Above the Law: U.S.-sponsored Terrorism
By Peter Dale Scott, professor emeritus, University of California, Berkeley; author of numerous books on drugs, espionage and U.S. foreign policy.
The CIA's strategy of training agents in criminal activities often begins a cycle of violence that comes back to haunt the U.S. As pundits call for the CIA to recruit more shady characters in the hunt for Islamic terrorists, it is important to learn from serious mistakes that have been made in the past. The usual CIA mode of undermining foreign governments that it does not like -- from Russia to Cuba to Iran -- has been to organize and train their opponents in criminal activities, including sabotage and smuggling.
But time and again this strategy backfires. The problem is that as soon as the U.S. loses interest in its agents' cause, the sabotage techniques it has taught will more than likely be turned back against it.
This is what happened in Afghanistan after the Soviet pullout, when Washington abandoned the country to chaos, and various CIA-trained guerrilla factions started murdering each other. This in turn led to the Taliban campaign for strict unity and order, with many of the CIA-trained terrorists going over to the Taliban cause.
It also happened when the CIA trained Cuban exiles in sabotage and murder to undermine the Castro regime, and then left them high and dry when it shut down the program.
The terrorist-training cycle works this way:
(1) The U.S. recruits, arms, finances and uses agents against another government. (In the case of the Mujaheddin, the training was mostly indirect, via the Pakistani ISI intelligence service, who later backed the Taliban.)
(2) The U.S. pulls back from the common fight. Many of those Washington has trained cannot do this, if only because they do not know how to do anything else.
(3) These agents turn anti-American, feeling a sense of deep betrayal.
(4) They turn to other sources, often criminal, for either employment or to finance their ongoing operations. In the case of both the ex-CIA Cuban exiles and now the bin Laden ex-CIA terrorists, a source of this financing becomes international drug trafficking.
British and French newspapers have reported that the bin Laden network earns significant funds from drug trafficking. Le Monde adds that the terrorists use money-laundering techniques originally taught by the CIA.
Many Americans will recall how Miami became a war zone in the 1970s, as competing Cuban exile groups took on both each other and U.S. law enforcement.
(5) To combat this self-created enemy, the CIA and other U.S. agencies are now forced to re-recruit some of these terrorists as double agents, to track their groups.
This is what the press and TV pundits are calling for now - the increased used of human intelligence to penetrate the bin Laden network, and thus supplement what is learned electronically from the surveillance of phone calls and bank transactions.
There is every reason to believe that the CIA is already doing this and that the much-discussed prohibition against recruiting criminal agents has not been applied to this sensitive area of counter-intelligence. Past experience underscores the danger of over-relying on this activity.
(6) These double agents are now in a position to commit major crimes, or allow or even encourage group criminal activity, in order to increase their status as a human intelligence asset.
Some of the most notorious Cuban exile gangsters in Miami acted with impunity, even to the point of committing murder on Miami streets in broad daylight, because of their protected status as double agents.
In the trial against terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, the government case was complicated by allegations that a government witness, a former Egyptian military officer, Emil Salem, was in fact a U.S. double agent who let the crime occur before reporting it.
Similar suspicions of advanced knowledge and involvement of double agents have continued to haunt official versions of two other notorious massacres of U.S. citizens: the Jonestown killings in Guyana and the Oklahoma City bombing.
If the U.S. hopes to gain sympathy in the Islamic world for its campaign against bin Laden, it would do well to admit the extent to which the problem of Mideast terrorism is a problem of its own making.
Source: Pacific News Service, September 19, 2001.<http://www.pacificnews.org/content/pns/2001/sep/0919 manufactures.html>