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 Man."
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 now in our Firehouse studios.
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.
some notes from the interview:
"AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. Okay, explain
this term, "economic hit man," e.h.m., as you call it.
JOHN PERKINS: Basically what we were trained to do and what our
job is to do is to build up the American empire. To bring --
to create situations where as many resources as possible flow
into this country, to our corporations, and our government,
and in fact we've been very successful. We've built the largest
empire in the history of the world. It's been done over the last
50 years since World War II with very little military might,
actually. It's only in rare instances like Iraq where the
military comes in as a last resort. This empire, unlike any
other in the history of the world, has been built primarily
through economic manipulation, through cheating, through fraud,
through seducing people into our way of life, through the
economic hit men. I was very much a part of that.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you become one? Who did you work for?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, I was initially recruited while I was in
business school back in the late sixties by the National
Security Agency, the nation's largest and least understood
spy organization; but ultimately I worked for private
corporations. The first real economic hit man was back in the
early 1950's, Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of Teddy, who
overthrew of government of Iran, a democratically elected
government, Mossadegh's government who was Time's magazine
person of the year; and he was so successful at doing this
without any bloodshed -- well, there was a little bloodshed,
but no military intervention, just spending millions of
dollars and replaced Mossadegh with the Shah of Iran. At
that point, we understood that this idea of economic hit man
was an extremely good one. We didn't have to worry about
the threat of war with Russia when we did it this way. The
problem with that was that Roosevelt was a C.I.A. agent.
He was a government employee. Had he been caught, we would
have been in a lot of trouble. It would have been very
embarrassing. So, at that point, the decision was made to
use organizations like the C.I.A. and the N.S.A. to recruit
potential economic hit men like me and then send us to
work for private consulting companies, engineering firms,
construction companies, so that if we were caught, there
would be no connection with the government.
AMY GOODMAN: Okay. Explain the company you worked for.
JOHN PERKINS: Well, the company I worked for was a company
named Chas. T. Main in Boston, Massachusetts. We were about
2,000 employees, and I became its chief economist. I ended up
having fifty people working for me. But my real job was deal-
making. It was giving loans to other countries, huge loans,
much bigger than they could possibly repay. One of the conditions
of the loan-let's say a $1 billion to a country like Indonesia
or Ecuador-and this country would then have to give ninety
percent of that loan back to a U.S. company, or U.S. companies,
to build the infrastructure-a Halliburton or a Bechtel. These
were big ones. Those companies would then go in and build an
electrical system or ports or highways, and these would
basically serve just a few of the very wealthiest families
in those countries. The poor people in those countries would
be stuck ultimately with this amazing debt that they couldn't
possibly repay. A country today like Ecuador owes over fifty
percent of its national budget just to pay down its debt. And
it really can't do it. So, we literally have them over a barrel.
So, when we want more oil, we go to Ecuador and say, "Look,
you're not able to repay your debts, therefore give our oil
companies your Amazon rain forest, which are filled with oil."
And today we're going in and destroying Amazonian rain forests,
forcing Ecuador to give them to us because they've accumulated
all this debt. So we make this big loan, most of it comes back
to the United States, the country is left with the debt plus
lots of interest, and they basically become our servants, our
slaves. It's an empire. There's no two ways about it. It's a
huge empire. It's been extremely successful.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to John Perkins, author of
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. You say because of
bribes and other reason you didn't write this book for a
long time. What do you mean? Who tried to bribe you, or who --
what are the bribes you accepted?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, I accepted a half a million dollar bribe
in the nineties not to write the book.
AMY GOODMAN: From?
JOHN PERKINS: From a major construction engineering company.
AMY GOODMAN: Which one?
JOHN PERKINS: Legally speaking, it wasn't -- Stoner-Webster.
Legally speaking it wasn't a bribe, it was -- I was being paid
as a consultant. This is all very legal. But I essentially did
nothing. It was a very understood, as I explained in Confessions
of an Economic Hit Man, that it was -- I was -- it was understood
when I accepted this money as a consultant to them I wouldn't
have to do much work, but I mustn't write any books about the
subject, which they were aware that I was in the process of
writing this book, which at the time I called "Conscience of
an Economic Hit Man." And I have to tell you, Amy, that, you
know, it's an extraordinary story from the standpoint of --
It's almost James Bondish, truly, and I mean--
AMY GOODMAN: Well that's certainly how the book reads.
JOHN PERKINS: Yeah, and it was, you know? And when the National
Security Agency recruited me, they put me through a day of lie
detector tests. They found out all my weaknesses and immediately
seduced me. They used the strongest drugs in our culture, sex,
power and money, to win me over. I come from a very old New
England family, Calvinist, steeped in amazingly strong moral
values. I think I, you know, I'm a good person overall, and
I think my story really shows how this system and these
powerful drugs of sex, money and power can seduce people,
because I certainly was seduced. And if I hadn't lived this
life as an economic hit man, I think I'd have a hard time
believing that anybody does these things. And that's why I
wrote the book, because our country really needs to understand,
if people in this nation understood what our foreign policy
is really about, what foreign aid is about, how our
corporations work, where our tax money goes, I know we will
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to John Perkins. In your book,
you talk about how you helped to implement a secret scheme
that funneled billions of dollars of Saudi Arabian petrol
dollars back into the U.S. economy, and that further cemented
the intimate relationship between the House of Saud and
successive U.S. administrations. Explain.
JOHN PERKINS: Yes, it was a fascinating time. I remember well,
you're probably too young to remember, but I remember well in
the early seventies how OPEC exercised this power it had, and
cut back on oil supplies. We had cars lined up at gas stations.
The country was afraid that it was facing another 1929-type of
crash-depression; and this was unacceptable. So, they -- the
Treasury Department hired me and a few other economic hit men.
We went to Saudi Arabia. We --
AMY GOODMAN: You're actually called economic hit men --e.h.m.'s?
JOHN PERKINS: Yeah, it was a tongue-in-cheek term that we
called ourselves. Officially, I was a chief economist. We
called ourselves e.h.m.'s. It was tongue-in-cheek. It was
like, nobody will believe us if we say this, you know? And,
so, we went to Saudi Arabia in the early seventies. We knew
Saudi Arabia was the key to dropping our dependency, or to
controlling the situation. And we worked out this deal
whereby the Royal House of Saud agreed to send most of their
petro-dollars back to the United States and invest them in
U.S. government securities. The Treasury Department would
use the interest from these securities to hire U.S. companies
to build Saudi Arabia-new cities, new infrastructure-which
we've done. And the House of Saud would agree to maintain
the price of oil within acceptable limits to us, which they've
done all of these years, and we would agree to keep the House
of Saud in power as long as they did this, which we've done,
which is one of the reasons we went to war with Iraq in the
first place. And in Iraq we tried to implement the same policy
that was so successful in Saudi Arabia, but Saddam Hussein
didn't buy. When the economic hit men fail in this scenario,
the next step is what we call the jackals. Jackals are C.I.A.-
sanctioned people that come in and try to foment a coup or
revolution. If that doesn't work, they perform assassinations.
or try to. In the case of Iraq, they weren't able to get through
to Saddam Hussein. He had -- His bodyguards were too good. He
had doubles. They couldn't get through to him. So the third line
of defense, if the economic hit men and the jackals fail, the
next line of defense is our young men and women, who are sent
in to die and kill, which is what we've obviously done in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain how Torrijos died?
JOHN PERKINS: Omar Torrijos, the President of Panama. Omar
Torrijos had signed the Canal Treaty with Carter much -- and,
you know, it passed our congress by only one vote. It was a
highly contended issue. And Torrijos then also went ahead and
negotiated with the Japanese to build a sea-level canal. The
Japanese wanted to finance and construct a sea-level canal in
Panama. Torrijos talked to them about this which very much
upset Bechtel Corporation, whose president was George Schultz
and senior council was Casper Weinberger. When Carter was
thrown out (and that's an interesting story-how that actually
happened), when he lost the election, and Reagan came in and
Schultz came in as Secretary of State from Bechtel, and
Weinberger came from Bechtel to be Secretary of Defense,
they were extremely angry at Torrijos -- tried to get him
to renegotiate the Canal Treaty and not to talk to the
Japanese. He adamantly refused. He was a very principled man.
He had his problem, but he was a very principled man. He was
an amazing man, Torrijos. And so, he died in a fiery airplane
crash, which was connected to a tape recorder with explosives
in it, which -- I was there. I had been working with him. I
knew that we economic hit men had failed. I knew the jackals
were closing in on him, and the next thing, his plane exploded
with a tape recorder with a bomb in it. There's no question in
my mind that it was C.I.A. sanctioned, and most -- many Latin
American investigators have come to the same conclusion. Of
course, we never heard about that in our country.
AMY GOODMAN: So, where -- when did your change your heart happen?
JOHN PERKINS: I felt guilty throughout the whole time, but
I was seduced. The power of these drugs, sex, power, and money,
was extremely strong for me. And, of course, I was doing things
I was being patted on the back for. I was chief economist. I
was doing things that Robert McNamara liked and so on.
AMY GOODMAN: How closely did you work with the World Bank?
JOHN PERKINS: Very, very closely with the World Bank. The World
Bank provides most of the money that's used by economic hit men,
it and the I.M.F. But when 9/11 struck, I had a change of heart.
I knew the story had to be told because what happened at 9/11
is a direct result of what the economic hit men are doing. And
the only way that we're going to feel secure in this country
again and that we're going to feel good about ourselves is if
we use these systems we've put into place to create positive
change around the world. I really believe we can do that. I
believe the World Bank and other institutions can be turned
around and do what they were originally intended to do, which
is help reconstruct devastated parts of the world. Help --
genuinely help poor people. There are twenty-four thousand
people starving to death every day. We can change that.
AMY GOODMAN: John Perkins, I want to thank you very much
for being with us. John Perkins' book is called, Confessions
of an Economic Hit Man. "