The Quiet Americans – LRB review

Hush-Hush Boom-Boom

Alexander Cockburn​ blamed Ian Fleming for the creation of the CIA. Without Fleming, Cockburn wrote on the fiftieth anniversary of the first James Bond novel, ‘the Cold War would have ended in the early 1960s. We would have had no Vietnam, no Nixon, no Reagan and no Star Wars.’ As adjutant to Britain’s chief of naval intelligence, Lieutenant Commander Fleming undertook a secret mission to Washington in May 1941. He was ‘whisked off to a room in the new annexe of the embassy, locked in with a pen and paper and the necessities of life’, a colleague recalled, and there he wrote, ‘under armed guard around the clock, a document of some seventy pages covering every aspect of a giant secret intelligence and secret operational organisation’. This, the CIA’s official history reports, was the genesis of ‘the nation’s first peacetime, non-departmental intelligence organisation’.

Fleming delivered the report to William ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, a much decorated First World War veteran who had been lobbying Roosevelt to establish an American spy agency separate from the Navy, War and State Departments. A month later Donovan submitted his ‘Memorandum of Establishment of Service of Strategic Information’ to the president. It recommended an organisation that would collect and analyse information and make it available to the president as commander-in-chief, and would also disseminate propaganda. It made no mention of covert operations. Donovan acknowledged his debt to Fleming by presenting him with a .38 Police Positive Colt revolver engraved ‘For Special Services’.

Scott Anderson recounts the careers of four OSS agents whose underground war against the Axis turned into a crusade to ‘roll back’ communism in Eastern Europe and Asia. One was Frank Wisner, a corporate lawyer who enlisted to work in naval intelligence early in 1941. When the US entered the war he was consigned to the tedium of the navy’s cable and censorship office in New York. Donovan rescued him from that backwater at the end of 1943 and sent him to monitor OSS’s Balkan operations, which were directed from Istanbul. OSS Istanbul was running an apparently successful espionage network, Operation Dogwood, but its intelligence, especially about bombing targets, had become increasingly flawed. OSS had yet to discover that the Germans had captured, tortured and turned some of its agents. Wisner found a shambles in Istanbul, where everyone knew that the OSS chief, Lanning ‘Packy’ MacFarland, was an American spy. MacFarland’s two lovers were reporting to German and Soviet intelligence. At least eight of OSS Istanbul’s 67 agents worked for Germany, while one driver was reporting to the Soviets and another to the Turks. ‘For weeks,’ Anderson writes, ‘Wisner worked nearly around the clock to try to reorganise the OSS Istanbul office, and to salvage the Dogwood intelligence network.’ Nothing was worth saving, and Wisner began to build a new network. Then, on 23 August 1944, King Michael of Romania ended his alliance with Germany…

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Ruling Assange Can’t Be Extradited Is an Indictment of US Prisons

But the British court judgment, which is likely to be appealed, also delivers a body blow to freedom of speech.

My junior year high school English teacher liked to tell a story about Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson to illustrate the differences between America’s two great transcendentalist writers. Thoreau was jailed in 1846 for withholding taxes that paid for the invasion of Mexico and protected slave owners. Emerson came to speak to Thoreau through the bars of his cell. My teacher, with theatrical flair and stentorian voice, recounted the conversation:

‘Emerson: “What are you doing in there, Henry David?”
Thoreau: “The question is, what are you doing out there, Ralph Waldo?”’

We might ask ourselves what we are doing out here while Julian Assange remains “in there” at Belmarsh Maximum Security Prison in London…

Read Julian Assange In His Own Words

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Penn, Zenger, Assange

If Assange’s Fate Were Up To a Jury, He, Too, Might Have Walked Free

Like William Penn and John Peter Zenger, the Wikileaks founder is fighting for our freedom.

When the magistrate presiding last September at Julian Assange’s extradition hearing, Vanessa Baraitser, confined the defendant to a bullet-proof glass cage at the back of the court, she had precedent on her side. All who entered her courtroom at London’s Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, had to pass a plaque memorializing a case against another defender of free speech and thought…

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Free Julian Assange

Biden’s Choice on Julian Assange and the First Amendment

Assange’s liberty represents that of all journalists and publishers whose job is to expose government and corporate criminality without fear of prosecution.

When Joe Biden becomes president of the United States on January 20, a historic opportunity awaits him to demonstrate America’s commitment to the First Amendment. He can, in a stroke, reverse four years of White House persecution of journalism by withdrawing the application to extradite Julian Assange from Britain to the U.S. This would be in line with the departures from Trump policies Biden is proposing on health care, environmental protection, and tax fairness. Assange’s liberty represents the liberty of all journalists and publishers whose job is to expose government and corporate criminality without fear of prosecution. We need and deserve to be protected against government control of the press.

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Julian Assange

The Unprecedented and Illegal Campaign to Eliminate Julian Assange

Assange would never receive a fair trial in the U.S., but he’s not receiving one in Britain either. Over the 17 days of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing in London, prosecutors succeeded in proving both crimes and conspiracy. The culprit, however, was not Assange. Instead, the lawbreakers and conspirators turned out to be the British and American governments. Witness after witness detailed illegal measures to violate Assange’s right to a fair trial, destroy his health, assassinate his character, and imprison him in solitary confinement for the rest of his life.

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Notes on isolation, from those who know it well

The window was sealed behind a sheet of solid steel. The door was locked. Thick chains bound one arm and one ankle. The room was bare apart from a thin foam mat for a bed and a plastic bottle to pee into. I was alone.

That was the summer of 1987, when Hizbullah was holding me hostage in Lebanon. They had many other hostages, but I didn’t see them. In fact, I saw no one. When a guard came into the room, I had to put on a blindfold so that I couldn’t identify him. The only conversations I had were a few interrogations, when I was also blindfolded. The questioning involved threats and verbal abuse, but mercifully no torture. As unpleasant as they were, they broke the monotony. The rest of the time left me thinking, remembering, imagining. One way of relieving the loneliness was to pretend that one or another of my children was with me, each on a different day. I made chess pieces out of paper labels on water bottles to play with each one. Sometimes I let them win, or they beat me outright.

Although I never saw daylight, I was acutely aware of time. Every morning when I woke, I reminded myself of the date and thought, “This is day ten (or whatever other number it happened to be) of my captivity – and my last.” The only idea that sustained my morale was that somehow I would escape. After 62 days, I did.

Now, there is no escape. Where would I go? Most of the planet is locked down.

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Julian Assange

Free Julian Assange!

By depriving the WikiLeaks founder of his freedom, prosecutors in the US and Britain are intimidating journalists—and abetting torturers, war criminals, and kleptocrats everywhere.

If WikiLeaks did not exist, the public would know much less than it does about what government and politicians are doing in its name.

When a 35-year-old Australian named Julian Assange launched WikiLeaks with a few like-minded friends in 2006, he little knew what exposing malfeasance would cost him. The WikiLeaks model was simple: provide a safe repository for documents showing state and corporate wrongdoing while guaranteeing anonymity for the leaker. Newspapers were not necessarily safe for whistle-blowers, as British civil servant Sarah Tisdall discovered in 1983 when London’s The Guardian caved in to a court order and handed over documents that identified her as the source for its story on US cruise missile deployment in the UK. She went to prison for four months and lost her job…

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Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at the funeral of Qasem Soleimani's father.

Reflections on the Life and Death of an Iraqi Militant

They buried Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi in Najaf, Iraq, on Jan. 8. Although Ibrahimi was born far to the south in Basra province, Najaf was the chosen resting place for the reputed martyr. Najaf houses the Imam Ali mosque, an ancient and beautiful shrine in honor of Shiite Islam’s original martyr, Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law. It attracts pilgrims from all over the Shiite world, many of whom in the future will no doubt be guided to Ibrahimi’s grave. The pilgrims will be reminded that American missiles killed the militia leader better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Al-Muhandis died in the early hours of Jan. 3 at Baghdad International Airport along with the man he had gone to greet, Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. His assassination, perhaps more than Soleimani’s, increased local hostility to the U.S. presence in Iraq even among those opposed to Iranian interference in their domestic affairs. Unlike Soleimani, al-Muhandis was Iraqi, albeit with close familial and professional ties to Iran, and a government official. To Iraqis, the killing of al-Muhandis is equivalent to taking out Lt. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, director of the U.S. Army National Guard. The difference is that, while most Americans have never heard of Hokanson, every Iraqi knew about Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis…

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March of Ukraine's Defenders on Independence Day in Kyiv, 2019

What Are David’s Options When Goliath Makes Geopolitical Reality?

The old year’s parting present to 2020 is a gaggle of what the Russians call “frozen conflicts” across the globe. Any one of them may unfreeze in the year ahead, bringing bloodshed and exile to innocents and threatening an already precarious world order. In some, the balance of forces is so disproportionate that the weaker party has no options but to bow to strength. The Goliaths of Russia and India, among others, dictate terms to the Davids of Ukraine and Pakistan. The people of tiny Hong Kong are standing up to China, but for how long? Who will defend Hong Kong if China abolishes the former British colony’s “one country, two systems” status? For that matter, would NATO prevent Moscow from seizing more Ukrainian territory than it already has? Would the United Nations defend Pakistan if India expels the Muslims of Kashmir, as Burma did the Rohingya Muslims?

This was not how it was supposed to be. As the Second World War was ending in June 1945, the new United Nations published its charter in San Francisco. The first sentence of the charter’s first article promised “to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace.” Strength of the kind Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan had used to subjugate weaker nations was outlawed. International law and justice were to replace a system where might made, if not right, then reality…

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Khaled Khalifa. Photo Credit Aiham Dib

Scheherazade in a Syrian Cell

Khaled Khalifa is Syria’s biographer, much as Gore Vidal declared himself America’s. While Vidal gave fictional life to Aaron Burr, Abraham Lincoln, William Randolph Hearst, and other American deities, Khalifa avoids real names: no Assad, father or son, only “the President”; no Baath, only “the Party”; Alawis are “the other sect,” Sunnis “our sect.” Yet their presence dominates the lives of his imagined characters, as in the real Syria.

Known in the Arab world primarily as the author of scripts for television and film, the fifty-five-year-old Khalifa has published five novels in Arabic, three of which have been sensitively translated by Leri Price. The first to appear in English was In Praise of Hatred, a complicated García Márquez–like chronicle of an unnamed, decaying family with aristocratic pretensions enduring the clandestine war between security forces and Islamist militants that erupted in Aleppo in the late 1970s. With its labyrinthine souks, decrepit stone palaces, medieval monuments, and heterogeneous populace, Aleppo serves as an apt setting for In Praise of Hatred’s unraveling mystery…

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