Last week the Associated Press reported that USAID — which provides billions in taxpayer cash for overseas “humanitarian” aid programs — created a Twitter-like platform in Cuba as a step toward fomenting a youth revolt against that country’s government. The way three ostensibly lefty journos, Mark Ames, Amy Goodman and Glenn Greenwald responded to this is quite interesting and revealing.
“Is USAID the New CIA?”, asked Democracy Now on Twitter to promote the Amy Goodman segment of the same name.
“Good question“, tweeted Glenn Greenwald.
Actually, it’s an astonishingly stupid and misleading question, to the extent it implies that USAID has only now wandered into the dark realm of subversion and regime change, or has always been entirely separate from the CIA in the first place. The dark side of USAID, as well as its partnerships with the CIA have been public knowledge for years, but for those in need of a refresher, Mark Ames has helpfully provided one in “The murderous history of USAID, the US Government agency behind Cuba’s fake Twitter clone.” After reminding his readers that USAID recently partnered with Greenwald’s boss Pierre Omidyar in stoking regime change in Ukraine, Ames laboriously documents some of the agency’s other projects over the years which include:
1. The Office of Public Safety.
Under Kennedy’s reorganization, a police training program set up under President Eisenhower, the Office of Public Safety (OPS), was placed under USAID’s authority. The OPS had been set up in 1957 to train friendly overseas police forces how to be more professional, more democratic, less corrupt… — but in reality, the OPS was essentially a CIA proxy…its ranks covertly sprinkled with CIA spooks in hotspots across the globe.
Former New York Times correspondent A. J. Langguth wrote that the “the two primary functions” of the USAID police training program were to allow the CIA to “plant men with local police in sensitive places around the world,” and to bring to the United States “prime candidates for enrollment as CIA employees.”
The account Ames gives makes clear that there was a third function, which was the training of local police in ‘the dark arts of rule-by-terror’. Ames describes the career of ghoulish Dan Mitrioni who, on the USAID payroll, ran terror schools for cops, training over 100,000 police in Brazil alone. After being stationed in Uruguay, Mitrione sound-proofed the basement of his house before holding classes in torture for local police, where he demonstrated the use of electric shock and vomit inducing drugs on kidnapped vagrants, whom he tortured to death.
Ames goes on to describe all the extremely vicious business OPS and its trainees got up to, such as assisting in the overthrow of Brazil’s democratically-elected president Joao Goulart, and installing a right-wing military dictatorship that would last two decades; repression through murder and torture of the left-wing Tupamoro rebels of Uruguay; in Laos during the Vietnam War, partnership with the CIA in opium-smuggling and the forced resettlement of Hmong families to force them to fight the North Vietnamese; in Guatemala, training of 30,000 police to repress local leftists and later material support for death squads committing genocide against the Maya; in El Salvador, partnering with The Green Berets, the CIA and the State Department to form two paramilitaries that would ‘form the backbone’ of a death squad system that murdered 75,000 people between 1979 and 1992.
2. In Haiti, via a “democracy promotion” program, assistance to antigovernment, pro-business groups in opposition to populist, left-wing president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown in a coup in 1991, months after he had won Haiti’s first democratic election.
3. In Peru, funding for president Alberto Fujimori’s forced sterilization of 300,000 mostly indigenous women.
4. In Russia during the 1990s, funding for privatization schemes that led to the destruction of the country’s social welfare system and the handing over of public assets to a handful of oligarchs; funding for PR campaigns to promote neoliberal reforms and political candidates.
If it seems I’ve gone into quite a bit of detail summarizing Ames’ piece, it’s so you can fully appreciate the whitewashing banality and ignorance of Greenwald’s and Goodman’s responses to the same story. Goodman, in particular, who I have examined on this blog previously for her peerless ability to be usefully idiotic, outdoes herself in her repulsive opening for an otherwise typically banal treatment of the topic at hand.
Perhaps most shockingly, the Cuban Twitter program was not paid for and run by a spy agency such as the CIA. Instead, it was the brainchild of USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.
Shocking, Amy? Really? How shocking, exactly? Shocking like the electroshocks that finally killed each of those beggars in Dan Mitrioni’s basement, after an eternity of suffering? As shocking as the car battery with which OPS-trained police caused the hemorrhaging of Dilma Rouseff’s uterus, when Rouseff was a Marxist student? As shocking as the shock therapy that drove Russians into poverty? Or do you just mean shocking like how any reasonably intelligent person is shocked by your unutterable banality and incorrigible stupidity and how admired you are by upper middle class ignoramuses who think of themselves as well-informed and radical because they allow you to bore them a few times per week? That kind of shocking?
After offering up the seemingly mandatory clip of White House spokesperson Jay Carney, Goodman trots out Peter Kornbluh, of the National Security Archive. Ames’ piece borrows from National Security Archive material, so it’s exceptionally odd and frustrating that Kornbluh happily plays along with Goodman’s ‘new CIA’ bullshit.
USAID, perhaps, is the new CIA here. And this all has a whiff of Iran-Contra kind of elements, in which, you may remember, Amy, you better than anybody, you know, back in the mid-1980s, when the CIA was banned from supporting the Contras in Central America by Congress and passed the operations to the National Security Council so that they could be conducted from there. And here we may have a situation where covert operations have simply been passed to USAID, where there isn’t very much scrutiny.
It makes no sense at all from a news standpoint to go as far back as Iran-Contra without mentioning what USAID was doing in Central America only a few years before, or the cozy relationship USAID has had with the CIA over the years. No matter how you look at it, this is a whitewash that goes beyond the usual veil of anomalousness professional lefts reflexively throw over routine state repression and imperialist meddling. Goodman’s program is a deliberate lie.
Later in the interview, Kornbluh enthusiastically reports that Cuba –
is changing rapidly into a—from a communist society to a capitalist society. And we can help with that, but we can’t help with that by these silly, surreptitious and absolutely dangerous kind of covert operations.
Yes, of course, we can help with Cuba’s transition to capitalism! What Democracy Now
funder listener doesn’t want to? But quit with the wacky covert stuff, USAID, and bring on the shock therapy!
Not even distorted history intrudes when Glenn Greenwald offers his second worldly-wise shrug at USAID’s regime-change meddling via The “Cuban Twitter” Scam Is a Drop in the Internet Propaganda Bucket. The first time he shrugged, it was to insist that his boss’s partnership with USAID in Ukraine had no impact on his journalistic independence, clearly the only thing about Omidyar Greenwald believes he or his readers should take any interest in. For Greenwald, the Twitter clone scheme is trivial because ever-so-many other government agencies are meddling online, not least of course, the NSA and GCHQ. What’s one more?
To make his point, Greenwald does his familiar trophy waving — this time previously published Intercept stories and new, predictably redundant documents that no one in their right mind gives a shit about by now. As ever, Greenwald can’t consider there is anything as, or more important, than what he writes about. So a Cuban Twitter clone under the complete control of U. S. government agents stoking regime change, and which attracted tens of thousands of young users, is, from his perspective, no different really from “a system to automatically monitor hotel bookings of at least 350 upscale hotels around the world. . . to detect diplomats and government officials.”
To quote GTI’s comments after I’d first posted:
[Greenwald] made a subtle pivot from “strategy to undermine anticapitalist country” to “damaging the internet.”
[He] might as well have complained that the CIA using exploding cigars to kill Castro undermined the quality of cigars.
Like much of what Greenwald does, it’s so stupid and short-sighted, it’s cringe-inducing, but no doubt USAID and its billionaire partners appreciate it.
Update (link to this update)
Regular readers likely know that I have been highly critical of alleged media watchdog groups for their uncritical, non-analytical approach toward both the Snowden Affair and the First Look media venture to which it is now strongly tied. I have also written of the bizarre way in which opinion on these matters is vigorously policed and disciplined on the ostensible left.
These concerns came into play two days ago when a reader of Media Lens, a British site that does Chomsky/Herman-inspired media analysis, and which I’ve criticized previously, posted a link to the piece above on the site’s readers forum. In keeping with the forum’s increasingly low bar, a discussion ensued as to whether or not my writing is helpful to the CIA. Some sample comments from forum user emersberger:
The CIA shoud be quite pleased with Tarzie’s output.
I believe the CIA shoud be happy with his output. Why wouldn’t they be?
It is best not to [criticise FirstLook/Intercept] in a dumb, sneering and dishonest way because then it does do the work of groups like the CIA and that is what I’ve concluded about this bloggers’ outbursts.
[Tarzie defended] Owen Jones when challeneged (very politely) by the Eds (telling Jones to disregard the “idiots” in fact), [and engages] in dishonest attacks on Chomsky. Pretty obvious isn’t it? If I’m a CIA guy I’m loving this blogger.
This came with the usual accompaniment of tone-policing by people who think that American radicals aspire to being as dull and passive aggressive as many of the forum’s users, and who believe that imparting unsolicited tips on this is an indisputably friendly gesture. One thing that did not intrude on the conversation much, if at all, was discussion of my post’s merits. After several admittedly angry attempts to refocus the discussion onto Amy Goodman’s and Glenn Greenwald’s whitewashing of USAID, I was banned by the editors.
I think it’s not unreasonable to remove someone’s privilege to post on our board when that person has ludicrously described us as ‘models of dishonest and smeary subservience’ and ‘idiotic hypocrites’.
First of all, a clarification: I called them “idiotic hypocrites” on Twitter, not on their forum. Emersberger, in the midst of frothing over my alleged helpfulness to the CIA quoted that tweet, in typically bad faith. Also, the actual offending remark on the board was that “in relation to Omidyar [the Media Lens editors] are models of dishonest and smeary subservience.” Media Lens’ truncation of the quote is, I think, deliberately misleading, an attempt to make my accusation seem more sweeping and commensurately less accurate, and to deflect attention from the specific issue it raises.
Second, while I don’t share the popular fascination with hypocrisy, I think it’s relevant here in showing Media Lens editors are less concerned with adherence to posting guidelines than immunizing themselves, and others to whom they’re loyal, from criticism. I am at pains to see how emersberger’s rhetoric is more compliant with ML’s posting guidelines than mine, putting aside how much more empirically supportable my claims are than his. (More on that later)
Third, I think it is unreasonable for the editors to ban someone for saying unkind things about them, not on any free speech grounds — it’s their forum, they can do what you want — but because it shields them from any but the most tepid criticism. Do I really have to point out how incongruous that is with what they ostensibly stand for, especially in light of what they had tolerated from emersberger?
Fourth, I stand by my statement that the Media Lens editors are “models of dishonest and smeary subservience” in relation to First Look, Pierre Omidyar and Glenn Greenwald. I base this on the following:
1. A quarter billion dollar media play by a Silicon Valley billionaire implicated in the suppression of Wikileaks and other disquieting matters, raises obvious questions for media critics, especially considering the trove of secrets that came with it. You won’t see any of these questions raised by the Media Lens editors, however, who freely admit they will stand down at least until Omidyar’s venture is more firmly established.
2. They approvingly posted on their forum a pathologizing smear extracted from the grotesque tirade Glenn Greenwald left on my blog in September. Cats Not War blogger Patrick Higgins has discussed this tirade and the pathologizing smear here, using the kind of analysis you won’t find from the Media Lens editors.
So to summarize the evidence for the ‘ludicrous’ claim that got me banned:
By repeatedly endorsing smears, and indulging smeary, derailing forum users like emersberger, it is entirely correct to say the Media Lens editors are ‘smeary’ too. That they use proxies instead of smearing me outright only makes them cowards.
That this smeariness has been wielded overwhelmingly to shield First Look owner Pierre Omidyar and Glenn Greenwald from criticism makes the charge of subservience equally accurate, particularly in light of their own candid admission of deference cited in item 1, and their timing on Pando’s Ukraine story cited in item 3. That they insist that there is nothing uniquely incongruous between their generosity toward First Look and their ostensible mission and theoretical bent makes them dishonest, as does invoking forum guidelines against a user who does not share their loyalty to First Look while giving a pass to an abusive user who does.
In light of the above, it merits repeating that I was banned from the Media Lens forum after making repeated attempts to refocus the discussion away from smears and tone-trolling and onto Amy Goodman and Glenn Greenwald’s whitewashing of USAID.
To paraphrase comrade Emersberger, if I’m a USAID guy or a billionaire, I’m loving Media Lens.
Update to this update, Media Lens forum clowns Emersberger and Rhisiart Gwilym are on day three of smearing me for the tone I took with them for smearing me. As with the clownish editors — y’know the guys that RT @ggreenbacks parody smears — it’s the self-awareness that makes them so lovable.
Actually I do have to credit emersberger with a certain savvy. It could not be more obvious to any objective observer that since this post went up over there, he has worked tirelessly at preventing any serious discussion of it. He has succeeded completely, as demonstrated by this post, from a thoroughly depressing facsimile of an adult human, promising to never “link to Tarzie’s work again, given the reaction”, after paraphrasing all of emersberger’s substance-free smears for him.
This is really the year of being told how awful I am by truly awful people. It may not have improved my character, but I am getting slightly better at keeping human garbage in perspective, and also extremely aware of how easily creeps can manipulate dull-witted conformists. A general aversion to lefts in groups has hardened into a principle.
PS – Welcome newbies from Media Lens. Enjoy the dipshit-free surroundings and modern technology. Be refreshed by analyses that start, rather than end, where Chomsky/Herman left off. Say hi! I only bite assholes. Honk if you hate middle class English dabblers in Eastern religion. (Weird ML-related pet peeve)
Commenter MickStep alerts me to the latest on the joke that is Media Lens forum. God.
The Stalinist fun continues at Media Lens. Greenwald loyalist bar-kin has questions for mickstep, who in addition to being a long-time Media Lens member, is a regular commenter here:
Hello ‘commenter mickstep’,
I would like to ask you the following honest question?
Are just here to stoke up controversies with posters as a sort of agent provocateur to give Tarzie writing material to attack ML with?
The reason I ask is twofold:
1) Tarzie highlighting in his blog the provoking post, which was coincidentally (?) posted by none other than ‘commenter mickstep’
2) Because unlike you, most visitors on this board see themselves as stakeholders and they care a great deal about the reputation and integrity of ML which inseparable from its objectives; so basically undermining the effectiveness one is undermining the success of the other. You seem intent on achieving something else altogether.
It doesn’t seem to occur to bar-kin, that what makes Media Lens look bad are users who put disclaimers on their posts so as not to give offense to bullies wielding smears and accusations, backed by ban-happy editors wielding smears of their own.
I don’t make the news, you clueless, authoritarian fuck, I just report it. If you don’t want Media Lens embarrassed, don’t be embarrassing.