By Prof Lance de Haven-Smith
1. What are State Crimes Against Democracy (SCADs)?
I coined the term “State Crimes Against Democracy” in a peer-reviewed article published by Administrative Theory & Praxis, the journal of the Public Administration Theory Network. SCADs are defined as “concerted actions or inactions by government insiders intended to manipulate democratic processes and undermine popular sovereignty.” Until recently, scholarly research on political criminality has given little attention to antidemocratic conspiracies in high office, focusing instead on graft, bribery, embezzlement, and other forms of government corruption where the aim is personal enrichment rather than social control, partisan advantage, or political power. However, SCADs are far more dangerous to democracy than these other, more mundane forms of political criminality because of their potential to subvert political institutions and entire governments or branches of government.
2. What are some examples of SCADs in recent U.S. history?
Examples of SCADs that have been officially proven include the Watergate break-ins and cover up; the secret wars in Laos and Cambodia; the illegal arms sales and covert operations in Iran-Contra; and the effort to discredit Joseph Wilson by revealing his wife's status as an intelligence agent. Examples of suspected SCADs include the fabricated attacks on U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964; the "October Surprises" in the presidential elections of 1968 and 1980; the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King; the attempted assassinations of George Wallace and Ronald Reagan; the election breakdowns in 2000 and 2004; the numerous defense failures on 9-11-2001; the anthrax mailings in October 2001; and the misrepresentation of intelligence to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
3. Are suspicions about SCADs “conspiracy theories”?
The concept of State Crimes against Democracy was developed, in part, to replace the term "conspiracy theory.” The conspiracy-theory literature about assassinations, 9/11, and other suspicious events has generally examined each event in isolation. The SCAD construct was introduced to move inquiry beyond incident-specific theorizing. It delineates a crime category comparable to white collar crime, organized crime, and hate crime. SCAD research looks for patterns across events. The objective is to develop (a) an empirically grounded theory of elite political criminality, (b) forensic methods for SCAD detection and investigation, and (c) political reforms to discourage SCADs from being committed in the first place.
4. Why are SCADs difficult to detect?
SCADs are usually complex conspiracies involving people with expertise in law, law enforcement, and police procedures. Ordinary crimes are often solved by pressuring criminals to inform on one another, but this may be impossible with SCADs because they are often organized like covert intelligence operations. Each element of the operation is compartmentalized, and information about participant roles is shared only on a need-to-know basis.
5. Why are SCAD suspects seldom convicted and punished?
One reason SCADs often go unpunished is that the agencies assigned to investigate what may be high crimes often bear some blame or have some connection to the events in question; hence, personnel in these agencies are inevitably tempted to conceal evidence that would implicate or embarrass the agencies or their top managers. In the investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy, for example, both the FBI and the CIA concealed evidence of their contacts with Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby (Talbot, 2007). Likewise, in response to the inquiry into the defense failures surrounding 9-11, the Department of Defense appears to have withheld from the 9-11 Commission evidence that military intelligence agents had uncovered the 9-11 hijackers' activities well in advance of September 2001. SCAD investigations and prosecutions are also impeded by Presidential pardons and commutations. Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon without even allowing a full investigation into all of Nixon's possible crimes. Similarly, George H.W. Bush pardoned the Iran-Contra conspirators and effectively prevented further investigation of his own role in the affair. George W. Bush appears to have had similar motives with respect to Scooter Libby. In commuting Libby's sentence rather than issuing a pardon, Bush made it impossible for Congress to compel Libby's testimony in any further inquiry into Plame's exposure.
6. Why do the mainstream media spurn “conspiracy theories”?
There are powerful norms among political, economic, and media elites that discourage speculation about corruption in high office. In elite discourse, convention prohibits suspicions from being voiced about top officials unless their guilt can be proven unambiguously by “smoking gun” evidence. This norm does not come from the principle in American jurisprudence that suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty. The presumption of innocence was never intended to outlaw suspicions. Rather, it calls for suspicions to be tested with thorough and fair investigations grounded by procedural rules for procuring and presenting evidence. Norms against conspiratorial speculations in elite discourse function to protect the legitimacy of elites as a class.
7. Was 9/11 a SCAD?
Much circumstantial evidence suggests the Bush-Cheney Administration may have somehow been involved in 9-11. The Administration ignored many warning signs that the 9-11 terrorist attack was imminent and that the attack might include hijackings; the CIA had a working relationship with bin Laden, and provided weapons, money, and technical support to Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation; some officials appear to have received warnings not to fly on 9-11; the Twin Towers and Building 7, which collapsed at near free-fall acceleration, are suspected of having been brought down by controlled demolition; chemical tests have found traces of Thermate (an incendiary for cutting steel) in dust from the Trade Center site; and, as is usual with most SCADs, the Twin Towers crime scene was cleaned up quickly and given only a superficial investigation.
8. What patterns have been uncovered with SCAD research?
Several patterns stand out when SCADs and suspected SCADs are considered comparatively. First, many SCADs are associated with foreign policy and international conflict: the Gulf of Tonkin incident; the burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office; Iran-Contra; 9-11; Iraq-gate; the assassinations of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy; and the attempted assassinations of Patrick Leahy and Tom Daschle. All of these SCADs contributed to the initiation or continuation of military conflicts.
Second, SCADs are fairly limited in their modus operandi (MO). The most common SCAD-MOs are assassinations and mass deceptions related to foreign policy. Other MOs include election tampering, contrived international conflicts, and “black bag” burglaries. All of these MOs are indicative of groups with expertise in the skills of espionage and covert, paramilitary operations.
Third, many SCADs in the post-WWII era are associated with two presidents: Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. Nixon was not only responsible for Watergate and the illegal surveillance of Daniel Ellsberg, he alone benefited from all three of the suspicious attacks on presidential candidates in the 1960s and 1970s: the assassinations of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, and the attempted assassination of George Wallace. The SCADs that benefited Bush include the election-administration problems in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio in 2004; the defense failures on 9/11; the (U.S. defense grade) anthrax attacks on top Senate Democrats in October 2001; Iraq-gate; and the multiple and specious terror alerts that rallied support for Bush before the 2004 presidential election.
9. Are there any patterns in assassination targets?
The range of officials targeted for assassination is limited to those most directly associated with foreign policy: presidents and senators. Presidents are most vulnerable when they have Vice Presidents who are more closely aligned than they are to military and intelligence elites. This was the case for both Kennedy and Reagan. Senators are most vulnerable when the Senate is very closely divided along partisan lines and the death of a single senator will shift control of the Senate to the more hawkish party. This was the situation when Senator Paul Wellstone was killed in a suspicious plane crash, and when anthrax was mailed to Senators Daschle and Leahy.
Most other high-ranking officials in the federal government have seldom been murdered even though many have attracted widespread hostility and opposition. In the post-World War II era if not generally, no Vice Presidents have been assassinated, nor have any members of the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Supreme Court. If lone gunmen have been roaming the country in search of political victims, it is difficult to understand why they have not struck more widely, especially given that most officials receive no Secret Service protection.
10. What do SCAD patterns reveal about SCAD perpetrators?
SCADs frequently involve presidents either as victims or principals, benefit military and military-industrial elites, and employ the skills of intelligence and paramilitary operatives. This policy locus could mean that the nation's civilian leadership is being targeted by military and intelligence elites, or that military and intelligence assets and capabilities are being politicized by the civilian leadership, or both. In any event, officials at the highest levels of American government appear to be using deception, conspiracy, and violence to shape national policies and priorities. This sub rosa manipulation of domestic politics is an extension of America's duplicity in foreign affairs and draws on the nation's well-developed skills in covert operations.