The problem with America – or a problem – is that we seem congenitally incapable of adhering to our own high ideals. Perhaps it is because we are comprised mainly of rejects from other countries. Or maybe it’s because the high ideals themselves are tainted by ulterior motives: The only way for the ruling class to gain support among the general populace for new paradigms is to frame the proposals in terms of inherent rights and an innate sense of justice. Indeed, the main impetus behind the American Revolution was the profits that colonial land barons were losing through taxes paid to King George. In order to convince working stiffs to do most of the fighting in that war, wealthy landowners resorted to espousing “self-evident truths” and “inalienable rights.” But once the shooting stopped, these truths and rights suddenly became less self-evident and inalienable, and working people were once again on their own. After all, what difference did it make to them whether they paid their taxes to a king in England or a congress in Washington? Shays’ Rebellion in 1786 and the Whiskey Rebellion eight years later vividly illustrate the alacrity with which early American rulers donned the crown they had knocked from George’s head.
This pattern repeats itself ad nauseam throughout American history. “Remember the Alamo” was the cry for justice that accompanied the shameless land-grab of the Mexican-American War. “Popular Sovereignty” was the principle behind Stephen Douglas’ westward railroad scheme that led inevitably to the Civil War. And as General Smedley Darlington Butler points out in his 1935 screed, War Is a Racket, “Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president in 1916 on a platform that he had kept us out of war, and on the implied promise that he would keep us out of war. Yet five months later, he asked Congress to declare war on Germany. What caused our government to change its mind so suddenly? Money.”
Time and again, the quest for corporate profit has drawn America into costly and unnecessary wars having nothing whatsoever to do with national security.
It is important to recognize that every war since the Civil War has been preceded by an unprovoked enemy attack against U.S. interests. The Spanish American War was sparked by an as yet unexplained explosion aboard the USS Maine while she lay at anchor in Havana Harbor. US entry in WW1 was triggered by the German U-boat attack on the civilian ocean liner Lusitania. The Pearl Harbor attacks inspired US involvement in WW2. The Korean Conflict was caused by unchecked Communist aggression along the 38th parallel; the Gulf of Tonkin Incident ignited Viet Nam. And then, of course, the September 11th attacks. Each of these incidents was accompanied by a massive PR campaign, including propaganda disguised as news. In addition to these conflicts, there have been numerous undeclared military operations in places like Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Philippines, Haiti, Panama, Cambodia and elsewhere, each accompanied by silence or, if necessary, spin from the media. In each of these cases, corporate, military and intelligence entities were the primary beneficiaries.
To supplement our military campaigns, declared and undeclared, America employs a rich arsenal of dirty tricks carried out by over a dozen top secret intelligence agencies. These dirty tricks include assassination, sabotage, kidnapping, terrorism, torture, propaganda, provocation and blackmail. With the help of press leaks, declassified documents and deductive reasoning, the observant news junkie can piece together a plausible scenario in which the inherent corruption of the American psyche combined with the unbridled greed of Wall Street could have led to something as insidious as the September 11th attacks. But first, let’s take a look at a few of the misdeeds that I feel illustrate America’s criminal tendencies.
In 1962, General Lyman Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Pentagon, authorized the implementation of a series of covert operations designed to justify military action against the communist regime in Cuba. Codenamed Northwoods, the plot involved “false flag” terrorist attacks in the Miami area and in Cuba, the sinking of an American ship reminiscent of the Maine episode, and perhaps most interestingly, the destruction of a drone aircraft disguised as an airliner. Had it been implemented, the scheme would have involved mock funerals for military and civilian “casualties,” and the framing and prosecution of innocent bystanders. As Body of Secrets author James Bamford writes, “Operation Northwoods, which had the written approval of the Chairman and every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for innocent people to be shot on American streets; for boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba to be sunk on the high seas; for a wave of violent terrorism to be launched in Washington, D.C., Miami, and elsewhere. People would be framed for bombings they did not commit; planes would be hijacked. Using phony evidence, all of it would be blamed on Castro, thus giving Lemnitzer and his cabal the excuse, as well as the public and international backing, they needed to launch their war.”
Kennedy scuttled the project and removed Lemnitzer from his post as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lemnitzer later became supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe.
COINTELPRO is spook-speak for “counter intelligence program,” and it is the name of a twenty-year domestic spying operation conducted by the FBI. Its initial purpose was to infiltrate and disrupt chapters of the Communist Party USA, but soon the scope of the operation grew to include civil rights groups, antiwar organizations and anyone else who FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover disliked. Agents would intimidate organization members into abandoning the group, use illegal phone taps, plant false evidence and use perjured testimony to blackmail leaders, conduct violent interrogations, assaults and beatings. The program remained secret until 1971, when activists burglarized an FBI field office and then leaked several key documents the press. Within a year, Hoover announced the cessation of “centralized” COINTELPRO operations, meaning FBI field offices could continue if they liked.
Operations AJAX and PBSUCCESS
Allen W. Dulles is one of the most diabolical figures in our history. Most of the weird, dangerous, hard-to-believe stories associated with the CIA originate with Dulles. His first success came immediately after he was named Director of Central Intelligence in 1953, suggesting the plans were already in place before he officially assumed command. Indeed, a similar British-led operation had been suggested to Truman, who refused to cooperate. But with Dulles in charge of the CIA, and his brother, John Foster Dulles, at the helm of the State Department, such plans had new appeal. Called Operation AJAX, the plot successfully toppled the democratically elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. You see, Mossadegh had the strange notion that most of the profits from Iranian oil reserves should go to Iran. But the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company – later known as British Petroleum – had other ideas. Kermit Roosevelt Jr., Teddy’s grandson, hired a band of agents provocateur to stage public demonstrations demanding the return of the Shah. After some key army units joined the movement, Mossadegh had no choice but to step down. AIOC changed its name to BP, and its Iranian monopoly was divided between seven other oil companies from the US, France and the Netherlands. The project was so cheap and successful that they tried it again the next year in Guatemala. This time the operation was called PBSUCCESS, and the hapless democratically elected president was named Jacobo Arbenz, and the commodity was fruit, not oil. One of Arbenz’ first acts as president was to redistribute the land, most of which had come under the control of the United Fruit Company. Naturally, United Fruit resented this, and they lobbied the Eisenhower Administration heavily. These efforts were unnecessary, however, since the Dulles bros. already had their eye on ole Arbenz, calling him a Soviet beachhead in the Western Hemisphere. Using fake radio broadcasts of fierce jungle fighting and occasional jet fighter fly-overs, the CIA convinced Arbenz and his supporters in the capitol that rebel forces had seized the countryside. Exiled general, Castillo Armas was installed as dictator. The plot was attacked in the European press and UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold, accused the US of violating its UN charter. United Fruit’s international reputation was so badly damaged by this and other episodes of strikebreaking and exploitation that they did what anyone would do – they changed their name. Now known as Chiquita Brands International, the company continues to have large land holdings in Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica and Colombia.
“Okay,” you may say, “if all this shit is true, then how’s come it ain’t in the papers?” Well, there are two answers. This first answer is that sometimes stories about this stuff do appear in newspapers. Click here to find out what happens to tenacious reporters who manage to sneak though the corporate gauntlet.
The second answer is that there are sophisticated mechanisms in place designed to keep anti-corporate news items out of the press and to replace them with pro-corporate propaganda.
Operation Mockingbird, for example, was a CIA plot to plant agents or agency friendly operatives in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and abroad. These operatives were instructed to write stories showing CIA-backed foreign policy initiatives in a positive light, and to ignore or misrepresent failed or unsavory operations. In Mockingbird: The Subversion of the Free Press by the CIA, Alex Constantine writes, “some 3,000 salaried and contract CIA employees were eventually engaged in propaganda efforts.”
In addition to publishing propaganda as news, the CIA also would buy up entire press runs of books and magazines it wished to suppress. In 1964, for example, the CIA threatened to buy the entire run for a book titled Invisible Government, which attempted to reveal the CIA’s foreign policy influence. The ploy failed, however, when Random House countered by threatening to print a second edition. In 1966, the CIA targeted the anti-war slick Ramparts, which had recently run an exposé on CIA funding of the National Student Association. CIA operative Edgar Applewhite was ordered to orchestrate a campaign against Ramparts.
“I had all sorts of dirty tricks to hurt their circulation and financing,” Applewhite later admitted. “The people running Ramparts were vulnerable to blackmail. We had awful things in mind, some of which we carried off.”
In a 1977 Rolling Stone Magazine article, All the President’s Men co-author Carl Bernstein describes who the Mockingbird operatives were and their motivations:
“Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors-without-portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested it the derring-do of the spy business as in filing articles, and, the smallest category, full-time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad.”
In 1975, Church Committee revelations forced then CIA director George H. W. Bush to close Mockingbird, but by then the lessons had been learned by other dirty tricksters. After Ramparts editor Warren Hinckle left to form Scanlon’s Monthly, he again encountered difficulty – this time at the hands of White House counsel John Dean. In 1970, Scanlon’s ran a cover showing a fist punching President Nixon in the face with the headline, “Impeach Nixon.” Inside, there was a photo of a bunch of labor goons meeting with Nixon in the White House. The accompanying editorial detailed the criminal convictions of the men pictured, along with the observation that some of the men were violating the terms of their probations by leaving New York to visit the White House. In his book, Blind Ambition, Dean reveals that one of his first directives from the president was to “get Scanlon’s.”
“The entire 200,000 press run of the magazine,” writes Hinckle, “which had been printed in Canada was arrested and confiscated by the Canadian Royal Mounted Police as the truck carrying Scanlon’s neared the U.S. border. The printer was also raided and his men roughed up. The Canadian press reported that the Mounties had acted at the request of the Nixon White House.”
The Modern Era
Nixon’s spectacular crash-and-burn and America’s failure in Vietnam brought a momentary halt to operations like Mockingbird. By the mid 1970s, with the help of Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers, the Church Committee, the Watergate Scandal and other revelations, America had grown to deeply mistrust the CIA and the FBI and secrecy in general. Future efforts to deceive the public would require a new approach. In the 80s, public relations firms sprouted like mushrooms, many employing former intelligence operatives and veteran corporate lawyers, who, with the help of outfits like Wackenhut, the Steele Foundation, DynCorp and Kroll, quickly privatized huge portions of the intelligence business.
One advantage these companies have over the CIA and other government agencies is that they are accountable to no one. From financing to operations, they conduct business all over the world utterly free from congressional oversight.
“They're very closemouthed about what they do,” says Kevin McCauley, an editor of the industry trade publication O'Dwyer's PR Daily. “It’s all cloak-and-dagger stuff.”
In Part 3, we will examine how this privatized approach to covert activity emerged and what it means to a populace that is hopelessly married to the concept of self-government.
Luckily for the schemers, Americans have short memories.