Co-opting Intellectual Aggressors – The “Progressive” Face of the CIA

" ... In an attempt to develop a more nuanced understanding of the CIA's role in contemporary society this essay will explore their long-term involvement in utilising ostensibly progressive dissent in the service of imperialism. ... It should not be surprising that the same elites who worked within the upper echelons of both the CIA and the world of liberal philanthropy would ensure that the CIA (which was created in 1947) would play an important role in manipulating progressive social movements globally. ... "

by Michael Barker
Swans Commentary
November 17, 2008

"The CIA offers exciting career opportunities and a dynamic environment. We're on the forefront of world-altering events -- as they happen. So working here isn't just a job, it's a mindset and a lifestyle." — Central Intelligence Agency -- 2008.

"Those who hold power in the society retain control, though they may grant support to dissidents when it suits their immediate purposes... [T]hose in power know precisely why their support is rendered, even if the recipients know neither the reason nor the source." — Dan Schechter, Michael Ansara, and David Kolodney -- 1982. (1)

(Swans - November 17, 2008) Mention the CIA to most historically-informed people and the immediate images that spring to mind are those of assassinations, coups d'état, drug running, and covert wars. On the other hand, those individuals whose understanding of the CIA's work has been stunted, primarily though exposure to the mass media, are more inclined to associate the CIA with bungling over-resourced spies, rogue elephants, or perhaps, in the case of conservatives, as patriotic warriors protecting homeland security. (2) Yet another side to the CIA that is rarely mentioned by progressives, let alone the mainstream media, is their commitment to public activism. By commitment I do not refer to their dedication to infiltrating progressive social movements with informants or agent provocateurs, although this is of course an important aspect of the subterfuge undertaken by the Agency. Instead I refer to the CIA's ongoing efforts to channelling popular dissatisfaction with political processes -- on both a theoretical and grassroots level -- towards support for counterrevolutionary causes. (3) Key organizations that have historically played an important role in helping the CIA's democracy manipulators include the most influential liberal foundations, two prominent examples being the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. (4) So in an attempt to develop a more nuanced understanding of the CIA's role in contemporary society this essay will explore their long-term involvement in utilising ostensibly progressive dissent in the service of imperialism.

Like most class-conscious institutions, the CIA is not stupid, although a useful PR purpose is served by presenting their activities as such. Instead the elites managing the upper echelons of the CIA have long understood the power of grassroots activism, and have demonstrated their longstanding fear of the public by industriously working to undermine our ability to effectively cooperate with one another to promote our own best interests. One simple elite method of attacking popular social movements that challenge capitalist interests is to destroy their leaders, firstly by attempting to weaken their legitimacy in the cultural sphere, and when this fails, by resorting to the literal termination of their lives. However, another more proactive, and arguably more effective, strategy to undermine the revolutionary potential of dissent is to co-opt it: a tactic that if taken to its logical extreme involves the manufacture of dissident groups, which pre-empt organic (more radical) grassroots responses to capitalist-driven injustices. This form of political warfare is as old as politics itself; yet as a result of significant plutocratic advances in the early twentieth century, and the ensuing public resistance to these developments, such co-optive strategies were institutionalized within capitalist states in the form of liberal foundations. As Edward Berman notes in his important book The Ideology of Philanthropy: The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy (State University of New York Press, 1983), the goals of such foundations...

It should not be surprising that the same elites who worked within the upper echelons of both the CIA and the world of liberal philanthropy would ensure that the CIA (which was created in 1947) would play an important role in manipulating progressive social movements globally. In this regard it is clear that the leading US-based liberal foundations were not the CIA's unwitting dupes. (8) However, given the progressive image that these liberal philanthropists wish to project to the public, revelations in the late 1960s of their ties to the much maligned CIA led to "reforms" of the CIA's funding relations. In truth these reforms merely catalysed a chain of events that would ensure that the CIA's soft-power politics (philanthropic manipulation) were institutionally isolated from their hard-power politics (which includes their covert military operations). ...

STORY CONTINUES

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