When Mass Murder is Political

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

As people here no doubt know I am quite opinionated and rather definite in my views, perhaps to a fault some might say. In this piece though I must admit that I have mixed feelings as to what is right and what is wrong, in the issue I write about. The recent thread on this blog: Trophy Terrorist: Obama Suggests Romney Would Not Have Ordered the Killing of Osama Bin Laden: http://jonathanturley.org/2012/04/30/obama-suggests-romney-would-not-have-killed-osama/  engendered a lively debate on the propriety of summarily executing a purported mass murderer. In my mind as I viewed the back and forth of the thread, including my own comments, I began to think of the trial of Anders Behring Breivik in Norway for killing 77 people, the fact that he was using his trial for publicity to advance his racist cause in Norway and that at worst he was facing only twenty-one years, though it “might” be extended for life.

Had Osama Bin Laden been captured and stood trial it would have created a worldwide sensation. It would have had to have been televised, since the clamor for an “open” trial would have been deafening and I would have added my small voice to the clamor. The necessity of fairness to the defense would have followed the same dictum, since a publicly perceived unfairness would result in a U.S. public relations disaster, for obvious reasons. Therefore, this trial could have been used as a stage for stirring up the “terrorist” pot and perhaps as a great recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. My question is: faced with such potentially explosive results from a trial, is the government justified in simply killing to preclude a greater evil? To be honest I’m not completely certain where the equities of these situations lie as I’ll explain. 

Let us first look at a bit of history whose horror and ending we all know: In late 1923 Adolph Hitler initiated the “Beer Hall Putsch” an attempt at coup d’etat that resulted in the death of four police officers. He was arrested for treason a month later. His trial in February 1924 was a German press sensation and provided him a perfect forum for spreading his hateful views. Convicted, by his own admission, he was released in December 2004 by order of the Bavarian Supreme Court, over the prosecutor’s objections. The affair made Hitler into a national celebrity and gave legitimacy to his NDSAP (soon to be NAZI) party, which garnered 6% of the vote in the May 1924 elections. In prison Hitler completed the first volume of “Mein Kampf”, only adding to his mystique. Would history have been different if Hitler was truly punished for being the man behind for murders and treason? Did Hitler’s trial and subsequent release set him on the path of  destruction of millions, himself and the German people, serve the cause of justice?  To familiarize yourself with the facts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolph_Hitler

In the Norwegian case of Mr. Breivik, we have a believer in racial purity and Fascism. He readily admits to the murder of seventy-seven people, mostly teens and believes he was justified in doing so. He purports to be a “writer”. The parallels with Hitler are so close as to convince me that Breivik is trying to emulate Da Feuhrer in word and deed.

“At the end of the indictment, he told the court: “I acknowledge the acts, but not criminal guilt – I claim I was doing it in self-defence.”

Breivik has already confessed to the attacks on 22 July. In the car bombing outside government buildings in Oslo, eight people were killed and 209 wounded.

 He killed 67 people and wounded 33 – most of them teenagers – in his shooting spree at the youth camp on Utoeya. A further two people died by falling or drowning.

At a court hearing in February, Breivik said his killing spree was “a preventative attack  against state traitors”, who were guilty of “ethnic cleansing” because they supported a multicultural society. His lawyer has said his only regret is that “he did not go further”.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17724535

The similarities of intent and action are strikingly familiar, however, Breivik far surpassed Hitler’s initial act. What effect will Breivik have on the future of Norway? Is any state in Europe, or indeed the entire world immune from racial/religious xenophobia? I think the sad truth of human history, in many more instances than I have space to cite, is that hatred for the other is a common rallying point for many human beings and a common tactic used by sociopaths on their road to power.

So now we come to the case of Osama Bin Laden, purportedly the person responsible for the mass murder of 9/11 and the head of the purportedly “most dangerous” terrorist organization in the world. I have to admit that there are questions as to whether Bin Laden was the 9/11 mastermind he was purported to be. There are suspicions that 9/11 was an inside job, that it was the work of Saudi intelligence, that Israel was behind it and/or that some other entity did it, but it was pinned on Bin Laden. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Responsibility_for_the_September_11_attacks and http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article13664.htm

When I originally started to do this piece I was of a mind to believe that the evidence of Bin Laden’s guilt, or at least his self-servingly taking credit for it, was overwhelming. This belief held despite the fact that I can also believe from other readings that 9/11 was the result of the fulfillment of the PNAC’s plan of needing a large scale American tragedy, to implement their plan of re-making America an Empire in the mold of Rome. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_for_the_New_American_Century  My thoughts and feelings about 9/11 are both confused and skeptical, have been since it occurred and in its horrid aftermath. Nevertheless, I continued to view Bin Laden as a bad guy and still do now. Yet should he have been killed, as he was, or should he have brought to trial?

That confusion leads me back to where I began. We see in the case of Hitler that his trial ultimately became his triumph. Only the future will tell us if Breivik’s trial and the maximum sentence he faces, will elevate him to the fame and power he obviously craves, or a martyrdom that will also ultimately serve his cause. The question than devolves to what does a country do when political radicals attempt to use its own laws against it by turning a judicial system into a platform for publicity and recruitment? Also what does a country do when outside forces can pose it a security threat of broad magnitude?

One position on that question has seemed to be a tenet of American foreign policy for many years, stemming from World War II and the “Cold War”. History, however, shows that this strain of thinking goes much further back, perhaps to “The Shores of Tripoli”. That position is that America leadership should act unilaterally to stem any threat to the country, even if the threat is only to the business of a large corporation, such as United Fruit. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Fruit_Company . From that thinking assassination and fomenting revolutions in foreign countries is acceptable and preferred. A Bin Laden trial would be fraught with danger in its aftermath and its preclusion would therefore be justifiable. We must remember that after 9/11 and it shocking affect on all of us, outright murder and/or torture of terrorists became an open topic of discussion, with our mass media leading the clamor and bestowing respectability on acts that used to require “plausible deniability”.

This way of thinking had led to a bi-partisan consensus during the “Cold War” and now remains as a belief of the majority of “serious” foreign policy/military experts, from all ends of the political spectrum. President Obama no doubt believes in this foreign policy/military dicta. That belief is no doubt reinforced by all the “experts” that surround him, with a possible few exceptions. To the “experts” the world of “24”, Jack Bauer and nuclear bombs exploding in Los Angeles are all too real. Truthfully though, when you see someone like Breivik, who can blame leaders for not wanting to take the risk of having so many killed on their watch? This thinking too, is arguably common wisdom accepted by a large majority of the American people, conditioned to its “truth” for many, many years. Whether we approve, or not, there are viable points to be made in favor of this strategic belief and one must exercise caution in demonizing those who honestly hold them.

My own belief is that the “pre-emptive” strike theory of dealing with situations like this diminishes legitimate government’s separation from those who would use terror to de-legitimize it. The aftermath of 9/11 has shown that whoever pulled it off succeeded in drawing America closer to becoming a “police state” and in many places (Arizona per chance?) we are emulating the decried USSR practice of limiting the mobility of its citizens. To allow our government to behave extra-legally will only diminish our own freedoms and blur the line between what is political protest and what is terrorism/revolution. I must stand inevitably then with the side of the issue that demands on lawful government action in the face of purported threat. While staking out this position I have to admit that I was an avid watcher of “24” and fan of Jack Bauer, in a fictional way given the internal logic of the series the “extra-legality” made sense. We don’t live in the internal “reality” of a TV show, no matter how surreal human life is and so I must stand by my beliefs ultimately, without the absolute certainty of their correctness.

I can never know though what it is like to be a President, with all those “experts” around you making each situation into a crisis that must be dealt with immediately, without time to really examine all possibilities. JFK faced that in “The Bay of Pigs” and the “Cuban Missile Crisis” and in both instances, to his everlasting credit, rejected the views of his “experts”. JFK also wound up murdered under circumstances that are even suspicious today. In President Obama’s case he was surrounded by “experts”, assuring him with their “intelligence information” that Bin Laden was responsible for 9/11 and they had located him. I’ve no doubt the orders given to Seal Team 6 were to capture him “if possible” but that maintaining their own safety was a priority. I the sense of “plausible deniability” one could question how the team leaders interpreted that order. Had Bi Laden been captured and put on trial, what forum would have been used? What are the “national security” considerations that such a trial would have raised? How would the “experts” interpret the threat engendered by the trial?

When we compare President Obama to JFK, we must understand that JFK was a man who had been through active combat and was well aware that many times military experts are wrong. He was the son of a father who had very skeptical views of government experts and he was truly his father’s son in that respect. Barack Obama had no military service and served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is not only spoon fed self serving intelligence, but is also made to feel a part of deeply held secrets. I doubt he was, or is as skeptical of his “experts as was JFK. Then too, although a myth, Democrats are perceived as being chary of using America’s power and in a political sense are attacked for it constantly. Sadly, too often Democratic Presidents feel they have to go overboard to prove their “patriotism”, as defined by the jingoism of the Republican “Chicken-hawks”.

There are many sides to this issue and while I have my beliefs to which I’ll adhere, they are beliefs that I can’t state with the total authority of certainty. Where do you stand?

The following links were also used in putting this together and you might find them of interest:




Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger.

85 thoughts on “When Mass Murder is Political”

  1. NSA Analyst: “We Could Have Prevented 9/11”
    Posted: 05/14/2012 4:05 pm


    Thomas Drake, a brilliant intelligence analyst, software engineer, and IT management consultant, worked at the CIA in the 1980s, then as a contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA), and ultimately as an NSA senior executive in 2001. But from 2006 until July 2011, he became the government’s and NSA’s public enemy.

    Why? From his high-level perch at NSA, he saw the failure to act on intelligence that might have prevented the 9/11 attacks, and he saw corruption at the highest levels.

    So he blew the whistle. Four times, from the fall of 2001 through 2004.

    Once to both the House and Senate Permanent Select Committees on Intelligence. Once to two Congressional investigations seeking answers to the intelligence failures surrounding 9/11, including what NSA knew, didn’t know, could have known, and did or didn’t do. Drake was asked to be a material witness for a Congressional investigation, initially led by then-Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). He was instructed not to tell NSA that he was cooperating with the investigation.

    The fourth time was in September 2002, when Drake submitted a complaint through a Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD IG) “Defense Hotline” that allows whistleblowers to report fraud. The call launched an audit of the way NSA awarded multibillion-dollar contracts and managed some of its programs. This time, Drake first alerted supervisors, who either sat on the information or pulled him off key assignments.

    When the DoD IG audit went nowhere, he took what he knew — none of it classified — to The Baltimore Sun.

    After Drake went to the media, the FBI raided his home in 2007, seizing computers, books, and other material.

    Ultimately, he was cast from the intelligence kingdom and charged with 10 felony counts in April 2010, five under the 1917 Espionage Act. “I got in the way of the power structure,” he explains.

    Some of his story appeared in newspapers, The New Yorker, blogs, and a 60 Minutes segment, describing how the FBI raided his home and dug for documents to prove he’d passed information to two New York Times’ reporters about the White House illegal wiretapping program and other offenses. Although the FBI never found such evidence, the Justice Department indicted him.

    I asked Drake if there was more the public had to know. “Definitely,” he said, but under the government-initiated plea negotiations, he couldn’t say anything new until after his sentencing date last July. Otherwise, the government could have used it against him at the trial.

    Once the case against him collapsed, prosecutors agreed to drop all 10 counts against Drake; he pled guilty to a minor misdemeanor for “exceeding authorized use of a computer [!],” with no jail time or fines.

    The result, however, was a life severely wrecked. Drake has worked at an Apple store since August 2009.

    This is what he told us.

    Barbara Koeppel: What did you tell the Saxby Chambliss Congressional subcommittee and the Congressional Joint Inquiry?

    Thomas Drake: I can’t say fully, because it’s classified. But I showed that NSA knew a great deal about the 9/11 threats and Al Qaeda, electronically tracking various people and organizations for years — since its role is to collect intelligence. The problem is, it wasn’t sharing all of the data. If it had, other parts of government could have acted on it, and more than likely, NSA could have stopped, I say stopped 9/11. Later, it could have located Al Qaeda — at the very time the U.S. was scouring Afghanistan.

    It’s true that there were systemic failures throughout the intelligence system, but NSA was a critical piece of it. I gave both committees prima facie evidence, with documents. One was an early 2001 NSA internal, detailed multi-year study of Al Qaeda and sympathetic groups’ movements that revealed what NSA knew, could have done, and should have done. It was astonishingly well-analyzed current intelligence. Soon after 9/11, some NSA analysts called me about it. Why? Because they were pulling their hair out, knowing they had this information and they couldn’t get NSA leadership to share the report with the rest of the intelligence community — even though it’s mandatory! It was actionable information. Remember the time period–we were in the early part of the war in Afghanistan. People needed to act on it, to unravel Al Qaeda networks.

    But NSA leaders deliberately decided not to disseminate it. So the analysis — about what it knew before and after 9/11 — got buried very deeply, because it would really have made them look bad.

    In fact, after the analysts called me to complain, I told my superior, Maureen Baginski, Director of Signals Intelligence (called SIGINT), who was the number-three person at NSA. But instead of acting on it, she got mad at me. She said, “Tom, I wish you’d never brought this to my attention.”

    BK: Why?

    TD: Because she no longer had plausible deniability.

    BK: And then?

    TD: I said, Mo (that’s what we called her), I’m bringing it to your attention because it’s information we need to share. This is key to Al Qaeda’s position. But she folded. She was going to protect the institution. Screw national security.

    BK: Talk more about the Congressional investigations.

    TD: The Saxby Chambliss subcommittee began its hearings in February and March 2002. It had subpoena power and contacted me off the record, because it was investigating NSA. I gave both the subcommittee and the subsequent, much larger Joint Inquiry voluminous amounts of information.

    BK: What did they do with it?

    TD: I don’t know. There’s a report, but it’s classified. I never saw it. And the public got just a small version of the data I gave them. In fact, there’s very little oversight in Congress anymore. When there is, it’s essentially just talk.

    BK: How did NSA react to the investigations?

    TD: It did everything it could to obstruct them so it could hide what it knew. I remember hearing from Lt. General Michael Hayden, NSA’s director, while the investigations were under way, saying how “convenient” it was for CIA and FBI to be taking the heat, while we remained in the shadows. I’m paraphrasing, but NSA knew a lot.

    BK: How did NSA obstruct them?

    TD: First, it asked the committee investigators to set up their office at NSA, where the agency could put minders, NSA people who would sit and take notes. But the committee refused.

    BK: Other ways?

    TD: NSA set up what we called the “war room,” to figure out how to respond to the Saxby Chambliss investigation. The joke was, ‘Who are we at war with? Congress or terrorists?’

    Then in February, Mo asked me to lead an NSA team, to go around the agency pulling together information about what NSA knew that it could give to the subcommittee as its official classified statement, for the record.

    So I wrote the statement, which went through multiple drafts. Later, I was in England on another assignment, and I got a frantic call from one of my staff, saying, “Tom, they pulled us off the effort and re-assigned it to someone else.” I asked why. “Well, it’s confusing, you’ll have to ask Mo.” When I got back, the first thing I did was ask her why we were taken off. She said, “Data integrity.” This was a euphemism.

    BK: A euphemism for what?

    TD: That there was a problem with the data. But there wasn’t a problem. They just didn’t want it out there. Congress was asking us to take our clothes off, come clean, say we screwed up, and how we would fix it.

    But NSA chose not to do that. Instead, it persisted in the cover-up and didn’t tell about the staggering amounts of information it had in its data banks and didn’t share. When it’s being investigated, it closes ranks. To say they were not cooperating with the 9/11 investigations is an understatement.

    NSA created a secret team that reported to Bill Black, the Agency’s deputy director, whose task was to find the agency’s 9/11 skeletons. Why? In case you’re put on the stand, you want to know where you’re vulnerable so you have an answer, or can create one to serve as a cover. The idea is, NSA only tells Congress what it wants them to hear, and Congress will just have to figure out what it really knows. The problem is, how will Congress find something unless it knows what it’s looking for and where to find it? And if NSA can keep it hidden, Congress’ chances of finding it are slim to none.

    BK: Are there other ways it obstructed?

    TD: A dramatic one. It happened in early 2002, when Mo warned me, “Be careful, they’re looking for leakers.” What she meant was, “Back off! Don’t say anything more to Congress than you need to.” But I wasn’t leaking to the press, or outside of channels. I was a material witness in official investigations of NSA!

    BK: Then why call it “leaking”?

    TD: They were calling it that. For NSA’s purpose, it’s leaking. Me, I’m serving as a material witness to Congress, which called me to do that. I didn’t go to them.

    BK: If it wanted to, could NSA follow your trail?

    TD: Easily. Bread and butter. That’s what they do. In fact, during this whole time, NSA was doing everything it could to figure out and track who was cooperating with the investigators or called as material witnesses.

    BK: Why was it so important for NSA to hide what it knew?

    TD: Because NSA is a closed, secret culture. Its primary focus is collecting data, even within the intelligence community.

    The coin of the realm is what you know. If I share something with you, then I don’t have power any more. So why would I give my power away? Because we collect the data, we own it. If we own it, we control it. If we control it, we can say what it means. We tell you what we want to, or not. I used to hear that in executive sessions, post-9/11. Other agencies were clamoring for the raw or nearly raw data, to do their own analyses. And NSA was balking because “we don’t know what they’re going to do with it.”

    BK: But wouldn’t NSA want to prevent a 9/11 or track Al Qaeda?

    TD: That’s logical thinking. You have to remember, NSA is an institution, and it preserves its integrity before anything else. Rule number one. It’s pathological. It’s what I call the deep, dark side of this culture, one that has rarely been discussed. Everything is secret. Over decades, people work, communicate, and engage in secret. Obviously, certain state secrets are legitimate, but this goes way beyond that. The agency thinks, if it gives away information, it’s fragmenting its identity. In fact, even before 9/11, NSA reprimanded people for cooperating with other parts of the intelligence community.

    BK: Do other intelligence agencies operate the same way?

    TD: Yes. When I was at CIA, I worked in the Science and Technology directorate on the issue of weapons of mass destruction. I was asked by people at its National Photographic Interpretation Center to look at pictures of WMD targets. I agreed, but I couldn’t tell from the photos who was talking to whom without knowing more about the target. So I called my buddies at NSA — because they have electronic and signals intelligence — to find out, and they told me what they knew. But the people I worked with at CIA said, “Why did you call them? You have everything you need right here.” Well, I didn’t. It’s so arrogant, to say you can’t learn from others. But this is the culture. And it’s even worse at NSA.

    Barbara Koeppel is a Washington-based investigative reporter. This article has been slightly edited for space; subscribe to The Washington Spectator to read the second part of this report, addressing evidence of corruption that Thomas Drake turned over to investigators.

  2. http://www.whistleblower.org/blog/42-2012/1990-tom-drake-on-the-nsa-a-911-daily-whistleblower-news

    Washington Spectator: NSA Analyst – ‘We Could Have Prevented 9/11’
    May 14, 2012

    “Summary: NSA whistleblower and GAP client Thomas Drake talked to the Washington Spectator about his whistleblowing experiences and the problems plaguing the NSA.

    Key Quote: Thomas Drake, a brilliant intelligence analyst, software engineer, and IT management consultant, worked at the CIA in the 1980s, then as a contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA), and ultimately as an NSA senior executive in 2001. But from 2006 until July 2011, he became the government’s and NSA’s public enemy.

    Why? From his high-level perch at NSA, he saw the failure to act on intelligence that might have prevented the 9/11 attacks, and he saw corruption at the highest levels.

    So he blew the whistle.” (end of excerpt)

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