Jacob Hornberger has written an engaging ebook — The CIA, Terrorism, and the Cold War: The Evil of the National Security State — that exposes a government not found in the Constitution. Hornberger refers to it as a “fourth branch of government having unbelievable powers of invasion, assassination, torture, and fomenting coups and regime-change operations.” But since, as he says, it is untouchable by the three constitutional branches, I think it is more accurate to regard it as an autonomous government acting in the name of the one created by the Constitution.
It’s a government not affected by voting, budget debate, or popular opinion.
It is an Orwellian creature, consisting of the military-industrial establishment and the vast CIA-led intelligence network, justifying its actions on the basis of “national security.” Since it needs vast amounts of funding independent of the legislative process, I would include the Fed in this mix, too.
“National security” trumps everything. As Hornberger points out, the protections detailed in the Constitution — “Due process of law, right to counsel, grand-jury indictments, trial by jury, search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishments, bail, speedy trial” — are subordinate to “national security,” which is never really defined. In practice, “national security” is anything that keeps the national security establishment whole.
We’ve heard World War II described as “the good war.” It was certainly good for the bloated military establishment, which became a permanent fixture in American life, as did the CIA after Harry Truman signed the National Security Act into law in 1947. The pretext for the build-up of the national security state was the threat of communism. The Soviet Union, the government’s ally in World War II, was determined to conquer the world, American officials believed. We could no longer afford the luxuries promised in the Constitution. We had to be like them to beat them. And the Soviets were ruthless.
Hornberger, though, rejects the idea that the Soviets were a threat at the end of the war.
The Soviets had just lost more than 20 million people in the war. The entire nation, including its economy, was devastated. Moreover, the U.S. government had sent a powerful message to the Soviets regarding U.S. military might with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
What about the continued Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe? The reasoning was no different in principle from that of the U.S. government, which fiercely opposed any communist regimes in Latin America. After two world wars, the Soviets wanted puppet regimes in Eastern Europe to serve as a buffer against future invasions by Germany.
In an essay published in 1945, George Orwell said the “the surface of the earth [was] being parceled off into three great empires, each self-contained and cut off from contact with the outer world, and each ruled, under one disguise or another, by a self-elected oligarchy.” And when they each had the bomb, they would be in a permanent state of “cold war” with its neighbors.
When the Soviets became the second nation to detonate a nuclear device on August 29, 1949, it heightened the political and military tension between the USSR and the US that had begun at the end of World War II.
So fearful were US officials of the threat of Soviet communism they “began enlisting former Nazis into the service of the U.S. government,” Hornberger writes.
The U.S. embrace of Nazi functionaries signaled what would become a guiding motif for the U.S. national-security state: The end justifies the means. . . It was a motif that would ultimately lead to the embrace of policies that, ironically, characterized totalitarian regimes, including Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
In the 1950s agents of the national security state replaced democratically-elected leaders in Iran (Mohammed Mossadegh) and Guatemala (Jacobo Arbenz) with military dictators on the grounds they were saving the countries from communist takeover and therefore stopping the spread of communism. In 1963, weeks before JFK was murdered, the CIA supported a military coup that ousted South Vietnamese president, Ngo Dinh Diem, from power. The Diem regime was so brutal it increased the likelihood of communist takeover, Hornberger says.
Often pro-U.S. dictatorships were more brutal than communist ones. Like the shah’s pro-U.S. regime in Iran, the pro-U.S. dictatorships in Latin America, especially the military dictatorships, brutalized their own people — torturing them, “disappearing” them, and killing them with U.S.-trained military and intelligence forces.
Back home, Americans themselves came under close scrutiny. People were illegally spied upon, investigated, and accused without regard to their rights — Gestapo and KGB tactics that were justified on the grounds of “national security.”
Let’s get rid of Castro
Following Castro’s overthrow of the Batista regime in 1959 and his friendly relations with the Soviet Union, the US national security state attempted to remove him by assassination, blockade, terrorism, and counter-revolution, notably the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 that had been planned under Eisenhower but executed under Kennedy shortly after his election to office. Bay of Pigs was a CIA project intended to be seen as solely carried out by Cuban exiles who wanted to free their country of communist rule. Kennedy, the CIA, the military, and other officials were expected to lie to the country about the CIA’s role.
The CIA’s big plans were exposed on January 10, 1961 when the New York Times ran a front-page story about the US training an anti-Castro force in Guatemala. It prompted Kennedy to call CIA director Allen Dulles and Deputy Director for Plans Richard Bissell to the White House to discuss details. “Noise,” they told Kennedy, was essential to a successful mission, and the noise should be provided by US aircraft running bombing missions over the Bay of Pigs area, after which the 1,300 CIA-trained exiles would take the beach. Since Castro had 200,000 troops at his disposal it would be necessary for the US to unload troops from offshore battleships to secure the victory. Kennedy provided scant air support, and the invasion failed.
Following the botched attack, Castro pursued closer relations with the Soviet Union, at least partly for Cuba’s “national security.” He had Soviet missiles installed with authority given to commanders to fire them in the event of an invasion. Hornberger:
In the end, Castro’s strategy succeeded. While it appeared that Kennedy had caused the Soviets to back down and withdraw their nuclear missiles from Cuba, the price for doing that was twofold: one, Kennedy promised that the United States would not invade Cuba, a promise that earned him the deep enmity of the Pentagon, the CIA, and Cuban exiles; and, two, Kennedy promised to remove nuclear missiles aimed at the Soviet Union that were installed in Turkey, which bordered the Soviet Union.
It should be noted that Congress has never declared war on Cuba. In the 50 years of heated conflict, the US has been the aggressor every time.
Regime change comes home
According to the Warren Commission report, President Kennedy was murdered by a lone nut, Lee Harvey Oswald. Hornberger, a trained lawyer who’s done extensive research into the assassination and authored several books on it, argues that Oswald was only a patsy for another national security state regime change operation. In fact, when Oswald was arrested, he told police he had been a patsy. If he was a loser seeking glory, as some claim, why would he shoot the president then deny it?
The CIA had hated Kennedy since the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and Kennedy felt likewise toward the agency for having set him up, promising to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” He thought the US and Soviet Union could coexist without a Cold War, just as we do today with China and Vietnam.
As part of Kennedy’s vision, he entered into a nuclear test-ban treaty with the Soviets, over the fierce objections of the military and the CIA. He also ordered the withdrawal of a thousand U.S. troops from Vietnam, and he told close friends that he intended to pull out all troops from Vietnam after his reelection in 1964.
Without the Cold War, how would the national security state justify its existence? Trillions of dollars in future revenue was at stake.
Then there was Kennedy’s numerous extramarital affairs, which communists could use to blackmail him. One of his affairs was with anti-CIA peacenik, Mary Pinchot Meyer. The “evidence is overwhelming that Meyer introduced Kennedy to marijuana and, very likely, also to LSD.” Picture a Soviet attack while the president was high on a psychedelic drug.
Meyer, incidentally, was found shot to death less than a year after Kennedy’s assassination. Her murder remains unsolved.
The drug use and sexual affairs, the support for the Civil Rights movement, and his willingness to negotiate with the communists, all make it likely that the national-security state regarded him as a grave threat to national security. And the overwhelming weight of the evidence suggests that the national-security state removed that threat by assassinating him.
Even if you don’t agree with Hornberger’s conclusion — and I do — just the possibility that he might be right would deter criticism of the national security state, especially from those in the upper ranks of government. JFK was a popular president and still is. According to Gallup, he has the highest retrospective rating of the 11 presidents who have held office since Eisenhower. As recently as 2010, 85% of those polled said they approve of the way he handled his job as president.
Which of the major party candidates in 2016 promise “to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces”? None, of course. They’ve seen the Zapruder film.
Solution? Stay away from the polls on election day
Hornberger concludes that
The national-security state is a cancer on the body politic. It’s time to dismantle it. It’s time to close all the bases, bring the troops home and discharge them, and abolish the CIA.
I agree and would go much further, but how do we get rid of it, short of a complete economic collapse? My suggestion: As a start boycott voting. Don’t give the government the legitimacy it seeks.
Good reads are hard to find. Great reads are harder still. That’s why I recommend Hornberger’s book enthusiastically.