May 23, 2006
"A coup d'etat ... or just coup ... for
short, is the sudden overthrow of (taking over from) a government. Unlike a
revolution, which usually takes large numbers of people to take over, a coup
can be done by a small number of people, or even one person, if they, for
example, control the country's army," Wikipedia
Generally, a coup is seen as the overthrow of
those in power by another - usually with support of at least part of the
military. Often this is imagined as a swift move followed by a consolidation
operation (kill or expel those who were previously in power). However, a coup
seems to be occurring in the United States, but it is a slow coup. It may be
culminated by one drastic move that consolidates the plan, but the pieces are
being clearly put in place for a coup of the entire government with the
eradication of democracy and the Constitution. I will constrain my discussion to
three areas: executive power, intelligence, and military reach.
Bush has consistently operated under the
philosophy of the unitary
"This theory argues that the executive
branch of government, held in the hands of the President, has the sole right
to ignore all law (including the Constitution and international agreements),
and without oversight by Congress, or checks by the Supreme Court. In short,
the President is above the law and has all the authority of government, and
the right to order without challenge all branches of government. This includes
the ordering of the
U.S. military into war without authorization by Congress. In short, the
"unitary executive," as vested in the person of the President, is a
king, an emperor, or a dictator. It represents one individual with total
control of the full resources of the United States to take any action Bush
sees fit. Wolf
Many are raising alarm about Bush's use of "signing
statements." While Bush has not vetoed any legislation that has come
his way, he has used the signing statement to exempt the executive branch from
obeying the laws he has signed. While many of Bush's signing statements have,
and are being challenged in court, the signing statements "function as
directives to executive branch departments and agencies as to how they are to
implement the relevant law" (John
Bush has utilized the signing statement an estimated
750 times to effectively overrule legislation that has come before him. The
statements have been attached to everything from certain aspects of the U.S.A.
P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate
Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism), to anti-torture
legislation, to reporting to Congress. As
John Dean notes, "Bush is using signing statements like line item
vetoes. Yet the Supreme Court has held the line item vetoes are
unconstitutional." However, this back door approach to the line item
veto is to selectively exempt the Executive Branch from complying with the laws
written by Congress. In effect, Bush is creating a "unitary executive"
which is effectively a dictator above the law of the land and the constraints of
Some call it "intelligence" and others "spying." Regardless
of the nomenclature, the Bush Administration's commitment to massive data
collection approaches zealotry. The old adage that "knowledge is
power" has been taken to heart in a twisted way by this group. The power
resides in knowing everything about everyone else and not letting anyone know
anything about you.
The drive to know everything was brought to light
with the uncovering to TIAS (Total Information Awareness System) in November
2002. The purpose of the program run by John Poindexter out of the DoD
Information Awareness Office was to collect every piece of information on every
person in the United States in one database and then "datamine" it.
The database would include a running data collection from primary documents to
school records to pictures of you as you stood at the checkout line in the
grocery store. It was truly a "Big Brother" idea. Aside: Poindexter
came to fame in the Iran-Contra debacle during the Reagan administration when he
served as Deputy National Security Advisor and National Security Advisor. He was
brought back into the Bush Administration for his unique skills - as was John
Negroponte among others formerly "under a cloud."
TIA was defunded, but the program (or parts of
it) have made their way into other agencies - such as Homeland
and the NSA.
The President and the National Security Agency
drew attention with its "terrorist" spying program where all calls
originating outside the country, or from the U.S. with a foreign destination,
were "captured." This was done without a FISA warrant, and the Bush
Administration (including Bush, Gonzales, and General Hayden) have all argued
that what they did was legal. Their perspective seems to be a minority view.
However, executive authority has once again come into play as the NSA
stymies Justice Dept. spying probe attempting to uncover the scope of the
Now, an even larger spying operation by the NSA
has been uncovered. As reported in USA
Today, the ongoing phone records of over 200 million people in the US have
been turned over by most of the major telecommunication companies to the NSA.
There are potentially trillions of records that have been captured. The
Frontier Foundation, has filed a suit against AT&T for providing phone
logs to the NSA, but the Bush administration has
moved to quash the suit. There are reports that the indiscriminate
spying on Americans is even wider, and that the National Geospatial-Intelligence
brought satellite surveillance to bear on the US for domestic spying.
The public response to the NSA programs has been
mixed depending on what poll you read. A Washington Post poll found
that most Americans don't mind being spied on. They attributed their results
to the public's willingness to give up privacy for safety. However, both a NewsWeek
poll and a USA
Today poll have opposite results.
The comments of "If you're talking to al
Qaeda we want to know about it," are patently distracting. In order for
this comment to make any sense, the NSA would have to know the phone numbers
(and email addresses) of al Qaeda members (and who the members are). If they
know those then they can place a trap/tap on them and "capture" the
numbers of those calling. Hence, no need for indiscriminate phone and email
"captures." If they don't know that information, then looking
at trillions of phone and email communications is unlikely to get them.
As a researcher, I am totally unconvinced that
such massive data collection increases the effectiveness of finding terrorists -
or uncovering their plots. The information to prevent the events of 9/11/01 were
there and "missed." Increasing the amount of spurious data to be
"mined" in order to spot particular threats is like trying to find a
needle in a haystack by adding a trillion haystacks. What it does do is provide
domestic information of high specificity for their purposes. The mass monitoring
of the population.
While Bush, and others in the administration
issue calming statements that these programs are of limited
scope, legal, and necessary for security, to anyone with some historical
background, or a halfway decent memory, such promises and assurances have
consistently been hollow in the past. For those who have forgotten, or never
knew, Ron Hutcheson has written an excellent reminder - US
Government has Long History of Abusing Personal Information
Hutcheson reminds us of the 1976 Church
Commission investigation which resulted in the legal leash being put on the
intelligence community, a leash that was dropped with the USA PATRIOT Act.
"In time of crisis, the government will
exercise its power to conduct domestic intelligence activities to the fullest
extent. The distinction between legal dissent and criminal conduct is easily
forgotten," the committee wrote. "In an era where the technological
capability of government relentlessly increases, we must be wary about the
drift toward `big brother government.''
Hutcheson goes before that to 1912 when waiters,
"well-placed" people, and others were recruited to "eavesdrop on
conversations." He enumerates some of the violations of rights and privacy
in the 1920s "Red Scare" though he leaves out the McCarthy era. He
reminds us of the spying on Martin Luther King, and other activists and activist
groups of the day.
In other words, the government does not have a
good track record when it comes to recognizing the boundaries of Constitutional
protections when they perceive a threat. Further, all too frequently security
issues end up being extended to those who are seen as a political threat or even
dissident voices. I see no reason to assume that this situation is any different
than any other "infringement" in the name of "security." It
is not comforting that the Vice President is purportedly one of the primary
supporters of expanding
"eavesdropping" even further. To say that such programs
"blur the line" is an understatement.
At some point, we have to question the reach of the military into domestic
affairs. We have created a monstrosity that eats up massive amounts of economic
resources. It is therefore not surprising that the military appears to be the
"most prepared" to handle a number of tasks from emergency response,
to guarding the borders, to engaging in domestic intelligence gathering and
control measures. However, there are good reasons - particularly in a democracy
- to constrain the power and scope of the military. Perhaps the largest is the
issue of the potential of the military control of a free population.
There has been an ongoing struggle for
"intelligence" funding and the Pentagon has been a key player in that
competition. Certainly in the aftermath of 9/11/01, the succeeding
"wars," and reorganization of the intelligence community and the
creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the role and position of the
military has expanded. It had already expanded prior to that during the
"war on drugs" which transferred both technology and forces to those
efforts. This has dramatically expanded in the current environment.
The question of domestic deployment of US forces
came clearly into play in the response to Hurricane Katrina. The mobilization of
the National Guard, and who was to control them came to the forefront. It
dramatically highlighted the issue of the use of the military domestically. When
President Bush proposed that the military be the initial and primary federal
responder in an emergency, then alarm bells rang for many (for example Baldwin
and 12/13/05 Sappenfeld, CSM,
The most recent decision to deploy
the National Guard in support of the southern Border Patrol raises the
possibility of Historic
changes possible in military's role in domestic emergencies.
The competition for a domestic intelligence role
was in part mentioned earlier with the issue of TIA, however, that is not the
only plan that the Pentagon has been involved in. In 2002, Robert O'Harrow, Jr.
discussed the creation of a cyber-surveillance
system that would access "government and commercial databases around
the world." One has to assume that this includes U.S. databases.
There has likely always been a tug of war between
the military and its competitors (CIA, FBI, NSA, NGSP, etc) since each of those
agencies came into existence. However the competition has particularly been with
the CIA since both of their foci is purportedly international (Schmitt
). The retirement of Porter Goss from the CIA, and the nomination of
General Hayden to fill the post, brings the ongoing power struggle to center
However, it may also "resolve" the conflict in favor of the Pentagon.
General Hayden is military after all. Protestations that he is his own man, pale
when he is directly under the military command of both Rumsfeld and Bush. It
does not calm fears of the Pentagon "capturing" the CIA, particularly
offers enthusiastic support for Hayden.
Gathering the Pieces For a Slow Motion Coup
So we have an administration attempting to institutionalize their vision of a
"unitary executive." It is also an administration which has directly
supported eroding the Constitutional protections of the people as well as
fighting any oversight or transparency. It is an administration which has
supported, and dramatically increased the role of the military in domestic
operations, intelligence and direct intelligence gathering (spying on people in
person), technology transfer, and enforcement tasks. This raises the prospect of
a coup, and few seem to see this as anything more threatening than a
When George W. Bush was "elected" in
2000, I commented that it I would not be at all surprised to see another Bush in
the Presidency - Jeb Bush. It therefore came as no surprise to read that George
W., George H.W., and Jeb all thought it would be a great thing if Jeb became the
third President from the Bush family (
dynasties: Bush the third?).
Rowan Wolf is a columnist for Project for the Old American Century,
and the editor of Radical Noesis and Uncommon Thought Journal .
Her email is email@example.com