Libertarian Bum Fights
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.”
Last week, a low-grade civil war within the Edward Snowden camp broke out into the open when the attorney representing Snowden's father accused WikiLeaks and Glenn Greenwald of exploiting Snowden fils for personal profit.
Snowden's father, Lon Snowden, has been represented by GOP lobbyist Bruce Fein for roughly two months now — ever since Lon's first public appearance, when he begged his son not to do anything stupid. Like defecting to the Kremlin.
Apparently Lon Snowden wasn't supposed to say anything obvious like that because the next thing you know, a GOP lobbyist and Ron Paul advisor named Bruce Fein attached himself to Mr. Snowden's neck — and from that moment on, Mr. Snowden can't so much as fart in public without Bruce Fein sitting close enough to get first sniffs.
Bruce Fein is a sleazy old GOP operator with a murky relationship to US intelligence going back decades. Bruce Fein's wife, Mattie Fein, is also a longtime Washington DC lobbyist, most notably as founder of the Institute for Persian Studies, a pro-Israel front group pushing for war with Iran. Mattie Fein ran for Jane Harman's seat in 2010 as a Republican running on a platform that combined libertarianism with support for Israeli settler extremists.
These days, Mattie acts as Bruce's official spokesperson, which pretty much makes her Lon Snowden's spokesperson as well. It was in that capacity that Mattie Fein told the Wall Street Journal last week that Edward Snowden's father — her and Bruce Fein's client — is "concerned" that the NSA whistleblower is under the spell of some bad folks:
Mr. Fein's wife and spokeswoman, Mattie Fein, said Lon Snowden's legal team doesn't trust the intentions of Mr. Greenwald or WikiLeaks and worry they are giving Edward Snowden bad advice.
"The thing we have been most concerned about is that the people who have influence over Ed will try to use him for their own means," Ms. Fein said. "These guys have their own agenda here and we aren't so sure that it has Ed's best interest in mind."
Mr. Greenwald called the Feins' concerns ridiculous and said they had no standing in the matter as they have never had direct contact with Mr. Snowden.
"They have no connection to Ed," Mr. Greenwald said. "Snowden is not 14 years old. He is a very strong-willed, independent, autonomous adult and is making all his own choices about who he deals with and who represents him."
Ms. Fein said she was only voicing the concerns of Mr. Snowden's father, who wanted to make sure his son ended up with the best available legal defense and worried that the team being put together was focused on promoting the interests of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Let's leave aside the crazy and partly-substantiated basis for their "concern" — a deal Greenwald and WikiLeaks reportedly cut with NBC to arrange an exclusive interview with Snowden in Moscow, which came with either a $1,000,000 price tag demand (according to the Feins) or a $50,000 price tag (according to Greenwald). Whatever their unseemly squabbles over access to a high-value asset like Edward Snowden, what I find more interesting is what all the parties in this squabble share in common: their GOP libertarian politics, and their mutual adoration for celebrity father-son libertarians Ron and Rand Paul: Bruce Fein served as "senior legal advisor" for Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign; Edward Snowden donated to Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign; Julian Assange announced last week that he's "a big admirer of Ron and Rand Paul"; and although Glenn Greenwald is slightly more coy about it, he too is a longtime defender and promoter of both Ron Paul and Rand Paul and the GOP libertarian politics that they espouse.
The squabbling Edward Snowden suitors share more than their mutual adoration for the Paul dynasty. Last year, Glenn Greenwald and Bruce Fein did two major college campus tours together, one in winter 2012, and another in autumn 2012. The Greenwald-Fein tours were by sponsored by two pro-Ron Paul libertarian outfits: Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), a Ron PaulJugend outfit; and the Future of Freedom Foundation (FFF), a libertarian outfit specializing in publishing far-right "historical revisionism" about who's really to blame for the Civil War and World War II, along with the usual libertarian drivel attacking public schools, civil rights laws, social welfare programs, and regulations on the tobacco industry.
The president and co-founder of the Future of Freedom Foundation, Jacob Hornberger, joined Greenwald and Fein for their college tour as the third celebrity libertarian on what was billed as the "Civil Liberties College Tour."
Hornberger has some pretty extreme libertarian views of his own that one assumes Greenwald must've not been aware of when he agreed to tour with him: Hornberger opposes civil rights laws banning racial discrimination, opposes minimum wage, opposes democracy, and argues that America's freest days were the pre-Civil War years, back in the halcyon days of plantation slavery (which Hornberger concedes was "an infringement"). As Hornberger writes,
Despite slavery and other infringements of individual freedom, Americans in the 1800s lived in the freest society in history. They could enter into any business or occupation without a license, permit or other evidence of governmental consent; enter into any mutually beneficial exchange with anyone in the world without permission from the political authorities, accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth without threat of having it taken away through income taxation: dispose of their income in the manner they desired: educate their children in the way they chose, travel anywhere in the world without a passport or visa. This is what it once meant to be an American. This is what it once meant to be free.
Just breaks yer heart, don't it.
Every traveling circus needs a good emcee, and the Greenwald-Fein-Hornberger "Monsters Of Libertarian Rawq Tour 2012" didn't disappoint: each of their college campus performances featured "moderator" Jack Hunter, a.k.a. "The Southern Avenger." Yes, that Jack Hunter — Rand Paul's white supremacist staffer and ghost writer forced to resign in July after Hunter's bizarre pro-Confederacy puke ("John Wilkes Booth Was Right") was exposed. The "Southern Avenger" is a staffer at Young Americans for Liberty, sponsor of the Greenwald-Fein-Horberger college campus tour.
That's a lot of right-wing Confederate puke to process, I know. And believe me it gets much worse than this, so let me back up and repeat the scenario for you: Bruce Fein is Lon Snowden's attorney; Glenn Greenwald, civil liberties attorney and journalist, is Edward Snowden's closest confidant and the journalist to whom the NSA leaks have been entrusted. WikiLeaks and Julian Assange have managed most of Edward Snowden's life in exile, including his defection to Russia. Bruce Fein, Glenn Greenwald, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are all fans of Ron Paul and Rand Paul. Bruce Fein and Glenn Greenwald toured college campuses together last year speaking about "civil liberties" on a tour that included "Southern Avenger" neo-Confederate Rand Paul aide Jack Hunter, and the president of a far-right libertarian outfit that pushes neo-Confederate revisionist propaganda, and which also sponsored the tour. We also learned over the past few days that Julian Assange has allied with far-right parties in his native Australia.
And now, Bruce Fein — a man described by civil liberties attorney Mark Geragos as "one of the most repulsive human beings I have ever had the displeasure of meeting" — is accusing Glenn Greenwald and Julian Assange of nefariously exploiting Edward Snowden.
Bruce Fein is an interesting character, a Zelig type in the American Republican right wing, seamlessly changing his colors with the times: Nixon Republican in the '70s, Reagan Republican in the '80s and '90s, Bush Republican until Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq debacle made that label bad — and that's when Bruce Fein rebranded himself into a Ron Paul libertarian, wiping away a career spent terrorizing the disadvantaged on behalf of the rich, violent and powerful. Today's Bruce Fein is an outraged Ron Paul libertarian — outraged at all the bad things Bruce Fein 1.0 helped perpetrate.
Fein first made the Big Leagues in the early 1980s, when he led Reagan's "Bob Jones Team" fighting to grant taxpayer subsidies to white supremacist schools like Bob Jones University. In pushing for Bob Jones U., Fein notoriously summed up his ideological philosophy:
"One of the problems we've had in the last 20 years is 'feel-good law.'"
By "feel-good" Fein of course meant "civil rights law." Fein's "Bob Jones Team" lost the Bob Jones case in the Supreme Court, but he won the heart of Reagan's saggy henchman Ed Meese. During the Reagan-Bush years, Fein vigorously argued that corporations had the right to discriminate against HIV-positive employees; opposed affirmative action, which he called "benign apartheid," and opposed the Americans With Disabilities Act, in a 1990 USA Today op-ed headlined "Disabled don't deserve gold-plated justice." As for Fein's position on government leaks and leakers, the headline to Fein's New York Times editorial, "A Tight Plug on Intelligence Leaks" should answer that.
Indeed, Fein denounced the Miranda ruling saying it "undermines effective law enforcement," and supported mandatory drug testing as, "a reasonable price for civilized society and national strength that benefits all." In case you think that was just Fein's youthful folly, in 2004, Fein used the Valerie Plame leak to argue that journalists should not be granted constitutional protections for their sources in national security cases:
The free press defense to the subpoenas advanced by Messrs. Cooper and Russert was that confidential sources are indispensable to investigative journalism. But the assertion is dubious, and in any event should bow in a narrow category of cases where the sources themselves are government officials implicated in national security crimes.
Fein was also a big supporter of both wars against Iraq. In January 1991, during the first Gulf War, Fein defended the FBI's harassment of Arab-Americans, telling USA Today,
"Arab-Americans are a logical starting point when the FBI has limited resources. Should they be calling up Buddhists to find out about (terrorist leader) Abu Abbas?...There has never been a time when civil liberties have been more protected."
But those sentiments are downright liberal compared to the Bruce Fein who defended Dubya's Iraq War and his War On Terrorism. Fein proposed a theory that since Americans are ignorant about the root causes of radical Islamic terrorism, America had no choice but to wage war until we figured out what and who we were killing:
At present, little is known of the circumstances which give birth to terrorists....Until this dearth of knowledge is overcome, the best way to handcuff terrorism is by killing, capturing and punishing terrorists period, with no commas, semicolons or question marks.
Luckily, Fein discovered a root cause of Islamic terrorism: "hate speech." Fein's solution: censorship and prison.
The United States should criminalize a root cause of terrorism: hate speech teaching that indiscriminate murders are morally justified to further a crazed religious, racial, ethnic or political cause. Europe has been more perspicacious than the United States on that score. The splenetic epithets heard in many madrassas or mosques or taught in many Islamic textbooks are exemplary of the evil.
In the first few years of Bush's war in Iraq, nothing could sway Bruce Fein from his unyielding support — not atrocities, not torture, not anything but certain failure. But that came later. So for example, when the Abu Ghraib torture scandal broke in 2004, Fein found a silver lining in that torture cloud:
The genuine news is not that U.S. military abuses of detainees in Iraq were so many but that they were so few and remedial responses were so prompt....Shouldn't the nation's fixation on Abu Ghraib be shifted to pulverizing the enemy in Iraq to ensure brave U.S. soldiers did not die there in vain?
And on and on. Fein is such a grotesque caricature of the American authoritarian type that at times he reads like bad hippie satire. Other times, it's hard to know which Bruce Fein we're dealing with. It's not only that today's libertarian Bruce Fein contradicts the Bruce Fein of just a few years ago — it's that Bruce Fein has a record of directly contradicting Bruce Fein on a month-to-month basis.
For example, after Saddam was captured, Bruce Fein righteously called for putting the ousted Iraqi dictator on trial as a way of showing what America and the West stood for — rule of law, transparency, democracy, and justice. In a May 2004 op-ed headlined, "Immediate Trials for Saddam and his Henchmen" Fein wrote,
The rule of law symbolized by the United States and the rule of terror symbolized by Saddam Hussein occupy different moral universes.... The stark contrast between the rule of law and rule by terror explains why Iraqis greeted America's liberation of their country from Saddam's clutches with virtual universal glee and gratitude.
The trials would renew the appreciation of Iraqis for their liberation, and boost their wavering resolve to sacrifice and to fight against terrorists, Baathists, and Khomeini-like Grand Ayatollahs for democracy and the rule of law.
Just two months later, an indignant Bruce Fein attacked Bruce Fein in an op-ed headlined, "Is This Trial Necessary?":
Saddam Hussein should be summarily executed. Summary execution might occasion qualms because of the customary presumption of innocence. But they would be fleeting.
There are countless examples of Bruce Fein outraged by Bruce Fein and taking on Bruce Fein, too many to list, as we're already veering into Fein Overkill. The point is to try to make sense of Bruce Fein's attacks on his fellow Ron Paul libertarians and fellow Snowden Family confidantes, Julian Assange and Glenn Greenwald. Clearly, Fein is a strange creature — in a grand government surveillance conspiracy story that gets weirder and weirder the closer you get to the center of it all.
One explanation for Fein's total lack of scruples is his line of work: Bruce Fein is a lobbyist, has been a GOP lobbyist at least since the late 1980s after leaving the Reagan Administration. He peddles sleaze for a living. Fein has vigorously represented the "civil rights" of tobacco companies like Philip Morris and the lobby front group, the Tobacco Institute. Leaked tobacco industry documents show that Bruce Fein lobbied on behalf of Philip Morris before the US Senate and that he published scores of op-eds defending Big Tobacco from the Clinton Administration — calling for abolishing the FTC after it ruled to restrict advertising campaigns marketing cigarettes to children; and Fein compared the Clinton Administration's crackdown on tobacco to Hitler's Final Solution: "What's next, a Scarlet 'S' in lieu of the Star of David to identify [smokers]?" Fein ominously warned. Big Tobacco loved Fein so much that they listed him as a "candidate for the Philip Morris speakers program."
More recently, Fein has been penning Armenian Genocide-denier propaganda on behalf of the Turkish Coalition of America, where Fein has been listed as a "resident scholar." Among Fein's scholarly work: "Lies, Damn Lies, and Armenian Deaths"; "Tawdry Genocide Tale"; "Armenian Crime Amnesia?" and so on. It's Fein's relentless commitment to taking money in exchange for genocide denial that led civil liberties attorney Mark Geragos, in his most recent book "Mistrial," to write:
Fein is one of the most repulsive human beings I have ever had the mispleasure of meeting. Whenever the Turkish government wants to deny the Genocide, it sticks Fein out in front and lets him spew a bunch of denialist trash about how the Genocide was nothing more than a civil war provoked by the Armenians.
...Fein got up, and in front of a courtroom that included several Genocide survivors, he denied its existence. It was a hateful and mean-spirited speech, made even worse by the fact that the audience was filled with people who had never met their grandparents or aunts and uncles because of the Genocide Fein was now denying. There have been few instances in which I have been filled with such rage, and I came very close that day to doing something that would have lost me my bar card forever....You could hear sobbing from all across the room, but in a testament to the dignity of the Armenian people, Fein was allowed to spread this trash without interruption.
That's one explanation for Fein's weird attack. The other is, well, weirder than that, beyond the usual weirdness that is Movement Libertarianism and Washington DC lobbying. This is about Bruce Fein's murky relationship with the world of US government intelligence agencies.
Fein runs a Washington DC lobbying outfit called The Lichfield Group. His lobby group's website is currently "under construction," but before it was deleted, Fein used to boast about his excellent connections to the same government agencies that he, as a Ron Paul libertarian, opposes. A scrubbed "Expertise" page on the Lichfield Group's website boasted:
The Lichfield Group features unrivalled government, media, and business experience. Exemplary is the Group's high level connections with the Department of Justice, the Department of State, and the Central Intelligence Agency, on the one hand, to The New York Times, The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal, and nationwide broadcast or cable networks on the other.
The Group's unsurpassed combination of legal, business, media, political, and government savvy enables it to handle crisis management, tactical, or strategic positioning with unexcelled deftness. Whether a client is a giant corporation handcuffed by ill-conceived United States government policies or a foreign government anxious to influence the decisions of Congress, the President, agencies, the judiciary, or State governments, The Lichfield Group is armed with the skills and contacts indispensable for success.
On the "Practices" page, under "Government Consulting," Fein's company webpage expanded on his ties to government intelligence:
Relations with the United States Government: Department of Justice, Department of State, National Security Council, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, United States Trade Representative, House and Senate Committees on the Judiciary, Intelligence, Foreign Relations, and Armed Services, Members of Congress and key staff personnel.
It's hard to know what's bullshit, bluster or truth in the world of DC lobbying and spooks, but Fein backs it up by boasting in his Lichfield Group bio that he was executive editor for a murky private intelligence publication staffed by ex-CIA and ex-MI5 spooks called "The World Intelligence Review."
An example of Fein's work for the World Intelligence Review: a letter to the editor of the New York Times in 1995 defending the CIA from revelations about the Agency's work with torturers, headlined, "Why Hold C.I.A. To Higher Standard?"
It seems that at least one major purpose of the "World Intelligence Review" was to defend the CIA's public image — letters to the editor, reviews of books and films....Today, a website purporting to be the same "World Intelligence Review" — founded in 1978 and headquartered in Washington DC — mostly serves as an outlet for a paranoid British spook named Nigel West, whom BBC documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis recently described as one of the weirdest of the degenerates who dominate the British spy world:
weirdos who have created a completely mad version of the world that they then impose on the rest of us.
According to Curtis' piece for the BBC, Nigel West has spooked and scared the public over the years with tales of Soviet moles and traitors inside the MI5, or tales of Iraqi students in Britain acting as Saddam's sleeper cell terrorists on the eve of the 1991 Gulf War — all accusations that turned out to be nothing but paranoid fantasy. In fact, despite all the hysteria whipped up by people like Nigel West, MI5 never caught a single Soviet mole in the British spy services.
Today, Nigel West is listed as the European Editor of the same weirdo spy publication where Bruce Fein worked as executive editor in the 1990s. And Fein boasts of his ties to that same world: CIA, Homeland Security, National Security Council...outfits which have become less and less effective over time as their bureaucracies bloated, and their personnel regressed into a parallel universe of paranoid fantasy.
In June, after Lon Snowden spoke out against his son's flight to Hong Kong, Bruce Fein somehow managed to attach himself to Lon Snowden. Ever since, you won't see or hear a word out of Lon Snowden that isn't closely monitored by Bruce Fein's presence. Fein appears to be dragging the father into a funhouse world that makes less and less sense — the same Lon Snowden who told his son not to defect now finds himself groveling to Vladimir Putin, praising His mercy and humanity, all to creepy Bruce Fein's hovering-vulture approval.
Curtis describes the symbiotic relationship between spooks and journalists as their fortunes have dwindled over the years:
together the journalists and spies concocted a strange, dark world of treachery and deceit which bore very little relationship to what was really going on. And still doesn't.
Which is a long-winded way of saying: Meet the libertarians, whose entire philosophy is based on the paranoid belief of government conspiracies, a narrative thriller in which individualist heroes wage a Terminator-like battle against government jackboots.
Suddenly it doesn't seem so unlikely that the players on all sides of this epic spy scandal would share the same libertarian worldview, and the same cultish devotion to Ron and Rand Paul. Obviously Bruce Fein would turn on Glenn Greenwald. Obviously Julian Assange would undermine his own Australian political party and form an alliance with the anti-immigrant ex-neo-Nazis. Obviously Vladimir Putin would represent the heroic defense of the "powerless" victims against the "powerful."
And obviously Putin kept these creeps at arms-length, because even to Putin, this is all a little too fucking weird. (Imagine how Putin and the Russian spy agencies reacted to the news that Bradley Manning, Snowden's hero, was given a lighter-than-expected sentence, followed immediately by the "Chelsea Manning" statement. One clue into how Putin and Sechin and Kucherena and the rest of the siloviki might react is the story Adam Curtis tells about the Soviet Embassy in London's reaction to a massive MI5 leak from a disillusioned British MI5 lone-wolf communist sympathizer named Michael Bettaney. In the early 1980s, Bettaney collected reams of top-secret MI5 documents in his apartment, then dropped them off in the mailbox of a Russian embassy official who was so baffled, that he could only assume the Brits were setting him up and not doing a very good job of it. He immediately handed the documents over to MI5 before showing them to the KGB, leading to Bettaney's arrest.)
Ron and Rand Paul. Libertarianism. The Confederacy. Revisionist history. Paranoia and alarmist terror over Big Government drones watching your every move, reading your every word....The names and themes repeat themselves over and over, and at some point, if a journalist retains the proper skepticism, you have to wonder where the real story about government surveillance ends, and where the paranoid libertarian fantasies about drones hovering outside their bedroom windows begin, reality and fantasy each bleeding into the other... As our faith in the old 20th century liberal constructs have collapsed without anything to replace it, it's looking more and more like we've been sucked into a far weirder construct, someone else's paranoid reality, like in those early PKD novels — with Ron Paul as our Palmer Eldritch, Rand Paul our Eye In The Sky.