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December 23, 2007

The CIA and the Drug War: a lesson in denial

As so often happens, the best topics to blog about are often suggested by the day’s news or by items airing on TV. Saturday (yesterday) was no exception: the History Channel ran The True Story of Charlie Wilson, which it billed as an authentic version of the same story told in the a just-released movie starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I’d already been quite familiar with that plot since I first heard a discussion by George Crile of his book in 2003; but my information had come from a quite different source: Alfred McCoy’s earlier and studiously neglected Politics of Heroin originally published in 1974 over the objections of the CIA, and later updated by McCoy himself to include the Agency’s involvement with the illegal drug trade in Central America and Afghanistan during the Eighties.

So, although I saw, Crile’s book as a very readable addition to the story first reported by McCoy, it seemed that by emphasizing the defeat of the Soviet Union as a blessing and the CIA as buffoons who hadn’t seen the the benefits implicit in arming the Mujihedeen, Crile himself, had appeared willing to tell only part of the truth. Unfortunately, he has since succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 61.

Beyond that, one of the phenomena that had struck me most about the appallingly dishonest Dark Alliance episode had been the obdurate refusal of the three pillars of American Journalism that eventually drove Gary Webb to suicide never once referred McCoy’s very credible account. As with so many similar episodes of feigned blindness, it’s the failure to mention the obvious that becomes so incriminating. If one is struck by the frequency with which certain themes have been recurring in the history of the CIA since its creation from the OSS in 1947: graft, corruption dishonesty, incompetence, and the often devastating unintended consequences of earlier “success” (Blowback), one has also to be struck by the degree to which the same characteristics have been shared by the war on drugs and the frequency with which both agencies have interacted in ways the rest of the government, the press, and many of our key institutions seem intent on not noticing.

In other words, the CIA-ONDCP interaction which has itself been stead evolving into a ripening Conspiracy Theory since the end of World War Two has also required the same suspension of disbelief enjoyed by many other institutions, some of which we rely on for protection of our financial markets, our ecology and our health.

The key questions then become: to what degree is man’s penchant for denial of obvious cognitive dissonance an intrinsic part of our nature; and to what degree has it already set our species up for disaster?

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at December 23, 2007 07:44 PM