In his October 15 article "Blowback," Chalmers Johnson reiterates the widely circulated but incorrect notion that the CIA had a relationship with Osama bin Laden. For the record, your readers should know that the CIA never employed, paid or maintained any relationship whatsoever with bin Laden.
It is true that the US government supported the Afghan mujahedeen in its fight against Soviet forces and that bin Laden was in Afghanistan during that time frame raising money and recruiting Arab fighters to fight the Soviets in the Afghan cause. That activity does not equate with the CIA maintaining a relationship with bin Laden, and it is time for that well-worn canard to be put to rest.
WILLIAM R. HARLOW
Director of Public Affairs
Central Intelligence Agency
Chalmers Johnson's blowback theory of terrorism against the United States rests on shaky logical grounds, as it confuses causes with rationalizations. Virtually every social movement legitimizes itself as a reaction against some real or perceived injustice. But whether the historical events representing the claimed injustice are the actual cause of the movement is a totally different issue.
It would be absurd to portray the rise of Nazism in 1920s Germany as a "blowback" to international Jewry, Bolshevism, Weimar's decadence or even the Treaty of Versailles. Fascism also emerged in Italy, where the purported "causes" were for the most part absent. However, both countries had similar class structures--reactionary landowners and industrialists, whose interests were threatened by labor mobilization, and who bankrolled bands of Fascist thugs to fight labor organizing.
Following the same logic, the US policy in the Middle East and Central Asia is quite benign, especially when compared with our misdeeds in Latin America or the Far East. If the blowback argument were true, we should expect terrorist attacks coming from Chile, Nicaragua or Vietnam rather than from the Middle East.
The blowback theory ignores internal factors responsible for the growth of Islamicist terrorism. These factors, strikingly similar to those responsible for the growth of European Fascism, include oil-rich aristocracies and military dictatorships bankrolling Islamicist fanatics to turn back social changes taking place there. The United States might have aided these efforts under the rubric of anticommunism but certainly did not create them, just as Henry Ford's birthday gifts for Hitler did not unleash Nazism.
New York City
Bravo for Chalmers Johnson's insightful and clearly stated article. One point I would like to have seen addressed: the possible "blowback" resulting from the toppling of the Taliban, which the US government and its motley coalition of allies is hellbent on doing, and replacing that government with another group of extremists--the Northern Alliance. Afghan women's rights groups like RAWA are sounding the alarm about the alliance, and we must listen. Not only is the Northern Alliance bound to continue the oppression of the Afghan people, but installing them in power is bound merely to repeat the blowback pattern.
Does the CIA's director of public affairs really have as much contempt for the American people as he shows in his letter? The details he is suppressing are on the public record. The CIA supported bin Laden from at least 1984, including building in 1986 the training complex and weapons storage tunnels around the Afghan city of Khost, where bin Laden trained many of the 35,000 "Arab Afghans." They constituted a sort of Islamic Abraham Lincoln Brigade of young volunteers from around the world to become mujahedeen and fight on the side of the Afghans against the Soviet Union. Bin Laden's Khost complex was the one that Clinton hit in 1998 with cruise missiles; for once the CIA knew where the target was, since it had built it.
It is true that the CIA used a formal cutout to make deliveries of money and weapons to the "freedom fighters." It did so to maintain a facade of deniability with the Soviet Union. All US money was funneled through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, which had taken the lead since 1982 in recruiting radical Muslims from around the world to come to Pakistan, receive training and fight on the Afghan side.
In Peshawar, Osama bin Laden, the well-connected, rich young Saudi (he was born around 1957), became close friends with Prince Turki bin Faisal, the head of the Istakhbarat, the Saudi Intelligence Service, and Lieut. Gen. Hameed Gul, head of the ISI, all of whom were joined in a common cause with the CIA to defeat the Soviet Union. It is barely conceivable that Milton Bearden, the CIA official in charge of this "covert" operation, never shook hands with Osama bin Laden, but it is simply not true that they did not have a relationship. Moreover, two genuine authorities, Abdel Moneim Said of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, and Hazhir Teimourian, the prominent BBC and London Times analyst of Iranian Kurdish ancestry, claim that bin Laden received training directly from the CIA.
Wojtek Sokolowski ignores the definition, which I supplied in my article, of the CIA term "blowback": unintended consequences of covert special operations kept secret from the American people and, in most cases, from their elected representatives. I am not talking about reactions to historical events but about ill-conceived, short-term, invariably illegal US clandestine operations to overthrow foreign governments or carry out state terrorist operations against target populations.
The American people may not know what was done in their name, but the people on the receiving end surely do--including the people of Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Cuba (1959-60), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), Indonesia (1965), Vietnam (1961-73), Chile (1973), El Salvador and Nicaragua (1980s), Iraq (1991 to the present) and very probably Greece (1967), to name only the most obvious cases.
Sokolowski says that our record of misdeeds in the Middle East and Central Asia is "benign" compared with Latin America and East Asia and wonders when the "blowback" will start coming from those places. As I argued in my book Blowback, East Asia is still the place fraught with the greatest danger to the United States itself. For example, Okinawa, with its thirty-eight American military bases surrounding 1.3 million people, is America's version of the Berlin wall. When it becomes unraveled, as it surely will, it will take with it the entire American empire in East Asia.
R. Longworth is right to remind us that there are cycles of blowback. The September 11 attacks and the Pentagon's current response of "bouncing the rubble" in Afghanistan are setting the stage for more rounds to come. This cycle will probably come to an end only when the United States has gone the way of the former Soviet Union.
GRACE UNDER FIRE
I have read political journals of all stripes for several years, and I have never seen an author respond to criticisms of his article with as much grace and honesty as Richard Falk did in the "Exchange" [Nov. 26] reviewing his "Defining a Just War" [Oct. 29]. Nor can I remember anyone else using such a forum to admit he was wrong. Try to find that in National Review.
A LAST, FOND LOOK AT 'TAKINGS'
East Lansing, Mich.
I have been teaching property law, including the case of Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon, for more than twenty-five years. Richard Epstein is wrong when he says that the case "held that a regulation...could be treated as a compensable taking if it went 'too far'" ["Exchange," Nov. 19]. That remark by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was a dictum, not a holding. The actual ruling nullified the regulation. No compensation was awarded.
Moreover, in 1987 the reasoning of the Brandeis dissent was adopted in the case of Keystone Bituminous Coal Association v. DeBenedictis. Brandeis and the Keystone court treated the regulation of undermining as nuisance prevention, a justification that Epstein favors elsewhere in his letter. Despite Epstein's protestations, his view on the takings clause is "radical." The Founders knew the difference between the words "regulation" and "taking." Plutocrats wish to blur this distinction.
GOOD TO THE LAST DROP
It's unfortunate that both Christopher Hitchens and his critics have missed the real significance of the deliverance of Vienna in 1683 [ "Minority Report," Oct. 22, Nov. 19]. While pillaging the vast Turkish camp outside the city walls, a soldier in the Christian army is supposed to have come upon a Turkish soldier making coffee (very cool under fire, the Turks) and forced him at sword's point to disclose the secret of the wondrous beverage. Very soon thereafter, the Christian soldier opened the first coffeehouse in Vienna--thereby setting the West on the path of true civilization.
Richard Klein (who I very much hope is the same man who authored Cigarettes Are Sublime), if anything, understates matters. In addition to cracking the coffee code, enterprising Viennese pastry cooks began to bake a fragrant buttery roll to "go with." In recognition of the many arts and sciences mastered by their beaten foe, they formed the delicacy in the shape of a Turkish crescent or "croissant." The proprietors of Sacher's Hotel and the makers of Sacher torte were only building upon this enduring and delicious cross-cultural foundation.
Christopher Hitchens and Chalmers Johnson and Our Readers