The tributes for the late Democratic Senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, heaped up as word got out. Having served as San Francisco mayor and a senator for three decades from what, on paper at least, is meant to be a progressive state, Feinstein proved herself to be an establishment creature of gusto and brass.
The tributes have been laudatory in their endorsed, burnished sexism – womanhood heralded as a bulwark for the National Security State (NSS). They do show, on some level, that she could play and scrap on the imperial board along with her male colleagues in ways equally apologetic, shallow and vulgar. As a member of the George W. Bush administration, former national security advisor and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice ceremonially saluted Feinstein as one who would “always be remembered as an extraordinary human being in American political history”.
Republicans such as Ted Cruz flattered and gushed with totemic, boyish reverence at this “trailblazer for women”. The CIA Director, William Burns, praised her role as “the first woman to chair the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.”
It all made sense: the senator was a paid-up member of the NSS with a ring seat, lounge points and frequent flyer miles in the game of empire. Voting for war came naturally, be it the bombing of Serbia in 1999 or supporting the October 2002 Iraq war resolution, the latter endorsed despite Feinstein’s briefing by former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter that no evidence had been found suggesting that Iraq continued to possess weapons of mass destruction.
According to Ritter, he met the senator along with a half-dozen staffers and aides in a conference room in the Capitol building only to face the following: “Your position is causing us some difficulty,” she grumbled. “You are making the US look bad in the eyes of the world.” When confronted by Ritter about whether she had seen “unequivocal proof that Iraq retained WMD,” the senator admitted: “I have seen no such intelligence.” The agenda had been set, the dish pre-cooked for an invasion deserving the condemnation of being a crime against peace.
What must surely strike some of her flower garlanding adulators as curious is that Feinstein’s devotion to the national security state was so profound it led her to formulate a critical, contemporary argument of dangerous import: Publishers, even if based in a foreign jurisdiction and not being US nationals, should still be prosecuted for publishing the national security details of the United States, even material disclosing war crimes, atrocities and the like. The reasoning for this is evident in a Wall Street Journal article in December 2010; her unwavering target: Julian Assange.
From the outset, the senator insisted that the release of the “250,000 secret State Department cables” by WikiLeaks had damaged the US national interest and endangered “innocent lives.” Assange “should be vigorously prosecuted for espionage.” Feinstein, with no sound evidence or reason, told her readers that the Australian publisher “continues to violate the Espionage Act of 1917,” a wartime relic that criminalises the possession or transmission by an unauthorised person of “information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe would be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.”
She goes on to tell her readers that Assange was undoubtedly “aware of this law,” a clumsy, sinister stab at journalists that they best know their place when it comes to showing the undergarments of the US imperium.
Feinstein proves ignorant of the bumbling journalists at the Guardian, who left the key for decrypting the files public and vulnerable prior to the now infamous “dump” of documents. “Guardian investigations editor, David Leigh, recklessly, and without gaining our approval,” WikiLeaks stated at the time, “knowingly disclosed the decryption passwords in a book published by the Guardian.”
Feinstein shows a deep, unquestioning interest in the advice from November 27, 2010, sent by US State Department Legal Advisor Harold Hongju Koh. To read such advice is to understand the current indictment against Assange, and the legal theory that so enthralled the Trump administration and the Department of Justice.
Tediously, and not acknowledging the fact that the US State Department cables had already been, in their entirety, published by other outlets (Cryptome, anybody?), Koh rambles about ground rather familiar to the current prosecution effort: The documents Assange had disclosed would, “Place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals – from journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers to individuals providing information to further peace and security”.
Other meretricious views follow with boring banality, all intent on showing the US imperium as faultless and noble. The disclosure, Koh argues, risked compromising “ongoing military operations, including operations to stop terrorists, traffickers in human beings and illicit arms”; and the jeopardising of “on-going cooperation between countries – partners, allies and common stakeholders – to confront the common challenges from terrorism to pandemic diseases to nuclear proliferation that threaten global stability.” The NSS is truly troubled when its lid gets blown.
Instead of expectorating at such erroneous gabbling (no evidence of these claims has ever been proven), California’s good senator chewed the cud with bovine diligence, steaming away at the claim that Assange broke “the law and must be stopped from doing more harm”. And as for the First Amendment? “[T]he Supreme Court has held that its protections of free speech and freedom of the press are not a green light to abandon the protection of our national interests.”
The senator, in views that anticipated the current indictment against the publisher, goes on to undercut the constitutional buttressing offered by the First Amendment by denying Assange the tag of “journalist”. “He is an agitator intent on damaging our government, whose policies he happens to disagree with, regardless of who gets hurt.”
Not content with stopping there, Feinstein went further in sharply condemning the publisher’s attempts to create a “social movement” (how dare he?) that would involve exposing the secrets of the US imperium. For the senator, the secret is always good, the clandestine, necessary.
Throughout her Congressional tenure, notably as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Feinstein would continue to condemn the very leaks that oxygenate the democratic polity and check imperial overreach. In 2012, she condemned a spate of leaks disclosing the US role in the “Stuxnet” cyberattack that crippled Iran’s nuclear program, the executive decision-making process behind extrajudicial killings by US drones in Pakistan and Yemen and the infiltration of an al-Qaeda Yemeni affiliate by an agent. People, she exclaimed with resignation to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “just talk too much. And this didn’t used to be the case, but suddenly, it’s – it’s like a spreadable disease.”
While Feinstein continues to be feted, Assange continues to battle a cobbled, cod nasty legal document of spurious stretching that should make any lawyer blush. But as we are not dealing with the law here so much as vengeful politics against everything from concrete revelations to what Umberto Eco called the “empty secret,” the matter is almost academic. Feinstein, now passed, finds herself on the fast track for canonisation by the NSS. Truly something to make any progressive Californian proud.