Fifty Years of Subversion

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Review of 'Rogue State', William Blum, Zed Books £15.95

William Blum has written a devastating record of the history of US imperialism since the Second World War. A former State Department official, he left the US government in 1967 because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. Since then he has been concerned to expose the role of the CIA and other US government agencies in, as they say, 'defending' US interests throughout the world.

Firstly comes direct intervention in the affairs of another country. There has not been one single year since the Second World War when the US hasn't been trying to overthrow a foreign government. In some cases it is by the use of covert operations such as in Italy in 1947 when the US forced the Italian government to dismiss its Communist and Socialist cabinet ministers before it could receive US economic aid. For decades after the US funded the Christian Democrats to try to prevent left wingers gaining power. In Greece in 1947-49 the US intervened in the civil war taking the side of the neo-fascists against the Greek left and then had the CIA help the fascists create a repressive internal security agency. Sometimes however, it is more overt with the simple use of brute force such as we saw in Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Haiti, Grenada, Iraq, Colombia or Afghanistan.

When direct intervention proves too difficult the US government has other tricks up its sleeve. One is the School of Americas (SOA), an army school at Fort Benning, Georgia, whose graduates over the years have included literally tens of thousands of Latin American military and police officials who have been involved in human rights abuses in Latin America often involving torture or murder. In fact, as Blum reports, SOA graduates have led a number of military coups in Latin America, so many that the Washington Post reported that the school was known in Latin America as escuela de golpes or the coup school.

Blum also shows how it is the US government and military which has led the way in developing sophisticated and lethal weapons such as cluster bombs, depleted uranium warheads, chemical and nuclear weapons. Some of the stories Blum tells would be comical were it not for the fact that they are so serious. Not only have they tried to assassinate other countries' leaders with exploding cigars (as they did to Fidel Castro), but they have also launched experiments on their own populations. One experiment, of which the casualties are not known, was when CIA agents released biological agents into the New York and Chicago subways to test their effectiveness. They would do this by smashing light bulbs which contained the germs near ventilation systems and then let the natural flow of air caused by the movement of trains distribute it throughout the system. They found this to be a most effective way to contaminate large numbers of people.

Another experiment to test the capacity of biological weapons involved a warship travelling the San Francisco Bay area releasing a biological aerosol into the air. At one point a cloud two miles long was formed, many people were taken to hospital and one person died.

The US government is so worried about dissent at home and abroad that it launched a system codenamed Echelon. This was initially set up to spy on Soviet satellites, but is now used - along with systems in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - to spy and intercept any phone call, fax, mobile, text message, or e-mail throughout the world. In actions that were quite illegal, the US government authorised the navy to have submarines attach tapping pods to underwater cables. In 1999 the House Intelligence Committee of the US Congress sought internal National Security Agency documents about its compliance with a law prohibiting it from deliberately eavesdropping on Americans, but the NSA stonewalled the committee. The Pentagon also struck a deal with Microsoft in 1999 so that all their software now contains a special 'key' which makes it easier for the US government and security forces to access your computer.

Blum has given a comprehensive and exhaustive account of the power and brutality of the world's strongest superpower. If I have one criticism it is that at times you can be overwhelmed by the lengths to which the US establishment will go to try to maintain their dominance, and forget that each step of the way they have been met by resistance, dissent and confrontation. In part this explains why they have resorted to such high degrees of repression. But also why despite the resources and level of technology at their disposal, the resistance they meet has often meant that the world's number one power is vulnerable to defeat.