When MSNBC's Keith Olbermann welcomed three former members of Monty Python to Countdown on Wednesday, his biggest surprise was a question from Terry Gilliam, "How come that Colin Powell interview about the terror-industrial complex didn't become a bigger story?"
Olbermann was taken aback by the question, but by the next day he had uncovered Powell's September 12, 2007 interview with GQ Magazine. Powell's apology in that interview for his use of faulty intelligence prior to the Iraq War grabbed the headlines at the time, but he also delivered a far less-noticed warning against what Olbermann now calls "an entire aspect of the nexus of politics and terror."
"What is the greatest threat facing us now?" Powell asked. "People will say it’s terrorism. But are there any terrorists in the world who can change the American way of life or our political system? No. ... The only thing that can really destroy us is us. We shouldn’t do it to ourselves, and we shouldn’t use fear for political purposes—scaring people to death so they will vote for you, or scaring people to death so that we create a terror-industrial complex."
When Powell delivered a speech at the University of Oklahoma a short time later, campus reporters asked what he had meant by his remarks, and he replied, "We're spending an enormous amount of money on homeland security, and I think we should spend whatever it takes. But I think we have to be careful that we don't get so caught up in trying to throw money at the terrorist and counter-terrorist problem that we're essentially creating an industry that will only exist as long as you keep the terrorist threat pumped up. ... Let's make sure that we are spending money on the right things and not spending money just to spend money."
Although Powell's follow-up remarks focused on the potential for wasting money, the original model for his statements -- President Eisenhower's 1961 farewell address -- was primarily concerned with the threat to a free society of granting "unwarranted influence" over US policy to a "military-industrial complex" of defense contractors and national security think-tanks that might "endanger our liberties or democratic processes."
Observers had been expessing concern about the rise of the homeland security industry for several years prior to Powell's remarks. Tim Shorrock's groundbreaking 2005 article, "The Spy Who Billed Me," revealed how "the government has outsourced everything from spy satellites to covert operations -- and well-connected companies are cashing in." A blog inspired by the article has continued to pursue the subject.
A March 2007 Vanity Fairarticle on homeland security contractor SAIC and Raw Story's May 2007 expose of a questionable anthrax vaccine maker with Bush administration connections explored other aspects of the emerging terror-industrial complex in the months immediately before the Powell interview. The subject has drawn less attention in the last few years, but the rediscovery of Powell's warning may put it back in the spotlight.
This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast Oct. 15, 2009.