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Barack Obama's presidency

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George W. Bush's presidency from 2005-06

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Contra drug stories uncovered

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From free trade to the Kosovo crisis.

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CIA's 'Red Cell' Hypocrisy on Terror

By Robert Parry
September 4, 2010

The Central Intelligence Agency has scoffed at an internal memo that cites a few terrorist acts by some American citizens as possibly causing foreign nations to see the United States as an “exporter of terrorism.” The CIA notes that the paper came from its “red cell” analysts who are assigned to “think outside the box” to “provoke thought.”

However, what’s most striking about the secret three-page memo, dated Feb. 4 and disclosed by WikiLeaks last month, is how it reflects CIA self-censorship regarding the agency’s own long history of supporting acts of terror and protecting terrorists.

Cases of terrorism that implicate the CIA or its operatives, such as the blowing up of a Cubana airliner in 1976 or the arming of Nicaraguan contra rebels in the 1980s, are ignored by the “red cell” analysts even though many of the alleged perpetrators and their funders are still harbored in the United States – and include current and past U.S. government officials.

Yet, instead of citing these well-documented terrorism cases, the “red cell” memo references a few cases of individual Americans who have gone abroad and committed terrorist acts as well as some distant history of terrorism linked to U.S. immigrants.

The “red cell” memo notes that Irish-Americans have supported the Irish Republican Army back to the 19th Century. The analysis then skips to Zionist terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Palestinians as they prayed at a mosque in Hebron in 1994.

In sketching this background, the analysts jump over a lot of blood-soaked history of CIA-connected terrorism. Though assigned to “think outside the box,” the “red cell” analysts apparently knew better than to open a can of worms that they might have found inside CIA’s document vaults.

So, instead of noting the obvious truth – that other countries might view the United States as “an exporter of terrorism” because the U.S. government and particularly the CIA have had a long history of exporting terrorism – the “red cell” analysts confine their study’s frame to some individual Americans with no connection to the U.S. government or the CIA.

Thus, terrorists who have ties to Official Washington are left outside the frame.

For instance, there is no mention of Luis Posada Carriles, the alleged right-wing Cuban mastermind of the bombing of a Cubana airliner that killed 73 people, nor to any of the former Nicaraguan contras who slaughtered civilians as part of a bloody campaign to destabilize the leftist Sandinista government. Yet, Posada and many ex-contras still openly live in or visit Miami.

The CIA files are surely filled with data about Posada and the contras because the CIA worked closely with and provided material support for them.

Not that self-censorship by the “red cells” is all that surprising. It’s been practiced by U.S. government officials and the Washington news media for decades now.

Otherwise, the American people would have been confronted with the uncomfortable reality that many esteemed U.S. government officials, including Republican icon Ronald Reagan and both Bush presidents, had their hands dipped in the blood of innocent victims of terrorism.

Double Standards

What if ex-President George W. Bush’s dictum – that a government that harbors or helps terrorists should be punished as severely as the terrorists themselves – were applied to the United States or even to his own family? Maybe the “red cell” should have asked that “out-of-the-box” question.

In other words, the U.S. political/media system – including these “red cell” analysts – continue to view the world through a cracked lens that focuses outrage on “enemy” regimes and groups while refracting away a comparable fury from similar actions by U.S. officials.

So, for instance, American officials, pundits and journalists rage against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for allegedly assisting Colombian guerrillas, but are getting ready for a year-long celebration of Reagan’s centennial birthday in 2011.

Yet, not only did Reagan arm the Nicaraguan contras, but he continued the covert war after the ruling Sandinistas won an election in 1984 that most outside observers praised as free and fair. He also wasn’t deterred by disclosures of the contras’ human rights abuses – kidnapping, raping, torturing and murdering civilians – even when those acts were acknowledged by some senior contra leaders.

Reagan was well aware of the contras’ cruelty (he privately called them “vandals” in a conversation with CIA officer Duane Clarridge), while he hailed them publicly as “freedom fighters” and equated them with America’s “Founding Fathers.”

Reagan kept arming the contras even after Congress ordered him to stop and the World Court denounced the CIA’s secret mining of Nicaragua’s harbors.

Reagan also backed vicious rebel forces in Angola and Afghanistan (including foreign Islamic fundamentalists who later coalesced into al-Qaeda), and he supported state terror against civilian populations in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, killing hundreds of thousands.

By any stretch of the imagination – if any other country had so brazenly violated international law and human rights standards – that government would be condemned by civilized nations and would be treated as a terrorist pariah.

But the vast majority of Republicans and many Democrats view Reagan as a political hero. In a ceremony last year, President Barack Obama feted former First Lady Nancy Reagan at the White House for the signing of a special law to commemorate Reagan’s 100th birthday.

To suggest that the late President was a war criminal or a sponsor of terrorism is unthinkable within the U.S. political mainstream. [For details on Reagan’s war crimes, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

Bush Family Terrorism

Similarly, it is unacceptable to note how the Bush Family has protected Cuban-American terrorists – from 1976 when George H.W. Bush ran the CIA to 2008 when George W. Bush balked at extraditing Posada to stand trial in Venezuela. At times, the hypocrisy was staggering.

On May 2, 2008, more than six years into Bush-43’s “war on terror,” there was a remarkable scene in Miami as Posada, then 80, was feted at a gala fundraising dinner. Some 500 supporters chipped in to his legal defense fund.

Posada arrived to thundering applause. Then, in a bristling speech against the Castro regime in Cuba, Posada told his supporters, “We ask God to sharpen our machetes.”

Venezuela’s Ambassador the United States, Bernardo Alvarez, protested the Bush administration’s tolerance of the dinner. “This is outrageous, particularly because he kept talking about [more] violence,” the ambassador said.

Posada, a naturalized Venezuelan citizen who worked for Venezuela’s intelligence agency in the 1970s, masterminded the Cubana Airlines bombing in 1976, according to an overwhelming body of evidence compiled by the U.S. government and in South America.

Despite the strong evidence against Posada in U.S. government files, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made little effort to capture Posada when he sneaked into Miami in 2005. Posada was detained only after he held a news conference.

Then, instead of extraditing Posada to Venezuela to stand trial for a terrorist mass murder, the Bush administration engaged in a lackadaisical effort to have him deported for lying on an immigration form.

During a 2007 court hearing in Texas, Bush administration lawyers allowed to go unchallenged testimony from a Posada friend that Posada would face torture if he were returned to Venezuela. The judge, therefore, barred Posada from being deported there.

After that ruling, Ambassador Alvarez accused the Bush administration of applying “a cynical double standard” in the “war on terror.” As for the claim that Venezuela practices torture, Alvarez said, “There isn’t a shred of evidence that Posada would be tortured in Venezuela.”

Different Rules

The kid-glove treatment of Posada and other right-wing Cuban terrorists stood in marked contrast to George W. Bush’s tough handling of Islamic militants. While Posada was afforded all U.S. legal protections and then some, suspected Islamic terrorists were locked away without trial at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In a further ironic twist, the Bush-43 administration allowed Venezuela to be smeared about torture while Bush and his top aides were concealing the fact that they had authorized extensive torture on suspected Islamic “terrorists,” including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other brutal torture techniques at CIA “black sites.”

Posada also made no apologies for his long terrorist career. In 1998, in interviews with a New York Times reporter, Posada admitted a role in a wave of Havana bombings, citing a goal of frightening tourists away from Cuba.

Similarly, his alleged co-conspirator in the Cubana Airlines bombing, Orlando Bosch, showed no remorse for his violent past. In a TV interview with reporter Manuel Cao on Miami's Channel 41, Bosch justified the mid-air bombing that killed 73 people in 1976.

When Cao asked Bosch to comment on the civilians who died when the Cubana plane crashed off the coast of Barbados, Bosch responded, "In a war such as us Cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant [Fidel Castro], you have to down planes, you have to sink ships, you have to be prepared to attack anything that is within your reach.”

“But don’t you feel a little bit for those who were killed there, for their families?” Cao asked.

“Who was on board that plane?” Bosch responded. “Four members of the Communist Party, five North Koreans, five Guyanese.” [Officials tallies actually put the Guyanese dead at 11.]

Bosch added, “Four members of the Communist Party, chico! Who was there? Our enemies…”

“And the fencers?” Cao asked about Cuba’s amateur fencing team that had just won gold, silver and bronze medals at a youth fencing competition in Caracas. “The young people on board?”

Bosch replied, “I was in Caracas. I saw the young girls on television. There were six of them. After the end of the competition, the leader of the six dedicated their triumph to the tyrant. … She gave a speech filled with praise for the tyrant.

“We had already agreed in Santo Domingo, that everyone who comes from Cuba to glorify the tyrant had to run the same risks as those men and women that fight alongside the tyranny.”

[The comment about Santo Domingo was an apparent reference to a meeting by a right-wing terrorist organization, CORU, which took place in the Dominican Republic in 1976 and which involved a CIA  undercover asset.]

“If you ran into the family members who were killed in that plane, wouldn’t you think it difficult?” Cao asked.

“No, because in the end those who were there had to know that they were cooperating with the tyranny in Cuba,” Bosch answered.

Venezuela Case

Though Bosch and Posada have formally denied masterminding the Cubana Airlines bombing, Bosch’s incriminating statements and other evidence make the case of his and Posada’s guilt overwhelming.

Declassified U.S. documents show that soon after the Cubana plane was blown out of the sky on Oct. 6, 1976, the CIA, then under the direction of George H.W. Bush, identified Posada and Bosch as the masterminds of the bombing.

But in fall 1976, Bush’s boss, President Gerald Ford, was in a tight election battle with Democrat Jimmy Carter and the Ford administration wanted to keep intelligence scandals out of the newspapers. So Bush and other officials kept the lid on the investigations. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Still, inside the U.S. government, the facts were well known. According to a secret CIA cable dated Oct. 14, 1976, intelligence sources in Venezuela relayed information about the Cubana Airlines bombing that tied in Bosch, who had been visiting Venezuela, and Posada, who then served as a senior officer in Venezuela’s intelligence agency, DISIP.

The Oct. 14 cable said Bosch arrived in Venezuela in late September 1976 under the protection of Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, a close Washington ally who assigned his intelligence adviser Orlando Garcia “to protect and assist Bosch during his stay in Venezuela.”

On his arrival, Bosch was met by Garcia and Posada, according to the report. Later, a fundraising dinner was held in Bosch’s honor. “A few days following the fund-raising dinner, Posada was overheard to say that, ‘we are going to hit a Cuban airplane,’ and that ‘Orlando has the details,’” the CIA report said.

“Following the 6 October [1976] Cubana Airline crash off the coast of Barbados, Bosch, Garcia and Posada agreed that it would be best for Bosch to leave Venezuela. Therefore, on 9 October, Posada and Garcia escorted Bosch to the Colombian border, where he crossed into Colombian territory.”

In South America, police began rounding up suspects. Two Cuban exiles, Hernan Ricardo and Freddy Lugo, who got off the Cubana plane in Barbados, confessed that they had planted the bomb. They named Bosch and Posada as the architects of the attack.

A search of Posada’s apartment in Venezuela turned up Cubana Airlines timetables and other incriminating documents.

Posada and Bosch were charged in Venezuela for the Cubana Airlines bombing, but the case soon became a political tug-of-war, since the suspects were in possession of sensitive Venezuelan government secrets that could embarrass President Andres Perez.

After President Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush took power in Washington in 1981, the momentum for fully unraveling the mysteries of anti-communist terrorist plots dissipated. The Cold War trumped any concern about right-wing terrorism.

Iran-Contra Role

In 1985, Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison, reportedly with the help of Cuban-Americans. In his autobiography, Posada thanked Miami-based Cuban activist Jorge Mas Canosa for the $25,000 that was used to bribe guards who allowed Posada to walk out of prison.

Another Cuban exile who aided Posada was former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez, who was close to then-Vice President Bush. At the time, Rodriguez was handling secret supply shipments to the Nicaraguan contra rebels, a pet project of President Reagan.

After fleeing Venezuela, Posada joined Rodriguez in Central America and began using the code name “Ramon Medina.” Posada was assigned the job of paymaster for pilots in the White House-run contra-supply operation.

By the late 1980s, Orlando Bosch also was out of Venezuela’s jails and back in Miami. But Bosch, who had been implicated in about 30 violent attacks, was facing possible deportation by U.S. officials who warned that Washington couldn’t credibly lecture other countries about terrorism while protecting a terrorist like Bosch.

But Bosch got lucky. Jeb Bush, then an aspiring Florida politician, led a lobbying drive to prevent the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from expelling Bosch. In 1990, the lobbying paid dividends when Jeb's dad, President George H.W. Bush, blocked proceedings against Bosch, letting the unapologetic terrorist stay in the United States.

In 1992, also during the Bush-41 presidency, the FBI interviewed Posada about the Iran-Contra scandal for 6 ½ hours at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. Posada filled in some blanks about the role of Bush’s vice presidential office in the secret contra operation.

According to a 31-page summary of the FBI interview, Posada said Bush’s national security adviser, former CIA officer Donald Gregg, was in frequent contact with Felix Rodriguez.

“Posada … recalls that Rodriguez was always calling Gregg,” the FBI summary said. “Posada knows this because he’s the one who paid Rodriguez’ phone bill.” After the interview, the FBI agents let Posada walk out of the embassy to freedom. [For details, see Parry’s Lost History.]

[For more on how the senior George Bush also looked the other way on Chile’s international terrorism, see’s “When the Terrorists Were Our Guys.”]

The double standards on terrorism are now so deeply engrained in Official Washington that the well-established history of U.S. government officials collaborating with terrorists is not only kept “outside the box” of the city’s conventional wisdom  but is ignored by the CIA's “red cell” analysts who are assigned to “think outside the box.”

So, the “red cell” analysts may take note of Irish-Americans filling coffee cans with cash for the IRA, dating back to the 1880s, and of individual Americans conducting outrages on their own, but the analysts know better than to look into their own agency’s files for the real reasons why foreigners might “see the United States as an ‘Exporter of Terrorism.’”

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to  

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