Part I: 1963-1971
excerpted from the book
Confession of an Economic Hit
by John Perkins
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, SF,
Economic hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat
countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel
money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development
(USAID), and other foreign "aid" organizations into
the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy
families who control the planet's natural resources. Their tools
include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs,
extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire,
but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during
this time of globalization. I should know; I was an EHM.
... Jaime Roldós, president of Ecuador,
and Omar Torrijos, president of Panama. Both had just)died in
fiery crashes. Their deaths were not accidental. They were assassinated
because they opposed that fraternity of corporate, government,
and banking heads whose goal is global empire. We EHMs failed
to bring Roldós and Torrijos around, and the other type
of hit men, the CIA-sanctioned jackals who were always right behind
us, stepped in.
... on the day in l971 when I began working with my teacher Claudine,
she informed me, "My assignment is to mold you into an economic
hit man. No one can know about your involvement -not even your
wife." Then she turned serious. "Once you're in, you're
in for life?' After that she seldom used the full name; we were
simply EHMs [economic hit men].
Claudine's role is a fascinating example
of the manipulation that f underlies the business I had entered.
Beautiful and intelligent, she was highly effective; she understood
my weaknesses and used them to her greatest advantage. Her job
and the way she executed it exemplify the subtlety of the people
behind this system.
... My job, she said, was "to encourage
world leaders to become part of a vast network that promotes U.S.
commercial interests. In the end, those leaders become ensnared
in a web of debt that ensures their loyalty. We can draw on them
whenever we desire - to satisfy our political, economic, or military
needs. In turn, they bolster their political positions by bringing
industrial parks, power plants, and airports to their people.
The owners of U.S. engineering/construction companies become fabulously
Today we see the results of this system
run amok. Executives at our most respected companies hire people
at near-slave wages to toil under inhuman conditions in Asian
sweatshops. Oil companies wantonly pump toxins into rain forest
rivers, consciously killing people, animals, and plants, and committing
genocide among ancient cultures. The pharmaceutical industry denies
lifesaving medicines to millions of HIV-infected Africans. Twelve
million families in our own United States worry about their next
meal. The energy industry creates an Enron. The accounting industry
creates an Andersen. The income ratio of the one-fifth of the
world's population in the wealthiest countries to the one-fifth
in the poorest went from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 74 to 1 in 1995. The
United States spends over $87 billion conducting a war in Iraq
while the United Nations estimates that for less than half that
amount we could provide clean water, a equate diets, sanitation
services, and basic education to every person on the planet.
And we wonder why terrorists attack us?
Some would blame our current problems
on an organized conspiracy. I wish it were so simple. Members
of a conspiracy can be rooted out and brought to justice. This
system, however, is fueled by something far more dangerous than
conspiracy. It is driven not by a small band of men but by a concept
that has become accepted as gospel: the idea that all economic
growth benefits humankind and that the greater the growth, the
more widespread the benefits. This belief also has a corollary:
that those people who excel at stoking the fires of economic growth
should be exalted and rewarded, while those born at the fringes
are available for exploitation. The concept is, of course, erroneous.
We know that in many countries economic growth benefits only a
small portion of the population and may in fact result in increasingly
desperate circumstances for the majority. This effect is reinforced
by the corollary belief that the captains of industry who drive
this system should enjoy a special status, a belief that is the
root of many of our current problems and is perhaps also the reason
why conspiracy theories abound. When men and women are rewarded
for greed, greed becomes a corrupting motivator. When we equate
the gluttonous consumption of the earth's resources with a status
approaching sainthood, when we teach our children to emulate people
who live unbalanced lives, and when we define huge sections of
the population as subservient to an elite minority, we ask for
trouble. And we get it.
In their drive to advance the global empire,
corporations, banks, and governments (collectively the corporatocracy)
use their financial and political muscle to ensure that our schools,
businesses, and media support both the fallacious concept and
its corollary. They have brought us to a point where our global
culture is a monstrous machine that requires exponentially increasing
amounts of fuel and maintenance, so much so that in the end it
will have consumed everything in sight and will be left with no
choice but to devour itself.
The corporatocracy is not a conspiracy,
but its members do endorse common values and goals. One of corporatocracy's
most important functions is to perpetuate and continually expand
and strengthen the system. The lives of those who "make it,"
and their accoutrements - their mansions, yachts, and private
jets - are presented as models to inspire us all to consume, consume,
consume. Every opportunity is taken to convince us that purchasing
things is our civic duty, that pillaging the earth is good for
the economy and therefore serves our higher interests. People
like me are paid outrageously high salaries to do the system's
bidding. If we falter, a more malicious form of hit man, the jackal,
steps to the plate. And if the jackal fails, then the job falls
to the military.
... EHMs ... build a global empire. We are an elite group of men
and women who utilize international financial organizations to
foment conditions that make other nations subservient to the corporatocracy
running our biggest corporations, our government, and our banks.
Like our counterparts in the Mafia, EHMs provide favors. These
take the form of loans to develop infrastructure - electric generating
plants, highways, ports, airports, or industrial parks. A condition
of such loans is that engineering and construction companies from
our own country must build all these projects. In essence, most
of the money never leaves the United States; it is simply transferred
from banking offices in Washington to engineering offices in New
York, Houston, or San Francisco.
Despite the fact that the money is returned
almost immediately to corporations that are members of the corporatocracy
(the creditor), the recipient country is required to pay it all
back, principal plus interest. If an EHM is completely successful,
the loans are so large that the debtor is forced to default on
its payments after a few f. years. When this happens, then like
the Mafia we demand our pound of flesh. This often includes one
or more of the following: control over United Nations votes, the
installation of military bases, or access to precious resources
such as oil or the Panama Canal. Of course, the debtor still owes
us the money -and another country is added to our global empire.
... Ecuador is in far worse shape today than she was before we
introduced her to the miracles of modern economics, banking, and
engineering. Since 1970, during this period known euphemistically
as the Oil Boom, the official poverty level grew from 50 to 70
percent, under- or unemployment increased from 15 to 70 percent,
and public debt increased from $240 million to $16 billion. Meanwhile,
the share of national resources allocated to the poorest segments
of the population declined from 20 to 6 percent.
Unfortunately, Ecuador is not the exception.
Nearly every country we EHMs have brought under the global empire's
umbrella has suffered a similar fate. Third world debt has grown
to more than $2.5 trillion, and the cost of servicing it - over
$375 billion per year as of 2004- is more than all third world
spending on health and education, and twenty times what developing
countries receive annually in foreign aid. Over half the people
in the world survive on less than two dollars per day, which is
roughly the same amount they received in the early 1970s. Meanwhile,
the top 1 percent of third world households accounts for 70 to
90 percent of all private financial wealth and real estate ownership
in their country; the actual percentage depends on the specific
For every $100 of crude taken out of the Ecuadorian rain forests,
the oil companies receive $75. Of the remaining $25, three-quarters
must go to paying off the foreign debt. Most of the remainder
covers military and other government expenses -which leaves about
$2.50 for health, education, and programs aimed at helping the
poor. Thus, out of every $100 worth of oil torn from the Amazon,
less than $3 goes to the people who need the money most, those
whose lives have been so adversely impacted by the dams, the drilling,
and the pipelines, and who are dying from lack of edible food
and notable water.
... if we fail, an even more sinister breed steps in, ones we
EHMs refer to as the jackals, men who trace their heritage directly
to those earlier empires. The jackals are always there, lurking
in the shadows. When they emerge, heads of state are overthrown
or die in violent "accidents". And if by chance the
jackals fail, as they failed in Afghanistan and Iraq, then the
old models resurface. When the jackals fail, young Americans are
sent in to kill and to die.
Part I: 1963-1971
... we met in Claudine's [Claudine Martin, and her title, Special
Consultant to Chas. T. Main, Inc.] Beacon Street apartment, a
few blocks from MAIN's Prudential Center headquarters. During
our first hour together, she explained that my position was an
unusual one and that we needed to keep everything highly confidential.
She told me that no one had given me specifics about my job because
no one was authorized to - except her. Then she informed me that
her assignment was to mold me into an economic hit man.
The very name awakened old cloak-and-dagger
dreams. I was embarrassed by the nervous laughter I heard coming
from me. She smiled and assured me that humor was one of the reasons
they used the term. "Who would take it seriously?" she
I confessed ignorance about the role of
economic hit men.
"You're not alone," she laughed.
"We're a rare breed, in a dirty business. No one can know
about your involvement - not even your wife." Then she turned
serious. "I'll be very frank with you, teach you all I can
during the next weeks. Then you'll have to choose. Your decision
is final. Once you're in, you're in for life." After that,
she seldom used the full name; we were simply EHMs.
I know now what I did not then - that
Claudine took full advantage of the personality weaknesses the
NSA profile had disclosed about me. I do not know who supplied
her with the information - Einar, the NSA, MAIN'S personnel department,
or someone else - only that she used it masterfully. Her approach,
a combination of physical seduction and verbal manipulation, was
tailored specifically for me, and yet it fit within the standard
operating procedures I have since seen used by a variety of businesses
when the stakes are high and the pressure to close lucrative deals
is great. She knew from the start that I would not jeopardize
my marriage by disclosing our clandestine activities. And she
was brutally frank when it came to describing the shadowy side
of things that would be expected of me.
I have no idea who paid her salary, although
I have no reason to suspect it was not, as her business card implied,
MAIN. At the time, I was too naive, intimidated, and bedazzled
to ask the questions that today seem so obvious.
Claudine told me that there were two primary
objectives of my work. First, I was to justify huge international
loans that would funnel money back to MAIN and other U.S. companies
such as Bechtel, Halliburton, Stone & Webster, and Brown &
Root) through massive engineering and construction projects. Second,
I would work to bankrupt the countries that received those loans
(after they had paid MAIN and the other U.S. contractors, of course)
so that they would be forever beholden to their creditors, and
so they would present easy targets when we needed favors, including
military bases, UN votes, or access to oil and other natural resources.
My job, she said, was to forecast the
effects of investing billions o dollars in a country. Specifically,
I would produce studies that projected economic growth twenty
to twenty-five years into the future and that evaluated the impacts
of a variety of projects. For example, if a decision was made
to lend a country $1 billion to persuade its leaders not to align
with the Soviet Union, I would compare the benefits of investing
that money in power plants with the benefits of investing in a
new national railroad network or a telecommunications system.
Or I might be told that the country was being offered the opportunity
to receive a modern electric utility system, and it would be up
to me to demonstrate that such a system would result in sufficient
economic growth to justify the loan. The critical factor, in every
case, was gross national product. The project that resulted in
the highest average annual growth of GNP won. If only one project
was under consideration, I would need to demonstrate that developing
it would bring superior benefits to the GNP.
The unspoken aspect of every one of these
projects was that they were intended to create large profits for
the contractors, and to make a handful of wealthy and influential
families in the receiving countries very happy, while assuring
the long-term financial dependence and therefore the political
loyalty of governments around the 'world. The larger the loan,
the better. The fact that the debt burden placed on a country
would deprive its poorest citizens of health, education, and other
social services for decades to come was not taken into consideration.
Claudine and I openly discussed the deceptive
nature of GNP. For instance, the growth of GNP may result even
when it profits only one person, such as an individual who owns
a utility company, and even if the majority of the population
is burdened with debt. The rich get richer and the poor grow poorer.
Yet, from a statistical standpoint, this is recorded as economic
Like U.S. citizens in general, most MAIN
employees believed we were doing countries favors when we built
power plants, highways, and ports. Our schools and our press have
taught us to perceive all of our actions as altruistic. Over the
years, I've repeatedly heard comments like, "If they're going
to burn the U.S. flag and demonstrate against our embassy, why
don't we just get out of their damn country and let them wallow
in their own poverty?"
People who say such things often hold
diplomas certifying that they are well educated. However, these
people have no clue that the main reason we establish embassies
around the world is to serve our own interests, which during the
last half of the twentieth century meant turning the American
republic into a global empire.
One afternoon some months later, Claudine and I sat in a window
settee watching the snow fall on Beacon Street. "We're a
small, exclusive club' she said. "We're paid - well paid
- to cheat countries around the globe out of billions of dollars.
A large part of your job is to encourage world leaders to become
part of a vast network that promotes U.S. commercial interests.
In the end, those leaders become ensnared in a web of debt that
ensures their loyalty. We can draw on them whenever we desire
- to satisfy our political, economic, or military needs. In turn,
these leaders bolster their political positions by bringing industrial
parks, power plants, and airports to their people. Meanwhile,
the owners of U.S. engineering and construction companies become
Claudine described f how throughout most of history, empires were
built largely through military force or the threat of it. But
with the end of World War II, the emergence of the Soviet Union,
and the specter of nuclear holocaust, the military solution became
just too risky.
The decisive moment occurred in 1951,
when Iran rebelled against a British oil company that was exploiting
Iranian natural resources and its people. The company was the
forerunner of British Petroleum, today's BP. In response, the
highly popular, democratically elected Iranian prime minister
(and TIME magazine's Man of the Year in 1951), Mohammad Mossadegh,
nationalized all Iranian petroleum assets. An outraged England
sought the help of her World War II ally, the United States. However,
both countries feared that military retaliation would provoke
the Soviet Union into taking action on behalf of Iran.
Instead of sending in the Marines, therefore,
Washington dispatched CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt (Theodore's grandson).
He performed brilliantly, winning people over through payoffs
and threats. He then enlisted them to organize a series of street
riots and violent demonstrations, which created the impression
that Mossadegh was both unpopular and inept. In the end, Mossadegh
went down, and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.
The pro-American Mohammad Reza Shah became the unchallenged dictator.
Kermit Roosevelt had set the stage for a new profession ...
... Kermit Roosevelt was a CIA employee.
Had he been caught, the consequences would have been dire. He
had orchestrated the first U.S. operation to overthrow a foreign
government, and it was likely that many more would follow, but
it was important to find an approach that would not directly implicate
Fortunately for the strategists, the 1960s
also witnessed another type of revolution: the empowerment of
international corporations and of multinational organizations
such as the World Bank and the IMF. The latter were financed primarily
by the United States and our sister empire builders in Europe.
A symbiotic relationship developed between governments, corporations,
and multinational organizations.
By the time I enrolled in BU's business
school, a solution to the Roosevelt-as-CIA-agent problem had already
been worked out. U.S. intelligence agencies - including the NSA
- would identify prospective EHMs, who could then be hired by
international corporations. These EHMs would never be paid by
the government; instead, they would draw their salaries from the
private sector. As a result, their dirty work, if exposed, would
be chalked up to corporate greed rather than to government policy.
In addition, the corporations that hired them, although paid by
government agencies and their multinational banking counterparts
(with taxpayer money), would be insulated from congressional oversight
and public scrutiny, shielded by a growing body of legal initiatives,
including trademark, international trade, and Freedom of Information
We were promoting U.S. foreign policy and corporate interests.
We were driven by greed rather than by any desire to make life
better for the vast majority of Indonesians. A word came to mind:
corporatocracy. I was not sure whether I had heard it before or
had just invented it, but it seemed to describe perfectly the
new elite who had made up their minds to attempt to rule the planet.
... in many cases helping an economy grow only makes those few
people who sit atop the pyramid even richer, while it does nothing
for those at the bottom except to push them even lower. Indeed,
promoting capitalism often results in system that resembles medieval
of an Economic Hit Man
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