To many, the anecdote described below will sound far-fetched, and logical minds may suspect that the Vietnam vet in the story created the “incident” himself.
But as those who lived through that period may remember, representatives of the covert side of government did far worse — and often. Infiltration, intimidation, framing, and more were all part of the arsenal against the “disloyal.” No method was deemed too severe.
Today, we may find ourselves in a comparable period. Incidents covered by WhoWhatWhy such as the fiery death of journalist Michael Hastings and the open statements that Edward Snowden should be assassinated remind us to take nothing for granted. (To see our stories on these threats, please go here here, here, here, here, and here.)
The essay below is by the father of “Deep Politics” analysis, Peter Dale Scott. It reminds us that, too often, it is not the wild-sounding that is the fiction — but the constant assurances that everything is a-ok, that our society operates on fundamental decency, and that we need to stay focused on the small things and leave the big problems to others.
Below, Scott describes that phenomenon as “a great conspiracy/of organized denial.”
Seeking to reverse this organized denial, Scott, in the book introduction that follows, posits — based on his decades of research — powerful connections between militarism, vast illegal drug operations, and America’s intelligence agencies. Sound far-fetched? So does much of history itself.
This is Part 1 of a multi-part series. Please go here to see Part 2.
Excerpt from American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan ( Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014), Introduction. Deep History and the Global Drug Connection:
Two Researchers Encounter a Deep Event
If by terrorism we mean “the use of violence to intimidate,” then in September 1971 the historian Alfred McCoy and I witnessed a minor California terrorist incident. A Vietnam veteran of Special Forces living in East Palo Alto who had seen opium loaded onto the CIA’s Air America airplanes in Asia agreed on my telephone to be interviewed by the two of us. But when we arrived at his house the next morning, he had changed his mind. Motioning to us not to speak, he led us back down his front-door steps to his sports car, an MG. Overnight someone had warned him not to talk to us by burning a large hole in its steel door, with what he said could only have been a sophisticated implosion device, of the sort used by his old unit.(1)
One might think that such a vivid and incongruous event could hardly be forgotten, especially since it had clearly been generated by knowledge of what had been spoken on my telephone. But in fact for more than a decade, I totally suppressed my memory of it, even through the first two years of a determined poetic search to recover just such suppressed memories.(2)
And so, as I rightly suspected, had Alfred McCoy. In the preface to the 2003 edition of his monumental classic, The Politics of Heroin, he writes in prose about his own bizarre suppression of the same facts:
I landed in San Francisco for a stay with poet and Berkeley professor Peter Dale Scott. He put me in touch with an ex-Green Beret, just back from covert operations in Laos, who told me, over the phone, of seeing CIA aircraft loading opium.
He agreed to be interviewed on the record. The next morning, we knocked at his door in an East Palo Alto apartment complex. We never got inside. He was visibly upset, saying he “had gotten the message.” What happened? “Follow me,” he said, leading us across the parking lot to his MG sports car. He pointed at something on the passenger door and named a chemical explosive that could melt a hole in sheet metal. It was, he said, a signal to shut up. I looked but cannot recall seeing. [Ed. Apparently this refers to the “something on the passenger door.”] The next day, I flew to Los Angeles, visited my mother, and then flew on to Saigon, forgetting the incident.(3)
As I began to recall this episode in a different millennium, the incident itself seemed less surprising. The nation was then in turmoil, and even nonviolent antiwar protesters like myself were subject to ongoing surveillance.
Much worse things were happening. In San Diego, “Vigilantes led by an FBI informant wrecked [an antiwar] paper’s printing equipment, firebombed the car of one staffer, and nearly shot to death another.”(4)
In Chicago in the same period, “The army’s 113th Military Intelligence Group… provided money, tear-gas bombs, MACE, and electronic surveillance equipment to the Legion of Justice thugs whom the Chicago Red Squad turned loose on local anti-war groups.”(5)
The crimes I have just recalled, in Palo Alto, San Diego, and Chicago, are examples of what I first conceptualized as deep state violence and would now call deep force violence (violence from an unexplained or unauthorized source). There are many varieties of this deep non–state-sanctioned violence as so conceived.
In most cases illegal violence is an assignment handed off by an established agency to organized groups outside the law. There are also cases of proxy violence when the delegation of violence is not to nonstate actors but to agencies of other governments.
Finally, there are cases in which the violence reinforces the de facto power structure of the country without directly involving the CIA or other established official agencies at all. Such violence may be affirmatively sanctioned by members of the established power structure.
Or it may be passively sanctioned by failure to punish those responsible. Unprosecuted lynchings were the de facto enforcement of illegally segregated Jim Crow society in the American South.
Land grabs in the American West were achieved with press-encouraged violence against Native Americans, many of them nonviolent, who originally lived there.(6)
This cultural tolerance of violence and murder spilled over into other aspects of American life, notably union busting. In the 1914 “Ludlow massacre,” during a mineworkers strike against the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, only one member of the strikebreakers was convicted, and he was given only a light reprimand.(7)
Most of us (including myself) don’t like to dwell on such disturbing practices inside America, which is why McCoy and I both repressed what happened in East Palo Alto. But they persist, in America and throughout the world. And one reason they persist is precisely because of our reluctance to think about them.
Elsewhere I have written of civilization as “a great conspiracy/of organized denial.”(8) I mean by this the creation of a partly illusory mental space in which unpleasant facts, such as that all Western empires have been established through major atrocities, are conveniently suppressed.(9)
I say this as one who believes passionately in civilization and fears that by excessive denial our own civilization is indeed becoming threatened.
There are social and political consequences of failing to acknowledge and deal with forces of violence at work in America and the ways in which they frequently collaborate with police and intelligence agencies that are mandated to protect the American public. The fact that we suppress such discordant details of violence probably contributes to our individual mental health. But this suppression leads to a collective politics that is increasingly unreal and ineffective, as major abuses cease altogether to be addressed.
In discussing sanctioned criminality and violence, I hope to restore one such area of suppressed memory. But the writing of this book has led me to understand my experience in Palo Alto—and indeed all such sanctioned violence—as examples of what I now call deep events: events that are systematically ignored, suppressed, or falsified in public (and even internal) government, military, and intelligence documents as well as in the mainstream media and public consciousness.
Underlying them is frequently the involvement of deep forces linked either to the drug traffic or to agencies of surveillance (or to both together) whose activities are extremely difficult to discern or document.
A clearly defined deep event will combine both internal features—evidence, such as a discernible cover-up, that aspects are being suppressed—and external features—an ongoing and perhaps irresoluble controversy as to what happened. Some deep events—the 1968 assassinations, the Tonkin Gulf incidents, and 9/11—clearly have both features. Others do not. For example, the 1898 sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor continues to spark debate and investigations, even though the case that it was a false-flag operation is usually presented without any persuasive evidence.(10)
In my experience, deep events are better understood collectively than in isolation. When looked at together, they constitute a larger pattern, that of deep history. For some years, beginning before 9/11, I have noted that from time to time America’s recorded or archival history has been disrupted by deep events such as the John F. Kennedy assassination. These events are attributed publicly to marginal and unthreatening agents—like Lee Harvey Oswald. But cumulatively, the historical succession of deep events—such as Dallas, Watergate, and 9/11—has impacted more and more profoundly on America’s political situation.
More specifically, as I shall argue, America’s major foreign wars are typically preceded by deep events like the Tonkin Gulf incidents, 9/11, or the 2001 anthrax attacks. This suggests that what I call the war machine in Washington (including but not restricted to elements in the Pentagon and the CIA) may have been behind them.
After completing the later chapters of this book, I have come to state this conclusion more forcefully. Since 1959, most of America’s foreign wars have been wars 1) induced preemptively by the U.S. war machine and/or 2) disguised as responses to unprovoked enemy aggression, with disguises repeatedly engineered by deception deep events, involving in some way elements of the global drug connection.
Also, since completing this book, I have an even clearer picture of America’s overall responsibility for the huge increases in global drug trafficking since World War II. This is exemplified by the more than doubling of Afghan opium drug production since the United States invaded that country in 2001. But the U.S. responsibility for the present dominant role of Afghanistan in the global heroin traffic has merely replicated what had happened earlier in Burma, Thailand, and Laos between the late 1940s and the 1970s. These countries also only became factors in the international drug traffic as a result of CIA assistance (after the French, in the case of Laos) to what would otherwise have been only local traffickers.
This book goes back in time to the late 1940s and 1950s and the murky circumstances under which the CIA began to facilitate drug trafficking in South and Southeast Asia, culminating in Afghanistan. Writing it has enabled me to have further thoughts about the Palo Alto incident and particularly the importance of its date—September 1971. As we shall see, this was a time of a major change in the U.S. relationship to the Southeast Asian drug traffic. In June 1971, Nixon had declared a War of Drugs, and Laos in that same September, under instructions from the U.S. embassy, had just made opium trafficking illegal.
After two decades of CIA assistance to drug-trafficking warlords in Burma and Laos, elements in the CIA were now beginning to leak significant if partial stories about this situation to papers like The New York Times. (11) Al McCoy, my fellow witness in Palo Alto, had himself just been briefed in Washington about the politics of heroin by CIA veterans like Edward Lansdale and Lucien Conein.(12)
A little earlier, a researcher on the University of California campus, with whom I — as I then thought — had initiated contact, advised me to look into the record of hitherto unknown details such as the career of Paul Helliwell and the CIA proprietary Sea Supply, Inc. It developed that he too was a CIA veteran.
I now suspect — as I did not at the time — that I was being fed leads by my source as part of a larger scenario. Was the CIA project of disclosure being opposed in Palo Alto by another deep force determined to stop it? Or were the two apparent deep forces really one, working in Palo Alto to set limits to a predefined limited hangout? I still do not know, but writing this book has helped me to better understand the relevant historical developments in 1971 (see chapter 6).
In earlier versions of this book, I attributed the sanctioned violence of the Palo Alto incident, like the Letelier assassination I discuss next, to the CIA’s global drug connection. But that statement does not solve a mystery: it opens one up. As a matter of description, it sounds more precise than terms I have
used in earlier books: “the dark quadrant” from which parapolitical events emerge or “the unrecognized Force X operating in the world,” which I suggested might help explain 9/11.(13) But the precision is misleading: in this book I am indeed attempting to denote and describe a deep force, or forces, that I
do not fully understand.
This mystery underlies, for example, the careers of men like Willis Bird and Paul Helliwell or of institutions like the Bank of Credit and Commerce International that were of use to both the CIA and the international drug trade. And I shall argue that if we do not focus more on this neglected aspect of the U.S. war machine, we shall never come to grips with the forces behind the ill-starred U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
1. He attached great importance to the fact that, while much of the steel door was burned away, the wooden floor of the car was barely charred.
2. I narrated this recovered memory first in my poem Coming to Jakarta (New York: New Directions, 1989), 147–48, and then a second time a decade later in Minding the Darkness (New York: New Directions, 2000), 138.
3. Alfred W. McCoy,The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Traffic (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books/Chicago Review Press, 2003), xii, quoting Scott,Coming to Jakarta, 147–48. I believe that when I first checked with McCoy about this in 1990, his memory ended with our descending the stairs from the veteran’s home “to see something.”
4. David E. Kaplan, “Spying on the San Diego Street Journal (and other Americans),”U.S. News & World Report, January 9, 2006, “Among the Street Journal’s reporters was a young Lowell Bergman, whose later exploits as a 60 Minutes TV producer would be portrayed by Al Pacino in the movie The Insider. ‘We were targets along with a lot of other people,’ recalls Bergman. ‘By 1971 we’d all left town.’”
5. George O’Toole, The Private Sector (New York: Norton, 1978), 145, quoted in Peter Dale Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 269. America in the 1960s and 1970s was engulfed in mass violence.The government’s resort to it in proxy operations was not wholly gratuitous; like many of the groups it targeted, it sincerely believed that revolution here was imminent or had already begun. But the two incidents I have just described, against nonviolent antiwar groups, must be described as surplus violence, inviting and perhaps even designed to provoke a violent response. At some point, elements of the antiwar Students for a Democratic Society did eventually—as the so-called Weathermen—resort to bombs themselves. A full history of the antiwar movement will have to assess the extent to which gratuitous government violence was a factor in leading to the Weathermen’s formation.
6. “Those investigating American Indian history and U.S. history more generally have failed to reckon with the violence upon which the continent was built” (Ned Blackhawk,Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006], 3)
7. Graham Adams, Age of Industrial Violence 1910–1915: The Activities and Findings of the United States Commission on Industrial Relations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971).
8. Scott, Minding the Darkness, 137.
9. I suspect in fact that most readers will be tempted to reject and forget my anecdote of the bombed car door as something that simply “doesn’t compute” with their own observations of America.
10. Although this is a topic too broad for this book, I would suggest that three sorts of deep events, most of them still hotly debated, date further back in U.S. history than those associated with the postwar global drug connection: 1) provocations and/or deceptions leading to war, such as the sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania in 1915, which was instrumental in bringing America into World War I; 2) intrigues inducing policy change, as when a Supreme Court decision in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company (1886) was converted (by a court reporter who happened to be a former railroad president) into a “ruling” that corporations are persons protected by the Fourteenth Amendment (see Thom Hartmann, Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights [New York: Rodale Books, 2002]); and 3) plots for leadership change, such as the alleged murder by arsenic of President Zachary Taylor in 1850 (see Michael Parenti, History as Mystery [San Francisco: City Light Books,1999], 304), the Lincoln assassination, or General Smedley Butler and the so-called Business Plot of 1935.
11. E.g., The New York Times, June 6, 1971; McCoy, The Politics of Heroin, 286–87.
12. Among the CIA veterans interviewed by McCoy at this time were Edward Lansdale (June 17, 1971, Alexandria, Virginia), Lucien Conein (June 18, 1971, McLean,Virginia), Bernard Yoh (June 15, 1971, Washington, D.C.), and William Young (September 8 and 14, 1971, Chiangmai).
13. Peter Dale Scott, Crime and Cover-Up: The CIA, the Mafia, and the Dallas-Watergate Connection (Palo Alto, CA: Ramparts Press, 1977), 46–49; Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 179.
Related front page panorama photo credit: Peter Dale Scott (PeterDaleScott.net), Shadows (Georgie Pauwels / Flickr – CC BY 2.0)