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.

December 18, 2014admin 13 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Political economy

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13 Responses to this entry

  • ivvenalis Says:

    “As democracy ‘matures’, reality is processed increasingly in secret.”

    This is a great line. I’m not sure if it’s suitable for a T-shirt, but it makes a great sound bite.

    The phenomenon you describe also increases vulnerability. DPRK got Sony to follow their orders by threatening to publicize what the corporation actually thinks.


    E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Reply:

    Aesop’s fables: The Eagle and the Tortoise. (Ironically, the Greeks who invented democracy were also its harshest critics.)


    Steve Johnson Reply:

    You sure that’s irony?


    E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Reply:

    Well, Greeks I’ve known pride themselves in inventing democracy as though it is some kind of great thing… but reading those same Greeks who supposedly invented it tells an entirely different story.

    So maybe it’s only ironic to ME…

    Lord Auch Reply:

    The Greeks you have known have nothing to do with those Greeks (HBD) – unless you’re really really old.


    Posted on December 18th, 2014 at 6:13 pm Reply | Quote
  • cassander Says:

    So that history of the CIA is a bit off. the CIA has always been a very large organizations, tens of thousands. what was small before 9/11 was its covert action wing, the branch that did covert stuff like organizing paramilitaries and supplying stingers to afghanistan. That said, the reason the CIA was anointed was that the CIA is the lead intelligence agency. it’s in charge of doing things like the presidential daily briefing, and there’s a long tradition of the other agencies deferring to it somewhat. THe other agencies have a particular mandate of some sort. some are really specific, like national GeoStat, which does nothing but operate spy satellites, some less so, like the Defense Intelligence agency, which focuses on the very broad category of military intelligence. The CIA is the only agency with no such specific mission, so anything new goes to them by default.

    the most interesting thing to happen to the US government since 9/11 is the simply massive growth of special forces. there aren’t just more of them now, (they have at least 10 times as many operators as the CIA) but they’ve been given the freedom to plan and execute their own operations on a global scale, and they’ve been doing it with gusto. it’s essentially become an intelligence agency almost totally dedicated to overt and covert action, and it’s huge. no country in history has ever had anything like it.


    bob sykes Reply:

    If the planned reductions in military budgets actually occur, it will be interesting to see if SOCOM takes a hit along with the Army and Marines.

    The new Congress is be very hawkish and might actually opt for increased military appropriations. Were the money will come from is a mystery.


    pseudo-chrysostom Reply:

    all i know about human resources i learned from floyd paseman and matthew stewart. when it comes to cost-effectiveness, nothing trumps having more high quality personnel. billions are spent on ‘systems’ (of varying levels of abstraction [be it a gadget, or an institution itself]) to try and ‘automate’ some function or another, and it ultimately proves barely adequate compared with having a guy hang out in the embassy lounge hobnobbing, or similar.

    a wide ranging social phenomena with a rather parochial animus (like many other things). its really an expression of insecurity, a projected fear of ‘what if they(*i*) cant do it’, a regulative impulse that cannot be satisfied without regulation, essentially, lack of trust, thee of little faith. and its that very obsession to try and remove all possible error that brings on the black swans.


    Posted on December 18th, 2014 at 8:09 pm Reply | Quote
  • Off the Books | Reaction Times Says:

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    Posted on December 18th, 2014 at 8:51 pm Reply | Quote
  • Was Enlightened Says:

    “To publicly promote a political profile of peculiarly self-congratulating moral earnestness it is simultaneously necessary to feed the shadows.”

    There’s an interesting alternate way of parsing this statement …

    To be Progressive is to identify, correct, and atone for society’s past sins. And the more awful those sins, the better for the Progressive to beat his breast and bask in his halo. If there were no “police brutality”, no torture, no armed forces atrocities — what would fill Mr. Obama’s teleprompter? How would raise funds?


    Posted on December 19th, 2014 at 5:21 am Reply | Quote
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