Thursday, September 7, 2023

Insider Accounts: Mazzetti, Mayer, Valentine


Insider Accounts: Mazzetti, Mayer, Valentine

Peter Schultz


            In his excellent book, The Way of the Knife, Mark Mazzetti is concerned to give an insider’s account of the CIA and its transition from an intelligence gathering agency to a kill or capture agency. Among other items, he writes about such battles as to who would be in charge of Pakistan drone strikes, the ambassador or the CIA. The CIA won.


            But because this is an inside account it hides the more important agreement between the ambassador and the CIA, viz., there would be drone strikes, i.e., indiscriminate killings, in Pakistan because those killed were most often unknown to the American killers except as displaying alleged age and behavioral characteristics. No one was contesting this program of indiscriminate killings of Pakistanis, a nation the US wasn’t at war with.


            As Mazzetti’s insider account concludes: “Obama’s CIA had won another battle.” But this covers over the fact the Pakistanis had lost and were to be subjected to a campaign of indiscriminate killings by the United States, which wasn’t even at war with Pakistan. According to the insider account, what was being done to the Pakistanis disappeared, while American politics took center stage.


            Of course, the killing of bin Laden also hid the American program of indiscriminately killing Pakistanis. That killing hid the savagery of US policies by making the “targeted assassinations” seem “surgical” “precise,” even “pinpoint.”  And even Seymour Hersh’s account of the bin Laden assassination, although quite controversial, being another insider’s account, has the same result, not exposing the actual character of the US “war” in Pakistan. Insider accounts fortify the status quo because they are superficial, focused on “the mistakes” being made. Hence, Mazzetti asserts that “the CIA was being reckless.” But, more importantly, the CIA was being savage by indiscriminately killing Pakistanis.


            From insider accounts, a picture emerges of US elites trying to get things right. But there is another, more accurate picture: US elites are engaged in savagery, which some might say makes them savages. You tell me: Does the arc of history bend toward justice, peace, and freedom? Given US policies, this assertion would seem to be quite comical, in a sick way, as is the saying that the US is waging “a War on Terrorism.” In fact, the US is engaged in waging a terroristic war world-wide. But this possibility disappears in Mazzetti’s and Hersh’s insider accounts.


            Jane Mayer, who has praised Mazzetti’s book, has written her own book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terrorism Turned Into a War on American Ideals.  Written as an “inside story,” Mayer doesn’t consider the possibility that the war on terror was based on and thereby fortified America’s ideals. As an insider account, Mayer’s book makes this possibility magically disappear. Poof! American savagery, repeated over and over, is replaced by “mistakes.” That’s the trick performed by insider accounts, confirming America’s ideals amidst a host of mistakes.


            In a way, Douglas Valentine in his book The CIA as Organized Crime performs the same trick when he labels the CIA “’organized crime.” “Crime” is understood to consist of violations of American ideals, e.g., like being law abiding, not robbing, nor murdering, nor raping. So, if the CIA is “organized crime,” it should be thought of as violating America’s ideals. But what if the CIA is the result of those ideals? This is not a question that Valentine’s, Mazzetti’s, Hersh’s, or Mayer’s insider accounts raise. In fact, by looking inside, these accounts make that question disappear. What the CIA looks like inside hides or disappears what it looks like outside, viz., a savage killing machine compatible with America’s ideals.


            In fact, that the CIA is a principled killing machine, makes it more deadly, more dangerous than criminal organizations like the “Mafia.” Why? Because its kills are not only necessary; they are considered justified and even honorable. The CIA’s killers are honored by society whereas criminal killers, “hit men,” are dishonored, even at times punished, capitally or otherwise. So, when the CIA contracts with “hit men,” the magic recurs: Hit men killing for the CIA become honorable. “Honor killings,” often thought of by Americans as the practice of primitive societies, are engaged in by US elites as well. And, so, it is little wonder that persons seeking to be honorable are attracted to, seduced by war, patriotic wars especially. The distance between the Boy Scouts and the Marines, for example, isn’t all that far. [Watch the movie, Hearts and Minds as it captures this dynamic in reference to the Vietnam War.]

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