Aug 22 2013


Yup, not too hard to figure out what this is all about-

Advocate of Secret Infiltration, Cass Sunstein, on Obama’s "Committee To Make Us Trust the Dragnet"

by emptywheel

August 22, 2013

ABC reports that, along with former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell, former Homeland Security Czar Richard Clarke, and former Obama special assistant for economic policy Peter Swire, the White House (or James Clapper – who knows at this point) has picked Cass Sunstein for its Review Committee on NSA programs.

Frankly, a lot of people are investing misplaced confidence that Richard Clarke will make this committee useful. While he’s good on a lot of issues, he’s as hawkish on cybersecurity as anyone else in this country. And as I keep pointing out, these programs are really about cybersecurity. Richard Clarke is not going to do a damned thing to rein in a program that increasingly serves to surveil US Internet data to protect against cyberthreats.

But Sunstein? Really?

As Glenn Greenwald (yeah – that Glenn; did they really think no one would raise this point?) reported back in 2010, Sunstein wrote a paper in 2008 advocating very creepy stealth measures against “conspiracy theories.”

And remember, a big mandate for this committee is not to review the programs to see if we can make them more privacy-protective, but simply to increase our trust in them. Which goes to the core of what Sunstein was talking about in his paper: using covert government propaganda to, in this case, better sell covert government spying.

Well, if Obama and Clapper’s rollout hadn’t already discredited this committee, Sunstein’s selection sure does.

Obama confidant’s spine-chilling proposal

Glenn Greenwald, Salon

Friday, Jan 15, 2010 1:16 PM UTC

Sunstein advocates that the Government’s stealth infiltration should be accomplished by sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups.”  He also proposes that the Government make secret payments to so-called “independent” credible voices to bolster the Government’s messaging (on the ground that those who don’t believe government sources will be more inclined to listen to those who appear independent while secretly acting on behalf of the Government).   This program would target those advocating false “conspiracy theories,” which they define to mean: “an attempt to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.”  Sunstein’s 2008 paper was flagged by this blogger, and then amplified in an excellent report by Raw Story’s Daniel Tencer.

Initially, note how similar Sunstein’s proposal is to multiple, controversial stealth efforts by the Bush administration to secretly influence and shape our political debates.  The Bush Pentagon employed teams of former Generals to pose as “independent analysts” in the media while secretly coordinating their talking points and messaging about wars and detention policies with the Pentagon.  Bush officials secretly paid supposedly “independent” voices, such as Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, to advocate pro-Bush policies while failing to disclose their contracts.  In Iraq, the Bush Pentagon hired a company, Lincoln Park, which paid newspapers to plant pro-U.S. articles while pretending it came from Iraqi citizens.  In response to all of this, Democrats typically accused the Bush administration of engaging in government-sponsored propaganda – and when it was done domestically, suggested this was illegal propaganda.  Indeed, there is a very strong case to make that what Sunstein is advocating is itself illegal under long-standing statutes prohibiting government “propaganda” within the U.S., aimed at American citizens.

A provision just eliminated, how convenient.  To continue-

Covert government propaganda is exactly what Sunstein craves.  His mentality is indistinguishable from the Bush mindset that led to these abuses, and he hardly tries to claim otherwise.  Indeed, he favorably cites both the covert Lincoln Park program as well as Paul Bremer’s closing of Iraqi newspapers which published stories the U.S. Government disliked, and justifies them as arguably necessary to combat “false conspiracy theories” in Iraq – the same goal Sunstein has for the U.S.

Sunstein’s response to these criticisms is easy to find in what he writes, and is as telling as the proposal itself.  He acknowledges that some “conspiracy theories” previously dismissed as insane and fringe have turned out to be entirely true (his examples:  the CIA really did secretly administer LSD in “mind control” experiments; the DOD really did plot the commission of terrorist acts inside the U.S. with the intent to blame Castro; the Nixon White House really did bug the DNC headquarters).  Given that history, how could it possibly be justified for the U.S. Government to institute covert programs designed to undermine anti-government “conspiracy theories,” discredit government critics, and increase faith and trust in government pronouncements?  Because, says Sunstein, such powers are warranted only when wielded by truly well-intentioned government officials who want to spread The Truth and Do Good – i.e., when used by people like Cass Sunstein and Barack Obama.

Consider the recent revelation that the Obama administration has been making very large, undisclosed payments to MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber to provide consultation on the President’s health care plan.  With this lucrative arrangement in place, Gruber spent the entire year offering public justifications for Obama’s health care plan, typically without disclosing these payments, and far worse, was repeatedly held out by the White House – falsely – as an “independent” or “objective” authority.  Obama allies in the media constantly cited Gruber’s analysis to support their defenses of the President’s plan, and the White House, in turn, then cited those media reports as proof that their plan would succeed.  This created an infinite "feedback loop" in favor of Obama’s health care plan which – unbeknownst to the public – was all being generated by someone who was receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret from the administration (read this to see exactly how it worked).

In other words, this arrangement was quite similar to the Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher scandals which Democrats, in virtual lockstep, condemned.  Paul Krugman, for instance, in 2005 angrily lambasted right-wing pundits and policy analysts who received secret, undisclosed payments, and said they lack “intellectual integrity”; he specifically cited the Armstrong Williams case.  Yet the very same Paul Krugman last week attacked Marcy Wheeler for helping to uncover the Gruber payments by accusing her of being “just like the right-wingers with their endless supply of fake scandals.”  What is one key difference?  Unlike Williams and Gallagher, Jonathan Gruber is a Good, Well-Intentioned Person with Good Views – he favors health care – and so massive, undisclosed payments from the same administration he’s defending are dismissed as a “fake scandal.”

What is most odious and revealing about Sunstein’s worldview is his condescending, self-loving belief that “false conspiracy theories” are largely the province of fringe, ignorant Internet masses and the Muslim world.  That, he claims, is where these conspiracy theories thrive most vibrantly, and he focuses on various 9/11 theories – both domestically and in Muslim countries – as his prime example.

It’s certainly true that one can easily find irrational conspiracy theories in those venues, but some of the most destructive “false conspiracy theories” have emanated from the very entity Sunstein wants to endow with covert propaganda power:  namely, the U.S. Government itself, along with its elite media defenders. Moreover, “crazy conspiracy theorist” has long been the favorite epithet of those same parties to discredit people trying to expose elite wrongdoing and corruption.

Who is it who relentlessly spread “false conspiracy theories” of Saddam-engineered anthrax attacks and Iraq-created mushroom clouds and a Ba’athist/Al-Qaeda alliance – the most destructive conspiracy theories of the last generation?  And who is it who demonized as “conspiracy-mongers” people who warned that the U.S. Government was illegally spying on its citizens, systematically torturing people, attempting to establish permanent bases in the Middle East, or engineering massive bailout plans to transfer extreme wealth to the industries which own the Government?  The most chronic and dangerous purveyors of “conspiracy theory” games are the very people Sunstein thinks should be empowered to control our political debates through deceit and government resources:  namely, the Government itself and the Enlightened Elite like him.

It is this history of government deceit and wrongdoing that renders Sunstein’s desire to use covert propaganda to “undermine” anti-government speech so repugnant.  The reason conspiracy theories resonate so much is precisely that people have learned – rationally – to distrust government actions and statements.  Sunstein’s proposed covert propaganda scheme is a perfect illustration of why that is.  In other words, people don’t trust the Government and “conspiracy theories” are so pervasive precisely because government is typically filled with people like Cass Sunstein, who think that systematic deceit and government-sponsored manipulation are justified by their own Goodness and Superior Wisdom.


a big mandate for this committee is not to review the programs to see if we can make them more privacy-protective, but simply to increase our trust in them

Most.  Transparent.  Administration.  Ever.

1 comment

  1. ek hornbeck

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