A few years ago, CIA Director John Brennan gave the Commencement address at Fordham University in New York City. Brennan is an alumnus of the university and praised the lasting Jesuit values that have formed him. I sat several rows behind him with the faculty and heavily-armed bodyguards. I felt safe. He chummed it up, telling the students that he has weak knees.
Brennan’s appearance at the university was not without controversy. He had lied to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about the agency’s spying on committee members and engaging in domestic surveillance. The agency also fabricated fake evidence to incriminate committee staffers trying to assess the extent of CIA spying. Neither Brennan’s perjury, nor the illegal spying was ever prosecuted. This came after then National Security Agency Director James Clapper lied to Congress about the collection of personal data on millions of Americans. His now infamous excuse of giving “the least untrue” answer to questions is pure Orwellian newspeak. For his unconstitutional actions, President Obama (perhaps not familiar with the Fourth Amendment), elevated him to the new position of Director of National Intelligence. Now I have weak knees.
These developments are related and troubling in many ways, although I will list only two.
First, as students in my business ethics classes pointed out at the time, Jesuit values include moral formation, which means character. What you say with your lips ought to conform as much as possible with what you do with your actions. This applies to institutions as well as individuals. As one student asked pointedly, “How can we give a degree to a man who lied to Congress?” This question assumed even greater significance when the university sponsored a cybersecurity conference with both Brennan and Clapper as honored guests. At issue is the relationship between Jesuit values and democratic freedoms. Do they not coincide, and, when they do not, to which do we owe allegiance? Does expediency take precedence over morality?
Secondly, the latest effort to delegitimize the presidential election, Jill Stein having failed miserably, is the accusation that Russia hacked voting machines in favor of Donald Trump. Actually, it is even more specific than that. Vladimir Putin did it. Putin hacked both parties’ national conventions and the general election to assure a Trump victory, although no one has said toward what end. Perhaps casinos and hotels in Siberia. This is reinforced by media personalities like George Stephanopoulos of ABC News becoming apoplectic when Trump’s transition team calls the charges absurd. “How can fifteen intelligence agencies be wrong?” they ask.
The real question is, how can they be right? The litany of missteps, not to mention illegal and immoral acts, is as long as it is shameful. Remember Colin Powell embarrassing himself and us at the United Nations over weapons of mass destruction? They turned out to be weapons of mass delusion. How about the intelligence agencies missing everything from the Iraq insurgency (2003) to the civil war in the Ukraine (2014)?
According to James Carden of The Nation, the CIA has attempted regime change with fifty governments, suppressed populist movements in twenty countries, interfered in democratic elections in thirty countries, and tried to assassinate fifty foreign leaders. Yet, they still bungled Fidel Castro. So we’re supposed to believe them now without any evidence other than the discovery of hacking “consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts”? A panel of experts testified to a House committee in September that it would be virtually impossible for Russians to hack the system and affect election results in any significant way, because the system is not connected to the Internet.
The worst part of all is the media’s rush to regurgitate these accusations and ridicule anyone who questions the integrity of the government; make that the Obama administration. Logic and reason are no match for what Chris Hedges has called “Brand Obama,” which includes the “I’m With Her” crowd. Yet, Harry Truman was highly skeptical of what he called the “American Gestapo.” Dwight Eisenhower warned of the “military industrial complex.” Kennedy vowed to smash the CIA into a “thousand pieces.” And now President-Elect Trump has promised to do the same.
One hopes that he is more successful. But the behemoth that the surveillance state has become dwarfs what it was even during the Bay of Pigs. It is now a corporate-military state with a wallpaper Constitution and a national holiday called Black Friday.
It must be resisted.