Callous inhumanity of a magnitude that shocks to the core of one’s being is my over-riding impression after reading Douglas Valentine’s follow-up to his 1990 book The Phoenix Program which documented the secret war and tactics used by the CIA against the civilian population during the Vietnam war. Valentine’s work on the CIA’s Phoenix program, which was informed by his inside interviews with numerous CIA agents and others associated with the agency, forms a large part of the background to this book. It does not matter if you have not read the earlier work, this latest book provides sufficient detail to give a strong sense of the systematic way the CIA went about establishing an all encompassing terror program aimed at pacifying the civilian population of Vietnam using psychological operations (psyops), kidnapping, brainwashing, blackmail, torture and mass murder.
This latest update connects the modern reader with how the CIA’s terror bureaucracy and methods have developed from a way of projecting US power to conquer and control the resources of foreign lands on behalf of wealthy elites (indeed Valentine describes the organisation as the military arm of the power elites) into a systematic infrastructure for domestic and global population control. In the US, the mechanisms for this population control infrastructure are inherent in the domestic spying programmes, the structure and role of the Department of Homeland Security, and the militarisation of federal and local policing. Outside the US, the network of some 800 military bases in at least 160 countries provides a front through which the CIA engages and influences local politicians, activists, media and others to advance their foreign policy and corporate interests. These direct actions are supported using NGOs and think tanks that support and proselytise the elite’s political and economic agenda.
One big take out from Valentine’s work is the CIA’s role in the international drug trade through its links with drug producers in a raft of countries, its ties to organised crime in the transport of these substances across international borders and how it has intentionally directed those drugs to certain sections of society based on race. This latter aspect ties into the profit making school to prison framework inherent in the Prison-Industrial complex that was initially developed in the US and has since been taken up in a number of other western countries, such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand. From the Golden Triangle days in South East Asia during the 1960’s through the Iran Contra scandal and cocaine wars of Central and South America of the 1980’s onwards, the CIA has been a prime player in the drugs trade as a way of subverting local politicians and elites and generating huge profits for itself and its vested interests. Today, it is no surprise that under US administration the opium and heroin production of Afghanistan is greater than it has ever been, and is certainly hugely greater than under the Taliban, which—for all their other sins—had largely eliminated the trade prior to the US invasion in 2001. As a result, heroin use has skyrocketed in the US and is reported as now having reached “epidemic levels”. This trade exists under the patronage of the CIA which, according to Valentine, has systematically infiltrated and subverted a succession of anti-drug enforcement bodies so that the US “war on drugs” is now no more than a front for managing exclusivity over the supply and distribution chain while criminalising end users to feed the profitable prison industrial complex. As an aside, it is logical to conclude that, decriminalisation of the drug trade is the last thing the drivers of this system would support given the usefulness and profitability they derive from the system from root source to end point.
It has been clear to anyone that has been watching with a critical eye, that the so-called “war on terror” is another of those gross misnomers of US policy. Reading Valentine’s work, it is evident that the actions and policies of the CIA constitute a grave and systematic use of terror and political manipulation to create chaos and perpetuate endless war across the planet. In effect, to create and spread terror wherever and whenever they can. The sole objective of this programme is to support total domination over resources and maximise profits for US corporations and the elites that own and run them. As masters of psychological operations and media manipulation, the CIA has managed to infiltrate political, corporate and media institutions to gain full spectrum domination of what is reported by the mainstream media and how. This influence also extends into the entertainment industry where the CIA’s reach purportedly extends to vetting and approving movie scripts. A system of old boys network filtering down from the top of media organisations in the selection and editorial control over content assures that the “right” stories are published, and the “wrong” stories are filtered out either through direct editorial policy or self-censorship.
The baneful power that this system exerts on society creates an environment of self-censorship—which sits uncomfortably in the back of my mind even as I write this article. In the current environment of mass surveillance, tracking of web browsing and data collection, how can anyone feel confident that speaking or writing of these subjects is safe? Given the extremes of violence, intimidation and repression the CIA and its employees have repeatedly exhibited in any number of places during the organisation’s existence, what are the consequences of being perceived to be running afoul of its agenda? Knowing that Amazon is owned by Jeff Bezos, who seems to be closely associated with the CIA, even purchasing this book from Amazon and reading it on a Kindle means creating a record that could put one on a list of subversives. Could these ordinary actions could be used against one in a personal, and perhaps even in a professional, sense one day?
This aura of personal risk and its associated tendency towards self-censorship is reinforced by the reluctance to be seen sane and not some wacky “conspiracy theorist”. Yet, according to Lance deHaven-Smith in his book Conspiracy Theory in America (Discovering America), the entire concept of conspiracy theorist is itself a CIA created construct, which was originally aimed at countering ideas at odds with the official Warren Commission version of the events surrounding assassination of President John F. Kennedy. deHaven-Smith contends that while guarding against conspiracies formulated by powerful elites was a big concern for the founders of the US constitution, theorising about such things has been intentionally re-cast as a sign of personal instability or wackiness. In effect, theorising (ie considering and expressing ideas) about people or organisations conspiring in secret for their own benefit is now taken as a sign of potential insanity where conspiracy was formerly an accepted possibility that naturally arises from the temptations of power and ambition and something to watch out for and be on our guard against. Ergo the many extensive checks and balances on power that were built into the US constitution, many of which according to deHaven-Smith have been nullified or diluted over the past 200 years through political and judicial amendments.
For many people of a conservative or military background, I guess the fact that this book is shocking to some would be a sign of naivety or personal weakness through over-empathising with the many past and present victims of the CIA’s and US military’s activities. For them, these liberal personal weaknesses are compounded by a rosy-eyed world outlook in which people and nations can and should co-exist and trade peaceably without resort to warfare or armed conflict. In contrast to that view, stands the Machiavellian world outlook in which greed and power battles are an inevitable feature of the human psyche. In these terms, power vacuums need to be (and will be) filled at any cost and elites have the right (indeed, obligation) to lie (the noble lie) and take whatever actions they deem necessary to establish and maintain control over society. For the conservative mindset, this Real Politik view of the world makes an authoritarian, strong parent, structuring of society both natural and inevitable (even desirable). In these terms, empathy, concern for the welfare of our fellow humans are (perhaps fatal) personality defects—safety exists in being the strongest, the meanest and having the biggest weapons. In the terms, the CIA that Valentine describes appears to be hugely successful, but only for a few.
That said, it is evident that for much of humanity the actions of the CIA and its modus operandi brings a huge ongoing cost in terms of unnecessary lives of fear, poverty, dislocation, misery, death and destruction. It means broken societies in which one set of poor and uneducated is set against another set of poor and uneducated, each hating the other without ever knowing who the real enemy is. It means huge dislocations of people as refugees and the destruction of their homes and livelihoods. It means casting people of different faiths against each other and demonisation of those who resist as terrorists while the real terrorists are fostered, supported and rewarded. It means the massive accumulation of wealth and power by a few at the expense of the vast majority of humanity and the environment we share for our existence.
For me, this book sits alongside Susan Faludi‘s book The Shock Doctrine as a document that fills in much of the “how” of US hegemony and empire building in the later 20th and early 21st Centuries. Where Faludi’s book was a salutatory introduction to the economic and social consequences of the neoliberal/neoconservative agenda, The CIA as Organized Crime fills in the details of the how these programmes have been militarily enacted directly and through proxies to extend and maintain an empire that now spans the world.
My last point is that once you relieve yourself of the burden of believing that people and institutions are basically good, you begin to see how leaders and shapers of the world as we see it are truely and wholeheartedly psychopaths in the clinical sense of the term. Lacking empathy for others or conscience about their actions, they genuinely believe that their rights to accumulate money and power justify any amount of human suffering they happen to cause to achieve it.