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Big bucks to ensure perpetual war: The new American oligarchs

America’s endless war has enriched a select few at the expense of the US Treasury - like the investment banker titans of the 20th century

There is literally nothing about the war on terror that isn’t or hasn’t been an inside scam. From Iraq’s missing billions to no-bid government contracts that funneled nearly $40bn of taxpayer money into Dick Cheney’s Haliburton alone, America’s endless war has enriched a select few at the expense of the US Treasury - like had the investment banker titans of the 20th century, and the robber barons the century before that.

Paul Krugman, a Nobel prized economist, once quipped that, “America is a country that has gone from a country that made stuff to a country that makes stuff up.” While Krugman was specifically referring to economic inequalities, the transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top, caused by Wall Street “financial engineering”, his quip could equally apply to America’s burgeoning homeland security-industrial-complex.

The “war on terror” has created a new oligarchic class of Americans and it has transferred an extraordinary amount of public wealth to a small number of charlatans, Washington DC insiders, and opportunists. If war corrupts, as the adage goes, then endless war corrupts absolutely.

“The creation of a homeland security complex at a time of endless war has bequeathed us with the central narrative of the war on terror - modern tales of greed joined hand in hand with stories of abuse of power,” writes James Risen in Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War.

The US federal budget now allocates more than $60bn to homeland security. This is a whopping 300 percent increase on 2001 spending. The Washington Post found that there were nearly 2,000 private companies and more than organisations “working on counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence programs”. All in all, and as Risen articulately documents, America has seen “one of the largest transfers of wealth from public to private hands in American history”.

The brothers Neal and Linden Blue are illustrative of this newly created oligarchic class. The Blue brothers own General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GAAS). The only thing you need to know about their company is they produce the Predator and Reaper drones. In 2001, GAAS brought in $110m. Ten years later, it was receiving $1.8bn in government contracts.

Eric Prince, the founder of Blackwater Worldwide, which carried out “highly secretive government operations”, is another who has scored big from endless war. His company received $1.6bn in government contracts. The sale of the business boosted Prince’s personal net worth to $2.4bn.

What’s more is the homeland security-industrial complex is almost completely unregulated. “America’s richest discovered that the hottest way to make money was to get inside Washington’s national security apparatus,” notes Risen. “With new regulations, Wall Street is no longer quite as attractive as it was before the banking crisis, so the nation’s most clever men have targeted the steady flow of billions into counter terrorism programs.”

This modern day gold rush would end tomorrow were the terrorist threat to end today. Many of the “terrorism experts” you are familiar with on cable news are paid big bucks to ensure perpetual war. It’s a three-way symbiotic relationship: if there’s a diminished terror threat, then there’s a diminished amount of cash allocated to combat it; and if there’s no terror threat, then there’s no need for paid “terrorism experts”.

These “terrorism experts” form what Glenn Greenwald calls an “incredibly incestuous, mutually admiring little clique in and around Washington”. Cloaked under the veil of “expertise,” these “terrorist experts” operate no differently than any other special interests lobbyist. Employed by media outlets and think tanks, Greenwald says their overarching objective is to sustain “the myth of the grave threat of Islamic terror in order to justify their fear-based careers”.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, investigative journalist, Jeremy Scahill blasted CNN and other media outlets for “revving up the fear engine again”. Scahill, who doesn’t refer to himself as a terrorist expert, is someone who could rightfully lay claim to being a terrorist expert - having spent time with “the terrorists” for his book Dirty Wars, which examines the blowback and folly of the US clandestine military programs.

"CNN, MSNBC and Fox are engaging in the terrorism expert industrial complex, where you have people on as paid analysts that are largely frauds who have made a lot of money off of portraying themselves as terror experts and have no actual on-the-ground experience," Scahill told CNN in an interview. "Some of your paid analysts that you have on this network or other networks, basically are just making money off of the claim that they're experts on terrorism and really don't have the scholarly background or on-the-ground experience to justify being on your network or any other network."

In an interview with Democracy Now, Greenwald suggested that as far as US media outlets are concerned, one needed only to “ignore facts, blame Muslims, and trumpet US propaganda” to be considered a qualified terrorism expert.

Steve Emerson, for instance, is representative of the phenomena Greenwald is speaking to. Emerson is regularly called on by Fox News to provide commentary in the wake of any Western targeted terrorist attack. In the days after the Paris attacks, Emerson asserted that there were “no-go zones” in France and other European countries for non-Muslims and the police - a point that has been irrefutably rejected by everyone from the Mayor of Paris to the British Prime Minister. Emerson’s goal was clear - to whip up fear of the Islamic threat.

NBC’s go-to-terrorism-expert guy is Evan Kohlmann. He’s built an entire career on providing terrorism commentary to media outlets. He’s the CIO of Flashpoint Global Partners, which “provides its customers with the data and expertise necessary to demystify the ‘Dark Web’ - and turn the unknown and unseeable into actionable intelligence to assist corporations, governments, and individuals in protecting their interests and obligations”. Here’s the thing: when challenged on his qualifications or expertise, in an interview by John Hockenberry, Kohlmann had admitted he had never even been to Pakistan, Afghanistan, or any of the many other places the war in terror is being executed.

“There’s another one like him [Kohlmann], Matthew Levitt, who was profiled in Harper’s, who has a long history of unbelievably erroneous claims that he makes in service of this agenda,” says Greenwald. “They get paid a lot of money, too. I mean, he goes on - they go on NBC News. They get held up as a terrorism analyst. They get paid for that.”

It’s “terrorism experts” like Emerson that provide political cover for the massive explosion in counterterrorism spending. An academic paper from John Mueller (Ohio State University) and Mark Stewart (University of Newcastle, Australia) calculated that government spending on homeland security is so excessive that “to be deemed cost-effective, [the increased expenditures] would have to deter, prevent, foil, or protect against 1,667 otherwise successful Times-Square type attacks per year, or more than four per day”.

Given that only 2.5 percent of all terrorist attacks carried out in the US since 1970 were carried out by Muslims, one can see how overblown the terrorist threat to homeland security truly is.

The US war on terror is now mid-way through its second decade, and there is very little reason to think it’s slowing down. “Hustlers and freebooters continue to take full advantage, and the war’s unintended consequences continue to pile up,” writes Risen. With so much money at stake, coupled with little transparency and oversight, there will be no end to this new oligarchic class monetizing America’s overblown fear of the “Great Islamic Threat”.

CJ Werleman is an opinion writer for Salon, Alternet, and the author of Crucifying America, and God Hates You. Hate Him Back. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Neal and Linden Blue are illustrative of this newly created oligarchic class. The Blue brothers own General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GAAS). The only thing you need to know about their company is they produce the Predator and Reaper drones (AFP)

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