Sunday, June 09, 2013

Agents of Influence

By Robert Stacy McCain

Diana West’s new book unravels the lies Americans have been told about Cold War history

BOOK REVIEW of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character, By Diana West.

There is no statue of Elizabeth Bentley at her alma mater, Vassar College, nor is there any memorial to her at Columbia University, where she received her master’s degree. Bentley’s career as a Communist spy could be the stuff of a Hollywood thriller, complete with a romantic interest in the form of her lover, Soviet intelligence agent Jacob Golos.

Yet Bentley is nearly forgotten today for the very reason that she became famous: She quit the Communist Party in 1945 and went to the FBI with the names of nearly 150 Soviet agents — including such prominent officials as Victor Perlo, chief of the aviation section of the War Production Board — and subsequently testified before Congress about the Communist espionage network she supervised.

Hollywood and academia don’t celebrate anti-Communists, but as Diana West points out, there is a professorship at Bard College named for arch-traitor Alger Hiss. This perversion of history, in which the heroes and villains are reversed in accordance with liberal myth, has important consequences, as West explains in her new book, American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character.

The book examine the lost history that, as West told me Tuesday,  “is not taught to Americans and is not known to Americans,” because “the people who do know it would never be permitted to teach it on our campuses,” which West describes as “occupied territory.” This misunderstanding of Communism is the result of a dishonesty that entered American discourse after 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt extended diplomatic recognition to Josef Stalin’s totalitarian Russian regime and, as West says, “we as a society learned to tell lies.”

American lies about Soviet reality — including Stalin’s terror-famine in the Ukraine and the bloody purges of the infamous Moscow “show trials” — flourished in the Popular Front era of the 1930s, even as Soviet agents burrowed into the U.S. government in FDR’s New Deal programs. The lies continued through World War II, when the West’s alliance with Russia against Hitler’s Germany was promoted through U.S. government propaganda that portrayed Stalin as a benevolent figure (“Uncle Joe”) and suppressed information about Soviet atrocities, including the 1940 slaughter of Polish army officers in the Katyn Forest. Not only was it during the war that Communist spies obtained top secret information about the atomic bomb, enabling the Russians to develop their own nuclear weapons within four years of the Hiroshima bombing, but the influence of Soviet agents on U.S. wartime policy helped Stalin conquer Eastern Europe and also helped spread Communist revolution to China.

Even while we were allies with the USSR, the Stalinist regime and its American agents were “engaged in a secret war against us,” West says, and when witnesses like Bentley and Chambers came forward to tell the truth, they were vilified and maligned in much of the press. Not only were these ex-Communists smeared, but officials who sought to investigate Russian espionage and subversion (including both Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy) were also smeared and, in many cases, these smears originated as Soviet propaganda funneled through Communist-controlled organizations and disseminated by sympathetic liberals. So powerful was the counter-attack that, nearly six decades after Joe McCarthy’s death and more than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, popular understanding of Cold War history is still hopelessly confused. Many Americans have been taught to think of anti-Communism — mocked as a hysterical “Red Scare,” and condemned as “McCarthyism” — as more dangerous than Communism itself.

The record should have been clarified during the 1990s, when information from Soviet defectors — including Vassily Mitrokhin, who smuggled thousands of pages of KGB archives out of Russia — and the declassification of the so-called “Venona” intercepts of Soviet intelligence cables confirmed the truths told by Bentley and Whittaker Chambers. Indeed, as these ex-Communists testified, and as McCarthy and other anti-Communist investigators had tried to prove, the U.S. government during the Roosevelt presidency was penetrated by scores of officials who took their paychecks from Uncle Sam but were secretly working for Uncle Joe.

Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, Lauchlin Currie — guilty! guilty! guilty! — were prominent among the Stalinist agents in FDR’s administrations whose identities were confirmed by Venona decryptions. These post-Cold War revelations and others contradicted the “Red Scare hysteria” narrative that had treated as preposterous the suspicions aimed at well-credentialed liberals like Hiss (a Harvard Law alumnus) and Currie, a graduate of the London School of Economics who was a key financial policy adviser to Roosevelt.

“With so much confirmation of Soviet infiltration and subversion now in hand,” West says, “not only is a major rewrite of history in order, there are some major wrongs that need to be righted.”

Among the Cold War wrongs in need of correction are not only restoring the smear-damaged reputations of McCarthy and other anti-Communists, but also rescuing from obscurity some other truth-tellers who were demonized for the truths they told. Consider, for example, Army Maj. George R. Jordan, who during WWII worked at an air base in Montana where military supplies were sent to Russia under the Lend-Lease program. In 1949, Jordan told a congressional committee that these supplies included materials like uranium necessary to the development of nuclear weapons, and also testified that the Soviets used Lend-Lease shipments to smuggle secret U.S. documents back to Moscow.

As West details in her new book, Jordan was mocked and denounced by liberals at that time, and he is nearly forgotten now, but nearly all of his testimony has since been confirmed. And one of Jordan’s most controversial claims points to just how high up in the Roosevelt administration the hidden hand of Soviet influence reached. Jordan testified under oath that he got a phone call in April 1943 from top FDR aide Harry Hopkins who gave him direct orders in regard to a shipment of “special” chemicals that were about to arrive at the air base in Montana. Jordan said Hopkins instructed him to make no record of this shipment, which proved to be uranium from Canada. Officials at the top-secret Manhattan Project had ordered an embargo of U.S. uranium shipments to Russia, but according to Jordan, Hopkins had intervened to help the Soviets bypass that obstacle to their own atomic ambitions by arranging the Canadian shipment via Lend-Lease through Montana.

Jordan’s account of the phone call from Hopkins was one element of his testimony that congressional investigators were unable to confirm, but there is other evidence — including testimony of a KGB defector and documents from KGB archives — that points toward the conclusion that Hopkins was a willing agent of Soviet influence.

“If Harry Hopkins, the top aide to President Roosevelt, was indeed a conscious agent … what does this say about Roosevelt?” asks West, posing a question fraught with implications for what we know, and still don’t know, about the direction of American policy and the meaning of American history.

Unfortunately, academic historians seem little interested in those question, and the liberals in charge at Vassar College and Columbia University would probably rather erect a statue of Stalin than to pay tribute to their ex-Communist alumna who told the truth about Soviet espionage, Elizabeth Bentley.



Verizon scandal: Barack Obama's national security state is now beyond democratic control

The sheer number of scandals exposes Obama's inner authoritarianism

Those crazy conspiracy theorists who live up trees with guns and drink their own pee don’t seem quite so crazy anymore. It turns out that a “secret court order” has empowered the US government to collect the phone records of millions of users of Verizon, one of the most popular telephone providers – a massive domestic surveillance programme and a shocking intrusion into the lives of others. For the first time in history, being an AT&T customer doesn’t seem such a bad thing after all.

Of course, it isn't the first time that a US administration has spied on its own people. The origins of this particular order lie first in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and then in Section 215 of the Patriot Act, backed by George W Bush and passed by Congress after 9/11. Normally, domestic surveillance only targets suspicious individuals, not the entire population, but in 2006 it was discovered that a similarly wide database of cellular records was being collected from customers of Verizon, AT&T and BellSouth. There was plenty of outrage and plenty of lawsuits, but the National Security Agency never confirmed that the programme had been shut down. It would appear that it’s still in rude health: the latest court order for collecting data runs from April 25 to July 19.

A few observations. First, America is so conscious and proud of its history as a beacon of liberty that it often overlooks the tyranny that occurs on its own shores in the name of safeguarding democracy. The national security state has expanded to the point whereby it now functions outside of democratic control and with clear disregard for the Constitution. What’s especially creepy about this case is that the state felt no legal obligation to tell citizens that it was spying on them – or at least considering it. The result is a disturbing paradox: it’s legal to collect information from companies but illegal for the companies to try to tell their customers about it. It seems that the law prefers to take the side of the state.

Second, you get what you vote for – and both Republicans and Democrats keep on voting for authoritarians. There’s a frustrating hypocrisy that many conservatives applauded the accrual of state power under Bush for the sake of fighting the War on Terror only to scream blue murder about it now that it’s happening under Obama. Likewise, many liberals resented the domestic espionage programme of Bush but have been less vocal about opposing it under Obama. The journalist Martin Bashir has gone to far as to claim that the IRS scandal is a coded attack upon the President’s race, that “IRS” is the new “n word”. Sometimes it feels like Obama could be discovered standing over the body of Sarah Palin with a smoking gun in his hand and liberals would scream “racist!” if anyone called him a murderer. Their capacity for self-delusion knows no bounds.

Finally, totaling every scandal up – IRS, AP phone records, Fox journalists being targeted, the Benghazi mess – this has to be the most furtively authoritarian White House since Nixon’s. We don't yet have a "smoking email" from Obama ordering all of this, but it can’t be said often enough that there is a correlation between Obama’s “progressive” domestic agenda and the misbehavior of the other agencies governed by his administration – forcing people to buy healthcare even when they can’t afford it, bailing out the banks, war in Libya and the use of drone strikes to kill US citizens. This is exactly what the Tea Party was founded to expose and oppose. All the laughter once directed at the “paranoid” Right now rings hollow.



US agency casts wide net, say whistleblowers

A US court order asking Verizon to hand over all its phone calling records shines a light on an operation that has been in place for years and involves all major US phone companies, former National Security Agency employees say.

"NSA has been doing all this stuff all along and it's been all these companies, not just one," William Binney told news program Democracy Now on Thursday.

"They're just continuing the collection of this data on all US citizens."

Binney, who worked at the NSA for almost 40 years, left the agency after the attacks of 9/11, because he objected to the expansion of its surveillance of US citizens.

British newspaper The Guardian on Wednesday released an order from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, requesting Verizon to give the NSA the details on every phone call on its landline and wireless networks on a daily basis between April 25 and July 19.

Binney estimates that the NSA collects records on three billion calls per day.

"These are routine orders," said Thomas Drake, another NSA whistleblower.  "What's new is, we're seeing an actual order and people are surprised by it.  "We've been saying this for years from the wilderness," Drake told Democracy Now.

"But it's like, hey, everybody went to sleep while the government is collecting all these records."

Drake started working for the NSA in 2001 and blew the whistle on what he saw as a wasteful and invasive program at the agency.

He was later prosecuted for keeping classified information. Most of the charges were dropped before trial, and he was sentenced to one year of probation and community service.

The NSA's original charter was to eavesdrop on communications between countries, not inside the US. That expansion of its mission appears to have happened after 9/11, but the agency has continuously denied that it spies on domestic communications.

Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile USA, three of the largest phone companies, said they had no comment on the matter, while a representative from Sprint did not respond to a message.

Verizon's general counsel emailed employees on Thursday saying that the company has an obligation to obey court orders, but did not confirm the existence of an order.

James Bamford, a journalist and author of several books on the NSA, said it's very surprising to see that the agency tracks domestic calls, including local calls.

In 2006, USA Today reported that the NSA was secretly collecting a database of domestic call information, however, some phone companies denied any involvement in such a program.

Bamford's assumption was that the uproar over a separate, post-9/11 warrantless wiretapping program and the departure of the Bush administration meant that the NSA had been reined in.

"Here we are, under the Obama administration, doing it sort of like the Bush administration on steroids," he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

"This order here is about as broad as it can possibly get, when it comes to focusing on personal communications. There's no warrant, there's no suspicion, there's no probable cause ... it sounds like something from East Germany."

Bamford believes the NSA collects the call records at a huge, newly built data centre in Bluffdale, Utah.



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