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How the CIA destabilizes the world, by Jeffrey D. Sachs

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How the CIA destabilizes the world, by Jeffrey D. Sachs

There are three basic problems with the CIA: its objectives, methods, and unaccountability. Its operational objectives are whatever the CIA or the President of the United States defines to be in the U.S. interest at a given time, irrespective of international law or U.S. law. Its methods are secretive and duplicitous. Its unaccountability means that the CIA and president run foreign policy without any public scrutiny. Congress is a doormat, a sideshow.

As a recent CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, said of his time at the CIA: “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. We had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”

The CIA was established in 1947 as the successor to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The OSS had performed two distinct roles in World War II, intelligence and subversion. The CIA took over both roles. On the one hand, the CIA was to provide intelligence to the US Government. On the other, the CIA was to subvert the “enemy,” that is, whomever the president or CIA defined as the enemy, using a wide range of measures: assassinations, coups, staged unrest, arming of insurgents, and other means.

It is the latter role that has proved devastating to global stability and the U.S. rule of law. It is a role that the CIA continues to pursue today. In effect, the CIA is a secret army of the U.S., capable of creating mayhem across the world with no accountability whatsoever.

When President Dwight Eisenhower decided that Africa’s rising political star, democratically elected Patrice Lumumba of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), was the “enemy,” the CIA conspired in his 1961 assassination, thus undermining the democratic hopes for Africa. He would hardly be the last African president brought down by the CIA.

In its 77-year history, the CIA has been held to serious public account just once, in 1975. In that year, Idaho Senator Frank Church led a Senate investigation that exposed the CIA’s shocking rampage of assassinations, coups, destabilization, surveillance, and Mengele-style torture and medical “experiments.”

The expose by the Church Committee of the CIA’s shocking malfeasance has recently been chronicled in a superb book by the investigative reporter James Risen, The Last Honest Man: The CIA, the FBI, the Mafia, and the Kennedys―and One Senator’s Fight to Save Democracy.

That single episode of oversight occurred because of a rare confluence of events.

In the year before the Church Committee, the Watergate scandal had toppled Richard Nixon and weakened the White House. As successor to Nixon, Gerald Ford was unelected, a former Congressman, and reluctant to oppose the oversight prerogatives of the Congress. The Watergate scandal, investigated by the Senate Ervin Committee, had also empowered the Senate and demonstrated the value of Senate oversight of Executive Branch abuses of power. Crucially, the CIA was newly led by Director William Colby, who wanted to clean up the CIA operations. Also, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, author of pervasive illegalities also exposed by the Church committee, had died in 1972.

In December 1974, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, then as now a great reporter with sources inside the CIA, published an account of illegal CIA intelligence operations against the U.S. antiwar movement. The Senate Majority Leader at the time, Mike Mansfield, a leader of character, then appointed Church to investigate the CIA. Church himself was a brave, honest, intelligent, independent-minded, and intrepid Senator, characteristics chronically in short supply in U.S. politics.

If only the CIA’s rogue operations had been consigned to history as a result of the crimes exposed by the Church Committee, or at the least had brought the CIA under the rule of law and public accountability. But that was not to be. The CIA has had the last laugh —or better said, has brought the world to tears—by maintaining its preeminent role in U.S. foreign policy, including overseas subversion.

Since 1975, the CIA has run secretive operations backing Islamic jihadists in Afghanistan that utterly wrecked Afghanistan while giving rise to al-Qaeda. The CIA has likely run secretive operations in the Balkans against Serbia, in the Caucuses against Russia, and in Central Asia targeting China, all deploying CIA-backed jihadists. In the 2010s, the CIA ran deadly operations to topple Syria’s Bashir al-Assad, again with Islamic jihadists. For at least 20 years, the CIA has been deeply involved in fomenting the growing catastrophe in Ukraine, including the violent overthrow of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 that triggered the devastating war now engulfing Ukraine.

What do we know of these operations? Only the parts that whistleblowers, a few intrepid investigative reporters, a handful of brave scholars, and some foreign governments have been willing or able to tell us, with all of these potential witnesses knowing that they might face severe retribution from the U.S. government. There has been little to no accountability by the U.S. government itself, or meaningful oversight or restraint imposed by Congress. On the contrary, the government has become ever-more obsessively secretive, pursuing aggressive legal actions against disclosures of classified information, even when, or especially when, that information describes the illegal actions by the government itself.

Once in a while, a former U.S. official spills the beans, such as when Zbigniew Brzezinski revealed that he had induced Jimmy Carter to assign the CIA to train Islamic jihadists to destabilize the government of Afghanistan, with the aim of inducing the Soviet Union to invade that country.

In the case of Syria, we learned from a few stories in the New York Times in 2016 and 2017 of the CIA’s subversive operations to destabilize Syria and overthrow Assad, as ordered by President Barack Obama. Here is the case of a dreadfully misguided CIA operation, blatantly in violation of international law, that has led to a decade of mayhem, an escalating regional war, hundreds of thousands of deaths, and millions of displaced people, and yet there has not been a single honest acknowledgment of this CIA-led disaster by the White House or Congress.

In the case of Ukraine, we know that the U.S. played a major covert role in the violent coup that brought down Yanukovych and that swept Ukraine into a decade of bloodshed but to this day, we don’t know the details. Russia offered the world a window into the coup by intercepting and then posting a call between Victoria Nuland, then U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (now Under-Secretary of State) and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt (now Assistant Secretary of State), in which they plot the post-coup government. Following the coup, the CIA covertly trained special operations forces of the post-coup regime the U.S. had helped bring to power. The U.S. government has been mum about the CIA’s covert operations in Ukraine.

We have good reason to believe that CIA operatives carried out the destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline, as per Seymour Hersh, who is now an independent reporter. Unlike in 1975, when Hersh was with the New York Times at a time when the paper still tried to hold the government to account, the Times does not even deign to look into Hersh’s account.

Holding the CIA to public account is of course a steep uphill struggle. Presidents and the Congress don’t even try. The mainstream media don’t investigate the CIA, preferring instead to quote “senior unnamed officials” and the official cover-up. Are the mainstream media outlets lazy, suborned, afraid of advertising revenues from the military-industrial complex, threatened, ignorant, or all of the above? Who knows.

There is a tiny glimmer of hope. Back in 1975, the CIA was led by a reformer. Today, the CIA is led by William Burns, one of America’s long-standing leading diplomats. Burns knows the truth about Ukraine, since he served as Ambassador to Russia in 2008 and cabled Washington about the grave error of pushing NATO enlargement to Ukraine. Given Burns’ stature and diplomatic accomplishments, perhaps he would support the urgently needed accountability.

The extent of the continuing mayhem resulting from CIA operations gone awry is astounding. In Afghanistan, Haiti, Syria, Venezuela, Kosovo, Ukraine, and far beyond, the needless deaths, instability, and destruction unleashed by CIA subversion continues to this day. The mainstream media, academic institutions, and Congress should be investigating these operations to the best of their ability and demanding the release of documents to enable democratic accountability.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of the Church Committee hearings. Fifty years on, with the precedent, inspiration, and guidance of the Church Committee itself, it’s urgently time to open the blinds, expose the truth about the U.S.-led mayhem, and begin a new era in which U.S. foreign policy becomes transparent, accountable, subject to the rule of law both domestic and international, and directed towards global peace rather than subversion of supposed enemies.

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The opinions and views expressed in this article belong solely to the original author and other contributors. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or opinions of Neptune Prime.

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