excerpts from the book

Uneasy Empire

Repression, Globalization, and What We Can Do

by Greg Guma

Toward Freedom, 2003


... John Negroponte, was ... appointed US Ambassador to the UN. As one State Department official put it, "Giving him this job is a way of telling the UN: 'We hate you."' Here was a stalwart imperialist, a man who had proven repeatedly that he was ready to act alone on behalf of US interests and lie about it without blinking.

In the early 1970s, Negroponte had been Kissinger's point man in Vietnam on the National Security Council, a committed Cold Warrior who sometimes even thought his boss was too soft in negotiating. As Ambassador to Honduras from 1981-85, Negroponte had turned that country into a massive staging area for the Contra war against Nicaragua's Sandinista government and presided over an era of death squads and violent repression. When questioned about it by Congress, he denied everything-the murderous generals, political prisoners, and secret prisons and cemeteries.

That Negroponte was the Bush administration's choice to represent the US at the UN spoke volumes about what to expect-more jingoism, lies, confrontation, and a clumsy but persistent effort to manipulate reality. One clear example of the latter was the administration's position, dutifully parroted as fact in most press reports, concerning a UN anti-racism conference held in South Africa just two weeks before 9/11. The public was told that Secretary of State Colin Powell and the US delegation walked out as a protest in response to rhetoric directed against Israel. But the real fear, insiders knew, was that staying meant confronting US responsibility for slavery and, more pointedly, demands for financial reparations.

... systems of authority are widely known to abuse their powers. As long ago as 1690 John Locke took note of the danger, as did Alexander Hamilton in his defense of John Peter Zenger. Abuse of official power has traditionally been viewed as an especially serious evil indeed. As a result, the US social system generally embraces the presumption of transparency, that in general the people have a "right to know," and that a basic function of the press is to check abuses of power. In fact, this "checking function" is built into the First Amendment, and, except in times of war, it has held sway for over a century. Nevertheless, much important information never reaches the general public. Compounding the problem, US leaders frequently work with a compliant legislative branch to tighten access and negate the appropriate role of journalists.

During the 1980s, it was surprising, at least occasionally, that the press did not make more of directives on secrecy, a persistent nipping away at public access to documents, or an executive branch rule that required all federal employees with access to "sensitive" material to sign secrecy agreements forcing them to submit any writing for pre-publication review, even long after they left the government.

Taken together, such restrictions dramatically reduced oversight of defense and foreign policy in the Reagan-Bush era.

If the same secrecy rules had been in effect in the 1970s, the Pentagon Papers, the secret US war in Angola, and perhaps even some Watergate-era abuses might not have been exposed. Robert Bernstein, president of Random House, called Reagan era secrecy orders "clearly an attempt to keep still more information from the American people...It can he up publication of any book by a government official indefinitely." Compounding the problem, in 1982 the US Supreme Court upheld the censors in the case of Frank Snepp's Decent Interval, an account of the fall of Saigon. In doing so, the high court essentially usurped the law-making powers of Congress and went a long way toward enacting a US version of the British Official Secrets Act. Snepp's book was eventually published, but the Court also ruled that the government should seize all the income that would have gone to Snepp and gave the authorities the right to stop him from writing almost anything else.

The Snepp case went further than penalizing one CIA employee for breaking his contract. It sent the message that any government worker in a relationship of trust with his agency, whether or not a written agreement existed, could have his right to speech challenged or rescinded. The Supreme Court, with four Nixon appointees in the majority, also buttressed lower court decisions involving the CIA's censorship of ex-agent Victor Marchetti. A former assistant to CIA director Richard Helms, Marchetti co-authored The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, which the Agency attempted to suppress before its publication. Much material was ultimately cleared for publication, but a substantial amount was also successfully censored. Dealing with classified material, the court rulings in that case set a powerful precedent for prior restraint that clearly violated the public's right to know what was going on.

Information classification policy during this period also established a new presumption in favor of secrecy, eliminating the old requirement that the need should be carefully balanced against the public's right to know. A similar policy, designed to insulate the National Security Council, required that "all contacts with any element of the news media" would have to be approved by senior of officials; afterward, a detailed report had to be filed. Neither did Congress resist the trend. With such laws and administrative rules in effect, it was a wonder that any informahon leaked unless the administrahon wanted it that way.

In 2001, especially after 9/11, the federal government was at it again, quickly moving to restrict the right to know what the government was doing. One month after the attacks, Attorney General Ashcroft quietly but forcefully urged federal agencies to resist requests to scrutinize public records. In effect, he told government workers to ignore the 1974 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). By May 2002, he found a legal rationale' at least for the new Office of Homeland Security. Because it technically wasn't an "agency" yet and didn't exercise authority apart from presidential directives, it was exempt from the FOIA, he argued. His model was the National Security Council, which had been ruled off limits years before.

Passed after the Nixon administration's excesses, the FOIA allows anyone to request government records by sending a letter to the appropriate executive branches, departments, or agencies. According to the National Security Archive the world's largest non-governmental library of declassified documents, the law has "promoted transparency and accountability in government, preventing the creation of secret law behind bureaucratic walls, and witnessing to Justice Brandeis' phrase, that 'sunlight is the best disinfectant'."


The Battle for El Dorado

As troops and planes headed toward Afghanistan, few people questioned the reasons for military engagement. An enemy that didn't hesitate to sacrifice thousands of civilian lives had ruthlessly attacked the nation's capital and brought down New York's tallest buildings. The identity of the chief "evildoer" also seemed self-evident: Osama bin Laden, whose al Qaeda network had struck the US before and was being sheltered in Afghanistan by the Taliban. In the wake of such an outrage, could anyone doubt that a "war on terrorism" should begin there?

Yet the roots of war are rarely so simple, and, as time passed, other powerful motives for military action in that part of the world slowly came into focus. As it turns out, strikes against Afghanistan had been in the works months before the attacks. Like the Gulf War ten years earlier, the rationale was also, if not mainly, rooted in a struggle over access to oil and gas, in this case huge finds in the Caspian Sea Basin. The only thing missing was a plausible reason. What looked like justified retaliation was, in essence, the first resource war of the 21st century...

Dropping the Ball

The Bush family was well acquainted with the bin Ladens, if not their alleged black sheep Osama, long before the Saudi renegade declared war on the US and its allies in Saudi Arabia's royal family. Even after the 1998 embassy attacks, the relationship remained cordial, largely due to the intercession of the Carlyle Group, a large US defense contractor. In 1998, and again in 2000, the first President Bush traveled to Saudi Arabia on behalf of Carlyle, meeting privately with both the Saudi royals and several of bin Laden's relatives.

This may help explain why, shortly after it moved into the White House in January 2001, the Bush II administration reportedly told the FBI and intelligence agencies to back off investigations involving the family...

Access to Power

Understanding the interests of energy companies, and how US influence can make a difference, comes naturally for George W. Bush. Though his start as an oilman in the 1970s was unimpressive, his father's presidential victory eventually made him a valuable asset for Harken Energy, a modest Texas oil company with large ambitions. By January 1990, he was on the board, receiving generous consulting fees and holding substantial stock. The timing was perfect: Harken had just defied the odds by making an oil production sharing deal with Bahrain. It gave the company the exclusive right to explore for gas and oil off the shores of the Gulf island nation. If anything was found near two of the world's largest gas and oil fields, Harken would have the exclusive marketing and transportation rights.

For a company that had never drilled an offshore well, the agreement was a remarkable leap. But since Harken lacked sufficient financing to do the job alone, a partnership was established with Bass Enterprises Production Company of Fort Worth, Texas. The Bass family contributed more than $200,000 to the Republican Party during the Bush I years. Nevertheless, only five months after Harken's Bahrain deal, Bush suddenly sold most of his stock for $848,560, a remarkable 200 percent profit. Another timely move. A week later, the company announced a $23 million loss in earnings, and less than two months after that, on August 2, 1990, Iraqi troops moved into Kuwait.

Over half a million US troops were deployed to the Gulf over the next six months, while Harken stock lost 60 percent of its value. According to US News and World Report, solid evidence suggests that Bush cashed out because knew the company was facing trouble weeks in advance. Harken evidently didnít hold a grudge, however, and continued to provide generous payments for the younger Bush's consulting services throughout the 1990s. After all, once the Gulf War was over, the Bahrain deal still held the promise of profits for those who stayed the course.

Bush II's executive brain trust was even more knowledgeable. Both his vice president and national security advisor worked previously with oil companies that had Caspian ambitions. Commerce Secretary Don Evans was the former CEO of Tom Brown, Inc., a mid-sized oil and gas outfit. Gale Norton, appointed Secretary of the Interior, began her career with the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a conservative think tank funded by oil companies and founded by her mentor and predecessor, the infamous James Watt. She also chaired the Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates, a front group backed by BP Amoco and the Ford Motor Company. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham also have auto company connections, and Attorney General Ashcroft received major contributions from ExxonMobil, BP Amoco and Enron during his failed 2000 bid for Senate reelection...

Did Bush and his aides know in advance about plans to take down the World Trade Center? Despite all the denials, the jury will probably be out indefinitely. Yet, there is little doubt that many people, in and out of government, expected a major attack before it happened. Some may even have been counting on it. Without a pretext, after all, it might have been difficult to convince the US public that it was necessary to overturn a faraway regime, even one that systematically abused women and publicly executed people in a football stadium. This, of course, was not the point of the campaign. But then again, neither was "routing out the terrorists." The true objective, established well before any planes went down, was to protect and move future supplies of oil and gas. Whatever the risks, and whoever might suffer, the road to el Dorado simply had to remain open.


Greg Guma is the editor of Toward Freedom, a world affairs magazine based in Vermont (USA), and author of books including The People's Republic and Passport to Freedom. This article is a chapter for his just-completed book, Liars, Guns, and Money: Perception Management and Other New World Disorders. If you wish to know more or would like to reprint the article in any form, please contact the author at MavMedia@aol.com. Other articles by Guma may be viewed at www.TowardFreedom.com.

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