IMPERIALISM EMPOWER THE STATE AT HOME?
slow-motion coup d'état continues. Anyone who compares
the Congressional Resolution of September 12, 2001, with the German
Reichstag's Enabling Act of April 1933 might come away with
the impression that, taking the two texts literally, George W. Bush
got a bigger grant of unspecified power than did the Austrian immigrant
politician, Adolf Hitler.
maybe it isn't a coup d'état per se. After all, the
imperial process might be expected to raise up succeeding generations
of world-savers and proconsuls who, on returning home, long to use
here the methods which worked so well in the overseas provinces.
The English Manchester liberal Richard Cobden, asked in 1850: "Is
it not just possible that we may become corrupted at home by the
reaction of arbitrary political maxims in the East upon our domestic
politics, just as Greece and Rome were demoralised by their contact
with Asia?" Others warned of such things.
a gloomy lot – and why should 21st-century Americans,
heirs to that historical exceptionalism, which lifts us above the
normal human condition, worry about such idle warnings? Didn't Cobden
realize that empire improves us, by bringing us new ideas, people,
diseases, etc.? Didn't he know that diversity is strength, or that
peace is war?
the manner of a literary historian, I pose the question, "Who
now listens to Buck Owen's Live at Carnegie Hall album?" I
ask this only because in the course of introducing the band members,
Owens characterized one of them as not only not knowing anything
but not even suspecting anything. This is to the point, if in reverse,
because there are many things one might have suspected of
our federal masters, despite their oft-proclaimed loving kindness,
even if we did not know the details or have proof.
comes Mr. James Bamford to confirm, nay, to go beyond, our wildest
suspicions in his biography (so to speak) of the mysterious National
Security Agency, Body
of Secrets (New York: Random House, 2002). I do not propose
to review the whole book here, but to notice a few highlights, chiefly
those in chapter four. These alone are worth the price of admission.
Bamford's earlier book on the NSA, The
Puzzle Palace (New York: Penguin, 1983) was well received,
he has come under some fire for writing the sequel. This is because
chapter seven deals with the Israeli assault on the USS Liberty
– an NSA asset – during the 1967 war. In some quarters,
a realistic account of those events is still not welcome.
general conclusion to be drawn from the book is that U.S. operatives
always pushed the limits and poked their Cold War opponents with
a stick. It was great fun to taunt the commies with their relative
weakness and lack of effective international sovereignty. These
deliberate provocations also led to some famous incidents and disasters,
when various "enemies" – with whom we were not legally
at war – reacted rudely to the violation of their airspace or territorial
waters, e.g., the U-2, the RB-47, the Pueblo, and the Maddox.
ships and planes were all involved in "Sigint" (Signal
Intelligence) work. Their various tribulations played a role in
making the Cold War hotter. Worse luck, the North Vietnamese attack
on the Maddox was sold to Congress as proof of that power's
ruthless "aggression" on its own shoreline.
THE WORST GET ON TOP?
the most disturbing revelations in the Body of Secrets come
in chapter four, which deals with the hellbent planning brainstorms
of General Lyman L. Lemnitzer and the Joint Chiefs from 1961 to
1963. The outgoing Eisenhower incoming Kennedy administrations,
alike, were unhappy about the revolutionary government in Cuba,
which had taken power in1959. What is truly astounding is the lengths
to which highly placed protectors of the American people were ready
to go in order to destabilize and eliminate a government with which
we were not at war.
the last year of the Eisenhower administration, the CIA had developed
plans to for "sparking an internal revolution" in Cuba
by inserting "a thousand anti-Castro rebels onto the island."
At the same time, "Lemnitzer and the Join Chiefs were pressing
for all-out war – a Pentagon-led overt military invasion of
Cuba from the air, sea, and ground" (Body of Secrets,
p. 70). The second line of attack presented certain political problems.
just looks bad to invade countries that aren't at war with
you. It would bring the whole notion of the "good neighbor
policy" toward Latin America into doubt. World opinion had
to be considered, as much as the war party derided the concept.
Even the High Cold War dogma that we were "at war" with
communism every minute of every day might not be enough to persuade
the American public, much less foreign nations, of the need to invade
there were still a few sentimentalists around, who believed that
international law and the foreign policies of the United States
might not always be in agreement. The Cold Warriors' automatic response
was, So much the worse for international law. Nevertheless, the
doubters had to be humored. Hence, the need for deceit and subterfuge.
late January 1961, JFK held a series of meetings with Lemnitzer
and the Joint Chiefs. At one of these meetings, CIA Director Allen
Dulles, a holdover from the Eisenhower administration, pushed the
CIA plan for a small-scale invasion by Cuban exiles, which would
spark an uprising against the Castro regime. This was of course
the ill-starred plan which led to the Bay of Pigs.
CIA's spectacular failure emboldened those who wanted a full-bore
U.S. invasion of Cuba. But that would run up against all the problems
named above. In November 1961, Kennedy, still "obsess[ed] with
Castro" (p. 78), handed the torch to the Pentagon. The gung-ho
Air Force General Edward G. Lansdale came up with Operation Mongoose,
which is sufficiently well-known – exploding cigars and all
that – that Bamford gives no details on it. He does comment
that it was soon seen as "simply becoming more outrageous and
going nowhere" (p. 83).
in a burst of High Cold War craziness calling to mind Seven
Days in May and Dr.
Strangelove, the Joint Chiefs "drew up and approved
plans for the most corrupt plan ever created by the U.S. government.
In the name of anticommunism, they proposed launching a secret and
bloody war of terrorism against their own country in order to trick
the American public into supporting an ill-conceived war they intended
to launch against Cuba" (p. 82).
the Chiefs should have smoked a joint, as a famous rock album cover
this new plan, code-named Operation Northwoods, "which had
the written approval of the Chairman [Lemnitzer] and every
member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for innocent people
to be shot on American streets; for boats carrying refugees fleeing
Cuba to be sunk on the high seas; for a wave of violent terrorism
to be launched in Washington, D.C., Miami, and elsewhere. People
would be framed for bombings they did not commit; planes would be
hijacked. Using phony evidence, all of it would be blamed on Castro…."
(p. 82, my italics).
gambit suggested by Lemnitzer and the J.C.s, was to blow up the
Mercury spacecraft, with John Glenn in it. This would slow down
the U.S. space program. On the other hand, it could be blamed on
Cuban "electronic interference" (p. 84).
Cubans working for the U.S. could stir up riots at the U.S. Guantanamo
navy base in Cuba and some could be found inside undertaking "sabotage."
My personal favorite is the following (Bamford is quoting original
documents): "u2018We could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay
and blame Cuba'"; "u2018casualty lists in U.S. newspapers
would cause a helpful wave of national indignation'" (p. 84).
last stroke of genius of course alluded to the battleship Maine,
which exploded in 1898. It is nice to see that our protectors actually
study American history. Bamford adds, quoting from the documents,
"u2018Hijacking attempts against civil air and surface craft could
appear to continue as harassing measures condoned by the Government
of Cuba'" (p. 85).
proposal involved registering U.S. citizens on a civil flight and
then substituting for it a drone, which would be shot down over
Cuba – the Cubans being touchy about their airspace, unlike
normal countries (p. 86). As late as 1963, U.S. attacks on Caribbean
nations like Jamaica and Trinidad-Tobago, which could be blamed
on Cuba, were considered (p. 89).
these efforts, none of them exactly legal, were thought reasonable
in order to establish a bogus casus belli against Cuba. Fortunately,
for once, the civilian higher-ups, including, presumably, the president,
had the good sense to rein in the overheated brass hats. Never let
it be said that an imperial president can never do something
good. And even Robert McNamara deserves credit for rejecting these
whole thing seems quite unbelievable. But given other revelations
of Cold War capers – misshapen sheep in Utah, guys jumping out of
hotel windows in Toronto after U.S. operatives made them say "yes"
to LSD without their knowledge, or chemicals sprayed on the civil
population and U.S. soldiers used as unwitting radiation-experiment
guinea pigs – one begins to wonder who our protectors are protecting.
One begins to wonder if they are the least bit sane.
incidents might well make one believe that the X-Files series is
just a pale reflection of what actually happened.
these all-too-clever exercises in Big Science put a new angle on
empirical studies, as well as on what these great geniuses saw as
the purpose of scientific inquiry. The reader will doubtless remember
other cases, revealed over the last couple of decades. Taken together,
this style of testing and falsification suggests a modification
of the Hippocratic Oath: "Do no harm, unless the U.S. Government
sponsors your research."
was the entire Cold War a scam? Were we had for over forty
years? It would seem so. Are we now to be had for perhaps
another forty years?
suppose we could draw sundry lessons from Bamford's account. One
I draw is that we may need to broaden our translation of Quis
custodiet ipsos custodes? into something like, "With protectors
like these, who will protect us from our u2018protectors'?" I think
this is worth bringing up now that we are being offered an endless
semi-secret struggle against vaguely outlined enemies, a struggle
of the scale and unforeseeable duration (according to some its advocates)
of the much-missed Cold War itself.
my age lived through the first damned Cold War. I don't know why
we should sign on for another one, just so that the ruling elites
may be relieved of rethinking their foreign policy. But are they
making us an offer we can't refuse? Maybe the libertarian Space
Cadets can tell us.
CASE OF BIG SCIENCE AND BIG PROTECTORS
writes that his book was made possible by the NSA, which, wishing
to have a more favorable image, gave him access to hitherto classified
materials. If anything, he is entirely too sympathetic to the NSA
and its mission. Nowhere in his important book does he question
the imperial assumptions on which U.S. policy rests.
does question the spooks' and policy-makers' "excesses."
Thus, he writes as a member of the critical wing of the Establishment.
There is much to learn from such critics.
NSA employs the most fantastic array of equipment and trained scientific
personnel to listen to everything. This raises, once again, the
whole problem of naïve empiricism, which I discussed in another
column. Does the endless accumulation of "information"
about everything actually give the perpetrators – I'm sorry "protectors" – anything useful with which they can do their work, whatever that
might be, and even if we approved of it?
is just now making some small show of looking into "intelligence
failures." Better they should look into epistemological
and moral failures. Meanwhile, in what may be a sign of the
demented times, the national leadership of the Libertarian Party
– self-proclaimed "party of principle" – has
altered the LP platform by removing language calling for the abolition
of the CIA and the National Security Agency.