Friday, November 01, 2013

Why Vladimir rules and Obama bombs

Why Vladimir rules and Obama bombs

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia.
Published time: November 01, 2013 09:01
US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)
US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)
On both the NSA saga and the Syrian crisis, Putin played chess while Obama played checkers with himself – and lost.
Every year, Forbes magazine publishes its list of the heads of state, financial titans and business moguls who “truly rule the world.” Predictably, a sitting US president – the commander-in-chief of the most lethal armada in the history of the world – usually gets the top spot.
Not in 2010 though, when Barack Obama was overtaken by then Chinese President Hu Jintao in the aftermath of the Wall Street-provoked financial crisis. And not in 2013, when the winner is Russian President Vladimir Putin. 
Not by accident, China and Russia are the most influential among the BRICS group of emerging powers. The US corporate media’s rankings such as Time’s Person of The Year may be irrelevant, and usually extremely provincial. But as a PR coup, American recognition of Putin’s soft power is priceless, even coming after de facto recognition by the overwhelming majority of the real ‘international community’: the developing world.
To its credit, Forbes stresses how “anyone watching this year's chess match over Syria and the National Security Agency leaks has a clear idea of the shifting individual power dynamics."
Reuters / Juan Medina
Reuters / Juan Medina

But it goes way, way beyond that. Putin let the extremely sensitive Edward Snowden case be handled with total, absolute legality and transparency, and on top of it without gloating over American impotence. Putin literally saved the Obama administration, at the last minute, from yet another Middle-East war of potentially devastating consequences – a geopolitical juncture as dangerous as the Cuban missile crisis. 
Predictably, US Think Tankland – with its collective IQ atrophied by decades of hubris and the normalization of the Orwellian/Panopticon complex – has had a hard time facing the facts. Moscow does not need to try to portray the hyperpower as weak and/or untrustworthy. The facts speak for themselves – from the galloping towards war because of a fictitious ‘red line’ recklessly concocted by Obama to the ubiquitous spying on ‘friends’ and potential foes alike.
During a House Intelligence Committee hearing, National Intelligence Director James Clapper was adamant that the NSA and the CIA cannot spy on any political leader via his/her private mobile phones without permission from the White House. So no matter the spin, Obama knew, among others, about the spying on Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff and German Chancellor Angel Merkel.  
You don’t need to have read Orwell to note this is yet another instance of the imperial Masters of the Universe worldview. It’s ‘legitimate’ to spy on Americans. It’s ‘legitimate’ to spy all over the global South – including the more influential BRICS.
Reuters / Kai Pfaffenbach
Reuters / Kai Pfaffenbach

Call it electronic neo-feudalism – where no one, anywhere is a real citizen fully capable of exercising his/her rights; just some sort of un-glorified peasant. With Merkel the story is slightly different; she’s part of the Masters of the Universe club, and that’s the only reason why some in Washington are wondering if – in a very mild way – the NSA may have gone too far.

Enough exceptionalism

That famous September op-ed  in The New York Times, in which Putin blasted American exceptionalism, reverberated wildly all across the developing world because it worked like a primal scream. The Chinese, naturally cautious, would never be the first to articulate it so blatantly (they did it only later, when they called for a ‘de-Americanized’ world, with an economic emphasis rather than political). Forget about the Europeans, or even Brazil. Only Putin had the authority to announce what the overwhelming majority of the planet had been thinking for quite a while.
Nobody can stand US exceptionalism anymore. Yet another example; the duly spied-upon UN General Assembly has voted - overwhelmingly - to condemn the US commercial, economic and financial embargo against Cuba for the 22nd year in a row. The vote was 188-2, with three abstentions. Only the US and Israel voted against it.
Vladimir Putin (Reuters / Alexander Zemlianichenko / Pool)
Vladimir Putin (Reuters / Alexander Zemlianichenko / Pool)

While the dogs of war and surveillance bark, the silent Russian caravan passes. Putin is extending Russian influence in Central Europe as well as solidifying the partnership with Germany. The Chinese-Russian strategic partnership is proceeding smoothly. Russia is back as an influential player in the Middle East. Putin is trying to create a viable, multilateral alternative to imperial US diktats. This is as much about soft power as hard power.  
The proverbial US Think Tankland Cassandras will be left endlessly carping about the ‘stagnating’ Russian economy, ethnic and religious ‘tension’, ‘political atrophy’ because of Putin’s ‘authoritarianism’, and assorted ills. Nonsense. This essay by top blogger The Saker meticulously outlines the key plot twists and undercurrents of the past 20 years of US-Russia relations – including the now-proverbial Putin demonization.
Back to the facts on the geopolitical ground. Putin has seized the moment and now is arguably the key actor trying to build an emerging, alternative multilateral order. As for imperial lame duck Obama, he seems destined to keep bombing in more ways than one. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Glen Greenwald - On leaving the Guardian

On leaving the Guardian

Reporting the NSA story hasn't been easy, but it's always been fulfilling. It's what journalism at its crux is about, and we must protect that

A computer workstation showing the National Security Agency (NSA) logo inside the Threat Operations Center in the Washington suburb of Fort Meade, Maryland.
A computer workstation showing the National Security Agency (NSA) logo inside the Threat Operations Center in the Washington suburb of Fort Meade, Maryland. Photograph: Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty Images
As many of you know, I'm leaving the Guardian in order to work with Pierre Omidyar, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill and soon-to-be-identified others on building a new media organization. As I said when this
news was reported a couple of weeks ago, leaving the Guardian was not an easy choice, but this was a dream opportunity that was impossible to decline.
We do not yet have an exact launch date for the new outlet, but rest assured: I'm not going to disappear for months or anything like that. The new site will be up and running reasonably soon.
In the meantime, I'll continue reporting in partnership with foreign media outlets (stories on mass NSA surveillance in France began last week in Le Monde, and stories on bulk surveillance of Spanish citizens and NSA's cooperation with Spanish intelligence have appeared this week in Spain's El Mundo), as well as in partnership with US outlets. As I did yesterday when responding to NSA claims about these stories, I'll also periodically post on my personal blog – here – with an active comment section, as well as on our pre-launch temporary blog. Until launch of the new media outlet, the best way to learn of new stories, new posts, and other activity is my Twitter feed, @ggreenwald. My new email address and PGP key are here.
I'm gratified by my 14-month partnership with the Guardian and am particularly proud of what we achieved together over the last five months. Reporting the NSA story has never been easy, but it's always been invigorating and fulfilling. It's exactly why one goes into journalism and, in my view, is what journalism at its crux is about. That doesn't mean that the journalists and editors who have worked on this story have instantly agreed on every last choice we faced, but it does mean that, on the whole, I leave with high regard for the courage and integrity of the people with whom I've worked and pride in the way we've reported this story.
As I leave, I really urge everyone to take note of, and stand against, what I and others have written about for years, but which is becoming increasingly more threatening: namely, a sustained and unprecedented
attack on press freedoms 
and the news gathering process in the US. That same menacing climate is now manifest in the UK as well, as evidenced by the truly stunning warnings issued this week by British Prime Minister David Cameron:
British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday his government was likely to act to stop newspapers publishing what he called damaging leaks from former US intelligence operative Edward Snowden unless they began to behave more responsibly.
"If they (newspapers) don't demonstrate some social responsibility it will be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act," Cameron told parliament, saying Britain's Guardian newspaper had "gone on" to print damaging material after initially agreeing to destroy other sensitive data.
There are extremist though influential factions in both countries which want to criminalize not only whistleblowing but the act of journalism itself(pdf). I'm not leaving because of those threats – if anything, they make me want to stay and continue to publish here – but I do believe it's urgent that everyone who believes in basic press freedoms unite against this.
Allowing journalism to be criminalized is in nobody's interest other than the states which are trying to achieve that. As Thomas Jefferson wrote inan 1804 letter to John Tyler:
Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.
I hope everyone who believes in basic press freedoms will defend those journalistic outlets when they are under attack – all of them – regardless of how much one likes or does not like them.
Finally: thanks, most of all, to my readers and commenters who participate in so many ways in the journalism I do. I've always said that my favorite aspect of online political writing is how interactive and collaborative it is with one's readers: that has always been, and always will be, crucial in so many ways to what I do.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Enemy of the State - Glenn Greenwald

David Miranda (left) and Glenn Greenwald
Enemy of the State
By Natasha Vargas-Cooper
Originally published on October 24 2013 5:00 AM ET

Glenn Greenwald scrunches over his laptop, the fizzing, glinty look in his eyes settling into something more staid and intense. It’s twilight in Gavea, the upscale enclave of Rio de Janeiro built alongside a hand-planted rainforest in the Zona Sul. The monkeys who routinely raise hell from the rubber trees that adorn Greenwald’s backyard have fled for the evening. A knot of ten dogs, mostly strays scooped off Rio’s traffic-gnarled streets, snore and grumble on the cream tiled floor. Without warning, Greenwald, who has the rat-tat-tat chattiness of Midnight Cowboy’s Ratso Rizzo crossing a Manhattan street corner, falls into a chilly silence. His small, fleshy hands flutter over the keyboard. Who knows what business is afoot inside his browser.

The tense quiet stretches on for minutes, made all the more uneasy by legions of invisible toads shamelessly burping from the mangroves. He could be devising his next series of explosive reports on secret Unites States and United Kingdom surveillance programs (he has been working on classified documents on U.S. assassination initiatives). Or, given his open contempt for major media organizations, he could be typing his resignation email to The Guardian. Or he could be prepping for his upcoming testimony before the Brazilian senate about how David Miranda, Greenwald’s partner of eight years, was detained and interrogated in Heathrow airport by U.K. officials for nine hours under the Terrorism Act in August. Maybe word has come down that the U.S. Department of Justice has launched a long-anticipated criminal investigation against Greenwald.

Or maybe he’s just paying a parking ticket.

“Here.” Greenwald snaps his head up and flips his laptop screen toward me as a hyper baby pinscher leaps into his lap. He points to his onscreen chat window. “I’m just talking with Snowden right now.” He flashes a chummy grin. “It’s our nightly check-in.” Greenwald giggles, sips a little red wine, and continues chatting with the 30-year-old former systems analyst whose explosive revelations about the American surveillance state have rocked Washington, put the Obama administration on the defensive, and damaged U.S. relations around the world.

“Moscow kinda sucks,” Greenwald reports.

One of the problems with political ideologues is that they can be such a drag. While I’ve always admired Greenwald’s work — rigorous 3,000-word columns packed with hyperlinks to federal court documents, obscure government memoranda, and dissident dispatches by foreign bloggers — I worried that in the flesh, Greenwald would be grim, cold, and wonky. His obsession with surveillance and privacy issues have made him into an ideological pillar of the rather sterile, unfriendly world of civil libertarian politics, a group not known for its warmth and humanism.

My hesitation dissipates the instant Greenwald and Miranda pick me up off an Ipanema boulevard in their red mini station wagon. I’m tagging along with the couple to a photo shoot for a feature spread (fully clothed) for the Brazilian edition of Playboy. “It’s a very tasteful magazine,” Greenwald insists. “It’s run by gays!” With Katy Perry playing on the radio, we spend our first hour together mostly talking about Cesar Millan and the tyrannical nature of chihuahuas. Miranda, who has found his own global acclaim and notoriety since being detained at Heathrow, is on his phone trying to coordinate picking up scalped tickets to a sold-out Bon Jovi/Nickleback concert in Rio. “I am going to this concert!” he declares. Greenwald credits Miranda, a Brazilian native who is currently finishing a degree in communications, for his success in journalism. “He’s like my Svengali,” says Greenwald.

Greenwald, 46, met Miranda, 28, in 2005, on the first day of a two-month vacation in Rio. At the time, Greenwald was just beginning to transition from his job as a constitutional law litigator to fiery polemicist. He was reading on the beach at Copacabana; Miranda was playing beach volleyball. Miranda’s beach ball rolled onto Greenwald’s towel: “Oi! Meu nome é Glenn.” They moved in together that week. “As a gay man, when you come to Rio for seven weeks, you’re not looking for a relationship,” Greenwald says with a bawdy laugh, “but I never fell in love so fast.”

Miranda, born to a protsitute and passed from alcoholic aunt to alcoholic aunt after his mother died when he was four years old, was uneducated until he met Greenwald, and had worked in low-wage jobs in Rio all his life. Their first night together they spoke in broken English and Portuguese. Miranda closed by serenading Greenwald with love songs. “He has the most monotone, atrocious voice,” says Greenwald as the three of us have lunch in an upscale Rio mall. “If he sings now, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t stand this!’ but I was so instantly in love with him that I was convinced I’d found my own Enrique Iglesias on the first note.” Now multiple movie studios and TV show developers are courting the couple to dramatize their story:

Woodward and Bernstein for the digital age — just slightly gayer.

Greenwald and Miranda never moved to the U.S. together because, until the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June, Miranda could not get an immigration visa. “For eight years we didn’t have that option,” Greenwald says, “but then, literally the week DOMA got struck down, this other little barrier to living in the United States popped up: I might be arrested indefinitely the second I got off the plane.”

Not that Brazil has been some kind of tropical detention center for Greenwald: “Rio is the best fucking place in the world,” he says as we cruise along the white sands of Copacabana. “The people and the culture have taught me a different way to live; it’s all spoken to my soul since I got here. The U.S. is more concerned with being an actor in the world and influencing the world. You don’t have to be here too long to figure out there’s never any thought at any time of invading another country. I mean, I assume if Argentina invaded Brazil for some reason then, yes, OK, but you realize when staying in another country that the notion of constant invasion is extremely radical.”

Exile, self-imposed or otherwise, is a state of being that Greenwald seems most comfortable with, anyway. He prides himself on being an iconoclastic outsider and maintains an open disdain for beltway journalists and media pundits whom he regards as “sleazeballs” and “courtiers of power.” Media is the church of the “savvy” insiders who only care about who won what, Greenwald says, paraphrasing NYU media critic Jay Rosen. “They hate idealism or anyone who believes in something, because that just seems really naïve or loser-ish to them. It makes you a hopeless ideologue or a fringe-y weirdo. The currency they respect is power and success in Washington, and for them that is something to admire instead of be suspicious about or object to.” Greenwald delivers this little outlander manifesto with an effusive, cheeky verve. There’s no trace of solemnity or pathological political correctness, just a plucky fuck-you attitude that for anyone who has a natural distrust of authority serves as an easy entrée to quick camaraderie. Us vs. them.

Edward Snowden broke his general radio silence to tell me via email why he picked Greenwald to bust open his story rather than, say, a more mainstream reporter for the Washington Post or theNew York Times.

 “The bottom line is that sources risking serious harm to return public information to public hands must have absolute confidence that the journalists they go to will report on that information rather than bury it,” Snowden says, clearly referring to the Times’ year-long equivocation over publishing reports of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping — a major turning point in both Snowden’s and Greenwald’s political development. “Glenn’s writing consistently demonstrated his belief that journalists should serve people rather than governments, and that gives sources the confidence to shoulder great risks to do good.”

In the five days I spent with Greenwald, he revealed himself to be buoyant, chummy, emotional, and a total charmer. It also became clear that the greatest engine driving his work is not a dogged commitment to abstract ideals but the tender relationships he builds with the few who are very close to him, be it Miranda, Snowden, a disembodied screen name on an Internet message board, or the flock of half-blind sclerotic mutts he shepherds.

Greenwald’s immediate family was small and unlucky. Originally from New York City, they settled in South Lake, Fla., then a lower middle-class enclave filled with small, cheap rental housing under constant threat of demolition by condo developers. Greenwald had a housewife mother, Arlene, and an accountant father, Daniel. His parents were never abusive or neglectful. “They were decent,” Greenwald assures, “but fucked up in their own ways.” Greenwald’s father, a short, small, Jewish man, idealized a campy sort of conservatism that repulsed Greenwald. “He had pictures of Oliver North, Ronald Reagan, and John Wayne in his office,” Greenwald recalls. “It didn’t really have anything to do with politics — he just idealized this fake machismo, which is something he lacked.”

During Greenwald’s teen years, his father left his mother, and she was forced to take a series of low-wage jobs to support Greenwald and his brother while their father racked up debt from second and third marriages. She worked as a cashier at McDonald’s, coming home at night with hundreds of scratch cards from the restaurant to win free hamburgers and sodas. “That’s how we ate for a while.” Greenwald says. It’s all a far cry from his current digs, a spacious two-story wood-and-glass home five minutes from Rio’s glistening beaches but nestled in a bucolic canyon that bleeds into jungle. And yet, a lack of furniture and the towels on the sofa to protect against his pack of rescued dogs gives the whole place a slap-dash feel. “You can’t have a pristine house with ten dogs,” he says as his pets gurgle for his attention while we sit on the back porch that he uses as his office. “And I’d rather have the ten dogs.”

Greenwald’s political development skipped a generation; it can be traced back to his socialist grandparents, with whom he and his mother lived in South Lake for a while when he was in high school. Appalled by the rapacious efforts of land developers, Greenwald’s grandfather, Louis L. Greenwald, ran for city council on a populist ticket, rallying working-class renters, largely immigrants and single women, to take on the condo overlords. The elder Greenwald went by LL and took pride in his campaign slogan, “Give ’em hell, LL!” “He was elected on this totally insurgent campaign,” Greenwald recalls. “Very ideological about fighting power structures.”

Greenwald’s nascent political philosophy was also fueled by his adolescent sexual awakening. “I came of age in the late ’70s, early ’80s, when things were way worse than they are now. And, you know, you get this strong sense that somehow the prevailing order is antithetical to who you are—it rejects you, is hostile to you, it teaches you that you’re bad and wrong and dirty. You feel like you can’t reason or deal with it. You just feel it and its powerful force. So there’s a lot of different ways to cope and deal with that.”

This all comes from Greenwald in an unstoppable verbal torrent. He doesn’t skip a beat as he hand-feeds raw hot dogs to more canine strays that wander in from the trees. He gushes, “One way is people internalize those judgments. Like, ‘I’m horrible, I’m filthy, I’m broken, I’m wrong, I’m defective, I’m going to go destroy myself’ — which is why gay teens end up killing themselves, right? I just decided to turn the aggression on the people I felt were attacking me. I was like, ‘You’re not going to tell me that I’m wrong, I’m going to show you that your actions are wrong.’ So that was the approach I took toward authority. This very hostile, aggressive way of being that required me to analyze all figures of power and that eventually became waging war on prevailing orthodoxies. And when you do that, it’s an intellectually lonely exercise, but you become much stronger.”

It’s 1985 and you’re angry, you’re gay, you’re Jewish — what do you in your senior year of high school to channel your existentialist angst and alienation? If you’re Glenn Greenwald, you run for city council. His grandfather was getting too old to carry out his “vendettas” against the council, so Greenwald — a veteran of high school speech and debate clubs — ran for his seat. “I came to believe if you’re smart, skilled, and have the resources, you should use those things to fuck with the powerful.” He officially entered the race at age 17 but would turn 18 by the day of the vote, making his candidacy legal. “Those incumbent pigs went to court to try to get me off the ballot,” Greenwald snorts. At the first public debate, Greenwald slaughtered his rivals and won the endorsement of all the local news rags and the biggies, the Sun Sentinel and Miami Herald. Greenwald ran twice, coming in close each time but not close enough.

Grappling with the powerful head-on was more attractive to Greenwald than actual politicking or policymaking, so he went off to law school at NYU, graduated top of his class, and went to work for one of the most slickly prestigious law firms in New York: Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. As a junior associate, Greenwald had a dazzling number of zeroes on his paychecks, suspenders on his shoulders, and wildly expensive shoes on his feet. He got access to the gilt-edged world of corporate law. But he only lasted 18 months. “I just wanted to know I could enter this world of power,” he says. “It was riveting and exotic. But I wanted to prove that I could conquer it and that there was not a part of that world that wasn’t accessible to me.”

Part of Greenwald’s decision to leave his firm was over a pair of Rollerblades. His then-long-term boyfriend bought a pair, strapped them on, fell, and broke both his wrists. Greenwald sued Rollerblade on his boyfriend’s behalf, but his firm protested: They hadn’t given him permission, and what if Rollerblade had been a potential client? “I can’t deal with constraints like that,” Greenwald says with a tinge of self-effacement. “I chafe at any restraints on what I can do or say.”

He used his year-one bonus to start his own law firm with a small, scrappy, staff that specialized in constitutional law and civil rights. There was a strict dress code: Everyone had to be in suits all the time. To this day, Greenwald wears sober suits whenever he makes any public appearance — no open-shirted radical with a shaggy haircut here. He did five years of pro bono work defending neo-Nazis, among other unpopular clients, over First Amendment issues. Eternally restless, Greenwald predictably found too many constraints in the practice of law as well. “I was pouring my energy into these
institutions that were created to yield these unjust outcomes,” he says. “So it just felt like hitting your head into a brick wall.”

Greenwald’s focus drifted away from the courts, and by mid-decade he was spending more and more time online, stirred by the fuck-all attitude of insurgent political bloggers who were trying to break the stranglehold that stodgy mainstream institutions like the Washington Post and CNN held over political discourse. “This was a time when Ezra Klein, who is now, like, the mayor of Washington hack media, used to write things like ‘Fuck Tim Russert with a spiky acid-tipped dick!’” Greenwald cackles gleefully. Klein has since apologized for his thorny phallus comment, saying “it haunts [him] to this day.” In 2005, Greenwald started his own blog, where, as he puts it, “I could say whatever the fuck I wanted, however I wanted,” and has since apologized for absolutely nothing.

Back before the words Google and Zuckerberg were branded on our psyches, Greenwald was seduced by the strange and unruly promise of Web 1.0. He would argue for hours with strangers on right-wing message boards and experiment with different identities, sexual and otherwise, in chat rooms and over instant messaging, all in service of what he describes as a fundamental part of his self-exploration. It’s only inside a private, anonymous space, away from judgmental eyes, that people can violate orthodoxy and explore new boundaries, Greenwald argues. “The private realm is where creativity, dissent, and innovation exclusively reside,” he says. Even the most radical exhibitionist has parts of their life that they want kept hidden, he reasons. “If you eliminate that private realm, you breed conformity. When all your behavior is public, then you’re going to do the things that the society insists you do and nothing else,” Greenwald says, “and you lose so much of who you are as a human being.”

At left: Edward Snowden
 “When I was talking to strangers over the Internet in the 1990s, there would be a much more intense connection because they’re disembodied, so it’s just your brain and your soul interacting with this other person and it just frees you up in this incredibly empowering way,” he says over fries at an outdoor café in Leblon, the Beverly Hills of Rio. Over our heads looms a huge poster of an illustrated magazine cover that depicts a bespectacled Snowden gently kissing Vladimir Putin while he surreptitiously places a “Free Pussy Riot” sticker on the Russian prime minister’s back. Greenwald sneers, “I hate that cover. It’s so stupid.”

Greenwald concedes he gets “a little mean” when asked about his or Snowden’s feelings on Russia. “I’m well aware of the flaws in Russian society, just like I’m well aware of all the flaws in American society,” Greenwald says. “Thousands of people apply for and are given asylum in the U.S. every year, and nobody says, ‘Isn’t it so weird and ironic that people are applying for asylum in a country that has an ocean prison where people are put in cages without trial for 10 years, uses drones, or torture?’” he says, half annoyed. “The point of asylum is not to declare to the world what country you think is the pinnacle of civilization. The point of asylum is to find a country that’s both willing and able to protect you from political persecution.” Greenwald adds, “In no way is asylum an endorsement of a country’s politics, laws, or values. He didn’t choose to be there. He was trying to get transit to Latin America, and then the U.S. revoked his passport and threatened other countries out of offering Snowden safe passage.”

At the end of Greenwald’s trip to meet Snowden in Hong Kong, he was convinced that Snowden would be snatched up by the U.S. and held in custody without trial for years, much like whistleblower Chelsea Manning, whom Greenwald considers a hero. Manning’s three-year pre-trial incarceration and 35-year sentence proves, Greenwald says, that Snowden was right to find harbor anywhere he could. “The question shouldn’t be why is Snowden in Russia? The question should be why is America no longer safe for whistleblowers?”
Greenwald’s early experimental phase on the Internet — which overlapped with the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping scandals — stoked much of his obsession with surveillance and privacy, first for sport on his own blog, then as a full-time columnist for Salon, followed by a year long stint at The Guardian. Greenwald quit the London-based outlet two weeks after our visit to join a new media venture backed by billionaire and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, which Greenwald describes as a “once in-a-career dream journalistic opportunity.” If Greenwald’s notoriety as a civil liberties purist emerged during the Bush years, he really stuck out as one of the few voices on the liberal side of the spectrum that did not go easy on Barack Obama’s own transgressions. His work in breaking the surveillance program documents gathered by Snowden has made him a household name.

Greenwald has been very careful about the way he talks about his relationship with Snowden, not just for security reasons but because Snowden told Greenwald before they met in Hong Kong that he wanted to be out of the public eye in order for people to focus on the substance of the NSA leaks. Greenwald publicly cheered Snowden’s bravery and integrity for coming forward so others would not be blamed or interrogated, but today, Greenwald has more chest-thumping swagger about Snowden; he is practically pink with pride.

“Here’s the real reason Snowden came forward,” Greenwald says, a charge of adrenaline bursting through him as he throws his arms out. “He wanted to undermine the culture of fear by saying ‘Yeah, motherfuckers, not only did I spoil your secrets but here’s who I am! I look like every Midwestern son, you can’t marginalize me because I’m like you; this is my beautiful girlfriend and my stable career! I’m not some Ted Kaczynski maladjusted maniac living in the forest!’ It was a deliberately and provocatively bold thing to do.”

Greenwald also admires Snowden for not uploading the tens of thousands of classified documents to which he had access to the Internet, WikiLeaks style, forcing the public to sort through countless memoranda and policy papers without quite knowing what they’re looking at (though Greenwald is a staunch defender of Julian Assange’s work and actively fundraises for WikiLeaks). Instead, Snowden has worked with Greenwald to select the most essential documents and underscore their impact.

Unlike Assange, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks who now lives in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Greenwald praises Snowden for not going to the New York Times or the Washington Postto break the NSA stories. He often chides his friend for his reliance on mainstream media to broadcast WikiLeaks stories. “I’m like, ‘Hey, asshole! Why do you keep handing documents to the New York Times when you could give them to an independent journalist and elevate independent media?’” Greenwald believes Snowden’s decision to give him the documents has prompted some soul-searching in places like the New York Times. Snowden echoes this belief as well, as he wrote in his email to me:

“Glenn’s work is a foreshadowing of the death of ‘access journalism.’ What we’re seeing with the NSA reporting is that prioritizing the interests of officials over the public, the news audience, is not a winning strategy. Journalists and institutions that hold power to account will attract sources who can provide the facts you aren’t going to get in a briefing room. The access game is a mirage; the officials alienated by hard questions have no choice but to take your calls when confronted with the truth.”

At left: Greenwald and Miranda at home in Rio de Jainero
A lot has been written about Snowden and Greenwald’s professional relationship and the comedy of errors-style course of events surrounding their first meeting. Vastly under-reported is the emotional relationship that has bonded the two men.
When Greenwald first saw Snowden in the restaurant of a Hong Kong hotel, his heart sank. Greenwald had flown across the globe with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras to meet their anonymous source and was picturing a dandruff-dusted former spook in his 60s — not an IT guy in his 20s. “He looked so young!” Greenwald exclaims. “He was wearing a white T-shirt, hipster glasses, and sneakers, and I was like, ‘Is this the source’s son? His assistant? His gay lover? What the fuck is going on?’”

Greenwald and Poitras escorted Snowden to his grungy hotel room. Snowden had not left the room in two weeks and did not want to let any maids in to tidy, so there were stacks of plates everywhere. “I didn’t judge,” Greenwald says. “I knew he’d worked for the NSA at some point and the situation was fucked in ways I couldn’t even understand.” Snowden, Greenwald remembers, sensed their disappointment and tension. “It was so tense between us at first, we were both so stiff, and I think we didn’t like each other at first,” he says. Poitras set up a camera and immediately started filming the two, and Greenwald went into full-blown litigator mode, conducting a six-hour, nonstop examination of Snowden.

“I wanted to find his solid foundation,” Greenwald recalls. “I wanted to know he had agency and autonomy.” He wanted a deeply satisfying explanation of Snowden’s motivations, not only for leaking but for wanting to go public with his identity. “I just needed to know that it was real and grounded in clear-eyed analysis and self-awareness,” Greenwald says. “Snowden was giving me bullshit answers.”

Snowden continued to insist he was no hero and was just trying to do the right thing as Greenwald fired questions, trying to isolate what informed Snowden’s sense of right and wrong, until Snowden gave Greenwald an answer he didn’t expect but immediately understood. It wasn’t Hegelian theories on power structures or Ron Paul rhetoric about privacy; it wasn’t Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals (Greenwald’s greatest influence) or Jeffersonian notions of government. It was comic books and video games. “You have good guys who are forced to do difficult but good things,” Snowden said to Greenwald, a bit embarrassed.

Greenwald, who has no interest in either video games or comics, knows first-hand what sort of moral universe they can create for their devotees; Miranda has built his entire ethical code on countless hours of video gameplay.

“It’s not a simplistic ideology. David is one of the most complex, intellectually curious, and sophisticated people I’ve ever met, and he’s the one who convinced me that being influenced by the moral dynamics of a comic book or video game is no less noble than being shaped by a novel or a book,” Greenwald reasons. “You can watch The Matrix and take it as an action movie, or you can delve into all its greater existentialist meanings. All of the narratives in these comic books are about these single individuals devoted to justice who have the willingness to be brave, who can defeat even the most powerful edifices of evil.”

When Miranda was detained in England, Greenwald spent most of those nine hours binge-eating Doritos and talking to Snowden over encrypted chat. “I was furious; I felt so powerless, but I think Snowden was even more outraged.”

I ask Greenwald if Snowden told him the names of any of the video games or comic books that influenced him. “No,” Greenwald says, laughing. “How the fuck would I know any of that Dungeons and Dragons shit?” But it was the answer he was looking for, authentic and solid. They moved forward and the rest is history, still unfolding before us.

And there’s more to come. During our last meeting over a candlelit Thai dinner lubricated with some local red wine, Greenwald is veritably fizzing with all his plans. He’s pounding out a book on the Snowden story, set for publication in the spring. And, he warns, there’s still a lot of grenades to be thrown from the Snowden document cache. He has some dreams, of course, but the Work comes first.

“I’ve always thought stability was suffocating and deadly. Like, when I read that the kids I went to law school with have stayed at the same firm, I feel like I’m reading an obituary. How much money do you need? Six million, seven million? Put that in the bank and do something else. Get out!” he says with another sip of wine.

“Can I tell you what I would do with $6 million?” he says with a faraway, almost bashful tone to his voice. “I have this fantasy of buying farmland in Brazil with David and just taking care of as many dogs as we can. Is that totally crazy?”

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Timeline of CIA Atrocities

A Timeline of CIA Atrocities

The following article was initially published in 1997. It is in part based on the work of William Blum. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II, 1995 (GR Ed. M. Ch.)
By Steve Kangas
The following timeline describes just a few of the hundreds of atrocities and crimes committed by the CIA. (1)
CIA operations follow the same recurring script. First, American business interests abroad are threatened by a popular or democratically elected leader. The people support their leader because he intends to conduct land reform, strengthen unions, redistribute wealth, nationalize foreign-owned industry, and regulate business to protect workers, consumers and the environment. So, on behalf of American business, and often with their help, the CIA mobilizes the opposition. First it identifies right-wing groups within the country (usually the military), and offers them a deal: “We’ll put you in power if you maintain a favorable business climate for us.” The Agency then hires, trains and works with them to overthrow the existing government (usually a democracy). It uses every trick in the book: propaganda, stuffed ballot boxes, purchased elections, extortion, blackmail, sexual intrigue, false stories about opponents in the local media, infiltration and disruption of opposing political parties, kidnapping, beating, torture, intimidation, economic sabotage, death squads and even assassination. These efforts culminate in a military coup, which installs a right-wing dictator. The CIA trains the dictator’s security apparatus to crack down on the traditional enemies of big business, using interrogation, torture and murder. The victims are said to be “communists,” but almost always they are just peasants, liberals, moderates, labor union leaders, political opponents and advocates of free speech and democracy. Widespread human rights abuses follow.
This scenario has been repeated so many times that the CIA actually teaches it in a special school, the notorious “School of the Americas.” (It opened in Panama but later moved to Fort Benning, Georgia.) Critics have nicknamed it the “School of the Dictators” and “School of the Assassins.” Here, the CIA trains Latin American military officers how to conduct coups, including the use of interrogation, torture and murder.
The Association for Responsible Dissent estimates that by 1987, 6 million people had died as a result of CIA covert operations. (2) Former State Department official William Blum correctly calls this an “American Holocaust.”
The CIA justifies these actions as part of its war against communism. But most coups do not involve a communist threat. Unlucky nations are targeted for a wide variety of reasons: not only threats to American business interests abroad, but also liberal or even moderate social reforms, political instability, the unwillingness of a leader to carry out Washington’s dictates, and declarations of neutrality in the Cold War. Indeed, nothing has infuriated CIA Directors quite like a nation’s desire to stay out of the Cold War.
The ironic thing about all this intervention is that it frequently fails to achieve American objectives. Often the newly installed dictator grows comfortable with the security apparatus the CIA has built for him. He becomes an expert at running a police state. And because the dictator knows he cannot be overthrown, he becomes independent and defiant of Washington’s will. The CIA then finds it cannot overthrow him, because the police and military are under the dictator’s control, afraid to cooperate with American spies for fear of torture and execution. The only two options for the U.S at this point are impotence or war. Examples of this “boomerang effect” include the Shah of Iran, General Noriega and Saddam Hussein. The boomerang effect also explains why the CIA has proven highly successful at overthrowing democracies, but a wretched failure at overthrowing dictatorships.
The following timeline should confirm that the CIA as we know it should be abolished and replaced by a true information-gathering and analysis organization. The CIA cannot be reformed — it is institutionally and culturally corrupt.
The culture we lost — Secretary of State Henry Stimson refuses to endorse a code-breaking operation, saying, “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”
COI created — In preparation for World War II, President Roosevelt creates the Office of Coordinator of Information (COI). General William “Wild Bill” Donovan heads the new intelligence service.
OSS created — Roosevelt restructures COI into something more suitable for covert action, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Donovan recruits so many of the nation’s rich and powerful that eventually people joke that “OSS” stands for “Oh, so social!” or “Oh, such snobs!”
Italy — Donovan recruits the Catholic Church in Rome to be the center of Anglo-American spy operations in Fascist Italy. This would prove to be one of America’s most enduring intelligence alliances in the Cold War.
OSS is abolished — The remaining American information agencies cease covert actions and return to harmless information gathering and analysis.
Operation PAPERCLIP – While other American agencies are hunting down Nazi war criminals for arrest, the U.S. intelligence community is smuggling them into America, unpunished, for their use against the Soviets. The most important of these is Reinhard Gehlen, Hitler’s master spy who had built up an intelligence network in the Soviet Union. With full U.S. blessing, he creates the “Gehlen Organization,” a band of refugee Nazi spies who reactivate their networks in Russia.
These include SS intelligence officers Alfred Six and Emil Augsburg (who massacred Jews in the Holocaust), Klaus Barbie (the “Butcher of Lyon”), Otto von Bolschwing (the Holocaust mastermind who worked with Eichmann) and SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny (a personal friend of Hitler’s). The Gehlen Organization supplies the U.S. with its only intelligence on the Soviet Union for the next ten years, serving as a bridge between the abolishment of the OSS and the creation of the CIA. However, much of the “intelligence” the former Nazis provide is bogus. Gehlen inflates Soviet military capabilities at a time when Russia is still rebuilding its devastated society, in order to inflate his own importance to the Americans (who might otherwise punish him). In 1948, Gehlen almost convinces the Americans that war is imminent, and the West should make a preemptive strike. In the 50s he produces a fictitious “missile gap.” To make matters worse, the Russians have thoroughly penetrated the Gehlen Organization with double agents, undermining the very American security that Gehlen was supposed to protect.
Greece — President Truman requests military aid to Greece to support right-wing forces fighting communist rebels. For the rest of the Cold War, Washington and the CIA will back notorious Greek leaders with deplorable human rights records.
CIA created — President Truman signs the National Security Act of 1947, creating the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Council. The CIA is accountable to the president through the NSC — there is no democratic or congressional oversight. Its charter allows the CIA to “perform such other functions and duties… as the National Security Council may from time to time direct.” This loophole opens the door to covert action and dirty tricks.
Covert-action wing created — The CIA recreates a covert action wing, innocuously called the Office of Policy Coordination, led by Wall Street lawyer Frank Wisner. According to its secret charter, its responsibilities include “propaganda, economic warfare, preventive direct action, including sabotage, antisabotage, demolition and evacuation procedures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance groups, and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world.”
Italy — The CIA corrupts democratic elections in Italy, where Italian communists threaten to win the elections. The CIA buys votes, broadcasts propaganda, threatens and beats up opposition leaders, and infiltrates and disrupts their organizations. It works — the communists are defeated.
Radio Free Europe — The CIA creates its first major propaganda outlet, Radio Free Europe. Over the next several decades, its broadcasts are so blatantly false that for a time it is considered illegal to publish transcripts of them in the U.S.
Late 40s
Operation MOCKINGBIRD — The CIA begins recruiting American news organizations and journalists to become spies and disseminators of propaganda. The effort is headed by Frank Wisner, Allan Dulles, Richard Helms and Philip Graham. Graham is publisher of The Washington Post, which becomes a major CIA player. Eventually, the CIA’s media assets will include ABC, NBC, CBS, Time, Newsweek, Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, Hearst Newspapers, Scripps-Howard, Copley News Service and more. By the CIA’s own admission, at least 25 organizations and 400 journalists will become CIA assets.
Iran – CIA overthrows the democratically elected Mohammed Mossadegh in a military coup, after he threatened to nationalize British oil. The CIA replaces him with a dictator, the Shah of Iran, whose secret police, SAVAK, is as brutal as the Gestapo.
Operation MK-ULTRA — Inspired by North Korea’s brainwashing program, the CIA begins experiments on mind control. The most notorious part of this project involves giving LSD and other drugs to American subjects without their knowledge or against their will, causing several to commit suicide. However, the operation involves far more than this. Funded in part by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, research includes propaganda, brainwashing, public relations, advertising, hypnosis, and other forms of suggestion.
Guatemala — CIA overthrows the democratically elected Jacob Arbenz in a military coup. Arbenz has threatened to nationalize the Rockefeller-owned United Fruit Company, in which CIA Director Allen Dulles also owns stock. Arbenz is replaced with a series of right-wing dictators whose bloodthirsty policies will kill over 100,000 Guatemalans in the next 40 years.
North Vietnam — CIA officer Edward Lansdale spends four years trying to overthrow the communist government of North Vietnam, using all the usual dirty tricks. The CIA also attempts to legitimize a tyrannical puppet regime in South Vietnam, headed by Ngo Dinh Diem. These efforts fail to win the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese because the Diem government is opposed to true democracy, land reform and poverty reduction measures. The CIA’s continuing failure results in escalating American intervention, culminating in the Vietnam War.
Hungary — Radio Free Europe incites Hungary to revolt by broadcasting Khruschev’s Secret Speech, in which he denounced Stalin. It also hints that American aid will help the Hungarians fight. This aid fails to materialize as Hungarians launch a doomed armed revolt, which only invites a major Soviet invasion. The conflict kills 7,000 Soviets and 30,000 Hungarians.
Laos — The CIA carries out approximately one coup per year trying to nullify Laos’ democratic elections. The problem is the Pathet Lao, a leftist group with enough popular support to be a member of any coalition government. In the late 50s, the CIA even creates an “Armee Clandestine” of Asian mercenaries to attack the Pathet Lao. After the CIA’s army suffers numerous defeats, the U.S. starts bombing, dropping more bombs on Laos than all the U.S. bombs dropped in World War II. A quarter of all Laotians will eventually become refugees, many living in caves.
Haiti — The U.S. military helps “Papa Doc” Duvalier become dictator of Haiti. He creates his own private police force, the “Tonton Macoutes,” who terrorize the population with machetes. They will kill over 100,000 during the Duvalier family reign. The U.S. does not protest their dismal human rights record.
The Bay of Pigs — The CIA sends 1,500 Cuban exiles to invade Castro’s Cuba. But “Operation Mongoose” fails, due to poor planning, security and backing. The planners had imagined that the invasion will spark a popular uprising against Castro -– which never happens. A promised American air strike also never occurs. This is the CIA’s first public setback, causing President Kennedy to fire CIA Director Allen Dulles.
Dominican Republic — The CIA assassinates Rafael Trujillo, a murderous dictator Washington has supported since 1930. Trujillo’s business interests have grown so large (about 60 percent of the economy) that they have begun competing with American business interests.
Ecuador — The CIA-backed military forces the democratically elected President Jose Velasco to resign. Vice President Carlos Arosemana replaces him; the CIA fills the now vacant vice presidency with its own man.
Congo (Zaire) — The CIA assassinates the democratically elected Patrice Lumumba. However, public support for Lumumba’s politics runs so high that the CIA cannot clearly install his opponents in power. Four years of political turmoil follow.
Dominican Republic — The CIA overthrows the democratically elected Juan Bosch in a military coup. The CIA installs a repressive, right-wing junta.
Ecuador — A CIA-backed military coup overthrows President Arosemana, whose independent (not socialist) policies have become unacceptable to Washington. A military junta assumes command, cancels the 1964 elections, and begins abusing human rights.
Brazil — A CIA-backed military coup overthrows the democratically elected government of Joao Goulart. The junta that replaces it will, in the next two decades, become one of the most bloodthirsty in history. General Castelo Branco will create Latin America’s first death squads, or bands of secret police who hunt down “communists” for torture, interrogation and murder. Often these “communists” are no more than Branco’s political opponents. Later it is revealed that the CIA trains the death squads.
Indonesia — The CIA overthrows the democratically elected Sukarno with a military coup. The CIA has been trying to eliminate Sukarno since 1957, using everything from attempted assassination to sexual intrigue, for nothing more than his declaring neutrality in the Cold War. His successor, General Suharto, will massacre between 500,000 to 1 million civilians accused of being “communist.” The CIA supplies the names of countless suspects.
Dominican Republic — A popular rebellion breaks out, promising to reinstall Juan Bosch as the country’s elected leader. The revolution is crushed when U.S. Marines land to uphold the military regime by force. The CIA directs everything behind the scenes.
Greece — With the CIA’s backing, the king removes George Papandreous as prime minister. Papandreous has failed to vigorously support U.S. interests in Greece.
Congo (Zaire) — A CIA-backed military coup installs Mobutu Sese Seko as dictator. The hated and repressive Mobutu exploits his desperately poor country for billions.
The Ramparts Affair — The radical magazine Ramparts begins a series of unprecedented anti-CIA articles. Among their scoops: the CIA has paid the University of Michigan $25 million dollars to hire “professors” to train South Vietnamese students in covert police methods. MIT and other universities have received similar payments. Ramparts also reveals that the National Students’ Association is a CIA front. Students are sometimes recruited through blackmail and bribery, including draft deferments.
Greece — A CIA-backed military coup overthrows the government two days before the elections. The favorite to win was George Papandreous, the liberal candidate. During the next six years, the “reign of the colonels” — backed by the CIA — will usher in the widespread use of torture and murder against political opponents. When a Greek ambassador objects to President Johnson about U.S. plans for Cypress, Johnson tells him: “Fuck your parliament and your constitution.”
Operation PHEONIX — The CIA helps South Vietnamese agents identify and then murder alleged Viet Cong leaders operating in South Vietnamese villages. According to a 1971 congressional report, this operation killed about 20,000 “Viet Cong.”
Operation CHAOS — The CIA has been illegally spying on American citizens since 1959, but with Operation CHAOS, President Johnson dramatically boosts the effort. CIA agents go undercover as student radicals to spy on and disrupt campus organizations protesting the Vietnam War. They are searching for Russian instigators, which they never find. CHAOS will eventually spy on 7,000 individuals and 1,000 organizations.
Bolivia — A CIA-organized military operation captures legendary guerilla Che Guevara. The CIA wants to keep him alive for interrogation, but the Bolivian government executes him to prevent worldwide calls for clemency.
Uruguay — The notorious CIA torturer Dan Mitrione arrives in Uruguay, a country torn with political strife. Whereas right-wing forces previously used torture only as a last resort, Mitrione convinces them to use it as a routine, widespread practice. “The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect,” is his motto. The torture techniques he teaches to the death squads rival the Nazis’. He eventually becomes so feared that revolutionaries will kidnap and murder him a year later.
Cambodia — The CIA overthrows Prince Sahounek, who is highly popular among Cambodians for keeping them out of the Vietnam War. He is replaced by CIA puppet Lon Nol, who immediately throws Cambodian troops into battle. This unpopular move strengthens once minor opposition parties like the Khmer Rouge, which achieves power in 1975 and massacres millions of its own people.
Bolivia — After half a decade of CIA-inspired political turmoil, a CIA-backed military coup overthrows the leftist President Juan Torres. In the next two years, dictator Hugo Banzer will have over 2,000 political opponents arrested without trial, then tortured, raped and executed.
Haiti — “Papa Doc” Duvalier dies, leaving his 19-year old son “Baby Doc” Duvalier the dictator of Haiti. His son continues his bloody reign with full knowledge of the CIA.
The Case-Zablocki Act — Congress passes an act requiring congressional review of executive agreements. In theory, this should make CIA operations more accountable. In fact, it is only marginally effective.
Cambodia — Congress votes to cut off CIA funds for its secret war in Cambodia.
Wagergate Break-in — President Nixon sends in a team of burglars to wiretap Democratic offices at Watergate. The team members have extensive CIA histories, including James McCord, E. Howard Hunt and five of the Cuban burglars. They work for the Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP), which does dirty work like disrupting Democratic campaigns and laundering Nixon’s illegal campaign contributions. CREEP’s activities are funded and organized by another CIA front, the Mullen Company.
Chile — The CIA overthrows and assassinates Salvador Allende, Latin America’s first democratically elected socialist leader. The problems begin when Allende nationalizes American-owned firms in Chile. ITT offers the CIA $1 million for a coup (reportedly refused). The CIA replaces Allende with General Augusto Pinochet, who will torture and murder thousands of his own countrymen in a crackdown on labor leaders and the political left.
CIA begins internal investigations — William Colby, the Deputy Director for Operations, orders all CIA personnel to report any and all illegal activities they know about. This information is later reported to Congress.
Watergate Scandal — The CIA’s main collaborating newspaper in America, The Washington Post,reports Nixon’s crimes long before any other newspaper takes up the subject. The two reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, make almost no mention of the CIA’s many fingerprints all over the scandal. It is later revealed that Woodward was a Naval intelligence briefer to the White House, and knows many important intelligence figures, including General Alexander Haig. His main source, “Deep Throat,” is probably one of those.
CIA Director Helms Fired — President Nixon fires CIA Director Richard Helms for failing to help cover up the Watergate scandal. Helms and Nixon have always disliked each other. The new CIA director is William Colby, who is relatively more open to CIA reform.
CHAOS exposed — Pulitzer prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh publishes a story about Operation CHAOS, the domestic surveillance and infiltration of anti-war and civil rights groups in the U.S. The story sparks national outrage.
Angleton fired — Congress holds hearings on the illegal domestic spying efforts of James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s chief of counterintelligence. His efforts included mail-opening campaigns and secret surveillance of war protesters. The hearings result in his dismissal from the CIA.
House clears CIA in Watergate — The House of Representatives clears the CIA of any complicity in Nixon’s Watergate break-in.
The Hughes Ryan Act — Congress passes an amendment requiring the president to report nonintelligence CIA operations to the relevant congressional committees in a timely fashion.
Australia — The CIA helps topple the democratically elected, left-leaning government of Prime Minister Edward Whitlam. The CIA does this by giving an ultimatum to its Governor-General, John Kerr. Kerr, a longtime CIA collaborator, exercises his constitutional right to dissolve the Whitlam government. The Governor-General is a largely ceremonial position appointed by the Queen; the Prime Minister is democratically elected. The use of this archaic and never-used law stuns the nation.
Angola — Eager to demonstrate American military resolve after its defeat in Vietnam, Henry Kissinger launches a CIA-backed war in Angola. Contrary to Kissinger’s assertions, Angola is a country of little strategic importance and not seriously threatened by communism. The CIA backs the brutal leader of UNITAS, Jonas Savimbi. This polarizes Angolan politics and drives his opponents into the arms of Cuba and the Soviet Union for survival. Congress will cut off funds in 1976, but the CIA is able to run the war off the books until 1984, when funding is legalized again. This entirely pointless war kills over 300,000 Angolans.
“The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence” — Victor Marchetti and John Marks publish this whistle-blowing history of CIA crimes and abuses. Marchetti has spent 14 years in the CIA, eventually becoming an executive assistant to the Deputy Director of Intelligence. Marks has spent five years as an intelligence official in the State Department.
“Inside the Company” — Philip Agee publishes a diary of his life inside the CIA. Agee has worked in covert operations in Latin America during the 60s, and details the crimes in which he took part.
Congress investigates CIA wrong-doing — Public outrage compels Congress to hold hearings on CIA crimes. Senator Frank Church heads the Senate investigation (“The Church Committee”), and Representative Otis Pike heads the House investigation. (Despite a 98 percent incumbency reelection rate, both Church and Pike are defeated in the next elections.) The investigations lead to a number of reforms intended to increase the CIA’s accountability to Congress, including the creation of a standing Senate committee on intelligence. However, the reforms prove ineffective, as the Iran/Contra scandal will show. It turns out the CIA can control, deal with or sidestep Congress with ease.
The Rockefeller Commission — In an attempt to reduce the damage done by the Church Committee, President Ford creates the “Rockefeller Commission” to whitewash CIA history and propose toothless reforms. The commission’s namesake, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, is himself a major CIA figure. Five of the commission’s eight members are also members of the Council on Foreign Relations, a CIA-dominated organization.
Iran — The CIA fails to predict the fall of the Shah of Iran, a longtime CIA puppet, and the rise of Muslim fundamentalists who are furious at the CIA’s backing of SAVAK, the Shah’s bloodthirsty secret police. In revenge, the Muslims take 52 Americans hostage in the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
Afghanistan — The Soviets invade Afghanistan. The CIA immediately begins supplying arms to any faction willing to fight the occupying Soviets. Such indiscriminate arming means that when the Soviets leave Afghanistan, civil war will erupt. Also, fanatical Muslim extremists now possess state-of-the-art weaponry. One of these is Sheik Abdel Rahman, who will become involved in the World Trade Center bombing in New York.
El Salvador — An idealistic group of young military officers, repulsed by the massacre of the poor, overthrows the right-wing government. However, the U.S. compels the inexperienced officers to include many of the old guard in key positions in their new government. Soon, things are back to “normal” — the military government is repressing and killing poor civilian protesters. Many of the young military and civilian reformers, finding themselves powerless, resign in disgust.
Nicaragua — Anastasios Samoza II, the CIA-backed dictator, falls. The Marxist Sandinistas take over government, and they are initially popular because of their commitment to land and anti-poverty reform. Samoza had a murderous and hated personal army called the National Guard. Remnants of the Guard will become the Contras, who fight a CIA-backed guerilla war against the Sandinista government throughout the 1980s.
El Salvador — The Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, pleads with President Carter “Christian to Christian” to stop aiding the military government slaughtering his people. Carter refuses. Shortly afterwards, right-wing leader Roberto D’Aubuisson has Romero shot through the heart while saying Mass. The country soon dissolves into civil war, with the peasants in the hills fighting against the military government. The CIA and U.S. Armed Forces supply the government with overwhelming military and intelligence superiority. CIA-trained death squads roam the countryside, committing atrocities like that of El Mazote in 1982, where they massacre between 700 and 1000 men, women and children. By 1992, some 63,000 Salvadorans will be killed.
Iran/Contra Begins — The CIA begins selling arms to Iran at high prices, using the profits to arm the Contras fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. President Reagan vows that the Sandinistas will be “pressured” until “they say ‘uncle.’” The CIA’s Freedom Fighter’s Manualdisbursed to the Contras includes instruction on economic sabotage, propaganda, extortion, bribery, blackmail, interrogation, torture, murder and political assassination.
Honduras — The CIA gives Honduran military officers the Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual – 1983, which teaches how to torture people. Honduras’ notorious “Battalion 316″ then uses these techniques, with the CIA’s full knowledge, on thousands of leftist dissidents. At least 184 are murdered.
The Boland Amendment — The last of a series of Boland Amendments is passed. These amendments have reduced CIA aid to the Contras; the last one cuts it off completely. However, CIA Director William Casey is already prepared to “hand off” the operation to Colonel Oliver North, who illegally continues supplying the Contras through the CIA’s informal, secret, and self-financing network. This includes “humanitarian aid” donated by Adolph Coors and William Simon, and military aid funded by Iranian arms sales.
Eugene Hasenfus — Nicaragua shoots down a C-123 transport plane carrying military supplies to the Contras. The lone survivor, Eugene Hasenfus, turns out to be a CIA employee, as are the two dead pilots. The airplane belongs to Southern Air Transport, a CIA front. The incident makes a mockery of President Reagan’s claims that the CIA is not illegally arming the Contras.
Iran/Contra Scandal — Although the details have long been known, the Iran/Contra scandal finally captures the media’s attention in 1986. Congress holds hearings, and several key figures (like Oliver North) lie under oath to protect the intelligence community. CIA Director William Casey dies of brain cancer before Congress can question him. All reforms enacted by Congress after the scandal are purely cosmetic.
Haiti — Rising popular revolt in Haiti means that “Baby Doc” Duvalier will remain “President for Life” only if he has a short one. The U.S., which hates instability in a puppet country, flies the despotic Duvalier to the South of France for a comfortable retirement. The CIA then rigs the upcoming elections in favor of another right-wing military strongman. However, violence keeps the country in political turmoil for another four years. The CIA tries to strengthen the military by creating the National Intelligence Service (SIN), which suppresses popular revolt through torture and assassination.
Panama — The U.S. invades Panama to overthrow a dictator of its own making, General Manuel Noriega. Noriega has been on the CIA’s payroll since 1966, and has been transporting drugs with the CIA’s knowledge since 1972. By the late 80s, Noriega’s growing independence and intransigence have angered Washington… so out he goes.
Haiti — Competing against 10 comparatively wealthy candidates, leftist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide captures 68 percent of the vote. After only eight months in power, however, the CIA-backed military deposes him. More military dictators brutalize the country, as thousands of Haitian refugees escape the turmoil in barely seaworthy boats. As popular opinion calls for Aristide’s return, the CIA begins a disinformation campaign painting the courageous priest as mentally unstable.
The Gulf War — The U.S. liberates Kuwait from Iraq. But Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, is another creature of the CIA. With U.S. encouragement, Hussein invaded Iran in 1980. During this costly eight-year war, the CIA built up Hussein’s forces with sophisticated arms, intelligence, training and financial backing. This cemented Hussein’s power at home, allowing him to crush the many internal rebellions that erupted from time to time, sometimes with poison gas. It also gave him all the military might he needed to conduct further adventurism — in Kuwait, for example.
The Fall of the Soviet Union — The CIA fails to predict this most important event of the Cold War. This suggests that it has been so busy undermining governments that it hasn’t been doing its primary job: gathering and analyzing information. The fall of the Soviet Union also robs the CIA of its reason for existence: fighting communism. This leads some to accuse the CIA of intentionally failing to predict the downfall of the Soviet Union. Curiously, the intelligence community’s budget is not significantly reduced after the demise of communism.
Economic Espionage — In the years following the end of the Cold War, the CIA is increasingly used for economic espionage. This involves stealing the technological secrets of competing foreign companies and giving them to American ones. Given the CIA’s clear preference for dirty tricks over mere information gathering, the possibility of serious criminal behavior is very great indeed.
Haiti — The chaos in Haiti grows so bad that President Clinton has no choice but to remove the Haitian military dictator, Raoul Cedras, on threat of U.S. invasion. The U.S. occupiers do not arrest Haiti’s military leaders for crimes against humanity, but instead ensure their safety and rich retirements. Aristide is returned to power only after being forced to accept an agenda favorable to the country’s ruling class.
In a speech before the CIA celebrating its 50th anniversary, President Clinton said: “By necessity, the American people will never know the full story of your courage.”
Clinton’s is a common defense of the CIA: namely, the American people should stop criticizing the CIA because they don’t know what it really does. This, of course, is the heart of the problem in the first place. An agency that is above criticism is also above moral behavior and reform. Its secrecy and lack of accountability allows its corruption to grow unchecked.
Furthermore, Clinton’s statement is simply untrue. The history of the agency is growing painfully clear, especially with the declassification of historical CIA documents. We may not know the details of specific operations, but we do know, quite well, the general behavior of the CIA. These facts began emerging nearly two decades ago at an ever-quickening pace. Today we have a remarkably accurate and consistent picture, repeated in country after country, and verified from countless different directions.
The CIA’s response to this growing knowledge and criticism follows a typical historical pattern. (Indeed, there are remarkable parallels to the Medieval Church’s fight against the Scientific Revolution.) The first journalists and writers to reveal the CIA’s criminal behavior were harassed and censored if they were American writers, and tortured and murdered if they were foreigners. (See Philip Agee’s On the Run for an example of early harassment.) However, over the last two decades the tide of evidence has become overwhelming, and the CIA has found that it does not have enough fingers to plug every hole in the dike. This is especially true in the age of the Internet, where information flows freely among millions of people. Since censorship is impossible, the Agency must now defend itself with apologetics. Clinton’s “Americans will never know” defense is a prime example.
Another common apologetic is that “the world is filled with unsavory characters, and we must deal with them if we are to protect American interests at all.” There are two things wrong with this. First, it ignores the fact that the CIA has regularly spurned alliances with defenders of democracy, free speech and human rights, preferring the company of military dictators and tyrants. The CIA had moral options available to them, but did not take them.
Second, this argument begs several questions. The first is: “Which American interests?” The CIA has courted right-wing dictators because they allow wealthy Americans to exploit the country’s cheap labor and resources. But poor and middle-class Americans pay the price whenever they fight the wars that stem from CIA actions, from Vietnam to the Gulf War to Panama. The second begged question is: “Why should American interests come at the expense of other peoples’ human rights?”
The CIA should be abolished, its leadership dismissed and its relevant members tried for crimes against humanity. Our intelligence community should be rebuilt from the ground up, with the goal of collecting and analyzing information. As for covert action, there are two moral options. The first one is to eliminate covert action completely. But this gives jitters to people worried about the Adolf Hitlers of the world. So a second option is that we can place covert action under extensive and true democratic oversight. For example, a bipartisan Congressional Committee of 40 members could review and veto all aspects of CIA operations upon a majority or super-majority vote. Which of these two options is best may be the subject of debate, but one thing is clear: like dictatorship, like monarchy, unaccountable covert operations should die like the dinosaurs they are.