Friday, February 26, 2016

When You Get Caught, Lie: It Worked for President Eisenhower

Lady Bracknell.  Oh, they count as Tories.  They dine with us.  Or come in the evening, at any rate.
It's a sign of how far out of touch with the general public Hillary Clinton is that she thought she could discredit Bernie Sanders by having one of her advisers complain that Sanders called for the abolition of the CIA forty-two years ago.
Jeremy Bash, a former CIA chief of staff who is now an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, told reporter Michael Crowley that Sanders’ comment “reinforces the conclusion that he’s not qualified to be commander in chief.” Bash explained: “Abolishing the CIA in the 1970s would have unilaterally disarmed America during the height of the Cold War and at a time when terrorist networks across the Middle East were gaining strength.” Bash was chief of staff for Leon Panetta at both the CIA and Defense Department, and now runs a consulting firm called Beacon Global Strategies.
As Jon Schwarz showed in the article I just quoted, Sanders's position (which he no longer holds anyway) was not really that far-out.  A former CIA agent and now writer of best-selling thrillers acknowledged as much on Democracy Now! this morning.  The Clinton campaign's move was reminiscent of Clinton's defense of her relationship with War Criminal Emeritus Henry Kissinger.  As Alex Pareene wrote, Clinton's remark
was just a little brag that would have played well in a different room.

The sort of room it would have played well in, really, is the sort of room in which the worst people in the country congregate. The fact that Clinton lapsed into speaking as if she were in that room is more or less why she’s having trouble, once again, convincing the Democratic electorate to nominate her for the presidency.
I suppose that Clinton and her advisors and supporters don't realize this.  They don't understand that for many people in both parties the word "CIA," like the name "Henry Kissinger," is a red flag.  The same goes for Bash's criticism of Sanders: Very Serious People, those who really matter, those who really run this country, know that the CIA is a good thing, a necessary bulwark protecting America from its many enemies -- like George W. Bush, it keeps us safe.  Only a loony extremist like Harry S. Truman or John F. Kennedy would think otherwise. 

I doubt, myself, that the CIA can be abolished; even imposing more oversight would be extremely difficult to achieve -- and even if it were, it would quickly be replaced by new intelligence-gathering and covert-operations agencies.  Gathering information is not in itself an illegitimate government program, nor is "intervention" of various kinds aimed at influencing the affairs of other countries; even when the specific program is illegitimate, its lack of legitimacy is not a concern of our rulers. Where to draw the line between legitimate and illegitimate intervention is a matter of judgment, so oversight and debate are vital.  The trouble is that we don't have enough of either.

As it happens, I had just finished reading a fascinating book, Subversion as Foreign Policy: The Secret Eisenhower and Dulles Debacle in Indonesia by Audrey R. and George McT. Kahin, published by The New Press in 1995, which was relevant to this question.  The book is about US meddling in Indonesian politics in the 1950s that basically blew up in the Eisenhower administration's face.  Instead of weakening then-President Sukarno, it strengthened him.  Instead of bringing about a "stable" (like "free world," a Newspeak euphemism for murderous right-wing dicatorships) government in Indonesia, it set off a civil war.  Instead of suppressing the Indonesian Communist party, it increased its prestige and influence.  Instead of pushing Indonesia away from its neutralist policy (which the US typically interpreted as pro-Soviet), it pushed it closer to the USSR until the US backed down.  Ultimately it led to the horrific massacres of 1965, in which at least half a million Indonesians (some Communist, others not) were butchered by the Indonesian army and paramilitary groups, to the delight of the US government and media.

I'll probably post more quotations from Subversion as Foreign Policy, but today I'll just include this bit.  The US had been covertly supporting mostly Islamist rebels in Sumatra against the central government in Java.  This support took the form of money, airdrops of arms, and training.  (Many higher military figures in Indonesia had been trained in the US; fancy that!)  Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Chinese in Taiwan collaborated, as did Britain, Australia, the Philippines, Singapore, and South Korea.  This sort of thing is hard to keep totally quiet, of course; as the Kahins point out, secret US operations are generally secret from most Americans, but not from their targets.  But it was all going pretty well, despite successive defeats suffered by the rebels, until:
On May 18 [1958] a rebel B-26 bomber carried out apparently indiscriminate raids against the city of Ambon, a port on the eastern Indonesian island of Amboina.  After sinking an Indonesian naval vessel at its pier the plane bombed a church and the central market, resulting in heavy civilian casualties.  Before the plane left, however, antiaircraft fire brought it down, and its American pilot, Allen L. Pope, and his Indonesian radio operator were captured.

Pope's capture provided Jakarta with incontrovertible evidence of direct American involvement in support of the rebels.  The administration persisted in its contention that he was an independent "soldier of fortune" for whom the United States was not responsible.  But the fact that he carried not merely a diary containing detailed accounts of recent bombing missions but also U.S. military identification papers, a copy of recently dated orders from a U.S. army base, and a current post exchange card for Clark Air Force Base made it difficult for this argument to be given much credence ...

[U.S.] Ambassador Jones credited the Jakarta government with "great maturity" in its efforts to avoid "making use of the bombings of the church and market place for purposes of propaganda -- domestic or international."  When discussing the matter with one of the authors only seven months after the bombing, this normally calm and composed ambassador was still seething with anger over what his sources had indicated to have been "several hundred civilians killed."  (In the book he wrote twelve years after the bombing, he stated that the civilian casualties were reported to be "in the vicinity of 700," but while pursuing his official duties he abided by the Jakarta government's "official" casualty figures of six civilians and seventeen members of the armed forces) [179-80].
Allen W. Pope was tried in Indonesia, "convicted and sentenced to death on April 29, 1960 -- nearly two years after his capture and well after public interest in his actions had died down ... The sentence was never carried out and he continued to live in comfort until quietly freed after U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy spoke with Sukarno in Jakarta during a 'good will visit' to Indonesia in February 1962..." (181-2).  The Kahins note "how gently Pope was treated and how many obvious questions were not pursued" (ibid.) at his trial, whose record
provides a sketchy account of his twelve bombing and strafing missions against against government naval and merchant shipping, airfields, and port cities -- with accounts of ships sunk and airplanes destroyed at airports.  This record shows that the attack on Ambon in which he was shot down was the fifth he had made on this city and its environs.  But potentially most embarassing to the United States was not only that Pope's immediate employer was the CIA -- through its wholly owned subsidiary CAT (Civil Air Transport, based on Taiwan) -- but also that he had been released to CAT on April 21 on 120 days temporary duty while assigned to the headquarters of the U.S. Army command at Camp Brucknerin the Ryukyu Islands [181].
The Eisenhower administration lied reflexively and professionally when Pope was shot down: he was a "soldier of fortune," not a US agent.  They had already begun to withdraw support from the Indonesian rebels, though aid continued to come in for awhile through Taiwan and the Philippines.  Luckily for them, the Indonesian government didn't make as much fuss as they could have over US support of terrorist attacks (what else can you call it, honestly?) on their people.  The entire project went down the Memory Hole for many years, and in 1995, when Subversion as Foreign Policy was published, many documents were still classified.

But hey, this is all ancient history, isn't it?  We should look to the future, not dwell on the dead past, etc.  What first led me to read Subversion of Foreign Policy, aside from the authors' name -- George Kahin had co-written an important 1967 book on the US invasion of Vietnam that taught me a lot, not only about Vietnam but about the larger geopolitics of the period -- was annoyance at the beatification of Dwight Eisenhower by many liberals today.  Supposedly Eisenhower was different from today's Republicans in his foreign policy; but he mainly took intervention and subversion of regimes he disliked under cover. The important thing to most Americans today is that no Americans were killed by his activities; that many thousands of dusky foreigners suffered and died is of no great interest to either liberals or conservatives.  The Kahins cite Iran and Guatemala among Eisenhower's "successes," but that's only by contrast with the debacle in Indonesia.

But much that I read in Subversion as Foreign Policy impressed me by how timely it still is, from the US support of Islamists to undermine governments our rulers disliked to the cover stories when our agents got caught.  Even at the time, the capture of Allen Pope echoed the capture by the Soviets of US spy-plane pilot Gary Powers.  Later, in 1986, a CIA agent named Eugene Hasenfus was shot down over Nicaragua while bringing weapons to President Reagan's terrorist Contras.  "President Reagan and other U.S. officials have denied that the plane or its crew had ties to the U.S. government. In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams said Hasenfus was not telling the truth because of Sandinista threats and intimidation," as the Chicago Tribune reported at the time.  As with the capture of Pope, the capture of Hasenfus was not merely embarrassing, it was inconveniently timed: "For the last two years, the CIA has been prohibited by law from helping provide the rebels with military supplies. If the CIA was involved in the operation despite denials from the Reagan administration, it could renew the debate over aid to the contra rebels just as Congress was about to release $100 million for them."

Another familiar theme was the 'fixing' of intelligence to justify Eisenhower's Cold War paranoia about Communist influence in Indonesia.  American officials and agents who didn't tell the President and his fanatical CIA chief Allen Dulles what they wanted to hear were ignored at best, replaced and transferred out at worst.  Those who want to contrast Eisenhower with George W. Bush will find no comfort here.  That's not necessarily to single out Eisenhower; the desire not to hear what one doesn't want to hear is a normal human impulse (you could call it human nature).  All the more reason for people in high places, who are especially susceptible to the tendency, to be aware of it, and make efforts to overcome it.  If they can't, the rest of us must do it.