On the Uses of State Terrorism


State terrorism is the use of state violence against innocent civilians to create fear in pursuit of a political objective — an ugly side of imperialism.

There are two varieties of state terrorism: overt and covert. The most obvious examples of overt state terrorism are the 1937 bombing of Guernica and the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Overt state terrorism, however, has frequently been unsuccessful, since it often produces a determination to fight back rather than simple fear and submission in the minds of victims of state terrorism, as in the cases of the 1940 Luftwaffe bombing of London, the 1969-72 napalming of Vietnam, and the 2003 “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad.

Hence the use of covert state terrorism as the preferred violent method of advancing the neo-liberal global project. However, covert terrorism also has its difficulties and problems, many of which are examined by such publications as the Covert Action Quarterly and the National Security Archive‘s briefing books. CIA agents are human, too, so they may turn whistle-blowers. Unshredded documents may get leaked to the press. In short, it is not always possible to keep “covert actions” really covert forever.

And when a secret is exposed, the public may or may not swallow a difficult proposition that the Agency is not responsible for the actions of its agents — a public relations nightmare for the ruling class. Damage control is then necessay.

A case in point is that of the CIA covert bombing of a Cubana airliner on October 6, 1976, killing 73 innocent civilians.

Luis Posada Carriles had been trained by the CIA in explosives in the early 1960s. He was ostensibly in the US military, from February 1963 to March 1964, which was a cover the CIA gave its training agents then. During the 1960s, as a salaried agent, Posada ran a CIA-financed school in Florida training others in his trade. He also made forays into foreign countries to do covert bombings and assassinations. In 1972, when he left Florida for Caracas to work for the Venezuelan intelligence agency DISIP, he had with him a substantial supply of CIA bomb-making materials and explosive devices. By the fall of 1976, he had supposedly left DISIP and was operating a private detective agency in Caracas, but he was still in contact with the CIA.

Recently released, partially blacked-out CIA reports included in the National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 153 (Peter Kornbluh, May 10, 2005) suggest that the October 6 Cubana bombing was a joint CIA-DISIP project, with the CIA involved in the planning. The reports refer to meetings in early September in Caracas and Santo Domingo involving Posada and his partner Orlando Bosch (the head of CORU, “an anti-Castro terrorist umbrella organization” in the words of the FBI) and other CIA and DISIP agents, where discussions about Cubana flights as well as former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier were held. (Letelier was murdered in Washington, DC on September 21, 1976.) In late September, Posada (described as “informant”) reported to the CIA: “We’re going to hit the Cubana airliner.” On October 1, the State Department — at Posada’s request and under special procedure — issued a US visa for the week of the bombing to one of the Posada employees who placed the bomb on Cubana flight 455. The other Posada employee (who later confessed they placed the Posada-made bomb on the plane under Posada’s direction) had a secret CIA Caracas telephone number in his belongings when he was arrested in Trinidad the day of the bombing. Before his arrest, he had sent a message to Posada: “A bus went off the cliff and 73 dogs died.” After the bombing, the US Ambassador sought to get Posada and Bosch out of Venezuela before they could be charged.

No one warned Cuba or potential passengers of the impending attack. Nor were the aforementioned reports (as well as whatever other CIA reports and information still existed) made available after the bombing to the Venezuelan officials who were prosecuting Bosch and Posada.

In custody after the Cubana bombing, Posada threatened the CIA that if he were forced to talk, the US would have “another Watergate.” Will there be one?

The Department of Homeland Security has charged Posada with violation of immigration laws and detained him. His trial is set on August 29, at which time Posada’s residency and asylum claims might also be heard. The immigration case is obviously a collusion between our government and Posada — to make the public think the delay of extradition is justified and prevent “another Watergate.”

The cover-up may not last forever. Posada’s Miami lawyers failed to have the case transferred from El Paso, Texas to Miami, Florida. And Venezuela has filed its extradition request with overwhelming evidence to establish guilt for the 73 murders, posing a dilemma for Washington: harboring Posada, a terrorist by any standard, would undermine its rhetoric of the “War on Terror,” but extraditing him, who knows way too much, would likely lead to more embarrassing public disclosures about its state terrorist activities. Besides, his extradition would be regarded by all as a victory of Cuba and Venezuela.

So far, much of public outcry has been heard abroad, where the mass media are a little less controlled by the corporate oligarchies than in the United States. But more and more Americans, including the media,1 are starting to demand that Posada be tried in Venezuela.

No doubt that George W. Bush would love to follow in the footsteps of his father.2
Given the shift in public opinion in the United States, however, it is by no means clear that he can.

1. See “Consistency Please” (Editorial, Baltimore Sun, 19 May 2005) and “Give Up Posada: The U.S. Should Oppose All Accused Terrorists” (Editorial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 17 June 2005) among others.

2. George H.W. Bush was the CIA Director at the time of the bombing. He was Vice President when Posada was allowed to escape from jail during his trial in Venezuela (the CIA bribed the guards) and report to Col. Oliver North in El Salvador to work on the Nicaraguan Contra supply operation being run out of the White House. He was President when he pardoned Bosch against the recommendation of his own Justice Department, thereby harboring him in Miami.

Tom Crumpacker is a retired lawyer and a member of the Miami Coalition to End the US Embargo of Cuba.