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Scott: The military-industrial-counterterrorism complex is beyond Eisenhower’s worst nightmare

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, coming to you from Washington. Now joining us from Berkeley, California, is Peter Dale Scott. He’s a former Canadian diplomat and a professor of English at the University of California Berkeley. He’s a poet, a writer, and a researcher. His books include Drugs, Oil, and War; The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America; and The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War. Thanks for joining us, Peter.

PETER DALE SCOTT: I’m glad to be here.

JAY: Peter, in your book The Real Grand Chessboard and the Profiteers of War, you talked about something else other than the normal military-industrial complex we’ve read about in the past. Let me read this back to you. Science Applications International Corporation, SAIC, an $8 billion corporation involved in defense, intelligence community, and Homeland Security contracting. In the words of veteran journalists Donald Barlett and James Steele, SAIC represents a private business that has become a form of permanent government. SAIC epitomizes something beyond Eisenhower’s worst nightmare: the military-industrial-counterterrorism complex. Peter, talk a bit about what you mean by this.

SCOTT: Well, first of all, we have to get the idea of private military contractors. And I think the easy one for everyone to visualize is the company that used to be called Blackwater and is now called Xe, because they have so clearly illustrated the dangers of contracting out the business of fighting. It’s a privately-owned corporation that has no Wall Street connections. And the Wall Street people and the New York media have no trouble talking about it. But there are these other corporations, which are very deeply embedded in Wall Street, of which Booz Allen Hamilton is one and SAIC is another. They are bigger and have been around longer and do more to shape the thinking in Washington, and we don’t hear about them. I call them in this article “private intelligence corporations”, because the horrible fact is that Washington is now privatizing intelligence, and that includes its surveillance on people that it has farmed out to SAIC and to others, I think the profit motive almost criminally distorts their perspective on things. To give you an example of how powerful they are, when it was clear that the intelligence about Iraq have been skewed and we went in because of weapons of mass destruction that weren’t there. And they commissioned SAIC to investigate what went wrong. And SAIC came up with a report that didn’t mention that some of the key people who had been saying that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction had been saying that it would be necessary to deal with him militarily were people who were in fact working for SAIC. So when you give a private corporation the job of seeing whether we should go to war against a country, and then you give that same private corporation the job of finding out why false information was given, you can see that there has been a very, very deep corruption of the process of gathering and analyzing intelligence in Washington and SAIC.

JAY: Who are some of the individuals you referring to?

SCOTT: If you don’t mind, I’m going to read from an article by Donald Barlett that you already quoted from. This was David Kay, who was on the committee, and this is what he said in 1998 to the Senate Armed Services Committee, that Saddam Hussein, quote, “remains in power with weapons of mass destruction,” and that, quote, “military action is needed.” Wayne Downing, a retired general and proselytized for an invasion of Iraq, stating that the Iraqis, quote, “are ready to take the war … overseas. They would use whatever means they have to attack us.” Both of these men, David Kay and Wayne Downing, worked for SAIC. And so a decent analysis of what went wrong would have pointed to the fact that we were relying on people who had, really, a profit motive. I’m not saying that they did all of this thinking only of profit; I’m saying that they were totally part of this dominance mindset that I’m talking about, and they know that the way to succeed in Washington is to support the next target, the policy for the next use of the war machine.

JAY: Now, Robert Gates, Obama’s secretary of defense, used to be part of SAIC as well. Is that true?

SCOTT: Was on the board of directors of SAIC, yes. And, you know, for that matter, Mike McConnell was with Booz Allen Hamilton.

JAY: So, given the Obama administration, again, promises of a new mindset, has the role of SAIC and these kinds of companies changed in any way?

SCOTT: No. See, this is why I talk about deep politics. Very few people have even raised this issue, and it’s not on the agenda. You’re not going to hear Congress talking about it, because a lot of them are lobbying to get contracts for SAIC in their own district. That’s why I don’t blame Obama for this.

JAY: In terms of trying to reform this situation, given it’s a little utopian to think one could pass such a thing through the Congress, but if one could, what kind of legislation would you like to see that might change the way this military complex works?

SCOTT: We have to pull back from the two-party system and start a new kind of politics. We have to essentially build a new kind of civil society in America. And this is not easy, and I’m not confident that it will happen. The most likely thing to happen is that America will just go into decline from overextension the way that Britain went into decline from overextension before it. However, in my book I said, you know, it’s true, in the last century we’ve seen some wonderful liberation movements, that have dealt with what seemed to be insuperable problems. The first was the civil rights movement in the American South. And, you know, I’m old enough to remember what everyone said, like, what Eisenhower said, that you can’t legislate morality, you can’t expect people to change their deep-rooted habits. But that change was effective. I don’t want to sound as if blacks are truly equal in every respect to whites in the South, but their conditions are immeasurably improved.

JAY: Given what Obama has to deal with in terms of the systemic weight of the whole foreign-policy military establishment, within that scope, do you see any signs that he’s trying to go create any different kind of space? And if he isn’t, what do you think would be possible given the circumstances he has facing? What should he be trying to do?

SCOTT: Well, I think that Obama has made the same choice that Johnson made, and I don’t really want to fault him for it. He has decided to prioritize the domestic issue, and not focus on foreign policy. And that’s where Johnson also wanted to create the Great Society. Well, you know, he did some amazing things. He passed the Civil Rights Act. It was absolutely urgent for America [that] that act be passed. And in so doing, he sort of left the Vietnam War to the generals. Unfortunately, more people, I think, remember Johnson today for the Vietnam War than they remember him for the Civil Rights Act. And if Obama gets his health insurance act passed, it still may be the case 40 years from now that people won’t remember him for that is much they will remember him for a disastrously wrong turn that this whole Afghan war is taking. Once you start escalating the maximum number asked for in the last request becomes the minimum asked for at the next request, and you know that [Stanley] McChrystal wants the troops for counterinsurgency, and the minimum estimate of the number of troops that would be needed for a counterinsurgency in just half of Afghanistan, in the Pashtun southern half, southern and eastern half, would be something like 400,000 troops. So we’re in a really very, very critically dangerous situation right now. So we should all do everything that we can just to stop this war from getting even worse.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Peter.

SCOTT: Okay. Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee complete accuracy.

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Peter Dale Scott a former Canadian diplomat and Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, is a poet, writer, and researcher. His most recent books are Drugs, Oil, and War (2005), The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America (2007), The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11 and the Deep Politics of War (2008) and Mosaic Orpheus (poetry, 2009).