Rumsfeld’s “brave new world”

Time was, the leaders of the USA believed in a version of the “rule of law” at the international level– that is, that every state should have equal rights and privileges; that no one state should be egregiously more “equal” than others; and that one set of mutually agreed regulations governed them all.
Time was, the most powerful members of the US political elite believed deeply in a set of “checks and balances” at the domestic level that would prevent any one branch of government from growing too strong.
Yes, those were the days.
… And now, welcome to the “brave new world” of Donald Rumsfeld, where the Pentagon feels free to send “special operations teams” with their own “interrogators” and “intelligence analysts” roaming freely throughout the world, constrained neither by any respect for international law nor by the scrutiny and oversight of any other portion of the US government.
It was a scary enough picture when Sy Hersh started sketching it out for us in his articles over the past couple of years in The New Yorker. It suddenly seemed even more scary than ever to me this morning, when I read this article by Bart Gellman, in today’s WaPo
The piece is titled Secret unit expands Rumsfeld’s Domain. It starts like this:

    The Pentagon, expanding into the CIA’s historic bailiwick, has created a new espionage arm and is reinterpreting U.S. law to give Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld broad authority over clandestine operations abroad, according to interviews with participants and documents obtained by The Washington Post.
    The previously undisclosed organization, called the Strategic Support Branch, arose from Rumsfeld’s written order to end his “near total dependence on CIA” for what is known as human intelligence. Designed to operate without detection and under the defense secretary’s direct control, the Strategic Support Branch deploys small teams of case officers, linguists, interrogators and technical specialists alongside newly empowered special operations forces.
    Military and civilian participants said in interviews that the new unit has been operating in secret for two years — in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places they declined to name. According to an early planning memorandum to Rumsfeld from Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the focus of the intelligence initiative is on “emerging target countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Philippines and Georgia.” Myers and his staff declined to be interviewed.
    The Strategic Support Branch was created to provide Rumsfeld with independent tools for the “full spectrum of humint operations,” according to an internal account of its origin and mission. Human intelligence operations, a term used in counterpoint to technical means such as satellite photography, range from interrogation of prisoners and scouting of targets in wartime to the peacetime recruitment of foreign spies. A recent Pentagon memo states that recruited agents may include “notorious figures” whose links to the U.S. government would be embarrassing if disclosed.

“Emerging target countries.” Now, there’s a scary concept…
Gellman makes quite clear that the new “humint” branch was set up to do jobs previously done only by the CIA. It will work alongside the various military “special operations forces” over which Rumsfeld’s Pentagon now has control, having wrestled them away from control by the CIA. In both these areas, this means that the kinds of oversight that Congress won over the CIA back in the 1970s– in response to disclosures of various CIA dirty tricks around the world– will not be a[pplied to the Pentagon-controlled forces.

Gellman wrote Rumsfeld actually initiated both these changes back in October 2001. He writes that the changes,

    address two widely shared goals. One is to give combat forces, such as those fighting the insurgency in Iraq, more and better information about their immediate enemy. The other is to find new tools to penetrate and destroy the shadowy organizations, such as al Qaeda, that pose global threats to U.S. interests in conflicts with little resemblance to conventional war.
    In pursuit of those aims, Rumsfeld is laying claim to greater independence of action as Congress seeks to subordinate the 15 U.S. intelligence departments and agencies — most under Rumsfeld’s control — to the newly created and still unfilled position of national intelligence director. For months, Rumsfeld opposed the intelligence reorganization bill that created the position. He withdrew his objections late last year after House Republican leaders inserted language that he interprets as preserving much of the department’s autonomy.

    Pentagon officials emphasized their intention to remain accountable to Congress, but they also asserted that defense intelligence missions are subject to fewer legal constraints than Rumsfeld’s predecessors believed. That assertion involves new interpretations of Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs the armed services, and Title 50, which governs, among other things, foreign intelligence.
    Under Title 10, for example, the Defense Department must report to Congress all “deployment orders,” or formal instructions from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to position U.S. forces for combat. But guidelines issued this month by Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone state that special operations forces may “conduct clandestine HUMINT operations . . . before publication” of a deployment order, rendering notification unnecessary. Pentagon lawyers also define the “war on terror” as ongoing, indefinite and global in scope. That analysis effectively discards the limitation of the defense secretary’s war powers to times and places of imminent combat.
    Under Title 50, all departments of the executive branch are obliged to keep Congress “fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities.” The law exempts “traditional . . . military activities” and their “routine support.” Advisers said Rumsfeld, after requesting a fresh legal review by the Pentagon’s general counsel, interprets “traditional” and “routine” more expansively than his predecessors.

    A high-ranking official with direct responsibility for the initiative, declining to speak on the record about espionage in friendly nations, said the Defense Department sometimes has to work undetected inside “a country that we’re not at war with, if you will, a country that maybe has ungoverned spaces, or a country that is tacitly allowing some kind of threatening activity to go on.”
    Assistant Secretary of Defense Thomas O’Connell, who oversees special operations policy, said Rumsfeld has discarded the “hide-bound way of thinking” and “risk-averse mentalities” of previous Pentagon officials under every president since Gerald R. Ford.
    “Many of the restrictions imposed on the Defense Department were imposed by tradition, by legislation, and by interpretations of various leaders and legal advisors,” O’Connell said in a written reply to follow-up questions. “The interpretations take on the force of law and may preclude activities that are legal. In my view, many of the authorities inherent to [the Defense Department] . . . were winnowed away over the years.”
    After reversing the restrictions, Boykin said, Rumsfeld’s next question “was, ‘Okay, do I have the capability?’ And the answer was, ‘No you don’t have the capability. . . . And then it became a matter of, ‘I want to build a capability to be able to do this.’ ”

And so, one asks, what is the response of the Congressional committees whose main task under the Constitution is to provide oversight of military-related and intelligence operations?
At first blush, this might seem like a silly question. Because both Houses of Congress are now firmly in the hands of the Repuiblican Party. But Gellman’s story has one intriguing little tidbit in it that indicates a degree of unquiet from “a Republican member of Congress with a substantial role in national security oversight”. Gellman quotes this person as saying:

    “Operations the CIA runs have one set of restrictions and oversight, and the military has another… It sounds like there’s an angle here of, ‘Let’s get around having any oversight by having the military do something that normally the [CIA] does, and not tell anybody.’ That immediately raises all kinds of red flags for me. Why aren’t they telling us?”

So brave and plucky is this elected representative of the people’s will that he (or she?) is described as “declining to speak publicly against political allies”. That doesn’t seem to bode very well for any robust exercize of this person’s responsibility to exercise effective oversight.
So let me quickly run through some of the changes I’ve seen in the balance of power in DC’s national-security decisionmaking machinery since I first moved to the US in 1982:

    (1) Back then in the 1980s there was a GOP President, and the Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress. So of course the Congressional committees were generally eager to exercize rigorous oversight over national-security affairs. (The main exception to that was many matters to do with Israel, where Congress was always pushing for greater support for anything Israeli, and the administration in general– even under Reagan– tried to brake that momentum some.)
    (2) The Democrats gradually lost control of first the House of Representatives, then the Senate. So now in the 2000s, we have another two-term Republican President, and we also have a totally Republican-controlled Congress. Many of the Republican members of the House Representatives (the lower House) are very scary people, heavily influenced by Christian fundamentalism, who know terrifyingly little about the world outside the US borders. The Senate Republicans, by contrast, include many much wiser and more experienced figures.
    (3) At the level of the administration, meanwhile back in the 1980s and 1990s the Pentagon and the CIA were nearly always the more “risk-averse” agencies, while it was a more ideologized State Department leadership that generally pressed for various wars and interventions– from giving tacit support to Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and subsequent confrontation with Syria, through engegament in the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo.
    (4) Three important things changed in this picture under George W. Bush. Firstly, SecDef Rumsfeld turned out to be far, far more militaristic than Colin Powell; so the Pentagon, with all its massive resources, became more hawkish and the State Dept relatively more restrained and risk-averse. Secondly, Rumsfeld and Cheney out-maneuvered both Powell and CIA head George Tenet, pushing them to the outer margins of real decision-making. Thirdly– and this happened much more recently, long after Tenet and Powell had both been totally emasculated– these men were spit unceremoniously out of the system. The ideologue Porter Goss was put in to replace Tenet. And this coming week the relative ideologue Condi Rice will take over from Powell.

So where on earth are internal checks and balances now?
Where is an international balance of power that can provide some restraint on this rogue-state leadership in Washington that flouts so many of the rules of international law?
Where are good sense, decency, and a sense of the interdependence of all the world’s people?
Not much in Washington DC these days, I fear.
I fear for my country. I fear for the world.

14 thoughts on “Rumsfeld’s “brave new world””

  1. Helena asked :
    “Where is an international balance of power that can provide some restraint on this rogue-state leadership in Washington that flouts so many of the rules of international law?”
    It should lie with the UN and especially with the UNSC. Alas the UN is an imperfect body which can’t be different : it can only reflect the power relationships among its members. The UNSC should not be subject to any veto from any big power.
    In my dreams, if the UN was strong enough and really independant, it should have condemned the US invasion of Iraq. Alas, how can the rest of the world resist to a military superpower like the US ? As a result, the world stability and peace can be jeopardized by the US as pleases her. We are just tools in her hand. I’m very frightened by this perspective and also terribly angry.
    I do still hope that the reasonnable voices in the US will gain some momentum again, that then the government will return to common sense and withdraw from Iraq. But I fear that with the neocons, the US could become to the rest of the world what Nazism was to Europe in the thirties/fourties. At least, they (the nazists) had the merit of stating clearly their goals, instead of hiding behind the empty words of freedom and democracy.

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