Puttin' On The Ritz

Some years ago, wife of the novelist and nature writer, Peter Matthiessen, said to me, “Everything is a hoax.”  At the time, I didn’t understand what she was referring to.  Then I began to find out.   Shortly before his death, the novelist, John Sherry told me how Peter Mattheisssen was “haunted by the CIA.”  Matthiessen told Sherry that he had not “founded” The Paris Review from scratch, as legend has it, but that he had established it at the behest of the CIA it while working for the Agency, so it could serve as his cover in Paris.

In the official history of The Paris Review, it states:  “Matthieseen invited George Plimpton, then a student at Cambridge, to take on a position as editor.  Plimpton has headed the magazine ever since.  Plimpton’s unusual instinct for The Paris Review was evident as early as 1954, when, in the midst of the annual running of the bulls at Pamplona, he asked Prince Sadruddin Aga Kahn to serve as first publisher of The Paris Review.  Prince Aga Kahn little choice but to accept.  He remained as publisher until 1975.”

Had little choice?  According to Sherry, Matthiessen assured him that the Prince never put up a penny.  His foundation was the conduit of CIA funds at all times.  Maybe they made him an offer he could not refuse.  But, of course, this was the Cold War, and we were fighting what President Reagan would call “the evil empire.”  Nevertheless, a lot of people got on the CIA gravy train, enjoying themselves in Paris while fighting the cultural Cold War.  Imagine debonair Americans in Paris, having drinks at the bar of The Ritz, at our expense, while pretending to be literary lions, and you’ve got the picture. Writers got gigs, editors got girlfriends, and everyone got a piece of the action.  What did they accomplish?  They found out that all the leading French writers and intellectuals at that time were Communists, something everyone knew in the first place.  But as word of American intelligence operations in France spread, these operations engendered a deep suspicion of America that led to major disruptions of American foreign policy objectives in Europe.   We treated a great country as a colony and the consequences are still being felt.  Then, with the fiasco of the Vietnam War that our vast government complex supported, American intelligence fell linto disrepute.

 But memory is short. Now, the venue has shifted and we are engaged in a life and death struggle against terrorism.  And, as can be expected, there is a new gravy train.  Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tells us that the war must be waged on all fronts, including law enforcement.  Vast sums are now pouring into operations that have a familiar look to them reminiscent of the scams of the Cold War.  At the top of the list is something called the International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok.

A vast. Pentagon-like complex hidden from view by landscaping that includes giant trees, and with a web site that makes it sound innocuous, the ILEA lists a handful of courses that it offers, including “Cyber Crime.”  The prerequisite for this course is a knowledge of English.  A guy teaches this particular course from the Customs Academy in Brunswick, Georgia with the unlikely title of Director of Trade Operations.  Which trade operations does he direct?  He is also the Acting Director of Mission Support. What?  In actuality, his career in Florida involved opening people’s baggage and rummaging through their belongings in search of contraband until he moved up the bureaucratic ladder, with a somewhat less that lateral move to the Customs Academy.  Trained to give the Cyber Crime course in a one-week crash course in Washington, this GS-14 was put up at the Ritz, the most expensive hotel in Washington!  This, at a time, when various federal agencies are crying that the budget situation is strangling their effectiveness.    Then, he will be flown to Bangkok to give the course.  At our expense.

The question is why is he needed there when hundreds of so-called law enforcement people work there already?  The answer is pretty obvious.  These courses listed on the ILEA web site are a camouflage.  ILEA, which purports to be affiliated with “US State Department, the U.S. Customs Services, Bureau of Diplomatic Security of ILEA,” smells very much like something else.   To anyone with a background and knowledge of intelligence, it appears to be nothing less than a School of the Americas East and a CIA front.  The School of the Americas supported state-ponsored terrorism and death squads to perpetuate oppressive regimes in Latin America and had the direct effect of generating  much of the ill-will towards the United States that we are now grappling with, with the restoration of the Chavez presidency in Venezuela after a failed bloody coop in which the United States was undoubtedly involved, and a civil war in Colombia that threatens the stability of all of Latin America.  Not to mention the millions who died in Guatemala following the CIA’s covert intervention there.

What is actually being taught at the ILEA?  Take a look at the governments of the Central Asian republics we are supporting and you will find the worst human rights records in the world.  It is known that they use the most brutal techniques, including torture, to perpetuate themselves.  If the United States doesn’t want to practice these techniques itself, it can send people to these countries to get information from them. The “jihad” against all of them is a major focal point of American foreign policy, much as our support of the oppressive regimes in Latin America has been.  We are prepared to keep control of the oil and natural gas reserves in those countries at any price, as well as the ability to build the pipeline that will eventually produce huge profits for American investors.

The brutal techniques that used to be taught by the Technical Assistance division of US AID have now, it would appear, found a new sponsor.  Are these the real courses being offered by the ILEA behind the façade of the anodyne courses that serve as a front for the ILEA?  This is the inoculation principal at its most obvious.  Tell a little bit of the truth to conceal a bigger lie.  You can actually e mail questions to the ILEA, so seemingly benign. But if you think ILEA is not a CIA front, you believe in the tooth fairy.

 Since when, you might ask, is the State Department a law enforcement agency?  And as for a useless course like “Cyber Crime,” who could possibly take it?   If English is required, most of the police from the countries we support to control their resources don’t speak English.  The Indians and Pakistanis do, but they know much more than the guy teaching it.  And typical CIA. What a farce and waste of our money.  If the CIA devoted its energies and resources to gathering intelligence, its main function, instead of this sort of boondoggle, it might have known something about what was going on in Hamburg prior to 911.

We need to take a hard look at this operation now before it gets totally out of hand and earns us more ill will in a part of the world where we need to build up support for American, not hatred against us.  We should also take a hard look at the Customs Academy in Brunswick, Georgia, a little known operation that is part of the larger FLETC or Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, where clowns with their per diems from the FBI and other federal agencies go to lounge and rent condos on the beach on St. Simons Island with our money and spend our taxes.  The Director of the Academy is a top-level federal administrator, putting him the very top range of salary, well in the six-figure bracket.  What does he do?  He supervises the guys who train the Customs officials who are part of one of the most incompetent federal agencies. You have to wonder if this is not only incompetence but also something else. When these guys retire, they get incredibly lucrative “consultantships” around the world from Bulgaria to Costa Rica, dong things like “airport security.” about which they know nothing.  No wonder terrorists fly around undetected.

Is it all a “hoax?”  Not to all those who lost their lives on 911 or to the wonderful men and women in our armed forces in Afghanistan.  But as the war on terrorism expands to include every facet of human life, we must ask ourselves if we are making the best use of our resources.  “Puttin’ on the Ritz” is not exactly the right way to go in a time of crisis.  The New York Times recently ran an article called “Is This Any Way to Run a Nation?” listing the incredibly abuses of various federal agencies.  “Every week brings new examples of federal agencies not just performing poorly, but performing stupidly,” The Times quotes Paul C. Light, director of the Brookings Institution’s governmental studies program.  The Times asks” That’s just a short list of the woes plaguing federal agencies these days.  But it’s enough to make any civic minded American ask: does anything work well in Washington these days?”  Good question.   What grade would anyone give the CIA and the Customs Services these days?  F would be appropriate.  When the INS mailed out visas extensions last month for two of the September 11 hijackers and with the Federal Aviation Administration still sending newsletters to at least one of the other dead terrorists, we must ask, “Is this any way to win the war against terrorism?”  Or do we say, once again, with the immortal Pogo, “We have met the enemy and it is us?”