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Joe Biden: Protector of the Deep State

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Kamala Harris surged in the polls after attacking frontrunner Joe Biden during the first Democratic Party debate for opposing federal busing programs in the 1970s that were designed to desegregate public schools. Bernie Sanders in the debate also criticized Biden’s support for the Iraq War. Left overlooked, however, were some other skeleton’s in “lunch bucket” Joe’s closet, including his history of advancing the interests of the “deep state.”

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Biden sat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which was established upon recommendation of the 1975/1976 Pike committee to provide “vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States to assure that such activities are in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Biden himself admitted that the Senate Intelligence Committee failed at this latter task, telling The New York Times in 1982 that its performance was “barely adequate. There is a lack of prudent and consistent oversight…. and a willingness to accept blanket findings and to give indefinite approval for conducting operations.”

With the Vietnam anti-war movement going strong, the slick young Biden had supported a 1974 bill that called for banning all covert operations. Sensing which way the political winds were blowing, Biden, however, told the Senate Committee in 1976 that he had “no illusions about Soviet intentions and capabilities in the world” and expressed agreement with neoconservative Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) that “isolationism was a dangerous and naïve foundation upon which to rest our foreign policy or the intelligence community which must serve that policy.”

By the 1980s, Biden was supporting increases in intelligence and counterintelligence funding after Jimmy Carter had tried to cut the CIA’s staff by a third. In 1980, he voted to approve as Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) William Casey, a staunch anticommunist who ramped up covert arms supplies to the Afghan mujahidin, Nicaraguan Contras and Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA forces in Angola. While opposing the Contras use of terrorism and the FBIs illegal surveillance of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), Biden supported Reagan’s War on Terrorism, whose double-standards were significant, and was a staunch proponent of the War on Drugs, even though he reviewed DEA reports on the illicit drug trade which would have pointed to the corruption of CIA allies.

In 1978, Biden helped to write the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which permitted electronic surveillance by the President to acquire foreign intelligence information for a period of up to one year without a court order and sanctioned secret court proceedings.

A year earlier, Biden had been part of a joint investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research, chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), on unethical government drug testing programs during the early Cold War.

One of the witnesses was Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the CIAs “Dr. Death” who had spearheaded the Operation MK-ULTRA in which Lysergic Acid Diamelythide (LSD) was given to unwitting human guinea pigs as part of an effort to develop novel interrogation methods.

Gottlieb was asked about Dr. Frank Olson, a CIA biochemist at the army biological warfare center at Ft. Detrick Maryland and member of the CIAs Special Operations Division (SOD), who was thought to be a victim of MK-ULTRA. In November 1953, Olson was allegedly given LSD at a CIA retreat, and after a bad reaction, jumped to his death from the 13th floor of the Statler Hotel in New York City.

Forensics investigation, however, later determined that the cause of Olson’s death was blunt force trauma to the head. According to researcher Hank Albarelli Jr., two CIA hatchet men snuck into his hotel room through a side door and threw Olson out of the window while framing his death as a drug-induced suicide.

At the 1977 hearing, Dr. Robert Lashbrook, Olson’s hotel roommate and SOD colleague, committed perjury. Neither Biden nor his colleagues, however, challenged him in any way. The same was true of Dr. Gottlieb who perjured himself after being granted legal immunity in exchange for his testimony. Senator Edward Kennedy, the “liberal lion” concluded that his hearings “closed the book on this sorry chapter [the Olson affair]” which was framed as a “tragic accident.” The book was anything but closed though, and it was not an accident, but likely state sponsored murder of a man who threatened to blow the whistle on state secrets.

Biden should be judged as part of a generation of lawmakers who failed to reign in the “deep state.” Joe’s conversion from an opponent to a protector of the CIA in the 1970s set the groundwork for his Vice Presidency – and would do so for his presidency.

In the 2009 debate over the “surge” in Afghanistan, Biden characteristically wanted a small troop increase and more air strikes and drone attacks – the approach favored by the CIA. Biden also supported the CIA’s operations in Libya, Ukraine, Honduras, Venezuela and Syria, and backed the expansion of the private military industry under Obama, which is heavily dominated by the CIA.

In the next debate, Joe’s sparring partners should call him out for his dubious record on foreign policy and vow to work to curtail the power of the Executive Branch and “deep state.” This would mark them as the real people’s choice.

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Jeremy Kuzmarov is the author of The Russians are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce (Monthly Review Press, 2018). 

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