Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Progress or Peril? The CIA Writes Black Slaves and Free People Back into the History of the National Security State

Union officers got so many valuable pieces of intelligence from slaves that the reports were put in a special category: “Black Dispatches.” Runaway slaves, many of them conscripted to work on Confederate fortifications, gave the Union Army a continually flowing stream of intelligence. So did slaves who volunteered to be stay-in-place agents. 
Tens of thousands of ex-slaves fought and died for the Union in military units. Less known is the work of other African-Americans who risked their lives in secret, gathering intelligence or while entering enemy territory as scouts. Brigadier General Grenville M. Dodge mentioned how he used black scouts during a search for Confederate troops in Tennessee: “Two negroes led our cavalry to them, guiding them around their pickets. No white man had the pluck to do it.”
Every society must reproduce by teaching its members a set of values and rules that are core to what it means to belong as a citizen.

The United States is a national security state. After 9-11, the United States has also established a fourth branch of government, what is a quasi-secret set of interlocking agencies that can best be described as "Top Secret America."

Consequently, citizens need to be habituated into having their privacy violated. And in an ideal situation, citizens will come to welcome these intrusions as a means of keeping them safe from "terrorism" or some other exaggerated threat.

Power is not always punitive; As Michele Foucault observed, to be most effective, Power should also reward the complicity and surrender of its subjects.

Post civil rights era America is a corporate democracy whose elite class is multiracial. This helps to give the State legitimacy among the mass public. Given America's racist history, black and brown folks have to be (re)read back into the American narrative for a narrative of multicultural pluralism to persist and have currency.

Because it is a necessary intervention against a conservative white washing of American history, progressive and left leaning truth-tellers have dutifully participated in this project.

Here is an irony. What happens when black and brown folks--and other members of either the subaltern or counter-public--are made positive and central actors in the history of the national security state?

From the end of the Cold War to the present, the Central Intelligence Agency has quite smartly broadened its recruitment efforts to include more non-whites. This makes perfect sense: the majority of the world's people are of color and "white" people are a minority.

As such, Top Secret America needs to grow its ranks. How better to do that than by finding ways to include people of color in the long and "heroic" history of American spycraft?

The Central Intelligence Agency's profiling of African American spies during the Civil War is a much needed corrective to a history that for too long had made ignored black resistance to the Southern Slaveocracy. The institution of chattel slavery was one of personal tyranny and intimate violence. African-Americans resisted in critical ways both small and large.
One of the boldest—and least known—Northern spies of the war was a free African American who went under cover as a slave in what appears to have been a plan to place her in the official residence of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. 
The residence, called the Richmond White House, served as the Davis home and the President’s executive office. While he conducted Confederacy business there, he would not have seen his slaves as a threat to security. Official papers did not have to be given special protection when slaves were around because, by law, slaves had to be illiterate. 
Elizabeth Van Lew well knew this law, and, while running her spy ring in Richmond, realized the espionage value of a slave who was secretly able to read and write. Van Lew had a perfect candidate for such an agent-inplace role: Mary Elizabeth Bowser. 
The wealthy Van Lew family, which had 21 slaves in 1850, had only two by 1860—both of them elderly women. Yet, Virginia and Richmond archives show that the Van Lews had not gone through the legal procedures for the freeing of slaves. Freedom meant exile. Under Virginia law, freed slaves had to leave Virginia within a year after winning their freedom. Only by ignoring that law could Van Lew carry out the audacious placement of an agent in the Richmond White House.
In many ways, the opposition of black Americans to racial tyranny was a counter-insurgency campaign where covert modes of communication, guerrilla warfare, targeted assassination, exfiltration/infiltration missions, and sabotage against a surveillance society were common.

But, black folks' resistance to the Racial State and the Slaveocracy must also be put into the context of Cointelpro (and other programs by the military and police intelligence apparatus of the United States government in the 20th century) which murdered, imprisoned, and undermined black and brown civil society organizations.

The inclusion of black and brown folks in the history of American spycraft is welcome and overdue. However, the exclusion from this narrative of how the National Security State has also targeted people of color and those others who resisted American injustice and militarism should not be removed from criticism and comment.


CNu said...

um, hep a bruvva out...,

is this post a celebration of some musty and obscure paper-peeping during the civil war, or, is this a celebration of the Hon.Bro.Preznit.Double-0 and carmelized mimetic cover which properly trained and vetted negroes like Susan Rice can be complicit? You know, stuff like what Bro.Feed pretends moral outrage at, e.g., ongoing genocides on the African continent pursuant to Dr. Rice's own personal enrichment as well as purported national security interests abroad?

chauncey devega said...

Neither? Both? You tell me.

CNu said...

the opposition of black Americans to racial tyranny was a counter-insurgency campaign

actually, a non-violent insurgency.

the counter-insurgency came later from both state and federal levels in the form of cointelpro and the absorption of nationalist political activism into the academy as well as installation of gatekeeping 2nd/3rd line inheritor negroes into positions of symbolic political authority at the municipal, state, and federal levels.

The black counter-insurgency is still in full effect and it was engineered and implemented in response to the soldiers rebellion in vietnam, militant black nationalism, and the poor righteous teaching at the end of MLK's career. The capstone of the black counter-insurgency has been the now four decades long war on drugs which has essentially annihilated any possible kind of organized black resistance or insurgency.

Ben Grim said...

I kin digget. Even white folks is talkin bout rebellin gainst this shit.

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chauncey devega said...

Absolutely. The relationship between the Ford Foundation and the Black Political Conferences in the 1970s is a little told one. Add that with how Ford helped to start up Black Studies departments and you have a model of enfranchisement and deradicalization.

CNu said...

It is interesting to note the purposes and consequences of foundation
funding for highly critical scholars in the ‘developing’ world, who are
often very critical of American economic, political, and cultural
domination of their countries and regions. Often, these scholars were
able to collect information and go places that Western scholars were
unable to, “generating alternative paradigms which are likely to provide
more realistic and accurate assessments of events overseas.” One
example was the funding of dependency theorists, who rose in opposition
to the prevailing development theorists, suggesting that the reason for
the Global South’s perceived “backwardness” was not that it was further
behind the natural progression of industrial development (as development
theorists postulated), but rather that they were kept subjugated to the
Western powers, and were specifically maintained as ‘dependent’ upon
the North, thus maintaining a neo-imperial status directly resulting
from their former overt colonial status. Thus, the foundations have
gained better, more accurate information about the regions they seek to
dominate, simultaneously employing and cultivating talented scholars and
professionals, who might otherwise be drawn to more activist areas of
involvement, as opposed to academic. Thus:
[A] situation
exists where information, produced by Latin Americans on situations of
internal and external domination, is flowing to the alleged sources of
oppression – rather than toward those who need the information to defend
themselves against exploitation.An example of this is in
Brazil, where a regime tolerated the writings of radical social
scientists who are supported by foundations. Many of these scholars have
received international recognition for their work, which would make it
unlikely that the regime itself would be unaware of it. Thus, the work
itself may not be perceived as an actual threat to the regime, for two
major reasons:

(1) it is not intelligible to the masses, for
certainly, if the same sentiments were expressed not in academic
journals but from a street corner or as part of a political movement
which mobilized large numbers, the individual would be jailed or exiled;
and (2) the regime itself benefits from the knowledge generated, while
simultaneously enhancing its international image by permitting academic

Thus, the ultimate effect abroad is the same as that at home: prominent
and talented scholars and intellectuals are drawn into safe channels
whereby they can aim and hope to achieve small improvements through
reform, to ‘better’ a bad situation, improve social justice, human
rights, welfare, and ultimately divert these talented intellectuals
“from more realistic, and perhaps revolutionary, efforts at social

Again, we have an image of the major philanthropic
foundations as “engines of social engineering,” and agents of social
control. Not only are their efforts aimed at domestic America or the
West alone, but rather, to the whole world. As such, foundations have
been and in large part, remain, as some of the most subtle, yet dominant
institutions in the global power structure. Their effectiveness lies in
their subtle methods, in their aims at incremental change, organizing,
funding, and in the power of ideas. Of all other institutions,
foundations are perhaps the most effective when it comes to the process
of effecting the ‘institutionalization of ideas,’ which is, as a concept
in and of itself, the central facet to domination over all humanity.

Ben Grim said...

"Thus, the ultimate effect abroad is the same as that at home: prominent
and talented scholars and intellectuals are drawn into safe channels whereby they can aim and hope to achieve small improvements through reform, to ‘better’ a bad situation, improve social justice, human rights, welfare, and ultimately divert these talented intellectuals “from more realistic, and perhaps revolutionary, efforts at social

You got that right. It's a shame that our educated class does not use its communication skills to explain to the masses how they are being deceived and led to slaughter by the Judas Goat Barack Obama. I know the common person is thoroughly deceived by this subversion. Black intellectuals need to speak up and educate our people to this monstrous development. Instead of playing along talking about the storied symbolism of this historic achievement. You owe us better than that. Tell the people that the Democratic party has betrayed you and Obama is a tool of the burgeoning fascist state. Don't wait till 2023, looking back with couldawouldashoulda regret.

Ben Grim said...

As usual, you're right. I just reserve the right to rage against the machine. I don't care if it falls on deaf ears.The alternative is silence. And silence is complicity.

CNu said...

Eyes are watching and ears are listening - we just have to make certain that the deliverable which our discussion yields, a set of cogent and well-informed insights into the nature of this beast - proliferate both faithfully and broadly wherever our digital and interpersonal meanderings take us.

I believe Inaccuracy, sentimentality, and disinformation are the cornerstones of marginalization. These three factors shape a very great deal of the permitted discourse. Where you find them, there also will you find the active, grassroots embodiment of the counter-insurgency.

Ben Grim said...

Well, with the most recent hagiographic
Obama post here, I'm done.

CNu said...

Patience..., at the peak of my professional engagement, I was routinely called upon to subvert the normal operation of systems and network elements. The hallmark of this work, at a high level, is coaxing little hiccups, IOW, you want something to bend, but not break.

When you break a production system, you get caught. If you gradually, and imperceptibly bend it on the other hand.

Look for example at the admission elicited on this very thread about the purpose and nature of so-called race studies.

chauncey devega said...

huh? hagiography? you jest. How is a post on the CIA a loving opine to Obama. Odd.

So be it then. I hope the white whale of Obama derangement syndrome doesn't gobble you up.

chauncey devega said...

There are lots of similar stories about spycraft. When folks go for it too hard they get notices. Little leaks and tweaks can have outsized results later on. If I recall that was one of the tensions between the U.S. and British schools of thought on the issue and why the latter were masters.

Ben Grim said...

That's funny. It's in the subtext. You know that. First you equate him to one of the greatest figures in history; suggesting he's a colossus of our time.

"Sadly, he has foes on both the Left and Right. He also has enemies across the colorline. What is the man to do?"

Targeted by foes painted with same brush, as if neither has legitimate justification. What could be sad about the Left's recognition of his betrayal? Any critically thinking decent person on both sides of the colorline would disdain him for his transgressions.

You remind us that he's "the country's first black president", playing sentimentally and subliminally on the sense of identification with the misguided pride that blacks have in him. He, as you have noted elsewhere, has said that he is not a black president. He's a president that "happens to be black".

And where's that part about you wanting him to have your back in a knife fight? I distinctly remember that would be like Jesus wanting Judas to have his back in confronting the Romans. And where's the part about 'yes he has his flaws but he gets things done? Did you think I would forget the very passages that, with the above noted presumptions, made me declare it hagiography?

He's no hapless victim of jealous conspirators nor a conquering hero.

To answer the question: What prose calls out to you as an apt description of the Age of Obama?The Shakespearean play that captures the essence of this Faustian demagogue is Macbeth: 'the Scottish lord who chooses evil as the way to fulfill his ambition for power.'

chauncey devega said...

History is written in drafts my friend.

A Faustian bargain it is, that it is.

Obama evil? Come now. Your ODS is acting up. Got to stay on your meds.

Ben Grim said...

Obama evil? Absolutely..

CNu said...

Second that. Obama is an actor cast in a particularly evil role. He deserves no breaks or passes for his transgressions...,

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