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Internet Samizdat Releases Suppressed Voices, History

Jeff Cohen

Days after their son Greg died in the World Trade Center terror, Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez wrote a letter to the New York Times that counseled against "violent revenge, with the prospect of sons, daughters, parents, friends in distant lands dying, suffering, and nursing further grievances against us. It is not the way to go. It will not avenge our son's death. Not in our son's name. Our son died a victim of an inhuman ideology. Let us not as a nation add to the inhumanity of our times."

The New York Times didn't publish the letter: It is just one of the crucial items of information that have been distributed since Sept. 11 to vast numbers of people using the Internet. Grassroots networks have used email to breach the barricades erected by U.S. mainstream media -- much like underground samizdat literature was passed from hand to hand in the old Soviet Union. Post-Sept. 11 samizdat ranges from interviews with Noam Chomsky to essays by Indian novelist Arundhati Roy to frontline dispatches by Robert Fisk of the London Independent.

One of the most fascinating items of Internet samizdat is a 1998 interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security advisor, conducted by the French publication Le Nouvel Observateur. In the interview -- translated by author and CIA critic William Blum -- Brzezinski boasts that the CIA was supporting guerilla activities inside Afghanistan six months before the Soviet intervention, taking steps to "induce" the Soviets to intervene:

BRZEZINSKI: According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujaheddin began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, Dec. 24, 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

LNO: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?

BRZEZINSKI: It isn't quite that. We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

LNO: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn't believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don't regret anything today?

BRZEZINSKI: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.

LNO: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

BRZEZINSKI: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Interviewed in Oct. 2001 by columnist David Corn, Brzezinski said he still had no regrets about launching the Afghan covert operation, knowing it would likely induce the Cold War foe to fall into a trap.

The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was indeed Vietnam-like in its brutality, killing more than a million Afghans and helping to tear apart a country that in 1979 had relatively little religious fanaticism and was making advances in the status of women.

In the upheaval, Afghanistan became a base for terrorists. Yet mainstream U.S. journalists refuse to mention the Nouvel Observateur interview and fail to ask Brzezinski obvious questions about how his Afghan policy may have helped us get into the current crisis. Instead, mainstream media repeatedly present Brzezinski and other former US foreign policymakers as omniscient seers whose wise counsel can get us out of the crisis.

Network TV doesn't ask tough questions of George Shultz, recently introduced by a CNN anchor as "one of the most respected public servants to ever serve this nation." Shultz was the secretary of state in 1986 when the CIA expanded its covert operation -- in alliance with Osama bin Laden -- recruiting and training Islamist militants from around the world to fight in Afghanistan. In 1986, the Gorbachev-led Soviet Union was seeking an exit from Afghanistan while the U.S. government intensified its arming of "stirred-up Muslims."

Clinton foreign policy chieftains Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger are frequently served up by U.S. mass media as sages on how to respond to the Sept. 11 terror. They are obligingly not asked why they ignored their own intelligence analysts who questioned the targeting of the Al Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, which was leveled in 1998 by U.S. cruise missiles in "retaliation against terrorism." The plant produced much of the medicine for an impoverished country; the U.S. struck without credible evidence that Al Shifa was linked to bin Laden or to chemical weapons, and later blocked a United Nations probe into the attack.

Nor has Albright been asked whether she still feels that even if sanctions against Iraq have led to the deaths of half a million children, "the price is worth it" -- as she said in a quote from a 1996 "60 Minutes" interview that circulates widely on the Net. Although issues like Al Shifa and the plight of Iraqi kids loom large in Islamic countries, they are virtually off-limits when U.S. journalists interview policy makers, past or present.

The Internet is abuzz with reports on how U.S. coziness with the Taliban regime in the mid-1990s was heavily influenced by the Unocal company's plan to build a $4.5 billion pipeline project through Afghanistan, with Taliban blessings. The lobbyists and consultants hired by Unocal to promote closer U.S.-Taliban relations haven't been publicly questioned about their Unocal work by mainstream media. They include Henry Kissinger, former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Robert Oakley and Zalmay Khalilzad, now George W. Bush's National Security Council expert on Afghanistan.

A free press would be debating the issue of Washington's relations with Islamist extremists in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and whether such movements are bred by U.S. policy committed to suppressing secular reformers and leftists in Islamic countries. When the CIA funded the Afghan Mujaheddin in 1979 before the Soviet occupation, it hoped to destabilize a secular, Soviet-friendly government (initially led by Nur Mohammed Taraki and Hafizullah Amin), which supported land reform and rights for women.

As a U.S. State Department memo stated at the time: "The United States' larger interest would be served by the demise of the Taraki-Amin regime, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan."

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Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen is an activist and author. Cohen was an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). He is the author of "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media" - and a co-founder of the online action group, His website is

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