Counter-Intelligence: Spying Deters Democracy

Kim Petersen

Scott Noble is an extraordinarily productive filmmaker who has built up an impressive treasure trove of documentaries at Metanoia Films. The films deal with topics such as the plutocracy’s determination to entrench and maintain its power and wealth through myriad means – among them psychological ops, black ops, propaganda, disinformation, and more. Last year, after watching Counter-Intelligence which relates how the tentacles of espionage agencies have permeated governments and societies, domestically and abroad, I began an email interview exchange with Noble to flesh out further points raised in the film.

Part 1: Interview with Filmmaker Scott Noble

Kim Petersen: What was your goal in making Counter-Intelligence?

Scott Noble: My basic goal was to help people understand intelligence agencies and the techniques they use to advance policy. Most documentaries dealing with e.g. the CIA attempt to prove or disprove a particular theory about a controversial event. There is little in the way of structural analysis. In making the film I set out to explore how these agencies function in the real world. How do they keep secrets? What are some common m.o.’s? What is their ultimate purpose? In a broader sense I wanted to ask whether democracy is even possible when organizations like the CIA exist. We are currently living under a hybrid of plutocracy (from plouto, “wealth”) and cryptocracy (from krypton, “hidden”) that benefits about 1 percent of the human population. It’s no secret we’re ruled by the rich, but there is a relative lack of understanding about just how much information is kept hidden from the public. A 2004 study by Peter Galison at Harvard concluded that “the classified universe is certainly not smaller, and very probably much larger than this unclassified one.”

KP: Does the American government control the shadow government or vice versa?

SN: This is not an easy question to answer. In the 70′s, Congressman Otis Pike investigated the CIA and determined that it was an obedient arm of the executive branch. For the most part this is probably true. On the other hand there are historical examples of the CIA disobeying the President. CIA director Allen Dulles continued U-2 flights over the Soviet Union in defiance of Eisenhower’s express orders banning such operations before his summit with Khrushchev in May 1960. In Australia and Britain during the 70′s, the labour governments of Gough Whitlam and Harold Wilson were attacked not only by CIA (Counter-Intelligence head James Jesus Angleton wrongly considered both men to be agents of the Soviet Union) but their own intelligence agencies. I won’t get into the Kennedy assassination; suffice it to say I consider the official story hogwash. In analyzing these events I think the network model is more useful than a binary “shadow government vs. visible government.” Networks of power cooperate in suppressing the majority, but also compete amongst each other, often viciously.

Our rulers play a dangerous game when they grant significant influence to spy agencies. The danger of secrecy in government has been understood since as far back as Herodotus in Ancient Greece (and presumably well before); secretive spy agencies can pose a threat not only to the professed goals of a government (freedom, democracy, honour, safety etc.) but to rulers themselves. In Counter-Intelligence Pt. 1 (“The Company”) I showcase a quote from an American Congressman circa 1800, two decades after the Constitutional convention, in which he colourfully warned, “If a system of espionage is established, the country will swarm with informers, spies, and all the odious reptile tribe that breeds in the sunshine of despotic power.” Or consider Machiavelli’s writings on mercenaries. In The Prince, Machiavelli sensibly argues that mercenaries, who rely on war for their livelihoods, have an understandable tendency to create conflict even where none is necessary:

“Does not history tell us that once there were many soldiers in Italy, who, failing for pay because the wars had at length come to an end, formed themselves in Companies and exerted money from the city-states, plundered the countryside, and were a plague upon the nation?”

Machiavelli was also concerned about mercenaries usurping power from “legitimate” authorities. One month to the day after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, former President Truman wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post (retracted in later editions) in which he expressed similar concerns about the CIA, aka The Company:

“[CIA] has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government.”

The CIA cannot be reduced to the status of a mercenary organization, though there are some similarities. Peter Dale Scott has noted of the Office of Policy Coordination — the original “black ops” arm inside CIA — that it served as “Wall Street’s special play thing” in the early years of the Cold War. Indeed, the initial advisory group set up by Allen Dulles, himself a lawyer for Sullivan and Cromwell, consisted almost entirely of Wall Street investment bankers and lawyers. The 1954 coup in Guatemala is instructive in this regard. It was essentially performed on behalf of the United Fruit Company. However, this does not necessarily imply a conflict with the American state. CIA Director Allen Dulles belonged to United Fruit’s law firm and held shares in the company; John Moors Cabot, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, was the brother of a former United Fruit president; and President Eisenhower’s personal secretary was married to the head of United Fruit’s Public Relations Department. If, as Mussolini wrote, the defining characteristic of fascism is the “merger of state and corporate power,” then the US has long had fascistic tendencies.

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