Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Nicaragua and the Road to Contra-gate

This is the thirteenth chapter of a series excerpted from “Maverick Chronicles,” a memoir-in-progress. Previous stories can be found at VTDigger.  By Greg Guma

In July 1983, only weeks after being arrested with other anti-war protesters for nonviolently blocking the gates of the GE Gatling Gun plant in Burlington – ironically, on the orders of Progressive Mayor Bernie Sanders -- I joined the first Witness for Peace delegation to Nicaragua, spent weeks meeting with leaders of the Sandinista revolution, and became a human shield against Contra attacks at the border.
     At the time the CIA said that $19 million a year wasn't enough to pay and arm all the Contras eager to invade. President Reagan called the small country, crippled with debt, struggling to rebuild a looted economy, a totalitarian threat to US security.
     UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick openly urged overthrow of the three-year-old regime.
     After a stop in Managua, the national capital, the plan was to move on to Jalapa. A week before several of us arrived two US journalists had been killed a few miles away. Nicaragua and Honduras blamed each other for the crime. On the day I flew out of Miami, the Contras, many of them former supporters of the late Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, based in Honduras, announced plans for a major offensive against the Sandinista government.
     The rural region looked bucolic. Lush green forests and undulating hills reminded me of home. There wasn't a paved road for more than 50 miles. It was here, nevertheless, and on the Atlantic Coast and at the southern border with Costa Rica, that the CIA was conducting its latest "secret" war.
     Jalapa wasn’t much involved in the revolution that ousted Somoza in 1979. Now it was a battleground in a counter-revolutionary struggle being stage-managed by the US administration. Yet training, Honduran complicity and US millions to build a mercenary army hadn't yet translated into military victory. Instead, destruction of bridges, crops and lives hardened campesinos against their attackers. Even some of those peasant who hadn't helped to win the revolution were now arming themselves to defend it.

The audience in Jalapa
 As our bus lurched over a rutted, muddy road I thought about the previous day – July 4th, America's Independence Day. I’d spent it in barrios and church learning about reconstruction and democratization. Our group’s movements were being dutifully recorded in the local press. The pro-government newspaper, Nuevo Diario, exploited us like gringo celebrities, Americans who said "Si a Nicaragua y No a Reagan." It was surely odd being publicly embraced in a country my own government was intent on destabilizing.
     The day ended with an immersion in revolutionary faith, an evangelical service climaxing in an ecumenical mass at Santa Maria de los Angeles. Between remarks by Father Uriel Molina and others about Contra violence, the nuclear threat and God's protection of the poor an acoustic band played songs of love and peace. Children roamed through the domed church as the Americans and Nicaraguans rejoiced and reflected.
     At one point Molina read a letter from the Christian community in Jalapa. "The defense of one's life against unjust aggression has always been justified by Christian faith," the writer argued. Two weeks later President Reagan labeled that type of self-defense, in the form of local militias, the building of a "war machine" and sent warships to surround the country.
     "We don't believe that power lies in arms," Interior Minister Tomas Borge told celebrants at the mass. Unannounced and greeted with cheers, a military hero had joined us during the service.  The US Right considered Borge a "hardliner." His vigorous defense of an armed citizenry tended to support the theory. But he also talked about "moral force" and his hope that social transformation in a "new Nicaragua" would produce a "new man and woman."
     As people hugged and linked arms, the service turned into a celebration of solidarity. Doves were freed as people flocked to the altar for communion. This was liberation theology in vivid practice, a revolutionary synthesis of faith and principles that had become an engine for social change.
     As we poured out of the church at midnight, exhausted but inspired, I recalled the words of Ernesto Cardinal, a Catholic priest and Marxist poet. After resisting Somoza and developing a militant Catholic vision, he’d become Nicaragua's Minister of Culture. One of his poems, written during the most brutal phase of the dictatorship, concluded:
    At midnight a poor woman gave birth to a baby in an open field
                   and that is hope.
    God has said: "Behold I make all things new"
                   and that is reconstruction.

Front Page, El Nuevo Diaro, July 7, 1983 (Greg's the one in the cap.)
Main headline: "Viaje secreto de Jefe de la CIA"

Struggle at the Border

The caravan reached Jalapa after a day on the road, plus an unscheduled stop when one of the buses couldn't make it over a washed-out section. By this time the delegation had grown to 150 people from over 30 states. The goal was to confront violence with conscience.
     Once upon a time this was a quiet place, a town of about 10,000 people in a region that produced corn, rice, beans and about 75 percent of the tobacco grown in the country. Now Jalapa was swollen with refugees, driven into town from homes in the mountains by Contra attacks. Crop production was down and peasants lived in a constant state of anxiety, girded for an invasion. Still, as we made our way to the Instituto, our lodgings, people greeted us with smiles. The generosity of spirit was humbling.
     Originally built in 1980 as a center to train Brigadistas for the nationwide literacy crusade, the Instituto had no beds or running water. We were tired, hungry and dehydrated -- and shortly drenched by a rainstorm. But many people, even children, were dying in similar circumstances – despite government vaccination programs and other efforts to fight disease and malnutrition. No one complained.
     Would a vigil and public witness make any difference? Could it make clear that not all Americans supported US-backed terrorism? Maybe. On a more basic level, we’d also brought food and medical supplies. But what the people we met seemed to value most was our support and our presence.
     We were promised a military briefing.  Before that, however, we attended a rally. In heavy rain 500 peasants squeezed into Jalapa's town hall. As we entered the crowd parted and cheers erupted. On the stage, we lined up with local leaders as a theologian in the delegation told the audience that Reagan's plan for Central America did not represent the will of the American people.
     After the rally Captain Gonzalez, who commanded about 3,000 troops in Nuevo Segovia, outlined the mathematics of aggression: 400 murders and abductions by Contras in the last six months. The attacks were not a recent development, however. Ever since the 1979 revolution, the Contras had been intent on invading this remote region, about 300 miles from Managua. The fighting intensified after 1980 with CIA advice and funding, and training of Contras in US camps like Libertad outside Miami, owned by Cuban exiles.
     Small Contra bands frequently crossed the border from Honduran bases, under cover of Honduran helicopters and small planes. They abducted local leaders, ambushed travelers, burned buildings and farm equipment, and kidnapped youngsters to carry their cargo. Occasionally there were major operations, involving up to 600 men and mortar shelling.
     The short-term objective was to take Jalapa, Gonzalez explained. The methods included repeated attacks from at least nine locations along the jagged border, and the indiscriminate shelling of civilians. Sometimes the Nicaraguan army shelled Honduras in response.
     The US was allegedly backing the Contras so that they could "interdict" arms moving through Nicaragua to El Salvador. But this was a farming region, not an ideal weapons supply route; it faced rugged Honduran mountains over which arms shipments could reach only Contras. No, the battle for Jalapa was a case of aggression designed to make the region uninhabitable, turning farmland into a staging area for an invasion force. And even if that failed, the Contras could still provoke the Sandinistas into war with Honduras.

Action for Peace

At 7 a.m. the next day delegation of peasants joined us on the Instituto's concrete basketball court. With blankets as cushions, we had spent the last few hours resting on the tile floors. Some of the supplies we used were Russian imports.
     Campesinos and mothers of several local martyrs joined the vigil under a scorching sun. They shared stories and revealed their grief as US group unfurled banners and offered their own testimony. One Nicaraguan woman, tearful, dressed in black, painfully recalled how the Contras had taken her son. They had tried to "recruit" him for their army. But when he refused to work for men who were devastating his community they cut him into small pieces, she said. Not being able to see her son was, in a way, more painful than the realization that he was gone.
Border vigil, July 1983
     After the vigil we walked out of the Instituto into a cornfield. Sandinista soldiers guarded us from a hilltop barracks silhouetted against the sky. The border was just ahead, the route a line of trenches that divided the fields, slashes of red earth about four feet deep. The campesinos hid there when Huey helicopters from Honduras flew overhead. We linked hands as people planted corn with water from our two nations.
     There were many moments of forgiveness and mutual support that day, but the war obviously didn’t end. Yet our presence in Nicaragua did mean something, and certainly built a deeper commitment within members of the group to oppose this and other undeclared, illegal wars.
     Back in Managua we soon found an opportunity to confront US Ambassador Anthony Quainton. At an Embassy event, we asked for the justification of the covert US role in a Honduran-Nicaraguan war?
     "We are trying to get back to the original goals of the revolution" he said. The reply sounded arrogant. Asked about the pointless violence he tried to explain that "the killing of women and children is not the policy of our government," then attempted to define the situation as "Nicaraguans fighting Nicaraguans." Witness for Peace members became enraged as he defended the Contras, claiming that they wanted to "return to democratic political institutions."
     When someone said that war wouldn’t bring peace he had to agree.
     In a private conversation later, Quainton did acknowledge that Reagan's characterization of the Sandinistas as "totalitarian" wasn’t constructive. He also agreed that US actions such as aid cut-offs and import sanctions were pushing Nicaragua toward the Soviets, a situation policy-makers claimed they were trying to prevent.
     "But the problem of regional destabilization is at the head of the agenda," he said, "and that determines policies and makes other things less important."
     In other words, it made little difference that Nicaragua had a mixed economy, open elections at the local level, or a Council of State with representatives from various parties and social groups. The country's social and economic progress, agrarian reform and literacy crusade were simply cancelled out. Why? Perhaps because the existence of a "New Nicaragua" served as a good example that raised aspirations throughout the region. Now, that was "destabilizing" to US interests.
     Reagan put it more plainly. He wasn’t about to let "communists" get a foothold in Central America – even if they did hold elections. The administration therefore wanted people in the US to think that the Sandinista government was a brutal dictatorship increasing the misery of its people. After seeing Nicaragua, however, that was very hard to swallow.

Next: The Hunt for the Secret Team 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Searching for Peace in Cold War Germany

This is the twelfth chapter of a series excerpted from “Maverick Chronicles,” a memoir-in-progress. Previous stories can be found at VTDigger.  By Greg Guma

The interpreter warned us about getting into East Berlin. "They'll probably hold you an hour,” he predicted. “Normally, it would be a half hour but they're in a bad mood because of Brezhnev."
     The Soviet leader had died two days before and bleak predictions circulated about how the shock, along with West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's fall from power earlier in the year, would affect East-West relations. None of this changed our minds. A peace meeting would be starting at an obscure church on the other side of the Berlin Wall in a little more than an hour. We didn't have the exact address and knew only a few German phrases. But the journey was worth the risk.
     Harro, the lanky blonde interpreter who was squiring us around, gently discouraged the idea. The East Germans would scalp us each for 25 marks, force us to exchange them at par for Eastern marks worth only a quarter as much. Once we returned the money would be worthless. And if we didn't make it back across the border by midnight, we could be thrown in jail.
     Quite a way to spend our second night in in the country.
West Berlin squatters reclaimed abandoned buildings.

     In November 1982, at the height of the Reagan era, in what felt like Cold War II, Robin Lloyd and I joined a delegation organized by The Nation. Despite a prediction by Sid Lens, one fellow traveler and senior editor of The Progressive at the time, that we would never even find our destination, crossing east seemed better than watching a transvestite nightclub act. That was the entertainment choice offered by our hotel. We set out for the train carrying only some money, passports, a map and a phrase book.
     An East German journalist had brought up the meeting earlier that day. "You can only see the peace movement when people assemble," he explained. The meeting was one of about 2,000 being held during a ten-day period called the annual "Peace Decade." All the events were being held in churches, institutions that had become the motor for a new movement.
     In response to a renewed militarization of daily life, thousands of East Germans were gathering. Some had signed the Berliner Appeal, a letter calling for an end to military training and a peace curriculum in the schools. Others wore pacifist armbands -- even after they were banned by the state and replaced with government-circulated anti-NATO emblems.
     The East German government showed open disdain for the pacifist drift of the activities, according to the journalist who gave us the tip. "In the GDR," he said, "the official meaning of peace is 'peace must be armed'." Yet after the 1979 NATO decision to deploy more than 100 Pershing missiles in West Germany, both East and West Germans saw the threat.
     "People felt that war was a real possibility," explained the writer. And so, reaction in the East grew within the only autonomous organizations in the country – churches.

With the border minutes away I reviewed what I’d heard over the last 24 hours. West Berliners were worried about the "tough words from the White House," Alex Langolios said. Alex was deputy speaker of the Berlin Parliament and a Social Democrat. "We're nervous when we hear about winning a nuclear war."
     He talked up East-West cooperation, a guarded interdependence in relation to trade, and the need to fight fear on both sides of the Wall. This Social Democrat sounded very much like an American Democrat. Echoing their warnings about the Reagan agenda, he suggested that relations could deteriorate further with the Christian Democrats taking the reins.
     In West Berlin, the Christian Democratic Party had been in control since the recent local elections. Here and elsewhere, the attraction of Social Democratic liberalism had faded with the failure of Germany's "economic miracle." The economy had stopped growing, national unemployment was over two million, and the government was resorting to debt financing. In Berlin, unemployment was over 8 percent, and up to 15 percent among the young. There were over 10,000 vacant apartments in the city, a result of both speculation and years of neglect. Yet 50,000 people were looking for homes.
     In recent years, the city's population had dropped by about 300,000 to 1.9 million, despite aggressive attempts to lure new industry, subsidies from the national government, and even a legal loophole that allowed young people to defer military service as long as they lived in West Berlin. On the other hand, what had grown was the number of squatters and Turkish guest workers, the latter exacerbating the unemployment situation.
     "Berliners think this city is the center of the world," Langolios confided. Still, he had to admit that social stress was bringing the viability of the center into question.
     The story was similar across the country. After 15 years with Social Democrats in charge, the consensus had cracked. Economic stagnation, combined with the cumulative strain of being a front line state in the struggle between East and West, became too much for Chancellor Schmidt. In late September, his coalition partners, the Free Democrats, had called for severe budget cutting. Before the issue was resolved, the small party -- representing less than ten percent of the national vote, with support mainly from entrepreneurs and professionals – deserted the Social Democrats and joined with the Christian Democrats to topple the government.
     The center split and the fate of the nation was up for grabs.

Getting through customs turned out to be no problem. The East Berlin officials barely glanced at our passports before issuing temporary visas and collecting a five mark entry fee. Minutes later we were on a windy street looking for directions to Auferstehung Kirchengemeinde, the Church of the Resurrection, where one of the peace meetings was already underway. About 55 similar gatherings had already taken place during the last week in East Berlin alone.
     Flags were at half-mast in honor of Brezhnev. Otherwise it felt like a “normal” night as we hailed a cab. For five marks the driver took us out of the neon-lit central district, past a 20-foot portrait of Lenin, to a dark street, and pointed to a barely visible building across the wide road.
Banned peace symbol
Inside the church, in a modest chapel, about 70 people were listening to a dialogue between a young pacifist churchman and a burly spokesman for the Christian Democratic Party – in this case an East German satellite of the Communist Party hoping to appeal to the religious. After a while Robin stood up to deliver a short speech in German. She offered good wishes, a peace button and a photo collection chronicling the massive disarmament march and rally in New York the previous June.
     "Speak English," someone yelled.
     When we explained that we couldn't follow the discussion, a young man volunteered to translate. Ret was a garrulous, worldly rebel, a self-described "anarchist not a terrorist," and admirer of the guru Rajneesh. His main complaint about life under socialism was the inability to obtain books about his favorite topics.
     After chiding the speakers for talking too long, members of the audience addressed the need to incorporate an ecological perspective in the peace movement and break down "ideological blocks." One voice urged a "revolution of Christians, without weapons, a non-aggressive approach to break the circle."
     The churchman at the head table offered support. "There are many ways to the goal," he said. "We must try to see every possibility. There are many faces of pacifism in this city." But the Party spokesman objected that "the situation is too dangerous. We must work together, for there will be no weeping after a nuclear war."
     The dialogue expanded, gradually revealing frustration with official resistance to the peace movement. Most people were in their twenties and thirties, sober-looking men and women dressed in work clothes. Sitting directly across from us, however, was a young woman who looked as if she had been airlifted in from downtown West Berlin. Chains and safety-pins adorned her blue jeans, going well with her orange hairdo. Her jacket featured a handmade version of the banned symbol of the pacifist peace movement, a man hammering a sword into a plowshare.
     She and her boyfriend, wearing denim and a collection of Western buttons, were reminders of the influence of Western media on the East. Their wardrobes were statements of revolt that could easily provoke police persecution. There was no youth culture on this side of the Wall to provide cover for such defiance.
     The group in the church wasn't anti-socialist, but there were serious complaints about the government's approach to peace. "We want one peace movement in all the world," said one man, "but we want it to be creative." Another challenged the party spokesman to explain, "Why are there lessons for war and not for peace?" This was a reference to the military curriculum in schools and the military camps youngsters had to attend during holidays.
     The party man tried to steer discussion back to what he called "objective" issues, urging mutual respect and obedience to the law. It just isn't possible for anyone to simply make a placard and parade in the streets, he advised. This increased the anger growing in the audience. In response, the church spokesman urged that his institution become “a forum for the whole society to discuss these issues."
     Sensing that things were careening out of control, the moderator called for a ten-minute recess.
     As we headed for the hall, a silent observer at the back of the chapel handed me a calling card. It read: Lynn J. Turk, Second Secretary and Vice Consul, American Embassy. He was a diplomat, he said, assigned to study the East German peace movement, and offered to fill us in before providing an escort us back across the border.
     At a comfortable apartment, with his South Korean wife listening, Turk traced the emergence of the East German peace movement to the 1979 NATO "double track" decision. The two "tracks" were a) negotiations for nuclear arms reductions, and b) deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles if those negotiations fell through. After the announcement, the churches had geared up to protest.
     But the movement hadn't blossomed until 1981, when about 6,000 people met across the street from a bombed out church ruin in Dresden on the anniversary of the devastating 1945 US attack on that city. West German television recorded the ‘81 event, beaming it back east. At about the same time Pastor Rainer Eppelmann initiated what became known as the Berliner Appeal.
     The Appeal called for the prohibiting of military toy sales, the outlawing of military training, peace information in the schools -- including study of peaceful solutions to conflict, ecology and psychology, no retaliation against those who refused military service, and no more military demonstrations at festivals or national holidays.
     According to Turk, the Appeal campaign was being eroded by government repression. The plowshares symbol had been banned and replaced by the state, and non-Christian activists were being pressured into exile or silence. But the crackdown still stopped at the doors of the church. The reason for this tolerance, he theorized, was that "repression here would damage the West German peace movement, confirming the West's view of the East."
     Though claiming he opposed first strike weapons, Turk viewed the East as a serious military threat and East Germany as a totalitarian society whose rulers only allowed peaceniks to meet for the most cynical of reasons. He meanwhile claimed that the Soviets had stationed tactical nuclear weapons in East Germany, a piece of likely disinformation I was unable to confirm in any with any government official or activist.
     Minutes before midnight we arrived at Checkpoint Charlie. From Turk's car I could see the eight-foot corrugated fence, and beyond it the cement-covered no man's land known as the Wall. To make certain no one escaped, rumor had it, the East Germans even checked under the cars with mirrors.
     Turk urged us to ask East German officials why the Wall was still up. "They'll say it's an anti-fascist wall," he predicted, implying that the real reason was that most people would race across the border if given the chance. When I finally did question an East German bureaucrat about this, he said the wall had been erected – and was maintained – to prevent black market destabilization of the economy, along with an exodus of East German professionals lured by higher pay on the other side.
     After 15 minutes the border guard returned our passports, but chided us for not returning by the same route we’d used to enter. On the other hand, he barely looked inside the vehicle before lifting the metal gate to let us pass and I could see no evidence of mirrors on the ground.

A New Political Culture

When an old West Berlin factory complex in Kreuzberg was slated for demolition in 1979, squatters moved into the empty front apartments to save it and an alternative community was born. Over the next few years the Kerngehause squatters held a consortium of speculators at bay and launched a variety of collective projects. By 1982, groups living and working out of the address were running food and taxi coops, a metal shop, language and alternative energy groups, a self-help health project, as well as a theater and a rock group.
     The squatters, who paid rent into an escrow account used for renovations, were part of a citywide alternative culture. Kerngehause was one of many attempts to deal with unemployment and emotional alienation by developing a dual economic and social structure. Although not all squatter houses were as evolved, most shared a tradition of open revolt against conventional lifestyles and exploitive relations.
     Berlin's alternative movement developed in the '70s as many college-educated young people realized that "over industrialized" Germany provided too few jobs while restricting personal choice. They formed collectives, started an alternative daily newspaper, set up their own bank, and gradually entered electoral politics. The squatters, about 2,000 clustered at more than 130 locations, dramatically illustrated the style of the movement. While police squads swooped down on some houses, groups liberated new locations, remodeling and improving their dwellings. When electricity was cut off, they surreptitiously tied into cables. 
     The links between groups were informal, yet an attitude of solidarity brought them together for demonstrations, cultural happenings and mutual aid. They were part of a broad alliance of peace, anti-nuclear, women's and cultural groups.
     The movement's center was Kreuzberg, a crumbling neighborhood that still showed scars of wartime bombing. It had since become a haven for the young and many of the city's 120,000 Turkish guest workers, as well as a stronghold for the Alternative Liste, a new political movement with representation in the local parliament.
     An enormous chasm separated the values of the Alternatives from the lifestyles of mainstream Berlin. The collectivist ethics, the desire to reintegrate life and work, the dedication to a no-growth, small scale economy were foreign to most Berliners. In some respects, in fact, West Berlin was more American than some US cities, a neon wonderland, a pumped-up conspicuous consumption society, and a high-tech haven where conservative feathers were ruffled mainly by the sex shops along the main drags.
     The Alternatives had nevertheless made a dent, here and elsewhere in Germany. Expressing its agenda mainly through the Green Party, the movement had effectively raised a variety of environmental issues, winning representation in a half dozen regions. It had begun with massive protests against nuclear power plants and unnecessary demolitions, mushrooming into a nationwide political alliance which aimed at halting nuclear weapons deployment and unlimited economic growth.
     I’d seen some of the most visible signs -- painted buildings in squatter zones. Before leaving the city I wanted to get behind the walls. A theater production at Kerngehause provided the opportunity; the Ratibor Theater was presenting "Banal," a punk-rock collection of satirical skits about the foibles of middle class life.
     A youthful four-person cast played the instruments, performed pantomime, used high-tech toys as props, and displayed various symbols of mass society to demonstrate their apparent contempt for consumerism and the sexual games of the straight world. The music sounded a bit like Elvis Costello. After two hours the performance ended with a dreamy swimming sequence, possibly symbolizing a freer lifestyle. The actors glided in slow motion as the audience waved an enormous plastic canopy overhead.
     A few days and hundreds of miles later, in the industrial city of Dortmund, a Green Party member put the alternative movement into perspective. "We're trying to develop a new political culture," said Lucas Lucasik. "Some of us say we can do something inside the existing system; others speak for fundamental opposition."
     Lucas said that neither the peace movement nor the Green Party had yet developed clear solutions to the economic and foreign policy problems confronting the country. But he reminded me that the party itself, only three years old at the time, was being forced to deal with issues that were often beyond the resources and expertise of such a young movement.
     "We have problems explaining what we want to voters," he admitted candidly, "especially when Christian Democrats say we aren't democratic, that we don't want to take responsibility, and would make the country ungovernable. We're not running to make a coalition with any party, we are developing our own strong positions. We would lose our supporters if we changed. We don't want to rule. We want to change the whole society."

From Sachsenhausen to Bonn

On a cloudy day we bussed into East Germany for a tour arranged by the Communist government's US Friendship Committee. At Sachsenhausen, a World War II concentration camp about 30 miles outside Berlin, we were greeted by former inmate Werner Handler, a news editor who recounted the horrors of Hitler fascism.
     The camp's grounds were crowded with German tourists, but not to take in the museum's memorabilia. They had come instead for army induction ceremonies. Russian troops stood at attention beside German recruits in an open park where the barracks once stood. Handler explained how he had managed, at age 18, to get out of the camp alive, reach Britain, and join the Communist Party.
     After the war he was expelled from West Germany for his political leanings and, taking a job at the Voice of the GDR radion station, became a true believer in socialism. When I pressed him about the government crackdown on peace activists and the banning of the Plowshares emblem, he evaded the issue but offered a ride back to town. In his private car, Handler admitted that the government may have been too heavy-handed. 
     Pacifists are naive, he argued, but argument is preferable to police action.
A Russian soldier observed ceremonies at Sachsenhausen,
a concentration camp that became a memorial park
At a public gathering two hours later, he reverted to the official line. "For us this pacifist position is an opening for morally disarming education," he charged. The Americans touted the virtues of dissent, while the East Germans saw no need for an independent peace movement. Pointing out that many East German leaders were once in Nazi camps, Handler asserted that, "These men need no pushing to work for peace."
     After an exhausting day we piled onto an overnight train bound for the West. By morning we were in Dortmund, a cross between Detroit and Pittsburgh in the industrial heartland. At a nuclear power plant, public relations men treated us to meals, generous portions of statistics, and bureaucratese about the safety of the technology.
    "We have plenty of salt caverns for the waste," one expert said.
    "Will you take ours then?"
     Later, I talked with Greens about the need for nukes and other baseload power sources. The answer wasn't reassuring. "Too much energy is on the market," said Siggie Kock, a chimney sweep. As he saw it, the real problem was the production of too many unnecessary items. Not the type of response geared to inspiring confidence among industrial workers.
     Asking the radicals about economics was almost as frustrating as discussing pacifism with the East German authorities. With strong convictions but little more, most Greens argued simply that "neither the capitalist nor the socialist way will work." They were searching for a "third way." What was it? They weren't quite sure yet.
     In Koln, after a church/Communist Party peace rally held in front of the cathedral, I pursued the issue with some of the organizers. One of them, a Communist named Christine, offered a thumbnail critique of the Greens. "In ten years they may not exist," she predicted. "They don't relate to the workers. The women's and other movements are strong, but you can't change anything without the workers."
     Christine’s vision was that the peace movement would continue to transcend party lines, bringing on a "new moment in history." But she also feared that the rightward drift of the nation might be too much to overcome.
     Other Germans expressed doubts about the Greens. "They're very green," Werner Handler joked. "They're very conservative," said a PR man at the power plant. Maybe the critics were correct. Still, they’d managed to build significant local bases of power, define a fresh and revolutionary ecological perspective, and catalyze the nation. Blacklisting was clearly part of the reason that the Communist Party had been marginalized, despite its union ties. The Greens were different; their decentralized, holistic approach was both radical and conservative.
     They wanted a fundamental change from a "profit-oriented to a life-oriented order," explained Roland Vogt, a Party co-chair. Using electoral means, fusing the theories of E.F. Schumacher and Ivan Illich with the nonviolence of Gandhi, their goal was to influence the existing system while simultaneously swaying people with their ideas.
     During a meeting at the Party's Bonn headquarters, Vogt outlined the strategy: "Our main purpose is to get out of the vicious cycle of nuclear energy and prevent the deployment of Pershing 2 missiles. Representation in the Bundestag would help, but we wouldn't form a coalition. As the weaker partner, I wouldn't propose marriage."
     But would the party compromise?
     "The base on which you make compromises is when something can be divided. But growth is no longer divisible. It's an all or nothing thing."
     The time had come to hear from the other side. At the Konrad Adenauer House, home of the Christian Democratic Party, Deputy Speaker Walter Bruckmann was ready to oblige. The Social Democrats had failed, he said, because their state-oriented solutions were too socialistic. His party was ready to let the market work and free people to solve their own problems.
    It sounded very Reagan-esque. "The best social security against a Soviet invasion is a strong military," he said. Willing to pay lip service to the overall good intentions of peace activists at first, he was soon criticizing their "illusions" and pointing out some subversive tendencies -- pacifism and communism --that undermined national security.
     He ultimately defended the blacklisting of radicals. "We have to protect democracy against our enemies," he explained.
     A generation gap was clearly haunting the country. There wasn’t much room for dialogue between eco-radicals and Christian conservatives. Not even the peace movement transcended the barrier between older Germans, trapped in a fortress mentality, and a younger generation for whom power was part of the problem.
     After listening to Bruckmann I could see the fractures growing, along with more demonstrations, civil disobedience, and perhaps even violence. Millions were coming to grips with the possibility that the birthplace of the last war also could be the flashpoint for the next.
     In East Germany Werner Handler had warned, "Unimaginable things can happen." The same realization was making the peace movement more than a single issue campaign. For many people it was becoming a matter of survival.

Next: Nicaragua and the Contra War

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tipping Point: Burlington's Progressive Revolution

This is the eleventh chapter of a series excerpted from “Maverick Chronicles,” a memoir-in-progress. Previous stories can be found at VTDigger. By Greg Guma

“I think I’d make a good candidate,” said Bernie Sanders. We were sitting across a small table in the Fresh Ground Coffee House, the same place the FBI had labeled a “known contact point” for extremists a few years earlier. As far as I knew no spooks were listening.
Bernie Sanders (right), protested
outside City Hall in the 70s
In October 1980, most people were focused on the presidential race between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. But a few of us were looking beyond the two-party system. Sanders supported Socialist Workers Party candidate Andrew Pulley, on the Vermont ballot that year along with four other “minor” party hopefuls. I backed Barry Commoner, who had formed the Citizens Party a year earlier. The reason for the meeting wasn’t national politics, however. Both of us were thinking about the race for mayor the following March.
     As editor of The Vermont Vanguard Press I had crossed the line from observer to participant. Earlier in the year I’d attended the founding of the new party’s Vermont chapter and pushed for a race against incumbent congressman James Jeffords (who left the Republican Party two decades later). The Democrats had opted not to put up a candidate. The Citizens Party’s choice was Robin Lloyd, a peace activist and advocate for a nuclear weapons freeze since the birth of our son Jesse in 1978. Further complicating the picture, I was chairing the Burlington City Committee of the party, and let it be known that if Robin did well locally, I might build on the momentum by running for mayor.
     As it turned out, Robin won about 13 percent of the statewide vote, an impressive number for a first-time candidate in the race only six weeks against a popular incumbent. But another important number was 25, the percentage of the vote she won in Burlington. To those paying close attention, this suggested that a candidate not in one of the major parties could potentially mount a local challenge. When we met neither Bernie nor I knew how well Robin would do. But we both sensed the potential.
     The truth is that it was not a negotiation. As Bernie made plain, he planned to run no matter what anyone else did. Since leaving the Liberty Union Party in 1977 and declaring it a failure he had been working as a filmstrip producer and building a political base in the city’s New North End. Joining forces with tenants at a public housing project, he formed an advocacy group, then a campaign exploratory committee that included local activists and UVM faculty. He planned to run as an independent, he said, and create a loose coalition.
     Some people had doubts about his move. Even Bernie wondered whether he could focus on local issues instead of blasting millionaires. “National and state issues are more my thing,” he acknowledged But the word was out. According to the Burlington Free Press, two “left-leaning activists” were “jockeying over who will carry the progressive banner next year.” 
     Sanders said he wanted to lead a coalition of poor people, blue-collar workers and university students. “The goal must be to take political power away from the handful of millionaires (he’d managed to get them in the mix) who currently control it through Mayor Paquette, and place that power in the hands of the working people of the city,” he announced.
     My approach was more local and granular. Building on the issues I’d been pursuing as Vanguard Press editor for several years, I talked about building low and moderate income housing, establishing neighborhood councils, diversifying the economy, stopping the Southern Connector highway, and “linking development to human needs.” Allies urged me to run despite Bernie’s announcement, and suggested forthcoming support from some Democrats since I “sounded more moderate.”
     Although Sanders’ rhetoric did make it appear that he was “further to the left,” when push came to shove he turned out to be pragmatic about policy choices, and quite comfortable with the unilateral exercise of power. Still, his approach was appealing to broad constituencies, even some conservatives; local issues were less important to him, and in truth he knew little about them. On the other hand, he was a natural campaigner who could connect with the public.
     If both of us ran, neither was likely to win. If one stepped aside, however, my earlier prediction about overturning the local political establishment might come true.
     A few days after the November elections, I phoned in my decision to the Free Press. “I don’t really want to be in the position of dividing progressives looking for an alternative to Paquette,” I explained.
     Dropping out of the race was a tough choice, and I wasn’t completely comfortable with Sanders heading the ticket of a movement I had spent much effort and many years helping to build. But faced with the opportunity to plunge seriously into electoral politics, I decided to pass. Two years later I rejected the Citizens Party nomination to run for Vermont governor, along with backing from a faction in the national Party who wanted to replace Barry Commoner as chair.
author as candidate, '81
     The way I saw it at the time, Bernie was an instinctive politician and I was not. He enjoyed campaigning and knew how to give the same speech, over and over, while connecting viscerally with his audience. He also knew how to wage ideological war and manipulate the media, without scruples or dependence on facts to make his case. On the other hand, he wanted to lead this emerging movement without submitting to the dictates of any leadership. And he conveniently separated a professed dedication to democracy from his personal practice, which soon led to autocratic actions and shutting down the opinions of allies with the temerity to disagree. 

     As one supporter confided, “He’s a jerk. But he’s our jerk.”
     In January 1981, Gordon Paquette was nominated for a fifth term as Burlington Mayor. After the Democratic caucus Richard Bove, owner of a popular local Italian restaurant who was defeated in the caucus, bolted the party to run as an independent. Republican leaders decided not to oppose Paquette and instead banked on his re-election.
     Rather than sit out the campaign I ran as a Citizens Party candidate for the City Council against Richard Wadham Jr., preppy chair of the Republican City Committee. The Citizens Party fielded candidates in two other wards. Our opponents tried to ignore us, assuming that a small group of activists had no chance of upsetting the status quo. They seriously underestimated the growing influence of neighborhood groups, housing reformers and redevelopment opponents, young people and the disgruntled elderly. They also ignored the possibility that some of Paquette’s past supporters might choose to send him a message.
Sanders savors victory, March 3, 1981
On March 3, 1981, with a few thousand dollars, a handful of volunteers and a vague reform agenda, Bernie Sanders won the race by ten votes. Burlington had a radical mayor, a self-described democratic socialist who was determined to change the course of Vermont history.
     I lost my council race with 42 percent of the vote, but another Citizens Party candidate, Terry Bouricius, became the first member of the party elected anywhere in the country. In an odd twist of fate, he won in Ward Two, the same neighborhood that had given Mayor Paquette his first term on the City Council 23 years before.

Over the next decade there were remarkable advances in the Queen City, as well as several missteps. Some early progressive initiatives actually challenged the basic logic of capitalism, but others simply provided benefits while leaving the system unchanged. A few contradicted the public rhetoric, however, raising doubts about the priorities of the new movement and creating divisions that endured.
     Beginning in 1983, for example, protests at the local General Electric armaments plant led to painful arguments: activists wanted a city commitment to peace conversion, Sanders and other progressives preferred to turn the heat on Congress. It was basically a dispute over tactics, but the implications went deeper. By opposing the GE protests and having the protesters arrested, Bernie appeared to protect the corporation and the military-industrial complex behind it. His position also contradicted strong local pronouncements on intervention in Central America. At the very least, Sanders’ commitment to an industrially-based socialism was colliding with the community-based peace movement's commitment to ending foreign intervention and violence. The casualties were some mutual trust – and the workers who later lost their jobs as demand for GE’s Gatling guns waned.
     The working relationship between Sanders’ City Hall and the peace movement usually went more smoothly. And the results were indisputably significant. Burlington developed, and, to a limited extent, implemented aspects of a foreign policy. A series of citywide votes established the framework – cooperation and exchanges with the Soviet Union, opposition to intervention, people-to-people programs and exchanges. Designed to change consciousness and challenge knee-jerk anti-Communism, they did exactly that.
     Between 1981 and 1987, Burlington voted to cut aid to El Salvador, oppose crisis relocation planning for nuclear war, freeze nuclear weapons production, transfer military funds to civilian programs, condemn Nicaraguan Contra aid, and divest from companies doing business with apartheid South Africa. Supporting the efforts of the independent peace movement, Sanders was a consistent voice for a new foreign policy.
     Did all the resolutions, statements, and even diplomatic links with Nicaragua pose a threat to capitalist interests? Hardly. But they contributed to a change in basic attitudes, and meshed well with the efforts of others activists around the state. By the end of the 1980s, most Vermont politicians supported disarmament and a non-interventionist foreign policy. Peace and, to a limited extent, social justice became mainstream positions. 
Main St, City Hall and the Waterfront
     The thrust of reform during the early years of Burlington’s progressive realignment was primarily economic, driven by the mayor's reform-oriented, “sewer socialist” approach. It wasn’t that other issues were ignored; the administration's record on youth programs, tenants' right, and women's issues was impressive. Rather it was a matter of priorities and focus. Issues affecting women and gays did take a back seat sometimes, or were handled indirectly as matters of economic justice.
     After 1981 Burlington became a more dynamic, open community. During this same time, the unemployment rate was virtually the lowest in the nation. The cultural forces set loose, and nourished by local government, made the urban core more magnetic than ever.  But there were clouds on the horizon, some new, others gathering force after years of neglect. For this New England city, the price of success included things like traffic jams and high rents, toxic dumps and a landfill crunch, gentrification, the feminization of poverty and a rush to redevelopment.

Next: Berlin in the Cold War

Monday, June 10, 2013

Seeing Red: Disinformation in the Age of Reagan

Adapted from a Vanguard Press feature, 1981, by Greg Guma
Listen to "Chapter Five: Seeing Red With Reagan" on Spreaker.
Patrick Leahy told me that he was adamant. As a US Senator, he was absolutely certain of at least one thing: the Congress of the United States “wasn't going to be led around by some obscure subcommittee."
     Yet there it was, the Senate Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism. And there it remained through most of the Reagan era, the launching pad for another witch hunt against dissent. Vermont's junior Senator was in the minority. For too many of Leahy's colleagues and much of Reagan’s administration the committee was a long lost friend.
Vanguard Press/LJ Kopf, 1981
      For Jeremiah Denton it was a place to pursue his mission from God.
 The chairman of the subcommittee was determined to save the US from unwed sex, liberal education and the international terrorist conspiracy. At the first meeting of his new assignment he declared, "We must get our perspective back. We've lost it, and the dominoes are falling so thunderously that we can't hear ourselves argue about whether the domino theory is correct or not."
     Denton made it from Alabama to Washington with a little help from his friends in the Moral Majority, and at the start of his first term became chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, otherwise known as the SST. Before that he’d been a Navy pilot in Vietnam, shot down while raiding a North Vietnamese camp. He spent seven years in a Vietnamese prison. During POW years he had become certain that God was speaking directly to him. Once he came home the Lord practically shouted at him to do battle with threats to American civilization.
     Like Sodom and Gomorrah, Denton said, America was "sated" with decadence, and under attack from foreign powers, principally the Soviet Union. He became convinced that subversive thought, terrorism and "disinformation" would "bury our nation" unless someone stood up and stopped them. And he was the man for the job.
     At the start, he was just another New Right zealot, a founder of the Coalition for Decency and ardent supporter of Nixon. But in 1980 Nixon and the Moral Majority teamed up to help finance Denton's election to the US Senate. After that historic election, the Republicans assumed control of the Senate and Strom Thurmond took the Senate Judiciary Committee leadership from Edward Kennedy. The new Judiciary Chair quickly set up the SST and put Denton in charge.
     Despite the protests of liberals like Leahy, Denton's Committee took a conspiratorial view of world politics. The theory was this: the Soviet Union was behind all politically-motivated violence in the world, befitting its role as the Evil Empire. If the Soviet Union didn't exist, the theory proceeded, all would be calm in Northern Ireland, Latin America, South Africa and the Middle East. If most Americans had trouble believing this, it was only because the USSR had succeeded in duping Americans through sophisticated manipulation of the news media.  Denton and friends thought the KGB was adept at conditioning journalists.
     "There is no central war room," protested former CIA Director Bill Colby the first day Denton's committee met. Colby wanted them to know that no single government, not even the Evil Empire, was directing the orchestra. But before the spymaster could finish his thought, Denton commenced a monologue about the contribution of the American press to the American defeat in Vietnam.
     The audience murmured, the press corps gasped and committee counsel Joel Lisker fidgeted as the chairman said, "It was extremely disheartening to prisoners of war to hear Radio Moscow come out with a new line, to hear that new line rebroadcast two days later by Radio Hanoi, and three days later a brand new line articulated in precisely the same phrases by some members of the press or even some members of Congress."
     He meandered finally to his key concern -- disinformation. "It is not subverting a journalist.  It is not the KGB getting to a journalist. It is the journalist responding to what he believes to be a noble purpose. There is something wrong, and he went after it. But I say we've got to be careful."

McCarthy's Ghosts

Senator Denton was certainly careful enough about security for his hearings: hours before each session dogs scoured the room for bombs as a security force installed metal detectors at the entrances. Plainclothes cops stood guard during the testimony. He was also careful to select witnesses who reinforced his world view.
     And to make sure the epidemic nature of terrorism was fully understood, he had his committee use a new definition of the word, developed by the CIA. Henceforth, terrorism would mean "the threat or use of violence for political symbolic effect that is aimed at achieving a psychological impact on target groups wider than its immediate victims."  Any insurrection anywhere could now be called terrorism.

     Denton planned to use the committee to raise "public consciousness" about terrorism.  But Leahy was concerned mainly about the potential for "disinformation" emanating from the committee itself.  Despite poking some holes in the terror network scenario with questions to some witnesses, however, Leahy didn't attend most of the committee's hearings. In fact, most members didn't attend sessions regularly, leaving the showcase to Denton.   
     Leahy and Delaware Democrat Joseph Biden were the liberal minority; the two other Republicans were Orrin Hatch and John East. Like Denton, Hatch of Utah was a New Rightist with ties to the Moral Majority. Even before the Denton committee was formed, Hatch had selected some of its targets, including Mother Jones, an investigative magazine; the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal Washington think tank; and the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), which found itself in conflict with US policy by opposing dictatorships.
     East, selected from North Carolina with the help of Jesse Helms, shared Denton's preoccupation with the Soviet threat. His 1980 campaign had centered on the dangers of Carter's "liberal" international policies, the "giveaway" of the Panama Canal, and the threat of creeping communism. Upon election, East picked Sam Francis as a congressional aide.  Francis, a former policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, Washington's leading right-wing think tank, had authored the intelligence section of the Foundation's 3,000-page report to President Reagan. The President relied on the report for many of his policy directions.
     The Heritage report was an all-encompassing policy blueprint for the 1980s. It advised Reagan and Congress to take a hard line not only against foreign revolutionaries, but also against domestic political activists. It pointed to "the un-American nature of so much so-called dissidence." In January 1981, when Reagan took up residence in the White House, the report was turned over to his chief counsel, Edwin Meese, who had already participated in Heritage Foundation meetings. Meese said he would "rely heavily" on the advice.
     The report urged tighter surveillance of radical and New Left groups, anti-defense and anti-nuclear lobbies, and the alternative press. It also suggested reviving internal security committees in both houses of Congress. The SST was an early response. Key boosters of McCarthy-like committees included the American Security Council, which helped build the proper atmosphere by producing and distributing propaganda films for TV, and the National Committee to Restore Internal Security, a watchdog of "enemy-directed misinformation."  Remnants of the old House Un-American Activities Committee were returning from the woodwork.
     For right-wingers and the conspiracy-minded, the Denton Committee was a long-needed, respectable vehicle for spreading fear of Soviet-orchestrated terrorism. It would establish the basis for an unleashing of the intelligence agencies and the cutting back of public access to government documents. The Heritage report had explained that, "It is axiomatic that individual liberties are secondary to the requirement of national security and internal civil order." This apparently meant there was a compelling need to investigate "clergymen, students, businessmen, entertainers, labor officials, journalists and government workers who may engage in subversive activities without being fully aware of the extent, purpose, or control of their activities."
     Disinformation theory was designed to allow a broad-brush approach. The committee counsel, Joel Lisker, a former FBI man, said that journalists wouldn't have to be disloyal to become tools of terrorists. "It may be expediency or laziness," he explained.

Leahy in the Opposition

The GOP set up the SST right after taking power in January 1981. On August 28, I talked with Senator Leahy, still in his first term, about the emerging threats to civil liberties. I asked, for example, whether disinformation was warping public understanding of world affairs?
Patrick Leahy, 1980
     Not much, he replied, “but a lot of people who write for the national newspapers and media are not that competent. They sometimes get extraordinarily high salaries, I know, but some people who report on national TV on the Pentagon sound like employees of the Pentagon.
     “It’s those kind of broad, sweeping generalities that, if they are made and reported uncritically and without any kind of cross examination, that could create a problem.”
     Asking whether the threats were any greater than in the past, he called them a different” type. “Espionage goes on in the United States all the time,” he said. “The Soviets try to get whatever kind of information they can from us. But threats change depending on the circumstances – whether we’re at war or not.
     “But the biggest threat is that, in trying to counter threats to our nation, we will repeal out own hard-fought-for rights – the First Amendment, the right to our own personal security, our civil liberties. If, in trying to combat threats to personal security, we really haven’t gained an awful lot, if we subjugate our own people to protect ourselves the Soviets have won.”

The Real Terror Network

Be that as it may, terrorism certainly can be money in the bank for some writers and politicians who capitalize on the public fascination with assassins, massacres, hijackings and the taking of hostages. It is a potentially lucrative assignment providing exposure and even some political clout.
    One American journalist, Claire Sterling, turned her research on terrorism into a combined deal with Holt, Rinehart and Winston and Readers' Digest to write The Terror Network. Excerpts appeared in the May, 1981 edition of the Digest and subsequently in the Washington Post, New York Times Magazine and New Republic, just as she was called as a witness for the Denton committee.
     Sterling charged that the CIA was naive about terrorism, and was even serving communism by deliberately covering up the extent of the terror network. Since 1968, she claimed, the Soviets had provided most terrorist groups with a "do-it-yourself kit for terrorist warfare" designed to destabilize the West. When Sterling made her case Leahy asked the only critical questions, honing in on her claim that "the fix is in" with Western intelligence agencies.
     "Have the CIA and FBI been bought?" Leahy asked.
     "Well, I don't know about the FBI because I really was talking about the situation in Western European countries..."
     Leahy pressed. "Who's been fixed, and how? Have all these intelligence services been paid off, or is it political timidity?"
     Sterling back-peddled, admitting she had no evidence of political payoffs.
     "What is the fix then?" Leahy asked.
     "The fix is political. It is a political attitude. It is an unwillingness to face certain political realities which are unpleasant..."
     Leahy left the hearing that day pleased to have found some inconsistencies in Sterling's case. The trouble was that he missed the main event the same afternoon. It came when another writer, Arnaud de Borchgrave, launched his own disinformation campaign. Along with another witness, Robert Moss, he had recently written a popular thriller called The Spike, a thinly disguised smear of the American left.
     In the de Borchgrave-Moss novel, a successful young journalist discovers that his career has been manipulated by the KGB, which plans to lull the West into self-destruction by 1985. One character is a turncoat CIA agent based on Philip Agee; a KGB-controlled think tank is modeled on the Institute for Policy Studies. In the end a Soviet invasion of Saudi Arabia crumbles as the US finally begins to resist disinformation.
     Moss and de Borchgrave had built careers on such speculation and conspiracy theories. When de Borchgrave, a former Newsweek editor, conducted an interview the questions were often rhetorical answers. A more experienced hand at dis-informing the public, Moss, had worked for the Rhodesian and South African regimes, the Portuguese right and the Chilean junta.  He’d helped to set up publications and front groups, sometimes joined by his co-author.
     In March 1973, Moss wrote the first call for a coup in Chile. It came in the form of a cover story for a CIA-funded Chilean magazine, SEPA. He also founded the British National Association for Freedom (NAFF), which distributed sophisticated propaganda about the "Sovietization" of Britain in the mid-seventies. In that instance, he was instrumental in polarizing business-labor relations to the breaking point. And Moss edited Vision, a Latin American news magazine owned by former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, and later Policy Review, the house organ of the Heritage Foundation. Of course, Jeremiah Denton had to have Robert Moss as a witness for his committee.
     Over the years, publications like Policy Review and Washington Quarterly, another right-wing house organ sponsored by the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies and edited by Moss associate Michael Ledeen, had refined disinformation theory. Once before the Senate subcommittee, they reiterated the scenario that had been dramatically put forth in The Spike.
     Denton needed little convincing; he already believed that the Soviets were working hard to keep Americans unconscious of the threat in their midst. But de Borchgrave provided a final ingredient -- the names of US groups that he claimed were in cahoots with the enemy.
     "There is a direct link-up," he testified, "between the World Peace Council, a well known Soviet front organization, and anti-nuclear lobbies, both in the U.S. and in Western Europe." De Borchgrave was ready to name names. "The World Peace Council's US Branch, known as the US Peace Council, and the U.S.C.P. are affiliated with the MfS -- Mobilization for Survival -- which is a leading umbrella organization for anti-nuclear groups," he charged. 
     Not only that; he also said the "UN infrastructure is under increasing KGB control."
     The Mobilization for Survival immediately denied the charge as a "total fabrication" and challenged de Borchgrave to present evidence that MfS was anything but a nonviolent, democratically-organized coalition. The writer didn't respond, and why should he have? After all, his appearance had already helped to launch the paperback sale of his new book, and his charges had been carried by national media.
     Who needed evidence?  His testimony supported the scenario he and his associates had spent years developing. His claims even eclipsed testimony by former CIA chief Colby that an Agency investigation had shown the anti-war movement to be indigenous.     

     In an editorial column for the New York Times, de Borchgrave took another step with the claim that, "A relatively high percentage of secret agents are journalists. A journalist operating in Britain, West Germany or in the U.S. is a great asset to Communist intelligence."
     In the same article he accused the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post of being duped by Soviet disinformation when they reported on the errors that riddled a Reagan administration "white paper" on El Salvador. The Journal had merely published an article showing that the US over-estimated Soviet support of Salvadoran guerrillas. Such accusations by de Borchgrave and others nevertheless meshed well with Denton's conviction that the Soviet's were effectively deceiving "a story-hungry and sometimes gullible press." 
     In a Cold War atmosphere, allegations of disinformation could someday become a basis for government intrusions into newspapers themselves.

Casualties of the Security State

The KGB never held a patent on disinformation. US spooks have often used the same techniques on enemies overseas and in America. And some of the targets have been US citizens whose only offense was opposition to government policies.
     Beginning in the early 1960s, the FBI conducted a multi-pronged counterintelligence offensive against targets like Martin Luther King, Jr. and his supporters, the Socialist Workers Party, White Hate Groups, the Black Panthers, people who wanted to abolish HUAC, and the New Left. The Bureau's enemies were bugged, infiltrated, sabotaged and disrupted whenever possible. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover personally approved hundreds of such COINTELPRO operations, on grounds that Communists were behind every act of dissent.
     In the 1970s, victims of COINTELPRO obtained voluminous files on these activities through the Freedom of Information Act, leading to multi-million dollar lawsuits against the government and its agents. But much of the damage couldn't be undone. For example, no lawsuit could compensate for the impact on film star Jean Seberg. Her support for the Black Panthers provided a justification for the FBI to spread false stories about her sex life.  Distressed by the smears, she had a mental breakdown and ultimately killed herself.
     Documents from the FBI confirmed that disinformation was a standard practice used against the Panthers. Internal memos candidly revealed that the FBI tried to "negate favorable publicity,” hoping to "isolate the organization from the majority of Americans, both black and white." The campaign included phony letters, spurious newsletters, harassing supporters with the aid of journalists "friendly" to the Bureau, and distributing scandalous cartoons about Panther leaders in the black community. This was praised by FBI higher-ups as a low-cost campaign that produced tangible results. The bureau didn't bother to claim that the Panthers were Soviet-backed.
     Revelations about intelligence abuses led in the 1970s to more restrictive standards and, for a while, limited intrusive tactics. But by the early 1980s, another terrorist scenario reversed that trend. Reagan's CIA chief, William Casey, drafted an executive order on intelligence, freeing the attorney general to conduct an intrusive investigation of anyone who "may be acting on behalf of a foreign power." As far as the disinformation experts were concerned, this included all of the American left. Searches and break-ins would no longer require warrants; the CIA would once again be able to bug US citizens at home; phone taps were back in fashion. And to cut down on objections, the attorney general urged federal agencies to withhold more information about what they were doing.
     The new policies were an official endorsement of secrecy. They illustrated the same desire to keep dirty work out of sight as did the passage of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.  With this law, Congress made it a crime to disclose information exposing an agent even if the information was derived from public sources.
     When the so-called "names of agents" bill was in the Denton Committee, the Chairman seized the opportunity to criticize the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposed the idea. In Denton's view, ACLU's efforts to control the intelligence community disqualified the group. "In more liberal times," he said of such civil liberties lobbies, "they would be called Communist."
     Only information that discredited critics of US policy or supported the terrorist scenario registered with Denton. Over the next few years his Committee became a showcase for bizarre revisions of reality... the Soviet Bloc became responsible for the attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II, neo-Nazi violence was said to be fomented by East Germans, the PLO was charged with a right-wing attack on an Oktoberfest celebration in Munich. No specific evidence was offered to support these claims, but Denton didn't need evidence. All political violence, unless it was perpetuated by an ally, qualified as terrorism, and all terrorism was Soviet-inspired action against the US.
     The theory was adopted as a rationale for covert US acts of war in Central America and equally covert harassment at home of people who didn't care for the Reagan Revolution. To the administration and Jeremiah Denton, anyone opposing the government was more than likely either a potential terrorist or a Soviet dupe. Either way, they required surveillance and maybe much more.

Phil Fiermonte contributed to this article.