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

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

October 8, 2001

I would like to begin by citing a well-known observation of A. J. Liebling, a U.S. journalist and media critic who was active during the mid-1900s: "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one," he said.

In a sense, this has always been true. News media in general, except for state-funded organizations, are part of the private sector. I know that, here in Sweden as in Britain, you have state television and state radio. But generally speaking, and certainly in the United States, the press has always been in the private sector.

The Power of the Word

The United States-- that is, the political class of the United States-- has known about the power of the word for a very, very long time. A personal experience may serve to illustrate how powerful the written word can be.

For legal reasons, I stayed away from the United States for about seventeen years-- from the time I started work on my first book, in the early 1970s, until my autobiography was ready for publication in 1987. The publisher of the latter was very eager for me to return to the States for the promotion of the book, but my lawyers all warned me not to take a chance. They suspected that there could be secret criminal indictment, as there could have been all those years, and argued that the risk was not worth it.

My wife and I decided that we would take that risk. We went back, and they didn't touch me. I did the promotion of the book, and that began ten years of frequent travel to the U.S. for lectures at universities and speeches at political rallies, civic centres, churches, even out in the street. Altogether, and must have spoken at more than 500 events in the United States.

One of my trips, around 1989 or 1990, was to the University of California at Santa Cruz. When the organizers told me that the event was scheduled to take place at a civic centre with room for about 3000 people, my reaction was: "Oh, my god! We are going to look like we're all alone in there. We will never attract more than a couple of hundred people." But they said, "Don't worry. You'll see."

Sure enough, on the night of the meeting the arena was packed. During the discussion period after my talk, which was about the war in Central America still going on at the time, a man stood up way in the back. He was a very large person, with a lot of long hair, a bushy beard, and a plaid lumberjack shirt. He paused for a moment, and then said my name in an enormous, booming voice: "Philip Agee!" He said, "Philip Agee, I want to thank you for saving my life!"

With that, the place became as quiet as you could imagine. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop. He went on to tell the story of how he was seriously wounded in Vietnam, and had to spend several years in a veterans' hospital in the United States. While in hospital, he became despondent: He thought there was no hope, and decided to commit suicide. But then someone gave him a copy of my first book.

He said: "When I read that book, it changed my life." He said that he decided then not to end his life, but to spend the rest of it helping Vietnam War veterans who had problems like his own. From that point in the mid-1970s until the time of this meeting some fifteen years later, he had made a career of social work among Vietnam War veterans suffering from mental problems because of the things that they had done and seen in Vietnam.

This is merely one personal story, but it indicates the strength of the written word. Possibly, one life was saved-- possibly.

Covert Action

The CIA, as you probably know, was founded in the years following World War II-- supposedly, to prevent another Pearl Harbor, the Japanese surprise attack which brought the United States into that war. In that sense, the events of September 11th represent a terrible failure on the part of the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence establishment.

There are at least twelve or thirteen different intelligence agencies in the United States, and they are spending on the order of thirty billion dollars per year-- the CIA being simply the foremost among them. Of course, the CIA was not only established to collect information and to anticipate attacks. From the beginning of the CIA's existence, it was also used to intervene secretly in the internal affairs of other countries. Virtually no country on earth was exempt.

This secret intervention-- as opposed to the collection of information-- was called covert action, and it was used in a variety of ways to influence the institutions of other countries. Interventions in elections were very frequent. Every CIA station, that is the undercover CIA office inside a U.S. embassy, included agents who were involved in covert action. In addition to intervention to ensure the election of favoured candidates and the defeat of disfavoured candidates, the CIA also infiltrated the institutions of power in countries all over the world. I am sure that Sweden is no exception, and was not an exception during all the years of the Cold War.

There was electoral intervention, propaganda via the media, and also the penetration and manipulation of women's organizations, religious organizations, youth and student organizations, the trade-union movement-- very important-- but also the military and security services and, of course, political parties. All of these institutions were free game for penetration and manipulation by the CIA.

In short, the CIA influenced the civic life of countries all around the world. It did this due to a lack of faith in democracy in other countries. There was a desire for control. The secret U.S. policy was to not leave things to "chance", that is to the will of the people in whatever country it might be. They had to be tutored, they had to be "guided" in such a way that they would be safe for U.S. control. Control was the key word. None of this was done for altruistic or idealistic reasons.

Three key factors

Where the media are concerned, there are three important factors involved: sources, selection and the slant. With regard to sources, it is my understanding that Swedish news media have very few of their own people working abroad. That means that they are dependent on what they get from other sources, for example the Associated Press, Reuters, BBC or CNN. Those huge organizations which have people all over the world are, of course, selling their products here.

So you receive those products here, and an editor takes uses them in any way he chooses. What seems to be happening with globalization is that the treatment of news is becoming more and more homogeneous. Sweden, of course, is a unique society with a unique history, culture and language. You would surely have a unique way of viewing and interpreting world events-- a vision of the world that is Swedish, in contrast to that of the U.S., Germany or any other nationality.

But how do you maintain this cultural identity with regard to international news, if the media here are dependent on foreign sources? These sources are, of course, becoming fewer and fewer, as the process of monopolization continues. Consider the mergers that have occurred just during the past ten years or so-- for example, Time merging with Warner, then taking over CNN and now merging with AOL. Or General Electric, another giant corporation, taking control of NBC. This is a process that has been going on for a long time, resulting in fewer and fewer independent sources.

Selection may be the most important factor of the three, because what is most important in the news is what is left out. It is a form of censorship. There is a lot of news out there; but editors determine what is news and what is not. Whatever is overlooked, not reported, says a lot about the media.

Invisible background

This has been very well illustrated during the past two weeks. I imagine that we have all seen the same reports over and over again, on what happened in New York and Washington, along with the demonization of Osama bin Ladin. There has been some reporting, but not very much, about the fact that bin Ladin is a product of the United States. He is a creature of the CIA, having gone to work for the it in Afghanistan. It was the largest operation ever carried out by the CIA, and its purpose was to bleed the Soviet Union.

Bin Ladin was one of thousands who volunteered to fight with the mujihadin against the Soviets. As I recall, there were seven different groups. All seven were basically fundamentalist Islamic forces, who felt that the Soviet invasion defiled an Islamic country. Bin Ladin was among those who did not stop fighting after the Soviets were expelled. In fact, he started laying plans for the future while the war against the Soviet Union was still going on. He was able to develop a world-wide network which today is operating in sixty countries or more.

Very little of this background on bin Ladin as a creation of the United States has been brought to public attention during the past two weeks. Most of what we have seen and heard is related to the "solution", which is war. How much have we read or heard about those voices calling for alternative solutions to the problem of international terrorism? How much reporting have we seen on analyses of what has driven these people to such desperation that they carried out those attacks on September 11th?

I have not seen very much of that. This may be due to the fact that I am living in Cuba at present. But I do read the New York Times on the Internet every morning, for example, and have access to quite a lot of other news. When it comes to alternative solutions to the problem, such as a re-examination of U.S. policy in the Middle East, particularly with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I don't think I have seen anything. The only thing we get is Bush saying "this is war, we are at war, this is the first war of the 21st century, this is a question of good versus evil, whoever is not with us is against us", and so on.

That is pretty much the attitude we had in the CIA during the 1950s. When we analysed the operational climate and all the political forces in any given country, we had our friends and we had our enemies. There was no one in between. The friends were centre and right-wing social democrats, conservatives, liberals, in some cases all the way over to neo-fascists. The enemies were left-wing social democrats, socialists, communists, all the way to those advocating armed struggle.

This is the way we saw the world. It was a strictly dualistic view of the political climate in any given country where we were operating. It was very much like what we are hearing today from Washington.

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