How Thousands of Clandestine Operatives Are Fueling a Shadow War
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There are now many thousands of clandestine operatives, nearly all of them armed and equipped with a license to kidnap, torture and kill, working overseas or domestically with little or no oversight and virtually no transparency. We have created a state within a state. A staggering 40 percent of the defense budget is secret, as is the budget of every intelligence agency. I tasted enough of this subterranean world to fear it. When you empower these kinds of people you snuff out the rule of law. You empower criminals and assassins. One of these old CIA operatives, Felix Rodríguez, was in El Salvador when I was there during the war in the early 1980s. He wore Che Guevara’s Rolex watch. He had removed it from Guevara’s body after ordering Guevara to be executed in the Bolivian jungle. I would later run into clandestine operatives in the Middle East, Africa or Yugoslavia I knew from the wars in Central America. We would invariably chat briefly in Spanish. It was a strange fraternity, even if I was the outsider. The Great Game.
These black forces have created as much havoc, or blowback, in the Middle East as they did in Latin America. And by the time they are done there will be so many jihadists willing to blow themselves up to vanquish America, the Islamic radicals will be running out of explosives. These clandestine operatives peddle a self-fulfilling prophecy. They foment the very instability that allows them to continue to proliferate like cockroaches. The dozens of CIA kidnappings—“extraordinary renditions”—of radical Islamists in the late 1990s, especially from the Balkans, many shipped to countries such as Egypt where they were tortured and murdered by our allies, was the fuse that lit the al-Qaida bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the attacks on the Navy destroyer Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000. Militant Islamists had publicly vowed reprisals for these renditions.
“Let me tell you about these intelligence guys,” President Lyndon Johnson is quoted as saying in Robert M. Gates book “From the Shadows.” “When I was growing up in Texas, we had a cow named Bessie. I’d get her in the stanchion, seat myself, and squeeze out a pail of fresh milk. One day, I’d worked hard and gotten a full pail of milk, but I wasn’t paying attention and old Bessie swung her shit-smeared tail through that bucket of milk. Now, you know, that’s what these intelligence guys do. You work hard and get a good program or policy going, and they swing a shit-smeared tail through it.”
These operatives invariably prey on the useful idiots, those naive idealists who bind themselves to a cause and are oblivious to the evil they serve, or to those simply greedy for money and a little power. Joseph Conrad got it right in “The Secret Agent,” his novel about anarchist revolutionaries who recruit the mentally disabled Stevie to place a bomb at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Al-Qaida repeated this scenario when it convinced Richard Reid, a petty criminal who was challenged mentally, to get on an airplane with a shoe bomb. The CIA is no different. When the CIA could not induce the Chilean army commander, General René Schneider, to overthrow the elected government of Salvador Allende, it recruited Chilean soldiers to assassinate him. The CIA provided submachine guns, ammunition and $50,000 to the group. It shipped the money and weapons from Washington to Santiago in the regular diplomatic pouch and then hand-delivered the cash and guns to the hit men. On the afternoon of Oct. 22, 1970, the killers surrounded Schneider’s car and shot him. He died three days later. Allende was overthrown in a U.S.-orchestrated coup on Sept. 11, 1973. And this is, basically, what happened in the La Penca bombing in Nicaragua in 1984. Torbiornsson, one of those dimwitted “internationalists” who showed up in Managua under the guise of journalism or solidarity, allowed himself to be used by the Sandinista intelligence service. The target of the bombing was the mercurial rebel leader Eden Pastora, once a commander with the Sandinistas who had defected to fight for the U.S.-backed Contras (the CIA found him as unmanageable as the Sandinistas had) before returning to become part of the Sandinista government in Managua. Pastora was wounded in the blast.