October 19, 2014
The Boston Globe

Vote All You Want, The Secret Government Won't Change

by Jordan Michael Smith

The voters who put Barack Obama in office expected some big changes. From the NSA's warrantless wiretapping to Guantanamo Bay to the Patriot Act, candidate Obama was a defender of civil liberties and privacy, promising a dramatically different approach from his predecessor.

But six years into his administration, the Obama version of national security looks almost indistinguishable from the one he inherited. Guantanamo Bay remains open. The NSA has, if anything, become more aggressive in monitoring Americans. Drone strikes have escalated. Most recently it was reported that the same president who won a Nobel Prize in part for promoting nuclear disarmament is spending up to $1 trillion modernizing and revitalizing America's nuclear weapons.

Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic answer: Obama couldn't have changed policies much even if he tried.

Though it's a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, "National Security and Double Government," he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term "double government": There's the one we elect, and then there's the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.

Glennon cites the example of Obama and his team being shocked and angry to discover upon taking office that the military gave them only two options for the war in Afghanistan: The United States could add more troops, or the United States could add a lot more troops. Hemmed in, Obama added 30,000 more troops.

Glennon's critique sounds like an outsider's take, even a radical one. In fact, he is the quintessential insider . . .


Michael J. Glennon is Professor of International Law. He was Legal Counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (1977-1980). He has since been a Fulbright Distinguished Professor of International and Constitutional Law. He is a contributing writer at Salon and The Christian Science Monitor.

Al Gore, "American Democracy is in Grave Danger," Associated Press, October 6, 2005

Stephen M. Walt, "The Myth of American Exceptionalism," Foreign Policy, November 2011

Peter Dale Scott, "The Hidden Government Group Linking JFK, Watergate, Iran-Contra and 9/11," WhoWhatWhy, October 5, 2014

Andrew Levine, "Where Hucksters Rule,", October 24, 2014

Philip Giraldi, "Skewering the 'Shadow Government',", October 28, 2014

[In voting in this county, you vote for an electoral process designed to dissipate your energies and divert you from the (truly meaningful ) politics of the factory floor or street. You vote for a cynical ritual, on the basis of perceptions (I won't say "knowledge") about the world shaped by the corporate media, for candidates vetted by the backroom kingmakers of the two political parties who have acquired the start-up capital to market their product.--Gary Leupp, "End of the 'Team of Rivals'? Or More of the Same?,", December 4, 2014]

Nafeez Ahmed, "How the CIA made Google: Inside the secret network behind mass surveillance, endless war, and Skynet,", January 22, 2015

[Companies would be given new authority to monitor their users -- on their own systems as well as those of any other entity -- and then, in order to get immunity from virtually all existing surveillance laws, they would be encouraged to share vaguely defined “cyber threat indicators” with the government. This could be anything from email content, to passwords, IP addresses, or personal information associated with an account.--Evan Greer and Donny Shaw, "CISA: the dirty deal between Google and the NSA that no one is talking about,", July 29, 2015]

John W Whitehead, "If Voting Made Any Difference, They Wouldn't Let Us Do It,", August 3, 2016

Gary Leupp, "The US Election: an Exercise in Mendacity,", September 6, 2016

Clark Mindock, "US no longer in top 20 least corrupt countries in the world, major new survey finds,", January 30, 2019

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