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Max Blumenthal

How Ariel Sharon Shaped Israel’s Destiny

In a bloody career that spanned decades, he destroyed entire cities and presided over the killing of countless civilians.
Max Blumenthal
January 11, 2014

Ariel Sharon at a cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office in 2005. AP Photo/Oded Balilty.
Ariel Sharon at a cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office in 2005. AP Photo/Oded Balilty.

A central player in Israeli affairs since the state’s inception, Ariel Sharon molded history according to his own stark vision. He won consent for his plans through ruthlessness and guile, and resorted to force when he could not find any. An accused war criminal who presided over the killing of thousands of civilians, his foes referred to him as “The Bulldozer.” To those who revered him as a strong-armed protector and patron saint of the settlements, he was “The King of Israel.” In a life acted out in three parts, Sharon destroyed entire cities, wasted countless lives and sabotaged careers to shape the reality on the ground.

The first act of Sharon’s career began after the 1948 war that established Israel at the expense of 750,000 Palestinians who were driven away in a campaign of mass expulsion. Badly wounded in the battle of Latrun, where the Israeli army suffered a bitter defeat at the hands of the Royal Jordanian Army, Sharon momentarily retired from army life. He looked back in anger at the failure to take Latrun, a strategic swath of land containing three Palestinian towns seemingly obstructing the new Jewish state’s demographic continuity. Spineless politicians and feckless commanders had tied the hands of Israel’s troops, he claimed, leaving the Jewish state exposed from within. Sharon yearned to finish 1948—to complete the expulsion project he viewed as deficient.

In 1953, Sharon was plucked out of retirement by Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and appointed the head of a secret commando unit tasked with carrying out brutal acts of reprisal and sabotage. Following a lethal Palestinian assault on an Israeli kibbutz, Sharon led his men into the West Bank town of Qibya with orders from Ben Gurion’s Central Command to “carry out destruction and cause maximum damage.” By the time they were done, sixty-nine civilians—mostly Palestinian women and children—lay dead.

In the years after that scandal, Sharon carried out bloody raids on Egyptian and Syrian territory that inflamed relations with Israel’s neighbors and led them to seek urgent military assistance from the Soviet Union. In the 1956 Sinai Campaign, Sharon was accused by one of his commanders, Arye Biro, of overseeing the massacre of forty-nine Egyptian quarry workers who had been taken prisoner and had no role in the fighting (official censorship kept the details from the public for decades). In the 1967 Six Day War, Sharon ran up the body count on encircled Egyptian tank units, converting unprecedented kill ratios into national fame. With the Gaza Strip now under Israeli control, Sharon orchestrated the razing of Palestinian citrus orchards to make way for Jewish colonization.

During the 1973 war, Sharon waged his own parallel war for personal glory. Determined to be the first Israeli commander to cross the Suez Canal, he sent his soldiers rushing into the teeth of the Egyptian army without sufficient artillery or air support. Scores of his men died in the blind thrust while entire brigades were left exposed. But Sharon salvaged his quest for fame when his tank brigades encircled the Egyptian Third Army. After the battle, photos of the general standing proudly in the Egyptian desert, bandaged from a superficial wound and surrounded by soldiers hailing him as “The King of Israel,” circulated in the Israeli and international media. The high-flying political career he had sought was now guaranteed. In short order, Sharon helped found the Likud Party, opening the second act of his storied career.

Though set on a rightward political trajectory, Sharon owed his fortunes to the icons of Labor Zionism. His original patron, Ben Gurion, and the younger warrior-politician Moshe Dayan, constantly shuffled him up the ranks of the military hierarchy, despite a clear pattern of scandalously insubordinate behavior. His first cabinet-level post was an abbreviated stint in the 1970s government of Yitzhak Rabin, the quintessential Laborite, who imagined Sharon leading a reorganization of the army following the disaster of the 1973 war. But it was in the Likud-led 1977 coalition of Menachem Begin that Sharon was finally able to translate his influence into history-altering policies.

Appointed minister of agriculture, Sharon exploited his seemingly insignificant position to bring the messianic project of Greater Israel to fruition. With unbridled vigor, he expanded the settlement enterprise across the West Bank, boasting that he personally established sixty-four settlements during his first four years in government. He revealed his strategy in a private chat with Winston Churchill’s grandson: “We’ll make a pastrami sandwich out of them. We’ll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank, so that in twenty-five years’ time, neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart.”

Having established himself as the visionary behind the settlements, Sharon set his sights on the Ministry of Defense, actively intimidating Begin to fulfill his ambition. When Begin finally capitulated before Sharon’s bullying, he declared only half-jokingly that Sharon might have staged a military coup if he hadn’t been offered his desired sinecure.

Sharon entered the Defense Ministry consumed with dreams of an Israeli-friendly Christian puppet government in Beirut—the bulwark of a regional Israeli empire. Clamoring for an invasion of Lebanon, Sharon withheld his true intentions from everyone except perhaps Begin, claiming he merely aimed to drive the PLO out of southern Lebanon, where it had staged periodic raids on Israeli territory. When Begin green-lighted Operation Peace for Galilee in June 1982, Sharon sent Israeli tanks rumbling towards Beirut without the approval of the rest of the cabinet, whom Sharon had deliberately deceived. Many of them were outraged, but it was too late to turn back.

Against fierce Palestinian resistance, one of the Middle East’s most vital and cosmopolitan cities was laid to ruin. Sharon’s forces flattened West Beirut with indiscriminate shelling, leaving streets strewn with unburied corpses. With each passing day, disease and famine spread at epidemic levels. In August, the day after the Israeli cabinet accepted US special envoy Philip Habib’s proposal for the evacuation of the PLO, Sharon’s forces bombarded Beirut for seven hours straight, leaving 300 dead, most of them civilians. The Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling wrote that the raid “resembled the attack on Dresden by the Allies toward the end of World War II.” Sharon even requested an additional paratrooper brigade to obliterate the PLO forces besieged in the city, earning a rare rebuke from Begin, who worried that his defense minister would completely destroy Habib’s efforts to resolve the crisis.

PLO forces withdrew from Lebanon, according to Habib’s guidelines, but the worst was yet to come. Sharon had stymied a proposal for the introduction of multinational peacekeepers capable of preventing reprisals against the defenseless Palestinian refugees who had been left behind. Thus the stage was set for the most heinous massacre of the war. Following the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, the Christian warlord who was supposed to serve as Sharon’s handpicked puppet president, Israeli forces helped usher Christian Phalangist militias into the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila, then surrounded by the Israeli military, providing them with intelligence and operational support. Sharon and many of his officers were well aware of the Phalangists’ intention to murder as many women and children as they could. After days of slaughter, as many as 2,000 civilians were dead, with countless others raped and brutalized.

In February 1983, Israel’s Kahan Commission found Sharon “indirectly responsible” for the massacre, urging his dismissal as defense minister. With the Israeli body count was piling up in Lebanon, city squares in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were thronged with outraged mothers and a growing movement of service refuseniks. The antiwar demonstrations shook the confidence of the army’s high command. At the prime minister’s office, Sharon berated Begin and his ministers, warning them, “If we adopt this [Kahan] report, all our ill-wishers and naysayers will that what happened in the camp was genocide.” Calling the findings “a mark of Cain on all of us for generations,” Sharon adamantly refused to step down.

During the meeting, a right-wing Jewish terrorist lobbed a live grenade into a crowd of antiwar protesters right outside the prime minister’s office, killing the teacher and antiwar activist Emil Grunzweig. The incident was Sharon’s coup de grâce, prompting his resignation. Though he remained in government as a minister without portfolio, his dreams of serving as prime minister appeared to be dashed.

Sharon’s fear of prosecution did not end with his resignation. In July 2001, a Belgian court opened an inquiry into the Sabra and Shatila massacre when a group of survivors filed a complaint under the country’s “universal jurisdiction” guidelines. Elie Hobeika, the Phalangist commander directly responsible for the killings, was assassinated months later, after informing Belgian politicians that he would testify against Sharon. “Israel doesn’t want witnesses against it in this historic case in Belgium which will certainly convict Ariel Sharon,” the Lebanese Minister of Displaced People Marwan Hamadeh remarked at the time, echoing widespread speculation about Sharon’s involvement. In September 2003, with Belgian relations with Israel at an all-time low, the Belgian court threw out the case, citing Sharon’s diplomatic immunity.

By this time, Sharon had resuscitated his political career in dramatic fashion. On September 28, 2000, following the collapse of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at Camp David that summer, Sharon toured the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, site of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, accompanied by 1,000 armed police and security agents. It was a provocative stunt, staged to inflame rising tensions in the occupied territories. As expected, the appearance sparked widespread Palestinian rioting the next day, which was met with a draconian Israeli crackdown—Israeli forces fired 1.3 million bullets at mostly unarmed demonstrators in October 2000 alone—fueling what became known as the Al Aqsa Intifada. The following year Sharon was elected prime minister and Palestinian suicide bombings were battering the cafes and nightclubs of Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem. Channeling the mood of Israel’s “peace camp,” which had called for Sharon’s ouster during the invasion of Lebanon, the liberal newspaper Haaretz demanded “a war about the morning’s coffee and croissant.”

The beleaguered peace camp was shocked at the intifada, but also cynically misled by Sharon’s predecessor as prime minister, Ehud Barak, who declared after the collapse of the Camp David negotiations that there was “no Palestinian partner” for peace. Sapped of confidence, they became quiescent while the mainstream united behind Sharon, their vengeful protector. With a free hand to deploy tanks and combat jets against Palestinian population centers, Sharon oversaw a campaign of carefully calculated brutality, culminating, in 2002, in the comprehensive demolition of the Jenin refugee camp. Baruch Kimmerling termed Sharon’s strategy “politicide,” a “gradual but systematic attempt to cause [Palestine’s] annihilation as an independent political and social entity.” As in the beginning, Sharon’s unspoken goal was to finish the war of 1948.

While Israeli bulldozers trundled across Gaza and the West Bank, Sharon announced his intention to “make separation across the land.” Though initially resistant to the idea, he resolved to fulfill a plan first introduced in the 1990’s under Yitzhak Rabin: the construction of a vast wall that would drive a nail into the coffin of the Palestinian national movement. Cutting into the West Bank and Jordan Valley, the wall would effectively annex 80 percent of settlements into Israel proper, consolidating the country’s Jewish demographic majority while relegating Palestinians to a permanent regime of ghettoized exclusion.

Next, Sharon planned to pull Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip, setting the stage for a high-tech siege of that occupied coastal territory. Unlike in the past, Sharon sold his plans to the public with carefully calibrated, subtle rhetorical touches. Stunned by a new movement of mass refusal—a group of former and active Israeli air force pilots had issued a letter declaring their refusal to participate in operations in occupied territory—and by the furious opposition of the settlement movement to his plan, Sharon uncharacteristically proclaimed that the occupation was a “bad thing for Israel.” Next, he bolted from Likud, cobbling together a random assortment of politicians including his former aide, the telegenic, PR-friendly Tzipi Livni, to drive the separation plan forward under the banner of Kadima.

Sharon’s maneuvers earned him the political space he needed to fulfill his goals. Haaretz, the voice of Israeli liberalism, supported the vast separation wall as a “revolutionary” step towards two states. Endorsing the withdrawal of settlers from Gaza, The New York Times editorial board declared that Sharon “should be cheered.” Back in Tel Aviv, the anti-settlement group Peace Now and the Labor Party organized a mass demonstration in support of the Gaza disengagement plan. Winning liberals to his side was Sharon’s final political coup, and probably his most consequential.

The true goal of Sharon’s separation regime was never to end the occupation but to reinforce it under new parameters that would prevent the collapse of Israel’s international image. A top aide to Sharon, Dov Weissglass, revealed the real logic behind Sharon’s plans: “The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” Another close adviser, Arnon Sofer, was even more frank:

…when 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.

Eight years after Sharon slipped into a coma, the real implications of separation stand exposed. Gaza suffers under a joint Israeli-Egyptian siege, while Israel shrugs off any responsibility for its inhabitants. Though Israel controls the entrances, exits, airspace and coast of Gaza, and effectively regulates the caloric intake of each resident of the coastal territory, the occupation is over as far as its government is concerned. Israeli settlements are firmly entrenched in the West Bank and encircle East Jerusalem, reducing Palestinian areas to the “pastrami sandwich” of non-contiguous bantustans that Sharon had originally envisioned. With the peace process effectively embalmed in political “formaldehyde,” right-wing elements have achieved unfettered dominance over the Jewish state’s key institutions. Typical of the new generation of Israeli rightists is Sharon’s corruption-stained son, Gilad, who has called Palestinian society a “predator,” an “animal” and “stabbers of babies.”

Now that Sharon’s unilateral vision appears to have been consolidated, Israel’s government must perpetually manage an occupation it has no intention of ending. It has no clear strategy to achieve international legitimacy and no endgame. Its direct line to Washington has become a life-support system for the status quo. Like Sharon, who spent his last years in a comatose state without any hope of regaining consciousness, Israel is only buying time.
Max Blumenthal
January 11, 2014

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Max Blumenthal on “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel”

from Democracy Now click on image
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As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is continuing a public campaign to cast doubt on U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran, we speak to journalist Max Blumenthal, author of the new book, “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.” Blumenthal looks at life inside Netanyahu’s Israel and the Occupied Territories. “I was most surprised at the banality of the racism and violence that I witnessed and how it’s so widely tolerated because it’s so common,” says Blumenthal about his four years of reporting in Israel. “And I’m most surprised that it hasn’t made its way to the American public … that’s why I set out to do this endeavor, this journalistic endeavor, to paint this intimate portrait of Israeli society for Americans who don’t see what it really is.” Click here to watch Part 2 of his interview.

Shocking ‘extermination’ fantasies by the people running America’s Empire on full display at Aspen Summit

Max Blumenthal Alternet.org Tue, 30 Jul 2013 08:51 CDT

Not “ogres”, but certainly snakes in suits

Security Forum participants expressed total confidence in American empire, but could not contain their panic at the mention of Snowden.

Seated on a stool before an audience packed with spooks, lawmakers, lawyers and mercenaries, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer introduced recently retired CENTCOM chief General James Mattis. “I’ve worked with him and I’ve worked with his predecessors,” Blitzer said of Mattis. “I know how hard it is to run an operation like this.”

Reminding the crowd that CENTCOM is “really, really important,” Blitzer urged them to celebrate Mattis: “Let’s give the general a round of applause.”

Following the gales of cheering that resounded from the room, Mattis, the gruff 40-year Marine veteran who once volunteered his opinion that “it’s fun to shoot some people,” outlined the challenge ahead. The “war on terror” that began on 9/11 has no discernable end, he said, likening it to the “the constant skirmishing between [the US cavalry] and the Indians” during the genocidal Indian Wars of the 19th century.

“The skirmishing will go on likely for a generation,” Mattis declared.

Mattis’ remarks, made beside a cable news personality who acted more like a sidekick than a journalist, set the tone for the entire 2013 Aspen Security Forum this July. A project of the Aspen Institute, the Security Forum brought together the key figures behind America’s vast national security state, from military chieftains like Mattis to embattled National Security Agency Chief General Keith Alexander to top FBI and CIA officials, along with the bookish functionaries attempting to establish legal groundwork for expanding the war on terror.
Partisan lines and ideological disagreements faded away inside the darkened conference hall, as a parade of American securitocrats from administrations both past and present appeared on stage to defend endless global warfare and total information awareness while uniting in a single voice of condemnation against a single whistleblower bunkered inside the waiting room of Moscow International Airport: Edward Snowden.

With perhaps one notable exception, none of the high-flying reporters junketed to Aspen to act as interlocutors seemed terribly interested in interrogating the logic of the war on terror. The spectacle was a perfect window into the world of access journalism, with media professionals brown-nosing national security elites committed to secrecy and surveillance, avoiding overly adversarial questions but making sure to ask the requisite question about how much Snowden has caused terrorists to change their behavior.

Jeff Harris, the communications director for the Aspen Institute, did not respond to questions I submitted about whether the journalists who participated in the Security Forum accepted fees. (It is likely that all relied on Aspen to at least cover lodging and travel costs). CNN sponsored the forum through a special new website called CNN Security Clearance, promoting the event through Twitter and specially commissioned op-eds from participating national security figures like former CIA director John McLaughlin.

Another forum sponsor was Academi, the private mercenary corporation formerly known as Blackwater. In fact, Academi is Blackwater’s third incarnation (it was first renamed “Xe”) since revelations of widespread human rights abuses and possible war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan threw the mercenary firm into full damage control mode. The Aspen Institute did not respond to my questions about whether accepting sponsorship from such an unsavory entity fit within its ethical guidelines.

‘Exterminating People’

John Ashcroft, the former Attorney General who prosecuted the war on terror under the administration of George W. Bush, appeared at Aspen as a board member of Academi. Responding to a question about U.S. over-reliance on the “kinetic” approach of drone strikes and special forces, Ashcroft reminded the audience that the U.S. also likes to torture terror suspects, not just “exterminate” them.

“It’s not true that we have relied solely on the kinetic option,” Ashcroft insisted. “We wouldn’t have so many detainees if we’d relied on the ability to exterminate people…We’ve had a blended and nuanced approach and for the guy who’s on the other end of a Hellfire missile he doesn’t see that as a nuance.”

Hearty laughs erupted from the crowd and fellow panelists. With a broad smile on her face, moderator Catherine Herridge of Fox News joked to Ashcroft, “You have a way with words.”

But Ashcroft was not done. He proceeded to boast about the pain inflicted on detainees during long CIA torture sessions: “And maybe there are people who wish they were on the end of one of those missiles.”

Competing with Ashcroft for the High Authoritarian prize was former NSA chief Michael Hayden, who emphasized the importance of Obama’s drone assassinations, at least in countries the U.S. has deemed to be Al Qaeda havens. “Here’s the strategic question,” Hayden said. “People in Pakistan? I think that’s very clear. Kill ’em. People in Yemen? The same. Kill ’em.”

“We don’t smoke [drug] cartel leaders but personally I’d support it,” remarked Philip Mudd, the former deputy director of Bush’s Counterterrorism Center, earning more guffaws from his fellow panelists and from Herridge. Ironically, Mudd was attempting to argue that counter-terror should no longer be a top U.S. security priority because it poses less of a threat to Americans than synthetic drugs and child obesity.

Comment: These same people and institutions have been and are responsible for producing and pushing those drugs: Opium and the CIA: Can the U.S. triumph in the drug-addicted Afghanistan War?

Reflection was not on the agenda for most of the Security Forum’s participants. When asked by a former US ambassador to Denmark the seminal question “This is a great country, why are we always the bad guy?,” Mudd replied, “They think that anything the U.S. does [in the Middle East], even though we helped Muslim communities in Bosnia and Kuwait, everything is rewritten to make us the bad guys.”

The clamoring about U.S. invasions, drone strikes, bankrolling of Israel’s occupation, and general political meddling, could all be written off as fevered anti-Americanism borne from the desert canyons of the paranoid Arab mind.

And the wars could go on.

Delusions of Empire

Throughout the three days of the Security Forum, the almost uniformly white cast of speakers were called on to discuss recent geopolitical developments, from “Eye-rak” and “Eye-ran” to Egypt, where a military coup had just toppled the first elected government in the country’s history.

Mattis carefully toed the line of the Obama administration, describing the overthrow of Egypt’s government not as a coup, but as “military muscle saddled on top of this popular uprising.”

Warning that using terms like “coup” could lead to a reduction in U.S. aid to Egypt, where the military controls about one-third of the country’s economy, Mattis warned, “We have to be very careful about passing laws with certain words when the reality of the world won’t allow you to.”

Comment: Funny how the iron ‘Rule of Law’ bends in the minds of these authoritarian followers and psychopaths…

Wolf Blitzer mentioned that Egypt’s new military-imposed foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, had been a fixture in Washington during the Mubarak days. “These are people the West knows, the U.S. knows,” he said of the new cabinet in Cairo. “I assume from the U.S. perspective, the United States is so much more happy with this.”

Later, one of the few Arab participants in the forum, Al Jazeera DC bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara, claimed that the Arab revolts were inspired by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “The iconic image of Saddam being pulled out of a hole did something to the dynamic between ruler and ruled in the Arab world,” Foukara claimed.

With the revolts blurring the old boundaries imposed on the Arab world during the late colonial era, former CIA director John McLaughlin rose from the audience to call for the U.S. to form a secret, Sikes-Picot-style commission to draw up a new set of borders.

“The American government should now have such a group asking how we should manage those lines and what should those lines be,” McLaughlin told the panelists, who dismissed the idea of a new Great Game even as they discussed tactics for preserving U.S. dominance in the Middle East.

ABC’s Chris Isham asked Jim Jeffrey, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, why, with a recession on its hands and Middle Eastern societies spiraling out of control, should the U.S. remain militarily involved in the region. Without hesitation, Jeffrey rattled off the reasons: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, and “world oil markets.”

Comment: What, nothing about ‘fighting terrorists over there so we don’t have to fight them at home’? And what happened to ‘spreading freedom and democracy’?

“What could we have done better?” Isham asked the ambassador.

“Probably not too much.”

NSA Heroes, Saving Lives of Potential Consumers

While participants in the Security Forum expressed total confidence in American empire, they could not contain their panic, outrage, and fear at the mere mention of Snowden.

General Keith Alexander selling fuzzy wuzzies to brainwashed Americans

“Make no mistake about it: These are great people who we’re slamming and tarnishing and it’s wrong. They’re the heroes, not this other and these leakers!” NSA chief General Keith Alexander proclaimed, earning raucous applause from the crowd.

Snowden’s leaks had prompted a rare public appearance from Alexander, forcing the normally imperious spy chief into the spotlight to defend his agency’s Panopticon-style programs and its dubious mechanisms of legal review. Fortunately for him, NBC’s Pete Williams offered him the opportunity to lash out at Snowden and the media that reported the leaks, asking whether the “terrorists” (who presumably already knew they were being spied on) had changed their behavior as a result of the leaks.

“We have concrete proof that terrorists are taking action, making changes, and it’s gonna make our job harder,” Alexander declared, offering nothing to support his claim.

Alexander appeared in full military regalia, with colorful decorations and medallions covering his left breast. Casting himself as a stern but caring father who has the best interests of all Americans at heart, even if he can’t fully disclose his methods, he turned to the crowd and explained, “The bad guys…hide amongst us to kill our people. Our job is to stop them without impacting your civil liberties and privacy and these programs are set up to do that.”

Comment: The “bad guys”, seriously?!

“The reason we use secrecy is not to hide it from the American people, but to hide it from the people who walk among you and are trying to kill you,” Alexander insisted.

Comment: LIES! The people succeeding at controlling (and often killing) Americans are walking among us, like the snakes in suits at such rallies as the Aspen Institute Security Forum.

Corporations like AT&T, Google and Microsoft that had been compelled to hand over customer data to the NSA “know that we’re saving lives,” the general claimed. With a straight face, he continued, “And that’s good for business because there’s more people out there who can buy their products.”

Self-Reporting

So who were the “bad guys” who “walk among us,” and how could Americans be sure they had not been ensnared by the NSA’s all-encompassing spying regime, either inadvertently or intentionally? Nearly all the Security Forum participants involved in domestic surveillance responded to this question by insisting that the NSA had the world’s most rigorous program of oversight, pointing to Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts as the best and only means of ensuring that “mistakes” are corrected.

“We have more oversight on this [PRISM] program than any other program in any government that I’m aware of,” Alexander proclaimed, ramming home a talking point repeated throughout the forum.

“I can assure these are some of the judges who are renowned for holding the government to a very high standard,” John Carlin, the Assistant US Attorney General for National Security, stated.

But in the last year, FISA courts received 1,856 applications for surveillance from the government. In 100 percent of cases, they were approved. As for Congress, only two senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, demanded the NSA explain why PRISM was necessary or questioned its legality. Despite the fact that the entire regime of oversight was a rubber stamp, or perhaps because of it, none of those who appeared at the Security Forum to defend it were willing to consider any forum of independent civilian review.

“You have to do [domestic surveillance] within a closed bubble in order to do it effectively,” Dennis Blair, the director of National Intelligence conceded under sustained grilling from the Washington Post‘s Barton Gellman, one of the reporters who broke Snowden’s leaks and perhaps the only journalist at the Security Forum who subjected participants to tough scrutiny.

When Gellman reminded Alexander that none of the oversight mechanisms currently in place could determine if the NSA had improperly targeted American citizens with no involvement in terror-related activity, the general declared, “we self-report those mistakes.”

“It can’t be, let’s just stop doing it, cause we know, that doesn’t work,” Alexander maintained. “We’ve got to have some program like [PRISM].”

The wars would go on, and so would the spying.

Reinstituting Public Confidence

During a panel on inter-agency coordination of counter-terror efforts, Mike Leiter, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCC), suggested that one of the best means of preserving America’s vast and constantly expanding spying apparatus was “by reinstituting faith among the public in our oversight.”

Even as current NCC director Matthew Olsen conceded, “There really are limits in how transparent we can be,” Leiter demanded that the government “give the public confidence that there’s oversight.

Since leaving the NCC, Leiter has become the senior counsel of Palantir Technologies, a private security contractor that conducts espionage on behalf of the FBI, CIA, financial institutions, the LAPD and the NYPD, among others. In 2011, Palantir spearheaded a dirty tricks campaign against critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, including journalists, compiling electronic dossiers intended to smear them. Palantir’s target list included progressive groups like Think Progress, SEIU and U.S. Chamber Watch.

In the friendly confines of the Aspen Institute’s Security Forum, Leiter did his best to burnish his company’s tarnished image, and do some damage control on behalf of the national security apparatus it depends on for contracts. Like most other participants, Leiter appeared in smart casual dress, with an open collar, loafers, a loose-fitting jacket and slacks.

“Just seeing us here,” he said, “that inspires [public] confidence, because we’re not a bunch of ogres.”

Comment: No, they not ogres, like most psychopaths in positions of power, they are well-dressed, affable, charming even, but they can’t help exposing their psychopathic nature when they speak with glee about “exterminating” and torturing normal human beings.

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