In an editorial from May 21st, 2001, The New Republic expressed the fear that the American boycott of essential international treaties and forums, underlaid by the United States’ insistence on developing an anti-missile shield, could give rise to many different forms of retaliation. The main theme of the editorial centered around a phrase which at the time was gaining popularity in the media: “America’s isolationism.” This concept was starkly exemplified by a TV image captured later that summer, on September 3rd: that of the chair abruptly abandoned by the last American representative at the U.N. Conference on Racism, which was held in Durban, South Africa, and condemned to failure by the U.S. withdrawal. The image of the empty chair was unsettling and eerily foreboding, so much so that one had to ask: “Why isolationism?”
One Book - One Summary
Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA’s Crusades, by The Nation journalist David Corn, perhaps provides the answer. Tracking one of the agency’s most peculiar figures, Corn has written an exhaustive account of American intelligence during the Cold War in a book which also details the foundations of the American empire. The agent in question is Ted Shackley, whose career spanned from post-World War II Berlin up through the Gulf War in 1991. With his degree in History from the University of Maryland, and his command of German and Polish (a family inheritance), Ted Shackley enlisted immediately, joining the ranks of the “Cold War warriors.”
The atomic bomb, with its enormous destructive power, was, paradoxically, the factor that made the Cold War a cold war. If anything positive could be drawn from the levelling of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it might be that it prevented further mass destruction later on. The Bomb became the object of an almost medieval terror, casting its shadow on the entire process of the conflict.
A new chapter in history began in 1945, and the following decade saw the establishment of U.S. supremacy. The contrast between the glamour and wealth of America and the rest of the world was never greater. Chevrolets rolled along the highways, and enormous limousines sparkled like diamonds in, for example, the films of Douglas Sirk. American cinema, American jazz and American literature all were flourishing, and the world was in awe. Europe looked towards the United States the way Albanian immigrants looked towards Italy in 1995, or the way Africa looks towards Gibraltar now. The American way of life was so different. The middle class left the city centers and settled in suburban houses with gardens, washing machines, dishwashers, and something called television. The United States wasn’t a country, it was a dream.
At the end of the 1950s, the first wart appeared on the Empire’s face: Cuba, right under its nose, like a slap for the America behind the dream and the glamor, the America of the Klu Klux Klan, J. Edgar Hoover, Senator McCarthy and his witch hunt. Miami became the headquarters for operations against Castro, and the C.I.A. office there, located in a rundown area of the port, became one of the agency’s most important.
It was in Miami that Ted Shackley entered the story, fresh from his initial work as a spy trying to recruit informers on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Shackley was called from Berlin to manage anti-Castro activities, and the nucleus of American espionage began to gel. Joining him, and under his orders, were Richard Secord, Tom Clines, and Félix Rodríguez, individuals who over the following decades would disappear and resurface in various stages of the Cold War.
Pressured by President Kennedy, for the first time one of the C.I.A.’s main objectives was to install a government closer to Washington. And there was no sparing means to accomplish this: it was tacitly accepted that assassination could be justified in extenuating circumstances. Castro was an objective to “bring down.” There were numerous attempts on his life, many of them outlandish, involving poisoned drinks or cigars. The most important action designed to overthrow Castro’s regime was the Bay of Pigs Invasion, which resulted in a total defeat. Repeated incidents of sabotage and constant pressure on Cuba drove the Russians to place ballistic nuclear missiles on the island. The world held its breath. When American satellites photographed nuclear silos on Cuban territory, the Third World War appeared imminent. At the time, the C.I.A. had infiltrated major media channels like the Miami Herald, apart from financing and controlling intellectuals and major European publishers. Kennedy and Krushev reached an agreement, avoiding what might have been the total destruction of the planet in 1962, but by then the C.I.A. office in Miami had produced experts in sabotage, arms traffickers and hit men for the agency’s battles worldwide. (One of them, Félix Rodríguez, directed the search, capture and assassination of Che Guevara in the mountains of Bolivia.)
It was the 1960’s, and the America of Bob Dylan blowing in the wind, Woodstock, the dynamic, Beat-bred philosophy of campus hippies, New Journalism and Rolling Stone magazine—the identity signs of an America opposed to the system. But in contrast to the pacifist movement that prospered on campus, Washington was directing its gaze towards new fields of expansion: China. From China a wave of Communism spread throughout southeast Asia after the Korean War: Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam. Before entering Vietnam, the C.I.A. used Laos as a training ground, financing a secret war directed by Ted Shackley, who immediately called on his cronies for help. There they learned, among many other things, the fundamentals of drug trafficking as an excellent source of income. The C.I.A. incited a rural community in the north, the Hmong, to fight against the socialist government of Vien-tiame—a precedent that would later be repeated with the Talibans of Afghanistan. Poorly armed and equipped, misguided and manipulated to enter a suicide war, the Hmong people suffered over 30,000 casualties.
At the same time, the United States inherited the remains of the French empire after the defeat of Dien Bien Phu. Vietnam supplied the Americans with material for an epic so intense and powerful that it is easy to forget that the mystic Apocalypse Now, with its helicopters flying over defoliated jungles and its reincarnations of the Heart of Darkness, exists to palliate a defeat, perhaps the biggest of the Cold War for the United States. The truth of those twelve years of war is crystallized in the humiliating image of helicopters rescuing the last Americans from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.
Ted Shackley was also in Vietnam, perhaps too late. He arrived in 1968 to direct C.I.A. activities in the combat zone after the Tet Offensive, when the outcome of the war was more uncertain than ever for the United States. Shackley landed in Saigon to follow up paramilitary and intelligence programs the agency had undertaken. The work by the C.I.A. in Vietnam had been miserable: one agent recruited over the entire course of the war; murders; thousands of Vietcong agents extorted and tortured. After the war, C.I.A. director Richard Helms declared that the U.S. had not understood the complex ethnic and cultural factors of the Vietnam conflict. According to Corn, in the ideal hypothesis, it was the C.I.A. that was supposed to have understood Vietnam. In the final account, the agency came nowhere near that.
Before the defeat in Indochina, far from the rice paddies of Vietnam, Shackley had been assigned to another mission in 1973: neutralize a defector, the spy Philip Agee. Agee, after a romantic affair with a woman fascinated by Che Guevara, suddenly threatened to publicize C.I.A. operations in Latin America with a book and a series of interviews for Playboy magazine. Agee knew too much. The mission entailed “dismantling the entire Latin American division.” What did this mean?
It was, once again, the C.I.A. that was behind that decade of horror and death in Latin America—Ted Shackley’s C.I.A. The restructuring of operations in Latin America as a result of the Agee episode left the entire continent in the hands of tyrants loyal to Washington. After this “success,” Shackley took charge of Vietnam from Washington, but by then the conflict was on its deathbed, and he was able only to present its cadaver to Henry Kissinger and President Gerald Ford in 1975. Many years later, Frank Snepp wrote an in-depth analysis (expanded in 2001 with a new book) of the American ineptitude in Indochina. With open shamefulness, Snepp details the apathy with which thousands of South Vietnamese were abandoned: employees, secretaries, translators, friends, loyal persons, those who weren’t aboard the helicopters when the Vietcong unleashed its final attack on Saigon, many of whom were eventually tortured and murdered. That could have been avoided, according to Snepp, if the C.I.A. had not maintained a triumphalist attitude until the very end (to flatter and appease Kissinger), and if it had arranged the orderly evacuation of a territory where the war had for months already been lost.
Shackley survived Snepp and the various Congressional Committees which after the Vietnam war began to investigate the murders, extortions and briberies committed by the C.I.A. throughout Asia and Latin America. Had Gerald Ford been elected to another term as President, Shackley would have continued his ascent within the organization, quite possibly all the way to the directorship. But it was Jimmy Carter who won the 1976 election; consequently, Shackley’s career in the agency was essentially finished. Stanley Turner, the director named by Carter, restructured the C.I.A. with wholesale dismissals. He never forgave Shackley for his widely-publicized links with the spies Ed Wilson and Tom Clines, relegating him to a dead-end post in an isolated corner of Langley.
In the late 1970’s, Shackley, allied with his former agents, engaged in complex activities in Iran. With its petroleum, its vast border with Russia, and the C.I.A.’s control of the Shah’s puppet regime and secret police, the SAVAK, Iran was crucial to U.S. interests. But in 1979, to the agency’s complete surprise, the Shah’s government collapsed under Khomeini’s Islamic revolution—the first tremor of the tidal wave of radical Islamic fundamentalism. On top of that, the truth about the murders of Allende in Santiago and Orlando Letelier in Washington was coming to light. (Letelier was assassinated at the hands of extreme right-wing Cuban agents hired by the DINA, Pinochet’s secret police. The C.I.A. knew about the plan, but didn’t lift a finger to impede it.)
Shackley left the C.I.A. in 1979, but Tom Clines was already preparing him for a lucrative future in the private sector. Clines had ties with Anastasio Somoza and Mexican oil magnates, and earned millions of dollars supplying arms to Eden Pastora’s Nicaraguan Contras, the counterrevolutionary forces in El Salvador, and the mujaidines (Islamic guerrillas) in the mountains of Afghanistan where, as it would turn out, the final and decisive battle of the Cold War was being fought. Shackley learned to earn millions, too, opting for the most profitable of businesses: oil. He amassed a fortune writing intelligence reports for the multibillionaire Johan Agustinus Deus, who was linked to Shell and all the rackets run by American intelligence to control the crude oil market, the very heart of the economy. As of the mid-80’s the United States had a peon state to fix and unfix oil prices: Kuwait. From Kuwait, for example, massive illegal exports of petroleum to South Africa were organized. By way of an intricate network of banking interests, these shipments ended up lining the pockets of the “American Boys.”
Under the Reagan Administration, the old Miami cowboys rode again, paving the way for strikes including the bombing of Tripoli and the invasions of Granada and Panama. The crusade against Communism was reaching the boiling point: Russia was the “Evil Empire.” In 1983 Shackley published a book called The Third Option, which became a veritable foreign policy manual for Ronald Reagan. One sentence sum-med up the main thrust of that volume: “Make no mistake... we are locked in a struggle for survival.” But by the end of the 1980’s, the bellicose ideas in Shackley’s book had become decidedly outdated. Coinciding exactly with the timing that Winston Churchill had predicted forty years earlier, the “Cold War warriors” had finally achieved victory: the Berlin Wall had come down. Only Iraq remained.
At the beginning of the 90’s, Saddam Hussein decided to stop once and for all the bleeding Kuwait implied for the economy of the other oil-producing nations of the region. Hussein’s army, which Western countries had been supplying since the war against Khomeini’s fundamentalist Iran, invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990. Following a giant campaign of global manipulation to satanize Hussein, war erupted—a war which, according to the Iraqi leader, was supposed to be the “mother of all battles.” The Gulf War instead demonstrated that Vietnam would never be repeated. In reality, it lasted no more than twenty minutes, the time it took American electronics and technology to freeze Iraqi radar systems, allowing American bombers to comb the country at will. According to one American pilot, the war was like “a game of fireworks.” As a tribute to their immense technological advantage, derived from the enormous surpluses of the neoliberal, modernized society that the Americans forced upon Chile before successfully adopting it themselves, now they could win wars without suffering a single casualty. The triumph of Shackley and his associates was complete: they had imposed the “New World Order,” the Global American Empire.
David Corn’s book about Shackley has a perfect complement in The C.I.A. and the Cultural Cold War, by Frances Stonor Saunders. Saunders brilliantly reveals that the belligerency of the C.I.A. was not limited to the battlefields. A group similar to Shackley’s, but consisting of other names—Josselson, Lasky, Nabokov (the novelist’s brother)—waged battles just as fierce and even more complex in the field of culture, subsidizing magazines, bribing intellectuals, and manipulating the media to ensure the West would win the cultural battle against Communism and make New York the West’s cultural point of reference. The conclusions that both books draw are surprisingly similar: these individuals “recruited Nazis, manipulated the results of democratic elections, overthrew governments, supported dictatorships and plotted assassinations”... winning the Cold War.
When one finished reading Blond Ghost on September 9th, 2001 in the city of Madrid, the motives for the resentment referred to in the New Republic editorial began to make more sense. Two months earlier, an Egyptian national had sent a mysterious e-mail message from a computer close to Barajas Airport. On September 7th, a man named Ramzi Bin Al Shib arrived in Madrid. Bin Al Shib was the Hamburg roommate of the person who sent the message: Mohamed Atta. Al Shib had time to stroll among the people from Madrid who were languidly enjoying the waning days of summer. He was the brain behind an event that would send waves of shock and astonishment around the globe, and also indicate how far that resentment could stretch; precisely, all the way to the top floors of the Twin Towers in New York.
The attack was humiliatingly ingenious (for a country that was preparing an anti-missile shield), brief and brutal. The first images were broadcast in Madrid, the city where much of the logistics of the attack were plotted, when many people were on their way to lunch. Everyone in the restaurant crowded around the television. A plane had crashed into one of the towers? The first reports were fragmentary, disjointed, incoherent. And then we saw it come: the other plane, suddenly entering our field of vision and tracing a curve in the air, the detour from a trajectory that led to the impact against the other tower. Tongues of blue, red, yellow and black flames fed on continuous explosions, and an ominous cloud of smoke spread over Manhattan and engulfed the entire city and the bay, vaguely evoking the ghost of Hiroshima, and suggesting that all hell had broken loose over New York. Later we saw the images of Washington and the Pentagon, which had also been attacked. And there were still more planes in the sky.
The historian Studs Turkel adeptly narrated the terror that gripped the inhabitants of San Francisco after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when everyone feared impending Japanese bombings. Philip K. Dick dreamed up the horror of a United States dominated by Germans and Japanese. But this was not a fable, nor an abstract fear. It was the horror of a real attack, the first the United States had suffered from abroad since Pearl Harbor, interminably prolonged by the images of persons leaping from the towers, which in turn collapsed in a deluge of smoke, rubble and steel. When night fell on that September 11th, an almost spectral tension gripped the streets of cities around the world. And when President George W. Bush emerged from his bunker and spoke before the cameras, his first words were, “Make no mistake...” There was Shackley again, the “make no mistake” of Ted Shackley and his “Cold War warriors.” For a situation of the highest emergency, it was clear that Bush was falling back on the prose of his father’s old friend.
The World After
In the days following the attacks, there was a general arraignment of U.S. politics, with numerous intellectuals acting as judges. This author had the idea of synthesizing some of the most important statements expressed at the time, drawing from Horizons, the debate section of Le Monde, a neutral media that stood out for the openness and diversity of analyses and voices that appeared in its pages.
The consensus seemed to be that the United States had been attacked by itself, as a result of the foreign policy it has pursued since establishing itself as a global empire. The historian Tony Judt wrote: For months the United States has been condemning international treaties, promising American withdrawal from all zones of conflict and explaining that its priority is set on national interests. American interests cannot be conceived in isolation. Alliances, treaties, legislation and international agencies and courts are not an alternative to national security; they are its only hope.
The idea of the U.S. being attacked by itself gained even more strength when evidence pointed to Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist network, Al Quaeda. Bin Laden, Saudi millionaire, ex-C.I.A. agent, was recruited in 1979 in Turkey to take up arms with the Afghan mujaidines in their fight against the Russians. Later, he converted to radical, Wahabita-inspired Islamic fundamentalism, and turned in fierce hatred on the United States, declaring a war that has already produced attacks against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Somalia and the naval destroyer USS Cole. Now he is the most wanted man on earth.
On September 20th, Gilles Kepel, author of the best-selling Yihad, expanded this scenario: For over the last two decades, American power has woven ties with the most radical of the Jihad in Afghanistan. In the 1980’s it trained them for modern war against Russia, and armed and financed them in collaboration with the petromonarchs of the Persian Gulf, believing they could be molded into a docile instrument. Afterwards, it allowed its ally Pakistan to applaud the Taliban revolution in 1994. Pakistani writer and filmmaker Tarik Alí explains: Pakistan was the condom the U.S. needed to penetrate Afghanistan; we played our role, and they thought they could rid themselves of us tossing us into the toilet.
Meanwhile, in front of New York City firefighters, George Bush announced a long and dirty war against terrorism. Kepel’s text serves as an appropriate backdrop for the meaning of the adjective “dirty.” Was it the meeting in Istanbul with Tom Clines and company that sparked Bin Laden’s hatred for the United States? Who would have guessed it from the photo of the teenage Osama, posing with his many brothers and sisters around a 1970’s Cadillac like a young clone of Michael Jackson?
Jean Bricmont predicts: More spy networks will be created, citizens will be controlled more, edifying stories about Good and Evil will be told, and about the bad people that attack us because they don’t love democracy, freedom for women or multiculturalism. It will be explained that this savagery is foreign to us: indeed, we to prefer to bomb from above or kill slowly with embargoes. But all this will not solve the root of the problem. Terrorism is generated in a place of revolt that is, in itself, the fruit of injustice in this world. Americans, the majority of whom are disturbingly nationalistic, will support their government’s politics, however barbarian. More than ever, they will want to protect their way of life, without asking themselves what that costs the rest of the world.
Edward W. Saïd was the first to point out the geopolitical implications of an inevitable war: The consumption of petroleum in China will soon equal that of the United States. For that reason it is increasingly urgent for the United States to gain firm control of the resources located in the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Attacking Afghanistan, using certain ex-Soviet republics in central Asia as rearguard bases, would enable it to consolidate a strategic American axis extending from the Gulf to the oil fields of Scandinavia.
But what is a war against a phantom enemy, an army of terrorists financed by a private company or a single person? Simon Peres had these unsettling impressions: The conflict has become a conflict between a connected world (that which prospers technologically) and a disconnected world that is entrenched in agriculture, poverty and nationalism. Until now terror appeared to be the weapon of the poor, the frustrated, the fanatic, he who still lives in the world of yesterday. It has now become a very dangerous instrument... The world is shifting from a position of national strategy towards one of global strategy. We are moving from battles against armies to a struggle against dangers. From a world of enemies (nationalist) to a world of dangers (global).
Is it not the case, however, that the big Western arms manufacturers profit from the conflict? What do the pariahs, those excluded from globalization, obtain in exchange? Doesn’t the technologically prosperous world contribute to the rise of the danger in that other world “entrenched in agriculture, poverty and nationalism?” Intellectuals refer to Samuel Huntington and his shock of civilizations, summed up as follows by Francis Fukuyama: For Huntington, the world isn’t advancing towards only one system, but rather towards a world steeped in a shock of civilizations, with six or seven large cultural communities which coexist without converging and create fracture lines of a global conflict... This shock consists of a series of rearguard actions undertaken by societies whose traditional way of life is threatened by modernization. The violence of the reaction is proportional to the gravity of the threat perceived. But time and resources are on modernity’s side. Huntington and Fukuyama, signatories among many other U.S. intellectuals of the “Letter from America,” which was first published in Europe at the end of February 2002, prove that the think-tanks of the large American foundations—Ford, Rockefeller, Cato—are still engaged in a cultural Cold War despite the disappearance of yesterday’s enemy.
John Le Carré reacted with wise, admirable cynicism, and a bleak touch of fatigue: What the United States is creating for itself are more enemies, as it is impossible to prevent the birth of a kamikaze terrorist every time an errant missile wipes out an innocent village... With our attention distracted, who is thinking about the colonialism of the G8? The exploitation of the Third World by uncontrolled multinationals, the debate opened in Seattle, is now drowned in a wave of patriotism deftly recovered by corporate America.
Has anyone really won the Cold War? Ulrich Beck reflected: Has the triumphant march of neoliberalism, which appeared unstoppable, been broken?... The vulnerability of the United States seems to be closely linked to its political philosophy. America is a profoundly neoliberal country, profoundly disposed to pay the price of public security... unlike in Europe, it has privatized air traffic security, relegating it to the miracle of employment consisting of ultra-flexible, part-time workers who earn less than fast food employees... The horrible images from New York carry a message yet to be resolved: a state, a country, can neoliberalize itself to death.
As anticipated, on October 7th, 2001, the first bombs began to fall in a war that will be very long.