How Government Goes to War And We All Buy In
by John Duffy
In March of 2020, I thought to myself that the burgeoning Covid-19 pandemic would end up characterized by a lot of similarities to the 9-11 attacks. At the time, I was thinking mostly about how a distracted President could miss the warnings about impending danger, and sit on his hands bloviating about low priority issues while those with their ears to the ground pounded his desk hoping for action.
Over the past eight or nine months, I have come to believe that the Covid situation is in fact, a lot like the 9-11 attacks, but in a far different way than I originally assumed. The similarities that I now find the most striking lie in the ways in which the greater crisis was manipulated for political gain and profit, and how the specter of an invisible enemy has been used to trample on people’s civil rights in an all too familiar pattern.
In the book I co-wrote with Ray Nowosielski, “The Watchdogs Didn’t Bark,” we highlighted how NSA staffer William Binney developed an in-house product called Thin Thread, that could sort through domestic communications and draw connections between individuals suspected of being potential terrorists, and how this product could achieve its desired ends without violating the privacy rights of US citizens. However, then NSA director General Michael Hayden wasn’t interested in an in house project developed for a few million dollars by staff. He wanted a big budget project that would require outside contractors to engineer, because ostensibly, such high dollar projects come with the pomp and circumstance that DC power players desire to inflate their own egos and resumes. Whatever his motivation, Hayden mothballed Thin Thread, and instead pushed for the creation of a parallel product known as Trail Blazer. Without rewriting that chapter here, the takeaway is that, the 9-11 attacks succeeded, at least in part, because the NSA wasn’t running Thin Thread, but was instead still busy cobbling together a more costly and less effective product.
(Of course, there is a LOT more to it, but let’s move on).
After the 9-11 attacks scared the collective shit out of Americans, the state apparatus and its partners in the very much for-profit military industrial complex came to the rescue, with a boondoggle of a war in Afghanistan, an own-goal of a war in Iraq, a wider go nowhere global war on terror, and of course, new bureaucracy and domestic wiretapping at home (not to mention the very ill-advised torture program). At the time, it was very easy for a lot of Americans to see that, yes, there are parties in the world who have violent intent towards the United States, while understanding that these parties were small in number, and for the most part, isolated. Handling them could likely have been accomplished through diplomacy – and in fact the Taliban did offer to hand Bin Laden over to an international tribunal, but the Bush government said “fuck that,” and decided to send the military to go toss around in Afghanistan for the better part of two decades, before we were eventually forced to, you know, negotiate peace terms with that very same fucking Taliban.
Then there was the war in Iraq, which at the time, again, a large number of people could see was a colossally misguided maneuver, and even the most blandly educated of American college freshmen called out as a “war for oil.” (I know, I was a college Junior at the time, calling it a “war for oil”). More astute commentators noted it wasn’t just for the oil, but also for the slew of contractors who provide the very-supportable troops with bullets, and helmets, and batteries, and hand towels, and every other piece of bric a brac a twenty-year-old American GI needs to get by in Basra, not to mention his more expensive Blackwater counterparts.
Of course, beyond the cash, was the power. George Tenet went to camp David in the days after 9-11 and wowed a rattled George W. Bush with a presentation about how his CIA could go wide, running a global war on terror that would take the gloves off – meaning, break a lot of laws, both domestic and foreign – and how this was the real gutsy, cowboy way to take care of this terrorist business once and for all. Black sites were born, and so was the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, and so were new federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and their little blue shirted TSA agents, who for twenty years now have been making us take off our shoes and belts before we get on planes, because, you know, any one of us could be a terrorist.
The Covid 19 era hasn’t birthed a new ream of bureaucracies yet, and hopefully, that’s one place where the two crises will not rhyme. There has been, however, a narrative that any one of us could be sick, and therefore all people should be treated as though they are infectious at all times. Where the War on Terror asked us to give up personal freedoms in the name of national security, the war on Covid asks us to give up personal freedoms in the name of public health. And of course, both efforts leaned hard on rhetoric to bend people into compliance. Where the War on Terror had it’s “support the troops,” and “united we stand” slogans slapped on cars via cheap ribbon-shaped magnets, now we see “alone together” and “wear because you care” plastered on billboards, making sure that everyone knows that decent people follow the rules, and only selfish assholes ask questions.
Right now, I imagine for my American readers, one half of your brain is singing “yes!” while the other half growls, “that’s bullshit!” and where your political affiliations lie will almost universally betray which part of what you have just read you find truthful, and which part you find maddening.
Because of the media schism in the United States that has liberals and democrats consuming one vein of “news” and conservatives and republicans consuming from a very different vein, it is easy for everyone to believe that private interests and their associated politicians will manipulate a crisis, but simultaneously, to presume that it is not their preferred politicians who would engage in this chicanery, only that evil “other side.”
For months we have heard a common refrain from politicians and media pundits that the only way out of the Covidn 19 crisis, is with a vaccine. To many people, this seems obvious. The logic goes something like this: There is a new virus out there, and it kills people. We locked down and socially distanced and since the disease is still out there and people are still dying, clearly, the only way back to normal is with a vaccine.
What this logic ignores is, well, a lot. For one, it ignores that the new virus is only kind of new. Coronaviruses have been endemic to human populations for a long time, and Sars-Cov-2 is very similar to those already widespread coronaviruses. Because of this similarity there is actually a lot of pre-existing immunity to Sars-Cov-2 in people around the world. This has been demonstrated in a variety of laboratory tests.
Or do a google search, because there is plenty out there on this issue.
The “only a vaccine can save us” logic also misses that Sars-Cov-2 is not an equal opportunity killer. Maybe in February or March you could be forgiven for believing that it was, because we just didn’t have much data on the virus and its outcomes yet…but we do now. We can see who is most at risk, and the data very clearly and explicitly tells us that the most at risk people are the elderly and/or people with pre-existing conditions.
This is the part where I do the disclaimer, stating that no, I don’t hate old people or think sick people deserve to die. (Just like back in 2003 when I was protesting the Iraq war, it wasn’t because I “hated Americans and hated the troops”).
If we can see which people are the most at risk, we can then see who, conversely, isn’t really at risk, and we can design our response around that reality. Sars-cov-2, by some grace of God or luck, has very little effect on children. We have seen and documented this around the globe, and it’s a fact that became apparent pretty early on in the crisis, yet as of this writing, there are still people, including a lot of teachers, campaigning to keep schools closed. Why? What on Earth is the reason?
Back in June, CBS Sports reported on a computer science professor from the University of Illinois who predicted that if the FBS college football season went forward, three to seven players would die from Covid 19:
“A noted University of Illinois computer science professor has some troubling data to consider regarding widespread infection and even death.
Dr. Sheldon Jacobson told CBS Sports he expects a 30%-50% infection rate of the approximately 13,000 players competing in FBS this season. Based on his research, he also projects 3-7 deaths among those players due to COVID-19.”
Well, the season went ahead, and no players died. What Dr. Jacobson seemed content to ignore with his data set is the risk of serious Covid 19 amongst healthy college aged people is effectively zero.
Why am I harping on this? What does it have to do with 9-11 or vaccines? What concerns me, is the narrative that was generated concerning the danger faced by the population. Just like the narrative that surrounded terrorism after 9-11, when we were told terrorists could be plotting to blow up elementary schools, shopping malls at Christmas, even apartment complexes. And you never knew who could be a terrorist! Remember John Walker Lindh, the so-called “American Taliban?” He was an average white guy! Therefore, we must equally suspect any average white guy, or black guy, or Asian grandmother trying to board an airplane, as a potential mass murderer.
The Covid era is rife with a similar play, in which a seemingly healthy young adult dies from Covid 19, and this story gets plastered all over the news as a warning, “it can get any of you!” By shining a light on the statistical anomaly, the media is able to perpetuate a misconception on a population level scale, and this very much benefits the executives and stockholders of companies like Pfizer and Moderna.
Vaccines are big business. Very big business. If providing bar soap and body armor to G.I.’s can buy you a McMansion in the Houston Suburbs, providing a two dose mRNA vaccine to almost everyone in the US, or Canada, or Germany, or whichever portfolio of nations the individual pharmaceutical companies have contracted with can buy their entire boards of directors…I don’t even know what. It’s so many billions of dollars that I don’t even know what people could use it to buy. Skyscrapers? The Washington Senators? Actual senators? All of them at once with most of the cash still leftover? In 2021 alone, Pfizer and Moderna combined stand to make $32 Billion dollars selling their Sars-Cov-2 vaccines.
What has been ignored more resoundingly than the idea that diplomacy could have solved, at least in large part, our terrorism problem, is the idea that there are other treatments and prophylactics for Sars-Cov-2 infection. For one, right from the outset of the pandemic, it was noted by doctors and researchers that the people suffering the worst Covid19 outcomes were all, by and large, very deficient in vitamin D. Correlations were found around the globe. Eventually, a randomized controlled trial on use of vitamin D as a treatment for Covid19 was run in Spain, and it had stellar results. Certain governments began to sit up and take notice, such as in the UK, but large bolus vitamin D was still not made part of standard treatment.
Then there is Ivermectin, a common anti parasitic. A meta analysis of use of Ivermectin in cases of Covid19 was submitted to the WHO, and it found that Ivermectin was very successful in preventing negative outcomes from Covid19, but also it was effective at preventing contraction of Sars-Cov-2.
These other possible treatments are like Thin Thread. They aren’t THE answer to stopping the pandemic, but they are a huge piece of the puzzle. Why haven’t we been hearing about them on the news? The studies about both have been run as pre-prints and then published papers for months, but unless you are on the look out for them, you wouldn’t know any of this is happening.
Since 1997, pharmaceutical companies have been able to run direct to consumer ads in the US, and these companies remain some of the largest ad buyers for the cable news networks. In 2016, pharmaceutical companies budgeted $6 billion for prescription drug ads. So Pfizer, who spends millions of dollars every month on cable news ad buys for products such as Eliquis, Lipitor, and Chantix, basically has a free ad campaign every time a pundit tells a terrified public that the only way to end their restricted lives, can only come from a vaccine.
True, Moderna has never sold a product before, so the argument can be made that MSNBC and Fox News aren’t dependent on their ad buys. Fair enough. I’m not trying to suggest that the only important nexus here is between the lap dog media and the corporations that stand to make fortunes selling vaccines. But how can we see projections of Moderna and Pfizer’s 2021 Covid19 vaccine sales sitting at a very comfortable $32billion, and not start to ask questions about what levers their respective executives would be pulling behind the scenes to make sure that their products were seen as the only way out of the pandemic?
Some readers will think that drawing comparisons between the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks and how national governments approached Covid19 as totally incongruous. They will say that, “the freedoms the US government tried to scrap regarding digital anonymity were totally unnecessary, because they had all of the technology and data necessary to prevent the attacks without any expansion of powers.” (And that’s true, I co-wrote a whole book about it). They will continue that, “the freedoms lost to the Covid19 emergency are not permanent, and are truly the only way to contain the situation while a vaccine is rolled out. Apples and oranges!” they’ll cry!
Maybe. But maybe not. Allowing the government to set a precedent by which they can, without any debate or referendum, close businesses, drive people into unemployment, shut schools, control travel, and control bodily autonomy is dangerous. Even if this time it’s temporary (and it won’t be for the thousands of small businesses that have now closed forever) the hard lesson is that power only ever moves in one direction, like a ratchet. Now that they know they can do this, they know that they can do this.
And we must always be on guard about flippantly disregarding other people’s concerns about specific freedoms, when we personally are not that concerned about them. Too often, people don’t adhere to a general principle of freedom, but rather pick and choose which authoritarian edicts they are OK with, because they conform with their other beliefs. Remember being told that warrantless wiretapping or snooping into your bank account wasn’t a big deal if “you have nothing to hide?” That tracks now with the people who don’t want to wear a mask or who want to be able to gather in church with their families. Where it was the liberals who were less likely to give ground to an overreaching national security apparatus, it is now conservatives who are more staunchly defending their liberty from an overreaching public health apparatus.
Allowing the military industrial complex and their associated power players in the federal government to call all the shots in approaching the issue of terrorism led to a lot of deaths across Central Asia and the middle east. It led to abuses of power, the creation of dastardly new branches of law enforcement like ICE, and it caused a bunch of little headaches for everyday Americans due to changed rules and new regulations. Allowing the public health pharmaceutical complex to be the only voice that matters when approaching the Covid19 issue will also lead to a lot of deaths. Suicides, overdoses, and untended to cancers in the west will all have increased thanks to shutdowns, as will hunger and preventable diseases kill scores more in poor nations. Targeting our protections where they were most needed, as now thousands of health care professionals have agreed is the best strategy by signing on to the Great Barrington Declaration, and allowing other safe and cheap options like Vitamin D and Ivermectin, to widely enter the treatment protocols could have allowed for a different path forward that would have had far less collateral damage.
But this is how the game is played. Politicians like to be seen as doing something, and doing something big, whenever a crisis is at hand. Allowing life to go on as normal while focusing protection on the elderly and the ill, telling everyone to get out in the midday sun and/or to supplement with vitamin D, while allowing Ivermectin to be used as a Covid 19 treatment, (hell, they tried Remdesvir on an exerimental basis with no reason to believe it would work at over $3,000 per treatment course) would have been the kind of calm, evidence based public policy that actually weighed its costs versus benefits that of course, would never be followed, because cable talking heads would have howled in outrage, professional tweeters would have spit and frothed, and pharma executives would have pulled campaign contributions. In the end, the rest of us would have a far less damaged and far more free nation to reside within, but what’s that worth to a cable news company?