Dear Mr. President: Words of Resistance, Reason, and Peace

The Pot Calling The Kettle Black:
The USA and International Terrorism
by Philip Agee

The Uses of Journalists

The third important factor affecting the news is, of course, the slant or bias. It reflects the moral, social and political values of the person doing the writing, or at least the editor. This is where the CIA played a very fundamental role in years past, and I cannot imagine that it suddenly stopped when the Cold War came to an end.

In fact, like many others, I believe that the Cold War never really ended. It did so along the east-west axis. But the Cold War always had a north-south dimension-- the war against forces of liberation in Third World countries. That never ended, and it continues today.

I also believe that the CIA's media operations have continued. They involve the recruitment and payment of editors and reporters who take the CIA's material and publish it as if it were their own. Taken all together-- the sources and selection of material, and the point of view or slant-- the result is essentially what is known as propaganda, but which passes for "unbiased news".

Journalists are also very important to the CIA for non-journalistic activities. They serve as very convenient agents of access for the Agency. Particularly since they come from a country with a neutral tradition, Swedes in general have always been of great interest to the CIA. This is because they do not carry a lot of political baggage, as do people from most other countries. I am aware of the ongoing debate here concerning just how neutral Sweden has or has not been. But in the rest of the world, the neutrality of Sweden has created a special attraction for U.S. intelligence agencies, because Swedes have readier access to certain target individuals than, say, an American or a German would.

The fact is that journalists are used for non-journalistic purposes-- as collection agents for intelligence, and for making contacts, because a journalist can approach practically anyone and ask for an interview or develop some type of relationship. Of the hundreds of journalists who have come to me over the years, I have no idea how many have been sent by the CIA. I get some idea when I read what they write. But I learned to be cautious, early on.

Education in Injustice

The covert action operations to which I referred earlier were carried out all over the world, and certainly in Latin America where I was posted. I spent three years in Ecuador, then three more in Uruguay. In both cases, my cover was as a political attaché in the U.S. embassy.

I then returned to Washington, pretty disillusioned with the work. I was a product of the U.S. education system of the 1950s, which provided me with a very good liberal education, but no political education at all. I was simply brought up to believe that whatever the government did was good, and that it was doing these good things in the name of us all.

It was not until I got down to Latin America that I began to get a political education. Whatever my ideas when I went down there, I saw things around me every day that influenced me. I saw the terrible economic and social conditions, and the injustices that could not be ignored.

The two most fundamental, interrelated problems were the grossly unequal distribution of land and the unequal distribution of wealth. In the early years of the Kennedy administration-- I had gone down to Latin American toward the end of the Eisenhower period-- there was much talk about land reform as a way of dealing with those problems.

But with the success of the Cuban revolution, and its success in surviving U.S. attempts at invasion and other hostilities, land reform in the rest of Latin America was put aside. "Stability" was the order of the day. The view in Washington was that, if reform programmes were pushed, it could lead to instability and create openings for liberation forces all over Latin America that were inspired by the Cuban revolution.

So, the aim of our programmes was to support the status quo, to support the oligarchies of Latin America. These are the power structures that date back centuries, based on ownership of the land, of the financial resources, of the export-import system, and excluding the vast majority of the population. With all of our programmes, we were supporting these traditional power structures. What first caused me to turn against these people were the corruption and the greed that they exhibited in all areas of society. My ideas and attitudes began to change, and eventually I decided to resign from the CIA.

It is widely believed that, once you have joined the CIA, it is likely being in the mafia, that you can never leave. But that is actually not the case. The CIA does not want people working within the organization who are not happy and do not want to be there. They are security risks, for one thing. So, people are coming and going all the time in that large organization of some 18,000 employees.

Maddening Diary

I decided to start a new career in teaching, and enrolled as a Ph.D. student in a programme of Latin American studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. In the course of those studies-- of the Spanish Conquest, the colonial period, and all the horrors that have occurred over the centuries in Latin America-- I gradually came to the conclusion that what my CIA colleagues and I had been doing during the 1950s and '60s was nothing more than a continuation of nearly five hundred years of exploitation and political repression.

It was then that an idea entered my mind which had previously been unthinkable-- to write a book that would show how all this works. The research required me to spend a year in Paris, and then another year in London where the British Library's newspaper archive proved to be invaluable. There, I was able to read all the news reports relating to the places that I had worked in Latin America, in many cases dating back to the 19th century.

When the book finally came out-- the title was Inside the Company: CIA Diary-- it was reviewed in the CIA's classified in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence. I managed to get a copy of the review, which speculated that I had kept copies of all the stuff I had worked on while I was in the CIA, because they could not believe that I was able to reconstruct all those thousands and thousands of details from memory. It drove them absolutely crazy. But, in fact, most of the maddening details were gleaned from the newspaper archive of the British Museum.

The book had a tremendous effect on the Agency's effectiveness, its ability to continue its standard operations. The most gratifying result was that many Latin Americas told me how important the book was for defending themselves and their organizations from destruction by the CIA. In the broadest sense, the purpose of the Agency's various activities was to prop up those forces that were considered to be friendly to U.S. interests, while penetrating, dividing, weakening and destroying those forces that were regarded as unfriendly to U.S. interests-- the forces of the political left that I mentioned earlier.

Thus, for Latin American revolutionaries to come to me and say how much they appreciated the book, with all its details on how the CIA works to subvert institutions in other countries, was extremely gratifying.

Suitable enemy

Since the events of two weeks ago, there has been much comment and speculation about the new era we may now be entering. Looking back, there was a long Cold War that had already begun during World War II. An important turning point occurred in 1950, when it was decided to start an arms race that would serve the dual purpose of forcing the Soviet Union into bankruptcy while stimulating the U.S. economy. Since the Soviet Union was still recovering from the devastation of World War II, it would never be able to catch up; but it would be compelled to make the effort, nevertheless. Meanwhile, military spending in the U.S. would keep going up and up, which in turn would stimulate the U.S. economy through a sort of "military Keynesianism". This continued through the Reagan administration of the 1980s.

But in the decade since the end of the Cold War until September 11th, the U.S. security establishment-- the political class, the CIA, the people who fought the Cold War-- had no real enemy to focus on. True, they had Saddam Hussein for awhile, and they might have had a minor enemy here, another one there. But there was no real world-wide threat similar to that of the Cold War. Well, now it seems that they have one again.

What this means is that the United States is going to be in this for quite some time. I have feeling that it is going to go on for ten or fifteen years, because they are not going to wipe out international terrorism or something like bin Ladin's group overnight. During this period, they are going to be doing the same things they did in the Cold War. We can already here it in such expression as, "Whoever is not with us is against us." They are going to be trying to use every bit of power they have to bring countries in line behind the United States.

It also means important changes within the United States, because the war on terrorism will serve as the justification for restraints on civil liberties. They are building a huge crisis in the United States. They are building the psychological climate for broad-based acceptance of an ongoing war, for which there will be no quick resolution. There will be no great battles, either.

Little Room for Alternatives

During this period, there will be very little room for alternative views and alternative solutions in U.S. news media. What are the alternatives? Well, one is obviously to address the question of why these people are doing these things: What are the roots of international terrorism? How does U.S. foreign policy create this type of reaction? How does U.S. support of everything that Israel does, including the oppression of the Palestinian people, influence fundamentalist Islamic groups?

In other words, a feasible alternative would be a reconsideration of U.S. foreign policy, to see if it would not be possible to create a more just situation in the Middle East. But the United States is stuck. It is stuck with an authoritarian regime in Egypt, which is one of the really shaky countries at the moment. Algeria has gone through a horrible period, and the fundamentalist movement there has not died away at all. In Pakistan the government could fall; fundamentalists there could take over, and they would then have nuclear weapons in their hands. So, a lot of things can happen in the months and years ahead.

Unfortunately, I suspect that there will be greater self-censorship by U.S. media in order to line up behind the government, however its policy of war may turn out. There is already talk of a personal identification system of some kind for the entire country, together with large-scale surveillance of the population-- especially immigrants, and Muslim immigrants in particular. There will be some opposition to this; but historically, the courts have usually gone along with the government, even though they are theoretically supposed to be the guarantors of civil liberties. For example, the courts went along with the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. So, it will be possible to restrict, and even infringe upon, civil liberties and human rights in the U.S.

It is early days to draw any conclusions about how all this is going to develop, since it is still in the planning stage. But in my opinion, if they carry out this military solution-- with an attack or a series of attacks, or the establishment of military bases in Islamic countries-- they will be doing exactly what bin Ladin wants them to do. It would turn more and more people to fundamentalism and to his organization. They could kill him tomorrow, but the organization that he has established will live on, and it will be nearly impossible to penetrate.

My reading of the situation is that there have been a few defectors from bin Ladin's organization who have provided valuable information. But the U.S. has not been able to have anyone working in these clandestine groups around the world and reporting from the inside. It has had to make do with whatever it can learn from a few defectors. Certainly, the CIA and the other components of the U.S. intelligence apparatus will be using all available technical means to locate and attack these groups, wherever they may be. They should certainly know where all the training bases are located, since they were established by the CIA, itself. But that will not be nearly enough.

The opposition is hoping that Khan Jan will be the first of many deserters. They may well be right.

Philip Agee is a former CIA officer and author of Inside the Company. This is article is adapted from the text of a speech Agee gave at ABF House, in Stockholm on 24 September 2001.


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