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Countering Misinformation

Confessions -- or Fantasies -- of an Economic Hit Man?

Purported links to National Security Agency appear dubious

Washington -- John Perkins’ popular, but misleading, book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, is being released in paperback.  Perkins claims that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) recruited him to be an “economic hit man,” who deliberately entrapped foreign countries in unmanageable amounts of debt so they would be beholden to the United States.  This appears to be a total fabrication.  To the contrary, the U.S. government has led a recent initiative to cancel the debt of many heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC).

THE PERKINS ALLEGATIONS

In the book, Perkins says a mysterious woman named Claudine Martin at the Charles T. Main engineering company, where he worked as chief economist, told him he was to become an “economic hit man” and what that entailed:

“First, I was to justify huge international loans that would funnel money back to MAIN and other U.S. companies … through massive engineering and construction projects.  Second, I would work to bankrupt the countries that received those loans (after they had paid MAIN and the other U.S. contractors, of course) so that they would be forever beholden to their creditors, and so they would present easy targets when we needed favors, including military bases, UN votes, or access to oil and other natural resources.” (p. 15)

Perkins claims that all this was done at the behest of the NSA, although he offers no evidence that this was the case.  Nowhere in his book does he claim that anyone at the NSA gave him any written or verbal directions.

Perkins’ account that he interviewed for a job with the NSA in 1968 seems credible.  He says he was trying to avoid being drafted during the war in Vietnam, and that a close friend of his father-in-law worked at the NSA, told him that NSA employees received draft deferments and set up an interview for him.  Perkins says he received a job offer from NSA but decided instead to join the Peace Corps, which also made him eligible for a draft deferment, and was more to his liking.

At this point, Perkins’ narrative appears to begin to depart from reality.  He claims that the NSA approved of his joining the Peace Corps and had a hand in his being hired at the end of his Peace Corps duty by the Charles T. Main engineering company – all of this supposedly communicated silently, without even a wink or a nod. 

Perkins is apparently not aware that the National Security Agency is a cryptological (codemaking and codebreaking) organization, not an economic organization.  According to its public Web site, it is restricted by law to two missions:

  • Information Assurance: protecting U.S. government communications systems from harm; and

  • Foreign Signals Intelligence: collecting communications and signals intelligence on foreign entities.

Neither of these missions involves anything remotely resembling placing economists at private companies in order to increase the debt of foreign countries.

Throughout the book, it is clear that Perkins felt that he was betraying his conscience by working as an economist facilitating large engineering and construction projects in Third World countries.  He is much more comfortable working with indigenous peoples, helping to preserve their cultures with small-scale economic projects, as he did in the Peace Corps and as he has done more recently.  But there seems to be no reason to believe that the National Security Agency or any other agency of the U.S. government, except the Peace Corps, played a role in his personal drama. 

Perkins revealed his fondness for conspiracy theories during a January 10 presentation at a bookstore in Washington.  At one point, he claimed, falsely, that the U.S. government had been involved in the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., former Beatle John Lennon, and several unnamed U.S. senators who had died in plane crashes.

In response to a question about the September 11, 2001, attacks, he cautioned that although he did not know much about this subject he thought that if a bank had been robbed, the police would investigate the possibility that it had been an “inside job,” implying that the U.S. government may have been involved in the 9/11 attacks.  He also recommended a Web site that puts forward the false claim that no plane hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. (For a discussion of this issue, see “Did a Plane Hit the Pentagon?”)

He said he found it hard to believe that the September 11 attacks had been planned by a man in a cave with a walkie-talkie – a formulation frequently used by those who wish to absolve al-Qaida of responsibility for the attacks. (For discussion, see “Al Qaeda and September 11th.”)

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, which Perkins says has been translated into some 20 languages, is popular because it is an exciting, first-person, cloak-and-dagger tale that plays to popular images about alleged U.S. economic exploitation of Third World countries.  Perkins raises legitimate questions about the impacts of economic growth and modernization on developing countries and indigenous peoples.  But his claim that he was acting as an “economic hit man” at the behest of the NSA appears to be a total fantasy.

U.S. GOVERNMENT FAVORS DEBT RELIEF

Contrary to Perkins’ assertions, U.S. government policy seeks to reduce the debt burden for the most heavily indebted poor countries. 

In 2004, President Bush called for a cancellation of official debt for the world’s poorest countries.  A year later, at the Gleneagles summit in July 2005, the leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) agreed to pursue actions to write off the official debt of the world’s poorest 18 countries, and to forgive $17 billion of Nigeria’s debt, in the biggest debt cancellation ever.  (See G8 Summit 2005, Gleneagles, Scotland.)

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for International Affairs, Timothy Adams, described the program in September 2005:

“Under the plan, 18 HIPC countries will be immediately eligible for … debt forgiveness: Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.  The remaining HIPCs will also become eligible as they reach their HIPC Completion Point.

“The total amount forgiven for the 18 HIPC completion point countries will be $40 billion in nominal terms ….  The full application of the cancellation of existing debt repayments could amount to as much as $60 billion as countries complete the process.”

PERKINS’ OTHER INTERESTS

Perkins has written several other books, which include:

  • Psychonavigation: “first hand accounts of how diverse tribal cultures travel beyond time and space by means of visions and dream wanderings;”

  • Shapeshifting: “shamanistic techniques for global and personal transformation;” and

  • The World Is As You Dream It: “shamanistic techniques from the Amazon and Andes.”

As to whether Perkins was acting at the behest of the U.S. government, the world is not “as he dreams it.”


Created: 02 Feb 2006 Updated: 10 May 2006

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