Clapper on the Stand

Marko is a member of ANU Socialist Alternative. Vanamali is not a member of a political party on campus.

Image: BBC

Last week it was announced by the ANU administration that James Clapper had been invited to ANU as a ‘visiting Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor’. Clapper’s former role, which wound up in January, was as the US Director of National Intelligence, a post which he held from 2010 under the Obama administration. It is quite clear why he was invited to the ANU – his former position holds incredible importance to understanding international and national security.

But what has this security meant throughout his career? Is his academic prestige and knowhow really separable from his politics?

Clapper is coming to the ANU to discuss the importance of the US-Australia alliance. Such a relationship has had Australia send troops to faraway conflicts that posed no danger to the security of its people. Such support has proved to be an invaluable political cover to the US in otherwise unfavourable times, such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that France, among others, refused to endorse.

The result was half a million dead Iraqis. The result was trauma on a mass scale – something that has hardened into formations such as ISIL, so often talked about with no reference to imperialism.

In 2003, Clapper was the head of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, a position he used to spread misinformation about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. This was the great lie that journalists had to parrot in order to keep their jobs, as TV channels were flooded with pro-war propaganda

But for Clapper’s career, of course, none of this matters, just as the publishing of the Chilcot inquiry did not mean that Tony Blair was to be placed on trial for war crimes.

Clapper has continued to represent the shadowy components of the American state. When Clapper was Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013, he stood in front of a United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and was asked:

‘Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?’

His response was an act of perjury.

‘No, sir.’

Perjury is a criminal offence in the US that carries a maximum imprisonment of five years. Witnessing Clapper’s testimony was too much for one Edward Snowden, who two months later leaked 10,000 documents detailing the immense global surveillance program of the NSA. These included the storing and harvesting of emails, instant messages and essentially all other forms of online communications – millions of Americans had been monitored. Snowden was then forced to go into hiding and seek refuge, which he found in Russia.

Clapper still calls for Snowden to be prosecuted for whistleblowing.

This position is hypocritical – Clapper sees himself as above the law of perjury, but Edward Snowden is the bad guy for blowing the whistle on one of the biggest security scandals of all time.

Charlie Savage, writing for The New York Times in 2015, said ‘the secrecy surrounding the National Security Agency’s post-9/11 warrantless surveillance and bulk data collection program hampered its effectiveness, and many members of the intelligence community later struggled to identify any specific terrorist attacks it thwarted.’ The data is collected in the name of national security, but the uses it is put towards do more harm than good.

The major concern is that the national security state does not have a benign history or purpose at all. As documented in The Guardian by Paul Harris, the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has entrapped innocent Muslims. In 2011 Harris wrote: ‘FBI bureaux send informants to trawl through Muslim communities, hang out in mosques and community centres, and talk of radical Islam in order to identify possible targets sympathetic to such ideals … If suitable suspects are identified, FBI agents then run a sting, often creating a fake terror plot in which it helps supply weapons and targets. Then, dramatic arrests are made, press conferences held and lengthy convictions secured.’

Would Muslims engage in terrorism without the encouragement of spooks? In the US, white supremacists are a far deadlier danger than Muslims, but are never entrapped in this way. In all likelihoods, those Muslims most under threat of radicalisation – the political, passionate and rightfully angry youth – would take out their frustration and waste their talents on video games like the rest of us.

The same processes have happened in Australia. In relation to the Barwon 13, Greg Barns, a barrister and spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, said: ‘Back in November 2005 former Victorian premier Steve Bracks and police commissioner Christine Nixon announced that an imminent terrorist attack on Melbourne had been thwarted by the arrest of a number of young men and a self-styled sheikh in Melbourne.

‘I acted for one of those men in a subsequent Supreme Court trial in 2008 and can tell you that the evidence presented to the court in that case suggested nothing of the sort. There was no planned terrorist attack by members of this group, just chatter and some bonding activities.’

To put this in perspective, millions of Australian citizens would need to be locked away if we took seriously all the chatter about blowing up the parliament, or stuffing a particular politician in a chaff bag and drowning them at sea. This is because our politicians are highly unpopular! From the cut to penalty rates on Sundays, to mandatory detention for refugees, to the privatisation of power companies, to the deregulation of university fees. Such talk is to be expected from many Australian citizens, and the same is to be said for Muslims, who have the added hardship of being regularly painted as culturally backwards and potentially violent by the Australian media.

But such talk does not legitimate mass spying.

James Clapper, and all others responsible for these encroachments upon civil liberty, must be held to account. It is clear that James Clapper has nothing less than utter contempt for privacy, free speech, human rights and the law. We cannot stand idly by as the ANU presents a representative of the illegal and catastrophic Iraq War as a model citizen to be looked up to.

ANU Students Against James Clapper calls for all students critical of what Clapper stands for to join us on the Wednesday 29 March at 5pm at ANU Bar to discuss what we can do to combat this disgrace.