European Union

Before You Get Your Checkbook Out …

Hollywood actors Meryl Streep and Patrick Stewart are using Facebook to ask the public to contribute to a good cause this holiday season. There’s one hitch: the non-profit corporation  they have endorsed is a front for a government-financed agency once headed by William Casey, President Reagan’s CIA director. Moreover, their favorite yuletide charity nowadays lists  Trump’s White House as its home address.  

In her Facebook appeal on behalf of the International Rescue Committee,  actress Meryl Streep extols the virtues of the refugee relief organization, imploring millions of her starstruck fans to donate to the non-profit corporation.

“I am a proud supporter of this splendid, hard-working, efficient, beautiful organization, and I hope you will join me,” Streep says in her Facebook video. What the actress doesn’t include in her sales pitch is that the IRC is already the beneficiary of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer dollars. Streep’s plea for money also fails to mention that the IRC’s largest contribution — more than $80 million —  came from 1300 Pennsylvania Ave in Washington, D.C., according to the charity’s latest available Internal Revenue Service tax return.

The White House address is attached to the generous gift given to the IRC by the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, an arm of the United States Agency for International Development, an executive

Meryl Streep’s Facebook post  lauds the IRC, a front once headed by CIA spook William Casey.

branch agency that administers U.S. foreign aid.

Support offered by Streep and fellow movie star Patrick Steward in their Facebook pitches on behalf of the IRC both praise the organization’s efforts to relieve the suffering of millions of displaced families that are the victims of wars, many of which are bankrolled by American military assistance around the world through allocations made in the annual Pentagon budget.

There is no doubt a need for aid exists in the war ravaged regions of the world, but the Hollywood icons’ Facebook appeal presents the organization’s mission as purely altruistic, and omits mentioning the IRC’s ties to the federal government, thereby misrepresenting the IRC’s objectives and shrouding its checkered history.

In addition to the $80 million from the OFDA,  USAID contributed  more than $60 million directly, according to the IRC’s tax filings in 2018.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services kicked in approximately another $38 million. Together with other U.S. government agency donations and contributions from the European Union and the governments of Germany and Sweden, the IRC ledger shows contributions of more than $700 million in 2018. Moreover, the tax return indicates that, in the preceding five-year period, the organization raked in more than $3 billion.

 

IRC’s 2018 IRS record shows an $80 million donation from 1300 Pennsylvania Ave.

If Streep and Stewart’s support for a program with ties to the Trump administration seems weird, it’s really only the tip of the iceberg. Trump and his minions did not invent this well-endowed, quasi-public, foreign policy tool.  Instead, the origins of the IRC and its role in carrying out the U.S. government’s global agenda began in the 1930s before Trump and the current crop of Republican know-nothings were even born. Initially, the IRC adhered to its objectives of providing aid to refugees fleeing Hitler’s Germany. But by the advent of the Cold War, the purpose of the organization morphed into a concerted covert operation aimed at promoting U.S. hegemony in post-war Europe.

As mentioned by the celebrities in their social-media spam, Albert Einstein was a supporter of the early incarnation of the IRC, but the two Hollywood actors’ Facebook ads omit a more telling detail related to the organization’s origins:  The American wing of the IRC was founded by Jay Lovestone, an American communist, who later became a CIA double agent in Europe. Lovestone’s work for the agency focused on subverting leftist labor movements through his leadership of the American Institute for Free Labor Development. Similar to the International Rescue Committee, AIFLD received its funding through USAID, which was formed by Kennedy administration in 1961. Lovestone later headed to the AFL-CIO’s International Affairs Department through which he continued to do the bidding of the CIA.

William Casey and Leo Cherne were among the fellow travelers who followed in Lovestone’s foot steps, they would each share a role in steering the IRC during the Cold War.

Wall Street lawyer, OSS operative, CIA director and Iran-Contra ringleader William J. Casey.

Of the pair, Casey, a Wall Street insider, is more well known because he eventually became CIA director in 1981 under President Ronald Reagan. Casey got his start as a spook during the World War II as a member of the Office of Strategic Services, which was the predecessor of the CIA. In 1962, Casey founded the National Strategy Information Center, another Cold War CIA front.  Then in 1970,  he took over the helm of the IRC before embarking on his career in public service as an Under Secretary of State and Chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission in the Nixon administration.  A decade later, Casey managed Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign, during which time he allegedly  masterminded of the 1980 theft of President Jimmy Carter’s briefing papers, giving the aging Hollywood actor the edge in that’s fall’s televised debate. Casey was also instrumental in pulling off another dirty trick during the campaign: He set up back channel negotiations with Iranian emissaries to withhold the release of the Americans hostages being held in Iran until after the November election, thus insuring Reagan’s victory. The rogue operation was dubbed the October Surprise.

During his tenure as Reagan’s CIA director, Casey planned and carried out the Iran-Contra Affair, using illicit arms sales to Iran to finance Reagan’s secret war against the Nicaraguan Sandinista government. Under Casey’s leadership, the CIA engaged in cocaine trafficking with Colombian cartels and  bankrolled Central American military death squads in cooperation with the Argentine government’s fascist military dictatorship. Many of the leaders of the death squads were trained at the School of the Americas, which was funded by Office of Public Safety, an arm of USAID.  All of these off-the-book activities were part of the Reagan bund’s fanatical right-wing crusade against the perceived communist threat in Central America.  Known as The Enterprise, the secret operation was operated out of the White House by Col. Oliver North, the recently deposed president of the National Rifle Association. Casey’s espionage career began in World War II with Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA and brainchild of fellow Wall Street lawyer William “Wild Bill” Donovan, Casey’s mentor.

Cold War Lovers: Ronald Reagan and Leo Cherne.

Cherne’s career path is no less intriguing. Besides his longtime role as leader of the IRC, he also headed the murky Research Institute of America and Freedom House, a publishing company that specialized in anti-communist propaganda. Similar to IRC, Freedom House claims to be an independent non-government organization, but it receives a large part of its funding through the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. government agency created by the Reagan administration to meddle in the internal affairs and elections of sovereign countries. Cherne was a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1973 to 1991.

 

Former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, the IRC’s current CEO, receives more than $900,000 in annual compensation. Prior to heading the IRC, Milibank was a senior global advisor at Oxford Analytica, an English think tank founded by American expatriate David Young, a protege of Henry Kissinger. Young fled the U.S. following revelations of his involvement in the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration in the early 1970s. As an assistant National Security Council advisor in Nixon’s White House, Young ran the so-called Plumber’s Unit, which hired former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt and a crew of anti-Castro Cubans to burglarize the Democratic National Party headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. in June 1972.

The IRC’s current board of directors includes: former Clinton administration Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a powerful Washington, D.C. lobbyist with current or past ties to think tanks such as the Aspen Institute and the Center for American Progress; former Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, the banker who engineered the Wall Street bail out for President Barrack Obama;  retired Gen. Colin Powell, President George W. Bush’s first Secretary of State, who lied to the United Nations about Iraq’s possession of alleged weapons of mass destruction; and Condoleezza Rice, who served as Bush’s national security advisor as succeeded Powell in heading the State Department.

Perhaps Streep and Stewart are naive about the IRC’s dark origins and its current murky agenda.  But government propaganda efforts during the Obama administration show that Hollywood has been wooed by the federal government and may already be actively engaged in supporting U.S. foreign policy. In June 2015, for instance, the Obama State Department convened a summit meeting  at Sunnylands, the Southern California estate of the late media mogul Walter Annenberg. Those on hand for the meeting included representatives of the film and social media industries, including HBO and Snapchat. The discussions focused on measures between government and private industry to forge a united front to bolster the U.S. government’s image at home and abroad through a collaborative effort aimed at attacking anti-American sentiments online. The stated targets at that time were non-state actors, specifically ISIS, the Middle Eastern terrorist organization. But since then the CIA has publicly demonized Russia for its efforts to influence the political opinions of the American electorate.

In January 2017, the CIA declassified a 2012  internal agency report. The majority of the information in the report is unrelated to the continuing furor over whether Donald Trump  benefited from the alleged Russian intrusion in the 2016 presidential election. Instead, the CIA intelligence assessment details how RT America, the Russian news service, is allegedly being used by the Kremlin as a propaganda tool to cast the U.S.  government in a bad light. This begs whether the CIA mounted a counter-espionage campaign,  including online fund raising for the IRC, to offset the perceived damage being inflicted by the negative image of the Russian news service  broadcasts not only in America but to a global audience via the Internet.

 

 

 

The CIA’s French Connection and Other Footnotes to History

At right, Irving Brown, American labor leader and CIA spy.

CD Stelzer peers into the CIA’s murky operations and finds ‘Old Europe’ ain’t what it used to be.

(written for Ireland’s Island magazine in 2006)

Former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld set the stage for the conflict in January 2003. Vexed by Germany and France’s opposition to United States plans to invade Iraq, Rumsfeld labeled the two nations as ‘Old Europe.’

‘Germany has been a problem and France has been a problem,’ Rumsfeld told Washington’s foreign press corps. ‘But you look at vast numbers of other countries in Europe, they’re not with France and Germany. … They’re with the US. You’re thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don’t. I think that’s old Europe.’

The comment led to a diplomatic war of words and pointed to the growing rift between America and its longstanding allies. Three years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, mounting domestic opposition to the war in Iraq forced Rumsfeld to resign under pressure. The administration of George W Bush now finds itself politically eviscerated, mired by escalating violence in Iraq and weakened diplomatically elsewhere abroad.

In ‘Old Europe,’ opposition to US foreign policy has moved from words to action.

German prosecutors in Munich issued arrest warrants in February for 13 Central Intelligence Agency agents for the alleged kidnapping of Khaled el-Masri, a Lebanese-born German citizen. Munich prosecutors are basing their case on evidence provided by authorities in Spain, Italy and the European Union. The German charges preceded by about a week those issued in Italy against more than two dozen CIA operatives for the alleged abduction of Hasan Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, from Milan in February 2003. The Italian trial is scheduled to begin in June. The kidnappings are part of a covert CIA programme of ‘extraordinary renditions’ in which terrorist suspects are illegally nabbed and flown to undisclosed locations for interrogations. In both cases crew members of Aero Contractors, a CIA-connected company based in North Carolina, are named as participants. According to the charges, Aero employees transported el-Masri to Egypt and Omar to Afghanistan, where they were allegedly tortured.

A report approved by the European parliament in mid-February accused the governments of Ireland, Britain, Germany, Italy, Poland and other European Union states of permitting the CIA flights to operate within their borders. Base on a 12-month investigation, the report found that Ireland allowed 147 CIA flights to use Irish airports. In addition, European investigators concluded that nine CIA kidnap victims passed through Ireland on their way to so-called ‘black sites,’ where torture was allegedly used to gain information. The report says the Government’s acceptance of US diplomatic assurances failed to protect human rights as obligated under the law. It also criticised Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern for withholding some information to the committee investigating the CIA flights.

As evidenced by the indictments and EU report, the CIA continues to operate in much of Europe. Some activities are apparently conducted in plain sight, more overt than covert. In Northern Ireland, for instance, the three-member Independent Monitoring Commission, which oversees demilitarisation of loyalist and republican factions, includes Richard J. Kerr, a retired deputy director of the CIA. Despite his espionage background, the involvement of a former top American spy doesn’t seem to raise any eyebrows in Dublin or Belfast.

Overall, however, the CIA’s current involvement in internal European affairs pales in comparison to the Cold War era.

The defeat of Nazi Germany by allied forces in 1945 set the stage for a power struggle between victors, with Britain and the US on one side and the Soviet Union on the other. In July 1947, fearing that Western European governments would fall under the influence of Soviet communism, the United States implemented a multi-billion-dollar foreign aid package – the European Recovery Plan – more commonly known as the Marshall Plan. The four-year programme, named after then-US Secretary of State George Marshall, is credited with leading the way for economic recovery in much of postwar Western Europe.

A few months later, US President Harry S Truman made another decision that would have lasting impact. He signed the National Security Act of 1947, creating the CIA.

In the autumn of 1947, the nascent intelligence agency would set a course of action that would be repeated dozens of times in years to come. To further US foreign policy objectives, the CIA would employ various proxies, including criminals, to infiltrate and ultimately subvert political parties, labor unions and other organizations. Politicians would be bought. Elections thrown. Coups engineered. Murders carried out. All in the name of democracy and freedom.

It all started in Marseilles, France.

In October 1947, the conservative mayor of Marseilles hiked public transit fares, sparking outrage among downtrodden workers. Fueled by the frustrations of postwar poverty, a Socialist-Communist coalition mounted a boycott of the city’s trams. Political tensions escalated for the next month, culminating in the events of November 12, when mass protests erupted. That afternoon Communist city councilmen were attacked at a city council meeting. In the evening, the violence spread. Gunfire wounded several demonstrators, killing one. The suspects in both the beatings and shootings were political allies of the mayor, members of the Corsican gangs that ruled the Marseilles underworld.

Brothers Antoine and Barthélemy Guerini, Marseilles leading Corsican gangsters, were arrested for the shootings, but within days charges were dropped, after police witnesses inexplicable recanted testimony. Meanwhile, Marseilles’ unions went on strike, which pushed the Confédération Génerale du Travail (CGT), France’s leftist labor affiliation, to follow suit nationwide. Millions of workers walked off the job in industries throughout France.

Marseilles’ dockworkers represented the most militant of the strikers. Their closing of the port of Marseilles threatened to derail the Marshall Plan. Moreover, in the eyes of Washington policy wonks, the French labor strife smacked of Soviet subversion. To stem the perceived red tide, the CIA called upon two leaders of the American labor movement to act in its behalf.

The CIA’s chief labor assets were Jay Lovestone of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and his top lieutenant Irving Brown. Over the next decades, the two men would use their respective positions in the international labor movement to clandestinely manipulate trade unions throughout the world.

For his part, Lovestone had perfect credentials: he helped found the Communist Party in the US. His long association with Local 22 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union provided further cover. In 1929, Lovestone and the Lovestonites, as his minions came to be known, severed ties with Moscow following an ideological dispute the previous year. By 1944, Lovestone had shucked his communist ties altogether and moved up the bureaucratic ladder to head the AFL’s rabidly anti-communist Free Trade Union Committee (FTUC), the organization’s international arm.

Marching in lockstep with Lovestone’s political reversal, Brown moved the FTUC in the same direction in Europe. To counter the 1947 general strike in France, he devised a strategy of splitting the left by pitting the socialists and communist against each other. With the cooperation of Lovestone, Brown used money diverted from the US garment workers to set up Force Ouvrière, a non-communist union in France. After Brown installed Leon Jouhaux, a French socialist as its leader, the union broke with the communist-led CGT federation. When American union dollars dried up, Brown tapped the CIA for funding.

Losing little time, the agency funneled an estimated $1 million into the French Socialist Party, allowing it leadership to orchestrate a successful campaign against the strikers. CIA largesse bought cooperation of politicians such as Marseilles Socialist Gaston Defferre and Socialist Interior Minister Jules Moch. As a result, the latter official purged communist sympathisers from the ranks of law enforcement and then sanctioned savage police attacks on the picket lines.

More importantly, the CIA helped forge a lasting alliance between the Marseilles Socialist Party and the city’s Corsican gangsters. With money and arms supplied by CIA operatives, the Corsicans harassed communist union officials, and assaulted and murdered rank-and-file unionists. Overwhelmed by the reaction, the CGT called off the strike on Dec. 9. The CIA’s arranged marriage of Marseilles’ Socialists and the Corsican underworld endured for the next 25 years.

In 1950, the CIA sealed the bond by calling on Marseilles’ Socialists and their Corsican enforcers to once more do its bidding. In January of that year, Marseilles’ dockworkers, the vanguard of French labor, ordered a selective boycott of American military cargoes bound for the French colonial war in Indochina. The CGT endorsed the boycott a month later and the shutdown quickly spread to other sectors of French industry.

To crush the labor stoppage, the CIA channeled $2 million through the US government’s Office of Policy Coordination. Brown, the CIA’s European labor asset, used some of the money to furnish Corsican strongman Pierre Ferri-Pisani with Italian strikebreakers. By mid-April the dockworkers strike had been broken.

Due to their strong-armed support of the strikebreakers, the Guerinis’ political fortunes improved immediately. Having first aided Marseilles Socialist Gaston Defferre during the resistance movement, the two brothers had now established a secure footing in his postwar municipal government. Mayor Defferre and the local Socialist Party would employ Guerini bodyguards and campaign workers for the next 17 years.

The CIA nurtured partnership also wrought unintended financial benefits for the Marseilles underworld. With the waterfront now under its domination, the Guerinis and other Corsican outfits found themselves free to pursue their most profitable venture – heroin trafficking. Within months of breaking the dockworkers strike, the port of Marseilles began manufacturing and exporting large quantities of heroin to the United States, according to the Politics of Heroin by Alfred W. McCoy. At its zenith in 1965, the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics estimated that Corsican syndicates operated as many as 24 heroin-processing plants in or around Marseilles. French traffickers smuggled nearly five tonnes of pure heroin into America that year, according to the bureau. As a consequence, US heroin addiction skyrocketed.

The French connection relied on a steady supply of raw materials: opium from Turkey and morphine from Lebanon. Once refined, heroin shipments often traveled a circuitous sea route, entering the US either through Cuba or Canada. With their political connections at home, the Guerini brothers’ had literally found a safe harbour. But for the far-flung enterprise to succeed, it needed a well-established wholesale buyer.

The American Mafia filled that role.

Honouring a request by the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), the state of New York in 1946 granted Salvatore C. ‘Lucky’ Luciano an early parole under the condition that he be deported to Sicily. The unusual clemency was based on his supposed wartime cooperation. During his incarcertion, the ONI conducted extensive interviews with the notorious Mafia chief. With his criminal partner Meyer Lansky acting as a liaison, Luciano provided leads that, according to the Navy, helped secure New York harbor and also prepare the allies for the invasion of Sicily.

After he arrived in postwar Sicily, Luciano’s innate entrepreneurial spirit led him into the narcotics trade. He swiftly cornered the market by diverting legally produced heroin, manufactured by Shiapareilli, an Italian pharmaceutical company, to the United States. When that scheme collapsed, Luciano turned to the Corsican syndicates in Marseilles, including the Guerini brothers. Lansky again acted as the Mafia don’s emininence grise, hashing out an agreement in 1951 soon after the CIA had crowned the Guerini brothers overlords of Marseilles’ waterfront. Lansky, the American mob’s financial wizard, then went to Switzerland to set up untraceable bank accounts through which to launder the drug proceeds.

The French connection, at least the Guerinis control over it, fell apart in 1967, when a gang war claimed the life of Antoine and led to the imprisonment of Barthélemy. That same year, the United States belatedly bankrolled a crackdown on Turkish opium production.

By then, however, other Corsican traffickers had begun to shift their interests to Southeast Asia, where US troops, coincidentally, had replaced French forces. Not surprisingly, the CIA would also play a prominent part there, too. In 1973, press accounts alleged that Air America, the CIA’s proprietary airline, had participated in heroin smuggling in connection to the agency’s secret war in Laos.

In modern day Europe, 60 years after the fall of Nazi Germany, the Cold War is a fading memory, but the CIA continues its misdeeds on the continent. Only the names and faces of the enemy have changed. The communist ‘menace’ of the former Soviet Union has been replaced by the so-called ‘war on terror.’

In this new era, though, the agency no longer commands the dominant position it once did. Across the breath of Europe there has been an undeniable shift in public perception and political power. Italy, Germany and other European Union states are now demanding respect for their individual sovereignty and adherence to the rule of law. Despite this, the US is not expected to approve the extradition of the CIA agents wanted for kidnapping. The accused may, nevertheless, be tried in absentia, setting the stage for a spectacle that would further damage America’s tarnished reputation abroad.

When it comes to ‘Old Europe,’ the US may have better served its geo-political interests if it had chosen to honour its elders.