America is controlled by secrecy

America is controlled by secrecy. By Jacob Siegel.

What does it mean when President Biden declares an event in which four people died, all of them Trump supporters and only one by violence, the “worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War,” and The New York Times marks the anniversary by proclaiming that “Every Day Is Jan. 6 Now”? The implication is politics as permanent crisis, which sounds strikingly like a definition of war.

This obvious threat inflation, which should be familiar after September 11, is used by governments and private corporations alike to award themselves more unaccountable power.

To work, it relies on the public being cowed by the expertise and authority of institutions that operate in secret. These methods have proved to be highly effective for defending the power of America’s bureaucracies.

The problem with bureaucratised secrecy is what it does to the rest of society. As illusions come to seem real and formal mechanisms of truth-seeking appear blocked off, conspiracies offer themselves as a virtuous alternative. …

“Secrecy is an institution of the administrative state that developed during the great conflicts of the twentieth century. It is distinctive primarily in that it is all but unexamined,” the scholar and American statesman Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote toward the end of his long career in public life, when he turned his attention to the power in the shadows….

Though he never wavered on the righteousness of the anti-Communist cause, Moynihan argued that the effort had been weakened and warped by the growth of a bureaucratic culture of secrecy. He delivered a measured but devastating attack on the underworld of administrative institutions better known today as “the deep state”.

Why spooks are now part of the political process in the US:

In Secrecy: The American Experience, published in 1999, Moynihan argued that US policy had been systematically distorted by intelligence agency assessments that exaggerated the economic and military power of the Soviet Union. Because the agencies operated in secret, the exaggerations were not only shielded from scrutiny but had the perverse effect of fuelling their own growth. Over time, this process fundamentally transformed the American political system. “Secrecy is a form of regulation,” Moynihan wrote in the book’s opening line. This new form of regulation supervened democratic procedures and transferred power to bureaucracies operating in the shadows of the elected government.

[Moynihan] saw … secrecy as a form of regulation … that could often take a ritualistic form … in order to stigmatize outsiders and critics (as distinguished from the functional secrecy that seeks simply to keep critical information from the enemy).” …

Unlimited cynicism occluding cause and effect for perpetrator as well as victim — who may not be so easy to tell apart — is an apt framework with which to approach the inept fantasy of insurrection that took place on January 6, 2021, in Washington D.C.

For four years, while Donald Trump was President, US intelligence agencies colluded with members of Congress and the media to foment a conspiracy about collusion between Trump and Russia. The claims relied on secret smoking gun evidence that was supposedly in the possession of the proper authorities and would, any day, result in the President and his associates being tried for treason. Of course, this never happened, because what the secrecy concealed was not damning evidence, nor merely the lack of it, but the record showing how Clinton lawyers, ex spies, and current federal agents had, together, manufactured the false collusion narrative. …

There is considerable evidence that US security and intelligence agencies had prior knowledge of a planned march on January 6 and were present in some capacity among the groups that breached the Capitol. We know, for instance, that a leader of the Proud Boys, a group that the Wall Street Journal called “key instigators” of the Capitol Riot, spent the past decade as a “prolific” FBI informant.

An investigation by the New York Times based on confidential records and sources found that “federal law enforcement had a far greater visibility into the assault on the Capitol, even as it was taking place, than was previously known”. … Ray Epps, the former president of the Oath Keepers militia movement, … who unlike some 700 other people involved in the riot has never been arrested or charged with a crime, can be seen on video taken at the riot telling people to “go into the Capitol”. …

And yet these dubious pseudo-events, which never posed any immediate threat to America’s democracy or its security establishment, are compared to the worst attacks in American history. At the January 6 commemoration last week, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi brought out liberal godhead Lin-Manuel Miranda along with the cast of Hamilton to perform a virtual performance. This moment of supreme kitsch was only scarcely more ridiculous than Vice President Kamala Harris, in her commemorative remarks, comparing the largely symbolic riot to Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

The purpose of these gross exaggerations is to demand that Americans forfeit their rights in the name of security and convince the public, or some electorally significant fraction of it, that it is wise and just for the US government to prosecute a counterterrorism campaign against Trump supporters. The project uses the full power of the American security establishment as a get-out-the-vote arm for the Democratic party.

Secrecy, like conspiracy, dulls the impact of reality. Long after it has been exposed, the afterlife of secrets continue to debase the currency of truth. It is notable, for instance, that contrary to the inflamed rhetoric from the White House and prominent Democrats, no charges related to insurrection have been brought against any of the more than 700 defendants charged with participating in the Capitol riot. Instead, the government has mostly pursued a strategy of seeking the harshest sentences possible for trespassing. To one side, this is evidence that no insurrection took place; that even the government doesn’t believe the threat it’s selling. But to the other side it has roughly the opposite meaning, signalling that the US government is soft on Right-wing extremism and that power is working behind the scenes to protect the coup-plotters.

It remains necessary to counter lies with truth, but not sufficient. Until the rule of secrecy itself is ended and power in democracies again becomes visible and accountable, the arms race of paranoia and conspiracy will continue. That way lies ruin.

If the US Constitution was followed strictly, the administrative state and its toxic bureaucracy would disappear. Other western countries don’t have a constitution like that, however.

hat-tip Stephen Neil