'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Death of Philip Agee 

UPDATE: A January 2007 interview of Agee.

INITIAL POST: A brave, principled man who exposed the brutality of US covert operations around the world in the 1970s and the individuals responsible for them:

'Why did I leave the CIA?" the former agent Philip Agee, who has died aged 72, once asked himself at a public meeting. "I fell in love with a woman who thought Che Guevara was the most wonderful man in the world." It was this mixture of commitment and romance that was to characterise the man who was denounced as a traitor by George Bush Sr, threatened with death by his former agency colleagues and deported from Britain as a threat to the security of the state.

Agee had left the CIA in 1969 after 12 years working mainly in Latin America, where he gradually became disgusted by the agency's collusion with military dictators in the region and decided to blow the whistle on their activities. The Mexico City massacre of student protesters in 1968 also stiffened his resolve. His 1975 book Inside the Company: CIA Diary spilled the beans on his former employers and enraged the US government, not least because it named CIA operatives.

"It was a time in the 70s when the worst imaginable horrors were going on in Latin America," he told the Guardian in an interview published a year ago today. "Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Guatemala, El Salvador - they were military dictatorships with death squads, all with the backing of the CIA and the US government. That was what motivated me to name all the names and work with journalists who were interested in knowing just who the CIA were in their countries."

To carry out his work, Agee moved to London in the early 1970s with his then partner, Angela, a leftwing Brazilian who had been jailed and tortured in her own country, and his two young sons by his estranged American wife. He worked with the magazine Time Out and other publications to expose the CIA's work internationally. His activities had already alerted the then US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, who urged the prime minister, James Callaghan, to deport him. After an arcane legal process, Agee was deported in 1977, along with a young American journalist, Mark Hosenball (now a senior investigative writer with Newsweek), who had worked at Time Out. The then home secretary, Merlyn Rees, who issued the deportation order, claimed - falsely and maliciously, according to Agee - that he was behind the deaths of two British agents. Their case became a liberal cause celebre.

It was a different time. Americans, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, were willing to confront the immorality of their government's covert operations around the world. Now, at least in New Hampshire, Republicans, and some independents, select a man for President celebrated as a war hero because he was captured after bombing a light bulb factory in Vietnam.

But we shouldn't be surprised. Both the Washington Post and the New York Times read like newspapers published by the CIA as business fronts. Hollywood transforms the covert campaign to drive the Russians from Afghanistan, a campaign that was significantly responsible for the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism in its current violent, vanguardist form, into a popular entertainment, a serious comedy, according to its star, Tom Hanks.

Covert operations are the flavor of the month for all the major presidential candidates, as, even for candidates opposed to the Iraqi war, they constitute a relatively casualty free alternative to policing the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Casualty free when it comes to Americans, that is. The notion that there is something wrong about secretly intervening in the social and political affairs of another country, violently, if considered necessary to attain a policy objective, is just so antiquated. Haven't you heard about 9/11? The Arabs want to kill us, you silly fool.

If only there was a contemporary Agee willing to make similar disclosures, although I realize they would run the risk of getting killed or subjected to rendition to some faraway place in Eastern Europe. Well, at least the National Intelligence Estimate put the brakes on attacking Iran for awhile. It certainly was a shocking development, US intelligence analysts issuing a report that directly contradicted the President's policy. It stopped Bush, the neoconservatives and their Zionist allies in Israel in their tracks, and they still haven't figured out how to get around it. The legacy of Agee resides in the most unlikely of places.

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