The Washington Post has published a story claiming that the North Korean regime of Kim Jong Un has succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear warhead small enough to fit onto an intercontinental ballistic missile. It’s another “leak” coming from an intelligence community that seemingly does little these days but leak like a sieve. Which raises the question: Should we believe them?
What we are dealing with is a national security bureaucracy that is not only highly politicized – that’s not really anything new – but is also engaged in an extended campaign to accomplish specific political objectives. The leaks coming out of Washington have had a clear political purpose – to a) discredit President Donald Trump, and b) push us closer to some sort of conflict on the international stage. And of course the two are not mutually exclusive: indeed, they are congruent. For a war on the Korean peninsula, for example, would define –and, I would submit, discredit – Trump’s presidency, as many thousands would die in a conflagration of unimaginable horror.
The Post quotes a single sentence of a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment dated July 28:
“The IC [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.”
That’s it: that’s the whole thing. The Post hasn’t actually seen the document: it was read to reporters by the leaker. Oh, and “Two U.S. officials familiar with the assessment verified its broad conclusions.”
What “broad conclusions”? The conclusions drawn by this article aren’t in the least bit broad, but are instead quite specific. Are they true? We just don’t know, and, what’s more, we cannot know. Indeed, we know almost nothing about this alleged “assessment.” We don’t know the identity of the leakers. We don’t know their motives. Based on the sparse information we have, we cannot evaluate the veracity of this latest “revelation,” and this is doubly true not only due to the laconic nature of the reporting, but also because of the journalistic context in which it appears.
To begin with, this story is nothing new. Back in 2013, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado) blurted out the DIA’s assessment on Capitol Hill:
“Three hours into a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Lamborn said the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is under the Pentagon, determined with ‘moderate confidence’ that North Korea has the capability to make a nuclear weapon small enough to be launched with a ballistic missile.
“The Colorado Springs Republican gleaned the information from the conclusion of a classified report, though that sentence was unclassified, said his spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen.
“Pentagon officials told The New York Times that the information had previously not been released publicly.
“Pentagon spokesman George Little issued a statement after the hearing, saying ‘it would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed, or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced in the passage.’”
The Post is telling us the DIA assessment is fresh off the presses, finished as late as “last month” – not so! Whether the Post is being deluded by its sources, or is trying to delude us in collaboration with its sources, is up for debate.
Which brings us to another problem, not only with this story but with all the “news” we’re getting from the mainstream media these days: reporters have become as politicized as their sources in the intelligence community. The Obama holdovers in the national security Establishment are not alone in their campaign to discredit the President. The media have been complicit all along: indeed, the legacy media’s journalists have been eagerly cheerleading the Russia-gate witch-hunt, and openly proclaiming their hostility to this administration. This is in addition to their traditional role as the War Party’s journalistic camarilla.
While this particular story is not directly linked to Russia-gate, or the President’s political fortunes, what it comes down to is that neither the sources of this story nor those who are reporting it can be trusted. It could be true that the North Koreans have developed the capability of miniaturizing nuclear warheads, but we just don’t know. The observant reader is left in a fog – the fog of an information war in which journalism is not a means of discovering knowledge, but a weapon to be deployed in a political-ideological conflict.
If the media is on a war footing, wielding the battle-cry “democracy dies in darkness,” then today the truth is tangential – because a few untruths may be necessary in the fight to push back against the “darkness.”
People complain that there’s too much news, that the sheer volume is overwhelming, and disorienting, but in reality we’re living in a news vacuum because we don’t know what’s true anymore. All standards have been thrown out: sure, the mainstream media was never really objective, but now even that pretext has been abandoned.
If we liken the function of the media in a free society to the function of our eyes and ears, then we have, in effect, been struck blind and rendered deaf. Although actually it’s far worse than that: rather than conveying information about the real world, the mainstream media is giving us a highly distorted version of events –in many cases, a Bizarro World inversion of what is actually occurring.
All this is bad enough, but we must take it one step further. If the media is the eyes and ears of the public, then the intelligence agencies and the national security bureaucracy of which they are a part are Uncle Sam’s sensory organs. The price to be paid for the politicization and corruption of the intelligence community is that US policymakers are operating in the dark – where not only democracy dies, but also any sort of rational decision-making. In which case Uncle Sam is a blinded Titan, deaf to the entreaties of those he unknowingly tramples underfoot, stumbling this way and that – with the very strong possibility of ending up at the bottom of a cliff.
This epistemological disability brings to mind two citations, one from the run-up to the Iraq war and one more recent. The former is the famous “reality-based community” quote reported by Ron Suskind in the course of an interview with a top aide in George W. Bush’s White House:
“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ … ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’"
Suskind wasn’t reporting anything all that unusual: this is how our political class thinks. After all, they create the political reality in which the rest of us are forced to live. Yet there is a point beyond which this kind of hubris becomes dangerous – and suicidal. Encased in a bubble, the Beltway elites never saw the victory of Trumpism coming – and that failure may be just the beginning of their undoing (and our own). For as Vladimir Putin put it to Oliver Stone:
“I think that when the United States felt they were at the forefront of the so-called civilized world and when the Soviet Union collapsed, they were under the illusion that the United States was capable of everything and they could act with impunity. And that’s always a trap, because in this situation, a person and a country begins to commit mistakes. There is no need to analyze the situation. No need to think about the consequences. No need to economize. And the country becomes inefficient and one mistake follows another. And I think that’s the trap the United States has found itself in.”
A person who cannot distinguish fantasy from reality is clinically insane, or perhaps senile. What do we call an entire society so afflicted?
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.