Secrets R US
Deceptions and schemes in the
by Greg Guma
Toward Freedom magazine, August / September 2001
It was classic spin. When NATO's US and British troops in
Macedonia began evacuating Albanian rebels in June, officials
claimed they were merely attempting to help Europe avert a devastating
civil war. Most media dutifully repeated that as fact. But the
explanation only made sense if you ignored a troublesome contradiction,
namely US support for both the Macedonian Armed Forces and the
Albanians fighting them. Beyond that, there's a decade of confused
and manipulative Western policies, climaxing with NATO bombing
and the failure to impose "peace" through aggression
in Kosovo. Together, these moves have effectively destabilized
In the Macedonia operation, the main "cut out" -that's
spook speak for "intermediary"-has been Military Professional
Resources, Inc. (MPRI), a major private military company (PMC)
whose Macedonian field commander is a former US general with strong
ties to Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) Commander Agim Ceku and Macedonian
General Jovan Andrejevski.
MPRI and other PMCs get much of their money from contracts
with the US State Department, Pentagon, and CIA . For example,
MPRI trained and equipped the Bosnian CroatMuslim Federation Army
with a large State Department contract. Over the years, the company
claims to have "helped" Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, and
Macedonia-in effect, arming and training all parties. Last year,
it pulled in at least $70 million from its global operations.
Working closely with the Pentagon, MPRI also arranged for
the KLA's training and weapons in the run up to the war on Yugoslavia
just two years ago. These days, the same firm channels token military
aid to the Macedonian army, new US weapons to the rebels, and
military intelligence to both sides.
Actually, this is a standard tactic, applied with great success
in the Middle East for decades: Keep warring parties from overwhelming
one other and you strengthen the bargaining power of the puppeteer
behind the scenes. Better yet, combine this with disinformation;
that is, tell the public one thing while doing the opposite.
It's not a question of allies and enemies. Those designations
can change for any number of reasons. Two years ago, ethnic Albanians
were victims and freedom fighters. In 2001, they're "officially"
a threat. Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden
are just three of the friends-turned-pariahs who've learn that
So, what's the real objective in Macedonia? Hard to know.
But the country is clearly in a financial straight jacket, its
budget basically controlled by the IMF and the World Bank on behalf
of international creditors. Since the IMF has placed a ceiling
on military expenditures, the only funding option left is privatization.
According to Jane's Defense Weekly, the process is already underway,
starting with the sale of the government's stake in Macedonian
There could be even more at stake-things like strategic pipeline
routes and transport corridors through the country. But, in all
likelihood, we won't be told that until years from now-if ever.
That's another traditional tactic: Keep the true agenda under
wraps for as long as possible.
A PRETEXT FOR WAR
Despite 24-hour news and all the US talk about transparency,
there's much we don't know about our history, much less current
events. What s worse, some of what we think we know isn't true.
And that's no accident
Consider, for example, the proximate circumstances that led
to open war in Vietnam. According to official history, two US
destroyers patrolling in the Gulf of Tonkin off North Vietnam
were victims of unprovoked attacks in August 1964, leading to
a congressional resolution that gave President Lyndon Johnson
the power "to take all necessary measures."
In fact, the destroyers were spy ships, part of a National
Security Agency (NSA) eavesdropping program operating near the
coast as a way to provoke the North Vietnamese into turning on
their radar and other communications channels. The more provocative
the maneuvers, the more signals that could be captured. Meanwhile,
US raiding parties were shelling mainland targets. Documents revealed
later indicated that the August 4 attack on the USS Maddox-the
pretext for passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution-may not even
have taken place. '
But even if it did, the incident was still stage managed to
build up congressional and public support for the war. Evidence
suggests that the plan was based on Operation Northwoods, a scheme
developed in 1962 to justify an invasion of Cuba. Among the tactics
the Joint Chiefs of Staff considered then were blowing up a ship
in Guantanamo Bay, a phony "communist Cuba terror campaign"
in Florida and Washington, DC, and an elaborate plan to convince
people that Cuba had shot down a civilian airliner filled with
students. That operation wasn't implemented, but two years later,
desperate for a war, the administration's military brass found
a way to create the necessary conditions in Vietnam.
NSA AND ECHELON: QUESTIONING THE VIRTUAL STATE
For half a century, the eyes and ears of US power to monitor
and manipulate information (and with it, mass perceptions) has
been the NSA, initially designed to assist the CIA. Its original
task was to collect raw information about threats to US security,
cracking codes and using the latest technology to provide accurate
intelligence on the intentions and activities of enemies. Emerging
after World War II, its early focus was the Soviet Union. But,
according to James Bamford, author of the latest and most detailed
history of the NSA to date, it never did crack a high-level Soviet
cipher system. On the other hand, it has used every available
means to eavesdrop on not only enemies but also allies and, sometimes,
In Body of Secrets, Bamford describes a bureaucratic and secretive
behemoth, based in an Orwellian Maryland complex known as Crypto
City. From there, supercomputers link it to spy satellites, subs,
aircraft, and equally covert, strategically placed listening posts
worldwide. It has a $7 billion annual budget and directly employs
at least 38,000 people, more than the CIA and FBI. It is also
the leader of an international intelligence club, UKUSA, which
includes Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Together,
they monitor and record billions of encrypted communications,
telephone calls, radio messages, faxes, and e-mails around the
Over the years, however, the line between enemies and friends
has blurred, and the intelligence gatherers have often converted
their control of information into unilateral power, influencing
the course of history in ways that may never become known. No
doubt the agency has had a hand in countless covert operations;
yet, attempts to pull away the veil of secrecy have been largely
In the mid-1970s, for example, just as Congress was attempting
to reign in the CIA, the NSA was quietly creating a virtual state,
a massive international computer network named Platform. Doing
away with formal borders, it developed a software package that
turned worldwide Sigint (short for "signal intelligence":
communication intelligence, eavesdropping, and electronic intelligence)
into a unified whole. The software package was code named Echelon,
a name that's since become a term for eavesdropping on commercial
Of course, the NSA and its British sister, the Government
Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), refuse to admit Echelon exists,
even though declassified documents have appeared on the Internet
and Congress has conducted an initial investigation. A recent
European Parliament report also confirms Echelon's activities,
and encourages Internet users and governments to adopt stronger
privacy measures in response.
The pressure to find out more is mounting.
In March, several ranking British politicians discussed Echelon's
potential impacts on civil liberties, and a European Parliament
committee considered its legal, human rights, and privacy implications.
The Dutch held similar hearings, and a French National Assembly
inquiry urged the European Union to embrace new privacy enhancing
technologies to protect against Echelon's eavesdropping. France
is launching a formal investigation into possible abuses for industrial
WHEN ALLIES COMPETE
A prime reason for Europe's discontent is the growing suspicion
that the NSA has used intercepted conversations to help US companies
win contracts heading for European firms. To date, the alleged
losers include Airbus-a consortium including interests in France,
Germany, Spain, and Britain-and Thomson CSF, a French electronics
company. The French claim they lost a $1.4 billion deal to supply
Brazil with a radar system because the NSA shared details of the
negotiations with Raytheon. Airbus may have lost a contract worth
$2 billion to Boeing and McDonnell Douglas because of information
intercepted and passed on by the agency.
According to former NSA agent Wayne Madsen, the US used information
gathered from its bases in Australia to win a half share in a
significant Indonesian trade contract for AT&T. Communication
intercepts showed the contract was initially going to a Japanese
firm. More recently, a lawsuit against the US and Britain was
launched in France, judicial and parliamentary investigations
began in Italy, and German parliamentarians demanded an inquiry.
The rationale for turning the NSA loose on commercial activities,
even involving allies, was provided in the mid-90s by Sen. Frank
DeConcini, then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"I don't think we should have a policy where we're going
to invade the Airbus inner sanctum and find out their secrets
for the purpose of turning it over to Boeing or McDonnell Douglas,"
he opined. "But if we find something, not to share it with
our people seems to me to be not smart." President Bill Clinton
and other US officials buttressed this view by charging that European
countries were unfairly subsidizing Airbus. In other words, competition
with significant US interests can be a matter of national security
concern, and private capitalism must be protected from state-run
The US-Europe row about Airbus subsidies also has been used
as a "test case" for scientists developing new intelligence
tools. At US Defense Department conferences on "text retrieval,"
competitions are staged to find the best methods. Recently, a
standard test has featured extracting protected data about "Airbus
AUSTRALIA: MANIPULATING DEMOCRACY
In the end, influencing the outcome of huge commercial transactions
is but the tip of this iceberg. The NSA's ability to listen to
virtually any transmitted communication has enhanced the power
of unelected officials and private interests to set covert foreign
policy in motion. In some cases, the objective is clear and arguably
defensible: taking effective action against terrorism, for example.
But in others, the grand plans of the intelligence community have
led it to undermine democracies.
The 1975 removal of Australian Prime Minister Edward Whitlam
is an instructive case. At the time of Whitlam's election in 1972,
Australian intelligence was working with the CIA against the Allende
government in Chile. The new PM did not simply order a halt to
Australia's involvement, explains William Blum in Killing Hope,
a masterful study of US interventions since World War II. He seized
intelligence information withheld from him by the Australian Security
and Intelligence Organization (ASIO), and disclosed the existence
of a joint CIA-ASIO directorate that monitored radio traffic in
Asia. Whitlam also openly disapproved of US plans to build up
the Indian Ocean Island of Diego Garcia as a military-intelligence-nuclear
Both the CIA and NSA became concerned about the security and
future of crucial intelligence facilities in and near Australia.
The country was already key member of UKUSA. After launching its
first space-based listening post-a microwave receiver with an
antenna pointed at earth-NSA had picked an isolated desert area
in central Australia as a ground station. Once completed, the
base at Alice Springs was named Pine Gap, the first of many listening
posts to be installed around the world. For the NSA and CIA, Whitlam
posed a threat to the secrecy and security of such operations.
The first step was covert funding for the political opposition,
in hopes of defeating Whitlam's Labor Party in 1974. When that
failed, meetings were held with the Governor-General, Sir John
Kerr, a figurehead representing the Queen of England who had worked
for CIA front organizations since the 50s. Defense officials warned
that intelligence links would be cut off unless someone stopped
Whitlam. On November 11, 1975, Kerr responded, dismissing the
prime minister, dissolving both houses of Parliament, and appointing
an interim government until new elections were held.
According to Christopher Boyce (the subject of a film, The
Falcon and the Snowman) -who watched the process while working
for TRW in a CIA-linked cryptographic communications center-the
spooks also infiltrated Australian labor unions and contrived
to suppress transportation strikes that were holding up deliveries
to US intelligence installations. Not coincidentally, some unions
were leading the opposition to development of those same facilities.
How often, and to what effect, such covert ops have succeeded
is just another of the mysteries that comprise an unwritten history
of the last 50 years. Beyond that, systems like Echelon violate
the basic human right to individual privacy, and give those who
control the information the ability to act with impunity, sometimes
destroying lives and negating the popular will in the process.
HIDING THE AGENDA IN PERU
In May 1960, when a U-2 spy plane was shot down over Soviet
territory, President Dwight Eisenhower took great pains to deny
direct knowledge or authorization of the provocative mission.
But, in truth, he personally oversaw every U-2 mission, and had
even riskier and more provocative bomber overflights in mind.
It's a basic rule of thumb for covert ops: When exposed, keep
denying and deflect the blame. More important, never, never let
on that the mission itself may be a pretext, or a diversion from
some other, larger agenda.
Considering that, the April 20, 2001, shoot down of a plane
carrying missionaries across the Brazilian border into Peru becomes
highly suspicious. At first, the official story fed to the press
was that Peruvian authorities ordered the attack on their own,
over the pleas of the CIA "contract pilots" who initially
spotted the plane. But Peruvian pilots involved in that program,
supposedly designed to intercept drug flights, insist that nothing
gets shot down without US approval.
Sometimes innocent planes are attacked, but most of them are
low flying puddle-jumpers that don't file flight plans and have
no radios or instrumentation. This plane maintained regular radio
contact and did / file a plan. Yet, even after it crash-landed,
the Peruvians continued to strafe it, perhaps in an attempt to
ignite the plane's fuel and eliminate the evidence.
"I think it has to do with Plan Colombia and the coming
war," says Celerino Castillo, who worked in Peru for Drug
Enforcement Agency (DEA) in the 80s. "The CIA was sending
a clear message to all non-combatants to clear out of the area,
and to get favorable press." The flight was heading to Iquitos,
which "is at the heart of everything the CIA is doing right
now," he adds. "They don't want any witnesses."
Timing also may have played a part. The shoot down occurred
on the opening day of the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City.
Uruguay's President Jorge Ibanez, who had proposed the worldwide
legalization of drugs just weeks before, was expected to make
a high-profile speech on his proposal at the gathering. The downing
of a drug smuggling plane at this time, near territory held by
Colombia's FARC rebels, might have helped defuse Uruguay's message
and reinforced the image of the insurgents as drug smugglers.
If you doubt that the US would condone such an operation or
cover it up, consider this story, exquisitely documented in Bamford's
book: In 1967, Israel torpedoed the USS Liberty, a large floating
listening post, as it was eavesdropping on the Arab-Israeli war
off the Sinai Peninsula. Hundreds of US sailors were wounded and
killed, probably because Israel feared that its massacre of Egyptian
prisoners at El Arish might be overheard.
How did the Pentagon respond? By imposing a total news ban,
and covering up the facts for decades.
DYNCORP: PRIVATIZING FOREIGN POLICY
A further wrinkle in the Peruvian shoot down is the involvement
of another private military company, DynCorp, which is also active
in Colombia and Bolivia under large contracts with various US
agencies. The day after the incident, ABC news reported that-
according to senior administration officials- the crew of the
surveillance plane that first identified the doomed aircraft "was
hired by the CIA from DynCorp." Within two days, however,
all references to DynCorp were removed from ABC's Website. A week
later, the New York Post claimed the crew actually worked for
Aviation Development Corp., allegedly a CIA proprietary company.
Whatever the truth, State Department officials won't talk
on the record about DynCorp's activities in South America. Yet,
according to CorpWatch, which obtained a copy of DynCorp's State
Department contract, the firm has received at least $600 million
over the last few years for training, drug interdiction, search
and rescue (which can include combat), air transport of equipment
and people, and reconnaissance in the region. And that's only
what they put on paper! It also operates government aircraft and
provides all manner of personnel, particularly for Plan Colombia.
There's more. DynCorp is not only the largest US contractor
operating in Latin America, but also a high-tech company with
expertise in information systems and Internet technology. In 1999,
it acquired GTE Information Systems to help it win government
mega-projects. Its main operating center is located at Patrick
Air Force Base in Florida, sharing space with the State Department
in buildings also occupied by defense contractor Raytheon. High-speed
data lines link the buildings directly with CIA headquarters.
In other words, DynCorp is a trusted partner in the military-intelligence-industrial
complex. "Are we outsourcing order to avoid public scrutiny,
controversy or embarrassment?" asks Rep. Janice Schakowsky,
the Illinois Democrat who has submitted legislation to prohibit
US funding for private military firms in the Andean region. "If
there is a potential for a privatized Gulf of Tonkin incident,
then the American people deserve to have a full and open debate
before this policy goes any further."
If and when that ever happens, the discussion will have to
cover a lot of ground. Private firms, working in concert with
various intelligence agencies, constitute a vast foreign policy
apparatus that is largely invisible, rarely covered by the corporate
press, and not currently subject to congressional oversight. The
Freedom of Information Act simply doesn't apply. Any information
on whom they arm or how they operate is private, proprietary information.
Nevertheless, the companies are staffed by former generals,
admirals, and highly trained officers. The two leading firms,
MPRI and DynCorp, currently have operations in Bosnia, Macedonia,
Croatia, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Nigeria, and Equatorial Guinea.
Name another hot spot and some PMC has people there, too. DynCorp
has worked on the Defense Message System Transition Hub and does
long-range planning for the Air Force. MPRI had a similar contract
with the Army, and has coordinated the Pentagon's military and
leadership training in at least seven African nations. The next
stops, according to its CEO Ed Soyster, include Poland, Argentina,
and Bahrain. Think NATO and EU expansion, free trade and the IMF,
Before coming to MPRI, by the way, Soyster directed the US
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
CORPORATE CONNECTIONS AND "SOFT LANDINGS"
Although the various departments and private contractors within
the military-intelligence-industrial complex occasionally have
turf battles and don't always share information or coordinate
strategy as effectively as they could, close and ongoing contact
has always been considered essential. And it's certainly growing
as a result of the information revolution. The entire intelligence
community has its own secret Intranet, known as Intelink, which
pulls together FBI reports, NSA intercepts, analysis from the
DIA and CIA, and more deeply covert sources.
Private firms are connected to this information web through
staff, location, shared technology, and assorted contracts. For
example, MPRI is now owned by L-3 Communications, itself a spinoff
from major defense contractor Lockheed Martin.
Working primarily for the Pentagon, L-3 manufactures hardware
like control systems for satellites and flight recorders; meanwhile,
MPRI provides services, like its current operations in Macedonia.
L-3 also built the NSA's Secure Terminal Equipment, which instantly
encrypts phone conversations.
Another private contractor active in the Balkans is Science
Applications, staffed by former NSA and CIA personnel, and specializing
in police training. When Janice Stromsem, a Justice Department
employee, complained that its program gave the CIA unfettered
access to recruiting agents in foreign police forces, she was
relieved of her duties. Her concern was that the sovereignty of
nations receiving aid from the US was being compromised..
DynCorp'.s day-to-day operations in South America are overseen
by State Department officials, including the Narcotic Affairs
Section and the Air Wing, the latter a clique of unreformed cold
warriors and leftovers from 80s operations in Central America.
It's essentially the State Department's private air force in the
Andes, with access to satellite-based recording and mapping systems.
In the 60s, a similar role was played by the Vinnell Corp., which
the CIA called "our own private mercenary army in Vietnam."
Today, Vinnell is a subsidiary of TRW, a major NSA contractor,
and employs US Special Forces vets to train Saudi Arabia's National
Guard. In the late 9()s, TRW hired former NSA director William
Studeman to help with its intelligence program.
In l999, faced with personnel cuts, the NSA offered over 4000
employees "soft landing" buy outs to help them secure
jobs with defense firms that have major NSA contracts. NSA offered
to pay the first year's salary, in hopes the contractor would
then pick up the tab. Sometimes the employee didn't even have
to move away from Crypto City. Companies taking part in the program
included TRW and MPRI's parent company, Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed has also been a winner in the long-term effort to
privatize government services. In 2000, it won a $43.8 million
contract to run the Defense Civilian Personnel Data System, one
of the largest human resources systems in the world. As a result,
a major defense contractor will also be in charge of consolidating
all Department of Defense personnel systems, covering hiring and
firing for about 750,000 civilian employees. This will put the
contractor at the cutting edge of Defense Department planning,
and make it a key gatekeeper at the revolving door between the
US military and private interests.
Shortly after his appointment as NSA director in 1999, Michael
Hayden went to see the film Enemy of the State, in which Will
Smith is pursued by an all-seeing, all hearing NSA and former
operative Gene Hackman decries the agency's dangerous power. In
Body of Secrets, author Bamford says Hayden found the film entertaining,
yet offensive and highly inaccurate. Still, the NSA chief is comforted
by "a society that makes its bogeymen secrecy and power.
That's really what the movie's about.''
Unlike Hayden, however, most people don't know where the fiction
ends and NSA reality begins. Supposedly, the agency rarely spies
on US citizens at home. On the other hand, the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act allows a secret federal court to waive that limitation,
and, outside the US, only the Attorney General's approval is needed.
The rest of the world doesn't even have that much protection.
Clearly, an agency that eavesdrops on phone calls from Osama
bin Laden (and plays them back to impress visitors) is capable
of closely monitoring the rest of us. Designating thousands of
keywords, names, phrases, and phone numbers, NSA computers can
pick them out of millions of messages, passing anything of interest
on to analysts. One can only speculate about what happens next.
In the near future, the agency apparently hopes to go even
further with a project code named Tempest. The goal is to capture
computer signals such as keystrokes or monitor images through
walls or from other buildings, even if the computers aren't linked
to a network. An NSA document, "Compromising Emanations Laboratory
Test Requirements, Electromagnetics," describes procedures
for capturing the radiation emitted from a computer-through radio
waves and the telephone, serial, network, or power cables attached
Other new NSA programs include Oasis, designed to reduce audiovisual
images into machine-readable text for easier filtering, and Fluent,
which will expand Echelon's multilingual capabilities. And let's
not forget the government's Carnivore Internet surveillance program,
which can collect all communications over any segment of the network
Put such elements together, combine them with business imperatives
and covert foreign policy objectives, then throw PMCS into the
mix, and you get a glimpse of the extent to which information
can be translated into raw power and secretly used to shape major
events. Although most pieces of the puzzle remain obscure, there's
already enough visible to justify suspicion, outrage, and a concerted
effort to pull away the curtain on this Wizard of Oz. But fighting
a force that's largely invisible and unaccountable-and able to
eavesdrop on the most private exchanges-is a daunting task, perhaps
even more difficult than confronting the mechanisms of corporate
globalization that it protects and promotes.
But should we be concerned? And, if so, how much fear is reasonable?
Fortunately, the bogeyman isn't invincible-yet. It's still too
compartmentalized and bureaucratic to be consistently effective.
There's no one "Big Brother" watching. Thus, the outcome
of a struggle to tame it isn't certain.
On the other hand, what we know about the past suggests that
failing to act-out of fear, cynicism, or just plain apathy-means
surrendering control of both history and destiny. In the long
run, nothing less than the survival of individual liberty and
meaningful democracy may be at stake.
Greg Guma is the editor of Toward Freedom.