This December presents a rare opportunity to commemorate a series of human rights disasters driven by our nation’s intelligence agencies, which continue to evade justice and accountability.
December 10 marks UN International Human Rights Day, as well as the 10th anniversary of the still unexplained death of journalist Gary Webb, both of which implicate CIA complicity in human rights abuses for which no one has ever been held responsible. Days later, Bill of Rights Day on December 15 commemorates the constitutional legacy eroded by NSA dragnet spying and militarized police, both of which trace their origins to various CIA violations in the past.
Terror, spying & torture
Years before the war on terror began, the CIA helped initiate it by promoting violent religious struggle across Central Asia as a bulwark against Soviet aspirations for access to a warm weather port through Afghanistan. The strategy, spearheaded by President Reagan and former Congressman Charlie Wilson, did help break the Soviet Union.
It also created the precursors to Al Qaeda, enabling both the 9/11 attacks and the continuing constitutional crisis that followed in their wake.
The single largest violation of domestic constitutional rights is the NSA dragnet. In secret, for over a decade, the US military has collected nearly 2 billion electronic intercepts each day. These collection efforts are wide-ranging, from metadata about phone calls to the content of email communications, all without any individualized suspicion of criminal activity constitutionally required to justify a search under the Fourth Amendment.
NSA agents have admitted to abusing the secrecy and lack of oversight enabling the programs to spy on their former lovers. Others have proven that the Agency has pursued fraudulent expensive alternatives to cheaper programs that would better achieve national security goals. Terror has been used opportunistically to conduct a power grab, leaving everyone less free.
The CIA itself was also part of the constitutional crisis it helped create, particularly through torture crimes spanning nearly a decade and sites spread across the world to hide abuses from local governments that, like every other country on Earth, had long pledged to stop it.
Torture inspired the deaths of US servicemembers, generated faulty intelligence, undermined our nation’s international prestige, and sacrificed the world historical legal precedent and international human rights regime that we fought a World War to establish.
The CIA was no stranger to what its supporters glibly described as “dark” methods. Until the world’s associations with September 11 were forever changed in 2001, the date was most widely remembered as the anniversary of a CIA-sponsored crew in Chile in 1973. Acting to protect the economic interests of US corporations, the CIA deposed a democratically elected national leader and ushered in decades of human rights abuses by a military dictator supported by Washington.
Drugs & police
December 10 presents an opportunity to remember the CIA’s history of not only torture, training Al Qaeda, and deposing elected leaders around the world, but also the Agency’s role in prompting the militarization of our domestic police forces by helping drug traffickers run drugs and guns into US cities throughout the 1990s.
A government agency running drugs might sound like the subject of a Hollywood thriller. Thanks to the producers of Kill the Messenger, it is precisely that.
Unfortunately, however, this narrative is all too real. The CIA admitted its complicity in narco-trafficking, years after groundbreaking journalist Gary Webb exposed the Agency’s crimes in a series of stories for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996. Webb was criticized for his stories, repudiated by his employers, and ultimately died mysteriously before being posthumously vindicated. Yet, to this day, neither the press, nor policymakers, nor the public fully understand the CIA’s crimes, or their effects.
The escalation of the domestic drug trade sparked a street war between gangs, and between (often outgunned) police officers and paramilitaries essentially supplied by the CIA. The Clinton-era push to militarize domestic police responded directly not to a crime wave, but to a secret CIA scheme that enabled it.
Policymakers are finally taking aim at the Defense Department’s 1033 program through which local police have gained military weapons and equipment, with recent hearings in both the House and Senate. But even critics have neglected to acknowledge the corruption pervading the war on drugs since its beginnings, or the duplicitous origin of the public safety threat opportunistically cited as a reason to militarize domestic police.
The intelligence agencies are notoriously secretive. The CIA not only destroyed evidence of its human rights abuses, before spying on and hacking the U.S. Senate and lying about it in order to continue evading justice, but recently even had the audacity to seek formal authorization to destroy the emails of its most sensitive personnel despite their recurring involvement in international crimes.
The Senate spent millions of dollars and several years compiling a 6,000 page report on CIA torture, before being targeted by CIA espionage techniques including hacking, the theft of documents, and outright lies repeated in congressional hearings by executive officials who preposterously continue to serve in office.
The CIA isn’t the only US intelligence agency that has managed to escape press scrutiny. On December 15, Bill of Rights Day, Americans from all walks of life will raise our voices together. We will champion our rights, and protect our Constitution from its greatest contemporary enemy: the NSA.
Until a British newspaper reported on a massive scandal ignored for years by US newspapers (and on which the NY Times sat for over a year, effectively rigging the 2004 election), the NSA got away for years with invading the rights of Americans en masse. The Agency’s domestic dragnet has been known to close observers since 2005, when whistleblower Mark Klein alerted policymakers that the AT&T switching center in San Francisco was being monitored.
Responding to Klein, and other whistleblowers who have resigned their careers to alert the public to corruption, presidents have sought not to address the problems they revealed, but rather to clamp down on leaks. The only CIA official in prison over torture was one who tried to blow the whistle and stop it. The Obama administration, in particular, has escalated a war on whistleblowers beyond any parallel in American history. These abuses ultimately hurt the public by denying us access to independent facts reported by a free press.
This December, Americans will raise our voices to defend and restore our most fundamental values. Add your voice to the chorus today by joining and sharing a national call to action including details on events in nearly a dozen cities.