Sunday, April 13, 2008

CIA In the Mideast from "Legacy of Ashes"

Haven't really been applying myself to writing much of real value-added for a while on the blog as you can tell. That said, it turns out if one turns off the computer and opens up some of those wild pre-industrial inventions known as "books", one often finds interesting things not available online. In the hopes of bringing a bit of that to you, I want to give some outtakes from Tim Weiner's book on the history of the CIA "Legacy of Ashes". Suffice it to say, while I've known many of the stories on some less-detailed level for a long time, it is rather breathtaking to see the sheer scale of screwups, illegalities, murders, lack of intelligence, and such that are the backbone of the CIA's history (not the fringe, the backbone, the core). I'm only up to the Kennedy Administration in my reading so far, but chapter 14 gave a brief review of some of the early CIA dirty work in the Middle East (beyond the coup that overthrew Mossadeqh in Iran and brought the Shah to power, that got a chapter of its own). I thought I'd reprint a few excerpts here. So without further ado and with my own comments in [] brackets.


"If you go and live with these Arabs," President Eisenhower told Allen Dulles and the assembled members of the National Security Council, "you will find that they simply cannot understand our ideas of freedom and human dignity. They have lived so long under dictatorships of one kind or another, how can we expect them to run sucessfully a free government?"

[Ah, nice to know that even in the 50s the same old racist canards we have about Arabs today were alive in the upper reaches of American government and the same utter ignorance of the realities of the Arab world pervaded US decision-making.]

The CIA set out to answer that question by trying to convert, coerce, or control governments throughout Asia and teh Middle East. It saw itself wrestling with Moscow for the loyalties of millions of people, grappling to gain political and economic sway over the nations that geological accident had given billions of barrels of oil. The new battle line was a great crescent reaching from Indonesia across the Indian Ocean, through the deserts of Iran and Iraq, to the ancient capitals of the Middle East.

The agency saw every Muslim political chief who would not pledge allegiance to the United States as "a target legally authorized by statute for CIA political action," said Archie Roosevelt, the chief of station in Turkey and a cousin to Kim Roosevelt, the CIA's Near East czar. Many of the most powerful men in the Islamic world took the CIA's cash and counsel. The agency swayed them when it could. But few CIA officers spoke the language, knew the customs, or understood the people they sought to support or suborn.

The president said he wanted to promote the idea of an Islamic jihad against godless communism. [So, it wasn't just in Afghanistan in the 80s that a US administration *liked* the idea of promoting jihad...seems there is a bit more American history, no?] "We should do everything possible to stress the 'holy war' aspect," he said at a September 1957 White House meeting attended by Frank Wisner, Foster Dulles, assistant secretary of state for the Near East William Rountree, and members of the Joint Chiefs. Foster Dulles proposed "a secret task force," under whose auspices the CIA would deliver American guns, money, and intelligence to King Saud of Saudi Arabia, King Hussein of Jordan, President Camille Chamoun of Lebanon, and President Nuri Said of Iraq.

[Read more about King Saud in Robert Vitalis' "America's Kingdom". Today he is considered a lunatic who the Saudi royal family quickly bumped aside, but Vitalis points out he was held up as a great American ally who was put on the cover of Time magazine (or was it Life? I forget, read the book) but then fell out of American graces and was showed aside for being politically inconvenient. King Hussein and the Jordanian Hashemites have of course long been conspirators in league with the Brits, Israelis, and Americans by the admission of all parties concerned. Camille Chamoun, an attempt to split Christians and Muslims in the typical fashion of foreign parties meddling in Lebanon and internal parties of all sects gladly willing to be used by foreigners to try and get a domestic leg up. And Nuri Said - who was Prime Minister, not President of Iraq - was once an Arab nationalist in Ottoman army ranks who went on to have a long career as a British and American stooge under the Iraqi monarchy before finally being toppled along with the monarchy in the 1958 coup that brought Abdul Karim Qassem to power.]

"These four mongrels were supposed to be our defense against communism and the extremes of Arab nationalism in the MIddle east," said Harrison Symmes, who worked closely with the CIA as Rountree's right-hand man and later served as ambassador to Jordan. The only lasting legacy of the "secret task force" was the fulfillment of Frank Wisner's proposal to put King Hussein of Jordan on the CIA's payroll. The agency created a Jordanian intelligence service, which lives today as its liaison to much of the Arab world. ["liaison" meaning not just source of intelligence, but "friends" willing to brutally torture "renditioned" people the CIA illegally kidnaps to this day around the world, including totally-innocent Canadian citizen Maher Arar who was kidnapped by the US government at JFK airport in transit home to Canada from his in-laws in Tunisia, and sent first to Jordan on a CIA plane and then to Syria by road under Jordanian mukhabarat custody being tortured the whole way.] The king received a secret subsidy for the next twenty years.

If arms could not buy loyalty in the Middle East, the almighty dollar was still the CIA's secret weapon. Cash for political warfare and power plays was always welcome. If it could help create an American imperium in Arab and Asian lands, Foster was all for it. [John Foster Dulles was the Secretary of State and worked hand-in-hand with his brother Allan Dulles who was the head of the CIA.] "let's put it this way," said Ambassador Symmes. "John Foster Dulles had taken the view that anything we can do to bring down these neutralists--anti-imperialists, anti-colonialists, extreme nationalist regimes--should be done. [hmmm...conflating a natural desire of oppressed peoples to be free of oppression with the (communist) boogeyman of the day and then lumping them in with the bad guys when they insist on hewing an independent path instead of becoming an American lapdog (or sometimes rejecting their pleas for American help at first, and then treating them as enemies when they went to somebody else for their legitimately and badly needed help). Just a few parallels to today methinks.]

"He had given a mandate to Allen Dulles to do this....And, of course, Allen Dulles just unleashed people." As a result, "we were caught out in attempted coups, ham-handed operations of all kinds." He and his fellow diplomats tried "to keep track of some of these dirty tricks that were being planned in the Middle East so that if they were just utterly impossible, we'd get them killed before they got any further. And we succeeded in doing that in some cases. But we couldn't get all of them killed."


That's just the intro to the chapter, there's then a few pages getting into a decade of CIA coup-mongering in Syria and the dirty CIA tricks in Iraq that brought the Ba'ath party to power. I'll include that final little quote from Iraq here too:


"We came to power on a CIA train," said Ali Saleh Sa'adi, the Ba'ath Party interior minister in the 1960s. One of the passengers on that train was an up-and-coming assassin named Saddam Hussein.

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At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Mike W. said...

Frightening and frustrating. There are so few things that need to be kept secret, if we (as a government) are keeping our nose clean. There will be no reforming of the CIA or other intelligence operations under the current situation of fear-mongering, whether it is the neo-cons or the hawkish democrats (like Clinton and Lieberman).

At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Dan said...

Heh, I opened the book to page 138 just to show a co-worker how awful the CIA has been, and the page was all about how the CIA was trying to frame Syria into the bad guy, blaming things they (the CIA) started on them (the Syrians). Evil, I tell you!


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