"All the world's a stage we pass through." - R. Ayana

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth About Global Corruption


The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth About Global Corruption

John Perkins Interview With Amy Goodman 

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Amy Goodman: Hundreds of thousands of protesters are gathering in Germany ahead of tomorrow's G8 meeting of the world's richest nations. The three-day summit is being held in the coastal resort of Heiligendamm. German police have spent $18 million to erect an eight-mile-long, two-meter-high fence around the meeting site.

    Global warming will be high on the agenda. Going into the meeting, President Bush has proposed to sideline the UN-backed Kyoto Accords and set voluntary targets on reducing emissions of greenhouse gas. Other top issues will include foreign aid and new trade deals.

    Today, we spend the hour with a man who claims to have worked deep inside the forces driving corporate globalization. In his first book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins told the story of his work as a highly paid consultant hired to strong-arm leaders into creating policy favorable to the US government and corporations, what he calls the "corporatocracy." John Perkins says he helped the US cheat poor countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars by lending them more money than they could possibly repay and then taking over their economies. John Perkins has just come out with his second book on this issue. It's called The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals and the Truth about Global Corruption. John Perkins joins us now in the firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!

John Perkins: Thank you, Amy. It's great to be here.

Amy Goodman: Well, before we go further, "economic hit men" - for those who haven't heard you describe this, let alone describe yourself as this, what do you mean?

    John Perkins: Well, really, I think it's fair to say that since World War II, we economic hit men have managed to create the world's first truly global empire, and we've done it primarily without the military, unlike other empires in history. We've done it through economics very subtly.

    We work many different ways, but perhaps the most common one is that we will identify a third world country that has resources our corporations covet, such as oil, and then we arrange a huge loan to that country from the World Bank or one of its sister organizations. The money never actually goes to the country. It goes instead to US corporations, who build big infrastructure projects - power grids, industrial parks, harbors, highways - things that benefit a few very rich people but do not reach the poor at all. The poor aren't connected to the power grids. They don't have the skills to get jobs in industrial parks. But they and the whole country are left holding this huge debt, and it's such a big bet that the country can't possibly repay it. So at some point in time, we economic hit men go back to the country and say, "Look, you know, you owe us a lot of money. You can't pay your debt, so you've got to give us a pound of flesh."

    Amy Goodman: And explain your history. What made you an economic hit man?

    John Perkins: Well, when I graduated from business school at Boston University, I was recruited by the National Security Agency, the nation's largest and perhaps most secretive spy organization.

    Amy Goodman: People sometimes think the CIA is that, but the NSA, many times larger.

    John Perkins: Yeah, it is larger. It's much larger. At least it was in those days. And it's very, very secretive. We all - there's a lot of rumors. We know quite a lot about the CIA, I think, but we know very, very little about the NSA. It claims to only work in a cryptography, you know, encoding and decoding messages, but in fact we all know that they're the people who have been listening in on our telephone conversations. That's come out recently. And they're a very, very secretive organization.

    They put me through a series of tests, very extensive tests, lie detector tests, psychological tests, during my last year in college. And I think it's fair to say that they identified me as a good potential economic hit man. They also identified a number of weaknesses in my character that would make it relatively easy for them to hook me, to bring me in. And I think those weaknesses, I [inaudible] might call, the three big drugs of our culture: money, power and sex. Who amongst us doesn't have one of them? I had all three at the time.

    And then I joined the Peace Corps. I was encouraged to do that by the National Security Agency. I spent three years in Ecuador living with indigenous people in the Amazon and the Andes, people who today and at that time were beginning to fight the oil companies. In fact, the largest environmental lawsuit in the history of the world has just been brought by these people against Texaco, Chevron. And that was incredibly good training for what I was to do.

    And then, while I was still in the Peace Corps, I was brought in and recruited into a US private corporation called Charles T. Main, a consulting firm out of Boston of about 2,000 employees, very low-profile firm that did a tremendous amount of work of what I came to understand was the work of economic hit men, as I described it earlier, and that's the role I began to fulfill and eventually kind of rose to the top of that organization as its chief economist.

    Amy Goodman: And how did that tie to the NSA? Was there a connection?

    John Perkins: You know, that's what's very interesting about this whole system, Amy, is that there's no direct connection. The NSA had interviewed me, identified me and then essentially turned me over to this private corporation. It's a very subtle and very smart system, whereby it's the private industry that goes out and does this work. So if we're caught doing something, if we're caught bribing or corrupting local officials in some country, it's blamed on private industry, not on the US government.

    And it's interesting that in the few instances when economic hit men fail, what we call "the jackals," who are people who come in to overthrow governments or assassinate their leaders, also come out of private industry. These are not CIA employees. We all have this image of the 007, the government agent hired to kill, you know, with license to kill, but these days the government agents, in my experience, don't do that. It's done by private consultants that are brought in to do this work. And I've known a number of these individuals personally and still do.

    Amy Goodman: In your book, The Secret History of the American Empire, you talk about taking on global power at every level. Right now, we're seeing these mass protests taking place in Germany ahead of the G8 meeting. Talk about the significance of these.

    John Perkins: Well, I think it's extremely significant. Something is happening in the world today, which is very, very important. Yeah, as we watched the headlines this morning, you know, what we can absolutely say is we live in a very dangerous world. It's also a very small world, where we're able to immediately know what's going on in Germany or in the middle of the Amazon or anywhere else. And we're beginning to finally understand around the world, I think, that the only way my children or grandchildren or any child or grandchild anywhere on this planet is going to be able to have a peaceful, stable and sustainable world is if every child has that. The G8 hasn't got that yet.

 Amy Goodman: Explain what the Group of Eight are.

    John Perkins: Well, the Group of Eight are the wealthiest countries in the world, and basically they run the world. And the leader is the United States, and it's actually the corporations within these companies - countries, excuse me - that run it. It's not the governments, because, after all, the governments serve at the pleasure of the corporations. In our own country, we know that the next two final presidential candidates, Republican and Democrat alike, are going to each have to raise something like half a billion dollars. And that's not going to come from me and you. Primarily that's going to come from the people who own and run our big corporations. They're totally beholden to the government. So the G8 really is this group of countries that represent the biggest multinational corporations in the world and really serve at their behest.

    And what we're seeing now in Europe - and we're seeing it very strongly in Latin America, we're seeing it in the Middle East - we're seeing this huge undercurrent of resistance, of protest, against this empire that's been built out of this. And it's been such a subtle empire that people haven't been aware of it, because it wasn't built by the military. It was built by economic hit men. Most of us aren't aware of it. Most Americans have no idea that these incredible lifestyles that we all lead are because we're part of a very vicious empire that literally enslaves people around the world, misuses people. But we're beginning to understand this. And the Europeans and the Latin Americans are at the forefront of this understanding...


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