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The similarities between the Phoenix Program and the OHS are obvious, and with its computerized database of terrorist suspects, Phoenix is certainly the organizational model for an OHS-style counter-terror program based on “intelligence coordination and exploitation.” 3
But as everyone is aware, the threat of radical Islamic terrorism is not comparable to the insurgency in Vietnam. In that case America rushed to defend a hapless ally, thousands of miles away, much as we did in Kuwait. In the present situation, the OHS has been created to defend us from terrorists on our own turf. Its counter-terror function is equivalent to that of providing internal security, in so far as the Bush Administration defines “internal security” in political terms.
Historically, and ironically, the U.S. Government considered Native Americans as our homeland’s first domestic terrorists, and various methods were devised to deal with the threat, such as the distribution of blankets infected with smallpox.
Abolitionists, whether peaceful or violent like John Brown, also were regarded as terrorists, and for decades the reactionary right wing of American civilization, and its unreconstructed representatives in the government (many of whom still hold office), regarded the Ku Klux Klan as a legitimate means of countering the terror of Emancipation. Indeed, until today, the reactionary right wing still considers a “genuine” American to be an active proponent of this ideology, with its repulsive mix of racial purity, patriotism, and Christian fundamentalism, with its divine savior nailed to the cross, a symbol of the spiritual terror that enabled our Founding Fathers to rationalize slavery in the land of free and the home of brave.
Segregation persisted as unstated policy, and by the late 19th Century, organized labor had emerged as our homeland’s new breed of domestic political terrorists; and after private police forces proved ineffective in eliminating the unions, the U.S. Government created the FBI to nullify the threat labor posed to its Robber Baron patrons. The FBI quickly established that foreigners (mostly Jews, Bolsheviks and immigrants with no rightful claim to America as their “homeland”) were controlling the labor movement. Over the years Communists replaced Bolshevists, and eventually Civil Rights and Anti-War activists were added to the hit list of domestic terrorists–all of which brings us the FBI’s notorious Counter Intelligence Program.
Created in the late 1950s, COINTELPRO was designed to neutralize “radical” political movements inside the U.S. In its attempt to provide decent Americans with “internal security,” the FBI employed agent provocateurs, conducted burglaries, engaged in black propaganda (disinformation), fraud, and perhaps in the case of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and several other black leaders, outright assassination. 4
But COINTELPRO failed to neutralize America’s Anti-War and Civil Rights insurgency, and by 1967, President Johnson and the FBI were sensing the presence of foreign intelligence agencies. And the mere fear that the KGB was directing the Anti-War and Civil Rights movements provided the FBI with the pretext to enlist the CIA in domestic intelligence operations. The precipitating event was a February 1967 expose in Ramparts magazine, which revealed that the CIA had suborned the leadership of the National Student Association. The exposure of this illegal CIA domestic activity prompted even moderate students to join and support radical, alternative organizations like the Students for a Democratic Society. The Anti-War movement blossomed like never before.
The Ramparts revelation, and the resulting surge in anti-establishment activities, was deemed to be a Soviet provocation, and confirmed the FBI’s suspicions that foreign agitators were fueling the Anti-War and Civil Rights movements, so Johnson ordered the CIA to investigate Robert Scheer, the author of the Ramparts article. Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms gave the job to veteran CIA officer Richard Ober, a Harvard graduate (1943), World War II veteran, and member of the CIA’s counter-intelligence staff. And thus came Operation Chaos–which, with its counterpart organizations in the Justice Department and White House, enabled the CIA and political ideologues to get involved in “internal security” operations such as will be conducted by the OHS. 5
Ober’s Counter-Intelligence, Special Operations Group (CI/SOG), codenamed MHCHAOS, was created in August 1967, concurrent with the Phoenix Program (and for a similar purpose), and existed until March 1974. Its initial mission, ostensibly on behalf of the FBI, was to collect intelligence information on radical domestic political groups, to discover if they were being manipulated by foreign intelligence agencies.
To coordinate Chaos and COINTELPRO operations, Johnson’s attorney general, Ramsay Clark, created the Interdepartmental Intelligence Unit (IDIU) within the Justice Department’s Internal Security Division. Ober became the CIA’s representative on the IDIU, which (like the OHS) was managed by senior members from the White House staff. In other words, from its inception, CIA intelligence information on dissidents was reported to people whose primary interest was in politics, not internal security.
Upon assuming office in January 1969, President Nixon immediately grasped the partisan political potential of the IDIU, which he moved under the Civil Rights Division. In June 1969, through his advisor on Domestic Affairs, John Dean–and Dean’s youthful assistant, Tom Huston–Nixon directed Ober to engage Chaos in covert actions against dissidents. Ober was assigned a deputy and a case officer whose names remain secret until today. The deputy and the case officer moved into Ober’s suite of offices in a vault in the basement at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Among the rooms was a library where files were kept and where slides of suspects and potential recruits were viewed. Several female CIA officers managed the precious, super secret Chaos files.
Central to Chaos was its super-secrecy. Assignment to CI/SOG was considered a “command performance,” and security was commensurate with the responsibility. Ober, at the direction of his immediate supervisor, Counter-Intelligence Chief James Angleton, devised a communications system exclusively for Chaos cables and couriers to overseas stations. These “back-channels” by-passed the geographical division chiefs and reached right into the stations, to trusted counter-intelligence officers. In some cases Chaos by-passed the station chiefs, and corresponded directly with its unilateral assets and representatives in a country. Chaos “traffic” carried the highest security classification, was restricted only to those involved in the operation (as were Chaos files), and was inaccessible even to the CIA’s top administrators, often for their own protection.
Based on names provided by the FBI (and the CIA’s Offices of Security, Domestic Contacts, Foreign Resources, and Domestic Operations 6 ) the Chaos case officer in October 1969 began recruiting double agents from within the Black Power and Anti-War movements. The case officer approached only those people with “radical” credentials. Only those who proved trustworthy (some were polygraphed, others given psychological assessments) were recruited. Recruits were given a training course in the clandestine arts, supplied with the proper technical equipment and sufficient funds, sheep-dipped (meaning their records were falsified), and then sent overseas. The case officer referred to his 40-50 double agents as “dangles,” because their job was to operate as a dissident normally would, and hope that a foreign intelligence agent would make an approach.
With the approval of Nixon’s National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, the Pentagon joined in the counter-terror effort through a secret committee formed under the aforementioned Tom Huston, and began leveling requirements on the Chaos unit. The Pentagon was intent on tracking deserters, and gathering information on foreign nationals who were attempting to persuade American soldiers to desert from military bases in Germany. Chaos dangles were sent to North Vietnam, North Africa and Cuba, and one Chaos agent, possibly Timothy Leary, was launched against Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria.
Here it is important to remember that Bush has granted the CIA unprecedented freedom to coordinate with law enforcement and military officials, through the OHS. Previous restrictions on CIA domestic operations have been waived. As Bob Woodward reported in the 21 October Washington Post, CIA covert action is now a key element in defending America from terrorist attacks. Every day the CIA provides the Bush Administration’s top national security and intelligence officials–including OHS Director Tom Ridge–with current intelligence on possible bombings, hijackings or poisonings within the U.S. But other than the anthrax outbreak, which appears to be the work of the radical right, none of the threats has materialized, and there is no way of knowing if, as the CIA is wont to do, the anthrax outbreak has been manufactured for purely political and psychological warfare reasons.
It also is likely that the CIA, on behalf of the OHS, will start sprinkling Chaos-type dangles overseas, and within the United States, to tempt terrorists into exposing themselves. It is a chilling prospect, but these dangles may exist only on paper, with the sole purpose of contriving reasons to launch counter-terror operations against opponents of Bush Administration policy. Hundreds of businesses and institutions across the country have already been placed on the CIA’s watch list. According to Woodward, one Bush official said that merely being on the list “could destroy the livelihood of all those organizations without a bomb being thrown or a spore of anthrax being released.”
Loss of livelihood is perhaps the heaviest psychological hammer a security agency can hold over a middle class American’s head. But that’s what it’s come down to.
You Don’t Need A Weatherman
Incidental to their role as dangles designed to entrap foreign agents, Chaos agents reported on U.S. citizens. A folder, or hard file, was created for each suspected dissident the CIA targeted. The folder contained the dissident’s 201 “personality” file, as well as Situation Reports about his or her radical activities. The 201 file included every scrap of biographical information about the person, from arrest records to report cards to surreptitious photos taken of the person with other suspects. Some 7-10,000 hard files were eventually assembled.
In May 1970, Chaos chief Richard Ober starting entering the information from his index cards and hard files onto IBM cards, and compiling them in a data base codenamed HYDRA, which ultimately contained the names of some 300,000 people. HYDRA was developed at the same time as the Phoenix computer system in Vietnam. A mail intercept program codenamed HTLINGUAL also was part of the Chaos operation.
Thirty years later, far more sophisticated databases exist in the United States, and so much information is already available on every American citizen, that a computerized, national ID card system isn’t required to keep track of everyone. But the on-going anthrax scare, which may be a CIA provocation, could serve as the pretext to institute, under the OHS, a mail intercept program similar to HTLINGUAL. And OHS Director Tom Ridge already has a deputy, “cyber security expert” Richard Clarke, to monitor and ultimately censor all politically incorrect Internet information.
As is well known, the paranoid Nixon Administration–whose ideology is compatible with Bush’s–was ruthless in the application of its executive authority to attack its domestic political “enemies” under the aegis of national security. To this end, the Nixon Administration formed the IDIU’s secret Intelligence Evaluation Committee in December 1970 under Robert Mardian, the assistant attorney general in charge of Internal Security. Mardian reported directly to Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell. A major player in Nixon’s illegal political and fundraising schemes, Mitchell was sentenced for his Watergate crimes in February 1975.
Bush’s right wing attorney general, John Ashcroft, will be a major player at OHS, and can be expected to play the same partisan political role for Bush as Mitchell played for Nixon. Indeed, it is evident from the records of the 1975 Report by the President’s Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States that Chaos agents, at the behest of White House officials, operated domestically, illegally, and that Chaos operations were directed against non-violent dissidents, including Daniel Ellsberg, the Berrigan Brothers, Tom Hayden, and others. Many of these activists had important political connections, and by association, Left politicians came under Chaos scrutiny. The coverage was vast, and in order to advance policies he wished to keep secret from the secretaries of State and Defense, Kissinger kept close track of the most critical Chaos operations, especially agent operations that might impact his secret peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese.
One of Chaos’ most important agents played a critical though undisclosed role at the May 1971 anti-war demonstrations in Washington. DC. And at least one Chaos agent may have been involved in the Watergate scandal that brought down Nixon.
Yes, by 1971 Ober and the Chaos unit were working for Nixon’s secret team of political dirty tricksters, the infamous Plumbers. Master Plumber G. Gordon Liddy, a deranged former FBI agent with a penchant for eating live rats, actually leveled requirements on Ober at the Intelligence Evaluation Committee. Before Liddy and his partner in crime, CIA officer E. Howard Hunt, were imprisoned for burglarizing the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, they directed Ober to spy on members of other government agencies, as well as on Nixon’s political and bureaucratic “enemies”.
Ober, who died earlier this year, is thought to have reacted negatively to this ultimate violation of the Constitution, and at least one researcher has suggested that he may have been Woodward’s Deep Throat. But there’s never any guarantee that any CIA officer will ever break ranks, and the threat of Nixon-style abuses loom large under the OHS and the illegitimate Bush Administration, with its fascist ideology and unprecedented, dictatorial emergency powers.
The Shell Game
Incredible power was concentrated in the Chaos office. Ober was the CIA’s liaison to the National Commission on Civil Disorders and to the Ginsburg Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. He was the CIA’s liaison to the protean Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, and to the Special Services units (Red Squads) of America’s major metropolitan police departments. He reported directly to DCI Richard Helms (later convicted of lying to Congress about the CIA’s major role in the violent coup that toppled the elected government of Chile, and resulted in the torture and murder of thousands of Leftists), and he sat on the Huston Committee, which was chaired by FBI Counter Intelligence chief William C. Sullivan (assassinated in 1977). 7
However, by mid-1972, CIA Executive Director William E. Colby was concerned that revelations of illegal CIA domestic political activities, on behalf of the Nixon Administration, might destroy the Agency. The big problem was Ober’s association with rat-eater Liddy and his partner in crime, CIA officer Howard Hunt, and it is probably not a coincidence that the Chaos “case officer” was reassigned concurrently with the 17 June 1972 arrest of the five Watergate buggers. The IDIU was dissolved six months later.
By September 1973, Colby was the new Director of Central Intelligence, and had prepared a list of the CIA’s “family jewels,” an array of illegal domestic activities–now legal under the Bush Administration–which Colby felt should be revealed. The abuses included spying on politicians and government agencies, helping other agencies conduct domestic surveillance, and following U.S. citizens abroad. Colby blamed counter-intelligence chief James Angleton for the public relations disaster, and forced his retirement, amid much bitterness and rancor.
But Colby’s “limited hangout” and scapegoating of Angleton were part of a clever shell game, and the Chaos staff continued to conduct name traces, and follow dissidents abroad, and respond to FBI and military requirements. Everything was exactly the same as before, including the ultra-secure communications system and restricted filing system, except now it was acceptable because it was done under the aegis of counter-terrorism.
Colby started the ball rolling in July 1972, when he assigned Ober a second job as Chief of the CIA’s newly created International Terrorism Group (ITG). Ober told the Rockefeller Commission that his new responsibility was “setting up and running a central program” within the CIA of information on international terrorism and hijackings, and very possibly the penetration of terrorist training camps in Algeria, Cuba and other enemy states. The ITG also kept track of homeland-based black militants and white racists with international terror connections. ITG reports were, like Chaos reports, were sent to Kissinger at the National Security Council.
Ober’s appointment as chief of ITG coincided with the establishment of Nixon’s Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism, the first U.S. Government entity of its kind. But even after the official termination of Chaos in March 1974, the ITG continued to exist in the same suite of offices in the same vault in the CIA’s basement.
In March 1974 Ober was assigned other duties and a new ITG chief (not named in the Rockefeller Commission Report) was assigned. The second ITG chief (perhaps Lawrence K. White), had no deputy or case officer, and was assisted by approximately ten female file clerks in what is described as basically an “analytical” capacity. But ITG operations still relied on the Chaos folders and computer tapes, which were maintained and updated. As of 1975, despite the recommendations of several Congressional Committees, no Chaos files had been destroyed, because the CIA could not adequately define a “dissident.”
Senior CIA officer John Ryan became the third ITG chief in April 1975 and served until 1977, when he was replaced by veteran CIA officer Howard Bane.
While Chaos was evolving into the CIA’s International Terrorism Group, the Phoenix Program–which did not expire with South Vietnam in April 1975–was being employed as the model for a worldwide anti-terrorism unit in the CIA’s paramilitary Special Operations Division (SOD). Its main proponents, all veterans of the Phoenix Program, had climbed the corporate ladder and were in positions to turn their monster loose on all mankind.
Colby, the “father” of Phoenix and its staunchest defender before Congressional Hearings in 1970 and 1971, appointed his close friend, Evan Parker (the first Phoenix Director) as chief of the SOD in 1973. Parker awarded CIA officer Robert Wall (self-described as the “grandfather” of Phoenix, for his pioneering work on a pilot program in 1966) the first “terrorism account,” and then began reorganizing the SOD to fight Communist insurgencies, using the Phoenix anti-terrorism model.8
The CIA’s resident counter-terrorists found willing allies, invariably fascist military dictators, around the world, and gladly taught them how to terrorize entire nations into submission, through the arcane art of political and psychological warfare. Perhaps the CIA’s greatest success, in this regard, was achieved in the midst of the Watergate scandal, under the supervision of Kissinger, Colby, and the CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division chief, Theodore Shackley.
Donald Freed in Death In Washington (p 83-84) describes the CIA’s covert action that resulted in the bloody right-wing military coup in Chile September 1973. Devised by the CIA’s resident “black propaganda” expert, David Atlee Phillips, the plan used “classic depth psychology and behavior modification techniques to program individual Chileans toward a destiny of victims or executioners. The CIA aim was to “serialize” and atomize the Chilean people by using psychological terror to fractionate what had been growing popular unity behind (Allende’s) government.” Freed explains that, “Under the CIA program the middle classes had to be organized to “save freedom,” the military to impose temporary controls, the workers to give up their drive for power.”
The centerpiece of the CIA’s Track II plan to overthrow the elected government of Chile, by terrorizing the middle class through incredible acts of violence, was the widespread publication of pictures of a man who was allegedly “quartered” by radical leftists–but who in fact was mutilated by the CIA’s proxies in the Chilean secret service, DINA.
This ability to commit the most horrific acts of terror, and successfully blame them on its enemies through black propaganda, is what makes the CIA’s inclusion in the OHS so dangerous. This one-two punch, in conjunction with the CIA’s expertise at “provoked responses” and “false flag recruitments,” also makes the CIA itself a prime suspect in the terror attacks of 11 September, and the current propaganda campaign being waged in America now, as a pretext to threaten terror against the Bush Administration’s domestic political opponents, as well as to win support from the terrified middle class for the illegitimate Bush regime.
Douglas Valentine writes frequently for CounterPunch. He is the author of The Phoenix Program, the only comprehensive account of the CIA’s torture and assassination operation in Vietnam, as well as TDY a chilling novel about the CIA and the drug trade.