This is the continuation of an interview (see Part 1) with filmmaker Scott Noble based on his documentary series Counter-Intelligence. Noble’s films can be viewed for free online at metanoia-films.org.
Kim Petersen: Part III of the series, “Strategy of Tension” gives an extensive listing of false flags from Israel’s Susannah, Gladio in Italy, and Phoenix in Viet Nam. False flags serve the function of allowing aggressor states to portray themselves as victims. Explain the false flag.
Scott Noble: “False flag” has basically come to mean any event in which group A poses as group B in order to affect policy. However, in cases not involving direct conflict between states (flags), the military literature tends to use the term “pseudo operation” (or if it just involves media, “black propaganda”). Doppleganger operations are a related subset, and involve the impersonation of specific individuals. Regardless of the words we use, it is encouraging that more and more people are becoming aware of these tactics.
The most well known form of false flag is when a government stages an attack and blames it on a designated enemy to justify a military invasion. For example, before the Nazis invaded Poland, they dressed up a number of concentration camp victims in Polish uniforms, took them to a German radio station in Gleiwitz, and executed them; the radio station was then vandalized by the Gestapo with the goal of creating the illusion of an attack by Polish soldiers and subsequent firefight. The “Gleiwitz incident” created a casus belli (or war pretext) for the Nazis to invade Poland.
A more elaborate form of false flag is when a group made up of intelligence assets poses as the enemy and commits an atrocity or series of atrocities. These groups are described in the military literature as “pseudo teams” (see for example Lawerence E. Cline, “Pseudo Operations and Counterinsurgency”). Cline justifies the use of pseudo teams due to their utility in intelligence gathering, but they can also be used for more nefarious purposes. During France’s brutal occupation of Algeria, French intelligence created a pseudo-team called the “Organization of the French Algerian Resistance” whose mission was to carry out terrorist attacks with the aim of “quashing any hopes of political compromise.”
At the other end of the spectrum are acts of provocation. An informant working for an intelligence agency or the police will infiltrate an “enemy” group and encourage members to carry out destructive actions. The patsies are usually overzealous, immature, easily influenced, cash-strapped or mentally ill. After the contrived plot is foiled, the “protector” agency holds a press conference to congratulate themselves and justify their bloated budgets/state policy.
The more one studies these “terror plots” the more it becomes apparent that they tend to be manufactured by the very organizations claiming to protect the citizenry from terrorism. In the case of Operation Gladio, for example (see Part 1 of the interview), a 1969 memo from Aginter Press, a fascist group in Portugal, states:
“Acts of terrorism will seem to have emanated from our adversaries, and pressure brought to bear on people in whom power is invested at every level. That will create a feeling of hostility; at the same time we must rise up as defender of the citizenry against the disintegration brought about by terrorism and subversion.”
The FBI is infamous for using these methods. Even some mainstream commentators have written on the phenomenon (see e.g., The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism). A study by the Muslim advocacy group SALAM entitled “Inventing Terrorists: The Lawfare of Preemptive Prosecution” analyzed 399 individuals in DOJ “terror” cases from 2001 to 2010 and determined that 94.2 percent resulted from the FBI foiling its own contrived plots. Following the ridiculous “Sears Tower” plot in 2006, in which the patsies were actually offered cash to take part, Jon Stewart referred to the unfortunate fellows as “7 dipshits in a warehouse.”
Campaigns by authorities against dissident/enemy groups cannot be fully understood without reference to agent provocateurs, yet the subject has received scant attention in academia. When Harvard sociology professor Gary T. Marx wrote a scholarly paper on the subject he called it “Thoughts on a neglected category of social movement participant: the agent provocateur and the informant.” [Italics added] Informants can be undercover agents and super-patriots, but they can also be down-on-their luck petty criminals offered leniency in exchange for infiltrating “enemy” factions. In the case of the “Toronto 18” would-be terrorist attack in Canada, the key informant was an ex-con paid half-a-million dollars to cook up the plot (he actually asked for $14 million). In the case of the recent “Cleveland 5” from the Occupy movement, the informant was a career criminal previously convicted of six different charges including robbery. There is a strong incentive for these people to produce results by hook or crook, even if it means manipulating people into committing destructive acts they would otherwise never have considered.
Unfortunately, the mere posture of militancy can set you up as a mark. There are numerous examples from the civil rights era of the police and the FBI planting evidence and framing people from eg. the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement. Even when an activist rejects the overtures of a provocateur they are not immune from persecution. A particularly disturbing example is that of Geronimo Pratt (a black panther and godfather to the late rapper Tupac Shakur), who was convicted of the kidnapping and murder of Caroline Olsen in 1972. The FBI and LAPD had sought to “neutralize Pratt as an effect BPP functionary,” and did so by framing him for a horrendous crime. He spent 27 years in prison, eight of those in solitary confinement. Pratt died shortly after his release.
The most sophisticated form of false flag involves provocation and staging and culminates in mass casualties. The patsies are “well-meaning,” fully committed to the cause, even willing to die for the cause, but they are unknowingly financed, trained and otherwise supported by their enemies; here, the attack is not stopped in the 11th hour but allowed to proceed to its bloody conclusion. In 1976 an Air France flight was hijacked by Palestinians allegedly financed by the Israeli Shin Bet. According to documents obtained by The Guardian, the goal (as described by British Diplomat DH Colvin) was to “torpedo the PLO’s [Palestine Liberation Organization] standing in France and to prevent what they [saw] as a growing rapprochement between the PLO and the Americans.”
KP: “Strategy of Tension” states that false flags are regarded as taboo in mass media and academia, being disregarded as conspiracy theory. Could you delve into the supposed dichotomy between “institutional analysis” and “conspiratorial” analysis?
SN: [This issue is more complicated than it seems so I have answered the question at length. If readers prefer the short version they may want to check out my short film “The Politics of Conspiracy Theory,” a clip from part III of Counter-Intelligence.]
Considering that false flag operations have repeatedly been used not only to demonize dissident groups and frame innocents but to launch world wars causing millions of deaths, one would expect that academia and the “mainstream media” would be enthralled with the subject. Thousands of books must have been written about false flags by respected academics, and the issue treated with utmost seriousness. No? Why not?
In the case of prominent media figures the answer should be obvious – these people are not “objective” journalists but propagandists. They come to understand very early on what opinions are acceptable and what opinions are likely to impede or even end their careers. Peter Phillips of Project Censored has referred to “threshold” concepts; for example, it’s one thing to say that Martin Luther King was killed due to a toxic culture of white supremacy in 1960’s America, it’s quite another to suggest that his murder was an act of state. In Orwell’s preface to Animal Farm (widely censored in the West until the early 70’s) he wrote:
“The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary…. Things are kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervenes but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.”
False flags are perhaps the greatest taboo in journalism because they undercut the legitimacy of the entire state apparatus. It is not surprising, therefore, that popular “journalists” and pundits steer clear of the issue. In the case of respected academics, especially of the leftist persuasion, the persistent minimizing of “conspiracy”-related events is more mysterious.
The attacks of 9/11 provide an interesting case study. 9/11 truth activists have compiled a great deal of information suggesting that, at minimum, people should embrace a healthy skepticism of the official story. However, instead of being supported by prominent leftists, 9/11 truth activists have generally been treated with disdain. When polls revealed that much of the Islamic world is similarly skeptical of the official 9/11 narrative, academics attributed this – in classic Orientalist fashion – to irrational hatred of the West, rather than to an entirely sensible belief that Western intelligence agencies frequently engage in dirty tricks (exceedingly dirty tricks) to control and dominate other nations, especially in the Middle East.
If it were just a matter of people disagreeing with certain theories raised by 9/11 skeptics there would be little here to discuss; however, what we actually see is a conspicuous amount of hostility directed at people who merely question the official story. This despite the fact that 80% of the questions submitted to the 9/11 Commission Report by family members of the victims remain unanswered. Why such vitriol?
The behavioural neuroscientist Laurie Manwell, an expert on psychological defence mechanisms and group psychology, offers a simple and plausible answer. The major concern of the vast majority of humans is to be liked and respected by our peers. We may not think of censure and ridicule as a big deal, especially when it comes from an out-group, but think for a moment how horrible you felt as a child when you were singled out by your own peers and mocked. Teenagers routinely commit suicide over being bullied. This same fear of ostracization exists amongst adults, albeit in a muted form. Amongst hunter-gatherer bands, ethnographers have found that ridicule alone is usually sufficient to stop an individual from engaging in an unwanted behaviour.
I recently read a book by Brenda James and William D. Rubinstein entitled The Truth Will Out. It’s a new entry in the anti-Stratfordian literature, characterized by the belief that someone other than the actor William Shakespeare was responsible for writing the plays attributed to him. A number of prominent historical figures have subscribed to this view, ranging from Mark Twain and Charlie Chaplin to Sigmund Freud and Malcolm X. Without getting into the arguments pro or con, what struck me most about the book was a passage in the Introduction by Mark Rylance, the Chairman of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust. He wrote:
[Anti-Stratfordianism] seems to enflame… many intelligence people into quite uncharacteristic behaviour: repression of debate, denial of evidence, lack of objectivity, personal slander, wild conspiracy theory and paranoia, death threats, and threats of unemployment in academia.
If a 200-year-old conspiracy theory can incite this level of irrationality and hatred, what of an important event that occurred only a few years ago?
When it comes to respected and/or highly visible leftist academics, they have spent their entire careers building up a body of work in defiance of the established order, and are understandably reluctant to have it tarnished by accusations of wild-eyed “conspiracism.” Writing in Global Research, James F. Tracy described the phrase “conspiracy theorist” as a “weaponized term” and a “disciplinary device”, “particularly [for] journalists and academics” designed to “[define] limits to inquiry”. In their paper “‘Conspiracy Theorist’ as a Transpersonal Strategy of Exclusion,” Communications professors Ginna Husting and Mortin Orr write:
“If I call you a conspiracy theorist, it matters little whether you have actually claimed that a conspiracy exists or whether you have simply raised an issue that I would rather avoid… By labelling you, I strategically exclude you from the sphere where public speech, debate, and conflict occur.”
At the core of the problem is the construct of “conspiracy theory” itself. It has essentially come to mean any opinion about the powerful that deviates from official orthodoxy. When an online commentator expresses doubts about an official narrative, (s)he will frequently say, “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but…” So it’s pretty clear that the term has developed very negative connotations. In the popular imagination, a “conspiracy theorist” is a semi-deranged or charmingly eccentric paranoid personality with an overactive imagination.
The term is applied selectively, and dishonestly. When Bush and Blair declared that Saddam Hussein was secretly conspiring with Al-Qaeda to attack the West with WMD’s, no one called them conspiracy theorists. In fact, Blair actually turned around and accused his critics of being conspiracy theorists for suggesting that the invasion of Iraq may have been motivated by imperialism.
Not all conspiracy theories are created equal.
The latter point seems to have eluded many self-described “debunkers.” Michael Shermer of the ironically titled Skeptic Magazine frequently conflates beliefs about aliens at Area 51 with alternative theories about the JFK assassination.
What should be obvious, but apparently isn’t, is that a careful weighing of the evidence is a prerequisite to informed opinion. Anything less is begging the question, i.e., beginning with the conclusion and working backwards.
Very rarely do the new pseudo-skeptics delve into the realm of evidence at all. Nafeez Ahmed has described this trend as the “de-factualization of analysis.” What we’re really looking at here is a form of exceptionalism (and classicism — conspiracies by poor people are prosecuted in the courts every day); we are taught that other countries (such as Russia under Putin) may suffer under the conspiratorial machinations of elites, but our politicians/intelligence agencies/police forces etc. are held to a higher standard, presumably by our stalwart watchdog media and our cherished “checks and balances.”
An illuminating example of this exceptionalism can be found in the literature on the Rwandan genocide. Romeo Dellaire, the Force Commander for the UN Mission for Rwanda, argues in his book Shake Hands with the Devil that Hutu extremists shot down the plane of Hutu President Juvenal Habyararimana and blamed it on Tutsis. The same claim is made in Philip Gourevitch’s acclaimed work, We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. (A 2010 inquiry determined that this is indeed what happened, though it should be noted that Rwanda’s current president, Paul Kagame, is a genocidal figure in his own right). The point is that at no time were these gentlemen labeled “tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy kooks” for suggesting that a pseudo-operation was used to precipitate atrocities in Rwanda.
The budget of the US spy complex is now estimated at around $80 billion. CIA and NSA budgets have increased by over 50 percent each since 9/11. What exactly do people think these agencies are doing with all that money? They are conducting secret operations steeped in illegal activity; in other words, conspiracies.
The final issue here is one of worldview, and relates to “conspiratorial analysis” vs. “structural analysis.”
Traditionally, when academics wrote about “conspiratorial worldviews” they were referring to people who embraced grand conspiracy theories. These theories are mostly limited to the populist right, and tend to serve as a substitute/deflection for class analysis; they typically embrace the golden age fallacy – the belief that things were really swell in the good ol’ days, but that somewhere along the line the vision of our wise forebears became corrupted by sinister forces.
An excellent example of the golden age fallacy is the late Aaron Russo’s documentary From Freedom to Fascism. In the film Russo states, “Before 1913 [the date when the Federal Reserve was founded] America was a free country.” If by “free” he meant free to work in a coal mine all day with zero labour protections, or in the case of blacks, free to be lynched, or in the case of women and non-property holding men, free not to be able to vote etc. etc., then yes, America was a “free country” in the 19th Century.
The nationalist/nativist quotient is strong in these circles. Illegal immigrants? They are not the product of a desire by capitalists to create a super-exploited class to increase profits but a plot to destroy America. US imperialism? It has less to do with power dynamics between states than a plot to paint America as the bad guy in order to usher in a world government. Environmentalism? They’re after your private property. And so on and so forth.
To the extent that these theories are hyper-nationalistic, ignore class analysis and may lead to scapegoating they are at best a distraction and at worst potentially dangerous. The problem is that grand conspiracy theories are increasingly being conflated with perfectly logical analyses of specific events and/or structures (like CIA) which are by design conspiratorial.
What we’re faced with then is a false equivalence. The mere act of questioning the official story for X event is liable to have you branded a “conspiracy theorist,” even though skepticism over official narratives should really be our default position. There is a massive difference between someone who carefully analyses the evidence regarding, for example, the assassination of Martin Luther King, and comes to the conclusion that his murder was state-sponsored, vs. someone who believes – despite a complete lack of evidence – that a centuries-old secret society is micro-managing world affairs in order to bring about a communist world government.
Any serious structural analysis must acknowledge the importance of conspiracy. That doesn’t mean we have to suddenly forget about class analysis, or embrace grand conspiracy theories, it just means that we need to develop a more sophisticated understanding of power. To those who argue that this is unnecessary – that we already know we’re ruled by murderous crooks – I would suggest that we put ourselves at a clear disadvantage by automatically accepting false propaganda narratives.
KP: “Necrophilous” is the longest entry in the series. Could you discuss “terrorism” and how the term is used? Those who are labeled as terrorists in corporate-state media are often lauded by the people as freedom fighters or as the resistance. Sometimes the western-labeled terrorists are allies and sometimes they are enemies. One distinction is between retail and state terrorism.
SN: “Necrophilous” derives from Eric Fromm’s concept of the necrophilous personality. Put simply, it means someone who loves death rather than life. The term accurately describes the leaders of the military industrial intelligence complex, who have been responsible for tens if not hundreds of millions of deaths over the past 70 or so years. One of their primary weapons is terrorism.
The word terrorism has different definitions. The media generally defines it as an act of violence committed by a non-state actor for political purposes. However, like “conspiracy theorist,” the term is applied selectively.
The media framing of the Israeli-Palestine conflict is instructive. Palestinians are often described as terrorists even when they explicitly target Israeli soldiers occupying their land (as is their right under international law); meanwhile, the flattening of an entire village by the Israeli air force is typically described as an “air strike.” “Militant” is another term to watch out for. It means any brown-skinned male above the age of 15 killed by Western or Israeli armed forces.
The majority of the literature on terrorism focuses on what we might call organic terrorism: acts of violence committed by people who feel disenfranchised and oppressed but don’t have access to a military arsenal. So they lash out, sometimes in hideous and counter-productive ways.
Suicide bombings receive the most attention, and generally fall under the rubric of “Islamic terrorism.” It’s an interesting phrase, “Islamic terrorism,” because we hardly ever hear about “Christian terrorism” or “Jewish terrorism.” The underlying assumption is that suicide bombers are motivated primarily by religion, even though many other peoples (including Westerners) have a rich history of suicide missions. Were I a cynical type, I would suggest that the “Islamic terrorist” label is a deliberate attempt to portray these people as irrational rather than motivated by legitimate grievances. I might also suggest that the term’s prominence in Western society was caused by an accident of history: it is overwhelmingly Muslims, rather than e.g., Hindus, who had the misfortune of being born in the oil rich nations of the Middle East (and in the immediate vicinity of Israel). If Hindus comprised the majority in these lands, Western media would be all abuzz about “Hindu terrorism.”
The statistics support my assertion. A study at the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism found that 95% of suicide bombings are in direct response to occupation, and are not motivated by religion.
The grim irony in all of this is that the West has historically supported the most extreme Islamic sects in order to combat Arab secular nationalism. During the Eisenhower administration, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles stated, “We must regard Arab nationalism has a flood which is running strongly. We cannot successfully oppose it, but we can put up sand bags around positions we must protect – the first being Israel and Lebanon and the second being the oil positions around the Persian Gulf.” “Arab nationalism” is code for Arab independence. The West has traditionally opposed such “threats” by financing previously marginal groups of Islamic fundamentalists, often through proxies like Saudi Arabia (itself the most extremist Islamic state in the world). The Mujahideen in Afghanistan were directly and indirectly financed by the CIA. This pattern continues today in countries like Syria and Libya. The ISIS clusterfuck in Iraq continues.
I am of the opinion that the majority of terrorism is conducted by states. However, such violence is rarely described in the media as terrorism. The very idea that states are capable of engaging in terrorism is controversial because it implies that the US itself may be a “terror state.” It also challenges the notion that states have a “legitimate” monopoly on violence.
One of the biggest collective delusions suffered by people in the West is that our governments do not target civilians. We accidentally kill civilians (“collateral damage”) in our righteous campaigns against the “bad guys.” The distinction is meaningless. It doesn’t matter if your target was a “bad guy”; if you had a reasonable expectation that 50 other people would also die in, e.g., a drone strike then you were effectively targeting those people. We can extrapolate this to the practice of war as a whole. Civilian casualty rates in war have steadily risen during the 20th/21st Centuries, to the point where about 90% of the deaths in modern war are civilians. The decision to go to war is therefore a decision to slaughter huge numbers of non-violent people, men, women, children. There is no way around it.
Another widespread delusion is that Western nations do not explicitly target civilians. Now consider the “Shock and Awe” campaign devised by Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade of the National Defence University in 2003. It was designed to cause “the threat of fear of action that may shut down all or part of the adversary’s society.” Ullman later elaborated: “You take the city down. By that I mean you get rid of their power, water.” Following the US invasion of Iraq, torture and death squads were institute as a “pacification” strategy under the war criminal General David Petraeus. The death toll has been approximated at several hundred thousand people to over a million – with millions more maimed and displaced.
The strategy of trying to “get rid of [the] power, water” of the Iraqi people had already been in place for some time. In “Necrophilous,” Graeme MacQueen of the Centre for Peace studies notes that during the previous assault on Iraq, under George W. Bush’s father George H.W. “Poppy” Bush, “hydroelectric stations were targeted. [These stations] were obviously vital to the health of the society, they were vital to maintaining pure water, sewage systems, water purification systems…”
A study titled “Iraq water treatment vulnerabilities” was produced in January 1991 for various US and UK military bodies. It states in no uncertain terms that Iraq would not be able to maintain water purification systems so long as sanctions remained in place, and that various epidemics would likely occur as a result. Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright, later quipped that the “price” of these sanctions – which included half a million dead children – was “worth it.”
What was the goal? Simply put, the goal was to weaken the Iraqi state as a whole. To accomplish this, the US focused on what 19th Century military strategist Carl Von Clausewitz called “centres of gravity.” Centres of Gravity include civilian targets or targets that disproportionally affect civilians. Total War is another important concept. As the term suggests, civilians are not deemed “off-limits.” These doctrines are well understood by those who practice them, but there is a huge disconnect between the beliefs of military leaders and those of the public. This is true of foreign policy in general. Chomsky was right when he said, “There’s no more morality in world affairs, fundamentally, than there was at the time of Genghis Khan.”
In “Necrophilous” I compare the US assault on Fallujah to Alexander the Great’s assault on Tyre. I could have used any number of other historical examples. Alexander had no problem with governments who transferred their allegiance to his empire, but when a city/region expressed defiance they were subjected to unmitigated brutality. The violence was often gender-based. Women and children were spared (or raped), but military age men and boys were literally crucified. Similarly, in Fallujah, women and children were allowed to leave the city, but men and military age boys were turned back by US armed forces (this practice is termed androcide, and is common in war). The males and lingering females were then subjected to a “kill anything that moves” campaign, which included the use of depleted uranium munitions and chemical weapons like white phosphorous.
Since that time, the residents of Fallujah have seen dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia.
What happened in both Tyre and Fallujah is described in psywar documents as “exemplary” or “demonstrative” violence. It accomplishes a specific goal in relation to a target, but the more important function is to serve as a warning to the broader population. A psywar pamphlet from the CIA campaign against the Huk movement in the Philippines advocates “exemplary criminal violence – the murder and mutilation of captives and the display of their bodies.”
The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki may be regarded in similar fashion, for the attacks were not designed simply to force the Japanese to surrender (they were already ready to do so) but to send a message to the Soviet Union. Far from being frightened of Japanese belligerence, US Secretary of War Henry Stimson told President Truman he was “fearful” the Japanese would surrender before the new weapon could “show its strength.” In his diary he frankly explained the real reason for the assault: the bombs were dropped “to persuade Russia to play ball.”
Torture remains the most hideous (and misunderstood) manifestation of demonstrative violence. It has absolutely nothing to do with acquiring reliable intelligence, its purpose is to elicit confessions to justify policy and, more importantly, to terrorize entire populations.
When US proxies practice torture they do not do so in defiance of Washington, they do so because torture is understood to be an important component of counter-insurgency warfare. Torture techniques have been taught by the School of the Americas since 1946, and the CIA even wrote a manual on the subject. Widely known as KUBARK, the word is actually a cold war cryptonym for the CIA itself.
After 9/11, the Bush administration brought torture out into the open at considerable risk to America’s famed “moral legitimacy.” They probably would have been better off keeping it in the dark. Despite attempts to justify and even celebrate such barbarity on TV shows like 24 and films like Zero Dark Thirty (made in collaboration with CIA), most of the public does not share the psychopathic tendencies of US policy makers.
I should stress that I do not believe every US policy maker to be a psychopath in the clinical sense of the term. Rather, like pretty much everyone everywhere who rises to a position of state power, US leaders embrace some variant of realpolitik. It is the nature of powerful states that they attempt to retain and expand their power; this just so happens to cause mass death. It’s not personal, it’s business.
KP: Can the deep state be defeated?
SN: Not without defeating the state proper. That’s my opinion, many of your readers will disagree. I do not believe that the human race will survive for much longer under competitive state frameworks. Power will have to be radically democratized and federated horizontally. I explain my opinion on these matters in my essay “Anarchy and Near-Term Extinction.”
It is unreasonable to expect that powerful governments become transparent. They can certainly become much more transparent, but the mere existence of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons demands a high level of state secrecy. These weapons are the ultimate example of what Lewis Mumford termed “Authoritarian technics.” Technology is not a neutral force. Some technologies produce and indeed require undemocratic systems.
If the question is whether the deep state can be tamed under “representative democracy” the answer is yes, and I think that’s a very worthy goal for activists. But we need to take the long view.
The NSA is currently under fire for violating everyone’s privacy. What does Glenn Greenwald suggest we do about this? He suggests that we learn more about encryption. Bill Blunden (Author, Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex) rightly argues that such Band-Aid “solutions” will not solve the overall problem.
We need to keep in mind that agencies like the CIA and NSA didn’t simply spring up out of nowhere. They were created to protect and expand the power of the American state and American capital. Nor does the intelligence complex represent some sort of radical departure from tradition. Spy agencies have existed since the dawn of civilization, and have always targeted not only foreign enemies but domestic dissidents. The problem is not just that these organizations have gone somewhat rogue; the more fundamental problem is that, for the most part, they actually fulfill their unofficial mandate — they serve the interests of the power elite.
The liberal journalist Bill Moyers made a documentary during the Iran Contra affair entitled The Secret Government. Compared to most documentaries on intelligence agencies it is quite good, and I showcase a couple of clips in Counter-Intelligence. However, because Moyers is an establishment liberal his conclusions are necessarily limited. He suggests that Iran Contra marked a fundamental departure from America’s traditional forms of governance as laid down by the “Founding Fathers.” Is he right? Consider the following, excerpted from Toward an American Revolution by Jerry Fresia:
In 1803, the United States found itself at the mercy of fundamentalist Muslims who were holding U.S. citizens hostage. In addition, they were asking and getting ransom from the U.S. government. Jefferson’s response was a covert plan to secretly overthrow the government (a state in the region near present day Libya) and replace it with one which would be more congenial to U.S. interests. On December 10, 1803, Jefferson held a secret meeting in the White House with Captain William Eaton. They worked out a plan in which Eaton would be given $40,000 from the State Department and 1,000 rifles. Eaton was then detached from the State Department and loaned to the Navy where he was given the title ‘Agent for the United States Fleet in the Mediterranean,’ a post never heard of before. Covertly and behind the back of Congress, Eaton eventually was sent to Egypt with eleven Marines where he organized a mercenary army and achieved some military success but was unable to destabilize the government in question.
The essential differences between the ‘secret team’ of 1803 and the secret team of 1987 have less to do with violations of constitutional principles than with the way those principles must be expressed, given the very different stages (from fledgling nation to declining empire) of economic development.
Even if the entire American intelligence bureaucracy could magically be abolished, there is no reason to suspect that other new secretive agencies wouldn’t pop up in their place. It has been understood by dissidents since the very beginnings of “liberal democracy” that we cannot balance the powers by each other. In 1793, the French philosopher Jean Varlet warned in a speech before the Jacobins:
One truth is well demonstrated: Man by his very nature, full of arrogance in the higher positions, inclines necessarily toward despotism; we sense now that we must hold in arrest, in check, the established authorities; without which they become all-oppressive in power. Let us not seek to counterbalance them by each other; all counterweight which is not that of the people itself is false.
We’ve had the investigations, we’ve seen the outrageous criminality, new oversight bodies have been created, and the problem has only gotten worse. In response to the Church Committee (1975), which investigated illegality by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, the US government created the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The purported purpose of the Committee is to keep an eye on intelligence agencies and check their abuses. Who chairs this committee? A Senator from California named Dianne Feinstein. Who is Dianne Feinstein’s husband? A military contractor named Richard Blum. How much is Richard Blum worth? About $80 million dollars.
It is foolish to think that the fox can guard the hen house.
Philip Agee, the first and greatest of the CIA whistleblowers, believed that the intelligence bureaucracy could not be eliminated under “representative” democracy. He advocated “real, participatory democracy…where people would actually have a say” in how things are done. I agree.