June 1, 2006

Prisoner Torture, Reporter Payoffs Reminiscent of CIA Operations During Cold War

By In Essays

Long before atrocities were committed at Abu Graib and Guantanamo, the CIA had its own little nightmare operation that used unsuspecting American citizens as guinea pigs for experimentation with LSD, sensory depravation, and various forms of mental torture.

The top-secret operation was called MK-ULTRA, and it began in the 1950s and continued until the late 1960s. The official reason for its existence was to discover a truth serum or brainwashing technique that the U.S. government could use on communist spies or “enemies” of the State.

Naturally, this operation was illegal and unconstitutional from the start, a proverbial trademark of the CIA. But aside from introducing LSD into popular culture, needlessly torturing thousands of innocent Americans, and insidiously causing the death of Frank Olson (an army doctor whose drink was spiked with LSD), the CIA didn’t fulfill its stated mission.

It never discovered a truth serum to use on communist spies, and it never succeeded in slipping Fidel Castro, America’s enemy du jour, the quintessential Mickey. However, it did succeed in creating plenty of speculation and suspicion about the operation itself and how its twisted torture masters may have changed their mission in mid-stream and used brainwashing methods to create Manchurian Candidate-like assassins that may have had a hand in killing JFK, RFK, MLK Jr., and John Lennon. (Sound incredible, like the Bush administration being responsible for 9/11? Do a little research and then make up your mind.)

During this same paranoid time period (when fearful Americans were building bomb shelters in their backyards, and young baby boomers were ducking for cover under their wooden desks at grade schools to shelter themselves from a nuclear attack), the CIA developed a secret companion operation to MK-ULTRA called Mockingbird, which paid prominent journalists, allegedly including Joseph Alsop and Ben Bradlee, to write and promote anti-communist, pro-Big Business news stories for mainstream publications.

Operation Mockingbird, which began in the 1950s and continued until the mid-1970s, also “encouraged” the most prestigious news organizations of the era, including Time Magazine and CBS News, not to write about certain events, like the nefarious CIA plots to overthrow the governments of Iran and Guatemala.

Ostensibly, MK-ULTRA and Mockingbird were designed to fight the world-wide plague of communism, which the CIA believed was infiltrating every level of American society like a viral infection; it was also equally concerned that the “red threat” was infiltrating Third World countries where large American corporations, like Esso (now Exxon-Mobil) and the United Fruit Company, had vested interests. And if it meant overthrowing democratically elected leaders of Third World countries to protect those interests, so be it.

At the time, average Americans knew nothing about operations MK-ULTRA or Mockingbird, and they were naïve enough to trust the United States government to “do the right thing” when it came to fighting the Cold War against the Soviet Union.

No doubt Senator Joe McCarthy believed he was doing the right thing when he accused almost half the country of being communists or communist sympathizers. And so did Ronald Reagan and many other conservative notables, who were quite willing to “name names” at congressional hearings in order to help McCarthy with his anti-communist witch hunt.

Eventually McCarthy was exposed as a paranoid lunatic and was taken down by Edward R. Murrow, one of the last of the standup journalists in the land of the free. (No coincidence that George Clooney made a movie about Murrow and his battle with McCarthy during the era of George W. Bush and his fear-mongering “War on Terror.”)

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy to expose and put a stop to operations MK-ULTRA and Mockingbird, because they were carried out covertly and not publicly like McCarthy’s crusade. In addition, Richard Helms, the CIA director in charge of MK-ULTRA during the early 1970s, deliberately destroyed most of the secret operation’s records in 1972, and the operation itself was not officially exposed until the Church Committee held congressional hearings in 1975.

Ironically, about a year later, George H.W. Bush, the new director of the CIA, put an end to Operation Mockingbird when he announced: “Effective immediately, the CIA will not enter into any paid or contract relationship with any full-time or part-time news correspondent accredited by any U.S. news service, newspaper, periodical, radio or television network or station.”

Fast forward to the George W. Bush administration and it becomes apparent that the idiot prince and his gang of lying fascists are not following the advice of Big Daddy Bush. In fact, there have been several news “correspondents,” including Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher, and Karen Ryan, who have been caught accepting money from the Bush gang in exchange for promoting the current administration’s right-wing agenda. Williams alone, who likes to portray himself as a straight-shooting, African-American conservative, raked in a cool $240,000. Right on, bro!

As despicable as that is, it’s even worse the way the mainstream news media have rolled over and given credibility to Bush Junior, ever since he stole the 2000 presidential election. And I’m not talking about Fox News or right-wing loudmouths like Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh. It’s axiomatic they’ll support their fuehrer, no matter what he does.

More troubling are mainstream news organizations like CNN or NBC, which appear legitimate to many Americans, and are even called “liberal” in some circles. But on closer examination it is clear that their top reporters have sold out a long time ago for big salaries and will only go so far when reporting the truth about the Bush administration or corporate America.

Just try listening to Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” when he has someone like Condoleezza Rice on his show without pulling your hair out! He’ll ask one tough question, maybe one tough follow up– and that’s it! After that the interviewee is free to blather on, lying and obfuscating, underscoring one administration talking point after another.

And this is how George W. Bush has been able to steal two elections, cover up his administration’s complicity in 9/11, fight an illegitimate war in Iraq, bankrupt the U.S. treasury, sanction torture and rendition, and on and on.

Thus the cycle is complete, and the United States is reliving the worst aspects of the 1950s and ’60s; only the names have changed. The War on Terror has replaced the Cold War; Abu Graib and Guantanamo have replaced MK-ULTRA; and the corporate-owned media and their weak-kneed news reporters have replaced Operation Mockingbird.

And where does that leave average Americans? Exactly where the Bush gang and their big money, corporate allies want them: uninformed, frightened, and complacent.

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