Thanks to the investigative reporting of journalists such as Greg Palast, more evidence of a coordinated effort to disenfranchise tens of thousands of registered voters (mostly African American) is surfacing in Florida. When these reports are considered within the context of police roadblocks, cases of intimidation, and possible large-scale voter fraud and ballot tampering, fears of an orchestrated dirty election become more substantiated.
There is another aspect of the 2000 election in Florida that remains largely untouched, however: the possibility of a domestic covert intelligence operation designed to make certain that America didn't go Democratic "due to the irresponsibility of its own people," to paraphrase Henry Kissinger's remark concerning overthrowing the democratically elected government in Chile.
Perhaps the possibility of such an operation in the US is too far-fetched to take seriously, or perhaps there isn't enough evidence to proceed with documenting such suspicions. Unfortunately, history proves that the former assumption is naive (Watergate, Iran-Contra, and documented CIA activities against US citizens come immediately to mind). Regarding evidence, it's the nature of the covert beast to leave no fingerprints and smoking guns behind (unless you're setting up a patsy). However, if you can't find a corpse laying around, the stench in the air can often reveal, nonetheless, that a murder victim's body is covered up somewhere nearby.
What follows here is not an expose of how a CIA-backed coup in Florida helped kill the democratic process in November. It is an effort, however, to draw attention to the disturbing stink surrounding events in the 2000 election that are similar to known CIA actions that thwarted democracy in other countries, namely Guatemala in the 1950s and Chile in 1973. To avoid the appearance of "conspiracy theorizing" on my part, I've limited the information presented here to what can be verified. I have also limited the focus of this survey to very broad similarities. Many others connections exist and warrant further investigation (such as claims that former CIA/FBI agent Charles Kane, who was involved in possible absentee ballot tampering in Florida, played a role in the Bay of Pigs invasion and CIA coups and dirty tricks around the world. He allegedly retired in the mid-'70s and would have been employed during the Agency's heyday of covert operations).
Hopefully, this general overview will help prompt others to conduct a more thorough look into murky activities that, taken as a whole, suggest the spirit of CIA-Coups-Past may have paid an unwelcome visit last November to Florida.
By placing these facts within the larger historical context of CIA coup activity, many of the baffling events transpiring in Florida last year begin to make some sense. The same players (CIA, powerful corporations, rightwing militarists), the same motives (preserving economic/political power), and even the same tactics (armed violence, fortunately, being one exception) begin to emerge that suggest some unpleasant connections among them.
For easier comparison, I break down these similarities according to coup patterns in Guatemala, Chile, and Florida. Unless otherwise noted, the information here is from David Halberstam's excellent book, The Fifties, and from the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (Church Report).
Guatemala: Prior to the legitimate election of Jacobo Arbenz to the presidency in the early '50s, United Fruit Company controls most of the country's land, economy, and politics. The land reform policies that Arbenz wants to implement, which would redistribute United Fruit-controlled land to Guatemalans, threaten United Fruit's economic interests and political power in the region. United Fruit has close ties to powerful figures in America, including Allen Dulles (Director of the CIA) and his brother Foster (Secretary of State). The Dulles brothers and others portray Arbenz as a communist threat and convince President Eisenhower that a coup is in America's best interest.
Chile: Despite CIA covert efforts to defeat him, socialist Salvador Allende is elected as president in 1970. His plan to nationalize Chilean industries poses a direct threat to the reactionary Nixon Administration and the multinational corporate interests it represents. Prior to Allende's election, the CIA spent years and millions of dollars waging a propaganda war to maintain a US/corporate-friendly government in Chile. After the election, the Agency is instrumental in implementing Henry Kissinger's desire to thwart Allende's policies and in supporting a military coup being planned by General Augusto Pinochet.
Florida: Strategically important in the CIA's covert war against Cuba (and other troublespots throughout Central and South America), Florida has been home to CIA mercenary training camps since at least the '50s (such as one in Opa-Locka).
There is also an interesting Bush connection to Florida (apart from Jeb Bush holding the state's governorship). According to a report in The Nation, days after the Kennedy assassination in 1963 a memo from J. Edgar Hoover stated that a "Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency" had been briefed regarding the reaction of anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Miami to the murder. Although George H.W. Bush claims the name he shares with the "Mr. George Bush of the CIA" is coincidental, a source for the story observed: "I know [Bush] was involved in the Caribbean. I know he was involved in the suppression of things after the Kennedy assassination. There was a very definite worry that some Cuban groups were going to move against Castro and attempt to blame it on the CIA." (see Joseph McBride, "'George Bush,' CIA Operative," The Nation, July 16/23, 1988, p. 42).
What follows is a very general review of similar interests and organizations
involved in some manner in Guatemala,
Chile, and Florida.
CIA: Director Allen Dulles is a key player in organizing the coup.
Multinational: United Fruit Company is known as "el pulpo" ("the octopus") because of its pervasive influence over so many facets of the country.
Rightwing Militarists Takeover: A reactionary military junta is installed after the coup, fronted by the CIA-selected Carlos Enrique Castillo Armas. The junta is responsible for the mass murder of dissidents and years of brutal repression.
CIA: For a detailed analysis of widespread US covert activities in Chile, see the Church Report.
Multinationals: "In addition to providing information and cover to the CIA, multinational corporations also participated in covert attempts to influence Chilean politics." Church Report. Among the corporations actively opposed to Allende's election and his socialist experiment were ITT, Pepsi-Cola, and the Chase Manhattan Bank.
Rightwing Militarists Takeover: With CIA support and the blessings of the Nixon Administration, General Augusto Pinochet establishes a brutal and reactionary military junta after the coup. As in Guatemala, the junta is repressive and responsible for the mass murder of dissidents (including Americans Charles Horman and Frank Terrugi, both of whom were tortured and executed. According to a US State Department memo dated August 25, 1976, the CIA "may have played an unfortunate part" in both deaths. See http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/19991008/01-04.htm).
CIA: At least one "former" CIA operative (Charles Kane) is implicated in shady activities during the Florida election. The attorney for those investigating Kane's involvement in tampering with absentee ballots said Kane's efforts were part of a "sinister underground conspiracy." ("Florida Official Admits Helping GOP," Associated Press, December 7, 2000).
Multinationals: Oil, insurance, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, etc., all have concerns about a Gore presidency and its potential for regulatory activism. These corporations are eager to bring "business special interests into politics so they can take over the regulatory bodies of government and regulate themselves. ("America in the Grip of Bush's 'Iron Triangle,'" The Observer, December 3, 2000).
Rightwing Militarists Takeover: The Bush Administration has established "itself as the most brazenly rightwing of modern times. As the ecstatic head of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation enthuses, the new crowd are 'more Reaganite than the Reagan administration.'" (The Guardian, April 25, 2001). Among the appointments Bush has made are Cold Warriors (e.g., Donald Rumsfield), old Iran/Contra characters and intelligence operatives (e.g., John Negroponte and Otto Reich; see The Nation, May 7, 2001: "Lie to the Media, Get a Job," by Eric Alterman).
Media Manipulation/Reality Distortion
Guatemala: CIA "deftly created a fictional war over the airwaves, one in which the government troops faltered and refused to fight and in which the liberation troops were relentlessly moving toward Guatemala City." Halberstam
Chile: "Press placements [by the CIA] were attractive because each placement might produce a multiplier effect, being picked up and replayed by media outlets other than the one in which it originally came out." Church Report
Florida: John Ellis, Bush's first cousin, at the rightwing Fox News decides to declare the state for Bush after 2 a.m., causing the other networks to do likewise, creating the lasting (and false) impression that Bush won the election.
Guatemala: "...one crucial ingredient left for the success of the coup...was the cooperation, voluntary and involuntary, of the American press. This meant it was necessary for the press corps to tell the public that the coup was the work of an indigenous Guatemalan force." Halberstam
Practically all American reporters cooperate, with the exception of NYT reporter Sydney Gruson. After CIA director Allen Dulles puts pressure on the Times, Gruson is removed from covering Guatemala. "It was an important moment," writes Halberstam, "a warning to the paper's top executives about the potential difference between the agenda of the secret government and that of serious journalism."
Chile: Excerpts from the Church Report"The most common form of a propaganda project is simply the development of 'assets' in media organizations who can place articles or be asked to write them." "According to CIA documents, the Time correspondent in Chile apparently had accepted Allende's protestations of moderation and constitutionality at face value. Briefings requested by Time and provided by the CIA in Washington resulted in a change in the basic thrust of the Time story on Allende's September 4 victory and in the timing of that story." "According to the CIA, partial returns showed that 726 articles, broadcasts, editorials, and similar items directly resulted from Agency activity. The Agency had no way to measure the scope of the multiplier effect...but concluded that its contribution was both substantial and significant."
Florida: After Election Day, airwaves are saturated with rightwing commentators, such as Ann Coulter, accusing Gore of being a "nutcase" who is trying to steal an election that was, at the very least, in dispute; at the most, it was a victory for Gore. (See "GOP Won by Planting Seeds of Deception, by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, December 14, 2000).
Lewis Lapham of Harper's noted that the "poisonous language" and "paranoid" arguments being aired at the time were mostly coming from rightwingers (although the Democrats were not free from "unctuous statement, rank hypocrisy, and bitter diatribe.") Still, when it came to rancor and speciousness, he "didn't find the same sort of stupidity on the Democratic side of the dispute."
A sidenote on the Press and the CIA: There are a number of articles exposing the connections between the US media and the CIA. The most famous expose was Carl Bernstein's "The CIA and the Media" in the October 20, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone. In it, Bernstein reveals the cooperation during the '50s and '60s between major US media outlets and the intelligence community, including, CBS, New York Times, Time, the Miami Herald, and hundreds of others. The NY Times recently reported, ironically enough, that the CIA has included news wire services (the now Moonie-owned UPI, for example) as part of its "regular propaganda apparatus;" this apparatus also included "Miami exile contacts with Florida papers."
Although this report is based on a CIA document from the early '60s, it was also reported this year (or underreported) that US Army psychological operations personnel (responsible for spreading propaganda) were placed at CNN's TV, radio, and satellite bureaus during the Kosovo war. (From a report by Andrew Cockburn in Counterpunch, cited among AlterNet's Top Ten Censored Stories of 2000).
Staging "Spontaneous" Revolts/Protests
Guatemala: CIA creates the "rebel army" that is supposed to be an indigenous uprising. "One of the CIA's main responsibilities was to keep American journalists out of the area lest they find out how pathetic Castillo Armas's army really was." Halberstam
Chile: "The CIA was directed to undertake an effort to promote a military coup in Chile to prevent the accession to power of Salvador Allende." (This particular coup fell apart). Church Report.
Florida: Republican operatives are bussed into Miami in a GOP-orchestrated
campaign to shut down
the recount effort and intimidate (and even physically assault) Democratic election officials.
Targeting Special Groups for Propaganda
Chile: "The covert propaganda efforts in Chile also included 'black' propaganda--material falsely purporting to be the product of a particular individual or group...the CIA used 'black' propaganda to sow discord between the Communists and the Socialists and between the national labor confederation and the Chilean Communist Party." Church Report
Florida: African Americans received calls the weekend before the election
from a speaker who falsely claimed
to be with the NAACP, asking them to vote for Bush. (Midwest Today, December 2000: "Scary Facts
About the Florida Vote," by Larry Jordan).
Where does mere coincidence end and meaningful patterns begin?
Even if the events in Florida listed here
(along with the more detailed reports being filed by investigative journalists) are removed from the context
of covert actions, it is easy to conclude that something profoundly disturbing happened in the previous election.
Reviewing the increasing amount of evidence demonstrating just how dirty the 2000 election was, however, is it so unreasonable to think that those interests whose hands remain sullied from Florida would have sunk one notch lower into the murky depths of covert operations? What are the limits when the objective is to grab power at any cost?
And what will those who seized that power do next time in order to hold
on to it?