Of An Economic Hit Man
By John Perkins
& Amy Goodman
11 November, 2004
Now! interview 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 take over their
economies.A rush transcript
AMY GOODMAN: John Perkins joins us now in our firehouse studio. Welcome
to Democracy Now!
JOHN PERKINS: Thank
you, Amy. Its great to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: Its
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 weve been very successful. Weve
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, Mossadeghs 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
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 loanlet's say a $1 billion to a country like Indonesia or
Ecuadorand 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
infrastructurea 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 couldnt
possibly repay. A country today like Ecuador owes over fifty percent
of its national budget just to pay down its debt. And it really cant
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 theyve
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. Its 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
AMY GOODMAN: From?
JOHN PERKINS: From
a major construction engineering company.
AMY GOODMAN: Which
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, its
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, Im 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 Id
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 demand change.
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 crashdepression; 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
Arabianew cities, new infrastructurewhich weve done.
And the House of Saud would agree to maintain the price of oil within
acceptable limits to us, which theyve done all of these years,
and we would agree to keep the House of Saud in power as long as they
did this, which weve 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 couldnt 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 weve 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 thats an interesting storyhow
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 thats 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 weve 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.
John Perkins, from 1971 to 1981, 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