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Off the Books: The Outsourcing of American Foreign Policy, Part I -- A Roll of the Dice
Powerhouse historian Peter Dale Scott traces the shadowy neocon roots of our current Middle East disaster in "The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America"
The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America brings the numbing artificiality of America ’s internal foreign policy dialogue home in stark detail. Outside of the rarefied left-alternative press there has been little national reckoning or pause for reflection on the root causes of 9/11. The instant, overwhelming response was to man the barricades; those who have fallen out of lockstep to honestly assess the wreckage have been systematically marginalized.
Stepping into this narrative vacuum is Peter Dale Scott, a poet, emeritus professor at Berkeley, and long-time writer-researcher of the hidden histories of major events in modern America . As he has done in previous books about the JFK assassination and U.S. intelligence alliances with drug-dealing military surrogates, in The Road to 9/11 Scott has developed a detailed narrative of what he calls "deep politics," the machinations of the men behind the curtain, powerful players unelected and answerable to no one who have exhibited breathtaking recklessness with other peoples’ lives, many of them on repeated occasions. Scott touches on several shameful – and largely secret - episodes in U.S. foreign policy, including CIA-supported coups that resulted in bloody dictatorships in Iran, Guatemala, Brazil, Ghana, Indonesia, the Congo, and Greece, but being a book about how we got from there to the terrifying precipice of here, the central story is the straight line from the covert Cold War deals with the devil in the 50s, 60s and 70s through to our present predicament in the Middle East.
The primary thread picks up in the early seventies. In the space of a few years, President Richard Nixon, in league with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, fruitlessly extended the Vietnam War with an air assault on Southeast Asia that killed 1-2 million civilians and supported Pakistan as its military butchered a similar number of Bangladeshis in 1970 and 1971. In 1973, Nixon-Kissinger helped engineer the assassination of Salvador Allende, Chile ’s popularly-elected socialist leader, and replaced him with a US-corporate-friendly dictator. But when Nixon went off-script with peaceful overtures to Communist Russia and China , in what are now generally considered shrewd counterintuitive moves, American hawks had conniption fits.
Nixon resigned in 1974 following Watergate, but Kissinger stayed on as President Gerald Ford’s Secretary of State and National Security Advisor until November 2 of 1975, the day of the Halloween Massacre. A palace coup for a small, unified group of right-wing ideologues, the Halloween Massacre promoted Dick Cheney to Chief of Staff, made Donald Rumsfeld Secretary of Defense, elevated George Bush Sr. to director of the CIA, and dropped Vice President Nelson Rockefeller from the ’76 presidential ticket in favor of the more hawkish Bob Dole. Once in place, Bush Sr. authorized Team B. A forerunner to Vice President Cheney’s Office of Special Plans (created to trump up intelligence on Iraq's WMDs), Team B was created to exaggerate the national security threat posed by the Russians as a way of justifying massive, sustained defense budgets. Assisting Bush Sr. on Team B was future Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
Working in concert with Team B was the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), a forerunner to the neocon-spawned Project for a New American Century. Created in 1976 with a grant from David Packard of Hewlett-Packard, the CPD also overhyped the Russian threat, in hopes of maintaining fat government-military contracts for the companies connected to its various members (according to The Road to 9/11, "‘the 141 founding directors of CPD were linked to 110 major corporations"). Packard was particularly concerned with a possible resumption of the SALT II peace talks, which would have reduced anti-ballistic missile stocks in the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., because Hewlett-Packard produced the computer systems for the missiles. The SALT II talks had been sabotaged by a leak from Richard Perle (who would later be a major cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq ) to reporter Robert Novak (who would out Valerie Plame as a spy thirty years later).
Adding a further degree of difficulty to the hostage negotiations were the shenanigans (known as “the October Surprise”) of William Casey, a member of Team B and campaign manager for Jimmy Carter’s opponent in the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan. Continuing a GOP tradition (allies of Republican candidate Richard Nixon had helped undermine peace talks with North Vietnam in 1968 to deny Nixon’s opponent a boost in the days leading up to an extremely close election), Casey is alleged to have met with Iranian representatives and convinced them to hold on to the hostages until after the 1980 election, in exchange for weaponry. Assisting Casey were Richard Perle, Laurence Silberman (who later led an official whitewashing of George W. Bush’s false WMD claims in the run-up to the Iraq invasion), and Michael Ledeen, who is now one of the most vocal advocates of a U.S. assault on Iran. Investigative journalist Robert Parry, cited in The Road to 9/11, later discovered that a Houston lawyer with ties to Vice Presidential candidate George Bush Sr. deposited three million dollars into the account of Jamshid Hashemi, a Carter peace talks representative, that fall.
In the elections that soon followed, the hostage crisis and a steep economic downturn sunk Jimmy Carter, and Idaho Senator Frank Church lost his senate seat of 25 years when he was heavily targeted by vested interests from out of state. As if by magic the hostages were released on the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. A year-and-a half later, on July 18, 1981, a cargo plane with weapons from Israel (the U.S. intermediary) to Iran crashed on the border between Russia and Turkey; Scott suggests that illicit arms deals with Iran may have continued all the way through the beginning of the Reagan Administration until 1986, a departure from the conventional media line that the Iran-Contra affair (exposed in 1986) was a one-time trade of arms for hostages. A congressional investigation of the October Surprise was unable to turn up William Casey’s passport from 1980 or his personal calendar covering 7/24/80-12/18/80.
A central focus of The Road to 9/11 is the rarely discussed evolution of the secret Continuity of Government (COG) plans of successive presidential administrations. Though Ronald Reagan had coasted into office on a rhetorical wave of anti-government vitriol, his administration quickly replaced big government with steroidal government that hatched a series of plans that gave the executive branch of the federal government vast new powers in time of ill-defined national disasters. To forge the administration’s COG plans as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Reagan picked his long-time ally Louis Giuffrida, who in 1970 - when Reagan was governor of California – had written up a paper advocating relocation camps for ‘at least 21 million negroes’ in case of a national uprising by black militants.
Giuffrida’s 1982 COG plan involved the “suspension of the Constitution, turning control of the government over to FEMA, emergency appointment of military commanders to run state and local governments, [and] martial law” in case of a declared national disaster. This order was further developed by future Iran-Contra conspirator Colonel Oliver North into Rex 84, which included surveillance of dissenters and detention camps for illegal aliens. Rex 84 was so radical that Reagan’s conservative Attorney General William French Smith wrote a letter to North’s superior Robert McFarlane saying that the plan “[exceeded] its proper function as a coordinating agency for emergency preparedness.”
While the Reagan Administration granted itself extra-constitutional power at home, it greatly increased America ’s covert actions abroad, as could be expected of an administration staffed with 33 members of the unilateralist Committee for the Present Danger (there had been none in the Carter Administration). Helming these secretive operations was William Casey, who became Reagan’s CIA director. Chief among Casey’s goals was increasing United States aid to the Islamic forces battling the Russians in Afghanistan . Aid to Pakistan (halted by president Carter after Pakistan’s former prime minister had been hung following a kangaroo court proceeding) was reinstated, and Pakistan’s efforts to develop nukes were ignored, as Pakistan offered up human and tactical support for the Mujahaddin in Afghanistan.
Hekmatyar was only one of a long list of jihadis who were allied with the U.S. In the Reagan Administration’s drive to rid Afghanistan of the Russians, and the covert campaign during George Bush Sr’s administration following to continue to push the Russians further north, the CIA allied itself with a who’s who list of anti-American extremists, including non-Afghans like Ali Mohamed (who led the plotters who bombed the U.S. embassy in Kenya in 1998 and trained two of the plotters of the first WTC bombings), Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (the main planner of the first World Trade Center bombing), Wadih el-Hage and Clement Rodney Hampton El (both indicted for involvement in Osama bin Laden plots), Sheikh Abdullah Azzam (Osama bin Laden’s mentor), and many members of what would become Al Qaeda.
After reading The Road to 9/11, I was fortunate enough to interview the author. Part I of the interview appears below (Part II, covering 1993-present, will be posted in the near future.)
Get Underground: The Road to 9/11’s narrative begins with Richard Nixon’s presidency. Obviously despite the fact that Nixon had dragged the Vietnam war out, which probably was another one or two million dead, supported Pakistan when they slaughtered a million Bengalis, and orchestrated the bloody coup of Salvadore Allende in Chile, yet, according to your book, there were elements in the American right wing foreign policy establishment that considered Nixon and Kissinger’s relations with China and the Soviet Union to be traitorous. You suggest that the Watergate break-in may even have been a setup from the right. How could a president with so much blood on his hands be considered soft on Communism?
Peter Dale Scott: Well the big issue in America in the 1970s was with the winding down of the Vietnam War, what would happen to the Cold War? And the Soviet Union and China both played behind-the-scenes roles in helping America to extricate itself [from Vietnam], so I think it’s to the credit of Nixon and Kissinger that they took this opportunity to move towards a scaling down – not an end to the Cold War, but a scaling down -- of the Cold War and limited co-existence. You know I remember very vividly going to Washington in the summer of 1972 and seeing the Soviet hammer & sickle hanging outside of the White House because [Russian leader Leonid] Brezhnev was a guest of Nixon in Washington. You’re not old enough to realize how unthinkable this would’ve been in the 1950s, when we had generals who really wanted to have a first strike and drop the bomb on the Soviet Union...it was a matter of great tension. What was at stake really was the future role of the military in American society, because if you were going to scale down the Cold War, maybe you were going to scale down the military. That’s what Carter was actually proposing. This was I think the most important debate in the 1970s.
Nixon had conspiratorial enemies on the right, people that genuinely believed that he was a traitor. This included people inside the political establishment and particularly inside the CIA. There was a whole faction that believed that Kissinger was a spy. It sounds so nutty now, but everybody was kind of nuts in the ‘70s. The left was consumed with paranoia that Nixon was going to suspend the 1976 election and it would be the end of democracy. The mood in the country was full of paranoia. And let’s not forget that we had massive rioting in the cities and that meant that we had massive governmental counter-terrorist plotting, including putting informants and provocateurs into the anti-war movement.
G.U.: You write about Cheney and Rumsfeld and the Halloween Massacre in November ’75, which basically made Bush Sr. head of the CIA, Cheney was Chief of Staff, Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense, and then Kissinger –
P.D.S.: Nelson Rockefeller was moved out of –
G.U.: Taken off the [1976 Republican presidential] ticket.
P.D.S.: Yes. And Kissinger ceased to be the National Security Adviser, that’s also important.
G.U.: That’s right, he was downgraded. And then, not long after the Massacre, Bush Sr. formed Team B, and the Committee on the Present Danger was revived.
P.D.S.: There were three Committees on the Present Danger, one in the ‘50s, one in the ‘70s, one in the ‘90s, all playing on the same tradition with a bit of overlap of personnel, but they were different committees and had different purposes. The one in the ‘50s was backing up government policy, the one in the ‘70s was from outside government trying to change government policy to get a bigger defense budget.
G.U.: Is it fair to consider the Halloween Massacre the start of Neoconservatism, if one were to plot it out?
P.D.S.: I certainly would link the Halloween Massacre to Neoconservatism. In fact, the word Neocon goes back to that era, to the Democratic liberals who switched over to being Republicans because they felt more secure getting the kind of defense budget they wanted from the Republicans. The Democrats at that time had moved into quite an anti-military stance because of Vietnam and that’s when the Neocons deserted. A lot of them because of their allegiance to Israel , but not all of them. And this was a huge issue by 1975, you know, the Vietnam War is over, is the defense budget going to go down, or is it going to go up? And the Committee on the Present Danger, they revived an old name to push for it going up, and the idea of Team B, to change the estimate of the Soviet threat and make it look worse, had started already [during the reign of Bush Sr’s predecessor, CIA director William Colby] and Colby refused – everyone knew who these people in Team B were, what they would say. They were all hawks. And Colby refused to have anything to do with them, and one of the consequences of the Halloween Massacre was that Colby was fired. That was just as important as Bush Sr. being hired [to head the CIA and create Team B.] I can’t prove it, but I think that Team B was on the mind of Cheney and Rumsfeld when they made those changes.
G.U.: Apparently the scare tactics of Team B and the Committee on Present Danger were successful because Jimmy Carter started with the idea that he was going to lower defense spending - and of course [Carter’s hawkish national security advisor Zbigniew] Brzezinski played into that - but Carter completely changed his course and increased defense spending..
P.D.S.: If I could just comment on that…Brzezinski’s role was that we now had conflicting estimates [of the Russian threat to U.S. national security], and Brzezinski, looking like a moderate, appointed a committee to reconcile Team B with traditional estimates. But that, inevitably led to a radical increase in the estimate of the Soviet threat. Carter I think never really had control of his administration, and the thesis of my book is that, you know, Carter was the candidate of the Trilateral Commission, and Brzezinski had been the executive director of the Commission, and the grandfather and patron had been David Rockefeller.
But domestically, the big impact of the Trilateral Commission was to get Carter elected President and therefore Brzezinski the National Security Adviser, and what Brzezinski wanted was more important in the Carter administration than what Carter had campaigned on even though he was sincere in wanting to lower the budget. And that’s why I spend so much time on the issue of the Shah coming to America , because Carter genuinely didn’t want to do it, and Brzezinski was actively plotting to make it happen. And it did happen, and of course it destroyed Carter, and the Democrats didn’t get back into the White House until Clinton .
G.U.: You don’t think the embassy would’ve been seized if Carter hadn’t let the Shah into the U.S. ?
P.D.S.: You can never be sure about counter-history. But there was the – you still had a relatively pro-American government in Iran . The Revolutionary Guard was not the government; the Revolutionary Guard seized power and in effect hung the Iranian government. And then it’s quite a complicated story, but, and this again is another act of Brzezinski’s, that Brzezinski brought in [Samuel] Huntington to create FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and FEMA had a procedure whereby Chase Manhattan Bank’s seizure of all Iranian deposits was given to bankers to adjudicate. So here was a most important element of Carter’s foreign policy in the Middle East [left in the hands of] bankers who had their own agenda which was, in effect, to save Chase Manhattan from catastrophic losses.
G.U.: Because they had an interest payment coming up.
G.U.: You say in The Road to 9/11 that “although one should not force the analogy between Carter’s fate and that of the Shah’s, there is this point of comparison: both men lost their power not by defying the Rockefeller team but capitulating to it.”
P.D.S.: Yes. Brzezinski was urging a more militant repression of the opposition than the Shah was inclined to support. After all, the Shah knew a little bit more about Iran than Brzezinski did. In some ways his regime was always brutal, the [CIA-tutored] Savak, the intelligence agency tortured – any torture we’re doing today is pale compared to what Savak was doing in the 60s and 70s - but the Shah’s style was to try and go with the flow and here it was Brzezinski – not just Brzezinski, but the hawks in Washington - insisting on a more militant line that helped precipitate the final crisis.
G.U.: According to your book, in 1980 Reagan’s campaign manager William Casey cut a deal in Paris with the Iranians to hold the hostages [until after the upcoming presidential election] in order to undercut Jimmy Carter’s re-election efforts. Of course the hostages were released when Reagan was inaugurated, and on July 18th 1981 an Argentinean plane with weapons en route from [ America ’s intermediary] Israel to Iran crashed on the border between Russia and Turkey . Continuing on, a later House of Representatives query into the deal showed that an FBI raid of Casey’s home conveniently failed to turn up Casey’s passport for 1980, his personal calendar for the period July 24th through December 18th of 1980 and a file labeled “hostages.”
P.D.S.: Right. Let’s not call that a raid, because if my memory’s right he [Casey] was dead by now, and this was when the House was investigating the whole question of the October Surprise and had there been a deal. And so Congress, I don’t know if they subpoenaed the documents or requested the documents, I think that the FBI was getting the documents in connection with the federal investigation. There was no question of having to raid, because Casey was dead.
G.U.: Right. Okay. And maybe this is an obvious question, but with all of the evidence that exists that this took place, it’s still dismissed by the media or ignored as kind of a wild conspiracy theory. Do you think this is just too big of a lie for them to go near?
P.D.S.: Right. I think that ever since the Kennedy assassination there has been a level of deep politics in America which – just, even such a relatively simple matter as whether the Contras were dealing in drugs. The real question there wasn’t so much the Contras (as they were very small potatoes) but the people who were supplying the aid, the arms, and the infrastructure to the Contras. And this definitely involved drug dealers. And there is no question about it. But it cannot be admitted.
The mainstream media are so committed to a view of how things work that is excluding so much. You know. The Kennedy assassination was done by a lone nut. Nobody believes it. Johnson didn’t believe it. Nixon didn’t believe it. We still play by those rules in the media and that’s one reason why the Internet has been so successful on the blogger level, because it is filling a need which the mainstream media are not and, so, from one point of view it really is a threat to the status quo to have people spinning conspiracy theories. Because even if 90% of them are garbage – and certainly a very high percentage of them are – enough of the real truth about how this country is working can be found only in the realm that is assigned to conspiracy theorists. And that of course is the big common denominator between JFK and 9-11. 9-11 was an unsolved conspiracy and has become one of the major forces for change in the American political system.
G.U.: You talk a lot about Continuity of Government, particularly in the gubernatorial and presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan.
P.D.S.: One [Continuity of Government plan] was a national plan; one was a state of California plan where Reagan at the time was governor. To deal with the massive rioting going on in the cities there was a – this was the real source of paranoia in high places – Reagan appointed Louis Giuffrida, who was thinking of massive detention of blacks. And when Reagan became president he brought Giuffrida around with him to be the head of FEMA, so now all this planning was going on in an era where we were separated by more than a decade from the riots but the planning was now going on on a federal level. Oliver North was principally involved in it. Vice President of George H.W. Bush was overseeing North. And then there was this secret committee planning for Continuity of Government. Congress didn’t know about this even though, I mean, it was very serious business – they were planning for, you know, suspending the Constitution.
Originally a totally legitimate kind of contingency planning, [meant for] a nuclear disaster – in its origin this goes back to the 1950s when people really seriously worried about a nuclear attack; it wasn’t just a fantasy. But in the 1980s they changed the notion of what the planning was for and one of Reagan’s acts was to pass an executive order that it would be for any kind of emergency, not just nuclear. And the proof of that COG was actually brought in – to a limited extent – we don’t know how limited of an extent – on September 11th. So it now was no longer just nuclear, it was emergency planning. FEMA was the basis on it. And the head of FEMA [Louis Giuffrida] was a man who had been talking seriously about massive detentions of people. And a good deal of what we’ve had since 9/11 is actually fulfilling these ideas that were sort of way out in right-field, crazy ideas, from Louis Giuffrida.
G.U.: So, despite the fact that Reagan ran on the virtues of limited government he greatly expanded executive power…
P.D.S: I’m not sure that Reagan’s the Chief Agent here. Reagan did have certain things he wanted very much to do but I think he himself did have a fairly limited agenda. I think [William] Casey got himself to be head of CIA [after having served as Reagan’s campaign manager in the 1980 election]. He wanted to be Secretary of State – but he probably was able to do more damage as head of the CIA. And he also got into the Cabinet. He was a very powerful person who did things on his own that even the CIA didn’t know about and in some cases even the CIA operations officers were opposed to…Casey went ahead and did them with enormous consequences and the key example that I point to is giving American support and assistance to the foreign legion in Afghanistan which in 1988 renamed itself Al Qaeda.
G.U.: You talk at length about how the United States recruited the nastiest elements they could find to fight the Russians in Afghanistan , including of course Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
P.D.S.: Okay, bin Laden wasn’t – didn’t look so nasty in the 1980s. The one who looked nasty in the 1980s was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar was overtly anti-American at that time. There was a genuine Afghan indigenous resistance, and the tragedy is, we didn’t give most of the aid to those people, because their brand if Islam was quite different from the [radical] Wahhabi Islam of Saudi Arabia or the Islam of the Madrasahs in Pakistan . It was more Sufi…when the Wahhabis come in, they kick over the gravestones of the Muslims and say “You’re not supposed to have gravestones…” We imposed a Muslim reaction on Afghanistan that’s not indigenous to that country.
And the one person of all those leaders I would say was hateful was Hekmatyar. Because he was very ruthless, he didn’t have much of a popular base, he was popular with Pakistan , and he used the arms he got to fight other jihadi militants instead of fighting the Soviets. [then-Prime Minister of Pakistan ] Benazir Bhutto said to George H. W. Bush in 1990, “You’re creating a Frankenstein.” People could see what was happening but because of this whole thing about secret power, the experts who could see were excluded from the decisions made by Casey and his successors. It went on after Casey.
G.U.: And what year was the Al Kifah refugee center in Brooklyn opened up?
P.D.S.: There are different versions of when it was created. But I quote from the charter which I think says it was created in 1988, the year that the Soviets said (at the beginning of the year) that they were going to get out…and then by March of 1989 they’re out, and now in July of 1989 the FBI is photographing Ali Mohamed, training people in terrorism. It wasn’t to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan . I’m in correspondence with someone who’s pretty convinced they were training for Bosnia . And I myself talk about Rodney Hampton Ell, who was connected with one of the trainees and given a list by what was purported to be an American major in the Army, or the Marines, a list of people to recruit for Bosnia . This again goes into the area of deep history, because it’s not in the mainstream account of what we did in Bosnia .
G.U.: You mention that visas were extended, whether CIA or FBI who did it, to many people who were on terrorist watch lists, you mention –
P.D.S.: Ali Mohamed himself.
P.D.S.: The Blind Sheikh [Rahman] is, you know, let’s not underestimate how important he was in the global Islamist movement. I mean, they were very aware of him in Peshawar and Afghanistan . And America must have known what they were doing when they admitted him to go to the [Al Kifah] mosque. There doesn’t seem to have been any particular fuss when the imam of the mosque was murdered, and the Sheik’s people took over. There was an obvious cover-up and protection of Ali Mohamed when this racist Meih Kahane was murdered. And they had the goods on three – actually photographed the three murderers together in terrorist training. And went out and said, “We can’t link [Ali Mohamed ally El Sayyid] Nosair” – they got Nosair by accident – “We can’t link him to anybody.” Of course they could link him to people. They weren’t going to reveal their connection to Ali Mohamed so they end up saying that Nosair was a lone, deranged gunman. Which was playing an old record, you know - that’s what they said about Oswald in 1964.
G.U.: So you had a long list of people who were involved in Al Qaeda plots who went through Al Kifah at some point: Sheikh Rahman, Wadi el-Hage, and Clement Rodney Hampton-Ell, Ali Mohamed…
P.D.S.: An important one I maybe didn’t mention was Al Zawahiri, who’s the number 2 in Al Qaeda, and perhaps the real leader, and certainly the real intellectual, according to the 9/11 Commission report, the intellectual overseer of the plot. Al Zawahiri, who sold the plot to bin Laden, came to this country at least twice, when he was on that list, to raise funds. Because ironically, one of the few countries where Al-Qaeda could recruit easily, and raise funds easily, was America , because in most of the countries where the Al-Qaeda people came from, the governments were very frightened of them.