Democracy, Terrorism and the Secret State: From Gladio to the War on Terror

By Adeyinka Makinde
“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, unknown people far fromany political game. The reason was quite simple – to force the people to turn to thestate for greater security.” –
Vincenzo VinciguerraThe nature, necessity and scope of the miscellany of powers exercised by the stateover the nation is in one sense arguably as contentious in the contemporarycircumstances of the Western world as it was in the distant pre-democratic medievalpast.In his work
Della Ragion di Stato
 (The Reason of State), which was completed in1589, the Italian thinker Giovanni Botero argued against the underpinningphilosophical amorality espoused by Niccolo Machiavelli in
 (The Prince), apolitical treatise centred on the ways and methods of the manipulation of the leversof the power by a ruler in an organised state.The thrust of Machiavelli’s seminal piece was that virtually any action taken by aruler to preserve and promote the stability and the prosperity of his domain wasinherently justifiable. Thus, the employment of violence, murder, deception andcruelty toward achieving these ends were not ignoble in so far as the ends justifiedthe means.With its implications of a required recourse to illegality and a subtext offering morethan a whiff of authoritarianism, this is not a conceptualisation of the
modus operandi
by which modern Western democratic states are supposed to operate both in termsof their domestic and foreign policy-strategies.Yet, while the modern state, guided as it is by an ethos encapsulating the rule of lawand the respect for human rights, exercises powers which are checked and balancedby a mandated adherence to constitutionality, there are troubling questions andunresolved problems which have been raised by the workings of the intelligenceagencies of the executive branch of government.Those who work in the domestic and foreign branches of the security services aretasked with detecting threats under a necessary veil of secrecy. But questionsabound as to the boundaries of their activities and about how truly accountable theyare. Astoundingly, the laws under of the United Kingdom did not even formallyacknowledge the existence of MI5, the domestic security service, until near theclosing of the 20
 century.The case of Harman and Hewitt versus the United Kingdom in 1991, which wasbrought under the European Convention of Human Rights, held that the failure of theUnited Kingdom to provide a statutory basis for the existence of this body which hadpowers of surveillance and file-keeping ran counter to the rights protecting privacy,and, by extension, was an abrogation of the rule of law. As a consequence of the ruling in the case, the United Kingdom passed a statutorycharter for MI5 under the Security Service Act of 1989, and later took a similar stepfor its counterpart with a foreign remit, the Secret Intelligence Service, via theIntelligence Services Act of 1994.Quite extraordinarily, the United Kingdom’s intelligence services continue to maintainthe fiction that they ‘don’t do dirty’, in other words, that they do not subvert foreigngovernments and plan assassinations.This goes all the way back to the denials about the so-called Lockhart Plot, ascheme by MI-1C; MI6’s precursor, which was led by Robert Bruce Lockhart.Lockhart’s plan is believed to have had as its aim the assassination of Lenin and theoverthrow of the newly installed Bolshevik government in Russia.Such eventualities, it was hoped, would enable a succeeding government to tear upthe Brest-Litovsk Treaty and have Russia re-join the war being waged being againstGermany.The assertion some years ago by a top MI6 official that it did not organiseassassinations correctly provoked howls of derision as well as a sense of utterincredulity. “What do they exist for?” went the typical response.This was somewhat recanted by Sir Richard Dearlove, a former head who admittedthat agents had the power to use “lethal force”. Agents are allowed under the Intelligence Services Act to conduct illegal activitiessuch as breaking and entering and planting listening devices in the interests of
national security, and while there is no specific proviso giving MI6 agents a ‘licenseto kill’, section 7 of the Act, not only offers protection to agents who have bugged andbribed, but also where they have become enmeshed in enterprises involving murder,kidnap and torture, where such actions have been authorised in writing by agovernment minister.Still, it must be reminded that while renegade British agents have alleged that planshad existed in the recent past to assassinate former heads of governments such asSerbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Libya’s Muarmar Gadaffi, the official policy ofcourse remains to neither confirm nor deny any allegations related to its activities.Despite the recent legislative reforms in Britain, the perception of an extremelypowerful and at times sinister working secret state persists there as it does in theUnited States and other Western nations.Congressional investigations in the United States after the fall of President RichardNixon in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal explored and uncovered schemesby intelligence agencies, notably by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and theFederal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which involved the deliberate subversion offoreign governments and targeted assassinations regarding the former, and inregard to the latter, widespread infringements on individual liberties through spyingand harassment, as well as targeting groups and associations for infiltration anddisruption. A disturbing allegation often made and documented about many agencies of thesecret state and their subterranean machinations, is a tendency to corruption andeven the perpetuation of criminal cultures which have involved the forming of unholyalliances with gangsters, political extremists and corrupt regimes.For instance, the CIA was discovered to have conspired with elements within the American Mafia to assassinate Cuba’s Fidel Castro in the 1960s, and in the 1980s,in defiance of the law set by Congress, it disbursed funds to the Nicaraguan Contraswho agents knew where also financed from drugs sources.In the 1960s and 1970s, Aginter Press, the front for Yves Guérin-Sérac’s fascistguerrilla training camp, which was designed to undermine the chances of Westernliberal democracies from falling under the sway of the Left, was partly financed bythe CIA.Most of these endeavours were carried out with the backing and direction of figuresin democratically elected governments. While politicians maintain the veneer ofbeing subject to a guiding framework of moral propriety and the operation of the ruleof law, in the shadows and behind the curtains, they urge, they manage and facilitatethe commission by immoral methods what they construe to be ultimately in theinterests of their nations. And a critical question: to what extent does the historical record unmaskgovernments as the agents of ‘synthetic’ terror? In the ‘Game of Nations’, the use ofsecret services and military ‘black operations’ to manufacture incidents to justify wars

Posted on November 14, 2013, in Guest Columnist and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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