The CIA on Effective Arrests

My current research project revolves around the use of torture in the so-called “War on Terror”—and I’m uncovering a wealth of astonishing, depressing material, much of it compliments of the U.S. government.

Here is a page from a top secret CIA manual on “Human Resource Exploitation,” distributed by CIA trainers in Latin America in the seventies and eighties (the full manual, along with its precursor, the notorious “KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation” manual from 1963, are available at the excellent National Security Archive). If you click the image for a larger version, you can read the CIA’s suggestions for the best way to arrest individuals hostile to the current government (say, labor organizers in Honduras):

The manner and timing of arrest should be planned to achieve surprise and the maximum amount of mental discomfort. He should therefore be arrested at a moment when he least suspects it and when his mental and physical resistance is at its lowest. Ideally in the early hours of the morning. When arrested at this time, most subjects experience intense feelings of shock, insecurity, and psychological stress and for the most part have great difficulty adjusting to the situation. It is also important that the arresting party behave in such a manner as to impress the subject with their efficiency.

Wow. This wouldn’t be out of place in some Gestapo training manual, would it? The CIA’s advised method–strike at dawn, be efficient, disorient your victim–reminds me of the so-called Dew Breakers of “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s ruthless regime in Haiti, the secret police who would come shortly before dawn (thus breaking the dew) to arrest and torture anyone who dared speak out against Duvalier. (Edwidge Danticat eloquently writes about one such officer of the Tonton Macoutes in her novel The Dew Breaker.)

My hats off to the CIA for their insights and inspiration to all those aspiring fascists out there. Way to export democracy, guys.

The Origins of Totalitarianism

The same thought trajectory that brought me to Le Bon’s work on crowds has led me to something I should’ve read a long time ago: Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism.

The Origins of Totalitarianism is Arendt’s thoughtful and relentlessly critical dissection of totalitarian movements and nations. In a later chapter called “Totalitarianism in Power,” Arendt argues that the ultimate goal of totalitarian governments is “to conquer the globe and bring all countries on earth under their domination.”

As a result, Arendt argues, a totalitarian government rules as if it were only a matter of time until the world is in fact under its control. Totalitarian regimes, Arendt writes,

conduct their foreign policy on the consistent assumption that they will eventually achieve this ultimate goal, and never lose sight of it no matter how distant it may appear or how seriously its “ideal” demands may conflict with the necessity of the moment. They therefore consider no country as permanently foreign, but, on the contrary, every country as their potential territory. (p. 415)

Let me be clear here: Arendt is specifically talking about Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. She’s not talking about any other nation. And I don’t mean to imply–as one might infer from my politics–that Arendt’s argument can be applied to today’s powerful nations.

The United States is not Nazi Germany. Bush is not Hitler.

Yet Arendt’s remark is nonetheless highly illuminating for the present situation, if only because it underscores how power now operates in the world.

For all the bombs’ bursting red glare and all the talk of bunker busters, the new regimes operate in a fundamentally non-dominational spirit. Or at least (in most cases) the domination assumes a form more alluring than the military occupation that Arendt wrote about. The most striking difference between a totalitarian government like the Nazis and imperial powers today is that the new Empire does not seek to conquer the globe by force, but rather, by a hegemonic false sense of consensus.

In the end, it’s much easier to convince people they want to do something (through powerful media strategies, educational policies, religious orthodoxy) than to hold a gun to their head and force them to do it. That is, essentially, the definition of hegemony.

And the hegemony that has been most wildly successful, the hegemony that is the cockroach of all ideologies, the hegemony that not only convinces people they want to do something, but more importantly convinces them they want to buy something, is global capitalism.

Globalization is the new totalitarianism.

The Crowd

I discovered a gem tonight in Gustave Le Bon’s classic 1895 study of crowds, La Psychologie des foules. “Civilisations as yet,” Le Bon writes, “have only been created and directed by a small intellectual aristocracy, never by crowds. Crowds are only powerful for destruction.”

I like the tone of this. All fire and brimstone and presciently tapped into the mob psychology of the Facists. Such a welcome counterpoint to the current oh-the-masses-are-so-wise thinking that dominates the networked era.

Le Bon goes on, in his quaint 19th century French manner, to discuss Napoleon’s invasion of Spain and how Napoleon, though he possessed a “marvellous insight into the psychology of the masses of the country over which he reigned,” had somehow “completely misunderstood the psychology of crowds belonging to other races” (i.e. the Spanish). And then, in a witty footnote that would be comical were it not for its uncanny resonance with the present, Le Bon comments that Napoleon’s

most subtle advisers, moreover, did not understand this psychology any better. Talleyrand wrote him that “Spain would receive his soldiers as liberators.” It received them as beasts of prey.

Now, where I have heard that before? Soldiers greeted as liberators? Sounds familiar, but I can’t quite place it. And the second part, about being received as “beasts of prey”? Again, that vaguely seems hazily to be something foggily that is very nearly barely on the tip of my tongue. But I rack my brains and I can’t come up with it.

Le Bon continues in his footnote, “A psychologist acquainted with the hereditory insticts of the Spanish race would have easily foreseen this reception.” Le Bon frames in terms of instinct and race what is better understand in terms of culture and context: invaders are not liberators, occupiers are not liberators, and, when strategic natural resources are involved–whether it’s control of Atlantic shipping in the early 19th century or Mideast oil in the early 21st–the soldiers are indeed seen by the aggrieved crowds as beasts of prey.