"Diversion" and "Good Faith Distraction": On the Use Value of Conspiracy Data for the Power Elite
Booz Allen Hamilton is a leading global consulting firm that "has more than 18,000 employees serving clients on six continents." According to its website, the U.S.-based company "integrat[es] the full range of consulting capabilities" and "is the one firm that helps government and commercial clients solve their toughest problems with services in strategy, operations, organization and change, and information technology."
In February of 1998, Booze Allen Hamilton was under contract with the United States Government to help federal officials comply with Executive Order 12958. The order was intended to facilitate the declassification of federal information. It "set in motion a five year time limit (April 1995 - April 2000) within which all classified information more than 25 years old and judged to be of permanent historical value shall be reviewed for declassification and declassified unless it meets certain definitive exemption criteria. All material not meeting the exemption criteria will be automatically declassified-whether or not the records have been reviewed" (1).
On February 13, 1998, Booz Allen Hamilton completed a document titled "Operations Security Impact on Declassification Management Within the Department of Defense." This report(2)can be read online at: www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/dod_opsec.html It made a number of declassification recommendations after its authors reviewed relevant archived materials, spoke with archival staff and interviewed three key individuals: Jean Schauble, the Director of the Records Declassification Division at the National Archives And Records Administration; LTC Gary Moore, the Operations Officer of the U.S. Army Declassification Activity; and "one interviewee from the Defense Intelligence Agency [name DELETED]."
In bland bureaucratic language, the report concluded that:
"Declassification of information that no longer needs to be protected is an excellent objective. Indeed a very large amount of the material reviewed appeared to be of no use - intelligence or otherwise [as]...is to be expected in records that are 45 to 50 years old. This does not mean releasing information solely based on age or extremely narrow review criteria. Some information or collection of information, especially in the area of nuclear weapons, does not lose its value with the passage of time."
Speaking of old government information holding "use" and "value," it is interesting to note that the document made an interesting case for releasing "Kennedy assassination data:" such release, Booz allen Hamilton said, will help keep Internet researchers "diverted" from substantive matters of U.S. policy and focused instead on the pursuit of trivial irrelevance related to the long ago death of JFK.
The document contains seven chief "Observations," the fifth of which focuses on the good ("strengths") and bad ("weaknesses") sides of using the Internet in handling declassified material.
"Observation #5" reads as follows (I have CAPITALIZED text portions that deserve special attention):
"DoD needs to study and assess the use of the Internet in the overall departmental declassification strategy. As noted earlier, the Internet has become an integral part of the entire secrecy/declassification issue. The question becomes how to effectively utilize this tool to advance DoD declassification goals. First and foremost DoD must identify a clear set of specific goals; assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Internet and then devise a strategy to reach those goals. For the sake of a hypothetical model assume that the DoD goals are:
* Conduct a declassification review of all 25 year old material
* Identify and segregate that material which should remain classified
* Declassify and make available to the general public that material which no longer needs protection.
* Manage FOIA reviews in the most cost effective manner."
"Based on these goals one would then assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Internet."
* The use of the Internet provides a rapid and cost effective method for the dissemination of unclassified information.
* THE USE OF THE INTERNET COULD REDUCE THE UNRESTRAINED PUBLIC APPETITE FOR 'SECRETS' BY PROVIDING GOOD FAITH DISTRACTION MATERIAL.
* The use of the Internet could channel public interest towards already appropriately declassified material and possibly lessen FOIA requests."
* The use of the Internet could have rebound effect and fuel a more voracious public demand for ever more material. May facilitate more FOIA requests by providing a shopping list of available materials.
* The use of the Internet could overwhelm the administrative system that processes inquiries. By providing documents that have been recently reviewed and declassified, it can magnify imperfections in the declassification system by making available declassified material out of historical context.
*Information that is available over the Internet magnifies the imperfections of the declassification system. For instance if a document should appear on a website in full text, but is later shown as a redacted document or is refused to be released for classification reasons from another source, it would bring the entire system into question."
"A strategy could be devised by DoD and the components, based upon this evaluation, to implement a coherent and complimentary plan to achieve the declassification goals. For example:
* Openness: Discussion of balance between necessary secrecy and openness- i.e., continued classification of old nuclear test data to keep out of terrorist hands.
* DIVERSION: LIST OF INTERESTING DECLASSIFIED MATERIAL, i.e KENNEDY ASSASSINATION DATA."
Okay, here's a useful translation of the material just quoted (at perhaps too much length): "the Internet-based release of certain previously classified material can be used to encourage people eager to understand United States policy and history (with their 'unrestrained public appetite for secrets'); to NOT investigate the all-too covert policies and hidden agendas of United States imperialism past and present. It could help to steer them onto wild historical goose chases that do not not pursue serious matters like the real aims of the mass-murderous U.S.-imperialist assault on Indochina (significantly initiated by the war criminal JFK). Let's encourage people to invest scarce time and energy in a fruitless search for 'who killed JFK.' Let's divert and distract them away from making important inquiries into criminal policies that murdered millions of Southeast Asians and others around the world past and present."
It's hard not to think that the same sort of reflection has already occurred to U.S. intelligence managers in relation to the 9/11 conspiracy industry. Every minute spent trying to fruitlessly connect the scattered and deceptive dots of fantastic 9/11 conspiracies is not spent looking into monumentally more relevant issues.
Even if substantive basis existed for 9/11 conspiracy theories, the industry is a great diversion from the most critical matter at the heart of real threats to ordinary citizens at home and abroad: the incitement of terrorist attacks against the U.S. (with the 9/11 actions and much worse well within the capacity of people U.S. policymakers have deeply antagonized) by the structurally super-empowered agents of a brazen imperialist project that privileges U.S. global dominance (and related U.S. control over pivotal Middle Eastern energy resources) over human survival and over the survival of ordinary Americans (3).
Decades later, perhaps, Booz Allen Hamilton or some other spooky multinational consulting firm will produce a similar report regarding the declassification of archived materials from the early 21st century. Releasing bits of tantalizing data about 9/11 could be useful, the firm will argue, for diverting citizens from the documentary record of the hubristic and imperialist decisions and agendas that provoked 9/11 and led to the disastrous and illegal occupation of oil-rich Iraq in 2003 and then to a massive, partially nuclear U.S. assault on Iran. The last action, it will possibly have happened, killed a half million Iranians and helped spark a Middle East conflagration leading to the death of millions and to numerous terror attacks (including the use of radioactive materials) against U.S. citizens at home and abroad.
Some in the battered U.S. public will perhaps have an "unrestrained appetite" for getting to the heart of these key historical matters. It might be useful, future U.S.-affiliated corporate-Orwellian information managers will argue, to occasionally toss those angry Americans a few spicy 9/11 Internet scraps to throw them off the trail of questions that matter.
Paul Street is the author of Empire and Inequality and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm, 2004), Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (Routledge, 2005) and Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (forthcoming in 2007). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., "Operations Security Impact of Declassification Management Within the Department of Defense," February 13, 1998).
2. Which I "discovered" on p. 245, note 18 of Noam Chomsky and Gilbert Achcar's important book Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy [Paradigm, 2006]). The source is Chomsky's find.
3. Noam Chomsky, Hegemony Over Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance [New York: Metropolitan Books, 2003]); Chomsky and Achcar, Perilous Power, pp. 1-17.