An article has been making its way around the Internet, and followers of the United States Constitution are gasping for breath at the thought of the message. According to a political Internet blog, we need to be a bit concerned with one of Obama's advisors and what he has in store for the dissenting American population. But, are the "threats" posed by big brother elitists really "new" or are they echoes from the past whispering softly of the nightmares to come.
The offensive news is centered around a paper written by Cass Sunstein entitled "Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures." Sunstein suggests that in order to silence the escalation of conspiracy theories in America the federal government should train operatives to infiltrate neighborhood groups and Internet chat rooms for the purpose of spreading disinformation, undermining the groups efforts, and planting doubts in the minds of concerned Americans.
In Cass Sunstein's own words, "We suggest a distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of believers."
At this point, I think it only right to learn a bit about Cass Sunstein. Sunstein, first of all, is the current administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. According to a Glenn Greenwald article, in his current position, one of the areas Sunstein will be responsible for is "overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality and statistical programs." Secondly, he teaches/has taught Constitutional, Administrative and Environmental law at places like Harvard, Columbia and the University of Chicago. Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, Sunstein is a long time friend of President Obama.
Why, you ask, is this important? Greenwald made it rather clear, "This isn't an instance where some government official wrote a bizarre paper in college 30 years ago about matters unrelated to his official powers; this was written 18 months ago, at a time when the ascendancy of Sunstein's close friend to the Presidency looked likely, in exactly the area he now oversees."
Sunstein's "conspiracy theory" paper, written in 2008, deals with the infiltration of chat rooms as well as social and other group meetings, whether online or in person. Their definition of "false conspiracy theories" is those theories that suggest that powerful people have been directly involved in certain affairs and have managed to keep their role in these affairs "secret" from the public's eye.
Interestingly enough, in his The Power of Dissent article from 2003, Sunstein, while talking about the failures at NASA with regard to the Columbia crash, seizes the opportunity to "speak" to all organizations about the good that comes from dissent. In the very first sentence he says we "need dissenting opinions" stating later in the article that, without them, people generally end up "believing a more extreme version" of what they believed before.
In September 2003, Sunstein was the guest speaker at a Carnegie Council Meeting"the topic? Why Societies Need Dissent. Program coordinator Joanne Myers, in her introduction of Sunstein, pointed out that in his latest work of the same title he "casts new light on the fundamental importance of freedom of speech and shows us that nations are far more likely to prosper if they allow their citizens the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and dare to challenge the unchallengeable."
The pieces, all authored by the same man, clearly contradict each other. Is Sunstein, then, saying that dissent is a GOOD thing during the Bush administration, where MANY questioned what Bush and his administration were up to, but NOT during the Obama administration? And, remember, when Bush got caught at the "infiltration tactics" the political left railed against him for it, yet now we have something very similar being proposed from a prominent person in the Obama administration, yet almost no one seems to be bothered by it or even talking about it.
My proposition is this: Sunstein is spewing forth the same old worn out tactics, but under a new disguise"and the died-in-the-wool Democrats, as well as others, are buying it hook, line and sinker as if it were something of a great revelation to be beheld!
Greenwald states that there is no proof that the program has been installed"but there is no need to "install it" because it is not a new program. What the suggested program IS is business as usual. The Bush administration, certainly guilty of "cognitive" infiltration, weren't the first to employ these kinds of Anti-First Amendment tactics. In fact, the new film Camp FEMA brought to our attention that "over the course of four Presidential administrations, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered FBI agents to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize' the activities" of different organizations. The narrator in the film goes on to say that "the purpose of the FBI's counterintelligence program was a series of covert, and often illegal programs, conducted by the United States government and aimed squarely at investigating and disrupting dissident political organizations within the United States." (Emphasis mine)
So, while the newer Sunstein paper is disturbing, it isn't new"it is a regurgitation of something VERY old. J Edgar Hoover led the FBI for 48 years and died in 1972! Again, is Sunstein really try to pass his ideas off as a new tactic or is he thinking of resorting to something very old?
Something else pointed out in the Lewis/Franchi film is that in the book War at Home, author, and attorney, Brian Glick outlines the four methods used by the FBI's CoIntelPro: infiltration, psychological warfare, harassment through the legal system, and extralegal force and violence. The Sunstein paper seems to echo some of these egregious practices, but his reasoning is simple"if the government officials are "well-intentioned" then it's okay. What if ALL of the former administrations thought their actions were "well-intended?" Or maybe we should ask another question. Will the double standards and deception ever end?
As for "conspiracy theories," Sunstein, as well as right-winger Sean Hannity and former Clinton buddy Dick Morris, has had to concede that some of these formerly "insane" or "fringe" theories have actually been proven true. Yet, even realizing that some of what they consider "conspiracy theories" are true, he believes it's okay for the government to "cognitively infiltrate" the groups perpetrating these "theories." Greenwald states that "The most chronic and dangerous purveyors of "conspiracy theory' games are the very people Sunstein thinks should be empowered to control our political debate," the government and people like himself.
So, should we be afraid of the power and influence wielded by Cass Sunstein on a President that is his close friend, but more importantly, the President that he advises? In light of how long this type of behavior has been going on in the United States, I'd say we'd be better served to be leery of ANYONE who takes it upon "his" administration to exhibit any such behavior at all!
It is time that we face some hard facts. Our government does not represent the "common people" that make up the grandest vision of what the United States of America should be and our government certainly does not have the best interest of those that elected them at heart. Obama promised many things, but most of all, he promised change. We all hoped for more, but for the most part, it is what we feared it would be, the same ole same ole. Sunstein's paper is interesting, but, again, nothing new.