President Trump’s attempt to suppress publication of a new book by his former national-security advisor John Bolton has, not surprisingly, raised First Amendment issues. But there is another issue that everyone ignores: the “national security” argument that Trump is using to justify his attempt to suppress the book.
Trump is alleging that the publication of Bolton’s book will endanger “national security.” But Bolton’s book has already been published. There are people who have already read it. There are reviews of the book being published.
That means that the things in the book that Trump asserts are going to threaten “national security” are already out there in the public domain. Presumably, the U.S. national-security establishment’s official “adversaries,” “enemies,” “rivals,” and “opponents” are aware of them.
So, has the United States fallen into the ocean? Has the federal government been taken over by the Reds, the terrorists, the Muslims, Iran, China, Russia, North Korea, ISIS, al-Qaeda, Iran, Syria, or any other foreign force? Are there foreign invading armies landing on the shores of the East Coast, West Coast, or southern or northern borders of the United States?
Actually, none of the above. So, what does a threat to “national security” actually mean?
Ever since the U.S. government was converted to a national-security state after World War II, that term — “national security” — has been the most important term in the political lexicon of the American people. For more than 70 years, American political life has revolved around “national security.”
There have been U.S. invasions of foreign countries. There have been U.S. regime-change operations against foreign regimes. There have been U.S. state-sponsored assassinations. There have been kidnappings, torture, and indefinite detention. There has been a judicially created “state secrets doctrine.” There have been all sorts of assaults on the civil liberties and privacy of the American people. All under the name of “national security.”
And then there have been the criminal indictments of people like Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg, and Chelsea Manning on grounds of “national security.” The allegation is that the information they divulged to the public constituted a grave threat to “national security.” Yet, the information was divulged and none of those bad things happened to the United States.
Sometimes U.S. officials allege that the disclosure of “national-security” secrets endangers the lives of U.S. national-security state agents. Yeah, like U.S. assassins. If the U.S. government wasn’t assassinating people, the problem wouldn’t exist.
It’s probably worth mentioning that the U.S. government is not the only national-security state that is obsessed with “national security.” So is the Chinese communist government. It just enacted a “national-security law” to protect “national security” with respect to Hong Kong.
So. why all the hoopla over “national security”? The answer is very simple: to continue enabling the national-security establishment, whether in the United States or China, to do whatever it wants and, preferably, in secret.
After all, that’s really why they’re angry at Snowden, Assange, Manning, and Ellsberg. Those individuals disclosed dark-side policies and practices of U.S. officials, including those within the national-security establishment. That’s the super no-no in a national-security state. It’s not that the country is going to fall into the ocean or being taken over by some foreign power. It’s that the dark-side, sordid policies and practices of the national-security state are being exposed to the public.
After all, if people discover and examine the dark-side policies and practices, they might experience a crisis of conscience that could require them to demand that the government cease and desist or, even better, that it dismantle its national-security state and restore a limited-government republic. The national-security state can’t countenance that. Better to keep all those sordid, dark-side things secret.
The implicit agreement bargain struck between the national-security establishment when it came into existence in the late 1940s and the American people was this: You give us the omnipotent power to do whatever we need to do to protect “national security” and we will keep what we are doing secret from you so that you don’t have to be bothered by it.
Thus, whenever anyone discloses any of these dark side secrets, U.S. officials go ballistic, not because anything bad is going to happen to the United States but because the implicit bargain between the national-security state and the American people is being violated. The last thing U.S. officials and many Americans want is to have the American people aware of what the government is doing in the name of “national security.”