Skip

Do you believe what you're told by your government?
October 30, 2001 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Do you believe what you're told by your government? I don't. I'm quite the conspiracy theorist. One thing I do believe is that during the Vietnam war, battlefield evidence obtained by journalists directly contradicted the official word from the Pentagon. Starting with Ashcroft basically overturning the FOIA, numerous government agencies are using the Current Situation to get a stranglehold on information. Furthermore, they are getting rid of anything remotely distasteful to their administrators and beaurocrats. Most telling is the FAA's decision to remove records of past security violations from their website, basically ending public oversight of their self-policing activities.
posted by taumeson (22 comments total)

 
This doesn't bother me that much, only in that, especially since September 11th, I don't really believe anything the Government says, at least in relation to things like "facts" and "the truth." An let's face it, from a strategic point of view, they have no idea who they are really fighting against, and so anything they say might be used against them. In the end though, this return to cold war levels of paranoia was really pretty inevitable since the day George Bush was handed the election. Everything he said and did pointed to a desire to return things to the "good old days" of US versus THEM. It just took the events of September 11th to manifest a THEM.
posted by bob bisquick at 8:58 AM on October 30, 2001


No surprise that the Bush Boys (and girls) have put the clamp-down on the flow of information. Keeping the public frightened and uncertain is high on the agenda when fighting a nebulous and morally questionable war. And staunching access to information is a sure way to achieve that. In addition, of course, there are plenty of corporate interests that have a strong stake in suppressing such information; conveniently, we have a war on to justify such measures.
posted by mapalm at 9:11 AM on October 30, 2001


Curious, can one get a book from the library that has information on security measures at airports? Or, the classic example, how to construct a weapon?

Something that scares me almost as much as this "info lockdown", if not more, is that a majority of people are fine with it. Or, at least, the media is telling us that a majority are fine with it. If that's truly the case, then it's only fair to start taking away other civil liberties. After all, people are fine with it. You don't need this information, you don't need this TV program with its vague, vague correlation to real events, you don't need to see the Twin Towers in any work of fiction ever again.

Because, you see, they know what's best for us....
posted by hijinx at 9:34 AM on October 30, 2001


Or, at least, the media is telling us that a majority are fine with it. If that's truly the case, then it's only fair to start taking away other civil liberties.

Since when is access to sensitive security information a civil liberty? I think you're confusing rights with privileges.
posted by lizs at 9:38 AM on October 30, 2001


We need to seek out more sources, like GlobalSpin News & Views from Abroad: "GlobalSpin follows the top foreign stories in our press and then looks for the reaction overseas. At times background pieces will be included so as to give the reader an overview of the situation. Related stories will be included to give a fuller picture as will the perspective of other players."
posted by Carol Anne at 9:40 AM on October 30, 2001


I miss the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's "daily events" page, which made public the forms that are submitted by nuclear power plants, fuel-handling facilities, and research labs when there's any exception to protocol — anything from a hole in the fence to a lost Geiger counter to a emergency venting of an overheating reactor.

The NRC home page says they're "performing a review of all material on our site", so maybe it'll come back. I thought it was a great example of our government's openness, and in a weird way a great daily read — it was like a single-topic collaborative weblog!
posted by nicwolff at 9:47 AM on October 30, 2001


Dear Carol Anne: when I note the sources for the global news that the site you suggested offers I am not convinced that they are without bias. Egypt? India? What nice things will India say about Pakistan? And Egypt...terrible newspapers that are not much better than what the Taliban would offer.
Try some Brit servie3s. They are often closer to telling things that for some reason are kept from us here, as in the recent report about how our special forces came under so much fire they had to flee and nearly got in deep trouble with the choppers that were to rescue them. While here we were told that the Spcial Forces were doing fine.
posted by Postroad at 10:02 AM on October 30, 2001


lizs: Since when is access to sensitive security information a civil liberty?

True, you can make a great case that it's a privilege. But hear me out: if I walk into an airport, don't I have the right to know what security measures are being done? After all, the events of September 11th proved that the measures at that point didn't do what they were supposed to do.

And simply telling someone, "We're taking care of it" really doesn't sit well with me.
posted by hijinx at 10:04 AM on October 30, 2001


True, you can make a great case that it's a privilege. But hear me out: if I walk into an airport, don't I have the right to know what security measures are being done?

I don't think you have an actual *right* in this case either. Security measures are often kept private because the knowledge that they exist automatically compromises them. Every new security gadget we build that is in the public domain can be engineered around or foiled in some way by those that wish to evade them. On the other hand, some security measures are intentionally visible as a deterrent.

In the U.S., airport security is a private as well as public function, and you may not have a right to know what security measures the airlines are taking but you can vote with your wallet and as a consumer demand that companies meet your required comfort level before you spend money with them. I think we're seeing a lot of that now. Airlines are having to spend money on security to retain the 2/3 of their pre-9/11 customer bases and bring other people back. If enough people demand more information and more security, they have to listen or they're be out of business. (Several of them are dangerously close anyway.)

RE: After all, the events of September 11th proved that the measures at that point didn't do what they were supposed to do. Security measures are designed to prevent these things, but no preventative measure is 100% failsafe, and more stringent measures would have been protested before SEpt 11th, because godforbid, someone have their "civil liberties" violated by having to wait in line at an airport for a longer amount of time or being questioned by security personnel. THere's a good quote by terrorism expert Paul Wilkinson that says something like "Preventing terrorism is like being the goalkeeper for a football team. You make a 100 brilliant saves and the only thing people remember is the one that got past you."
posted by lizs at 10:21 AM on October 30, 2001


No, I don't trust the government. Nobody should. But I also don't distrust them, either. See, that's the whole idea behind openness: trust becomes a non-issue. Trust is relevant only where knowledge is limited -- I trust that my partner is not cheating on me, because I can't have full knowledge of all of his activities. But I don't have to "trust" that Wal Mart is offering the lowest price on a product, because I can always check prices from other vendors. Get it? That's why openness is treasured - then we don't have to rely on trust.
posted by yesster at 10:21 AM on October 30, 2001


lizs: Since when is access to sensitive security information a civil liberty?

When it's not actually "sensitive security information" that's being hidden. I'm not saying this to raise conspiracy theory flags for myself--generally I like to believe that there are still enough Boy Scouts high up that the truth inevitably will get leaked if it's important enough. But I think that it's realistic to assume that some of what's hidden behind "sensitive" is likely only "sensitive" to someone's reelection possibilities.

For instance, the now famous controversy over whether there was ever a credible threat to Air Force One itself on Sept. 11. Well, according to everything I've read thus far, there was no credible threat--it was a cover story for why Bush wasn't going back to Washington. Yet, they held on to the story for days, refusing to say how they knew there was a threat because it would endanger national security to even say that much. It then became clear there was no threat, and all Ari could say is No Comment. I don't care if Bush wanted to go back to DC. Hell, I wouldn't have gone back on a bet if I were President.

You're right, I don't think it's my right to have access to sensitive security information--but it is my right to get a truthful answer on everything else. The big question is, how do we know whether the information is sensitive or not? By trust, right? Well, the above incident doesn't help me out much, and being a Republican I'm supposed to be one of the one's who assumes Bush is gonna do the right thing with regards to this issue. Instead, I'm actually kind of afraid.
posted by Swifty at 10:36 AM on October 30, 2001


Yesster, that may be the finest indictment of the current government culture of secrecy AND the cult of conspiracy theorism I've read. It's also the cure for campaign finance reform, and the key to what happened at Roswell. And it makes sense, which can be a rarity at times. What you said times 20. Open the books.
posted by UncleFes at 10:37 AM on October 30, 2001


Damn, should have included this in my post above but didn't see it before I hit submit.

and more stringent measures would have been protested before SEpt 11th, because godforbid, someone have their "civil liberties" violated

I still haven't seen anything that leads me to believe that anything the government is trying to do now would have prevented Sept. 11. We close airports for days in order to beef up Security to keep knives out, and yet at least two folks have managed to get guns in in the past two weeks? Argh.

And then all of the new wiretapping powers and such. Sheesh, they can tap damn near anything already under FISA laws if they feel the country is threatened. My concern is not having my civil rights violated because the Government is hunting terrorists--my concern is John Ashcroft using this as nothing more than an excuse to do things he knows will violate will civil rights. And then, he can just have Ari refuse to comment on everything about how the new laws are being used because of "national security concerns".

Argh, I'm turning into a conspiracy theorist.
posted by Swifty at 10:47 AM on October 30, 2001


Postroad: I assume most MeTaFolk know of BBC, Guardian, Independent, etc. GlobalSpin is a way to read sources from the rest of the world. As for "media bias", I believe it's good to know what others think, whether I agree or not.
posted by Carol Anne at 10:48 AM on October 30, 2001


Exactly, Fes. This was something that was addressed as part of the web coverage of the British election, or by the sites that contained information on campaign donations in the US campaign. Often, it's a question of simplifying the interface to public information, so that those in charge can be held properly accountable. (Remember the sequence about planning permission from the start of Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy?) But nothing creates the impression of there being something to hide than withdrawing public access. Because the least suspicious of us will assume that those with malicious intent will have already nabbed what they wanted from the public record.

In the case of airport security violations, access to accurate public statistics is what turns a sneaking suspicion, a hushed rumour, into a matter of fact. It also democratises information: look at the different treatment of postal workers and congresspeeps, amid the media lockdown over anthrax. Flying out of Boston Logan set off alarm bells in the back of my head; being able to read of the hundreds of security violations in recent years reassured me that I wasn't simply paranoid. (Though it hardly reassured me about flying from there again.)
posted by holgate at 11:03 AM on October 30, 2001


in washington state, it's not expressed as "freedom of information" but rather "right to know" - and that's pretty broadly interpreted here, at least when public officials know what the f--- they're doing.

series in my hometown paper (as part of a statewide project):

response to disclosure mixed

access to crime files a roll of dice

public's right to know not always honored

the 'right to know' belongs to all citizens, not just reporters

that last one talks about why public information might be useful to the average citizen. I think many of the same principles apply to federal information.
posted by epersonae at 11:23 AM on October 30, 2001


since you guys are so good at playing devil's advocate, has it occured to you that perhaps the media is fabricating the public demand for more specific information because without it they're out of business? I see a lot of government conspiracy theories, but not too many people are questioning media interpretations about why information is withheld.
posted by lizs at 11:33 AM on October 30, 2001


Could you explain why European AWACs are listening in while you are calling. All US are in the Middle East right. Only, as pointed out here earlier non-US AWACs dont have to honor the rights issues. If it wasn't done soley for that aspect, why put US planes in the Middle East and European planes here.
posted by timetostepback at 11:52 AM on October 30, 2001


simplifying the interface to public information,

Agreed; as an ex-journo who remembers a time before there was a net, the process for getting information from government sources was two-fold: you could either go through channels, which was a bureaucractic nightmare, or you could get it through your cultivated sources, which was more reliable but put you a the source's behest (not great, they always want something eventually). But no, any schmoe can log on some .gov and download raw data by the buttload, which is great, but it downgrades the priviledged position of the press. Which may or may not be a good thing, considering their willingness to act the fool.

It also democratises information: look at the different treatment of postal workers and congresspeeps, amid the media lockdown over anthrax.

Absolutely, and not very pretty; seems we fought somebody awhile back so we wouldn't have to deal with an aristocracy...? :)

It all comes back to Milton's free market of ideas; the better informed the public, they more able they will be to act effectively and rightly in matters of public interest.

questioning media interpretations about why information is withheld

I don't think people realize the gatekeeping effect the major media have on information. I know because I've made those kind of decisions on a smaller scale. The government has nothing on media in the censorship business. Be assured that your newspaper of choice censored some really juicy facts today. They do it for all sorts of reasons, and most of them are fairly banal (though you'd be surprisd at the volume of hip-pocket Goebbels' you'd find out there) but they do it all the time. The best way to make sure that you have the best information available is (as always) to get as much information from the widest variety of sources that you can.
posted by UncleFes at 12:22 PM on October 30, 2001


Everything he said and did pointed to a desire to return things to the "good old days" of US versus THEM.

Slightly off-topic. About two weeks after the attacks, I heard a Republican Senator say the following on CNN. This is a pretty direct quote, as I was so stunned I repeated it over and over:

"This [the current conflict] is a war of ideas, and we will win because we have the best ideas."

I swear to God he said that. If that isn't Cold War rhetoric, I don't know what is...
posted by jpoulos at 12:26 PM on October 30, 2001


Time to emmanatize the eschaton...
posted by adampsyche at 12:26 PM on October 30, 2001


Hey taumeson and swifty...if you need any more fuel to feed your conspiracy fire, read "The Best and the Brightest" by David Halberstam. It's an amazing account of the lengths the US Gov't went to conceal info from Vietnam from the public and the upper echelons of the White House. I believe it was published in '74, but I read it recently for the first time, and it is timeless.
posted by vito90 at 5:54 PM on October 30, 2001


« Older   |   Spooooky... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post