There are certain books that, once read, alter one’s mind permanently. This is such a book. Naïve readers and patriots beware: You will never think about the world in the same way after you have read just the first two chapters of American War Machine.
American War Machine is a study of what the author, Peter Dale Scott, calls deep politics. A Berkeley professor and poet, Scott has largely created his own vocabulary to analyze a political reality that seldom is studied systematically. The main actors in this drama are a combination of the overworld of politically minded corporate actors who utilize illicit violence in the form of organized crime or drug trafficking-associates, the underworld of organized crime and the drug trade, and covert operatives of militaries and intelligence agencies, particularly—though not exclusively—those affiliated with the CIA.
Together these forces create deep force violence: violence from a hidden or unidentified source. The idea is that actors within a government agency (such as the CIA) employ outside criminal actors to undertake particular activities. This can also be the work of corporations hiring criminal actors (the overworld). It can also be other intelligence agencies, such as the Republic of Chile’s former national intelligence agency, DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional) or Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence). Or, it may be the work of shadowy groups of unknown composition: off-the-books CIA agents running their own covert operations, arms dealer/drug traffickers working with sketchy banks, underground groups comprised of a variety of actors from different countries, and informal coalitions of covert operatives and criminals such as the World Anti-Communist League, or later the Safari Club. Thus deep force violence is not always used by the state as such; it is sometimes used by specific actors with ties to the state but with no authorization by the state’s ruling government.
To understand this deep force violence we must properly understand deep events. Deep events include assassinations, cover-ups, scandals involving intelligence agencies and violence, and “false flag”(1) operations. Some of Scott’s other books have focused more narrowly on these deep events and their implications, including the Kennedy assassination and 9-11. This is not conspiracy theory. Scott sticks to what is known and in the files, assiduously footnoting every claim he makes. He has his own theories, but differentiates conjecture from fact and admits that the nature of these events is that we just don’t know who masterminded them or why in many cases.
The overworld, underworld, and covert operatives work together to create the American War Machine that is the topic of the book. However, this is not merely a repetition of claims of American warmongering and imperialism. Mainstream accounts of US foreign policy, even the best ones, systematically underplay the importance of covert operations and, in particular, the global drug trade and its use by the US and other countries for political ends. For Scott, the drug trade is intimately connected to US involvement in almost every war or masterminded coup of the last sixty years, and this is the main topic of the book.
The book’s major thesis, simply put, is that: “US backdoor covert foreign policy has been the largest single cause of the illicit drugs flooding the world today.” The Golden Triangle and Golden Crescent produce around 95% of world opium. Much of the remainder comes from Colombia and Mexico. Scott details extensive ties between the CIA and major drug traffickers in all of these areas. In each case, CIA covert operations, with ties between its agents and traffickers in these countries, boosted production astronomically. Scott asserts that, “since World War II, the CIA, without establishment opposition, has become addicted to the use of assets who are drug traffickers, and there is no reason to assume that they have begun to break this addiction.”
Thus the CIA, rather than helping slow the supply of illicit drugs from abroad, actively aids and perpetuates the drug trade. While the DEA and other agencies purport to be waging war against drug suppliers, Scott argues that “the aim of all U.S. antidrug campaigns abroad has never been the hopeless ideal of eradication. The aim of all such campaigns has been to alter market share: to target specific enemies and thus ensures that the drug traffic remains under the control of those traffickers who are allies of the state security apparatus and/or the CIA.”
Why don’t we all know and recognize this? After introducing the main concepts and themes of the book, Scott spends the next 200 or so pages delineating the way this has all worked historically. The evidence he cites is overwhelming; so much so, that this book is not an easy read. Descriptions of covert operatives and their drug trafficking connections, as well as how covert operations are launched and what their results are, are painfully detailed. The result, as Scott discusses in the first few pages of the book, is a profound cognitive dissonance. We don’t want to think that rather than legitimately waging a “War on Drugs” against drug traffickers, the CIA and overworld instead utilize drug traffickers and their funds to such a large extent that our government perpetuates the drug trade much more than it diminishes it. We don’t want to think that CIA agents, bankers, and drug lords are organized in shifting networks of interest, working together to launch covert operations not even authorized by government in some cases. We don’t want to think about the loose threads in contemporary explanations for deep events, or the proven history of false flag attacks.
But the evidence is there. Following his introductory chapters, Scott takes us through the confusing and disturbing history of what he calls “the global drug connection”. He begins by mentioning CIA-backed actors in Haiti and Venezuela indicted for drug trafficking into the US during the late 1990s. He then briefly discusses a “deep state” in Turkey of intelligence operatives, paramilitary groups like the Grey Wolves, neofascist killers, and drug traffickers. A similar deep state exists in Colombia, where at least one recent president had verifiable ties to drug cartels. Both of these deep states are mainly financed by the drug trade. This all in just the first 25 pages.
Scott goes on to show the roots of these networks in immediate post-war policies, particularly the formation of the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), a center for covert actions later folded into the CIA. Since its inception, this group was run by members of the overworld, powerful banking interests in New York. Authorized and permitted to commit crimes, the OPC started by enlisting Sicilian mafia drug traffickers to influence the Italian elections of 1948 and continued in that country by backing neofascists and utilizing them for false flag operations (bombings blamed on communists or anarchists). Besides fighting communism, the CIA and its covert actors also began undertaking coups for the sake of protecting corporate interests, as in Iran and Guatemala. Masterminding a coup in Chile, the CIA set up the brutal rule of General Pinochet, who later founded an international assassination program called Operation Condor with other Latin American intelligence chiefs; their main source of funding was drug trafficking.
From Chapter 2 and onwards, Scott describes and analyzes CIA ties to drug traffickers and corrupt networks of criminals, politicians, and intelligence agencies in Mexico, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kosovo, Colombia, and Central America. The amount of detail can be overwhelming. Besides the cognitive dissonance Scott describes, there is just too much information to make sense of at times. I wish Scott would have strived to keep his presentation of events in strict chronological order, instead of jumping back and forth between countries, regions, and decades, sometimes from paragraph to paragraph. At minimum, the book sorely needs a timeline featuring a list of principle characters.
Nonetheless, persistence pays off; despite my struggle to absorb the enormous content of this book, the lesson is clear. The illegal drug trade is intimately entangled into deep politics. While the “War on Drugs” futilely rages, creating a prison population growing to the largest of any country ever in the world at any time, our government has repeatedly employed drug proxies, right-wing paramilitary organizations who we aid or at least allow to traffic in drugs, even into the US, in order to fund their wars. Our foreign policy is not “anti-drug”. We use drug traffickers for our own purposes. Money from the trade funds “off-the-books” operations like Iran-Contra, and the vast sums of money generated are laundered through some of the world’s largest banks, helping keep the global financial system afloat. The end of the drug trade would mean the end of a valuable tool of the war machine, and potentially huge losses for the banksters of the overworld, as well as numerous state and non-state interests. As a variety of recent criticism has argued, we need to stop thinking about the War on Drugs as a failure and start thinking about it as a success. Certainly it has been a success for the CIA, although one with very serious repercussions.
It is understandable that many Americans will find all of this hard to believe. The drug war rhetoric emanating from governments is unending; the scapegoating of drugs as the root of problems more accurately caused by the nexus of poverty, racism, lack of opportunity, and lack of meaning within the context of an ideology of radicalized mercenary capitalism run amok, is so deeply ingrained in American society that we commit the human rights atrocity of imprisoning people for using illegal drugs without moral pause. Illegal drugs apparently are such a menace to our citizenry that we can unprobematically use them as an excuse to douse peasant farmers and their fields with a toxic chemical brew in a variety of devastatingly poor countries, all while their rich, drug-running elites are protected and the countryside is purged by parastatal death squads.
Reasonable but naïve Americans might well ask, “How can the government on the one hand commit billions of dollars to waging perhaps the least successful ‘war’ on commodities in history, while on the other hand aid drug traffickers across decades and around the globe?” This is at least the question my students ask when they first encounter the evidence that the CIA aided the KMT (the Kuomintang of China) in opium and heroin production in Burma, the mujahideen in the heroin trade in Afghanistan, the Nicaraguan Contras in smuggling cocaine into the US. Frustrated DEA agents who see their targets protected by the CIA have long asked this question as well. The answer is not forthcoming, because with “deep politics” such activities are denied, despite clear evidence of their existence, while those who follow-up are ignored, or in some cases, destroyed (c.f. Gary Webb).
This is who we are though, and this is what we do. Our government uses the drug war to aid what it calls freedom fighters and what human rights groups call death squads. We provide military aid (increased dramatically under Obama) to Mexican federal police who have taken sides in an internal dispute between murderous drug cartels where tens of thousands have died. Your tax dollars pay for Blackwater mercenaries to rain down Monsanto glyphosate onto the Amazon, altering the ecosystem by eradicating myriad plants less hardy than coca, killing some animals, damaging others, and negatively impacting the health and lives of some of the world’s poorest people. We covertly aid paramilitary slaughterers to bring in cocaine, fueling the crack epidemic, then we put the addicts in jail. We have created the heroin-based economies of Burma (which is now switching to methamphetamine), and Afghanistan. Our main allies in Taiwan and Burma, the KMT, were enormous drug traffickers. Our Afghan proxies, like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, became the biggest heroin traffickers in the world. In Afghanistan today, the late brother of President Karzai was thought to be the largest trafficker in that country (and a CIA asset); meanwhile, our officials blame the Taliban for all drug smuggling despite the fact they are probably only responsible for something like 5% of the heroin leaving the country. Our involvement in Latin America has done nothing to slow the flow of cocaine north; it has, in fact, increased it. The true source of the street drugs our children use? Look at the evidence detailed in this book. Then, if you live in the United States and support mainstream politicians of either party, look in the mirror.
American War Machine documents all of this, marshaling evidence as it proceeds to examine each successive phase of drug proxy atrocities. It paints the clearest and starkest picture of any book I have ever read about the true nature of US foreign policy, covert operations, and the linkages between war, resources (particularly oil), paramilitarism, tyrannical and repressive governments, financial institutions, and the trade in illegal drugs.
Read it and understand reality.
1) “False flag has its origins in naval warfare where the use of a flag other than the belligerent’s true battle flag as a ruse de guerre, before engaging an enemy, has long been acceptable. It is also acceptable in certain circumstances in land warfare, to deceive enemies in similar ways providing that the deception is not perfidious and all such deceptions are discarded before opening fire upon the enemy.
“Covert military or paramilitary operations designed to deceive in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by other entities may be described as being carried out under a false flag or black flag. Operations carried during peace-time by civilian organizsation, as well as covert government agencies, may by extension be called false flag operations if they seek to hide the real organizsation behind an operation.” (From “Wikipedia : False flag, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_flag”, last edited 16 March 2013.)
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