In the anti-Russian frenzy sweeping American politics and media, Democrats, liberals and mainstream pundits are calling for an investigative body that could become a new kind of House Un-American Activities Committee to hunt down Americans who have communicated with Russians.
The proposed commission would have broad subpoena powers to investigate alleged connections between Trump’s supporters and the Russian government with the apparent goal of asking if they now have or have ever talked to a Russian who might have some tie to the Kremlin or its intelligence agencies.
Such an admission apparently would be prima facie evidence of disloyalty, a guilt-by-association “crime” on par with Sen. Joe McCarthy’s Cold War pursuit of “communists” who supposedly had infiltrated the U.S. government, the film industry and other American institutions.
Operating parallel to McCarthy’s Red Scare hearings was the House Un-American Activities Committee (or HUAC), a standing congressional panel from 1945-1975 when it was best known for investigating alleged communist subversion and propaganda. One of its top achievements was the blacklisting of the “Hollywood Ten” whose careers in the movie industry were damaged or destroyed.
Although the Cold War has long been over – and Russia has often cooperated with the U.S. government, especially on national security issues such as supplying U.S. troops in Afghanistan – Democrats and liberals seem ready to force Americans to again prove their loyalty if they engaged in conversations with Russians.
Or perhaps these “witnesses” can be entrapped into perjury charges if their recollections of conversations with Russians don’t match up with transcripts of their intercepted communications, a tactic similar to ones used by Sen. McCarthy and HUAC to trip up and imprison targets over such secondary charges.
Ousted National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has already encountered such a predicament because he couldn’t recall all the details of a phone conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on Dec. 29, 2016, after Flynn took the call while vacationing in the Dominican Republic.
When Obama administration holdovers at the Justice Department decided to gin up a legal premise to go after Flynn, they cited the Logan Act, a law enacted in 1799 to prohibit private citizens from negotiating with foreign adversaries but never used to convict anyone. The law also is of dubious constitutionality and was surely never intended to apply to a president-elect’s advisers.
However, based on that flimsy pretext, FBI agents – with a transcript of the electronic intercept of the Kislyak-Flynn phone call in hand – tested Flynn’s memory of the conversation and found his recollections incomplete. Gotcha – lying to the FBI!
Under mounting media and political pressure, President Trump fired Flynn, apparently hoping that tossing Flynn overboard to the circling sharks would somehow calm the sharks down. Instead, blood in the water added to the frenzy.
Some prominent Democrats and liberals have compared Trump-connected contacts with Russians to President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal or President Reagan’s Iran-Contra Affair, an issue that I know a great deal about having helped expose it as a reporter for The Associated Press in the 1980s.
The key difference is that Iran-Contra was an unconstitutional effort by the Reagan administration to finance an illegal war against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government in defiance of a congressional ban. The Trump-connected communications with Russians – to the degree they have occurred – appear to have been aimed at preventing a new and dangerous Cold War that could lead to a nuclear holocaust.
In other words, Iran-Contra was about enabling a paramilitary force to continue its brutal marauding inside a country that was no threat to the United States while the current “scandal” is about people trying to avoid hostilities between two nuclear superpowers, an existential threat that many mainstream and liberal pundits don’t want to recognize.
Indeed, there is a troubling denial-ism about the risks of an accidental or intentional war with Russia as the U.S. media and much of Official Washington’s establishment have lots of fun demonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin and jabbing the Russians by shoving NATO troops up to their borders and deploying anti-ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe. For some crazy reason, the Russians feel threatened.
This Russia-bashing and Russia-baiting have been accompanied by false narratives presented in the major U.S. newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, to justify increased tensions.
For instance, the Post’s senior foreign affairs writer Karen DeYoung on Friday described the civil war in Ukraine this way: “That conflict began when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, then backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in what has become a grinding war, despite a deal to end it, called the Minsk agreement, negotiated with Putin by the leaders of France and Germany.”
But DeYoung’s synopsis is simply not true. The crisis began in the fall of 2013 when Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of what he regarded as a costly and unacceptable association agreement with the European Union, a move which prompted protests by Ukrainians in Kiev’s Maidan square.
The Obama administration’s State Department, U.S. neocon politicians such as Sen. John McCain, and various U.S.-backed “non-governmental organizations” then stoked those protests against Yanukovych, which grew violent as trained ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi street fighters poured in from western Ukraine.
In early 2014, a coup to overthrow the democratically elected Yanukovych took shape under the guidance of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt who were caught in a phone call in late January or early February 2014 conspiring to impose new leadership inside Ukraine.
Nuland disparaged a less extreme strategy favored by European diplomats with the pithy remark: “Fuck the E.U.” and went on to declare “Yats is the guy,” favoring Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the new leader. Nuland then pondered how to “glue this thing” while Pyatt ruminated about how to “midwife this thing.”
On Feb. 20, 2014, a mysterious sniper apparently firing from a building controlled by the ultranationalist Right Sektor killed both police and protesters, setting off a day of violence that left about 70 people dead including more than a dozen police.
The next day, three European governments struck a deal with Yanukovych in which he agreed to early elections and accepted reduced powers. But that political settlement wasn’t enough for the U.S.-backed militants who stormed government buildings on Feb. 22, forcing Yanukovych and his officials to flee for their lives.
Instead of standing by the Feb. 21 agreement, which the European nations had “guaranteed,” Nuland pushed for and got U.S. allies to accept the new post-coup regime as “legitimate,” with Yatsenyuk becoming prime minister and several top government posts given to the ultranationalists and neo-Nazis.
In the ensuing days, the right-wing violence spread beyond Kiev, prompting Crimea’s legislature to propose secession from Ukraine and readmission to Russia, whose relationship to the peninsula dated back to Catherine the Great.
Crimea scheduled a referendum that was opposed by the new regime in Kiev. Russian troops did not “invade” Crimea because some 20,000 were already stationed there as part of a basing agreement at the Black Sea port of Sevastopol. The Russians did provide security for the referendum but there was no evidence of intimidation as the citizens of Crimea voted by 96 percent to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia, a move that Putin and the Russian duma accepted.
Eastern Ukrainians tried to follow Crimea’s lead with their own referendum, but Putin and Russia rejected their appeals to secede. However, when the Kiev regime launched an “Anti-Terrorism Operation” against the so-called Donbass region – spearheaded by ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi militias – Russia provided military assistance so these ethnic Russians would not be annihilated.
Karen DeYoung also framed the Minsk agreement as if it were imposed on Putin when he was one of its principal proponents and architects, winning its approval in early 2015 at a time when the Ukrainian military was facing battlefield reversals.
But Assistant Secretary Nuland, working with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and the Ukrainian parliament, sabotaged the agreement by requiring the Donbass rebels to first surrender which they were unwilling to do, having no faith in the sincerity of the Kiev regime to live up to its commitment to grant limited autonomy to the Donbass.
In other words, Kiev inserted a poison pill to prevent a peaceful resolution, but the Western media and governments always blame the Minsk failure on Putin.
If Karen DeYoung wanted to boil all this history down to one paragraph, it might go: “The Ukraine conflict began when U.S. officials supported the violent overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych, prompting Crimea to rejoin Russia and causing ethnic Russians in the east to rise up against the U.S.-backed coup regime in Kiev, which then sought to crush the rebellion. The Kiev regime later torpedoed a peace deal that had been hammered out by Russian, Ukrainian and European negotiators in Minsk.”
But such a summary would not have the desired propaganda effect on the American people. It would not present the U.S.-backed side as the “white hats” and the pro-Russia side as the “black hats.”
The simple truth is that the story of Ukraine is far more complex and multi-sided than The Washington Post, The New York Times and most mainstream U.S. news outlets want to admit. They simply start the clock at the point of Crimea’s rejection of the post-coup regime and distort those facts to present the situation simply as a “Russian invasion.”
A Whipped-Up Hysteria
The major media’s distortion is so egregious that you could call it a lie, but it is a lie that has proved very useful in whipping up the current anti-Russian hysteria that is sweeping Official Washington and that has given birth to a New Cold War, now accompanied by a New McCarthyism that deems anyone who doesn’t accept the “groupthink” a “Russian apologist” or a “Moscow stooge.”
Since last November’s election, this New McCarthyism has merged with hatred toward Donald Trump, especially after the outgoing Obama administration lodged unproven accusations that Russia undercut Hillary Clinton’s campaign by hacking into the emails of the Democratic National Committee and those of her campaign chairman John Podesta – and slipped that information to WikiLeaks.
Those emails showed how the DNC undercut the rival campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders and revealed the contents of Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street banks as well as pay-to-play aspects of the Clinton Foundation, information that Clinton wanted to keep from the voters.
But no one thought the emails were a major factor in the Clinton-Trump race; indeed, Clinton blamed her stunning defeat on FBI Director James Comey’s last-minute decision to reopen and then re-close his investigation into security concerns about her use of a private email server as Secretary of State.
But the script on how Clinton lost was flipped during the Trump transition as President Obama’s intelligence agencies floated the Russia-hacked-the-election scenario although presenting no public evidence to support the claims. WikiLeaks representatives also denied getting the material from Russia, suggesting instead that it was leaked by two different American insiders.
A Ministry of Truth
Still, during the post-election period, the anti-Russian hysteria continued to build. In November, The Washington Post highlighted claims by an anonymous group called PropOrNot accusing some 200 Web sites, including Consortiumnews.com and other major independent media outlets, of disseminating Russian “propaganda.”
The New York Times joined in the frenzy by calling for leading technology companies to marginalize Web sites that are deemed to be publishing “fake news,” a vague term that was applied not just to intentionally false stories but to information that questioned official narratives, no matter how dubious those narratives were. The New McCarthyism was morphing into a New Orwellianism.
The movement toward a Ministry of Truth gained further momentum in December when Congress passed and President Obama signed a military authorization bill that included a new $160 million bureaucracy to identify and counter alleged “Russian propaganda.”
The anger of Democrats and liberals toward President Trump in his first month has added more fuel to the Russia-bashing with some Democrats and liberals seeing it as a possible route toward neutralizing or impeaching Trump. Thus, the calls for a full-scale investigation with subpoena power to demand documents and compel testimony.
While the idea of getting to the full truth has a superficial appeal, it also carries dangers of launching a witch hunt that would drag American citizens before inquisitors asking about any contacts – no matter how innocuous – with Russians.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, HUAC also claimed that all it wanted was the truth about whether some Americans were allied with or sympathetic to Moscow. Sen. Joe McCarthy offered a similar rationale when he was trying to root out “disloyal” Americans with the question, “are you now or have you ever been a communist?”
That Democrats and liberals who hold the McCarthy era in understandable disdain would now seek to rekindle something similar reeks of rank opportunism and gross hypocrisy – doing whatever it takes to “get Trump” and build an activist movement that can revive the Democratic Party’s flagging political hopes.
But this particular opportunism and hypocrisy also carries with it the prospect of blindly ramping up tensions with Russia, diverting more taxpayer money into the Military-Industrial Complex and conceivably sparking – whether planned or unplanned – a nuclear Armageddon that could eliminate life on the planet. Perhaps this anti-Trump strategy should be rethought.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
In the middle of a major domestic crisis over the U.S. charge that Russia had interfered with the U.S. election, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) triggered a brief national media hysteria by creating and spreading a bogus story of Russian hacking into U.S. power infrastructure.
DHS had initiated the now-discredited tale of a hacked computer at the Burlington, Vermont Electricity Department by sending the utility’s managers misleading and alarming information, then leaked a story they certainly knew to be false and continued to put out a misleading line to the media.
Even more shocking, however, DHS had previously circulated a similar bogus story of Russian hacking of a Springfield, Illinois water pump in November 2011.
The story of how DHS twice circulated false stories of Russian efforts to sabotage U.S. “critical infrastructure” is a cautionary tale of how senior leaders in a bureaucracy-on-the-make take advantage of every major political development to advance its own interests, with scant regard for the truth.
The DHS had carried out a major public campaign to focus on an alleged Russian threat to U.S. power infrastructure in early 2016. The campaign took advantage of a U.S. accusation of a Russian cyber-attack against the Ukrainian power infrastructure in December 2015 to promote one of the agency’s major functions — guarding against cyber-attacks on America’s infrastructure.
Beginning in late March 2016, DHS and FBI conducted a series of 12 unclassified briefings for electric power infrastructure companies in eight cities titled, “Ukraine Cyber Attack: implications for U.S. stakeholders.” The DHS declared publicly, “These events represent one of the first known physical impacts to critical infrastructure which resulted from cyber-attack.”
That statement conveniently avoided mentioning that the first cases of such destruction of national infrastructure from cyber-attacks were not against the United States, but were inflicted on Iran by the Obama administration and Israel in 2009 and 2012.
Beginning in October 2016, the DHS emerged as one of the two most important players – along with the CIA—in the political drama over the alleged Russian effort to tilt the 2016 election toward Donald Trump. Then on Dec. 29, DHS and FBI distributed a “Joint Analysis Report” to U.S. power utilities across the country with what it claimed were “indicators” of a Russian intelligence effort to penetrate and compromise U.S. computer networks, including networks related to the presidential election, that it called “GRIZZLY STEPPE.”
The report clearly conveyed to the utilities that the “tools and infrastructure” it said had been used by Russian intelligence agencies to affect the election were a direct threat to them as well. However, according to Robert M. Lee, the founder and CEO of the cyber-security company Dragos, who had developed one of the earliest U.S. government programs for defense against cyber-attacks on U.S. infrastructure systems, the report was certain to mislead the recipients.
“Anyone who uses it would think they were being impacted by Russian operations,” said Lee. “We ran through the indicators in the report and found that a high percentage were false positives.”
Lee and his staff found only two of a long list of malware files that could be linked to Russian hackers without more specific data about timing. Similarly a large proportion of IP addresses listed could be linked to “GRIZZLY STEPPE” only for certain specific dates, which were not provided.
The Intercept discovered, in fact, that 42 percent of the 876 IP addresses listed in the report as having been used by Russian hackers were exit nodes for the Tor Project, a system that allows bloggers, journalists and others – including some military entities – to keep their Internet communications private.
Lee said the DHS staff that worked on the technical information in the report is highly competent, but the document was rendered useless when officials classified and deleted some key parts of the report and added other material that shouldn’t have been in it. He believes the DHS issued the report “for a political purpose,” which was to “show that the DHS is protecting you.”
Planting the Story, Keeping it Alive
Upon receiving the DHS-FBI report the Burlington Electric Company network security team immediately ran searches of its computer logs using the lists of IP addresses it had been provided. When one of IP addresses cited in the report as an indicator of Russian hacking was found on the logs, the utility immediately called DHS to inform it as it had been instructed to do by DHS.
In fact, the IP address on the Burlington Electric Company’s computer was simply the Yahoo e-mail server, according to Lee, so it could not have been a legitimate indicator of an attempted cyber-intrusion. That should have been the end of the story. But the utility did not track down the IP address before reporting it to DHS. It did, however, expect DHS to treat the matter confidentially until it had thoroughly investigated and resolved the issue.
“DHS wasn’t supposed to release the details,” said Lee. “Everybody was supposed to keep their mouth shut.”
Instead, a DHS official called The Washington Post and passed on word that one of the indicators of Russian hacking of the DNC had been found on the Burlington utility’s computer network. The Post failed to follow the most basic rule of journalism, relying on its DHS source instead of checking with the Burlington Electric Department first. The result was the Post’s sensational Dec. 30 story under the headline “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.”
The DHS official evidently had allowed the Post to infer that the Russian’s hack had penetrated the grid without actually saying so. The Post story said the Russians “had not actively used the code to disrupt operations of the utility, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a security matter,” but then added, and that “the penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability.”
The electric company quickly issued a firm denial that the computer in question was connected to the power grid. The Post was forced to retract, in effect, its claim that the electricity grid had been hacked by the Russians. But it stuck by its story that the utility had been the victim of a Russian hack for another three days before admitting that no such evidence of a hack existed.
The day after the story was published, the DHS leadership continued to imply, without saying so explicitly, that the Burlington utility had been hacked by Russians. Assistant Secretary for Pubic Affairs J. Todd Breasseale gave CNN a statement that the “indicators” from the malicious software found on the computer at Burlington Electric were a “match” for those on the DNC computers.
As soon as DHS checked the IP address, however, it knew that it was a Yahoo cloud server and therefore not an indicator that the same team that allegedly hacked the DNC had gotten into the Burlington utility’s laptop. DHS also learned from the utility that the laptop in question had been infected by malware called “neutrino,” which had never been used in “GRIZZLY STEPPE.”
Only days later did the DHS reveal those crucial facts to the Post. And the DHS was still defending its joint report to the Post, according to Lee, who got part of the story from Post sources. The DHS official was arguing that it had “led to a discovery,” he said. “The second is, ‘See, this is encouraging people to run indicators.’”
Original DHS False Hacking Story
The false Burlington Electric hack scare is reminiscent of an earlier story of Russian hacking of a utility for which the DHS was responsible as well. In November 2011, it reported an “intrusion” into a Springfield, Illinois water district computer that similarly turned out to be a fabrication.
Like the Burlington fiasco, the false report was preceded by a DHS claim that U.S. infrastructure systems were already under attack. In October 2011, acting DHS deputy undersecretary Greg Schaffer was quoted by The Washington Post as warning that “our adversaries” are “knocking on the doors of these systems.” And Schaffer added, “In some cases, there have been intrusions.” He did not specify when, where or by whom, and no such prior intrusions have ever been documented.
On Nov. 8, 2011, a water pump belonging to the Curran-Gardner township water district near Springfield, Illinois, burned out after sputtering several times in previous months. The repair team brought in to fix it found a Russian IP address on its log from five months earlier. That IP address was actually from a cell phone call from the contractor who had set up the control system for the pump and who was vacationing in Russia with his family, so his name was in the log by the address.
Without investigating the IP address itself, the utility reported the IP address and the breakdown of the water pump to the Environmental Protection Agency, which in turn passed it on to the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center, also called a fusion center composed of Illinois State Police and representatives from the FBI, DHS and other government agencies.
On Nov. 10 – just two days after the initial report to EPA – the fusion center produced a report titled “Public Water District Cyber Intrusion” suggesting a Russian hacker had stolen the identity of someone authorized to use the computer and had hacked into the control system causing the water pump to fail.
The contractor whose name was on the log next to the IP address later told Wired magazine that one phone call to him would have laid the matter to rest. But the DHS, which was the lead in putting the report out, had not bothered to make even that one obvious phone call before opining that it must have been a Russian hack.
The fusion center “intelligence report,” circulated by DHS Office of Intelligence and Research, was picked up by a cyber-security blogger, who called The Washington Post and read the item to a reporter. Thus the Post published the first sensational story of a Russian hack into a U.S. infrastructure on Nov. 18, 2011.
After the real story came out, DHS disclaimed responsibility for the report, saying that it was the fusion center’s responsibility. But a Senate subcommittee investigation revealed in a report a year later that even after the initial report had been discredited, DHS had not issued any retraction or correction to the report, nor had it notified the recipients about the truth.
DHS officials responsible for the false report told Senate investigators such reports weren’t intended to be “finished intelligence,” implying that the bar for accuracy of the information didn’t have to be very high. They even claimed that the report was a “success” because it had done “what it’s supposed to do – generate interest.”
Both the Burlington and Curran-Gardner episodes underline a central reality of the political game of national security in the New Cold War era: major bureaucratic players like DHS have a huge political stake in public perceptions of a Russian threat, and whenever the opportunity arises to do so, they will exploit it.
Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
The decision by the U.S. intelligence community to include in an official report some unverified and salacious accusations against President-elect Donald Trump resembles a tactic out of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s playbook on government-style blackmail: I have some very derogatory information about you that I’d sure hate to see end up in the press.
In this case, as leaders of the U.S. intelligence community were pressing Trump to accept their assessment that the Russian government had tried to bolster Trump’s campaign by stealing and leaking actual emails harmful to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Trump was confronted with this classified “appendix” describing claims about him cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room.
Supposedly, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan included the unproven allegations in the report under the rationale that the Russian government might have videotaped Trump’s misbehavior and thus could use it to blackmail him. But the U.S. intelligence community also had reasons to want to threaten Trump who has been critical of its performance and who has expressed doubts about its analysis of the Russian “hacking.”
After the briefing last Friday, Trump and his incoming administration did shift their position, accepting the intelligence community’s assessment that the Russian government hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chief John Podesta. But I’m told Trump saw no evidence that Russia then leaked the material to WikiLeaks and has avoided making that concession.
Still, Trump’s change in tone was noted by the mainstream media and was treated as an admission that he was abandoning his earlier skepticism. In other words, he was finally getting onboard the intelligence community’s Russia-did-it bandwagon. Now, however, we know that Trump simultaneously had been confronted with the possibility that the unproven stories about him engaging in unorthodox sex acts with prostitutes could be released, embarrassing him barely a week before his inauguration.
The classified report, with the explosive appendix, was also given to President Obama and the so-called “Gang of Eight,” bipartisan senior members of Congress responsible for oversight of the intelligence community, which increased chances that the Trump accusations would be leaked to the press, which indeed did happen.
The stories about Russian intelligence supposedly filming Trump in a high-end Moscow hotel with prostitutes have been circulating around Washington for months. I was briefed about them by a Hillary Clinton associate who was clearly hopeful that the accusations would be released before the election and thus further damage Trump’s chances. But the alleged video never seemed to surface and the claims had all the earmarks of a campaign dirty trick.
However, now the tales of illicit frolic have been elevated to another level. They have been inserted into an official U.S. intelligence report, the details of which were leaked first to CNN and then to other mainstream U.S. news media outlets.
Trump has denounced the story as “fake news” and it is certainly true that the juicy details – reportedly assembled by a former British MI-6 spy named Christopher Steele – have yet to check out. But the placement of the rumors in a U.S. government document gave the mainstream media an excuse to publicize the material.
It’s also allowed the media to again trot out the Russian word “compromat” as if the Russians invented the game of assembling derogatory information about someone and then using it to discredit or blackmail the person.
In American history, legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was infamous for using his agency to develop negative information on a political figure and then letting the person know that the FBI had the dirt and certainly would not want it to become public – if only the person would do what the FBI wanted, whether that was to reappoint Hoover to another term or to boost the FBI’s budget or – in the infamous case of civil rights leader Martin Luther King – perhaps to commit suicide.
However, in this case, it is not even known whether the Russians have any dirt on Trump. It could just be rumors concocted in the middle of a hard-fought campaign, first among Republicans battling Trump for the nomination (this opposition research was reportedly initiated by backers of Sen. Marco Rubio in the GOP race) before being picked up by Clinton supporters for use in the general election.
Still, perhaps the more troubling issue is whether the U.S. intelligence community has entered a new phase of politicization in which its leadership feels that it has the responsibility to weed out “unfit” contenders for the presidency. During the general election campaign, a well-placed intelligence source told me that the intelligence community disdained both Clinton and Trump and hoped to discredit both of them with the hope that a more “acceptable” person could move into the White House for the next four years.
Hurting Both Candidates
Though I was skeptical of that information, it did turn out that FBI Director James Comey, one of the top officials in the intelligence community, badly damaged Clinton’s campaign by deeming her handling of her emails as Secretary of State “extremely careless” but deciding not to prosecute her – and then in the last week of the campaign briefly reopening and then re-closing the investigation.
Then, after the election, President Obama’s CIA began leaking allegations that Russian President Vladimir Putin had orchestrated the hacking of Democratic emails and provided them to WikiLeaks to reveal how the DNC undermined Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign and what Clinton had told Wall Street bigwigs in paid speeches that she had sought to keep secret from the American people.
The intelligence community’s assessment set the stage for what could have been a revolt by the Electoral College in which enough Trump delegates could have refused to vote for him to send the election into the House of Representatives, where the states would choose the President from one of the top three vote-getters in the Electoral College. The third-place finisher turned out to be former Secretary of State Colin Powell who got four votes from Clinton delegates in Washington State. But the Electoral College ploy failed when Trump’s delegates proved overwhelmingly faithful to the GOP candidate.
Now, we are seeing what looks like a new phase in this “stop (or damage) Trump” strategy, the inclusion of anti-Trump dirt in an official intelligence report that was then leaked to the major media.
Whether this move was meant to soften up Trump or whether the intelligence community genuinely thought that the accusations might be true and deserved inclusion in a report on alleged Russian interference in U.S. politics or whether it was some combination of the two, we are witnessing a historic moment when the U.S. intelligence community has deployed its extraordinary powers within the domain of U.S. politics. J. Edgar Hoover would be proud.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
US ruling power is in deep trouble because there are growing signs that the mass of citizens are no longer beholden to the supposed authority residing in Washington.
Once the legitimacy of would-be authorities begins to collapse in the eyes of the people, then profound political change is in the offing, as history shows us through countless empires that came and went – often ignominiously.
The so-called American Deep State comprising the military-intelligence apparatus and its operatives in the political and media establishment has put its credibility on the line over allegations of Russian interference in the US elections.
Those allegations are threadbare, indeed baseless, despite concerted, overweening attempts by the Deep State to conjure up something of substance.
The latest high-level intelligence report from the CIA, NSA, FBI and other US spy agencies on alleged Russian cyber hacking may have “wowed” President Barack Obama, various members of Congress and the corporate-controlled news media.
Not so for ordinary Americans. Among rank-and-file citizens the reaction has been underwhelming to say the least. And that should be a matter of anxiety for the ruling establishment. If the people can no longer be commanded, then the whole foundation for power begins to erode like a sandcastle.
As a New York Times report put it: “What’s the big deal? asks Trump’s supporters on Russian hacking report”.
Among ordinary voters far removed from the Washington Beltway Bubble the consensus is one of derision towards the once-revered US intelligence community.
“Sore losers”, “sour grapes”, “crybabies” and “absurd” were just some of the disbelieving responses from ordinary folks about claims that Russian agents directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin had tipped the US November election in favor of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.
“I don’t believe the [US] intel report,” said one man in Louisiana. “Why is everybody so afraid of Russia? I’m not against Putin.”
Another man, a retired US air force officer, added: “From the parts of the [US intel] report I’ve seen it seems silly.”
President-elect Trump, once again, seems more in tune with the real, pressing concerns of common citizens. He emerged from his so-called “briefing” by US intelligence chiefs last Friday and pointedly refused to join the Washington blowhards accusing Russia of “an act of war”.
Trump in fact followed up with a comment that it was only a “stupid” person would not want to have good relations with Russia.
This was not the response that the spooks wanted from Trump. The CIA and their surrogates in the Obama administration, Congress and the media were building up the US intel report like a witch-hunt against anyone who dares to dissent from the allegations of Russian cyber interference. Unlike warmongering Congress members such as John McCain and Lyndsey Graham, Trump has not jumped on the bandwagon to demonize Russia.
And the thing is that people beyond the thrall of the Deep State centered in Washington appear to agree with Trump. At a time of immense social challenges from poverty, unemployment, financial indebtedness, deteriorating infrastructure and public services, and so on, a US policy of hostility towards Russia seems like an alien distraction. A contemptible waste of priority and resources, not to say a reckless drumbeat to war between nuclear powers.
The US intelligence agencies, aided by the Obama White House and mainstream media, tried to muster gravitas to play its “Russian card” against Trump. But Trump and the popular sentiment out there are not responding in the deferential manner expected by the spooks.
In fact, despite sensationalist headlines in the mainstream media about “Putin ordering an influence campaign to help Trump win the election”, the US intelligence agencies are now in real danger of being exposed as ridiculous liars.
The collapse of the US establishment has been underway for sometime, but lately the momentum has quickened with the election of Trump and the mainstream media’s penchant for “fake narratives”.
Last week the Washington disgraced itself by running a story about Russia hacking into the US electric, a story which was quickly exposed as “fake news”. On the latest US intel report, as well as Trump and ordinary Americans, many observers from around the world were taken aback by the amateurish dearth of evidence and generally low quality of analysis. Independent cyber security experts, including US-based ones, poured scorn on the claims against Russia.
The US spy agencies claim that they have “supporting evidence” that Russia hacked Hillary Clinton’s emails, but they say, unconvincingly, that they can’t disclose the information in order to protect “sensitive sources and methods”. Such a conjuring trick just makes the US spooks and the subservient news media look even more ridiculous.
A major giveaway was the disproportionately huge focus that the US intelligence report devoted to trying to discredit Russian news media outlets, RT and Sputnik. The report claims that the news services are part of the Kremlin’s “influence campaign” and then cites its own dopey rationale as “evidence” that Russia hacked the US election. If that’s the best that America’s “national security guardians” can come up with then we can be sure their case against Russia is null and void.
There was a time in the American past when shadowy, unelected elites could control society through monopolistic, servile media and servile politicians kowtowing to their supposed authority. There was also a naive belief among people that the secret services were defending the nation’s best interests.
Not any more alas. People have got wise to the massive manipulation and criminality of such shadowy powers who orchestrate wars and regime changes all around the world for the narrow benefit of elite corporate power. Ordinary Americans pay with their lives and livelihoods for the machinations of the ruling cabal.
The Deep State intel chiefs may have been fawned over by Obama, Congress and the media in their outlandish claims of Russian subversion. But growing numbers of ordinary people in the US and around the world can see through the lies and blatant agenda of hostility towards Russia – an insane hostility that only serves the elite interests of the Deep State.
The once feared, and revered, US Deep State is now facing a deep dilemma and maybe even an existential crisis. For it knows deep down that its erstwhile credibility and authority are shot to pieces.
Down through history, the American rulers got away with their charade of inciting wars and conflicts through false flags and contrived catastrophes: the not-so-secret Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin incident that escalated the US genocidal war on Vietnam, the dubious 9/11 terror attacks and Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, to mention just a few.
This same warmongering American ruling class want another arms race, Pentagon-pumping Cold War with Russia. But this time they have played a card that is all too evidently blank. The US spooks and their elitist establishment know that Trump, the American people, Russia and the rest of world all know that they have nothing to offer.
No credibility, no morals and no authority, the US Deep State is in deep trouble.
The main goal of the whole “Russian hacking” US election narrative is a propaganda stunt aimed discrediting Trump by claiming that Russia’s Vladimir Putin personally intervened to discredit Hillary Clinton, retired CIA analyst has told RT.
“It’s designed to smear Trump. Because even the language that developed the notion that Vladimir Putin took it upon himself and instructed the intelligence organs in Russia to go out and discredit Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton didn’t need any help being discredited, she was quite effective at it herself,” Larry Johnson said.
“It was not Vladimir Putin that put the email server in her bathroom,” Johnson added.
“It was not Vladimir Putin who told Hillary Clinton to use a private email account and conduct US-government business over that account and to share classified information. And her repeated lying about it. The fact that you would just focus a story on it somehow makes you an agent of Vladimir Putin. This thing is so ridiculous. It’s amusing we have talk about, but it’s so serious because it shows just the level that the intelligence community in the United States has fallen to. They are playing and interfering in domestic policies,” he said.
The report lacks any factual evidence, because the intelligence services apparently don’t have any, Larry Johnson believes. “I don’t think they’re hiding anything because they don’t have anything. These are ‘or and how’ intelligence estimates as opposed to an intelligence analysis based on fact. There’s no fact underlying this. There are analytical assumptions,” Johnson said.
“You can tell that because whenever they use the language like ‘we assess that’ or ‘we believe that’ or ‘it’s likely that.’ That means they don’t know, because if you knew, you could say … in public ‘according to multiple sources we know that.’ You state facts,” he explained.
“This thing it’s a joke. If I’m a Russian intelligence analyst, with one of your intelligence services, I would be suspicious and think ‘What are the Americans up to? They really can’t be this stupid.’ And let me just reassure the folks on your side of the ledger – yeah, they actually are,” he added.
When the intelligence community raises such assumptions, it should be really confident and unanimous about them. It was, however, only somewhat coordinated within three of the agencies, namely FBI, CIA and NSA, according to Johnson.
“It was only CIA and FBI that ‘strongly agree’ but the NSA, who’s the only one in that group that would actually have the physical evidence of the hacking, if that existed… took a middle of the road position,” Johnson told RT.
The whole situation around the “hacking” report gives an impression of a well-staged spectacle, Johnson believes.
“Yesterday, the Arms Services Committee in the Senate holds a hearing alleging Russian hacking, about when hacks took place domestically in the United States and that Arms Services has no jurisdiction over intel side. That was entirely a propaganda ploy, and not a single journalist in the major outlets over here raised questions about that, it was an observed performance,” Johnson said.
The attack on Russian media and RT specifically, undertaken in the report despite its theme supposedly being the “hacking,” is quite understandable, according to Johnson, and emanates from hostility toward actually objective news coverage and jealousy towards RT being capable of such journalism.
“Because you’re actually a more objective news channel than Fox, CNN, MSNBC, the main stream media here in this country. I say that sincerely. I was a Fox New analyst, I’ve been on ABC, CBS, NBC, all of the cable channels … and I discovered that the kind of bias and propaganda they’ re accusing RT of engaging in is in fact what they themselves are doing.“
In conjunction with US President Obama’s announcement of new sanctions against Russia, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have published a 13 page report into the Russian hacking allegations.
I think it is fair to say that a mountain has moved and produced a mouse. To get a sense of the absurdity, consider that the report actually begins with a Disclaimer:
DISCLAIMER: This report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within. DHS does not endorse any commercial product or service referenced in this advisory or otherwise. This document is distributed as TLP:WHITE: Subject to standard copyright rules, TLP:WHITE information may be distributed without restriction. For more information on the Traffic Light Protocol, see https://www.us-cert.gov/tlp. Reference Number: JAR-16-20296 December 29. (bold italics added)
After this unpromising beginning, the report – which goes by the frankly weird title “Grizzly Bear” – provides a summary that reads as follows:
Previous JARs have not attributed malicious cyber activity to specific countries or threat actors. However, public attribution of these activities to RIS is supported by technical indicators from the U.S. Intelligence Community, DHS, FBI, the private sector, and other entities. This determination expands upon the Joint Statement released October 7, 2016, from the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security. This activity by RIS is part of an ongoing campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens. These cyber operations have included spearphishing campaigns targeting government organizations, critical infrastructure entities, think tanks, universities, political organizations, and corporations leading to the theft of information. In foreign countries, RIS actors conducted damaging and/or disruptive cyber-attacks, including attacks on critical infrastructure networks. In some cases, RIS actors masqueraded as third parties, hiding behind false online personas designed to cause the victim to misattribute the source of the attack. This JAR provides technical indicators related to many of these operations, recommended mitigations, suggested actions to take in response to the indicators provided, and information on how to report such incidents to the U.S. Government.
Note that the report is solely concerned with hacking. It does not discuss who provided the DNC or Podesta material to Wikileaks, it does not say that Russian Intelligence carried out the hacking to influence the outcome of the US Presidential election, and nor does it say that Russian intelligence did this in order to swing the election to Donald Trump – all questions concerning which the FBI is known to have doubts. On the contrary, it is careful to say that it is the US government (ie. the Obama administration), not the US intelligence community or the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security, which assesses that the Russians passed the DNC and Podesta material on to Wikileaks for onward publication in the media
The U.S. Government assesses that information was leaked to the press and publicly disclosed. (bold italics added)
The report provides no evidence that the hacking was the work of Russian intelligence agencies. It merely states it as a fact
The U.S. Government confirms that two different RIS actors participated in the intrusion into a U.S. political party.
The two “actors” in question are the two groups of hackers known as Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear. As I have pointed out previously, the claim that these two groups of hackers act for Russian intelligence has so far been based purely on inference, with no hard facts behind it.
There is nothing in this report that changes that, or which substantiates this claim, and nothing in the report that remotely resembles a hard fact to support it. On the contrary as the paragraph I have quoted above shows, the claim is still based purely on inference . That the claim is entirely inferential, and may be based on completely false reasoning, is it turns out also the opinion of an expert in this field.
The rest of the report – which is to say nearly all of it – is taken up with technical information intended to confirm the existence of the hacking – something which no-one denies happened – and various suggestions for ways to mitigate against such hacking in the future. Whilst this is no doubt helpful, it is hardly the issue under discussion. Frankly it looks like padding, made to make the report look longer and more substantial than it actually is.
Even the Guardian has been forced to admit that this is thin stuff.
Security experts on Twitter criticised the government report as too basic. Jonathan Zdziarski, a highly regarded security researcher, compared the joint action report to a child’s activity center.
Tom Killalea, former vice-president of security at Amazon and a Capital One board member, wrote: “Russian attack on DNC similar to so many other attacks in past 15yrs. Big question: Why such poor incident response?”
If this is the sum total of the evidence upon which the Obama administration is claiming that the Russians were behind the leak of the DNC and Podesta emails, and that they did this to swing the election to Donald Trump, then this “evidence” in no way does that. Indeed if anything what the report shows is how confected this whole scandal actually is.
I would add that the complete absence of enthusiasm on the part of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security for the Obama administration’s attempts to use the claims of Russian hacking for its own political ends shines through the whole report. Anyone with experience of such reports can spot it immediately. This is very much a report produced to order, which does the absolute minimum it can get away with in order to appear to comply with the order.
Interestingly the NSA, the branch of US intelligence which has presumably the greatest expertise in the area, and which has the most information about it, is not a co-author of this report. I wonder why?
I have watched incredulous as the CIA’s blatant lie has grown and grown as a media story – blatant because the CIA has made no attempt whatsoever to substantiate it. There is no Russian involvement in the leaks of emails showing Clinton’s corruption. Yes this rubbish has been the lead today in the Washington Post in the US and the Guardian here, and was the lead item on the BBC main news. I suspect it is leading the American broadcasts also.
A little simple logic demolishes the CIA’s claims. The CIA claim they “know the individuals” involved. Yet under Obama the USA has been absolutely ruthless in its persecution of whistleblowers, and its pursuit of foreign hackers through extradition. We are supposed to believe that in the most vital instance imaginable, an attempt by a foreign power to destabilise a US election, even though the CIA knows who the individuals are, nobody is going to be arrested or extradited, or (if in Russia) made subject to yet more banking and other restrictions against Russian individuals? Plainly it stinks. The anonymous source claims of “We know who it was, it was the Russians” are beneath contempt.
As Julian Assange has made crystal clear, the leaks did not come from the Russians. As I have explained countless times, they are not hacks, they are insider leaks – there is a major difference between the two. And it should be said again and again, that if Hillary Clinton had not connived with the DNC to fix the primary schedule to disadvantage Bernie, if she had not received advance notice of live debate questions to use against Bernie, if she had not accepted massive donations to the Clinton foundation and family members in return for foreign policy influence, if she had not failed to distance herself from some very weird and troubling people, then none of this would have happened.
The continued ability of the mainstream media to claim the leaks lost Clinton the election because of “Russia”, while still never acknowledging the truths the leaks reveal, is Kafkaesque.
I had a call from a Guardian journalist this afternoon. The astonishing result was that for three hours, an article was accessible through the Guardian front page which actually included the truth among the CIA hype:
The Kremlin has rejected the hacking accusations, while the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has previously said the DNC leaks were not linked to Russia. A second senior official cited by the Washington Post conceded that intelligence agencies did not have specific proof that the Kremlin was “directing” the hackers, who were said to be one step removed from the Russian government.
Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, who is a close associate of Assange, called the CIA claims “bullshit”, adding: “They are absolutely making it up.”
“I know who leaked them,” Murray said. “I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things.
“If what the CIA are saying is true, and the CIA’s statement refers to people who are known to be linked to the Russian state, they would have arrested someone if it was someone inside the United States.
“America has not been shy about arresting whistleblowers and it’s not been shy about extraditing hackers. They plainly have no knowledge whatsoever.”
But only three hours. While the article was not taken down, the home page links to it vanished and it was replaced by a ludicrous one repeating the mad CIA allegations against Russia and now claiming – incredibly – that the CIA believe the FBI is deliberately blocking the information on Russian collusion. Presumably this totally nutty theory, that Putin is somehow now controlling the FBI, is meant to answer my obvious objection that, if the CIA know who it is, why haven’t they arrested somebody. That bit of course would be the job of the FBI, who those desperate to annul the election now wish us to believe are the KGB.
It is terrible that the prime conduit for this paranoid nonsense is a once great newspaper, the Washington Post, which far from investigating executive power, now is a sounding board for totally evidence free anonymous source briefing of utter bullshit from the executive.
In the UK, one single article sums up the total abnegation of all journalistic standards. The truly execrable Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian writes “Few credible sources doubt that Russia was behind the hacking of internal Democratic party emails, whose release by Julian Assange was timed to cause maximum pain to Hillary Clinton and pleasure for Trump.” Does he produce any evidence at all for this assertion? No, none whatsoever. What does a journalist mean by a “credible source”? Well, any journalist worth their salt in considering the credibility of a source will first consider access. Do they credibly have access to the information they claim to have?
Now both Julian Assange and I have stated definitively the leak does not come from Russia. Do we credibly have access? Yes, very obviously. Very, very few people can be said to definitely have access to the source of the leak. The people saying it is not Russia are those who do have access. After access, you consider truthfulness. Do Julian Assange and I have a reputation for truthfulness? Well in 10 years not one of the tens of thousands of documents WikiLeaks has released has had its authenticity successfully challenged. As for me, I have a reputation for inconvenient truth telling.
Contrast this to the “credible sources” Freedland relies on. What access do they have to the whistleblower? Zero. They have not the faintest idea who the whistleblower is. Otherwise they would have arrested them. What reputation do they have for truthfulness? It’s the Clinton gang and the US government, for goodness sake.
In fact, the sources any serious journalist would view as “credible” give the opposite answer to the one Freedland wants. But in what passes for Freedland’s mind, “credible” is 100% synonymous with “establishment”. When he says “credible sources” he means “establishment sources”. That is the truth of the “fake news” meme. You are not to read anything unless it is officially approved by the elite and their disgusting, crawling whores of stenographers like Freedland.
The worst thing about all this is that it is aimed at promoting further conflict with Russia. This puts everyone in danger for the sake of more profits for the arms and security industries – including of course bigger budgets for the CIA. As thankfully the four year agony of Aleppo comes swiftly to a close today, the Saudi and US armed and trained ISIS forces counter by moving to retake Palmyra. This game kills people, on a massive scale, and goes on and on.
“No ambition to oppress them”?
Recently, I’ve been reading Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, a book by veteran New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer, which focuses on US-backed coups from 1893 (Hawaii) to Iraq (2003). In the book, Kinzer devotes only fourteen pages to Puerto Rico, a small island nation controlled by the murderous empire of the United States. On page 94, he declares that “most Puerto Ricans” understand that the US, despite colonial “misdeeds,” harbors “no ambition to oppress them.” He goes on to say that most want to continue ties with the US and that colonial rule has been “relatively benign,” meaning it was partially beneficial to islanders. In his view, this hasn’t led to a “violent backlash” because of US efforts to take “direct political responsibility” to govern the island, and even floats the idea that there could be a reasonable case that US control over the island has made it “better off”! Kinzer ends optimistically, saying that “a happy end to the long story” would not only take away stigma of US citizens from “ruling another people” but would tell them that “toppling of foreign regimes need not end badly.” Such words, like this, reek of apologism for imperialism and existing US colonialism in Puerto Rico. In this article, using quotes from Kinzer’s own book, I plan to prove that US rule in the island nation has not been “relatively benign,” but that the US imperialists should not be seen as engaging in “nice” oppression, with “no ambition,” of Puerto Rico’s citizens.
On May 12, 1898, seven US warships appeared off the coast of San Juan. They soon began their bombardment, firing over 1,300 shells, met by a Spanish response of about 400 shells, killed a dozen people and one US soldier.1 The small island nation of Puerto Rico comprises of an island 3,515 square miles across, called Borinquen by many native residents, three inhabited islands (Vieques, Cuelbra, and Mona), and 140 other small reefs, islands, and atolls. For over 400 years, the island was an established Spanish colony (1493-1898), with the indigenous Taino nation pushed into forced labor as part of the encomienda system. It was not until the early nineteenth century that Puerto Rico would be integrated into the international capitalist economy.2
The island, which exported commodities such as coffee and tobacco, became a sugar colony, supported by the country’s Creole elite, with 276 sugar plantations dotting the island’s landscape.3 As the sugar industry thrived, thousands of white wage laborers and enslaved blacks suffered in the “sugar haciendas,” or plantations, concentrated near Ponce, Guayama, and Mayaguez.4 The number of enslaved black laborers, who were mistreated, abused, and overworked despite “favorable” laws, reached into the tens of thousands, numbering 17,890 in 1828.5 They were chosen over wage laborers as more profitable for the sugar industry.6 It would not be until 1873 that slavery would be abolished in the Spanish empire, but the exploitation would not end, continuing under the system of apprenticeship, for example.7
About two months before the US warships arrived, Puerto Rico had elected a new government. The Spanish, likely in a measure to stave off revolt, had offered the Puerto Ricans political autonomy.8 They didn’t want rebellions like the Lares Uprising (Grito de Lares) in 1868 or the Attempted Coup of Yauco (Intentona de Yauco) in 1897 which were strongly pro-independence and opposed to Spanish colonial rule. On March 27, 1898, Luis Munoz Rivera’s Liberal Fusion Party was elected in a legislative body, created with agreement from the “liberal” Spanish government, of the island’s autonomous government.9 However, this would not last. On July 25, US marines from the Glouchester gunboat waded ashore, raising a US flag above a customs house after a short exchange of firearms.10
As Kinzer puts it, after the US flag fluttered in the breeze above the customs house, the “United States effectively took control of Puerto Rico” with every institution of Spanish colonial control, and the autonomous Liberal Fusion Party government, would quickly disappear. The objective of the US imperialists like Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, who declared that “Puerto Rico is not forgotten [in this war] and we mean to have it” came to be true, with US trade routes protected and a naval base established on the island.11 While some Puerto Ricans welcomed the US presence, this quickly changed, as the US seizure of the island nation became “legal” with the Treaty of Paris.12
The imposition of US imperialism on Puerto Rico began in 1898 as the island was declared a colony. Luis Munoz Rivera, the former leader of the island before the US arrived, declared that “we are witnessing a spectacle of terrible assimilation… our present condition is that of serfs attached to conquered territory.”13 The “individual freedom” that was promised, was not delivered upon, with the US instead engaging in exploitation which, as Martinquis revolutionary Frantz Fanon said about all colonizers, was part of a spiral of “domination, exploitation and looting.”14
The bank on the island was transferred to US investors, who printed Puerto Rican dollars, pegged to the US dollar, replacing the Spanish peso. Other banks were established on the island by investors such as the American Colonial Bank, which opened in 1899. As a result, new taxes were imposed. The following years, as US military troops remained in place as an occupying force, the US Congress passed the Foraker Act which put the Puerto Rican assembly under direct US control.15 As the people of the island nation had “no liberty, no rights, no protection,” as civil rights campaigner Julio Henna once put it, four US corporations took over land on the island for mass production and farming.16 This was reinforced by one of Insular Cases, which some say established “political apartheid,” Downes v. Bidwell (1901) in which the Supreme Court held that Puerto Rico wasn’t a foreign country, allowing Congress to treat it like a dependent colonial possession.
In later years, the island nation forced “permanent uncertainty” in its political status. In 1910, foreign banks began foreclosing on land in Puerto Rico, and the island became an official protectorate in 1913 with the existing naval bases reinforcing economic and ideological interests.17 By World War I, with the imposition of US citizenship with the Jones Act, 18,000 Puerto Ricans were conscripted to fight in the forces of empire as 200 Puerto Ricans were arrested for refusing to participate. Such imposition did not end there. From 1920 to 1923, Moncho Reyes ruled as the Governor on the island, declaring English as the only official language, not Spanish, and that the US flag is the only one to be flown across the island. He was only forced out by corruption scandals. This was accompanied the Balzac v. Porto Rico (1922) case, in which the Supreme Court said that provisions of the US constitution did not apply to a “territory” that was not a US state. In the following years, more and more of the island was controlled by US corporations, including 80% of the farms, and half of the arable land!
By the 1930s, medicine went to war on the island’s inhabitants. In 1931, Dr. Cornelius P. Rhoads injected patients on the island with live cancer cells, with thirteen people dying. He bragged about killing them, calling for a “tidal wave or something to totally exterminate the population” and saying that the island’s inhabitants were “the dirtiest, laziest, most degenerate and thievish race of men ever inhabiting this sphere.” He went on to head the US Army’s Biological Weapons division, serve on the Atomic Energy Commission, and sent memos to US military leaders expressing the opinion that Puerto Rican supporters of independence should be “eradicated” with the use of germ bombs! This was only a prelude, in a sense.
Henry Laughlin, superintendent of the US Eugenics Record Office, pushed the Model Eugenical Sterilization Law, targeting “socially inadequate” people for sterilization in 30 US states and Puerto Rico. On the island itself, in 1936, Law 116 entered into force by making sterilization legal and free for women, with no alternative plan of birth control, backed by the International Planned Parenthood Federation18, the Puerto Rican government, and Human Betterment Association. It was voluntary, only in theory, with employer discrimination and a dearth of other options giving women the incentive to participate, coupled with the veneer of being “feminist” and sometimes a lack of informed consent. This was done after scientists conducted research experiments on Puerto Rican women who had taken birth control pills, with a high amount of estrogen. Such an approach was rejected by the Catholic Church, which supported sterilization instead. By the 1970s, this horrendous practice ended, with more than one-third of Puerto Rico’s female population of childbearing age undergoing the procedure.19
At the same time, repression of the island’s spirit and feelings for independence intensified. On October 24, 1935, police at the campus of the University of Puerto Rico confronted nationalists, resulting in the death of four nationalists and one police officer, in what has been called the Rios Piedras massacre, what police chief E. Francis Riggs declared was part of his “war to the death against all Puerto Ricans.” In response to this action, the nationalist party called for a boycott to all actions held while Puerto Rico was a part of the United States.
The nationalist party continued its actions on the island. On March 21, 1937, it peacefully marched to Ponce. As they requested a permit, it was denied, and as they continued the action, police cordoned off unarmed demonstrators, then firing upon them from multiple directions, killing a total of 21 and wounding 140-200 people, in what has been called the Ponce Massacre. As “hysteria and near civil war swept the island” with nationalists arrested and hunted on sight, 23 nationalists and four police officers were arrested for participation in the massacre, with the ACLU even investigating the matter, finding that the protesters were not armed and had been surrounded by the police.
As the years passed, the US strengthened its hold on the island. By 1940, 80% of the country’s arable land was US-owned. In 1939, the US began bombing on the island of Culebra (which it later fully occupied until protests in the 1970s forced it to move operations to Vieques), and two years later, it began the occupation of Vieques, an island of 7,000 inhabitants. As William Blum, a renowned critic of US foreign policy, writes, from 1940 to 2000, the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, had to endure years of “target practices and war games” which included dropping depleted uranium and napalm.20 This led to the island’s drinking water to be reportedly poisoned and resulted in the land being “contaminated by radioactivity.”
Even as US military officials outrageously said that they could only have a bombing range on that island since one on the East Coast would be too close to population centers, President Bill Clinton promised that the US would stop using the bombing range in 2005.21 With international pressure and local protests, the bombing range stopped being used in 2003, but was accompanied by the closing of the Roosevelt Roads naval facility, the following year, almost to make residents “regret” their decision. Still, this was another victory against the empire. Such bombing on Vieques and Culebra islands was not the only imposition. From 1948 to 1957, Law 53, also called Le Ley de Mondonza or “gag law,” made it illegal to support or say anything construed as pro-independence, with a penalty of ten years in prison.
As the Cold War started, by arrogant imperialists who didn’t want to have friendly relationships with the Soviets after World War II, the imperialists began their “charm offensive” to the world stage. US leaders were recognizing that “ruling an impoverished colony in the Caribbean made the United States look bad.”22 Of course, they could only say this, feeling assured that those in the Puerto Rican government, like Luis Munoz Martin, the “Father of Modern Puerto Rico,” were accommodationist to US imperial power, even pushing for Law 53 and by the 1950s, at least, was clearly a symbol of an organ of the machine of colonial control.
In the UN, the US government attempted to stifle criticism of US colonial control by working on changing the country to a commonwealth. Diplomats saw the island helping in the anti-communist Korean War as a vital “political association” which respects individuality and culture of the island, and declaring that the occupation was legal. As the diplomats frankly admitted, declaring colonial control of the island nation as “free choice” of the residents would head off attacks “by those who have charged the United States government with imperialism and colonial exploitation.” While the “Soviet bloc” argued correctly that self-government didn’t exist in Puerto Rico, diplomats claimed they had a “strong case” of moving Puerto Rico from the list of non-self-governing territories (discussed more in the following paragraph), even as they felt difficulties would arise in the “usual anti-colonial propaganda by Iron Curtain countries,” along with other factors.
This veneer was first reinforced by the Constitutional Referendum in 1952, which approved a constitution proposed in 1950 by the US Congress, stripped of social democratic measures before it was approved, after negotiation with the accommodationist leaders on the island, including Governor Marin. Not surprisingly, independence was never offered as an option, showing that the motive of the US could have been to douse revolutionary feelings. The second reinforcement was on November 27, 1953, when the US imperialists achieved a victory which allowed “approval” of the commonwealth status of the island. The passing of Resolution 748, in the UN’s General Assembly, after a push of US hegemony, made it clear that the US was given sanction to determine the “status of territories under its sovereignty.” Years later, the US imperialists have tried to soften the push for independence by allowing multiple plebiscites on the island to “decide” its fate, but none of these considered that the island is a colony and needs to have self-determination, as asserted in UN General Assembly resolution 1514, described later in this article.
This may be the basis of Kinzer’s claim that colonialism in Puerto Rico has been “benign” and that US imperialists had “no ambition” to oppress the island’s inhabitants. Some may even think the idea the island is under “self-rule” or a change in its status, means that neocolonialism is in place. These are both incorrect. For neocolonialism to be present, the island would have to be under indirect colonial control. Such domination, unlike direct colonial control of the past keeping people politically and economically exploited, often used by Britain, France, and the United States, would require formal recognition of political independence even with domination by political, economic, social, military, and other means.23
This “norm” of neocolonialism, which exists under imperial rivalry, and assists profitable enterprises, is not the case in Puerto Rico.24 This is because the island is not formally an independent political entity. As recently as October 2016, the Supreme Court held that while the island nation functioned as a separate sovereign entity for certain purposes, the authority to govern the island derives from the US Constitution, saying that the US Congress still has the supreme authority over the island.25
This is buttressed by the case of United States v. Sanchez in 1993, in which a US Court of Appeals which said that Congress may unilaterally repeal the constitution of Puerto Rico, and a congressional committee report in 1997 declaring that the island is “subject to the supremacy of the Federal Constitution and laws passed by Congress,” even including the rescinding of the current “commonwealth” status! Hence, while the current government in Puerto Rico is, officially, a separate political entity from the United States, the US is still the imperial overlord of the island. By extension, this means that the officially deemed US “territories” in Guam, American Samoa, US Virgin Islands, and Northern Marinas Islands are colonies, along with arguably Hawaii.26 Hence, for these “territories,” colonialism, rather than neocolonialism, is at work, a subset of imperialism.
Efforts by US imperialists to repress or weaken resistance was abundantly clear. The FBI, the secret “internal” police of the murderous empire, spent forty years (1936-1976) working to repress, disrupt, and surveil the independence movement (“independentista”) in Puerto Rico. This included surveillance of renowned nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos from 1936 until his death in 1965.27 Specifically, the FBI kept files, illegally, on 140,000 pro-independence individuals! Even Governor Marin, the founder of the Popular Democratic Party, and later pliant puppet leader, was originally under surveillance until the FBI changed its mind, trying to protect him from threats. Years later, FBI director Louis J. Freeh admitted that his agency engaged in “egregious illegal activity, maybe criminal action” and violated the civil rights of those on the island. This suppression was only part of the story. The island’s police, FBI, and US Army intelligence had dossiers on 100,000 Puerto Ricans, 75,000 who were under “political” surveillance. Apart from the police provocateurs who assassinated independentistas,15,000 Puerto Ricans (of the 75,000) had extensive police files for political activity.
There were other forms of US domination. In 1976, the US put in place Section 936 of the internal revenue code, which allowed US companies to operate on the island without paying any corporate taxes. This was released years later when there was a huge pharmaceutical boom on the island, and the provision was replaced by Section 30A, which had similar language, in 2006. In 1979, Jimmy Carter, trying to engage in a “significant humanitarian gesture” mainly to fend off criticism of the United States, commuted the sentences of four Puerto Rican nationalists who participated in the 1950 and 1954 actions, described in the next paragraph, saying they had served enough time in prison.28
Clearly, the FBI’s brutal streak did not end, with surveillance of Puerto Rican independence activists still occurring in 1995. Ten years later, in 2005, the FBI murdered a Puerto Rican independence leader named Ojeda Rios in a shootout.29 This outraged many islanders. The following year, the FBI engaged in violent raids on the island. And two years later, an FBI/NYPD anti-terrorism task force targeted three independentistas living in the US mainland, currently, handing them subpoenas.30 This clearly shows that the crackdown on independentistas has not ended in the slightest.
Such impositions were not met without resistance. In 1934, sugar workers went on strike, and gained a few wage concessions, one of the victories for the small island nation. Two years later, on February 23, 1936, Riggs, on the island to protect colonial investments, was killed by nationalist Elias Beauchamp, accompanied by Hiram Rosado, who were, in turn, murdered by police, within hours and without trial! This killing was one of the times that Puerto Ricans would engage in what Fanon called “counterviolence” and recognized that the “colonized men liberates himself in and through violence.”31 Flash forward to 1950. On October 30, there were uprisings in Ponce, Jayuya, Utado, Naranjito, and elsewhere, led by Campos. These uprisings were brutally crushed, some by National Guardsmen flying planes and firing down upon the crowd as ordered by Governor Martin, a reliable US puppet leader.32 The revolutionary spirit would not die. In 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists struck at the heart of the empire: they attempted to kill President Truman.33 While the action was not successful, there was no doubt that the anti-colonial struggle by Puerto Ricans was connected to that of other peoples as Campos said before being arrested in 1950:
… it’s not easy to give a speech when we have our mother laying in bed and an assassin waiting to take your life… The assassin is the power of the United States of North America. One cannot give a speech while the newborn of our country are dying of hunger; while the adolescents of our homeland are being poisoned with the worst virus of them all, the virus of slavery… They must go to the United States to be the slaves of the economic powers, of the tyrants of our country… One cannot easily give a speech when this tyrant has the power to tear the sons right out of the hearts of Puerto Rico mothers to send to Korea, or into hell, to kill, to be the murderers of innocent Koreans, or to die covering a front for the Yankee enemies of our country, for them to return insane to their own people or for them to return mutilated beyond recognition… It’s not easy… We have called together here those who want the union of our brothers, of our Latin American brothers, and, very specially, the Cubans, all the people of the Antilles, the Haitians, the Dominicans, for all of them who love the independence of Puerto Rico as their very own, because as long as Puerto Rico is not free, every single one of those nations feels mutilated.
By the 1950s, the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party was starting to fade from the political landscape. By the 1960s, it was being replaced by armed revolutionary groups, like the Los Macheteras, with the latter engaging in counterviolence. In 1954, this was proven to be true when Campos led a group of 37 nationalists who fired on Congressmen from the house balcony, with many taken into custody after a two-hour gun battle.34 Campos would die years later, in 1965, after being tear gassed, tortured, and beaten in prison.35
By the 1960s, the equation was changing. Between 1955 and 1960, seventy-seven newly independent nations had been admitted to the UN, which formed an alliance to push for the adoption of resolution 1514 in the General Assembly in 1960. The resolution, initially proposed by Nikita S. Khrushchev of the USSR, declared that the “colonial situation in all its forms and manifestations” had to be remedied, with eighty-nine countries voting in favor. There were only nine abstentions (and no votes against) by the U.K., US, Western-backed apartheid South Africa, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, France, Australia, and the Dominican Republic, then controlled by the US-backed Rafael Trujillo. The latter was assassinated in 1961, with the CIA, without consent of the State Department, giving the assassins rifles and other firearms, as noted in pages 70-85 of the Rockefeller Commission’s report in 1975.
In the US, with the development of the “New Left”, social movements began to gain steam. The Young Lords Party, originally a gang in Chicago, re-organized itself as a pro-Puerto Rican organization, in 1968, that took a strong anti-imperialist position. In their principles, they argued that they had been colonized for five hundred years, first by Spain, then the United States, making them the “slaves of the gringo” and rejecting Puerto Rican rulers who were “puppets of the oppressor… who keep our communities peaceful for business,” instead of pushing for a socialist society, and ultimately against machismo, a fundamentally feminist position.
Like the Black Panthers, they supported armed self-defense and had free breakfast programs to support the community while increasing their base of support. In 1969, the Black Panthers reached out to them, the Brown Berets fighting for Chicano liberation, and anti-racist Young Patriots who tried to support young, white migrants who came from Appalachia, to create the first “rainbow coalition.” The name of the coalition was later taken by black opportunist Jesse Jackson, Jr. in a failed effort to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination and push for political reforms. Years later, the Lords changed their name to the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO), pushed for a revolutionary party, and fell apart in 1975 after FBI disruption, infighting and other factors.
The Puerto Ricans are not alone. Starting in 1972, the UN Special Committee on Decolonization (The Committee of 24) condemned the status of Puerto Rico, recognizing that the Commonwealth status is untenable, with US investors getting preferential treatment, and that the island should be independent from the supposedly “benign empire” of the United States. Due to the more than 33 resolutions calling for Puerto Rico’s independence by the Committee of 24 since 1972, building off of resolution 1514, it has been tarred by the US. In 1968, only five years into its existence, US diplomats declared that the Committee had become “anti-Western” because it criticized US imperialism and supported “independentistas” in Puerto Rico. Such criticism didn’t stop the Committee. Recently, the Committee concluded that the US violated Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination to be an independent nation. Specifically, representatives from Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Iran have talked about independence for the island nation and relinquishing US colonial rule, with some witnesses talking about how the island was illegally taken and under corporate control. Latin America clearly did not abandon the island. Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, former Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, and Raul Castro of Cuba have all supported the island’s independence.
Other organizations that have argued for independence include the Non-Aligned Movement and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) founded by Latin American states in Carcas, Venezuela in 2011. Clearly, the Democratic and Republican parties, along with the island’s two major political parties (The Popular Democratic Party and the New Progressive Party) do not support independence.36 The island’s governors, under the constitution of the Puerto Rican “commonwealth,” five from the Popular Democratic Party (Luis Muñoz Marín, Roberto Sánchez Vilella, Rafael Hernández Colón, Sila Calderón, and Aníbal Salvador Acevedo Vilá) who want to maintain the current status of the island, five from the New Progressive Party (Luis A. Ferré, Carlos Romero Barceló, Pedro Rosselló, Luis Fortuño, Alejandro García Padilla, and newly elected Ricky Rosselló), who want the island to be a US state, have stayed within acceptable bourgeois opinion. While some may be liberal and others conservative, through all eleven of the governors, there has been concentration of corporate power on the island and maintenance of the colonial relationship. While some could claim the referendum in 2012 “solved” the status of the island, less than half supported statehood, with most, instead, wanting a change to the status quo.
In 1975, when Cuba pushed to give special status for the island for the Puerto Rican independence movement, the US balked with anger. Such a response is predictable. Deep down, the imperialists of the US are afraid of Puerto Rican independence. If the country became independent, it is possible that Vieques couldn’t become a bombing range again, the US couldn’t store nuclear weapons there, plan for strikes on Cuba, use the island to intercept “enemy” signals, and so on.37 Even some diplomats tried to say that if the island is separated from the US, the residents would be jeopardizing their “paramount interests in economic, social, education… [and] political matters.” This is reflexively talking about what US and foreign capitalists would lose, instead of referring to the real needs of Puerto Ricans.
The question remains: where do we stand now? Undoubtedly, the coverage of the island by the bourgeois media focuses on “unpayable debt.” The island is, as writer Nelson Denis argued (with likely feminist implications), the “battered spouse of the Caribbean.” An article last fall by Linda Backiel, in the Monthly Review, is vital in explaining the current situation. She writes that the dire straits of the island, $73 billion of debt, is not a surprise, since it has been “sacked by colonial powers for half of a millennium.” She goes on to say that IMF officials were paid $400,000 to make recommendations about the island’s economic crisis, which is ridiculous considering that the island has no access to financing from the World Bank, IMF, or elsewhere because it is a colony. Backiel adds that Article VI, section 8 of the island’s constitution, payment of interest and debt is the first priority, coupled with the country “running on bonds” held by US banks such as Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, and Bank of America, along with numerous venture and hedge funds.
She then writes that “the vultures are circling” the small island nation, with the island in crisis, even as human misery caused by colonialism is ignored and over 45% of the people live below the poverty line, with the country seeming on the verge of economic collapse. If this occurs, it could threaten the “propaganda value” of the island and its economy, destroyed in part by the collaboration of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party and US Congress, leaving the Popular Democratic Party to “clean up” the mess. She closes by saying “in the battle between soul and capital, who will win? Until the people of Puerto Rico organize to defend their soul; it is not even a stalemate: Black is playing with nothing but pawns.” Other accounts affirm this assessment of the situation in Puerto Rico.38
In the most recent election cycle, the island’s precarious state got some play. Bernie Sanders, the “nice” imperialist running for the Democratic nomination, declared in June of this year that the US cannot “continue a colonial-like relationship with the people of Puerto Rico,” and saying he would offer it three options: becoming a state, enhancing its territorial rights, or becoming an independent country, which is no different than the previous plebiscites ordered by the US government.39 Predictably, he didn’t mention Resolution 1514, the efforts of the Committee of 24, or actions by Puerto Ricans to engage in counterviolence, instead posing himself as a “savior” of the island, an act of racist and imperialist positioning.
Jill Stein of the Green Party had a similar statement on the subject; however, she more clearly called out colonial exploitation, even calling for a bailout of the island.40
What Vladimir Lenin wrote in 1917 in his book, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism is relevant here, as related to the island’s debt and plans for “restructuring.” Lenin writes that concentration of production leads to monopoly especially in the US, which was described, even then, as an “advanced country of modern capitalism.”41 In the island nation, the spreading of monopoly, specifically of “monopolist combines of big capitalists” or “gigantic monopolist combines” into every sphere of life would likely get a boost under a Trump administration.42 If he follows his cost-benefit formulation of “solving” the world’s problems, he would support debt restructuring, but let the “bondholders take a hit.” Even if this sounds “anti-business,” it is likely that his plan, whatever that is, would move away from the populist rhetoric and benefit the same economic actors, reinforcing the “world system of colonial oppression” manifested in capitalism, with “world marauders” like the United States “armed to the teeth.”43 It is also possible the newly-elected Puerto Rico Governor Rosselló will clash with Trump, but what happens in that realm remains to be seen.
At the present, Puerto Rico stands at a crossroads. US control of the island, which has never enjoyed real sovereignty, arguably led to a colonial mentality where Puerto Ricans feel they cannot engage in true self-rule, despite a strong nationalist sentiment. As a result, due to economic dependence on the US, and 25% unemployment, many are not supportive of independence from the US. These feelings are reinforced by existing assimilation showing that people haven’t been decolonized, with the possible compromise of Puerto Rican strong identity and culture. With the advent of neoliberal policies on the island, accommodationist Puerto Rican leaders, as described earlier, and blatant efforts to tamp down demands for independence, it hasn’t got any better.
According to the most recent report by the military establishment in September, there are 142 military personnel, 7,598 reservists, and 1,922 civilian personnel, coming to a total of 9,662!44 Such personnel are clearly used as a way of asserting colonial dominance. Still, Puerto Ricans have not remained silent, with continuing resistance to colonial rule. One example of this would be the student strikes which shut down the university system in the country and were repressed brutally. Either the status quo of neoliberal and capitalist exploitation can remain, or there can be a challenge and destruction to the existing colonial system, ending over 520 years of colonial rule (1493-2016) by the Spanish, then the United States. That is the choice at hand.
There is no doubt that Puerto Rico should be freed from colonial shackles of the murderous empire and its corporate clients. Negotiation may lead to a situation of neocolonialism, like in a number of African countries, where a national bourgeoisie on the island is subservient to the US, not changing the existing relationship between the US and the island nation. While the Puerto Rican people ultimately have to decide their fate, it is clear that decolonization, when part of a real liberation struggle, is “always a violent event,” as Fanon put it, where the colonized masses engage in violence, such as guerrilla warfare, to push for the demolition of the colonial system and allow for the emergence of a new nation.45 In the current economic situation, such counterviolence, which undermines the role of the US as “barons of international capitalism” and demands the independence of island from the imperial behemoth, could erupt once again.46
As one stands in solidarity with Puerto Rico in resisting “a monster where the flaws, sickness and inhumanity of Europe have reached frightening proportions,” what Fanon wrote in 1961 is apt to this island nation at the crossroads: “we must shake off the great mantle of night which has enveloped upon us, and reach for the light. The new day which is dawning must find us determined, enlightened and resolute.”47
- Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s History of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2006), 45. [↩]
- Francisco Scarano, “The Origins of Plantation Growth in Puerto Rico,” Caribbean Slave Society and Economy (ed. Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd, New York: The New Press, 1991), 57-59. [↩]
- Scarano, 56-58. [↩]
- Scarano, 58-60, 61, 63-64, 66. [↩]
- Scarano, 62-65. [↩]
- Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (New York: HarperCollins, 2003, Fifth Edition), 532. This was not done without resistance in Puerto Rico, in terms of slave revolts, in the 1520s and 1530s. [↩]
- Scarano, 66. French abolition of slavery in its colonies in 1794 (while re-established in Haiti in 1802 by Napoleon in failed attempt to stop revolution, which succeeded in 1804 after twelve years) set off panic among Puerto Rican planters. [↩]
- Kinzer, 44. [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Kinzer, 45. [↩]
- Kinzer, 44 [↩]
- Kinzer, 45, 46, 48, 70, 80; Zinn, 312, 408; Ziaudin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, Why Do People Hate America? (New York: The Disinformation Company, 2002), 43. [↩]
- Kinzer, 91. [↩]
- Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 2004 reprint, originally published in 1961, 14. [↩]
- Kinzer, 91-92. [↩]
- Kinzer, 92. [↩]
- Kinzer, 92, 104, 107, 108, 215, 300. [↩]
- Anti-abortion activists have even used this to criticize Planned Parenthood, with a lawyer for such a group, Casey Mattox, writing that Planned Parenthood worked with the government of Puerto Rico to sterilize women, which was not voluntary, and was a major part of the island’s sterilization program. Of course, Mattox uses it to argue against contraceptive use instead of developing it into a criticism of US imperialism.
- Some have argued that feminists on the US mainland too often framed the discussion around the idea that “Puerto Rican women are victimized and need to be saved,” denying the action of Puerto Rican feminists in support of the measure, and deny the possibility of “Puerto Rican feminist agency” (see pages 31-34 of Laura Briggs’s “Discourses of ‘Forced Sterilization’ in Puerto Rico: The Problem with the Speaking Subaltern”). Be that as it may, parts of this argument come very close to apology for US imperial and colonial action, such as imposed sterilization. Saying this does not deny that Puerto Rican women didn’t act in their best interests and engaged in sterilization in order to improve their own conditions. However, as said in the article, women had little choice but to engage in this procedure, so they didn’t even have “agency,” a word also used to throw off certain analysis, especially of a radical kind, or free choice to engage in all possible birth control measures if they wished to do so. [↩]
- William Blum, Rogue State (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2000), 98. [↩]
- Blum-Ibid. [↩]
- Kinzer, 92-93. [↩]
- Jack Woodis, Introduction to Neo-Colonialism:The New Imperialism in Asia, Africa, & Latin America (New York: International Publishers, 1969, second printing, originally published in 1967), 13, 16, 28, 32-33, 43-47, 49, 58, 61, 68-69. [↩]
- Woddis, 50, 68-69. [↩]
- The Court’s majority opinion, written by “liberal” Justice Elena Kagan, declared in flowery words that the colonial relationship is “unique” and built on the “island’s evolution into a constitutional democracy exercising local self-rule,” while admitting that the US Congress stripped the Puerto Rican constitution of social democratic qualities before it was approved since US colonies are “not sovereigns distinct from the United States” as noted on pages 2, 3, 10-11, 15 of the decision. Even Stephen Breyer, who accepted that federal power was the governing authority over US states and colonies, posited the “self-rule” argument, claiming that the island was self-ruling, citing numerous sources including the horrid Resolution 748. The dissenting opinion of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not not challenge, fundamentally, the court’s ruling, only saying that the matter warrants attention to future cases. Clarence Thomas had a similar opinion, only saying that he felt the decision would be a negative precedent on law governing indigenous peoples in the United States.
- The US also controls uninhabited islands in the Pacific including Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Navassa Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island. They could be effectively considered part of the US colonial system.
- The FBI began its close attention on the island in 1936 when a local US attorney said that Campos was publishing articles insulting the US and giving “public speeches in favor of independence.” His influence was so widely recognized that when he refused to go to his parole officer, the Roosevelt administration didn’t order him back to prison for fear that there would be unrest on the island.
- In September 1999, Bill Clinton would commute the sentences of eleven Puerto Rican nationalists, which sparked anger among police officers, numerous leading Democrats, and numerous Republicans. Not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton opposed this move, expressing her opposition.
- See articles on this from Democracy Now!, USA Today, Associated Press, and Socialist Worker just for examples of differing reactions among those on the internet. [↩]
- From 1936 to 1995, the FBI generated 1.5 to 1.8 million pages on Puerto Rican independence activists! [↩]
- Fanon, 44, 47. [↩]
- Sardar and Davies, 96. [↩]
- Chronicle of America (Mount Kisco, NY: Chronicle Publications, 1988), 755, 758. The surviving man from this action, who was not killed in a gun battle with police officers, was sentenced to life imprisonment instead of being killed. [↩]
- Chronicle of America, 765. [↩]
- Laura Briggs, wrote in her article, as mentioned in an earlier footnote, that Campos was opposed to radicals who pushed for birth control on the island (along with independence), started by the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, and other efforts. This, in and of itself, would not be surprising, as machismo is widely cemented in many Latin American societies and reflected itself in liberation struggles. Despite this major flaw, it still worth recognizing his struggle in resisting US colonialism on the island nation of Puerto Rico, making him a hero to many. [↩]
- Politically, the Republicans would likely oppose statehood due to the large number of Puerto Ricans voting for the Democratic Party in presidential elections. [↩]
- In 1977, some diplomats claimed that the US could not place nuclear weapons on the island if it became a state. Whether this is actually true is not known.
- See articles on The Real News, The Hill, Democracy Now!, Telesur English, Mother Jones, Common Dreams, and Dissident Voice, of course
- Sanders is also on record for rejecting the neoliberal debt restructuring in place. However, due to his imperialist stance on foreign policy, there is no guarantee his debt restructuring would be any better overall.
- The Green Party of the United States has a plank on their platform declaring that the people of the island have the right to self-determination and independence, release of Puerto Rican political prisoners, environmental cleanup of Vieques, that the island’s debt is “unpayable” and that decolonization had to be supported as the “first step for the Puerto Rican people to live in a democracy.” Even the Communist Party USA, a political party that became rightist after the Hungarian “Revolution” in 1956 and with its call for a left-liberal inclusive coalition against the right-wing in the US instead of actively organizing people for socialism, declared in its 2006 “Road to Socialism” that the island nation composes an “oppressed national minority” who are mostly working class, dependent on the US, and says there needs to be a “free and independent Puerto Rico.” This is even further left, strangely enough, then the Socialist Party USA. In their recent platform, the party only calls for Guam, Puerto Rico, indigenous nations, and D.C. to have congressional representation, the similar to a position held by the Democratic Party. [↩]
- Vladimir Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (New York: International Publishers, 1972 reprint of 1939 English translation, originally published in 1917), 16-17, 20, 22, 32. [↩]
- Lenin, 25, 28, 31, 35, 58, 60, 62, 82. [↩]
- Lenin, 10-11. [↩]
- The “Military and Civilian Personnel by Service/Agency by State/Country (Updated Quarterly)” excel spreadsheet report from September 2016 is used here. That’s around the same number of personnel in the state of Delaware, which isn’t a colony in the slightest (although it is occupied indigenous land), which is telling. [↩]
- Fanon, 1, 10, 26, 30. [↩]
- Fanon, 38. [↩]
- Fanon, 235-237. [↩]
November 22 marks the 53rd anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. If history is any guide, it’s likely some mainstream outlet will commemorate that dark day with reassurances that the Warren Commission was right that Lee Harvey Oswald did it alone, and that most doubters, who have been in the majority since the mid-1960s, are randy conspiracy theorists. That is the essential message by one of the experts likely to be cited this year, attorney Howard Willens.
One of the few still-living Warren Commission staffers, Willens followed up his 2013 book, History Will Prove Us Right, with a spirited defense of the Commission in the summer, 2016 issue of the journal, The American Scholar, which he co-wrote with another Commission staffer, attorney Richard Mosk. The piece, “The Truth About Dallas,” is a celebration of the work and conclusions of the original investigation.
But Willens’s and Mosk’s defense of the work of the Warren Commission they served on is more notable for what they omit from the official record than what they include. “What the critics often forget or ignore,” they write, “is that since 1964, several government agencies have also looked at aspects of our work,” (p. 59) as if the Church Committee and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) had reviewed and applauded the Commission’s work.
Indeed, they did look at it. But rather than plaudits, they issued stinging rebukes, principally for the Commission’s having been rolled by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and to a lesser extent, by the CIA and the Secret Service.
“It must be said that the FBI generally exhausted its resources in confirming its case against Oswald as the lone assassin,” the HSCA concluded, “a case that Director J. Edgar Hoover, at least, seemed determined to make within 24 hours of the of the assassination.”
In essence, the experienced investigators concluded that Hoover had divined the solution to the crime before starting the inquiry, and then his agents confirmed the boss’s epiphany. The intimidated Warren Commission went right along.
And with good reason, only part of which Willens and Mosk tell. They admit that the “FBI had originally opposed the creation of the Warren Commission” and that Hoover “ordered investigations of commission staff members.” But they don’t tell that Hoover deployed one of his favorite dirty tricks to deal not only with support staffers, such as Willens and Mosk, but also with the commissioners themselves.
“[D]erogatory information pertaining to both Commission members and staff was brought to Mr. Hoover’s attention,” the Church Committee reported. (emphasis added)
Willens and Mosk also forgot to mention that Hoover had a personal spy on the Warren Commission, then Rep. Gerald Ford, who tattled on Commissioners who were (justifiably) skeptical of the Bureau’s work.
“Ford indicated he would keep me thoroughly advised as to the activities of the Commission,” FBI Agent Cartha DeLoach wrote in a once secret memo. “He stated this would have to be done on a confidential basis, however he thought it should be done.”
At the bottom of the memo, Hoover scrawled, “Well handled.” The success of Hoover’s machinations was obvious to subsequent government investigators. (Ford, of course, later became President upon the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974.)
The HSCA’s chief counsel, Notre Dame Law Professor Robert Blakey, a criminal investigator and prosecutor with vastly better credentials than either Willens or Mosk, was impressed with neither the Commission’s vigor nor its independence.
“What was significant,” Blakey determined, “was the ability of the FBI to intimidate the Commission, in light of the Bureau’s predisposition on the questions of Oswald’s guilt and whether there had been a conspiracy. At a January 27  Commission meeting, there was another dialogue [among Warren Commissioners]:
“John McCloy: ‘… the time is almost overdue for us to have a better perspective of the FBI investigation than we now have … We are so dependent on them for our facts … .’
“Commission counsel J. Lee Rankin: ‘Part of our difficulty in regard to it is that they have no problem. They have decided that no one else is involved … .’
“Senator Richard Russell: ‘They have tried the case and reached a verdict on every aspect.’
“Senator Hale Boggs: ‘You have put your finger on it.’ (Closed Warren Commission meeting.)” [Blakey & Billings, Fatal Hour– The Assassination of President. See also: North, Act of Treason]
Testifying before the HSCA, the Warren Commission’s chief counsel J. Lee Rankin shamefully admitted, “Who could protest against what Mr. Hoover did back in those days?” Apparently not President Lyndon Johnson’s blue-ribbon commissioners.
The HSCA’s Blakey also reported that “When asked if he was satisfied with the (Commission’s) investigation that led to the (no conspiracy) conclusion, Judge Burt Griffin (a Commission staff member) said he was not.” [Blakey & Billings, Ibid.]
And author Gus Russo reported that Judge Griffin also admitted, “We spent virtually no time investigating the possibility of conspiracy. I wish we had.” [Russo, Live by the Sword]
Thus, despite their clear misgivings, the Commissioners bowed to the imperious FBI chief rather than conduct a thorough investigation. Notably, the Commission never once employed a rudimentary investigative tool. “The Commission,” the HSCA reported, “failed to utilize the instruments of immunity from prosecution and prosecution for perjury with respect to witnesses whose veracity it doubted.” [US Cong. House of Reps. Report of Comm. on Assassinations, 1979]
This policy had serious repercussions when the Commission confronted two key issues: published claims that Lee Harvey Oswald had been an FBI informant, and the possibility that Jack Ruby was mobbed up.
“The Commission did not investigate Hoover or the FBI, and managed to avoid the appearance of doing so,” the HSCA determined. “It ended up doing what the members had agreed they would not do: Rely mainly on the FBI’s denial of the allegations (that Oswald had been a Bureau informant).”
Hoover merely sent the Commission his signed affidavit declaring that Oswald was not an informant and also “sent over 10 additional affidavits from each FBI agent who had had contact with Oswald.” And with that, case closed.
Regarding Jack Ruby, the FBI had his phone records, yet failed to spot Ruby’s obvious, and atypical, pattern of calls to known Mafiosi in the weeks leading up to the assassination. After performing the simple, obvious task of actually analyzing those calls, the HSCA determined that, if not a sworn member of La Cosa Nostra, Ruby had ongoing, close links to numerous Mafiosi.
Thus the HSCA roundly rejected the Warren Commission’s conclusion that, “the evidence does not establish a significant link between Ruby and organized crime.”
The list of Warren Commission shortcomings that the HSCA assembled is not short. A brief summary of them runs some 47 pages in the Bantam Books version of the report (p. 289–336), which outlines what required much of the 500 pages of HSCA volume XI to cover (available on-line).
“The evidence indicates that facts which may have been relevant to, and would have substantially affected, the Warren Commission’s investigation were not provided by the agencies (FBI and the CIA). Hence, the Warren Commission’s findings may have been formulated without all of the relevant information.”
The Church Committee said that the problem was that “the Commission was perceived as an adversary by both Hoover and senior FBI officials.” “Such a relationship,” the Committee dryly observed, “was not conductive to the cooperation necessary for a thorough and exhaustive investigation.”
But the FBI did more than just withhold evidence from the Commission. Although they admit that the FBI destroyed a note Oswald wrote to Agent Hosty, and withheld that information from the Commission, Willens and Mosk don’t mention that Agent Hosty reported that his own personnel file, and other FBI files, had been falsified. [Hosty, Jr. Assignment: Oswald]
Nor that author Curt Gentry learned from assistant FBI director William Sullivan that there were other JFK documents at the Bureau that had been destroyed. [Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover– The Man and His Secrets]
Perhaps one of the reasons the public has remained mistrustful of the government’s conclusions, and the mainstream media reassurances, is the sort of selective presentation of evidence by ax grinders like Willens and Mosk who get heralded by our “responsible” media.
Gary Aguilar is one of the few physicians outside the government ever allowed to see the still-restricted JFK autopsy photos and X-rays. He has published and lectured on the topic of the JFK assassination for many years.
FBI Director James Comey has told Congress that a new investigation by his agency of Hillary Clinton’s private email server has not unearthed any information that would warrant any charges being brought against the Democratic candidate.
Saying that his team “has been working around the clock,” studying emails on a laptop belonging to the husband of an aide of Hillary Clinton’s, Comey claimed the review of the additional material “from a device obtained in connection with an unrelated criminal investigation” did not change the investigators’ previous conclusion regarding Clinton’s email practices.
In July, the FBI said no charges were warranted in the case of the former secretary of state concerning her use of a private email server.
“[We] have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton,” Comey wrote in his letter on Sunday.
Since late October, the FBI director has found himself in hot water following his announcement of new “appropriate investigative steps” in the months-long investigation into Clinton’s use of a private server while she served as America’s secretary of state.
The FBI then obtained a search warrant that allowed it to scour through some 650,000 emails discovered on a laptop belonging to ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner and apparently also used by his wife, Clinton’s closest aide, Huma Abedin.
Commenting on the announcement that there would be no charges, Clinton’s campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri told reporters they were “glad that this matter is resolved.”
Earlier Sunday, the chairman of Clinton’s campaign, John Podesta, accused the FBI chief of revealing the new investigation in the first place by calling it a “mistake.”
“I think the men and women of the FBI are doing a tremendous job out here across the country, but the leakers should shut up,” Podesta said in an interview with NBC News’ Meet the Press.
Officially, of course, the national bird of the United States is that half-a-peace-sign that Philadelphia sports fans like to hold up at opposing teams. But unofficially, the film National Bird has it right: the national bird is a killer drone.
Finally, finally, finally, somebody allowed me to see this movie. And finally somebody made this movie. There have been several drone movies worth seeing, most of them fictional drama, and one very much worth avoiding (Eye in the Sky ). But National Bird is raw truth, not entirely unlike what you might fantasize media news reports would be in a magical world in which media outlets gave a damn about human life.
The first half of National Bird is the stories of three participants in the U.S. military’s drone murder program, as told by them. And then, just as you’re starting to think you’ll have to write that old familiar review that praises how well the stories of the victims among the aggressors were told but asks in exasperation whether any of the victims of the actual missiles have any stories, National Bird expands to include just what is so often missing, and even to combine the two narratives in a powerful way.
Heather Linebaugh wanted to protect people, benefit the world, travel, see the world, and use super cool technology. Apparently our society did not explain to her in time what it means to join the military. Now she suffers guilt, anxiety, moral injury, PTSD, sleep disorder, despair, and a sense of responsibility to speak out on behalf of friends, other veterans, who have killed themselves or become too alcoholic to speak for themselves. Linebaugh helped murder people with missiles from drones, and watched them die, and identified body parts or watched loved ones gather up body parts.
Even while still in the Air Force, Linebaugh was on a suicide watch list and had a psychologist recommend moving her to a different sort of job, but the Air Force refused. She has episodes. She sees things. She hears things. But she’s forbidden to discuss her work with friends or even with a therapist who doesn’t have the proper “security clearance.”
We let Daniel down even more than Heather. He says he actually opposed militarism but was homeless and desperate, so he joined the military. We could have given him a house for much less than we paid him to help murder people at Fort Meade.
Lisa Ling worked on a database filled by drone surveillance that compiled information on 121,000 “targets” in two years. Multiply that by a dozen years. With 90% of victims not among the targets, add up how many people would die in the targeting of the whole list. That’d be over 7 million. But it’s not numbers that have poisoned the souls of these three veterans; it’s children and mothers and brothers and uncles lying in pieces on the ground.
Ling travels to Afghanistan to see the place at ground level and to meet with drone victims. She meets a little boy who lost his leg and his 4-year-old brother and his sister and his father. On February 2, 2010, drone “pilots” at Creech Air Base murdered 23 innocent members of one family.
The filmmakers have voices read the written transcript of what the drone operators said to each other before, during, and after sending in the missiles that did the damage. This is worse than Collateral Murder. The people whose job it is to identify children and others who should not be murdered have identified children among the group of people being targeted. The “pilots” at Creech are eager to reject this information and to get on to killing as many people as they can. Their lust for blood drives the decision process. Only after they’ve killed 23 people do they recognize children among the survivors, and the lack of guns.
We see the bodies brought home to bury. Those injured describe their suffering, physical as well as mental. We see people being fitted with artificial legs. We hear Afghans describe their perception of drones. They imagine, just as many Americans may imagine, and just as viewers of Eye in the Sky would imagine, that drone operators have a clear, high resolution view of everything. In fact, they have a view of fuzzy little blobs on a computer screen that looks like it was created in the 1980s.
Linebaugh says there is no way to distinguish the little “civilian” blobs from little “militant” blobs. When Daniel hears President Obama claim that there is always near certainty that no civilians will be killed, Daniel explains that such knowledge is simply not possible. Linebaugh says she was often on the side of the conversation telling the “pilots” at Creech not to murder innocents, but that they always pushed for permission to kill.
Jesselyn Radack, attorney for whistleblowers, says in the film that the FBI told two whistleblowers that a terrorist group had put them on a kill list. She said that the FBI has also contacted Linebaugh’s family and warned her that “terrorists” have been searching for her name online, suggesting that she fix this problem by shutting up. (She had written an op-ed in the Guardian).
The FBI also raids Daniel’s house, arriving with 30 to 50 agents, badges, guns, cameras, and search warrants. They take away his papers, electronics, and phone. They tell him he is under investigation for a possible indictment under the Espionage Act. This is the World War I-era law for targeting foreign enemies that President Obama has made a routine of using to target domestic whistleblowers. While Obama has prosecuted more people under this law than did all previous presidents combined, we probably have no way of knowing how many people have been explicitly threatened with the possibility.
While we should be apologizing to, comforting, and aiding these young people rather than denying them the right to speak to anybody and threatening them with decades in prison, Lisa Ling did manage to find some kindness. Victims of drone strikes in Afghanistan told her that they forgave her. As the film ends, she’s planning another trip to Afghanistan.
A review of Brad Schreiber’s Revolution’s End
America is a Haunted House.
– Peter Levenda, author of Sinister Forces
There is probably no other historical era more misunderstood by Americans than the 1960s and 1970s. From the political assassinations of major political figures and political assassinations of ordinary civil rights and antiwar activists to the emergence of government secret intelligence programs designed to monitor and ultimately crush dissent in the United States, most Americans remain vaguely, if at all, aware of how this hidden history impacts our lives today. And this lack of awareness has unfortunately allowed for these same forces to deal some crushing blows to our “democracy.”
The American public learned of the FBI’s Cointelpro and the CIA’s Operation CHAOS and MKUltra through the Senate Hearings on government intelligence abuses led by Senator Frank Church in 1975 as well as through the work of independent journalists after the break-in of FBI offices in Media Pennsylvania in 1971.1 These government and journalistic investigations brought to light an array of systematic abuses of government authority against Americans, partially illuminating the covert and ruthless attacks against the movements of the era.
The Johnson administration’s failure to deliver on its promises of genuine and meaningful civil rights reforms led to a series of urban riots beginning in Harlem in 1964 and were followed by those in Watts, Detroit and Newark as well as in a host of other cities across the country. These riots terrified the establishment and prompted the government to create programs designed to federalize local police departments rather than address the underlying social problems that gave way to the riots in the first place.2 Through the Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1965 and the subsequent Omnibus Safe Streets Crime bill signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) was created as a mechanism to launch an unprecedented “War on Crime.”3 The purpose of the LEAA was ostensibly “violence prevention. ” The LEAA funded the creation and training of SWAT teams in Los Angeles in order to destroy the Black Panther Party and other perceived political threats. The LEAA funded “anti-violence” research in prisons and hospitals and worked alongside the CIA’s MK ULTRA program engaging in such delightful activities as drug experimentation, surgical, and chemical lobotomies on prisoners and psychiatric patients. LEAA funds also went into the school system and developed testing of young black children to “predict” whether or not these children would become violent in the future.4 (For more information of how the LEAA funded projects in schools that led to the psychiatric drugging of Black and poor children, please see the work of psychiatrist Peter Breggin).
The other widely misunderstood factor in the development of America’s police state is the relationship between the deepening of America’s involvement in a genocidal enterprise called the Vietnam War and the growth and over-determination of the American National Security State on political life in the US. While it is a fact that the United States lost the Vietnam war, the lessons learned by the military/intelligence establishment were employed in future counter-insurgency campaigns in El Salvador and Iraq and in the United States as well.5
This is where Brad Schreiber’s Revolution’s End: The Patty Hearst Kidnapping, Mind Control, and the Secret History of Donald DeFreeze and the SLA comes in. Revolution’s End is a careful examination of the relationships among various government intelligence, police and prison agencies that colluded to create a synthetic terror group called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Their assassination of Oakland School Superintendent Marcus Foster and subsequent kidnapping of heiress and closet revolutionary Patricia Campbell Hearst dominated the news cycle for years. While other researchers of the shadow state have examined the SLA and the Patty Hearst trial in depth such as Paul Krassner and Mae Brussell, Schreiber’s exposure of government involvement in the creation of the SLA is nothing short of explosive.
Schreiber was handed a folder full of documents from Dick Russell, the legendary journalist and author of The Man Who Knew Too Much. These documents came from private investigators working on Patricia Hearst’s defense team including the private detective and former Las Vegas police officer Lake Headley who was hired by Dr. L.S. Wolfe, father of slain SLA member Willie Wolfe. Schreiber utilizes the contents of that file to great effect. They include startling facts such as Patti Hearst’s pre-SLA relationship with Donald Defreeze (the petty thief, turned LAPD informant, turned provocateur and fake revolutionary). Using a college friend’s student ID, Hearst was allowed to visit Defreeze in prison at the Vacaville Psychiatric Unit as a part of a project called the Black Cultural Association (BCA). BCA was ostensibly a rehabilitative project but in effect it was a behavior modification program run by Colston Westbrook, a former CIA officer who worked with Pacific Architects and Engineers, a known CIA front company that was responsible for building the prison interrogation centers (PICS) in Vietnam as part of the CIA’s deplorable Phoenix program. The Phoenix program was a covert CIA coordinated program of counter-insurgency/counter-subversion against the South Vietnam’s civilian population.6 And here lies one of Schreiber major achievements, exposing a direct link between the Vietnam pacification program as Phoenix was euphemistically coined, and America’s pacification program at home.
The BCA received many visits from a prison rights group largely associated with another shady “revolutionary” movement of the era The Venceremos Organization, a Maoist group based out of Stanford and at the time led by English Professor H. Bruce Franklin. Venceremos had originally had a Chicano leadership but this leadership was displaced in the wake of the split of the Bay Area Revolutionary Union (BARU). BARU included H. Bruce Franklin and Bob Avakian. Having formed the organization after the destruction of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Franklin and Avakian split over disagreements about the role of armed struggle in the United States. Venceremos, was, along with the August 7th Guerrilla movement, the bases from which the SLA drew its white cadre. In the last few years before the dissolution of Venceremos, many of its members became involved with the United Prisoners Union (UPU) created by Popeye Jackson.7 It is within these circles that Patti Hearst becomes connected with Vacaville and Defreeze. During the visits to Vacaville, Patty Hearst was able to carry on a sexual relationship with Defreeze with the blessing of Westbrook. As Schreiber tells it, as Defreeze starts to become more unhinged as his treatments continue at the hands of the Vacaville prison authorities, he gradually changes his identity to that of Cinque, the Black revolutionary. He speaks of violence and kidnapping to Hearst. She becomes understandably unnerved and breaks off the relationship with Defreeze. Here according to Schreiber begins the plotting of revenge against Hearst. Importantly, Schreiber points out that Vacaville as a psychiatric hospital was a way station for inmates going on to serve their sentences in other facilities. The vast majority of them were passing through receiving their “treatment” and then moving on. Defreeze, in contrast, stayed at Vacaville for well over a year which was highly unusual. Defreeze’s situation even caught the attention of “thorn in the side of the CIA” Congressman Leo Ryan who investigated Defreeze’s case and the prison authorities use of mind control experiments.
Defreeze, a failed criminal, who couldn’t find consistent work to take care of his children and who had been handled by the forces of the state for a number of years was sent on a mission at the behest of Colston Westbrook, to assassinate the first Black superintendent of a public school district in the United States, Dr. Marcus Foster.
Schreiber points out that the political targeting of Marcus Foster was beyond bizarre. Foster’s assassination has never been fully explained. SLA members Russ Little and Joe Remiro were convicted of the crime but Schreiber reveals that it was Nancy Ling Perry and Patricia Soltysik along with Cinque (Defreeze) that actually riddled Foster’s body with nine cyanide tipped bullets. Schreiber speculates that the reason that Foster was targeted by Westbrook was that public schools were coming under attack for doing too well a job at educating Black and other minority children. After his election in 1966, Governor Reagan’s California launched a crusade against political activism in schools regarding them (along with the California prisons) as a breeding ground for radicalism.8
Schreiber casts Donald Defreeze in a rather compassionate light. A failed criminal, Defreeze like thousands of others, was recruited by the LAPD to become an informant and provocateur. This is the story of thousands of others who are pressured with time in prison for noncooperation. Or if they were in prison, they often were threatened with chemical or physical psychosurgery or indefinite solitary confinement. Yes, many did it for the money but as Schreiber points out Defreeze hardly earned a living from what was paid to him by the LAPD’s Criminal Conspiracy Section (CCS).
The one revelation that nearly made me fall out of my chair as I was reading it was the revelation that according to Schreiber’s research, the SLA was created within the California Department of Corrections (CDC) as an interracial prison gang that would spy on the other gangs and provide intelligence to the leadership of the CDC. There were chapters of the prison SLA at San Quentin, Vacaville, and Soledad. Inmate Robert Hyde, a long term prisoner, was pressured to become the head of the prison SLA and he was told to inform on any legal action inmates were planning against the CDC regarding abuses against prisoners. Hyde decided that becoming an informant inside the prison was a death wish so he refused. Eventually Hyde appeals to the FBI for help. At a certain point, Hyde was informed that there was to be an SLA formed outside of the prison to infiltrate dissident groups. Schreiber then discusses the effect of the assassination of George Jackson and the effect that it had on the climate inside the California prison system.
Schreiber provides many other fascinating insights into the formation and eventual destruction of the SLA. He points out that most of the left viewed the SLA with great suspicion, accusing the SLA of having been created by the CIA. So their mission to infiltrate the left was largely a failure. However, in the Bay Area, there were many in the urban poor communities that helped hide them from the police. Schreiber highlights how the SLA was able to artfully manipulate the media into broadcasting their communiques including the demand that William Randolph Hearst fund the People in Need (PIN) program. Hearst spent millions to fund this food distribution program that led to chaotic scenes of distribution workers tossing palettes of food off of truck beds to angry and hungry people.
On the fateful night of May 17th 1974 in a house in South Central Los Angeles, located, as Schreiber points out, a mere 3 miles from the epicenter of the Watts Riots, six SLA members lost their lives. Nancy Ling Perry, Camille Hall, and Patricia Soltysik died from gunshots wounds. Angela Atwood and Willie Wolfe died from smoke inhalation. Defreeze reportedly died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Schreiber goes into the serious inconsistencies of the official reports of the SLA deaths. His research shows that, in fact, the SLA members were not given a chance to come out alive. Nancy Ling Perry, it would later be shown, was shot in the back presumably as she was trying to turn herself in. He also found evidence that incendiary/explosive devices were thrown into the house by the LAPD. Given the secret origins of the SLA and Defreeze’s relationship with the LAPD and the CDC, it is very plausible that the LAPD had decided ahead of time that there would be no peaceful resolution to the standoff.
Lastly, Schreiber makes a critical point that the live television broadcast of the police shootout and bombing of the South Central Los Angeles SLA hideout was the introduction of the LAPD SWAT team to America’s night time television viewing audience. The live broadcasting of the LAPD destruction of the SLA could be seen as a terrifying prelude to our current War on Terror.
Revolution’s End is a remarkable book. However, it would have been even better if Schreiber had included some of the documents he cites. More thorough footnoting would have improved it as well. However, footnoting would have made it a less readable book. I hope that Schreiber (if he hasn’t already) made copies of the documents he possesses and donates them to a local university or library. The information age has inundated the public with information/disinformation overload. And due to increasing government restrictions with regard to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), documents like these are becoming more difficult to get your hands on and they are just too precious for any one person to keep to themselves.
Revolution’s End is a highly readable book and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in unearthing the secret history of government repression in America. Schreiber had to decide where to go in-depth. His focus on the background of Defreeze and Westbrook are laudable choices as is his focus on the assassination of Dr. Marcus Foster. There are many threads of research that can and should be followed up on including Congressman Leo Ryan and his research into the mind control experiments in prisons, and the post SLA creation New World Liberation Front (NWLF) which according to Schreiber was credited with many more domestic bombings than the Weather Underground. One wonders what shadowy origins the NWLF had. Schreiber’s book is a great contribution to the study of the government repression and the shadow state. Importantly, it has the capacity to inspire people, especially young people, to learn about this history in depth and allow this history to inform their analysis of what is happening today.
- United States Senate. Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate, (94th Congress, Second Session, Report No. 94-755) Government Printing office; April 23, 1976.
- Horne, Gerald. 1997. The Fire this Time: The Watts Riots and the 1960s. De Capo Press.
- Thompson, Heather Ann. Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy. New York: Pantheon Book. p. 18-21.
- Breggin, P. R. and Breggin, G. R. (1994). The War Against Children: How the Drugs, Programs, and Theories of the Psychiatric Establishment Are Threatening America’s Children with a Medical ‘Cure’ for Violence. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
- Valentine, Douglas. 2016. The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World. New York, NY: Clarity Press.
- Valentine, Douglas. 2000. The Phoenix Program. iUniverse: Lincoln, NE.
- For a fascinating inside look at the rise and fall of Venceremos at Stanford, see Max Crawford’s The Bad Communist, a thinly veiled “fictional” account of Crawford’s time with Venceremos at Stanford. It includes detailed of the gruesome murder of Black Panther Fred Bennett supposedly at the hands of James Carr at the Venceremos training compound in the Santa Cruz Mountains. After the book was published in 1979, Crawford exiled himself to Paris for a while to escape the heat generated after he published his book.
- Rosenfeld, Seth. 2012. Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals and Reagan’s Rise to Power. New York: NY, Farrar, Giroux, and Strauss.
Kara Z. Dellacioppa is chair of the sociology department at California State University, Dominguez Hills. She is the author of This Bridge Called Zapatismo: Building Alternative Political Cultures in Mexico City, Los Angeles, and Beyond (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009) and co-editor of Cultural Political and Resistance in the 21st Century: Community-Based Social Movements and Global Change in the Americas (Palgrave, 2011).