Chris Hedges: The Hidden Tragedy of the Vietnam War

My Lai Memorial Site - Vietnam - Diorama of Massacre

Image by Adam Jones via Flickr

Dandelion Salad

with Chris Hedges

RT America on Jan 2, 2017

On this week’s episode of On Contact, Chris Hedges discusses the hidden tragedy of the Vietnam War with author of “Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam”. Nick Turse uncovered documents that revealed systematic violence against civilians extending beyond the massacre at My Lai. They look back at Vietnam to understand what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. RT Correspondent Anya Parampil looks at the civilian cost that accompanied our defeat in Vietnam.

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Deborah Nelson: The War Behind Me

Dandelion Salad


Interview with Deborah Nelson author of The War Behind Me: Vietnam Veterans Confront the Truth about U.S. War Crimes.

For more info:

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The Pentagonization of US life + Obama and the national security system + Cold War mentality

Dandelion Salad


Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt of on the system of militarization.

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Billion-Dollar Babies By Nick Turse

Dandelion Salad

By Nick Turse
June 24, 2008

Five Stealth Pentagon Contractors Reaping Billions of Tax Dollars

The top Pentagon contractors, like death and taxes, almost never change. In 2002, the massive arms dealers Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman ranked one, two, and three among Department of Defense contractors, taking in $17 billion, $16.6 billion, and $8.7 billion. Lockheed, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman did it again in 2003 ($21.9, $17.3, and $11.1 billion); 2004 ($20.7, $17.1, and $11.9 billion); 2005 ($19.4, $18.3, and $13.5 billion); 2006 ($26.6, $20.3, and $16.6 billion); and, not surprisingly, 2007 as well ($27.8, $22.5, and $14.6 billion). Other regulars receiving mega-tax-funded payouts in a similarly clockwork-like manner include defense giants General Dynamics, Raytheon, the British weapons maker BAE Systems, and former Halliburton subsidiary KBR, as well as BP, Shell, and other power players from the military-petroleum complex.

With the basic Pentagon budget now clocking in at roughly $541 billion per year — before “supplemental” war funding for Iraq, Afghanistan, and the President’s Global War on Terror, as well as national security spending by other agencies, are factored in — even Lockheed’s hefty $28 billion take is a small percentage of the massive total. Obviously, significant sums of money are headed to other companies. However, most of them, including some of the largest, are all but unknown even to Pentagon-watchers and antiwar critics with a good grasp of the military industrial complex.


FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

The Real Matrix – The Pentagon Invades Your Life

Dandelion Salad

By Nick Turse
TomDispatch (Tom Engelhardt)
April 24, 2008

Rick is a midlevel manager in a financial services company in New York City. Each day he commutes from Weehawken, New Jersey, a suburb only a stone’s throw from the Big Apple, where he lives with his wife, Donna, and his teenage son, Steven. A late baby boomer, Rick just missed the Vietnam era’s antiwar protests, but he’s been against the war in Iraq from the beginning. He thinks the Pentagon is out of control and considers the military-industrial complex a danger to the country. If you asked him, it’s a subject on which he would rate himself as knowledgeable. He puts effort into educating himself on such matters. He reads liberal websites, subscribes to progressive-minded magazines, and is a devotee of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

In fact, he has no idea just how deep the Pentagon rabbit hole goes or how far down it his family already is.

Rick believes that, despite its long reach, the military-industrial complex is a discrete entity far removed from his everyday life. Now, if this were 1961, when outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the country about the “unwarranted influence” of the “military-industrial complex” and the “large arms industry” already firmly entrenched in the United States, Rick might be right. After all, he doesn’t work for one of the Pentagon’s corporate partners, like arms maker Lockheed Martin. He isn’t in the Army Reserve. He’s never attended a performance of the Marine Corps band (not to mention the Army’s, Navy’s, or Air Force’s music groups). But today’s geared-up, high-tech Complex is nothing like the olive-drab outfit of Eisenhower’s day: It reaches deeper into American lives and the American psyche than Eisenhower could ever have imagined. The truth is that, at every turn, in countless, not-so-visible ways Rick’s life is wrapped up with the military.


FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Weaponizing the Pentagon’s Cyborg Insects By Nick Turse

Dandelion Salad

By Tom Engelhardt
March 30, 2008 4:40 pm

Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Pentagon’s Battle Bugs

We at Tomdispatch love anniversaries. So how could we have forgotten DARPA’s for so many months? This very year, the Pentagon’s research outfit, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), turns 50 old. Happy birthday, DARPA! You were born as a response to the Soviet Union’s launching of the first earth-girdling satellite, Sputnik, which gave Americans a mighty shock. To prevent another “technological surprise” by the Soviets — or anybody else, anytime, ever — the agency has grown into the Pentagon’s good right arm, always there to reach into the future and grab another wild idea for weaponization. Each year, DARPA now spends about $3 billion on a two-fold mission: “to prevent technological surprise for us and to create technological surprise for our adversaries.”

Next month, the agency will celebrate its anniversary with a conference that aims to “reflect on [its] challenges and accomplishments… over the past 50 years and to consider the Agency’s goals for the next 50 years.” What a super idea! Think of that. The next 50! If only Tomdispatch is still around — my brain well preserved and renewed (thanks to some nifty cutting-edge science from the TD Advanced Research Projects Lab) — to see War 2058 arrive and blow out those 100-year anniversary candles on the planet.

In the meantime, the future is now and Pentagon expert Nick Turse is at work — see below — on the latest developments in DARPA’s plans to help an overstretched military by reaching into the insect kingdom for its newest well weaponized recruits. The first larval Marines, perhaps. Ten-HUT! Unlike Americans at present, they should simply swarm to the recruiting offices.

It’s a strange (not to say hair-raising) subject for a journalist who has lately been covering the air war in Iraq and elsewhere for Tomdispatch. But the Pentagon’s urge to weaponize the wild kingdom is a topic Turse has long been familiar with and that he deals with powerfully in his remarkable new book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives. It is — believe me — the single most powerful look yet at all the subtle and complicated ways American lives have been militarized during the last decades. (For a short video discussion I had with Turse, click here.)

Oh, and here’s a suggestion for DARPA from a New Yorker. When you’re recruiting those bugs, don’t forget the roaches in my kitchen. They’ve been idle too long. Tom


Weaponizing the Pentagon’s Cyborg Insects

A Futuristic Nightmare That Just Might Come True

By Nick Turse

Biological weapons delivered by cyborg insects. It sounds like a nightmare scenario straight out of the wilder realms of science fiction, but it could be a reality, if a current Pentagon project comes to fruition.

Right now, researchers are already growing insects with electronics inside them. They’re creating cyborg moths and flying beetles that can be remotely controlled. One day, the U.S. military may field squadrons of winged insect/machine hybrids with on-board audio, video or chemical sensors. These cyborg insects could conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions on distant battlefields, in far-off caves, or maybe even in cities closer to home, and transmit detailed data back to their handlers at U.S. military bases.

Today, many people fear U.S. government surveillance of email and cell phone communications. With this program, the Pentagon aims to exponentially increase the paranoia. Imagine a world in which any insect fluttering past your window may be a remote-controlled spy, packed with surveillance equipment. Even more frightening is the prospect that such creatures could be weaponized, and the possibility, according to one scientist intimately familiar with the project, that these cyborg insects might be armed with “bio weapons.”

For the past 50 years, work by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — the Pentagon’s blue skies research outfit — has led to some of the most lethal weaponry in the U.S. arsenal: from Hellfire-missile-equipped Predator drones and stealth fighters and bombers to Tomahawk cruise missiles and Javelin portable “fire and forget” guided missiles. For the last several years, DARPA has funneled significant sums of money into a very different kind of guided missile project, its Hybrid Insect MEMS (HI-MEMS) program. This project is, according to DARPA, “aimed at developing tightly coupled machine-insect interfaces by placing micro-mechanical systems [MEMS] inside the insects during the early stages of metamorphosis.” Put simply, the creation of cyborg insects: part bug, part bot.

Bugs, Bots, Borgs and Bio-Weapons

This past August, at DARPA’s annual symposium — DARPATech — HI-MEMS program manager Amit Lal, an associate professor on leave from Cornell University, explained that his project aims to transform “insects into unmanned air-vehicles.” He described the research this way: “[T]he HI-MEMS program seeks to grow MEMS and electronics inside the insect pupae. The new tissue forms around the insertions, making the bio-electronic interface long-lasting and reliable.” In other words, micro-electronics are inserted at the pupal stage of metamorphosis so that they can be integrated into the insects’ bodies as they develop, creating living robots that can be remotely controlled after the insect emerges from its cocoon.

According to the latest reports, work on this project is progressing at a rapid pace. In a recent phone interview, DARPA spokesperson Jan Walker said, “We’re focused on determining what the best kinds of MEMS systems are; what the best MEMS system would be for embedding; what the best time is for embedding.”

This month, Rob Coppinger, writing for the aerospace trade publication Flight International, reported on new advances announced at the “1st US-Asian Assessment and Demonstration of Micro-Aerial and Unmanned Ground Vehicle Technology” — a Pentagon-sponsored conference. “In the latest work,” he noted, “a Manduca moth had its thorax truncated to reduce its mass and had a MEMS component added where abdominal segments would have been, during the larval stage.” But, as he pointed out, Robert Michelson, a principal research engineer, emeritus at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, laid out “on behalf of DARPA” some of the obstacles that remain. Among them were short insect life-spans and the current inability to create these cyborgs outside specialized labs.

DARPA’s professed long-term goal for the HI-MEMS program is the creation of “insect cyborgs” capable of carrying “one or more sensors, such as a microphone or a gas sensor, to relay back information gathered from the target destination” — in other words, the creation of military micro-surveillance systems.

In a recent email interview, Michelson — who has previously worked on numerous military projects, including DARPA’s “effort to develop an ‘Entomopter’ (mechanical insect-like multimode aerial robot)” — described the types of sensor packages envisioned, but only in a minimalist fashion, as a “[w]ide array of active and passive devices.” However in “Insect Cyborgs: A New Frontier in Flight Control Systems,” a 2007 article in the academic journal Proceedings of SPIE, Cornell researchers noted that cyborg insects could be used as “autonomous surveillance and reconnaissance vehicles” with on-board “[s]ensory systems such as video and chemical.”

Surveillance applications, however, may only be the beginning. Last year, Jonathan Richards, reporting for The Times, raised the specter of the weaponization of cyborg insects in the not-too-distant future. As he pointed out, Rodney Brooks, the director of the computer science and artificial intelligence lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, indicated that the Pentagon is striving toward a major expansion in the use of non-traditional air power — like unmanned aerial vehicles and cyborg insects — in the years ahead. “There’s no doubt their things will become weaponized,” he explained, “so the question [is]: should they [be] given targeting authority?” Brooks went on to assert, according to The Times, that it might be time to consider rewriting international law to take the future weaponization of such “devices” into account.

But how would one weaponize a cyborg insect? On this subject, Robert Michelson was blunt: “Bio weapons.”

Cyborg Ethics

Michelson wouldn’t elaborate further, but any program using bio-weapons would immediately raise major legal and ethical questions. The 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention outlawed the manufacture and possession of bio-weapons, of “[m]icrobial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin… that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes” and of “[w]eapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.” In fact, not only did President George W. Bush claim that Iraq’s supposed production and possession of biological weapons was a justification for an invasion of that nation, but he had previously stated, “All civilized nations reject as intolerable the use of disease and biological weapons as instruments of war and terror.”

Reached for comment, however, DARPA’s Jan Walker insisted that her agency’s focus was only on “fundamental research” when it came to cyborg insects. Although the focus of her agency is, in fact, distinctly on the future — the technology of tomorrow — she refused to look down the road when it came to weaponizing insect cyborgs or arming them with bio-weapons. “I can’t speculate on the future,” was all she would say.

Michelson is perfectly willing to look into future, especially on matters of cyborg insect surveillance, but on the horizon for him are technical issues when it comes to the military use of bug bots. “Surveillance goes on anyway by other means,” he explained, “so a new method is not the issue. If there are ethical or legal issues, they are ones of ‘surveillance,’ not of the ‘surveillance platform.'”

Peter Eckersley, a staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights and civil liberties group, sees that same future in a different light. Cyborg insects, he says, are an order of magnitude away from today’s more standard surveillance technologies like closed circuit television. “CCTV is mostly deployed in public and in privately owned public spaces. An insect could easily fly into your garden or sit outside your bedroom window,” he explained. “To make matters worse, you’d have no idea these devices were there. A CCTV camera is usually an easily recognizable device. Robotic surveillance insects might be harder to spot. And having to spot them wouldn’t necessarily be good for our mental health.”

Does Michelson see any ethical or legal dilemmas resulting from the future use of weaponized cyborg insects? “No, not unless they could breed new cyborg insects, which is not possible,” he explained. “Genetic engineering will be the ethical and legal battleground, not cybernetics.”

Battle Beetles and Hawkish Hawkmoths

Weaponized or not, moths are hardly the only cyborg insects that may fly, creep, or crawl into the military’s future arsenal. Scientists from Arizona State University and elsewhere, working under a grant from the Office of Naval Research and DARPA, “are rearing beetle species at various oxygen levels to attempt to produce beetles with greater-than-normal size and payload capacity.” Earlier this year, some of the same scientists published an article on their DARPA-funded research titled “A Cyborg Beetle: Insect Flight Control Through an Implantable, Tetherless Microsystem.” They explained that, by implanting “multiple inserted neural and muscular stimulators, a visual stimulator, a polyimide assembly and a microcontroller” in a 2 centimeter long, 1-2 gram green June beetle, they were “capable of modulating [the insect’s] flight starts, stops, throttle/lift, and turning.” They could, that is, drive an actual beetle. However, unlike the June bug you might find on a porch screen or in a garden, these sported on-board electronics powered by cochlear implant batteries.

DARPA-funded HI-MEMS research has also been undertaken at other institutions across the country and around the world. For example, in 2006, researchers at Cornell, in conjunction with scientists at Pennsylvania State University and the Universidad de Valparaiso, Chile, received an $8.4 million DARPA grant for work on “Insect Cyborg Sentinels.” According to a recent article in New Scientist, a team led by one of the primary investigators on that grant, David Stern, screened a series of video clips at a recent conference in Tucson, Arizona demonstrating their ability to control tethered tobacco hawkmoths through “flexible plastic probes” implanted during the pupal stage. Simply stated, the researchers were able to remotely control the moths-on-a-leash, manipulating the cyborg creatures’ wing speed and direction.


Cyborg insects are only the latest additions to the U.S. military’s menagerie. As defense tech-expert Noah Shachtman of Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog has reported, DARPA projects have equipped rats with electronic equipment and remotely controlled sharks, while the military has utilized all sorts of animals, from bomb-detecting honeybees and “chickens used as early-warning sensors for chemical attacks” to guard dogs and dolphins trained to hunt mines. Additionally, he notes, the DoD’s emphasis on the natural world has led to robots that resemble dogs, monkeys that control robotic limbs with their minds, and numerous other projects inspired by nature.

But whatever other creatures they favor, insects never seem far from the Pentagon’s dreams of the future. In fact, Shachtman reported earlier this year that “Air Force scientists are looking for robotic bombs that look — and act — like swarms of bugs and birds.” He went on to quote Colonel Kirk Kloeppel, head of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s munitions directorate, who announced the Lab’s interest in “bio-inspired munitions,” in “small, autonomous” machines that would “provide close-in [surveillance] information, in addition to killing intended targets.”

This month, researcher Robert Wood wrote in IEEE Spectrum about what he believes was “the first flight of an insect-size robot.” After almost a decade of research, Wood and his colleagues at the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory are now creating small insect-like robots that will eventually be outfitted “with onboard sensors, flight controls, and batteries… to nimbly flit around obstacles and into places beyond human reach.” Like cyborg insect researchers, Wood is DARPA-funded. Last year, in fact, the agency selected him as one of 24 “rising stars” for a “young faculty awards” grant.

Asked about the relative advantages of cyborg insects compared to mechanical bugs, Robert Michelson noted that “robotic insects obey without innate or external influences” and “they can be mass produced rapidly.” He cautioned, however, that they are extremely limited power-wise. Insect cyborgs, on the other hand, “can harvest energy and continue missions of longer duration.” However, they “may be diverted from their task by stronger influences”; must be grown to maturity and so may not be available when needed; and, of course, are mortal and run the risk of dying before they can be employed as needed.

The Future is Now

There is plenty of technical information about the HI-MEMS program available in the scientific literature. And if you make inquiries, DARPA will even direct you to some of the relevant citations. But while it’s relatively easy to learn about the optimal spots to insert a neural stimulator in a green June beetle (“behind the eye, in the flight control area of the insect brain”) or an electronic implant in a tobacco hawkmoth (“the main flight powering muscles… in the dorsal-thorax”), it’s much harder to discover the likely future implications of this sci-fi sounding research.

The “final demonstration goal” — the immediate aim — of DARPA’s HI-MEMS program “is the delivery of an insect within five meters of a specific target located a hundred meters away, using electronic remote control, and/or global positioning system (GPS).” Right now, DARPA doesn’t know when that might happen. “We basically operate phase to phase,” says Walker. “So, it kind of depends on how they do in the current phase and we’ll make decisions on future phases.”

DARPA refuses to examine anything but research-oriented issues. As a result, its Pentagon-funded scientists churn out inventions with potentially dangerous, if not deadly, implications without ever fully considering — let alone seeking public or expert comment on — the future ramifications of new technologies under production.

“The people who build this equipment are always going to say that they’re just building tools, that there are legitimate uses for them, and that it isn’t their fault if the tools are abused,” says the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Eckersley. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen that governments are more than willing to play fast-and-loose with the legal bounds on surveillance. Unless and until that changes, we’d urge researchers to find other projects to work on.”

Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of He has written for the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Adbusters, the Nation, the Village Voice, and regularly for Tomdispatch. His first book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, has just been published in Metropolitan Books’ American Empire Project series. His website is

Copyright 2008 Nick Turse
FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


Military Builds Robotic Insects by David Hambling (Israel; MAVs)

Robot Army in the Holy Land (bionic insects)

Will Israel’s Bionic Hornet Fulfill Prophecy? By Thomas Horn

Pentagon plans cyber-insect army By Gary Kitchener


Tomgram: Nick Turse, Big-Game Hunting in Iraq By Tom Engelhardt

Dandelion Salad

By Tom Engelhardt
October 25, 2007

Evidently, Blackwater, the now infamous private security company whose hired guns, working for the State Department, mowed down at least 17 Iraqis in a Baghdad square recently, wants to soften its image. (I wonder why?) The New York Times’ Paul von Zielbauer just reported that the company has redesigned its logo. Once, according to him, it was “a bear’s paw print in a red crosshairs, under lettering that looks to have been ripped from a fifth of Jim Beam” on a “menacing” black field. Like Daniel Boone, the company was evidently selling its ability to put “big game” in the crosshairs of its gun sights in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, subtly transformed, the logo is on a white background; the bear’s paw more modest looking; and the crosshairs of that sniper’s rifle have simply disappeared.

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New York City’s Explosion in Police Repression and Surveillance Is a Threat to Us All By Nick Turse

Dandelion Salad

By Nick Turse
Posted October 1, 2007

High-tech surveillance and undercover spying on protests by the NYPD have soared — this is what happens when the “War on Terror” comes home.

One day in August, I walked into the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in lower Manhattan. Nearly three years before I had been locked up, about two blocks away, in “the Tombs” — the infamous jail then named the Bernard B. Kerik Complex for the now-disgraced New York City Police Commissioner. You see, I am one of the demonstrators who was illegally arrested by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) during the protests against the 2004 Republican National Convention (RNC). My crime had been — in an effort to call attention to the human toll of America’s wars — to ride the subway, dressed in black with the pallor of death about me (thanks to cornstarch and cold cream), and an expression to match, sporting a placard around my neck that read: WAR DEAD.I was with a small group and our plan was to travel from Union Square to Harlem, change trains, and ride all the way back down to Astor Place. But when my small group exited the train at the 125th Street station in Harlem, we were arrested by a swarm of police, marched to a waiting paddy wagon and driven to a filthy detention center. There, we were locked away for hours in a series of razor-wire-topped pens, before being bussed to the Tombs.

Now, I was back to resolve the matter of my illegal arrest. As I walked through the metal detector of the Federal building, a security official searched my bag. He didn’t like what he found. “You could be shot for carrying that in here,” he told me. “You could be shot.”

For the moment, however, the identification of that dangerous object I attempted to slip into the federal facility will have to wait. Let me instead back up to July 2004, when, with the RNC fast-approaching, I authored an article on the militarization of Manhattan — “the transformation of the island into a ‘homeland-security state'” — and followed it up that September with a street-level recap of the convention protests, including news of the deployment of an experimental sound weapon, the Long Range Acoustic Device, by the NYPD, and the department’s use of an on-loan Fuji blimp as a “spy-in-the-sky.” Back then, I suggested that the RNC gave New York’s “finest,” a perfect opportunity to “refine, perfect, and implement new tactics (someday, perhaps, to be known as the ‘New York model’) for use penning in or squelching dissent. It offered them the chance to write up a playbook on how citizens’ legal rights and civil liberties may be abridged, constrained, and violated at their discretion.”

Little did I know how much worse it could get.

No Escape

Since then, the city’s security forces have eagerly embraced an Escape From New York-aesthetic — an urge to turn Manhattan into a walled-in fortress island under high-tech government surveillance, guarded by heavily armed security forces, with helicopters perpetually overhead. Beginning in Harlem in 2006, near the site of two new luxury condos, the NYPD set up a moveable “two-story booth tower, called Sky Watch,” that gave an “officer sitting inside a better vantage point from which to monitor the area.” The Panopticon-like structure — originally used by hunters to shoot quarry from overhead and now also utilized by the Department of Homeland Security along the Mexican border — was outfitted with black-tinted windows, a spotlight, sensors, and four to five cameras. Now, five Sky Watch towers are in service, rotating in and out of various neighborhoods.

With their 20-25 neighborhood-scanning cameras, the towers are only a tiny fraction of the Big Apple surveillance story. Back in 1998, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) found that there were “2,397 cameras used by a wide variety of private businesses and government agencies throughout Manhattan” — and that was just one borough. About a year after the RNC, the group reported that a survey of just a quarter of that borough yielded a count of more than 4,000 surveillance cameras of every kind. At about the same time, military-corporate giant Lockheed Martin was awarded a $212 million contract to build a “counter-terrorist surveillance and security system for New York’s subways and commuter railroads as well as bridges and tunnels” that would increase the camera total by more than 1,000. A year later, as seems to regularly be the case with contracts involving the military-corporate complex, that contract had already ballooned to $280 million, although the system was not to be operational until at least 2008.

In 2006, according to a Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) spokesman, the MTA already had a “3,000-camera-strong surveillance system,” while the NYPD was operating “an additional 3,000 cameras” around the city. That same year, Bill Brown, a member of the Surveillance Camera Players — a group that leads surveillance-camera tours and maps their use around the city, estimated, according to a Newsweek article, that the total number of surveillance cameras in New York exceeded 15,000 — “a figure city officials say they have no way to verify because they lack a system of registry.” Recently, Brown told me that 15,000 was an estimate for the number of cameras in Manhattan, alone. For the city as a whole, he suspects the count has now reached about 40,000.

This July, NYPD officials announced plans to up the ante. By the end of 2007, according to the New York Times, they pledged to install “more than 100 cameras” to monitor “cars moving through Lower Manhattan, the beginning phase of a London-style surveillance system that would be the first in the United States.” This “Ring of Steel” scheme, which has already received $10 million in funding from the Department of Homeland Security (in addition to $15 million in city funds), aims to exponentially decrease privacy because, if “fully financed, it will include. … 3,000 public and private security cameras below Canal Street, as well as a center staffed by the police and private security officers” to monitor all those electronic eyes.

Spies in the Sky

At the time of the RNC, the NYPD was already mounted on police horses, bicycles, and scooters, as well as an untold number of marked and unmarked cars, vans, trucks, and armored vehicles, not to mention various types of water-craft. In 2007, the two-wheeled Segway joined its list of land vehicles.

Overhead, the NYPD aviation unit, utilizing seven helicopters, proudly claims to be “in operation 24/7, 365,” according to Deputy Inspector Joseph Gallucci, its commanding officer. Not only are all the choppers outfitted with “state of the art cameras and heat-sensing devices,” as well as “the latest mapping, tracking and surveillance technology,” but one is a “$10 million ‘stealth bird,’ which has no police markings — [so] that those on the ground have no idea they are being watched.”

Asked about concerns over intrusive spying by members of the aviation unit — characterized by Gallucci as “a bunch of big boys who like big expensive toys” — Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly scoffed. “We’re not able to, even if we wanted, to look into private spaces,” he told the New York Times. “We’re looking at public areas.” However, in 2005, it was revealed that, on the eve of the RNC protests, members of the aviation unit took a break and used their night-vision cameras to record “an intimate moment” shared by a “couple on the terrace of a Second Avenue penthouse.”

Despite this incident, which only came to light because the same tape included images that had to be turned over to a defendant in an unrelated trial, Kelly has called for more aerial surveillance. The commissioner apparently also got used to having the Fuji blimp at his disposal, though he noted that “it’s not easy to send blimps into the airspace over New York.” He then “challenged the aerospace industry to find a solution” that would, no doubt, bring the city closer to life under total surveillance.

Police Misconduct: The RNC

As a result of its long history of brutality, corruption, spying, silencing dissent, and engaging in illegal activities, the NYPD is a particularly secretive organization. As such, the full story of the department’s misconduct during the Republican National Convention has yet to be told; but, even in an era of heightened security and defensiveness, what has emerged hasn’t been pretty.

By April 2005, New York Times journalist Jim Dwyer was already reporting that, “of the 1,670 [RNC arrest] cases that have run their full course, 91 percent ended with the charges dismissed or with a verdict of not guilty after trial. Many were dropped without any finding of wrongdoing, but also without any serious inquiry into the circumstances of the arrests, with the Manhattan district attorney’s office agreeing that the cases should be ‘adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.'” In one case that went to trial, it was found that video footage of an arrest had been doctored to bolster the NYPD’s claims. (All charges were dropped against that defendant. In 400 other RNC cases, by the spring of 2005, video recordings had either demonstrated that defendants had not committed crimes or that charges could not be proved against them.)

Since shifting to “zero-tolerance” law enforcement policies under Mayor (now Republican presidential candidate) Rudolph Giuliani, the city has been employing a system of policing where arrests are used to punish people who have been convicted of no crime whatsoever, including, as at the RNC or the city’s monthly Critical Mass bike rides, those who engage in any form of protest. Prior to the Giuliani era, about half of all those “arrested for low-level offenses would get a desk-appearance ticket ordering them to go to court.” Now the proportion is 10%. (NYPD documents show that the decision to arrest protesters, not issue summonses, was part of the planning process prior to the RNC.)

Speaking at the 2007 meeting of the American Sociological Association, Michael P. Jacobson, Giuliani’s probation and correction commissioner, outlined how the city’s policy of punishing the presumed innocent works:

“Essentially, everyone who’s arrested in New York City, in the parlance of city criminal justice lingo, goes through ‘the system’. … if you’ve never gone through the system, even 24 hours — that’s a shocking period of punishment. It’s debasing, it’s difficult. You’re probably in a fairly gross police lockup. You probably have no toilet paper. You’re given a baloney sandwich, and the baloney is green.”

In 2005, the Times’ Dwyer revealed that at public gatherings since the time of the RNC, police officers had not only “conducted covert surveillance … of people protesting the Iraq war, bicycle riders taking part in mass rallies and even mourners at a street vigil for a cyclist killed in an accident,” but had acted as agent provocateurs. At the RNC, there were multiple incidents in which undercover agents influenced events or riled up crowds. In one case, a “sham arrest” of “a man secretly working with the police led to a bruising confrontation between officers in riot gear and bystanders.”

In 2006, the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), reported “that hundreds of Convention protesters may have been unnecessarily and unlawfully arrested because NYPD officials failed to give adequate orders to disperse and failed to afford protesters a reasonable opportunity to disperse.”

Police Commissioner Kelly had no hesitation about rejecting the organization’s report. Still, these were strong words, considering the weakness of the source. The overall impotence of the CCRB suggests a great deal about the NYPD’s culture of unaccountability. According to an ACLU report, the board “investigates fewer than half of all complaints that it reviews, and it produces a finding on the merits in only three of ten complaints disposed of in any given year.” This inaction is no small thing, given the surge of complaints against NYPD officers in recent years. In 2001, before Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly came to power, the CCRB received 4,251 complaints. By 2006, the number of complaints had jumped by 80% to 7,669. Even more telling are the type of allegations found to be on the rise (and largely ignored). According to the ACLU, from 2005 to 2006, complaints over the use of excessive force jumped 26.8% — “nearly double the increase in complaints filed.”

It was in this context that the planning for the RNC demonstrations took place. In 2006, in five internal police reports made public as part of a lawsuit, “New York City police commanders candidly discuss[ed] how they had successfully used ‘proactive arrests,’ covert surveillance and psychological tactics at political demonstrations in 2002, and recommend[ed] that those approaches be employed at future gatherings.” A draft report from the department’s Disorder Control Unit had a not-so-startling recommendation, given what did happen at the RNC: “Utilize undercover officers to distribute misinformation within the crowds.”

According to Dwyer, for at least a year prior to those demonstrations, “teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe” to conduct covert surveillance of activists. “In hundreds of reports, stamped ‘N.Y.P.D. Secret,’ [the NYPD’s] Intelligence Division chronicled the views and plans of people who had no apparent intention of breaking the law, [including] street theater companies, church groups and antiwar organizations, as well as environmentalists and people opposed to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies.” Three elected city councilmen — Charles Barron, Bill Perkins and Larry B. Seabrook — were even cited in the reports for endorsing a protest event held on January 15, 2004 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

In August, the New York Times editorial page decried the city’s continuing attempts to keep documents outlining the police department’s spying and other covert activities secret:

“The city of New York is waging a losing and ill-conceived battle for overzealous secrecy surrounding nearly 2,000 arrests during the 2004 Republican National Convention…. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly seemed to cast an awfully wide and indiscriminate net in seeking out potential troublemakers. For more than a year before the convention, members of a police spy unit headed by a former official of the Central Intelligence Agency infiltrated a wide range of groups… many of the targets … posed no danger or credible threat.”

The Times concluded that — coupled with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to disrupt and criminalize protest during the convention week — “police action helped to all but eliminate dissent from New York City during the Republican delegates’ visit. If that was the goal, then mission accomplished. And civil rights denied.”

Police Commissioner Kelly had a radically different take on his department’s conduct. Earlier this year, he claimed that “the Republican National Convention was perhaps the finest hour in the history of the New York City Department.”

Police Misconduct: 2007

“Finest” might seem a funny term for the NYPD’s actions, but these days everyone’s a relativist. In the years since the RNC protests, the NYPD has been mired in scandal after scandal — from killing unarmed black men and “violations of civil rights” at the National Puerto Rican Day Parade to issuing “sweeping generalizations” that lead to “labeling almost every American Muslim as a potential terrorist.” And, believe it or not, the racial and political scandals were but a modest part of the mix. Add to them, killings, sexual assaults, kidnapping, armed robbery, burglary, corruption, theft, drug-related offenses, conspiracy — and that’s just a start when it comes to crimes members of the force have been charged with. It’s a rap sheet fit for Public Enemy #1, and we’re only talking about the story of the NYPD in the not-yet-completed year of 2007.

For example, earlier this year a 13-year NYPD veteran was “arrested on charges of hindering prosecution, tampering with evidence, obstructing governmental administration and unlawful possession of marijuana,” in connection with the shooting of another officer. In an unrelated case, two other NYPD officers were arrested and “charged with attempted kidnapping, armed robbery, armed burglary and other offenses.”

In a third case, the New York Post reported that a “veteran NYPD captain has been stripped of his badge and gun as part of a federal corruption probe that already has led to the indictment of an Internal Affairs sergeant who allegedly tipped other cops that they were being investigated.” And that isn’t the only NYPD cover-up allegation to surface of late. With cops interfering in investigations of fellow cops and offering advice on how to deflect such probes, it’s a wonder any type of wrongdoing surfaces. Yet, the level of misconduct in the department appears to be sweeping enough to be irrepressible.

For instance, sex crime scandals have embroiled numerous officers — including one “accused of sexually molesting his young stepdaughter,” who pled guilty to “a misdemeanor charge of child endangerment,” and another “at a Queens hospital charged with possessing and sharing child pornography.” In a third case, a member of the NYPD’s School Safety Division was “charged with the attempted rape and sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl.” In a fourth case, a “police officer pleaded guilty…. to a grotesque romance with an infatuated 13-year-old girl.” Meanwhile, an NYPD officer, who molested women while on duty and in uniform, was convicted of sexual abuse and official misconduct.

Cop-on-cop sexual misconduct of an extreme nature has also surfaced…. but why go on? You get the idea. And, if you don’t, there are lurid cases galore to check out, like the investigation into “whether [an] NYPD officer who fatally shot his teen lover before killing himself murdered the boyfriend of a past lover,” or the officer who was “charged with intentional murder in the shooting death of his 22-year-old girlfriend.” And don’t even get me started on the officer “facing charges of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and conspiracy to commit robberies of drugs and drug proceeds from narcotics traffickers.”

All of this, and much more, has emerged in spite of the classic blue-wall-of-silence. It makes you wonder: In the surveillance state to come, are we going to be herded and observed by New York’s finest lawbreakers?

It’s important to note that all of these cases have begun despite a striking NYPD culture of non-accountability. Back in August, the New York Times noted that the “Police Department has increasingly failed to prosecute New York City police officers on charges of misconduct when those cases have been substantiated by the independent board that investigates allegations of police abuse, officials of the board say.” Between March 1, 2007 and June 30, 2007 alone, the NYPD “declined to seek internal departmental trials against 31 officers, most of whom were facing charges of stopping people in the street without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, according to the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board.” An ACLU report, “Mission Failure: Civilian Review of Policing in New York City, 1994-2006,” released this month, delved into the issue in even greater detail. The organization found that, between 2000 and 2005, “the NYPD disposed of substantiated complaints against 2,462 police officers: 725 received no discipline. When discipline was imposed, it was little more than a slap on the wrist.”

Much has come to light recently about the way the U.S. military has been lowering its recruitment standards in order to meet the demands of ongoing, increasingly unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including an increase in “moral waivers” allowing more recruits with criminal records to enter the services. Well, it turns out that, on such policies, the NYPD has been a pioneering institution.

In 2002, the BBC reported that “New York’s powerful police union…. accused the police department of allowing ‘sub-standard’ recruits onto the force.” Then, just months after the RNC protests, the New York Daily News exposed the department’s practice of “hiring applicants with arrest records and shoving others through without full background checks” including those who had been “charged with laundering drug money, assault, grand larceny and weapons possession.” According to Sgt. Anthony Petroglia, who, until he retired in 2002, had worked for almost a decade in the department’s applicant-processing division, the NYPD was “hiring people to be cops who have no respect for the law.” Another retiree from the same division was blunter: “It’s all judgment calls — bad ones…. but the bosses say, ‘Send ’em through. We’ll catch the problem ones later.'”

The future looks bright, if you are an advocate of sending the force even further down this path. The new choice to mold the department of tomorrow, according to the Village Voice, the “NYPD’s new deputy commissioner of training, Wilbur ‘Bill’ Chapman, should have no trouble teaching ‘New York’s Finest’ about the pitfalls of sexual harassment, cronyism, and punitive transfers [because h]e’s been accused of all that during his checkered career.”

In the eerie afterglow of 9/11, haunted by the specter of terrorism, in an atmosphere where repressive zero-tolerance policies already rule, given the unparalleled power of Commissioner Kelly — called “the most powerful police commissioner in the city’s history” by NYPD expert Leonard Levitt — and with a police department largely unaccountable to anyone (as the only city agency without any effective outside oversight), the Escape from New York model may indeed represent Manhattan’s future.

Nick Turse v. The City of New York

So what, you might still be wondering, was it that led the security official at the federal courthouse to raise the specter of my imminent demise? A weapon? An unidentified powder? No, a digital audio recorder. “Some people here don’t want to be recorded,” he explained in response to my quizzical look.

So I checked the recording device and, accompanied by my lawyer, the indomitable Mary D. Dorman, made my way to Courtroom 18D, a stately room in the upper reaches of the building that houses the oldest district court in the nation. There, I met our legal nemesis, a city attorney whose official title is “assistant corporation counsel.” After what might pass for a cordial greeting, he asked relatively politely whether I was going to except the city’s monetary offer of $8,500 — which I had rejected the previous week– to settle my lawsuit for false arrest. As soon as I indicated I wouldn’t (as I had from the moment the city started the bidding at $2,500), any hint of cordiality fled the room. Almost immediately, he was referring to me as a “criminal” — declassified NYPD documents actually refer to me as a “perp.” Soon, he launched into a bout of remarkable bluster, threatening lengthy depositions to waste my time and monetary penalties associated with court costs that would swallow my savings.

Then, we were all directed to a small jury room off the main courtroom, where the city’s attorney hauled out a threatening prop to bolster his act — an imposingly gigantic file folder stuffed with reams of “Nick Turse” documents, including copies of some of my disreputable Tomdispatch articles as well as printouts of suspicious webpages from the American Empire Project — the obviously criminal series that will be publishing my upcoming book, The Complex.

There, the litany of vague threats to tie me down with depositions, tax me with fees, and maybe, somehow, send me to jail for a “crime” that had been dismissed years earlier continued until a federal magistrate judge entered the room. To him, the assistant corporation counsel and I told our versions of my arrest story — which turned out to vary little.

The basic details were the same. As the city attorney shifted in his seat, I told the judge how, along with compatriots I’d met only minutes before, I donned my “WAR DEAD” sign and descended into the subway surrounded by a phalanx of cops — plainclothes, regular uniformed, Big Brother-types from the Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU), and white-shirted brass, as well as a Washington Post photographer and legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild — and boarded our train. I explained that we sat there looking as dead as possible for about 111 blocks and then, as the Washington Post reported, were arrested when we came back to life and “tried to change trains.” I asked, admittedly somewhat rhetorically why, if I was such a “criminal,” none of the officers present at my arrest had actually showed up in court to testify against me when my case was dismissed out of hand back in 2004? And why hadn’t the prosecutor wanted to produce the video footage the NYPD had taken of the entire action and my arrest? And why had the city been trying to buy me off all these years since?

Faced with the fact that his intimidation tactics hadn’t worked, the city attorney now quit his bad-cop tactics and I rose again out of the ditch of “common criminality” into citizenship and then to the high status of being addressed as “Dr. Turse” (in a bow to my PhD). Offers and counteroffers followed, leading finally to a monetary settlement with a catch — I also wanted an apology. If that guard hadn’t directed me — under threat of being shot — to check my digital audio recorder at the door, I might have had a sound file of it to listen to for years to come. Instead, I had to be content with the knowledge that an appointed representative of the City of New York not only had to ditch the Escape from New York model — at least for a day — pony up some money for violating my civil rights, and, before a federal magistrate judge, also issue me an apology, on behalf of the city, for wrongs committed by the otherwise largely unaccountable NYPD.

The Future of the NYPD and the Homeland-Security State-let

I’m under no illusions that this minor monetary settlement and apology were of real significance in a city where civil rights are routinely abridged, the police are a largely unaccountable armed force, and a culture of total surveillance is increasingly the norm. But my lawsuit, when combined with those of my fellow arrestees, could perhaps have some small effect. After all, less than a year after the convention, 569 people had already “filed notices that they intended to sue the City, seeking damages totaling $859,014,421,” according to an NYCLU report. While the city will end up paying out considerably less, the grand total will not be insignificant. In fact, Jim Dwyer recently reported that the first 35 of 605 RNC cases had been settled for a total of $694,000.

If New Yorkers began to agitate for accountability — demanding, for instance, that such settlements be paid out of the NYPD’s budget — it could make a difference. Then, every time New Yorkers’ hard-earned tax-dollars were handed over to fellow citizens who were harassed, mistreated, injured, or abused by the city’s police force that would mean less money available for the “big expensive toys” that the “big boys” of the NYPD’s aviation unit use to record the private moments of unsuspecting citizens or the ubiquitous surveillance gear used not to capture the rest of the city on candid camera. It wouldn’t put an end to the NYPD’s long-running criminality or the burgeoning homeland security state-let that it’s building, but it would, at least, introduce a tiny measure of accountability.

Such an effort might even begin a dialogue about the NYPD, its dark history, its current mandate under the Global War on Terror, and its role in New York City. For instance, people might begin to examine the very nature of the department. They might conclude that questions must be raised when institutions — be they rogue regimes, deleterious industries, unaccountable corporations, or fundamentally-tainted government institutions — consistently, over many decades, evidence a persistent disregard for the law, a lack of accountability, and a deep resistance to reform. Those directly affected by the NYPD, a nearly 38,000-person force — larger than many armies — that has consistently flouted the law and has proven remarkably resistant to curtailing its own misconduct for well over a century, might even begin to wonder if it can be trusted to administer the homeland security state-let its top officials are fast implementing and, if not, what can be done about it.

Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of His first book, The Complex, an exploration of the new military-corporate complex in America, is due out in the American Empire Project series by Metropolitan Books in 2008. His new website (up only in rudimentary form) will fully launch in the coming months.

h/t: Speaking Truth to Power

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Nick Turse: The Pentagon as Global Landlord by Tom Engelhardt

Dandelion Salad

by Tom Engelhardt
posted July 11, 2007 09:38 am

As the editor of Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback Trilogy for the American Empire Project, I was struck by an oddity when the second volume, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, was published in 2004 to splendid reviews in this country. Johnson’s focus in the book — its heart and soul, you might say — was what he called our “empire of bases,” the over-700 military bases, giant to micro, that the Pentagon then listed as ours. The book vividly laid out the Pentagon’s global basing structure, its “footprint” (to use the term the Defense Department favors), in startling detail.

It was a way of getting at the nature of imperial power for a country that largely avoided colonies, but nonetheless managed to garrison the globe. As a topic, all those bases would have seemed unavoidable in any serious review, no less one praising the book. Yet, somehow, review after review managed not to mention, no less substantively discuss, this crucial aspect of Johnson’s thesis. Only recently, all these years later, has a mainstream review appeared in this country that focused on his work on those bases. Jonathan Freedland, reviewing the third volume in Johnson’s trilogy, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, in the New York Review of Books, took up the subject eloquently — and (wouldn’t you know it?), he isn’t an American. He works for the British Guardian.

Isn’t it strange that we Americans can garrison the planet and yet, in this country, bases are only a topic of discussion when some local U.S. community suddenly hears that it might lose its special base and an uproar ensues. Typically, we have made it through years of war since 2001, during which untold billions of dollars have gone into constructing massive bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and yet these bases (as well as the planning behind them) have, until recently, gone almost totally unmentioned in all the argument, debate, and uproar over what to do about Iraq.

In reality — explain it as you will — Americans have little grasp of the enormity of the Pentagon, despite real military budgets that, by some calculations, exceed three-quarters of a trillion dollars yearly. (And don’t forget that, since 2002, we’ve been piling on with a second Defense Department, the hapless bureaucratic morass that goes by the name of the Department of Homeland Security.) Nick Turse, Tomdispatch associate editor whose book, The Complex — about all the newest twists on the old Military-Industrial you-know-what — will be out in the spring of 2008, quite literally sizes the Pentagon up for us. Tom

Planet Pentagon

How the Pentagon Came to Own the Earth, Seas, and Skies

By Nick Turse Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported on a proposal, championed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq in exchange for bipartisan Congressional support for the long-term (read: more or less permanent) garrisoning of that country. The troops are to be tucked away on “large bases far from Iraq’s major cities.” This plan sounded suspiciously similar to one revealed by Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt in the New York Times on April 19, 2003, just as U.S. troops were preparing to enter Baghdad. Headlined “Pentagon Expects Long-Term Access to Four Key Bases in Iraq,” it laid out a U.S. plan for:

a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to…. perhaps four bases in Iraq that could be used in the future: one at the international airport just outside Baghdad; another at Tallil, near Nasiriya in the south; the third at an isolated airstrip called H-1 in the western desert, along the old oil pipeline that runs to Jordan; and the last at the Bashur air field in the Kurdish north.

Shortly thereafter, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, denied any such plans: “I have never, that I can recall, heard the subject of a permanent base in Iraq discussed in any meeting…” – and, while the bases were being built, the story largely disappeared from the mainstream media.

Even with the multi-square mile, multi-billion dollar, state-of-the-art Balad Air Base and Camp Victory thrown in, however, the bases in Gates’ new plan will be but a drop in the bucket for an organization that may well be the world’s largest landlord. For many years, the U.S. military has been gobbling up large swaths of the planet and huge amounts of just about everything on (or in) it. So, with the latest Pentagon Iraq plans in mind, take a quick spin with me around this Pentagon planet of ours.

Garrisoning the Globe

In 2003, Forbes magazine revealed that media mogul Ted Turner was America’s top land baron — with a total of 1.8 million acres across the U.S. The nation’s ten largest landowners, Forbes reported, “own 10.6 million acres, or one out of every 217 acres in the country.” Impressive as this total was, the Pentagon puts Turner and the entire pack of mega-landlords to shame with over 29 million acres in U.S. landholdings. Abroad, the Pentagon’s “footprint” is also that of a giant. For example, the Department of Defense controls 20% of the Japanese island of Okinawa and, according to Stars and Stripes, “owns about 25 percent of Guam.” Mere land ownership, however, is just the tip of the iceberg.

In his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire, Chalmers Johnson opened the world’s eyes to the size of the Pentagon’s global footprint, noting that the Department of Defense (DoD) was deploying nearly 255,000 military personnel at 725 bases in 38 countries. Since then, the total number of overseas bases has increased to at least 766 and, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, may actually be as high as 850. Still, even these numbers don’t begin to capture the global sprawl of the organization that unabashedly refers to itself as “one of the world’s largest ‘landlords.'”

The DoD’s “real property portfolio,” according to 2006 figures, consists of a total of 3,731 sites. Over 20% of these sites are located on more than 711,000 acres outside of the U.S. and its territories. Yet even these numbers turn out to be a drastic undercount. For example, while a 2005 Pentagon report listed U.S. military sites from Antigua and Hong Kong to Kenya and Peru, some countries with significant numbers of U.S. bases go entirely unmentioned — Afghanistan and Iraq, for example.

In Iraq, alone, in mid-2005, U.S. forces were deployed at some 106 bases, from the massive Camp Victory, headquarters of the U.S. high command, to small 500-troop outposts in the country’s hinterlands. None of them made the Pentagon’s list. Nor was there any mention of bases in Jordan on that list –or in the 2001-2005 reports either. Yet that nation, as military analyst William Arkin has pointed out, allowed the garrisoning of 5,000 U.S. troops at various bases around the country during the build-up to the war in Iraq. In addition, some 76 nations have given the U.S. military access to airports and airfields — in addition to who knows where else that the Pentagon forgot to acknowledge or considers inappropriate for inclusion in its list.

Even without Jordan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the more than 20 other nations that, Arkin noted in early 2004, were “secretly or quietly providing bases and facilities,” the available statistics do offer a window into a bloated organization bent on setting up franchises across the globe. According to 2005 documents, the Pentagon acknowledges 39 nations with at least one U.S. base, stations personnel in over 140 countries around the world, and boasts a physical plant of at least 571,900 facilities, though some Pentagon figures show 587,000 “buildings and structures.” Of these, 466,599 are located in the United States or its territories. In fact, the Department of Defense owns or leases more than 75% of all federal buildings in the U.S.

According to 2006 figures, the Army controls the lion’s share of DoD land (52%), with the Air Force coming in second (33%), the Marine Corps (8%) and the Navy (7 %) bringing up the rear. The Army is also tops in total number of sites (1,742) and total number of installations (1,659). But when it comes to “large installations,” those whose value tops $1,584 billion, the Army is trumped by the Air Force, which boasts 43 mega-bases compared to the Army’s 39. The Navy and Marines possess only 29 and 10, respectively. What the Navy lacks in big bases of its own, however, it more than makes up for in borrowed foreign naval bases and ports — some 251 across the globe.


Land and large installations, however, are not all that the Defense Department owns. Until relatively recently, the U.S. Navy operated its own dairy, complete with a herd of Holsteins. Even though it did get rid of those cows in 1998, it kept the 865-acre farm tract in Gambrills, Maryland, and now leases it to Horizon Organic Dairy.

While it doesn’t have a dairy, the Army still operates stables — such as the John C. McKinney Memorial Stables where many of the 44 horses from its ceremonial Caisson Platoon live. It also has a big farm (the Large Animal Research Facility). In fact, the Pentagon owns hundreds of thousands of animals — from rats to dogs to monkeys. In addition to an unknown number of animals used for unexplained “other purposes,” in 2001 alone, the DoD utilized 330,149 creatures for various types of experimentation.

Then, there’s the equipment the DoD owns, loads of it. For instance, it is the unlikely owner of “over 2,050 railcars, know[n] as the Defense Freight Rail Interchange Fleet.” The DoD also reportedly ships 100,000 sea containers each year and spends $800 million annually on domestic cargo, primarily truck and rail shipments. And when it comes to trucks, the Army, alone, has a fleet of 12,700 Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks (huge, eight-wheeled vehicles used to supply ammunition, petroleum, oils, and lubricants to other combat vehicles and weapons systems in the field) and 120,000 Humvees. All told, according to a 2006 Pentagon report, the DoD had a total of at least “280 ships, 14,000 aircraft, 900 strategic missiles, and 330,000 ground combat and tactical vehicles.”

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the DoD’s largest combat support agency (with operations in 48 of the 50 states and 28 foreign countries) boasts: “If America’s forces eat it, wear it, maintain equipment with it, or burn it as fuel…. DLA probably provides it.” In fact, the DLA claims that it “manages” some 5.2 million items and maintains an inventory, in its Defense Distribution Depots (which stretch from Italy and Japan to Korea and Kuwait), valued at $94.1 billion.

The DLA runs the Defense National Stockpile Center (DNSC) which stores 42 “strategic and critical materials” — from zinc, lead, cobalt, chromium, and mercury (more than 9.7 million pounds of it in 2005) to precious metals such as platinum, palladium, and even industrial diamonds — at 20 locations across the U.S. With a stockpile valued at over $1.5 billion and $5.7 billion in sales of excess commodities since 1993, the DNSC claims that there is “no private sector company in the world that sells this wide range of commodities and materials.”

All told, the Department of Defense owns up to having “[o]ver $1 trillion in assets [and] $1.6 trillion in liabilities.” This is, no doubt, a gross underestimate given the DoD’s historic penchant for flawed book-keeping and the fact that, according to a study by its own inspector general, it cannot even account for at least $1 trillion dollars in money spent — or perhaps, according to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as much as $2.3 trillion. Cooking the books and stashing cash is fitting enough for an American organization, in the age of Enron, that thinks of itself not just as a government agency but, in its own words, as “America’s oldest company, largest company, busiest company and most successful company.” In fact, on its website, the DoD makes the point that it easily bests Wal-Mart, Exxon-Mobil, and General Motors in terms of budget and staff.

It’s Got the Whole World in Its Hands

In addition to assembling a dizzying array of assets, from tungsten to tubas — in 2005 alone, it spent more than $6 million on sheet music, musical instruments, and accessories — the Pentagon owns a great deal of housing: 300,000 units worldwide. By its own admission, it is also a slumlord par excellence — with an inventory of “180,000 inadequate family housing units.” According to the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Installations & Environment):

Approximately 33 percent of all [military] families live on-base, in housing that is often dilapidated, too small, lacking in modern facilities — almost 49 percent (or 83,000 units) are substandard.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense’s own home, the Pentagon, bests the Sultan of Brunei’s Istana Nurul Iman palace, the largest private residence in the world — 3,705,793 to 2,152,782 square feet of occupiable space. The DoD likes to boast that the Pentagon is “virtually a city in itself” — with 30 miles of access highways, 200 acres of lawn space. It includes a five-acre center courtyard, 17.5 miles of corridors, 16 parking lots (with an estimated 8,770 parking spaces), seven snack bars, two cafeterias, one dining room, a post office, “credit union, travel agency, dental offices, ticket offices, blood donor center, housing referral office, and 30 other retail shops and services,” a chapel, a heliport, and numerous libraries. Moreover, says the DoD, the Pentagon consumed a huge portion of its natural environment, its concrete reportedly contains “680,000 tons of sand and gravel from the nearby Potomac River.”

In value, the Pentagon’s other properties are almost as impressive. The combined worth of the world’s two most expensive homes, the $138 million 103-room “Updown Court” in Windlesham, Surrey in the United Kingdom and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s $135 million Aspen ski lodge don’t even come close to the price tag on Ascension Auxiliary Airfield, located on a small island off the coast of St. Helena (the place of Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile and death). It has an estimated replacement value of over $337 million. Other high-priced facilities include Camp Ederle in Italy at $544 million; Incirlik Air Base in Turkey at almost $1.2 billion; and Thule Air Base in Greenland at $2.8 billion; while the U.S. Naval Air Station in Keflavik, Iceland is appraised at $3.4 billion and the various military facilities in Guam are valued at more than $11 billion.

Still, to begin to grasp the Pentagon’s global immensity, it helps to look, again, at its land holdings — all 120,191 square kilometers which are almost exactly the size of North Korea (120,538 square kilometers). These holdings are larger than any of the following nations: Liberia, Bulgaria, Guatemala, South Korea, Hungary, Portugal, Jordan, Kuwait, Israel, Denmark, Georgia, or Austria. The 7,518 square kilometers of 20 micro-states — the Vatican, Monaco, Nauru, Tuvalu, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Maldives, Malta, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Seychelles, Andorra, Bahrain, Saint Lucia, Singapore, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Tonga — combined pales in comparison to the 9,307 square kilometers of just one military base, White Sands Missile Range.


While it has been setting up hundreds of bases across the globe to support ongoing wars, the Pentagon has also been restructuring its forces in an effort to reduce troop levels at old Cold War mega-bases and close down less strategically useful sites. Does this mean less Pentagon control in the world?

Don’t bet on it. In fact, the U.S. military is exploring long-term options to dominate the planet as never before. Previously, the DoD has only maintained a moving presence on the high seas. This may change. The Pentagon is now considering — and planning for — future “sea-basing.” No longer just a ship, a fleet, or “prepositioned material” stationed on the world’s oceans, sea-bases will be “a hybrid system-of-systems consisting of concepts of operations, ships, forces, offensive and defensive weapons, aircraft, communications and logistics.” The notion of such bases is increasingly popular within the military due to the fact that they “will help to assure access to areas where U.S. military forces may be denied access to support [land] facilities.” After all, as a report by the Defense Science Board pointed out, “[S]eabases are sovereign [and] not subject to alliance vagaries.” Imagine a future where the people of countries at odds with U.S. policies suddenly find America’s “massive seaborne platforms” floating just outside their territorial waters.

With a real-estate portfolio that includes the earth and the sea, the sky would, quite literally, be the limit for the DoD. According to Noah Shachtman, editor of Wired’s “Danger Room” blog, the “U.S. Air Force Transformation Flight Plan” of 2004 outlined what “analysts call the most detailed picture since the end of the Cold War of the Pentagon’s efforts to turn outer space into a battlefield…. the report makes U.S. dominance of the heavens a top Pentagon priority in the new century.” As the U.S. military’s outer-space policy statement puts it, “Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power.”

When you’re focused on effectively controlling a planet, the idea of occupying Iraq, a country about the size of the state of California, for the next decade or five, must seem like a small thing. In practice, however, the global landlord on the Potomac has found property values in Iraq steep indeed. As all now know, it has been fought to a standstill there by modest-sized bands of guerillas lacking air power, sea power, or high-tech spy satellites in outer space. The Pentagon may be landlord to massive swaths of the globe, but from Vietnam to Laos, Beruit to Somalia, U.S. forces have also found themselves evicted by neighborhood residents from properties they were prepared to consider their own. The question remains: Will Iraq be added to the list of permanently occupied territories and take on the look of long-garrisoned South Korea as Secretary of Defense Gates and President Bush have urged — or will it be added to a growing list of places that have effectively resisted paying the rent on Planet Pentagon?

Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of He has written for the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Nation, the Village Voice, and regularly for His first book, The Complex, an exploration of the new military-corporate complex in America, is due out in the American Empire Project Series by Metropolitan Books in 2008.

Copyright 2007 Tom Engelhardt

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