Interview transcript "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" Part 1

9. září 2007 v 1:03 | John Perkins versus Terry Lane

Radio Interview transcript "Confessions of an Economic Hitman"

Terry Lane: John Perkins once worked for the American company, Main [Chas. T. Main, Inc], from 1971 to 1981. Now Main [Chas. T. Main, Inc]'s ostensible business was as a consulting engineering firm, planning vast infrastructure projects for developing nations, and according to John Perkins, Main 's real business was acting on behalf of the American politico-commercial-what he calls corporatocracy-to suck developing nations into taking on debts that they could never hope to repay, and in the process becoming vassals in the American empire. Well John Perkins tells the story of his own part in this grand imperial process in a book called Confessions of an Economic Hitman, and when I talked with John Perkins from his home in the United States, about Confessions of an Economic Hitman, I asked him to explain the term.
John Perkins: Well Terry, I'd say we economic hitmen during the post World War II period have really managed to create the world's first truly global empire, and we've done it primarily without the military through economics. There's many different ways that we work, but probably the most typical is for us to identify a developing country that has resources that our corporations covet, like oil, for example. And then to arrange a very large loan to that country from a major lending organisation like the World Bank, or one of its sisters. However, most of that money never goes directly to that developing country. Instead it goes to big corporations, construction companies like the ones we hear a lot about these days, Halliburton and Bechtel, other companies that supply machinery such as General Electric for example. And very little of the money actually reaches the developing country itself. These companies then build large infrastructure projects in the developing country like power plants, ports, industrial parks, that primarily serve only a very few, very rich families in that country, never really benefit the poor. However the whole country is left holding a huge debt, one it can't possibly repay. So at some point, we economic hitmen go back and then we say, 'Look, you owe us a lot of money and you can't repay your debts, so sell your oil real cheaply to our oil company, or vote with us on the next critical United Nations vote, or send troops in support of ours to some place in the world like Iraq'. And in that way we've managed to build this empire, this global empire primarily without using the military.
Terry Lane: An economic hitman is a term which is in general use? It's not just a term that you invented?
John Perkins: Well it's a tongue-in-cheek term, I didn't invent it. It's a little bit like using the word 'spy', or 'spook', for a CIA agent; that's never really their true title. They have titles like 'Political Attaché' at an Embassy, or something like that. My real title was Economist, and then Chief Economist, at a private consulting firm. Economic hitman is really a tongue-in-cheek term that we did use.
Terry Lane: And the private consulting firm that you worked for was a company called Main , and I understand from the way that you've described it, that its business was engineering big electricity generation and distribution infrastructure schemes?
John Perkins: Well, that was part of its business. We also built an industrial plant, pulp and paper plants, many things along those lines. But when working in the developing countries in the 1970s, a very major push was under way to develop the electrical systems and to hire First World companies to do this in the Third World, and so we did a great deal of that.
Terry Lane: And your job as an economist without any training as an economist, was, I understand, to produce fanciful predictions for economic growth in the country where you were working?
John Perkins: Well, yes. You really hit the nail on the head with that business about my credentials as an economist. I have a Bachelor of Science degree and four years of college in business school in the United States. I don't think that really classifies me for the chief economist, but when I was recruited by the National Security Agency, which is one of the United States-it's our largest spy organisation, and probably our most secretive one-they gave me a series of tests and identified me as potentially a good economic hitman. What economic hitmen do is strike deals, so my job was to go to these countries and strike deals and then bring the World Bank or a sister organisation in. I had several dozen very competent economists working for me; PhDs, MBAs. And then after I struck a deal, they would then be called upon to produce the forecast and the reports that would justify the deal. So my job was really a deal-maker.
Terry Lane: Now you say you were recruited by the National Security Agency, but how did they pass you over to a private firm, and perhaps you should explain why it was important in the scheme of things, that a person like you should be employed by a private company rather than by a government agency?
John Perkins: All right. Yes, in 1968 while I was a senior in college, they recruited me because through my marriage I had contacts with people in the highest level of the National Security Agency, that's how I kind of got an in. And then they ran me through a series of tests, lie detector tests, personality tests, and identified me as a good economic hitman. Then I was sent into the Peace Corps for three years where I worked with indigenous people and other people in Latin America who it turns out, were opposing oil companies. So I was getting on-the-job training, you might say. Then I was brought back and hired by this private company, Main , and immediately contacted by a remarkable woman named Claudine, who's described in detail in Confessions of an Economic Hitman, who then really was my mentor as an economic hitman; taught me the ropes of the game. And then, let's see, what was the other aspect of your question Terry?
Terry Lane: Why was it important that economic hitmen be employed by private companies rather than by the CIA or the NSA?
John Perkins: Right. Well I think what we learned in the early '50s and '60s was that we were afraid to go to war with Russia, and our new big enemy, the Soviet Union, had nuclear weapons, and this specifically in Iran, a democratically-elected President named Mossadeq, very popular, held out to the world as the model for democracy, was putting the chains on the oil companies there, and saying, 'Look, you're going to have to give more of your money to the Iranian people'. So the British government and the United States government decided that Mossadeq, despite the fact that he was democratically elected, would have to go. Sent in a CIA agent, Kermit Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt's grandson, and Kermit, with a few million dollars, organised a protest and managed to overthrow Mossadeq and replace him with the Shah of Iran. Extremely effective, and without risking war and didn't cost very much. But the problem was, he was a CIA agent, and had he been caught, the US government would have been implicated. So very shortly after that, the decision was made to use private corporations, consulting firms primarily, to do the same work. So you really couldn't implicate the government, or at least there'd be many barriers between the process of doing that.
Terry Lane: John, you're very frank that the thing that made you particularly well-suited for the position of economic hitman was a series of serious character flaws.
John Perkins: That's certainly true, and I think most of us have some of those character flaws. I describe them in detail in the book, but the NSA discovered them when they ran me through these tests, and I think I could sum them up as the three big drugs of our culture: money, power and sex. And my specific cases, as I said there's a lot of detail in the book I won't go into that here, but the NSA identified these and when I was recruited into Charles T. Main , the consulting firm, this woman Claudine contacted me. She obviously knew my flaws, she told me all the dirty business aspects of the job that I would be expected to do, and it was very important that I understand before I take my first assignment in Indonesia, that I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. But at the same time, she was able to draw upon these character flaws to essentially seduce me into taking this job, which she did very effectively.
Terry Lane: She also said to you that once you were in, you were in for life.
John Perkins: Yes, she did, Terry.
Terry Lane: Did that sound like a threat at the time?
John Perkins: Well, yes, it sounded like a threat, but I think too there was a certain romantic quality to it, you know, I mean at that time, the double-A the secret agent, the 007 James Bond type of character was pretty popular, and there was something a little bit romantic about that whole thought, and I also always believed that I would be the exception, that at some point I would come clean and write a book exposing all of this. And of course, now many, many, many years later, I have.
Terry Lane: The wonderful James Bondian touch about Claudine was that when you went looking for her some years later, she had completely disappeared as though she had never existed.
John Perkins: Well yes, in fact it wasn't even exactly some years, it was several months. After I was trained by her, I went off to Indonesia. First I went through Australia and down to a university in Canberra and learned all I could about Indonesia. You had a very great department down there that was studying Indonesian economy, and actually helping to run it. And then I went to Indonesia for three months and when I came back, Claudine had disappeared, and there was no trace of her. I looked high and low for her, I could find no trace of her whatsoever, and never have to this day, which is quite amazing when you think about it.
Terry Lane: John, one of the interesting things about your story is that all of the places that you went-Indonesia, Iran, Ecuador, Panama-in all of those places, you found locals who disturbed your view of the world, and gave you a different perspective on American operations in the world, tending to cast America more as the villain rather than the saviour.
John Perkins: Well yes, you know the fact I'd been in the Peace Corps for three years, and I lived with indigenous people in the Amazon and the Andes, and I really had a very strong interest in people, so when I went to these other countries, I made it a point, unlike most of the other people who I worked with, the other Americans and Europeans working in these countries who tended to hang out in their own enclaves, I made a point of getting out with the people; I enjoyed that, and I was younger than most everybody else too, in my business. And so I would make a point of trying to learn the language. I got pretty good at speaking Indonesian, for example, and so I found that when you do that, people embrace you, and that's happened to me in those places. And so I ended up hanging out with people who became very honest with me, and expressed the viewpoint that most Americans don't usually hear when they travel abroad, because we're used to only talking to people who speak English, who often have been trained in our own universities and are part of our system at one level or another. I, on the other hand, mixed with people who had not gone through that process.
// End of part 1 // go to part 2

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