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Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions

StoryDecember 31, 2004
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We spend the hour with John Perkins, a former respected member of the international banking community. In his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man he describes how as a highly paid professional, he helped the U.S. cheat poor countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars by lending them more money than they could possibly repay and then taking over their economies. [includes rush transcript]

John Perkins describes himself as a former economic hit man–a highly paid professional who cheated countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars.

20 years ago Perkins began writing a book with the working title, “Conscience of an Economic Hit Men.”

Perkins writes, “The book was to be dedicated to the presidents of two countries, men who had been his clients whom I respected and thought of as kindred spirits–Jaime Roldós, president of Ecuador, and Omar Torrijos, president of Panama. Both had just died in fiery crashes. Their deaths were not accidental. They were assassinated because they opposed that fraternity of corporate, government, and banking heads whose goal is global empire. We Economic Hit Men failed to bring Roldós and Torrijos around, and the other type of hit men, the CIA-sanctioned jackals who were always right behind us, stepped in.

John Perkins goes on to write: “I was persuaded to stop writing that book. I started it four more times during the next twenty years. On each occasion, my decision to begin again was influenced by current world events: the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1980, the first Gulf War, Somalia, and the rise of Osama bin Laden. However, threats or bribes always convinced me to stop.”

But now Perkins has finally published his story. The book is titled Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. John Perkins joins us again in our Firehouse studios for an extended discussion.

  • John Perkins, from 1971 to 1981 he worked for the international consulting firm of Chas T. Main where he was a self-described “economic hit man.” He is the author of the new book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: John Perkins joins us now in our firehouse studio for the hour. Welcome to Democracy Now!

JOHN PERKINS: Thank you, Amy. It is wonderful to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it is a remarkable story that you tell. And welcome to non-sound bite radio and TV. We don’t just give people the sound bite. We give them the whole meal. And so we are going to spend the hour talking about your life, which —

JOHN PERKINS: What a great opportunity.

AMY GOODMAN: — affects millions of people around the world. The system that you were a part of and Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is quite remarkable in giving us the details of what you did. So, why don’t you start at the beginning. Maybe not where you were born, but how you came to be recruited first by the National Security Agency–far larger than the C.I.A.–and then this so-called international consulting firm of Chas T. Main.

JOHN PERKINS: Right. Yeah, it was in the late 1960s, 1968. I was a student at business school and was recruited by the National Security Agency. They ran me through a series of tests–personality tests, lie detector tests — very sensitive barrage of testing. And during that process, they discovered that I would be a great candidate for an economic hit man. I was in business school at the time. And also they discovered a number of weaknesses in my character. I think, I have weaknesses that are pretty typical of our culture, the three big drugs of our culture: money, power and sex. And they discovered these weaknesses in me. There’s a lot in my book about my personal background that gets into that. Then they encouraged me to go into the Peace Corps. I lived in Ecuador for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer with indigenous people there, who today are at war with the oil companies. We were starting that process then, so I got some very good on-the-job training, so to speak. While I was still in Ecuador in the Peace Corps, a vice president from this private consulting firm in Boston that worked closely with the National Security Agency and the other intelligence communities came to Ecuador and continued my recruitment. When I got out of the Peace Corps, he recruited me. I went to work for his company in Boston, Charles T. Main and went through an extensive training program there with a remarkable woman, who is described in detail in the book, Claudine was her name. And she was extremely intelligent, extremely sharp, extremely seductive, and she hooked me. She knew exactly how to hook me. She benefited from all the tests that I’d gone through, knew my weaknesses. And she made it — she, first of all, hooked me into becoming an economic hit man and at the same time, warned me that this is a very dirty business and you must be completely committed to it or you shouldn’t take your first assignment in Indonesia.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, already people are going to be wondering, What is he talking about, economic hit man? Explain.

JOHN PERKINS: Well, really, over the past 30 to 40 years, we economic hit men have created the largest global empire in the history of the world. And we do this, typically — well, there are many ways to do it, but a typical one is that we identify a third-world country that has resources, which we covet. And often these days that’s oil, or might be the canal in the case of Panama. In any case, we go to that third-world country and we arrange a huge loan from the international lending community; usually the World Bank leads that process. So, let’s say we give this third-world country a loan of $1 billion. One of the conditions of that loan is that the majority of it, roughly 90%, comes back to the United States to one of our big corporations, the ones we’ve all heard of recently, the Bechtels, the Halliburtons. And those corporations build in this third-world country large power plants, highways, ports, or industrial parks — big infrastructure projects that basically serve the very rich in those countries. The poor people in those countries and the middle class suffer; they don’t benefit from these loans, they don’t benefit from the projects. In fact, often their social services have to be severely curtailed in the process of paying off the debt. Now what also happens is that this third-world country then is saddled with a huge debt that it can’t possibly repay. For example, today, Ecuador. Ecuador’s foreign debt, as a result of the economic hit man, is equal to roughly 50% of its national budget. It cannot possibly repay this debt, as is the case with so many third-world countries. So, now we go back to those countries and say, look, you borrowed all this money from us, and you owe us this money, you can’t repay your debts, so give our oil companies your oil at very cheap costs. And in the case of many of these countries, Ecuador is a good example here, that means destroying their rain forests and destroying their indigenous cultures. That’s what we’re doing today around the world, and we’ve been doing it — it began shortly after the end of World War II. It has been building up over time until today where it’s really reached mammoth proportions where we control most of the resources of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: John Perkins, talk about your experience in Panama. You had the opportunity to meet the Head of Panama before he was killed, Omar Torrijos. How did you end up there?

JOHN PERKINS: Well, Panama was one of these pivotal countries at the time and Omar Torrijos, who was the President of Panama. He followed a long line of oligarchy dictators that basically were puppets of the U.S. government that we had installed 50 years prior when we took over the country. Omar Torrijos was the first one to break that cycle, and he was a very, very popular president. He was popular throughout much of the world. Many people believed he should have won the Nobel Peace Prize and might have had he not died or been killed. He protected the downtrodden everywhere. And the United States was at the time, President Carter was negotiating a new Canal treaty with Torrijos and ultimately that Canal treaty went through. But it caused a tremendous amount of turmoil in our own country. In fact, it was passed in Congress by only one vote, that won the ratification of the Canal. So, we economic hit men were really looking beyond that process, or how we could win Panama over regardless of what happened to the Canal Treaty. I was there before the treaty was signed in 1972 and I was trying to bring Torrijos around. I was trying to catch him. I was trying to get him. I was trying to hook him the way we hooked everybody else. He arranged for me to meet with him in this private bungalow one day, and this is described in detail, the conversation, in the book. But basically what he said to me is, Look, I know the game you guys are playing. I know what you’re trying to do here. You’re trying to saddle us with huge debts. You’re trying to make us totally dependent upon you, and you’re trying to corrupt me. I know what this game is and I’m not playing. I don’t need the money. I’m not looking to get personally wealthy out of this. I want to help my poor people. I want you to build the projects that you’re supposed to build, that you build in other countries, but I want you to build them for our poor people, not for our rich people. And he said, if you do that, I’ll see to it that you and your company get a lot more work in this country. Good work that will help our people. Well, I was really conflicted at this because, as an economic hit man, I was supposed to get him under our control. I was supposed to hook him. But as a partner in this company and as the chief economist for this firm, I also wanted to get the work for the firm, and in this case it was very obvious that the economic hit men weren’t going to get through to Torrijos, so I went along with him. But at the time, I was deeply concerned because I knew that this system is built on the assumption that leaders like Torrijos are corruptible and they are all over the world for the most part. When one stands up to the system as Torrijos was doing, it’s not only a threat in his country, like Panama, that we’re not going to get our way there, but it also may be seen as setting a very bad example for the rest of the world that once one leader stands up — and at that time there was another leader standing up, too, who was the President of Ecuador, Jaime Roldos. They were both standing up to the U.S. government. They were both standing up to the oil companies and the economic hit men, and it was a very big concern to me. I knew in my heart that if this continued, something was going to give. Of course, it did. Both of these men were assassinated by what we call the jackals, C.I.A.-sanctioned assassins.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. The conversation you had with Omar Torrijos as he goes through history, your conversation in the early 1970s. But talking about what happened in Guatemala, the overthrow of the democratically elected leader Arbenz by United Fruit and the C.I.A-backed coup there in 1954, and you reconstruct this conversation about George Bush’s company Zapata Oil eventually taking over United Brands, which was United Fruit, and then he talks about giving your company the business, Omar Torrijos, saying that he believed the Japanese would finance the canal that would be built, though turning to your company. And he says “They provide the money, they will do the construction.” And you write, “It struck me, Bechtel will be out in the cold.” The biggest construction job in recent history. Omar Torrijos paused. Bechtel’s President is George Schultz, Nixon’s Secretary of the Treasury. You can imagine the clout he’s got and the notorious temper. Bechtel is loaded with Nixon, Ford, and Bush cronies. I’ve been told that the Bechtel family pulls the strings of the Republican Party. You talk about the corporatocracy, the bringing together of government and corporate power.

JOHN PERKINS: Yes. Well, it got worse, of course. At that time, George Schultz was President of Bechtel. Casper Weinberger was their Chief Counsel, a senior officer in the corporation. They were opposed to Torrijos, not only on the U.S. turning the Canal over to Panama, but even more importantly perhaps because Torrijos was actively negotiating with the Japanese to build a new sea level canal. As you know, the current canal is based on locks and the larger ships in the world can’t go through it. So, the idea was to build a sea level canal where every ship could go through, and the Japanese were offering to finance this. But if they financed it, it would be their construction companies, their engineering companies that would build it. Bechtel was incensed over this. They absolutely could not tolerate the idea of this happening. We knew this very strongly, we had to win Torrijos over. Now, then —

AMY GOODMAN: And then, as you said, Schultz becomes Secretary of State under Reagan, Casper Weinberger becomes Secretary of Defense under Reagan. They’re the, you know, the heads of Bechtel Corporation.

JOHN PERKINS: Yeah. Yes. Carter negotiated the treaty and then lost the election, partly because of this treaty, partly because of what happened in Iran, which is another story that I was involved in. And then when Reagan became President, Schultz went from President of Bechtel to Secretary of State and Weinberger went from Chief Counsel of Bechtel to Secretary of Defense. They went back to Panama and said, Okay, Omar, now let’s talk. We want the canal back, we want the military bases back in the canal zone and more than anything, we want you to stop talking to the Japanese. And Torrijos said, No, I’m a sovereign country. I am not opposing the United States. I’m not a socialist, I’m not a communist, I’m not siding with Cuba or Russia or China, I’m simply standing up for the rights of my people. We have the right to negotiate with whoever can build us the best canal. I have the right to negotiate with the Japanese. He took a very strong stand and within a few months, his plane crashed into a mountain, blew up and crashed into a mountain, and it was very strong evidence that it had been blown up by a tape recorder which was handed to him at the end that was full of explosives. There is no question in my mind and in the mind of much of the world that this was the jackals, the C.I.A.-sanctioned assassins. I’ve seen them work in many places. Just a couple of months before that, they had done the same thing to Jaime Roldos, President of Ecuador, the first democratically elected president of Ecuador in decades, had replaced a military junta, democratically elected, and he stood up to the U.S. oil companies. We economic hit men couldn’t get through to him and his helicopter blew up then and there.

AMY GOODMAN: Why was he standing up to U.S. oil companies?

JOHN PERKINS: Because cnce again, he ran in the first democratic elections in Ecuador in many decades. He ran on a platform of sovereignty for his country. And if there is oil in Ecuador then, he said, the Ecuadoreans should benefit from it. And once he became president, he began to introduce this. He set up a Hydrocarbons Act, he called it, which was basically a petroleum act that would ensure that if oil came out of Ecuador, the majority of the funds from that oil would go to his people. The oil companies would get a reasonable payment. But the majority would go to his people. He was setting a precedent that the oil companies couldn’t stand, because throughout the world, they were exploiting all these countries, as they still are. And Roldos said, I’m not going to let that happen to my country. The oil companies couldn’t bear to see that, not just because of Ecuador but, again, because of the precedent this would establish. And Roldos and Torrijos were really partners in a way. At the same time, they were supporting each other, and they both had to go. And they both went.

AMY GOODMAN: And what were your thoughts at the time? I mean, you continued doing this work.

JOHN PERKINS: It was a very pivotal point for me that —- throughout my work, as I describe in the book, my conscience was torn. And to me this is one of most interesting parts of my own personal story. I think of myself as a pretty good person. I grew up 300 years a yankee Calvinist in Vermont and New Hampshire. I come from a very patriotic background. I grew up in a very strictly Republican family, very conservative. I have very strong values. I’m very loyal to my country. And -—

AMY GOODMAN: Descendant of Tom Paine and Ethan Allen?

JOHN PERKINS: That’s right. They’re distant relatives. And my parents steeped me in American history and in the values of our founding fathers of our country. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people, all over the world. I believed very strongly in this. And yet at the same time, I was very seduceable to money, power, sex. All these things came my way, and I was doing things that I was patted on the back for by the president of the World Bank, Robert MacNamara. And I was Chief Economist of a big consulting firm in Boston. I had 50 people working for me, PHDs, MBAs. I was doing work that macroeconomics in college had taught me was good work to do. It’s all a scam.

AMY GOODMAN: Why have very few people heard of this company, Main?

JOHN PERKINS: We were a very quiet company. We had about 2,000 professional employees, which is not small. We were a closely held company, that means we were owned like a partnership, about 5% of us owned the company so we didn’t have to disclose our books to the S.E.C. or anybody. We were a very private, very quiet company and we were serving the interests of empire. The company no longer exists. In the early 1980s, the partners sold out to a larger engineering construction firm, and so the company essentially went out of existence at that point. I think it was getting a little too hot for us at this point. But it was intentional. We were very strictly forbidden from talking to the press. I broke that rule at one point. I wrote an op-ed piece on the Panama Canal for the Boston Globe and was severely chastised within the company. So, it was intentional that we were very quiet.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break. When we come back, I do want to ask you about Robert MacNamara. As you talk about the corporatocracy, certainly he embodied that, from becoming C.E.O. of Ford to Secretary of Defense, ultimately the President of the World Bank, and what those different roles did and how similar they may well have been from Secretary of Defense, you make the argument, to head of the World Bank in some ways doing the same thing. We’re talking to John Perkins. He is author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Our website is democracynow.org, if you’d like to get a copy of this conversation. We’ll be back with him in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: As we continue our conversation with John Perkins, his book is called Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. He joins us in our firehouse studio here at Downtown Community Television, just blocks from where the towers of the World Trade Center once stood, from ground zero, and we’re going to talk about the effect of September 11 and how it — the role it played in John Perkins writing this book. But before we do that, Robert MacNamara, you write about him. Talk about his roles from Ford to Secretary of Defense to World Bank.

JOHN PERKINS: Well, Amy, I think that what we have here is a world empire that’s controlled by a very few men I call the corporatocracy, and these are the heads of the big corporations, big banks and government, and they tend to be the same person. You know, they jump across these lines and MacNamara is a great example of that. He was president of Ford and then he became Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson and then he became president of the World Bank. And in all three roles, his main job was to promote American business, to promote the corporatocracy, to bring the goodies home, to exploit the world. And he was in democratic regimes, Kennedy and Johnson. Today we’ve got Dick Cheney who’s basically in the same picture. We had George Schultz under the former President Bush. So, the two Bushes both have these types of people, too. Condoleezza Rice. Government is filled with these people. But it is not just a republican issue. It’s a bipartisan issue. It goes across all the lines, and MacNamara is a very good example of that. I think, at the same time, MacNamara was one of the most important people in terms of framing the new economics, what he called aggressive management, and it was aggressive about going out and basically taking the world and bringing it into us so that today we have, out of the 100 largest economies in the world, 52 are corporations. 47 are U.S. corporations, and they’re not countries, they’re corporations. Here we are 5% of the world’s population reaching out like a great octopus and sucking in 25% or more of the world’s resources. But it’s not really 5% of the world’s population, the American people. 1% of the American population owns more of the material wealth than 90% of our population. So, it’s that 1% that are the corporatocracy that are sucking all this in and the rest of us are supporting it through our taxes, through our purchases, through our silence, through going along with this system. Like me, as an economic hit man, I went along with the system. I did more than go along with the system, I promoted the system. But I did so legally, for the most part, and I did so while being patted on the back by all the people that I was taught to look up to.

AMY GOODMAN: So you worked for this international consulting firm called Main in Boston. You became chief economist there. 2,000 people employed there, working closely with the international financial institutions like the World Bank. You begin your book in Indonesia. Talk about your training there and what you were trying to accomplish.

JOHN PERKINS: Well, Indonesia, this is 1970, 1971, in that area. We know that at this point Vietnam is going to go. We’re going to lose Vietnam.

AMY GOODMAN: The midst of the war.

JOHN PERKINS: Yes. It’s the midst of the war. But at this point, the people at the top knew we were going to lose, although they weren’t admitting it. They knew. So with the domino theory was in effect that if Indonesia went, the rest of Southeast Asia would go like dominos one country at a time. And Indonesia was seen as the key to stopping that process. We didn’t want communism to go there. Also, Indonesia happened to have a lot of oil, which we needed or wanted, and it had the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. So, if we could win Indonesia over and basically get Indonesia as our slave in our clutches, we’d accomplished a lot. So I was sent there to make that happen, to arrange a huge loan to Indonesia for Indonesia to build a big electrical system or several large electrical systems that would serve the very wealthy people of Indonesia — didn’t help the poor much at all — and to make very inflated forecasts so that we would build a huge system, much bigger than anybody could possibly have imagined that a country — an island like Java, which is the most heavily populated piece of real estate in the world, but we were building this huge electrical system and it did serve the industry in those countries, but it didn’t serve the people. At the same time, putting Indonesia in tremendous debt to us, a debt that it would have a hard time getting out of, and therefore, become part of our empire.

AMY GOODMAN: Shoring up Suharto, the dictator there for so many years.

JOHN PERKINS: Right. Right. And an interesting aspect of that whole thing was at that time I was part of a team of 11, and the other 10 men on that team had no idea that we were doing the economic hit man thing. They were engineers. They were designing transmission lines, fuel systems to bring the fuel into the power plants. They were designing the power plants, big power plants, distribution lines. They were engineers. I was the one that made the forecast. I was the one that said that the electrical demand was going to grow at 17% a year for 20 years, which is unheard of, but I was — that was my job, was to inflate these numbers as much as I possibly could. I mean, that’s a huge number when you compound it annually. And they were just going along. You know, for them it was great. They get to design this huge, amazing system, an engineer’s dream.

AMY GOODMAN: You were really replacing a man who was in Indonesia who had warned you, said don’t make these economic forecasts that you can’t support. It’s a con game. It’s just, you know, you putting it forward and saying you were confident that this is the case, because it would destroy the country. But he was taken out.

JOHN PERKINS: Right. Howard Parker retired from the New England Electric System, load forecast, forecasting electric demand. He was a very bitter man, and he saw what was going on, but he was also a very bitter man, and nobody really got along very well with Howard. And it was — my job was to forecast the economy of the country. His job was then to forecast the electrical needs of the country. But the two are very highly correlated, so if i would come up with 17 or 18% economic growth in the economic sector, then his load forecast for the electricity would have to be roughly the same, and he told me I’m not going to go along with this. This is a scam. You are buying into the system. This is all based on greed and I’m not going along with it. And in a way that let me off the hook. I felt very relieved. At one point, I realized, my gosh, I can do what my handlers have trained me to do, what Claudine has told me I must do, and that is come up with these high electrical load forecasts, but my conscience is going to be clear, because Howard is not going to pay any attention to them anyway. He’s going to come up with much lower electric load forecasts so we’re really not going to scam the country. And then, of course, when I get back to Boston, I found that my boss had fired Howard, called me into the office, said Howard didn’t do his job. He has got these ridiculous low forecasts. We fired him. We’re going to give you his job as well as your own. We’re going to make you a department head. You’re going to get rich. You know, da da da da da da. But you have got to come up with the kind of forecast that we were looking for from him and we know you can do that because you do that for the economy.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Iran?

JOHN PERKINS: Well, Iran was under the Shah at the time. Iran is where economic hit men really get started because in the early 1950s, Iran democratically elected a man named Mossadeq as premier. And he was held out — he was Time magazine’s man of the year in 1951, I believe it was. And he was held out for the hope of the Middle East and, in fact, the whole world of democratically elected president. But as soon as he got into power, he went up against the oil companies. And foreshadowing what Roldos and Torrijos would do later on, he really stood up for his people. And he said, particularly British Petroleum, if you are going to be here, you are going to give your fair share to our people. The oil companies were very upset, so the United States made the decision to go in and do something about this. Now, at the time, we were terrified of thermal nuclear war. Russia was the enemy after World War II, and Iran is on the Russian border. So we didn’t dare send in troops to get rid of Mossadeq, again, a democratically elected president, held up as an example, but we’ve decided we have got to get rid of him because he is opposing the oil companies. Instead of sending in the troops, we sent in Kermit Roosevelt, a C.I.A. agent who happened to be Teddy’s grandson, and we sent him in with a few million dollars, and he managed to create riots, protest, havoc, and to make a long story short, he overthrew Mossadeq, the premier, and brought the Shah back into power. We all know about the Shah. So, in a way, I was back in this country where economic hit men started. One of lessons we learned, however, from Kermit Roosevelt was that he was a C.I.A. agent, government employee. Had he been found out, the government would have been in trouble. So, shortly after that, the decision was made that economic hit men needed to be hired by private firms. The N.S.A., the C.I.A. could identify us, could run all the tests on us, could hook us, but in the end, we had to work for private companies so that if we were caught, it would be chocked up to corporate greed, rather than government policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Deniability. So Kermit Roosevelt goes from Iran, the fall of Mossadeq in 1953, which continues to inform the population of Iran 50 years later in their attitudes to the United States, yet few Americans know about this. Going from Iran, he is then offered the job to go into Guatemala a year later to help overthrow Arbenz by the Dulles brothers, and he refuses. But that happens. And the next coup the next year is the overthrow by United Fruit and the C.I.A. of Arbenz in Guatemala, so the model got started.

JOHN PERKINS: The model got started and continued to grow tremendously. By the time I got to Iran, which was in the early 1970s, after Indonesia, one of my next assignments, I went to Panama, and then Iran. I was working under the Shah and —

AMY GOODMAN: When you say everyone knows what happened there, I don’t take that for granted. What happened in Iran under the Shah, and can you talk about the SAVAK?

JOHN PERKINS: Well, yes. In the book, I describe this meeting I had with one of the Shah’s top advisers who had been tortured by the SAVAK and turned against the Shah. Iran was this pivotal country for us. Its location was very important on the Russian border. And it had all this oil. And we needed to control oil. We wanted desperately to control all the Middle Eastern oil. We saw the Shah as being the person who could make this happen for us. The Shah — you know, the plan was that the Shah would help take over the rest of the Middle East, including Syria and Iraq, and we all know there was a war between Iraq and Iran much later. But from the very beginning, the idea was to become allies with the Shah. We did everything we could to shore him up. And at the same time, we realize that he had a lot of oil money and so our companies were benefiting tremendously. Once again, all those engineering firms that we’ve talked about, my own, Charles T. Main, and Bechtel and Halliburton, and everybody else who was in there building cities, building power plants, building highways, getting very, very, very rich and making a lot of Muslims around the world — the Iranians are not Arabs, but they are very — they’re Muslim and they’re Middle Eastern. And we were making tremendous numbers of people angry. Even to this day, Osama bin Laden cites what happened with the Shah, how we overthrew Mossadeq and brought the Shah in as one of the reasons for his anger.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he, Mossadeq, went after Anglo American just to say that this is our oil and we should control it. Anglo American, the British government, not allowing for any Iranian ownership, but then forcing — Anglo American eventually becoming British Petroleum, B.P.

JOHN PERKINS: Correct. Yes. Yes, at that time, I believe the numbers were that 85 cents of every dollar of oil drilled in Iran went out of the country to Anglo American or B.P. And, of course, Mossadeq was incensed by this, as he should have been. There’s no reason why the people who sit on the resources, whose land is being drilled to provide it, shouldn’t get the lion’s share of what comes out of it, and that’s what he was fighting for, as Torrijos did later, as Arbenz did in Guatemala as you pointed out, as Allende did in Chile.

AMY GOODMAN: If I remember correctly, Truman refused to be a part of this, but then Eisenhower came in and decided to support Britain in this.

JOHN PERKINS: That’s correct. Truman took a very integritous stand. He said we’re not going to mingle in these affairs. This is a democratically elected premier, Mossadeq, and he is doing what he’s doing, and we’re not going to step in on the side of private industry. But very shortly after that, he was out of office and Eisenhower came into office, and he went along with the C.I.A.’s plan to overthrow Mossadeq and replace him with the Shah.

AMY GOODMAN: Oil is the source of so much pain.

JOHN PERKINS: Oh, you know, every country in the world that has major supplies of oil, every third-world country or what — some of them no longer are, like Saudi Arabia, have suffered. Oil is not a benefit for these countries. It’s a benefit for a few of the very wealthy people at the top of the economic totem pole in these countries. But for everybody else, it’s a curse. Oil is a curse to the world. It may be the greatest curse the world has ever experienced. It’s destroying our environment, it’s destroyed a lot of world economies, it’s destroyed tremendous numbers of indigenous people who are suffocating from the results of the carbon dioxide that oil has produced. It’s amazing. And isn’t it also amazing, Amy, that when the first President Bush went into Iraq in 1990, we were importing about eight million barrels of oil a day. When the second President Bush went in, that had gone up by 50% to twelve. In that period of time, our imports had increased.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to John Perkins. He’s author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. We’re talking about oil, empire, what he calls the corporatocracy, and being an economic hit man. So you were involved in Iran. You also were tied up in Saudi Arabia. Explain.

JOHN PERKINS: Well, Saudi Arabia was probably — not probably, there’s no question, it was our greatest success as economic hit men. I mean, that’s how we judge ourselves. In the early 1970s, OPEC really flexed its muscle. It didn’t like U.S. policies in Israel supporting Israel, and decided to do something about it. So it shut down oil production significantly. And as a result, the U.S. economy went into a tail spin. There were long lines of cars at gas stations, many of us still remember that. And we were afraid that it was going to be another crash like 1929 as a result of OPEC. And so the treasury department came to me and some other economic hit men and said this must never happen again. You have got to devise a plan. What are you going to do about this? How can you make sure this never happens? And we knew the key was Saudi Arabia. For one thing, it had more oil than anybody else. Even at that point in time, the Shah was getting a little bit shaky, and we’d seen that he wasn’t probably going to take over the rest of the Middle East. We knew that the House of Saud, the royal Saudi family, was corruptible. They were corrupt, they are corrupt, and they were corruptible. So, to make a long story short, we put together this deal whereby they agreed, the House of Saud, to send most of their petro dollars, the money we paid for petroleum, back to the United States and invest it in U.S. securities. The interest from those securities would be dealt out by the treasury department to U.S. engineering construction firms to build Saudi Arabia in the Western image, to build huge cities out of the desert, which we’ve done, power plants, highways, McDonald’s, the whole works, to make Saudi Arabia a very westernized country. And the House of Saud would guarantee to keep oil prices within acceptable limits, limits acceptable to us, and we would guarantee to keep the House of Saud in power. And we have done — all those things have followed since the early 1970s. The policy still holds. Even to the point where, you know, we know that the House of Saud supports Osama bin Laden, supported him at our encouragement, of course, in Afghanistan, continues to support him and a lot of terrorist movements. We knew that the House of Saud provided sanctuary to Edie Amin, the Hitler of Africa. In fact, that’s where he spend the last years of his life, living in a mansion, just died a little over a year ago there. And we’ve supported the House of Saud throughout all of this, despite the fact they’ve done a lot of things that ostensibly we disagree with. But they have provided us with these stabilized oil prices and a huge market for our engineering construction companies.

AMY GOODMAN: What was your personal involvement there?

JOHN PERKINS: Well, I structured —- I was one of the people that structured this plan. I like to think I was one of the—- I was the primary person that structured it and may have been. But there were a number of other people involved. And then we sent an envoy to Saudi Arabia — I was never officially told who it was, but I’m almost positive it was Henry Kissinger — to convince the House of Saud to accept our plan.

AMY GOODMAN: What makes you think it was him?

JOHN PERKINS: Well, because that’s what he was doing in those days and at that point in time, he disappeared for a while from the TV screens and everything and he would have been the type of person to do this. And in any case, the message came back to us that the House of Saud had accepted the plan, but now a number of princes had to be convinced because even though Saudi Arabia is not a democracy, apparently there was a certain amount of democratic consensus building within the family, anyway. So, I was assigned to one of the princes and told that I needed to bring him around. He was a very, very strict conservative, Wahabi, and he didn’t really want to see his country become westernized. He saw this coming. And so I knew my job was a challenge. He made it a little easier for me, because, in some respects because he, at the beginning, let me know that every time he came to boston or i visited him in new york or washington, he would expect to have a companion, a blue-eyed blonde, beautiful blue-eyed, blonde woman. He described exactly what he was looking for. And if I couldn’t provide him with this, I could forget about meeting with him. And I was fortunate in that I found a woman who was married to a United Airlines pilot who had been a very promiscuous hippie a few years before then, was not happy with her husband who was having a lot of extramarital affairs, wanted a little extra cash on the side and said to me, Well, I’ll go along with this, provided I like the guy. Fortunately for me, she did like him. And, Amy, it was one of the few illegal things that I did. Most of my job as an economic hit man was, strictly speaking, legal. It shouldn’t be legal, what we did to the other countries should not be legal, but it is. Pimping is not legal. So I was pimping in Massachusetts at the time, and the only way I could pay for these services was by basically padding my expense accounts, and that also is illegal. So I stretched the legality thing here, and I hope we’re beyond the statutes of limitations on these crimes. I think we are.

AMY GOODMAN: And so what happened with this?

JOHN PERKINS: Well, eventually the prince was very happy with Sally, this blonde, blue-eyed woman, and he did at one point say, now he would like her to come and live in his little cottage on the Arabian peninsula, which is a big mansion, of course. And this provided me with a concern because I knew she wouldn’t go along with that and I wouldn’t be able to afford it anyway. But we eventually worked it out whereby we provided him with another blonde, blue-eyed woman from one of the Scandinavian countries. At that time, there was a large trade in white traffic of women to the Middle East, and we arranged for that for him. He became quite happy with all this and eventually he agreed to the plan that we wanted. He supported it. And the House of Saud completely supported it, and it went into place.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to John Perkins. His book is Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.


AMY GOODMAN: As we come to the conclusion in this last segment of our interview with John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is his book. He was chief economist at an international consulting firm in Massachusetts called Main. He made deals in Indonesia, in Iran, in Saudi Arabia, traveled to Ecuador and to Panama and to many other places, as well. It tells a remarkable story about the relationship between these international consulting firms, the U.S. government and the international financial institutions like the World Bank. You tried to write this book over several decades. What happened?

JOHN PERKINS: Well, yeah, it always bothered my conscience, what I was doing, and I really wanted to expose it because I didn’t like what was going on in the world, what I saw my country doing. And I’m a very loyal American and I believe very deeply in the principles of this country, the founding fathers. And as time went on, I began to see how we were cheating those principles, how we were distorting them, how we’re losing our sense of democracy almost completely and becoming such a capitalistic corporatocracy-oriented country, a great empire, an imperialistic country. And so I felt that if I wrote about how this has happened, because we’ve created this empire in the most subtle way possible. Other empires have been created militarily and everybody in the country knows the armies are going out there and creating empire. But this one has been done so subtly that most Americans have no idea that it is going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Although it’s not so subtle anymore, which interestingly, at least at the beginning, is why some of corporate America was actually opposed to the invasion of Iraq, because it’s not so subtle anymore.

JOHN PERKINS: That’s right. It’s coming out more and more. And probably that’s one of the reasons why I could write the book, too. Because when I first started writing it, and the word would get out because I would start talking to people who had been involved with me. I wanted to have them help me remember certain things. I wanted to interview them and talk to them about it. And so i would receive subtle threats, but more importantly, bribes. So in the early 1990s, for example, when I started writing the book called Conscience of an Economic Hit Man, a large engineering company, Stoner-Webster Corporation, also of Boston, came to me and basically gave me about a half a million dollar bribe with a complete understanding I wouldn’t write the book and I wouldn’t have to do much work at all. I would be on their roster.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did Stoner-Webster care?

JOHN PERKINS: Because they were very much involved in the business, too, and many of the people who had left Charles T. Main at that time, my old company which had been bought out, had gone to work for Stoner-Webster. And they were very much involved in doing the same thing. It’s all part of the family. And I call it a bribe, but legally speaking it isn’t a bribe. I was hired to be a consultant to them, pay the fee to be a consultant with a very strong understanding that I was not to talk about my former life in this business or my current life at that time. I used a lot of that money to form a nonprofit organization called Dream Change that helped indigenous people in many of the countries that I had screwed, basically, as an economic hit man. So I was — I used this money that I was making to assuage my guilt and to do good things, things I’m very, very proud of.

AMY GOODMAN: How much money were you making?

JOHN PERKINS: I ended up taking about a half a million dollars from Stoner-Webster over a period of several years, basically for doing nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: But you didn’t write the book.

JOHN PERKINS: But I didn’t write the book, and I went off and had a few dinners in Rio de Janeiro and other places with some of their clients. Tough assignment. Flew around in a corporate private jet a few times. But always — even though, you know, I justified on one level that I was using this money to do good work in the nonprofit sector, which was true, I knew deep in my heart I needed to write this book. I needed to expose the truth behind what’s going on in the world. I had a young daughter. She was born in 1982. So during the 1990s, she was very young. I was concerned about her safety and comfort, but I was also concerned about her future. But I could justify constantly not writing this book on many, many levels. And I was sworn to secrecy on it. But when 9/11 struck, I was in the Amazon at the time. But shortly after that, I came up here and went next door to you to ground zero and experienced a couple of weeks after what you so eloquently write about in your book about the people coming out of ground zero and coming here to the fire station where we’re sitting today. Well, I went up there a few weeks later and sat there and it was close enough to the time that I could still smell the burning flesh and see the smoke coming out of that hole, and I sat there and I knew that I had to take responsibility for what had happened there. I knew that I had to expose the truth because what happened at ground zero is a direct result of what — of the empire building, of what we economic hit men did, and I knew as I sat there that if we don’t do something to change the course we’re on in the world, my daughter basically has no future and certainly her children don’t, and I’m leaving them a much worse world than the one I inherited. And so at that point, I knew that no matter what the consequences, no matter how big a noose I was sticking my head into, I had to expose what’s been going on in the world. This empire that we’ve created that’s made so many people around the planet angry, that’s resulted in destitution for billions of people on this planet. 24,000 people starve to death every day. 30,000 children die every single day from lack of medicines for diseases that could be cured and we have to take responsibility for that. We can change that and we will change it. But we’ll only change it when we really come to understand what’s going on.

AMY GOODMAN: So you wrote the book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and searched around for a publisher, and you write about a top corporate publisher, who was interested in the manuscript.

JOHN PERKINS: Right. Read the manuscript, president of one of the major publishing houses, invited me to New York, we had dinner together. He said this is a great book, it’s riveting, it’s very well-written, it’s a story that needs to be told, but I can’t tell it because I’m owned by a major international corporation that doesn’t want this kind of story getting out there. And I’ll tell you, Amy, I had a good — very good New York literary agent, still do, and he submitted this book to all the major publishing houses and got back letters. He kept reading them to me over the phone, these letters that said things very much like that. This is a really good book, we really enjoy it, but it is not for us right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Hmm. So, this major publisher you had dinner with offered to publish one of your books, but said it had to be fictionalized?

JOHN PERKINS: Right. He said, Why don’t you fictionalize this book, why don’t you be John LeCarre or Graham Green or Dan Brown with The Da Vinci Code, fictionalize it, then we can consider publishing it. And I’m considering fictionalizing it, too. I think it would make a good novel. But what that said to me was what kind of a country is this that we’re in where the press, where the main publishers won’t publish the truth when it’s written as the truth. They’ll only publish it if it’s fictionalized? What does that say about our freedom of the press? And, of course, subsequently a very brave publisher, family-owned firm in San Francisco, a great publisher, Berrett-Koehler, published the book. But it has been very interesting that I still haven’t been on what we call the mainstream press. Kudlow & Cramer and a number of other programs have invited me on; at the last moment, told me i’m disinvited. They didn’t like the politics. Somebody, an advertiser, somebody objected. I don’t know the details behind it, but I’m yanked off at the last minute.

AMY GOODMAN: And you, as a chief economist of the Main international consulting firm, you are the type that get on these shows.

JOHN PERKINS: Yeah. I was. But now I’m dangerous, you know? And the truth is coming out. But what’s interesting is, and I was on your show about a month ago and the next day the book went to number one on Amazon.com. Thank you very much. The word got out there. And what that said to me is once people know that this story is out there to be told, they want to read it. You got the information out that the story was out there. Went to number one on Amazon.com the next day. It’s now gone on to the New York Times best seller list. In its fifth week of publication, it went into its fifth printing. I mean, the publisher hasn’t been able to keep up.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet no major corporate network outside of independent media, which is major, but no major corporate network has interviewed you.

JOHN PERKINS: Exactly. Nobody who is owned by a big corporation or depends on big corporations for their advertising has interviewed me at this point. Isn’t that interesting?

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to John Perkins. Iraq. How does that fit into the stories you have told us during this hour?

JOHN PERKINS: Well, Iraq followed Saudi Arabia. After our tremendous success in Saudi Arabia, we decided we should do the same thing in Iraq. And we figured that Saddam Hussein was corruptible. And, of course, we had been involved with Saddam Hussein anyway for some time. And so the economic hit men went in and tried to bring Saddam Hussein around, tried to get him to agree to a deal like the royal House of Saud had agreed to. And he didn’t. So, we sent in the jackals to try to overthrow him or to assassinate him. They couldn’t. His Republican Guard was too loyal and he had all these doubles. We couldn’t do it. So, when the economic hit men and the jackals both failed, then the last line of defense that the United States, the empire, uses these days, is the military. We send in our young men and women to die and to kill, and we did that in Iraq in 1990. We thought Saddam Hussein at that point was sufficiently chastised that now he would come around, so the economic hit men went back in in the 1990s, failed once again. The jackals went back in, failed once again, and so once again the military went in — the story we all know — because we couldn’t bring him around any other way. Iraq had become very, very important to us for many reasons. Its strategic location, the fact it controls a great deal of the water of the Middle East, the Tigris and Euphrates both flow through and out of Iraq and, of course, its oil. And now we’re not so sure we can keep the House of Saud in control. It’s become extremely unpopular amongst its own people. Over 100 assassinations this year. We’ve been recently reading about the U.S. Consulate being attacked in Saudi Arabia. The House of Saud is losing control. It’s very unpopular, partly because it accepted this deal with the West. It did a lot like what the Shah of Iran has done. And Osama bin Laden, of course, is very against it. But so are a tremendous number of Muslims around the world. The seat of the Muslim faith, Mecca, is in Saudi Arabia, very upset with what the House of Saud has done. So we’ve been afraid that we’re going to lose the grip on the House of Saud. One way to protect against that is by taking over Iraq oil fields, which may be larger than those in Saudi Arabia. We’re not sure exactly how large they are.

AMY GOODMAN: On the jacket of your book, it says that your job as an economic hit man was to convince countries that are strategically important to the U.S., from Indonesia to Panama, to accept enormous loans for infrastructure development and to make sure that the lucrative projects were contracted to U.S. corporations. Saddled with huge debts, these countries came under the control of the U.S. government, World Bank, and other U.S.-dominated aid agencies that acted like loansharks, dictating repayment terms and bullying foreign governments into submission. You work with a lot of people in other countries and right here in the international financial institutions, for example, like the World Bank. What do they say? What understanding do they have? Do a lot of people feel the same way you do?

JOHN PERKINS: Well, that’s a good question. It’s hard to answer for a lot of other people. Within those organizations, most of the people don’t realize what’s going on. The engineers at Bechtel and Halliburton and the financial specialists at the World Bank and so on and so forth don’t really realize what’s going on. They should. They ought to look into it and find out. But there is every excuse not to on their part. They do their job. My father-in-law was chief architect at Bechtel Corporation. He has since retired, and you know, and he built big cities in Saudi Arabia. He was in charge of that. For him, it was a plum. He was an architect. To be given, basically, you know, all the money that he wanted to build huge cities out of the desert was a dream for an architect. He never thought what was going on beneath the surface, and unfortunately, too many of us don’t. I’m struck by the fact that as I travel around the world — I just got back recently from Nepal and Tibet, I travel a lot to South America — about how many people in these countries, even people we consider illiterate, question their government. They assume their government is corrupt, they assume ours is corrupt, but we don’t. It is amazing to me how many of us don’t, at least not openly. And as I speak, I’ve been on this tour with this book for the last month, people keep saying, gee, I knew that was going on. Some place in my heart, I knew that was going on, but I really didn’t understand it. And the fact is that Americans, for the most part, we don’t really want to know, I’m afraid, what’s going on. But we need to. We really need to question that. So within these organizations, you’ve got tremendous numbers of people that are just going along with the system, getting paid really well to do it, and getting jobs that they were trained to do. And fascinating. But then you always have a number of people like me at the top of the organizations that know what’s going on. They are part of this and they use every means they can to keep the system moving.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, John Perkins, for joining us. His book is called Confessions of a Economic Hit Man.

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