On the uses of state terrorism

State terrorism is the use of state violence against innocent civilians to create fear in pursuit of a political objective. It has been called the ugly side of imperialism (now correctly called "globalization"). It sometimes promotes submission of nations to the domination by occupation or otherwise of the terrorist state. There are two varieties, overt and covert. Prior to the 1930s, the overt variety was frowned on in Western societies as supposedly repulsive to the civilized mind. But with the advent of aerial bombing and missiles and their fearsome payload possibilities, these scruples were overcome. Early examples of successful overt state terrorism were the 1937 bombing of Guernica and the 1945 atomic snuffing out of hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese lives in a matter of minutes, which some credit as causing the Japanese empire to dissolve and its rulers and people to submit to foreign occupation.

However, non-nuclear overt state terrorism has frequently been unsuccessful, since it often produces a reaction of retaliation rather than simple fear and submission. Examples are the 1940 Luftwaffe bombing of London, the 1969-72 napalming of large areas of Vietnam, and the 2003 "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad. A key factor in the failure or success of state terrorism seems to be the liberation-domination dichotomy, that is, the need of all peoples for autonomy.

Hence the continuing use of covert state terrorism as the preferred violent method of advancing the neo-liberal global project. However, covert terrorism also has its difficulties and there are many examples of these to be found by reading the Covert Action Quarterly. Supposedly we Americans by our so-called representatives have authorized our US Central Intelligence Agency to use violence covertly to create fear and submission in pursuit of our rulers’ objectives. Although our so-called representatives have oversight over CIA conduct, they seem to be constantly ignorant or surprised by what eventually is brought into the public realm by conscience-stricken agents or eventual forced publication of their undestroyed reports.

Civilian airliners carry people, and their destruction in flight is one way to covertly create fear and submission by others. But the problem with covert state terrorism, in addition to the liberation-domination question, is keeping it secret. A distance must be created between the CIA project and its intended consequence (the fear necessary to produce submission).

In the event some connection later becomes evident, the public must be made to accept the difficult proposition that the organization is not responsible for the actions it directs or encourages its agents to do. In this situation, like all our governmental projects, covert terrorism becomes primarily a marketing or public relations issue, but this also has its limit in rationality. Former agents are often put in a position where they can effectively use extortion against the organization to benefit themselves personally. A case in point is that of the CIA covert bombing of a Cubana airliner on October 6, 1976, killing 73 innocent civilians in an unsuccessful effort to create fear and submission by the Cuban nation.

CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles had been trained by CIA in explosives in the early 1960s. He was ostensibly in the US military, February 1963 to March 1964, which was the cover CIA gave its training agents then. During the 1960s, as a salaried agent he ran a school in Florida training others in his trade, financed by CIA. He also did forays to other countries to do covert bombings and assassinations. When in 1974 left Florida for Caracas to work for the Venezuelan intelligence agency DISIP, he had with him a substantial supply of CIA bomb-making materials and explosive devices. In the fall of 1976 he had supposedly left DISIP and was operating a private detective agency in Caracas.

Recently released, partially blacked out CIA reports (see National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 153, Peter Kornbluh) suggest that the October 6 Cubana bombing was a joint CIA-DISIP project and CIA was involved in the planning. The reports refer to meetings in early September in Caracas and Santo Domingo involving Posada and his partner Orlando Bosch and other CIA and DISIP agents, at which discussions were held about Cubana flights as well as former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier. (The Letelier car bombing murders occurred in Washington, DC in mid-September.) In late September Posada (described as "informant") reported to CIA: “We’re going to hit the Cubana airliner.” On October 1, the State Department — at Posada’s request and under special procedure — issued a US visa for the week of the bombing to one of the men who placed the bomb (a Posada employee). The other Posada employee (who later confessed they placed the Posada made bomb on the plane under Posada’s direction) had a secret CIA Caracas telephone number in his belongings when arrested in Trinidad the day of the bombing, after sending a message to Bosch: "A bus went off the cliff and 73 dogs died." These reports and information (and whatever other CIA reports and information still existed) were not made available to the Venezuelan officials who were prosecuting Bosch and Posada in the 1980s.

No one warned Cuba or potential passengers of the impending attack. George Bush, Sr., was the CIA Director at the time of the bombing. He was Vice President when Posada was allowed to escape from jail during his trial in Venezuela (CIA bribed the guards) and report to Col. Oliver North in El Salvador to work on the Nicaraguan Contra supply operation being run out of the White House. He was President when he pardoned Bosch against the recommendation of his own Justice Department, thereby harboring him in Miami.

In 1976 CIA was aware the Bush family had important connections in the oil business and was dealing with key politicians in Venezuela. Jeb Bush (now governor of Florida) was establishing himself in Caracas with the Commerce Bank of Texas, owned by Bush family friend (later Secretary of State) James Baker. When Bosch arrived in Caracas on September 8, 1976, after a visit with Pinochet officials in Chile, then Venezuelan President Perez allowed Bosch and Posada to conduct fundraising and otherwise operate freely in Venezuela, even contributing personal funds to their projects. At the time, Bosch was head of CORU, a new umbrella organization of violent anti-Castro groups in US which CIA at Bush, Sr.’s suggestion had urged them to form.

In custody after the Cubana bombing, Posada threatened CIA that if he were forced to talk, the Venezuelan government would go down the tube and the US would have another Watergate. Indeed, there are signs that another Watergate type cover-up is beginning, spawned by Posada’s resurfacing in the US and the declassification of some of the CIA reports after more than 28 years. Homeland Security has charged Posada with not reporting immediately to them, a simple matter which could be settled by a small fine. However, it’s been set for hearing on June 13 and Posada’s Miami lawyers are talking about filing motions to move the case to Miami, filing asylum petitions and other such delaying tactics. From Secretary of State Rice’s May 21 statement, one would think that the Homeland immigration cases will go on for many months and she has no extradition obligation until they’re over.

There’s no valid reason why Posada should not be extradited to Venezuela now. The present Bush Administration well knows who is responsible for bombing the Cubana flight. It doesn’t need to wait for Venezuela to produce or translate the evidence, much of which must be in still classified CIA files. Nor is there any valid reason to wait while lawyers mess around with Homeland’s illegal entry claim or any asylum claim Posada might make.

On May 27 Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega said that Venezuela’s extradition request for Posada had been rejected as inadequate because unsupported by evidence. But the US Embassy in Caracas had told Venezuela to translate the 700 pages of evidence (without any time limit), and on May 27 said it is still ready to receive the request. It’s also now put a time limit on the submission of the translated evidence, which Venezuela says it is complying with.

Washington had previously denied Venezuela’s request to keep Posada in custody pending extradition. As things stand now, according to Washington there is no Venezuelan extradition request, which if true might allow them to try to justify harboring Posada in a country like El Salvador where he presumably could be kept from talking, or even disappearing him under the Witness Protection Program or otherwise. Washington has already induced or pressured Salvadoran officials to start preparing their own extradition request.

These partial solutions, however, will not be risk-free. This case demonstrates the kind of cover-up problems that can arise from covert state terrorism — it can backfire in the public relations arena. Deft maneuvering by Washington may keep CIA involvement under wraps for a while, but eventually the truth will out. So far the public outcry is primarily in other countries, where the mass media’s are somewhat less controlled by the corporate oligarchies. But more and more American reporters and people are starting to demand that Posada be tried in Venezuela, where the Cubana crime was committed, and that CIA open its files on the matter.