Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Breaking eggs round the world / the spooky mode

Something I know nothing about and do not yet have a cache of evidence on, is the activities of other countries' famous intelligence services such as Mossad, MI5, Savak.

I do not intend to approach intelligence from inside the usual fog of spookyness. I have been there. Probably like a lot of people, I fell into the orbit of the Prevailing Winds catalog, or Dave Emory's programs, in the 80s and 90s. I went to see Barbara Honegger, Philip Agee, John Stockwell, Daniel Sheehan on campus. I read Brought to Light and I think it's a terrific, innovative piece of documentary comics, plus I love almost everything that Alan Moore does, but it is drumming on the heartstrings, trying to be scary with swimming pools full of blood. (The La Penca story is stylistically more plain, so kudos to that.) I think what the spooky mode does for kids is makes them feel like diggers digging. Reading about the Kennedy assassination is like reading Narnia or Lord of the Rings. It takes you out of your humdrum existence. Also, when you're reading a book or watching a documentary containing an alphabet soup of programs, dollar amounts, acronyms, people, it presses a button with a nerdy boy aesthetic that likes to fantasize about being drenched in complexity.

But I would like to graduate to a more methodical approach that has some real goals beyond perpetuating the spooky. I haven't read Richard Hofstadter but I guess what I am calling 'the spooky mode' is also something like what Hofstadter called 'the paranoid style in American politics.'

What I would be interested in keeping an eye out for is the way in which intelligence services of various countries, who sometimes draw upon plausible deniability and use it as cover to break their domestic laws and treaties for their 'vital security interests,' approach false positives. Of course with rendition and secret prisons, the story I am already tracking is an international story. But what about intra-Israel, intra-Russia, intra-Iran? What has the outcry been like when a country's version of the CIA kills a citizen of that country? And has there ever been an overt codifying of acceptable downsides? I guess I am interested in this as a pattern to look out for in the future, so that you might be able to say, this is how governments usually approach unintended casualties. This is the furthest that a body of ordinary people has ever gotten in trying to call them on that and get them to admit it. If any conclusions can be drawn about the bottlenecks and why it failed, it puts you in a better position for next time.

At the back of my mind I have the possibility of dismantling or unraveling a "What's the Matter with Kansas?" style discrepancy, where a citizen might actually be shooting themself in the foot by supporting policies that lead to impunity that lead to bystander deaths of people just like THEM. But they don't know they're shooting themselves in the foot. If this model were the case, what could be done? The thing that would be a positive reform, I think, would be regular and public disclosure of collateral damage costs in intelligence/security/war operations. Of course, that's one of the outcomes of intelligence services utilizing secrecy. They don't have to admit when they kill a bystander. They might get an outcry from the bystanders' families, but because of secrecy, they don't.

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