I was among the first Marines to use a computer for work. At that time, we carefully separated devices that monitored vital systems or stored sensitive information from those that had Internet access. We did this because we were concerned that the Russians and others would use the Internet to alter infrastructure supporting defense operations or to steal valuable information about them.
All activities on the Internet were monitored by a department authorized to handle secret information, in case they came across someone sharing secrets online or foreign agents accessed them. Unless you had permission and needed to know, you didn’t know this ministry existed. I didn’t hear of it until I joined the Naval War College Marine Detachment in 1998 to begin training for a career in intelligence.
My desired profession would place me and a team of signals intelligence personnel in territories we wanted to know better. We would intercept communications or disrupt weapon systems that could detect or target our operations. During training, I became friends with an intelligence officer who helped the Pentagon uncover information that was used to take Bosnia and Herzegovina from those responsible for ethnic cleansing.
He had used the Internet to contact a number of informants in the area. As far as I know, this was the first time that information had been collected in this way. Concerned about Middle Eastern extremism, I wondered what role it would play either in our attempt to thwart the terrorist attacks they have planned, or in their attempt to influence onlookers.
I had trained in terrorist countermeasures with embassy marines and secret service officers, familiarizing myself with the tactics used by terrorists to attack facilities supporting our diplomatic missions there or to shoot down the plane. which transported those who worked there. You may not know this, but the attacks you witnessed on September 11, 2001 were preceded by a series of attacks that allowed those responsible to learn what was necessary to create the spectacle that you have seen that day.
We’ve often wondered who was behind this effort, not the masterminds behind the attacks themselves, but the powers behind them. At first, many suspects were Saudi Arabia. They would defend the rights of its citizens to travel to Afghanistan to train in the militant camps established by Osama bin Laden and which were supported by suspected Pakistani intelligence agents. We knew they were determined to drag us into a conflict there because they said so.
Our mission was to avert this conflict by preventing these groups from carrying out the terrorist attacks they would use to force the issue. Although I knew that a number of multinational corporations also wanted in, it never occurred to me that the wealthy Egyptians, Pakistanis and Saudis who funded them did so because they hoped to profit of Afghanistan’s resource exploitation or construction that would take place as it was industrialized. Then I saw the sophisticated campaign urging us to invade.
Profit has always been an afterthought of this war. We were exposed to an argument that combined fear of terrorism with hope for a prosperous outcome to lead us away from effective security practices and into conflict. Everyone from the president down was exposed to this for years before the attacks of September 11, 2001. A lot of money was spent on media designed to move us in this direction. We just didn’t know that we were being displaced by multinational corporations who wanted to profit from the war.
Russia’s hostilities towards Ukraine are similarly motivated. Naval War College graduate John McCain once called Russia “a gas station run by a mafia masquerading as a country.” It’s subtle, but in this statement, McCain is careful to point out that Russia is run by this industry. Russia does not extract and refine these resources, it asks the oil and gas giants to do so in exchange for a share of the profits. They are the mafia that acquires the resources upon which the industry depends.
In fact, Exxon Mobil was fined for agreeing to extract resources from Ukrainian territory captured by Russia a few years ago. He signed that deal in 2014 in violation of US sanctions and has defended his decision to do so. Such actions are not uncommon, whether in regard to Russia’s hostility to Ukraine or in regard to our hostilities in the Middle East. It’s like Marine General Smedley Butler said, “War is racketeering.
John McCain called Russia a mafia because he knew they were doing dirty work for an industry that had gone astray. What we didn’t realize when we started monitoring internet activity in the early 90s was that it would play a role in desensitizing us to these things; that the American view itself would be changed until their actions no longer provoked outrage. We would learn to value profit more than a peaceful existence. I wish we had seen it coming.
Smedley Butler had a solution. It’s quite simple but difficult to apply:
“We must reap the benefits of war”, he said, “limit our military forces to the purposes of internal defence”. Smedley was America’s most decorated fighter. He served in at least 10 conflicts, including World War I, earning two Medals of Honor. And when he was done, he foiled an attempt to overthrow our government from within, revealing to Congress a coup that American industrialists had asked him to carry out against him in 1934.