‘Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic’

Courtesy Chalmers Johnson and Democracy Now

[As the CIA] developed over time, and as it was made clear to the president, every president since Truman, made clear to them shortly after they were inaugurated, you have at your disposal a private army. It is totally secret. There is no form of oversight. There was no form of congressional oversight until the late 1970s, and it proved to be incompetent in the face of Iran-Contra and things like that. He can do anything you want to with it. You could order assassinations. You could order governments overthrown. You could order economies subverted that seemed to get in our way. You could instruct Latin American military officers in state terrorism. You can carry out extraordinary renditions and order the torture of people, despite the fact that it is a clear violation of American law and carries the death penalty if the torture victim should die, and they commonly do in the case of renditions to places like Egypt.

No president since Truman, once told that he has this power, has ever failed to use it. That became the route of rapid advancement within the CIA, dirty tricks, clandestine activities, the carrying out of the president’s orders to overthrow somebody, starting — the first one was the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. It’s from that, the After Action Report, which has only recently been declassified, that the word “blowback” that I used in the first of my three books on American foreign policy, that’s where the word “blowback” comes from. It means retaliation for clandestine activities carried out abroad.

But these clandestine activities also have one other caveat on them: they are kept totally secret from the American public, so that when the retaliation does come, they’re unable ever to put it in context, to see it in cause-and-effect terms. They usually lash out against the alleged perpetrators, usually simply inaugurating another cycle of blowback. The best example is easily 9/11 in 2001, which was clearly blowback for the largest clandestine operation we ever carried out, namely the recruiting, arming and sending into battle of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union during the 1980s. But this is the way the CIA has evolved.
It’s been responsible for the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile and bringing to power probably the most odious dictator on either side in the Cold War, namely General Augusto Pinochet; the installation of the Greek colonels in the late Ô60s and early ‘70s in Greece; the coups, one after another, in numerous Latin American countries, all under the cover of avoiding Soviet imperialism carried out by Fidel Castro, when the real purpose was to protect the interests of the United Fruit Company, and continued to exploit the extremely poor and essentially defenseless people of Central America.

The list is endless. The overthrow of Sukarno in Indonesia, the bringing to power of General Suharto, then the elimination of General Suharto when he got on our nerves. It has a distinctly Roman quality to it. And this is why I — moreover, there is no effective oversight. There are a few, often crooked congressmen, like Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who are charged with oversight. When Charlie Wilson, the congressman, long-sitting congressman from the Second District of Texas, was named chairman of the House Intelligence Oversight Committee during the Afghan period, he wrote at once to his pals in the CIA, “The fox is in the henhouse. Gentlemen, do anything you want to.” . . .

Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic is the last volume in Prof. Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback Trilogy. The first two books of which are Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, and The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic.

Chalmers Johnson, “America’s Empire of Bases,” Nation Institute, January 15, 2004