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The Big Answer


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Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America's Stealth Warfare

a book by Scott Horton

(our site's book review)

Secrets Are Eroding the U.S. Democracy and We're an Oligarchy Approaching Tyranny

In lucid and chilling detail, journalist and lawyer Scott Horton shows how secrecy has changed the way America functions. Executive decisions about war and peace are increasingly made by autonomous, self-directing, and unaccountable national security elites. Secrecy is justified as part of a bargain under which the state promises to keep the people safe from its enemies, but in fact allows excesses, mistakes, corruption, and crimes to go unchecked. Bureaucracies use secrets to conceal their mistakes and advance their power in government, invariable at the expense of the rights of the people. Never before have the American people had so little information concerning the wars waged in their name, nor has Congress exercised so little oversight over the war effort. American democracy is in deep trouble. See Democracy—an American Delusion.

Lords of Secrecy explores the most important national security debates of our time, including the legal and moral issues surrounding the turn to private security contractors, the sweeping surveillance methods of intelligence agencies, and the use of robotic weapons such as killer drones. Horton looks at the legal edifice upon which these decisions are based and discusses approaches to rolling back the flood of secrets that is engulfing America today. Whistleblowers, but also Congress, the public, and the media, play a vital role in this process.

Secrecy changes the nature of the state itself, transforming a democracy into something else—such as an oligarchy controlled by a shadow government
Secrecy changes the nature of the state itself, transforming a democracy into something else—such as an oligarchy controlled by a shadow government

As the ancient Greeks recognized, too much secrecy changes the nature of the state itself, transforming a democracy into something else. Horton reminds us that dealing with the country’s national security concerns is both a right and a responsibility of a free citizenry, something that has always sat at the heart of any true democracy. Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America's Stealth Warfare also catalogues and assesses the tools that citizens in a democracy can use to fight back.

“A chilling but truthful account of how US national security and intelligence agencies are undermining democracy in the United States while the politicians are conceding space to them. It is virtually an indictment of the US national security elites. Every American who cares about democracy should read this book.”—Washington Book Review


In Order to Hide Ineptitude, Illegality and Corruption, Claims of Secrecy Are Made

Surveillance was kept secret until Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald took the brave and heroic steps they did. Now we see what all the secrecy is about: in order to hide ineptitude, illegality and corruption, claims of secrecy are made. Anything that the intelligence elites are not comfortable in disclosing, because such a disclosure will implicate them, is labelled secret. Horton argues that science experienced enormous development through the decades because knowledge contributed by great scientists was available to whoever wanted to understand it. It was not kept secret. Democracy has undergone a decline because there is a regime of secrecy and people are kept out of the decision making through a system erected by largely unelected elites — the lords of secrecy.

The unelected elites are the lords of secrecy—they are unaccountable, secret, and beyond our reach, yet they run things
The unelected elites are the lords of secrecy—they are unaccountable, secret, and beyond our reach, yet they run things

"Scott Horton’s Lords of Secrecy is a brilliantly devastating exposé of the shadow government that runs US national security policy. No matter who wins the White House, this secretive clique retains control over America’s darkest secrets and will stop at nothing to keep them from the public. Its members' names are largely unknown and its actions unchecked. In an era of an unprecedented war against whistleblowers and against the very existence of a free press (see Freedom of the Press—an American Delusion), Horton’s book provides an essential playbook for battling this undemocratic beast.”—Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater and Dirty Wars

Scott Horton is a contributing editor at Harper’s magazine and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for reporting for his writing on law and national security issues. Horton lectures at Columbia Law School and continues to practice law in the emerging markets area. A lifelong human rights advocate, Horton served as counsel to Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner, among other activists in the former Soviet Union.

Neocon nutjobs tell us that dumping our Bill of Rights and our Constitution was a prerequisite for our safety, which no intelligent citizen could possibly buy
Neocon nutjobs tell us that dumping our Bill of Rights and our Constitution was a prerequisite for our safety, which no intelligent citizen could possibly buy. Scott Horton is a lifelong human rights advocate.

When Public Policy Is Made by Unaccountable Individuals and Institutions in the Name of "National Security," Voters Are Left in the Dark

In Lords of Secrecy The National Security Elite and America's Stealth Warfare, award-winning journalist and lawyer Scott Horton exposes the threat to democracy of an ever-expanding shadow government. When public policy is made by unaccountable individuals and institutions in the name of "national security," voters are left in the dark. See Unaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt our Finances, Freedom, and Security.

Thanks at least in part to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, Americans are more aware than ever before of the massive amount of data that the government keeps not just on suspected terrorists and enemies of the state, but also on ordinary citizens
Thanks at least in part to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, Americans are more aware than ever before of the massive amount of data that the government keeps not just on suspected terrorists and enemies of the state, but also on ordinary citizens

"Thanks at least in part to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, Americans are more aware than ever before of the massive amount of data that the government keeps not just on suspected terrorists and enemies of the state, but also on ordinary citizens. Even so, in specific terms, writes Harper’s contributing editor Horton, “Americans know less about what their national security forces are doing than ever before.” This contradiction perfectly describes the way things are today: We know that there are spies among us, but we don’t know what they’re really after—save that they keep their activities from us by arguing that to know too much would endanger our safety. Thus ignorant, Horton notes, citizens cannot participate fully in decisions about war and peace, matters that are now left to technocrats to decide." (Source: LORDS OF SECRECY: The National Security Elite and America's Stealth Warfare )

As Horton sees it, "I think we have to designate, as the dark overlord of the Lords of Secrecy, Richard Bruce Cheney." (The man pushed Dubya Bush to fulfill Cheney's neocon wet dreams. He wants the whole world and he wants it now!)

Before 1776, the Colonies in America were part of the British Empire, but they decided that being subjects of King George III (George William Frederick) was not all that smart. They figured that creating a democracy and ceasing to bow to George's greed (taxes on the Colonies, etc.) was smarter, if a bit dangerous and reckless. It only worked because there was an ocean between America and Britain. These brave upstarts decided to seize the day. And seize they did. All they had to do was reject George's oppression and aim for freedom, rights, fairness, justice, and self-determination, kissing good-bye the era of being a British colony. U.S. is building an empire which they hope will outshine the 500-year reign of the British Empire. However, countries today—like the American colonies in 1776—do NOT want to be colonies.

U.S. is building an empire which they hope will outshine the 500-year reign of the British Empire—however, countries today do NOT want to be colonies
U.S. is building an empire which they hope will outshine the 500-year reign of the British Empire—however, countries today do NOT want to be colonies

The Shadow Government Theme Song: They Want the Whole World

Cheney singing 'I want the whole world . . . I want it NOW!'
Cheney singing 'I want the whole world . . . I want it NOW!'


Ironically, on January 20, 2001, the Bush Doctrine recklessly put us U.S. "colonists" under the unwilling control of another King George who—even greedier than the first one—wanted not just American colonies but the rest of the world as well. They even admitted that—like the first George—they wanted Empire, and no amount of power would suffice until they had it all: All the wealth, all the power, all the land, etc. It reminds one of the adorable, but spoiled, brat in the first Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory movie who sang "I want the whole world . . . I want it NOW!" Was Bush having a "brat attack" during his 2003 Iraq invasion, precipitated by the drooling greed of accomplice-mastermind Dick Cheney?

'I want the whole world . . . I want it NOW!' (It's MUCH cuter when this little girl is singing it!)
"'I want the whole world . . . I want it NOW!' (It's MUCH cuter when this little girl is singing it!)"


The U.S. military bullies dropping a little 'democracy' on Middle Eastern citizens
The U.S. military bullies dropping a little 'democracy' on Middle Eastern citizens

Recognize Secrecy for What It Is: a Weakness, Not a Strength

This book is a compelling call for citizens to recognize secrecy for what it is: a weakness, not a strength; an addiction, not a choice; a disease of democracy and ultimately democracy’s death. For anyone who wants to stop the growth in the U.S. of the same kind of sclerosis that enfeebled and ultimately broke the back of the U.S.S.R., Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America's Stealth Warfare is an excellent place to start.

American democracy is circling the drain due to secrecy and U.S. empire building to please neocons and enrich oligarchs
American democracy is circling the drain due to secrecy and U.S. empire building to please neocons and enrich oligarchs

"As senator (and former Navy secretary) Jim Webb puts it, 'Year by year, skirmish by skirmish, the role of the Congress in determining where the U.S. military would operate, and when the awesome power of our weapon systems would be unleashed, has diminished.' And the role of the American populace in this process has faded almost into oblivion. . . . The consequence of this information blackout [i.e., secrecy] is that Americans also have less effective say about what their country does and what strategies and objectives it pursues. Decision-making authority has passed from the American people, the ultimate sovereign, and the Congress, the organ of oversight and balance, to the president and his unelected and essentially unaccountable advisers in the national security arena—the lords of secrecy." (Source: Scott Horton: "Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America's Stealth Foreign Policy" (Book Excerpt))


The Way Wars Are Now Waged Is a Way to Avoid Public Opposition to Elite War Decisions

The elites sought to avoid public opposition to their war decisions, since they hated that the public had turned against the Vietnam War in the 60s and 70s, and evenually elites were pressured to pull out of that disastrous quagmire. So they wanted for such things to never happen again. So they ended the draft, and sought to develop low or even zero-casualty military technologies, which led to a focus on air war, the development of tactical missile technologies like cruise missiles and smart bombs, and robotic weapons systems such as drones. And they privatized much of the military actions so the public couldn't get fed up with high casualties and pressure to stop conflicts. Private security contractors such as Blackwater aren't listed in casualty reports. Since the Afghanistan War, the number of civilian contractors deployed actually came to exceed the number of uniformed service personnel. This is a way for elites to cheat—to cook the books, as it were. Contractors were less accountable to public opinions.

Predator drones are killing a few enemies and a lot of innocents, but Obama doesn't seem to care
Predator drones are killing a few enemies and a lot of innocents, but Obama doesn't seem to care


Bush and Obama love playing God, swatting to death anyone they don't like the looks of and making the U.S. look like the Great Satan the Islamics see us as
Bush and Obama love playing God, swatting to death anyone they don't like the looks of and making the U.S. look like the Great Satan the Islamics see us as

Finally, the huge costs of allowing elites to simply assign military projects according to their whims with no oversight, and with the public oblivious to it and bearing no financial burdens, meant that the burden of the endless military engagements initiated by our empire building neocon elites would simply get passed on to the next generation, which, ironically, would be even LESS capable of paying for it than the current generation. So the public, the elites, and the Congress, in a suicidally foolish act of collective blindness, simply refused to see this incredible 20 trillion dollar debt which kept growing by the second. Individuals engaging in denial to such a psychotic degree are institutionalized, but countries doing it are simply looked at as rash and foolish by all other countries but not by the country itself, who does no "looking at" (self reflection) at all.

The USA seems to be doing no self reflection but tons of self deception as it runs around the planet killing with impunity. We citizens are tiring of elites' empire building and neocon nastiness.
The USA seems to be doing no self reflection but tons of self deception as it runs around the planet killing with impunity. We citizens are tiring of elites' empire building and neocon nastiness.

Will we continue to be so shortsighted that we will have soon mortgaged our children's futures far beyond our (or their) ability to repair the damage?

national debt

The doomsday clock is currently set at 3 minutes to midnight
The doomsday clock is currently set at 3 minutes to midnight

Unless American citizens start defecating money, the debt has put us all in deep doo-doo
Unless American citizens start defecating money, the debt has put us all in deep doo-doo

Horton discusses the "churning sea of secrets that is engulfing America today." It is the product of the rise of the "lords of secrecy" and the key to their power and influence. He explores the legal context in which these developments arose and discusses approaches to rolling back the sea of secrets by forcing national security information that is essential to democratic discourse into the public view, concluding with a useful role that Congress, the public, the media, academics, and whistleblowers can play in this process.

A 'churning sea of secrets' is engulfing America today—it is the product of the rise of the 'lords of secrecy' and the key to their power and influence
A 'churning sea of secrets' is engulfing America today—it is the product of the rise of the 'lords of secrecy' and the key to their power and influence

Elites Support a Different Kind of Journalist: Not the Watchdog But the Lapdog

Horton says " . . . increasingly we have a corporate media culture that does not encourage or meaningfully support [true investigative] journalists. And instead it tends to cultivate and support a different kind of journalist: not the watchdog but the lapdog." (Which he admits are CIA prompted and follow CIA talking points.)

A watchdog
A watchdog


A lapdog
A lapdog

John Adams promoted the idea of knowledge-based democracy. And also, in portraying the 1775-1776 enemy, Britain is described as secretive. Public information and shared knowledge and a right of publicity, a right of information, a right of knowledge, that's a democratic society. That's the American ideal. Privilege, secrecy, aristocratic values, that was Britain. Hence the American Revolution, where we declared we'd "just say no" to taxes and resource exploitation by Europeans. Today we'd cite the late Alvin Toffler and his Third Wave and Erich Fromm and his The Revolution Of Hope as heavy promoters of the idea of knowledge-based democracy. Both Adams and Toffler, as well as Fromm, prescribe an open society.

The shadow government pulls the real levers of power to keep things more profitable for the elites, and elected leaders are mere puppets
The shadow government pulls the real levers of power to keep things more profitable for the elites, and elected leaders are mere puppets

Gorbachev's embrace of ideas like Glanost was a late 20th century insight that the USSR was choking on its own secrecy obsession. Today, Putin spews ideas like openness but behind the scenes are secret cabals and greedy oligarchs running a kleptocracy but using words like democracy as the cover story. Ugly enough, the U.S. is run by greedy empire building neocons of the shadow government who tell elected puppets what to do and the pretense of democracy has become the cover story, a story which fewer and fewer citizens buy. As a matter of fact, one can see that the Ruskies obviously got their idea of a phoney democracy cover story from the USA! The writing—some of it in excrement—is on the wall. The pretenses have grown hollow and meaningless. Shadow government control and propaganda-fed mainstream media remain in place regardless of who we vote for. This explains our being in several unnecessary wars we did not vote for or want. It explains why neocon empire builders are allowed to plunge the USA into deeper and deeper debt even though no one supported this except a few warped-minded neocons and oligarchs and a few banks who make tons of money on the deal.

The NSA and acts like the Patriot Act have in effect burned the Constitution
The NSA and acts like the Patriot Act have in effect burned the Constitution

Electing a leader, that's the essence of the democratic ideal. We have the right to pick our leader. But we have no serious rights beyond that in the pseudo-democracy in the USA. The national security apparatus like the NSA and acts like the Patriot Act have seen to that, so we have ended up with our "democracy" being the classical definition of tyranny. The tyrants are the neocons of the shadow government—the real controllers. Horton says the political process has, in the last several decades, had remarkably little effect on the Lords of Secrecy. Which is the reason why he calls them lords. You know, they're not elected. And they rule as if they were lords. The Lords of Secrecy are the shadow government—the unelected controllers, the neocon warmongers who wage wars we have no way of stopping.