American Samizdat

Sunday, October 21, 2007. *
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In his Presidential address to the American Society of Criminology, William Chambliss raised the issue of what he called "State-Organized Crime" (Chambliss, 1988). Chambliss defined state-organized crime as "acts committed by state or government officials in the pursuit of their job as representatives of the government" (Chambliss, 1988: 327). In Chambliss' view governments often engage in smuggling (arms and drugs), assassination conspiracies, terrorist acts, and other crimes in order to further their foreign policy objectives. While these actions may be seen as having immediate benefits (despite their illegality), they often have unanticipated and unintended outcomes, sometimes referred to in intelligence circles as "blowback." In this section we will examine the issue of state- organized crime as it relates to the United States and some of the "blowback" which law enforcement agencies have had to cope with as a result of these state-organized crime activities.

When governments commit acts that are defined by their own laws as criminal or when government officials break the law as part of their job, they engage in state-organized crime (Chambliss, 1986). While the state rarely makes public its criminality or keeps tabulations on the number of illegal acts it has committed, it is clear from both a historical and contemporary perspective that state organized crime is neither new nor rare. State-organized crime is particularly apparent in the covert operations of intelligence agencies.

Any government operation that is shielded from the public and hidden from Congressional oversight over a long period of time will inevitably become reliant on criminal activity to support and fund the operation. Covert operations provide the perfect setting for organized criminal activity simply because they are clandestine operations conducted with state sanction (Chambliss, 1986). Covert intelligence activities avoid the usual law enforcement scrutiny and surveillance. Passage through customs can be facilitated through official channels. Normal financial accounting procedures are not followed in covert operations. Investigators from law enforcement agencies can be diverted by claims of "national security." And finally, organizers of such operations recruit individuals with the skills necessary to carry them out, most of which are criminal skills. It is typical for covert operators to work with well-established criminal undergrounds and for the government sponsoring the covert operation to at the very least tolerate and often abet the criminal activities of its organized crime allies.

In recent years, intelligence agencies in the United States have sought and received assistance from drug traffickers. While it is, of course, outrageously hypocritical for a government waging a drug war against its own citizens to seek assistance from drug traffickers, it is not surprising. After all, as Chambliss (1986) points out, the characteristics of successful drug trafficking are the same qualities that are essential to successful intelligence operations. Both activities require the movement of bulky commodities, money and couriers quickly and secretly. Both activities require great discretion and allegiance from temporary workers employed for illicit and covert activities. And both activities require the use of force and violence to assure the security of the operation.

State-Sponsored Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy

Iran: The CIA engaged in a massive conspiracy to overthrow the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953 (Beirne and Messerscmidt, 1991: 258-259; Prados, 1986; Simon and Eitzen, 1986). Following his election, Mossedagh had nationalized several foreign-owned oil companies. His government had offered compensation to the oil companies. But the Eisenhower administration was not tolerant of any independence by foreign leaders and began a campaign to overthrow the Mossedagh government and replace it with the monarchy of Shah Reza Pahlavi. In return for U.S. support for the coup d'etat, the Shah promised U.S. oil companies control over 50 percent of Iran's oil production. After removing the democratic government in Iran and placing the Shah in power, the CIA helped create, train, and finance SAVAK, a vicious secret police force loyal to the Shah. SAVAK arrested over 1,500 people a month during the Shah's reign. On June 5, 1953, SAVAK murdered about 6,000 Iranian citizens in one day (Simon and Eitzen,. 1986: 158). Torture was frequently used on prisoners, and Amnesty International declared, "No country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran" (Beirne and Messerscmidt, 1991: 258).

While American oil companies and arms merchants profited from the Shah's reign (Iran purchased $17 billion in military equipment from the U.S.), the ultimate costs of the coup can only by calculated by considering the impact of the 1979 Islamic revolution which replaced the Shah's regime. The government of the Ayatollah Khomeni which took over was virulently anti-American, heavily engaged in the sponsorship of terrorism, responsible for the seizure of American hostages, and part of a bizarre conspiracy involving U.S. intelligence during the Reagan administration.

Guatemala: Fresh from its dubious success in Iran, the CIA intervened in the internal affairs of Guatemala the following year. In 1954 the CIA orchestrated a military coup which removed the democratically elected leader of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, from power (Beirne and Messerchmidt, 1991: 259; Herman, 1982: 176). Arbenz was committed to democracy and had received 65 percent of the vote in Guatemala's election. His crime, however, was that he favored land reform. Guatemala was a country in which 3 percent of the landowners owned 70 percent of the agricultural land. After his election Arbenz nationalized 1.5 million acres of arable land, including land owned by the U.S.- based United Fruit Company. United Fruit insisted that the government act against Arbenz, and the CIA financed a rebel "army" in Honduras. On July 8, 1954, Arbenz fled the country. The U.S.- sponsored dictator immediately canceled the land reform program, ended literacy programs, fired teachers, ordered the burning of "subversive" books, and broke up the peasants' agricultural cooperatives. For the next 30 years, Guatemala was ruled by a vicious military dictatorship which had been imposed on the citizens and was propped up by U.S. military forces.

Cuba: In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Batista had been friendly to U.S. corporations and to U.S. organized crime interests who had run massive gambling, prostitution, and narcotics operations out of Havana (Beirne and Messerschmidt, 1991: 259-261; Kruger, 1980; Hinckle and Turner, 1981). Once again, the Eisenhower administration elected to use the CIA to try to resolve the problem. As a first step, the CIA began to train anti-Castro Cuban exiles in terrorist tactics in what was known as "Operation 40." Operation 40 involved terrorist attacks on Cuba, attempted assassinations of Cuban leaders, and an alliance with organized crime figures Sam Giancana, Santo Trafficante, and Johnny Roselli in a series of assassination plots against Castro himself.

In April, 1961, the CIA-trained Cuban exiles attempted an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. The invasion was a military disaster, and much of the military force was captured or killed. The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion forced a change in tactics against Cuba. Operation 40 was replaced by JM/WAVE, an operation involving some 300 CIA agents and 4,000-6,000 Cuban exiles. JM/WAVE engaged in a series of terrorist attacks on Cuba, targeting sugar and oil refineries and factories. It also continued the assassination campaign begun earlier under Operation 40.

In 1965, JM/WAVE was disbanded, as a direct result of the discovery that its aircraft were engaged in narcotics smuggling, leaving thousands of highly-trained, politically fanatic Cuban exiles in place in the United States. The "blowback" from JM/WAVE was considerable. Some of these CIA- trained exiles turned to terrorism, engaging in 25-30 bombings in Dade County, Florida, alone in 1975 and assassinating diplomats around the world (Herman, 1982). Other JM/WAVE participants, having been trained in smuggling techniques and violence by the CIA, turned to organized crime, creating large gambling syndicates in New Jersey and Florida and forming the infrastructure for massive cocaine trafficking by Cuban and Colombian organized crime groups.

Chile: In 1972 the CIA targeted yet another democratically- elected government for overthrow, presumably as part of America's overall foreign policy commitment to democracy around the world. This time the target was the elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende. (Beirne and Messerschmidt, 1991: 263; Simon and Eitzen, 1986). In 1970 Allende had been elected president, and immediately IT&T. which had significant mining investments in Chile, and the CIA worked to destabilize the economy and his government. Their plans did great damage to the Chilean economy but failed to bring the Allende government down. In 1973, the tactics changed when the CIA conspired with the Chilean military to overthrow Allende in a coup d'etat. Allende, along with 30,000 Chilean citizens, was killed in the coup. The democratic institutions Allende had created were dismantled, and General Pinochet, a man who saw himself as the successor to Adolph Hitler, began an unprecedented regime of repression. The Pinochet regime incarcerated over 100,000 Chileans and murdered another 20,000.

Operation Condor: In one of the most disturbing examples of state-organized crime involving the U.S. government, the CIA, along with secret police agencies from six Latin American countries, entered into a conspiracy to identify, monitor, and assassinate political dissidents in those countries. The terror campaign was orchestrated by Pinochet's secret police, the DINA, but was abetted by the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and the United States. Hundreds of people were abducted and murdered during Operation Condor (Herman, 1982).

U.S. Intelligence Agency Collaboration with Organized Crime

Active alliances between various organized crime groups and the U.S. government can be traced, at least, to World War II, when the Office of Naval Intelligence asked new York organized crime figures Meyer Lansky, Albert Anastasia, and "Lucky" Luciano to assist them with counter-intelligence operations on the New York waterfront:

Such escapades allegedly began during World War II when the underworld figures in control of the New York docks were contracted by navy intelligence officials in order to ensure that German submarines or foreign agents did not infiltrate the area. It was thought that waterfront pimps and prostitutes could act as a sort of counter- intelligence corps. The man whose aid was sought for this purpose was Lucky Luciano; he was reportedly quite successful in preventing sabotage or any other outbreak of trouble on the New York docks during the war. Despite his arrest and conviction for compulsory prostitution in 1936, Luciano was granted parole and given exile for life in 1954 in exchange for the aid he provided from his prison cell during the war (Simon and Eitzen, 1993: 81).

The OSS in Italy and Marseilles: The military also sought assistance from organized crime during World War II in the invasion of Sicily. New York organized crime syndicates sent their members door-to-door in Italian neighborhoods collecting recent letters, maps, photographs, and postcards from Sicily to assist military intelligence (Messick, 1976). In addition, Vito Genovese, who was living in self-imposed exile in Italy, decided to play both sides against the middle. While he had spent a great deal of money and effort currying favor with Mussolini, he now saw an opportunity to ingratiate himself to the U.S. government. Genovese acted as an "unofficial advisor to the American military government," following the invasion (Pearce, 1976: 149; Simon and Eitzen, 1993: 81). Genovese assisted the military in finding and installing right-wing politicians loyal to organized crime in official positions in Italy as a buffer against popular support for socialist political parties. This collaboration continued in the post-war 1950s, as the government perceived a new threat on the horizon - Communism. Both organized crime and U.S. foreign policy interests were well-served by this alliance with Genovese. Italian politicians opposed to the socialists and Communists were assisted in maintaining power by organized crime, and organized crime was virtually given a "crime-committing license" by the government for almost four decades.

In the early 1950s, the intelligence community once again sought the assistance of organized crime figures, this time in France. France was engaged in a war to prevent its colony of Vietnam from gaining independence. However, socialist dockworkers in Marseilles refused to load ships with military supplies bound for Vietnam. U.S. foreign policy was threatened in two ways. First, policies dedicated to the containment of communism would be impaired in the French did not resist Ho Chi Minh and Viet Minh in Vietnam. Second, the government of France, a major U.S. ally was itself threatened by a possible socialist-Communist electoral alliance, and Communist Party domination of the trade unions. Attacking the French longshoremen, one of the most powerful leftist unions, served both ends. U.S. intelligence officers contacted Corsican organized crime syndicates heavily involved in prostitution and waterfront corruption to assist them in breaking the French dockworkers union. The Corsicans created "goon squads," which attacked union picket lines, harassed and even assassinated union leaders, and eventually broke the union, thereby allowing the French to resume their war in Vietnam and providing the prologue for their own involvement a decade later. The payoff to the Corsican gangsters was of enormous value. They were granted the right to use Marseilles as a center for heroin trafficking, not only giving Corsican crime groups a new and very profitable enterprise, but creating the infamous "French Connection," which would supply much of America's heroin needs for the next twenty years (Pearce, 1976: 150).
posted by Uncle $cam at 12:25 AM
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