It is all too easy to get dazzled by the facades of high politics and state policy, to be taken up with tactics, metrics, movements, trends, with ideologies and philosophies, as if the life of the world was actually conducted on this elevated plane. But sometimes a glimpse of reality shows through the increasingly threadbare curtain, and we can see the grubby, petty, deadly truth of how the world really works. Two particularly telling glimpses came through this week, throwing harsh, glaring light on the all-pervasive corruption of American political system – and on the collusion of governments, business and the underworld in killing the poor and poisoning the planet to maintain the comfort and privilege of the "developed" world.
First we have a new interview with Sibel Edmonds, the former FBI translator turned whistleblower who has been the target of the most draconian "state secrets" campaign in American history. A few weeks ago, Edmonds was allowed to tell part of her remarkable story in public, under oath, for the first time.
It should have been the mother of all media blockbusters: a scandal encompassing Congressional corruption, executive branch bribery, international espionage, warmongering skullduggery, nuclear proliferation – even bisexual honey traps! The headlines practically write themselves, in one-word tabloid screamers: "Sex! War! Bribes! Spies! Treason!" What journalist could resist such a feast? Alas, there are no more journalists in the editorial offices and corporate boardrooms of America's media conglomerates. And so Edmonds' testimony was buried many fathoms deep.
But Philip Giraldi at The American Conservative has kept the waters stirring with an article that draws out some of the essentials of Edmond's journey through the heart of American darkness. It's a tale worth reading in full -- there are plenty of devils in the details -- but here are a few excerpts:
PHILIP GIRALDI: We were very interested to learn of your four-hour deposition in the case involving allegations that Congresswoman Jean Schmidt accepted money from the Turkish government in return for political favors. You provided many names and details for the first time on the record and swore an oath confirming that the deposition was true.
Basically, you map out a corruption scheme involving U.S. government employees and members of Congress and agents of foreign governments. These agents were able to obtain information that was either used directly by those foreign governments or sold to third parties, with the proceeds often used as bribes to breed further corruption. Let’s start with the first government official you identified, Marc Grossman, then the third highest-ranking official at the State Department...and he allegedly uses this position to do favors for “Turkish interests”—both for the Turkish government and for possible criminal interests. ... So the network starts with a person like Grossman in the State Department providing information that enables Turkish and Israeli intelligence officers to have access to people in Congress, who then provide classified information that winds up in the foreign embassies?
EDMONDS: Absolutely. And we also had Pentagon officials doing the same thing. We were looking at Richard Perle and Douglas Feith. They had a list of individuals in the Pentagon broken down by access to certain types of information. Some of them would be policy related, some of them would be weapons-technology related, some of them would be nuclear-related. Perle and Feith would provide the names of those Americans, officials in the Pentagon, to Grossman, together with highly sensitive personal information: this person is a closet gay; this person has a chronic gambling issue; this person is an alcoholic. The files on the American targets would contain things like the size of their mortgages or whether they were going through divorces. One Air Force major I remember was going through a really nasty divorce and a child custody fight. They detailed all different kinds of vulnerabilities. ... Some of those individuals on the list were also working for the RAND Corporation. RAND ended up becoming one of the prime targets for these foreign agents. ...
GIRALDI: We know Grossman was receiving money for services.
EDMONDS: Yes. Sometimes he would give money to the people who were working with him, identified in phone calls on a first-name basis, whether it’s a John or a Joe. He also took care of some other people, including his contact at the New York Times. Grossman would brag, “We just fax to our people at the New York Times. They print it under their names.” ...
GIRALDI: ... Both Feith and Perle were lobbyists for Turkey and also were involved with Israel on defense contracts, including some for Northrop Grumman, which Feith represented in Israel.
EDMONDS: They had arrangements with various companies, some of them members of the American Turkish Council. They had arrangements with Kissinger’s group, with Northrop Grumman, with former secretary of state James Baker’s group, and also with former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft.
The monitoring of the Turks picked up contacts with Feith, Wolfowitz, and Perle in the summer of 2001, four months before 9/11. They were discussing with the Turkish ambassador in Washington an arrangement whereby the U.S. would invade Iraq and divide the country. The UK would take the south, the rest would go to the U.S. They were negotiating what Turkey required in exchange for allowing an attack from Turkish soil. The Turks were very supportive, but wanted a three-part division of Iraq to include their own occupation of the Kurdish region. The three Defense Department officials said that would be more than they could agree to, but they continued daily communications to the ambassador and his defense attaché in an attempt to convince them to help.
Meanwhile Scowcroft, who was also the chairman of the American Turkish Council, Baker, Richard Armitage, and Grossman began negotiating separately for a possible Turkish protectorate. ... Scowcroft was all for invading Iraq in 2001 and even wrote a paper for the Pentagon explaining why the Turkish northern front would be essential. I know Scowcroft came off as a hero to some for saying he was against the war, but he was very much for it until his client’s conditions were not met by the Bush administration. ...
GIRALDI: This corruption wasn’t confined to the State Department and the Pentagon—it infected Congress as well. You’ve named people like former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, now a registered agent of the Turkish government. In your deposition, you describe the process of breaking foreign-originated contributions into small units, $200 or less, so that the source didn’t have to be reported. Was this the primary means of influencing congressmen, or did foreign agents exploit vulnerabilities to get what they wanted using something like blackmail?
EDMONDS: In early 1997, because of the information that the FBI was getting on the Turkish diplomatic community, the Justice Department had already started to investigate several Republican congressmen. The number-one congressman involved with the Turkish community, both in terms of providing information and doing favors, was Bob Livingston. Number-two after him was Dan Burton, and then he became number-one until Hastert became the speaker of the House...as the FBI developed more information, [Democrat] Tom Lantos was added to this list....
And in 2000, another representative was added to the list, Jan Schakowsky, the Democratic congresswoman from Illinois. Turkish agents started gathering information on her, and they found out that she was bisexual. So a Turkish agent struck up a relationship with her. When Jan Schakowsky’s mother died, the Turkish woman went to the funeral, hoping to exploit her vulnerability. They later were intimate in Schakowsky’s townhouse, which had been set up with recording devices and hidden cameras. They needed Schakowsky and her husband Robert Creamer to perform certain illegal operational facilitations for them in Illinois. They already had Hastert, the mayor, and several other Illinois state senators involved. I don’t know if Congresswoman Schakowsky ever was actually blackmailed or did anything for the Turkish woman.
GIRALDI: So we have a pattern of corruption starting with government officials providing information to foreigners and helping them make contact with other Americans who had valuable information. Some of these officials, like Marc Grossman, were receiving money directly. Others were receiving business favors: Pentagon associates like Doug Feith and Richard Perle had interests in Israel and Turkey. The stolen information was being sold, and the money that was being generated was used to corrupt certain congressmen to influence policy and provide still more information—in many cases information related to nuclear technology.
EDMONDS: As well as weapons technology, conventional weapons technology, and Pentagon policy-related information. ...
GIRALDI: You also have information on al-Qaeda, specifically al-Qaeda in Central Asia and Bosnia. You were privy to conversations that suggested the CIA was supporting al-Qaeda in central Asia and the Balkans, training people to get money, get weapons, and this contact continued until 9/11...
EDMONDS: ... So these conversations, between 1997 and 2001, had to do with a Central Asia operation that involved bin Laden. Not once did anybody use the word “al-Qaeda.” It was always “mujahideen,” always “bin Laden” and, in fact, not “bin Laden” but “bin Ladens” plural. There were several bin Ladens who were going on private jets to Azerbaijan and Tajikistan. The Turkish ambassador in Azerbaijan worked with them.
There were bin Ladens, with the help of Pakistanis or Saudis, under our management. Marc Grossman was leading it, 100 percent, bringing people from East Turkestan into Kyrgyzstan, from Kyrgyzstan to Azerbaijan, from Azerbaijan some of them were being channeled to Chechnya, some of them were being channeled to Bosnia. From Turkey, they were putting all these bin Ladens on NATO planes. People and weapons went one way, drugs came back.
GIRALDI: Was the U.S. government aware of this circular deal?
EDMONDS: 100 percent. A lot of the drugs were going to Belgium with NATO planes. After that, they went to the UK, and a lot came to the U.S. via military planes to distribution centers in Chicago and Paterson, New Jersey. Turkish diplomats who would never be searched were coming with suitcases of heroin.
GIRALDI: And, of course, none of this has been investigated. What do you think the chances are that the Obama administration will try to end this criminal activity?
EDMONDS: ... As soon as Obama became president, he showed us that the State Secrets Privilege was going to continue to be a tool of choice. It’s an arcane executive privilege to cover up wrongdoing—in many cases, criminal activities. And the Obama administration has not only defended using the State Secrets Privilege, it has been trying to take it even further than the previous terrible administration by maintaining that the U.S. government has sovereign immunity. This is Obama’s change: his administration seems to think it doesn’t even have to invoke state secrets as our leaders are emperors who possess this sovereign immunity. This is not the kind of language that anybody in a democracy would use.
Get the picture? It's play for pay. Nukes, drugs, guns, war, terror -- our Establishment paladins will peddle them all, if the price is right, if there's a slice in it for them, if it suits their personal agenda.
And Giraldi points out the very crux of the matter: "of course, none of this has been investigated." Why should it be? It's the just the way things are done. The Turks and Israelis certainly aren't the first foreign interests to buy congressfolk and government officials like so many cheap suits off the rack. The Nazis and Brits did a wholesale business in bribery and influence-peddling in the years before America's entry into World War II. Gore Vidal has been a prime chronicler of the vast British espionage operation in the pre-war United States, especially in his last novel, The Golden Age. He's also touched upon the similar Nazi effort as well, writing of
...the corrupt Senator William Borah, the so-called lion of Idaho, who had once roared, "I'd rather be right than president," causing my grandfather [Sen. T.P. Gore] to murmur, "Of course, he was neither." In 1940, when the poor and supposedly virtuous Borah died, several hundred thousand dollars were found in his safety deposit box. Where had the money come from? asked the press. "He was my friend," said Senator Gore, for public consumption, "I do not speculate." But when I asked him who had paid off Borah, the answer was blunt. "The Nazis. To keep us out of the war."
William Borah, Dennis Hastert, Brits and Nazis, al Qaeda, Turks and Israelis: the players change, but the game goes on -- with ever-higher and more destructive stakes.
The second curtain-tearing glimpse this week was provided by George Monbiot in the Guardian, writing about the Trafigura scandal: a well-connected oil trading company -- hard-wired to the Tories who will almost certainly take power in the UK next year -- dumping toxic slops in the Ivory Coast, striking down tens of thousands of people with disease, and killing fifteen people. As Monbiot points out, this horror story is just business as usual for governments and corporations -- including the most "enlightened" and "progressive" ones:
On the day that the Guardian [broke the Trafigura story], it also carried a story about a shipwreck discovered in 480 metres of water off the Italian coast. Detectives found the ship after a tip-off from a mafioso. It appears to have been carrying drums of nuclear waste when the mafia used explosives to scuttle it. The informant, Francesco Fonti, said his clan had been paid #100,000 to get rid of it. What makes this story interesting is that the waste appears to be Norwegian. Norway is famous for its tough environmental laws, but a shipload of nuclear waste doesn't go missing without someone high-up looking the other way.
Italian prosecutors are investigating the scuttling of a further 41 ships. But most of them weren't sunk, like Fonti's vessel, off the coast of Italy; they were lost off the coast of Somalia. When the great tsunami of 2004 struck the Somali coast, it dumped and smashed open thousands of barrels on the beaches and in villages up to 10km inland. According to the United Nations, they contained clinical waste from western hospitals, heavy metals, other chemical junk and nuclear waste. People started suffering from unusual skin infections, bleeding at the mouth, acute respiratory infections and abdominal hemorrhages. The barrels had been dumped in the sea, a UN spokesman said, for one obvious reason: it cost European companies around $2.50 a tonne to dispose of the waste this way, while dealing with them properly would have cost "something like $1,000 a tonne." On the seabed off Somalia lies Europe's picture of Dorian Gray: the skeleton in the closet of the languid new world we have made.
Well, that's just Somalia, of course. In the past few years, the enlightened world has amply demonstrated just what it thinks of Somalia. Monbiot points out the fact that at least some of the infamous Somali pirates took to the water to stop the dumping of the developed world's poisons on their shores:
Most of them take to the seas only for blood and booty; but some have formed coastal patrols to prevent over-fishing and illegal dumping by foreign fleets. Some of the vessels being protected from pirates by Combined Task Force 151, the rich world's policing operation in the Gulf of Aden, have come to fish illegally or dump toxic waste. The warships make no attempt to stop them.
As Monbiot notes, there are strict laws against such toxic dumping: laws passed with much fanfare, to make politicians look good -- and the folks back home feel good about themselves. But there is a neat trick that our elites like to use when it comes to laws that inconvenience their power and profits: they just don't enforce them. Simple, eh? Don't you wish you could do that?
The law couldn't be clearer: the Basel convention, supported by European directives, forbids European Union or OECD nations from dumping hazardous wastes in poorer countries. But without enforcement, the law is useless. So, for instance, while all our dead electronic equipment is supposed to be recycled by licensed companies at home, according to Consumers International around 6.6m tonnes of it leaves the European Union illegally every year.
Much of it lands in West Africa. An investigation by the Mail on Sunday found computers which once belonged to the NHS being broken up and burnt by children on Ghanaian rubbish dumps. They were trying to extract copper and aluminum by burning off the plastics, with the result that they were inhaling lead, cadmium, dioxins, furans and brominated flame retardants. Tests in another of the world's great fly-tips, Guiyu in China, show that 80% of the children of that city have dangerous levels of lead in their blood...
A black market run by criminal gangs is dumping our electronic waste on the poor, but since the European directive banning this practice was incorporated into British law in January 2007, the Environment Agency hasn't made a single prosecution. Dump your telly over a hedge and you can expect big trouble. Dump 10,000 in Nigeria and you can expect to get away with it.
Or as the man said: "Steal a little and they throw you in jail; steal a lot and they make you king." Monbiot zeroes in on the underworld connections to the elite's dirty business:
All over the world the cosa nostra, yakuza, triads, bratva and the rest make much of their fortune by disposing of our uncomfortable truths. It suits all the rich nations – even, it seems, the government of Norway – not to ask too many questions, so long as the waste goes to far away countries of which we know nothing. Only when the mobs make the mistake of dumping it off their own coasts does the state start to get huffy.
The Trafigura story is a metaphor for corporate capitalism. The effort of all enterprises is to keep the profits and dump the costs on someone else. Price risks are dumped on farmers, health and safety risks are dumped on subcontractors, insolvency risks are dumped on creditors, social and economic risks are dumped on the state, toxic waste is dumped on the poor, greenhouse gases are dumped on everyone.
This too is nothing new, of course. I've often written here and elsewhere of the shadowlands where state power, terrorism, Big Money and criminal organizations mix, mingle, squabble and conspire. Indeed, modern American history cannot be understood without an inkling of the essential role played by the underworld, as I noted back in 2004:
Anyone who wants to understand the reality of modern America should pick up Gus Russo's latest book, "The Outfit." With diligent research and relentless candor, Russo strips away the façade of America's pious national myths, showing in great detail how the criminal underworld ? and the even more criminal "upperworld" of big business and politics ? have fused in a deadly symbiosis that underlies the nation's power structure.
You could begin unraveling this dirty skein at almost any point in the last century, but let's join the story at a critical juncture: 1960, when Democrats Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson battled for the right to face Republican Richard Nixon in the presidential election. Of course, bribery, corruption, violence and vote-rigging have long been an integral part of America's glorious electoral heritage ?- a shining example to all the world ?- but the 1960 election was the first time that the country's mobsters had intervened so directly, and so decisively, in the national ballot.
They'd seen one of their creations in the White House before, of course: Harry Truman, the Missouri haberdasher who was plucked from obscurity by Tom Pendergast, boss of the Kansas City mob. Pendergast, whose iron grip on local politics was augmented by the judicious use of murder, eventually propelled Truman to the U.S. Senate. From there, having won a well-deserved reputation as a zealous scourge of corporate war profiteering (the mob steered clear of that particular racket, which was dominated by bluebloods like the Bushes), Truman was chosen as vice president in 1944. A few months later, Franklin Roosevelt died -? and Pendergast's boy was suddenly president of the United States.
Although Truman kept his own hands clean of bribes (except the usual ones known as "campaign contributions"), he retained a fierce tribal loyalty to the Kansas City gang and their overlords: "The Outfit," the Chicago-based heirs of Al Capone, and the nation's most powerful underworld organization. In one of the major scandals of Truman's administration, his Attorney General, Tom Clark, approved early paroles for three of the Outfit's most notorious figures. A second scandal followed when Truman rewarded Clark for these gangland services rendered with a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
...In 1960, all three major candidates were mobbed up. JFK's father, the ex-bootlegger Joe Kennedy, dealt directly with his former associates in the Outfit, tapping them for untraceable vote-buying cash and their unrivaled vote-rigging muscle. Nixon, then vice president, had long worked his mob contacts ?- chiefly the Los Angeles gang of Mickey Cohen and New York's Meyer Lansky -? for secret campaign funds. Meanwhile, the Chicago Outfit ?- playing both sides as always -? sought Nixon's favor by agreeing to a CIA request for help in assassinating Fidel Castro.
Johnson was backed by the Carlos Marcello gang out of New Orleans, who paid the all-powerful Texas senator $100,000 a year to keep the legislative heat off their gambling and racing interests. Of course, this mob dime was small beer to Lyndon, whose career had been bankrolled by massive cash infusions (some of them legal) from the construction and military servicing firm Brown & Root ?- now more famous as the chief cash cow in the Halliburton empire. (Like the Outfit, Halliburton always plays both sides.)
The rest, as they say, is history. Kennedy's Outfit connections trumped Johnson's Marcello play for the nomination, then Joe's vote-riggers outmuscled Nixon's vote-riggers in the election ?- the closest in American history. Nixon felt, rightly, that he'd been robbed of a presidency he'd bought fair and square. Thus he went on to even greater illegality ?- including outright treason in his secret negotiations with Vietnamese officials to scuttle peace talks before the 1968 election -? to ensure his perch atop the greasy pole. Millions of people would die from his expansion of a war that U.S. officials had already privately conceded was a disastrous mistake. As Russo points out, gangland's rap sheet looks like a hymnbook next to the genocidal record of the upperworld.
And on it goes. A war of aggression in Iraq -- avidly sought by the profiteers and propagandists in the network revealed by Edmonds -- kills more than a million innocent people while engendering perhaps the most gargantuan corruption scams in world history: loot which sloshes back into the coffers of America's elite, enabling them to tighten their grip on the nation's politics even further, buying candidates -- even the most "progressive" ones -- who will ensure that any "bailouts" or "reforms" will serve the privileged first, and that the militarist agenda of endless conflict, burgeoning arms sales, and bottomless expenditures for the war machine will continue unhindered.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on September 24, 2009.