Overt Ops Part IV

Normalising the Unthinkable

13th December 2011

In Part 1 of this series we saw how the realm of covert operations is being laid bare, with politicians and media openly confessing to the use of such operations by the Western powers against their designated enemies.  Part 2 showed how the training doctrine for the US army has increasingly advocated the use of infiltration, provocation and proxies as part of an overall warfare strategy.  Part 3 showed that this is not just a development in theory, but also in practice, according to the documented record of covert operations in the 20th century.  Part 4 of this series will look at the possible reasons why covert ops are becoming overt ops, why these once-secretive methods are being hung out in public, and what the results are of this cultural-political shift. 

Edward Herman, the lesser-known co-author of Manufacturing Consent, wrote in his 1995 book The Triumph of the Market about what he called the 'banality of evil' and the process of 'normalising the unthinkable'.  Herman wrote:

Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on "normalization." This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as "the way things are done." There is usually a division of labor in doing and rationalizing the unthinkable, with the direct brutalizing and killing done by one set of individuals; others keeping the machinery of death (sanitation, food supply) in order; still others producing the implements of killing, or working on improving technology (a better crematory gas, a longer burning and more adhesive napalm, bomb fragments that penetrate flesh in hard-to-trace patterns). It is the function of defense intellectuals and other experts, and the mainstream media, to normalize the unthinkable for the general public. The late Herman Kahn spent a lifetime making nuclear war palatable (On Thermonuclear War, Thinking About the Unthinkable), and this strangelovian phoney got very good press.
- Herman, The Banality of Evil

This process of laying bare the machinations of the secret state has accelerated since the end of the Cold War.  The existence of MI5 and MI6, long-denied by the British government, was confirmed in the 1994 Intelligence Services Act.  This was the first time that the Security Service (SyS or MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) were put on a statutory footing - for decades prior to that they had existed and operated on a largely ad hoc and unsupervised basis.  As the 7/7 case and others have clearly shown, even the provisions for oversight effected by the 1994 act are almost entirely ineffective, so entrenched are the services in a culture of secrecy and deception.  By contrast, the CIA was officially formed in the late 1940s, before the Cold War had even really got started.  Its existence was officially and openly confirmed, though paradoxically very few people have ever been officially confirmed as having worked for the agency.  Two quite different approaches from two rather similar countries. 

What does this show?  It shows a doublethink at the heart of the secret state - one whereby the US could openly admit that the CIA existed, though deny involvement in any number of covert operations.  Even though we now know they were involved in many thing they previous denied involvement in, they continue to effectively deny involvement in contemporary covert ops.  In Britain everyone has known for decades about the existence of state spying services, but they merrily existed for a long time without their existence being officially admitted.  Even know their existence is officially admitted, like the CIA their role in covert wars is consistently denied.  So we have a fundamental contradiction - an admission that is simulatenously a denial. 

This leaves us in a position of chronic uncertainty with regards to our security services, their modes and methods, their ideologies and priorities.  But slowly, amidst this tension and deliberate confusion, we have have seen the steady normalisation of covert warfare, of false flag terrorism committed by the state.  This normalisation largely takes place in fictional entertainment, such as Spooks, The Lone Gunman, The Long Kiss Goodnight and other examples of what some call 'predictive programming'.  We are shown covert operatives happily carrying out bombings and assassinations and lying to the public about it.  Invariably this is portrayed as being a 'necessary evil' or a mistake.  At no point is it admitted that sometimes these acts are carried out in a wholly premeditated fashion.

The result of this process of normalisation is that we gradually come to accept that the state does such things.  It literally becomes the norm.  Instead of being seen as the outrageous acts of sociopathic bully states, it is seen as a 'necessary tool in an increasingly unstable and difficult world'.  The creeping, incremental efforts to centralise power are matched by a creeping, incremental effort to make this process seem normal, or even inevitable.  Instead of the whole process producing a justifiably outraged public who refuse to accept the iron fist, the process slowly acclimatises people to each incremental step.

Only ten years ago the national security philosophy of the world's major power was 'either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.'  Those states who were known or suspected to sponsor terrorism were branded as the enemy.  Now that philosophy has changed to 'some of our allies sponsor terrorism, such as Pakistan'.  It is conceivable that we might eventually reach a point where even here in the West our own governments admitted to sponsoring terrorism, not just in the past as in the Pat Finucane case, but in the present.  It is also conceivable that when we get to that point the public will have been sufficiently conditioned and manipulated that they will simply accept these admissions, and even come to their defence.