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Seated on a stool before an audience packed with spooks, lawmakers, lawyers and mercenaries, CNN's Wolf Blitzer introduced recently retired CENTCOM chief General James Mattis. "I've worked with him and I've worked with his predecessors," Blitzer said of Mattis. "I know how hard it is to run an operation like this."
Reminding the crowd that CENTCOM is "really, really important," Blitzer urged them to celebrate Mattis: "Let's give the general a round of applause."
Following the gales of cheering that resounded from the room, Mattis, the gruff 40-year Marine veteran who once volunteered his opinion that "it's fun to shoot some people," outlined the challenge ahead. The "war on terror" that began on 9/11 has no discernable end, he said, likening it to the "the constant skirmishing between [the US cavalry] and the Indians" during the genocidal Indian Wars of the 19th century.
"The skirmishing will go on likely for a generation," Mattis declared.
Mattis' remarks, made beside a cable news personality who acted more like a sidekick than a journalist, set the tone for the entire 2013 Aspen Security Forum this July. A project of the Aspen Institute, the Security Forum brought together the key figures behind America's vast national security state, from military chieftains like Mattis to embattled National Security Agency Chief General Keith Alexander to top FBI and CIA officials, along with the bookish functionaries attempting to establish legal groundwork for expanding the war on terror.
Partisan lines and ideological disagreements faded away inside the darkened conference hall, as a parade of American securitocrats from administrations both past and present appeared on stage to defend endless global warfare and total information awareness while uniting in a single voice of condemnation against a single whistleblower bunkered inside the waiting room of Moscow International Airport: Edward Snowden.
With perhaps one notable exception, none of the high-flying reporters junketed to Aspen to act as interlocutors seemed terribly interested in interrogating the logic of the war on terror. The spectacle was a perfect window into the world of access journalism, with media professionals brown-nosing national security elites committed to secrecy and surveillance, avoiding overly adversarial questions but making sure to ask the requisite question about how much Snowden has caused terrorists to change their behavior.
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