The Assassination Bureau
Killing Hope, Sowing Terror
by Manuel Garcia, Jr.
In June of 2009, Leon Panetta, the director
of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) -- the American Praetorian
Guard guiding the course of the Dollar Area Empire -- cancelled
a program to assassinate al Qaeda leaders, which had been initiated
by Vice President Richard (Dick) Cheney in 2001 following the
9-11 attacks, and which program Cheney had ordered be kept secret
from the US Congress. (1)
Why make this cancellation public, and
now? Because openly airing a few dirty underpants will distract
simple short-attention span minds from the unavoidable stench
of much worse that is rotting under hasty burial. Did this program
metastasize into a wider ranging disease that consumed Benazir
Bhutto, and other foreign political leaders? (2)
The concept of a Phoenix Program targeting
al Qaeda leaders reflects the banal inelegance and grandiose ambition
of the small minds that devise our national intelligence schemes.
As aerial bombardments and missile strikes from drone aircraft
were killing too many innocent bystanders (a concern, but insufficient
to stop the practice), a more "surgical" tool was wanted,
an assassination bureau.
The assassination bureau is a perennially
popular idea in politics. In Alexandre Dumas' novel The Three
Musketeers, Cardinal Richelieu dispatches the femme fatale Milady
de Winter to ensure the Duke of Buckingham remains in England
rather than leading English forces to the aid of the Huguenot
rebels at La Rochelle during the 1627-1628 siege of that city
by the Catholic forces of Louis XIII, King of France. The historic
Duke of Buckingham was assassinated on 23 August 1628, stabbed.
Between 1968 and 1972, during the Vietnam
War, the US Phoenix Program, aimed at the Communist Party in South
Vietnam, "neutralized" 81,740 members of the National
Liberation Front, of whom 26,369 were killed. The problem was
that poor intelligence, a reliance on liars and conflicted stool
pigeons, and corrupt bureaucrats padding their kill quotas and
covering up their rake-offs, led to many politically inconsequential
people being victimized, abused, tortured and killed. The network
of resistance to the puppet regime of South Vietnam had grown
in response to, and was maintained by the continuing presence
of French and American imperialism in Vietnam, and this had long
predated and far outpaced the weeding effort of the Phoenix Program.
A very drole movie on the concept, The
Assassination Bureau (1969), is based on an unfinished novel by
Jack London, and set in Europe during WW1. The charm of this film
lies entirely in the decorum of the main characters, and the degree
of honor they display by adhering to the rules of their game.
The contemporaneous Phoenix Program showed that real politics
was far dirtier than this cinema comedy. The 1972 film of the
1969 novel The Godfather was closer to the grit and malevolence
of programs like Phoenix, but though presented with Homeric grandeur
it was focused on the relatively small scale of crime-family inner-city
violence, in comparison to the vast campaigns of covert international
warfare. (3) (4)
Cheney's CIA assassination bureau scheme
was envisioned as a US copy of the Israeli program of assassination
of Palestinian leaders and other designated enemies. This type
of program is run by a nation's spy agency, which then calls on
the military as needed to provide the firepower for an assassination,
whether by commando units, aerial bombardment or missile strikes.
Aside from any moral considerations (which never enter), the politically
corrosive aspect of this covert assassination program is that
an unaccountable and well-protected "intelligence" clique
-- which is freed of all democratic political and legal restraints
-- is conducting an undeclared and unacknowledged foreign war,
thus making the nation's citizens unwitting enemies of -- and
targets to -- much of the rest of the world. The fact that Cheney
gave the CIA orders to keep his program secret from the US Congress
-- and that this was obeyed! -- shows that the American Praetorian
Guard is as dangerously unregulated as was its Roman template.
The CIA does not serve the interests of
the American people, but instead milks them for the subsidy that
funds the careerism of its covert bureaucrats, who engage in international
crimes and intrigues that degrade peace, justice and honor generally,
and stoke well-justified resentments abroad, which degrade the
psychological basis of effective long-term security: goodwill.
It would take an incredible revolution of popular democracy in
the U.S. to regain control of the CIA and abolish it completely
(as Constantine the Great did to the Praetorian Guard in the year
312, even to the point of razing its fortress in Rome, and grinding
up the tombstones of its dead). Such an event seems as logically
and politically impossible as it would be gloriously uplifting.
Ironically, though death is permanent,
assassination does not terminate the ideas motivating the designated
enemies du jour of the state. Killing people does not kill ideas.
Campaigns of assassination can remove the intelligentsia and leadership
cohort of a minority rights and social justice movement, but since
such campaigns can only stall and frustrate liberation movements
and not satisfy them, assassinations only prolong and coarsen
the resistance to imperialism and domination. By removing the
early, more educated, moderate and politically-oriented leaders,
assassinations clear the way for impatient militants, whose resort
to pitiless brutality is all too easily justified and supported
by their constituencies, because of the failure of honest engagement
by domineering powers (whether foreign imperialists or domestic
authoritarian regimes). As the liberation struggles degenerate
intellectually, militarily and humanistically, the prospects for
a stable negotiated resolution diminish because: the popular leaders
with demonstrated political skills -- those who personify the
ideas of the struggle -- have been assassinated; careerist militants
gain control of the war, be they rebels, insurgents, or government
agents; and outrages committed out of despair by the frustrated
and radicalized (or now "fundamentalist") liberation
movements, and out of hubris by the imperialist or authoritarian
forces, blind reason to vengeance.
Victoria Brittain explains these consequences
in her heart-rending, richly detailed scholarly work on assassinations
by western states, committed in Africa and Palestine, primarily
during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, but stretching to recent years,
and titled "They Had To Die: Assassination Against Liberation"
The U.S. supported the apartheid regime
in South Africa during its 1966-1989 Border War with Angola, Namibia
and Zambia (and Zimbabwe), and it allowed former US military officers
to work as free-lance mercenary assassins for the South African
Defense Force (SADF). Though it is technically illegal for US
citizens to act as mercenaries and work as assassins for foreign
governments, this technicality was conveniently ignored in those
cases where the success of a "private business deal"
was of political interest to the US State Department and the CIA
(who "winked" and afterwards debriefed). Former members
of the US military who had combat experience or superior training
as members of elite commando-type units (e.g., Special Forces,
Army Rangers) could earn enough to fund a very comfortable and
immediate retirement, far beyond what was likely with any tenure
in the US military, with just one or two undercover operations
for the SADF. The American and European agents dispatching the
targets described by Victoria Brittain were merely politically
expendable labor (some were captured and executed), though well-trained
thanks to earlier taxpayer investments. (7)
South Africa lost its border war, so foreign
troops (Cubans aiding, and South Africans invading) left Angola
in 1988, Namibia gained its independence in 1989, and agitation
in South Africa against the apartheid state swelled from 1990
till apartheid was overturned in 1994.
The ad hoc labor market for mercenary
forces was systematized after the South African Border War, and
today the public is familiar with private military companies (PMCs)
like Blackwater USA (now Xe) and DynCorp International, because
of their "exploits" in Iraq, Afghanistan and Colombia.
Today's PMCs can provide a variety of non-combat services that
support traditional military forces, specialized technology for
armed attack (e.g., helicopter gunships); as well as do the classic
mercenary jobs of providing personal protection, and supplying
small to moderate-sized infantry units. The PMC business is now
worth $100B a year, sapping trained personnel from the ranks of
numerous national special forces ("money talks and bullshit
walks"), and encouraging the growth of PMCs in many countries.
There is always a demand for war services, and the "miracle
of the free market" ensures a competitive corporate response
to that market demand.
Today's PMCs are the Pinkertons of globalization.
And, it is no doubt safe to assume that assassination is still
a profitable business. It just doesn't solve anything; it is the
equivalent of midnight dumping of historical toxic waste into
our collective future.
Manuel Garcia, Jr., a former physicist
at Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Laboratory, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org