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Dumb and Dumber

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Posted on Feb 13, 2013
:mrMark: (CC BY 2.0)

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

This piece first appeared at TomDispatch.

You could, of course, sit there, slack-jawed, thinking about how mindlessly repetitive American foreign and military policy is these days. Or you could wield all sorts of fancy analytic words to explain it.  Or you could just settle for a few simple, all-American ones.  Like dumb. Stupid. Dimwitted. Thick-headed. Or you could speak about the second administration in a row that wanted to leave no child behind, but was itself incapable of learning, or reasonably assessing its situation in the world.

Or you could simply wonder what’s in Washington’s water supply. Last week, after all, there was a perfect drone storm of a story, only a year or so late—and no, it wasn’t that leaked “white paper” justifying the White House-directed assassination of an American citizen; and no, it wasn’t the two secret Justice Department “legal” memos on the same subject that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were allowed to “view,” but in such secrecy that they couldn’t even ask John O. Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism tsar and choice for CIA director, questions about them at his public nomination hearings; and no, it wasn’t anything that Brennan, the man who oversaw the White House “kill list” and those presidentially chosen drone strikes, said at the hearings. And here’s the most striking thing: it should have set everyone’s teeth on edge, yet next to nobody even noticed.

Last Tuesday, the Washington Post published a piece by Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung about a reportorial discovery which that paper,  along with other news outlets (including the New York Times), had by “an informal arrangement” agreed to suppress (and not even very well) at the request of the Obama administration. More than a year later, and only because the Times was breaking the story on the same day (buried in a long investigative piece on drone strikes), the Post finally put the news on record.  It was half-buried in a piece about the then-upcoming Brennan hearings. Until that moment, its editors had done their patriotic duty, urged on by the CIA and the White House, and kept the news from the public. Never mind, that the project was so outright loony, given our history, that they should have felt the obligation to publish it instantly with screaming front-page headlines and a lead editorial demanding an explanation.

On the other hand, you can understand just why the Obama administration and the CIA preferred that the story not come out. Among other things, it had the possibility of making them look like so many horses’ asses and, again based on a historical record that any numbskull or government bureaucrat or intelligence analyst should recall, it couldn’t have been a more dangerous thing to do. It’s just the sort of Washington project that brings the word “blowback” instantly and chillingly to mind.  It’s just the sort of story that should make Americans wonder why we pay billions of dollars to the CIA to think up ideas so lame that you have to wonder what the last two CIA directors,  Leon Panetta and David Petraeus, were thinking. (Or if anyone was thinking at all.)

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In case you hadn’t noticed, I have yet to mention what that suppressed story was, and given the way it disappeared from sight, the odds are that you don’t know, so here goes. The somewhat less than riveting headline on the Post piece was: “Brennan Nomination Exposes Criticism on Targeted Killings and Secret Saudi Base.” The base story was obviously tacked on at the last second. (There had actually been no “criticism” of that base, since next to nothing was known about it.)  It, too, was buried, making its first real appearance only in the 10th paragraph of the piece.

According to the Post, approximately two years ago, the CIA got permission from the Saudi government to build one of its growing empire of drone bases in a distant desert region of that kingdom. The purpose was to pursue an already ongoing air war in neighboring Yemen against al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula.

The first drone mission from that base seems to have taken off on September 30, 2011, and killed American citizen and al-Qaeda supporter Anwar al-Awlaki. Many more lethal missions have evidently been flown from it since, most or all directed at Yemen in a campaign that notoriously seems to be creating more angry Yemenis and terror recruits than it’s killing. So that’s the story you waited an extra year to hear from our watchdog press (though for news jockeys, the existence of the base was indeed mentioned in the interim by numerous media outlets).


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