Our Government Lies. Deal With It.
If you’ve taken a history class, you know that history is the study of approved facts compiled into digestible unit lessons. It is emphatically not about discovering patterns from facts or even worse, inferring motives from patterns of action. If any of that needed to be done, the textbook author would have already added it to your unit lesson.
This is not a history blog though. Cognition interests us, and we feel shame if we fail to detect obvious patterns. And we infer motives from patterns of action based on which motives make those patterns most plausible–not on what people simply say their motives are. Neither do we simply take the most cynical interpretation available, since that bias is no better.
The pattern of behavior I would like to discuss is lying by the US government. The motives I infer (which you ought to generate alternatives to and share in the comments) are that the government lies predictably when it believes it is in the nation’s interest to lie. This inference means that when the government gives you information that reflects well on itself or provides itself justification to do something, you should assign that information no credence.
Such writers mistake the essential character of U.S. administrations. (This likely applies to all governments, but I am not a historian or a political scientist, and this is not a book.)
The US government has always lied to serve its own interests. It does this unapologetically. OK, sometimes there will be an apology, but it will be 64 years after the fact. It was 2011 when the US government finally admitted that the Roosevelt administration hid evidence from the Supreme Court so that it could intern Japanese Americans during World War II. Keep this in mind the next time someone from the government tells you something to justify restricting the civil liberties of a group of citizens.
It takes sixty to seventy years for everyone involved with a government lie to die so that truth can take its place. The government acknowledged Area 51 last week. The CIA admitted to its role in overthrowing the Iranian government in 1953 on its 60th anniversary–a year after a movie about it grossed $232 million and won Best Picture.
The CIA lies about even such trivialities as whether they tracked Noam Chomsky.
For years, FOIA requests to the CIA garnered the same denial: “We did not locate any records responsive to your request.” The denials were never entirely credible, given Chomsky’s brazen anti-war activism in the 60s and 70s — and the CIA’s well-documented track record of domestic espionage in the Vietnam era. But the CIA kept denying, and many took the agency at its word.
Those who took the CIA at its word would be well-served by reading this post.
Harpers details a few more modern lies exposed–largely because they did not stand up to scrutiny. We find that, contrary to all reports at the time, Osama bin Laden did not actually reach for a weapon to try to defend himself and did not attempt to use his wife as a human shield. Instead,
…[T]he SEALs met virtually no resistance at the compound, there was no firefight, bin Laden didn’t use a woman as a human shield, and he was unarmed.
If we had known this at the time, we would have asked why he wasn’t captured for interrogation, trial, and execution. Instead, it’s after the election and stale news. How convenient for them.
And the “conference call” last week among Al Qaeda leaders that the U.S. intercepted just in time to provide justification for NSA data snooping didn’t actually happen. Government sources called it a “phone call”, but the lie was too poorly constructed to wait till 2073 to admit:
…[A] number of respected national-security journalists began to question the motives of the leakers, and to cast doubt on the story generally. Ken Dilanian of the Los Angeles Times suggested that the piece was intended to glorify the NSA’s signals-intelligence capabilities. Barton Gellman of the Washington Post said there was something “very wrong” with the whole thing. New York magazine got in on the act by parodying the notion of an Al Qaeda conference call.
And let’s not forget this $1-trillion lie:
…[T]he INC by its own admission gave “exaggerated and fabricated” pre-war intelligence to journalists to promote the invasion of Iraq. “Feeding the information to the news media, as well as to selected administration officials and members of Congress,” Landay and Wells wrote, “helped foster an impression that there were multiple sources of intelligence on Iraq’s illicit weapons programs and links to bin Laden. In fact, many of the allegations came from the same half-dozen defectors.”
- defend intelligence and defense departments from scrutiny so they can do their jobs,
- deflect concerns about civil liberty intrusions done for national security,
- paint the US with attractive colors and its enemies with ugly colors, and
- avoid disclosing damaging information while the people who were harmed are still alive.
These are not evil goals, but do not pretend they place any value on fairness, your rights, or truth. These lies seemed to the administrations in power to advance the interests of the United States. Accept that. Now explain why you should expect something else from the current administration or the following ten.
When the government denies something damaging to it, you are not a conspiracy theorist for not giving that denial any credence even if provided by a named official under oath. If it coincides with the four goals above, the government has already shown a willingness to lie. If you believe them, stay away from the poker tables and stick to the slots, because you are a dupe.
This is why I have little sympathy for the chief justice of the secret surveillance court who wrote
For the first time, the government has now advised the court that the volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe.
As if to further impress his naiveté on the reader, he adds elsewhere
The court is troubled that the government’s revelations regarding NSA’s acquisition of Internet transactions mark the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program. [emphasis added]
If a single party lies to you a third time in less than three years, it’s at least a little your fault. The NSA is simply doing what it has always done. It’s your job as a mammal with a functioning brain to pick up on the pattern.
The question is, are you mammal enough?
Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons