and suggested citizenship-stripping for flag-burning — the authorities vested in the FBI with regard to domestic political activism are among the most menacing threats Americans face. Trump is also poised to expand the powers of law enforcement to surveil populations deemed suspicious and deny their rights in the name of fighting terrorism, as he has already done with his odious restrictions on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. Understanding how the federal government’s law enforcement agency interprets the legal limits on its own powers is, in this context, more essential than ever. Until now, however, the rules governing the FBI have largely been kept secret.

Today’s publication is the result of months of investigation by our staff, and we planned to publish these articles and documents regardless of the outcome of the 2016 election. The public has an interest in understanding the FBI’s practices no matter who occupies the White House. But in the wake of Trump’s victory, and the unique circumstances that follow from it, these revelations take on even more urgency.
After Congress’s 1976 Church Committee investigated the excesses of Hoover’s FBI, in particular the infamous COINTELPRO program — in which agents targeted and subverted any political groups the government deemed threatening, including anti-war protesters, black nationalists, and civil rights activists — a series of reforms were enacted to rein in the FBI’s domestic powers. As The Intercept and other news outlets have amply documented, in the guise of the war on terror the FBI has engaged in a variety of tactics that are redolent of the COINTELPRO abuses — including, for example, repeatedly enticing innocent Muslims into fake terror schemes concocted by the bureau’s own informants. What The Intercept’s reporting on this new trove of documents shows is how the FBI has quietly transformed the system of rules and restraints put in place after the scandals of the ’70s, opening the door for a new wave of civil liberties violations. When asked to respond to this critique, the FBI provided the following statement:
All FBI policies are written to ensure that the FBI consistently and appropriately applies the lawful tools we use to assess and investigate criminal and national security threats to our nation. All of our authorities and techniques are founded in the Constitution, U.S. law, and Attorney General Guidelines. FBI policies and rules are audited and enforced through a rigorous internal compliance mechanism, as well as robust oversight from the Inspector General and Congress. FBI assessments and investigations are subject to responsible review and are designed to protect the rights of all Americans and the safety of our agents and sources, acting within the bounds of the Constitution.
Absent these documents and the facts of how the bureau actually operates, this may sound reassuring. But to judge how well the bureau is living up to these abstract commitments, it is necessary to read the fine print of its byzantine rules and regulations — which the FBI’s secrecy has heretofore made it impossible for outsiders to do. Now, thanks to our access to these documents — which include the FBI’s governing rulebook, known as the DIOG, and classified policy guides for counterterrorism cases and handling confidential informants — The Intercept is able to share a vital glimpse of how the FBI understands and wields its enormous power.
For example, the bureau’s agents can decide that a campus organization is not “legitimate” and therefore not entitled to robust protections for free speech; dig for derogatory information on potential informants without any basis for believing they are implicated in unlawful activity; use a person’s immigration status to pressure them to collaborate and then help deport them when they are no longer useful; conduct invasive “assessments” without any reason for suspecting the targets of wrongdoing; demand that companies provide the bureau with personal data about their users in broadly worded national security letters without actual legal authority to do so; fan out across the internet along with a vast army of informants, infiltrating countless online chat rooms; peer through the walls of private homes; and more. The FBI offered various justifications of these tactics to our reporters. But the documents and our reporting on them ultimately reveal a bureaucracy in dire need of greater transparency and accountability.

One of the documents contains an alarming observation about the nation’s police forces, even as perceived by the FBI. Officials of the bureau were so concerned that many of these police forces are linked to, at times even populated by, overt white nationalists and white supremacists, that they have deemed it necessary to take that into account in crafting policies for sharing information with them. This news arrives in an ominous context, as the nation’s law enforcement agencies are among the few institutional factions in the U.S. that supported Trump, and they did so with virtual unanimity. Trump ran on a platform of unleashing an already out-of-control police — “I will restore law and order to our country,” he thundered when accepting the Republican nomination — and now the groups most loyal to Trump are those that possess a state monopoly over the use of force, many of which are infused with racial animus.

The Church Committee reforms were publicly debated and democratically enacted, based on the widespread fears of sustained intelligence community overreach brought to light by journalists like Seymour Hersh and Betty Medsger, who covered the shocking files revealing Hoover’s activities that were seized by the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI in 1971. It is simply inexcusable to erode those protections in the dark, with no democratic debate.

As we enter the Trump era, with a nominated attorney general who has not hidden his contempt for press freedoms and a president who has made the news media the primary target of his vitriol, one of the most vital weapons for safeguarding basic liberties and imposing indispensable transparency is journalism that exposes information the government wants to keep suppressed. For exactly that reason, it is certain to be under even more concerted assault than it has been during the last 15 years. The revealing, once-secret FBI documents The Intercept is today reporting on, and publishing, demonstrate why protecting press freedom is more critical than ever.

Update: February 1, 2017

This article has been updated to include the role of Betty Medsger and the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI in exposing Hoover’s overreach.



Donald Trump has been in power less than two weeks and has already done incredible damage. He’s signing executive orders like they are autographed pictures — but this isn’t a reality show. This week on Intercepted we talk to former senior FBI agent Ali Soufan about the commander in chief’s radical edicts, the “Muslim ban,” and Trump’s campaign to make torture great again. Constitutional rights lawyers Faiza Patel and Vince Warren dissect the (il)legality of Trump’s immigration ban and Rep. Barbara Lee breaks down Trump’s terrifying approach to government. Former covert agent Mike German and Intercept Editor-in-Chief Betsy Reed explain what secret FBI documents published this week by The Intercept tell us about how Trump could resurrect J. Edgar Hoover’s legacy. Hip-hop artist Brother Ali performs. Plus, Peter Sarsgaard stars in the bizarre true story of an NSA operative with exciting vacation tips for fellow operatives on their way to interrogate prisoners at Guantánamo.

Subscribe to the Intercepted podcast on iTunes, Google Play, StitcherSpotify, and other platforms.



In May 2013, the Washington Post’s Greg Miller reported that the head of the CIA’s clandestine service was being shifted out of that position as a result of “a management shake-up” by then-Director John Brennan. As Miller documented, this official — whom the paper did not name because she was a covert agent at the time — was centrally involved in the worst abuses of the CIA’s Bush-era torture regime.

As Miller put it, she was “directly involved in its controversial interrogation program” and had an “extensive role” in torturing detainees. Even more troubling, she “had run a secret prison in Thailand” — part of the CIA’s network of “black sites” — “where two detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harsh techniques.” The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture also detailed the central role she played in the particularly gruesome torture of detainee Abu Zubaydah.
Beyond all that, she played a vital role in the destruction of interrogation videotapes that showed the torture of detainees both at the black site she ran and other secret agency locations. The concealment of those interrogation tapes, which violated multiple court orders as well as the demands of the 9/11 commission and the advice of White House lawyers, was condemned as “obstruction” by commission chairs Lee Hamilton and Thomas Keane. A special prosecutor and grand jury investigated those actions but ultimately chose not to prosecute.

The name of that CIA official whose torture activities the Post described is Gina Haspel. Today, as BuzzFeed’s Jason Leopold noted, CIA Director Mike Pompeo announced that Haspel was selected by Trump to be deputy director of the CIA.

This should not come as much of a surprise given that Pompeo himself has said he is open to resurrecting Bush-era torture techniques (indeed, Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, was forced to withdraw from the running in late 2008 because of his support for some of those tactics only to be confirmed in 2013). That’s part of why it was so controversial that 14 Democrats — including their Senate leader Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Tim Kaine — voted to confirm Pompeo.

That Haspel was the actual subject of the 2013 Post story was an open secret. As Leopold said after I named her on Twitter as the subject of that story: “All of us who covered CIA knew. She was undercover and agency asked us not to print her name.” Gina Haspel is now slated to become the second-most powerful official at the CIA despite — or because of — the central, aggressive, sustained role she played in many of the most grotesque and shameful abuses of the war on terror.



The FBI’s Rap Back program is quietly transforming the way employers conduct background checks. While routine background checks provide employers with a one-time “snapshot” of their employee’s past criminal history, employers enrolled in federal and state Rap Back programs receive ongoing, real-time notifications and updates about their employees’ run-ins with law enforcement, including arrests at protests and charges that do not end up in convictions. (“Rap” is an acronym for Record of Arrest and Prosecution; “Back” is short for background.) Testifying before Congress about the program in 2015, FBI Director James Comey explained some limits of regular background checks: “People are clean when they first go in, then they get in trouble five years down the road [and] never tell the daycare about this.”

A majority of states already have their own databases that they use for background checks and have accessed in-state Rap Back programs since at least 2007; states and agencies now partnering with the federal government will be entering their data into the FBI’s Next Generation Identification database. The NGI database, widely considered to be the world’s largest biometric database, allows federal and state agencies to search more than 70 million civil fingerprints submitted for background checks alongside over 50 million prints submitted for criminal purposes. In July 2015, Utah became the first state to join the federal Rap Back program. Last April, aviation workers at Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport and Boston Logan International Airport began participating in a federal Rap Back pilot program for aviation employees. Two weeks ago, Texas submitted its first request to the federal criminal Rap Back system.

Rap Back has been advertised by the FBI as an effort to target individuals in “positions of trust,” such as those who work with children, the elderly, and the disabled. According to a Rap Back spokesperson, however, there are no formal limits as to “which populations of individuals can be enrolled in the Rap Back Service.” Civil liberties advocates fear that under Trump’s administration the program will grow with serious consequences for employee privacy, accuracy of records, and fair employment practices.



President Trump has inherited a vast domestic intelligence agency with extraordinary secret powers. A cache of documents offers a rare window into the FBI’s quiet expansion since 9/11. 

After the famous Church Committee hearings in the 1970s exposed the FBI’s wild overreach, reforms were enacted to protect civil liberties. But in recent years, the bureau has substantially revised those rules with very little public scrutiny. That’s why The Intercept is publishing this special package of articles based on three internal FBI manuals that we exclusively obtained.
These stories illuminate how the FBI views its authority to assess terrorism suspects, recruit informants, spy on university organizations, infiltrate online chat rooms, peer through the walls of private homes, and more. 

In addition to the articles collected here — which include nine new pieces and two that we previously published based on the same source material — we have annotated the manuals to highlight what we found most newsworthy in them.  We redacted the sections that could be used to identify individuals or systems for the purpose of causing harm. We’re presenting the stories alongside the manuals because we believe the public has a right to know how the U.S. government’s leading domestic law enforcement agency understands and wields its enormous power.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Federal Employees: If You See Something, Leak Something


If you’re a public servant in Washington, you may be worried about what your job will look like after January 20 — who you’ll be working for, what you’ll be asked to do. You might be concerned that the programs you’ve developed will be killed or misused. Or that you’ll be ordered to do things that are illegal or immoral.

You may be thinking you have no choice — or that your only alternative is to quit.

But there is another option. If you become aware of behavior that you believe is unethical, illegal, or damaging to the public interest, consider sharing your information securely with us. History shows the enormous value of government workers who discover abuses of power collaborating with journalists to expose them.

Without leaks, journalists would have never connected the Watergate scandal to President Nixon, or discovered that the Reagan White House illegally sold weapons to Iran. In the past 15 years alone, inside sources played a vital role in uncovering secret prisons, abuses at Abu Ghraib, atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq, and mass surveillance by the NSA.

Those scandals only came to light — and led to reforms — because conscientious employees passed evidence of wrongdoing to journalists reporting in the public interest.

More recently, the public only learned that President-elect Donald Trump avoided paying federal income tax for years because someone anonymously sent his tax returns to the New York Times. And the public heard a 2005 recording of Trump bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy” because someone leaked it to the Washington Post.

The Intercept is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news website that was created around the vision that whistleblowing is vital to holding powerful institutions accountable.

We’ve taken steps to make sure that people can leak to us as safely as possible. Our newsroom is staffed by reporters who have extensive experience working with whistleblowers, as well as some of the world’s foremost internet security specialists. Our pioneering use of the SecureDrop platform enables you to communicate with our reporters and send documents to us anonymously.
As nonpartisan journalists, we don’t discriminate between Demo

The Deep State Goes to War with trump Using Unverified Claims, Dems Cheer


In January 1961, Dwight Eisenhower delivered his farewell address after serving two terms as U.S. president; the five-star general chose to warn Americans of this specific threat to democracy: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” That warning was issued prior to the decadelong escalation of the Vietnam War, three more decades of Cold War mania, and the post-9/11 era, all of which radically expanded that unelected faction’s power even further.

This is the faction that is now engaged in open warfare against the duly elected and already widely disliked president-elect, Donald Trump. They are using classic Cold War dirty tactics and the defining ingredients of what has until recently been denounced as “Fake News.”

Their most valuable instrument is the U.S. media, much of which reflexively reveres, serves, believes, and sides with hidden intelligence officials. And Democrats, still reeling from their unexpected and traumatic election loss, as well as a systemic collapse of their party, seemingly divorced further and further from reason with each passing day, are willing — eager — to embrace any claim, cheer any tactic, align with any villain, regardless of how unsupported, tawdry, and damaging those behaviors might be.

Watch How Casually False Claims are Published New York Times, Nicholas Lemann Edition


Like most people, I’ve long known that factual falsehoods are routinely published in major media outlets. But as I’ve pointed out before, nothing makes you internalize just how often it really happens, how completely their editorial standards so often fail, like being personally involved in a story that receives substantial media coverage. I cannot count how many times I’ve read or heard claims from major media outlets about the Snowden story that I knew, from firsthand knowledge, were a total fabrication.

We have a perfect example of how this happens from the New York Times today, in a book review by Nicholas Lemann, the Pulitzer-Moore professor of journalism at Columbia University as well as a longtime staff writer for the New Yorker. Lemann is reviewing a new book by Edward J. Epstein — the longtime neocon, right-wing Cold Warrior, WSJ op-ed page writer, and Breitbart contributor — which basically claims Snowden is a Russian spy.

The book has been widely discredited even before its release as it is filled with demonstrable lies. The usually rhetorically restrained Bart Gellman, whose work on the Snowden story at the Washington Post won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, called the book “bad faith work” that is filled with “distortions” and “baseless and bizarro claims,” several of which he documented. I’ve documented some of the other obvious falsehoods in the book.

Washington Post Is Richly Rewarded for Fake News about Russian Hacking, Public Deceived


In the past six weeks, the Washington Post published two blockbuster stories about the Russian threat that went viral: one on how Russia is behind a massive explosion of “fake news,” the other on how it invaded the U.S. electric grid. Both articles were fundamentally false. Each now bears a humiliating editor’s note grudgingly acknowledging that the core claims of the story were fiction: The first note was posted a full two weeks later to the top of the original article; the other was buried the following day at the bottom.

The second story on the electric grid turned out to be far worse than I realized when I wrote about it on Saturday, when it became clear that there was no “penetration of the U.S. electricity grid” as the Post had claimed. In addition to the editor’s note, the Russia-hacked-our-electric-grid story now has a full-scale retraction in the form of a separate article admitting that “the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility” and there may not even have been malware at all on this laptop.

But while these debacles are embarrassing for the paper, they are also richly rewarding. That’s because journalists — including those at the Post — aggressively hype and promote the original, sensationalistic false stories, ensuring that they go viral, generating massive traffic for the Post (the paper’s executive editor, Marty Baron, recently boasted about how profitable the paper has become).
After spreading the falsehoods far and wide, raising fear levels and manipulating U.S. political discourse in the process (both Russia stories were widely hyped on cable news), journalists who spread the false claims subsequently note the retraction or corrections only in the most muted way possible, and often not at all. As a result, only a tiny fraction of people who were exposed to the original false story end up learning of the retractions.