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From The Nuremberg Trials to State Sponsored Extrajudicial Assassination

Tuesday, November 9th, 2021

Kill Chain; The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, Andrew Cockburn, 2015

Daniel Reisner, former head of the IDF’s Legal Department:

“If you do something for long enough the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries…International law progresses through violations. We invented the targeted assassinations thesis and we had to push it. [Now] it is the center of the bounds of legality.”

A former senior White House counterterrorism official:

“The idea had its origins in the drug war. So that the precedent was already in the system as a shaper of our thinking…In addition, the success of the Israeli targeted-killing strategy was a major influence on us, particularly in the Agency (CIA) and in Special Ops. We had a high degree of confidence in the utility of targeted killing. There was a strong sense that this was a tool to be used.”

The Predator drone was only made feasible after the Internet and the 24 GPS satellites were available in 1993. The Predator was first fitted with a Hellfire missile in 1994. “Given that 168 support staffers were required to keep one predator 24-hour Combat Air Patrol in the air, this was clearly an expensive undertaking.” The drone program allowed live video connections to the entire military chain of command up to and including the President. Each could be directly involved in the remote action of an attack for the first time in history. They could make real time remote kill decisions based on dubious quality video images.

President Obama as Assassin

Two years into the (Obama) administration, everyone in the Ritz_carton ballroom knew that the bulky Irishman (John Brennan) was the most powerful man in U.S. intelligence as the custodian of the president’s kill list, on which the chief executive and former constitutional law professor insisted on reserving the last word, making his final selections for execution at regularly scheduled Tuesday afternoon meetings. “You know our president has his brutal side” a CIA source cognizant of Obama’s involvement observed at the time.

The 542 drone strikes that Obama authorized killed an estimated 3,797 people, including 324 civilians. As he reportedly told senior aides in 2011: “Turns out I’m really good at killing people. Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.”

On May 2, 2011 a team of navy SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden upon the orders of Obama. President Obama, breaking his agreement with Pakistan, immediately announced the assassination in support of his reelection campaign.

<> <> <> Daniel Hale

The NSA features heavily in this book and whistleblower Edward Snowden is included but whistleblower Daniel Hale whose leaked documents paint a far bleaker picture of the number of innocent casualties from drone strikes is not. Daniel Hale is serving a 45 month sentence for his trouble. See Snowden, Cell Phone Privacy, and Targeted Assassinations.

As originally written, President Dwight Eisenhower’s epochal-1961 farewell address had warned of the “military-industrial-congressional complex” and its “economic, political, and even spiritual” influence at every level of government.

Much of this book deals with the ever rising defense budget that even the fall of the Soviet Union couldn’t stop. The book deals with inter-service rivalries continuing to today, the competition for funding, the crazy high tech ideas that will never work, the total lack of accountability for failure, the failure to even admit failure, the corruption, the waste, the undermining of democracy, the use of classification to bury unwanted information, etc. Pretty bleak reading.

Rise of the President as Assassin

Friday, June 14th, 2013

The Way of the Knife, The CIA, A Secret Army, and a War at the ends of the Earth, Mark Mazzeti, 2013

Dirty Wars, the World is a Battlefield, Jeremy Scahill, 2013

Or How the ChickenHawks Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld institutionalized Presidential Assassinations

The political term Chickenhawk is defined in Wikipedia as:

Chickenhawk (also chicken hawk and chicken-hawk) is a political term used in the United States to describe a person who strongly supports war or other military action (i.e., a War Hawk), yet who actively avoided military service when of age.

The term indicates that the person in question is hypocritical for personally dodging a draft or otherwise shirking their duty to their country during a time of armed conflict while advocating that others do so. Generally, the implication is that chickenhawks lack the moral character to ask others to support, fight and perhaps die in an armed conflict. Those who avoid military service and continue to oppose armed aggression are not chickenhawks.

Chickenhawks 1980 and 2000

These two books explore how Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld , hereinafter referred to as CR, transformed the elite special forces (Navy Seals, Delta Forces, and Army Rangers) into the ultra secretive JSOC command, reporting directly to the President with a worldwide license to kill. CR largely insulated W from their decisions under the guise of denyability.

Prior to CR under W, these special forces were primarily famous for two disastrous actions, the aborted 1980 attempt to rescue the Iran hostages under Carter and the even more disastrous 1993 Black Hawk Down incident in Mogadishu Somalia under Clinton. The only group with a more disastrous history than the special forces was the CIA who Congress outlawed from initiating assassinations after the revelations of the Frank Church hearings in 1975. For more on CIA incompetence see Secrets in an Open Society.

A more minor enabling player in these books is the FBI with their proclivities to entrap innocent victims in their notorious sting operations. Two US citizen victims of drone assassinations were driven by previous FBI sting operations, Imam Anwar Awlaki was killed in September 2011 and Buffalo citizen Ahmed Hijazi (Kamal Derwish) was killed in November 2002 along with the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole attack, Abu Ali al Harithi. Awlaki was arrested twice in San Diego when FBI prostitute undercover agents approached him unsolicited. Hijazi was accused of being one of the Buffalo NY “Lackawanna Six” after his assassination. The FBI stings were instrumental in encouraging both men to leave their US homes for Yemen where they were assassinated. For more on FBI methods see Paranoid Ideologues.

The central theme of both books is how American policy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and elsewhere has actually led to an increase in American insecurity and how policy makers refused to see how their policies were counterproductive. In each case, America either invaded directly to destroy an existing regime, or had proxies (Christian Ethiopians invading Islamic Somalia) destroy the existing regime or undermined the regimes by totally disregarding the country’s sovereignty (Yemen and Pakistan). America always chose the wrong people to form new regimes and these US backed regimes always led to an increased presence of enemies of the US in the countries. For example, al Shabab, a Taliban like group in Somalia, has gone from a nonentity to a major force controlling more and more of Somalia. Unless American soldiers stay in Afghanistan, the Taliban will likely retake control of the country. Our good ally Pakistan likely welcomes this outcome. This universally disastrous foreign policy has cost hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and trillions of US taxpayer dollars. Enemies of the US have multiplied many fold. Yet none of these enemies pose an existential threat to the US, unlike the Soviet Union during the cold war. The disastrous policy of “war on terror” and “the world is a battlefield” is designed to continue forever.

Stanley McChrystal with Obama

CR authorized a secret JSOC facility camp in Iraq, NAMA under McChrystal, where JSOC personnel both captured and “interrogated” prisoners. NAMA was far worse than Abu Ghraib yet Americans were never told about it and its abuses. Tortured prisoners will say whatever the torturers want to hear, in this case WMD and al Queda. That the confessions were untrue didn’t matter to true ideologues CR. When a major insurgency erupted, CR kept insisting it was just a few “dead enders” from the Hussein Baathist era. De-Baathification had created hundreds of thousands of unemployed, trained soldiers, with unlimited weapons. There were plenty of groups willing to exploit these soldiers for their own purposes. A Jordanian terrorist claiming to be associated with al Queda, and working in Iraq, Zarqawi, started chopping off heads, giving CR “evidence” that Hussein had harbored terrorists. The evidence was that Zarqawi had traveled to Iraq for medical treatment once prior to the American invasion. Hussein probably never heard of Zarqawi.

Obama and Brennen Terror Tuesdays

Obama, upon taking office and to everyone’s surprise, kept W’s security team of Petraeus, McChrystal, McRaven, Gates, and Brennen. Early in Obama’s administration, Somali pirates mistakenly boarded an American flagship. They quickly realized their mistake and attempted to escape, taking the captain hostage. A battleship was ordered to the scene. Obama was informed that the planet’s best snipers (the JSOC ninjas) were only 45 minutes away from the battleship. Obama ordered them to the scene and when they reported they had clear shots at the pirates, Obama gave the order to kill. Three shots, three dead Somali pirates. Obama loved it and invited the ninjas involved (members of Navy Seal Team 6) to the White House. Thus was born the era of Obama as assassin in Chief.

Who snatched Leon Panetta’s Body?

Obama had appointed trusted ally Leon Panetta to head the CIA and under Obama the JSOC and CIA were to form a closer working relationship in their “targeted killing” program. This program has been expanded from the W era and has been largely successful in assassinating people on the kill lists although with countless innocent victims. Obama and Panetta announced the closing of the black sites (secret prisons), the end of torture interrogations, and the end of renditions, and then secretly continued all three.

The books recount discussions about the best way to kill a target, with an M16 or a drone strike. The drone strike is seen as more antiseptic but more difficult to confirm the kill. Occasionally, CIA operatives have been sent to strike sites to collect DNA samples and other evidence, but the strikes make such a mess that identification is difficult. Maybe the Ninjas should bring back the head after a kill. The reader is reminded of scenes from the movie “GoodFellas” and discussions among its psychotic characters. Kill or capture? If you capture you need a prison and you are expected to interrogate. Do you hold indefinitely or are you forced to try the “detainee“? Better to just kill the target and be done with it.

Obama condemns US citizen to death without due process >
Anwar’s 16 year old son Abdulrahman also killed by US drone

In the case of Anwar Awlaki, the intelligence community seems to have concluded that his speeches and blogs were protected free speech and they never got evidence, despite Obama’s false statements, that Awlaki was associated with al Queda or ever assisted any terrorist. This conclusion also included analysis of emails between Awlaki and Nidal Hasan the American soldier that killed 13 at Fort Hood Texas. Awlaki posted a blog after the killings supporting Hasan’s actions which may have been the breaking point for Obama. Awlaki was killed simply to silence him. Nothing more. two weeks later a US drone strike “accidentally” killed Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman. Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs comment: “Well I would suggest that he should have a more responsible father.” Unbelievable.

Petraeus sells Obama on Afghan “surge”

When McChrystal was put in charge of the Afghanistan “surge” other military commanders expected the worst and got it. McChrystal reproduced his Iraq operation on steroids. JSOC operators multiplied, black ops prisons like NAMA were created, and targeted killings skyrocketed. Like Iraq, there were virtually no al Queda operating inside Afghanistan. The targets this time were mid level Taliban but the ninjas couldn’t even tell the tribes apart, so the killing of innocents and allies multiplied. Hatred of Americans and sympathy if not support for the Taliban increased. One mistaken raid killed Daoud, an American trained regional head of intelligence, and members of his family. Realizing their mistake, the JSOC team refused to call medical assistance and starting digging their bullets out of the victims body while some were still alive. They died. The team was only able to recover only 17 of the 21 rounds fired in the raid. A dogged British journalist, Jerome Starkey, exposed the coverup and witnessed a scene where a fatigue wearing soldier with the name tag McRaven enacts a ritualistic sheep sacrifice in front of the family by way of apology. Starkey didn’t even know who McRaven was at the time. Another example of foreign policy gone terribly wrong.

Raymond Davis contractor with license to kill

Secret Wars is organized chronologically, jumping from Iraq to Afghanistan to Yemen to Somalia with Awlaki’s story threaded throughout. Toward the end, we finally get to Pakistan where things get really strange. Remember that the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI worked closely through the 1980’s to support the Afghan Mujahedin (see Ghost Wars) in their fight against the Soviet occupation and that Pakistan is a nuclear power. In January 2011 American Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis at a busy intersection in Lahore. Davis’ rented Honda Civic was carrying enough arsenal to hold off a small army in addition to GPS, satellite communications, night vision equipment, multiple ids and cell phones, ATM cards, makeup and disguises and other trade craft. He would have made James Bond envious. The killed Pakistanis were ISI operatives who were following Davis and he shot them both through the windshield as only a trained assassin would have been able to do. He was in possession of sensitive photos of secret Pakistani military facilities including nuclear storage facilities. His cell phones showed he had made calls to both Tehrik-e-Taliban and Lahkar-e-Jhangvi Pakistani terror groups. Who was Davis working for? Was it the CIA, JSOC or someone we haven’t heard of? People at his obvious level of experience have level after level of cover stor. He was released after admission that he worked for the CIA but the reality is probably deeper. What was he doing at the secret military sites? It seems that the US government has secret plans to secure (i.e. steal) Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in the event of a coup or other instability inside Pakistan. How wild is that? Why was he calling Pakistani terror groups?

Davis called for backup, calmly photographed the two Pakistani’s he killed, and fled the scene in his Honda. A backup Land Cruiser with false license plates rushed to assist Davis but ran over a motorcycle killing its driver. The Land Cruiser fled but Davis’ Honda was stopped by police two miles from the murders. ISI sent special forces to guard his prison cell and prevent a JSOC style rescue. Had Davis been put with the general prison population he would probably have had his throat slit. The backup team returned to the CIA-JSOC safe house, destroyed all their documents and equipment, and fled to the US Consulate where they were evacuated from the country before Pakistani officials could question them. They have not been identified.

The CIA had followed a courier to Osama bin Laden’s safe house five months prior to the Davis incident and were awaiting confirmation that Osama was there and assassination plans were readied when the Davis incident happened. The US needed to get Davis out of Pakistan before they could initiate the assassination of bin Laden. Thus the negotiations with Pakistan and the ISI took on an urgency it would not have otherwise had. Then the wife of one of the ISI murder victims committed suicide leaving a video statement blaming the US. Davis’s handlers apparently hid his true job from the white house and state department leading both to make embarrassing and false claims about Davis’s job. Afraid that Davis might start talking and needing to proceed with bin Laden’s assassination, top US military officials including Admiral Mullen and Petraeus met in Oman with their Pakistani counterparts in the military and ISI to hash out a solution. A very unusual Sharia court proceeding presented the families of the victims with $2.3 million and Davis was whisked out of the country on a CIA rendition plane.

William McRaven Mr. Cool

Six weeks later Osama bin Laden was assassinated in Abbottabad Pakistan. For bin Laden’s murder, the JSOC ninjas under CIA direction shot and killed bin Laden, brought the entire body to a ship, and buried it at sea. It was not deemed necessary to share confirmation with the American people. Before the mission the team discussed not shooting bin Laden in the head since the reason for sending a team on a dangerous mission 150 miles inside sovereign Pakistan to a house a mile away from a military academy was to confirm the kill.

Matt Bissonnette Seal Team 6 Member

The first team member to encounter a tall man in the house shot him three times in the head. The next team member shot the body multiple times in the chest. Matt Bissonnette’s job was to collect DNA samples (they had DNA from bin Laden’s sister) and when he cleaned off the face he was surprised how young the man was and that his beard was completely black. Bissonnette had surely seen every photo and video of bin Laden in existence yet he didn’t recognize the man in person. Bissonnette remembers thinking at the time that the American people don’t need to see this (the messed up face and head). Even if this is the reason photos were not released there is no security reason why the DNA test results should not have released to the public. Guns were found in the house but none were loaded. Anyone there could have been captured without a fight but the mission was assassination. Four men and one woman were killed in the raid. Others, including children, were injured. Immediately after the raid Brennan said that the team had been in a firefight (false) and that bin Laden had used women as a shield (false). The Obama administration said just trust us then lied about so many aspects of the mission that Bissonnette felt compelled to write his own account No Easy Day. He would not have been privy to the DNA test results. We should trust them that the DNA test results were a match?

Michael Furlong Michele Ballarin

The Way of the Knife includes a couple of characters (for comic relief?). Michael Furlong was an overweight long time government and military person who spoke in fast government-military speak that seemed to bedazzle whoever he met. He ran an operation where spyware was hidden in a cell phone game with information gathered and stored in an illegal database in the Czech Republic. Furlong showed up in Prague during sensitive negotiations over deploying a US missile defense system in the Czech Republic and US government officials had him thrown out the the country.
Michele Ballarin was a wealthy West Virginia Republican socialite who raised Lippizaner horses. She somehow inserted herself into Somali pirate ransom negotiations and pirates on one seized ship raised a sign asking specifically for her. She proposed setting up a food program for refugees in Somalia where she would collect intelligence about everyone who came to get aid that she could feed to US intelligence. The program was not approved.

Blackwater’s Eric Prince appears in both books with activities no less bizarre but certainly not comic. Prince is drawn to unsavory characters around the world like a magnet. He outfitted his own small ship with an incredible arsenal, helicopter, and small speed boats, and offered to escort ships through the Somali pirate area of operations for $200,000 a trip. This was his sanest venture. He lives in Abu Dhabi to be close to the action and avoid taxes.

The Deadly Zionists

Saturday, December 22nd, 2018

Rise and Kill First, The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations, Ronen Bergman, 2018

Yasser Arafat; Israeli target or partner?

This is a 600 page history of Israel’s intelligence and defense communities and their covert operations. In its history Israel has carried out more than 2,300 targeted assassination operations. By comparison, George W Bush authorized 48, and Barack Obama, the assassin in chief, authorized 353.

Ariel Sharon Leads Troops into Lebanon 1982

Israel has been involved in several wars: the 1949 Arab attempts to eliminate Israel; the 1956 war; the 1967 war which resulted in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, The Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula; The Yom Kipper War of 1973; the invasion and occupation of Lebanon in 1982. Israel won every contest.
So with all this success, is Israel safer and more secure? No. Occupation leads to resentment leads to terror attacks.

Indeed, in many respects, the story of Israel’s intelligence community as recounted in this book has been one of a long string of impressive tactical successes, but also disastrous strategic failures.

The First Palestinian Intifada (suicide terror attacks against Israeli citizens) started in 1987 and was a spontaneous reaction to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. While the PLO claimed to be leading the uprising they were not in fact. It was a new group of fundamental Sunni Palestinians that called themselves Hamas. A second Palestinian Intifada started in 2000 in reaction to a visit by Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount. This time the reaction and acts of suicidal terror were initiated by Hezbollah, a fundamental Shiite Palestinian group. Both groups would receive arms and other assistance from Egypt, Syria, and Iran to support their terror attacks.

The Israelis that made up the intelligence community and the military leadership were selected and advanced because they were ideological Zionists; believers that Jews have a divine right to create a Jewish religious state in the holy land, formerly known as Palestine. They took two lessons from the Holocaust; first, assimilation of Jews into other societies does not work, Jews will always be outsiders; and second, Jews must never be passive again as they were in Europe under the Nazis; they must be tough, aggressive, and always act first; hence the title of this book “Kill First”. Indeed, with the exception of the war of 1949 and the Yom Kipper war, Israel was the first aggressor, gaining enormous advantages from the surprise attacks.

In their attempts to control and suppress their occupied territories, Israel is now losing international support and approval. Will the international community impose boycotts and sanctions like those that brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa?

One theme of the book deals with Israeli efforts to forestall the development of nuclear weapons by neighboring countries. When Egypt started recruiting German scientists to help them develop a bomb, the Israels responded by killing some and threatening others. It worked and Egypt gave up. Iraq under Saddam Hussein was more persistent. Even when Israel bombed an enrichment facility before it went online, Saddam persisted. Only when an international coalition joined to drive him out of Kuwait and impose sanctions and inspections did Saddam give up his efforts. When Syria got ready to bring its enrichment facility online, Israel destroyed it and Syria gave up its efforts. Israel also destroyed facilities in Iran and used a virus to destroy key equipment. There have been no retaliatory strikes as a result of these acts of war by Israel.

Another central story is the rise of Sunni based Hamas and Shiite based Hezbollah both supported extensively be Syria and Iran.

He concludes that Yasser Arafat, the self proclaimed leader of the Palestinian people and founder of the PLO was primarily concerned with maintaining his position as leader of the Palestinians without regard for the people he supposedly was leading. Israeli leaders alternated between attempts to assassinate him and attempt to negotiate peace with him. He escaped assassination numerous time often by seconds or inches. Like Geronimo, Arafat came to believe himself unkillable. No peace deal was ever struck with Arafat. When he became ill and went to France for treatment, he died of unknown causes. Bergman writes:

If I knew the answer to the question of what killed Yasser Arafat, I wouldn’t be able write it here in this book, or even be able to write that I know the answer. The military censor in Israel forbids me from discussing the subject.

The book is a page turner if you like murders. But with this one sentence, Bergman undermines his entire work. What else will the military censors not let him write?

Pax Britannica, Pax Americana, Pax Zhōngguó, The Last World Empire?

Friday, January 28th, 2022

To Govern the Globe, World Orders & Catastrophic Change, Alfred W. McCoy, 2021

Indeed, the Iberian (Spain and Portugal) vision of expansive sovereignty — acquisition of terrain by conquest and oceans by exploration — would continue under Dutch and British hegemony, illustrating the capacity of these global systems to survive the empires that created them…Thanks to the British and Dutch decisions to strip their colonial subjects of civil liberties and carry the transatlantic slave trade to new heights, the Iberian hierarchy of human inequality would, in all its cruelty and tragedy continue.

In the years following the (Dutch) East India Company’s founding in 1602, the city’s (Amsterdam) dynamism led to a host of financial innovations that soon made it… “the clearinghouse of world trade”. The new Bank of Amsterdam took deposits, transferred funds trans nationally and later stored vast quantities of precious metals in its vaults, helping make the city “Europe’s reservoir of gold and silver coin.” The Chamber of Maritime Insurance offered coverage for dozens of dangerous destinations, while the newspaper Amterdamsche Courant gave the city’s merchants critical information about the prices of goods arriving from those distant shores. Amsterdam also built the world’s first stock exchange, where up to five thousand met to trade more than four hundred commodities around a central courtyard that became “the nerve center of the entire international economy.”

William III Mary II

William’s (of Orange) reign also witnessed a modernization of the British economy along Dutch lines, exemplified by the founding of the Bank of England, the London Stock Exchange, and a profusion of private banks, insurance companies, and joint stock firms.

Coal was the catalyst for an industrial revolution that fused steam technology with steel production to make Britain master of the world’s oceans

Each step in slavery’s eradication was foreshadowed by a new stage in Britain’s use of coal-fired energy–including the introduction of steam power in mills and mines by the time Parliament banned the slave trade in 1807; the development of mobile steam engines for land and sea transport prior to the Later, abolition of West Indies slavery in 1833; and the adoption of coal powered steam power in almost all British industries by the 1850’s, when the Royal Navy’s anti-slavery patrols reached their coercive climax. Later, new forms of fossil energy — electricity and internal combustion engines — would render even the coerced labor of the imperial age redundant.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius would publish the first report on the capacity of industrial emission to cause global warming. By countless hours of painstaking manual calculations, he predicted with uncanny prescience and considerable precision “the temperature in the arctic regions would rise about 8 degrees to 9 degrees C., if the [carbon dioxide] increased 2.5 or 3 times its present value.”

Britain was the world’s preeminent power for more than a century, but its dominance nevertheless evolved through two distinct phases. From 1815 to 1880 it largely oversaw an “informal empire” with a loose hegemony over client states worldwide. In the period of “high imperialism” from 1880 to 1940, however the empire combined informal controls in countries like China, Egypt, and Iran with direct rule over colonies in Africa and Asia to encompass a full half of all humanity.

Parliament rescinded mercantilist laws that had protected British commerce for centuries, starting with the abolition of the (British) East India Company’s monopolies on Asian trade.

British engineers built the world’s first major central power plant at Deptford, London in 1888, capable of lighting two million electric bulbs. As electrical plants spread quickly, their generators were powered by the first coal-fired steam turbines…tying a knot between coal and electricity that persists to this day.

By century’s end (19th), discoveries (Iran, Indonesia, Burma) had created a sufficient supply of oil to enable a shift from steam to internal combustion engines in ships, trains, automobiles, and ultimately, aircraft.

Eleanor Roosevelt Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In fulfilling this commitment to human rights (The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948), the United States would face some exceptional challenges. Unlike earlier imperial powers, it was, after all, a former colony with a long history of slavery and a succeeding system of racial segregation that would compromise its commitment to those principle at home. As its global power grew during these postwar decades, Washington would cultivate anti-Communist allies among authoritarian leaders in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, tacitly endorsing torture and repression in their lands. Even as the US practiced racial segregation at home and backed ruthless dictators abroad, civil society groups worldwide would continue to fight for human rights, just as African Americans would struggle for their civil rights at home, making this universal principal a defining attribute of Washington’s world order, almost in spite of itself.

By the time Washington’s world order was fully formed in the late 1950’s, the unequal power of its nuclear-armed bombers, its countless overseas military bases, and its covert interventions in the affairs of countless nations coexisted tensely with a new world order, epitomized by the UN, that was meant to protect the sovereignty of even small states and promote universal human rights. This underlying duality of Washington’s version of world power would manifest itself in numerous contradictions during its 70 years of global hegemony.

Washington’s visionary world order took form at two major conferences — at Breton Woods, New Hampshire, 1944 where 44 Allied nations forged an international financial system exemplified by the World Bank, and at San Francisco in 1945, where they drafted a charter for the UN that created a community of nations. The old order of competing empires, closed imperial trade blocs, and secret alliances would soon give way to an international community of emancipated colonies, sovereign nations, free trade, and peace through law. In essence, the UN charter’s many clauses rested on just two foundational principles that would soon become synonymous with Washington’s world order; inviolable national sovereignty and universal human rights.

Between 1945 and 2000, the US intervened in 81 consequential elections worldwide, including eight times in Italy, five in Japan, and many more in Latin America. Between 1958 and 1975, military coups, many of them American sponsored, changed governments in three dozen nations — a quarter of the world’s sovereign states — fostering a distinct “reverse wave” in the global trend toward democracy.

George Kennan supported covert operations

George Kennan, State Department official later called the creation of the CIA with authorization to conduct covert operations “The greatest mistake [he] ever made.

President Truman tried to limit the newly created CIA to intelligence gathering only with no authorization for covert activities. Allen Dulles maneuvered Frank Wisner into position as OPC Chief and by 1952 OPC was operating 47 overseas stations and employed 3000 people. It specialized in the black arts of espionage sabotage, subversion, and assassination. When Eisenhower became president in 1953, Kermit Roosevelt led the overthrow of the elected President of Iran and installation of the Shaw.

Throughout its rise to world power from 1820 to 1870, Britain increase its share of gross world product by just 1 percent per decade, while America’s rose by 2 percent during its accent from 1900 to 1950. By contrast, China was increasing its slice of the world pie at an extraordinary pace of 5 percent from 2000 to 2020.

…the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers calculated that China’s economic output had already surpassed America’s in 2014 and was on a trajectory to become 40 percent larger by 2030.

Across Europe, hypernationalist parties like the French National Front, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Alternative for Germany, and the British Independence Party won voters by cultivating nativist reactions to just such trends, often attacking the economic globalization that had become a hallmark of Washington’s world order. Simultaneously, a generation of populist demagogues won power in nominally democratic nations around the world — notably Viktor Orban in Hungary, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Narendra Modi in India, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and of course, Donald Trump in the United States.

While a weakening of Washington’s global reach seems likely, the future of its world order is still unclear. At present, China is the sole state to have most (but not all) of the requisites to become a new global hegemon. Its economic rise coupled with its expanding military and growing technological prowess under the “Made in China 2025” program, has given it many of the elements fundamental to superpower status…Yet, as the 2020s began, no state seemed to have both the full panoply of power to supplant Washington’s world order and the skill to establish global hegemony. Indeed, apart from its rising economic and military clout, China has a self referential culture, recondite non roman script (requiring 4000 characters instead of 26 letters), nondemocratic political structures, and a subordinate legal system that will deny it some of the chief instruments for global leadership.

Successful imperial transitions driven by the hard power of guns and money also require the soft power salve of cultural suasion if they are to achieve sustained and successful global domination. During its near century of hegemony from 1850 to 1940, Britain was the exemplar par excellence of soft power, espousing an enticing political culture of fair play and free markets that it propagated through the Anglican church, the English language and its literature, mass media such as the British Broadcasting Corporation, and it virtual creation of modern athletics (including cricket, soccer, tennis, rugby, and rowing). Similarly, US military and economic domination after 1945 was made more palatable by the appeal of Hollywood films, civic organizations like Rotary international, and popular sports like basketball and baseball. On the higher plane of principle, Britain’s anti-slavery campaign invested its global hegemony with moral authority, just as Washington’s advocacy of human rights lent legitimacy to its world order…China still has nothing comparable. Both its communist ideology and its popular culture are avowedly particularistic.

China has been a command economy state for much of the past century, and as such has developed neither the legal culture of an independent judiciary nor an autonomous rules-based order complementary with the web of law that undergirds the modern international system.

Xi Jiping – Zhōngguó (China) is translated as Middle Kingdom

If, however, Bejing’s potentially immense infrastructure investments, history’s largest by far, succeed in unifying the commerce of three continents, then the currents of financial power and global leadership may indeed flow, as if by natural law, toward Beijing. But if that bold project falters or ultimately fails, then for the first time in five centuries, the world could face an imperial transition without a clear successor as global hegemon.

From scientific evidence, it seems clear that, for the first time in seven hundred years, humanity is facing another cumulative, century long catastrophe akin to the Black Death of 1350 to 1450 that could once again rupture a global order and set the world in motion…If the “Chinese century” does indeed start around 2030, it is unlikely to last long, ending perhaps sometime around 2050 when the impact of global warning becomes unmanageable. With its main financial center at Shanghai flooded and its agricultural heartland baking in insufferable heat, China’s days as a global power will be numbered.

Given that Washington’s world system and Beijing’s emerging alternative are largely failing to limit carbon emissions, the international community will likely need a new form of collaboration to contain the damage. In the years following the Paris climate accord, the current world system — characterized by strong nation-states and weak global governance at the UN — has proven inadequate to the challenge of climate change. The 2019 Madrid climate summit failed to forge a collective agreement for emission reduction sufficient to cap global warming to 1.5C, largely due to the obstruction of major emitters like Australia, Brazil, China, India, and the United States. Any world order, whether Washington’s or Beijing’s that is based on primacy of the nation-state will probably prove incapable of coping with the political and economic crisis likely to arise from the appearance of some 275 million climate refuges by 2060 or 2070.

US Anticommunist Extermination Programs 1945-2000

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020

The Jakarta Method, Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade & the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World, Vincent Bevins, 2020

Zhou Enlai Nehru Nasser Sukarno Nehru

In 1955 President Sukarno of Indonesia organized a conference of the leaders of the non aligned third world nations (former colonies) held in Bandung Java Indonesia. The conference was attended by representatives of 29 former colonial nations. Notable attendees in addition to Sukarno were Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and Zhou Enlai of China. The core principles of the Bandung Conference were political self-determination, mutual respect for sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, and equality. US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (older brother of Allen Dulles) was strongly opposed to the conference. The Bandung conference represented the high point of the attempt to forge cooperation among non aligned third world nations.

This book features two contrasting Americans, Frank Wisner who worked for Allen Dulles in the WWII OSS and after at the CIA as Dulles’ master of covert (black ops) operations until Wisner killed himself in 1965; and Howard P. Jones, who served as US Ambassador to Indonesia from 1958 to 1964 and as Chancellor of the East West Center University of Hawaii from 1965 to 1968. President Truman wanted the CIA to serve as intelligence gatherers only, so Allen Dulles maneuvered Frank Wisner into position as OPC Chief and by 1952 OPC was operating 47 overseas stations operating out of US embassys and consulates and employed 3000 people. Wisner is the mastermind behind the early 1953 Iran coup (executed by Kermit Roosevelt) and the Guatemala coup of 1954 and every black ops through the 1964 Brazilian coup and the 1965 Indonesian coup.

Unlike Wisner, who was a die hard crusader, Jones had a completely different approach to the rest of the world. Rather than viewing every situation in terms of a black and white global struggle, he sought to engage deeply with the complexities of each situation.

Sukarno with Jones

Jones played an important role in repairing the damaged caused to United States-Indonesian relations by the Eisenhower Administration’s covert support for the failed PRRI/Permesta regional uprisings in Sumatra and the Celebes. Following the capture of an American pilot Allen Lawrence Pope (in 1958) who was participating in a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) black op in support of the Permesta rebels, Jones portrayed Pope as an American “paid soldier of fortune” and expressed his regret at the involvement of an American.

JFK traveled widely after WWII, visiting Indonesia twice. When JFK became President he told Jones that Jones was solely in charge of relations with Sukarno and Indonesia. Reeling from the Bay of Pigs disaster, JFK no longer trusted the CIA and wanted Jones to have a hand free of interference from CIA black ops. After JFK’s assassination, LBJ, with almost no international experience but listening to JFK’s holdover advisors, stopped all cooperation with Sukarno and recalled Ambassador Jones. The CIA now had a free hand to move forward with overthrowing the Sukarno government and attacking the PKI communist party of Indonesia, at the time the third largest communist political party behind China and the Soviet Union. The coup began on Sept. 30, 1965 and on October 2, an unknown (except to key US policy makers) army general Suharto took over the government. On Oct 5, Ambassador Howard Green cabled the State Department:

Spread the story of PKI’s guilt, treachery and brutality (this priority effort is perhaps most needed immediate assistance we can giver army if we can find way to do it without identifying it as solely or largely US effort). .. The army now has the opportunity to move against Communist Party if it moves quickly…”It’s now or never.”

On Oct 29 Frank Wisner killed himself.

On Nov 22, D.N. Aidit, leader to PKI in Central Java was arrested and executed. The military reported and Newsweek published Aidit’s confession that the PKI planned to take over the country. His confession was impossible and a part of an anticommunist black propaganda operation.

In Jan. 1966, Bobby Kennedy was the only American politician to speak up:

We have spoken out against the inhuman slaughters perpetrated by the Nazis and the Communists. But will we speak out also against the inhuman slaughter in Indonesia, where over 100,000 alleged Communists have not been perpetrators but victims

What followed was a state sponsored massacre and genocide of a million Indonesians, many ethnic Chinese. These events are largely unknown in the US although a 2012 documentary The Act of Killing and a companion 2014 documentary The Look of Silence raised awareness for some Americans and others around the world. Indonesia is the only country that engaged in genocide and never attempted an accounting or reconciliation.

…in the years 1945-1990, a loose network of US-backed anticommunist extermination programs emerged around the world, and they carried out mass murder in at least twenty-two countries. there was no central plan, no master control room where the whole thing was orchestrated, but I think that the extermination programs in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, East Timor, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Iraq, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, the Philippines, South Korea, Sudan, Taiwan, Thailand, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Vietnam should be seen as interconnected and a crucial part of the US victory in the Cold War… The men carrying out purposeful executions of dissidents and unarmed civilians learned from one another. Sometimes they even named their operations after other programs they sought to emulate. I found evidence indirectly linking the metaphor “jakarta”, taken from the largest and most important of these programs, to at least eleven countries. But even the regimes that were never influenced by that specific language would have been able to see, very clearly, what the Indonesian military had done and the success and prestige it enjoyed in the West afterwards.

Following are the conclusions of Harvard historian Odd Arne Westad:

We can see the Cold War as the global circumstances under which the vast majority of the world’s countries moved from direct colonial rule to something else, to a new place in a new global system. If we view it this way, then there is not a simple winner/loser binary between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the third world, there were many paths each country could take; more importantly, most of them are still on the specific path that was shaped and taken during the Cold War

The primary subject of this book is the CIA led mass murder programs designed to eliminate communist and any left leaning populations, but Bevins does spend some attention on the enormous economic pressures the US is able to exert on any government it is trying to undermine. The combination of trade policy, withholding of capital investment and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Neo-Liberal lending can bring any third world economy to its knees without any resort to CIA inspired mass murder programs. Neo-Liberal policies first found their experimental base in the 1972-3 Chili coup when several Chili native Chicago School graduates took charge of Chili’s economy under Pinochet and invited their professor Milt Friedman to advice them. Since that time, Neo-Liberal Chicago School economics have dominated most of the first world approach to the third world and Southern Europe and Ireland.

This book is very personal to this reader. In June 1965, I arrived as a graduate student grantee at the East West Center to work on a masters degree in International Relations with a goal of becoming a State Department diplomat. Chancellor (Ambassador) Howard Jones arrived at the East-West Center a month later.
Under the grant, students from the US and Asia study at the University of Hawaii for one year and then are granted a one year field trip in Asia or America. I passed the foreign service exam in Hawaii and was scheduled for an oral interview in Karachi Pakistan. There were a number of students from Indonesia at the Center and we all socialized so I was somewhat aware of events in Indonesia as they unfolded.

Hotel Indonesia Kempinski built by Sukarno in 1962

When I left Hawaii, I had heard that as many as a half million Indonesians, many of them of Chinese ancestry had been killed. Sometime in late 1966, I arrived in Jakarta for a couple of week visit. I was met by an American from the Embassy who claimed to be there by chance. I am sure he was sent specifically to escort me. He insisted I was required to stay at the Intercontinental Hotel (five star, now Hotel Indonesia Kempinski) and was required to arrange any travel through the official travel agency located in the hotel’s arcade. The nightly room cost alone put a huge dent in my monthly travel stipend. Then I got lucky. The young Indonesian woman at the travel agency, realizing I knew Indonesian students studying in Hawaii arranged a great itinerary; by bus and train to Bandung, then on to Yogyakarta (the old pre-colonial capital). During the train trip to Yogyakarta, I met a young, Dutch trained military officer who was on his way to his wedding. He invited me meet his beautiful fiancee and to the reception, an Indonesian feast. From there I traveled by bus to the coast where I boarded a WWII landing craft to cross to Bali. All hotels were Dutch colonial era with ceiling fans. In Bali, plans were underway for a massive tourist buildup with an enlarged airport and numerous beachfront hotels. Outrigger canoes were arriving from Hawaii and Hawaiians were busily training Balinese for the expected tourists. There were nightly gamelan tourist performances in Denpasar but if I walked away from town guided by the gongs, I could find natural events in the nearby villages. I met an engineer living in a beachfront cottage who was working on the airport expansion. I then flew back to Jakarta where I explored for a few more days. At no point did anyone mention the killings. Bevins says that one of the Bali tourist hotels is called Ku De Ta, which he thinks may be Indonesian humor. It is possible this hotel and others have been built on mass beach front burial grounds. Bali experienced the highest level of killings per capita anywhere in Indonesia.

I met other US diplomats on my travels and quickly concluded that the State Department was not for me. One of my professors in Hawaii was a Bengal Communist who introduced me to several Indian Communist Labor leaders. I met one in Delhi who told me about a labor demonstration scheduled for that day. I got a bicycle rickshaw and dropped by the demonstration on my way to an evening party at the US Embassy. The demonstration was met by armed police who opened fire and killed a number of demonstrators. That evening I asked a reporter from Time Magazine and several diplomats about the demonstration and the killings and no-one had heard anything. A month later, while I was in Calcutta, a Communist labor leader told me about an upcoming general strike. A few days later, Calcutta was completely shut down by a massive, coordinated labor strike. In the 1967 general election the Communist Party won a majority in the state of Kerala. India somehow was spared the “jakarta” mass extermination experience. I later met diplomats and their wives in Katmandu who were all miserable and disappointed with their career paths. I never showed up for my Karachi interview and have never regretted that decision.

Allen Dulles, Pioneer to the dark side and faithful servant to the Ruling Class

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

The Devil’s Chessboard, Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, David Talbot, 2015

This book is a reminder that our government’s journey to the dark side did not begin with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and W, or even with Henry Kissinger and Nixon. No its real roots go back to the OSS in WWII and to one man in particular, Allen Dulles.

kennedy duless

Any book dealing with Allen Dulles must also include his older brother John Foster Dulles. We will take Talbot’s nomenclature and use “Dulles” when referring to Allen, and “Foster” when referring to John Foster. There was also a brilliant younger sister Eleanor Dulles who was a lifelong diplomat and ambassador to Bonn Germany under Eisenhower. The Dulles clan were the children of a Presbyterian minister and Dulles sometimes referred to himself as the Calvinist.

Eleanor recalled a childhood incident summering on lake Ontario when Dulles was ten, Eleanor eight, and Nataline five. Nataline was playing with a rock when she fell into the lake. Eleanor screamed but Dulles, a strong swimmer, stood passively on the dock observing the struggling sister. He never moved but the mother, hearing Eleanor, ran from the house to rescue Nataline.

oss 55 and Carl Jung Agent 488 carl-jung

Dulles joined the OSS in WWII and assigned himself to serve in Bern Switzerland. His own wife Clover called Dulles the “shark” and she and Dulles’ long time mistress Mary Bancroft (they became close friends) sought counseling from Carl Jung in Switzerland. Jung observed in Dulles the disturbing mix of magnetism and ruthlessness common to dictators but Dulles had an impenetrable blankness making him hard to read. Other people, for Dulles, were either useful or nonexistent. Dulles was not capable of experiencing love. Only power was real to him. Dulles met Jung in 1943 and gave Jung an OSS spy number, Agent 488.

When Dulles’s brilliant only son Allen Jr., an Oxford graduate, failed to win affection or even attention from his father, he volunteered for the Korean War and was seriously brain damaged. Dulles subjected his son to CIA brain control researchers first with the notorious Dr. Wolff at Cornell and later with the equally notorious McGill University psychiatric facility. Clover finally intervened, moving Allen Jr. to a private institution in Switzerland where he remained until Dulles death. Allen Jr. was terrified of his father. Was Dulles a sociopath or a psychopath? Talbot never uses either term.

The Dulles brothers both worked at the Sullivan and Cromwell Wall Street Law Firm where Foster was the top executive. After WWI the firm developed a deep understanding of Swiss banking and played a central role in arranging German reparation contracts for leading German industrial firms like the cartels IG Farbin and Krupp steel. The brothers knew the key players in both Switzerland and Germany. It was no accident that Dulles positioned himself in Switzerland during WWII. For their entire lives, the Dulles brothers put their Sullivan and Cromwell clients and other American elite families like the Rockefellers, the Fords, the Carnegies, the Morgans ahead of the interests of their government. They remained throughout their lives faithful and trustworthy servants and stewards to those C Wright Mills referred to in his 1956 masterpiece as The Power Elite. Their class were almost exclusively ivy league educated WASPS belonging to the proper clubs.

C Wright Mills c wright mills

The men of the highest circles are not representative men; their high position is not a result of moral virtue; their fabulous success is not firmly connected with meritorious ability…They are not men shaped by nationally responsible parties that debate openly and clearly the issues this nation now so unintelligently confronts. They are not men held in responsible check by a plurality of volunteer associations which connect debating publics with the pinnacles of decision. Commanders of power unequaled in human history, they have succeeded within the American system of organized irresponsibility.

from The Power Elite

FDR was considered a traitor to their class because of his “radical New Deal” policies and they worked actively to ignore or undermine his policies. When FDR announced that only unconditional surrender would end WWII, Dulles acted treasonously to negotiate a truce with the fascists in Italy and attempted the same with the Nazis in Germany. He felt only existing right wing leaders in Italy and Germany would be able to withstand the encroachment of hated communism in both countries.

After FDR’s death in 1945, the Dulles brothers and their power elite set out to purge the government of all New Deal supporters. One of those recruited by Dulles for this purpose was Richard Nixon. Nixon was a Californian with Quaker roots and educated at Whittier College and Duke Law School. He applied to top law firms in New York in 1937 including Sullivan and Cromwell and received no offers (wrong class) an experience that left him bitter for the rest of his life. In 1945, naval officer Nixon was sorting through Nazi papers in an old torpedo factory in Alexandria when he found documents showing how the Dulles brothers laundered Nazi funds during the war. Nixon did what any patriotic military officer would do, he blackmailed Dulles. In return for his silence about the documents, Dulles would sponsor Nixon in the 1946 congressional race run against Jerry Voorhis, leader the the progressive caucus and one the the most powerful New Dealers in Congress. Dulles corporate friends supported Nixon lavishly and he won the election taking significant cash and a new car to Washington.

Alger Hiss hearings alger hiss

Nixon then went after New Dealer and FDR high ranking State Dept official Alger Hiss. Foster had just appointed Hiss to head the Carnegie endowment but Hiss had embarrassed Nixon in front of the HUAC and Nixon wanted revenge. Nixon discovered incriminating documents hidden in a pumpkin and Hiss career was finished. President Nixon later bragged to his staff how he had forged the documents.

truman dewey

The Dulles brothers expected to take over the State Department and CIA with the election of Dewey in 1948. When Truman won a surprising victory, Dulles had to look elsewhere. In 1949 Dulles founded an obscure intelligence outpost in the State Department meaninglessly named the Office of Policy Coordination. Dulles maneuvered Frank Wisner into position as OPC Chief and by 1952 OPC was operating 47 overseas stations and employed 3000 people. It specialized in the black arts of espionage sabotage, subversion, and assassination. Money for its operations came from Nazi loot that Dulles had access to. Many of its recruits were ex-Nazis. The OPC operated with no oversight or supervision. Few even knew it existed.

dulles eisenhower

In 1952 Foster went to London to convince Eisenhower, then head of NATO, to run for President. Foster simply bored Eisenhower and Churchill wickedly quipped, Dull, Duller, Dulles. Nevertheless Eisenhower ran and won and the Dulles era was launched in 1953. Dulles thought the HUAC was useful in the effort to purge New Deal government employee and he counted on Nixon to hold McCarthy in check. But no one could control McCarthy and he immediately attacked the Eisenhower administration starting with Foster’s State Department. Foster also felt cleaning New Dealers from his State Department was important and cooperated with the HUAC, even initiating purges of his own. State Department morale dropped to an all time low as countless careers were crushed. The US Information Service (USIS) was almost totally decimated and its libraries around the globe badly censored of material. Even the music of Aaron Copland (Appalachian Spring, Billie the Kid, etc.) was banned. When McCarthy turned to the tougher Dulles CIA the story was a little different. Dulles initially ignored or misplaced the HUAC subpoenas and when McCarthy refused to take the hint, Dulles went to McCarthy’s capital hill office to confront McCarthy with the extensive intimate dossier the CIA had assembled on McCarthy’s homosexual activities. McCarthy backed off the CIA and his ultimate downfall and Senate censure followed. McCarthy drank himself to death soon after.

The Dulles brothers sabotaged the government’s antitrust case against big oil’s Seven Sisters by having the case moved to Foster’s state department where it languished. Dulles organized the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh’s government in Iran because they nationalized British oil production and cancelled a $650 million contract with Sullivan and Cromwell client Overseas Consultants. Eisenhower resisted efforts to overthrow the Iran government until the brothers convinced him that Iran’s oil was at risk of falling into communist hands. This new tactic worked magic with administrations for decades. Teddy’s grandson Kermit Roosevelt headed the coup efforts for the CIA and when the Shah ran away to Rome, Dulles went personally to escort him back to Iran and put him back on his Peacock throne. In 1954, CIAs Howard Hunt (of Bay of Pigs and Watergate fame) was sent to Guatemala to overthrow the legitimate Arbenz government because he had promised to redistribute unused United Fruit (another Sullivan and Cromwell client) lands to the people of Guatemala. United Fruit would have been compensated under the plan. Again Eisenhower bought into the fallacious threat of communist takeover argument. Then in 1956, CIA contractors picked up Columbia professor Jesus de Galindez who had written a 750 page dissertation critical of Dominican Republic dictator Trujillo, from the streets of Manhatten and flew him to the Dominican Republic where he was handed over to Trujillo who tortured and murdered the scholar. This is the first documented case of CIA Extraordinary Rendition.

This was the era of two revealing movies The Manchurian Candidate about mind control, and Dr. Strangelove.

CIA no match for Castro castro bay of pigs

After 8 years of continuous black ops, Dulles planned the ill fated Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow Castro in Cuba that internal CIA assessments knew was doomed to failure. The CIA could never have successfully conducted an operation of this scale and against combat hardened well armed troops. Eisenhower amazingly approved the shoddy third rate plan scheduled to take place shortly after the inauguration of the new President JFK. Talbot says it was as if Eisenhower intentionally handed Kennedy a live grenade with the pin pulled. JFK, against the best advise of his team, kept Dulles and Hoover in their jobs upon assuming office but after the Bay of Pigs, for which Kennedy had to take full responsibility, Dulles career at the CIA was finished. Dulles, to the end of his life acted and was received by top CIA officials as if he still ran the agency. The CIA ran a black ops site near Williamsburg nicknamed the farm where Dulles kept an office til near his death in 1969.

Eisenhower had changed while in office. He no longer kept contact with his long time military friends but spent his spare time in the company of the power elite, most famously at Augusta National Golf Club. He embraced coups, assassinations, and other black ops as an inexpensive alternative to costly military action and also embraced massive nuclear retaliation as a reasonable response to soviet aggression. Kennedy promised a different future in this 1957 speech.

The most powerful single force in the world today is neither communism nor capitalism, neither the H-bomb nor the guided missile–it is man’s eternal desire to be free and independent. The great enemy of that tremendous force of freedom is called, for want of a more precise term, imperialism–and today that means Soviet imperisam and, whether we like it or not, and though they are not to be equated, Western imperialism…If we fail to meet the challenge of either Soviet or Western imperialism, then no amount of foreign aid, no aggrandizement of armaments, no new pacts or doctrines, or high-level conferences can prevent further setbacks to our course and to our security.

Congo President Patrice Lumumba lumumba lumumba stamp

Kennedy was a supporter of Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first democratically elected leader following Belgium’s brutal colonial rule. In an act of incredible insubordination, Dulles went ahead with a CIA plan to kidnap Lumumba and hand him over to his enemies. Dulles was again acting on the wishes of Sullivan and Cromwell client firms with interests in the Congo. Lumumba was horribly tortured and killed but it was more than a month before Kennedy was told of his death.

Warren Commission Controlled by Dulles – Report Widely Discredited warren_report

Almost a third of this more than 600 page work is given to the assassination of the Kennedy brothers. This reader does not follow the research or theories of these events so is uncomfortable commenting on Talbot’s discussion. Talbot clearly believes JFK’s murder was a CIA, FBI, Secret Service conspiracy and a coup d’etat. He thinks RFK, an avid follower of all the research and writing on the JFK assassination did not support reopening the investigation because of the power of those responsible. RFK thought only if he were to occupy the white house would he be able to bring those responsible to justice. Talbot discusses the Jim Garrison New Orleans research which was the subject of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK . Federal agencies in Washington refused to provide documents to Garrison and others who were interested in further investigation like RFK were afraid to join Garrison’s efforts.

RFK’s assassination was eerily similar to that of his brother – problems with facts and evidence, fouled up investigations, and cover-ups. According to Talbot’s research both assassins had to be CIA patsies neither capable of executing anyone. Sirhan Sirhan may have even been drugged and pushed into place because he was totally incoherent at the time and later had no recall of events. During RFK’s assassination, fifteen shots were fired and the fatal shot came from the wrong direction, etc., etc. Dulles very cynically kept up a friendly exchange of letters with Teddy Kennedy after the RFK assassination, no doubt to assure himself that Teddy would not turn into the next big threat to investigate the assassinations.

De Gaulle at JFK’s funeral JFK funeral 1963

Talbot found an interesting quote published in France only in 2002 from Charles de Gaulle, who survived an attempted assassination in 1961 as dramatized in the movie Day of the Jackal.

America is in danger of upheavals. But you’ll see. All of them together will observe the law of silence. They will close ranks. They’ll do everything to stifle any scandal. They will throw Noah’s cloak over these shameful deeds. In order to not lose face in front of the whole world. In order not risk unleashing riots in the United States. In order to preserve the union and to avoid a new civil war. In order not to ask themselves questions. They don’t want to know. They don’t want to find out. They won’t allow themselves to find out.

The CIA’s Gray Ghost angelton
A minor character in the book is OSS spy James Jesus Angleton who met Dulles in Rome in WWII and remained Dulles life long acolyte. On his deathbed in 1987:

Fundamentally, the founding fathers of U.S. intelligence were liars. The better you lied and more you betrayed, the more likely you were to be promoted…Outside their duplicity, the only thing they had in common was a desire for absolute power. I did things that, in looking back on my life, I regret. But I was a part of it and loved being in it…Dulles, Helms, Wisner–these men were the “grand masters”. If you were in a room with them, you were in a room full of people you had to believe would deservedly end up in hell. I guess I will see them soon.

Scamming the President

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Confidence Men, Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, Ron Suskind 2011

The title is intended as a play on the word “confidence”, used to describe the primary motivations of Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke and Larry Summers in dealing with the financial crisis as in “the proper role of government is to restore confidence in the financial institutions”. The second intended meaning of Suskind is how this small group of men manipulated, conned, scammed the President into following their policies and not the policies actually desired if not ordered by the President. Pretty strong stuff.

The book is a long rambling story telling of events from the long run for President, through the financial meltdown and the first years of the Presidency with an emphasis on the financial crisis but with excursions into health care reform and the auto bailout. It is so rambling that sometimes Suskind gets his facts mixed up as when he says health care insurers have revenues totaling $12 billion of the $2.5 trillion industry (page 193). Insurers profits alone exceed $12 billion! He sometimes loses the narrative as when he implies that Obama has already decided on an insurance mandate at the first health care summit where he gave the last word to insurance lobbyist Karen Ignagni. Then later in the book when health care reform again comes up for discussion it seems Obama has not decided on a mandate. And then Obama campaigned promising a public option. But here the problem may not be with the storyteller but with the man himself and this reader suggests this book is best seen as an imperfect study of the enigma that is our President.

After all, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how these key players would act given their outsized egos, their personalities, and their history. Summers is a bully with highly toned rhetorical debating skills who is not embarrassed to dominate a discussion on subjects he knows nothing about. As Treasury Secretary in 1999 he was the moving force behind the Clinton administration dismantling of Glass-Steagall to allow Citibank to merge with Travelers Insurance bring Solomon and Smith Barney, two wall street investment banks into the Citi fold. He also made sure that the derivatives market would remain unregulated. These acts make Summers next only to Fed Chair Greenspan the most culpable enablers of the financial meltdown. It is equally revealing that Summers existed totally in the shadow of Bob Rubin so long as Rubin was Treasury Secretary for Clinton. Bullies know their place in the kicking order.

Geithner is a lifelong public servant who spend time in Washington and New York. At the New York Fed he was the shoe shine boy of wall street and the bankers who called him the “boy scout” behind his back. He and Bernanke together with former Goldman CEO ($750 million compensation) Hank Paulson engineered the bank rescue plan and further consolidation of finance as Wachovia, Washington Mutual, Bear Sterns, and Merill Lynch were swallowed up by the big banks. Geithner is not a public servant, he is a servant of Wall Street. It also turns out he is a tax cheat, failing to pay the IRS $34,000. Either he is cheating or he is incompetent, great choice! Incidentally, it seems Geithner’s father at the Ford foundation met Obama’s mother at least once in Indonesia. From Wikipedia;

From January 1981 to November 1984, Dunham (Barack’s mom) was the program officer for women and employment in the Ford Foundation’s Southeast Asia regional office in Jakarta. While at the Ford Foundation, she developed a model of microfinance which is now the standard in Indonesia, a country that is a world leader in micro-credit systems. Peter Geithner, father of Tim Geithner (who later became U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in her son’s administration), was head of the foundation’s Asia grant-making at that time.

Bernanke Lavishes free $14 Trillion on Wall Street

Ben Bernanke was touted as an expert on the Great Depression when he became Chairman of the Fed at the beginning of the meltdown. He was at all the merger and bailout meetings but we only now are learning the extent to which the Fed was secretly lending money to troubled institutions throughout the period. Recent Freedom of Information material acquired by Bloomberg is finally starting to shed some light on the extent of the exposure of the public in Fed lending to the banksters. The Fed has secretly loaned a peak of $1.2 Trillion to Wall Street and the banks including many European banks. Yes, public money has been loaned to European firms. That $1.2 trillion is the same total as all delinquent and foreclosed US home loans. Suskind put the figure at $3.5 trillion from 2007 to 2009. This brings the total Fed issuance to $14 trillion. If that money is used to purchase Treasuries at 3% this free money would yield the banks about $350 billion. So much for lessons on the Great Depression.

But the problem is not these characters who would be expected to act as they have. The important question is how did the President come to appoint them to positions where they could do more damage. Even Bernanke could have been replaced in 2009 when his first term ended.

President elect with Paul Volcker and Austan Goolsbee

Suskind characterized this question as Team A verses Team B. Team A, led by venerable Paul Volcker, was with Obama from the beginning of his candidacy and in-so-far as Obama’s superior knowledge of the workings and problems in the financial sector secured him election, it is thanks to Team A education and advice. On team A were Volcker, Austan Goolsbee, Robert Wolf (CEO of UBS and eyewitness of the meltdown meetings), Robert Reich, Stanley O’Neill, and William Donaldson. All expected significant rolls in the new administration, with Volcker as Treasury Secretary.

Obama Picks Team B

So how and why did Obama go with team B led by Geithner and Summers? We don’t have a clue. Byron Dorgan, Senator from North Dakota put it most eloquently; “You’ve picked the wrong people…I don’t understand how you could do this. You’ve picked the wrong people.” We voters all felt the same way. Where’s our change?

Daschle Master of Congress Left Behind

But Obama was not done yet. He needed to choose between longtime master of the senate, the low key, soft spoken, extremely tough Tom Daschle, and the brash, volatile, inexperienced, caustic, egotistical fourth ranked representative Rahm Emmanuel for his Chief of Staff, doorkeeper to the President. Tough choice right? We’ll go with the much hated in Congress Rahm. What is this man doing to himself? And even worse, Obama spent so much political capital getting Geithner appointed despite his personal tax problems that Obama loses entirely the services of Dacshle, who has a minor problem in failing to report the use of a lobbyist provide car while in Washington. Dacshle could have been confirmed before Geithner but not after. So Obama trades Dacshle for Geithner.

During this transition period, Obama is reading up on FDR who in his first hundred day in office passed the Emergency banking and Glass-Steagall acts, establishes the FDIC to insure deposits, created the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Tennessee Valley Authority. He passed the Farm Credit, Truth in Securities, and the National Recovery Acts, and others. The basis of the entire New Deal were in place within 100 days of FDR assuming office. While detractors point out that full recovery did not happen until WWII started, there was never doubt in Americans minds that the country was back on track early in 1933. Obama assumed office with no plans whatever; none; nada! So much for the legacy of FDR. And he appoints a team guaranteed to continue undermining the FDR legacy.

Two million people showed up in the freezing cold to watch the Obama inauguration and hope. Elizabeth Warren first met Obama at a campaign event in Chicago. Afterward Obama talked about being inside the bubble; “I haven’t been living in this bubble very long. I’m in it now, but not that long ago I had a real life.”

“And she (Warren) would wonder, replaying that last conversation in her head, if it was really about the bubble or the character of the man inside the bubble, and if in Chicago she had seem what she hoped to see, rather than what was really there.”

There are a lot of us wondering this same thing now.
Elizabeth Warren will not head Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

See Warren As TARP Oversight Chair Take on Geithner

You can’t run a policy based on a misdirection or a fiction. I don’t know what the president is thinking. I don’t see the president. He meets with bankers. He doesn’t meet with me. But if he’s involved in this at all, he’s got to know that his angry words at Wall Street, and their recklessness and dangerous incentives in compensation, about how they do their business in ways utterly divorced from what’s actually good for the economy – that he can’t just say that sort of thing and then just dump money in their laps and be credible. Tim and Larry’s whole plan is just like Argentina’s in the 1980s. There was this giant hole marked “Banks” and the government just dumped money in that hole, as much as they had, while they lied about it. That’s what Larry thinks, that the U.S. is Argentina.”

Elizabeth Warren, who was the driving force in establishing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to which Obama failed to make its first head and which was crippled at its inception by placing it in the Federal Reserve – toothless. This leads Suskind to another startling theme that links Obama, Summers, Emmanuel, and Geithner, their seeming inability to deal with women professional as equals. Suskind suggests that Summers was fired from the Presidency of Harvard not only because he suggested that women were genetically unsuited to science, but because during his tenure only four women were promoted at Harvard. Hillary, as a world recognized force of nature is the sole exception, viewed not as a woman, but as a power base. Suskind suggests that Christina Romer was given a “safe” ie. non threatening to Geithner and Summers appointment in a nod to gender equality.

Rubin Tanks Citigroup – Obama Wants to Dismantle Citi

Citigroup, under the leadership of Bob Rubin (himself now toxic in Washington) loaded up with toxic CDOs late in the game, was insolvent and ready to go under. Sheila Bair of FDIC tells the White House she is ready do an FDIC resolution of the bank, something the FDIC has been doing successfully since 1933 without a single mishap. Geithner panics because, of course, Citi is “too big to fail”, but Bair points out that at heart Citi is a bank, unlike the Wall Street firms they were dealing with in the past so of course the FDIC knows exactly how to resolve it.

The White House has been discussing the coming implosion from the start and Obama has centered on a “Japan or Sweden” theme. Japan repeatedly bailed out its financial institutions without insisting they clean up their toxic assets leading to the “lost decade” when Japan stopped growing economically. Sweden nationalized its banks, cleaned out the toxic assets, restructured and then closely moved to privatize the banks as they regained their feet. Sweden quickly recovered economically. Obama made it absolutely clear he favored Sweden.

Shiela Bair Ready to Resolve Citibank

When Bair announced her intention, Obama held a meeting at which he indicated his desire to restructure the entire banking industry. Having made his wishes known he left the meeting to have dinner with his family (dinner is more important than restructuring the financial system!) As soon as Obama leaves, Rahm says restructuring the entire industry is a non-starter because Congress will never approve the funds necessary. Note that he waits for Obama to leave before scuttling the entire plan. Obama comes back and Summers tells him they can’t afford the restructure the entire industry. Obama says, OK, we’ll start with Citi and when we show that works we can ask Congress for money for the rest of the industry. New decision, new plan. By this time Summers and Romer are in favor of the restructuring.

Geithner is terrified of restructuring Citi and has Treasury working feverishly on bank stress tests as an alternative to determine the real state of health of the industry. Industry insiders roll their eyes because the big unknown of course are the extent of toxic CDOs which are usually kept off the books to deceive investors and regulators and will not be uncovered by stress tests. Geithner simply wants to buy time and is determined to pump money to shore up confidence. He never seriously considered a resolution of citibank.

Bizarrly, Shiela Bair, government’s only expert on the resolving of banks is never consulted. Summers and Romer seem to think the ball is in Geithner’s hands but unknown to them, Geithner uses the excuse that the FDIC is too leak prone to discuss the possible restructuring of Citi. Geithner is, of course, doing nothing to plan for Citi’s restructure. When Obama asks how the plan is coming Geithner only talks about stress tests. Geithner is directly defying the express wishes and orders of his President. Nothing happens and Citi is never restructured. Bair is never brought into the loop. Welcome to Japan (or are we now Argentina) – so long Sweden. Geithner keeps his job as Treasury Secretary after monumental insubordination.

After this, Summers felt free to “re-litigate” every decision Obama thought he had made. Obama finds himself facing the same decisions over and over. More insubordination.

What is happening here is what seems increasingly to happen to Presidents, both Republican and Democratic, they are being managed by the staff that is supposed to support and implement their wishes. Only the President is elected by the people and only he has the mandate to govern. But in the modern Presidency including Clinton, W, and Obama, the staffs have taken the central policy development role and have their own constituencies. This has been true of three Treasury Secretaries to three Presidents; Rubin under Clinton, Paulson under W, and Geithner under Obama. Who do these guys work for and who do they serve? Certainly not their Presidents. The isolation is increased with a Summers who controls what the President sees and who he hears and with Rahm who arbitrarily dictates what is legislatively possible. Generally nothing is said to be possible. A President who can assemble two million citizens on the Washington Mall can pass any legislation he wants to, at least for a while. And it was Rahm’s job to figure out how to pass the President’s wishes into law, not to tell what can’t be done. Dacshle would have figured it out. So who is Obama and why has he allowed all this to happen – not happen.

Volcker reflects on Obama;

I think Obama understands everything intellectually, very easily, near as I can see. What we don’t know is whether he has the courage to follow through. He understands it, but does he feel it in the belly? I don’t know.

Volcker was vehemently oppossed to Gethner’s stress test idea because it puts the government into the position of choosing winners and losers. Finally fed up, Volcker agreed to appear before Barney Frank’s committee to give his opinion and Volcker pulled no punches. Glass-Steagall needed to be restored;

The point is not only the substantial risks inherent in capital market activities. There are deep seated, almost unmanageable, conflicts of interest with normal banking relationships – individuals, businesses, investment management clients, seeking credit, underwriting, and unbiased advisory services. I also think we have learned enough about the challenges and distractions for management posed by the risks and complexities of highly diversified activities.

Summers opined to many senior staff members in widely quoted terms;

We’re home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have allowed these mistakes.

Then there was the treatment of the many women on the staff. As Anita Dunn recalled;

This place would be in court for a hostile workplace…Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.

Obama, Summers, Geithner, and Emmanuel are all implicated in creating this hostile workplace.

Early in his term Obama brings a group of Congressional leaders of both parties to the White House to discuss the budget. Out of nowhere, Obama blurts out to the Republicans present “I’m prepared to give you tort reform. What will you give me?” What does tort reform have to do with the budget? This leads one participant to think of the movie Dave, where an actor look alike is brought into the White House to impersonate a secretly comatose President.

Obama assembled a team, led by M&A banker Steven Rattner, to deal with the auto industry crisis. So it is no surprise the team approached the auto industry totally from the perspective of a financial acquisition where 17 out of 20 firms end up being liquidated. The team called saving Chrysler rather than liquidating it and collaterally destroying the suppliers and dealers as a side effort of liquidation “a close call”. No one in the room was looking out for the worker, the industry retiree, the jobs.

For the next 200 pages, Obama and the white house virtually disappear – in a book about the presidency!

The banks and Wall Street are back to normal behavior with over $35 trillion in outstanding credit default swaps by 2011. The repo (daily refinancing of off the books securities) is fully up and running. Profits are at record levels as are compensations to the top executives. Then the Goldman scandal revealed by the SEC that hedge fund manager John Paulson was creating derivatives designed to fail that Goldman could then sell to suckers, like German Banks while they purchased CDS insurance against these same CDOs, reigniting the public furor at wall street’s unethical and illegal behavior. Goldman made $3.7 billion in 2007 from Paulson’s hand crafted weapons of mass destruction. This was on top of the previous disclosure that large amounts of TARP funds had flowed through AIG directly to Goldman as 100% payment for CDS insurance claims. No haircut for Goldman!

Larry Fink $9 trillion toxic asset cover guy

Meanwhile Treasury handed off $9 trillion in toxic troubled mortgage assets to Blackrock to manage. $5.5 trillion came from Freddie and Fannie and the rest came largely from the Lehman bankrupcty and from the AIG CDs insurance payouts. Blackrock was paid $300 million a year to manage these “assets”. Suskind doesn’t pursue this but the reader thinks this means that the government and the Obama administration are the direct owners of a heck of a lot of mortgages. How many houses are still occupied? Are restructured loans being offered? Are these loans being foreclosed on? What is the state of the paperwork on these loans? Are they fragments or tiers of CDOs or can whole mortgages be reconstructed? It seems there is a potential here to do a lot of good for people and the economy. It looks like Geithner and Treasury may be sitting on this toxic stuff just like Wall Street and banks so no one has to recognize the losses entailed.

The Dodd-Frank bank reform bill passes which promises to do nothing for bank reform. Even the Volcker rule has been neutered. Deriratives, those weapons of mass destruction, may be moved to separate subsidiaries but no clearinghouse and no exchange required. Obama, who was MIA during its development publicly praises the bill.

Gary Gensler, Scourge of Wall Street

Suskind spends some time on Gary Gensler, formerely of Goldman and now chair of the obscure regulatory agency Commodities Futures Trading Commission CFTC. As a condition of his senate approval Gensler had to promise Maria Cantwell (and Bernie Sanders) that he would push for derivatives to be traded through an exchange and with a formal clearinghouse.

He meets Voightman who ran Lehman’s mortgage finance arm and asks him when he knew the mortgages were in trouble. Voightman said that by August 2005 10% of mortgagees were failing to make their first payment. But he said Goldman saw mortgage underwriting standards deteriorate in 2004 and demand for CDOs skyrocketed. Goldman quickly realized someone was needed to take the short side or “downside” to assure the liquidity of these CDOs. “Goldman did that as fast as was humanly possible, and then some.” Goldman anticipated the financial collapse in 2004!

Gensler studlied Morgan Stanley’s financials and discovers they have an $80 billion derivatives book of which $55 billion is uncovered – un-collateralized; roughly 60%. Wall Street hasn’t changed its behavior at all. Digging further he came across figures from the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision whose conclusions supported that Morgan was not alone. Goldman, JP Morgan, insurance companies, and others have an over the counter derivatives book of $400 trillion of which more than half is unsecured or un-collaterized – there is nothing in reserve when these unregulated derivatives blow up. The next financial collapse is primed and ready.

Gensler finds a former colleague is working for Senator Blanche Lincoln and works with them to develop a bill to require regulation of derivatives. Her bill passes committee. The bill fails, Lincoln attempts to attach it to other bills but it ultimately disappears. Gensler is called the most dangerous man in Washington by Wall Street, he receives death threats, one threatener is arrested, and Gensler is assigned a security detail. Wall Street plays hardball to protect their sacred compensation which largely depends on unregulated derivatives. Gensler’s initiatives missed Dodd-Frank but Gensler is still out there trying to reign in those derivatives. Obama is MIA.

Bernanke’s first term ends in 2009 and Geithner recommends that Obama retain him. Summers, who thought he had an understanding with Obama that he would be the next Fed Chairman, is furious. He acts out like a little kid, throwing tantrums, and demanding new perks if he is to stay. He fortunately decides to leave. At the end we go through the complete staff reorganization at the White House. Only Geithner remains, but alongside Bernanke, that is all Wall Street needs. Imagine Geithner’s payoff once he leaves office in five years – unless the next financial meltdown has already begun.

Don’t Prosecute Wall Street or Bank Executives

Missing from the book are some pretty significant details. Attorney General Eric Holder is mentioned once as a member of the committee to select a VP. Occupy Wall Street (and Michael Moore) wonder why there have been no arrests or prosecutions of Walls Street “banksters” for their frauds leading to the financial meltdown. The executives themselves maintain that they broke no laws, but their attorneys, as reported by Suskind, are actually advising them that their activities “would be hard to prosecute” – slightly different than not breaking any laws. The book also reports someone suggesting that a few hundred “perp” walks would do wonders to reform the behavior on Wall Street. The answer has to be that Obama or his administration has instructed Holder that there will be no prosecutions of Wall Street or the bankers, under the cover of “confidence”. This would be consistent with Summer’s and Geithner’s “do no harm” wimpy non approach to financial reform. (Just paper over the problem with money!) This is a major and key oversight for Suskind. Criminal prosecutions would have changed the entire dynamic for this wimpiest of administrations.

The SEC should have also figured in this book even if only to call attention to their lack of action. Finally (after the book is published) the SEC has announced fraud prosecution against top executives in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are both under control of the government. There is unlikely to be criminal charges coming out of this SEC action. To see how regulators are supposed to act in a financial crisis see William Black.

The environment doesn’t even get a mention in this book it is so far down the list of Obama’s priorities. We know he embraces “drill baby drill” and was only momentary delayed by the BP Gulf disaster from approving new drilling leases (including some to BP). We know he overrode the EPA to soften air control standards. We know he is delaying action of international climate change carbon emissions commitments. We know he delayed a decision on the oil sands pipeline as a political expediency to get him through the next election before he has to make a choice. The Republicans are attempting to force him into a decision before the election knowing any decision will anger some of Obama’s constituents. Wimp-in-chief.

We know Obama is secretly rebuilding the nuclear arsenal at enormous public expense. We know that Obama ordered that there would be no prosecutions of the W officials for war crimes. “Let’s Look Forward. Move on.” Obama promised to close Guantanamo, then failed to do so. Obama promised to end torture, then tortures American citizen Bradley Manning in America. Not satisfied with torture, both Obama and Biden publicly declare Manning guilty of leaking the secrets, declare him a terrorist, leaving a fair trial for Manning impossible anywhere.

Adding to this outrage, Obama becomes “Assassin-in-Chief” ordering Osama Bin Laden killed illegally by having the military violate the territory of Pakistan to shoot, extract, and then dispose of the body at sea. What happened to due process, the rule of international law, the example of Nuremberg and Japan after WWII. He then expands on this assassin persona by killing American Citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. He also assassinated al-Awlaki’s innocent 16 year old American son. Who is this Harvard trained law professor guy?

Long Live the King

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Bomb Power; the Modern Presidency and the National Security State, Garry Wills, 2009

A tight history of the Presidency since WWII as the American constitutional form of government was transformed, according to Wills, into an unconstitutional Monarchy that would have been the envy of England’s King George III, against whom America rebelled.

He puts the origin of this transformation in the Manhattan project that created the Bomb. The realities of the nuclear era meant the need for instant decision making in the event of a nuclear attack. Instant decisions can only be made by a single individual, not a committee or a congress, and that individual must necessarily be the President. Will argues that this single reality transformed the Presidency and led to all the other unprecedented changes in peacetime American democracy, secrecy, and the activities that must be kept secret from the public including assassination, overthrow of governments, bombing of peaceful countries (Cambodia and Laos among others), special rendition, torture, surveillance of ordinary citizens, etc.

Groves and Oppenheimer

He begins with an extensive review of the organization of the ultra secret Manhattan Project directed by Gen. Leslie Richard Groves (played by Paul Newman in the film Fat Man and Little Boy). Groves had access to virtually unlimited resources with his AAA priority, including all the leading scientists in the country. He existed outside the military reporting structure and no one in that structure was allowed to even know what he was doing. He created his own air force complete with secret military bases. His three central facilities at Hanford (Plutonium enrichment), Oak Ridge (Uranium enrichment), and Los Alamos, (where the scientists were housed and where the bomb was created and assembled), covered thousands of acres each, and employed hundreds of thousands of workers, yet only a handful of people outside the facilities knew of their existence. Grove’s only restraints were imposed by his chief scientist Robert Oppenheimer, who needed an environment in which the scientists could collaborate and live in a suitable environment. This project, according to Wills, laid the foundations for the modern security state and the imperial presidency. Its primary legacy, of course, was the Bomb.

forrestal-truman Kennan
James Forrestal with Truman <> <> <> <> <> <> George Kennan

Truman gets harsh treatment here. Almost all the secret apparatus of government post WWII was created under Truman. Truman and his administration, particularly George Kennan and James Forrestal, pioneered the use of fear tactics, overstating the Soviet threat, to push through changes expanding the military and powers of the President. W was to use the same tactics after the attack of 9/11. The Presidency since WWII perfected the state of permanent emergency. After the collapse of the Soviet Union ended the cold war many thought the state of perpetual emergency had ended. W and his administration cynically used the attacks of 9/11 to recreate this state of perpetual emergency telling us we must be in constant fear of future terrorist attacks and that only the powerful President can protect us.

A strange thing about this history which probably reflects the reality of the times is the absence of attention to China and its communist takeover. The focus was totally on the Soviet threat, even when massive Chinese troops poured across the border into Korea. Ironically, the insistence of the US that Taiwan represented China on the UN Security Council and the consequence boycott of the Council by the Soviets was what allowed Truman to get the UN resolution passed by the Council that he used to justify, unconstitutionally, the Korean war.

Korea was not a UN “police action.” It was not even a UN war. It was an American war, a President’s war, Truman’s war. And Truman found out what others would learn after him, that presidential wars may be easy to start, but they are almost impossible to end.

Korea was only the first in a long line of Presidential Wars, of which we are currently engaged in two simultaneously. The last war declared by Congress was WWII.

Wills spends a lot of time on secrets, mere possession of which is a source of power and authority. He quotes Max Weber:

Every bureaucracy seeks to increase the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping their knowledge and intentions secret…The concept of the “official secret” is the specific invention of bureaucracy, and nothing is so fanatically defended by the bureaucracy as this attitude.

The problem with intelligence secrecy is that it excludes information of the real experts who are not members of the intelligence priesthood. McNamara later admitted that the administration knew very little about Vietnam as they made their decisions. Obama is repeating the same mistake in Afghanistan. The real experts are outside the sacred priesthood. We previously reviewed an excellent account of secrecy in the CIA who missed virtually every important world event since its inception.

bobby jfk
Bobby and Jack “Let’s Kill Fidel”

Will also spends much time demonstrating that the primary purpose of secrecy and secret classification has been to cover up government malfeasance and embarrassment, to cover up incompetence more often than illegal activity. Unless documents are destroyed as in the case of the CIA experiments with LSD, the secrets are usually revealed 50 or 60 years after the fact. Thus historians are getting their first looks at the top secret military plans for reacting to a nuclear attack. FUBAR doesn’t begin to describe the incoherent and inconsistent mess they are finding. This may keep historians busy, but it does little to stop illegal activities or reveal incompetence in time to correct things. The need for secrecy is always justified by the need for national security, hence Will’s “national security state”, as a state of secrets, a government conducted in the shadows.

Henry “Hit Man” Kissinger

After the Watergate and other Nixon excesses, there was Congressional push back with increased congressional oversight and a weak attempt to regain a share of war-making authority which is under the constitution the sole responsibility of Congress. Congress passed the the War Powers Resolution, CIA oversight, and constituted the FISA court of authorize surveillance. The administrations pushed right back. According to Kissinger:

It is an act of insanity and national humiliation to have a law prohibiting the president from ordering assassination.


w signing
W Issues Signing Statement “The Law is what I say it is.”

Push back is now instantaneous, as when W simply issued a “signing statement” that he would not enforce the McCain Anti-Torture provision, even as he signed it into law. Take that Congress!

All this executive power is hard to resist as Dick Cheney (aka Darth Vader) proved on 9/11 when, without consulting W, he unilaterally (his favorite word) assumed the powers of the President and ordered the military to shoot down a civilian aircraft UA 93. There was never an inquiry into this action.

Will sites a study by Steven Kinzer, who counted 114 cases where the US denied a country the right to choose its own government. Some involved direct and indirect American assassinations. Kinzer says the long term results of these interventions were usually damaging to the US. Virtually every President since Truman with the sole exception of Jimmy Carter was responsible for these interventions. In each case the people in the countries involved knew exactly what was happening and who was behind it. The secrecy was only for the benefit of the American public.

Where is the real Leon?

He ends on a really bright note. The Obama administration has already demonstrated an unwillingness to give up the powers accumulated by past administrations. This includes continuing special rendition and interrogations. The powers just seem to swallow everyone who assume the office. An insider, commenting on the transformation of CIA’s Leon Panetta; “Its like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Bush Monarchy

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Nemesis, The Last Days of the American Republic, Chalmers Johnson 2006

Asking whether the U.S. will go the way of Rome or of Britain who “voluntarily” divested itself of its empire, Johnson completes his doomsday trilogy (The Sorrows of Empire and Blowback). This volume, while published earlier, makes an excellent companion piece to Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. Where Klein explicates the Chicago school-Adam Smith-Neocon creed explaining the intellectual basis and beliefs behind our bewildering current mess, Johnson provides the indisputable facts and figures of our current situation in condensed 280 very, very depressing pages.

Fort Baghdad Embassy iraqembassy.jpg

On Iraq, Johnson explains that the covert (i.e. real) reasons for the war were to secure permanent military bases in the Middle East and to secure a reliable source of oil. He says that the U.S. military will try to hold four military bases permanently in Iraq no matter what (perhaps in defiance of a new President?) including the green zone and airports where the U.S. has built hardened, permanent facilities and the world’s largest embassy on 104 acres built at a cost approaching $1 Billion. The green zone has its own power, water, and all utilities. Ironically the headquarters for the elected government of supposedly sovereign Iraq is located inside a U.S. fort! The other critical bases the U.S. military will hold onto are located next to the oil fields of course. He concurs with Klein that allowing the looting and destruction of priceless cultural artifacts and archaeological sites in Iraq was a deliberate act by the neocon Bush administration.

To tamp down violence in Iraq, at least until Bush is out of office, the military has resorted to bribing the different factions. FrontLine recently reported that Muqtada al-Sadr was given $300 million for assurances of a cease fire from his Shia Mahdi Army. That would have built a few schools and houses in New Orleans.

He notes that while Bush made the CIA the fall guys for the failure of intelligence leading to war with Iraq and largely dismantled the CIA intelligence gathering function, covert operations at the CIA are stronger than ever. He says that the intelligence role of the CIA has always been to tell the President what he wanted to hear, not to provide independent actual intelligence. He also points out that every President since Truman (i.e. since the founding of the CIA) has used the agency for covert operations. Add to the CIA covert operations, the black ops portion of the Defense Department budget and you have a huge well funded establishment beyond the scrutiny of the public or of Congress.

In Blowback, Johnson explained why various terrorist acts such as the African Embassy bombings, the Cole attack, and even 9/11 were in retaliation for U.S. activities the American people know nothing about because the U.S. acts are kept secret. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was passed in 1966. In 1974, in response of Nixon’s use of the CIA and FBI to spy on Americans, the FOIA was strengthened. Much of the information we have today about the secret activities of our government comes from the courts upholding FOIA requests. Even with extensive redacting (blacking out portions of the documents) much information can be gained from secret documents. The Bush administration first had a policy of complying as slowly as possible to FOIA requests and then instituted a prohibitive price of $372,999 for each search.

Until Bush, Presidential records were released to the public 12 years after the President leaves office. Bush changed this in 2001, just as key Reagan era documents were set to be released, perhaps to protect his father who escaped the Iran Contra mess largely unscathed. Now Presidential records will only be released when authorized by both the current sitting President and the former President, if still living.

Johnson gives a laundry list of countries (very long) where the CIA has interfered with, assassinated, or propped up authoritarian governments believed to be anti-Soviet. He details the CIA role in the 1973 overthrow of the democratically elected Allende of Chile and military takeover by the torturing dictator Pinochet. He also details the role of the CIA in funneling money and advanced weapons via Pakistan to the Muhajadin fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

CIA 737 leaves Majorca Spain – Protestors in Shannon Ireland
cia-majorca.jpg <> shannon-cia.jpg

The most entertaining (if this is the right word) portion of the book was his discussion of the activities of amateur plane spotters, whose hobby since WWII has been spotting and recording the activities of military and private aircraft around the world. The internet now provides an almost complete and accurate record of the landings of all private planes anywhere. When Sweden broke the story of a special rendition (arresting two Egyptian refugees and handing them over the CIA at a private airport to be flown to Egypt), this database was used to identify the plane used in the rendition and to trace the travels of this same plane throughout the world over time. The plane was owned by a fictitious company with fictitious owners but with a P.O. box near Langley. Once outed, the plane’s ownership and identification numbers were changed, but the plane could be instantly identified from its manufacturers identification number and the tracking continued. The entire fleet of CIA planes was identified in this way and with them a complete picture of renditions; which countries cooperated in the arrests; where the prisons were located; the magnitude of the effort. The CIA seems to have been totally oblivious to this amateur network and its worldwide resources. The network estimates the number of people grabbed as more than 3,000. The victims simply disappeared either to be killed or tortured for information. The outstanding work of this amateur network at outing CIA’s fleet and tracking renditions sounds like the material for a movie. The administration and CIA strongly believes they have stopped terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S. with this program. That this activity violates the rights of many innocent individuals and violates the laws of virtually every nation involved doesn’t matter in the least. Hearing the term for the first time one wag said special rendition sounds like something Pavarotti would do before a small audience.


Johnson decries the growing insensitivity of Americans and its media to innocent civilians being slaughtered by our military in bombings and ground assaults. No one counts the number. They are seldom reported and incidents are known by the Administration, the military, and our own media as collateral damage. Its as if we are to believe these death are unavoidable accidents instead of the direct result of U.S. military action. In the unlikely event the military ever accidentally destroyed a nuclear armed missile launched from the middle east, the weapons could fall anywhere in the region including Europe. The military still refers to the catastrophic potential results of such an incident as collateral damage.

Johnson really hits his stride when discussing the ever growing number of military bases occupied by U.S. forces throughout the world. The new trend is for smaller bases located closer to potential hot spots such as two islands off the coast of Venezuela where we are positioned to instantly take out democratically elected Chavez. He uses Japan with which he is most familiar to discuss the effects on the occupied country of these bases; the raping, the pollution, the damage, the noise of an insensitive military. He says the public and the military have no understanding of the ill feelings caused by all these bases (800 plus the actual count is unknown even by the military) and the damage to our reputation in the world. Japan is spending $7 Billion of its own money to help the U.S. build a new base on Guam to remove at least some occupiers from Japan.

He then turns to star wars, the ultimate military spending boondoggle. He explains that even a small military incident in space could pollute the orbits with so much junk that all satellites would be forever unusable with crippling impact to the economies of the world. The Air Force is currently running a “recruiting” ad on television showing just such an incident in space. He talks about the air force monopoly over GPS which is now indispensable both for military and civilian use. The air force currently reserves the right to shut down a region of GPS at their own discretion. The Europeans are so concerned about the air force monopoly on this critical resource, that they have funded Galileo a competing higher tech system which was to have gone online this year. When Bush threatened the Europeans to stop this deployment, the threat backfired and funds and new countries rushed to join the Galileo network. Recent setbacks may delay the start of Galileo until 2014 however. We only hope Galileo doesn’t go the way of Motorola’s Iridium satellite telephone system that was delayed so often it was obsolete by the time it was introduced.

The Imagined North Korean Threat
And the American Response (Why is Putin worried?)
ABL abl_one.jpg GMD Test gmd-test.jpg

After WWII the military and military industrial complex greatly exaggerated the cold war Soviet threat so they could continue to expand defense budgets. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the government toyed with the idea of making China the new evil empire. Neocon interests in trade and investment with China defeated this idea and instead they invented a new threat using poor North Korea. Much of the justification for the anti ballistic missile program lies with the idea that North Korea or another rogue state could acquire and use nuclear armed ICBMs. The military is fully aware that all their proposed programs are useless against the latest Russian build ICBM but might have a chance at a Korean ICBM (actually two antique Russian scud missiles strapped together. The last one the Koreans tested barely cleared Japan.) So the military is cynically spending billions to build weapons systems they know won’t work to address threats that don’t exist. The most ridiculous of these weapons and the most costly is the megawatt laser to be mounted in a 747. Even if the laser worked (it doesn’t) The 747 has to fly so close to its intended target that it can easily be shot down by simple existing ground to air missiles costing next to nothing. What matters is not the practicality of the weapon but the money required to build it.

The reason this all works is that the military and military industrial complex is spread throughout the entire country. In each congressional district with facilities and plants, the industry simply buys a congressman who, in return for election support and a guaranteed lifetime job when they leave Congress, will vote for any appropriation proposed. A quid pro quo agreement means that I vote for your district’s appropriations if you vote for mine. To suppress public outrage, Congress hides more and more appropriations in special earmarks and outright black ops budget items. The public is kept in line through fear (terrorism, nuclear armed rogue states, etc.) and Johnson refers to Bush as “Fear-Monger-in-Chief“. The system is thoroughly ingrained and, under Bush, totally out of control. We are guaranteed to bankrupt our system if the trend continues. As it is, the deficit limits must continually be raised. China and Japan are the two biggest holders of this massive budget debt. The system is totally corrupt and will lead to the downfall of the entire government if it continues. In summary:

The iron triangle of the Air Force, Congress, and the military industrial complex, sanctified by high tech jobs it offers to American workers, is driving our country toward bankruptcy. For some it is tempting to continue the lucrative practice of buying arcane space technologies that do not work – missile defenses, for example, simply because it keeps people employed. Meanwhile our democracy is undercut by members of Congress who use the lavish “campaign contributions” they receive – bribes by any other name – to buy elections. The only public service these bought-and-paid-for Congressmen attend to is providing a legal veneer for munition makers’ unquestioned access to the tax revenues of the government.

Johnson talks briefly about Keynesianism, where a government is justified in instituting spending and employment programs to level the business cycle. His theories were put to large scale successful tests by FDR in the great depression with works programs in the parks and the building of roads and dams. Keynes believed that military spending and employment could also be justified in times of recession and depression. The problem with a Keynesian justification of our current boondoggle military spending is that the military spending is totally insensitive to the business cycle – it only ever goes up through boom and bust.

The King Makers
bush-v-gore.jpeg supreme-court-bush.jpg

The President’s constitutional job is to carry out the laws passed by Congress. When Clinton tried to veto single line items in a legislative bill, the Supreme Court ruled this was unconstitutional. The President must either sign or veto a bill in its entirety. Bush instituted a new approach called a signing statement wherein the President reserves the right not to enforce provisions of a bill with which he disagrees. In a Bush stacked Supreme Court, who after all appointed his majesty in the first place, the signing statements have not been challenged. Bush used a signing statement to gut John McCain’s 2005 anti torture provision. Bush disagrees with it and refused to enforce it, end of discussion. With this simple devise, Bush has totally undermined the separation of powers and has rendered Congress virtually powerless.

Another terrible precedent of the Bush era is the extensive use of the low level fall guy. Torture at Abu Ghraib came to light with the leaking of photographs to the press. The ACLU was able to get ahold of key documents establishing responsibility for torture at the prison through FOIA lawsuits. Today we have a picture of the all the leading White House officials sitting around a conference table in the White House discussing torture. Who was prosecuted? The top official held accountable was Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, a woman and reserve officer who was briefly in charge of all U.S. prisons in Iraq. She received a reprimand and was demoted to colonel even though she clearly was not an instigator of the torture program. Johnson asks what does this do to a military command structure? As a soldier do you blindly carry out the commands of your superior officers even if you think they are illegal? Why weren’t officers and officials at the highest level held accountable if the commands were illegal? Does a soldier need to consult a lawyer before obeying orders in the future?

To be fair, Bush has used higher level fall guys as well; Scooter Libby, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, and Alberto Gonzales are prominent examples.

What a depressing picture. A Congress bought and paid for by the weapons makers. A President with a total disregard for the American Constitution. A Supreme Court who appoints a monarch and stands ready to do his bidding. The only bright spot Johnson can see is that there is unlikely to be a military coup for two reasons; The generals have very good lives with absolute security and luxury as it is and second, the soldiers may now refuse to follow orders if those orders are seen to be illegal such as overthrowing the government. OK, I know, but this will have to stand for optimism in an otherwise totally depressing account.

Secrets in an Open Society

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Legacy of Ashes, the History of the CIA, Tim Weiner, 2007

A 500 page history using recently released documents and extensive interviews, Weiner concludes that the gross incompetence of the current American intelligence community is not new, they have been incompetent since their beginning in WWII. Our impressions have until now been based on rumor, speculation, and revealed screwups. With this book we have the full history in agonizing, painful detail.

Americans are incurious people, terrible at languages and ignorant of other cultures. For most of our history, America has been staunchly isolationist, wanting nothing to do with foreign intrigues. During WWII America relied heavily on British intelligence. The wartime OSS was largely an adjunct of British intelligence. After the war, a small cadre of mostly Ivy League OSS officers tried to build an American intelligence service. Throughout the CIA’s history they have never been able to find or attract talented agents and the history of intelligence gathering is almost non existent. America had no idea what was happening in the Soviet Union or Communist China. The Russian atomic bomb, the first space rocket, the Chinese invasion of Korea were all total surprises to our intelligence gatherers. When Stalin died in 1953 the CIA was clueless what might happen. On the other hand, foreign powers found easy access to American intelligence, infiltration our service freely and feeding false information at will.

Weiner focuses the early history on three cowboys not much interested in intelligence gathering but keenly interested in covert operations, Frank Wisner, Allen Dulles, and Richard Helms. Their approach was to spend money to buy people and elections, to arm badly trained insurgents and then send them to their deaths in Russia, Eastern Europe, and China. One operative, nationalist general Li Mi, stranded in northern Burma was given money and guns. Li Mi refused to fight the Chinese communists and instead built a heroin drug empire in the area known as the Golden Triangle. The CIA had to start another war twenty years later to wipe out his drug empire.

In 1950, the CIA launched a fifteen year research program originally code named artichoke and later ultra to test heroin, amphetamines, sleeping pills, LSD, and “special interrogation techniques” for mind control. Some subjects were kept in Panama. One army employee test subject jumped out a hotel window in New York. Richard Helms later destroyed all record of these programs.

An early story of the Berlin tunnel reveals the pattern. The CIA committed 350 agents to dig a 1467 foot tunnel from American Berlin into East Berlin and to tap into a cable communications link. The tunnel was completed in 1955 and an army of translators decoded the tens of thousands of voice and telex messages. After 11 months, the tunnel was uncovered and an international uproar ensued. From documents released in 2007 we discovered that the Soviets had learned from a mole about the tunnel before it was even dug and were systematically feeding bad information to the CIA until they decided to create an incident over the tunnel itself. The Americans’ big coup was a disaster from the start.

During WWII the British SOE operations returned three out of four agents sent behind enemy lines to conduct covert operations see. The CIA has lost virtually every agent ever dropped into covert operations. Of these deaths the cavalier, urbane, Allen Dulles said;
Allen W Dulles Allen Dulles

You have got to have a few martyrs. Some people have to get killed.

The agencies first “success“, was the overthrow of the elected Iranian government of Mohammad Mossadeq to preserve British oil rights in Iran. The CIA planned to return the weak willed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi to power but he kept disappearing. In one bizarre coincidence. Allen Dulles ran into Pahlavi checking into the same luxury hotel in Rome. The CIA had lost track of him. The coup that restored the Shah was almost an accident. For the twenty years of Pahlavi’s reign in Iran, he was known throughout the country as the CIA’s Shah.

The CIA’s next “successes“, was the overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala. Cowboy diplomat and CIA associate Jack Peuifoy said of his visit to Guatemala City;

I have come to Guatemala to use the big stick. I am definitely convinced that if the President (Arbenz) is not a communist, he will certainly do until one comes along.

The coup was again almost accidental but the result was forty years of military rule, death squads, and repression. The CIA was also responsible for the assassination of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic in 1961, personally sanctioned by JFK.

Following WWII the CIA was willing to work with anyone anti-Communist. This included former Nazis and Hitler youth throughout Germany and Eastern Europe. These efforts were largely futile as the Nazis were widely hated by everyone.

More successful were the recruitment and support of two Japanese war criminals. Nobusuke Kishi signed the declaration of war against the US in 1941. After his release from prison Kishi masterminded the conservative misnamed Liberal Democratic party that dominated Japanese politics for fifty years. Kishi’s prison cellmate was Yoshio Kodama was a gangster who amassed a personal fortune of $1,750,000 running black markets in occupied China during the war. Together, the war criminal cell mates ran crime and politics in post war Japan. All with the support and financial assistance from the CIA.

The CIA’s record of total failure in intelligence gathering was finally broken when Allen Dulles succeeded in infiltrating, bugging, and planting false information in the offices of Senator Joseph McCarthy who was upset that communists had been so successful in planting spies within the CIA. Dulles succeeded in discrediting McCarthy. Dulles said of his operative, James Angleton, in the McCarthy case; “You have saved the republic.”

In Feb 1956 Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech to the 20th Congress denouncing Stalin. It took Angleton three months to get a copy of the speech from the Israelis who provided almost all intelligence, however biased, on the Middle East. The CIA immediately began broadcasting the speech via Radio Free Europe but were oblivious and ignorant of the ensuing political crisis in Poland, Hungary, and Egypt. When finally informed, Dulles and the CIA totally misrepresented these events to the President. The CIA knew nothing of Israel’s plan for war against Egypt and of Britain’s plan to use the war as a excuse to seize the Suez canal. Dulles advised the President that the Hungarian uprising meant that Khrushchev’s days were numbered. The CIA had one person in Hungary, Frank Wisner, who had no agents, no Hungarian speakers, no contacts with the rebels, no weapons, no plans, nothing except Radio Free Europe which they used to give the appearance of a full scale revolution. Wisner left Budapest for Vienna. Dulles reported to the President that 80% of the Hungarian army had joined the rebels. He was wrong, the rebels had no arms and the Russians crushed them.

By 1957, the Middle East and it oil became the front line in the cold war. Eisenhower did not believe that those in the Middle East would be able to successfully run free governments. He decided that the best course was to promote the idea of an Islamic Jihad against communism. “We should be everything possible to stress the holy war aspect” (Eisenhower). The CIA would deliver guns, money, and intelligence to King Saud of Saudi Arabia, King Hussein of Jordan, President Chamoun of Lebanon, and President Said of Iraq; “These four mongrels were supposed to be our defense and communism and the extremes of Arab nationalism in the Middle East”. The CIA spent the next decade trying unsuccessfully to overthrow the government of Syria. When the CIA ran into trouble in Iraq they eventually threw support behind the emerging Ba’ath Party where Saddam Hussein would rise to the top.

In 1957, Eisenhower ordered the CIA to overthrow the non aligned Sukarno regime in Indonesia where oil had been discovered, and where the communist party was gaining strenth. The resulting attempt was a total failure with an American bomber pilot captured with full identification and records of his missions. The CIA backed off and Sukarno stayed in power for seven more years while the communist party gained strength. Indonesia, following Hungary drove covert operator Frank Wisner over the edge into insanity and he was committed and subjected to shock treatment.

Frank Wisner Frank Wisner

The CIA’s best analyst, Abbott Smith,wrote in 1958:

We had constructed for ourselves a picture of the USSR, and whatever happened had to be made to fit into that picture. Intelligence estimators can hardly commit a more abominable sin.

The CIA, defense department, and military contractors convinced Eisenhower that the USSR had over five hundred ICBMs pointed at the West. In reality they had four.

Frank Wisner was replaced as head of clandestine operations by Richard Bissell on Jan 1 1959, the same day Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba. In December Bissell was ordered to remove Castro from Cuba. Bissell and his second in command Richard Helms hated one another. The players from the successful Guatemala coup were brought together and the invasion group of chatty Cubans was sent to Guatemala for training. Nixon, facing a touch presidential race, asked them to hold off an invasion until after the election. In the meantime, the CIA backed the overthrow of Patrice Lumemba in the Congo by Joseph Mobutu. He ruled for thirty years, stealing billions and slaughtering thousands to preserve power.

Kennedy won a tight election and was told by his father Joe to retain J Edgar Hoover and Allen Dulles because they knew Kennedy family secrets including a wartime affair of John with a Nazi spy. Kennedy assumed that Eisenhower had approved the Bay of Pigs invasion and Bissel did not tell him otherwise nor that Bissel believed the invasion would fail. The invasion without proper air support was a disaster.

An autopsy of the Bay of Pigs, the Tailor Board heard the following testimony from CIA pioneer General Walter Bedell Smith:

A Democracy cannot wage war. When you go to war, you pass a law giving extraordinary powers to the President. The people … assume when the emergency is over, the rights and powers that were temporarily delegated to the Chief Executive will be returned… When you are at war, cold war if you like, you must have an amoral agency which can operate secretly…

JFK, after the debacle at the Bay of Pigs, moved covert operations to the control of brother Bobby who launched almost as many covert operations in three years as Eisenhower launched in eight years.

When JFK was killed, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, and others including the CIA worried that Fidel Castro was behind the murder. LBJ once said “Kennedy was trying to get Castro, but Castro got to him first.” The Warren Commission that included Gerald Ford was never told that RFK had ordered the assassination of Castro and had made several attempts including poison and a mafia hit man. Castro had a mole in the CIA and presumably knew of all these attempts.

Spy Kim Philby Kim Philby

James Angleton’s old friend and tutor in counterintelligence, Kim Philby, defected to Moscow in 1963. The paranoid Angeton, seeking redemption after Philby, believed that KGB defector Yuri Nosenko knew something about JFK’s murder. Nosenko was imprisoned and tortured for five years until the CIA finally decided he was telling the truth and knew nothing.

Immolated Monk

Among covert CIA operations, Vietnam stands out. The CIA created a government under Catholic Diem who started oppressing the Buddhists more than he fought the communists. The embarrassed CIA, tired of watching images of burning Buddhist monks and nuns on TV and newspapers, arranged for his removal, starting a long succession of CIA puppet governments set up and removed one after the other.

A supposed incident in the Gulf of Tonkin where two American destroyers were attacked was used by LBJ to push through the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of August 7, 1964 authorizing war in Vietnam. The incident never happened but the lie only came fully to light in 2005. Intelligence about Hanoi during the war was non existent. The CIA estimated enemy troop levels at 500,000 in 1966 but this was reduced under military and diplomatic pressure to 299,000. At 500,000, the actual number, the Americans would never win the war. While pretending to negotiate an end to the war Nixon and Kissinger simply stalled until Americans were forced out in 1975. Neither ever intended to end the war despite Nixon’s campaign promises in 1968 and 1972 to end the war if elected.

Covert operations were taking place in Thailand, where a CIA backed political party, elections, and military government was created in 1965.

The CIA paid an annual subsidy of $180,000 directly to the Dalai Lama and established Tibet Houses in New York and Geneva. Their attempts over twenty years at a cost of millions of dollars to train insurgents to harass the Chinese in Tibet killed numerous insurgence and resulted in capture of a single satchel of Chinese military documents. See the CIA’s secret war.

Covert operations continued in Indonesia, where attempts to overthrow Sukarno were given a boost as the aging Sukarno joined forces with the communists to remove key military leaders in 1965. Five generals were assassinated, The CIA recruited and funded Indonesian diplomat Adam Malik who together with a central Java sultan and army general Suharto and a political movement the Kap-Gestapu, launched a civil war in which 500,000 Indonesians were killed and 1 million arrested, Suharto began his long standing military dictatorship and Malik became foreign minister and eventually President of the UN General Assembly. For forty years the CIA denied involvement in this massacre.

Tony Poe’s Troops
Tony Poe

Covert operations in Laos focused on the Ho Chi Minh Trail through the country, where the CIA coordinated American bombing and headed geurilla forces involving tribal Hmong fighters. Notorious CIA operator Anthony Poshepny known as Tony Poe, was the probable model for Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in the movie Apocalypse Now. Like Kurtz, the CIA believed Poe mad. Like Kurtz, Poe had his fighters cut off the ears of dead enemy combatants. Unlike Kurtz, Poe was left alone to fight as he saw fit.

Tony Poe Tony Poe

In Latin America the CIA was backing the leaders of eleven nations, providing money, weapons, and military training. The CIA sent agents in the hunt for Che Guevara and in 1967 he was found and killed in Bolivia.

Helms and LBJ Helms and LBJ

LBJ finally appointed Richard Helms as Director of the CIA. James Angleton, who the Israelis had given the 1956 Khrushchev speech, now received complete details of the upcoming 6 day war of 1967 when the Israeli military overran the entire area. This intelligence coup was the high point of CIA prestige. They totally missed the 1973 Yom Kipper war because no one told them about it before hand. On balance, Angleton’s paranoia concerning Soviet infiltration of the CIA meant that the CIA remained almost totally blind to Soviet events throughout his tenure at the agency. If Angleton ever learned anything, he often kept it to himself telling no one else.

Helms and Nixon Helms and Nixon

When Nixon came to power Richard Helms formed the Covert Operations Study Group in 1968. Among their findings (secret of course);

Covert operations can rarely achieve an important objective alone…At best, a covert operation can win time, forestall a coup, or otherwise create favorable conditions which will make it possible to use overt means to finally achieve an important objective.
On balance, exposure of clandestine operations costs the U.S. in terms of world opinion. To some, exposure demonstrates the disregard of the U.S. for national rights and human rights; to others it demonstrates only our impotence and ineptness in getting caught…Our credibility and our effectiveness in this role (expanding the international rule of law) is necessarily damaged to the extent that it becomes known that we are secretly intervening in what may be (or appear to be) the internal affairs of others.

Henry Kissinger Henry Kissinger

The only recommendation of the group adopted by Nixon was to appoint Henry Kissinger to direct covert operations. One of Kissinger’s covert successes was the overthrow of democratically elected Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973 after three years of effort. Chile, which had been a democracy since the 1930s was thrown into a violent repressive military dictatorship under Pinochet. In 1976 Pinochet arranged to blow up a car with some enemies only forteen blocks from the White House. Pinochet’s reign of terror lasted seventeen years. Today survivors of Pinochet’s Caravan of Death are pursuing Kissinger in the courts of Chile, Argentina, Spain, and France.

The CIA backed a rogue Greek general Ioannidis who started a Greek Turkish war over Cyprus. The intense Watergate investigation brought light and heat on CIA operations greatly weakening the agency. During this time, the extent of CIA domestic surveillance came out. Seymour Hersh of the New York Times broke the story of CIA domestic spying on anti Vietnam war forces in 1974. During the investigations that followed Angleton said:

Angleton James Angleton

It is inconceivable that a secret arm of the government has to comply with all the overt orders of the government.

From Nixon’s time forward, CIA intelligence was generated (made up) for political purposes and had little to do with reality. This continued into the ridiculous claims about Soviet military power to support the Reagan star wars initiatives. An assessment by John Huizenga in 1971 sums up;

I really do not believe that an intelligence organization in this government is able to deliver an honest analytical product…and have it taken at face value… I think that intelligence has had relatively little impact on the policies that we’ve made over the years. Relatively none. ..The intelligence effort did not alter the premises with which political leadership came to office. They brought their baggage and they more or less carried it along.

Under Carter, the CIA missed the overthrow of the shah of Iran by a fanatic ayatollah and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They not only missed them, they were in denial that these things could happen. The CIA didn’t even know who Khomeini was. In 1979 a group of Iran students and followers of Khomeini stormed the American embassy. CIA agent Daugherty, captured in the raid remembers;

It had been difficult enough for them to accept that the CIA would post an inexperienced officer in their country. But it was beyond insult for that officer not to speak the language or know the customs, culture, and history of their country.

The hostages in Iran were released when Carter left the White House in 1981. Iranians seized other hostages and Reagan indicated his willingness to sell arms to Iran for hostage release. Delirious, Iran seized more hostages. In the most boneheaded scheme in CIA history, the agency spun off money from arms sold to Iran to give to the Nicaragua contras. The complex scheme leaked and the ensuing scandal did more to damage the CIA than Nixon’s Watergate.

Carrying on the grand tradition, the clueless CIA watched the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 live on CNN along with the rest of us. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the CIA all but ceased to exist. The fall of the Soviet Union had an impact “analogous to the effect of the meteor strikes on the dinosaurs.” Well said!

Aldrich Hazen Ames Aldrich Hazen Ames

In 1994 Aldrich Hazen Ames, CIA agent since 1967 was arrested. Ames was a Soviet mole since 1985, giving up virtually all agents operating behind the iron curtain. Most were executed. No wonder the CIA had no intelligence on the Eastern Block.

The CIA went on to miss the nuclear tests in India and Pakistan in 1998; and the bombings of three embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole by Al Qaeda. They then provided bad actionable intelligence leading Clinton to bomb a Pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan, the Chinese embassy in Serbia, and an empty Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. The CIA became so gun shy after these debacles that they passed up numerous opportunities to send agents to assassinate Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

The CIA failures to uncover the 9/11 attacks and the false intelligence generated to support war with Iraq were the final straws. Bush sent conservative political hack Porter Goss to dismantle the service. All senior and liberal agents were sacked and replaced by fellow conservative political hacks. Intelligence and covert operations moved to the Defense Dept. and State Dept. and to private beltway bandits who have built a $50 billion intelligence industry out of the ashes.

Personal Conclusions

Eisenhower warned Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson that war cannot be won without good intelligence. In Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, we did not and do not have good intelligence. Maybe it is time to admit certain truths. We can start with an admonishment from Richard Helms;

Richard Helms Richard Helms

The only remaining superpower doesn’t have enough interest in what’s going on in the world to organize and run an espionage service.

The following are my personal conclusions after reading this well researched book and should not be confused with Weiner’s own conclusions.

First, democracy and war are incompatible and a President should only be given war powers under very extreme circumstances such as those that existed in WWII and have not existed in the cold war or since. Having war every few years to enhance executive power is dangerous and perhaps fatal to our democracy. All other conflicts should be handled through diplomacy and international organizations.

Second, espionage requires deception and amoral judgments, in addition to language and cultural skills that are basically and perhaps fortunately rare skills hard for Americans to acquire. Those capable of deception are equally capable of deceiving themselves, the American people and the President. Judging from the CIA, they tend to be rogue characters impossible to harness. If possible, Americans should devise ways of acquiring intelligence without relying on espionage.

Third, covert operations should be banned altogether. Most of todays international conflicts find their origins in our own past covert actions and many of the weapons used and trained personnel involved in today’s conflicts were provided and trained under cover of American covert activity. This continues to be true throughout the world including Afghanistan and Iraq. Covert actions during the cold war invariably supported fascist right wing extremists all over the world and the repercussions of their repressions are still felt today and will be felt for some time. Covert operations did more to encourage Islamist Jihadist radical extremists than Middle East oil money supporting extremist madrasas. What goes around comes around.

In summary, An open democratic society is incompatible with a government that operates, even in part, in secret. The government must remain completely transparent throughout all its parts and to its people. A government with secrets is a danger both to itself and to everyone else.

As an aside, some of Barack Obama’s recent remarks about actionable intelligence to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden brings back nightmare images from Clinton’s mis targeted bombings. I hope Obama takes the time to carefully study this book before making further foreign policy pronouncements.