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It’s Not a Family and Those Aren’t Jewels

7:35 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

jewels

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Fats: In the family jewels?
Gary: In the family jewels, man!
Wyatt: Worst pain there is.
Gary: Broke my heart in two!
Fats: She broke more than your heart. –Weird Science

It turns out that procreation of secretive criminal government agencies doesn’t require a male or a female, and family jewels have little to do with it. The CIA (short for Criminal Implementation of Arrogance) calls certain reports on its immoral and illegal activities its “family jewels.” John Prados, author of The Family Jewels, the CIA, Secrecy, and Presidential Power, calls all of the CIA’s outrageous secrets its family jewels.  But the CIA reproduces itself whether or not its secrets are exposed, and if it’s a family we might just all end up dying from a bad case of family values.

Prados’ book recounts various CIA abuses from the 1970s through today, with chapters on domestic surveillance, detention and interrogation, and assassination.  Of course, the abuses predate the period focused on in this book, go back to the origins, and could fill much thicker volumes.  If the CIA has a problem with bad apples, we’re talking about orchards full of them.  The vicious power-mad bursts of criminality do seem to come in historical cycles, peaking every 60 seconds or so for the past 60 years. There’s no record of the CIA functioning in “proper” manner without the atrocities that are its bread and butter.  A CIA history is a history of relentless destructiveness — relentless but worsening.

“What are we talking about, here?” asked Senator Frank Church, back in the day. “Agencies of the government that are licensed to undertake murder. Is the president of the United States going to be a glorified godfather?”

Today that goes without saying, although I’m not sure opinion polls wouldn’t find the mafioso godfather to be the more glorified of the two, presidential drones or no presidential drones.

One problem, Prados points out, is secrecy.  “Not only does secret knowledge have extremely seductive power, when spooks walk on the dark side they experience the greatest invitation to excess, believing that security classification shields their actions from scrutiny.”

Prados quotes Harry Howe Ransom: “At the level of representatives of the people — executive and legislative — the problem is primarily how to control a dimly seen instrument so hot that if not handled with great skill it can burn its user instead of its adversary.”

(You may take a moment here to remember President Kennedy if you are so inclined.)

Secrecy is a source of evil, but not of its procreation.  The way the CIA keeps going is through the granting of immunity for its crimes, the glorification of its culture, the Hollywood propagandizing of its purpose, the cowardice of Congress members, the complicity of media types, the indifference of millions, and the repetitive-to-the-point-of-insanity push to reform the unreformable.

It ought to be abolished.

As someone engaged in the very useful work of exposing secrets, Prados seems at least as outraged by the CIA’s reluctance to reveal its secrets as by the murderous horrors from which those secrets are constituted.  But if the secrets are exposed, they’ll still be horrors, and — frankly — they’ll be nothing entirely new.  If the United Nations sees the details on every drone murder, the United Nations will become a more openly pro-war institution, but the dead will still rot, their loved ones will still wail, and the CIA will still be seen as some mixture of necessary strength, heroic cool, and occasional unavoidable excesses so common that we get tired of hearing about them. Unless we decide that enough is enough.

It ought to be abolished.
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Join Me in DC Saturday

7:51 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Saturday June 8 is packed in Washington, D.C.  Here’s where I’ll be and I hope to see you! –David Swanson

PROTEST CIA DRONE KILLS

I’ll be speaking to a group of protesters of drone murder in front of CIA headquarters.  We’ll be there from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.  You can park next door at Langley Fork Park at 6414 Georgetown Pike McLean, VA 22101.  Join us!

REMEMBER THE USS LIBERTY
USS Liberty survivors and their families and friends will gather at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery at noon to remember the 34 who were killed on June 8, 1967. Memorial services will commence at 1:15 p.m. Sign up here to join us!
https://www.facebook.com/events/186293598165055/

VIEW SCREENING OF DIRTY WARS
Following the 2:30 screening of Jeremy Scahill’s film “Dirty Wars” at E Street Cinema
Yemeni-American activist Rooj Alwazir and I will lead a discussion of the film and in particular of an imprisoned journalist whose story is told. The theater is at 555 11th St NW, Washington, DC.  You’ll want to buy tickets now:
http://www.landmarktheatres.com/market/WashingtonDC/EStreetCinema.htm

Check out other screenings with other speakers
http://warisacrime.org/content/dirty-wars-opens-dc-weekend-june-7-9

JOIN JEREMY SCAHILL TO DISCUSS DIRTY WARS
Jeremy Scahill, author of Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield and star of the film by the same name.
Rooj Alwazir, Yemeni-American activist and co-founder of SupportYemen media collective.
And a former operative with the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (name to be revealed at the event).
Join us at 5-7 p.m. at Busboys and Poets restaurant at 5th and K Streets NW, Washington, DC
http://www.busboysandpoets.com/about/5th-k

SPONSORS: Amnesty International, Code Pink, Peace Action, Iraq Veterans Against the War, RootsAction, Veterans for Peace.

Busboys is a restaurant, and you can order dinner during the event.
Books will be sold and signed.

Sign up on Facebook for Busboys event:
https://www.facebook.com/events/463016100456362/?fref=ts

and for opening weekend in general:
https://www.facebook.com/events/275208689282159/

Learn more: http://dirtywars.org/screenings/details/1785/5791

CIA: An Idea That’s Time Has Gone

4:45 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

There’s a contradiction built into every campaign promise about transparent government beyond the failure to keep the promises.  Our government is, in significant portion, made up of secret operations, operations that include warmaking, kidnapping, torture, assassination, and infiltrating and overthrowing governments.  A growing movement is ready to see that end.

The Central Intelligence Agency is central to our foreign policy, but there is nothing intelligent about it, and there is no good news to be found regarding it.  Its drone wars are humanitarian and strategic disasters.  The piles of cash it keeps delivering to Hamid Karzai fuel corruption, not democracy.  Whose idea was it that secret piles of cash could create democracy? (Nobody’s, of course, democracy being the furthest thing from U.S. goals.)  Lavishing money on potential Russian spies and getting caught helps no one, and not getting caught would have helped no one.  Even scandals that avoid mentioning the CIA, like Benghazigate, are CIA blowback and worse than we’re being told.

We’ve moved from the war on Iraq, about which the CIA lied, and its accompanying atrocities serving as the primary recruiting tool for anti-U.S. terrorists, to the drone wars filling that role.  We’ve moved from kidnapping and torture to kidnapping and torture under a president who, we like to fantasize, doesn’t really mean it.  But the slave-owners who founded this country knew very well what virtually anyone would do if you gave them power, and framed the Constitution so as not to give presidents powers like these.

There are shelves full in your local bookstore of books pointing out the CIA’s outrageous incompetence.  The brilliant idea to give Iran plans for a nuclear bomb in order to prevent Iran from ever developing a nuclear bomb is one of my favorites.

But books that examine the illegality, immorality, and anti-democratic nature of even what the CIA so ham-handedly intends to do are rarer.  A new book called Dirty Wars, also coming out as a film in June, does a superb job.  I wrote a review a while back.  Another book, decades old now, might be re-titled “Dirty Wars The Prequel.”  I’m thinking of Douglas Valentine’s The Phoenix Program.

It you read The Phoenix Program about our (the CIA’s and “special” forces’) secret crimes in Eastern Asia and Dirty Wars about our secret crimes in Western Asia, and remember that similar efforts were focused on making life hell for millions of people in Latin America in between these twin catastrophes, and that some of those running Phoenix were brought away from similar sadistic pursuits in the Philippines, it becomes hard to play along with the continual pretense that each uncovered outrage is an aberration, that the ongoing focus of our government’s foreign policy “isn’t who we are.”

Targeted murders with knives in Vietnam were justified with the same rhetoric that now justifies drone murders.  The similarities include the failure of primary goals, the counterproductive blowback results, the breeding of corruption abroad and at home, the moral and political degradation, the erosion of democratic ways of thinking, and — of course — the racist arrogance and cultural ignorance that shape the programs and blind their participants to what they are engaged in.  The primary difference between Phoenix and drone kills is that the drones don’t suffer PTSD.  The same, however, cannot be said for the drone pilots.

“The problem,” wrote Valentine, “was one of using means which were antithetical to the desired end, of denying due process in order to create a democracy, of using terror and repression to foster freedom.  When put into practice by soldiers taught to think in conventional military and moral terms, Contre Coup engendered transgressions on a massive scale.  However, for those pressing the attack on VCI, the bloodbath was constructive, for indiscriminate air raids and artillery barrages obscured the shadow war being fought in urban back alleys and anonymous rural hamlets.  The military shield allowed a CIA officer to sit behind a steel door in a room in the U.S. Embassy, insulated from human concern, skimming the Phoenix blacklist, selecting targets for assassination, distilling power from tragedy.”

At some point, enough of us will recognize that government conducted behind a steel door can lead only to ever greater tragedy.

In an email that Valentine wrote for RootsAction.org on Monday, he wrote: “Through its bottomless black bag of unaccounted-for money, much of it generated by off-the-books proprietary companies and illegal activities like drug smuggling, the CIA spreads corruption around the world.  This corruption undermines our own government and public officials.  And the drone killings of innocent men, women, and children generate fierce resentment.. . .Tell your representative and senators right now that the CIA is the antithesis of democracy and needs to be abolished.

Italy 1, CIA Torturers 0

7:22 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Forza Italia! After years of appeals, Italy’s highest court has upheld the conviction of 23 Americans involved in a CIA kidnapping of a man off the street in Milan, whom the CIA shipped to Egypt to be brutally tortured.  This ruling could result in Italy demanding their extradition.  For, you see, the 23 are living comfortably in the United States.  They look just like decent people.  They blend in.  I don’t advise Italy to kidnap (or “rendition”) these Americans just because President Obama says that’s legal.  But I do encourage Italy to demand extradition.  And I hope that one or another of them will be so good as to seek sanctuary in an Ecuadorean Embassy, just to see how many heads explode in Washington as people try to determine what they’re supposed to think of that.

For background on this case, sadly still relevant, here’s something I wrote on November 6, 2010:

One Place to Cut Spending: Kidnapping and Torture

By David Swanson

I know it seems like more of a noble sacrifice to cut spending on things people less fortunate than ourselves need, but can somebody explain to me why it wouldn’t be at least that noble to eliminate the budget of the CIA, which serves no one?

The Washington Post and the Obama administration have been busy telling us that it’s legal to kidnap people and send them to countries that torture. They may call it “renditioning” to nations that use “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but a new book details what this means in English.

A man was walking near his home in Milano, Italy, and was stopped and questioned by a policeman. When they had been engaged in conversation for some minutes, the side door of a van parked behind the man crashed open with a thunderous sound, two extremely large and strong men grabbed the civilian and hauled him inside, and the door slammed shut three seconds after it had opened, as the van accelerated and the two men hit and kicked their victim repeatedly in the dark of the van’s interior, pounding his head, chest, stomach, and legs. They stopped. They stuffed a gag in his mouth and put a hood over his head, as they cinched cords tight around his wrists and ankles. Hours later they threw him into another vehicle. An hour later they took him out, stood him up, cut his clothes off, shoved something hard up his anus, stuck a diaper and pajamas on him, wrapped his head almost entirely with duct tape, and tossed him in an airplane.

The torture he received when he got where he was going left him nearly dead, prematurely aged, and barely able to walk. It was US-sponsored and Egyptian administered. And it is described in all of its almost unbearable detail in Steve Hendricks’ “A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial.”

Believe it or not, most of this book is enjoyable. Hendricks knows the United States and Italy and how to write about one for readers in the other. His remarks on Italian culture are outdone only by his background on Muslim terrorism, his account of who this kidnapping victim was, and the inclusion of dialogue picked up by Italian wiretaps of terrorism suspects’ private conversations. But just as terrific reading are Hendricks’ histories of the practice of rendition, of the use of torture, of U.S.-Italian relations, of domestic Italian terrorism, and of modern Egypt.

Not to ruin the punch line — and this has long been public knowledge — the kidnapping, transporting, imprisoning, and torturing of this man and many others is paid for with U.S. tax dollars. I’m sure it all sounds very important and rational given how demonically evil Muslims are supposed to be. But how do you justify the dozens of CIA agents living it up in Italy’s most luxurious hotels while plotting this operation? And how do you rationalize the damage done to U.S. relations with Italy? Of course, Italians quickly discovered that the CIA was behind this crime. It would have been harder to track them if they’d worn neon signs on their chests. They used cell phones and frequent flyer accounts that were easily identified, not to mention names and addresses similar to their real ones. Hendricks describes their methods as Keystone Kommandoism.

No doubt some of these CIA bunglers and butchers were outsourced and untrained, but they also believed they were above the law. They thought they had immunity. Italian law enforcement thought otherwise. For decades during the Cold War, the CIA kept an army and caches of weapons in Italy to be used if communists were ever able to gain significant political power. A long list of abuses has come to light and no one ever been held accountable. Magistrate Armando Spataro, like many Italians, adored the United States. When reporters asked him why he had indicted two dozen CIA agents, Spataro said he was opposing lawlessness, not his beloved United States. He warned of following the path of Mussolini. He pointed out that Italy had defeated domestic terrorists with the rule of law. He showed that the new U.S. lawlessness was just encouraging terror. His record of prosecuting leftist terrorists and his indictment for terrorism of the victim himself of the U.S. kidnapping made claims of bias difficult to pin on Spataro. The approach resorted to by the U.S. media was — to the extent possible — to ignore the whole thing, especially when Spataro won convictions of the agents tried in absentia.

The Italian legal system is one thing, its government in Rome quite another. The latter will never ask the United States to extradite the convicts unless the U.S. president requests it first, just as the United States would never kidnap a man in Italy without telling the Italian president and the Italian spy service first. So, none of the culprits are behind bars, but they are unable to live in or travel to Europe. And a strong signal has been sent about the likelihood of Italy tolerating more such crimes. This is the sort of message Nancy Pelosi would have sent by impeaching Bush even if the Senate had not convicted him.

Hendricks tracked down most of the scofflaws. They’re spread around the United States engaged in a variety of work, most of them completely unknown to the public. The man chiefly responsible, on the other hand, is undergoing a public rehabilitation and it about to open a presidential library, while the man responsible for the continued practice and for the freedom of his predecessor has two more years in the White House.

Frank Olson, Enemy Combatant

8:57 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

If you haven’t read "A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments," by H.P. Albarelli Jr., I recommend doing so right away. Read every word, cover to cover. You will initially conclude that I, and Albarelli, are crazy. This is the story of one simple murder that asks who done it and doesn’t answer the question for over 700 pages, because every time a new character enters the story the author introduces him with background that includes how his grandparents were conceived and where his field of work originated. But there is method to the madness, trust me. Bear with it.

By the time you’ve finished, Albarelli will tell you who killed Olson, and you’ll grasp that who killed Olson is not really the point. This is a story of the CIA’s lawless rampages of murder and mayhem, which began when the CIA began and have continued to this day, with a possible minor let-up in the mid-1970s. What did occur for certain in the mid 1970s was an unusual fit of journalism by the U.S. media and of oversight by the U.S. Congress. Both freakish activities were short lived but produced most of what we know to this day about the goings-on in a major branch of our government, the Central Intelligence Agency.

In the absence of oversight or accountability, sadism and stupidity compete for domination. The CIA and the military in the 1950s invested heavily in researching every form of mystical mumbo-jumbo that could be found, and every form of drug. LSD was among the wonder drugs that were going to either prevent military violence or reveal people’s secrets, or both. And if we wanted to test the effects of something like LSD, what better way than to dose people with it, without their knowledge, and observe their behavior? We could use mental patients locked in hospitals, or prisoners, or soldiers. Sure, some would kill themselves or others, but this was science! We could put LSD into the air and the food of an entire French village, stand back, and watch the horror. Or how about testing anthrax on a U.S. factory? Would people suffer as a result of these experiments? Sure! Would people die? Sure, but what did that matter when God and Country were on the line? After all, we were poisoning people to protect their right to be poisoned by us!

There may be a tendency to take seriously claims that medical ethics had not evolved in the 1950s to the point of forbidding experimentation on people without their consent. That’s utter nonsense and ignores the Nuremberg Code of 1947. In fact, morality has DEVOLVED in U.S. political thinking since the 1950s. We would have been shocked in the 1950s in this country to learn that our government was developing biological and chemical weapons, that it was testing them on human beings including Americans, that it was torturing prisoners, and that it was killing people who got in the way or knew too much or presented an inconvenience. Now we consider all such activity an ordinary part of running a good old fashioned totalitarian democracy. In 1953 Frank Olson was a murder victim. In 2010 he would simply have been decreed an enemy combatant. He would have been cuffed, hooded, and locked away.

Nowadays we have so many Frank Olsons we don’t know what to do with them all. New innocent victims are ordered released from Guantanamo at least every week. We can’t be expected to write 800-page books about each of them. Can we? And why should we, when nothing illegal has been done? Habeas corpus is no more. Warrantless spying is routine. Torture is a respectable tool our rulers use if they see fit. And when we use white phosphorus to melt the skin off some children in one of our illegal wars, the loudest cry is to keep the war going. The CIA is now openly understood to run torture programs so gruesome that the idea of drugging people with any sort of drug is so mild by comparison as to seem immediately acceptable.

And the CIA’s new alchemic brew of stupidity and sadism does not involve crop-dusting villages with LSD. The brave new answer to war is drone strikes. Just as stupid. Just as sadistic. Just as illegal. But nowhere near as secret. We’re open about our crimes these days. Frank Olson’s murder is like a nuclear bomb in an 18th century naval battle. It stands out because of its context. If it had occurred last week, we’d have already forgotten it.