What We Don't Know and Don't Want to Know   (June 15, 2010)

We know almost nothing about what our government does in our name, and given our acceptance of a passive Mainstream Media, perhaps we don't want to know.

Yesterday I suggested that in critical matters of war and economic policy, Japan and the U.S. had no coherent plan, but constructed a "compelling justification" for public consumption as a domestically palatable substitute.

Is ignorance bliss or merely a conventient excuse for inaction? Perhaps it is both.

Do we have any real idea what is being done in Iraq and Afghanistan at the behest of our government? Is there any evidence to support the notion that the citizens who fund the American Empire have any sort of grasp of what's going on in the further reaches of the Empire?

I submit that the only people who know what's really going on, both in the center of the Empire and at its periphery, are those serving on the ground in the Armed Forces and those with access to signals intelligence: (SIGINT) the fruits of the unprecedented global "harvesting" of messages that is the foundation of U.S. intelligence.

As I noted in My Country Went to Iraq and All I Got Was This Global Empire (April 22, 2010), The U.S. has long had exceptional signals intelligence capabilities: we tapped Soviet undersea cables, for instance, and now monitor millions of conversations and messages. The world's vast oceans are all "wired for sound" as part of this signal/data collection: SUBMARINES, SECRETS, AND SPIES (NOVA-PBS).

Entire armies of analysts toil away every day, doing the SIGINT work of the global Empire. It is of course all secret; the citizenry only find out what the Empire knows and does when a "whistleblower" risks his/her career and sanity to reveal the truth. (See The Most Dangerous Man in America for an example.)

When the sordid truth does come out, then it's quickly dismissed as the work of "rogue elements" (see Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press for how this works) or those revealing the truth are discredited as "right-wing nuts" or "left-wing nuts," depending on which is most slanderous in domestic politics at the moment.

Is there any strong evidence to support the notion that the corporate Mainstream Media has anything but a passing interest in what's happening on the ground in the dozens of nations in which we have bases and facilities?

The dearth of anything but superficial "news" suggests the answer is no.

Even more sobering, is there any evidence that the Mainstream Media is a willing lackey for the Empire, avoiding any stories which put the Imperial Leadership or fiefdoms in a bad light?

One source of evidence is to look in the recent past to see what fantasies and justifications were passed off as "truths" and what Imperial embarrassments were shoved under the carpet or simply ignored until the passage of time rendered the issue moot.

We could look at the "weapons of mass destruction" charade or the Abu Ghraib fiasco in Iraq, but these are not the most troubling examples of official wrong-doing and hubris and Mainstream Media coverup or passivity.

These are not just matters concerning what has been done to "bad guys" (our enemies and the collateral damage caused by the sloppiness of war) but what has been done (or not done) with our own citizens--both those in the home country and those serving abroad.

Let us set aside all the assumptions we have about the M.I.A.-Vietnam controversy, and ask if there is any evidence that our government provided a truthful account of those missing in action and presumed captured in Vietnam and Laos.

The "facts" as presented by the government are that no U.S. servicemen were left behind. Other evidence suggests there was a concerted, covert campaign to bury the issue and discredit any skeptics who challenged the government line.

Here is an account of a journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Cambodia who is skeptical of the official account of the MIAs, and scathing in his critique of media passivity: McCain and the POW Cover-Up : A mountain of evidence suggests that hundreds of soldiers were abandoned to die in Vietnam, but instead of exposing this betrayal, the American media has gone missing in action.

My four-decade fight to report the truth by Sydney Schanberg

The "rebuttal" to Schanberg's evidence comes across as more of an attempt to discredit Schanberg than a well-researched counter-argument:

The evidence doesn’t stack up by Gareth Porter.

Clearly, Mr. Porter is no water-carrier for the usual Imperial fiefdoms, nor does he seem in thrall to corporate media. So it is perhaps even more striking that he takes such a shrill line on the entire subject, declaring:

Sydney Schanberg has an illustrious journalistic career going back to the Vietnam War. But in peddling the story of an alleged high-level cover-up of U.S. prisoners of war said to have been left behind after the war, he has inexplicably swallowed one of history’s spectacular frauds. Schanberg’s article incorporates deceptions that have built this political myth, which has been successfully exploited by ambitious and unprincipled figures for decades.

Hmm. I wonder if the reverse is true, and the "alleged cover-up" is what was "successfully exploited by ambitious and unprincipled figures for decades."

The basis of my skepticism is the signals intelligence referenced by Schanberg in great detail: the aerial photos of names and service numbers on the ground and in fields, the signals received from manually coded sensors, etc.

The "debunking" of the "myth" by Porter completely ignores the signals intelligence and pointedly makes no mention of SIGINT counter-evidence.

If anyone believes the U.S. didn't collect massive amounts of signals intelligence during the Vietnam War era and in the years after the war ended, they are truly naive-- or willfully ignorant. The U.S. gathered thousands of photos and intercepted tens of thousands of messages.

Was all of this combed with the intent to locate possible MIAs in captivity, or was it superficially combed to discredit challenges to the "Party line" that there were no American servicemen left behind in Laos?

To get a taste of what being shot down over Laos and being captured was like, please view Little Dieter Needs to Fly, a documentary by Werner Herzog.

Clearly, it would have been extremely difficult to spot the prison camps and the men from the air, and radio transmissions were likely sporadic and weak. But the SIGINT evidence that Schanberg cites is persuasive; could all of it have been fabricated? By whom? To whose benefit?

Those who seek to discredit anyone who questioned the "official" propaganda, oops, I mean account, that there were no prisoners left in Southeast Asia, suggest that some sort of "unprincipled ambition" was sufficient motivation to gin up SIGINT evidence or reference fake data.

This makes little sense to me. So critics who claimed that the U.S. left its airmen behind were unscrupulous folks hoping to exploit MIA issues and family members... to what benefit? To build a political career? Who managed to get elected on the MIA issue? Was there fame and fortune to be gained, via notoriety? Who among the critics got rich and famous?

All of the "benefits" which supposedly accrue to the skeptics appear rather threadbare compared to the obviously immense benefits to the Status Quo if the MIA question was discredited and went away.

The hack job by Porter is a classic attempt to discredit the weakest links of an evidential chain while completely ignoring the strongest evidence. It's classic propaganda, as practiced by government officials at every level.

These officials believe (or tell themselves they believe) that covering up government wrong-doing, mismanagement and outright stupidity is "for the good of the country" because "our enemies would exploit the issue."

In other words, lying, misrepresentations, cover-ups and discrediting critics is all "in the national interest."

Thus is truth sacrificed for domestic political gain.

It was all too easy to mock the MIA issue as a "nutter" fantasy exploited by filmakers for profits. And perhaps the official line is true; maybe there were only nine U.S. prisoners in Laos.

But before you passively swallow the official "story," I suggest you read an account of the massive "secret" war the U.S. waged in and over Laos. Here is a report by one of the pilots who fought that "secret" war: The Ravens. Also of interest: Covert Ops: The CIA's Secret War In Laos.

The more you know about U.S. operations and SIGINT, the more reasons you have to question the official "story." Let's be honest: by 1973, the American people had lost interest in the Vietnam War, and the embattled Nixon Presidency had other fish to fry.

Except for the families of the men who were unaccounted for, there was little motivation to unearth U.S. prisoners who were embarrassingly still alive, and every political reason to let the issue (and the men) die.

I do not have security clearance, nor am I an expert in signals intelligence. But when data which has little value to our "enemies" is locked away as "secret" for decades, it makes me wonder why this data is so "dangerous" to our government that it must be kept out of the hands of its citizens. I wonder what an agenda-less review of all the photo and signals intelligence would have turned up--that is, a search for the truth instead of politically convenient conclusions.

Some supremely naive citizens may believe that the Vietnam War--one long series of lies and disinformation fed to the American public--is safely in the past, and our current government is not at all concerned with defending its leaders from embarrassment or the politically inconvenient.

If so, I hope they wonder why the government agency in charge allowed BP so many inexplicable "short-cuts" and why "official" reports of the size of the oil flow were so egregiously inaccurate on the low side. Cui bono: who would benefit from the oil spill being minimized and the skeptics discredited? Not just BP; the spill is playing out very poorly in terms of domestic politics.

But perhaps it's not just what we don't know that matters--it's what we don't want to know. Based on what little I know about the immense quantity of photographic and signals intelligence collected in the Vietnam era, I find it difficult to believe that all this vast body of data was thoroughly searched and analyzed for any evidence that U.S. prisoners remained alive after 1973. It it far more plausible to me that domestic political motivations would cause an "unwritten" but perfectly understood order to go down the chain: bury it.

We might wonder what else is being buried "for the good of the country," and what else is known by those with access to the signals intelligence collected by the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies. It far exceeds what we are told, of that we can be sure.

Do we want to know, or do we prefer to let the Imperial deeds and dead remain safely buried and out of sight? For to know makes us complicit in it all: the lies, the destruction, the cover-ups, the stupidity. To remain safely ignorant is to cling to the childlike fantasy that we are not responsible.

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