Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Afghan War Costs 101

By Jo Comerford

Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, put the matter this way recently: “[N]ext to Antarctica, Afghanistan is probably the most incommodious place, from a logistics point of view, to be trying to fight a war... It's landlocked and rugged, and the road network is much, much thinner than in Iraq. Fewer airports, different geography.” In other words, we might as well be fighting on the moon. In translation, this means at least one thing: don’t believe any of the figures coming out of the White House or the Pentagon about what this war is going to cost.

As Jo Comerford, executive director of the National Priorities Project points out below, the president’s $30 billion figure for getting those 30,000-plus new surge troops into Afghanistan is going to prove a “through-the-basement estimate.” As for the dates for getting them in and beginning to get them out? Well, it’s grain-of-salt time there, too. According to Steven Mufson and Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, some of the fuel storage facilities being built to support the surge troops won’t even be completed by the time the first of them are scheduled to leave the country, 18 months from now.

And keep in mind the endless, and endlessly vulnerable, supply lines on which so much of that fuel -- and almost everything else the U.S. military has to have to survive -- travels. Along those mountainous roads, trucks are “lost,” or Taliban-commandeered, or bribes are paid for passage, or some are simply destroyed in what can only be thought of as an underreported supply-line war. All of this adds immeasurably to the staggering expense of the project. According to August Cole of the Wall Street Journal, in fuel terms alone, to support a single soldier in Afghanistan costs between $200,000 and $350,000 a year.

And while we’re at it: don’t expect all those surging troops to make it into Afghanistan any time soon. In the heroic tales of presidential surge deliberations (based on copious White House leaks) that appeared soon after the president’s West Point speech, much was made of how Obama himself had insisted on speeding up the plan to get the extra troops in place. All would arrive, the White House said, within six months. That was quickly changed to approximately eight months. Now, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, deputy commander of American and NATO forces there, has just announced that it will take nine to eleven months (or maybe even “up to a year”), and that’s if none of the factors that could go wrong do -- something not worth putting your money on when it comes to the Afghan War.

If all this leaves you with lingering worries about the success of both the surge and the war, you can put them to rest, however. NBC’s Richard Engel found a “military schematic,” a single chart from the office of the Joint Chiefs, that offers a visual representation of the military’s full surge/counterinsurgency strategy. It has to be seen to be believed. (Just click here.) It lays out as a flow chart (or perhaps overflow chart would be the more accurate description) just how our war will achieve success. What could possibly go wrong with such a plan? It’s hard to imagine. In the meantime, let Comerford give you a little lesson in the economics of the Afghan War, and what we could have done with that low-ball figure of $30 billion, had we chosen not to fight a war on the moon. Tom

Surging by the Minute
By Jo Comerford

$57,077.60. That’s what we’re paying per minute. Keep that in mind -- just for a minute or so.

After all, the surge is already on. By the end of December, the first 1,500 U.S. troops will have landed in Afghanistan, a nation roughly the size of Texas, ranked by the United Nations as second worst in the world in terms of human development.

Women and men from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will be among the first to head out. It takes an estimated $1 million to send each of them surging into Afghanistan for one year. So a 30,000-person surge will be at least $30 billion, which brings us to that $57,077.60. That’s how much it will cost you, the taxpayer, for one minute of that surge.

By the way, add up the yearly salary of a Marine from Camp Lejeune with four years of service, throw in his or her housing allowance, additional pay for dependents, and bonus pay for hazardous duty, imminent danger, and family separation, and you’ll still be many thousands of dollars short of that single minute’s sum.

But perhaps this isn’t a time to quibble. After all, a job is a job, especially in the United States, which has lost seven million jobs since December 2007, while reporting record-high numbers of people seeking assistance to feed themselves and/or their families. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 36 million Americans, including one out of every four children, are currently on food stamps.

On the other hand, given the woeful inadequacy of that “safety net,” we might have chosen to direct the $30 billion in surge expenditures toward raising the average individual monthly Food Stamp allotment by $70 for the next year; that's roughly an additional trip to the grocery store, every month, for 36 million people. Alternatively, we could have dedicated that $30 billion to job creation. According to a recent report issued by the Political Economy Research Institute, that sum could generate a whopping 537,810 construction jobs, 541,080 positions in healthcare, fund 742,740 teachers or employ 831,390 mass transit workers.

For purposes of comparison, $30 billion -- remember, just the Pentagon-estimated cost of a 30,000-person troop surge -- is equal to 80% of the total U.S. 2010 budget for international affairs, which includes monies for development and humanitarian assistance. On the domestic front, $30 billion could double the funding (at 2010 levels) for the Children's Health Insurance Program and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Or think of the surge this way: if the United States decided to send just 29,900 extra soldiers to Afghanistan, 100 short of the present official total, it could double the amount of money -- $100 million -- it has allocated to assist refugees and returnees from Afghanistan through the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Leaving aside the fact that the United States already accounts for 45% of total global military spending, the $30 billion surge cost alone would place us in the top-ten for global military spending, sandwiched between Italy and Saudi Arabia. Spent instead on “soft security” measures within Afghanistan, $30 billion could easily build, furnish and equip enough schools for the entire nation.

Continuing this nod to the absurd for just one more moment, if you received a silver dollar every second, it would take you 960 years to haul in that $30 billion. Not that anyone could hold so much money. Together, the coins would weigh nearly 120 tons, or more than the poundage of 21,000 Asian elephants, an aircraft carrier, or the Washington Monument. Converted to dollar bills and laid end-to-end, $30 billion would reach 2.9 million miles or 120 times around the Earth.

One more thing, that $30 billion isn’t even the real cost of Obama’s surge. It’s just a minimum, through-the-basement estimate. If you were to throw in all the bases being built, private contractors hired, extra civilians sent in, and the staggering costs of training a larger Afghan army and police force (a key goal of the surge), the figure would surely be startlingly higher. In fact, total Afghanistan War spending for 2010 is now expected to exceed $102.9 billion, doubling last year's Afghan spending. Thought of another way, it breaks down to $12 million per hour in taxpayer dollars for one year. That’s equal to total annual U.S. spending on all veteran's benefits, from hospital stays to education.

In Afghan terms, our upcoming single year of war costs represents nearly five times that country’s gross domestic product or $3,623.70 for every Afghan woman, man, and child. Given that the average annual salary for an Afghan soldier is $2,880 and many Afghans seek employment in the military purely out of economic desperation, this might be a wise investment -- especially since the Taliban is able to pay considerably more for its new recruits. In fact, recent increases in much-needed Afghan recruits appear to correlate with the promise of a pay raise.

All of this is, of course, so much fantasy, since we know just where that $30-plus billion will be going. In 2010, total Afghanistan War spending since November 2001 will exceed $325 billion, which equals the combined annual military spending of Great Britain, China, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. If we had never launched an invasion of Afghanistan or stayed on fighting all these years, those war costs, evenly distributed in this country, would have meant a $2,298.80 dividend per U.S. taxpayer.

Even as we calculate the annual cost of war, the tens of thousands of Asian elephants in the room are all pointing to $1 trillion in total war costs for Iraq and Afghanistan. The current escalation in Afghanistan coincides with that rapidly-approaching milestone. In fact, thanks to Peter Baker’s recent New York Times report on the presidential deliberations that led to the surge announcement, we know that the trillion-dollar number for both wars may be a gross underestimate. The Office of Management and Budget sent President Obama a memo, Baker tells us, suggesting that adding General McChrystal’s surge to ongoing war costs, over the next 10 years, could mean -- forget Iraq -- a trillion dollar Afghan War.

At just under one-third of the 2010 U.S. federal budget, $1 trillion essentially defies per-hour-per-soldier calculations. It dwarfs all other nations' military spending, let alone their spending on war. It makes a mockery of food stamps and schools. To make sense of this cost, we need to leave civilian life behind entirely and turn to another war. We have to reach back to the Vietnam War, which in today's dollars cost $709.9 billion -- or $300 billion less than the total cost of the two wars we're still fighting, with no end in sight, or even $300 billion less than the long war we may yet fight in Afghanistan.

Jo Comerford is the executive director of the National Priorities Project. Previously, she served as director of programs at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and directed the American Friends Service Committee's justice and peace-related community organizing efforts in western Massachusetts.

[Note: Jo would like to acknowledge the analysis and numbers crunching of Chris Hellman and Mary Orisich, members of the National Priorities Project's research team, without whom this piece would not have been possible.]

Copyright 2009 Jo Comerford

© 2009 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.
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Ex-GOP Governor confirms NSA role in Spitzer takedown

WMR has learned from a reliable source that, for the first time, a former Republican Governor has confirmed that wireless intercepts of communications by the National Security Agency (NSA), are being used to publicly embarrass and "take down" politicians in the United States, including New York's former Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer.

The conversation was revealed in a privileged and personal conversation and WMR will honor the privacy of the former Republican governor by not revealing his identity. However, the former governor stated that Spitzer's phone and other conversations, as well as his credit card transactions, were picked up by warrantless wiretaps conducted under the authority of President George W. Bush's "Terrorist Surveillance Program," code named "STELLAR WIND" by the NSA, and the details were leaked to the media to force Spitzer's resignation. Spitzer, both as Governor and Attorney General of New York, was aggressively pursuing fraud by such Wall Street powerhouses as AIG and Goldman Sachs.

Spitzer was forced to resign as governor after details of his trysts with an escort named Ashley Alexandra Dupre, aka "Kristen," were leaked to the media. The former GOP governor said it was clear that Spitzer was a target of a political dirty trick when federal prosecutors hinted Spitzer may have violated the arcane Mann Act, which makes it a federal crime to travel with a member of the opposite sex over state lines for the purpose of prostitution. Spitzer was also identified a "Client 9" in the leak of the federal investigation information to the media. Spitzer's trysts with Dupre reportedly took place at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC.

Dupre's employer, Emperors Club VIP, was headed up by Mark Brener, aka "Michael," a former Israeli tax agency official whose call girl service extended from New York to Beverly Hills, Paris, London, and Miami. WMR previously reported that Emperor's Club VIP, which operated under a corporate shell called QAT Consulting of Manhattan, was linked to a Mossad intelligence operation. It is noteworthy that as part of Brener's guilty plea deal with federal authorities, he was granted immunity from testifying before any federal grand jury probes of either Spitzer or any other of his escort service's clients, who reportedly also included London's Duke of Westminster --identified as Client 6" -- another wealthy British notable, and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who was never openly identified but was said by an Emperors Club escort named "Annie" to be married to a "prominent" woman. Rendell's wife is federal Judge Marjorie Rendell, who sits on the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

The former GOP governor who revealed the use of illegal wiretaps against Spitzer has significant experience in the Department of Justice and feared that his own pursuit of corporate malfeasance could end up in his own victimization in a conspiracy involving wrongful prosecution.

WMR has previously reported that New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson confirmed that he, too, was a victim of NSA wiretapping during his discussions with North Korean diplomats and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell on that North Korea's nuclear program. We also reported that Illinois's ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich was eavesdropped upon by NSA without a warrant and raw signals intelligence was turned over to U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald.

The NSA's warrantless wiretapping program is continuing, unabated, under President Obama.

Former CIA and Enron intelligence official pens novel - CIA/ENRON LINK

In an interesting confluence of CIA activities and the energy industry, it is noteworthy that Andre Le Gallo, a former official of the CIA's Operations Directorate and a corporate intelligence official for the now-defunct Enron Corporation, has penned a novel titled "The Caliphate." Echoing typical neo-conservative propaganda angles, the book features a radical Islamic group bent on re-establishing a borderless Muslim empire, the Caliphate, and uses terrorism and assassination to achieve its goals. Not surprisingly, the American hero of the book who strives to thwart the plans of the evil Muslims is named Steve Church.

Le Gallo served as the National Intelligence Officer for Counterterrorism at the CIA. He has also served as Visiting Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Former CIA Director and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Porter Goss, wrote the introduction to Le Gallo's novel. Goss was forced to resign from the CIA after he was implicated in a number of scandals, including the bribery and contract fraud surrounding his Executive Director, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo.

In "Jaded Tasks," the editor wrote about the presence of Le Gallo and fellow ex-CIA agents at Enron and the cabal of ex-CIA officers and individuals like Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, and Hamid Karzai, current President of Afghanstan, that permeated a number of energy companies closely connected to the Bush-Cheney administration and were connected to the negotiations with the Taliban prior to 9/11 for the Central Asian gas pipeline:

"Another company involved in the CentGas pipeline was the now-defunct Enron, a company that defrauded billions of dollars from its stockholders, employees, and business partners. As with Halliburton and AALC [Armitage Associates LC], a number of former U.S. intelligence officers turned up on Enron’s payroll. The firm had at least three ex-CIA agents on its payroll. These included Andre Le Gallo, who later became a business intelligence consultant based in California, and David M. Cromley, a former CIA clandestine services officer who served in civil-war ravaged Somalia and Liberia and who, after serving as Enron’s chief competitive analysis officer, went to work with three other former CIA/Enron officials at Secure Solutions International. The company was formed from the remnants of the security division at Enron after the financial collapse.

There were reportedly secret meetings held between Enron and the Taliban in Tashkent on September 7, 1996 (also attended by representatives of the Uzbek government and UNOCAL) and at the Houstonian Hotel in Houston in the spring of 1997. Prior to the Tashkent meeting, the sum of $10 billion was moved from a Cyprus bank through Barclay’s Bank in London, and on to Enron in Houston. Saudi financier Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi billionaire arms dealer and veteran of the BCCI and Iran-contra scandals, reportedly attended the 1996 meeting in Tashkent.

Frank Wisner, who served on Enron’s board, used his links with the CIA station chief in New Delhi (while he was ambassador to India in the mid-1990s) to secure Enron's acquisition of the Dabhol power plant. Wisner assured that Enron would be guaranteed $30 billion in revenue from the government of Maharashtra state, with about half of that net profit. During his stint as the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines from 1991-1992, Wisner clinched Enron the contract to manage two Subic Bay power plants. Wisner's father was a CIA agent who committed suicide in 1965 after a career that included assisting the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran and Guatemala. Another Enron director was Henry 'Pug' Winokur, who, from 1988-1997 was Chairman of Dyncorp, a favorite CIA 'carve out' contractor in Latin America, the Balkans, and Africa. Ken Lay, himself, had ties to the intelligence community when he worked in the Pentagon during the Vietnam War."

Secure Solutions International continued to work for Enron even after the energy giant filed for bankruptcy. Its tasks included guarding the Dabhol power plant in India. Secure Solutions, headquartered in Houston, was led by John Presley, a former FBI agent who served as Enron's director of corporate security. In addition to four former CIA officers, the AP reported that Secure Solutions also had a former investgator for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on its payroll.

Enron shredded hundreds of thousands of documents during the Fall of 2001 after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revealed it was investigating Enron for possible fraud. The shredding occurred twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and even over Christmas.

In June 2006, Secure Solutions was awarded a $2.5 million contract by the General Services Administration (GSA) in Auburn, Washington for "mission oriented business integrated services." The company also specialized in advising wealthy families on prevention and response to kidnappings. One of the leading underwriters of kidnapping insurance policies for oil company executives and employees traveling abroad was AIG.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Similarities between Prussia and Israel.

A short historical quiz: Which state:

  1. Arose after a holocaust in which a third of its people were destroyed?
  2. Drew from that holocaust the conclusion that only superior military forces could ensure its survival?
  3. Accorded the army a central role in its life, making it "an army that had a state, rather than a state that had an army"?
  4. Began by buying the land it took, and continued to expand by conquest and annexation?
  5. Endeavored by all possible means to attract new immigrants?
  6. Conducted a systematic policy of settlement in the occupied territories?
  7. Strove to push out the national minority by creeping ethnic cleansing?

For anyone who has not yet found the answer, it’s the state of Prussia.

But if some readers were tempted to believe that it all applies to the state of Israel – well, they are right, too. This description fits our state. The similarity between the two states is remarkable. True, the countries are geographically very different, and so are the historical periods, but the points of similarity can hardly be denied.

The state that was respected and feared for 350 years as Prussia started with another name: Mark Brandenburg (Mark: march, border area). This territory in the northeast of Germany was wrested from its Slavic inhabitants and was initially outside the boundaries of the German Reich. To this day, many of its place names (including Berlin neighborhoods, like Pankow) are clearly Slavic. It can be said: Prussia arose on the ruins of another people (some of whose descendants are still living there).

A historical curiosity: the land was first paid for in cash. The house of Hohenzollern, a noble family from south Germany, bought the territory of Brandenburg from the German emperor for 400,000 Hungarian Gulden. I don’t know how that compares with the money paid by the Jewish National Fund for parts of Palestine before 1948.

The event that largely determined the entire history of Prussia up to World War II was a holocaust: the 30 Years War. Throughout these years – 1618-1648 – practically all the armies of Europe fought each other on German soil, destroying everything in the process. The soldiers, many of them mercenaries, the scum of the earth, murdered and raped, pillaged and robbed, burned entire towns and drove the pitiful survivors from their lands. In this war, a third of the German population was killed and two thirds of their villages destroyed. (Bertolt Brecht immortalized this holocaust in his play Mother Courage.)

North Germany is a wide open plain. Its borders are unprotected by any ocean, mountain range, or desert. The Prussian answer to the ravages of the holocaust was to erect an iron wall: a powerful regular army that would make up for the lack of seas and mountains and be ready to defend the state against all possible combinations of potential enemies.

At the beginning, the army was an essential instrument for the defense of the state’s very existence. In the course of time, it became the center of national life. What started out as the Prussian defense forces became an aggressive army of conquest that terrified all its neighbors. For some of the Prussian kings, the army was the main interest in life. For a time, the soldiers and their families constituted about a quarter of the Berlin population. An old Prussian saying goes "Der Soldate ist der beste Mann im Staate" – the soldier is the best man in the state. Adulation of the army became a cult, almost a religion.

Prussia was never a "normal" state of a homogenous population living together throughout the centuries. By a sophisticated combination of military conquest, diplomacy, and judicious marriages, its masters succeeded in annexing more and more territories to their core domain. These territories were not even contiguous, and some of them were very far from each other.

One of those was the area that came to give the state its name: Prussia. The original Prussia was located on the shores of the Baltic Sea, in areas that now belong to Poland and Russia. At first they were conquered by the Order of Teutonic Knights, a German religious-military order founded during the Crusades in Acre; the ruins of its main castle, Montfort (Starkenberg), still stand in Galilee. The German crusaders decided that instead of fighting the heathens in a faraway country, it made more sense to fight the neighboring pagans and rob them of their lands. In the course of time, the princes of Brandenburg succeeded in acquiring this territory and adopted its name for all their dominions. They also succeeded in upgrading their status and crowned themselves as kings.

The lack of homogeneity of the Prussian lands, composed as they were of diverse and unconnected areas, gave birth to the main Prussian creation: the "state." This was the factor that was to unite all the different populations, each of which stuck to its local patriotism and traditions. The "state" – Der Staat – became a sacred being, transcending all other loyalties. Prussian philosophers saw the "state" as the incarnation of all the social virtues, the final triumph of human reason.

The Prussian state became proverbial. Demonized by its enemies, it was, however, exemplary in many ways – a well-organized, orderly, and law-abiding structure, its bureaucracy untainted by corruption. The Prussian official received a paltry salary, lived modestly, and was intensely proud of his status. He detested ostentation. A hundred years ago Prussia already had a system of social insurance – long before other major countries dreamed of it. It was also exemplary in its religious tolerance. Frederick "the Great" declared that everyone should "find happiness in his own way." Once he said that if Turks were to come and settle in Prussia, he would build mosques for them. Last week, 250 years later, the Swiss passed a referendum forbidding the building of minarets in their country.

Prussia was a very poor country, lacking natural resources, minerals, and good agricultural soil. It used its army to procure richer territories.

Because of the poverty, the population was thinly spread. The Prussian kings expended much effort in recruiting new immigrants. In 1731, when tens of thousands of Protestants in the Salzburg area (now part of Austria) were persecuted by their Catholic ruler, the king of Prussia invited them to his land. They came with their families and possessions in a mass foot march to East Prussia, traversing the full length of Germany. When the French Huguenots (Protestants) were slaughtered by their Catholic kings, the survivors were invited to Prussia and settled in Berlin, where they contributed greatly to the development of the country. Jews, too, were allowed to settle in Prussia in order to contribute to its prosperity, and the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn became one of the leading lights of the Prussian intelligentsia.

When Poland was divided in 1771 between Russia, Austria, and Prussia, the Prussian state acquired a national minority problem. In the new territory there lived a large Polish population that stuck to its national identity and language. The Prussian response was a massive settlement campaign in these areas. This was a highly organized effort, planned right down to the minutest detail. The German settlers got a plot of land and many financial benefits. The Polish minority was oppressed and discriminated against in every possible way. The Prussian kings wanted to "Germanize" their acquired areas, much as the Israeli government wants to "Judaize" their occupied territories.

This Prussian effort had a direct impact on the Jewish colonization of Palestine. It served as an example for the father of Zionist settlement, Arthur Ruppin, and not by accident – he was born and grew up in the Polish area of Prussia.

It is impossible to exaggerate the influence of the Prussian model on the Zionist movement in almost all spheres of life.

Theodor Herzl, the founder of the movement, was born in Budapest and lived most of his life in Vienna. He admired the new German Reich that was founded in 1871, when he was 11 years old. The king of Prussia – which constituted about half of the area of the Reich – was crowned as German emperor, and Prussia formed the new empire in its image. Herzl’s diaries are full of admiration for the German state. He courted Wilhelm II, king of Prussia and emperor of Germany, who obliged by receiving him in a tent before the gate of Jerusalem. He wanted the kaiser to become the patron of the Zionist enterprise, but Wilhelm remarked that, while Zionism itself was an excellent idea, it "could not be realized with Jews."

Herzl was not the only one to imprint a Prussian-German pattern on the Zionist enterprise. In this he was overshadowed by Ruppin, who is known today to Israeli children mainly as a street name. But Ruppin had an immense impact on the Zionist enterprise, more than any other single person. He was the real leader of the Zionist immigrants in Palestine in their formative period, the years of the second and third aliyah (immigration wave) in the first quarter of the 20th century. He was the spiritual father of Berl Katznelson, David Ben-Gurion, and their generation, the founders of the Zionist Labor movement that became dominant in the Jewish society in Palestine, and later in Israel. It was he who practically invented the kibbutz and the moshav (cooperative settlement).

If so, why has he been almost eradicated from official memory? Because some sides of Ruppin are best forgotten. Before becoming a Zionist, he was an extreme Prussian-German nationalist. He was one of the fathers of the "scientific" racist creed and believed in the superiority of the Aryan race. Up to the end he occupied himself with measuring skulls and noses in order to provide support for assorted racist ideas. His partners and friends created the "science" that inspired Adolf Hitler and his disciples.

The Zionist movement would have been impossible were it not for the work of Heinrich Graetz, the historian who created the historical image of the Jews which we all learned at school. Graetz, who was also born in the Polish area of Prussia, was a pupil of the Prussian-German historians who "invented" the German nation, much as he "invented" the Jewish nation.

Perhaps the most important thing we inherited from Prussia was the sacred notion of the "state" (medina in Hebrew), an idea that dominates our entire life. Most countries are officially a "republic" (France, for example), a "kingdom" (Britain), or a "federation" (Russia). The official name "State of Israel" is essentially Prussian.

When I first brought up the similarity between Prussia and Israel (in a chapter dedicated to this theme in the Hebrew and German editions of my 1967 book, Israel Without Zionists) it might have looked like a baseless comparison. Today, the picture is clearer. Not only does the senior officers corps occupy a central place in all the spheres of our life, and not only is the huge military budget beyond any discussion, but our daily news is full of typically "Prussian" items. For example: it transpires that the salary of the Army chief of staff is double that of the prime minister. The minister of education has announced that henceforth schools will be assessed by the number of their pupils who volunteer for army combat units. That sounds familiar – in German.

After the fall of the Third Reich, the four occupying powers decided to break up Prussia and divide its territories between several German federal states, Poland, and the USSR. That happened in February 1947 – only 15 months before the founding of the state of Israel.

Those who believe in the transmigration of souls can draw their own conclusions. It is certainly food for thought.

Georgian North Korean arms transport plane part of CIA sting operation

WMR's Asian intelligence sources strongly suspect that an Ilyushin-76 cargo plane seized in Bangkok on December 12 transporting 40 tons of North Korean weapons was a CIA sting operation designed to obtain, using a "front" airline and regular arms smuggling route, the latest North Korean weaponry available for purchase on the black market.

The IL-76 plane was registered in the Republic of Georgia, a close military ally of the United States and Israel. The IL-76, tail number 4L-AWA, has a history that is emblematic of planes used for smuggling weapons. Earlier this year, the plane was sold by East Wing, a "private" airline in Kazakhstan, East Wing, which was formerly known as GST Aero and was accused of involvement in arms smuggling -- particularly to Eritrea, Somalia, and India -- and banned by the European Union and Bahrain -- sold the plane in October to Beibarys, another Kazakh airline. The plane was then sold to Air West Georgia and was re-registered in the Republic of Georgia. The flight number of the IL-76 while flying through Bangkok was AWG 732. The plane has also been associated with Asia Wings JSC of Kazakhstan, which also flies to Hanoi.

The firm that chartered the company to fly the weapons from Pyongyang, North Korea is a New Zealand company called SP Trading Ltd. of Auckland. SP Trading also does business in Ukraine. SP Trading is part of a larger firm called GT Group, a firm incorporated in Vanuatu.

GT Group's website states the firm "is dedicated to providing an extensive range of offshore company services for privacy, legal tax avoidance, asset protection, financial independence and freedom." In addition to New Zealand and Vanuatu, the company has offices in Samoa (Samoa International Company, Inc.) and the Cook Islands (Cook Islands International Company, Inc.). The Vanuatu subsidiary, Vanuatu International Business Company, registers yachts and boats under the Vanuatu flag.

"GT" appears to stand for Geoffrey Taylor who also is the main shareholder of Vicam of 369 Queen Street in Auckland, the same address that houses the offices of SP Trading and GT Group. Taylor has brokered the sale of Azerbaijani oil to New Zealand via two firms, Sumato Energy Group, Ltd. and Vicam (Auckland), Ltd. Taylor has also been involved with two other firms, Petromobil Ltd. and Sunseeker Energy (Australasia), Ltd., solar power equipment company that has operations in New Zealand, Australia, Norfolk Island, and Lord Howe Island.

Of the IL-76's five-man crew arrested by Thai authorities at Bangkok's Don Mueang Airport, four were carrying Kazakhstan passports: Alexandr Zrybnev, Viktor Abdullayev, Vitaliy Shumkov, and Ilyas Issakov. The fifth, pilot Mikhail Petukhou, was in possession of a passport from Belarus.

When Thai authorities seized the weapons, reportedly after a "tip" from U.S intelligence sources, the plane was discovered to have a false cargo declaration stating the plane was carrying oil drilling equipment, a rather strange export from North Korea, a non-oil producing or exploration nation. Instead, the plane was found to be transporting rocket-propelled grenades and launchers, missile tubes, surface-to-air missile launchers, military spare parts and other weapons. Thai authorities stated that the U.S. intelligence sources that tipped them off stated that the final destination for the cargo was "sensitive information." Thai authorities claimed the military cargo would be "destroyed" but the crates and boxes were trucked to a secure warehouse at a Thai air force base in Nakhon Sawan province outside of Bangkok.

The IL-76 landed at Hostomel Airport, near Kiev on October 13, reportedly without any cargo, and flew to Baku, Azerbaijan on December, 8 and onward to the United Arab Emirates (reportedly Sharjah), landing in Bangkok on the morning of December 12 for refueling. The plane took off for Pyongyang and after picking up the weapons landed back in on Mueang, Bangkok at 4 pm on December 12. The plane's onward destinations from Bangkok were reportedly Colombo, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. WMR's Asian intelligence sources believe that the CIA knew the plane was planning to pick up weapons in North Korea and may have even chartered the aircraft and arranged a deal to purchase the North Korean weapons through shadowy front companies to both embarrass the North Koreans and discover what was being sold on the global weapons black market.

After the plane was seized in Bangkok, dubious sources reported that the plane was en route to Pakistan, Afghanistan, or an unnamed "Middle Eastern" country, such as Iran, to deliver its weapons.

The IL-76's most recent owner, Air West Georgia, has close links with the same ownership, to Sun Air, a privately-owned airline headquartered in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, which runs service to Nyala, the largest city in war-torn Darfur.

The "arms-napping" operation against North Korea came just days after the US Special Envoy to North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, announced, after a three-day trip to Pyongyang, an agreement to restart six-party talks with North Korea. The covert operation to seize the North Korean weapons put the planned talks at risk.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Makings of a Police State-Part IV

Secret reports, Secret budgets, Secret operations, Secret courts … A Secret Government!

The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them. — Patrick Henry

As stated by Patrick Henry with conviction and passion, a democratic government will not last if its operations and policies are not visible to its public. The foundation of our democratic republic is supposed to be based on an open and accountable government. Transparency is what enables accountability.

TopSecFor several decades post 1945, under the guise of the Cold War, with the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency and an aggressive foreign policy based on overt and covert intervention abroad, the seeds of excessive secrecy were planted, aggressively nurtured, and taken to heights not imaginable in our founding fathers’ vision of transparent and accountable government. Although the Watergate Scandal brought a short-lived wave of awakening, and to a certain degree defiance, by getting Americans to question the extent of and the real need for governmental secrecy, the subsequent political movements were eventually halted with no real action ever taken, thanks to a Congress unwilling to truly exercise its oversight authority over the intelligence community.

With the September 11 Terrorist Attacks the establishment had all it needed to take government secrecy to new heights where neither the Constitution nor the separation of powers would matter or be applicable. These new heights could never be reached in a functioning and live democracy, nor could they be sustained and flourish without a home marked by all the characteristics of a police state. Those new heights were indeed reached, and they surely have been not only sustained, but actually increased; notch by notch. Waving the national security flag nonstop, reminding us on a daily basis of some vague boogiemen terrorists who may be hiding under our beds, drilling the words terror-terrorists-terrorism every hour, did the magic; thanks to the US Media.

Let’s examine some of these new heights of secrecy we’ve reached and appear to have accepted:

The Cost

For the fiscal year 2005, based on an official report released by the National Archives, the total security classification cost estimates for Government was $7.7 billion. This figure represents costs provided by 41 executive branch agencies, including the Department of Defense. But it does not include the cost estimates of the CIA, which is classified by the agency. Here is the breakdown:

Personnel Security = $1.15 Billion
Physical Security = $1 Billion
Information Security = $4 Billion

Information Technology = $3.6 Billion
Classification Management =
$310 Million
= $57 Million

Professional Education and Training = $219 Million
Security Management and Planning = $1.2 Billion
Unique = $6.6 Million

Total= $7.7 Billion

Based on the consensus among the knowledgeable this was truly a new height for government secrecy spun out of control. But wait, this new record height was short-lived! It climbed much higher very quickly. Here is the major new height for 2007 secrecy as reported by the US Information Security Oversight Office:

The U.S. Information Security

Oversight Office recorded an all-time-high record in the cost of implementing the national security classification system.

The annual report, released Thursday, representing the classification and declassification activity throughout the executive branch, said the cost of national security classifications totaled $9.91 billion in 2007. The total cost was a 4.6 percent increase over 2006 and became the highest total recorded in ISOO’s history.

That’s right. In two years the cost of our government’s classification and its secrecy increased from $7.7 Billion to $9.91 Billion. And, as with the 2005 cost this too does not include the CIA and other classified operations and entities we don’t know about. Just keep in mind all those rendition, detention and torture operations we’ve been engaged in around the globe.

The Trend

The following is a snap shot of a few items in the Secrecy Report Card for 2008 issued by Open the Government:

18% of DOD FY 2008 Acquisition Budget, equaling to more than $31 Billion, is classified.

Our Secret FISA Court issued 2,371 secret orders in 2007.

Over 25% of our Federal Government’s Contracts, equaling to $114 billion, were granted with no competition whatsoever.

Over 64% of the 7,067 meetings of Federal Advisory Committees on scientific technical areas were completely closed to the public.

What does this tell us? Secret Budgets, Secret Courts & Secret Orders, Secret Meetings, no-competition & no-oversight contracts paid by taxpayers’ dollars…

Secret Budgets, Secret Expenditures

What does it mean when we keep hearing secret budget for this agency, secret budget for that acquisition, secret budget for this and that operation? Take this example:

The Defense Department will spend $35.8 billion on secret technologies in 2010, according to a new report from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“Restrictions placed on access to classified programs have meant that DoD and Congress typically exercise less oversight over classified programs than unclassified ones,” the report notes. That can result in big losses, when programs go awry.

Take the hush-hush Future Imagery Architecture program, meant to “develop the next generation of spy satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office.” “The electro-optical satellite component of the program was canceled in 2005 due to significant cost overruns and technical issues,” CSBA recalls, “resulting in what was reported as a $4 billion loss for the government.”

We’ve seen many examples like this; CIA, NSA, DOD, FBI…Here is another ludicrous example:

Growing by leaps and bounds, the Pentagon’s secretive Information Operations budget keeps tripping over some basic information — like how much it costs.

Just months ago, the Defense Department said it needed $988 million to help win hearts and minds in the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. When the House cut this by half in July, top-level officials landed on Capitol Hill, pleading their case but also making a startling admission: Their budget needs for 2010 are actually $626.2 million — more than one-third less than first estimated.

DollarsI know for some reason when it comes to our government expenditures the zeros attached to these dollar amounts don’t register with many. In this case we are talking about nearly $1 billion, and here is the dollar amount with zeros – $1,000,000,000. This is not an amount printed specifically and specially for our government to dispose of as it pleases, as it wishes, with secrecy, thus with immunity and no oversight. These dollars are your money, my money; our tax dollars. Think of these zeros spent with no accountability when you are thinking of your kids’ college funds, your medical bills, your ever-shrinking retirement funds…Then, tell me whether it sits okay with you to see our government spend your hard-earned dollars in secrecy, without your consent, and not to your benefit.

So what does the branch entrusted with oversight and accountability do when it comes to these secret budgets & expenditures? Nothing, really; after all it is shielded by secrecy and classification, and as long as they have a share of this pie, who gives a damn about the public interest?! A good example of this surfaced (unfortunately it quickly disappeared from the media radar) during the Representative Randy Cunningham Scandal. If you don’t remember the details you are not alone; Jennifer Aniston’s story and Brittany’s personal saga didn’t leave much room for major corruption scandals like this. You can read a snapshot of the case here, which describes the congressional corruption side of the story. The following excerpts from the same article have to do with the secrecy aspect of this issue, in 2005, when the Pentagon secret budget was around $22 billion:

The Pentagon’s classified budget for buying goods and services has increased by nearly 48% since 9/11 — from $18.2 billion in fiscal 2002 to $26.9 billion this year — according to figures compiled by the non-partisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

The budget has long been a repository for spending that members of Congress want to shield.

“We had a classified annex to our bill, and we would hide all sorts of things in there,” says Jim Currie, who worked as a Democratic staff member at the Senate Intelligence Committee until 1991 and now teaches at the National Defense University. “In theory, any member of Congress could find out about it, but in reality no one ever came in and checked. … It’s a beautiful way to hide something.”

Harold Relyea, who studies government secrecy at the Congressional Research Service, says even if lawmakers had the time to study classified programs, most are not inclined to question the pet projects of their colleagues. And within the defense industry, “there is a coziness that sometimes builds up. You are familiar with the company and their people, it’s easy to go back to them” for more work. “It’s a new phase of what we used to call the military-industrial complex.”

Neither Congress nor the executive branch regularly produces reports on oversight of classified spending. None has been made during the buildup after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Without such investigations, it’s impossible to know whether, or to what extent, the classified “black budget” is being abused.

The details of these secret aka black budgets are revealed to only a very few select Congressional committee members, and sometimes not even to them. Billions of dollars go to defense companies like the infamous Blackwater (Xe), billions into illegal and immoral operations involving extraordinary renditions, torture and assassinations, billions get lost in secret planes destined to some secret countries for some secret objective, billions are lost due to mismanagement and bad accounting practices…This is our money, and this is supposed to be our government, but the former doesn’t matter while the latter no longer holds true. That part is no longer a secret.

Secret Courts, Secret Hearings

This is a topic I can write about and talk about in detail. Those of you familiar with my case and the invocation of the draconian State Secrets Privilege know this already. Those of you who are not, here are a few excerpts from only one of many unconstitutional secrecy practices I had to endure for almost six years:

A federal court in Washington yesterday took the rare step of closing an entire oral argument to the public in the case of a former FBI translator who says she was fired for complaining about security breaches. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit announced that today’s 30-minute argument in the case of Sibel Edmonds, a Middle Eastern language specialist fired in 2002, will be conducted behind closed doors. The court gave no reason for its decision.

The Washington Post and 12 other media organizations also filed an emergency motion urging the court to open the arguments. The Justice Department declined to comment. It has urged dismissal of Edmonds’s case and contends that the litigation could lead to disclosure of classified information. But the court decided to close today’s hearing without a request from the government.

CourtThis was one of many similar actions by our government to cover up criminal acts and illegal operations using their regularly-employed secrecy card. This was not a case related to some terrorist, or, intelligence gathering method, or, anything that in any way would warrant protection of information. All they (the Federal Government) had to do: tell the courts, the judges, that they deemed everything about me and my case classified. That’s it. Period. No supporting documents, no witnesses, no explanation. They could just say so, and get what they wanted from the other branch which theoretically exists for the purpose of checks and balances; the purpose and the separation that was once upon a time but it isn’t any longer.

This same secrecy card, invocation of state secrets privilege, classification, has been used to shield the government, prevent oversight, and prohibit even the chance of government accountability in case after case: NSA’s illegal domestic wiretapping, torture, government whistleblowers, Inspector General investigations and findings…

Let’s go back to our Secret Court with Secret Orders: Our Secret FISA Court issued 2,371 secret orders in 2007. If you are wondering how the Feds get their federal judges to go along with their unjustified, unwarranted, and in some cases unconstitutional secrecy requests, this may answer it for you to a certain extent: Secrecy Compliance by Judges with a Secret Past. What do I mean by that? Okay, here is a real example, with a real case:

The case involves Judge Reggie Walton who was promoted to the FISA-Secret Court towards the end of the Bush Administration. He is a judge with a really questionable background, who was handpicked by Bush Senior to work in the Drug Czar’s office (I guess you have a pretty good idea of the real qualifications needed for heading that office!). However, you and I, the American Public, are not allowed to know this judge’s deep dark history, despite his record of many questionable rulings. Judge Reggie Walton’s real past and his real finances are secret:

What do two of the biggest national-security news stories of the century — the Valerie Plame leak scandal and the legal case of FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds — have in common? They both are being presided over by the same federal judge in the District of Colombia, Reggie Walton, a Bush appointee to the federal court and a man who appears to have a few well-kept secrets of his own.

All federal judges are required under ethics rules to file what is known as “financial disclosure reports.” The disclosure statement filed by Walton, which was obtained through the dogged efforts of a conservative watchdog group called Judicial Watch, is curious in what it does not reveal. Remember, this judge is arguably handling two of the most sensitive and potentially far-reaching challenges to the free press and the public’s right to know of our times.

So Judge Walton seems to be in a critical role in serving as the point man in the federal judicial system for two explosive cases — the Edmonds civil case and Libby’s criminal case — both of which have vast implications for the White House and for the country in general. So shouldn’t we know who’s buttering Walton’s bread in terms of financial backing? Why have ethics rules mandating such disclosures, if the information is not disclosed in cases, such as these, where the stakes are so high?

Well, it seems, at least according to the only document that Judicial Watch could shake loose in its public-records quest, that Walton doesn’t think so. His financial disclosure statement, the one released for public inspection through Judicial Watch, is completely redacted, every line of it. Take a look here for yourself.

Now, ask yourself, why would that be, and what might lurk in the shadows of Judge Walton’s fiscal closet? If there nothing to hide, then there is nothing to lose by shedding some light on the retractions, is there?

This appears to be one way for the federal government to overcome the burden of the Constitution and separation of powers: Hand select and appoint federal judges with secret pasts and secret financials, and in fact promote them to the secret courts where these thousands of secret orders take place every year.

Secret Investigations, Secret Reports, Secret Documents

So what happens when once in a blue moon you get a little bit of congressional pressure and or media coverage, thus forcing the government to investigate itself? That’s right, the body called the Office of Inspector General, OIG, is just that. It is used when the government is pressured to provide somewhat of an explanation, answer, on cases and scandals that have garnered some level of public attention/scrutiny. One of the offices of the government, with employees who are answerable to the government and paid by the government, is given the task to investigate that same government.

You would think with that much leverage and control the government would not give a hoot about the resulting report card prepared and issued by its own humble servants. You would be wrong. Even then, the government, without having to justify or prove anything, can declare the findings, the report, secret and classified. Let’s get this straight: The purpose, in the first place, for having an IG investigation and report, is to inform the people and their congressional representatives. Yet, that same government can then declare the report, or any portion of that report, secret and classified.

Actually, seeing an IG report that has been redacted by government bosses will put this in perspective. After three years of foot-dragging, due to a certain degree of public pressure and initial congressional requests, the Justice Department’s Inspector General finally issued a report on my case. Here is what the original report looks like: here. Who decides what gets to be redacted? Of course – the mighty government. What are the reasons, what is the justification? No one knows; they are all secret. Why are these reasons secret? You have no right to know, because the reasons themselves are secret to start with. You think I’m joking? I kid you not. After the above redacted report I fought for another two years in courts to find the answers to these same questions. We ended up with one answer; one word: Secret.

The recent developments on the release of torture pictures is another good example:

Specifically, the coalition’s letter requests that President Obama direct the Department of Defense to comply with court orders mandating disclosure of photos documenting detainee abuse, rather than exercise an authority recently granted by Congress to keep them secret. It also “explain[s] why transparency and robust accountability are a strategic national security imperative, and…expose[s] the self-interest of voices counseling against accountability.”

How about a desperate Congress begging the right to information they are entitled to get in the first place?

Anticipating that the debate over reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act will soon come to the Senate floor, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday asked Attorney General Eric Holder to declassify key information about how the law’s “business records provision” has been used. They last sent a classified letter in June asking for the same thing, but claim they’ve received no response.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act, known as the “business records provision,” relaxed the previous standard the government had to meet to obtain personal information from banks, hospitals, libraries, retail stores and other institutions. Previously, the government had to show that it had evidence that the person whose records it sought was a terrorist or spy. With passage of the Patriot Act, that standard was lowered to permit the government to collect any records it considered “relevant to an investigation.”

Wyden, Feingold and Durbin have been arguing that the relevance standard is far too broad and violates the privacy rights of ordinary law-abiding Americans. But they also claim that the government is withholding key information from Congress that would allow lawmakers to make an informed judgment about the issue. Although it’s not clear exactly what information they’re talking about, since even a description of the information is classified, it would seem to be information about how the government has used the business records provision, and what evidence it has obtained by its use.

Doesn’t this sound pathetic? We the people, through our representatives, the supposed-to-be masters of our nation, begging the supposed-to-be civil servants for information on how and based on what guidelines our government operates?

As for any indication of changes for the good in this area of excessive secrecy with impunity, there seems to be none. In fact, our new President of changes is intending to take it even further, to ludicrous levels. Here is one recent outrageous and Kafkaesque move by the Obama administration (Pay special attention to the sadly funny title!):

Federal workshop on openness closed to the public

The Obama administration is conducting a workshop on government openness for federal employees behind closed doors Monday, a private training session for freedom-of-information officials to learn about a new U.S. office that settle disputes between the bureaucracy and the public.

The decision to preclude the public and the media from attending Monday’s openness workshop left advocates scratching their heads, given President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to make his administration the most transparent ever.

“If they’re getting marching orders, why shouldn’t the public be there?” said Jeff Stachewicz, founder of Washington-based FOIA Group Inc., which files hundreds of requests every month across the government on behalf of companies, law firms and news organizations.

I can go on and fill page after page with facts, cases, and examples of our government’s current and worsening state when it comes to transparency, thus to its degree of accountability to we the people. However, I think you get the picture and the picture is crystal clear. Therefore I expect many of you feel the outrage building up, and the desire to bring about real changes bubbling inside you. Because if these points don’t sound outrageous and if they don’t make the state of our liberties look dire and pathetic, then we are all in deep trouble. If we accept secret budgets, if we say ‘okay’ to secret courts, if we shrug off secret hearings and reports, if we unquestioningly pay for secret operations, if we assume indifference to a government operating and hidden in pure secrecy…then we deserve to be a nation of liberty-less servants serving the masters in a secret government, and live in denial of having become inhabitants of a true police state.

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Making Afghanistan Safe for Heroin

US Media & The Perpetual Flip-Flopping on Drug-Related Stories

When I read Mizgin’s recent great post about Richard Armitage and his involvement in the Golden Triangle, I rolled my eyes. “Some Daily Kos reader out there,” I thought, “is, at this very moment, shouting ‘conspiracy theory’ at their computer.” The “conspiracy theory” accusation comes up any time a journalist or a whistleblower points out that U.S. officials and agencies have been complicit in the global drug trade. In fact, it has been an effective tool to try and silence truth tellers at least since Alfred McCoy was viciously attacked for writing the Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia. Never mind the fact that allegations against the Central Intelligence Agency or the State Department have often been vindicated with the passage of time. It just can’t be true that America would support drug lords, can it?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is a resounding YES, IT CAN. American agencies, including the C.I.A. and the State Department, have given aid and comfort to international drug lords in the past and apparently continue to do so. Just read what the New York Times reported on October 28th about Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a known drug dealer, being on the C.I.A. payroll:

The C.I.A.’s practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power [Emphasis Added] to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban.

Gee, do ya think? Any enterprising individual of reasonable intelligence, using a minimum of Google research skills, could have determined that the drug trade out of Afghanistan has skyrocketed since late 2001, shortly after the U.S. removed the Taliban from power and installed Hamid Karzai as its puppet. If the Times had been a little bit bolder, they might have written something like this:

The C.I.A is complicit in the illegal drug trade in Afghanistan, but this should surprise no one, as a peek at the historical record demonstrates drug complicity has become routine. Just look at these facts:

1950s, Southeast Asia: The C.I.A. supports the Kuomanting (KMT) drug running in Burma.

1960s-1970s, Vietnam-Laos: Richard Armitage, Ted Shackley and Thomas Clines finance a portion of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam through the Southeast Asian heroin trade.

1980s, Southwest Asia: The C.I.A. supports Afghan rebels, many of whom, along with the Pakistani ISI, are known to be deeply involved in opium and heroin trade.

1980s, Latin America: The U.S. backs Contras, even though cocaine turns out to be a key source of their funding, and Panama dictator Manuel Noriega, also tied to the drug trade. Also in this time period, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Agent Michael Levine claims Attorney General Edwin Meese blew the cover of a DEA team investigating drug corruption at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

1990s, Burma: DEA Agent Richard Horn, whose case was recently settled with the Justice Department, is spied on by the State Department and C.I.A., apparently because Horn was being too aggressive in trying to shut down the opium trade from Burma.

1996-2002: Sibel Edmonds testifies that criminal elements in Turkey tied to the drug trade, with knowledge and acquiescence of the State Department, bring drugs into the U.S. and Europe.

None of these past Agency misdeeds were mentioned by the Times to give its story context. The reason for these omissions is obvious: the Times or someone in the American government had an axe to grind either with the C.I.A. or the Karzai government itself, and the story was only trotted out because it was convenient for the moment. A few months from now, if some really enterprising journalists accuse the U.S. government of aiding the Afghan opium trade, the major newspapers will likely ignore them, or, worse, accuse them of being conspiracy mongers. This is exactly how our trusted mainstream press has treated C.I.A. drug stories in the past: When it is convenient to promote one of their pet agendas, the establishment media admit the shocking facts. Then, when it is no longer serving its purposes, the same press turns around and marginalizes anyone repeating the same. Take the example of Oliver North, Gary Webb, and the Washington Post.

According to a 1998 book Whiteout by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, in order to torpedo Oliver North’s 1994 Virginia Senate candidacy, the Post published a hard-hitting article on October 22, 1994, entitled “North Didn’t Relay Drug Tips”. The gist of the story (written by Lorraine Adams) was that while he was running the illegal Contra War from his post on the National Security Council, North failed to forward to the Drug Enforcement Agency the evidence that several members of the FDN (the main Contra organization) were involved in the cocaine business. North had claimed to have “turned over to the DEA all evidence of Contra drug running” during his Congressional testimony. The Post found the story useful at the time, given the newspaper’s opposition to North’s candidacy. However, two years later, when journalist Gary Webb and the San Jose Mercury News tied the Contras to a large crack cocaine ring in Los Angeles, the Post apparently forgot its own reporting, and (along with the New York Times and Los Angeles Times) ripped Webb’s career apart. Cockburn and St. Clair wrote:

Friday, October 4 [1996] the Washington Post went to town on Webb and on the Mercury News. The onslaught carried no less than 5,000 words in five articles. The front page featured a lead article by Roberto Suro and Walter Pincus, headlined, “CIA and Crack: Evidence Is Lacking of Contra-Tied Plot.”

The rest is history. Webb was destroyed, which ultimately led to his suicide years later. In the meantime, the U.S. Congress did nothing, which is something it is accustomed to doing in cases involving accusations of Executive Branch malfeasance. Two years after Webb’s Dark Alliance series, the C.I.A. Inspector General actually released a report admitting aspects Contra drug running, but this report was barely covered by the same newspapers that had eviscerated the story in the first place.

The press gets away with their perpetual flip-flopping on drug-related issues for a simple reason: The “C.I.A. drug trade complicity” tale is not the kind of story the average citizen wants to believe. This topic is a taboo because the public has been trained to have a visceral reaction to drugs. Ever since propaganda films like Reefer Madness were released at the beginning of the 20th Century, drug dealers have been made out to be public enemy number one and are hated perhaps even more than terrorists. Recreational drugs are often portrayed as a weapon of mass destruction on America’s youth. It just can’t be possible that our trusted officials — like Orrin Hatch, to cite one example, — would rail against drugs, claiming they endanger our children on the one hand, while moving in Congress to quash any attempt to hold federal agencies accountable for working with the pimps and pushers on the other.

Wake up, America. Our government’s acquiescence in the global drug trade is not just possible; it is an important part of our nation’s post-World War II history. Obama’s surge in Afghanistan is doomed to failure, in part because our intelligence agencies are fostering the same poppy trade that helps finance our enemies, the Taliban. We know it is doomed because all of the other C.I.A. drug operations have ended in similar catastrophes. Of course, the one “success” the U.S. government could point to, if it were willing to admit the facts of its drug alliances, is the defeat of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. However, given what happened over a decade later on September 11, 2001, that “success” looks like an awful “short-sightedness” and “long-term failure”.

It is sad to think how many of our young men and women are dying, or are permanently scarred, mentally or physically, in the false belief that they are engaged in some higher moral battle to bring democracy and an end to the heroin trade in Afghanistan. Until the public realizes the truth about the dark history of U.S. intelligence agencies and drugs, such illusions about the morality of America’s endless wars will continue.

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Our Murderers in the Sky

By Scott Ritter

December 14, 2009 "
Truthdig" -- War is hell, as the saying goes. Murder, on the other hand, is a crime. In this age of the “long war” pitting the United States against the forces of global terror, it is critical that the American people be able to distinguish between the two. The legitimate application of military power to a problem that manifests itself, directly or indirectly, as a threat to the legitimate national security interests of the United States, while horrible in terms of its consequences, is not only defensible but mandatory.

The true test of a society and its leaders is the extent to which every effort is made to both properly define a problem as one worthy of military intervention and then exhaust every option other than the use of force. It is true that President Barack Obama inherited the war in Afghanistan from his predecessor and therefore cannot be held accountable for that which transpired beyond his ability to influence. But the president’s recent decision to “surge” 30,000 additional U.S. military troops into Afghanistan transfers ownership of the Afghan conflict to him and him alone. It is in this light that his decision must be ultimately judged.

In many ways, Obama’s presentation before the Long Gray Line at West Point, in which he explained his decision to conduct the Afghanistan surge, represented an insult to the collective intelligence of the American people. The most egregious contradiction in his speech was the notion that the people of Afghanistan, who, throughout their history, have resisted central authority whether emanating from Kabul or imposed by outside invaders, would somehow be compelled to embrace this new American plan.

At its heart, the strategy requires a fiercely independent people to swear fealty to a man, Hamid Karzai, whose tenure as Afghanistan’s president has been marred by inefficiencies and corruption (even Obama was forced to acknowledge the fraudulent nature of the recent election which secured Karzai’s second term in office). Trying to reverse centuries of adherence to local authority and tribal loyalty with the promise of effective central government would represent a monumental challenge for the most efficient and honest of Afghan leaders. That we are attempting to do so behind the person of Karzai represents the height of folly.

For any military-based solution to have a chance of succeeding, we would need to deploy into Afghanistan an army of social scientists capable of navigating the complex reality of intertribal and interethnic relationships. They would require not only astute diplomatic skills that would enable them to bring together Hazara Shiite and Pashtun Sunni, or Uzbek and Tadjik, or any other combination of the myriad of peoples who make up the populace of Afghanistan, but also an understanding of multiple native languages and dialects. But the reality is we are instead dispatching 20-year-old boys from Poughkeepsie whose skill set, perfected during several months of predeployment training, is more conducive to firing three rounds center mass into a human body.

The nation-building or “civilian strategy” envisioned by President Obama, impossibly ambitious even under the most ideal conditions, simply cannot be achieved with the resources at hand, whether in 18 months or 18 years. That he has chosen to place at risk the lives of even more American troops, and by extension the citizens of Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the pursuit of such unattainable ambition is inexcusable.

The American military is unmatched in its ability to wage war. If the problem of Afghanistan was able to be defined in military terms alone, then perhaps Obama’s surge would provide the basis of a solution. But the Afghan problem has never been a military problem. The United States has, from the very beginning of its Afghanistan misadventure, sought to define the mission within the overall context of a “war on terror.” But the real mission revolves more around bringing to justice the perpetrators of mass murder and building international consensus to help prevent another such crime than it does any variation of closing with and destroying an enemy through firepower, maneuver and shock effect, which is the traditional core of any military operation.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, created problems best dealt with through diplomacy, law enforcement and intelligence. That the United States chose to define it instead as an act of war means that we have never assembled the tool set necessary to solve the Afghan problem, which explains a recent admission by U.S. military officers that, after eight years of war, America was at “square one” in Afghanistan.

Obama’s characterization of the threat faced by the United States and its allies in the expanded Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) theater of operations is as misleading as it is inaccurate. There is no singular, homogeneous enemy to be confronted by a surging U.S. military. The notion that the Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida fighters operating in both countries are part of an overarching Islamic fundamentalist movement seeking to export violence to the shores of America is fundamentally wrong. While the president may in fact have seen intelligence information (of undetermined veracity) that shows that some individuals or groups operating in the Af-Pak area of operations have in fact plotted such attacks, to characterize these players and their actions as representing a majority (or even significant minority) opinion among the thousands of fighters opposing the United States and its allies is just plain wrong. Yet, having accepted the definition of the Af-Pak problem in military terms, Obama had no choice but to accede to the solutions put forward by such charismatic military leaders as Gen. David Petraeus (the commander of U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM) and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

It is not just that generals such as Petraeus and McChrystal dominate the public face of military leadership in America today. The real problem is that the organization they represent, CENTCOM, dominates the entire U.S. military—and, by extension, the U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex—as no other unified command has done in U.S. history. Even at the height of the Vietnam War, the demands of the Military Assistance Command-Vietnam (MACV) on the U.S. military establishment had competition from U.S. European Command, U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Pacific Command, because of the Cold War. Today, the only show in town is CENTCOM, given that its theater of operations encompasses the principal zones of operation in the “war on terror.”

The requirements of CENTCOM drive nearly every aspect of the U.S. military today, including training, procurement and operations. Even strategic nuclear forces have had their work impacted by the need of CENTCOM to strike deep underground targets associated with Iran’s nuclear program. Given the inherently militarized nature of the “war on terror,” CENTCOM has supplanted the Department of State as the “face” of America in terms of official interaction between the United States and the nations of an area of operations ranging from Africa to Pakistan.

CENTCOM therefore dominates issues such as economic assistance and other nation-to-nation interaction not normally associated with military operations. The combined military-diplomatic-economic activity associated with the work of CENTCOM provides it with unmatched leverage at home and abroad. While not intended as a direct result of the “war on terror,” CENTCOM has morphed into a virtual nation-state, operating largely independent of traditional checks and balances associated with the functioning of unified military commands.

Despite the command’s unprecedented power and influence, it would not have been all that difficult for Obama to stand up to the pressures brought to bear by CENTCOM in regard to Afghanistan. He is, after all, the commander in chief. The fact is, Obama opted out of any serious opposition to the plan for the most base of reasons—politics. Any serious effort on the part of Obama to meaningfully contest the CENTCOM-backed surge in Afghanistan would have triggered a contentious political struggle with both the military and Congress at a time when the president is pushing for passage of health care reform, the centerpiece of his domestic policy agenda. The reality is that, yet again, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are being sacrificed for the political advantage of an American politician. This was a charge that was all-too-popular during the administration of George W. Bush. That such an accusation can so readily be applied to Barack Obama, after only a year in office, underscores the magnitude of the failure of leadership and imagination he has exhibited when it comes to the Af-Pak surge.

This lack of imagination was most evident in how the president sought to justify the Af-Pak surge. “This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al-Qaida,” he said in his West Point speech. In addition to his gross oversimplification of the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and its relationship with al-Qaida, Obama felt compelled to press the same fear-induced 9/11 buttons that were the trademark of his predecessor. “It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.”

The continued focus on hunting down Osama bin Laden further underscores the lack of sophistication of his strategy. It is likely that bin Laden was not the central force behind the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States, contrary to popular opinion. That honor goes to Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s Egyptian associate whose radical Islamic fundamentalist credentials trump even those of his better-known Saudi Arabian partner, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaida operations chief currently in U.S. custody awaiting trial in New York.

That bin Laden was complicit in the 9/11 attacks, and should be held to account for his crimes, is not a question. But the notion that by somehow “getting” bin Laden the United States would break the back of al-Qaida today is absurd. People should start thinking about the day after bin Laden dies. Al-Qaida cells will continue to function as they did the day before bin Laden died. The biggest measurable change will be the level of popular support for al-Qaida worldwide—it will skyrocket as bin Laden’s myth and demise inspire many thousands to join in a global jihad against the West and encourage fundamentalist Muslims from state and nonstate players alike to contribute countless more millions of dollars to underwriting this effort. There can be no greater boost to bin Laden’s cause than America’s continued singular focus on bringing him in, “dead or alive.” The exclusive militarization of the ongoing “hunt” for bin Laden plays directly into the Saudi terrorist’s game plan.

Revenge is not a defensible motive for a nation like the United States. Justice is. De-linking our hunt for bin Laden from the failed (and flawed) vehicle of the “war on terror” would be a wise move, but one that sadly is not going to happen in the foreseeable future if the rhetoric of Obama at West Point serves as a guide. And, in a nation that continues to be gripped (and manipulated) by the horrors of 9/11, it remains to be seen whether the concept of justice, as defined by American law, ideals and values, can ever be applied to the perpetrators of that crime. The trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will serve as a litmus test in this regard. Given America’s track record to date in handling the alleged 9/11 mastermind (the water-boarding of Mohammed 183 times continues to boggle the mind), it is hard to anticipate his exposure to the American legal system as anything but a kangaroo court.

The “war on terror” has shredded the concept of the rule of law, at least as applied by the United States within the context of this struggle. While Obama has made moves to fix some of the symptoms of the flawed policies of his predecessor, the underlying foundation of American arrogance and exceptionalism from which such policies emerged remains unchanged. There is no more telling example of this than the current program of targeted assassination taking place under the guise of armed unmanned aerial drones (also known as remotely piloted vehicles, or RPVs) operating in the Af-Pak theater of operations.

All pretense of either Afghan or Pakistani sovereignty disappears when these drones take to the air. Ostensibly used for intelligence gathering and lethal direct-action operations against so-called high-value targets (i.e., senior al-Qaida or Taliban leadership), RPV missions have become increasingly popular within the U.S. military and intelligence communities as a risk-free means of bringing maximum harm, in highly discriminatory fashion, to the enemy. Expansion of the United States’ RPV effort in Af-Pak has become a central part of the surge ordered by Obama, complementing the 30,000 combat troops he has ordered deployed to the region. But exactly who is targeted by these RPV operations? While the U.S. military and intelligence community maintains that every effort is made to positively identify a target as hostile before the decision to fire a missile or drop a bomb is made, the criteria for making this call are often left in the hands of personnel ill-equipped to make it.

In the ideal world, one would see the fusion of real-time imagery, real-time communications intercept and human sources on the ground before making such a call. But in reality this “perfect storm” of intelligence intersection rarely occurs. In its stead, one is left with fragmentary pieces of data that are cobbled together by personnel far removed from the point of actual conflict whose motivations are geared more toward action than discretion. Often, the most critical piece of intelligence comes from a human source who is using the U.S. military as a means of settling a local score more than furthering the struggle against terror. The end result is dead people on the ground whose demise has little, if any, impact on the “war on terror,” other than motivating even more people to rise up and struggle against the American occupiers and their Afghan or Pakistani cohorts.

Supporters of the RPV program claim that these strikes have killed over 800 “bad guys,” with a loss of only about 20 or so civilians whose proximity to the targets made them suspect in any case. Detractors flip these figures around, noting that only a score or more kills of “high-value targets” can be confirmed, and that the vast majority of those who have died or have been wounded in these attacks were civilians. In a conflict that is being waged in villages and towns in regions traditionally prone to intense independence and religious fundamentalism, distinguishing good from bad can be a daunting task. Given the U.S. track record, under which tribal gatherings and family functions such as weddings have been frequently misidentified as “hostile” gatherings and thus attacked with tragic results, one is inclined to doubt the official casualty figures associated with the RPV strikes.

Rather than furthering the U.S. cause in the “war on terror,” the RPV program, which President Obama seeks to expand in the Af-Pak theater, in reality represents a force-enhancement tool for the Taliban. Its indiscriminate application of death and destruction serves as a recruitment vehicle, with scores of new jihadists rising up to replace each individual who might have been killed by a missile attack. Like the surge that it is designed to complement, the expanded RPV program plays into the hands of those whom America is ostensibly targeting. While the U.S. military, aided by a fawning press, may seek to disguise the reality of the RPV program through catchy slogans such as “warheads through foreheads,” in reality it is murder by another name. And when murder represents the centerpiece of any national effort, yet alone one that aspires to win the “hearts and minds” of the targeted population, it is doomed to fail.

Scott Ritter was a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of “Target Iran” (Nation Books, 2007).

Terrorism and Civil Society The Instruments of US Policy in Cuba


Condemnation of Cuba was immediate, strong and practically global last month for the imprisonment of 75 political dissidents and for the summary execution of 3 ferry hijackers. Prominent among the critics were past friends of Cuba of recognized international stature.

As I read the hundreds of denunciations that came through my mail, it was easy to see how enemies of the revolution seized on those issues to condemn Cuba for violations of human rights. They had a field day. Deliberate or careless confusion between the political dissidents and the hijackers, two entirely unrelated matters, was also easy because the events happened at the same time. A Vatican publication went so far as to describe the hijackers as dissidents when in fact they were terrorists. But others of usual good faith toward Cuba also jumped on the bandwagon of condemnation treating the two issues as one. The remarks that follow address the human rights issues in both cases.

With respect to the imprisonment of 75 civil society activists, the main victim has been history, for these people were central to current U.S. government efforts to overthrow the Cuban government and destroy the work of the revolution. Indeed regime change, as overthrowing governments has come to be known, has been the continuing U.S. goal in Cuba since the earliest days of the revolutionary government. Programs to achieve this goal have included propaganda to denigrate the revolution, diplomatic and commercial isolation, trade embargo, terrorism and military support to counter-revolutionaries, the Bay of Pigs invasion, assassination plots against Fidel Castro and other leaders, biological and chemical warfare, and, more recently, efforts to foment an internal political opposition masquerading as an independent civil society.


Warren Hinkle and William Turner, in The Fish is Red, easily the best book on the CIA's war against Cuba during the first 20 years of the revolution, tell the story of the CIA's efforts to save the life of one of their Batista Cubans. It was March 1959, less than three months after the revolutionary movement triumphed. The Deputy Chief of the CIA's main Batista secret police force had been captured, tried and condemned to a firing squad. The Agency had set up the unit in 1956 and called it the Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities or BRAC for its initials in Spanish. With CIA training, equipment and money it became arguably the worst of Batista's torture and murder organizations, spreading its terror across the whole of the political opposition, not just the communists.

The Deputy Chief of BRAC, one Jose Castano Quevedo, had been trained in the United States and was the BRAC liaison man with the CIA Station in the U.S. Embassy. On learning of his sentence, the Agency Chief of Station sent a journalist collaborator named Andrew St. George to Che Guevara, then in charge of the revolutionary tribunals, to plead for Castano's life. After hearing out St. George for much of a day, Che told him to tell the CIA chief that Castano was going to die, if not because he was an executioner of Batista, then because he was an agent of the CIA. St. George headed from Che's headquarters in the Cabana fortress to the seaside U.S. Embassy on the Malecon to deliver the message. On hearing Che's words the CIA Chief responded solemnly, "This is a declaration of war." Indeed, the CIA lost many more of its Cuban agents during those early days and in the unconventional war years that followed.

Today when I drive out 31st avenue on the way to the airport, just before turning left at the Marianao military hospital, I pass on the left a large, multi-storey white police station that occupies an entire city block. The style looks like 1920's fake castle, resulting in a kind of giant White Castle hamburger joint. High walls surround the building on the side streets, and on top of the walls at the corners are guard posts, now unoccupied, like those overlooking workout yards in prisons. Next door, separated from the castle by 110th street, is a fairly large two-story green house with barred windows and other security protection. I don't know its use today, but before it was the dreaded BRAC Headquarters, one of the CIA's more infamous legacies in Cuba.

The same month as the BRAC Deputy was executed, President Eisenhower, on the 10th of March 1959, presided over a meeting of his National Security Council at which they discussed how to replace the government in Cuba. It was the beginning of a continuous policy of regime change that every administration since Eisenhower has continued.

As I read of the arrests of the 75 dissidents, 44 years to the month after the BRAC Deputy's execution, and saw the U.S. government's outrage over their trials and sentences, one phrase from Washington came to mind that united American reactions in 1959 with events in 2003: "Hey! Those are OUR GUYS the bastards are screwing!"

A year later I was in training at a secret CIA base in Virginia when, in March 1960, Eisenhower signed off on the project that would become the Bay of Pigs invasion. We were learning the tricks of the spy trade including telephone tapping, bugging, weapons handling, martial arts, explosives, and sabotage. That same month the CIA, in its efforts to deny arms to Cuba prior to the coming exile invasion, blew up a French freighter, Le Coubre, as it was unloading a shipment of weapons from Belgium at a Havana wharf. More than 100 died in the blast and in fighting the fire afterwards. I see the rudder and other scrap from Le Coubre, now a monument to those who died, every time I drive along the port avenue passing Havana's main railway station

In April the following year, two days before the Bay of Pigs invasion started, a CIA sabotage operation burned down El Encanto, Havana's largest department store where I had shopped on my first here visit in 1957. It was never rebuilt. Now each time I drive up Galiano in Centro Habana on my way for a meal in Chinatown, I pass Fe del Valle Park, the block where El Encanto stood, named for a woman killed in the blaze.

Some who signed statements condemning Cuba for the dissidents' trials and the executions of the hijackers know perfectly well the history of U.S. aggression against Cuba since 1959: the murder, terrorism, sabotage and destruction that has cost nearly 3500 lives and left more than 2000 disabled. Those who don't know can find it in Jane Franklin's classic historical chronology The Cuban Revolution and the United States.

One of the best sum-ups of the U.S. terrorist war against Cuba in the 1960's came from Richard Helms, the former CIA Director, when testifying in 1975 before the Senate Committee investigating the CIA's attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. In admitting to "invasions of Cuba which we were constantly running under government aegis," he added:

We had task forces that that were striking at Cuba constantly. We were attempting to blow up power plants. We were attempting to ruin sugar mills. We were attempting to do all kinds of things in this period. This was a matter of American government policy.

During the same hearing Senator Christopher Dodd commented to Helms:

It is likely that at the very moment that President Kennedy was shot, a CIA officer was meeting with a Cuban agent in Paris and giving him an assassination device to use against Castro.

[Note: the officer worked for Desmond Fitzgerald, a friend of Robert Kennedy and at the time overall chief of the CIA's operations against Cuba, and the agent was Rolando Cubela, a Cuban army Comandante with regular access to Fidel Castro whose CIA codename was AMLASH.]

Helms responded:

I believe it was a hypodermic syringe they had given him. It was something called Blackleaf Number 40 and this was in response to AMLASH's request that he be provided with some sort of a device providing he could kill Castro....I'm sorry that he didn't give him a pistol. It would have made the whole thing a whole lot simpler and less exotic.

Review the history and you will find that no U.S. administration since Eisenhower has renounced the use of state terrorism against Cuba, and terrorism against Cuba has never stopped. True, Kennedy undertook to Khrushchev that the U.S. would not invade Cuba, which ended the 1962 missile crisis, and his commitment was ratified by succeeding administrations. But the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991 and the commitment with it.

Cuban exile terrorist groups, mostly based in Miami and owing their skills to the CIA, have continued attacks through the years. Whether or not they have been operating on their own or under CIA direction, U.S. authorities have tolerated them.

As recently as April 2003 the Sun-Sentinel of Ft. Lauderdale reported, with accompanying photographs, exile guerrilla training outside Miami by the F-4 Commandos, one of several terrorist groups currently based there, along with remarks by the FBI spokeswoman that Cuban exile activities in Miami are not an FBI priority. Abundant details on exile terrorist activities can be found with a web search including their connections with the paramilitary arm of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF).

Reports abound of the arrest in Panama in November 2000 of a group of 4 exile terrorists led by Luis Posada Carriles, a man with impeccable CIA credentials. They were planning the assassination of Fidel Castro who was there for a conference. Posada's resume includes planning the Cubana airliner bombing in 1976 that killed all 73 people aboard; employment by the CIA in El Salvador in 1980's re-supply operations for the contra terrorists in Nicaragua; and organizing in 1997 10 bombings of hotels and other tourist sites in Havana, one of which killed an Italian tourist. A year later he admitted to the New York Times that CANF directors in Miami had financed the hotel bombings. Through the years Posada freely traveled in and out of the United States.

Another of the CIA's untouchable terrorists is Orlando Bosch, a pediatrician turned terrorist. As mastermind along with Carriles of the 1976 Cubana airliner bombing, Bosch was arrested with Carriles a week after the bombing and spent 11 years in a Venezuelan jail undergoing 3 trials for the crime. He was acquitted in each trial, released in August 1987, and arrested on his return to Miami in February 1988 for parole violation after a previous conviction for terrorist acts. In 1989 the Justice Department ordered his deportation as a terrorist citing FBI and CIA reports that Bosch had carried out 30 acts of sabotage from 1961 to 1968 and was involved in a plot to kill the Cuban Ambassador to Argentina in 1975. After lobbying on Bosch's behalf by Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban American with close ties to CANF, and by Jeb Bush, Ros-Lehtinen's campaign manager prior to his election as governor, the elder President Bush, who was CIA Director at the time of the Cubana airliner bombing, ordered the Justice Department in 1990 to rescind the deportation order. Bosch was released from custody and has freely walked the streets of Miami ever since.

Seeing the obvious, that the U.S. government was not taking action to stop Miami-based terrorism, the Cubans opted in the 1990's to send their own intelligence officers to Florida under cover as exiles to provide warnings on coming terrorist actions. There they infiltrated some of the exile groups and were reporting back to Havana, including information on planned illegal over-flights of Cuba by Brothers to the Rescue.

Still, the Cuban government hoped that the U.S. could be convinced to take action against Miami-based terrorists. So in 1998 Cuba delivered to the FBI voluminous information they had collected on U.S.-based terrorist activities against Cuba. But instead of taking action against the terrorists, the FBI then arrested 10 members of a Cuban intelligence network whose job was to infiltrate the terrorist organizations. Later the 5 Cuban intelligence officers running the network were tried in Miami, where conviction was guaranteed, for conspiracy to commit espionage and for not having registered as agents of a foreign power. They had never asked for nor received a classified government document or classified information of any kind, yet they were given draconian sentences, one of them two life terms. The inhuman treatment of these unbending prisoners ordered by Washington, designed to destroy them mentally and physically and turn them against Cuba, sets world records for sordid, deranged punishment. Demand for their freedom is the main political topic in Cuba today.

Most recently, in declaring an unending war against terrorism following the September 2001 attacks by Al Qaeda and prior to the war against Iraq, President Bush declared that no weapons in U.S. possession are banned from use, presumably including terrorism. But rather than starting his anti-terrorist war in Miami, where his theft of the White House was assured and his election to a second term may depend, he started the series of pre-emptive wars we have watched on television, first Afghanistan and then Iraq, and now he threatens Syria, Iran and others on his list of nations that supposedly promote terrorism. Cuba, of course, is wrongfully on that list, but people here take this seriously as a preliminary pretext for U.S. military action against this country.

Civil Society and the Dissidents

Going back to the Reagan administration of the early1980's, the decision was taken that more than terrorist operations was needed to impose regime change in Cuba. Terrorism hadn't worked, nor had the Bay of Pigs invasion, nor had Cuba's diplomatic isolation which gradually ended, nor had the economic embargo. Now Cuba would be included in a new world wide program to finance and develop non-governmental and voluntary organizations, what was to become known as civil society, within the context of U.S. global neo-liberal policies. The CIA and the Agency for International Development (AID) would have key roles in this program as well as a new organization christened in 1983 The National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Actually the new program was not really new. Since its founding in 1947, the CIA had been deeply involved in secretly funding and manipulating foreign non-governmental voluntary organizations. These vast operations circled the globe and were targeted at political parties, trade unions and businessmen's associations, youth and student organizations, women's groups, civic organizations, religious communities, professional, intellectual and cultural societies, and the public information media. The network functioned at local, national, regional and global levels. Media operations, for example, were underway continuously in practically every country, wherein the CIA would pay journalists to publish its materials as if they were the journalists' own. In the Directorate of Operations at the CIA's headquarters, these operations were coordinated with the regional operations divisions by the International Organizations Division (IOD), since many of the operations were regional or continental in nature, encompassing many countries, with some even worldwide in scope.

Over the years the CIA exerted phenomenal influence behind the scenes in country after country, using these powerful elements of civil society to penetrate, divide, weaken and destroy corresponding enemy organizations on the left, and indeed to impose regime change by toppling unwanted governments. Such was the case, among many others, in Guyana where in 1964, culminating 10 years of efforts, the Cheddi Jagan government was overthrown through strikes, terrorism, violence and arson perpetrated by CIA international trade union agents. About the same time, while I was assigned in Ecuador, our agents in civil society, through mass demonstrations and civil unrest, provoked two military coups in three years against elected, civilian governments. And in Brazil in the early 1960's, the same CIA trade union operations were brought together with other operations in civil society in opposition to the government, and these mass actions over time provoked the 1964 military coup against President Joao Goulart, ushering in 20 years of unspeakably brutal political repression.

But on February 26th, 1967, the sky crashed on IOD and its global civil society networks. At the time I was on a visit to Headquarters in Langley, Virginia near Washington, between assignments in Ecuador and Uruguay. That day the Washington Post published an extensive report revealing a grand stable of foundations, some bogus, some real, that the CIA was using to fund its global non-governmental networks. These financial arrangements were known as "funding conduits." Along with the foundations scores of recipient organizations were identified, including well-known intellectual journals, trade unions, and political think tanks. Soon journalists around the world completed the picture with reports on the names and operations of organizations in their countries affiliated with the network. They were the CIA's darkest days since the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

President Johnson ordered an investigation and said such CIA operations would end, but in fact they never did. The proof is in the CIA's successful operations in Chile to provoke the 1973 Pinochet coup against the elected government of Salvador Allende. Here they combined the forces of opposition political parties, trade unions, businessmen's groups, civic organizations, housewife's associations and the information media to create chaos and disorder, knowing that sooner or later the Chilean military, faithful to traditional fascist military doctrine in Latin America, would use such unrest to justify usurping governmental power to restore order and to stamp out the left. The operations were almost a carbon copy of the Brazilian destabilization and coup program ten years earlier. We all remember the horror that followed for years afterwards in Chile.

Fast forward to now. Anyone who has watched the civil society opposition to the Hugo Chavez government in Venezuela develop can be certain that U.S. government agencies, the CIA included, along with the Agency for International Development (AID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), are coordinating the destabilization and were behind the failed coup in April 2002 as well as the failed "civic strike" of last December-January. The International Republican Institute (IRI) of the Republican Party even opened an office in Caracas. See below for more on NED, AID and IRI in civil society operations.

In order to understand how these civil society operations are run, let's take a look at the bureaucratic side. When I entered the CIA's training course, the first two words I learned were discipline and control. The U.S. government was not a charitable institution, they said, and all money must be spent for its exact, designated purpose. The CIA operations officer that I would become is responsible for ensuring this discipline through tight control of the money and of the agents down the line who spend it. Orders to the agents on their duties and obligations are to be clear and unambiguous, and the officer must prevent personal embezzlement of money by an agent, beyond the agent's agreed salary, by requiring receipts for all expenses and for all payments to others. Exceptions to this rule needed special approvals.

In the CIA, activities to penetrate and manipulate civil society are known as Covert Action operations, and they are governed by detailed regulations for their use. They require a request for money in a document known as a Project Outline, if the activity is new, or a Request for Project Renewal, if an on-going activity is to be continued. The document originates either in a field station or in Headquarters, and it describes a current situation; the activities to be undertaken to improve or change the situation vis-a-vis U.S. interests; a time-line for achieving intermediary and final goals; risks and the flap potential (damages if revealed); and a detailed budget with information on all participating organizations and individuals and the amounts of money to go to each. The document also contains a summary of the status of all agent personnel to be involved with references to their operational security clearance procedures and the history of their service to the Agency. All people involved are included, from the ostensible funding agencies like officers of a foundation, down to every intermediate and end recipient of the money.

In additional to these budget specifics, a certain amount of money without designated recipients is included under the rubric D&TO, standing for Developmental and Targets of Opportunity. Money from this fund is used to finance new activities that come up during the project approval period, but of course detailed information and security clearances on all individuals who would receive such funding is always required. A statement is also required on the intelligence information by-product to be collected through the proposed operation. Thus financial support for a political party is expected to produce intelligence information on the internal politics of the host country.

Project Outlines and Renewals go through an approval process by various offices such as the International Organizations Division, and depending on their sensitivity and cost, they may require approval outside the CIA at the Departments of State, Defense, or Labor, or by the National Security Council or the President himself. When finally approved the CIA's Finance Division allocates the money and the operation begins, or continues if being renewed. The period of approvals and renewals is usually one year.

Both the Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy without doubt have documentation requirements and approval processes similar to the CIA's for project funding in the civil societies of other countries. All the people involved must receive prior approval through an investigative process, and each person has clearly defined tasks. An inter-agency commission determines which of the three agencies, the CIA, AID or NED, or a combination of them, are to carry out specific tasks in the civil societies of specific countries and how much money each should give. All three have obviously been working to develop an opposition civil society in Cuba.

One should note that the high-sounding National Endowment for Democracy has its origins in the CIA's covert action operations and was first conceived in the wake of the disastrous revelations noted above that began on February 26th, 1967. Two months later in April that year, Dante Fascell, member of the House of Representatives from Miami and a close friend of the CIA and Miami Cubans, together with other Representatives, introduced legislation that would create an "open" foundation to carry on what had been secret CIA funding of the foreign civil society programs of U.S. organizations (e.g., the National Students Association) or of foreign organizations directly (e.g., the Congress for Cultural Freedom based in Paris).

The Fascell idea failed to prosper, however, because of the breakdown of the bipartisan approach to foreign policy that had prevailed since the administration of Harry Truman after World War II. Differences since the late 1960's within and between the two parties over the war in Southeast Asia, then in the 70's over Watergate and the loss of the Vietnam war, and finally over revelations of assassination plots and other operations of the CIA by Senate and House investigating committees, prevented agreement and resulted in several years of isolationism. Only the successes of revolutionary movements in Ethiopia, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Grenada, Nicaragua and elsewhere brought "cold warrior" Democrats and "internationalist" Republicans together to establish in 1979 the American Political Foundation (APF). The foundation's task was to study the feasibility of establishing through legislation a government-financed foundation to subsidize foreign operations in civil society through U.S. non-governmental organizations.

Within APF four task forces were set up to conduct the study, one for the Democrats, one for the Republicans, one for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and one for the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). Together their work became known as the Democracy Program. They consulted a vast array of domestic and foreign organizations, and what they found most interesting were the government-financed foundations of the main West German political parties: the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung of the Social Democrats and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung of the Christian Democrats. When these foundations were first set up in the 1950's, their task was to build a new German democratic order, a civil society based on the Western parliamentary model while lending their weight to repression of communist and other left political movements.

From early on the CIA channeled money through these foundations for non-government organizations and groups in Germany. Then in the 1960's the foundations began supporting fraternal political parties and other organizations abroad, and they channeled CIA money for these purposes as well. By the 1980's the two foundations had programs going in some 60 countries and were spending about $150 million per year. And what was most interesting, they operated in near-total secrecy.

One operation of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung shows how effective they could be. In 1974, when the fifty-year-old fascist regime was overthrown in Portugal, a NATO member, communists and left-wing military officers took charge of the government. At that time the Portuguese social democrats, known as the Socialist Party, could hardly have numbered enough for a poker game, and they all lived in Paris and had no following in Portugal. Thanks to at least $10 million from the Ebert Stiftung plus funds from the CIA, the social democrats came back to Portugal, built a party overnight, saw it mushroom, and within a few years the Socialist Party became the governing party of Portugal. The left was relegated to the sidelines in disarray.

Ronald Reagan was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Democracy Program, describing his plans in a speech before the British Parliament in June 1982. This new program, he said, would build an "infrastructure of democracy" around the world following the European example of "open" support, furthering "the march of freedom and democracy..." Of course the German programs were anything but "open," nor would the American programs be "open" once they began. In fact even before Congress established the NED, Reagan set up what was called Project Democracy in the U.S. Information Agency under direction of the State Department. A secret Executive Order at the time, soon leaked to the press, provided for secret CIA participation in the program. An early grant was $170,000 for training media officials in El Salvador and other right-wing authoritarian regimes on how to deal with the U.S. press---the Salvadoran program to be carried out through the Washington public relations firm that had represented the Somoza dictatorship.

In November 1983 Dante Fascell's dream finally came true. Congress created the National Endowment for Democracy and gave it an initial $18.8 million for building civil society abroad during the fiscal year ending September 30, 1984. Fascell became a member of NED's first Board of Directors. Whereas the CIA had previously funneled money through a complex network of "conduits," the NED would now become a "mega-conduit" for getting U.S. government money to the same array of non-governmental organizations that the CIA had been funding secretly.

The Cuban American National Foundation was, predictably, one of the first beneficiaries of NED funding. From 1983 to 1988 CANF received $390,000 for anti-Castro activities. During the same period the separate political action committee (PAC) run by CANF directors to fund political campaigns, gave a nearly identical amount for the campaigns of Dante Fascell and other friendly politicians, a clear trade-off based on funds received from NED.

Legally the NED is a private, non-profit foundation, an NGO, and it receives a yearly appropriation from Congress. The money is channeled through four "core foundations" established along the lines of the four original task forces of the Democracy Program. These are the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (Democratic Party); the International Republican Institute (Republican Party); the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (AFL-CIO); and the Center for International Private Enterprise (U.S. Chamber of Commerce). The NED also gives money directly to "groups abroad who are working for human rights, independent media, the rule of law, and a wide range of civil society initiatives." [Quote from NED web site May 2003.]

The NED's non-governmental status provides the fiction that recipients of NED money are getting "private" rather than U.S. government money. This is important because so many countries, including both the U.S. and Cuba, have laws relating to their citizens' being paid to carry out activities for foreign governments. The U.S. requires an individual or organization "subject to foreign control," i.e., who receives money and instructions from a foreign government, to register with the Attorney General and to file detailed activities reports, including finances, every six months. The five Cuban intelligence officers were convicted for failing to register under this law.

Cuba has its own laws criminalizing actions intended to jeopardize its sovereignty or territorial integrity as well as any actions supporting the goals of the U.S. Helms-Burton Act of 1996, i.e., by collecting information to support the embargo or to subvert the government, or for disseminating U.S. government information to undermine the Cuban government.

Reagan's new programs in civil society started out with a huge success in Poland. During the 1980's the NED and the CIA, in joint operations with the Vatican, kept the Solidarity trade union alive and growing when it was outlawed during the marshal law period beginning in 1981. The program was agreed between Reagan and Pope John Paul II when Reagan visited the Vatican in June 1982. They did it with intelligence information, cash, fax machines, computers, printing and document copying equipment, recorders, TVs and VCRs, supplies and equipment of all kinds, even radio and television transmitters. The trade union transformed itself into a political party, and in 1989, with encouragement from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Solidarity took control of the government. Years later, in May 2001, Senator Jesse Helms introduced legislation to provide $100 million to duplicate in Cuba, he said, the successes of the CIA, NED and Vatican in Poland.

Such efforts to develop an opposition civil society in Cuba had already begun in 1985 with the early NED grants to CANF. These efforts received a significant boost with passage in 1992 of the Cuban Democracy Act, better known as the Torricelli Act, that promoted support through U.S. NGO's to individuals and organizations for programs to bring "non-violent democratic change in Cuba." A still greater intensification came with passage in 1996 of the Cuban Liberty and Solidarity Act, better known as the Helms-Burton Act. As a result of these laws the NED, AID and the CIA, the latter not mentioned publicly but undoubtedly included, intensified their coordinated programs targeted at Cuban civil society.

One may wonder why the CIA would be needed in these programs. There were several reasons. One reason from the beginning was the CIA's long experience and huge stable of agents and contacts in the civil societies of countries around the world. By joining with the CIA, NED and AID would come on board an on-going complex of operations whose funding they could take over while leaving the secret day-to-day direction on the ground to CIA officers. In addition someone had to monitor and report the effectiveness of the local recipients' activities. NED would not have people in the field to do this, nor would their core foundations in normal conditions. And since NED money was ostensibly private, only the CIA had the people and techniques to carry out discreet control in order to avoid compromising the civil society recipients, especially if they were in opposition to their governments. Finally, the CIA had ample funds of its own to pass quietly when conditions required. In Cuba participation by CIA officers under cover in the U.S. Interests Section would be particularly useful, since NED and AID funding would go to U.S. NGO's that would have to find discreet ways, if possible, to get equipment and cash to recipients inside Cuba. The CIA could help with this quite well.

Evidence of the amount of money these agencies have been spending on their Cuba projects is fragmentary. Nothing is publicly available about the CIA's spending, but what is easily found about the other two is interesting. The AID web site cites $12 million spent for Cuba programs during 1996-2001 (average per year $2 million), but for 2002 the budget jumped to $5 million plus unobligated funds of $3 million from 2001 to total $8 million. Their 2003 budget for Cuba is $6 million showing a tripling of funds since the Bush junta seized power. No surprise given the number of Miami Cubans Bush has appointed to high office in his administration.

The money, according to AID, was spent "to promote a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba." From 1996 to 2001 they disbursed the $12 million to 22 NGO's, all apparently based in the U.S., mostly in Miami. By 2002 the number of front line NGO's had shrunk to 12: The University of Miami, Center for a Free Cuba, Pan-American Development Foundation, Florida International University, Freedom House, Grupo de Apoyo a la Disidencia, Cuba On-Line, CubaNet, National Policy Association, Accion Democratica Cubana, and Carta de Cuba. In addition, the International Republican Institute of the Republican Party received AID money for a sub-grantee, the Directorio Revolucionario Democratico Cubano, also based in Miami.

These NGOs have a double purpose, one directed to their counterpart groups in Cuba and one directed to the world, mainly through web sites. Whereas on the one hand they channel funds and equipment into Cuba, on the other they disseminate to the world the activities and production of the groups in Cuba. Cubanet in Miami, for example, publishes the writings of the "independent journalists" of the Independent Press Association of Cuba based in Havana and channels money to the writers.

Interestingly, AID claims on its web site that its "grantees are not authorized to use grant funds to provide cash assistance to any person or organization in Cuba." It's hard to believe that claim, but if it's true, all those millions are only going to support the U.S.-based NGO infrastructure, a subsidized anti-Castro cottage industry of a sort, except for what can be delivered in Cuba in kind: computers, faxes, copy machines, cell phones, radios, TVs and VCRs, books, magazines and the like.

On its web site AID lists 7 purposes for the money: solidarity with human rights activists, dissemination of the work of independent journalists, development of independent NGOs, promoting workers' rights, outreach to the Cuban people, planning for future assistance to a transition government, and evaluation of the program. Anyone who wants to see which NGOs are getting how much of the millions under each of these programs can check out:

AID's claim that its NGO grantees can't provide cash to Cubans in Cuba, makes one wonder about the more than $100,000 in cash that Cuban investigators found in possession of the 75 mostly unemployed dissidents who went on trial. A clue may be found in the AID statement that "U.S. policy encourages U.S. NGOs and individuals to undertake humanitarian, informational and civil society-building activities in Cuba with private funds..." Could such "private funds" be money from the National Endowment for Democracy?

Recall the fiction that the NED is a "private" foundation, an NGO. It has no restrictions on its funds going for cash payments abroad, and it just happens to fund some of the same NGO's as AID. Be assured that this is not the result of rivalry or lack of coordination in Washington. The reason probably is that NED funds can go for salaries and other personal compensation to people on the ground in Cuba. There is, after all, the rung of organizations below the U.S. NGOs in the command and money chain, and these are the individuals and groups in Cuba that correspond in purpose with the U.S. NGO's. They number nearly 100 and have names [translated from Spanish] like Independent Libraries of Cuba, All United, Society of Journalists Marquez Sterling, Independent Press Association of Cuba, Assembly to Promote Civil Society, and the Human Rights Party of Cuba

Each of the Cubans in these organizations will be fully identified with assigned tasks in the AID, NED or CIA project documentation covering the activity, probably in a classified annex, whether they are categorized as human rights activists, independent journalists, independent librarians, or distributors of information materials. The money, after all, does not go to phantoms or ghosts even on the lowest level. Nor are the U.S. NGO's given discretion to pass out money to whatever malcontents they can find to take it. End users (final recipients) are designated beneficiaries in writing just as the core foundations and intermediary U.S. NGOs are.

NED's web site is conveniently out of date, showing only its Cuba program for 2001. But it is instructive. Its funds for Cuban activities in 2001 totaled only $765,000 if one is to believe what they say. The money they gave to 8 NGOs in 2001 averaged about $52,000, while a 9th NGO, the International Republican Institute (IRI) of the Republican Party received $350,000 for the Directorio Revolucionario Democratico Cubano, based in Miami as previously noted, for "strengthening civil society and human rights" in Cuba. In contrast, this NGO is to receive $2,174,462 in 2003 from AID through the same IRI. Why would the NED be granting the lower amounts and AID such huge amounts, both channeled through IRI? The answer, apart from IRI's skim-off, probably is that the NED money is destined for the pockets of people in Cuba while the AID money supports the U.S. NGO infrastructures.

According to the Cuban Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, in a press conference on April 7th, and Cuban security agents working inside the dissident groups that he showed on film, the U.S. money came to recipients in Cuba disguised as wired family remittances, in cash mixed with the many remittances brought by couriers known as "mules," and by payments to the Transcard debit card system in Canada for credit to cards held by dissidents in Cuba. (The cards are good for cash withdrawals from Cuban banks.) Although the Foreign Minister said the Cuban Central Bank has followed carefully the flow of money to the dissidents, he did not reveal the total amount for any given period or specific amounts to recipient groups or individuals.

Whatever the amounts of money reaching Cuba may have been, everyone in Cuba working in the various dissident projects knows of U.S. government sponsorship and funding and of the purpose: regime change. Far from being "independent" journalists, "idealistic" human rights activists, "legitimate" advocates for change, or "Marian librarians from River City," every one of the 75 arrested and convicted was knowingly a participant in U.S. government operations to overthrow the government and install a different, U.S.-favored, political, economic and social order. They knew what they were doing was illegal, they got caught, and they are paying the price. Anyone who thinks they are prisoners of conscience, persecuted for their ideas or speech, or victims of repression, simply fails to see them properly as instruments of a U.S. government that has declared revolutionary Cuba its enemy. They were not convicted for ideas but for paid actions on behalf of a foreign power that has waged a 44-year war of varying degrees of intensity against this country.

To think that the dissidents were creating an independent, free civil society is absurd, for they were funded and controlled by a hostile foreign power and to that degree, which was total, they were not free or independent in the least. The civil society they wished to create was not just your normal, garden variety civil society of Harley freaks and Boxer breeders, but a political opposition movement fomented openly by the U.S. government. What government in the world would be so self-destructive as to sit by and just watch this happen?

Those interested in understanding how U.S. promotion of "independent civil society" works in one sector, private libraries, can find an excellent report presented in November 2002 by Rhonda L. Neugebauer, Bibliographer, Latin American Studies, University of California, Riverside, at the Pacific Coast Council on Latin American Studies, East Los Angeles College. The report is the result of extensive research, visits to private libraries in Cuba and interviews with their owners, and a study of the Cuban state library system. Included are descriptions of the U.S. NGO system backing private libraries, their funding by AID, and the misleading information put out by this system. Click here to see the Neugebauer report.

Foreign Minister Perez Roque in his press conference gave an example of how several operations worked. He showed a film clip from the trial of Oswaldo Alfonso Valdes, President of the Liberal Democratic Party of Cuba, in which Alfonso described a meeting he had with an AID official and Vickie Huddleston, until mid-2002 the chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, in which they discussed how to improve the way that he was getting "resources" in order to better conceal the U.S. government as the source. In the clip Alfonso also acknowledged receiving money and material resources from the U.S. government via organizations based in Miami.

Under Cuban law, being paid to execute U.S. policy toward Cuba is illegal and in itself sufficient to convict. The largest group within the 75, the 37 "independent journalists," were writing commentaries on Cuba for publication outside the country using the internet for communications. One of their organizations in Cuba was the Independent Press Association of which the President, Nestor Baguer, was a Cuban government security agent who testified in court. Members of his group, he said, wrote for the website Cubanet, based in Miami, and were paid via the Transcard debit card system in Canada except for large amounts that were brought by courier. Cubanet by the way received $35,000 from NED in 2001 and is to receive $833,000 from AID in 2003. Baguer also testified that on visits to the U.S. Interests Section, he and his colleagues received instructions on topics to cover in their writings such as the shortage of medicines, the treatment of patients in hospitals, and the treatment of inmates in prisons. Generally speaking the "independent journalists" were to place Cuba in a bad light abroad and to justify continuation of the trade embargo.

The Foreign Minister also showed three letters dated in January and March 2001 to Oswaldo Alfonso, the Liberal Party leader, from Carlos Alberto Montaner, an exile journalist who lives in Madrid and is President of the Cuban Liberal Union (member of the Liberal International). Montaner is also a founding member of the Hispanic-Cuban Foundation, a project of Spain's ruling conservative party. Montaner is also closely associated with the exile cultural/political quarterly Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana which is based in Madrid and financed in part by NED ($80,000 in 2001).

Reading from the letters, Perez Roque revealed that each of the three letters mentioned money included: 200 dollars, 30,000 pesetas and 200 dollars, the latter two apparently from people Montaner and Alfonso know mutually. In the letter with the pesetas, Montaner wrote: "Very soon two high level Spanish friends will call you to talk about Project Varela. I suggested five names for the founding of that new idea: Paya, Alfonso, Arcos, Raul Rivero and Tania Quintero."

Readers can draw their own conclusions on the possible foreign influence in Project Varela. Oswaldo Paya, of course, is the dissident honoured by the European Union with the Sakarov Human Rights Prize for his leadership of Project Varela.

Prominent in the outrage at Cuba's action against the dissidents were commentaries of shock over how nice things had been getting in recent years with Fidel's mellowing and tolerance of the dissident community, and suddenly now THIS! In actual fact May 20, 2002 was the turning point when in speeches in Washington and Miami, Bush announced his "Initiative for a New Cuba." Central to this "new" plan, citing Poland as a past success, he announced increased and direct assistance to "help build Cuban civil society," leading to a "new government" in Cuba. I wonder. Would it be overreach to say Bush was advocating regime change through the dissidents? The Cubans made no secret of their interpretation.

The knell for "our guys" came with the arrival in September 2002 of a new Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, the equivalent of Ambassador were Cuba and the U.S. to have full diplomatic relations. James Cason is a career State Department diplomat who has served mostly in Latin American countries, not menacing to the eye, just a bit overstuffed in the round face, double chinned like a Porky Pig in his late fifties, with wide round glasses in front of half-closed eyes. Like he's had too many two-hour lunches and not enough jogging. Otto Reich, Cuban-American fanatic and one of the un-indicted criminals of Iran-Contra, who was serving a limited recess appointment (read no chance for Senate confirmation) as Bush's Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American, gave Cason the job and apparently put an ample load of hot sauce on his appointee's backside.

Cason swooped down on Havana like a fed from Gangbusters' central casting with an "in your face" attitude big time. But give the guy credit. He ran his ass off all over this island burning his dissident friends, "our guys," and sealing their fate as he went along. His blatant support for Washington's civil society in Cuba looked for all the world like he was bent on getting himself PNG'd, expelled as persona non grata in diplomatic parlance. He made a show of unity with groups in the provinces as well as Havana; gave 24-hour passes to the Interests Section to favorites, including Cuban penetration agents, for free internet access and other facilities; attended meetings in dissidents' homes where he gave the equivalent of press conferences to foreign journalists; personally launched the youth wing of the Liberal Party; entertained dissidents in his official residence, even hosting an independent journalists' workshop there one Saturday. His conduct went so far beyond accepted diplomatic protocol that you might say he was the mother of all provocations.

But expelling Cason would have led to a new crisis with the U.S., and the Cubans didn't take the bait. For six months they waited and watched through their highly placed penetrations of Cason's dissident community. Then they decided to act. They had the evidence of criminal activities in support of Helms-Burton and in violation of other legislation on sedition, so they finally decided to sweep away Cason's constituency in a stroke. And there he stood in March, appropriately like the Emperor who wore no cool. Indeed, there's been not a peep from the man since his acolytes were picked up.

One can imagine the bitterness from prison with 75 of "our guys" reflecting on how stupid they were to fall for Cason's grandstanding. So now Cason and his staff, CIA and AID officers included, have to start all over, pretty much from scratch. But hey, buddy, careful whom you all recruit. You may be salivating tomorrow over another of Fidel's finest. Never know, do you? Think about that when you file for security clearances on your next generation of dissidents.

Without a doubt the Cubans weighed the price they would have to pay with friends and foes before taking the decision to act. And they knew they had a lot to lose. The movement in the U.S. to end the embargo and travel ban, in Congress and on the street, would peel rubber in reverse with all the media distortions. Cuban entrance into the Cotonou Agreement for preferential trade and aid with the EU would likely go back into the deep freeze, which it did. Moreover, the U.N. Human Rights Commission was then meeting in Geneva, and the U.S. was trying as hard as possible, with threats and bribes, to get a motion approved condemning Cuba for human rights violations. In the end they didn't get it, but the Cuban government was willing to take this risk as well.

With so much at stake, the timing of the decision triggered intense speculation. In truth the dissident community, including those imprisoned, has never been a threat to the revolution, and Cuba could have gone on indefinitely tolerating, penetrating and monitoring their U.S. government-ordered activities. But the U.S. might have seen that as weakness, and that's the last thing you want a Grendel to think.

Moreover there was an important internal political dimension to tolerating Cason's insulting provocations because they were so widely known here. He had gone so far beyond the pale that people in general wondered about the government's tolerance. This too could be seen as weakness by supporters of the revolution. So they decided to stop him once and for all and to send a message to his remaining proteges, to stretch the protective connotation just a bit in the Cuban context. In 1996 the government had stopped the highly visible Brothers to the Rescue overflights by the shootdowns, largely for internal political reasons, knowing full well the price they would pay internationally. So also in 2003 they decided to firmly use the hook on Cason's Top Gun stage act regardless of international opinion. As in the shootdowns, internal Cuban politics, not international reactions, more than likely determined the timing.

The Three Executions

The hijacking of the Havana harbor ferry, the Baragua, couldn't have come at a worse time. It was the 7th hijacking in 7 months and came on April 2, a day before the trials of the dissidents were to start, making it easy for Cuba's enemies, and not a few of its friends, to lump the two disparate events into one "wave of repression."

The ferry was no more than a flat-bottomed self-propelled barge with a cabin, safe only for calm harbor waters, and that night there were 50-odd people on board including children and foreign tourists. The armed hijackers took it to sea in a highly dangerous Force 4 wind, ran it out of fuel, and threatened by radio to start throwing hostages overboard if they were not given enough fuel to reach Florida. The amazing part is how the Cuban coast guard convinced the hijackers to allow a tow of the drifting ferry to the port of Mariel where special forces set up a trap and divers prepared for the rescue. After many hours of standoff, it all ended in less than a minute when a French woman suddenly dove overboard and was followed en masse by the other hostages and the hijackers as well. The hostages were all rescued, and the hijackers quickly arrested.

In the trial the state asked for, and received, the death penalty for the three ringleaders of the hijacking, an action upheld by an appeals court because it was a terrorist act of extreme gravity even though no one was injured. Then the Council of State had to ratify or commute. Should Cuba end their nearly three-year moratorium on executions? Should they stir up condemnation from the world movement against the death penalty? Should they delay their decision and let those guys wait on death row for a while---not 15-20 years like in the States but at least a few weeks so as not to show undue haste? Or should they commute to life and show mercy.

Frankly, being against the death penalty, I thought a combination of the last two would be best: wait and commute. But I didn't know that at the time the Cuban security forces were investigating another 29 hijacking plots. From the Council of State's point of view it surely looked like the beginning of a wave of hijackings encouraged as always by the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet-foot, dry-foot policy that discriminates against all non-Cuban illegal immigrants. Particularly galling to Cuba is the hero treatment hijackers have gotten in Florida and the fact that if a pilot flies a plane over there willingly, he's not considered a hijacker and is guilty of no more than misappropriation of property.

If there is one principle that Cuba has always followed, at least since the missile crisis of 1962, it is never to give the U.S. a pretext for military action. Another Mariel exodus or rafters crisis, or indeed a wave of hijackings, would be just such a pretext, as Fidel later reasoned, for imposing a U.S. naval blockade, an all-out bombing campaign, and an outright invasion. They could avoid another Mariel or rafters episode, but they had to stop the hijackings immediately. And he was right. On April 25th the chief of the Cuba Bureau of the State Department told the Chief of Cuba's Interests Section in Washington that the United States considers any more hijackings to be a serious threat to U.S. national security. Understanding "one more and we take military action" would not be paranoia.

But the Council of State didn't have to wait for that news. They knew it already. They ratified the sentences on April 10th, and they were carried out the next morning. You can fault Cuba on the principle of "no death penalty under any circumstances," but the fact is that Cuba is one of more than 100 countries that have it on the books. They had just seen what U.S. bombs and missiles had done to Baghdad, saw the painstaking work of two generations at risk, including their centers of science and technology, educational institutions, hospitals and clinics, their historic cultural heritage, but most important their people who would be killed and maimed. And they didn't confuse the hijackers with dissidents. They were delinquents turned terrorists who had threatened vastly more than their 50 hostages.

It came as no surprise to Cuba when, with the executions and the sentencing of the dissidents at nearly the same time, the howling around the world began. They seemed to be ready for it to a degree, but you could sense a certain shock when long-time friends of the revolution like Eduardo Galeano and Jose Saramago joined the chorus of condemnation. They were joined by Chomsky, Zinn, Albert, Davis, Dorfman and others, whose works are treasures in my library, who signed the superficial statement of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy: "We the undersigned strongly protest the current wave of repression in Cuba...[against dissidents]...for their non-violent political activities..." Like the dissidents are not equal to terrorism, embargo, and psychological warfare as instruments in Washington's unending campaign to convert Cuba into another American vassal. Fair enough if that's what they want for Cuba. Pitiful if they signed without thinking.

A few weeks after the executions and dissident trials, at the May Day rally of more than a million people in Havana's Revolution Square, the Rev. Lucius Walker, one of the most effective and committed U.S. Cuba solidarity activists, made an elegant plea for Cuba to abolish the death penalty. Fidel responded with appreciation, saying only that such an action was under study. Yet less than 3 weeks later another group of 8 armed hijackers, arrested before taking over a flight on April 10th, were tried and sentenced. Despite convictions for terrorism and violence, the ringleaders were sentenced to life imprisonment and the others to terms of 20 to 30 years.

Readers will note that the important legal and human rights issue of due process has not been addressed in these pages. Among the criticisms of both the dissidents' and the hijackers' cases were allegations that the defendants were railroaded without an opportunity for adequate legal defence. The problem in addressing this issue has not been helped by the lack of published information on the trials. For example, I have found no public chronology in any of the 75 cases from the moment of arrest to the opening of the trial that would include dates and times for events such as the arrest, the presentation of charges, and sessions spent by the defendant with a defence lawyer in preparation for the trial. Nor have the written charges nor the defendants' responses and pleas nor the judges' decisions been published with the exception of the sentences. This lack of information prevents assessment of due process.

Nevertheless the Foreign Minister went to pains to address these criticisms in his three hour-plus press conference of April 7th, pointing out the Spanish colonial origins of summary trial procedures and their wide use around the world today. He also said that in the 29 trials (some trials had more than one defendant) 54 lawyers participated of whom 44 were chosen by the defendants and 10 appointed as public defenders by the courts, adding that several lawyers served more than one defendant. Perhaps most important, he said that defendants were allowed to testify before the court answering the charges and submitting to cross-examination. He emphasized the number of people allowed to attend the trials, mostly family members and averaging about 100 observers per trial. Still, the lack of full information on the prosecution and trial procedures has left the door open for charges of lack of due process, charges that cannot be resolved until the courts provide more details.


In Washington, despite the black eye that Cuba is seen to have self-inflicted, the Congressional supporters of legislation to end or ease the embargo and to abolish the travel ban are again moving ahead with the introduction of new legislation for that purpose. While most condemned the April events, they are sticking with their principles, mostly in the belief that Americans who come to Cuba will change the Cubans. Over the years I've seen just the opposite happen, but ending the travel ban is certainly worthy, reasons aside.

The Bush administration, peopled as it is with hard line Cuban-Americans, continues to ratchet up the pressure with the expulsion of 14 Cuban diplomats in Washington and New York on vague espionage charges. Clearly a political, not a national security decision, someone in the FBI leaked the news that the White House had apparently told the State Department to expel Cubans, and State asked the FBI for some names. The FBI source added that none of the Cubans was the subject of an on-going espionage investigation. Conversely the Cuban-American congressional representatives from Miami, Ros Lehtinen and Diaz Balart, whine openly that Bush won't take their calls demanding a swift end to the Cuba problem once and for all.

In Miami all those NGOs sucking at the teats of AID and NED to keep their anti-Castro industry going, along with their comfortable life-styles, will have to go back to their computers and draw up new plans for civil society in Cuba. They'll have to look for ways to salvage their counterpart fronts across the straits and for more Cubans with few enough scruples and just enough self-destructive instincts to take their money.

Over here in Havana, James Cason would do well to slip away on consultations back at the State Department and quietly retire. He did, after all, get 75 of "our guys" put away, some for quite a while, and all the anti-Cuban propaganda dividend flowing from his service to Reich in no way compensates. He's finished in the Foreign Service even though he was carrying out Reich's orders, for Cason, not Reich, is the one who'll take the fall. Then again he might just find a fat new anti-Cuba career with one of the Miami NGOs.

At the U.S. Interests Section, State, AID and CIA officers will now have to start beating the bushes for new blood, sending names and background information for security clearances on people willing to work with the Miami NGOs following in the footsteps of the 75, and the Cuban security service will surely oblige with promising candidates as they always have in the past.

And the rest of us?

The threat of war in Cuba from Bush and his coterie of crusaders, all of them crazed with hubris after Iraq, is real. A military campaign against Cuba, coinciding with the already-underway 2004 electoral campaign, may be the only way he can hope to finally get himself elected, even if only for his second term. And every day the economy is working against him with no signs of improving for 2004. He knows the economy in '92 did his father in, and he may conclude that fulfilling his divine mission to extend U.S. military control of the world will need a crisis very close to home.

The time to mobilize against that war is now, and not a day can be lost.

Philip Agee is a former CIA officer and author of CIA Diary: Inside the Company and On the Run. Agee is a founder of the Cuba travel site