The War at Home-Security and Terrorism

September 25, 2007

One of the first acts of the new Republican-dominated Senate Judi- ciary Committee was to create a Subcommittee on Security and Ter- rorism. This article, written by a NACLA staff member, examines the subcommittee and the threat it poses to NACLA and all progressive organizations. On April 24, Senator Jeremiah Denton (R-Ala.) gavelled to order the newly formed Senate Subcommit- tee on Security and Terrorism (SST). On the agenda was a broadly rang- ing discussion of terrorism and the Soviet Union. The committee was treated to a full serving of testimony on Soviet sponsorship of internation- al terrorism cooked up by Claire Sterling, author of The Terror Net- work, Arnaud de Borchgrave, of The Spike fame, and William Colby, lately of the CIA and Operation Phoenix, among others. The testimony was largely a rehash of the witnesses' previous pronouncements, but de Borchgrave managed to rouse the audience from boredom with the startling accusation that Mobiliza- tion for Survival, a broad-based anti- nuclear, anti-arms race group was linked with the Soviet Union and, hence, international terrorism. De Borchgrave had let slip the real pur- pose of the SST: to harass and smear political opponents of the Reagan Administration and its con- servative allies. Who Are the Targets? One didn't have to wait until the April 24 hearings to see that the real targets of the Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism were the domestic political opponents of the Reagan-Haig world view. Given that the majority of terrorist attacks in the United States in the past three to five years have come from right-wing Cuban exiles (who recently assas- sinated a Cuban diplomat in Queens, New York) and their friends in the Chilean security apparatus (responsible for the 1976 murder of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt in Washington, D.C.), one would ex- pect that investigations of such Cuban anti-Castro groups, as Omega 7 or Alpha 66 would be high on the SST's list of concerns. They're not. Nor has the subcom- mittee, in turning to foreign affairs, shown any interest in state-directed violence which plagues the people of Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, South Korea, Haiti and so forth. Instead, we find that NACLA might be called before the commit- tee! Even before the SST was formed, rumors coming from the of- fice of soon-to-be SST member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) hinted that at least three U.S. organizations should be investigated. We were more than a little surprised to learn that NACLA The anti-nuke movement, shown here at a May 1979 march on Washington, is among those targeted by the SSTi to IZ -J w NACLA Report 40update .update * update *update headed the Hatch hit-list, followed by Mother Jones, a highly respected investigative magazine, and the In- stitute for Policy Studies (IPS), a Washington-based progressive re- search center which examines both domestic and international issues. Nor was this the only indication of the SST's true intent. The Heritage Foundation, a major conservative supporter of the new Administration, suggests the targets should be not only "terrorist groups," but "the several Communist parties," and radical and new left groups includ- ing, again, NACLA, IPS, and Tom Hayden's Campaign for Economic Democracy. Heritage, though, went Hatch a step better, arguing that the SST should investigate "clergymen, students, businessmen, entertain- ers, labor officials, journalists and government workers [who] may en- gage in subversive activities without being fully aware of the extent, pur- pose or control of their activities." Sour Wine in New Bottles Taking its cue from Reagan and Haig, the SST is bent on "proving" two points: first, the Soviet Union is behind all terrorism in the world; and second, the international terrorist threat is present at home in the guise of political dissenters. This issue is not new, though the MaylJune 1981 words used to characterize the "threat" are. In earlier periods dis- senters were branded as "com- munists," "labor agitators," "an- archists," or "foreigners." Now they are called "terrorists." But the con- tent of the attack remains the same. Individuals and organizations which are fully within their First Amend- ment rights to free speech, press, assembly and dissent are smeared and hounded by congressional committees bent on their destruc- tion. The vague and expansive focus of the SST-according to Denton, the subcommittee "will hold hear- ings bearing on matters relating to terrorist activities and to national security matters"-makes it a dir- ect descendant of the late House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), the Senate Internal Secur- ity Committee (the "Eastland Com- mittee") and the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee (Jo- seph McCarthy's favored forum). What's in a Name? Early in his administration, Presi- dent Reagan made it known that "in- ternational terrorism" would take the place of "human rights" as a pri- ority concern. Alexander Haig, Jr., in his first press conference as Secre- tary of State, warned that "interna- tional terrorism" had become "ram- pant." This set the climate for Sen- ate conservatives to argue for a sub- committee whose purpose was the investigation of "terrorism." What proved to be more difficult was foisting on the U.S. populace the belief that not only was terrorism on the rise worldwide, but that it dir- ectly affected the domestic tranquil- ity of the United States. The FBI didn't help much, placing "terror- ism" seventeenth on its list of con- cerns and arguing that terrorist at- tacks in the United States had de- clined over the past three years. No matter. According to Anthony C.E. Quainton, director of the State Department's "Office for Combat- ting Terrorism," the government is in the process of revising its definition of terrorism to include "threats" of violence as well as actual violence. The CIA, under prodding from State, is also revising its definitions. In its previous reports on terrorism, the CIA had never found more than 188 international terrorist attacks in any one year. Suddenly, it revised its 1980 figures upward to 760 by adop- ting a definition of terrorism which made it almost synonymous with political violence. Such a definition would label most wars of national liberation and anti-colonial wars as terrorist acts, quite in contradiction to generally accepted United Na- tions' standards. Thus, by the flick of a definition, terrorism had become rampant. Terrorism and "Our Friends" Yet while the Administration's semantic gymnastics solved one problem for those who saw terror- ism as rampant, it created another. By so broadening the definition of "terrorism," the word manipulators had inadvertently encompassed not only those movements for social change which resort to armed strug- gle, but a much more serious threat to peace: states which systematic- ally employ violence to stamp out all opposition and dissent. How was the Reagan Administration to dis- tance its allies (and, indeed, the Gov- ernment itself) from the charge of "terrorism"? To the rescue came Jeane Kirk- patrick, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Ms. Kirkpatrick di- vided the third world between "revo- lutionary autocracies" and "tradi- tional authoritarian governments," arguing (without evidence) that the latter "are less repressive" than the former. From this semantic swamp- land, she dredged out the concept of the "moderately repressive re- gime"-by which, perhaps, we are to understand regimes which, when torturing their opponents, break one arm of the victim instead of both. In the same vein, and with the same purpose of condoning state- 41update. update. update * update directed violence as long as it is practiced by "our friends," Ernest Lefever, nominated director of the State Department's Human Rights Office, opposed moralizing about the use of torture in Argentina and Chile because, however deplorable, it was a "residual practice of Iberian traditions." The SST Does Battle By April, the SST was ready to en- ter the battle against international "terrorists" and their domestic al- lies. After a few brief skirmishes with the FBI in which the subcommittee tried to prove that the Justice De- partment should be more con- cerned with these matters, it fully entered the campaign on April 24. By selecting Sterling and de Borch- grave as witnesses, the subcommit- tee insisted on lending credibility to the thesis that the Soviet Union was behind all terrorist acts worldwide even though a recent CIA "draft es- timate" concluded that there was in- sufficient evidence to substantiate these charges. (Sterling dismissed this by arguing that the CIA suffered from an "unwillingness to face cer- tain political realities which are un- pleasant.") More seriously, the subcommit- tee hearings gave the lie to those who have argued that the SST would not become a modern-day HUAC. Playing to the cameras and a nation- al audience, de Borchgrave began to reveal Soviet terrorists under ev- ery bed. Not only was the "UN infra- structure. . under increasing KGB control," but, he testified, there was "irrefutable proof" that the Soviet Union was playing a "covert role in promoting the anti-nuclear lobby" in the United States. Clearly warming to the task, de Borchgrave charged in to link the Mobilization for Survival (MFS) to the Soviet Union. His tac- tics were vintage red-baiting: one of the several hundred organizations affiliated to the MFS is the U.S. Peace Council which is tied to the World Peace Council which is tied to, etc., etc. That MFS, the U.S. 42 Peace Council and the others are perfectly legal groups entitled to the same First Amendment rights as Mr. de Borchgrave was of little concern to the former Newsweek cor- respondent. Foreign Agent Registration Act It is no longer a question if the SST will be used to red-bait political opponents of the Reagan Adminis- tration. It already has. What remains in question is precisely how far the subcommittee will go in its efforts to stifle dissent. It is no coincidence that the Republican majority on the SST consists of three of the most re- actionary senators in Congress: John East (R-NC), Jesse Helms' jun- ior clone; Orrin Hatch (R-Utah); and Denton. Nor is it a coincidence that the real power of the subcommittee, its Chief Counsel, is Joel Lisker, an ex- FBI agent who is considered an ex- pert on prosecutions under the For- eign Agent's Registration Act (FARA). This 1938 act, later amended, is vague, threatening and hardly tested in the courts. It is occasion- ally associated with famous peo- ple-Billy Carter was prosecuted under the act by Lisker for not regis- tering as an agent of the Libyan gov- ernment-or with public relations firms representing foreign govern- ments. But the act is much broader than this implies. Its text states that public registration as a foreign agent is required of "persons engaging in propaganda activities and other ac- tivities for or on behalf of foreign governments, foreign political par- ties, and other foreign principals." Left virtually undefined are the con- cepts of "propaganda and other ac- tivities" and "foreign principals." Registration under this act gives the government a very broad right to know where your money comes from and exactly how it is spent. The FARA could be used to har- ass the many international solidarity organizations currently working in the United States. Just conjecture? The fact that at least one such group in California has recently been threatened by the Justice Depart- ment under the provisions of the FARA leads us to argue that the threat is real. For his part, Lisker makes no bones about desiring a return to the pre-Watergate days when the FBI and CIA had virtual free reign to dis- rupt the activities of political dis- senters. "We will do everything we can," Lisker noted recently, "to modify and eliminate" the guide- lines imposed in 1975 to restrict infil- NACLA Reportupdate.update update update tration and surveillance of domestic groups and political dissidents. For Lisker and the SST, it would seem, national security demands the infil- tration, harassment and disruption of dissenters. Conservative Soap Boxes The Senate Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism is but one ex- ample of a series of extremely con- servative Senate committees which, having reached their conclu- sions before a single witness is heard, seek to use congressional forums to propagandize their rigidly narrow point of view. Perhaps this isn't new, but the vehemence with which the Senate committees have approached their task is mind-bog- gling. Senator John East, for exam- ple, SST member who also chairs the Judiciary Committee's Subcom- mittee on the Separation of Powers, recently began a series of hearings on abortion rights which were so biased that even committee member Orrin Hatch (another SST hardliner) was moved to protest. Even though the Democrats con- trol committee appointments in the House, the conservative tide threat- ens to wash over that body as well. Arch witch hunter Rep. Larry McDonald (D-Ga.) has once again introduced legislation to recreate the old House Internal Security Committee (also known as HUAC). Support for this campaign has come from Rep. Dan Crane (R-lll.) who re- cently wrote a letter for the Council for Inter-American Security which stressed that "Ronald Reagan needs your support now more than ever. He needs your help in closing America's 'open door' to bomb- throwers, spies and revolution- aries." If one is to believe Crane and McDonald, the "terrorists are plot- ting subversive attacks right under our noses. And our hands are tied by the liberals." Chilling Effect Well, there is something going on under McDonald and Crane's noses, but it's not terrorism, and it smells much worse. It's the aggres- sive attempt of a reactionary minor- ity, by playing off the majority's pro- found apathy and cynicism, to push back every shred of progressive so- cial legislation on the books. It's an appeal by the frightened to the fears which have naturally sprung from a very troubled society. Just consider what we have ex- perienced in the first four months of 1981: the escalation of U.S. support to the Salvadorean junta which moves us closer to a land war in Central America; the return of sup- port for military dictatorships from Argentina to Guatemala; the dra- matic and unprecedented peace- time increase in the defense budget and the vicious slashing of all social services; the increase in racist at- tacks in the cities from Atlanta to Buffalo and official government pro- nouncements that affirmative action is dead; an ."Executive Order" which threatens to unleash the FBI at home and the CIA abroad and the move to vitiate the Freedom of Infor- mation Act; the challenge to mini- mum wage laws which (minimally) protect working people and an economic package which will as- suredly increase unemployment. Tying this retrogressive package together is the great fear Candidate Reagan kicked this off by blindly stating that, "the Soviet Union un- derlies all the unrest that is going on" in the world. Richard Pipes, a National Security Council staff member offered that there was "no alternative to war" with the Soviet Union if the Soviets did not abandon their political system. Richard Allen, Reagan's national security adviser, spoke with scorn of a "return of pa- cifism" in Europe, and berated the "allies" for spending on butter in- stead of guns. The SST has a role to play in bringing this war home. James Mad- ison once noted that "it is a univer- sal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger real or pretended from abroad." There is terrorism in the world, but thus far the SST has been totally unconcerned with its real causes or dimensions and much more interested in using the issue as a springboard to deprive dissenters at home of their political rights. Whether they are successful de- pends largely on the extent of popu- lar opposition to these measures. And, in that, we can find some hope, for on May 3, nearly 100,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. with the very strong message that hard- won victories will not be easily taken away.

Tags: US politics, senate judiciary committee, security and terrorism, red scare

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