The bipartisan Surveillance State Repeal Act, if passed, would repeal dragnet surveillance of Americans’ personal communications, overhaul the federal domestic surveillance program, and provide protections for whistleblowers.
House lawmakers Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) are co-sponsoring bill H.R.1466, which was introduced on Tuesday and would repeal the 2001 Patriot Act, limit powers of the FISA Amendments Act, and prohibit retaliation against federal national security whistleblowers, according to The Hill.
“The Patriot Act contains many provisions that violate the Fourth Amendment and have led to a dramatic expansion of our domestic surveillance state,” said Rep. Massie in a statement. “Our Founding Fathers fought and died to stop the kind of warrantless spying and searches that the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act authorize. It is long past time to repeal the Patriot Act and reassert the constitutional rights of all Americans.”
Specifically, the bill would revoke all the powers of the Patriot Act, and instruct the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to destroy any information collected under the FISA Amendments Act concerning any US person not under investigation.
It would repeal provisions of the FISA Amendments Act to ensure surveillance of email data only occurs with a valid warrant based on probable cause. The bill would also prohibit the government from mandating that manufacturers build mechanisms allowing the government to bypass encryption in order to conduct surveillance.
Additionally, the bill would protect a federal whistleblower’s efforts to expose mismanagement, waste, fraud, abuse, or criminal behavior. It would also make retaliation against anyone interfering with those efforts – such as threatening them with punishment or termination – illegal.
“Really, what we need are new whistleblower protections so that the next Edward Snowden doesn’t have to go to Russia or Hong Kong or whatever the case may be just for disclosing this,” Massie said.
There have been previous attempts to limit dragnet surveillance under the Patriot Act since former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden leaked information regarding the programs in 2013, but the Senate bill introduced in 2013 never reached the floor for a vote.
“The warrantless collection of millions of personal communications from innocent Americans is a direct violation of our constitutional right to privacy,” said Rep. Pocan in a statement.
“Revelations about the NSA’s programs reveal the extraordinary extent to which the program has invaded Americans’ privacy. I reject the notion that we must sacrifice liberty for security – we can live in a secure nation which also upholds a strong commitment to civil liberties. This legislation ends the NSA’s dragnet surveillance practices, while putting provisions in place to protect the privacy of American citizens through real and lasting change.”
Portions of the Patriot Act are due for renewal on June 1.
Israel has been accused of feeding secret information on the Iran 5+1 nuclear talks to senior US lawmakers in an effort to scupper the negotiations, a new report says. The accusation was met with sharp denial in Tel Aviv.
The allegations were revealed in a Wall Street Journal investigation, and come from dozens of interviews with officials past and present, who are familiar with the nuclear discussions.
Israel, for its part, claims that this was not accompanied by any official accusations by the White House, according to Haaretz.
According to the sources, it came as no surprise to the White House that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was continuing on his mission to derail a much sought-after agreement with Iran, as Tel Aviv remains implacably opposed to a nuclear Tehran, and has in recent past tried to involve the US Congress to impede a diplomatic solution offered by the 5+1 talks.
However, it came as a surprise to Washington that Tel Aviv would feed the secret information to US lawmakers to drain support from a deal with Tehran. Washington and Tel Aviv have vastly different notions on how to deal with Tehran and how regional peace is to be secured.
“It is one thing for the US and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal US secrets and play them back to US legislators to undermine US diplomacy,” a top US official close to the situation told WSJ.
Israel’s alleged role in passing on information to US lawmakers emerged after US intelligence was snooping on the Israelis and heard information they claimed could only have come from the closed-door talks.
Tel Aviv denied this, saying that they had acquired the information by different means, such as routine spying on communications with Iran.
“These allegations are utterly false,” Netanyahu’s office told reporters. “The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies. The false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share.”
WSJ’s sources said that Israel tops the list of close US allies trying to spy on it, and that more US counterintelligence resources are spent on Israel than any other partner.
Netanyahu has been trying to drum up support against the Obama administration’s push for rapprochement with Tehran from within the US government, as well as trying to sway US lawmakers.
The fresh allegations of meddling by Israel could alienate US officials, many of whom are expected to be around after Obama’s term finishes.
Last month, Obama’s cabinet accused Israel of “selective sharing of information” and “cherry-picking” as it publicly voiced its discontent with the ongoing talks. “Not everything you’re hearing from the Israeli government is an accurate depiction of the talks,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
On the same day, The New York Times revealed that Obama had warned his European partners in the 5+1 talks (France, Germany and the UK) not to share too much information with Israel, “because whatever we say may be used in a selective way.”
Two weeks ago, Netanyahu attempted to cancel a briefing for of a delegation of six US senators, Netanyahu’s idea of involving Congress in the matter would all but derail any deal with Iran. Eventually, Netanyahu had to back down and allow the briefing to take place.
Tensions between Tel Aviv and Washington are already running high after Netanyahu delivered a controversial address to the US Congress, organized with Republican lawmakers but not the White House or the US State Department, in which he struck out at Iran, but, in Obama’s opinion, offered few alternatives to his previous line of aggressive engagement.
The rift deepened further after Netanyahu said in his re-election campaign that Palestinian statehood would never happen on his watch.
The White House said shortly afterward: “We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made, or that they don’t raise questions about the prime minister’s commitment to achieving peace through direct negotiations.”
Relations cooled with Tel Aviv in 2012, when Obama decided to talk to Iran without Israel’s involvement – something Netanyahu reportedly did not appreciate.
With these latest allegations of Israeli meddling in US politics, “people feel personally sold out,” one US official said.
Israel appeared to be counting on a handful of Democrats in Congress to block the deal with Iran, the WSJ source said. “[T]hat’s where the Israelis really better be careful, because a lot of these people will not only be around for this administration but possible the next one as well,” the US official said.
One of the most interesting areas of conspiracy theory is the possibility of the planting of false information by government authorities, for motives including confusing or embarrassing the conspiracy theorists, promoting government-sponsored conspiracy theories, or entrapment.
“Is Matt DeHart Being Prosecuted Because FBI Investigated CIA for the Anthrax Leak?”:
“. . . there’s something odd about how this was allegedly leaked.
According to Buzzfeed, the anthrax investigation came in one unencrypted folder with the ag document and a document on drone targeting the source of which he thinks he knows (it would like have been a former colleague from the ANG).
How would it ever be possible that the same person would have access to all three of those things? While it’s possible the ag admission ended up in the government, even a DOJ investigation into such an admission would be in a different place than the FBI anthrax investigation, and both should be inaccessible to the ANG people working on SIPRNet.
That is, this feels like the Laptop of Death, which included all the documents you’d want to argue that Iran had an active and advanced nuclear weapons program, but which almost certainly would never all end up on the same laptop at the same time.
And, given DeHart’s belief reported elsewhere this was destined for WikiLeaks, I can’t help but remember the Defense Intelligence Agency report which noted that WikiLeaks might be susceptible to disinformation (not to mention the HB Gary plot to discredit WikiLeaks, but that came later).
This raises the possibility that the Wikileaks.org Web site could be used to post fabricated information; to post misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda; or to conduct perception management and influence operations designed to convey a negative message to those who view or retrieve information from the Web site
That is, given how unlikely it would be to find these juicy subjects all together in one folder, I do wonder whether they’re all authentic (though DeHart would presumably be able to assess the authenticity of the drone targeting documents).”
Unlike World Hero Guccifer, DeHart didn’t go looking for this stuff – it just appeared one day on his secret server. There is an explanation in the BuzzFeed article for why he wasn’t suspicious at the combination of information:
“Matt says he thought of his fellow airmen, some of whom knew about the Shell. “I’m not going to say who I think it was, but there was a lot of dissatisfaction in my unit about cooperating with the CIA,” he says. Intelligence analysts with the proper clearance (such as Manning and others) had access to a deep trove of sensitive data on the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet, the classified computer network used by both the Defense and State departments.”
Thus, this could be:
- a completely legitimate and accurate compilation of various files assembled by someone with enough of a security clearance – and the Manning case shows that the complexities of the American classification system, a symptom of trying to juggle so many secrets while allowing access to the secrets by some in government, is a mess;
- a mix of true and false data, either by a mistake by the leaker, or an intentional government trick; or
- the planting of completely false information by the government or some private trickster.
I wouldn’t put the CIA high on the list of suspects for the anthrax attacks, but we know it is one of the jobs of the CIA to take the fall for various discovered wrongdoings by other parts of the American government (and never forget the obvious Zionist component to the anthrax conspiracy).
The document summarizing the CIA’s purported knowledge of Iraqi chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, produced in October 2002 and hidden from the public ever since, has finally been made public.
The CIA had previously released a heavily redacted version of the controversial National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in 2004. Last year, transparency advocate John Greenwald made another FOIA request and received a declassified version of the document, which Vice News published this Thursday.
RAND Corporation, a government-connected think tank, also had access to the NIE. In a report published in December 2014, RAND analysts noted that the original CIA assessment contained many qualifiers about virtually everything, but as the document went up the chain of command, “the conclusions were treated increasingly definitely.”
Thus, even though the CIA offered guesses based on rumors from Iraqi exiles and unverifiable sources, Bush administration officials claimed with absolute certainty that Iraq was producing chemical and biological agents, and acquiring components for nuclear weapons.
Likewise, the Bush administration asserted a connection between Al-Qaeda and the government in Baghdad even though the CIA report noted that its information was based on “sources of varying reliability,” and that even if the relationship had existed, there was no indication Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein knew about it.
“As with much of the information on the overall relationship, details on training and support are second-hand,” the document, quoted by Vice News, said. “The presence of [Al-Qaeda]… militants in Iraq poses many questions. We do not know to what extent Baghdad may be actively complicit in this use of its territory for safehaven and transit.”
The NIE reveals much of the intelligence concerning allegations that Iraq gave Al-Qaeda instructions on using chemical and biological weapons came from interrogations of alleged terrorists, often under torture.
Last year’s Senate investigation into the CIA torture program revealed that the dubious charges all came from a single source, which the NIE names as Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (“The Libyan”). Al-Libi commanded the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, shut down by the Taliban before 9/11 because he refused to subordinate to Osama bin Laden. Who exactly tortured the information out of him remains redacted, but the Senate report noted that Al-Libi recanted his testimony after being turned over to the CIA in February 2003, saying he only told his torturers what they wanted to hear.
Paul Pillar, the former CIA analyst in charge of coordinating the assessment on Iraq and now a visiting professor at Georgetown University, told Vice News that the claims of alleged Iraqi biological weapons – such as the anthrax-laced envelopes sent to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy a week after 9/11 – were based on such sources as Ahmad Chalabi, of the US-backed Iraqi National Congress.
“There was an insufficient critical skepticism about some of the source material,” Pillar said. “I think there should have been agnosticism expressed in the main judgments. It would have been a better paper if it were more carefully drafted in that sort of direction.”
‘No parliament support’
The Lithuanian legislature decided against a new inquiry into a secret US torture facility in the country, despite a damning US Senate report released three months ago which indicated its existence.
“No new inquest will be considered, because there is no longer sufficient support for it among parliament members,” Loreta Grauziniene, speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, told Reuters on Friday.
Allegations that the CIA set up and ran a secret detention center near the country’s capital of Vilnius between 2004 and 2006 were investigated in 2009 and 2010 by a parliamentary committee. The inquiry concluded the CIA did operate flights in and out of Lithuania, and that there may have been as many as two secret facilities for what the CIA termed “enhanced interrogations.” The committee added that such information could not be confirmed because US officials refused to cooperate.
When a heavily redacted US Senate report on secret CIA prisons came out in December 2014, it did not identify any countries by name. However, the descriptions of the facility identified as ‘Violet’ closely matched the Lithuanian parliament’s original report. Arvydas Anusauskas, the lawmaker who led the inquiry, told the media that the Senate report had made a “convincing case” that prisoners had been held in Lithuania. Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius expressed hope that there would be another parliamentary inquiry, and that information would be “shared and exchanged” this time around.
Former president Valdas Adamkus, however, insisted to the local media that he would continue to believe “there were no prisons or prisoners in Lithuania” until he saw “documents before my eyes” proving him wrong.
No further explanation was given for Friday’s decision to drop the inquiry. It comes as hundreds of US troops and vehicles deploy to Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia as a “deterrent” to alleged Russian aggression.
Human rights groups have criticized Lithuania’s complicity in the CIA’s secret detention program, as well as its reluctance to investigate claims by Guantanamo Bay detainees Abu Zubaydah and Mustafa al-Hawsawi of being held and tortured at the CIA facility in the country.
Some rarely discussed truths shaping contemporary American democracy
By John Chuckman | Aletho News | March 12, 2015
Many people still think of the CIA as an agency designed to help American presidents make informed decisions about matters outside the United States. That was the basis for President Truman’s signing the legislation which created the agency, and indeed it does serve that role, generally rather inadequately, but it has become something far beyond that.
Information is certainly not something to which any reasonable person objects, but the CIA has two houses under its roof, and it is the operational side of the CIA which gives it a world-wide bad reputation. The scope of undercover operations has evolved to make the CIA into a kind of civilian army, one involving great secrecy, little accountability, and huge budgets – altogether a dangerous development indeed for any country which regards itself as a democracy and whose military is forbidden political activity. After all, the CIA’s secret operational army in practice is not curtailed by restrictions around politics, many of its tasks having been quite openly political. Yes, its charter forbids operations in the United States, but those restrictions have been ignored or bent countless times both in secret programs like Echelon (monitoring telephone communications by five English-speaking allies who then share the information obtained, a forerunner to the NSA’s recently-revealed collection of computer data) and years of mail-opening inside the United States or using substitutes to go around the rule, as was likely the case with the many Mossad agents trailing the eventual perpetrators of 9/11 inside the United States before the event.
As with all large, powerful institutions over time, the CIA constantly seeks expansion of its means and responsibilities, much like a growing child wanting ever more food and clothing and entertainment. This inherent tendency, the expansion of institutional empire, is difficult enough to control under normal circumstances, but when there are complex operations in many countries and tens of billions in spending and many levels of secrecy and secret multi-level files, the ability of any elected politicians – whose keenest attention is always directed towards re-election and acquiring enough funds to run a campaign – to exercise meaningful control and supervision becomes problematic at best. The larger and more complex the institution becomes, the truer this is.
Under Eisenhower, the CIA’s operational role first came to considerable prominence, which is hardly surprising considering Eisenhower was a former Supreme Commander in the military, the military having used many dark operations during WWII, operations still classified in some cases. In his farewell address, it is true, Eisenhower gave Americans a dark warning about the “military-industrial complex,” but as President he used CIA dark operations extensively, largely to protect American corporate interests in various parts of the world – everything from oil interests to banana monopolies in Central America. Perhaps, he viewed the approach as less destructive or dangerous or likely to tarnish America’s post-WWII reputation than “sending in the Marines,” America’s traditional gang of paid-muscle for such tasks, but, over the long term, he was wrong, and his extensive use of CIA operations would prove highly destructive and not just tarnish America’s image but totally shatter it. It set in motion a number of developments and problems which haunt America to this day.
In the 1950s, the CIA was involved in a number of operations whose success bred hubris and professional contempt for those not part of its secret cult, an attitude not unlike that of members of an elite fraternity or secret society at university. The toppling of disliked but democratic governments in Guatemala and Iran and other operations had, by about the time of President Kennedy’s coming to power in 1960, bred an arrogant and unwarranted belief in its ability to do almost anything it felt was needed. The case of Cuba became a watershed for the CIA and its relationship with Presidents of the United States, President Eisenhower and his CIA having come to believe that Castro, widely regarded by the public as a heroic figure at the time, had turned dangerous to American corporate and overseas interests and needed to be removed. Fairly elaborate preparations for doing so were put into place, and parts of the southern United States became large secret training grounds for would-be terrorists selected from the anti-Castro exile community by CIA officers in charge of a project which dwarfed Osama bin Laden’s later camp in the mountains of Afghanistan.
A just-elected President Kennedy was faced with a momentous decision: whether to permit and support the invasion of neighboring Cuba, great effort and expense having gone into the scheme. Kennedy supported it with limited reservations, reservations which became the source of the deepest resentment by the old boys at the CIA looking for someone to blame for the invasion’s embarrassing public failure. The truth is the CIA’s plans were ill-considered from the beginning, the product of those arrogant attitudes bred from “successes” such as Guatemala. Cuba was not Guatemala, it had a far larger population, fewer discontented elements to exploit, a cohort of soldiers freshly-experienced from the revolution against former dictator Batista, and Castro was widely regarded as a national hero. The Bay of Pigs invasion never had a chance of success, and the very fact that the CIA put so many resources into it and pressured the President to have it done shows how badly it had lost its way by that time.
That failure of the invasion, a highly public failure, created a serious rift between the President and the CIA. When the President, in an unprecedented act, fired three senior CIA figures, holding them responsible for the fiasco, we can only imagine the words which echoed in the halls of Langley. CIA plots against Castro nevertheless carried right on. America was an intensely hostile place on the matter of communism at that time, its press continuously beating the drums, and no President could afford politically to appear even slightly indifferent. Kennedy himself was not quite the peace-loving figure some of his later admirers would hold him to be. He was a work in progress, and he gave speeches often colored by strident martinet and jingo phrases. Secret attempts were made to assassinate Castro, and the Kennedys, at that time, undoubtedly would have been pleased had they succeeded.
Again, in some these attempts, the CIA went to great and genuinely weird lengths, including an arrangement with Mafia figures, something the public did not know until the 1975 Church Committee looking into illegality in CIA operations. Rumors and threats of another invasion, likely often fed by the CIA itself as psychological warfare against Cuba, led to the confrontation known as the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962. Here, more than ever, the President was ill-served by the CIA and the Pentagon. They wanted an immediate invasion of Cuba when U2 spy cameras detected what appeared to be missile installations under construction, utterly unaware that Russia already had battlefield-ready tactical nuclear weapons mounted on short-range missiles ready to repel an invasion.
The 1975 Church Senate Committee looking into earlier illegality came into being because a number of sources were suggesting the CIA had been engaged in assassination and other dark practices, matters which at that time quite upset the general public and some decent politicians. The names in rumors included Lumumba of Congo, Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Diem of Vietnam, Schneider of Chile, and others, but since only part of the Church Report was released we cannot know the full extent of what had been going on. Another possible name is Dag Hammarskjöld of the UN. It is perhaps a key measure of how far things have deteriorated with the CIA that the Church Committee today appears almost naïve. Following the committee’s report, President Ford issued an Executive Order banning assassinations. This was replaced just a few years later by an Executive Order of Ronald Reagan’s, Reagan being a great fan of dark operations, having appointed one of the more dangerous men ever to hold the title of CIA Director, William Casey.
The CIA, of course, now runs a regular assassination air force which has killed thousands of innocent people apart from the intended targets, themselves individuals proved guilty of nothing under law. The CIA today thinks nothing of using mass killing to reach desired goals, the Maidan shootings of innocent people demonstrating in Kiev being an outstanding example, shootings which precipitated a coup last year in Ukraine against an elected government. And then there are the trained and armed maniacs which were set loose upon the people of Syria to do pretty much whatever they pleased.
Kennedy managed to resist demands for invasion in 1962, perhaps his one great achievement as President, and he took another path which eventually led to an agreement with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. That agreement, which included America’s pledge not to invade Cuba, made Kennedy a marked man. He was hated by the fanatical and well-armed Cuban émigré community, and he was hated by all the men who had devoted a fair part of their lives to eliminating Castro, the émigrés’ recruiters, trainers, handlers, and suppliers – members all of the CIA country club set whose commie-hatred was so intense it could make the veins in their foreheads pop. Some at the CIA were undoubtedly even further irked by backchannel communications which opened up between Kennedy and Khrushchev, and tentative efforts to open something of that nature with Castro. They weren’t supposed to know about these efforts, but they almost certainly did.
It is difficult today for people to grasp the intensity of anti-communist and anti-Castro feelings that pervaded America’s establishment in 1963, more resembling a religious hysteria than political views. One thing is absolutely clear, Kennedy’s assassination was about Cuba, and it was conceived out of a simmering conviction that Kennedy literally was not fit to be President. No important person who ever expressed a quiet opinion on the matter – including Mrs. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and some members of the Warren Commission – ever believed the fantasy story fashioned by the Warren Commission. Neither did informed observers abroad – the Russian and French governments for example later expressed their views – as well as a great many ordinary Americans.
Other facts about Kennedy undoubtedly added to the volatile reactions of the plotters, facts not known by the public until decades later, one fact in particular was his relatively long and intense affair with Mary Pinchot Meyer, a highly intelligent woman, socialite, and former wife of a senior CIA agent, Cord Meyer, who for a time ran Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Kennedy and Mary Meyer are said to have had long talks about world affairs and prospects for peace, and she also is said to have introduced Kennedy to marijuana and LSD, he, given his chronic back pain, willing to try almost anything. She kept a diary which was known to the CIA’s James Angleton because he was discovered searching for it after her mysterious, professional hit-style murder in 1964 (small calibre bullet by a gun held to the head). One can only imagine the raised eyebrows of CIA officials when they learned about drugs and Mary’s influence on Kennedy (could some of their numerous meetings possibly not have been bugged?). Double betrayal over Cuba, backchannel communications with Russia, and drugs and sex with an artistic, intellectual type – those surely would have made the men who decided the fates of leaders in much lesser places extremely uneasy about the future.
My focus is not the assassination, but I’ve gone into some length because I believe it was a defining event in relations between future Presidents and the CIA. After this, every President would work under its rather frightening shadow.
Lyndon Johnson was ready from day one to give the CIA anything it wanted. Whether Johnson was involved in the assassination as some plausibly believe, or whether he was just intimidated by those involved – after all, like all bullies, Johnson was at heart a coward as he demonstrated numerous times. He wasn’t long in launching the most vicious and pointless war since World War II with the cheap trick of a story about an attack upon American ships. The CIA got right into the fun in 1965 with its Operation Phoenix, which over some years involved tens of thousands of silent assassinations of village leaders and others by night-crawling Special Forces soldiers guided to their targets by CIA agents.
Like all the CIA’s more lunatic operations – this one just kept running until at least 1972 – chalking up a toll of murders estimated as high as 40,000 and proving a complete failure in its goal of securing America’s artificial rump-state of South Vietnam. It was madness to be involved in Vietnam, and it proved in the end infinitely more embarrassing and destructive to America’s morale and reputation than the Bay of Pigs invasion, but then more than a few people who knew and worked with Johnson have said that he was pretty much mad himself. The CIA fed Johnson the kind of things he wanted to hear, but the War in Vietnam was always characterized by poor intelligence, and when the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese launched the huge, surprise of the Tet Offensive in early 1968, Washington was hit by an earthquake, and a lot of people suddenly understood Vietnam was a lost cause. Johnson, always the coward, his party starting to split into factions over the matter, announced his resignation not long after.
Of course, the truth is that the information side of the CIA’s house has never been very good at its work. Apart from the abject failures of Vietnam, the CIA is said to have never once got the most critical assessments of the Cold War era, those of the Soviet Union’s economic and military strength, anywhere close to accurate. There were many reasons for that, but the perceived need to exaggerate your enemy’s strength to inflate the size of CIA budgets was an important one. Whether Big Intelligence ever really works in obtaining reliable information and reliable information which will be used by politicians is certainly a topic open for discussion. The most successful information-gathering intelligence service of the early Cold War, the KGB, often had its sometimes remarkable material questioned or cast aside by Stalin.
Richard Nixon’s demise in the Watergate scandal likely was served up by CIA dirty tricks. The Watergate break-in was in mid-1972, although it took more than two years before Nixon resigned. Some of the old CIA hands who worked for Nixon’s secret “plumber’s unit,” a private operations group which did jobs like breaking in to the Watergate Hotel offices of the Democrats, had a history going back to the assassination. They undoubtedly kept Langley informed of what steps they were being ordered to take. Nixon was a problem for some of the CIA’s darkest secrets: he was jealous and bitter towards the Kennedys for beating him in the 1960 election (he also knew election fraud was used), and he had an obsessive curiosity about the assassination, having made a number of attempts to ascertain just what happened for which he was rebuffed.
A possible second reason for the CIA’s wanting to dump Nixon was the deteriorated situation in Vietnam. The Paris Peace Accords were signed early in 1973, however there is evidence that Nixon and Kissinger actually put forward their proposals in the hope that they would be rejected and Congress then would allow them a free hand in seeking a clearer victory. But by that time even the CIA recognized the war in Vietnam could not be won by conventional means and that the interests of the United States were being damaged by its continuation. Despite press blurbs about peace, Nixon always desperately wanted to triumph in Vietnam, having gone so far in secret as to discuss the possibility of using nuclear weapons on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Despite various speculations, we have never learned just what Nixon’s burglars were after at the Watergate, and the reason for that may just well be the CIA’s having baited him with false information about what might be discovered there. The job very likely was deliberately sabotaged when old CIA hands do things like sloppy door-taping. The neat little trick alerted a security guard and led to the whole long Watergate Affair and Nixon’s eventual resignation, just the kind of neat outcome operations-types love to chuckle over at expense account lunches.
George H. W. Bush senior, the man for whom the Langley headquarters is named was more than a short-term appointed CIA Director. He had a long but never acknowledged background in the CIA, a fact which has come to light from a few references in obscure documents obtained by assassination researchers over decades. He almost certainly was involved with the operations against Castro before the assassination. He was likely America’s first official CIA President. One of the regular activities of the CIA abroad is to pay secret pensions to likely future leaders in select countries so that they will be both beholden and in a position to be compromised. They do this in dozens of significant countries as part of an effort to control future relations with America. So why not take a similar approach to leadership inside the United States? The first clear example was George H. W. Bush whose single term as President gave the CIA several schemes abroad dear to their hearts, including setting up Saddam Hussein for invasion after his foolish invasion of Kuwait (done following the seeming approval of the United States’ ambassador to Iraq), and the invasion of Panama in 1989. Panama’s General Noriega had apparently done the unforgivable thing of setting up “honey traps” in which American diplomats and CIA officials were photographed having sex, giving Noriega a powerful weapon against Washington’s interference. So he was set up on drug charges – which may or may not have been true, but they were not the business of American justice – other provocations were arranged like a silly stunt about an American sailor being beaten up, and Noriega’s country promptly was invaded.
Of course George Bush Junior was not CIA, lacking the fundamental requirement of a decent brain. But his presidency was effectively America’s first dual presidency, with Dick Cheney serving as senior partner despite his lesser title, and Dick Cheney was CIA-connected, having served as Secretary of Defense under George Bush’s father, overseen such operations as Desert Storm, and after George H. W.’s election defeat, serving as Chairman and CEO of Halliburton, a gigantic oil services company which operates all over the globe. Such companies – in much the same fashion as large American news organizations such as Time-Life, CBS, or The New York Times – notoriously are well connected with the CIA. Because companies like Halliburton operate in scores of countries, deal with strategic resources, travel to remote sites, and often have access to important figures, they provide perfect cover for CIA agents and other intelligence assets. The Bush-Cheney period was certainly a golden one for the CIA in terms of institutional growth and new projects. Many ugly projects now making our world a less secure place were started in this period.
The CIA now is so firmly entrenched and so immensely well financed – much of it off the books, including everything from secret budget items to peddling drugs and weapons – that it is all but impossible for a president to oppose it the way Kennedy did. Obama, who has proved himself a fairly weak character from the start, certainly has given the CIA anything it wants. The dirty business of ISIS in Syria and Iraq is one project. The coup in Ukraine is another. The pushing of NATO’s face right against Russia’s borders is still another. Several attempted coups in Venezuela are still more. And the creation of a drone air force for extrajudicial killing in half a dozen countries is yet another. They don’t resemble projects we would expect from a smiley-faced, intelligent man who sometimes wore sandals and refused to wear a flag pin on his lapel during his first election campaign.
More than one observer has speculated about Obama’s being CIA, and there are significant holes in his resume which could be accounted for by his involvement. He would have been an attractive candidate for several reasons. Obama is bright, and the CIA employs few blacks in its important jobs. He also might have been viewed as a good political prospect for the future in just the way foreign politicians are selected for secret pensions. After all, before he was elected, there were stories about people meeting this smart and (superficially) charming man and remarking that they may just have met a future president.
If Obama is not actually CIA, then he is so intimidated that he pretty much rubber stamps their projects. A young, inexperienced President must always be mindful of that other young President whose head was half blown off in the streets of Dallas. Moreover, there are some shady areas in Obama’s background around drugs and perhaps other matters which could be politically compromising. The CIA is perfectly capable of using anything of that nature for political exposure while making it look as though it came from elsewhere.
So, when people write of America’s secret government or of its government within the government, it is far more than an exaggeration. It is actually hard to imagine now any possibility of someone’s being elected President and opposing what the CIA recommends, the presidency having come to resemble in more than superficial ways the Monarchy in Britain. The Queen is kept informed of what Her government is doing, but can do nothing herself to change directions. Yes, the President still has the power on paper to oppose any scheme, and then so does the Queen simply by refusing her signature, but she likely could exercise that power just once. In her case the consequence would be an abrupt end to the Monarchy. In a President’s case, it would be either a Nixonian or Kennedyesque end.
“A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”
NED founding father, Allen Weinstein
The U.S. government and military have a long history of interfering in the affairs of numerous countries in Latin American and the Caribbean.
By the end of the 19th century, there had been at least 10 U.S. military interventions across the hemisphere including Argentina (1890), Chile (1891), Haiti (1891), Panama (1895), Cuba (1898), Puerto Rico (1898) and Nicaragua (1894, 1896, 1898 and 1899).
From this time onward, successive U.S. administrations applied different strategies and tactics for involvement in the region as a means to secure and protect its geopolitical and economic interests. However, only recently has there been wider acknowledgement about the role that U.S. funding to nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, particularly from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), plays in furthering U.S. foreign policy. For example, in 2012 governments of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) collectively signed a resolution to expel USAID from each of the signing countries. Those countries included Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Dominica, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED)
Created by the administration of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1983, the NED operates as a foundation that provides grants for “democracy promotion.” The foundation is structured as an umbrella with an almost corporatist flavor, housing four other organizations reflecting U.S. sectoral and party interest: the U.S. labor affiliated American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS) and Chamber of Commerce linked Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), along with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), both of which reflect Democrat and Republican affiliations, respectively.
In many ways the NED resembles previous CIA efforts in the 1950s, 60s and 70s to provide mostly public money for secret operations aimed to bolster pro-U.S. governments and movements abroad. In South America for example, between 1975 and 1978 the U.S. helped with the creation and implementation of Operation Condor. The U.S. provided right-wing dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador with technical and military support for the goal of hunting down and killing political opponents. Some estimate that Operation Condor killed between 60,000 and 80,000 people.
In 1986, then president of the NED Carl Gershman explained to the New York Times, “We should not have to do this kind of work covertly … It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the C.I.A. We saw that in the 60s, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.”
U.S. citizens unknowingly fund the NED with public money. The U.S. government allocates part the budget of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the U.S. State Department to the NED – which is most of the NED’s funding source. Although it receives practically all of its funding from the U.S. government, the NED is itself an NGO headed by a Board of Directors. The current board includes:
- Political economist, author and free market universalist Francis Fukuyama,
- Elliott Abrams, former deputy assistant and deputy national security adviser on Middle East policy in the administration of President George W. Bush,
- Moises Naim, Venezuelan Minister of Trade and Industry during the turbulent early 1990s and former Executive Director of the World Bank, and
- Former Deputy Secretary of State under George W. Bush (2005 – 2006) and Vice Chairmanship at Goldman Sachs Group, Robert B. Zoellick.
The scope of activity of the NED is truly impressive. According to the NED website, it supports more than 1,000 NGO projects in more than 90 countries.
At its inception in the early 1980s, its funding allocation was set at US$18 million and reached its peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Allocations for 2014 and 2015 have been approved for US$103.5 million, while over US$7 million was directed primarily to opposition organizations in Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba in 2013.
Within the U.S. State Department Justification of Request documents which outline the reasons for funding requests, it is clear that funding priorities in Latin America and the Caribbean reflect the NED’s modern strategy of overtly carrying out old covert objectives.
Michel Chossudovsky, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Ottawa in Canada, sees this funding as an element in “manufacturing dissent” against governments that the U.S. government dislikes. However, these funders do not work alone. “The NED (and USAID) are entities linked with the U.S. state department, but they operate in tandem with a whole of other organizations,” said Chossudovsky.
In May 2010 the Foundation for International Relations and Foreign Dialogue released their report Assessing Democracy Assistance in Venezuela which revealed that in addition to NED and USAID funding, a broad range of private and European based foundations funded opposition-aligned NGOs in the country with between US$40-50 million annually.
According to Dan Beeton, International Communications Director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C., NED funds in Latin American have been directed at “a lot of what are kind of the old guard political entities that are now kind of discredited,” such as the Trade Union Confederation of Venezuela (CTV), which was instrumental in the 2002 coup in Venezuela, as well as older political parties that are now marginal forces in their country’s political landscapes in spite of their considerable outside funding.
The United States Agency for International Development
Created in 1961 as a foreign assistance program under President John F. Kennedy, USAID commands a much larger budget and broader scope than NED. While U.S. diplomats continue to stress that USAID funding does not have a political basis, USAID documents nonetheless acknowledge its role in “furthering America’s interests” while carrying out “U.S. foreign policy by promoting broad-scale human progress at the same time it expands stable, free societies, creates markets and trade partners for the United States.” But critics are skeptical of USAID’s missionary work, noting how their strategy has changed over time.
“(USAID’s) mandate is to provide development aid and historically it has provided development aid, tied into debt negotiations and so on. Subsequently with the evolution of the development aid program it has redirected its endeavours on funding NGOs,” said Chossudovsky.
While the range of activities undertaken by NGOs can be broad and some of these programs may not have political intentions, Beeton nonetheless argues that this funding “ultimately can and often does serve a political end when the U.S. wants these grantees to help it fulfill its goals in these countries.”
The extent of U.S. political ambitions recently came into the international spotlight with the revelation that USAID had secretly spent US$1.6 million to fund a social messaging network in Cuba called ZunZuneo, with the stated purpose of “renegotiat(ing) the balance of power between the state and society.” The project was headed up by Joe McSpedon of the USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI).
Other USAID officials accused of active political meddling in the affairs of sovereign countries include regional head Mark Feierstein. According to Venezuelan investigative journalist Eva Golinger, in 2013 Feierstein met Venezuelan opposition figures including right-wing politicians Maria Corina Machado, Julio Borges and Ramon Guillermo Avelado as well as political strategist Juan Jose Rendon to devise a plan to undermine the Venezuelan government.
At the State Department budgetary hearing, Feierstein also confirmed “a long-standing program in place to support those who are advocating and fighting on behalf of democracy and human rights in Venezuela … and we are prepared to continue those under any scenario.”
State Department cables revealed by WikiLeaks also brought to light previous activities by USAID/OTI in Venezuela, including the development of a five point, anti-government strategy for U.S. embassy activities, as well as the confirmation that grantees had been active in promoting street demonstrations in 2009.
Machado, a former anti-Chavista National Assembly member, was among the signatories of the Carmona decree following the Venezuelan coup in 2002, which abolished the legislative and judiciary powers, as well as the constitution. She was also among the most prominent promoters of last year’s opposition violence that claimed the lives of 43 people.
In Bolivia, local rural workers’ groups and the government expelled the U.S.-based Chemonics International Inc. after their US$2.7 million USAID-funded “Strengthening Democracy” program was accused of financing destabilization attempts against the government. Chemonics operates in approximately 150 countries, offering various technical services and “consulting.”
The Bolivian government publicly outlined what they argued was proof of USAID-funded programs to mobilize the indigenous population against the government, in particular an indigenous march protesting the construction of a highway. USAID funded programs were active in these areas, and had funded some of the leading organizations such as the Eastern Bolivia Indigenous Peoples and Communities Confederation (CIDOB).
“USAID refused to reveal who it was funding and the Bolivian government had strong reasons to believe that it had ties and coordination with opposition groups in the country which at the time was involved in violence and destructive activities aimed at toppling the Morales government,” said Beeton. “Now we know through WikiLeaks that that’s what really was going on.”
President Evo Morales also revealed transcripts of phone calls between the anti-highway march organizers and U.S. embassy officials. The U.S. embassy confirmed the calls, but explained that they were merely trying to familiarize themselves with the country’s political and social situation.
Officials also denounced the lack of accountability to the Bolivian government or to the recipient constituencies of USAID funds.
The head of the Eastern Bolivia Indigenous Peoples and Communities Confederation (CIDOB), Lazaro Taco, confirmed that they had received “external support for our workshops,” but would not identify the source.
These and other USAID activities led Bolivian President Evo Morales to claim that the agency was conspiring against his government. The government expelled USAID from the country in May 2013, while USAID denied any wrongdoing.
In June of 2012, an Ecuadorian daily revealed that 4 NGOs based in Ecuador were recipients of over US$1.8 million for a project called Active Citizens, whose political bend was critical of the Correa government.
Shortly afterwards, the Technical Secretariat for International Cooperation (Seteci) of Ecuador announced it would also investigate the “Costas y Bosques” (Coasts and Forests) conservation project, which received US$13.3 million in funding from USAID. The project, based in the provinces of Esmeraldas, Guayas and Manabí, was also being undertaken by the Chemonics International Inc, the same organization expelled from Bolivia.
Mireya Cardenas, National Secretary of Peoples, Social Movements and Citizen Participation, said that “there is every reason to consider USAID a factor of disturbance that threatens the sovereignty and political stability (of Ecuador)”. While the U.S. Ambassador in Ecuador Adam Namm tried to reassert that USAID did not fund political parties, he did confirm that certain opposition groups such as Fundamedios was funded “indirectly.”
In November 2013 the Ecuadorean government sent a letter to the U.S. embassy in the country’s capital Quito, ordering that “USAID must not execute any new activity” in Ecuador. USAID canceled its aid shortly after.
For Beeton, “lack of transparency is probably the biggest problem (with USAID) in that it really prevents the governments in the host countries from finding something objectionable, or even coordinating better”. This was in large part the principle concern from the Ecuadorian Seteci, who questioned the extent of expenditures on certain project and the lack of coordination.
In the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake, CEPR conducted an extensive evaluation of USAID funding to Haiti, including the history of funding, and found transparency and coordination with local government to be a significant problem, especially when the local government experienced tensions with U.S. foreign policy.
“The U.S. government has been perfectly happy to not coordinate with governments, and that has a lot to do with politics… it was under [former Haitian President] Aristide really saw a lot of assistance bypass the Haitian government and go to NGO, including violent opposition groups and so called democratic opposition groups much like what you are seeing recently in Venezuela and Bolivia,” said Beeton.
For 2013, the combined NED and USAID allocations for Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia alone totaled over US$60 million, with the bulk of these funds destined to Cuba and Ecuador. For the government and progressive social movements of these countries, there is a growing concern that these funds could be used to undertake what Chossudovsky qualified as a “consistent process of destabilizing government as part of non-conventional warfare, meaning you don’t send in the troops but you destabilize the government through so called colored revolutions or infiltrations.”
An early skill learned by Official Washington’s neoconservatives, when they were cutting their teeth inside the U.S. government in the 1980s, was how to frame their arguments in the most propagandistic way, so anyone who dared to disagree with any aspect of the presentation seemed unpatriotic or crazy.
During my years at The Associated Press and Newsweek, I dealt with a number of now prominent neocons who were just starting out and mastering these techniques at the knee of top CIA psychological warfare specialist Walter Raymond Jr., who had been transferred to President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council staff where Raymond oversaw inter-agency task forces that pushed Reagan’s hard-line agenda in Central America and elsewhere. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Victory of ‘Perception Management.’”]
One of those quick learners was Robert Kagan, who was then a protégé of Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams. Kagan got his first big chance when he became director of the State Department’s public diplomacy office for Latin America, a key outlet for Raymond’s propaganda schemes.
Though always personable in his dealings with me, Kagan grew frustrated when I wouldn’t swallow the propaganda that I was being fed. At one point, Kagan warned me that I might have to be “controversialized,” i.e. targeted for public attack by Reagan’s right-wing media allies and anti-journalism attack groups, like Accuracy in Media, a process that did indeed occur.
Years later, Kagan emerged as one of America’s top neocons, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, which opened in 1998 to advocate for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, ultimately gaining the backing of a large swath of the U.S. national security establishment in support of that bloody endeavor.
Despite the Iraq disaster, Kagan continued to rise in influence, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a columnist at the Washington Post, and someone whose published criticism so alarmed President Barack Obama last year that he invited Kagan to a White House lunch. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Obama’s True Foreign Policy Weakness.”]
Kagan’s Wife’s Coup
But Kagan is perhaps best known these days as the husband of neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, one of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former advisers and a key architect of last year’s coup in Ukraine, a “regime change” that toppled an elected president and touched off a civil war, which now has become a proxy fight involving nuclear-armed United States and Russia.
In an interview last year with the New York Times, Nuland indicated that she shared her husband’s criticism of President Obama for his hesitancy to use American power more assertively. Referring to Kagan’s public attacks on Obama’s more restrained “realist” foreign policy, Nuland said, “suffice to say … that nothing goes out of the house that I don’t think is worthy of his talents. Let’s put it that way.”
But Nuland also seems to have mastered her husband’s skill with propaganda, presenting an extreme version of the situation in Ukraine, such that no one would dare quibble with the details. In prepared testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week, Nuland even slipped in an accusation blaming Russia for the July 17 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 though the U.S. government has not presented any proof.
Nuland testified, “In eastern Ukraine, Russia and its separatist puppets unleashed unspeakable violence and pillage; MH-17 was shot down.”
Now, it’s true that if one parses Nuland’s testimony, she’s not exactly saying the Russians or the ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine shot down the plane. There is a semi-colon between the “unspeakable violence and pillage” and the passive verb structure “MH-17 was shot down.” But anyone seeing her testimony would have understood that the Russians and their “puppets” shot down the plane, killing all 298 people onboard.
When I submitted a formal query to the State Department asking if Nuland’s testimony meant that the U.S. government had developed new evidence that the rebels shot down the plane and that the Russians shared complicity, I received no answer.
Perhaps significantly or perhaps not, Nuland presented similarly phrased testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday but made no reference to MH-17. So, I submitted a new inquiry asking whether the omission reflected second thoughts by Nuland about making the claim before the House. Again, I have not received a reply.
However, both of Nuland’s appearances place all the blame for the chaos in Ukraine on Russia, including the 6,000 or more deaths. Nuland offered not a single word of self-criticism about how she contributed to these violent events by encouraging last year’s coup, nor did she express the slightest concern about the actions of the coup regime in Kiev, including its dispatch of neo-Nazi militias to carry out “anti-terrorist” and “death squad” operations against ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Nuclear War and Clashing Ukraine Narratives.”]
Everything was Russia’s fault – or as Nuland phrased it: “This manufactured conflict — controlled by the Kremlin; fueled by Russian tanks and heavy weapons; financed at Russian taxpayers’ expense — has cost the lives of more than 6,000 Ukrainians, but also of hundreds of young Russians sent to fight and die there by the Kremlin, in a war their government denies.”
Nuland was doing her husband proud. As every good propagandist knows, you don’t present events with any gray areas; your side is always perfect and the other side is the epitome of evil. And, today, Nuland faces almost no risk that some mainstream journalist will dare contradict this black-and-white storyline; they simply parrot it.
Besides heaping all the blame on the Russians, Nuland cited – in her Senate testimony – some of the new “reforms” that the Kiev authorities have just implemented as they build a “free-market state.” She said, “They made tough choices to reduce and cap pension benefits, increase work requirements and phase in a higher retirement age; … they passed laws cutting wasteful gas subsidies.”
In other words, many of the “free-market reforms” are aimed at making the hard lives of average Ukrainians even harder – by cutting pensions, removing work protections, forcing people to work into their old age and making them pay more for heat during the winter.
Nuland also hailed some of the regime’s stated commitments to fighting corruption. But Kiev seems to have simply installed a new cast of bureaucrats looking to enrich themselves. For instance, Ukraine’s Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko is an expatriate American who – before becoming an instant Ukrainian citizen last December – ran a U.S. taxpayer-financed investment fund for Ukraine that was drained of money as she engaged in lucrative insider deals, which she has fought to keep secret. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine’s Finance Minister’s American ‘Values.’”]
Yet, none of these concerns were mentioned in Nuland’s propagandistic testimony to the House and Senate – not that any of the committee members or the mainstream press corps seemed to care that they were being spun and even misled. The hearings were mostly opportunities for members of Congress to engage in chest-beating as they demanded that President Obama send U.S. arms to Ukraine for a hot war with Russia.
Regarding the MH-17 disaster, one reason that I was inquisitive about Nuland’s insinuation in her House testimony that the Russians and the ethnic Russian rebels were responsible was that some U.S. intelligence analysts have reached a contrary conclusion, according to a source briefed on their findings. According to that information, the analysts found no proof that the Russians had delivered a BUK anti-aircraft system to the rebels and concluded that the attack was apparently carried out by a rogue element of the Ukrainian military.
After I published that account last summer, the Obama administration went silent about the MH-17 shoot-down, letting stand some initial speculation that had blamed the Russians and the rebels. In the nearly eight months since the tragedy, the U.S. government has failed to make public any intelligence information on the crash. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Danger of an MH-17 ‘Cold Case.’”]
So, Nuland may have been a bit duplicitous when she phrased her testimony so that anyone hearing it would jump to the conclusion that the Russians and the rebels were to blame. It’s true she didn’t exactly say so but she surely knew what impression she was leaving.
In that, Nuland appears to have taken a page from the playbook of her husband’s old mentor, Elliott Abrams, who provided misleading testimony to Congress on the Iran-Contra Affair in the 1980s – and even though he was convicted of that offense, Abrams was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush and thus was able to return to government last decade to oversee the selling of the Iraq War.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Removing Israel from American politics
[The following is a lightly edited version of a speech I gave on March 1 st in Washington during the anti-AIPAC and Netanyahu visit demonstrations. Two days later Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, whom I cite below, was sitting in the House VIP visitors’ gallery beaming as he listened to Netanyahu’s love fest with Congress. It might have been the first time a clandestine agent for a foreign country who spied on the United States was so honored but I would observe that the event was doubly significant in that the speaker Prime Minister Netanyahu was also involved in the same theft of American nuclear technology.]
I would like to concentrate on two issues. First is the nature of the special relationship between Israel and the United States and second is the role of the Israel Lobby and most particularly AIPAC in shaping that relationship. I was a foreign policy adviser for Ron Paul in 2008 and consider myself politically conservative. I respect the fact that nations must be responsive to their interests, but because of my personal experience of living and working overseas for many years I have come to recognize that the United States is an anomaly in that it persists in going around the world doing things that just do not make any sense. This has been particularly true during the past fourteen years, with invasions, interventions and targeted assassinations having become the preferred form of international discourse for Washington.
Many would agree with what I have just observed, but few recognize the role of the special relationship with Israel in shaping what the United States has become. Quite frankly, the relationship is both lopsided in terms of favoring perceived Israeli interests as well as being terrible for the long suffering Palestinians, very bad for the United States as it damages the American brand worldwide and even bad for Israel as it enables its governments to act in ways that are ill advised and ultimately self-defeating.
I would first like to address the often repeated mantra that Israel is America’s best friend or closest ally as it is a bedrock issue that is frequently trotted out to excuse behavior that would otherwise be incomprehensible. Apart from being a recipient of more than $3 billion per year from the US taxpayer, Israel is no ally and never has been. There is no alliance of any kind with Israel, in part because Israel has a border that has been moving eastward for the past fifty years as it continues to absorb Palestinian land. Without an internationally recognized border it is impossible to define a relationship between two nations. Israel also has no strategic value to the United States, so to speak of an alliance, which posits reciprocity is ridiculous.
But that is not to say that Israel does not interact with Washington. Indeed, some might say that it possesses a disproportionate voice relating to some foreign and domestic policies. The penchant to use force as a first option in international interactions is perhaps itself due to Washington imitating Tel Aviv or vice versa as neither the United States nor Israel seems any longer interested in diplomacy.
American protection of Israel in international bodies like the United Nations is a disgrace, making the United States de facto complicit in Israeli violations of international law, to include its settlement expansion, as well as its war crimes. Under Bill Clinton the United States more or less adopted the Israeli model in dealing with terrorism, which consists of overwhelming armed response and no negotiations ever. Washington’s uncritical support for Israel politically and militarily was a major factor in motivating the perpetrators of the 9/11 terror attack.
Deferring to Israel often results in U.S. policies that are absurd and highly damaging to other interests. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described Israel’s devastation of Lebanon in 2006 in which nearly 1,000 civilians were killed and more than $2 billion in infrastructure was destroyed as the “birth pangs of a new Middle East”. Rice, who also spoke of fear of a nuclear mushroom cloud rising above Washington to justify invading Iraq, far from being discredited due to her lack of discernment, is currently a professor at Stanford University and is now being spoken of as a possible Senator from California or, alternatively, as the next Commissioner of the National Football League. So much for accountability in the United States.
One might well conclude that Israel is not only not an ally but also not much of a friend. It has run massive spying operations inside the United States to include hundreds of Art Students and celebrations by the employees of an Israeli moving firm located in New Jersey when the twin towers were going down. Israel is regularly named by the FBI as the most active friendly country in terms of running espionage operations against the U.S. but nothing ever happens. Israeli spies are sent home quietly and Americans who spy for Israel are rarely prosecuted. Last year we witnessed Hollywood producer and Israeli citizen Arnon Milchan receiving an Oscar even as stories were circulating about his criminal collusion to obtain restricted American technology to enable Israel to build nuclear weapons. The Justice Department has not seen fit to do anything about him.
Israel also has a hand in what is going on domestically in the United States. Many states now have their own departments of homeland security and many of the companies that obtain contracts to provide security services are Israeli. Airport security is a virtual Israeli monopoly. Increasingly militarized American police officers now use federal government grants to travel to Israel for training based on the Israeli experience with the Palestinians. Israelis have advised CIA and Pentagon torturers and Israeli advisers were also present at Abu Ghraib.
Israel’s influence over Washington policies frequently means war. American officials extremely close to the Israeli government were behind the rush to war with Iraq. If Washington goes to war with Iran in the near future it will not be because Tehran actually threatens America, it will be because Israel and its powerful lobby in the U.S. have succeeded in creating an essentially false case to mandate such action. Congress is obligingly advancing legislation that would commit the United States to intervene militarily in support of a unilateral Israeli attack, meaning that Israel could easily be empowered to make the decision on whether or not the U.S. goes to war.
Israel interferes in American elections, in 2012 on behalf of Mitt Romney, and also this week by aligning itself with the Republicans against the President of the United States to harden existing policy against Iran. Looking ahead to elections in 2016, two Jewish billionaires have already stated clearly that they will spend whatever they have to to elect the candidate that is best for Israel. As Sheldon Adelson is a Republican and Haim Saban is a Democrat both major parties are covered and I would warn “Watch out for Hillary,” Saban’s candidate of choice.
Israel has corrupted our congress which we will witness again on Tuesday. Benjamin Netanyahu publicly rebukes and belittles our own head of state, its government ministers insult and ridicule John Kerry, and its intelligence officers have free access to Capitol Hill where they provide alarmist and inaccurate private briefings for American legislators. In short, Israel has no reluctance to use its enormous political and media clout in the US to pressure successive administrations to conform to its own foreign and security policy views.
Beyond the corruption of our political process, I believe many in this room would agree that the depiction and treatment of the Palestinians has been disgraceful. Israel has engaged in land and water theft and is doing its best to make Palestinian life so miserable that they will all decide to leave. Some would describe that as ethnic cleansing. Just last week there were reports of how Israeli authorities cut off water and electricity to parts of the West bank and also won a bogus court case in New York City that will bankrupt the Palestinian authority.
Netanyahu’s policy is to punish the Palestinians incessantly no matter what they do. The United States has certainly embraced a lot of unpleasant policies over the past fourteen years, but I honestly think that most Americans would be appalled if they knew how Palestinians really have been treated. Unfortunately the Israel propaganda machine has been able to maintain a tight grip on the narrative promoted in the mainstream media. Arabs are depicted as terrorists while Israelis are seen as folks just like us.
How does all this happen? Because of money which enables the Israel firsters to control the media and buy the politicians, but unfortunately no one is allowed to say that lest Abe Foxman of the Anti Defamation League accuse one of propagating a stereotype that is an “anti-Semitic myth.” American media corporations and national politics are in fact totally corrupted by money and the control that it buys and not just on behalf of Israel. One would have to be blind not to recognize that fact.
This is where groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee better known as AIPAC come in. AIPAC is only one part of the octopus like Israel Lobby but it might well be regarded as the most effective component. AIPAC has an annual budget of $70 million and 200 full time employees. It has thousands of volunteers and tens of thousands of contributors and supporters, many of whom are in Washington right now. On Tuesday they will descend on Congressional offices to pressure congressmen to agree to conform to AIPAC talking points.
AIPAC, which is an IRS 501(c)4 lobbying organization, is able to keep its donor list secret. It characteristically operates in the shadows. It prepares position papers that are then distributed in congress and many congressmen, largely ignorant of the issues, parrot what AIPAC gives them. AIPAC operative Steve Rosen once boasted that he could have the signatures of seventy Senators on a napkin in twenty-four hours.
Congressmen know that crossing the Israeli Lobby is career damaging. Senators William Fulbright and Chuck Percy were among the first to feel its wrath when they were confronted by well-funded challengers backed by effective media campaigns who defeated them in spite of their own outstanding records as legislators. The founder of my own organization the Council for the National Interest Congressman Paul Findley also suffered the same fate when he fell afoul of the Lobby. Within the government the purge has also been widespread with the traditional Arabists at State Department forced out to be replaced by friends of Israel, many of whom have been political appointees rather than career diplomats.
There is no easy solution to what I have been telling you. Certainly a more honest media would produce American voters who are better informed, but even though AIPAC has long been defending the indefensible the corruption in Congress runs deep and it is difficult to find a constituency anywhere in the United States where it is possible to vote for a candidate who is not openly and enthusiastically supportive of the Israel relationship. In Virginia last year there were several important congressional elections. All the candidates were vetted for their views on Israel well before the voting took place.
But to return to AIPAC there should be demands that it and other similar Israel-advocacy organizations register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938. That would require them to have complete transparency in terms of their funding and it would also tell the American people that the organizations themselves are not necessarily benign and acting on behalf of U.S. interests, which is the subterfuge that they currently engage in. It is certainly past time to push back against an organization that is brazenly promoting the interests of a foreign government at the expense of the American people. Thank you.
The original idea of the CIA was to have independent-minded experts assessing both short- and longer-term threats to U.S. national security. Mixing with operations and politics was always a danger, which is now highlighted by CIA Director Brennan’s reorganization, opposed by a group of U.S. intelligence veterans.
MEMORANDUM FOR: The President
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
SUBJECT: John Brennan’s Restructuring Plan for CIA
Mr. President, the CIA reorganization plan announced by Director John Brennan on Friday is a potentially deadly blow to the objective, fact-based intelligence needed to support fully informed decisions on foreign policy. We suggest turning this danger into an opportunity to create an independent entity for CIA intelligence analysis immune from the operational demands of the “war on terror.”
On Feb. 5, 2003, immediately after Colin Powell’s address to the UN, members of VIPS sent our first VIPS memorandum, urging President George W. Bush to widen the policy debate “beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”
The “former senior officers” whom Brennan asked for input on the restructuring plan are a similar closed, blinkered circle, as is the “outstanding group of officers from across the Agency” picked by Brennan to look at the Agency’s mission and future. He did not include any of the intelligence community dissidents and alumni who fought against the disastrous politicization of intelligence before the attack on Iraq. Nor does Brennan’s plan reflect the lessons learned from that debacle.
You have continued to express confidence in Brennan despite the CIA’s mediocre record under his leadership. We urge you to weigh Brennan’s plan against the backdrop of Harry Truman’s prophetic vision for the CIA. We need to stop wasting time and energy trying to prevent the baby Truman never wanted from being thrown out with the bathwater. Let the bathwater run off, with the baby high and dry.
An independent group for intelligence analysis would be free to produce for you and your National Security Council the medium- and long-term strategic intelligence analysis that can help our country steer clear of future strategic disasters. And we offer ourselves as advisers as to how this might be accomplished.
Our concern over what we see as the likely consequences stemming from what Brennan intends, together with our many years of experience in intelligence work, have prompted this memo, which we believe can profit from some historical perspective.
President Harry Truman wanted an agency structure able to meet a president’s need for “the most accurate … information on what’s going on everywhere in the world, and particularly of the trends and developments in all the danger spots.” In an op-ed appearing in the Washington Post exactly one month after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Truman added, “I have been disturbed by … the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment … and has become an operational and at times policy-making arm of the Government.”
Truman added that the “most important thing” was to guard against the chance of intelligence being used to influence or lead the President into unwise decisions. His warning is equally relevant now – 52 years later.
Bay of Pigs
Truman was referring to how CIA Director Allen Dulles tried to mousetrap President Kennedy into committing U.S. armed forces to finish what a rag-tag band of CIA-trained invaders of Cuba began by landing at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, a few months before you were born. Kennedy had repeatedly warned the CIA brass and covert action planners that under no circumstances would he commit U.S. forces. But they were old hands; they knew better; they thought the young President could be had.
Allen Dulles’s handwritten notes discovered after his death show how he drew Kennedy into a plan that was virtually certain to require the support of U.S. forces. Dulles wrote that Kennedy would be compelled by “the realities of the situation” to give whatever military support was necessary “rather than permit the enterprise to fail.”
Kennedy fired Dulles, a quintessential Washington Establishment figure – something one does only at one’s own peril. As young CIA officers at the time, some of us experienced first-hand the deep reservoir of hate in which many a CIA covert action operator swam. Many could not resist venting their spleen, calling Kennedy a “coward” and even “traitor.”
Analysis Also Corrupted
You are fully aware, we trust, that our analysts’ vaunted ethos of speaking unvarnished truth to power was corrupted by Director George Tenet and Deputy Director John McLaughlin, who outdid themselves in carrying out the instructions of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The new ethos boiled down to this: If the President wants to paint Iraq as a strategic threat, it is our job to come up with the “evidence” – even if it needs to be manufactured out of whole cloth (or forged, as in “yellowcake uranium from Africa” caper).
Honest analysts were admonished not to rock the boat. A concrete example might help to show this in all its ugliness. When the only U.S. intelligence officer to interview “Curve Ball” before the war saw a draft of Powell’s Feb. 5, 2003 speech citing “first-hand descriptions” by an Iraqi defector of a fleet of mobile bioweapons laboratories, he strongly questioned the “validity of the information.” The interviewer had, from the outset, expressed deep reservations about Curveball’s reliability.
Here’s what the interviewer’s supervisor, the Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Iraqi Task Force, wrote in an email responding to his misgivings:
“Let’s keep in mind the fact that this war’s going to happen regardless of what Curve Ball said or didn’t say, and that the Powers That Be probably aren’t terribly interested in whether Curve Ball knows what he’s talking about. However, in the interest of Truth, we owe somebody a sentence or two of warning, if you honestly have reservations.”
This was not an isolated occurrence. Commenting on the results of a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee five-year study of pre-Iraq-war intelligence, Chairman Jay Rockefeller described it as “unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent.” He was alluding to information (in)famously described as a “slam dunk” by then-CIA Director George Tenet who was singularly responsible for advancing the career of John Brennan.
In a departure from customary diplomatic parlance, then-Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence Carl Ford, speaking to the authors of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, had harsh words for Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin. Ford said that the evidence and analysis they gave policy makers was “not just wrong, they lied … they should have been shot.”
It is unfortunately true that – short of quitting and blowing the whistle – there is little one can do to prevent the skewing of “intelligence” when it is directed from the top – whether by the Bush-Tenet-McLaughlin consequential deceit on the threat from Iraq, or the ideological/careerist conceit of William Casey-Robert Gates in insisting up until the very end of the Soviet regime that the Soviet Communist Party would never relinquish power and that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was merely cleverer than his predecessors.
Thankfully, Not All Gave Up
There is hope to be drawn from those occasions where senior intelligence officials with integrity can step in, show courageous example, and – despite multiple indignities and pitfalls in the system – can force the truth to the surface. We hope that you have been made aware that, after the no-WMD-anywhere debacle on Iraq, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence Thomas Fingar did precisely that during 2007, supervising a watershed National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that concluded unanimously, “with high confidence,” that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003.
President Bush concedes in his memoir that this put the kibosh on his and Dick Cheney’s earlier plan to attack Iran during their last year in office. So, character (as in Fingar) counts, and people of integrity can make a difference – and even help thwart plans for war – even in the most politicized of circumstances.
Accordingly, the primary objective in any restructuring should be to make it easier for people of integrity, like Thomas Fingar, to create an atmosphere in which analysts feel free to tell it like it is without worry about possible harm to their careers, should they come up with a politically “incorrect” conclusion – as the one on Iran clearly was.
The problem is that the Brennan restructuring effort does just the opposite. It puts the politicization on steroids. Placing intelligence analysts and operations officers together fosters a quite different kind of atmosphere – the kind that increases the likelihood of what Truman called the “most important thing” to guard against – leading “the President into unwise decisions.”
Truman saw the general problem and went even further, saying he “would like to see the CIA restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President … and its operational duties terminated or properly used elsewhere.” We think Truman was right then; and he is right now.
Decades of experience show that Truman’s fears were well founded. Indeed, from the outset, putting analysis and covert action operations together in the same agency was the first structural fault, so to speak, when it was created in 1947.
It was occasioned primarily by insistence that WWII OSS operatives who could match the KGB in what is now called “regime change” remain in government, and then a myopic choice to place them with the analysts in the newly created CIA. As Melvin Goodman points out in his The Failure of Intelligence: the Decline and Fall of the CIA, the early “CIA leadership itself was opposed to having responsibility for covert action, believing that the clandestine function would ultimately taint the intelligence product, a prescient observation.”
During the 1980s, President Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz, correctly accused CIA Director William Casey and his deputy, Robert Gates, of slanting intelligence, charging that their operational involvement “colored” the Agency’s analysis. Shultz openly charged William Casey with giving President Reagan “faulty intelligence” to bolster Casey’s own policy preferences, including the ill-conceived arms-for-hostages-swap with Iran.
Shultz added that, because he had a sense of this analysis-operations toxic mix, he harbored “grave doubts about the objectivity and reliability of some of the intelligence I was getting.” Shultz was a strong advocate of separating the analysis from operations, likening the need to that of separating investment from commercial banking.
“War on Terrorism” as Business Model
The business model chosen by Brennan is fashioned to the “War on Terrorism,” and he holds up the Counterterrorism Center (CTC) as a model to emulate. There the analysts and operations officers sit side by side charged primarily with hunting, targeting, and killing in that war.
But truth, it has been pointed out, is the first casualty of war. This can be seen right off the bat in the exaggerated way the supposed “successes” of the Center are advertised. Some of us have worked in or closely with these CIA Centers, after which ten new “Mission Centers” are patterned. And we are taken aback by the hyperbolic plaudits being given them – and especially to the CTC.
That a quintessential politicizer, and big Curve Ball promoter, like former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin is reported to have advised Brennan on the restructuring, and lauds the benefits of “putting analysts and operators together” adds to our concern.
Very much in step, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, for instance, claims that existing Centers have “proven to be a very powerful combination” and that the Counterterrorism Center is “the most successful agency component over the last decade.”
Morell remains focused on the business model of war. Just days ago he conceded that he did not think he would live to see the end of al-Qaeda: “My children’s generation and my grandchildren’s generation will still be fighting this fight,” said Morell.
Does it occur to Morell or others who have played senior intelligence roles that there ought to be a different kind of center, like what used to exist in parts of the Directorate of Intelligence, where analyst talent might be used not simply for targeting terrorists, but for figuring out what their grievances are, and whether there may be more promising ways to address them?
Do we really believe that terrorists slip out of the womb screaming “I hate America”? And is there a cost to drone-killing them as the preferred method of eliminating terrorists (together with others who may be in the wrong place at the wrong time)?
Brennan has announced that the new Centers will “bring the full range of operational, analytic, support, technical, and digital personnel and capabilities to bear on the nation’s most pressing security issues and interests.”
We need to learn more of the specifics, but the integrated Mission Centers sound very much like fertile field for politicization and centralized control under which subordinates will feel pressure to fall in line with prosecuting the war de jour and to sign on to politically correct solutions dictated from the 7th floor under guidance from your staff in the White House.
Is this the kind of CIA we need — everyone marching in step, as major parts of the Agency are transformed into a private army at your disposal, with virtually no Congressional oversight? We don’t think so.
With the present restructuring plan we see little promise for the kind of agenda-free, substantive intelligence that you and other senior policy makers need. But the train seems to have left the station headed toward Brennan’s restructuring plan. The sweeping reorganization scheme is of such importance that it should be the subject of hearings in the intelligence committees of House and Senate, but there is no indication that either committee intends to do so.
Let the analysts inclined toward targeting terrorists and providing other direct operational support to war sign up for these war-on-terror and like Centers. You and your successors will still need an agency devoted to unfettered intelligence analysis able to critique honestly the likely medium- and long-term consequences of the methods used to wage the “war on terror” and other wars.
We can assure you it is far better for those analysts doing this demanding substantive work NOT to be simultaneously “part of the team” implementing that policy.
It is time to revert to what Truman envisaged for the CIA. We are ready to make ourselves available to assist you and your staff in thinking through how this might be done. That it needs to be done is clear to us, and this would seem an opportune time.
In our view, we need to stop wasting time and energy trying to prevent the baby from being thrown out with the bathwater. Let the bathwater run off. Save the baby, even if that means a separate institution in which analysts of the kind that completed that NIE on Iran in 2007 can flourish. This just might help stop a new unnecessary war, as the combat support officers try to bring an end to old ones.
In sum, we are convinced that a separate entity for intelligence analysis – the kind of agency Truman envisaged for his CIA – would be an invaluable asset to you and your successors as president.
For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
Fulton Armstrong, National Intelligence Officer for Latin America (ret.)
Larry Johnson, CIA analyst & State Department/counterterrorism, (ret.)
John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer
David MacMichael, USMC & National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Ray McGovern, Army Infantry/Intelligence officer & CIA presidential briefer (ret.)
Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Torin Nelson, former HUMINT Officer, Department of the Army
Coleen Rowley, retired FBI Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel
Peter Van Buren, former diplomat, Department of State (associate VIPS)
Kirk Wiebe, Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA (ret.)
Lawrence Wilkerson, Colonel (USA, ret.), Distinguished Visiting Professor, College of William and Mary
Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army reserve colonel and former US diplomat (resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War)
Imprisoned on various occasions and subjected to numerous interrogations, Dr. Jaime Galarza Zavala is one of the estimated 120 direct victims of the CIA’s record in Ecuador.
Persecuted by the CIA for his political organizing, Galarza described to teleSUR English that “they told me that I was working as a guerrilla in the Dominican Republic. I, to this day, have never visited the Dominican Republic. But they accused me of being a guerrilla leader in the Dominican Republic. And this was a common theme with various interrogations.”
He added that, “while they interrogated me, there was somebody that called every now and then from another room. Afterward, they told me that this person they were talking with was a gringo, a North American, who never presented himself to me. But he gave them instructions as to how to continue the interrogation,” said Galarza.
A fierce critic of U.S foreign policy in the region, Galarza recently published a book titled, “The CIA Against Latin America, the Special Case of Ecuador,” co-authored by Francisco Herrera Arauz.
In an interview with teleSUR English on CIA actions in Ecuador, Herrera said,“First, they destroyed our democracy. Second, they worked with undivided attention against our citizens. They persecuted our citizens for thinking differently. People were killed, injured, there are victims of this violence, there are families that were harmed, there are exiles, the honor of some people has been ruined, there are destroyed families, and all of this was caused by the CIA’s actions.”
Both authors have previously interviewed Philip Agee, the ex-CIA operations officer whose name became internationally known when he wrote the book “Inside the Company: CIA Diary” in 1975, detailing his time working in Ecuador, Uruguay, and Mexico from 1960 to 1968 and denouncing actions undertaken by the CIA during this period.
In his testimonies of that period, Agee said that when he operated in Ecuador from 1960 to 1963, the CIA oversaw: the overthrow of two presidents; the infiltration of various political parties and organizations; and the planting of bombs in front of churches and other emblematic sites to frame leftist groups; among other actions.
At an event celebrating the new book, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño said, “These secret policies continue in Latin America today. Nothing that Philip Agee denounced as CIA actions in the past have been discarded by the espionage seen in the present.”
To raise public awareness of the atrocities committed within Ecuador and the long-term damage caused by CIA interventions throughout Latin America, Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry has printed and widely distributed copies of the book in Spanish and English.
The 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report, released in August 2009, referenced as “background” to the Bush-era abuses the spy agency’s “intermittent involvement in the interrogation of individuals whose interests are opposed to those of the United States.” The report noted “a resurgence in interest” in teaching those techniques in the early 1980s “to foster foreign liaison relationships.”
The report said, “because of political sensitivities,” the CIA’s top brass in the 1980s “forbade Agency officers from using the word ‘interrogation” and substituted the phrase “human resources exploitation” [HRE] in training programs for allied intelligence agencies.
The euphemism aside, the reality of these interrogation techniques remained brutal, with the CIA Inspector General conducting a 1984 investigation of alleged “misconduct on the part of two Agency officers who were involved in interrogations and the death of one individual,” the report said (although the details were redacted in the version released to the public).
In 1984, the CIA also was hit with a scandal over what became known as an “assassination manual” prepared by agency personnel for the Nicaraguan Contras, a rebel group sponsored by the Reagan administration with the goal of ousting Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.
Despite those two problems, the questionable training programs apparently continued for another two years. The 2004 IG report states that “in 1986, the Agency ended the HRE training program because of allegations of human rights abuses in Latin America.”
While the report’s references to this earlier era of torture are brief – and the abuses are little-remembered features of Ronald Reagan’s glorified presidency – there have been other glimpses into how Reagan unleashed this earlier “dark side” on the peasants, workers and students of Central America.
A sketchy history of the U.S. intelligence community’s participation in torture and other abuses surfaced in the mid-1990s with the release of a Pentagon report on what was known as “Project X,” a training program in harsh and anti-democratic practices which got its start in 1965 as the U.S. military build-up in Vietnam was underway.
The U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School at Fort Holabird, Maryland, began pulling together experiences from past counterinsurgency campaigns for the development of lesson plans which would “provide intelligence training to friendly foreign countries,” according to a brief history of Project X, which was prepared in 1991. Called “a guide for the conduct of clandestine operations,” Project X “was first used by the U.S. Intelligence School on Okinawa to train Vietnamese and, presumably, other foreign nationals,” the history stated. Linda Matthews of the Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Division recalled that in 1967-68, some of the Project X training material was prepared by officers connected to the so-called Phoenix program in Vietnam, an operation that involved targeting, interrogating and assassinating suspected Viet Cong.
“She suggested the possibility that some offending material from the Phoenix program may have found its way into the Project X materials at that time,” according to the Pentagon report. In the 1970s, the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School moved to Fort Huachuca in Arizona and began exporting Project X material to U.S. military assistance groups working with “friendly foreign countries.” By the mid-1970s, the Project X material was going to military forces all over the world.
But Reagan’s election in 1980 – and his determination to crush leftist movements in Central America – expanded the role of Project X.
In 1982, the Pentagon’s Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence ordered the Fort Huachuca center to supply lesson plans to the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, which human rights activists dubbed the School of the Assassins because it trained some of Latin America’s most notorious military officers.
“The working group decided to use Project X material because it had previously been cleared for foreign disclosure,” the Pentagon history stated. According to surviving documents released in the mid-1990s under a Freedom of Information Act request, the Project X lessons contained a full range of intelligence techniques. A 1972 listing of Project X lesson plans included electronic eavesdropping, interrogation, counterintelligence, break-ins and censorship. Citizens of a country were put on “‘black, gray or white lists’ for the purpose of identifying and prioritizing adversary targets.” The lessons suggested creation of inventories of families and their assets to keep tabs on the population.
The manuals suggested coercive methods for recruiting counterintelligence operatives, including arresting a target’s parents or beating him until he agreed to infiltrate a guerrilla organization. To undermine guerrilla forces, the training manuals countenanced “executions” and operations “to eliminate a potential rival among the guerrillas.”
The internal U.S. government review of Project X began in 1991 when the Pentagon discovered that the Spanish-language manuals were advising Latin American trainees on assassinations, torture and other “objectionable” counter-insurgency techniques.
By summer 1991, the investigation of Project X was raising concerns inside George H.W. Bush’s administration about an adverse public reaction to evidence that the U.S. government had long sanctioned – and even encouraged – brutal methods of repression.
But the PR problem was contained when the office of then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney ordered that all relevant Project X material be collected and brought to the Pentagon under a recommendation that most of it be destroyed.
The recommendation received approval from senior Pentagon officials, presumably with Cheney’s blessings. Some of the more innocuous Project X lesson plans – and the historical summary – were spared, but the Project X manuals that dealt with the sensitive human rights violations were destroyed in 1992, the Pentagon reported. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]
Even after the Cold War ended, the United States refused to examine this ugly history in any systematic way. Though Democrat Bill Clinton was the first President elected after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he ignored calls for serious examinations of that historical era out of a desire to look forward, not backward.
However, public complaints about the mass slaughter of Guatemalan peasants by a Reagan-backed regime in the 1980s did prompt an examination by the President Intelligence Oversight Board, which issued a “Report on the Guatemala Review” in mid-1996.
The review found that CIA funding – ranging from $1 million to $3.5 million – was “vital” to the operations of the Guatemalan intelligence services including D-2 military intelligence and the “Archivos” unit, which was infamous for political torture and assassinations.
As the Oversight Board noted, the human rights records of the Guatemalan intelligence agencies “were generally known to have been reprehensible by all who were familiar with Guatemala.” The reported added:
“We learned that in the period since 1984, several CIA assets were credibly alleged to have ordered, planned, or participated in serious human rights violations such as assassination, extrajudicial execution, torture, or kidnapping while they were assets – and that the CIA was contemporaneously aware of many of the allegations.”
History of Slaughter
The Clinton administration also released documents in the late 1990s revealing the grim history of U.S. complicity in Guatemala’s dirty wars that claimed an estimated 200,000 lives from the 1960s through the 1980s.
According to those documents, the original Guatemalan death squads took shape in the mid-1960s under anti-terrorist training provided by a U.S. public safety adviser named John Longon. Longon’s operation within the Guatemalan presidential compound was the starting point for the “Archivos” intelligence unit.
Within weeks, the CIA was sending cables back to headquarters in Langley, Virginia, about the clandestine execution of several Guatemalan “communists and terrorists” on the night of March 6, 1966.
By the end of the year, the Guatemalan government was bold enough to request U.S. help in establishing special kidnapping squads, according to a cable from the U.S. Southern Command that was sent to Washington on Dec. 3, 1966.
By 1967, the Guatemalan counterinsurgency terror had gained a fierce momentum. On Oct. 23, 1967, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research noted the “accumulating evidence that the [Guatemalan] counterinsurgency machine is out of control.”
The report noted that Guatemalan “counter-terror” units were carrying out abductions, bombings, torture and summary executions “of real and alleged communists.”
The mounting death toll in Guatemala disturbed some American officials assigned to the country. The embassy’s deputy chief of mission, Viron Vaky, expressed his concerns in a remarkably candid report that he submitted on March 29, 1968, after returning to Washington.
“The official squads are guilty of atrocities. Interrogations are brutal, torture is used and bodies are mutilated,” Vaky wrote. “In the minds of many in Latin America, and, tragically, especially in the sensitive, articulate youth, we are believed to have condoned these tactics, if not actually encouraged them. Therefore our image is being tarnished and the credibility of our claims to want a better and more just world are increasingly placed in doubt.”
Vaky also noted the deceptions within the U.S. government that resulted from its complicity in state-sponsored terror.
“This leads to an aspect I personally find the most disturbing of all – that we have not been honest with ourselves,” Vaky said. “We have condoned counter-terror; we may even in effect have encouraged or blessed it. We have been so obsessed with the fear of insurgency that we have rationalized away our qualms and uneasiness.
“This is not only because we have concluded we cannot do anything about it, for we never really tried. Rather we suspected that maybe it is a good tactic, and that as long as Communists are being killed it is alright. Murder, torture and mutilation are alright if our side is doing it and the victims are Communists.
“After all hasn’t man been a savage from the beginning of time so let us not be too queasy about terror. I have literally heard these arguments from our people.”
Though kept secret from the American public for three decades, the Vaky memo obliterated any claim that Washington simply didn’t know the reality in Guatemala. Still, with Vaky’s memo squirreled away in State Department files, the killing went on.
The repression was noted almost routinely in reports from the field. On Jan. 12, 1971, for instance, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that Guatemalan forces had “quietly eliminated” hundreds of “terrorists and bandits” in the countryside. On Feb. 4, 1974, a State Department cable reported resumption of “death squad” activities.
On Dec. 17, 1974, a DIA biography of one U.S.-trained Guatemalan officer gave an insight into how U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine had imbued the Guatemalan strategies.
According to the biography, Lt. Col. Elias Osmundo Ramirez Cervantes, chief of security section for Guatemala’s president, had trained at the U.S. Army School of Intelligence at Fort Holabird in Maryland. Back in Guatemala, Ramirez Cervantes was put in charge of plotting raids on suspected subversives as well as their interrogations.
The Reagan Bloodbath
As brutal as the Guatemalan security forces were in the 1960s and 1970s, the worst was yet to come. In the 1980s, the Guatemalan army escalated its slaughter of political dissidents and their suspected supporters to unprecedented levels.
Ronald Reagan’s election in November 1980 set off celebrations in the well-to-do communities of Central America. After four years of President Jimmy Carter’s human rights nagging, the region’s hard-liners were thrilled that they had someone in the White House who understood their problems.
The oligarchs and the generals had good reason for optimism. For years, Reagan had been a staunch defender of right-wing regimes that engaged in bloody counterinsurgency against leftist enemies.
In the late 1970s, when Carter’s human rights coordinator, Patricia Derian, criticized the Argentine military for its “dirty war” – tens of thousands of “disappearances,” tortures and murders – then-political commentator Reagan joshed that she should “walk a mile in the moccasins” of the Argentine generals before criticizing them. [For details, see Martin Edwin Andersen’s Dossier Secreto.]
After his election in 1980, Reagan pushed to overturn an arms embargo imposed on Guatemala by Carter. Yet as Reagan was moving to loosen up the military aid ban, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies were confirming new Guatemalan government massacres.
In April 1981, a secret CIA cable described a massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj in the Ixil Indian territory. On April 17, 1981, government troops attacked the area believed to support leftist guerrillas, the cable said.
According to a CIA source, “the social population appeared to fully support the guerrillas” and “the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved.” The CIA cable added that “the Guatemalan authorities admitted that ‘many civilians’ were killed in Cocob, many of whom undoubtedly were non-combatants.”
Despite the CIA account and other similar reports, Reagan permitted Guatemala’s army to buy $3.2 million in military trucks and jeeps in June 1981. To permit the sale, Reagan removed the vehicles from a list of military equipment that was covered by the human rights embargo.
Apparently confident of Reagan’s sympathies, the Guatemalan government continued its political repression without apology.
According to a State Department cable on Oct. 5, 1981, Guatemalan leaders met with Reagan’s roving ambassador, retired Gen. Vernon Walters, and left no doubt about their plans. Guatemala’s military leader, Gen. Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, “made clear that his government will continue as before – that the repression will continue.”
Human rights groups saw the same picture. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission released a report on Oct. 15, 1981, blaming the Guatemalan government for “thousands of illegal executions.” [Washington Post, Oct. 16, 1981]
But the Reagan administration was set on whitewashing the ugly scene. A State Department “white paper,” released in December 1981, blamed the violence on leftist “extremist groups” and their “terrorist methods,” inspired and supported by Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
Yet, even as these rationalizations were pitched to the American people, U.S. intelligence agencies in Guatemala continued to learn of government-sponsored massacres.
One CIA report in February 1982 described an army sweep through the so-called Ixil Triangle in central El Quiche province.
“The commanding officers of the units involved have been instructed to destroy all towns and villages which are cooperating with the Guerrilla Army of the Poor [known as the EGP] and eliminate all sources of resistance,” the report stated. “Since the operation began, several villages have been burned to the ground, and a large number of guerrillas and collaborators have been killed.”
The CIA report explained the army’s modus operandi: “When an army patrol meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village, it is assumed that the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed.”
When the army encountered an empty village, it was “assumed to have been supporting the EGP, and it is destroyed. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of refugees in the hills with no homes to return to. …
“The well-documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is pro-EGP has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike.”
In March 1982, Gen. Efrain Rios Montt seized power in a coup d’etat. An avowed fundamentalist Christian, he immediately impressed Official Washington, where Reagan hailed Rios Montt as “a man of great personal integrity.”
By July 1982, however, Rios Montt had begun a new scorched-earth campaign called his “rifles and beans” policy. The slogan meant that pacified Indians would get “beans,” while all others could expect to be the target of army “rifles.”
In October 1982, Rios Montt secretly gave carte blanche to the feared “Archivos” intelligence unit to expand “death squad” operations, internal U.S. government cables revealed.
Despite the widespread evidence of Guatemalan government atrocities cited in the internal U.S. government cables, political operatives for the Reagan administration sought to conceal the crimes. On Oct. 22, 1982, for instance, the U.S. Embassy claimed the Guatemalan government was the victim of a communist-inspired “disinformation campaign.”
Reagan personally took that position in December 1982 when he met with Rios Montt and claimed that his regime was getting a “bum rap” on human rights.
On Jan. 7, 1983, Reagan lifted the ban on military aid to Guatemala and authorized the sale of $6 million in military hardware. Approval covered spare parts for UH-1H helicopters and A-37 aircraft used in counterinsurgency operations.
State Department spokesman John Hughes said the sales were justified because political violence in the cities had “declined dramatically” and that rural conditions had improved too.
In February 1983, however, a secret CIA cable noted a rise in “suspect right-wing violence” with kidnappings of students and teachers. Bodies of victims were appearing in ditches and gullies.
CIA sources traced these political murders to Rios Montt’s order to the “Archivos” in October to “apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit.”
Despite these grisly facts on the ground, the annual State Department human rights survey sugarcoated the facts for the American public and praised the supposedly improved human rights situation in Guatemala.
“The overall conduct of the armed forces had improved by late in the year” 1982, the report stated.
A different picture – far closer to the secret information held by the U.S. government – was coming from independent human rights investigators. On March 17, 1983, Americas Watch representatives condemned the Guatemalan army for human rights atrocities against the Indian population.
New York attorney Stephen L. Kass said these findings included proof that the government carried out “virtually indiscriminate murder of men, women and children of any farm regarded by the army as possibly supportive of guerrilla insurgents.”
Rural women suspected of guerrilla sympathies were raped before execution, Kass said. Children were “thrown into burning homes. They are thrown in the air and speared with bayonets. We heard many, many stories of children being picked up by the ankles and swung against poles so their heads are destroyed.” [AP, March 17, 1983]
Publicly, however, senior Reagan officials continued to put on a happy face.
On June 12, 1983, special envoy Richard B. Stone praised “positive changes” in Rios Montt’s government. But Rios Montt’s vengeful Christian fundamentalism was hurtling out of control, even by Guatemalan standards. In August 1983, Gen. Oscar Mejia Victores seized power in another coup.
Despite the power shift, Guatemalan security forces continued to kill those who were deemed subversives or terrorists.
When three Guatemalans working for the U.S. Agency for International Development were slain in November 1983, U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin suspected that “Archivos” hit squads were sending a message to the United States to back off even the mild pressure for human rights improvements.
In late November 1983, in a brief show of displeasure, the administration postponed the sale of $2 million in helicopter spare parts. The next month, however, Reagan sent the spare parts anyway. In 1984, Reagan succeeded, too, in pressuring Congress to approve $300,000 in military training for the Guatemalan army.
By mid-1984, Chapin, who had grown bitter about the army’s stubborn brutality, was gone, replaced by a far-right political appointee named Alberto Piedra, who was all for increased military assistance to Guatemala.
In January 1985, Americas Watch issued a report observing that Reagan’s State Department “is apparently more concerned with improving Guatemala’s image than in improving its human rights.”
Other examples of Guatemala’s “death squad” strategy came to light later. For example, a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency cable in 1994 reported that the Guatemalan military had used an air base in Retalhuleu during the mid-1980s as a center for coordinating the counterinsurgency campaign in southwest Guatemala – and for torturing and burying prisoners.
At the base, pits were filled with water to hold captured suspects. “Reportedly there were cages over the pits and the water level was such that the individuals held within them were forced to hold on to the bars in order to keep their heads above water and avoid drowning,” the DIA report stated.
The Guatemalan military used the Pacific Ocean as another dumping spot for political victims, according to the DIA report.
Bodies of insurgents tortured to death and live prisoners marked for “disappearance” were loaded onto planes that flew out over the ocean where the soldiers would shove the victims into the water to drown, a tactic that had been a favorite disposal technique of the Argentine military in the 1970s.
The history of the Retalhuleu death camp was uncovered by accident in the early 1990s when a Guatemalan officer wanted to let soldiers cultivate their own vegetables on a corner of the base. But the officer was taken aside and told to drop the request “because the locations he had wanted to cultivate were burial sites that had been used by the D-2 [military intelligence] during the mid-eighties,” the DIA report said.
Guatemala, of course, was not the only Central American country where Reagan and his administration supported brutal counterinsurgency operations and then sought to cover up the bloody facts.
Deception of the American public – a strategy that the administration internally called “perception management” – was as much a part of the Central American story as the Bush administration’s lies and distortions about weapons of mass destruction were to the lead-up to the war in Iraq.
Reagan’s falsification of the historical record became a hallmark of the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua as well as Guatemala. In one case, Reagan personally lashed out at a human rights investigator named Reed Brody, a New York lawyer who had collected affidavits from more than 100 witnesses to atrocities carried out by the U.S.-supported Contras in Nicaragua.
Angered by the revelations about his Contra “freedom-fighters,” Reagan denounced Brody in a speech on April 15, 1985, calling him “one of dictator [Daniel] Ortega’s supporters, a sympathizer who has openly embraced Sandinismo.”
Privately, Reagan had a far more accurate understanding of the true nature of the Contras. At one point in the Contra war, Reagan turned to CIA official Duane Clarridge and demanded that the Contras be used to destroy some Soviet-supplied helicopters that had arrived in Nicaragua.
Clarridge recalled that “President Reagan pulled me aside and asked, ‘Dewey, can’t you get those vandals of yours to do this job.’” [See Clarridge’s A Spy for All Seasons.]
On Feb. 25, 1999, a Guatemalan truth commission issued a report on the staggering human rights crimes that Reagan and his administration had aided, abetted and concealed. The Historical Clarification Commission, an independent human rights body, estimated that the Guatemalan conflict claimed the lives of some 200,000 people with the most savage bloodletting occurring in the 1980s.
Based on a review of about 20 percent of the dead, the panel blamed the army for 93 percent of the killings and leftist guerrillas for three percent. Four percent were listed as unresolved.
The report documented that in the 1980s, the army committed 626 massacres against Mayan villages. “The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan villages … are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala’s history,” the commission concluded.
The army “completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their livestock and crops,” the report said. In the northern highlands, the report termed the slaughter “genocide.”
Besides carrying out murder and “disappearances,” the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. “The rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice” by the military and paramilitary forces, the report found.
The report added that the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some [of these] state operations.” The report concluded that the U.S. government also gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed “acts of genocide” against the Mayans.
“Believing that the ends justified everything, the military and the state security forces blindly pursued the anticommunist struggle, without respect for any legal principles or the most elemental ethical and religious values, and in this way, completely lost any semblance of human morals,” said the commission chairman, Christian Tomuschat, a German jurist.
“Within the framework of the counterinsurgency operations carried out between 1981 and 1983, in certain regions of the country agents of the Guatemalan state committed acts of genocide against groups of the Mayan people,” Tomuschat said.
Admitting a ‘Mistake’
During a visit to Central America, on March 10, 1999, President Bill Clinton apologized for the past U.S. support of right-wing regimes in Guatemala.
“For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake,” Clinton said.
Though Clinton did admit that U.S. policy in Guatemala was “wrong” — and the evidence of a U.S.-backed “genocide” might have been considered startling — the news was treated mostly as a one-day story in the U.S. press.
By the late 1990s, Ronald Reagan had been transformed into a national icon, with the Republican-controlled Congress attaching his name to public buildings around the country and to National Airport in Washington.
Democrats mostly approached this deification of Reagan as harmless, an easy concession to the Republicans in the name of bipartisanship. Some Democrats would even try to cite Reagan as supportive of some of their positions as a way to protect themselves from attacks launched by the increasingly powerful right-wing news media.
The Democratic goal of looking to the future, not the past, had negative consequences, however. With Reagan and his brutal policies put beyond serious criticism, the path was left open for President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to return to the “dark side” after the 9/11 attacks, authorizing torture and extra-judicial killings.
Now, President Obama is reprising toward Bush and Cheney the conflict-avoidance strategy that President Clinton took toward Reagan, looking forward as much as possible and backward as little as can be justified.
In 2009, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed — and Obama signed at a special White House ceremony with Nancy Reagan — a resolution to create a commission to plan a centennial celebration in 2011 of Ronald Reagan’s birth.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).