Tuesday, 30 November 2010


From what we know so far, it is indeed true that the latest Wikileaks docs may prove simply to confirm what the world suspected already about the policies and practices of a number of governments. After all, we do live in the age of the Internet and instant news and official leaks, despite the culture of secrecy about matters concerning public policy that prevails in many countries, among them the US. However, there are much larger questions that Wikileaks raises and they pertain to the profession of journalism.

Is Wikileaks conducting the kind of journalism that the complacent if not openly pro-status quo mainstream media should have been conducting? When was the last time that we have had some really good investigative reporting, and I don't mean one that exposes the personal habits of public officials like Berlusconi (and Gadhafi) chasing little girls? As much as Wikileaks wants to project the image of dissidence, it seems that it is motivated by more tangible benefits and not necessarily by the kind of ideological goals that characterized the era of whistle blowers like Philip Agee. I would not be at all surprised if Wikileaks is sold for some outrageous amount of money to some corporation, perhaps to Murdock's Newscorp.

A Roman Catholic and a graduate from the University of Notre Dame, Agee is world famous or infamous depending on one's perspective for publishing a book Inside the Company: CIA Diary (1975) that exposed CIA operations in the Third World, especially in Latin America where he worked mostly. After serving the agency from 1957 to 1968, Agee, resigned owing to ideological and moral disagreements he had with US foreign policy as well as operations on the ground, and with their purpose, which was to promote US corporate interests.

The year Agee left the agency there were major US and global political and social developments. On the US side, there was the divisive Democratic Convention in Chicago where Richard J. Daley (the boss with the Irish-Italian political machine) decided to play kingmaker once again as he had in 1960 by using the "Daley Machine" to manufacture Democratic consent and elect Humphrey. The Chicago convention took place against the background of the escalating Vietnam War, civil rights increasingly radicalizing and polarizing the American people after M. L. King and Bobby Kennedy's assassination that demonstrated that political differences in the 20th century are resolved in the same manner as during the Roman era.

As a case officer for the CIA, Philip Agee reflected America's dissidents, who vehemently objected to US support of authoritarian regimes and to covert operations that were the type only seen in 1950s film noir involving Soviet and Nazi agents determined to spread chaos and disrupt democratic order. Although opposed to the publishing of agents' names, the Frank Church committee investigating CIA operations that were above any US or international law, gave moral support to Agee and eventually to a few others who chose to more or less follow in Agee's footsteps.

His critics charged that the KGB and Cuban intelligence provided Agee with valuable information about covert US operations. The charge that he was making money and becoming famous by violating the oath of office is something that most people understand. Even more so, it stands to reason that he could have written a book about policies and operations without naming names, but all of this depends on whether one judges Agee politically/ideologically or from the perspective of an interested researcher.

He countered that he was only interested in helping fight what he deemed systemic injustice and insisted that naming names was the way to be effective in disrupting operations. More specifically, he argued that the CIA had infiltrated and manipulated Latin American governments and organizations. In the early 1990s, when I was writing my book on US foreign policy and Latin American labor unions, Agee's work helped to direct me toward a direction I would not have considered at the time, and colleagues in US, England, and Latin America at the time were taking the same approach. CIA had a role in the American Institute for Free Labor Development, (AIFLD) in which the AFL-CIO worked closely with US corporations and government to minimize Latin American opposition to US corporate domination of Latin America; all part of Kennedy's Alliance for Progress that on the surface appeared so progressive, but in fact designed to deradicalize and co-opt organized labor into accepting a more docile role in contract negotiations.

To accomplish the same goal in Africa where Fanonism, Pan-Africanism, and Castroism were on the rise in the 1960s, the US formed the African-American Labor Center (AALC)--again with CIA involvement. The Asian-American Free American Institute (AAFALI) was created to diminish the influence of Mao and Sukarno in Asia amid the Vietnam War--all to secure and perpetuate a capitalist political economy at the cost of social justice, according to Agee.

Agee helped to expose secret operations that would never be known to researchers who relied on official written and oral sources in order to accurately analyze political, foreign policy, economic, social and labor developments. Besides revealing some details about US use of former Nazi war criminals in a number of capacities in various agencies, Agee ended many illusions people entertained about how American democracy actually works in the operations field where torture and assassination of civilian subjects in time of peace are a patriotic duty just as in time of war.

President George H. W. Bush, a former CIA director, argued that Agee's book exposed the names of agents in the field and it cost the life of CIA station chief Richard Welch. The Harvard-educated classicist worked for the CIA in Guatemala, Guyana, Peru, Cyprus, and Greece where he was killed by the well-known ultra-left organization November 17th. The tragic case of CIA station chief Welch provided all the ammunition the US needed to begin rebuilding the culture of secrecy, silence and consent in government that culminated during the presidency of George Bush.

To discredit him, critics accused Agee of everything from alcoholism to working for Moscow and the Cubans from whom he received a sizable sum of money as their propagandist. There is no evidence that he received KGB and Cuban funds. Unless his widow reveals something, we may never know. Just the money generated from book sales would have been enough, given that it was translated into 27 languages and was best seller for a long time, and even two years after his death, it is selling rather well.

Agee belonged to an era of counterculture when America was preparing to pull out of Vietnam. It was the era of CIA involvement in Allende's assassination and numerous counterinsurgency operations in Africa, Asia and Latin America; the era when there was a Civil Rights movement at home while the US backed South Africa's apartheid regime. A segment of the American people were questioning authority and the values of conformity, because the entire society seemed on the wrong course, not just foreign affairs. Agee was driven by ideology and his Roman Catholic upbringing that caused the profound sense of guilt for what he had been doing and what the agency was doing "in the name of freedom and democracy." 

The year he resigned from the agency, Agee ran CIA operations in Mexico City during the Olympic games. He witnessed the Tlatelolco massacre. Two US athletes participating in the Olympic games decided to protest by making the black power sign--raising their arm in a tight fist while receiving the national anthem was playing. During the Cold War when people felt that they had to choose sides, Agee chose sides for ideological and moral reasons. Perhaps he was driven by some type of "Jesus complex" or by other motives, but he adamantly opposed US foreign policy and western capitalism after serving the system for a dozen years. He found support in a number of European democratic countries as well as in Communist ones, as he spent his life as a political refugee, having published the names of US and other western agents.

Agee's book when it came out was very useful both as a work of journalism and as a historical document. Many researchers used it, if not for the empirical information, for the angles he directed the reader as a CIA officer applying pressure on labor unions and politicians to conform to US policy. Agee forced people to consider if their "freedom and democracy virginity" was ever that virginal during the honorable Cold War. The conscientious whistle blower era that Agee represented with some semblance of idealism slowly came to an end in America after the Iranian and Nicaraguan revolutions coinciding with the emergence of the Reagan presidency two years later. The whistle blower era rooted in idealism and morality is now replaced by the web-era of Wikileaks behind which there is commercialism.

As much as I am delighted that Wikileaks is disclosing top secret documents, the latest round from what is revealed so far in news summaries reveals nothing of much consequence, no matter how Angela Merkel and others are offended that Wikileaks tarnished the image they wish to project. It is now obvious that Wikileaks is simply publishing anything and everything indiscriminately in the absence of any ideology, moral conviction, political agenda, etc. It is simply doing it because it attracts world-wide attention.

Bombarding the Web with massive info perhaps for the sake of becoming large and important enough to become legitimate enough to become mainstream and commercially worthy is what I see as the Wikileaks goal, though I could be proved wrong and they may very well be doing all this to secure a place in Heaven next to other ideologically and morally motivated whistle blowers like Agee.

When I had read some time ago Wikileaks had top secret info on corrupt Russian politicians with links to mobsters involved in money laundering operations, narcotics, human trafficking, etc. my reaction was that I had read lots of stories about such things in the past two decades. Will publishing such classified material result in public action and better government to serve all of the Russian people, instead of the wealthy regardless of whether they are making money legally or illegally?

Is the purpose of Wikileaks to serve the public by exposing government corruption and its links to the private sector, or is it headed toward entertainment-style journalism focused on personalities and their peculiarities? So that we do not have to be bombarded by Wikileaks one million page-docs in the future, it is time that the mainstream media distances itself from political and financial elites in order to do some honest and critical reporting intended to promote the public good, instead of eulogizing the rich and powerful so that the publication can secure the advertising space from corporate and government sponsors. Wikileaks is more a condemnation of the state of journalism than it is of the state.

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