Off the Books
Writing about Pakistan, as a ‘dark site’ host, but also about a more general syndrome, Fernandez remarks:
… just because the administration hides the risk from conflict using cutouts and proxies doesn’t actually mean the risk goes away. It only means the risk is hidden “off the books”. It only means you can’t easily measure it.
There’s a conservation law at work here, which is always a positive sign of realist seriousness. To publicly promote a political profile of peculiarly self-congratulating moral earnestness it is simultaneously necessary to feed the shadows. What happens unseen is essential to the purification of the image. The Obama Administration is only significant here insofar as it grasps the deep political logic of democracy — and its subordination to sovereign PR — with such exceptional practical clarity. Better by far to indiscriminately drone potential enemies to death on the unmonitored periphery than to rough up a demonstrated terrorist in front of a TV camera. It’s the future you wanted (Xenosystems readers excepted). To imagine anything fundamentally different working under democratic conditions is sheer delusion.
Adam Garfinkle has a thoughtful commentary on the US Senate torture report that wanders into the same territory.
Everyone seems to take for granted now that this was a “natural” CIA assignment of some sort, but it is passing strange that this should be the case. Not to belabor the background with a primer, but for those who have been watching too much crappy, self-righteous fiction on TV and in the movies, the CIA — before 911 at least — was a pretty small organization with a very minor percentage of its budget, personnel, and activity devoted to “operations” — dirty tricks, false-flagging, whacking people, and so forth. The Agency did wander off the reservation back in the day, which is what the Church Committee hearings and subsequent reforms were meant to set right. The vast bulk of CIA activity before and certainly after the mid-1970s concerned what is called collections and analysis, some of which falls under the rubric of (human) spying, but much of which is just fancified library work. As the morning of September 12, 2001 dawned, did the CIA have any significant experience with interrogating Islamist insurgents and terrorists? No. Did it have any experience with interrogating bad guys of any kind? Some; for example in Central America back in the 1980s, but nearly all of those involved in that business — and there were only a few — had long since departed the Agency. […] … So … why was the CIA anointed for the task after 911 …?
In its essentials, his answer is the same Fernandez gives. Rumsfeld’s DoD simply refused to accept it. US Mil. is a public institution, and there was no way they were going to handle people outside Geneva Convention protections, with the responsibility to extract critical intelligence from them. That would all have to happen off the books. The CIA picked up the tar baby.
As the Cathedral becomes ever more holier than Jesus, it produces — through systematic administrative necessity — a dark twin. This is a basic structure of social reality that NRx is uniquely positioned to acknowledge (although it is far more widely recognized). As democracy ‘matures’, reality is processed increasingly in secret. That, at least, we understand.