Vietnam, American advisor, ARVN, soldiers
Army of the Republic of Vietnam soldiers and an American advisor in Vietnam taken sometime between 1967 and 1975. Photo credit: US Army / Wikimedia

Is the CIA friend or foe? An excerpt from Douglas Valentine’s recent book helps illuminate an agency that operates in the shadows.

What does it say about the state of the nation that many on both the left and right are banking their hopes for the future of American democracy on the patriotism and competence of cloak-and-dagger spooks?

If you tune in to left-leaning mainstream cable news shows on MSNBC or CNN, you’ll see a steady parade of such stalwarts of the intelligence community as former CIA director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Former FBI director James Comey, once the bane of the left for reopening the Clinton email inquiry two weeks before the 2016 election, is now lauded in Democratic circles for his attacks on President Donald Trump.

The view of many on the left that the president is an existential threat to the safety and security of the country is a sentiment shared with many right-wing #NeverTrumpers.

Meanwhile, to Trump and his loyal followers, this cabal of current and former intelligence figures represents a usually invisible “Deep State” faction, whose intention is to overturn the democratic will as expressed in the Electoral College.

But perhaps there’s an upside to this seismic realignment of public opinion: the American people are coming to terms with the notion that the intelligence community — far from being an above-the-fray servant of a popularly elected government — is in fact inherently political, serving long-term shadowy interests, including its own.

It’s with this in mind that we present an excerpt from Douglas Valentine’s The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World (Clarity Press, January 15, 2017).

A longtime author and researcher of the US national security state, Valentine is perhaps known best for his book The Phoenix Program: America’s Use of Terror in Vietnam, which many consider the definitive study of the CIA’s secretive counter-insurgency program during the war in Vietnam.

The CIA as Organized Crime, Douglas Valentine

The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World by Douglas Valentine. Photo credit: Clarity Press

He’s also written several books — The Strength of the Wolf and The Strength of the Pack — chronicling the US’s history of the war on drugs, its connections to US intelligence agencies, and the rise and fall of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

The CIA as Organized Crime contains excerpts from these works, as well as interviews with the author.

This condensed excerpt from chapter one is a radio interview transcript in which Valentine explains how he researched and connected with many top-level CIA agents (including CIA Director William Colby), learned of the agency’s dark history in Vietnam, and uncovered its undue influence over media, illegal drugs, and more.

How William Colby Gave Me the Keys to the CIA Kingdom


[Editor’s note: Valentine’s approach to the mysteries of the CIA is enriched by a personal in-depth study of language and literature — a background which he has weaponized to deconstruct the myth of America’s top spy agency.]  

DOUG: It’s complicated, and my experience was different from other writers and researchers I’ve spoken with about it. From the time I started college, my philosophy of life has been based on the study of language and literary criticism. I have a very broad approach, from a variety of different perspectives — psychological, political, anthropological, sociological, historical, philosophical, etc. When I look at a subject, I look at it comprehensively from all those different points of view. More importantly, literary criticism teaches the power of symbolic transformation, of processing experience into ideas, into meaning. To be a Madison Avenue adman, one must understand how to use symbols and myths to sell commodities. Admen use logos and slogans, and so do political propagandists. Left or right; doesn’t matter. The left is as adept at branding as the right. To be a speech writer or public relations consultant one must, above all, understand the archetypal power of the myth of the hero. That way you can transform, through words, Joe the Plumber or Donald Trump into a national hero.

When I decided to research and write about the CIA’s Phoenix program1, that was how I went at it. I went directly to William Colby, who’d been Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Colby was the person most associated with Phoenix, the controversial CIA “assassination” program that resulted in the death of tens of thousands of civilians during the Vietnam War. No one had written a book about it, so I wrote Colby a letter and sent him my first book, The Hotel Tacloban. I told him I wanted to write a book that would de-mystify the Phoenix program, and he was all for that. Colby liked my approach — to look at it from all these different points of view — so he got behind me and started introducing me to a lot of senior CIA people. And that gave me access from the inside. After that it was pretty easy. I have good interview skills. I was able to persuade a lot of these CIA people to talk about Phoenix.

“Most CIA officers consider themselves to be soldiers. The CIA is set up as a military organization with a chain of command. Somebody tells you what to do, and you salute and do it.”

But I also approached it from an organizational point of view, which is absolutely essential when writing about bureaucracies like the CIA or the DEA. You really have to understand them as a bureaucracy, that they have an historical arc. They begin somewhere, they have a Congressional mandate, they have a purpose, and organizational and management structures. And in that regard I really lucked out. One of the first people I interviewed was the CIA officer, Nelson Brickham, who actually organized the Phoenix program. Brickham graduated magna cum laude from Yale and was something of an organizational genius. He explained to me how he organized Phoenix. He also explained the different divisions and branches of the CIA so I’d be able to understand it.

Nelson Brickham

Nelson Brickham was the senior CIA officer in charge of Foreign Intelligence Field Operations throughout South Vietnam, 1965-1966. Photo credit: Douglas Valentine

So I lucked out. Through Colby I had access to the people in the CIA who created the Phoenix program, and I was able to find out what was on their minds and why they did what they did. That never would have happened if I had gone to the Columbia School of Journalism, or if I’d been involved with journalism for many years. I’d have had a much narrower way of going at the thing. But the CIA officers I spoke with loved the broad view that I was bringing to the subject. They liked me asking them about their philosophy. It enabled me to understand the subject comprehensively.

TRACY: There’s an associate of William Colby’s whom you discuss and write about, also a CIA officer, Evan Parker. You were able to get a great many names from him and then you asked these people for interviews. The interview subjects, many of whom were CIA personnel, would go back to Colby or Parker and ask if it was okay to speak to you. Correct?

DOUG: That’s right. Once I had Colby’s approbation, many CIA officers thought I was in the CIA. No one had heard of me. I wasn’t Morley Safer or Seymour Hersh or someone who’d been a celebrity reporter in Vietnam. I was a Nobody, in the Eduardo Galeano sense of the word. I’d published a book about my father’s experiences in World War Two which some of these guys would read. Those who did read The Hotel Tacloban tended to like it, because it was sympathetic to soldiers and showed I understood what it means to be a soldier. Most CIA officers consider themselves to be soldiers. The CIA is set up as a military organization with a chain of command. Somebody tells you what to do, and you salute and do it.

“They trusted me because I didn’t ask them their secrets — so they told me their secrets.”

Evan Parker had that feeling about me — that I would understand him personally, why he did the things he did, because I’d written this sympathetic book about my father as a soldier, and because Colby sent me to him. I had an interesting experience with him. He invited me to his house for an interview and when I arrived, he invited me upstairs to his little den, which was stacked with bookshelves full of Welsh history and poetry books. Parker is a Welsh name. Because of my background in literature, I was able to talk to him about things like The Mabinogion, which is a book about Welsh mythology. I had this broad knowledge that helped me relate to people like him. I put him at ease.

Also, for a year before I started interviewing people, I’d read everything I could find about Vietnam and the CIA. I was knowledgeable, plus I looked like a good Methodist. I wore a suit and a tie. We spoke for an hour and Parker got to like me. I hadn’t asked him anything about the CIA. We were just getting to know each other. But he had a stack of official-looking documents on his coffee table. He glanced at the documents and politely said he was going down to get us some tea and cookies. “It’ll take about fifteen minutes. I’ll be back.” He winked and went downstairs.

William Colby

William E. Colby, Former Director of Central Intelligence, July 23, 2012. Photo credit: CIA / Wikimedia

I opened the top folder. It was a roster of everybody in the Phoenix Directorate from when Parker started it in the summer of 1967. I started furiously writing their names and ranks and the position they held in the program. Fifteen minutes later as I’m writing the last name, he yells from downstairs: “Doug, the tea is ready. I’m coming up.” I closed the file and put my notebook away. He came up with a tray with tea and cookies on it. He winked, and sat down, and I started to ask him about Phoenix.

We never got to the documents on his desk. But he liked me and he referred me to people. That’s the way it went with most of the CIA people I met. They cooperated because Colby had sent me to them. Like Parker said, “(Colby) was the Director and we still consider him to be the Director. If he says you’re okay, we believe it.”

He didn’t say, “Now I can waive my secrecy oath.” But that’s what they did.

I talked to members of almost every branch of the CIA and I approached my interviews organizationally. What kind of a budget did you have? Who was your boss and how did you report to him? Who worked for you and what jobs did you give them? I had a big organizational chart in my den and I’d fill in names and positions. I never asked anyone, “Did you kill anybody? Did you do this kind of illegal thing?” And because I approached it in that benign way, they were confident I was de-mystifying the program and just sticking to the facts. It had the effect of reverse psychology. They trusted me because I didn’t ask them their secrets — so they told me their secrets.

“The Department of Homeland Security was based on the Phoenix program model Nelson Brickham developed in Vietnam.”

They didn’t like it in the end because I exposed all the secrets. I talked to so many people that eventually they all started thinking that I was CIA. Because the CIA compartmentalizes itself, I ended up knowing more about the program than any individual in the CIA. I got a rat-a-tat going and pitted them against each other. They started telling me secrets about their rivals. They all want to be the hero in their myth.

TRACY: The interviews you conducted and the multitude of conversations you documented were placed alongside actual documentation which you had to acquire through a considerable amount of research.

DOUG: In the interviews, people were giving me original documents to confirm their assertions. Nelson Brickham was the CIA’s head of Foreign Intelligence Field Operations in Saigon (1965-1967). Brickham managed the liaison officers the CIA placed in the provinces to work with the South Vietnamese Police Special Branch, which is an organization like our FBI. The CIA created and funded the Special Police and sent them after the Viet Cong’s civilian leadership, and anyone else trying to undermine the American puppet government. Phoenix is political warfare. He managed the staff that ran all those operations in the provinces.

In late 1966 the CIA station chief in Saigon, John Hart, was working on improving operations against the VC’s leadership with a CIA officer in Washington, Robert Komer. Komer was Lyndon Johnson’s personal aide on pacification in Vietnam, what was called “the other war”. Anyway, Hart gave Brickham the task of creating a general staff for pacification, at which point Brickham went to work for Komer. In creating a general staff for pacification, Brickham cobbled together the Phoenix program. And Brickham gave me, over the course of several interviews, copies of all the original documents he wrote for Komer and Hart. These were the enabling documents of the Phoenix program.

Lyndon Johnson, Robert Komer

Robert Komer meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson, November 16 1967. Photo credit: Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum / Wikimedia

That happened a lot. I’d ask a guy if he had any documents to back up what he was saying and if he did he’d give me copies of what he kept in his library. Everyone thought because Colby had sent me that somehow this was all going to be ok. I wasn’t going to reveal all this stuff or that Colby had decided it was okay to reveal all of it.

The documents Brickham gave me showed in his own words what he was thinking when he created the Phoenix program. I posted all those documents online at Cryptocomb, along with the taped interviews with Brickham, Colby, Parker and several other CIA and military officers. They are part of the collection titled The CIA Speaks. I put them online so my critics can’t challenge me on the facts, other than by making up things, which they do all the time. I just quoted from these documents and my interviews. So it’s accurate reporting.2

“Following its ignoble defeat in Vietnam, America was driven by a reactionary impulse to reassert its global dominance. The justifications used to rationalize Phoenix were institutionalized as policy, as became evident after 9/11 and the initiation of the War on Terror.”

TRACY: There is a Douglas Valentine Collection at the National Security Archives at George Washington University.

DOUG: Yes, the collection contains my interview notes with close to 100 CIA officers and military officers involved in the Phoenix program. People kept referring me to people, and I made some great connections. I met a guy named Tullius Acampora who recently passed away; he was in his nineties. He’d been an army counterintelligence officer and worked for General Douglas MacArthur in Shanghai after World War Two. When the CIA was formed, Tully, like many army counterintelligence officers, started working with the counterintelligence staff at the CIA. He was detailed to the CIA. Although he kept his military rank, Tully was a CIA officer for many years. He went to Italy in 1958 and met and worked closely with Bureau of Narcotics agents in Rome. In the 50s and 60s, federal narcotic agents spent half their time doing favors for the CIA, and in exchange the CIA gave them intelligence on the mobsters they were going after.

Tully was sent to Vietnam in 1966 and was involved in one of the “anti-infrastructure” programs that Phoenix was based upon. Tully’s program was called Cong Tac IV and, like Phoenix, it targeted civilians who were functioning as secret agents for the Viet Cong. When the CIA and military created Phoenix, Evan Parker moved into Tully’s office. Tully knew the top Vietnamese officials and CIA officers in Vietnam, and he also knew the Italian Americans who were prominent in the Bureau of Narcotics and later the DEA. Tully and I became personal friends and he introduced me to senior people from the Bureau of Narcotics and the DEA.

Evan Parker

Senior CIA officer Evan Parker, director of the Phoenix Program (1967-1969) and senior CIA officer John Mason, his replacement, with US and Vietnamese Phung Hoang officers. Photo credit: Quora

The same way I had entrée through Colby into the CIA, I had an entrée through Tully into federal drug law enforcement at a high level. I met historically important people and got historically important documents, most of it new history. I haven’t gotten around to digitizing the tapes of the federal drug law enforcement officers I interviewed, but there are separate collections at the National Security Archive, for both my CIA/Phoenix program materials and my federal drug law enforcement materials.

“By the time America invaded Iraq in 2003, reporters were embedded in military units. The media became a PR unit of the military and the CIA, with the Orwellian result that the public did not see images of the mangled bodies.”

TRACY: I’m wondering how the former governor of Pennsylvania and Bush administration officer, Tom Ridge, fits into all this. Was he not involved in Operation Phoenix?

DOUG: I’m not sure about Ridge. He was in an infantry unit in Vietnam from late 1969 into 1970. He worked in a team with four Americans and seven Vietnamese soldiers going after insurgents, not North Vietnamese regulars. So he was part of the pacification program. He got a bronze star for killing a young man carrying a sack of potatoes. He may have been a sniper and he may have been involved in one of the programs Phoenix coordinated, but it doesn’t seem like he was a Phoenix adviser.

Ridge had been a governor and had executive management experience when he was appointed to run the Office of Homeland Security and later the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). He was a political cadre who could be trusted to implement Republican Party policy.

At the same time, the Department of Homeland Security was based on the Phoenix program model Nelson Brickham developed in Vietnam. Ridge may have had some related pacification experience, which is what homeland security is; but he certainly understood how to manage organizations. The key word is coordination. When the National Security Establishment wanted to centralize the war on terror here in the United States, through the DHS, they copied how Phoenix had coordinated multiple agencies in order to streamline and bureaucratize the war against the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI).

Homeland Security Secretary, Tom Ridge

Homeland Security’s first Secretary, Tom Ridge, speaks with employees during the first days of the Agency. Photo credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection / Flickr

Phoenix proved an incredibly successful model for pacification in South Vietnam. It was the silver lining in the Vietnam War. Politically the war was a disaster, but bureaucratically the Phoenix program succeeded. It became the model for CIA operations in Central America — the Salvador Option.

The Phoenix program established Intelligence Operations and Coordinating Centers in the provinces and districts (PIOCCs and DIOCCs) of South Vietnam. Similarly, the Department of Homeland Security has created “fusion centers” in every state and major city across the country. The fusion centers coordinate all the agencies in an area exactly like IOCCs did in Vietnam; systematized and computerized, they coordinate contributing intelligence analysts and operating units. It’s the same highly bureaucratized system for dispensing with anything and anyone who can’t be assimilated.

TRACY: That’s an ominous set of observations for someone who has studied the Phoenix program in such great depth. You are saying the Phoenix template is something that has been grafted onto the American homeland.

“Since Iran Contra, the bureaucracies have instituted incredible obstacles that make it impossible for people to see what’s going on inside their private club. The public is totally reliant now on whistleblowers.”

DOUG: Absolutely. And I’m not the only one that talks about it. David Kilcullen was a counter insurgency adviser to the Bush and Obama administrations and in 2004 he called for a global Phoenix operation.3

Tom Hayden described Kilcullen as the “chief adviser on counterinsurgency operations” to General David Petraeus “in planning the 2007 US troop surge (in Iraq). He also served as chief strategist in the State Department’s counterterrorism office in 2005 and 2006, and has been employed in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia. In the section titled ‘A Global Phoenix Program’ in his 2004 article, Kilcullen describes the Vietnam Phoenix program as ‘unfairly maligned’ and ‘highly effective.’ Dismissing CIA sponsorship and torture allegations as ‘popular mythology,’ Kilcullen calls Phoenix a misunderstood ‘civilian aid and development program’ that was supported by ‘pacification’ operations to disrupt the Vietcong, whose infrastructure ruled vast swaths of rural South Vietnam. A ‘global Phoenix program,’ he wrote, would provide a starting point for dismantling the worldwide jihadist infrastructure today.”4

TRACY: How did Kilcullen want to see a Phoenix program imposed upon the world?

DOUG: If he understood it correctly, he’d know that the strength of the Phoenix program was in the IOCC centers, which allowed for political control. Through a network of Phoenix centers, management is able to control targeting and messaging. I imagine Kilcullen wanted such highly bureaucratized centers set up in or near nations in which the CIA and military are hunting terrorists. Such centers would allow the White House to direct the CIA to direct the military to target the right terrorists. Leave ours alone.

Iraqi playing cards

Most-wanted Iraqi playing cards.
Photo credit: Brakeet / Wikimedia (CC0 1.0)

Seymour Hersh is always looked to for insight into the CIA. In December 2003 he wrote an article in The New Yorker in which he said the Special Operations people in the military were going to use Phoenix as a model in Iraq.5 True to his high-toned style, Hersh focused on the sensational “death squad” aspect of Phoenix, not the revealing organizational aspect. He keeps the focus narrow.

Phoenix is greater than the sum of its parts because it has symbolic meaning. But its lurid aspects — like the death squads Hersh emphasizes — grab everyone’s attention. In Iraq, the CIA handed out decks of “playing” cards featuring pictures of “High Value” Sunni officials in the Saddam Hussein government. That psywar gimmick and jargon was right out of the Phoenix program.

The purpose of the Phoenix program was to “neutralize” the civilian members of the underground revolutionary government in South Vietnam. Neutralize was a broad term that included a number of measures. The first step was to identity a suspected subversive. After that, Nelson Brickham, the CIA officer who created Phoenix in 1967, explained the process to me as follows: “My motto was to recruit them; if you can’t recruit them, defect them (that’s Chieu Hoi); if you can’t defect them, capture them; if you can’t capture them, kill them. That was my attitude toward high-level VCI.”

“The pressures the CIA imposes on the media amounts to political warfare directed against the American public. It’s no different than how the CIA mounts counter-subversion operations overseas.”

VCI was the acronym for Viet Cong Infrastructure — the name the CIA gave to the members of the revolutionaries’ underground government and guerrilla support system.

As part of its Congressional mandate, the CIA has the job of counter-subversion outside the United States. Thus, when the US is waging a counter-insurgency in a nation like Iraq or Afghanistan, the CIA pursues a political order of battle, while the US armed forces pursue a military order of battle. In practice, however, counter-subversion during a counter-insurgency is a paramilitary police function. Thus, in South Vietnam, the US military supported the CIA’s Phoenix program with troops and equipment.

In 1969, the CIA ostensibly turned the Phoenix program over to the US military, at which point soldiers first began to pursue a political order of battle and conduct systematic counter-subversive operations against foreign civilians. The creation of Phoenix was a watershed. Prior to it, military people were only allowed to target civilians if they were secret agents or guerillas attacking military bases or personnel. But in its fanatical pursuit of victory in Vietnam, the military deliberately blurred the lines between subversives and innocent civilians, and killed anyone who got in the way, including children, like it did at My Lai and a thousand other places.

Following its ignoble defeat in Vietnam, America was driven by a reactionary impulse to reassert its global dominance. The justifications used to rationalize Phoenix were institutionalized as policy, as became evident after 9/11 and the initiation of the War on Terror. Since then the CIA and US military have been conducting joint Phoenix-style operations worldwide without any compunctions, most prominently in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Phoenix Program, patch

Original unissued patch for the Phoenix Program. Photo credit: Tuxxmeister / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Also evolving was the relationship between the CIA, the military and the media. In Vietnam, there was more press freedom and the carnage was filmed and shown on TV every night. But the CIA and military felt those images turned the public against the war, so by the time America invaded Iraq in 2003, reporters were embedded in military units. The media became a PR unit of the military and the CIA, with the Orwellian result that the public did not see images of the mangled bodies. The public was denied access to the truth of what its government was actually doing, and when Chelsea Manning leaked the Collateral Murder video to Wikileaks, she was summarily tried and imprisoned.6

When I was doing my interviews for The Phoenix Program, certain CIA people would tell me how a particular correspondent from CBS or The New York Times would come into their offices and ask about the programs they managed. The CIA officers would talk openly about their operations, but the Vietnam-era correspondents wouldn’t publish the details, because their editors had a gentlemen’s agreement with the CIA not to reveal the secrets. They could know the secrets and as long as they didn’t reveal them, they could continue to have access.

“As power gets more concentrated in the security services, the media is no longer simply compliant, it’s functioning as their public relations arm. It simply ignores anything that contradicts the official line.”

While I was researching Phoenix, I went to people like Seymour Hersh and Gloria Emerson but they wouldn’t talk to me. I had a harder time getting reporters to talk to me than I did CIA people, because as soon as they expressed any knowledge about Phoenix, the follow up question was: Why weren’t you writing about it? Then they’d have to reveal this gentlemen’s agreement with the CIA.

The “old boy” network existed in Vietnam but it’s gotten a lot worse; it’s impossible now for anyone to interview mid-level CIA people on the record and reveal the facts. Since Iran Contra, the bureaucracies have instituted incredible obstacles that make it impossible for people to see what’s going on inside their private club. The public is totally reliant now on whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, who are then vilified, imprisoned, and/or chased into exile.

TRACY: We see what, for example, happened to Gary Webb in the mid-1990s. He had some people who had divulged significant information to him and yet the CIA denied it, and that more or less cost him his career. He had no one, no colleagues of his, who actually went to bat for him to any significant degree to keep him in the industry because what he was doing is what investigative journalists and historians, such as you, should be doing.

DOUG: Yes. Gary Webb was an investigative journalist whose “Dark Alliance” series in 1996 exposed the link between the CIA’s “Contras” in Central America and a crack cocaine dealer in Los Angeles. The story rattled the CIA. Members of the black community were up in arms. Then the CIA’s old boy network sprang into action and Webb was nitpicked to death by fellow journalists for minor inaccuracies in his work. But his real sin was revealing the CIA’s criminal involvement in systematic racial oppression through the war on drugs.

Webb committed suicide in 2004. But he wasn’t the first American citizen to be attacked for telling the truth about the CIA’s central role in drug trafficking. In his 1972 book The Politics in Heroin in Southeast Asia, Al McCoy detailed much of the CIA’s drug network in Vietnam and the Golden Triangle region of Laos, Burma and Thailand. When the CIA found out what McCoy was doing, one of its most senior executives, Cord Meyer, tried to get McCoy’s publisher to suppress the book. When that didn’t work, the CIA tapped McCoy’s phone and the IRS audited his income tax. Behind the scenes, the CIA forced McCoy’s sources to recant. The famous Church Committee, which exposed a lot of the CIA’s secrets, investigated McCoy’s allegations and found the CIA innocent of any involvement in drug trafficking. McCoy moved to Australia and didn’t return to America for eleven years.

The CIA’s control of international drug trafficking is America’s darkest secret, and after the Webb scandal, the old boy network imposed even more restrictions on the media. The pressures the CIA imposes on the media amounts to political warfare directed against the American public. It’s no different than how the CIA mounts counter-subversion operations overseas.

Nowadays, the only way you can discern what’s going on is by studying and understanding the historical arc of these bureaucracies. Where did the CIA come from? Where is it going? If you look at it historically, you can see beyond the spin and it becomes de-mystified. And that is not a happy story. As power gets more concentrated in the security services, the media is no longer simply compliant, it’s functioning as their public relations arm. It simply ignores anything that contradicts the official line.

TRACY: There is almost a complete blackout of Jade Helm in the mainstream media. It is only getting coverage and discussion and analysis in the alternative media.

DOUG: Yes. Jade Helm was a military training exercise in Texas, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Utah. Military and local officials set up Phoenix-style coordination centers, as a way of giving Special Operations and “Civil Affairs” personnel experience working with para-militarized police forces in what was called a realistic “war experience” in domestic counter-insurgency operations. The media blackout was an essential part of the plan. The censorship was symbolic of how, as a function of the concentration of capital, the communications/media industry has been centralized and is now part of the political warfare apparatus. The media industry has been reduced to a few huge corporations that control most of the outlets. Control of information has become the key to the oligarchy’s success. Very few independent news organizations are able to compete with the giants, or get information out across the country, so people really have to search for facts on the Internet.

TRACY: Even some of the alternative progressive left media that were good twenty or so years ago are increasingly dependent upon foundation money that comes with strings attached, and they’re not as inclined to push the envelope as I think they once were.

DOUG: Sure. As a person who is interested in how the CIA uses language and mythology to control political and social movements, I see this development as ominous. People like Glenn Greenwald who take money from billionaires insist it has no editorial influence on them. But media people who are taking money from billionaires and CIA-connected foundations must realize that their sugar daddies can sink their operations in a moment because of something they write, and that knowledge surely impacts what they are willing to do and say.

Taking money from a billionaire also has tremendous symbolic meaning. It means the person taking the money approves of one person having eight billion dollars when three billion people barely survive. Through their example, celebrity media figures like Greenwald are telling their followers that they support the exploitation and imperialism their benefactors engage in.

As all advertising people know, symbolic messages don’t have to be articulated, they’re understood subliminally. Greenwald’s followers like it that way. It means they don’t have to consciously confront their tacit support for an unjust system. That self-censorship allows celebrity journalists like Greenwald and his sidekick Jeremy Scahill to promote themselves as heroic adversaries of the system. And they’ll continue to get away with the double game until their followers start challenging their own basic assumptions. The system will never change until people climb out of their comfortable darkness and start rejecting the system’s inequalities, instead of just feeding off of them.


1. Phoenix is Phụng Hoàng in Vietnamese.

2. <>

3. See David Kilcullen, “Countering Global Insurgency”, Small Wars Journal, September-November 2004.

4. Tom Hayden, “Reviving Vietnam War Tactics”, The Nation, 13 March

5. Seymour Hersh, “Moving Targets: Will the counter-insurgency plan in Iraq repeat the mistakes of Vietnam?”, The New Yorker, 15 December 2003. Hersh said, “According to official South Vietnamese statistics, Phoenix claimed nearly forty-one thousand victims between 1968 and 1972; the US counted more than twenty thousand in the same time Span.”


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Phoenix (Diafora / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 3.0) and CIA Seal (CIA).


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