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(DV) Economics Trumps Laws in the Neoliberal Gulag







Hiding Offshore Assets
Economics Trumps Law in the Neoliberal Gulag
by Lila Rajiva
November 7, 2005

(Revised Version)

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The “CIA holds terror suspects in secret prisons,” writes Dana Priest in the Washington Post, November 2, 2005. At first, there seems to be nothing here to knock the breath out of anyone who’s had half an eye cocked at the squalid goings-on in the empire’s mini-gulag.

Then, Priest’s article talks about some thirty of the highest value suspects being held in “black sites” dotting nameless Eastern European democracies.

“The Eastern European countries that the CIA has persuaded to hide al Qaeda captives are democracies that have embraced the rule of law and individual rights after decades of Soviet domination.”

Oh good. Always reassuring to know that hired torturers believe in the Bill of Rights.

Remember those?

* Citizens are guaranteed inviolability of the person. No one may be arrested except by a court decision or on the warrant of a procurator.

* Citizens are guaranteed inviolability of the home. No one may, without lawful grounds, enter a home against the will of those residing in it.

* The privacy of citizens, and of their correspondence, telephone conversations, and telegraphic communications is protected by law.

* Citizens have the right to protection by the courts against encroachments on their honor and reputation, life and health, and personal freedom and property.

But did I say the US Constitution? Make that the Soviet Constitution. Seems those are Articles 54-57 of the Constitution of the old Soviet Union. In full force all through show trials, Siberian gulags, and the disappearing of inconvenient dissidents in the bad old days of the Evil Empire. You know which one I’m sure.

So now we finally get what all those hymns to the “New Europe” were all about.

It’s the new frontier of Empire.

Senior officials (US, not Soviet) aver that they’re coy about getting down and dirty and actually naming our torture buddies because it “might disrupt counter-terrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.”

Still, we can always take an educated guess. Poland, maybe? Anyone remember that news report (MSNBC, May 28, 2004) detailing complaints that Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib were abused by Polish troops? Or wait, here’s an old New York Times article (“US Military in Europe,” Lawrence Korb, August 2, 2003), which claims the Pentagon is “smitten with Romania. And Poland. And Bulgaria, too.” So smitten it seems that they were thinking of transferring five army brigades from Germany to the east. 

The author, Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense, pooh-poohs the notion that the move to Eastern Europe has anything to do with costs since up-grading crumbling Soviet-era bases and transportation networks would easily outweigh cheaper living costs. Besides, these nouveau capitalists are so poor they can’t pay for their own protection like the elitist socialist Huns. So Korb believes the obsession with the New Europe can only be a punishment for Old Europe not getting with the imperial program in Iraq. Yet another case of the Bushies cutting off their own nose to spite their face, says he.

With their Pinocchio-like tendencies, a nose job might be just what this administration needs. But are they really that dumb or only playing dumb? If the army has been off-shoring its barracks to Eastern Europe despite the costs, maybe costs are just what it wants. Every crumbling facility in need of upgrading, after all, is from another angle a reconstruction contract for a building contractor. And if torture is relocating to the East, it may be because every new prison brings in a new prison contract. 

But no word of the intelligence-industrial complex and the new economics in the Post article, where it’s all round-eyed innocence and nobody here but us chickens. If the CIA does wrong, it’s always only a dumb mistake to be fixed by better laws passed by Democrats.

“We'd probably shoot ourselves,” says an ex-CIA officer in the Post piece when questioned about a plan floated in days of yore for hit squads to take out foreign targets.

On one hand, no kidding. This is the gang that came up with plans to kill Fidel Castro by spraying a television studio where he was going to appear with LSD. Another brainwave was to poison him with thallium in his shoes in the hope his beard would fall out.

But on the other hand, dumb and deadly are not only not mutually exclusive, they tend to stumble around together like contestants in a three-legged race. And dumb is often pretty good cover for deadly.

Take, for instance, the KUBARK counterintelligence manual, which codified and taught no-touch (psychological) torture as early as 1963. It was distributed by USAID’s Office of Public Safety through-out Central America in the 1980s even after OPS was shut down by Congress in 1975. But to read the Post article, you’d think the modus operandi of the global gulag were never ever contemplated until after 9/11 and the Bush regime. Until then, except for a few honest-to-goodness blunders, it was all sweetness, light, and the rule of law down at Langley:

“The issue of detaining and interrogating people was never, ever discussed. It was against the culture and they believed information was best gleaned by other means," swears one official.

“We never sat down, as far as I know, and came up with a grand strategy,” says another.

Cross our hearts.

CIA confessions turn out to be like cooking with onions. They make you weep and when you’re done peeling through all the layers, you’re usually left with nothing. And you’ll get plenty of nothing if you try to get the CIA to admit that its been torturing in person or by proxy ever since it learned its trade from imported Nazis.

But, rewind a moment to the Gildered '90s. The stock market was soaring. Al Gore was busy inventing the Internet when not starring in Love Story. Kremlinologists were beating down the doors of DC soup kitchens. Enron was not yet a verb and Monica’s dress hung neatly in her closet. With the Cold War defunct, the CIA was in limbo.

Then came the Clinton-Gore Partnership for Reinventing Government in 1993; streamlining the government became the order of the day, and hundreds of intelligence jobs were cut. Information technology firms like CACI and Titan moved into the gap, hiring retired spooks and then contracting them back to the government.

In September 1999, the Agency created In-Q-It (later renamed In-Q-Tel), a venture capital firm that invested in companies with state-of- the-art technologies. [1]

It contracted out a huge range of services and adopted the business model wholesale. And business jargon. The president and defense secretary became “old customers.” Homeland Security was a new one. Of course, even before, the CIA has always been the “Company.” Its operatives were always called “assets” and its operations, “accounts.” But the old gobbledygook was only meant to sanitize the dirty business of Spy vs. Spy. Now it was taken literally. The new Director, George Tenet, boasted like a CEO that he had “turned the business around.” [2]

Missing in action in the argot of this new-model CIA is the nation that’s supposed to be benefiting from all the spying. Instead, the spy trade gets shuffled off to private contractors who don’t have to stick to any legal standards set by Congress. Of course, neither do Congress, but invisible spooks tend to be even more unaccountable than visible Congresspersons.

A private intelligence contractor paid half a million a year needs a lot of intelligence to justify his existence. Torture produces information. Mostly unreliable of course, but who cares as long as the money comes in. Long before Rumsfeld’s transformation of the army, the new-model CIA of the Clinton era had figured out that filthy lucre gushes like a geyser from a trade in torture. 

But not according to the Post. For the Post, torture is as exclusively Republican as the flat tax. It’s a product of directives like last month’s request to Congress to exempt CIA employees from laws barring cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners in US custody.

It’s always exclusively about Yoo, or Gonzales, or Bybee. About right-wing laws.

No question that the new laws are a travesty. 

But the foundation for them was laid a while back. 

It was under Clinton that the kinder, gentler doctrine of “war without blood” was developed, which, like its Siamese twin “no-touch torture,” has been in the works ever since World War II and has the sly purpose of making war and torture legal, invisible, and acceptable while fattening defense budgets as well.

It was Clinton who put the weasel words into the ratification of the UN Convention on Torture that allowed the US to hold onto torture-lite while the KGB and Stasi were dismantled.

It was Clinton’s National Security Council that authorized the rendition program (rendition being the term for taking suspects elsewhere for torture) that received bipartisan Congressional approval. According to Michael Scheuer, the author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror, and from 1995-1999 a key counterterrorist figure in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, under Clinton details of rendition flights were known to top officials. 

Scheuer insists that his original program to snatch terrorist suspects off streets would have brought them to the US as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions. The Clinton administration, he claims, overrode this and sent suspects wherever they’d been tried or had an outstanding warrant, although they had to be seen as directly threatening to the US. The other country’s permission was also needed. In a New Yorker article by Jane Meyer (February 14, 2005), however, Scheuer admits that he’s “not sure” if any of this comforting arrangement was actually put into writing and Dan Coleman, a 30-year veteran of the F.B.I. openly ridicules the notion that the CIA would have been so scrupulous. Coleman claims that the CIA took to renditions from the start. “They loved that these guys would just disappear off the books, and never be heard of again. They were proud of it.”

Coleman’s accusations are supported by others. According to “Under the Crescent Moon,” by Marites Vitug and Glenda Gloria, federal prosecutors used information obtained by torture to convict Ramzi Yousef in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. In “Losing Bin Laden,” Richard Miniter writes that the CTC was responsible for turning over terrorists from the former Yugoslavia to Arab countries, especially Egypt, for torture and execution. 

Granted, under Bush the rendition program spread like a deadly cancer, but it was ultimately only a metastasis of a pre-existing condition. What brought on the gulag was not simply the infamous torture memos but something else -- economic incentives put in place by the privatization of the Agency. 

And even the Post unsuspectingly lets this slip:

“In late 2002 or early 2003,” writes Priest, “the CIA brokered deals with other countries to establish black-site prisons. One of these sites -- which sources said they believed to be the CIA's biggest facility now -- became particularly important when the agency realized it would have a growing number of prisoners and a shrinking number of prisons.”

And here’s the crucial part:

“[A]s the volume of leads pouring into the CTC (Counter Terrorist Center) from abroad increased, and the capacity of its paramilitary group to seize suspects grew, the CIA began apprehending more people whose intelligence value and links to terrorism were less certain....” And “the original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored.... They've got many, many more who don't reach any threshold," one intelligence official said.

There we have it. Oversupply. Not law but economics tells us how we got to Abu Ghraib. The new laws have only followed the new economics. Private interrogators driven to produce information at any cost come up with random civilians who with a little gentle persuasion can cough up information. The terminally “free” market gave us the dismal team of torture-happy prison goons that Ashcroft sent out to do unto Iraqis what had been done unto American prisoners for decades.

The spy business is now infested with a network of lobbyists and government connections as thick as the one in the defense business. With one nasty difference. While defense contractors are at least monitored, intelligence contractors have classified budgets and work in secret without proper oversight, a little glitch that was one of the central findings of the 9/11 Commission. 

A glance at the leading trade association in the intelligence business shows that half the board members are current government officials. [3]

Intelligence contractors like CACI and Titan hire retired intelligence employees, lobby government, and shower key members of Congress with contributions. The top contributor to Duncan Hunter (R-Ca.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is Titan. [4]

Today’s assets are MBA’s who tout CIA as a better employer than Apple, applaud the deregulation of the industry, and accept hit squads, assassinations, and "torture lite" as good business-practice. “Buzzy” Krongard, until December 2004, the CIA’s third-ranked executive claimed that Osama should be seen “not as a chief executive but more like a venture capitalist.” [5]

Krongard, appointed in March 2001 as Executive Director of the CIA, was once Vice-Chairman of Banker’s Trust investment bank, one of the 20 largest banks in the US. [6]

Nothing new here of course. Bill Casey, Ronald Reagan’s CIA Director, was also Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission under Nixon; David Doherty, Vice President of the New York Stock Exchange for enforcement, is retired General Counsel of the Agency; John Deutch, retired CIA Director from the Clinton Administration, sits on the board at Citigroup, the second largest US bank; three of Booz Allen’s current and former vice presidents have served as intelligence agency directors, including James Woolsey, who headed the CIA during the Clinton administration. [7]

The Post, like the NY Times and the rest of the media, will get no where by sniffing out an arcane trail of torture memos and laws. People have heard all about that now for over a year and they’ve shrugged. It’s not law but economics that’s at the root of the problem. Outsourcing torture is only a local symptom of virulent, uncontrolled neo-liberal economics. 

Forget national interest. Forget even rational self-interest. 

In the outsourced gulag, everything is swallowed up by corporate-state excess, incompetence, and corruption. Intelligence turns into an end in itself to be milked copiously from the driest udders for its price on the market, floating the usual scum to the surface -- foreign espionage, bid-rigging, inflated billing, questionable accountancy, preferential treatment. And torture. 

Everything we’ve seen in the reconstruction of Iraq. Everything we’re seeing at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, in Afghanistan and now in Eastern Europe. American laws are not going to stop you when you can hide your assets offshore

Lila Rajiva is a free-lance writer in Baltimore and the author of The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the US Media (Monthly Review Press, 2005). She can be reached at: Copyright (c) 2005 by Lila Rajiva

Other Articles by Lila Rajiva

* Coming Out On Hallowe'en
* How to Recognize a Liberal Feminist
* License to Bill: In India, Bill Gates Does Well by Doing Good
* The Burgh, Downsizing
* Preview of Abu Ghraib in New Orleans
* Leviathan in the Flood: Katrina and the Fishy Logic of the State
* The NPT is Dead.... And It's a Good Thing Too
* An 800-Pound Gorilla Goes to the UN
: John Bolton's New Internationalism
* Vision Mumbai Submerged: Water, Water, Everywhere, Nor Any Drop to Drink
* America's Downing Syndrome, or Why the Not-So-Secret Air War Stayed “Secret”
* Turkey Supreme
* Witches and Bastards: An Imperial Wizard and a Prescription for Anti-Imperialism
* Playing Monopoly in Charm City
* The Pharisee’s Fire Sermon
* The Ideology of American Empire
* Tsunami Cover Up? NOAA and the Flood
* Iraqi Women and Torture, Part IV: Gendered Propaganda, the Propaganda of Gender
* Iraqi Women and Torture, Part III: Violence and Virtual Violence
* Iraqi Women and Torture, Part II: Theater That Educates, News That Propagandizes
* Iraqi Women and Torture, Part I: Rapes and Rumors of Rape
* Nicholas Kristof's Fox Pas(s)
* Putting Conservatives on the Couch: Transactional Analysis and the Torture Apologists
* The New Post-Colonial Racism
* Eyeless in Iraq: The L.A. Times and the Fog of War


1) “CIA suffering James Bond envy,” Reuters, September 29, 1999. In (Intelligence)-Q-It (Information Technology) takes its name from the enigmatic “Q” who supplied Ian Fleming’s intrepid James Bond with lethal gadgets. Using $28 million dollars in funds appropriated by the Congress, it was set up as a non-profit, yet “as in a normal private sector business model” will create “spin-off value” for those working with In-Q-It, who can then take products back to market. CEO Gilman Louie made his name in computer video games while the board of trustees includes the chairman of Lockheed Martin and William Perry, former secretary of defense.

2) “‘The Company’ Goes Corporate: The CIA’s new business model is the world of commerce,” Ted Gup, Slate, November 4, 2003.

3) Security Affairs Support Association (SASA) online, Officers and Board.

4) “The Spy Who Billed Me,” Tim Shorrock, Mother Jones, January-February 2005.

5) “Let Bin Laden stay free, says CIA man,” Tony Allen-Mills, The Times Online (UK), January 9, 2005.

6) Ibid. Also, “Follow the Money: Bush, 9/11, and Deep Threat,” Fran Shorr, Common Dreams, May 22, 2002. Shorrock, Mother Jones, Jan-Feb 2005.

7) Shorrock, op.cit.