Archive | July 29th, 2020

American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) Sues the FDA to End Its Arbitrary Restrictions on Hydroxychloroquine

By Association of American Physicians and Surgeon

Today, June 2, 2020, the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons (AAPS) filed a lawsuit, AAPS v. FDA, against the Food and Drug Administration to end its arbitrary interference with the use of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), which President Trump and other world leaders have taken as a prophylaxis against COVID-19.

Two million doses of HCQ are being sent by the Trump Administration to Brazil to help medical workers there safeguard themselves against the spread of the virus. But at the same time the FDA continues to block Americans’ access to this medication.

HCQ has been approved as safe by the FDA for 65 years, and the CDC states on its website that “CDC has no limits on the use of hydroxychloroquine for the prevention of malaria.”

More than 150 million doses have been donated to the strategic national stockpile controlled by the federal government, but unjustified FDA restrictions limit its use to only hospitalized patients for whom a clinical study is unavailable. Hospitals are even returning HCQ to the stockpile because they are not able to use it effectively.The Insidious Relationship between The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Big Pharma

“It is shocking that medical workers in Brazil will have access to HCQ as a prophylaxis while Americans are blocked by the FDA from accessing the same medication for the same use,” observes AAPS Executive Director Jane Orient, M.D.

“There is no legal or factual basis for the FDA to limit use of HCQ,” states AAPS General Counsel Andrew Schlafly. “The FDA’s restrictions on HCQ for Americans are completely indefensible in court.”

Many foreign nations, including China, India, South Korea, Costa Rica, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey, use HCQ for early treatment and prevention of COVID-19,  AAPS points out.

“Entrenched, politically biased officials at the FDA should not be allowed to interfere with Americans’ right to access medication donated to the federal government for public use,” Schlafly says. “By preventing Americans’ use of HCQ as a prophylaxis, the FDA is infringing on First Amendment rights to attend religious services or participate in political events such as political conventions, town halls, and rallies in an important election year.”

“FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn states that the FDA does not interfere with physicians’ ability to prescribe HCQ, and yet at the same time the FDA denies access by millions of Americans to 150 million doses of it in the national stockpile,” Schlafly adds. “This irrational hoarding by government is an abuse of power.”

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) has represented physicians of all specialties in all states since 1943. The AAPS motto is omnia pro aegroto, meaning everything for the patient.

July 20, 2020 Update: https://aapsonline.org/more-evidence-presented-for-why-hydroxychloroquine-should-be-made-available-in-a-new-court-filing-by-aaps/

June 22, 2020 Update: https://aapsonline.org/preliminary-injunction-sought-to-release-hydroxychloroquine-to-the-public/

PDF of complaint: http://aapsonline.org/judicial/aaps-v-fda-hcq-6-2-2020.pdf

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LancetGate: “Scientific Corona Lies” and Big Pharma Corruption. Hydroxychloroquine versus Gilead’s Remdesivir

By Prof Michel Chossudovsky

Minor updates and additions on July 6, 2020

Introduction

There is an ongoing battle to suppress Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), a cheap and effective drug for the treatment of Covid-19. The campaign against HCQ is carried out through slanderous political statements, media smears, not to mention an authoritative peer reviewed “evaluation”  published on May 22nd by The Lancet, which was based on fake figures and test trials.

The study was allegedly based on data analysis of 96,032 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 between Dec 20, 2019, and April 14, 2020 from 671 hospitals Worldwide. The database had been fabricated. The objective was to kill the Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) cure on behalf of Big Pharma.

While The Lancet article was retracted, the media casually blamed “a tiny US based company” named Surgisphere whose employees included “a sci-fi writer and adult content model” for spreading “flawed data” (Guardian). This Chicago based outfit was accused of having misled both the WHO and national governments, inciting them to ban HCQ. None of those trial tests actually took place.

While the blame was placed on Surgisphere, the unspoken truth (which neither the scientific community nor the media have acknowledged) is that the study was coordinated by Harvard professor Mandeep Mehra under the auspices of Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) which is a partner of the Harvard Medical School.

When the scam was revealed, Dr. Mandeep Mehra who holds the Harvey Distinguished Chair of Medicine at  Brigham and Women’s Hospital apologized:

I have always performed my research in accordance with the highest ethical and professional guidelines. However, we can never forget the responsibility we have as researchers to scrupulously ensure that we rely on data sources that adhere to our high standards.

It is now clear to me that in my hope to contribute this research during a time of great need, I did not do enough to ensure that the data source was appropriate for this use. For that, and for all the disruptions – both directly and indirectly – I am truly sorry. (emphasis added)

Mandeep R. Mehra, MD, MSC  (official statement on BWH website)

But that “truly sorry” note was just the tip of the iceberg. Why?

Studies on Gilead Science’s Remdesivir and Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) Were Conducted Simultaneously by Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH)

While The Lancet report (May 22, 2020) coordinated by Dr. Mandeep Mehra was intended “to kill” the legitimacy of HCQ as a cure of Covid-19, another important (related) study was being carried out (concurrently) at BWH pertaining to Remdesivir on behalf of Gilead Sciences Inc. Dr. Francisco Marty, a specialist inInfectious Disease and Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School was entrusted with coordination of the clinical trial tests of the antiviral medication Remdesivir under Brigham’s contract with Gilead Sciences Inc:

Brigham and Women’s Hospital began enrolling patients in two clinical trials for Gilead’s antiviral medication remdesivir. The Brigham is one of multiple clinical trial sites for a Gilead-initiated study of the drug in 600 participants with moderate coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and a Gilead-initiated study of 400 participants with severe COVID-19.

… If the results are promising, this could lead to FDA approval, and if they aren’t, it gives us critical information in the fight against COVID-19 and allows us to move on to other therapies.”

While Dr. Mandeep Mehra was not directly involved in the Gilead Remdesevir BWH study under the supervision of his colleague Dr. Francisco Marty, he nonetheless had contacts with Gilead Sciences Inc: “He participated in a conference sponsored by Gilead in early April 2020 as part of the Covid-19 debate” (France Soir, May 23, 2020)

What was the intent of his (failed) study? To undermine the legitimacy of Hydroxychloroquine?

According to France Soir, in a report published after The Lancet Retraction:

The often evasive answers produced by Dr Mandeep R. Mehra, … professor at Harvard Medical School, did not produce confidence, fueling doubt instead about the integrity of this retrospective study and its results. (France Soir, June 5, 2020)

Was Dr. Mandeep Mehra in conflict of interest? (That is a matter for BWH and the Harvard Medical School to decide upon).

Who are the Main Actors? 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, advisor to Donald Trump, portrayed as “America’s top infectious disease expert” has played a key role in smearing the HCQ cure which had been approved years earlier by the CDC as well as providing legitimacy to Gilead’s Remdesivir.

Dr. Fauci has been the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since the Reagan administration. He is known to act as a mouthpiece for Big Pharma.

Dr. Fauci launched Remdesivir in late June (see details below). According to Fauci, Remdesevir is the “corona wonder drug” developed by Gilead Science Inc. It’s a $1.6 billion dollar bonanza.

Gilead Sciences Inc: History

Gilead Sciences Inc is a Multibillion dollar bio-pharmaceutical company which is now involved in developing and marketing Remdesivir. Gilead has a long history. It has the backing of major investment conglomerates including the Vanguard Group and Capital Research & Management Co, among others. It has developed ties with the US Government.

In 1999 Gilead Sciences Inc, developed Tamiflu (used as a treatment of seasonal influenza and bird flu). At the  time, Gilead Sciences Inc was headed by Donald Rumsfeld (1997-2001), who later joined the George W. Bush administration as Secretary of Defense (2001-2006). Rumsfeld was responsible for coordinating the illegal and criminal wars on Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003).

Rumsfeld maintained his links to Gilead Sciences Inc throughout his tenure as Secretary of Defense (2001-2006). According to CNN Money (2005): “The prospect of a bird flu outbreak … was very good news for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld [who still owned Gilead stocks] and other politically connected investors in Gilead Sciences”.

Anthony Fauci has been in charge of the NIAID since 1984, using his position as “a go between” the US government and Big Pharma. During Rumsfeld’s tenure as Secretary of Defense, the budget allocated to bio-terrorism increased substantially, involving contracts with Big Pharma including Gilead Sciences Inc. Anthony Fauci considered that the money allocated to bio-terrorism in early 2002 would: 

“accelerate our understanding of the biology and pathogenesis of microbes that can be used in attacks, and the biology of the microbes’ hosts — human beings and their immune systems. One result should be more effective vaccines with less toxicity.” (WPo report)

In 2008, Dr. Anthony Fauci was granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom by president George W. Bush “for his determined and aggressive efforts to help others live longer and healthier lives.”

The 2020 Gilead Sciences Inc Remdesivir Project

We will be focussing on key documents (and events)

Chronology 

February 21: Initial Release pertaining to NIH-NIAID Remdesivir placebo test trial

April 10: The Gilead Sciences Inc study published in the NEJM on the “Compassionate Use of Remdesivir”

April 29: NIH Release: Study on Remdesivir (Report published on May 22 in NEJM)

May 22, The BWH-Harvard Study on Hydroxychloroquine coordinated by Dr. Mandeep Mehra published in The Lancet

May 22Remdesivir for the Treatment of Covid-19 — Preliminary Report  National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, New England Journal of Medicine, (NEJM) 

June 5: The (fake) Lancet Report (May 22) on HCQ is Retracted.

June 29, Fauci announcement. The $1.6 Billion Remdevisir HHS Agreement with Gilead Sciences Inc

April 10: The Gilead Sciences Inc. study published in the NEJM on the “Compassionate Use of Remdesivir”

A Gilead sponsored report was published in New England Journal of Medicine in an article entitled  “Compassionate Use of Remdesivir for Patients with Severe Covid-19” . It was co-authored by an impressive list of 56 distinguished medical doctors and scientists, many of whom were recipients of consulting fees from Gilead Sciences Inc.

Gilead Sciences Inc. funded the study which included several staff members as co-authors.

The testing included a total of 61 patients [who] received at least one dose of remdesivir on or before March 7, 2020; 8 of these patients were excluded because of missing postbaseline information (7 patients) and an erroneous remdesivir start date (1 patient) … Of the 53 remaining patients included in this analysis, 40 (75%) received the full 10-day course of remdesivir, 10 (19%) received 5 to 9 days of treatment, and 3 (6%) fewer than 5 days of treatment.

The NEJM article states that “Gilead Sciences Inc began accepting requests from clinicians for compassionate use of remdesivir on January 25, 2020”. From whom, From Where? According to the WHO (January 30, 2020) there were 82 cases in 18 countries outside China of which 5 were in the US, 5 in France and 3 in Canada.

Several prominent physicians and scientists have cast  doubt on the Compassionate Use of Remdesivir study conducted by Gilead, focussing on the small size of the trial. Ironically, the number of patients in the test  is less that the number of co-authors: “53 patients” versus “56 co-authors”

Below we provide excerpts of scientific statements on the Gilead NEJM project (Science Media Centre emphasis added) published immediately following the release of the NEJM article:

‘Compassionate use’ is better described as using an unlicensed therapy to treat a patient because there are no other treatments available. Research based on this kind of use should be treated with extreme caution because there is no control group or randomisation, which are some of the hallmarks of good practice in clinical trials. Prof Duncan Richard, Clinical Therapeutics, University of Oxford.

“It is critical not to over-interpret this study. Most importantly, it is impossible to know the outcome for this relatively small group of patients had they not received remdesivir. Dr Stephen Griffin, Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of Leeds.

“The research is interesting but doesn’t prove anything at this point: the data are from a small and uncontrolled study.  Simon Maxwell, Professor of Clinical Pharmacology and Prescribing, University of Edinburgh.

“The data from this paper are almost uninterpretable. It is very surprising, perhaps even unethical, that the New England Journal of Medicine has published it. It would be more appropriate to publish the data on the website of the pharmaceutical company that has sponsored and written up the study. At least Gilead have been clear that this has not been done in the way that a high quality scientific paper would be written.  Prof Stephen Evans, Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“It’s very hard to draw useful conclusions from uncontrolled studies like this particularly with a new disease where we really don’t know what to expect and with wide variations in outcomes between places and over time. One really has to question the ethics of failing to do randomisation – this study really represents more than anything else, a missed opportunity.” Prof Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics, University of Bristol.

To review the complete document of Science Media Centre pertaining to expert assessments click here

April 29: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Study on Remdevisir. 

On April 29th following the publication of the Gilead Sciences Inc Study in the NEJM on April 10, a press release of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Remdevisir was released.  The full document was published on May 22, by the NEJM under the title:

 Remdesivir for the Treatment of Covid-19 — Preliminary Report (NEJM) 

The study had been initiated on February 21, 2020. The title of the April 29 Press Release was:

“Peer-reviewed data shows remdesivir for COVID-19 improves time to recovery”

It’s a government sponsored report which includes preliminary data from a randomized trial involving 1063 hospitalized patients. The results of the trial labelled Adaptive COVID-19 Treatment Trial (ACTT) are preliminary, conducted under the helm of Dr. Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID):

An independent data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) overseeing the trial met on April 27 to review data and shared their interim analysis with the study team. Based upon their review of the data, they noted that remdesivir was better than placebo from the perspective of the primary endpoint, time to recovery, a metric often used in influenza trials. Recovery in this study was defined as being well enough for hospital discharge or returning to normal activity level.

Preliminary results indicate that patients who received remdesivir had a 31% faster time to recovery than those who received placebo (p<0.001). Specifically, the median time to recovery was 11 days for patients treated with remdesivir compared with 15 days for those who received placebo. Results also suggested a survival benefit, with a mortality rate of 8.0% for the group receiving remdesivir versus 11.6% for the placebo group (p=0.059).  (emphasis added)

In the NIH’s earlier February 21, 2020 report (released at the outset of the study), the methodology was described as follows:

… A randomized, controlled clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the investigational antiviral remdesivir in hospitalized adults diagnosed with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) …

Numbers. Where? When? 

The February 21 report confirmed that the first trial participant was “an American who was repatriated after being quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship” that docked in Yokohama (Japanese Territorial Waters). “Thirteen people repatriated by the U.S. State Department from the Diamond Princess cruise ship” were selected as patients for the placebo trial test. Ironically, at the outset of the study, 58.7% of the “confirmed cases” Worldwide (542 cases out of 924) (outside China),  were on the Diamond Cruise Princess from which the initial trial placebo patients were selected.

Where and When: The trial test in the 68 selected sites? That came at a later date because on February 19th (WHO data), the US had recorded only 15 positive cases (see Table Below).

“A total of 68 sites ultimately joined the study—47 in the United States and 21 in countries in Europe and Asia.” (emphasis added)

In the final May 22 NEJM report entitled Remdesivir for the Treatment of Covid-19 — Preliminary Report

There were 60 trial sites and 13 subsites in the United States (45 sites), Denmark (8), the United Kingdom (5), Greece (4), Germany (3), Korea (2), Mexico (2), Spain (2), Japan (1), and Singapore (1). Eligible patients were randomly assigned in a 1:1 ratio to receive either remdesivir or placebo. Randomization was stratified by study site and disease severity at enrollment

The Washington Post applauded Anthony Fauci’s announcement (April 29):

“The preliminary results, disclosed at the White House by Anthony S. Fauci, …  fall short of the magic bullet or cure… But with no approved treatments for Covid-19,[Lie] Fauci said, it will become the standard of care for hospitalized patients …The data shows that remdisivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery,” Fauci said.

The government’s first rigorous clinical trial of the experimental drug remdesivir as a coronavirus treatment delivered mixed results to the medical community Wednesday — but rallied stock markets and raised hopes that an early weapon to help some patients was at hand.

The preliminary results, disclosed at the White House by Anthony Fauci, chief of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which led the placebo-controlled trial found that the drug accelerated the recovery of hospitalized patients but had only a marginal benefit in the rate of death.

… Fauci’s remarks boosted speculation that the Food and Drug Administration would seek emergency use authorization that would permit doctors to prescribe the drug.

In addition to clinical trials, remdesivir has been given to more than 1,000 patients under compassionate use. [also refers to the Gilead study published on April 10 in the NEJM]

The study, involving [more than] 1,000 patients at 68 sites in the United States and around the world (??), offers the first evidence (??) from a large (??), randomized (??) clinical study of remdesivir’s effectiveness against COVID-19.

The NIH placebo test study provided “preliminary results”. While the placebo trial test was “randomized”, the overall selection of patients at the 68 sites was not fully randomized. See the full report.

May 22: The Fake Lancet Report on Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ)

It is worth noting that the full report of the NIH-NIAID) entitled Remdesivir for the Treatment of Covid-19 — Preliminary Report was released on May 22, 2020 in the NEJM, on the same day as the controversial Lancet report on Hydroxychloroquine.

Immediately folllowing its publication, the media went into high gear, smearing the HCQ cure, while applauding the NIH-NIASD report released on the same day.

Remdesivir, the only drug cleared to treat Covid-19, sped the recovery time of patients with the disease, … “It’s a very safe and effective drug,” said Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “We now have a definite first efficacious drug for Covid-19, which is a major step forward and will be built upon with other drugs, [and drug] combinations.”

When the Lancet HCQ article by  Bingham-Harvard was retracted on June 5, it was too late, it received minimal media coverage. Despite the Retraction, the HCQ cure “had been killed”.

June 29: Fauci Greenlight. The $1.6 Billion Remdesivir Contract with Gilead Sciences Inc

Dr. Anthony Fauci granted the “Greenlight” to Gilead Sciences Inc. on June 29, 2020.

The semi-official US government NIH-NIAID sponsored report (May 22) entitled Remdesivir for the Treatment of Covid-19 — Preliminary Report (NEJM) was used to justify a major agreement with Gilead Sciences Inc.

The Report was largely funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

On June 29, based on the findings of the NIH-NIAID Report published in the NEJM, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on behalf of the Trump Adminstration an agreement to secure large supplies of the remdesivir drug from Gilead Sciences Inc. for the treatment of Covid-19 in America’s private hospitals and clinics.

The earlier Gilead study based on scanty test results published in the NEJM (April 10), of 53 cases (and 56 co-authors) was not highlighted. The results of this study had been  questioned by several prominent physicians and scientists.

Who will be able to afford Remdisivir? 500,000 doses of Remdesivir are envisaged at $3,200 per patient, namely $1.6 billion (see the study by Elizabeth Woodworth)

The Drug was also approved for marketing in the European Union. under the brandname Veklury.

If this contract is implemented as planned, it represents for Gilead Science Inc. and the recipient US private hospitals and clinics a colossal amount of money.

[error in above title according to HHS: $3200]

According to The Trump Administration’s HHS Secretary Alex Azar (June 29, 2020):

“To the extent possible, we want to ensure that any American patient who needs remdesivir can get it. [at $3200] The Trump Administration is doing everything in our power to learn more about life-saving therapeutics for COVID-19 and secure access to these options for the American people.”

Remdesivir for Covid-19: $1.6 Billion for a “Modestly Beneficial” Drug?

Remdesivir versus Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ)

Careful timing:

The Lancet study (published on May 22) was intended to undermine the legitimacy of Hydroxychloroquine as an effective cure to Covid-19, with a view to sustaining the $1.6 billion agreement between the HHS and Gilead Sciences Inc. on June 29th. The legitmacy of this agreement rested on the May 22 NIH-NIAID study in the NEJM which was considered “preliminary”. 

What Dr. Fauci failed to acknowledge is that Chloroquine had been “studied” and tested fifteen years ago by the CDC as a drug to be used against coronavirus infections.  And that Hydroxychloroquine has been used recently in the treatment of Covid-19 in several countries.

According to the Virology Journal (2005) Chloroquine is a potent inhibitor of SARS coronavirus infection and spread”. It was used in the SARS-1 outbreak in 2002. It had the endorsement of the CDC. 

HCQ is not only effective, it is “inexpensive” when compared to Remdesivir, at an estimated “$3120 for a US Patient with private insurance”.

Below are excerpts of an interview of Harvard’s Professor Mehra (who undertook the May 22 Lancet study) with France Soir published immediately following the publication of the Lancet report (prior to its Retraction).

Dr. Mandeep Mehra: In our study, it is fairly obvious that the lack of benefit and the risk of toxicity observed for hydroxychloroquine are fairly reliable. [referring to the May 22 Lancet study]

France Soir: Do you have the data for Remdesivir?

MM: Yes, we have the data, but the number of patients is too small for us to be able to conclude in one way or another.

FS: As you know, in France, there is a pros and cons battle over hydroxychloroquine which has turned into a public health issue even involving the financial lobbying of pharmaceutical companies. Why not measure the effect of one against the other to put an end to all speculation?  …

MM: In fact, there is no rational basis for testing Remdesivir versus hydroxychloroquine. On the one hand, Remdesivir has shown that there is no risk of mortality and that there is a reduction in recovery time. On the other hand, for hydroxychloroquine it is the opposite: it has never been shown any advantage and most studies are small or inconclusive In addition, our study shows that there are harmful effects.

It would therefore be difficult and probably unethical to compare a drug with demonstrated harmfulness to a drug with at least a glimmer of hope.

FS: You said that there is no basis for testing or comparing Remdesivir with hydroxychloroquine, do you think you have done everything to conclude that hydroxychloroquine is dangerous?

MM: Exactly. …

All we are saying is that once you have been infected (5 to 7 days after) to the point of having to be hospitalized with a severe viral load, the use of hydroxychloroquine and its derivative is not effective.

The damage from the virus is already there and the situation is beyond repair. With this treatment [HCQ] it can generate more complications

FS Mandeep Mehra declared that he had no conflict of interest with the laboratories and that this study was financed from the endowment funds of the professor’s chair.

He participated in a conference sponsored by Gilead in early April 2020 as part of the Covid-19 debate.

France Soir, translated by the author, emphasis added, May 23, 2020)

In Annex, see the followup article by France Soir published after the scam surrounding the data base of Dr. Mehra’s Lancet report was revealed.

Concluding Remarks

 Lies and Corruption to the nth Degree involving Dr. Anthony Fauci, “The Boston Connection” and Gilead Sciences Inc.

The Gilead Sciences Inc. Remdesivir study (50+ authors) was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (April 10, 2020).

It was followed by the NIH-NIAID Remdesivir for the Treatment of Covid-19 — Preliminary Report on May 22, 2020 in the NEJM.  And on that same day, May 22, the “fake report” on Hydroxychloroquine by BWH-Harvard Dr. Mehra was published by The Lancet.

Harvard Medical School and the BWH bear responsibility for having hosted and financed the fake Lancet report on HCQ coordinated by Dr. Mandeep Mehra.

Is there conflict of interest? BWH was simultaneously involved in a study on Remdesivir in contract with Gilead Sciences, Inc.

While the Lancet report coordinated by Harvard’s Dr. Mehra was retracted, it nonetheless served the interests of Gilead Sciences Inc.

It is important that an independent scientific and medical assessment be undertaken, respectively of the Gilead Sciences Inc New England Journal of Medicine (NEMJ) peer reviewed study (April 10, 2020) as well as the NIH-NIAID study also published in the NEJM (May 22, 2020). 


ANNEX

Retraction by France Soir

The fraud concerning the Lancet Report was revealed in early June. France Soir in a subsequent article (June 5, 2020) points to the Boston Connection: La connexion de Boston, namely the insiduous relationship between Gilead Sciences Inc and Professor Mehra, Harvard Medical School as well as the two related Boston based hospitals involved.

(excerpts here, to access the complete text click here translation from French by France Soir, emphasis in the original article)

The often evasive answers produced by Dr Mandeep R. Mehra, a physician specializing in cardiovascular surgery and professor at Harvard Medical School, did not produce confidence, fueling doubt instead about the integrity of this retrospective study and its results.

… However, the reported information that Dr. Mehra had attended a conference sponsored by Gilead – producer of remdesivir, a drug in direct competition with hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) – early in April called for further investigation

It is important to keep in mind that Dr. Mandeep Mehra has a practice at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston.

That study relied on the shared medical records of 8,910 patients in 169 hospitals around the world, also by Surgisphere.

Funding for the study was “Supported by the William Harvey Chair in Cardiovascular Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The development and maintenance of the collaborative surgical outcomes database was funded by Surgisphere.”

The study published on May 22 sought to evaluate the efficacy or otherwise of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, alone or in combination with a macrolide antibiotic.  …

It is therefore noteworthy that within 3 weeks, 2 large observational retrospective studies on large populations – 96,032 and 8,910 patients – spread around the world were published in two different journals by Dr. Mehra, Dr. Desai and other co-authors using the database of Surgisphere, Dr. Desai’s company.

These two practising physicians and surgeons seem to have an exceptional working capacity associated with the gift of ubiquity.

The date of May 22 is also noteworthy because on the very same day, the date of the publication in The Lancet of the highly accusatory study against HCQ,  another study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine concerning the results of a clinical trial of…remdesivir.

In the conclusion of this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, “remdesivir was superior to placebo in shortening the time to recovery in adults hospitalized with Covid-19 and evidence of lower respiratory tract infection.”

Concretely: on the same day, May 22nd, one study demeaned HCQ  in one journal while another claimed evidence of attenuation on some patients through remdesivir in another journal.

It should be noted that one of the main co-authors, Elizabeth “Libby”* Hohmann, represents one of the participating hospitals, the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, also affiliated with Harvard Medical School, as is the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where Dr. Mandeep Mehra practices.

Coincidence, probably.

Upon further investigation, we discovered that the first 3 major clinical trials on Gilead’s remdesivir were conducted by these two hospitals:

“While COVID-19 continues to circle the globe with scientists following on its trail, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) are leading the search for effective treatment.

“Both hospitals are conducting clinical trials of remdesivir.”

MGH has joined what the National Institute of Health (NIH) describe as the first clinical trial in the United States of an experimental treatment for COVID-19, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of NIH. MGH is currently the only hospital in New England to participate in this trial, according to a list of sites shared by the hospital.

” It’s a gigantic undertaking, with patients registered in some 50 sites across the country, getting better.

“The NIH trial, which can be adapted to evaluate other treatments, aims to determine whether the drug relieves the respiratory problems and other symptoms of COVID-19, helping patients leave hospital earlier.**

As a reminder, the NIAID/NIH is led by Antony Fauci, a staunch opponent of HCQ.

Coincidence, probably.

At the Brigham, two additional trials initiated by Gilead, the drug developer, will determine whether it alleviates symptoms in patients with moderate to severe illness over five- and ten-days courses. These trials will also be randomized, but not placebo controlled, and will include 1,000 patients at sites worldwide. Those patients, noted Francisco Marty, MD, Brigham physician and study co-investigator, will likely be recruited at an unsettlingly rapid clip.”

As a result, the first major clinical trials on remdesivir launched on March 20, whose results are highly important for Gilead, are being led by the MGH and BWH in Boston, precisely where Dr. Mehra, the main author of the May 22nd HCQ trial, is practising.

Small world! Coincidence, again, probably.

Dr. Marty at BWH expected to have results two months later. Indeed, in recent days, several US media outlets have reported Gilead’s announcements of positive results from the remdesivir clinical trials in Boston.:

“Encouraging results from a new study published Wednesday on remdesivir for the treatment of patients with COVID-19.**

Brigham and Dr. Francisco Marty worked on this study, and he says the results show that there is no major difference between treating a patient with a five-day versus a 10-day regimen.

…”Gilead Announces Results of Phase 3 Remdesivir Trial in Patients with Moderate COVID-19 

– One study shows that the 5-day treatment of remdesivir resulted in significantly greater clinical improvement compared to treatment with the standard of care alone

– The data come on top of the body of evidence from previous studies demonstrating the benefits of remdesivir in hospitalized patients with IDVOC-19

“We now have three randomized controlled trials demonstrating that remdesivir improved clinical outcomes by several different measures,” Gilead plans to submit the complete data for publication in a peer-reviewed journal in the coming weeks.

These results announced by Gilead a few days after the May 22 publication of the study in the Lancet demolishing HCQ, a study whose main author is Dr. Mehra, are probably again a coincidence.

So many coincidences adds up to coincidences? Really ?

The original source of this article is Global ResearchCopyright © Prof Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research, 2020


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Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism

by ANTHONY DIMAGGIO

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Harper’s Magazine’s July 7th “Letter on Justice and Open Debate” is making its rounds in popular political discourse, and takes aim at the “PC” “cancel culture” we are told is being fueled by the most recent round of Black Lives Matter protests. This cancel culture, we are warned, is quickly and perniciously taking over American discourse, and will severely limit the free exploration of competing viewpoints.

The Harper’s letter signatories run across the ideological spectrum, including prominent conservatives such as David Brooks and J.K. Rowling, liberals such as Mark Lilla and Sean Willentz, and progressives such as Noam Chomsky and Todd Gitlin. I have no doubt that the supporters of the letter are well meaning in their support for free speech. And I have no interest in singling out any one person or group of signatories for condemnation. Rather, I think it’s warranted to focus on the ways in which “free speech” is being weaponized in this case, and in contemporary American discourse, to empower reactionary voices, under the façade of a free exploration of ideas.

The ideas established in the Harper’s letter sound just fine in principle, and when examined in a vacuum. The supporters embrace norms of “open debate” and “toleration of differences,” and opposition to “dogma[s],” “coercion,” and “intolerant climate[s]” that stifle open exploration of competing views. The letter’s supporters celebrate “the free exchange of information and ideas,” which they deem “the lifeblood of a liberal society,” contrary to a rising “vogue for public shaming and ostracism and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.” The letter elaborates:

“But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal.”

Appealing to Americans’ commitment to civic responsibility for open dialogue, the Harper’s letter warns, “restriction of debate” “invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.”

One of the main problems with this sort of lofty rhetoric is that it misrepresents the severely deficient reality of American political discourse. We live in a period when the rise of neoliberal capitalism and untrammeled corporate power have cheapened “public” political discourse to serve the interests of plutocratic wealth and power, while assaulting notions of the common good and the public health. Idealistic rhetoric about exploring diverse views falls flat, and is a mischaracterization of reality to the deficiencies in U.S. political discourse under neoliberal corporate capitalism, when debates are perverted by political and economic elites who have contempt for the free exchange of ideas.

Numerous passages in the Harper’s letter create the impression that U.S. political discourse is characterized by a vibrant and open exploration of diverse and competing views. The letter includes:

+ A lament that the emerging “cancel culture” threatens to “weaken our norms of open debate and toleration.”

+ The claim that the “free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.”

+ The assertion that American discourse is characterized by institutions that “uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters.”

+ The call “to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.”

All of these claims are romanticizations of American life. They obscure the reality that progressive left and radical dissident views are routinely blacklisted from “mainstream” political, economic, and social discourse by the media and by mainstream academic institutions.

The “let’s engage in a diversity of competing views” position sounds great until one realizes that we do not, and have never lived in, that sort of pluralistic democracy. We live in a political culture that, on its face, is committed to free speech protections for all, in which through the respectful exchange of ideas, we arrive at a better understanding of truth, to the benefit of all. But we don’t really live in that society. Ours is a reactionary culture, which celebrates ideas that service political and economic power centers. In this society, views that are elevated to being worthy of discussion include milquetoast liberal values that are sympathetic (or at least not antagonistic) to corporate power, apolitical content that’s aimed at mindless entertainment and political diversion, and reactionary authoritarian views that border on fascistic, but are vital to demonizing immigrants, people of color, and other minorities, and reinforce a white patriarchal corporate power structure. Radical lefties, or even progressive-leftists, need not apply to be included in this circumscribed discourse. Their views are routinely blacklisted from the mass media, and are increasingly marginalized in higher educational institutions.

I don’t draw these conclusions lightly. My understanding of how the mass media operates is based on extensive personal experiences, and those from countless left intellectuals I know. Many of us have struggled (and mostly failed) to break into “mainstream” discourse because of the limited space in corporate news devoted to marginalized perspectives. With this marginalization comes the near erasure of critical views, including those seeking to spotlight record (and rising) economic inequality, repressive institutions that reinforce racial, gender and transphobic systems of repression, the corporate ecocidal assault on the environment, the rise of unbridled corporate power and plutocracy, the rising authoritarianism in American politics, and the increasingly reactionary and fascistic rhetoric that has taken over the American right.

Despite complaints about a pervasive liberal bias in higher education, available evidence reveals the opposite. As I’ve documented through my own comprehensive analysis of hundreds of national opinion polling questions on Americans’ political and economic values, there’s virtually no empirical evidence to suggest that increased education in the U.S. is associated with increased likelihood of holding liberal attitudes. The reason for this non-link between education and liberalism is obvious to those leftists who have struggled to carve out a space in the increasingly reactionary American university: there’s very little commitment to progressive or leftist values in the modern corporate collegiate “experience”-oriented schooling system.

Reflecting on my own experiences within this system, the very notion of academics serving as public intellectuals has been under systematic assault by the rise of a “professionalization” culture that depicts political engagement as “biased,” “unprofessional,” and “unacceptable.” Whatever lingering commitment to higher education as a public good was rolled back decades ago with the rise of corporatized academic “professional” norms. Scholars are now primarily concerned with publishing in esoteric, jargon-laden journals that no one reads, and almost no one cites, while elevating a discussion of the methods of how one does research over a discussion of the political and social significance of our work. In this process, there’s been a suppression of any commitment to producing active citizens who see themselves as having an ethical or moral responsibility to be regularly politically engaged.

The reactionary “professionalization” that’s celebrated in the ivory tower is relentlessly promoted at every step of the process through which academics develop and are socialized: in the graduate school experience, in the job hiring, tenure, and promotion processes, and in the process of peer review for academic publications. Those who don’t get with the program are filtered out at some point in this process. Very few who are committed to challenging professionalized academic norms make it through PhD programs, and fewer still obtain tenure-track jobs and tenure. It is a rare to find academics who learn how to effectively hide their political values in grad school, and who then actively draw on those same values in their scholarship once they’ve secured an academic job.

In my more than two decades in higher ed, I can say there’s no such thing as a fair hearing for the progressive-radical left when it comes to academic publishing. Thinking of my own research, I see zero interest in elite academic publishing houses – the Oxfords, Princetons, and Cambridges of the world – in making space for openly leftist frameworks of analysis, let alone for the sort of applied Gramscian and Marxian empirical research that I do on media propaganda, hegemony, indoctrination, and mass false consciousness. Neither do any of the reputable journals in most social science disciplines express interest in this sort of research.

Considering the research I do focuses on social movement protests, media propaganda/fake news, and inequality studies, one might think these timely topics would draw a large number of requests for university speaking engagements. These are, after all, defining political issues of our time. But this isn’t at all the case. The academy remains as reactionary as ever in terms of sidelining and blacklisting leftist ideas and frameworks for understanding the world. There’s little interest in prioritizing high-profile campus speaking events for such topics in the neoliberal corporate academy. Considering the utter contempt for such scholarship, it’s difficult for me to focus my limited time and energy lamenting campus attacks on authoritarians like Milo Yiannopoulos, or whatever other reactionary pseudo-intellectual flavor of the week who has been disinvited from paid speaking engagements that I and other leftist scholars couldn’t dream of receiving in the first place.

I won’t shed a tear for reactionaries who seek to appropriate dwindling university resources for their own personal publicity and self-aggrandizement, considering that their ideology actively supports gutting the very institutions that they so shamelessly take advantage of. The reality of the matter is that there’s no First Amendment “free speech” right to be invited to numerous campus engagements, to be paid a generous speaking fee, or to have campus security resources devoted to protecting arch-reactionary authoritarian speakers in light of the large student protests that are mobilized against these campus events.

We should recognize that the recent wave of laments against PC “cancel culture” from the right reinforce a specific power dynamic in American society. It is one in which reactionaries have initiated an assault on what little remains of independent and critical thinking within the media and higher ed. They have done so by draping their contempt for free and critical inquiry in the rhetoric of “free speech.” But U.S. media and educational institutions have never been committed to the free exploration of competing views, at least not for those who question corporate power. The sooner we stop pretending this landscape represents a free and open exchange of ideas, the better.

Post-Publication Author Reflection.

After a lengthy discussion with one of the Harper’s letter signers, I continue to stand behind the main themes of this piece. These include: 1. The conclusion that the letter appears to romanticize U.S. political discourse by asserting that there is “a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.” Although I could be wrong, in my many years as an educator, as an activist, scholar, and public intellectual, I have seen little by way of my personal experiences or observations, and I have not seen any serious study, to suggest that contemporary U.S. political culture has become less tolerant of free speech, as compared to previous years. 2. To the contrary, the main theme of my piece is that contempt for radical and progressive views is a longstanding position in American mainstream media and educational institutions. It is not something new to be lamented, but a chronic problem in American history. 3. Although it has been suggested to me, it is not clear that the signers’ reference to “our norms of open debate and toleration” is only in reference to the signers’ personal values. I also read it as a more general reference to larger (and longstanding) societal celebrations of the U.S. as practicing pluralistic discourse and open debate. As I interpret it, this comment can easily be understood to suggest a romanticization of U.S. political discourse, outside of the signers’ support for that discourse, and there is nothing in the letter that unequivocally disconfirms that interpretation.

Author Corrections: Based on my engagement with one signer of the Harper’s letter, I am issuing the following corrections to this article:

+ My article inaccurately discusses the Harper’s letter as an attack on the “cancel culture.” While at least one of the letter’s signers has referred to the letter as a response to “cancel culture,” these words do not actually appear in the letter anywhere. The words “cancel culture,” however, have regularly appeared in news reports and commentary in reference to the letter and its content.

+ My article claims that the Harper’s letter is a critical response to the rise of Black Lives Matter protests. Although BLM is mentioned in the letter, as related to “justice and open debate,” the reference is only brief, and is not a main focus of discussion. More importantly, the letter indicates support for BLM and its principles/demands, rather than expressing opposition to the movement.

+ My article refers to the Harper’s letter as arguing that U.S. institutions “uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters.” This statement is a misreading of the piece, which says that the signers “uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter speech from all quarters.”

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“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Opium poppy. Photo: DEA.

“I decided I could live with that.”

– Stansfield Turner, Jimmy Carter’s CIA director, on the extreme level of civilian casualties in the CIA’s covert war in Afghanistan.

The first indelible image of the war in Afghanistan for many Americans was probably that of CBS anchorman Dan Rather, wrapped in the voluminous drapery of a mujahedin fighter, looking like a healthy relative of Lawrence of Arabia (albeit with hair that seemed freshly blow-dried, as some viewers were quick to point out). From his secret mountainside “somewhere in the Hindu Kush,” Rather unloaded on his audience a barrowload of nonsense about the conflict. The Soviets, Rather confided portentously, had put a bounty on his head “of many thousands of dollars.” He went on, “It was the best compliment they could have given me. And having a price put on my head was a small price to pay for the truths we told about Afghanistan.”

Every one of these observations turned out to be entirely false. Rather described the government of Hafizullah Amin as a “Moscow-installed puppet regime in Kabul.” But Amin had closer ties to the CIA than he did to the KGB. Rather called the mujahedin the “Afghan freedom fighters … who were engaged in a deeply patriotic fight to the death for home and hearth.” The mujahedin were scarcely fighting for freedom, in any sense Rather would have been comfortable with, but instead to impose one of the most repressive brands of Islamic fundamentalism known to the world, barbarous, ignorant and notably cruel to women.

It was a “fact,” Rather announced, that the Soviets had used chemical weapons against Afghan villagers. This was a claim promoted by the Reagan administration, which charged that the extraordinarily precise number of 3,042 Afghans had been killed by this yellow chemical rain, a substance that had won glorious propaganda victories in its manifestation in Laos a few years earlier, when the yellow rain turned out to be bee feces heavily loaded with pollen. As Frank Brodhead put it in the London Guardian, “Its composition: one part bee feces, plus many parts State Department disinformation mixed with media gullibility.”

Rather claimed that the mujahedin were severely underequipped, doing their best with Kalashnikov rifles taken from dead Soviet soldiers. In fact the mujahedin were extremely well-equipped, being the recipients of CIA-furnished weapons in the most ” “expensive covert war the Agency had ever mounted. They did carry Soviet weapons, but they came courtesy of the CIA. Rather also showed news footage that he claimed was of Soviet bombers strafing defenseless Afghan villages. This footage was staged, with the “Soviet bomber” actually a Pakistani air force plane on a training mission over northwest Pakistan.

CBS claimed to have discovered in Soviet-bombed areas stuffed animals filled with Soviet explosives, designed to blow Afghan children to bits. These booby-trapped toys had in fact been manufactured by the mujahedin for the exclusive purpose of gulling CBS News, as an entertaining article in the New York Post later made clear.

Rather made his heroically filmed way to Yunas Khalis, described as the leader of the Afghan warriors. In tones of awe he normally reserves for hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, Rather recalls in his book, The Camera Never Blinks Twice, “Belief in ‘right’ makes ‘might’ may have been fading in other parts of the world. In Afghanistan it was alive and well, and beating the Soviets.” Khalis was a ruthless butcher, with his troops fondly boasting of their slaughter of 700 prisoners of war. He spent most of his time fighting, but the wars were not primarily with the Soviets. Instead, Khalis battled other Afghan rebel groups, the object of the conflicts being control of poppy fields and the roads and trails from them to his seven heroin labs near his headquarters in the town of Ribat al Ali. Sixty percent of Afghanistan’s opium crop was cultivated in the Helmand Valley, with an irrigation infrastructure underwritten by USAID.

In his dispatches from the front Rather did mention the local opium trade, but in a remarkably disingenuous fashion. “Afghans,” he said, “had turned Darra into a boom town, selling their home-grown opium for the best available weapons, then going back into Afghanistan to fight.”

Now Darra is a town in northwest Pakistan where the CIA had set up a factory to manufacture Soviet-style weapons that it was giving away to all Afghan comers. The weapons factory was run under contract to Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). Much of the opium trucked into Darra from Afghanistan by the mujahedin was sold to the Pakistani governor of the northwest territory, Lieutenant General Fazle Huq. From this opium the heroin was refined in labs in Darra, placed on Pakistani army trucks and transported to Karachi, then shipped to Europe and the United States.

Rather belittled the Carter administration’s reaction to the Soviet-backed coup in 1979, charging that Carter’s response had been tepid and slow in coming. In fact, President Carter had reacted with a range of moves that should have been the envy of the Reagan hawks who, a couple of years later, were belaboring him for being a Cold War wimp. Not only did Carter withdraw the United States from the 1980 Olympics, he slashed grain sales to the Soviet Union, to the great distress of Midwestern farmers; put the SALT II treaty hold; pledged to increase the US defense budget by 5 percent a year until the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan; and unveiled the Carter doctrine of containment in southern Asia, which CIA historian John Ranelagh says led Carter to approve “more secret CIA operations than Reagan later did.”

Carter later confessed in his memoirs that he was more shaken by the invasion of Afghanistan than any other event of his presidency, including the Iranian revolution. Carter was convinced by the CIA that it could be the start of a push by the Soviets toward the Persian Gulf, a scenario that led the president to seriously consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons.

Three weeks after Soviet tanks rolled into Kabul, Carter’s secretary of defense, Harold Brown, was in Beijing, arranging for a weapons transfer from the Chinese to the CIA-backed Afghani troops mustered in Pakistan. The Chinese, who were generously compensated for the deal, agreed and even consented to send military advisers. Brown worked out a similar arrangement with Egypt to buy $15 million worth of weapons. “The US contacted me,” Anwar Sadat recalled shortly before his assassination. “They told me, ‘Please open your stores for us so that we can give the Afghans the armaments they need to fight.’ And I gave them the armaments. The transport of arms to the Afghans started from Cairo on US planes.”

But few in the Carter administration believed the rebels had any chance of toppling the Soviets. Under most scenarios, the war seemed destined to be a slaughter, with civilians and the rebels paying a heavy price. The objective of the Carter doctrine was more cynical. It was to bleed the Soviets, hoping to entrap them in a Vietnam-style quagmire. The high level of civilian casualties didn’t faze the architects of covert American intervention. “I decided I could live with that,” recalled Carter’s CIA director Stansfield Turner.

Prior to the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan barely registered as a topic of interest for the national press, surfacing in only a handful of annual newspaper stories. In December 1973, when détente was near its zenith, the Wall Street Journal ran a rare front-page story on the country, titled “Do the Russians Covet Afghanistan? If so, It’s Hard to Figure Why.” Reporter Peter Kann, later to become the Journal’s chairman and publisher, wrote that “great power strategists tend to think of Afghanistan as a kind of fulcrum upon which the world balance of power tips. But from close up, Afghanistan tends to look less like a fulcrum or a domino or a steppingstone than like a vast expanse of desert waste with a few fly-ridden bazaars, a fair number of feuding tribes and a lot of miserably poor people.”

After the Soviet Union invaded, this wasteland swiftly acquired the status of a precious geopolitical prize. A Journal editorial following the Soviet takeover said Afghanistan was “more serious than a mere stepping-stone” and, in response, called for stationing of US troops in the Middle East, increased military outlays, expanded covert operations and reinstatement of draft registration. Drew Middleton, then a New York Times Defense Department correspondent, filed a tremulous post-invasion analysis in January 1980: “The conventional wisdom in the Pentagon,” he wrote, “is that in purely military terms, the Russians are in a far better position vis-à-vis the United States than Hitler was against Britain and France in 1939.”

The Pentagon and CIA agitprop machine went into high gear: on January 3, 1980, George Wilson of the Washington Post reported that military leaders hoped the invasion would “help cure the Vietnam “never again’ hangover of the American public.” Newsweek said the “Soviet thrust” represented “a severe threat” to US interests: “Control of Afghanistan would put the Russians within 350 miles of the Arabian Sea, the oil lifeline of the West and Japan. Soviet warplanes based in Afghanistan could cut the lifeline at will.” The New York Times endorsed Carter’s call for increased military spending and supported the Cruise and Trident missile programs, “faster research on the MX or some other mobile land missile,” and the creation of a rapid deployment force for Third World intervention, calling the latter an “investment in diplomacy.”

In sum, Afghanistan proved to be a glorious campaign for both the CIA and Defense Department, a dazzling offensive in which waves of credulous and compliant journalists were dispatched to promulgate the ludicrous proposition that the United States was under military threat. By the time Reagan assumed office, he and his CIA director William Casey saw support for their own stepped-up Afghan plan from an unlikely source, the Democrat-controlled Congress, which was pushing to double spending on the war. “It was a windfall [for the Reagan administration],” a congressional staffer told the Washington Post. “They’d faced so much opposition to covert action in Central America and here comes the Congress helping and throwing money at them, putting money their way and they say, ‘Who are we to say no?’ ”

As the CIA increased its backing of the mujahedin (the CIA budget for Afghanistan finally reached $3.2 billion, the most expensive secret operation in its history) a White House member of the president’s Strategic Council on Drug Abuse, David Musto, informed the administration that the decision to arm the mujahedin would misfire: “I told the Council that we were going into Afghanistan to support the opium growers in their rebellion against the Soviets. Shouldn’t we try to avoid what we’d done in Laos? Shouldn’t we try to pay the growers if they will eradicate their opium production? There was silence.”

After issuing this warning, Musto and a colleague on the council, Joyce Lowinson, continued to question US policy, but found their queries blocked by the CIA and the State Department. Frustrated, they then turned to the New York Times op-ed page and wrote, on May 22, 1980: “We worry about the growing of opium in Afghanistan or Pakistan by rebel tribesmen who apparently are the chief adversaries of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Are we erring in befriending these tribes as we did in Laos when Air America (chartered by the Central Intelligence Agency) helped transport crude opium from certain tribal areas?” But Musto and Lowinson met with silence once again, not only from the administration but from the press. It was heresy to question covert intervention in Afghanistan.

Later in 1980, Hoag Levins, a writer for Philadelphia Magazine, interviewed a man he identified as a “high level” law enforcement official in the Carter administration’s Justice Department and quoted him thus: “You have the administration tiptoeing around this like it’s a land mine. The issue of opium and heroin in Afghanistan is explosive … In the State of the Union speech, the president mentioned drug abuse but he was very careful to avoid mentioning Afghanistan, even though Afghanistan is where things are really happening right now … Why aren’t we taking a more critical look at the arms we are now shipping into gangs of drug runners who are obviously going to use them to increase the efficiency of their drug-smuggling operation?”

The DEA was well aware that the mujahedin rebels were deeply involved in the opium trade. The drug agency’s reports in 1980 showed that Afghan rebel incursions from their Pakistan bases into Soviet-held positions were “determined in part by opium planting and harvest seasons.” The numbers were stark and forbidding. Afghan opium production tripled between 1979 and 1982. There was evidence that by 1981 the Afghan heroin producers had captured 60 percent of the heroin market in Western Europe and the United States (these are UN and DEA figures).

In 1971, during the height of the CIA’s involvement in Laos, there were about 500,000 heroin addicts in the United States. By the mid- to late 1970s this total had fallen to 200,000. But in 1981 with the new flood of Afghan heroin and consequent low prices, the heroin addict population rose to 450,000. In New York City in 1979 alone (the year that the flow of arms to the mujahedin began), heroin-related drug deaths increased by 77 percent. The only publicly acknowledged US casualties on the Afghan battlefields were some Black Muslims who journeyed to the Hindu Kush from the United States to fight on the Prophet’s behalf. But the drug casualties inside the US from the secret CIA war, particularly in the inner cities, numbered in the thousands, plus untold social blight and suffering.

Since the seventeenth century opium poppies have been grown in the so-called Golden Crescent, where the highlands of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran all converge. For nearly four centuries this was an internal market. By the 1950s very little opium was produced in either Afghanistan or Pakistan, with perhaps 2,500 acres in these two countries under cultivation. The fertile growing fields of Afghanistan’s Helmand Valley, by the 1980s under intensive opium poppy cultivation, were covered with vineyards, wheat fields and cotton plantations.

In Iran, the situation was markedly different in the early 1950s. The country, dominated by British and US oil companies and intelligence agencies, was producing 600 tons of opium a year and had 1.3 million opium addicts, second only to China where, at the same moment, the western opium imperialists still held sway. Then, in 1953, Mohammed Mossadegh, Iran’s nationalist equivalent of China’s Sun Yat-sen, won elections and immediately moved to suppress the opium trade. Within a few weeks, US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was calling Mossadegh a madman, and Dulles’s brother Allen, head of the CIA, dispatched Kermit Roosevelt to organize a coup against him. In August 1953 Mossadegh was overthrown, the Shah was installed by the CIA, and the oil and opium fields of Iran were once again in friendly hands. Production continued unabated until the assumption of power in 1979 of the Ayatollah Khomeini, at which point Iran had a very serious opium problem in terms of the addiction of its own population. Unlike the mujahedin chieftains, the Ayatollah was a strict constructionist of Islamic law on the matter of intoxicants: addicts and dealers faced the death penalty. Opium production in Iran dropped drastically.

In Afghanistan in the 1950s and 1960s, the relatively sparse opium trade was controlled by the royal family, headed by King Mohammed Zahir, The large feudal estates all had their opium fields, primarily to feed domestic consumption of the drug. In April 1978 a populist coup overthrew the regime of Mohammed Daoud, who had formed an alliance with the Shah of Iran. The Shah had shoveled money in Daoud’s direction – $2 billion on one report – and the Iranian secret police, the Savak, were imported to train Daoud’s internal security force. The new Afghan government was led by Noor Mohammed Taraki. The Taraki administration moved toward land reform, hence an attack on the opium-growing feudal estates. Taraki went to the UN, where he requested and received loans for crop substitution for the poppy fields.

Taraki also pressed hard against opium production in the border areas held by fundamentalists, since the latter were using opium revenues to finance attacks on the Afghan central government, which they regarded as an unwholesome incarnation of modernity that allowed women to go to school and outlawed arranged marriages and the bride price.

By the spring of 1979 the character of Dan Rather’s heroes, the mujahedin, was also beginning to emerge. The Washington Post reported that the mujahedin liked to “torture their victims by first cutting off their noses, ears and genitals, then removing one slice of skin after another.” Over that year the mujahedin evinced particular animosity toward westerners, killing six West Germans and a Canadian tourist and severely beating a US military attaché. It’s also ironic that in that year the mujahedin were getting money not only from the CIA but from Libya’s Moammar Qaddaffi, who sent $250,000 in their direction.

In the summer of 1979, over six months before the Soviets moved in, the US State Department produced a memorandum making clear how it saw the stakes, no matter how modern-minded Taraki might be, or how feudal the mujahedin: “The United States’ larger interest … would be served by the demise of the Taraki-Amin regime, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan.” The report continued, “The overthrow of the DRA [Democratic Republic of Afghanistan] would show the rest of the world, particularly the Third World, that the Soviets’ view of the socialist course of history as being inevitable is not accurate.”

Hard pressed by conservative forces in Afghanistan, Taraki appealed to the Soviets for help, which they declined to furnish on the grounds that this was exactly what their mutual enemies were waiting for.

In September 1979 Taraki was killed in a coup organized by Afghan military officers. Hafizullah Amin was installed as president. He had impeccable western credentials, having been to Columbia University in New York and the University of Wisconsin. Amin had served as the president of the Afghan Students Association, which had been funded by the Asia Foundation, a CIA pass-through group, or front. After the coup Amin began meeting regularly with US Embassy officials at a time when the US was arming Islamic rebels in Pakistan. Fearing a fundamentalist, US-backed regime pressing against its own border, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in force on December 27, 1979.

Then began the Carter-initiated CIA buildup that so worried White House drug expert David Musto. In a replication of what happened following the CIA-backed coup in Iran, the feudal estates were soon back in opium production and the crop-substitution program ended.

Because Pakistan had a nuclear program, the US had a foreign aid ban on the country. This was soon lifted it as the waging of a proxy war in Afghanistan became prime policy. In fairly short order, without any discernible slowdown in its nuclear program, Pakistan became the third largest recipient of US aid worldwide, right behind Israel and Egypt. Arms poured into Karachi from the US and were shipped up to Peshawar by the National Logistics Cell, a military unit controlled by Pakistan’s secret police, the ISI. From Peshawar those guns that weren’t simply sold to any and all customers (the Iranians got 16 Stinger missiles, one of which was used against a US helicopter in the Gulf) were divvied out by the ISI to the Afghan factions.

Though the US press, Dan Rather to the fore, portrayed the mujahedin as a unified force of freedom fighters, the fact (unsurprising to anyone with an inkling of Afghan history) was that the mujahedin consisted of at least seven warring factions, all battling for territory and control of the opium trade. The ISI gave the bulk of the arms – at one count 60 percent – to a particularly fanatical fundamentalist and woman-hater Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who made his public debut at the University of Kabul by killing a leftist student. In 1972 Hekmatyar fled to Pakistan, where he became an agent of the ISI. He urged his followers to throw acid in the faces of women not wearing the veil, kidnapped rival leaders, and built up his CIA-furnished arsenal against the day the Soviets would leave and the war for the mastery of Afghanistan would truly break out.

Using his weapons to get control of the opium fields, Hekmatyar and his men would urge the peasants, at gun point, to increase production. They would collect the raw opium and bring it back to Hekmatyar’s six heroin factories in the town of Koh-i-Soltan

One of Hekmatyar’s chief rivals in the mujahedin, Mullah Nassim, controlled the opium poppy fields in the Helmand Valley, producing 260 tons of opium a year. His brother, Mohammed Rasul, defended this agricultural enterprise by stating, “We must grow and sell opium to fight our holy war against the Russian nonbelievers.” Despite this well-calculated pronouncement, they spent almost all their time fighting their fellow-believers, using the weapons sent them by the CIA to try to win the advantage in these internecine struggles. In 1989 Hekmatyar launched an assault against Nassim, attempting to take control of the Helmand Valley. Nassim fought him off, but a few months later Hekmatyar successfully engineered Nassim’s assassination when he was holding the post of deputy defense minister in the provisional post-Soviet Afghan government. Hekmatyar now controlled opium growing in the Helmand Valley.

American DEA agents were fully apprised of the drug running of the mujahedin in concert with Pakistani intelligence and military leaders. In 1983 the DEA’s congressional liaison, David Melocik, told a congressional committee, “You can say the rebels make their money off the sale of opium. There’s no doubt about it. These rebels keep their cause going through the sale of opium.” But talk about “the cause” depending on drug sales was nonsense at that particular moment. The CIA was paying for everything regardless. The opium revenues were ending up in offshore accounts in the Habib Bank, one of Pakistan’s largest, and in the accounts of BCCI, founded by Agha Hasan Abedi, who began his banking career at Habib. The CIA was simultaneously using BCCI for its own secret transactions.

The DEA had evidence of over forty heroin syndicates operating in Pakistan in the mid-1980s during the Afghan war, and there was evidence of more than 200 heroin labs operating in northwest Pakistan. Even though Islamabad houses one of the largest DEA offices in Asia, no action was ever taken by the DEA agents against any of these operations. An Interpol officer told the journalist Lawrence Lifschultz, “It is very strange that the Americans, with the size of their resources, and political power they possess in Pakistan, have failed to break a single case. The explanation cannot be found in a lack of adequate police work. They have had some excellent men working in Pakistan.” But working in the same offices as those DEA agents were five CIA officers who, so one of the DEA agents later told the Washington Post, ordered them to pull back their operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the duration of the war.

Those DEA agents were well aware of the drug-tainted profile of a firm the CIA was using to funnel cash to the mujahedin, namely Shakarchi Trading Company. This Lebanese-owned company had been the subject of a long-running DEA investigation into money laundering. One of Shakarchi’s chief clients was Yasir Musullulu, who had once been nabbed attempting to deliver an 8.5-ton shipment of Afghan opium to members of the Gambino crime syndicate in New York City. A DEA memo noted that Shakarchi mingled “the currency of heroin, morphine base, and hashish traffickers with that of jewelers buying gold on the black market and Middle Eastern arms traffickers.”

In May 1984 Vice President George Bush journeyed to Pakistan to confer with General Zia al Huq and other ranking members of the Pakistani regime. At the time, Bush was the head of President Reagan’s National Narcotics Border Interdiction System. In this latter function, one of Bush’s first moves was to expand the role of the CIA in drug operations. He gave the Agency primary responsibility in the use of, and control over, drug informants. The operational head of this task force was retired Admiral Daniel J. Murphy.

Murphy pushed for access to intelligence on drug syndicates but complained that the CIA was forever dragging its feet. “I didn’t win,” he said later to the New York Times. “I didn’t get as much effective participation from the CIA as I wanted.” Another member of the task force put it more bluntly, “The CIA could be of value, but you need a change of values and attitude. I don’t know of a single thing they’ve ever given us that was useful.”

Bush certainly knew well that Pakistan had become the source for most of the high-grade heroin entering Western Europe and the United States and that the generals with whom he was consorting were deeply involved in the drug trade. But the vice president, who proclaimed later that “I will never bargain with drug dealers on US or foreign soil,” used his journey to Pakistan to praise the Zia regime for its unflinching support for the War on Drugs. (Amid such rhetorical excursions he did find time, it has to be said, to extract from Zia a contract to buy $40 million worth of gas turbines made by the General Electric Co.)

Predictably, through the 1980s the Reagan and Bush administrations went to great lengths to pin the blame for the upswing in Pakistani heroin production on the Soviet generals in Kabul. “The regime maintains an absolute indifference to any measures to control poppy,” Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese declared during a visit to Islamabad in March 1986. “We strongly believe that there is actually encouragement, at least tacitly, over growing opium poppy.”

Meese knew better. His own Justice Department had been tracking the import of drugs from Pakistan since at least 1982 and was well aware that the trade was controlled by Afghan rebels and the Pakistani military. A few months after Meese’s speech in Pakistan, the US Customs Office nabbed a Pakistani man named Abdul Wali as he tried to unload more than a ton of hash and a smaller amount of heroin into the United

States at Port Newark, New Jersey. The Justice Department informed the press that Wali headed a 50,000-member organization in northwest Pakistan – but Deputy Attorney General Claudia Flynn refused to reveal the group’s identity. Another federal official told the Associated Press that Wali was a top leader of the mujahedin.

It was also known to US officials that people on intimate terms with President Zia were making fortunes in the opium trade. The word “fortune” here is no exaggeration, since one such Zia associate had $3 billion in his BCCI accounts. In 1983, a year before George Bush’s visit to Pakistan, one of President Zia’s doctors, a Japanese herbalist named Hisayoshi Maruyama was arrested in Amsterdam packing 17.5 kilos of high-grade heroin manufactured in Pakistan out of Afghan opium. At the time of his arrest he was disguised as a boy scout.

Interrogated by DEA agents after his arrest, Maruyama said that he was just a courier for Mirza Iqbal Baig, a man whom Pakistani customs agents described as “the most active dope dealer in the country.” Baig was on close terms with the Zia family and other ranking officials in the government. He had twice been a target of the DEA, whose agents were told not to pursue investigations of him because of his ties to the Zia government. A top Pakistani lawyer, Said Sani Ahmed, told the BBC that this was standard procedure in Pakistan: “We may have evidence against a particular individual, but still our law-enforcing agencies cannot lay hands on such people, because they are forbidden to act by their superiors. The real culprits have enough money and resources. Frankly, they are enjoying some sort of immunity.”

Baig was one of the tycoons of the Pakistani city of Lahore, owning cinemas, shopping centers, factories and a textile mill. He wasn’t indicted on drug charges until 1992, after the fall of the Zia regime, when a US federal court in Brooklyn indicted him for heroin trafficking. The US finally exerted enough pressure on Pakistan to have him arrested in 1993; as of the spring of 1998 he was in prison in Pakistan.

One of Baig’s partners (as described in Newsweek) in his drug business was Haji Ayub Afridi, a close ally of President Zia, who had served in the Pakistani General Assembly. Afridi lives thirty-five miles outside Peshawar in a large compound sealed off by 20-foot-high walls topped with concertina-wire and with defenses including an anti-aircraft battery and a private army of tribesmen. Afridi was said to be in charge of purchasing raw opium from the Afghan drug lords, while Baig looked after logistics and shipping to Europe and the United States. In 1993 Afridi was alleged to have put out a contract on the life of a DEA agent working in Pakistan.

Another case close to the Zia government involved the arrest on drug charges of Hamid Hasnain, the vice president of Pakistan’s largest financial house, the Habib Bank. Hasnain’s arrest became the centerpiece of a scandal known as the “Pakistani League affair.” The drug ring was investigated by a dogged Norwegian investigator named Olyvind Olsen. On December 13, 1983 Norwegian police seized 3.5 kilos of heroin at Oslo airport in the luggage of a Pakistani named Raza Qureishi. In exchange for a reduced sentence Qureishi agreed to name his suppliers to Olsen, the narcotics investigator. Shortly after his interview with Qureishi, Olsen flew to Islamabad to ferret out the other members of the heroin syndicate. For more than a year Olsen pressured Pakistan’s Federal Investigate Agency (FIA) to arrest the three men Qureishi had fingered: Tahir Butt, Munawaar Hussain, and Hasnain. All were associates of Baig and Zia. It wasn’t until Olsen threatened to publicly condemn the FIA’s conduct that the Agency took any action: finally, on October 25, 1985 the FIA arrested the three men. When the Pakistani agents picked up Hasnain they were assailed with a barrage of threats. Hasnain spoke of “dire consequences” and claimed to be “like a son” to President Zia. Inside Hasnain’s suitcase FIA agents discovered records of the ample bank accounts of President Zia plus those of Zia’s wife and daughter.

Immediately after learning of Hasnain’s arrest, Zia’s wife, who was in Egypt at the time, telephoned the head of the FIA. The president’s wife imperiously demanded the release of her family’s “personal banker.” It turned out that Hasnain not only attended to the secret financial affairs of the presidential family, but also of the senior Pakistani generals, who were skimming money off the arms imports from the CIA and making millions from the opium traffic. A few days after his wife’s call, President Zia himself was on the phone to the FIA, demanding that the investigators explain the circumstances surrounding Hasnain’s arrest. Zia soon arranged for Hasnain to be released on bail pending trial. When Qureishi, the courier, took the stand to testify against Hasnain, the banker and his co-defendant hurled death threats against the witness in open court, prompting a protest from the Norwegian investigator, who threatened to withdraw from the proceedings.

Eventually the judge in the case clamped down, revoking Hasnain’s bail and handing him a stiff prison term after his conviction. But Hasnain was just a relatively small fish who went to prison while guilty generals went free. “He’s been made a scapegoat,” Munir Bhatti told journalist Lawrence Lifschultz, “The CIA spoiled the case. The evidence was distorted. There was no justification in letting off the actual culprits who include senior personalities in this country. There was evidence in this case identifying such people.”

Such were the men to whom the CIA was paying $3.2 billion a year to run the Afghan war, and no person better epitomizes this relationship than Lieutenant General Fazle Huq, who oversaw military operations in northwest Pakistan for General Zia, including the arming of the mujahedin who were using the region as a staging area for their raids. It was Huq who ensured that his ally Hekmatyar received the bulk of the CIA arms shipments, and it was also Huq who oversaw and protected the operations of the 200 heroin labs within his jurisdiction. Huq had been identified in 1982 by Interpol as a key player in the Afghan-Pakistani opium trade. The Pakistani opposition leaders referred to Huq as Pakistani’s Noriega. He had been protected from drug investigations by Zia and the CIA and later boasted that with these connections he could get away “with blue murder.”

Like other narco-generals in the Zia regime, Huq was also on close terms with Agha Hassan Abedi, the head of the BCCI. Abedi, Huq and Zia would dine together nearly every month, and conferred several times with Reagan’s CIA director William Casey. Huq had a BCCI account worth $3 million. After Zia was assassinated in 1988 by a bomb planted (probably by senior military officers) in his presidential plane, Huq lost some of his official protection, and he was soon arrested for ordering the murder of a Shi’ite cleric.

After Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was deposed, her replacement Ishaq Khan swiftly released Huq from prison. In 1991 Huq was shot to death, probably in revenge for the cleric’s death. The opium general was given a state funeral, where he was eulogized by Ishaq Khan as “a great soldier and competent administrator who played a commendable role in Pakistan’s national progress.”

Benazir Bhutto had swept to power in 1988 amid fierce vows to clean up Pakistan’s drug-sodden corruption, but it wasn’t long “before her own regime became the focus of serious charges. In 1989 the US Drug Enforcement Agency came across information that Benazir’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, may have been financing large shipments of heroin from Pakistan to Great Britain and the United States. The DEA assigned one of its agents, a man named John Banks, to work undercover in Pakistan. Banks was a former British mercenary who had worked undercover for Scotland Yard in big international drug cases.

While in Pakistan, Banks claims he posed as a member of the Mafia and that he had met with Bhutto and her husband at their home in Sind. Banks further claims that he traveled with Zadari to Islamabad, where he secretly recorded five hours of conversation between Zadari, a Pakistani air force general and a Pakistani banker. The men discussed the logistics of transporting heroin to the US and to Britain: “We talked about how they were going to ship the drugs to America in a metal cutter,” Banks said in 1996. “They told me that the United Kingdom was another area where they had shipped heroin and hashish on a regular basis.” The British Customs Office had also been monitoring Zadari for dope running: “We received intelligence from about three or four sources, about his alleged involvement as a financier,” a retired British customs officer told the Financial Times. “This was all reported to British intelligence.” The customs official says his government failed to act on this report. Similarly, Banks asserts that the CIA halted the DEA’s investigation of Zardari. All this emerged when Bhutto’s government fell for the second time, in 1996, on charges of corruption lodged primarily against Zardari, who is now in prison for his role in the murder of his brother-in-law Murtaza. Zardari also stands accused of embezzling more than $1 billion in government funds.”

In 1991 Nawz Sharif says that while he served as prime minister he was approached by two Pakistani generals – Aslam Beg, chief of staff for the army, and Asad Durrani, head of the ISI – with a plan to fund dozens of covert operations through the sale of heroin. “General Durrani told me, ‘We have a blueprint ready for your approval,’ Sharif explained to Washington Post reporter John Ward Anderson in 1994. “I was totally flabbergasted. Both Beg and Durrani insisted that Pakistan’s name would not be cited at any place because the whole operation would be carried out by trustworthy third parties. Durrani then went on to list a series of covert military operations in desperate need of money.” Sharif said that he rejected the plan, but believes it was put in place when Bhutto resumed power.

The impact of the Afghan war on Pakistan’s addiction rates was even more drastic than the surge in heroin addiction in the US and Europe. Before the CIA program began, there were fewer than 5,000 heroin addicts in Pakistan. By 1996, according to the United Nations, there were more than 1.6 million. The Pakistani representative to the UN Commission on Narcotics, Raoolf Ali Khan, said in 1993 that “there is no branch of government where drug corruption doesn’t pervade.” As an example he pointed to the fact that Pakistan spends only $1.8 million a year on anti-drug efforts, with an allotment of $1,000 to purchase gasoline for its seven trucks.

By 1994 the value of the heroin trade in Pakistan was twice the amount of the government’s budget. A Western diplomat told the Washington Post in that year that “when you get to the stage where narco-traffickers have more money than the government it’s going to take remarkable efforts and remarkable people to turn it around.” The magnitude of commitment required is illustrated by two episodes. In 1991 the largest drug bust in world history occurred on the road

from Peshawar to Karachi. Pakistani customs officers seized 3.5 tons of heroin and 44 tons of hashish. Several days later half the hashish and heroin had vanished along with the witnesses. The suspects, four men with ties to Pakistani intelligence, had “mysteriously escaped,” to use the words of a Pakistani customs officer. In 1993 Pakistani border guards seized 8 tons of hashish and 1.7 tons of heroin. When the case was turned over to the Pakistani narcotics control board, the entire staff went on vacation to avoid being involved in the investigation. No one was disciplined or otherwise inconvenienced and the narco-traffickers got off scot free. Even the CIA was eventually forced to admit in a 1994 report to Congress that heroin had become the “life blood of the Pakistani economy and political system.”

In February 1989 Mikhail Gorbachev pulled the Soviet troops out of Afghanistan, and asked the US to agree to an embargo on the provision of weapons to any of the Afghan mujahedin factions, who were preparing for another phase of internecine war for control of the country. President Bush refused, thus ensuring a period of continued misery and horror for most Afghans. The war had already turned half the population into refugees, and seen 3 million wounded and more than a million killed. The proclivities of the mujahedin at this point are illustrated by a couple of anecdotes. The Kabul correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review reported in 1989 the mujahedin’s treatment of Soviet prisoners: “One group was killed, skinned and hung up in a butcher’s shop. One captive found himself the center of attraction in a game of buzkashi, that rough-and-tumble form of Afghan polo in which a headless goat is usually the ball. The captive was used instead. Alive. He was literally torn to pieces.” The CIA also had evidence that its freedom fighters had doped up more than 200 Soviet soldiers with heroin and locked them in animal cages where, the Washington Post reported in 1990, they led “lives of indescribable horror.”

In September 1996 the Taliban, fundamentalists nurtured originally in Pakistan as creatures of both the ISI and the CIA, seized power in Kabul, whereupon Mullah Omar, their leader, announced that all laws inconsistent with the Muslim Sharia would be changed. Women would be forced to assume the chador and remain at home, with total segregation of the sexes and women kept out of hospitals, schools and public bathrooms. The CIA continued to support these medieval fanatics who, according to Emma Bonino, the European Union’s commissioner for humanitarian affairs, were committing “gender genocide.”

One law at odds with the Sharia that the Taliban had no apparent interest in changing was the prophet’s injunction against intoxicants. In fact, the Taliban urged its Afghan farmers to increase their production of opium. One of the Taliban leaders, the “drug czar” Abdul Rashid, noted, “If we try to stop this [opium farming] the people will be against us.” By the end 1996, according to the UN, Afghan opium production had reached 2,000 metric tons. There were an estimated 200,000 families in Afghanistan working in the opium trade. The Taliban were in control of the 96 percent of all Afghan land in opium cultivation and imposed a tax on opium production and a road toll on trucks carrying the crop.

In 1997 an Afghan opium farmer gave an ironic reply to Jimmy Carter’s brooding on whether to use nuclear weapons as part of a response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Amhud Gul told a reporter from the Washington Post, “We are cultivating this [that is, opium] and exporting this as an atom bomb.” CIA intervention had worked its magic once again. By 1994, Afghanistan, according to the UN drug control program had surpassed Burma as the world’s number one supplier of raw opium.

Note: This story was more than two years in the making. I started reporting it in 1995 for the premier issue of a Portland-based magazine called Serpent’s Tooth: Reporting the Drug War, which was meant to be a cross between Ramparts and Paul Krassner’s The Realist, with plenty of sex ads to pay the bills. In fact, Krassner also wrote a scathingly funny piece for that issue, some ribald tale involving three of his favorite subjects: Bill Clinton, LSD and the virtues of masturbation. Alas, a few weeks before the magazine was ready to go to press, the trust-fund publisher pulled the plug on the entire venture after getting into a brawl with the editorial collective. In my experience, any time there’s an “editorial collective” in charge, the publication is destined for a ventilator, especially when cocaine is involved. So, after spending more than a year working on my big piece on the Afghan war and the opium trade, it was orphaned. Portions of the story later appeared in CounterPunch, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and the Twin Cities weekly, City Pages. And a version of it ended up as a chapter in our book Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs and the Press.

– JSC

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own
Eddie S. Glaudie, Jr.
(Crown)

The Green New Deal and Beyond
Stan Cox
(City Lights)

Marrow and Bone
Walter Kempowski
Trans. Charlotte Collins
(NYRB Press)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Old Played New
Christina Vane
(Blue Tip Records)

EarthSeed
Nicole Mitchell & Lisa E. Harris
(FPE)

Color of Noize
Derrick Hodge
(Blue Note)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is whiteouthbk.jpg

On March 16, 1998, the CIA’s Inspector General, Fred Hitz, finally let the cat out of the bag in an aside at a Congressional Hearing. Hitz told the US Reps that the CIA had maintained relationships with companies and individuals the Agency knew to be involved in the drug business. Even more astonishingly, Hitz revealed that back in 1982 the CIA had requested and received from Reagan’s Justice Department clearance not to report any knowledge it might have of drug-dealing by CIA assets.

With these two admisstions, Hitz definitively sank decades of CIA denials, many of them under oath to Congress. Hitz’s admissions also made fools of some of the most prominent names in US journalism, and vindicated investigators and critics of the Agency, ranging from Al McCoy to Senator John Kerry.

The involvement of the CIA with drug traffickers is a story that has slouched into the limelight every decade or so since the creation of the Agency. Most recently, in 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published a sensational series on the topic, “Dark Alliance,” and then helped destroy its own reporter, Gary Webb.

In Whiteout, Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair finally put the whole story together from the earliest days, when the CIA’s institutional ancestors, the OSS and the Office of Naval Intelligence, cut a deal with America’s premier gangster and drug trafficker, Lucky Luciano.

They show that many of even the most seemingly outlandish charges leveled against the Agency have basis in truth. After the San Jose Mercury News series, for example, outraged black communities charged that the CIA had undertaken a program, stretching across many years, of experiments on minorities. Cockburn and St. Clair show how the CIA imported Nazi scientists straight from their labs at Dachau and Buchenwald and set them to work developing chemical and biological weapons, tested on black Americans, some of them in mental hospitals.

Cockburn and St. Clair show how the CIA’s complicity with drug-dealing criminal gangs was part and parcel of its attacks on labor organizers, whether on the docks of New York, or of Marseilles and Shanghai. They trace how the Cold War and counterinsurgency led to an alliance between the Agency and the vilest of war criminals such as Klaus Barbie, or fanatic heroin traders like the mujahedin in Afghanistan.

Whiteout is a thrilling history that stretches from Sicily in 1944 to the killing fields of South-East Asia, to CIA safe houses in Greenwich Village and San Francisco where CIA men watched Agency-paid prostitutes feed LSD to unsuspecting clients. We meet Oliver North as he plotted with Manuel Noriega and Central American gangsters. We travel to little-known airports in Costa Rica and Arkansas. We hear from drug pilots and accountants from the Medillin Cocaine Cartel. We learn of DEA agents whose careers were ruined because they tried to tell the truth.

The CIA, drugs… and the press. Cockburn and St. Clair dissect the shameful?way many American journalists have not only turned a blind eye on the Agency’s misdeeds, but helped plunge the knife into those who told the real story.

Here at last is the full saga. Fact-packed and fast-paced, Whiteout is a richly detailed excavation of the CIA’s dirtiest secrets. For all who want to know the truth about the Agency this is the book to start with.

Posted in USA, Afghanistan, C.I.AComments Off on “I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade

Democracy and the Illusion of Choice

by ROB URIE

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The neoliberal logic of everything for the rich is now so deeply embedded in American political economy that its base assumptions appear untouchable, except in rare and extraordinary circumstances. With the Covid pandemic exacerbating the current crisis of capitalism, political and economic defense mechanisms make restoring the people and institutions that created the crisis appear to be the only alternative (once again) to solving it. And from the potential victory of a social democratic program five months ago, electoral choice is now between a right-wing demagogue and the chief architect of the carceral state, militarization of the police and liberal obeisance to capital.

There is a connection between the Democrats three-plus years spent pushing the un / disproven Russiagate story and Joe Biden’s miraculous ascent as the establishment candidate in 2020. The Russiagate allegations shifted attention away from rejection of the Democrat’s political program in 2016 so that they could run the same program again in 2020. Amongst the political variables open for ‘discussion,’ the choice of candidate is all there is. The political program is determined at the intersection of campaign contributions, the needs and desires of capital, and the ids of oligarchs freed from public accountability. Democracy has nothing to do with it.

Graph: the ‘racist backlash’ theory of Donald Trump’s election effectively divided the victims of neoliberal economic policies by race. The actual number of white racist and neo-Nazi groups has been declining since 2012. And before rococo explanations for this decline are sought, the rise and fall of hate groups tracks unemployment quite closely (graph below). Whatever the nature of Mr. Trump’s appeals, when Black Separatist groups are excluded from the ‘hate group’ data, the number of white racist and neo-Nazi hate groups followed the unemployment rate lower. Source: SPLC.

The ‘left’ argument for electing Joe Biden is as a placeholder, without precisely explaining how placeholding has supported the upward redistribution of political and economic power for four decades running. Donald Trump made himself known— seemingly to his political detriment, while five decades in public life left Joe Biden a political unknown who oversaw the writing of the 1994 Crime Bill and the Patriot Act, supported the misguided U.S. war against Iraq, and acted as collection agent for the credit card company MBNA. That both men represent the interests of capital and disjoint constituencies within the neoliberal order again suggests political guidance from outside of electoral politics.

This description is difficult for Democrats because they never took account of their loss in 2016. The stories they told themselves of foreign intrigue and racial backlash weren’t, and still aren’t, supported by the data. The Russiagate pillars have fallen one by one until nothing is left but tribal shorthand for aesthetic aversion to ‘Trump!’ Otherwise, the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) has been the gold standard of ‘ascendance of hate’ reporting since the 2000s. Outside of its made-for-the-establishment-press headlines, the number of racist and neo-Nazi hate groups is falling.

Graph: the liberal concept of ‘hate’ groups grants emotional character to social organization that tracks economic stress fairly well. Through the capitalist practice of racial scapegoating, periods of widespread economic stress, illustrated above through unemployment, are associated with rising social divisions. Likewise, when economic stresses abate, so do social divisions. Declining unemployment explains the failure of Donald Trump’s racial appeals to foster a growing political movement— to date. Source: SPLC; St. Louis Federal Reserve.

This latter point is worth making for a number of reasons. As the graph above suggests, the ebb and flow of racist and neo-Nazi groups ties closely to the unemployment rate, an indicator of economic stress. The ‘Strong Leader’ theory of fascist ascendance being put forward by mainstream Democrats and the American left was drawn from the European fascist movements of the twentieth century that arose from the ashes of capitalist crises. In an era of relatively low unemployment, Donald Trump has had little success growing a movement of the radical right. However, one would never know this listening to the heated rhetoric of Democrats.

With the Covid pandemic producing rising and likely intractable unemployment over the near to mid-term, the risk of re-electing an opportunistic demagogue like Mr. Trump is indeed great. This was why, in the heart of the Great Recession, so many on the left found the Democrat’s subservience to Wall Street followed by a quick pivot to austerity policies for unemployed workers disquieting. A more perfect formula for fascist ascendance is difficult to imagine. So, on the one hand, opportunistic demagoguery bears known relation to tragic political outcomes. On the other, without economic circumstances that produce a constituency for political demagoguery, there is no constituency for it. And solving economic problems serves a social purpose.

Furthermore, a social democratic alternative was offered by the left through the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. At the behest of capital, establishment Democrats sabotaged the Democratic primaries, thereby assuring that conditions conducive to the rise of an angry and determined political right would emerge from the next capitalist crisis—like the one that is now upon us. In this regard, dedicated austerian Joe Biden, who spent five decades making the ‘hard’ decisions to punish and demoralize vulnerable people, is exactly what global capital and the rich are hoping for. (Evidence: he is the establishment candidate.)

Much of the back and forth here hinges on the dubious distinction between economic and political power that has American politicians affecting political outcomes in contradiction to those their wealthy patrons support. In addition to contradicting capitalist economic logic, this distinction flies in the face of decades of careful research tying campaign contributions to political outcomes. Donald Trump’s abandonment of his populist economic program upon election was American electoral politics 101. Joe Biden speaks like he is from the shop floor— or a gig job locale, but he is straight from the boss’s office with check in hand.

Why this is more than everyday hypocrisy in the service of power makes the Democrats the more skilled demagogues. Through state-corporate bureaucrats, much of what Republicans say they will do in plain language is achieved in a more politically palatable manner by Democrats behind closed doors. Noam Chomsky has made the point that Donald Trump is an environmental terrorist. No one paying attention would disagree with this point. What Mr. Chomsky doesn’t say— and appears not to be aware of, is that environmental terrorism was moved off of the political books by Democrats through ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) clauses in U.S. trade deals.

Donald Trump set aside the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade deal shortly after entering office, earning the ire of the neoliberal left, the free-trade left and the market fundamentalist left, for daring to reconsider capitalist trade relations. In fact, the ISDS clauses in it and NAFTA, provided corporations with the ability to sue nations to be compensated for profits lost due to environmental regulations. Should this be less than evident, this is an extortion scheme designed to inflict economic penalties on states for passing environmental legislation. Had the TPP been ratified with the ISDS clause included, it would have been virtually impossible to reverse.

This isn’t to argue precise commensurability— rolling back environmental regulations isn’t precisely the same as preventing environmental legislation from being passed. The prior (Trump) is visible and matches his stated policies. The latter (Democrats) is kept out of the public eye and is intended to allow Democrats to pose as environmental stewards while assuring that legal agreements prevent them from passing viable environmental regulations. To be clear, this wasn’t, and isn’t, a bureaucratic mix up or mistake. ISDS lawsuits have been prevalent since a bit after NAFTA was passed (1993) for the express purpose of rendering environmental legislation unviable.

The Democrat’s efforts to undermine environmental regulations through the use of abstract legal structures didn’t remain abstract. It has been the basis of lawsuits that successfully reversed and precluded environmental regulations for decades (link above). The motivation for conceiving and engineering this legal dodge is the same for Democrats as it is for Republicans— to enhance corporate profits that make the rich richer. In addition, the Democrats promote the neoliberal view that capitalism is an extension of American political power abroad. Rank-and-file Democrats and the neoliberal left have been loath to reflect this view back on their domestic politics.

This formulation can be reversed to explain the Democrat’s domestic policies quite nicely. The Federal government is an extension of capital’s economic reach vis-à-vis citizens and the so-called electorate. The right-wingers understood this about Obamacare in a way that liberals never will. In the liberal view, we’re all in this healthcare system together, so we should all contribute to it. From the right, Obamacare is a government scheme to force citizens to buy a defective product from private corporations. Seven years after Obamacare was passed, the U.S. still has the most expensive healthcare system in the world with the worst, or close to the worst, outcomes by every public health measure.

The point here isn’t Obamacare per se, but to distinguish the class struggle model that captures ideological ground from left to right, versus the liberal model of unified national interests. If Democrats believed their own marketing, they wouldn’t hide behind Rube Goldberg devices like ISDS clauses and Obamacare to misrepresent the public interest. The purpose of these devices is to obscure their intent. The idea that Joe Biden will see the light on Medicare for All, a Job Guarantee and / or a robust Green New Deal is as ignorant of his, and the Democrat’s, history as it is of the establishment party’s reasons for existing. They exist as an impediment to democracy, not as its representatives.

The Democrat’s rehabilitation of George W. Bush is instructive here. By analogy, the comic movie Rat Race includes a visit to the (Klaus) Barbie Museum where visitors are regaled with the ‘Butcher of Lyon’s’ prowess at ballroom dancing and his love for his children. Having spent some time with competing counts of the Iraq war dead from Mr. Bush’s war, the most plausible was the Lancet’s 2006 report of 654,965 ‘excess’ Iraqi deaths several years before the war ended. Joe Biden was an enthusiastic supporter of that war and Nancy Pelosi was informed of illegal torture before most of it occurred— when she could have done something about it.

The point: senior Democrats, including Joe Biden, were and are complicit in War Crimes that have actually taken place. No debate over the political and economic factors that led to the rise of European fascism is necessary. Democrats may fear and loath the ‘Orange Hitler,’ but to date he has nowhere near the body count to his discredit that senior Democrats do. This distance between realized outcomes and speculation about future threats suggests that the liberal echo chamber is running on fear. It would be easier to grant innocence of intent here had the fraud of Russiagate and the slanders of racist and fascist ascendance matched the available evidence.

There is plenty fraught about the political and economic present. Only a fool would dismiss the risk of an ugly political reaction to widespread and persistent economic stress. Given that capitalist crises are increasing in scale and scope, the solution is to temper this economic frailty through the downward redistribution of political and economic power. However, Democrats just pulled out all the stops to prevent just such a social democratic political program from being realized. This is the political backdrop that makes Joe Biden anything but a temporary solution to aggregating crises. He, and the Democrats, are one-half of the problem with electoral politics.

Posted in USAComments Off on Democracy and the Illusion of Choice

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