A Corporate Tale

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

This week Huffpost ran an article titled:“IBM’s Role in the Holocaust — What the New Documents Reveal”, written by Edwin Black. The article was a followup to Mr. Black’s book “IBM and the Holocaust” published in 2001. As Mr. Black puts it justifying this particular article:

“Newly-released documents expose more explicitly the details of IBM‘s pivotal role in the Holocaust — all six phases: identification, expulsion from society, confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and even extermination. Moreover, the documents portray with crystal clarity the personal involvement and micro-management of IBM president Thomas J. Watson in the company’s co-planning and co-organizing of Hitler’s campaign to destroy the Jews.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/edwin-black/ibm-holocaust_b_1301691.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009

These are of course pretty serious charges being made about one of the world’s most famous companies and about its founder. While I will present the nature of these charges and the specificity of the author’s alleged proof in the piece, it really is not my focus to condemn IBM one way or another, or even to vouch for the truth of the article. I will provide a link that offers a different perspective on these charges and will leave it to you the reader to decide what you think of them. My real purpose here is to discuss the necessary amorality of Corporations and what effect that amorality has upon nations and people.The newly released documents Mr. Black speaks of:

“are secret 1941 correspondence setting up the Dutch subsidiary of IBM to work in tandem with the Nazis, company President Thomas Watson’s personal approval for the 1939 release of special IBM alphabetizing machines to help organize the rape of Poland and the deportation of Polish Jews, as well as the IBM Concentration Camp Codes including IBM‘s code for death by Gas Chamber. Among the newly published photos of the punch cards is the one developed for the statistician who reported directly to Himmler and Eichmann.”

 The other evidence Mr. Black offers is:

 “From the first moments of the Hitler regime in 1933, IBM used its exclusive punch card technology and its global monopoly on information technology to organize, systematize, and accelerate Hitler’s anti-Jewish program, step by step facilitating the tightening noose. The punch cards, machinery, training, servicing, and special project work, such as population census and identification, was managed directly by IBM headquarters in New York, and later through its subsidiaries in Germany, known as Deutsche Hollerith-Maschinen Gesellschaft (DEHOMAG), Poland, Holland, France, Switzerland, and other European countries.”

In 1937 Adolph Hitler bestowed upon Thomas J. Watson a special award to honor the IBM Chairman for extraordinary service by a foreigner to the Third Reich. The medal was resplendent with swastikas and was to be worn above the heart. After the bombing of Paris and the beginnings of WW II in June 1940, Mr. Watson returned the medal, since the publicity was hurting IBM’s reputation. It also must be mentioned that Mr. Watson was a very prominent Democrat, closely tied to FDR. However:

“….a newly released copy of a subsequent letter dated June 10, 1941, drafted by IBM‘s New York office, confirms that IBM headquarters personally directed the activities of its Dutch subsidiary set up in 1940 to identify and liquidate the Jews of Holland. Hence, while IBM engaged in the public relations maneuver of returning the medal, the company was actually quietly expanding its role in Hitler’s Holocaust. Similar subsidiaries, sometimes named as a variant of “Watson Business Machines,” were set up in Poland, Vichy France, and elsewhere on the Continent in cadence with the Nazi takeover of Europe.”

The article goes on to explain that the operations of controlling and keeping track of the prisoners of the various concentration camps was done via IBM punch card machines and we all have heard of the ruthless efficiency and meticulous record keeping of the Holocaust. Indeed, it always struck me that the business like way the NAZI’s kept track of their murders, in some ways added to the horrors committed.

“Particularly powerful are the newly-released copies of the IBM concentration camp codes. IBM maintained a customer site, known as the Hollerith Department, in virtually every concentration camp to sort or process punch cards and track prisoners. The codes show IBM‘s numerical designation for various camps. Auschwitz was 001, Buchenwald was 002; Dachau was 003, and so on. Various prisoner types were reduced to IBM numbers, with 3 signifying homosexual, 9 for anti-social, and 12 for Gypsy. The IBM number 8 designated a Jew. Inmate death was also reduced to an IBM digit: 3 represented death by natural causes, 4 by execution, 5 by suicide, and code 6 designated “special treatment” in gas chambers. IBM engineers had to create Hollerith codes to differentiate between a Jew who had been worked to death and one who had been gassed, then print the cards, configure the machines, train the staff, and continuously maintain the fragile systems every two weeks on site in the concentration camps.”

Finally, Mr. Black completes his discussion of the newly released data by referring specifically to two now released government memos that as he terms it are ironic in light of subsequent history.

“Two telling U.S. government memos, now published, are remarkable for their telling irony. The first is a State Department memo, dated December 3, 1941, just four days before the attack on Pearl Harbor and as the Nazis were being openly accused of genocide in Europe. On that day in 1941, IBM‘s top attorney, Harrison Chauncey, visited the State Department to express qualms about the company’s extensive involvement with Hitler. The State Department memo recorded that Chauncey feared “that his company may some day be blamed for cooperating with the Germans.”

The second is a Justice Department memo generated during a federal investigation of IBM for trading with the enemy. Economic Warfare Section chief investigator Howard J. Carter prepared the memo for his supervisors describing the company’s collusion with the Hitler regime. Carter wrote: “What Hitler has done to us through his economic warfare, one of our own American corporations has also done … Hence IBM is in a class with the Nazis.” He ended his memo: “The entire world citizenry is hampered by an international monster.””

Given all of the above it is hard not to feel that IBM played some role in assisting Hitler’s deeds. You can decide for yourself where the evidence leads you. In an alternative view:

“During the 1930s, IBM‘s German subsidiary was its most profitable foreign operation, and a 2001 book, IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black, argues that Watson’s pursuit of profit led him to personally approve and spearhead IBM’s strategic technological relationship with the Third Reich. In particular, critics point to the coveted Eagle with Star medal that Watson received at the Berlin ICC meeting in 1937, as evidence that he was being honored for the help that IBM’s German subsidiary Dehomag (Deutsche Hollerith-Maschinen Gesellschaft mbH) and its punch card machines provided the Nazi regime, particularly in the tabulation of census data. The most recent study of the matter, however, argues that Watson believed, perhaps naively, that the medal was in recognition of his years of labor on behalf of global commerce and international peace. Watson soon began second-guessing himself for accepting the medal, and eventually returned the medal to the German government in June 1940. German Chancellor Adolf Hitler was furious at the slight, and he declared that Watson would never step on German-controlled soil again.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_J._Watson

This whole story though led me away from the Shoah and in an entirely different direction that is current today. The Supreme court is now debating a case brought to them about whether corporations can be sued for human rights violations, which they have some complicity in perpetrating in the pursuit of profit. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/us/supreme-court-debates-human-rights-case-against-companies.html   In hearing the arguments being made Justice Kennedy stated:

“For me, the case turns in large part on this,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said and then quoted a sentence from a brief filed by the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, which is accused of complicity in human rights violations in Nigeria: “International law does not recognize corporate responsibility for the alleged offenses here.” Justice Kennedy went on to quote from a brief supporting the companies filed by the Chevron Corporation: “No other nation in the world permits its court to exercise universal civil jurisdiction over alleged extraterritorial human rights abuses to which the nation has no connection.” 

It seems to me that this current case turns on an issue that might have arisen in the past with IBM as detailed in Mr.Black’s article. The question is should corporations be held liable for immoral activity, such as human rights violations, when they are carrying out what is their prime function, which is turning a profit?

The definition of a corporation from InvestorWords.com, self labelled as “The biggest investing glossary on the web” is as follows:

“Corporation

Definition:The most common form of business organization, and one which is chartered by a state and given many legal rights as an entity separate from its owners. This form of business is characterized by the limited liability of its owners, the issuance of shares of easily transferable stock, and existence as a going concern. The process of becoming a corporation, called incorporation, gives the company separate legal standing from its owners and protects those owners from being personally liable in the event that the company is sued (a condition known as limited liability). Incorporation also provides companies with a more flexible way to manage their ownership structure. In addition, there are different tax implications for corporations, although these can be both advantageous and disadvantageous.”  http://www.investorwords.com/1140/corporation.html#ixzz1ntMStnxA

I believe that by their nature for profit corporations must be considered to be “amoral” entities, since their sole rationale for existence is turning a profit for their investors. By “amoral” I mean morally neutral and I am not dealing with morality from a religious view. Looked at from this perspective we cannot assume, nor would it be fair to assume, that a corporate entity should concern itself with acting morally. We know from the stock market that CEO’s and indeed corporate value rises and fall with a firms earnings. Investors for the most part judge companies merely on the bottom line. That is why in recent years some corporations have fired workers merely to increase their quarterly profits, without any thought given to any long term consequences to the entities viability.Then too today, many top corporate officers are remunerated with stock options, whose value increases with the share value of the stock. Give that these are the current, accepted rules of the game, why should we then be surprised, or even outraged when corporate entities behave badly regarding human rights?

In the IBM situation Thomas J. Watson was a man who by all accounts believed his job was to grow the wealth and market share of his company. I would imagine that Germany was a rich and fertile market. IBM, because of its unique capabilities at the time, would naturally want to have a large market share and they did. From one perspective Watson was being true to his stockholders and to the nature of the corporate need to grow. There seems little evidence, at least that I’ve seen, that would indicate Watson hated Jews. He was merely doing what he deemed best for the interests of IBM. In the Royal Dutch Petroleum case their assertion boils down to we were pursuing normal business interests and feel no corporate responsibility for the human rights abuses, as defined by International Law. I have no expertise to define this case from a legal standpoint, but on the surface, as the law now stands and as corporate entities have been treated, Royal Dutch has a fair point.

Herein lies the problem we face with the notion of “corporate person-hood” which began as follows:

The Supreme Court of the United States (Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 1819), recognized corporations as having the same rights as natural persons to contract and to enforce contracts. In Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 118 U.S. 394 (1886), the Supreme Court recognized corporations as persons for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment. In a headnote—not part of the opinion—the reporter noted that the Chief Justice began oral argument by stating, “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_personhood

By allowing, what to me is, the mistaken notion that entities chartered by the State should have the same rights as citizens, is patently absurd and conclusively dangerous to the interests of people and their government. We’ve had may discussion on this site regarding “Citizen’s United” and I’ve written a blog on it:  http://jonathanturley.org/2012/01/07/americas-transcendent-issue/  As shown in the definition of corporations above, all corporations are chartered by the State. They are then naturally artificial constructs of the State and to consider them with having the same rights as an ordinary person is either close to insanity, or more likely the successful attempt to ensure that our Nation is run by a moneyed elite.

I’ve illustrated my belief that corporations are of necessity amoral operations. Their interest is the rather narrow one of ensuring growing profits, indeed any CEO worth their salt would see that as the first imperative of their job. Yet, this blog, current events and investigative reporting have shown that the effects of corporate entities allowed to run rampant are ultimately destructive to the citizens, the state and to civilization as a whole. Since the State has allowed these entities to exist, it is the responsibility of the State to ensure that these entities in their pursuit of gain, do not because of that pursuit, harm the fiber of our nation and our society.

This is not an anti-capitalist rant, since corporations and capitalism are not indivisible, this is a call to ensure that the threat of corporate excess be reined in and prevented from doing innocents harm. We must reverse, through law, the definition of corporate person-hood, which then in tandem would derail Citizen United. Given how intertwined our political system has become with corporate money, this is a daunting task. There is no alternative though, because the failure to do so will eventually reduce the 99% of us to a feudalistic serfdom and lead us to a skeletal nation, where our legislature will be made up of representatives from various corporate entities.

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

61 thoughts on “A Corporate Tale

  1. We add this to the list of Nazi supporters that public would rather not know. Ford published newspapers supporting Nazi principles and built and ran factories in Germany during the war. The Nazi Eugenics program was based on similar programs in the US. ( thousands in the US were sterilized if they were deemed not worthy of carrying on the gene pool) The Nazi’s just took it a step further by killing those that were a drain on the economy and later the “wrong” race.

  2. “Since the State has allowed these entities to exist, it is the responsibility of the State to ensure that these entities in their pursuit of gain, do not because of that pursuit, harm the fiber of our nation and our society.” (Mike S)

    That sums it up nicely.

    (I would be very interested in a complete audit of all art work presently owned or sold by the families of all IBM employees from that period of time. That audit should also include IBM Corporation’s presently owned or subsequently sold art work acquired during the time IBM was servicing the Third Reich.)

  3. Mike Spindell:

    very interesting article. I can believe it too.

    But I do not think corporations are amoral. they are run by individuals and so take on the philosophy/beliefs of the individuals who run them.

    There are many CEO’s who criticized the TARP. There are many CEO’s who praised it. The same can be said for the Stimulus.

    Any CEO or company owner in the early 30’s who did business with Hitler was no friend of liberty. Hitler was a socialist/fascist from the beginning. Maybe you could excuse them because of all the praise coming from the intellectual class on the benefits of socialism, communism and fascism in the 20’s and 30’s. But there is no way to excuse it now.

    We as consumers ought to start looking into the moral character of the companies we do business with. If they support individual rights and are good actors then we should give them our support, if they provide aid to tyrants we should punish them at the cash register. I dont buy Citgo gas because it is run by Chavez. Dont feed these monsters and they will die.

    In my mind a corporation must be moral if it desires to grow. It must treat people fairly and it must provide a value. If it produces a product at the expense of another persons life, there is no value in that product and the company should be condemned.

    Consumers have the power to change corporate culture. If you know of a corporation aiding and abetting a tyrant, quit buying their products. If the CEO is making 100 million per year and the secretary doesnt have health insurance quit buying their products and let them know why. If they lost 30% of market share in 6 months, I have a sneaking suspicion the secretary would be given health insurance and the CEO’s pay would be cut.

    We have the power to do this. Dont think so? We, the consumer, put businesses out of business all the time. Just ask Wal Mart competitors.

    If everyone practised moral commerce we would force corporations to become moral actors. In the Internet age there is no reason we cannot have a significant impact on corporate bad actors.

  4. (I would be very interested in a complete audit of all art work presently owned or sold by the families of all IBM employees from that period of time. That audit should also include IBM Corporation’s presently owned or subsequently sold art work acquired during the time IBM was servicing the Third Reich.)

    Ouch! I can hear them squealing. And good idea.

  5. Mike,
    great article. I agree that corporations should be liable for their immoral activities that assist nation states and leaders to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. If IBM is a person and if, as Bron suggests, that the corporation takes on the beliefs and morals of its officers, then those officers should be held responsible when the corporation aids in the extermination of millions of civilians. If a corporation is a citizen, then they must have the same liability that a citizen has for illegal acts here and abroad. If a corporation is a citizen, then they should pay the same tax rate that I have to. But that won’t happen, will it? Corporate status cannot shield it from killing or the aiding of the killing of millions in the past and anyone in the future.
    Finally, doesn’t Spain have legislation that allows it to indict and prosecute crimes against humanity world wide?

  6. rafflaw:

    it could be proved in a court of law that IBM helped Hitler in the killing of all of those people, Watson should have gone to jail and so should the emloyees working at the camps.

    Think about it, would you work for a corporation helping a government kill people? I know I wouldnt.

  7. Bron,
    How sure are you about that? Not all the operation paper clip people had clean hands. That is not including the ones that went to the Red army. It is pretty clear Von Braun supported slave labor and we made him a hero.

  8. Corporations in the US now have all the rights of individuals. In fact their rights are better protected than those of real people yet they cannot suffer any of the punishments that can be given to real people. Corporation have become the u
    Übermensch clothed with immunity from prosecution and the mantel of power that unlimited power can buy. The story of IBM should chill the blood and remind us that a government for corporations and by corporations put all living breathing people at risk. The fact that they are run by people who now have almost absolute power should only add to the chill.

  9. MichaelB:

    Von Braun should have been hanged but we needed him to fight the Soviets. I would not have made Von Braun a hero.

    But where do you think the Stealth Bomber and the first good submarines came from? And a lot of other military weaponry, German scientists.

    We only won that war by the hair on our chin and probably owe it to scientists in Germany who did not work quickly developing their atomic bomb.

  10. Applying the same logic used in this post, the Bush family, Ford Motor company, and no doubt many, many other U.S. companies could potentiallyy face a world of hurt. So could many descendants of past politicians,PR firms and many other companies.

    Lots of explosive allegations, but very little evidence of criminal intent. Only a mind reader of long-dead people (e.g.)Watson/other former IBM execs,Ford family, Bushes, even Roosevelts) could possibly know the impossible-to-know) .

    I strongly believe that U.S. courts would dismiss any legal cases against
    any of the above.

  11. If corporations want the rights of personhood shouldn’t they also be made to carry the liabilities and responsibilities?
    it appears as if American democracy has been parsed and refined to such an extent that is hardly recognizable.
    if i give my local peace officer 50 bucks to “interpret” my local ordinaces as to let me skate on the speeding charge it’s bribery, but i can give my senator 1000 bucks to “interpret” or sometimes even write the laws to my advantage its not.
    how can this be and what is the solution?

  12. Mike S.

    Not much pertinent response here. You post too deep -lemmas fo us.
    Yes, to all your proposed measures. Shall we be content with scaring them through Rush boycotts? Through pink ribbon boycotts? etc. These and others like them may give us courage to continue protesting—–as they madly make laws, build fences, train guards, etc all symbols of our oppression.

    But around what issue shall we unite. And what will be our goal ? Citizens United. We need to have goals like total control of election funds. Let’em stump. Not a penny for TV: How would that spread panic in the propaganda machines. Abolish all think tanks, all economic, political, etc tax free havens. etc. etc. Long live Jefferson. OK OK OK whew.

    And perhaps most of all who will lead us? The Flukes, a politician, a ?????

  13. rafflaw:

    some of the best scientists at the time were German. I cant say for sure but this is from Werner Heisenberg:

    “It was a new situation for us scientists in Germany. Now for the first time we could get money from our government to do something interesting and we intended to use this situation. The official slogan of the government was: We must make use of physics for warfare…. We felt already in the beginning that if it were possible at all to actually make explosives it would take such a long time and require such an enormous effort that there was a very good chance the War would be over before that could be accomplished…. We definitely did not want to get into this bomb business. I wouldn’t like to idealize this; we did this also for our personal safety. We thought that the probability that this would lead to atomic bombs during the War was nearly zero. If we had done otherwise, and if many thousand people had been put to work on it and then if nothing had been developed, this could have had extremely disagreeable consequences for us.”

    So maybe they didnt slow it down but they didnt bust their asses either.

  14. Braun and Rafflaw,
    A german woman jewish physicist made her way up to head the research department, although she was increasingly hampered etc. I’ll give you the name later. Her nearest assistant would eventually get a Nobel prize, for her work. She fled to Sweden. Her former assistant was in constant contact getting her help in solving the problems they had.

    She had a nephew working in Denmark with the other leader of the nuclear physics, etc. She met her nephew, told him how near the Germans were to understanding what she had realized was nuclear fission.
    The nephew warned the Dane, who warned Einstein, who wrote a letter to Roosevelt. Thus came the Manhattan Project. When my old brain activates I’ll give you the names—-or you’ll give me them instead.

  15. Bron/Rafflaw

    Meitner was the jewess, Hahn was her former assistant, and Fristch was the nephew, and Nils Bohr was the Danish physicist (and Einsteins chief rival).
    Source: Wikipedia

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_fission#Discovery_of_fission

    —–
    “After the Fermi publication, Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, and Fritz Strassmann began performing similar experiments in Berlin. Meitner, an Austrian Jew, lost her citizenship with the Anschluss in 1938. She fled and wound up in Sweden, but continued to collaborate by mail and through meetings with Hahn in Sweden. By coincidence her nephew Otto Robert Frisch, also a refugee, was also in Sweden when Meitner received a letter from Hahn describing his chemical proof that some of the product of the bombardment of uranium with neutrons was barium. Hahn was unsure of what the physical basis for the results were—barium had an atomic mass 40% less than uranium, and no previously known methods of radioactive decay could account for such a radical difference in the size of the nucleus. In Sweden, Frisch was skeptical, but Meitner trusted Hahn’s ability as a chemist. Marie Curie had been separating barium from radium for many years, and the techniques were well-known. According to Frisch:

    Was it a mistake? No, said Lise Meitner; Hahn was too good a chemist for that. But how could barium be formed from uranium? No larger fragments than protons or helium nuclei (alpha particles) had ever been chipped away from nuclei, and to chip off a large number not nearly enough energy was available. Nor was it possible that the uranium nucleus could have been cleaved right across. A nucleus was not like a brittle solid that can be cleaved or broken; George Gamow had suggested early on, and Bohr had given good arguments that a nucleus was much more like a liquid ……..”

  16. idealist707 1, March 3, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    … She met her nephew, told him how near the Germans were to understanding what she had realized was nuclear fission.
    The nephew warned the Dane, who warned Einstein, who wrote a letter to Roosevelt. Thus came the Manhattan Project. When my old brain activates I’ll give you the names—-or you’ll give me them instead.
    ==============================
    Then we became the only nation in history, so far, to nuke and burn alive hundreds of thousands of innocents.

    We still are those same people who did that.

  17. Dredd,
    See the continuation of the history in previous post, but never mind……

    Your point is more important. Yes, and the British thanked the Germans for the London burning with Dresden (old well used tactics from colonial wars), and we killed far more in the firebombings of Japanese towns prior to H/N bombs. Good old McNamara was the later SAC chief’s head optimizer of the fire bombing raids using operations research methods.

    Who will be next. Israel, Pakistan, India—-do I hear any other bids.

  18. dredd and the boys,
    Oddly the number of missiles are going down, but the nuke power is increasing more rapidly. Feel safer?

    Got a good link about a semiautistic nuke boy who worked in Alamagordo labs. Fascinating tale. He visited (high level permission) several nuke test sites (under mountains, proved things were impossible to calm high level people, and constantly tried to work out the energy problem of space travel).
    Can’t find it

  19. “Applying the same logic used in this post, the Bush family, Ford Motor company, and no doubt many, many other U.S. companies could potentiallyy face a world of hurt. So could many descendants of past politicians,PR firms and many other companies.”

    Bill McW,

    The post wasn’t about prosecuting anyone for NAZI war crimes. Perhaps a second reading by you might glean the message of it, or maybe not.

  20. IBM is alive and well.
    The question becomes whether there is a statute of limitations for war crimes committed by them against individuals. If I had a tatoo which correleated with a IBM punch card then I would sue IBM for complicity in my arrest, detention and torture by the Nazi regime, Nazi stooges and stooge corporations.
    A good venue for this trial would be Nuremberg.
    Which brings us to the next question: Did the Nuremberg War Trials Tribunal consider IBM as a target suspect corporation? We know that they prosecuted defendants of German corporations. I recall that Krupp was one such entity.

    I will examine my book Tyranny On Trial by the American Army prosecutor Whitney Harris. Whitney lived to be 97 years old. He died a few years ago in Saint Louis, Missouri.

  21. In authoritarian countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Western surveillance tools have empowered repression, allowing leaders to intercept e-mails and text messages, and monitor the whereabouts of citizens through their cell phones. Armed with this information, police in many of these countries now routinely confront dissidents with records of their messages and movements during arrest and torture, according to a 10-month investigation by Bloomberg News.

    The Surveillance Market and Its Victims

  22. Lawsuit accuses Cisco of aiding Chinese repression

    The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, alleges that Golden Shield–described in Cisco marketing materials as Policenet–resulted in the arrest of as many as 5,000 Falun Gong members. Cisco “competed aggressively” for the contracts to design the Golden Shield system “with full knowledge that it was to be used for the suppression of the Falun Gong religion,” according to the lawsuit.

  23. Mike,

    As you know this particular part of history is near and dear to me….. I am at this time at a loss for the appropriate words to properly express my disgust…..

  24. M.S.

    “The post wasn’t about prosecuting anyone for NAZI war crimes. Perhaps a second reading by you might glean the message of it, or maybe not.”

    I didn’t say it was. Perhaps you’ve mistaken what I said for what some oher
    people here said. Perhaps a second reading of my comment might help you understand my comment, or maybe not.

  25. Mike,

    Excellent job about a subject foundational to my hatred of corporatism and fascism: the amoral nature of corporations and the pursuit of profit before other considerations. That Watson did the right thing in returning his Eagle with Star after the fact, it does not change that in pursuit of an amoral target of profits he led his company to materially aid war criminals. In fact, his returning it shows to me that he should have and likely did know what the equipment was being used for when he received it. The project managers would have had a grasp on the data collection requirements the Hollerith cards were being programmed for and upper management would have been kept informed of the scope of the project in conjunction with the progress of the project. Knowing the data collection parameters of a project is very informative about the nature of the whole project. That IBM was in the cat seat for viewing their data collection needs and providing processes to handle them is even further damning.

    Is there a lot that can be done to prevent these kind of thing happening through regulation? Other than prohibit business with known human and civil rights abusing regimes, not really, and we already have provisions blocking trade with those sort of governments. In lieu of that, allowing corporations to be sued for their role in rights abuses is the next best solution for discouraging knowingly aiding abusive regimes for profit. It provides incentive to shut down the project or otherwise breach contract once such abuses are known (or should be known) to upper management. The key here is also not to limit those damages either. Damage caps are an anathema to justice as a known cost can be factored in to the cost of doing business and posses no threat to those would willingly violate others rights for profit.

  26. Bill McW,
    I understood you correctly and I don’t doubt that no one would be prosecuted. However, my point was exactly that under the legal concept of corporate-personhood, with a concomittant money-fueled reluctance to demand corporate accountability, corporations run roughshod over Nations and people.

  27. Gene,
    Allowing corporations to be sued for their acts, without damage caps would help. I’m sure you agree that is why they’ve been fighting to cap liability for years. As for other ways of dealing with it I think Congress has the power to overturn the concept of corporate personhood by legislation. It would be an impossible stretch by SCOTIS to claim that an artificial entity, created by statute, can’t be redefined by its creators. How likely is it that can happen? Not very, unfortunately.

  28. Large corporations are the banal,soulless, masking vehicles small groups of already wealthy individuals use for making more money. They are in service to their financial masters AND to any authority that facilitates their prime directive of making money. They are no more human than a pick-axe but like that tool, they are deadly in the wrong hands. IBM’s culpability belongs to its puppet-masters behind the scenes who plucked the strings to the tune of the Great Dictator. An axiom of law is that a corporation acts only through its agents. I say is it truly acts only through its masters. Great work, Mike S.

  29. “We as consumers ought to start looking into the moral character of the companies we do business with. If they support individual rights and are good actors then we should give them our support, if they provide aid to tyrants we should punish them at the cash register.” Bron
    ——————————————————————————–
    I agree with this statement but the ineffectuality of it is immense. These entities have become so big that they can easily weather a consumer backlash…just look at BP. There is NO EXISTING power that could serve as a detriment to any misdeed that they commit, and so why should they bother to live with even 1 foot on the ground of morality or law? One need look no further than the SuperPACs to see how these entities play BOTH sides of an equation in order to safeguard themselves from just such scrutiny and possible liability. And we can thank our justices for creating this monster….. In fact, one may be able to argue that the creation of superPAC’s is intentional fo just this purpose….

  30. Mike,

    Very interesting article!

    “Since the State has allowed these entities to exist, it is the responsibility of the State to ensure that these entities in their pursuit of gain, do not because of that pursuit, harm the fiber of our nation and our society.”

    I’d add that they shouldn’t be allowed to harm or pollute our environment either. Too often we the “real” people end up paying for the immoral acts and greedy behavior of corporate leaders and Wall Street wizards.

  31. Thanks for this posting, Mike S. And it’s important to note, that IBM’s still in the business of “tracking”, as many know… or perhaps I missed it in your article:

  32. This is such a good article that it could be a springboard for a couple of god debates but I just going answer your question by agreeing with Mike, it is the governments job to protect the citizenry and its own national interest against corporate misdeeds. And it should do so using regulation without mercy.

    Corporations can’t have it both ways. For the courts to confer aspects of personhood on corporations and not impose a hallmark of actual personhod- criminal liability- is insane. Like the cliche’ says, ‘I’ll believe corporations are people when one of them goes to jail’.

    OTOH, if corporations want a pass on criminal liability then the government needs to remove any possibility of criminal harm coming from corporations or the national interest.

    If the possibility of behaviour-changing fines and civil judgements is weakened (as it has been with the banks and BP settlements, and continues to be with the never-ending push for tort reform) then at some point without criminal penalties it becomes profitable for meat suppliers to add 10%-15% sawdust and floor sweeping to their product to improve their bottom line.

    ——————
    Words can not express what I’m feeling about IBM now.

  33. Ack! “god” sb “good”, sorry. This really was a thought provoking article Mike.

    As well, Puzzling’s responses regarding the use of technology to stifle dissent (even to the point of hunting down and killing dissidents and news-people as is the case in Hom) was excellent to catapult us into the present. When US tech companies and social media companies are involved should the government intercede in its own national interest? The question is as pertinent today as it was in WWII. Can a company commit treason?

  34. LK,
    Thank you for so clearly stating the point I was trying to make. Corporations currently are trying to have both ways and succeeding. Either they have the full liability of citizens, or barring that, lose the right of judicial personhood. The larder seems to me to be the optimal solution.

  35. “Corporations can’t have it both ways. For the courts to confer aspects of personhood on corporations and not impose a hallmark of actual personhod- criminal liability- is insane. Like the cliche’ says, ‘I’ll believe corporations are people when one of them goes to jail’.

    OTOH, if corporations want a pass on criminal liability then the government needs to remove any possibility of criminal harm coming from corporations or the national interest. ”
    —————————————-
    Lottakatz, this seems a conundrum of the worst sort….of course they can’t have it both ways but how can they have it anyways at all given that the nature of Corporations is that of a collective…they will never put a Corporation in jail. The evil aspect of this decision is that it will undo our Justice system….it elicits and outlines the very truth that those with money can and will not ever be held to the same legal standard as the people of this Nation, from whom the power of the justice system derives. It is a poison pill.

  36. Woosty = ^..^, But they could put the effective decision makers in jail starting with the COO. Even if the organization is a collective, to borrow Orwell’s phrase, “Some pigs are more equal than others”. I presume that’s why they get bonus’ in the 10s to hundred and more millions of dollars.

    BTW, I like that you change your avatar but I must ask: do you have any idea what those people are doing to that poor woman? It looks like a medical procedure.

  37. Every day I read this blog I’m reminded how much closer we get to the fictional setting of Shadowrun.

  38. Perhaps a third set of laws. Now we have civil law and criminal law. You’re not supposed to mix them or you get ‘hodgepodge.” There is no appellate court that sits on “hodgepodge” so if you happen to be victimized by that kind of law, there’s no appeal.

    But on the other hand, the kind of law for humans (civil and criminal) can’t actually work the same way for corporations. A corporation can set up a subsidiary, let it do something antisocial, and then kill it so there is no real accountability. At the same time, a corporation can do something wrong and then the corporate veil protects any individuals who were responsible for its behavior, and of course, its shareholders are all innocent investors. So we should start admitting that a new kind of law, perhaps called “corporaminal,” is needed. Corporations could be persons who needed to obey the corporaminal law. If they violated it, there could be the death penalty (dissolution and seizure of shareholder money) or a series of lesser penalties, right on down to probation (something like Chapter 13 but not just about the money).

    Time for something that works.

  39. Full circle (?), right back to IBM. Bear with me. Jose Rodriquez is getting a lot of press for his new book, written with Bill Harlow: “Hard Measures: Ex-CIA head defends post-9/11 tactics”

    (“Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr. was the Director of the National Clandestine Service (D/NCS) of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He was the last CIA Deputy Director for Operations (DDO) before that position was expanded to D/NCS in December 2004. This is the top Human Intelligence operations post in the United States government.” -Wikipedia)

    Wednesday, Apr 25, 2012

    Crime boasting for profit
    Shielded from all forms of accountability, a CIA official is able to publish a book glorifying his illegal acts

    By Glenn Greenwald
    http://www.salon.com/2012/04/25/crime_boasting_for_profit/singleton/

    “Rodriguez thus joins a long line of Bush officials — Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, et. al — who not only paid no price for the crimes they committed, but are free to run around boasting of those crimes for profit. That’s what happens when the most politically powerful officials are vested with immunity for their illegal acts. Both the criminals and their crimes become normalized. They feel free not only to admit their crimes openly but to justify and glorify them, because they know they will never be held accountable for them. Instead of having to explain himself as a criminal defendant, Rodriguez is instead permitted to wrap his conduct in the banner of heroism as a highly-paid Simon & Schuster author.

    This will be one of the most enduring and consequential aspects of the Obama legacy: by working so hard, in so many ways, to shield Bush-era crimes from all forms of accountability, the Democratic President has ensured that they are not viewed as crimes at all, but at worst, run-of-the-mill political controversies. Given all this, why would any government officials tempted to commit these same crimes in the future possibly decide that they should not?” (end of excerpt)

    This ties back to IBM. I’m getting there.

  40. Jose Rodriquez on 60 Minutes last night:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57423533/hard-measures-ex-cia-head-defends-post-9-11-tactics/ (includes a transcript)

    Jose Rodriguez: Yes. Dietary manipulation was part of these– our techniques.

    Lesley Stahl: So sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation. I mean, this is Orwellian stuff. The United States doesn’t do that.

    Jose Rodriguez: Well, we do.

    The question is whether the information they got from KSM was truthful and helpful. In his report, the CIA’s inspector general says that the CIA’s office of medical services concluded that when it came to the waterboarding–

    Lesley Stahl: There was no reason to think that it had been effective or that it was safe. This is your inspector general.

    Jose Rodriguez: Well our own inspector general in many cases did very sloppy work. That report is flawed in many different ways.

    So I wanted to find out what Jose Rodriquez is doing now that he’s “retired.” (If it was mentioned by Greenwald or in the 60 Minutes piece, I missed it.)

  41. http://www.nisc-llc.com/ (In March of 2010, IBM acquired NISC – National Interest Security Company.)

    According to Wikipedia, he was courted by Blackwater (Xe… now Academie), but he opted for “National Interest Security Company”, an IBM “company”…

    Renowned Former CIA Senior Scientist Joins NISC

    Fairfax, VA, (May 28, 2009). National Interest Security Company, LLC, (NISC), a leading provider of innovative information technology, information management and management technology consulting, announced today that Dr. Les Dreiling, former technical advisor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) National Clandestine Service (NCS), has joined NISC as Chief Scientist of NISC Advanced Information Solutions.

    Dr. Dreiling’s main responsibilities will focus on advanced, next-generation media forensics, cybersecurity, and large-scale analytical visualization initiatives. He will be working with senior leadership at NISC to create and promulgate a set of software development and software engineering best practices that are reflective of his many years of experience running successful projects at the CIA. Dr. Dreiling joins other distinguished leaders from the intelligence community at NISC, including General Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA; Dr. Donald Kerr, former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence; and Jose Rodriguez, former Director of the CIA NCS.

    Dr. Dreiling recently retired from the CIA with 29 years experience in the design, development, and implementation of innovative, scalable data processing, exploitation, and analysis solutions for both the CIA and the Intelligence Community. As a Senior Scientist and CIA “Trailblazer”, he served as Technical Advisor to the NCS Associate Deputy Director for Technology, as Chief Scientist in the NCS/Information Operations Center, and as Chief of an R&D unit engaged in creative problem finding, shaping, and solving. Dr. Dreiling was awarded the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal (2006) and is the only staff officer twice-awarded the “CIA Scientist of the Year” (1992, 2002). He holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Maryland.

    Andrew Maner, Chief Executive Officer of NISC, said, “Dr. Dreiling brings a brilliantly creative and scientific approach to solving technical problems and an intimate knowledge of our customer mission space and business processes. He will be leading a number of Internal Research and Development (IR&D) initiatives across NISC, providing technical and subject matter expertise to many of our current and pending programs. We are honored to have him on our team.”

    Patrick Crago, Executive Vice President of NISC Information Solutions, adds, “Dr. Dreiling is among the most respected and talented experts in the Intelligence Community. I look forward to working with him and am pleased that he is joining the NISC team. Together, we offer NISC’s customers unsurpassed expertise in helping to solve our nation’s most critical challenges.”

    About National Interest Security Company, LLC:

    Headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, NISC is a leading provider of innovative information technology, information management, and management and technology consulting solutions in support of national interest and security initiatives for the Intelligence Community and the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Energy, as well as other key Federal Civilian and Federal Health agencies. NISC’s expertise includes software and systems engineering, cyber security, biometrics, document and media exploitation, decision support and portfolio analysis, enterprise architecture, strategic management systems, intelligence operations and analysis support, and network and critical infrastructure protection. Representative missions currently include, but are not limited to, providing analytically-based portfolio and capability prototyping to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; conversion, hosting, petascale data management, and multi-lingual data exploitation for the Intelligence Community; application development and systems support to the U.S. Cyber Security effort; critical program management support to the National Cyber Security Division of the Department of Homeland Security; and strategy, assessment, policy, planning, and execution for the Department of Energy. NISC has nearly 1,000 employees and represents the successful integration of mission-oriented companies into an industry-leading enterprise that offers a full continuum of capabilities.

    About DC Capital Partners, LLC:

    DC Capital Partners, LLC, is a private equity firm with offices in Washington, DC, and Alexandria, VA, focused on investing primarily in the defense and government sectors. Additional information on DC Capital Partners can be found at http://www.dccapitalpartners.com.

  42. IBM Completes Acquisition of National Interest Security Company (http://www.nisc-llc.com/news/20100302.php)

    Rodriquez seems to like the phrase, “the homeland”…., for what it’s worth. So Dreiling (also ex-CIA), joins up with Rodriquez, Michael Hayden, Donald Kerr… And given what I know is going on the U.S…., I’d have to say, we might be fucked. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that this links back to “Trailblazer”… (http://www.whistleblower.org/blog/31/1207 about whistleblowers Thomas Drake, Bill Binney, TRAILBLAZER and THINTHREAD… )

    from the above link:

    “Dr. Dreiling’s main responsibilities will focus on advanced, next-generation media forensics, cybersecurity, and large-scale analytical visualization initiatives. He will be working with senior leadership at NISC to create and promulgate a set of software development and software engineering best practices that are reflective of his many years of experience running successful projects at the CIA. Dr. Dreiling joins other distinguished leaders from the intelligence community at NISC, including General Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA; Dr. Donald Kerr, former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence; and Jose Rodriguez, former Director of the CIA NCS.

    Dr. Dreiling recently retired from the CIA with 29 years experience in the design, development, and implementation of innovative, scalable data processing, exploitation, and analysis solutions for both the CIA and the Intelligence Community. As a Senior Scientist and CIA “Trailblazer”, he served as Technical Advisor to the NCS Associate Deputy Director for Technology, as Chief Scientist in the NCS/Information Operations Center, and as Chief of an R&D unit engaged in creative problem finding, shaping, and solving. Dr. Dreiling was awarded the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal (2006) and is the only staff officer twice-awarded the “CIA Scientist of the Year” (1992, 2002). He holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Maryland.”

  43. Osama Bin Laden Raid Wasn’t Based On CIA Torture Interrogations, Senators Say

    by Dan Froomkin

    Posted: 04/30/2012 5:54 pm Updated: 05/ 1/2012 2:26 am

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/30/osama-bin-laden-raid-torture_n_1465820.html

    Excerpt:

    “Two senators privy to classified information angrily dispute the claim by a former CIA official that the Bush administration’s coercive interrogation techniques were effective and helped locate Osama bin Laden.

    Jose Rodriguez, former head of CIA clandestine services, told the Washington Post last week that he is “certain, beyond any doubt” that the techniques “approved at the highest levels of the U.S. government … shielded the people of the United States from harm and led to the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.”

    But senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said in a statement on Monday they were “deeply troubled” by Rodriguez’s statements that the CIA”s “so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ used many years ago were a central component of our success,” in finding the al Qaeda leader, killed by U.S. commandos in a raid in Pakistan a year ago Tuesday.

    “This view is misguided and misinformed,” the senators wrote.

    Feinstein’s Senate Intelligence Committee has prepared a 500-page report that, according to Reuters, concludes that records from the Bush administration fail to support claims that torture was effective in stopping any terrorist attack.”

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