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On Contact: America's secret government

On the show this week, Chris Hedges discusses the rise of America's secret government with journalist and author David Talbot. David Talbot's book is ‘The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government’.

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CH: Welcome to On Contact.  Today we discuss the rise of America's secret government with journalist and author, David Talbot.

DT: We need to have, desperately, a national debate about the use of military power abroad about the Defense Department budget, which is so, of course, obscene and huge.  How can we actually begin to address all the, you know, compelling and important social kind of problems we have in this country without drawing down the U.S. empire while cutting back this bloated Pentagon budget?  Well, you know, that begins with the corporate media, and beg--begins and ends with that corporate media.  Here we have MSNBC and other, you know, supposed liberal outlets in the media, and we have a parade of national security officials on those stations--on that station every night.  CNN the same way, and, of course, FOX.  So there's no debate Noam Chomsky is still not allowed on these shows, you're not allowed on these shows, we need desperately though to rethink.  And that's what JFK, by the way, was trying to do over 50 years ago.

CH: America's rise as a global power in the wake of World War II saw the creation of the deep state, lawless and brutal centers of power engaged in kidnapping, torture, political assassination, blackmail, and the overthrow of governments that were not obsequious to the demands of America's business elite.  This shadow world, one that saw hundreds of Nazi war criminals integrated into the American and German intelligence services after the war, was personified in the founder and director of the CIA, Allen Dulles, who referred to himself as the secretary of state of unfriendly countries.  He and his CIA operatives saw themselves as above the law, unaccountable to other centers of power including the presidency and exclusively serving the interests of the powerful and the wealthy.  The creation of the deep state is a window into the hidden centers of power, one intimately known by its victims around the globe but shielded from the American public.  Joining me to discuss the unseen machinery of empire is David Talbot, author of "The Devil's Chess Board: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government."  So David, there's so much we don't know about this secret government which has metastasized into a leviathan, much larger and much more criminal in many ways than that which was run by Dulles.  But we do know the origins of it, which you chronicle in your book and what its goals were and how it operated.  So let's talk a little bit about its creation, and that figure of Dulles, and how it institutionalized a secret government that is now unassailable.

DT: Yeah.  Thank you for having me, Chris.  You know, I know you're very focused on the corporate roots of national security and I think you can see that really both Dulles brothers, John Foster Dulles, who later became Secretary of State under Eisenhower and--as his--when his brother was CIA Director.  Now both of them of course have Wall Street roots.  John Foster Dulles ran Sullivan & Cromwell which was the biggest corporate law firm on Wall Street in its day, and Allen Dulles worked there underneath his brother and was essentially carrying out CIA-like activities years before the CIA even was created.  He was carrying money, dark money to Latin American countries to overthrow democratically elected governments in Latin America back in the 1930s.  So really what he did as CIA Director in the 1950s and during the Cold War period was predated by what he was doing at Sullivan & Cromwell on Wall Street.

CH: And talk a little bit about how you said, you had the OSS Dulles of course was in Switzerland, a part of his history by the way that he worked very hard to cover up because he was already, even during the war, reaching out to leading Nazi figures.  Talk a little bit about that and then the creation of the CIA itself which figures like Truman were very wary about.

DT: That's right.  Well, of course, the predecessor to the CIA during World War II, as you say, was the OSS, and Dulles was the top OSS figure in continental Europe serving in Switzerland.  Now he didn't want to go to London because he knew he would be under more supervision there and--by the Roosevelt Administration.  But I think Roosevelt, who had his own kind of I think cunning, President Franklin Roosevelt was using him as a dangle because he knew that Allen Dulles, back to his days again with Sullivan & Cromwell, had close associations with top Nazi figures and top corporate figures who are backing the Hitler regime in Germany like the makers of Zyklon B, the gas that was used to murder millions of Jews in the death camps.  Dulles knew these people.  He was friendly with these people, he and his brother.  They tried to support the Hitler regime early on.  In fact, John Foster Dulles was one of the people who bankrolled America first, the organization that tried to keep the US out of the war.  And so during the war years, Dulles was essentially a double agent, that's what I write in "The Devil's Chess Board" and I think no one has really been able to really identify him that way.  He was meeting clandestinely with Nazi officials.  He essentially, at the end of the war, established a separate piece with Karl Wolff who was the SS general in charge of forces--Hitler's forces in Italy.  So he was doing this indirect contradiction of FDR'S policy of unconditional surrender, and he was doing this to try and block the Soviet forces from coming into Italy and establishing, you know, Russian control in that area.  He makes very close, I think, friendships, partnerships with high Nazi officials before, during, and after the war, and I think one of the most grotesque things that Allen Dulles did, of course, was to rehabilitate Reinhard Gehlen who was head of Hitler's Intelligence Forces on the bloody Eastern Front and he made Gehlen essentially the head of West German Intelligence where he served for many years during the Cold War.  This was a Nazi war criminal who should have been put on trial at Nuremberg and probably hung.

CH: Well, there were all sorts of Nazi war criminals that he shielded hundreds of them, including Klaus Barbie because for the Dulles Brothers and the business interests that they representative--it was all--represented, it was all about defending the capitalist elites, the ability of corporations to invest in Europe, and that meant breaking socialist or communist organizations that opposed those interests.  And then you get after the war, the creation of the CIA itself, Dulles founds the CIA.  Talk a little bit about its foundation, its ethos, what it did, and how it really was able to step outside of any kind of accountability supervision in the law itself.

DT: Well, if FDR had lived, I think both the Dulles Brothers would have been put on trial

themselves for collaborating with the enemy during World War II, but he dies at a convenient time for the Dulles Brothers and many of those who were deeply connected to Hitler's regime.  And so they avoid being put on trial.  Instead, they're in a very strong position where they essentially try to root out the new deal from Washington.  They go on a mission and I think they were the leaders of it, to create sort of McCarthy regime, they used Richard Nixon who was a prodigy of theirs, they helped get elected to office to congress in California, and they used him to institute a blacklist in the McCarthy regime in Washington that was essentially aimed primarily rooting out all last vestiges of FDR in the new deal.  And under Truman, they really had the whip hand even then with the Democrats still in the white house and they push him, they pressure him to create among other things, one of the, you know, more I think dark institutions of the Cold War, the CIA.  Now Truman at the time protested, you know, forlornly that he didn't want the CIA to become "a Gestapo," he wanted only to be a kind of agency that accumulated information for the president and passed it along to him, truly an intelligence organization rather than a clandestine subversive action arm of the Wall Street, which is what it became, overthrowing governments, assassinating people around the globe, and so on.  So under Truman, he tries to keep the CIA benign institution or relatively benign but, of course, Dulles who's only number two at CIA during that period is running in circles around him already and officially becomes the CIA Director under President Eisenhower, again, a man who the Dulles Brothers helped create, encouraged to run for president, and finally, of course, did become President in 1953.

CH: Well, I think what's interesting you point out in the book that rather than an intelligence operation, it's about disseminating disinformation within the government whether that's against Mossadegh and Iran, whether that's against Arbenz in Guatemala, whether that's against Fidel in Cuba, on behalf of the business interests they represent so it was actually the inverse of an intelligence agency.

DT: Yeah.  The CIA under Dulles was really acting on its own volition under the direction of Dulles.  I think that President Eisenhower basically outsourced his foreign policy to the Dulles Brothers, to John Foster Dulles at the State Department, and Allen at the CIA, and they were doing whatever they really wanted at that point.  Now in the beginning, after the fact, Eisenhower kind of approves what he does in Guatemala overthrowing the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz, and in Iran overthrowing the democratically elected government of Mosaddegh, because I think Eisenhower saw these as relatively inexpensive ways to exert American will around the world, he did not want to get into another world war costly--that could cost the lives of a lot of American troops, and American treasure.  And so he thought this was a foreign policy on the cheap, but by the end of his presidency, I think Eisenhower himself had come to see how the Dulles Brothers had left him what he said was a legacy of ashes and had really undercut his ability to make a peace with the Soviet Union among other things.  And I think they did this near the end of President Eisenhower's eight years in office when he was really intent on establishing some kind of data with the Soviet Union at the Geneva Summit in 1960, and that was sabotaged, that peace conference by Allen Dulles once again, with the U-2 flyover with Soviet Union, the spy plane that was shot down, he assured President Eisenhower the plane flew too high to be shot down by the Soviets, but that day, it was shot down, of course, it created international incident sabotaged the Peace Summit and President Eisenhower's was left with nothing in the way of peace at the end of his presidency.

CH: Great.  When we come back, we'll continue our conversation about the Secret State within the American Government with author David Talbot.  Welcome back to On Contact.  We continue our conversation about the secret state within the American government with author, David Talbot.  So before the break, you were talking about how they sabotaged Eisenhower's peace conference.  I believe that plane was shot down a week before.  Am I right about that?  Very shortly before the peace conference was to take place.

DT: Yes, it was on…

CH: But that's kind of…

DT: Yes, on the eve of…

CH: But that's a kind of--on the eve of it.  So that--but that's kind of constant where you see the CIA sabotaging efforts on the part of the executive branch to ramp down the hostilities engendered by the Cold War.  And the techniques they use, Gottlieb--Kinzer wrote a very good book, Stephen Kinzer, the "Poisoner in Chief" about it.  We interviewed him one of the shows about that, but targeted assassinations, kidnapping, what we call extraordinary rendition today, the widespread use of torture, misinformation, the flooding of dark money into countries all over the world from Italy to Iran to everywhere else to essentially overthrow regimes that did not kneel before the dictates of American corporations.  Talk a little bit about the tactics that they employed because they're almost beyond belief, including, of course, repeated attempts to poison and kill Fidel Castro.

DT: That's right.  Well, let's--and, of course, that Dr. Death, the CIA doctor who Stephen Kinzer writes so well about was Sidney Gottlieb and was on the CIA payroll for many years during the Cold War and was creating this, you know, exotic toxins in the CIA labs to kill foreign leaders.  One of them was Patrice Lumumba in Congo.  And, of course, coming out of the hideous, you know, history of Belgian rule, colonial rule by Belgium.  And finally was asserting its independence under this charismatic young leader, Patrice Lumumba.  And he really was the hope of a free Africa in the late 1950's and early '60s, 1960.  JFK, among others, as a young senator, had endorsed Patrice Lumumba and his efforts to establish independence in Congo.  But it was under the thumb, again, of Solomon & Cromwell and their corporate clients, huge mining conglomerates in America, in the UK, in Belgium.  And they didn't want Patrice Lumumba, these big corporate interests to of course nationalize their minds among other things.  So they began to conspire against Lumumba's rule very early on.  And the CIA under Dulles by then knows that they're in a race against young President Kennedy.  They need to get rid of Patrice Lumumba in Africa before Kennedy is sworn in.  So, they have him kidnapped and delivered to his enemies where he's horribly tortured and murdered finally by CIA henchmen essentially in 1960--'61 rather, January of 1961, days before Kennedy is sworn in as the new President because they know that Kennedy will save him.  And there's a famous picture of the--of JFK in the White House where his face is just crumpled.  He was holding his face.  He's just gotten word not from the CIA, who knew about this of course days or weeks before, but from Adlai Stevenson who was his ambassador to the UN, who finally had found out about the fate of Patrice Lumumba in Congo and that he'd been tortured and assassinated.  And Kennedy is, you know, completely devastated by this news.  The CIA never told him.  The CIA kept it hidden from him.  So from day one, even before Kennedy is sworn in, even before day one of the Kennedy presidency, Allan Dulles and the CIA basically are following their own policy, they're undercutting the President, sabotaging the President, and, in fact, at a party in Georgetown while Kennedy is about to be sworn in, he was bragging to people, Allan Dulles, that he's going to continue the policy of his brother, his late brother who died by then of cancer, John Foster Dulles, his hardline Cold War policies.  And he made this very clear when he killed Patrice Lumumba in Africa, CIA henchman, without even informing the new president.

CH: Well, you write in the book about how they even attempted to overthrow President de Gaulle in France and Kennedy has to admit to de Gaulle that he's not even aware of what his own intelligence service is doing.

DT: Yes.  This was a very dramatic series of events in April of 1961.  And it got overshadowed by the Bay of Pigs operation, another CIA debacle in Cuba.  But what was going on right around the same time is that the CIA and hard right elements of the French military are trying to overthrow the de Gaulle presidency in France, even though he'd been a national hero, a hero from World War II on because he was trying to establish peace in Algeria, the former French colony.  And he'd sparked a strong reaction from hard right elements within the French military and the CIA.  And so right during this period of Kennedy's trying to deal with the CIA debacle in Cuba, he's also having to deal with this attempted coup in France.  And it was very dramatic because French paratroopers, who were loyal to his right wing elements, the Secret Army Organization in France, were about to land in France and overthrow de Gaulle and probably assassinate him.  At the same time, Kennedy's getting word of this and has to admit, as you say, to his own--to his--to the French ambassador into Washington, I'm sorry I'm not in control of my own CIA.  But he [INDISTINCT] under the US command actually defend the airports and shoot at that invading troops, French troops, from Algeria.  And de Gaulle thought this was a step too far, of course, to have US troops on soil engage in bloody conflict with other French troops.  But he went before the French people, de Gaulle, in a very dramatic television address and said rally around me.  People of France, rally around me.  And they did.  They poured into the streets.  They secured key locations throughout France and the coup was defeated, no thanks to Allan Dulles and the CIA who was supporting, of course, the plotters themselves.

CH: One of the motifs in the book is that there's a constant overreach, an intentional overreach on the part of the CIA to force the executive branch to engage in conflicts, the Bay of Pigs being the perfect example.  Dulles and the CIA knew very well that once people landed on the beaches in Cuba in the Bay of Pigs, they would need air cover and they thought that this would force Kennedy's hand.  Kennedy, of course, didn't do it, which created an even deeper animus between Dulles and Kennedy, and the last part of your book deals with a lot of the evidence that shows that Dulles was very close to the Kennedy assassination.  I think you argue probably behind it.  But I want to close the last five minutes by talking about where we are now, you know, this is--this book lays out the monster that was created, what its ideology is, how it works, how it's beyond control, how it often has more power than any other institution within the government and we didn't go into, although it's in the book, the way it very skillfully manipulates and controls the press but I think it is an important book because this secret government has only expanded and grown.

DT: Well, I think you're right, Chris.  I think what Dulles did during his regime at the CIA was to lay the groundwork for the kind of deep state dark espionage reign that we have today where the CIA feels and other agencies, military agencies within the US apparatus, feel empowered to do whatever they need to do or want to do around the world.  And of course, I think it reached its pinnacle in many ways under Donald Trump who gave them complete authority to do whatever they want and appointed Gina Haspel, a notorious torturer, to be head of the CIA.  So that's how we've devolved.  But it began years before as I write in my book, "The Devil's Chessboard" under Dulles, assassination, overthrows of government, regime change, you know, dark money as you said, all these, you know, techniques of dark power were being employed by Dulles back in those days in the Cold War.  In fact, black sites that we thought were an invention of the Bush-Cheney regime during--after 09/11.  Black sites were they held prisoners, tortured them, and even killed them were being operated by Allan Dulles's CIA during the Cold War.  So there was nothing new that Bush and Cheney, you know, initiated after 09/11 that Dulles had not, I think, already created at the CIA.  In fact, one of his young prodigies, one of his young admirers, was Donald Rumsfeld who was a congressman, was very admiring of Allan Dulles and later becomes, of course, Secretary of Defense under the second Bush regime.  So, you know, there's a through line with Allan Dulles that extends to the current, I think, operation of the deep state and some of his darkest exploits.

CH: And this of--deep state, of course, as in the past, works on behalf of multinational corporations.  It's, in essence, the muscle or the mafia creation used to protect the interest at, you know, of global corporations but it's done tremendous damage to American democracy itself.  We have just two minutes, but talk about what it's done to the United States internally.

DT: Well, let me just talk about actually the impact of this book because I'm glad you--you're having me on.  This is now, what, five years after the book was published.  You know, my books have been New York Times bestsellers, like your books have, despite the kind of blackout from the media.  One of the things I do go into this book I think that's very important as you alluded to, Chris, is how Allan Dulles at the CIA was very close on a social level and political level with the heads of major media corporations including the New York Times, CBS, The Washington Post, and so on.  I think that kind of influenced over American media news today.  We need to have desperately a national debate about the use of military power abroad, about the Defense Department budget which is so, of course, obscene and huge.  How can we actually begin to address all the, you know, compelling and important social kind of problems we have in this country without drawing down the US empire while cutting back this bloated Pentagon budget?  Well, you know, that begins with the corporate media and beg--begins and ends with that corporate media.  Here, we have MSNBC and other, you know, supposed liberal outlets in the media, and we have a parade of national security officials on those stations--on that station, every night.  CNN the same way and of course FOX.  So there's no debate Noah Chomsky is still not allowed on these shows.  You're not allowed on these shows.  We need desperately though to rethink.  And that's what JFK, by the way, was trying to do over 50 years ago as president.  He was trying to rethink America's role in the world and speech after speech including his famous speech in American University in June 1963, the so-called Peace Speech where he said we all breathe the same air, we all love our children, and he was speaking of our enemies, the Soviets.  That's the kind of, I think, you know, reset that America desperately needs today.  And the media is standing in the way of that, I think, national discussion that we need to have.

CH: Great.  Thank you.  That was David Talbot about his book, "The Devil's Chessboard: Allan Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government"

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