Lew has published a very good article today that’s written by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). This article is signed by 15 professionals who used to be employed in the U.S. government in various posts in the CIA, NSA, National Intelligence Council, US Army, USMC, FBI, and the US Department of State. This is an impressive group of highly seasoned and experienced professionals. They are now outside government.
Their letter seeks the truth about the sarin gas incident in Syria of August 21, 2013. It asks Kerry and Lavrov “to make public the intelligence upon which you based your differing conclusions on who was responsible for the sarin chemical attack at Ghouta, outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.” This is a highly commendable and reasonable request, and more.
Seeking the truth, knowing the truth and publicizing the truth are all absolutely essential and of first-order importance to our society. Why? It is so that the public won’t be fooled by its government. The propaganda campaign that led up to the attack on Iraq in 2003 is an example of the kind of evil that occurs when government fools the public. That war and all its evil consequences could not have occurred without that campaign of lies, and those lies could not have occurred if truth were sought and found within government. In this extremely important case, truth was not only suppressed, it was replaced by lies.
Bush lied, Cheney lied, Rumsfeld lied, Powell lied, to name a few. But so have subsequent officials. Lying if only by twisting and suppressing truth has become an extremely bad habit of our society and its government. Being black or female is no protection against this tendency, as Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, Susan Rice and Victoria Nuland show. Neither is being white, Hispanic, gay, straight, crippled, a genius, disadvantaged, poor, rich or any other category one might name.
Truth is essential in order that the U.S. government be constrained from making life and death decisions based on lies, deceits, false pretexts, mere impressions, false facts, false ideas, mistaken ideas and concocted events. It would be even better if the constraints were directly on the powers to make such decisions, but that is not now the case. The sad fact is that we are one step beyond that evil. The government has these powers and it makes every effort to make its decisions on manufactured rationales of its own devising that may have nothing at all to do with truth apart from subverting it.
It is no coincidence that those who are making a reasonable, indeed crucial and essential request for information that reveals truth, all have left or retired from government. Their consciences have been freed to think about the public good, and that good requires truth. Within government, they could not have written such a letter. They could not have found a way to challenge their bosses and still kept their jobs. They felt they had to go along, as did Colin Powell in his UN speech on Iraq.
Those inside the government are constrained and prevented from revealing truth or seeking it no holds barred. Government in this way becomes the public’s enemy and in many cases the enemy of those inside government who may be attempting to do some good.
Officials in government require truth as much as if not more than the public. Otherwise, their decisions will be ill-informed, hasty, jump to conclusions, unsuited to reality and fail even to achieve the very objectives that they may be seeking. Was this not the case with George Bush’s decisions to name an axis of evil, to attack Iraq, and to launch a war on terror?
But matters are even worse than this. The incentives of high officials are such that in many cases their objectives as officeholders and individuals conflict with what is good for the public.
Our government, any government, is highly prone to secrecy, failing to seek the truth and obscuring the truth. This occurs for many reasons. This occurs because the decision-makers are often catering to special interests, private interests and private biases, as opposed to the public interest. It occurs when the public trust is downplayed, ignored and contradicted. It occurs because leaders are beholden to conflicting forces and moneyed powers. It occurs because of political pressures and considerations. Human weakness, limitations, ignorance, biases and fallibilities all contribute.
The quest for truth is often thwarted and severely constrained by and within government. It is replaced by spin, made-up interpretations, half-truths, misinterpretations, fear-mongering, preconceived ideas, and misleading slogans.
The fact that VIPS consists of retirees from government and attempts to wring the truth out of reluctant officials inside government testifies to the fact that the government is all too often set on the opposite course, which is withholding truth, obscuring it, twisting it and punishing those who reveal it.
Sealing records for 50 years is against the public interest. Sanitizing documents, blacking them out, redacting 14 pages of this and 20 pages of that — none of this is in the public interest. It is all in the interest of covering up truth, hiding it, so as to protect certain parties and narrow private interests.
Certainly, the government’s push to get reporters to reveal leak sources goes directly against the public interest. The persecutions of Snowden, Assange, Manning and whistleblowers go directly against the public interest. Secrecy in government is one of its basic evils.
VIPS is a valiant effort to counteract these tendencies in government. Its premise is that government power can be constrained when the misuse of that power is recognized broadly as such. However, we need a much deeper and broader set of ideas to halt and reverse the government’s accumulation and misuses of power. We need, for example, to understand that the security of our society does not depend on government interventions overseas. Our security does not depend upon fostering color revolutions, sanctions on Iran, military assistance and training in foreign lands, subversion, coups, agricultural aid, sanctions on Russia, training Ukrainian armed forces, drone warfare, assassinations, kidnapping, torture, responsibility to protect other countries, NATO and NATO’s wars, wars on terrorists, and so on.