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Posts Tagged ‘Secret Kill List’

Emergency “Continuity Of Government” Plans Currently In Effect Suspend Normal Laws & Legal Process: Is This The REAL Reason For Government Spying On Americans?

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2013 at 4:54 pm

https://theoldspeakjournal.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/be4f0-shadow_govt_logo.jpgOldspeak: “The United States has been in a declared state of emergency from September 2001, to the present… That declared state of emergency has continued in full force and effect from 9/11 to the present. President Bush kept it in place, and President Obama has also… Simply by proclaiming a national emergency… President Bush activated some 500 dormant legal provisions, including those allowing him to impose censorship and martial law… Of the 54 National Security Presidential Directives issued by the [George W.] Bush Administration to date, the titles of only about half have been publicly identified. There is descriptive material or actual text in the public domain for only about a third. In other words, there are dozens of undisclosed Presidential directives that define U.S. national security policy and task government agencies, but whose substance is unknown either to the public or, as a rule, to Congress.”  –Washington’s Blog

“Viewed in the context of the government behaviours being exhibited: Indefinite detention, summary executive order executions,  general contempt for,  zealous prosecution of and jailing of journalists, suppression of dissent, state censorship, suspended rights to petition, assemble & speak, state propaganda, compromised system checks and balances, constant mass surveillance; this makes a lot of sense. We’re in living under a form of stealth martial law. How else would our government feel justified and within the law to do enact all these extra-constitutional measures? The “threat of terrorism” has been used to activate hundreds of little known “emergency” legal provisions. Without debate in pubic or  knowledge of the public… Why are we not entitled to know about our Shadow Government that seems to be making so much secret & anti-democratic policy?” –OSJ

By Washington’s Blog:

Are Emergency Plans Meant Only for Nuclear War the Real Justification for Spying?

To understand the scope and extent of government spying on all Americans – and the reasons for such spying – you have to understand what has happened to our Constitutional form of government since 9/11.

State of Emergency

The United States has been in a declared state of emergency from September 2001, to the present. Specifically, on September 11, 2001, the government declared a state of emergency. That declared state of emergency was formally put in writing on 9/14/2001:

A national emergency exists by reason of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, New York, New York, and the Pentagon, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, I hereby declare that the national emergency has existed since September 11, 2001 . . .

That declared state of emergency has continued in full force and effect from 9/11 to the present. President Bush kept it in place, and President Obama has also.

For example, on September 9, 2011, President Obama declared:

CONTINUATION OF NATIONAL EMERGENCY DECLARED BY PROC. NO. 7463

Notice of President of the United States, dated Sept. 9, 2011, 76 F.R. 56633, provided:

Consistent with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency previously declared on September 14, 2001, in Proclamation 7463, with respect to the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001, and the continuing and immediate threat of
further attacks on the United States.

Because the terrorist threat continues, the national emergency declared on September 14, 2001, and the powers and authorities
adopted to deal with that emergency must continue in effect
beyond September 14, 2011. Therefore, I am continuing in effect for an additional year the national emergency that was declared on September 14, 2001, with respect to the terrorist threat.

This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and
transmitted to the Congress.

The Washington Times wrote on September 18, 2001:

Simply by proclaiming a national emergency on Friday, President Bush activated some 500 dormant legal provisions, including those allowing him to impose censorship and martial law.

The White House has kept substantial information concerning its presidential proclamations and directives hidden from Congress. For example, according to Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy:

Of the 54 National Security Presidential Directives issued by the [George W.] Bush Administration to date, the titles of only about half have been publicly identified. There is descriptive material or actual text in the public domain for only about a third. In other words, there are dozens of undisclosed Presidential directives that define U.S. national security policy and task government agencies, but whose substance is unknown either to the public or, as a rule, to Congress.

Continuity of Government

Continuity of Government (“COG”) measures were implemented on 9/11. For example, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, at page 38:

At 9:59, an Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House Military Office joined the conference and stated he had just talked to Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The White House requested (1) the implementation of continuity of government measures, (2) fighter escorts for Air Force One, and (3) a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, D.C.

Likewise, page 326 of the Report states:

The secretary of defense directed the nation’s armed forces to Defense Condition 3, an increased state of military readiness. For the first time in history, all nonemergency civilian aircraft in the United States were grounded, stranding tens of thousands of passengers across the country. Contingency plans for the continuity of government and the evacuation of leaders had been implemented.

The Washington Post notes that Vice President Dick Cheney initiated the COG plan on 9/11:

From the bunker, Cheney officially implemented the emergency continuity of government orders . . .

(See also footnotes cited therein and this webpage.)

CNN reported that – 6 months later – the plans were still in place:

Because Bush has decided to leave the operation in place, agencies including the White House and top civilian Cabinet departments have rotated personnel involved, and are discussing ways to staff such a contingency operation under the assumption it will be in place indefinitely, this official said.

Similarly, the Washington Post reported in March 2002 that “the shadow government has evolved into an indefinite precaution.” The same article goes on to state:

Assessment of terrorist risks persuaded the White House to remake the program as a permanent feature of ‘the new reality, based on what the threat looks like,’ a senior decisionmaker said.

As CBS pointed out, virtually none of the Congressional leadership knew that the COG had been implemented or was still in existence as of March 2002:

Key congressional leaders say they didn’t know President Bush had established a “shadow government,” moving dozens of senior civilian managers to secret underground locations outside Washington to ensure that the federal government could survive a devastating terrorist attack on the nation’s capital, The Washington Post says in its Saturday editions.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) told the Post he had not been informed by the White House about the role, location or even the existence of the shadow government that the administration began to deploy the morning of the Sept. 11 hijackings.

An aide to House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said he was also unaware of the administration’s move.

Among Congress’s GOP leadership, aides to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), second in line to succeed the president if he became incapacitated, and to Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.) said they were not sure whether they knew.

Aides to Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) said he had not been told. As Senate president pro tempore, he is in line to become president after the House speaker.

Similarly, the above-cited CNN article states:

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Friday he can’t say much about the plan.

“We have not been informed at all about the role of the shadow government or its whereabouts or what particular responsibilities they have and when they would kick in, but we look forward to work with the administration to get additional information on that.”

Indeed, the White House has specifically refused to share information about Continuity of Government plans with the Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Congress, even though that Committee has proper security clearance to hear the full details of all COG plans.

Specifically, in the summer 2007, Congressman Peter DeFazio, on the Homeland Security Committee (and so with proper security access to be briefed on COG issues), inquired about continuity of government plans, and was refused access. Indeed, DeFazio told Congress that the entire Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Congress has been denied access to the plans by the White House.

(Or here is the transcript).

The Homeland Security Committee has full clearance to view all information about COG plans.

DeFazio concluded: “Maybe the people who think there’s a conspiracy out there are right”.

University of California Berkeley Professor Emeritus Peter Dale Scott points out that – whether or not COG plans are still in effect – the refusal of the executive branch to disclose their details to Congress means that the Constitutional system of checks and balances has already been gravely injured:

If members of the Homeland Security Committee cannot enforce their right to read secret plans of the Executive Branch, then the systems of checks and balances established by the U.S. Constitution would seem to be failing.

To put it another way, if the White House is successful in frustrating DeFazio, then Continuity of Government planning has arguably already superseded the Constitution as a higher authority.

Indeed, continuity of government plans are specifically defined to do the following:

  • Top leaders of the “new government” called for in the COG would entirely or largely go into hiding, and would govern in hidden locations
  • Those within the new government would know what was going on. But those in the “old government” – that is, the one created by the framers of the Constitution – would not necessarily know the details of what was happening
  • Normal laws and legal processes might largely be suspended, or superseded by secretive judicial forums
  • The media might be ordered by strict laws – punishable by treason – to only promote stories authorized by the new government

See this, this and this.

Could the White House have maintained COG operations to the present day?

I don’t know, but the following section from the above-cited CNN article is not very reassuring:

Bush triggered the precautions in the hours after the September 11 strikes, and has left them in place because of continuing U.S. intelligence suggesting a possible threat.

Concerns that al Qaeda could have gained access to a crude nuclear device “were a major factor” in the president’s decision, the official said. “The threat of some form of catastrophic event is the trigger,” this official said.

This same official went on to say that the U.S. had no confirmation — “and no solid evidence” — that al Qaeda had such a nuclear device and also acknowledged that the “consensus” among top U.S. officials was that the prospect was “quite low.”

Still, the officials said Bush and other top White House officials including Cheney were adamant that the government take precautions designed to make sure government functions ranging from civil defense to transportation and agricultural production could be managed in the event Washington was the target of a major strike.

As is apparent from a brief review of the news, the government has, since 9/11, continuously stated that there is a terrorist threat of a nuclear device or dirty bomb. That alone infers that COG plans could, hypothetically, still be in effect, just like the state of emergency is still in effect and has never been listed.

Indeed,  President Bush said on December 17, 2005, 4 years after 9/11:

The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after Sept. 11 helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities.

The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time.

And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.

The activities I authorized are reviewed approximately every 45 days. Each review is based on a fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government and the threat of catastrophic damage to our homeland.

During each assessment, previous activities under the authorization are reviewed. The review includes approval by our nation’s top legal officials, including the attorney general and the counsel to the president.

I have reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the Sept. 11 attacks [45 days times 30 equals approximately 4 years] and I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from Al Qaeda and related groups.

The N.S.A.’s activities under this authorization are thoroughly reviewed by the Justice Department and N.S.A.’s top legal officials, including N.S.A.’s general counsel and inspector general.

In other words, it appears that as of December 2005, COG plans had never been rescincded, but had been continously renewed every 45 days.

In 2008, Tim Shorrock wrote at Salon:

A contemporary version of the Continuity of Government program was put into play in the hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Vice President Cheney and senior members of Congress were dispersed to “undisclosed locations” to maintain government functions. It was during this emergency period, Hamilton and other former government officials believe, that President Bush may have authorized the NSA to begin actively using the Main Core database for domestic surveillance [more on Main Core below]. One indicator they cite is a statement by Bush in December 2005, after the New York Times had revealed the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, in which he made a rare reference to the emergency program: The Justice Department’s legal reviews of the NSA activity, Bush said, were based on “fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government.”

In 2007, President Bush issued Presidential Directive NSPD-51, which purported to change Continuity of Government plans. NSPD51 is odd because:

Beyond cases of actual insurrection, the President may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack, or to any ‘other condition.’ Changes of this magnitude should be made only after a thorough public airing. But these new Presidential powers were slipped into the law without hearings or public debate.

  • As a reporter for Slate concluded after analyzing NSPD-51:

I see nothing in the [COG document entitled presidential directive NSPD51] to prevent even a “localized” forest fire or hurricane from giving the president the right to throw long-established constitutional government out the window

  • White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that “because of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the American public needs no explanation of [Continuity of Government] plans”

This is all the more bizarre when you realize that COG plans were originally created solely to respond to a decapitating nuclear strike which killed our civilian leaders.   (It was subsequently expanded decades before 9/11 into a multi-purpose plan by our good friends Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. See this, this and this.)

Does COG Explain the Pervasive Spying on Americans?

5 years ago, investigative reporter Christopher Ketcham disclosed the spying which was confirmed last week by  whistleblower Edward Snowden:

The following information seems to be fair game for collection without a warrant: the e-mail addresses you send to and receive from, and the subject lines of those messages; the phone numbers you dial, the numbers that dial in to your line, and the durations of the calls; the Internet sites you visit and the keywords in your Web searches; the destinations of the airline tickets you buy; the amounts and locations of your ATM withdrawals; and the goods and services you purchase on credit cards. All of this information is archived on government supercomputers and, according to sources, also fed into the Main Core database.

Given that Ketcham was proven right, let’s see what else he reported:

Given that Ketcham was right about the basics, let’s hear what else the outstanding investigative journalist said in 2008:

There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.” He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.”

***

According to one news report, even “national opposition to U.S. military invasion abroad” could be a trigger [for martial law ].

***

When COG plans are shrouded in extreme secrecy, effectively unregulated by Congress or the courts, and married to an overreaching surveillance state—as seems to be the case with Main Core—even sober observers must weigh whether the protections put in place by the federal government are becoming more dangerous to America than any outside threat.

Another well-informed source—a former military operative regularly briefed by members of the intelligence community—says this particular program has roots going back at least to the 1980s and was set up with help from the Defense Intelligence Agency. He has been told that the program utilizes software that makes predictive judgments of targets’ behavior and tracks their circle of associations with “social network analysis” and artificial intelligence modeling tools.

***

A former NSA officer tells Radar that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, using an electronic-funds transfer surveillance program, also contributes data to Main Core, as does a Pentagon program that was created in 2002 to monitor antiwar protesters and environmental activists such as Greenpeace.

***

If previous FEMA and FBI lists are any indication, the Main Core database includes dissidents and activists of various stripes, political and tax protesters, lawyers and professors, publishers and journalists, gun owners, illegal aliens, foreign nationals, and a great many other harmless, average people.

A veteran CIA intelligence analyst who maintains active high-level clearances and serves as an advisor to the Department of Defense in the field of emerging technology tells Radar that during the 2004 hospital room drama, [current nominee to head the FBI, and former Deputy Attorney General] James Comey expressed concern over how this secret database was being used “to accumulate otherwise private data on non-targeted U.S. citizens for use at a future time.” [Snowden and high-level NSA whistleblower William Binney have since confirmed this] …. A source regularly briefed by people inside the intelligence community adds: “Comey had discovered that President Bush had authorized NSA to use a highly classified and compartmentalized Continuity of Government database on Americans in computerized searches of its domestic intercepts. [Comey] had concluded that the use of that ‘Main Core’ database compromised the legality of the overall NSA domestic surveillance project.”

***

The veteran CIA intelligence analyst notes that Comey’s suggestion that the offending elements of the program were dropped could be misleading: “Bush [may have gone ahead and] signed it as a National Intelligence Finding anyway.” But even if we never face a national emergency, the mere existence of the database is a matter of concern. “The capacity for future use of this information against the American people is so great as to be virtually unfathomable,” the senior government official says.

In any case, mass watch lists of domestic citizens may do nothing to make us safer from terrorism. Jeff Jonas, chief scientist at IBM, a world-renowned expert in data mining, contends that such efforts won’t prevent terrorist conspiracies. “Because there is so little historical terrorist event data,” Jonas tells Radar, “there is not enough volume to create precise predictions.”

***

[J. Edgar Hoover’s] FBI “security index” was allegedly maintained and updated into the 1980s, when it was reportedly transferred to the control of none other than FEMA (though the FBI denied this at the time).

FEMA, however—then known as the Federal Preparedness Agency—already had its own domestic surveillance system in place, according to a 1975 investigation by Senator John V. Tunney of California. Tunney, the son of heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney and the inspiration for Robert Redford’s character in the film The Candidate, found that the agency maintained electronic dossiers on at least 100,000 Americans that contained information gleaned from wide-ranging computerized surveillance. The database was located in the agency’s secret underground city at Mount Weather, near the town of Bluemont, Virginia. [One of the main headquarter of COG operations.] The senator’s findings were confirmed in a 1976 investigation by the Progressive magazine, which found that the Mount Weather computers “can obtain millions of pieces [of] information on the personal lives of American citizens by tapping the data stored at any of the 96 Federal Relocation Centers”—a reference to other classified facilities. According to the Progressive, Mount Weather’s databases were run “without any set of stated rules or regulations. Its surveillance program remains secret even from the leaders of the House and the Senate.”

***

Wired magazine turned up additional damaging information, revealing in 1993 that [Oliver] North, operating from a secure White House site, allegedly employed a software database program called PROMIS (ostensibly as part of the REX 84 plan). PROMIS, which has a strange and controversial history, was designed to track individuals—prisoners, for example—by pulling together information from disparate databases into a single record. According to Wired, “Using the computers in his command center, North tracked dissidents and potential troublemakers within the United States. Compared to PROMIS, Richard Nixon’s enemies list or Senator Joe McCarthy’s blacklist look downright crude.” Sources have suggested to Radar that government databases tracking Americans today, including Main Core, could still have PROMIS-based legacy code from the days when North was running his programs.

***

Marty Lederman, a high-level official at the Department of Justice under Clinton, writing on a law blog last year, wondered, “How extreme were the programs they implemented [after 9/11]? How egregious was the lawbreaking?” Congress has tried, and mostly failed, to find out.

***

We are at the edge of a cliff and we’re about to fall off,” says constitutional lawyer and former Reagan administration official Bruce Fein. “To a national emergency planner, everybody looks like a danger to stability. There’s no doubt that Congress would have the authority to denounce all this—for example, to refuse to appropriate money for the preparation of a list of U.S. citizens to be detained in the event of martial law. But Congress is the invertebrate branch.

***

UPDATE [from Ketcham]: Since this article went to press, several documents have emerged to suggest the story has longer legs than we thought. Most troubling among these is an October 2001 Justice Department memo that detailed the extra-constitutional powers the U.S. military might invoke during domestic operations following a terrorist attack. In the memo, John Yoo, then deputy assistant attorney general, “concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.” (Yoo, as most readers know, is author of the infamous Torture Memo that, in bizarro fashion, rejiggers the definition of “legal” torture to allow pretty much anything short of murder.) In the October 2001 memo, Yoo refers to a classified DOJ document titled “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States.” According to the Associated Press, “Exactly what domestic military action was covered by the October memo is unclear. But federal documents indicate that the memo relates to the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Attorney General John Mukasey last month refused to clarify before Congress whether the Yoo memo was still in force.

Americans have the right to know whether a COG program is  still in effect, and whether the spying on our phone calls and Internet usage stems from such COG plans. Indeed, 9/11 was a horrible blow, but it was not a decapitating nuclear strike on our leaders … so COG and the state of emergency should be lifted.

If COG plans are not still in effect, we have the right to demand that “enemies lists” and spying capabilities developed  for the purpose of responding to a nuclear war be discarded , as we have not been hit by nuclear weapons … and our civilian leaders – on Capitol Hill, the White House, and the judiciary – are still alive and able to govern.

Assassin-In-Chief: Secret “Kill List”, Drone Strikes & Covert Wars Significantly Expanded Under Obama

In Uncategorized on June 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Oldspeak:”Assassination has been thoroughly institutionalized, normalized, and bureaucratized around the figure of the President. Without the help of or any oversight from the American people or their elected representatives, The president alone is now responsible for regular killings thousands of miles away, including those of civilians and even children.  He is, in other words, if not a king, at least the king of American assassinations.  On that score, his power is total and completely unchecked.  He can prescribe death for anyone “nominated,” choosing any of the “baseball cards” (PowerPoint bios) on that kill list and then order the drones to take them (or others in the neighborhood) out. can stop any attack, any killing, but there is no one, nor any mechanism that can stop him.  An American global killing machine (quite literally so, given that growing force of drones) is now at the beck and call of a single, unaccountable individual.  This is the nightmare the founding fathers tried to protect us from.” –Tom Engelhardt. More failed, murderous and counterproductive atrocity worthy Bush-era terrorism policy expanded, unfettered and completely unaccountable to anyone but Barack Obama. While corporate sponsored sheeple ring their hands over psuedo-divisive and sensationalized “issues” like gay marriage, Our president has done away with 5th amendment right not to “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Everyone in a “strike zone” is civilian or not, designated as a “combatant” or “militant” and is thus subject to summary execution at the whim of the President. The U.S.homeland has been designated as a “battleground”, and the military is allowed to operated here. Unmanned drones are watching us from U.S. skies right now. Protestors are classified as “low-level terrorists”. What happens when the “terrorist threat” from within becomes greater than that from without? As we’ve seen from the brutality of responses to Occupy Wall Street Protests nation-wide by hyper-militarized and aggressively trained police forces, whatever happens ain’t pretty. Protestors homes have been raided, and they’ve been arrested, detained, and charged with terrorism BEFORE THEY EVEN ACTUALLY PROTEST. Pre-crime is now prosecutable.All the elements are in place to facilitate a rapid transition to a fully formed totalitarian state. I highly recommend you read the NY Times propaganda piece before you read the articles below. “War Is Peace”, “Freedom Is Slavery”

Related Stories:

Hope Burning

Obama Expands Secret Wars Across The Globe

By Tom Engelhardt @ TomDispatch.com:

Be assured of one thing: whichever candidate you choose at the polls in November, you aren’t just electing a president of the United States; you are also electing an assassin-in-chief.  The last two presidents may not have been emperors or kings, but they — and the vast national-security structure that continues to be built-up and institutionalized around the presidential self — are certainly one of the nightmares the founding fathers of this country warned us against.  They are one of the reasons those founders put significant war powers in the hands of Congress, which they knew would be a slow, recalcitrant, deliberative body.

Thanks to a long New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” we now know that the president has spent startling amounts of time overseeing the “nomination” of terrorist suspects for assassination via the remotely piloted drone program he inherited from President George W. Bush and which he has expanded exponentially.  Moreover, that article was based largely on interviews with “three dozen of his current and former advisers.”  In other words, it was essentially an administration-inspired piece — columnist Robert Scheer calls it “planted” — on a “secret” program the president and those closest to him are quite proud of and want to brag about in an election year.

The language of the piece about our warrior president was generally sympathetic, even in places soaring.  It focused on the moral dilemmas of a man who — we now know — has personally approved and overseen the growth of a remarkably robust assassination program in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan based on a “kill list.” Moreover, he’s regularly done so target by target, name by name.  (The Times did not mention a recent U.S. drone strike in the Philippines that killed 15.)  According to Becker and Shane, President Obama has also been involved in the use of a fraudulent method of counting drone kills, one that unrealistically deemphasizes civilian deaths.

Historically speaking, this is all passing strange.  The Times calls Obama’s role in the drone killing machine “without precedent in presidential history.”  And that’s accurate.

It’s not, however, that American presidents have never had anything to do with or been in any way involved in assassination programs.  The state as assassin is hardly unknown in our history.  How could President John F. Kennedy, for example, not know about CIA-inspired or -backed assassination plots against Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, and South Vietnamese autocrat (and ostensible ally) Ngo Dinh Diem? (Lumumba and Diem were successfully murdered.)  Similarly, during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, the CIA carried out a massive assassination campaign in Vietnam, Operation Phoenix.  It proved to be a staggeringly profligate program for killing tens of thousands of Vietnamese, both actual enemies and those simply swept up in the process.

In previous eras, however, presidents either stayed above the assassination fray or practiced a kind of plausible deniability about the acts.  We are surely at a new stage in the history of the imperial presidency when a president (or his election team) assembles his aides, advisors, and associates to foster a story that’s meant to broadcast the group’s collective pride in the new position of assassin-in-chief.

Religious Cult or Mafia Hit Squad?

Here’s a believe-it-or-not footnote to our American age.  Who now remembers that, in the early years of his presidency, George W. Bush kept what the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward called “his own personal scorecard for the war” on terror?  It took the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world’s most dangerous terrorists, each ready to be crossed out by Bush once captured or killed. That scorecard was, Woodward added, always available in a desk drawer in the Oval Office.

Such private presidential recordkeeping now seems penny-ante indeed.  The distance we’ve traveled in a decade can be measured by the Times’ description of the equivalent of that “personal scorecard” today (and no desk drawer could hold it):

“It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die. This secret ‘nominations’ process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases, and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia. The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by [counterterrorism ‘tsar’ John O.] Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name.”

In other words, thanks to such meetings — on what insiders have labeled “terror Tuesday” — assassination has been thoroughly institutionalized, normalized, and bureaucratized around the figure of the president.  Without the help of or any oversight from the American people or their elected representatives, he alone is now responsible for regular killings thousands of miles away, including those of civilians and even children.  He is, in other words, if not a king, at least the king of American assassinations.  On that score, his power is total and completely unchecked.  He can prescribe death for anyone “nominated,” choosing any of the “baseball cards” (PowerPoint bios) on that kill list and then order the drones to take them (or others in the neighborhood) out.

He and he alone can decide that assassinating known individuals isn’t enough and that the CIA’s drones can instead strike at suspicious “patterns of behavior” on the ground in Yemen or Pakistan. He can stop any attack, any killing, but there is no one, nor any mechanism that can stop him.  An American global killing machine (quite literally so, given that growing force of drones) is now at the beck and call of a single, unaccountable individual.  This is the nightmare the founding fathers tried to protect us from.

In the process, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the president has shredded the Fifth Amendment, guaranteeing Americans that they will not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”  The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel produced a secret memo claiming that, while the Fifth Amendment’s due process guarantee does apply to the drone assassination of an American citizen in a land with which we are not at war, “it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”  (That, writes Greenwald, is “the most extremist government interpretation of the Bill of Rights I’ve heard in my lifetime.”)  In other words, the former Constitutional law professor has been freed from the law of the land in cases in which he “nominates,” as he has, U.S. citizens for robotic death.

There is, however, another aspect to the institutionalizing of those “kill lists” and assassination as presidential prerogatives that has gone unmentioned.  If the Times article — which largely reflects how the Obama administration cares to see itself and its actions — is to be believed, the drone program is also in the process of being sanctified and sacralized.

You get a sense of this from the language of the piece itself.  (“A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan…”)  The president is presented as a particularly moral man, who devotes himself to the “just war” writings of religious figures like Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, and takes every death as his own moral burden.  His leading counterterrorism advisor Brennan, a man who, while still in the CIA, was knee-deep in torture controversy, is presented, quite literally, as a priest of death, not once but twice in the piece.  He is described by the Times reporters as “a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama.”  They then quote the State Department’s top lawyer, Harold H. Koh, saying, “It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”

In the Times telling, the organization of robotic killing had become the administration’s idée fixe, a kind of cult of death within the Oval Office, with those involved in it being so many religious devotees.  We may be, that is, at the edge of a new state-directed, national-security-based religion of killing grounded in the fact that we are in a “dangerous” world and the “safety” of Americans is our preeminent value.  In other words, the president, his apostles, and his campaign acolytes are all, it seems, praying at the Church of St. Drone.

Of course, thought about another way, that “terror Tuesday” scene might not be from a monastery or a church synod, but from a Mafia council directly out of a Mario Puzo novel, with the president as the Godfather, designating “hits” in a rough-and-tumble world.

How far we’ve come in just two presidencies!  Assassination as a way of life has been institutionalized in the Oval Office, thoroughly normalized, and is now being offered to the rest of us as a reasonable solution to American global problems and an issue on which to run a presidential campaign.

Downhill All the Way on Blowback Planet

After 5,719 inside-the-Beltway (largely inside-the-Oval-Office) words, the Times piece finally gets to this single outside-the-Beltway sentence: “Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president.”

Arguably, indeed!  For the few who made it that far, it was a brief reminder of just how narrow, how confining the experience of worshiping at St. Drone actually is.  All those endless meetings, all those presidential hours that might otherwise have been spent raising yet more money for campaign 2012, and the two countries that have taken the brunt of the drone raids are more hostile, more dangerous, and in worse shape than in 2009.  (And one of them, keep in mind, is a nuclear power.)  News articles since have only emphasized how powerfully those drones have radicalized local populations — however many “bad guys” (and children) they may also have wiped off the face of the Earth.

And though the Times doesn’t mention this, it’s not just bad news for Yemen or Pakistan.  American democracy, already on the ropes, is worse off, too.

What should astound Americans — but seldom seems to be noticed — is just how into the shadows, how thoroughly military-centric, and how unproductive has become Washington’s thinking at the altar of St. Drone and its equivalents (including special operations forces, increasingly the president’s secret military within the military). Yes, the world is always a dangerous place, even if far less so now than when, in the Cold War era, two superpowers were a heartbeat away from nuclear war.  But — though it’s increasingly heretical to say this — the perils facing Americans, including relatively modest dangers from terrorism, aren’t the worst things on our planet.

Electing an assassin-in-chief, no matter who you vote for, is worse.  Pretending that the Church of St. Drone offers any kind of reasonable or even practical solutions on this planet of ours, is worse yet.  And even worse, once such a process begins, it’s bound to be downhill all the way.  As we learned last week, again in the Times, we not only have an assassin-in-chief in the Oval Office, but a cyberwarrior, perfectly willing to release a new form of weaponry, the most sophisticated computer “worm” ever developed, against another country with which we are not at war.

This represents a breathtaking kind of rashness, especially from the leader of a country that, perhaps more than any other, is dependent on computer systems, opening the U.S. to potentially debilitating kinds of future blowback.  Once again, as with drones, the White House is setting the global rules of the road for every country (and group) able to get its hands on such weaponry and it’s hit the highway at 140 miles per hour without a cop in sight.

James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and the rest of them knew war, and yet were not acolytes of the eighteenth century equivalents of St. Drone, nor of presidents who might be left free to choose to turn the world into a killing zone.  They knew at least as well as anyone in our national security state today that the world is always a dangerous place — and that that’s no excuse for investing war powers in a single individual.  They didn’t think that a state of permanent war, a state of permanent killing, or a president free to plunge Americans into such states was a reasonable way for their new republic to go.  To them, it was by far the more dangerous way to exist in our world.

The founding fathers would surely have chosen republican democracy over safety.  They would never have believed that a man surrounded by advisors and lawyers, left to his own devices, could protect them from what truly mattered.  They tried to guard against it.  Now, we have a government and a presidency dedicated to it, no matter who is elected in November.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Engelhardt discusses drone warfare and the Obama administration, click here or download it to your iPod here.