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Where did America go wrong?

By Carla Binion, Online Journal, 10/06/2001


October 6, 2001 - The National Security Act of 1947, and the creation of the CIA as a result of that act, radically changed the direction of this country. This act helped create a secret government within our legitimate government. In many ways, the beginnings of the CIA and other secretive agencies marked the end of the America created by the framers of our Constitution.

When we encourage patriotism today, we should be clear about which America we're talking about. Do we intend to rally around the America of our founders and the liberties that later arose from the Constitution? Or do we salute the America of the national security state and its secret government?

The CIA often operates outside U. S. law and beyond constitutional restraint, and its activities are often anti-democratic. From the beginning, CIA operations were aimed at overthrowing left wing constitutional democracies, installing right wing dictators, funding torture and murder around the world and repressing peasants while empowering the wealthy.

In a Bill Moyers PBS Frontline special from the late 1980s, Moyers referred to this secret government as "an interlocking network of official functionaries, spies, mercenaries, ex-generals and super-patriots who, for a variety of motives, operate outside the legitimate institutions of government. Presidents have turned to them when they can't win the support of the Congress or the people, creating that unsupervised power so feared by the framers of the Constitution."

Moyers noted that in 1953, the CIA worked to overthrow Prime Minister Mossadegh of Iran, who was popular with the people and held power legitimately. Mossadegh's "mistake" was deciding the Iranian state, and not British companies, should control the oil inside Iran's borders. The CIA hired mobs and bribed police and soldiers to drive Mossadegh from office. The agency helped reinstate the monarchy and placed Shah Reza Pahlevi, who then gave U. S. companies more than 40 percent ownership of Iran's oil fields, on the "Peacock Throne."

Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA agent who came up with the idea for the coup was later named vice president of Gulf Oil. The CIA also created SAVAK, the Shah's secret police. Kennett Love, a former New York Times reporter, told Moyers that SAVAK tortured and jailed thousands of people and deprived them of property without due process.

Next, in 1954, the CIA overthrew Guatemala's popular democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz, an admirer of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Fewer than 3 percent of landowners owned 70 percent of the land in Guatemala, so Arbenz nationalized over a million and a half acres and turned it over to the peasants. Because a U. S. firm, United Fruit Company, had owned much of that land the CIA sent mercenaries in from Honduras to try to overthrow Arbenz.

The CIA then bombed the capital using U. S. planes and pilots, forced Arbenz to flee, and replaced him with a U. S. puppet dictator who took the land back from the peasants and returned it to United Fruit Company. Such large numbers of Guatemalan peasants were tortured and slaughtered that coroners said they couldn't keep up with the workload.

Again and again, the CIA has removed democratically elected leaders around the world and installed right wing dictators, always for the motive of controlling oil or land on behalf of a handful of wealthy corporations, and never on behalf of the majority of people. From its earliest days through Iran-Contra, the Gulf War and beyond, the CIA has protected the money and power of the ruling class by brutalizing ordinary citizens.

During the Cold War, the CIA justified its activities by claiming it was fighting communism. But it usually exaggerated or lied about the threat, often falsely painting legitimately elected socialist leaders as "dangerous communists."

Colonel Phillip Roettinger (Ret.) U. S. Marine Corps told Bill Moyers the CIA recruited him to help overthrow Arbenz on the pretense of preventing the spread of communist influence in the region. Roettinger says that in reality there was "no hint of communism in [Arbenz's] government; no communists in his cabinet."

Moyers pointed out that as part of the Cold War mentality, the U. S. recruited Nazis such as Klaus Barbie, and paid them as secret informants and advisers. Our secret government can't abide leftist Third World leaders, especially when those leaders give a share of power or national resources to the people, but it doesn't seem to mind political figures on the far right, not even Nazis. Klaus Barbie had tortured and murdered thousands of Jews, yet the U. S. allied with him and later helped him escape to Bolivia instead of turning him over to the French to be prosecuted for war crimes.

For more information on this, see Christopher Simpson's "Blowback: The First Full Account of America's Recruitment of Nazis, And Its Disastrous Effect on Our Domestic and Foreign Policy." Simpson examines the CIA's and U. S. State Department's widespread recruitment of Nazis and Nazi collaborators after World War II. His account is precisely documented and has been described by journalist Seymour Hersh as "the ultimate book about the worst kind of Cold War thinking."

America's founders would probably see the period just after World War II, with the signing of the National Security Act, the creation of the CIA and the birth of the Cold War mentality, as the beginning of the end of the America they had in mind. No doubt, they would have advised against collaborating with Nazis. As Bill Moyers said, the Cold War allowed for "a mentality of permanent war, a perpetual state of emergency, and it meant a vast new apparatus of power."

The Bush administration now wants to take advantage of the recent terrorist attacks to renew a mentality of permanent war and perpetual state of emergency. In other words, it wants to use this opportunity to bring back a Cold War mindset, although it claims not to. Bush and his advisers tell us we need a vast new apparatus of power. The America they ask us to salute and rally around is more the CIA's America than Jefferson's.

Today's call for national unity is eerily similar to rallying cries for German unity as Nazism began to replace the democratic Weimar republic.

In "The Nazi Seizure of Power," William Sheridan Allen describes the national mood in the German town of Thalburg during that period, saying "The Imperial and swastika flags were raised and the Mayor said a few words on the blessing of 'unity' in Germany . . . Kurt Aergeyz [Deputy Leader for Thalburg] gave a speech in which he praised the new unity of Germany: 'The individual is nothing; the Volk [nationalism] is everything! Once we unite internally, then we shall defeat the external foe. Then it will really be Germany above all in the world.'"

Patriotism and unity can be used for good or ill. When we talk about unity, with what are we uniting? Are we uniting with the CIA's desire to manage yet another a secret war and to expand its power to operate outside the legitimate institutions of government? Bush and team have told us this "new war" will be entirely secretive and that they won't allow any congressional or media scrutiny.

When individual citizens say "we" should stand behind our leaders and suggest that "we" as a nation can do no wrong in our foreign policy, are we aligning ourselves with the same "we" that has butchered millions of innocent peasants around the world in order to control Middle East oil reserves?

"We" are not the secret government and its foreign policy errors. We're the people, and our interests often clash with those of the CIA and the corporations they represent, especially at the times when they propagandize us into serving as cannon fodder for their wars.

There's been a tidal wave of patriotism since the terrorist attacks. Is that patriotism about the love of the Constitution and the good people of this and other countries, or is it about saluting the CIA's extralegal, habitual repression, torture and murder of good people here and abroad-usually done for the motive of stuffing ever greater profits into already-bulging corporate pockets? Which America are we uniting around and to which America do we pledge allegiance?

When we speak of loving America, most of us are talking about loving our nation's diverse cultures, our beautiful land with its natural resources, and our peoples' independent, resilient and generous character. We shouldn't confuse that with supporting our government's every foreign policy move. The agencies of the secret government, particularly the CIA, often corrode what most of us like best about this country.

For example, they disrespect diversity when they make war on Third World citizens. How can the CIA claim to honor diverse cultures at home when it oppresses them abroad? They endanger our natural environment when they invade, pollute and plunder wilderness areas on behalf of the energy companies. They crush human dignity when they manipulate the destinies of the vast majority of citizens in ways that sustain the rich and powerful few, most of whom are not even elected by us.

Today, the Bush team has created a new Office of Homeland Security, a covert agency that will act as a state political police and will operate with extralegal authority. This agency will be able to suspend citizens' rights, including the right of habeas corpus. If we ever needed Congress to stand up and rein in our extralegal covert organizations, we need it now.

Where did America go wrong? It started to go very wrong in 1947, just after World War II, with the creation of the National Security Act. Maybe the CIA and other intelligence agencies would have done less damage over the years if Congress had kept a more vigilant watch. Oversight could still make a difference today, but sufficient numbers of Congress members would need to wake up and realize it's needed.

One thing we citizens can do is write and call members of Congress and tell them we think they should monitor the covert agencies, even during this trying time. If anyone accuses us of being un-American for failing to trust and rally around the CIA or the new Office of Homeland Security, we might remind them the CIA has a history of deceiving Congress and the American people. We might even suggest that the secret government's America has undermined the America we love.

The views expressed herein are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of Online Journal. Email [email protected] Copyright © 1998-2001 Online Journal[tm]. All rights reserved.

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