Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
NOW with Bill Moyers

Transcript, March 4, 2005

BRANCACCIO: NOW on PBS:

We're going inside the government — finding the balance between freedom and security. A former FBI agent speaks out.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Where is the pro-active nature now on protection of civil liberties, and putting those structures in place that will prevent a future abuse?

BRANCACCIO: And is aid to developing countries actually designed to be a trap?

JOHN PERKINS: There's no question in my mind that this was what I was intended to do, was to go out and create these projects that would put these countries into such deep deep debt that in essence, they became part of our empire. They became our slaves in a way.

BRANCACCIO: THE CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HIT MAN.


DAVID BRANCACCIO: Welcome.

When it comes to examining the workings of government, you learn a lot from whistleblowers. Tonight you'll hear from two very different people - who never expected to be the ones shining light into the dark recesses of government.

First up, Coleen Rowley. An FBI agent in Minneapolis, her office stumbled on the mother of all leads just three weeks before 9/11: a known Islamic extremist named Zacarias Moussaoui had plunked down $8000 in cash for lessons to fly a Boeing 747. Rowley's team arrested him and wanted a warrant to search his laptop computer but Rowley's superiors at FBI headquarters said no.

After 9/11, when it became clear that more could have been done, Rowley refused to go along with the FBI's efforts to avoid blame. She wrote FBI Director Robert Mueller a blistering letter pointing out that "no one will ever know" the impact the computer search would have had… calling his defense of the agency "a rush to judgment to protect the FBI at all costs."

Weeks later, she captivated a Senate hearing with her story of 'what the FBI knew and when they knew it.' And that put her on the cover of TIME magazine's 'Person of the Year' issue for 2002.

Rowley retired from the Bureau this past December but now, she's taking on a new mission: becoming a loud and forceful voice in the effort to balance national security with the rights of citizens.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Well, Coleen Rowley, thanks for joining us on NOW.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Thank you for having me.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: So 9/11 comes about and then the Patriot Act followed it. And law enforcement was given new powers. Do you welcome those new powers?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, the new powers are I suppose you could say it's like an effective strong medicine like Vioxx. It works very well for a particular ailment. But on the other hand, what is necessary is to monitor any side effects.

And, and if you go back in history, during the 1960s, there were examples where information that had been collected about individuals was actually misused. And that is what I think really lurks as a real potential problem in the future.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: One of the many interesting things that arises when you study history in this way is you realize that FBI officials back then, even director J. Edgar Hoover, didn't have a sense back then that this kind of domestic spying was wrong. And so, it's then hard to trust the authorities to get this stuff right.

COLEEN ROWLEY: It wasn't only him. It was at least 15 other officials, and no one had even considered whether this could be illegal or unethical. You would simply be naive not to consider that these things could happen again without putting the proper mechanisms in place.

And, if we have another terrorist attack, the sad thing is then the pressure is even greater. Look what happened after 9/11. The perception at the time was that the people that were being put into detention after 9/11 were somehow related to the terrorists.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: That's what people thought.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Yeah. And you had a lot of fear, and you had a lot chaos ruling, and you had no mechanism in place. I mean, that's the key here. There was--

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Well, was because, in the end the data showed that a lot these people had no connections to terrorism.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Correct. What they call the "Post-9/11 detentions" were essentially people who had immigration issues. And, even administrative oversights occurred where people were not cleared in a timely manner even though investigation had been done that cleared them. And, they still were in jail for a longer period of time. There was no mechanism in place, and when you have an attack, you are more likely to have obviously law enforcement officials and intelligence officials overreacting.

That's why it's critical now that we get some things in place some guidance and some oversight that can hopefully prevent those types of problems and abuses.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: On my bedside reading remains "The 9/11 Commission Report", and I've got a copy here, page 395, a recommendation: "At this time of increased and consolidated government authority, there should be a board within the Executive Branch to oversee adherence to the guidelines we recommend, and the commitment the government makes to defend our civil liberties." There it is, right in that Commission report. So what was set up?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, the 9/11 Commission did not really fill in the blanks too well as to how this would be set up, and the Intelligence Reform Act didn't, either.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: That law, passed by Congress at the end of last year with many of the Commission's recommendations, did create a civil liberties board, but critics say it will be lacking in clout. Any of the board's requests for sensitive information about cases can be vetoed by the Attorney General.

COLEEN ROWLEY: There are supposed to be five panel members, a chairman and a vice-chairman and three others. And they are to serve at the pleasure of the President and the Executive Office of the President, and provide guidance and oversight in the war on terrorism on the civil liberties and privacy issues.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: So, serve at the pleasure of the President? That doesn't sound totally independent to me.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, that's one of the challenges. Because obviously if this becomes nothing but partisanship, then we're back to square one. What you do need is some independent, and in fact, scholarly advice about where the line should be drawn on between investigation, aggressive investigation, and civil liberties.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Some Minnesota state legislators have suggested you, Coleen, might be a good person for that board. What do you make of that?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Actually, I'm very happy and surprised that - Not that I'm such personally such a great candidate for this, but what I wanted to do was to encourage other people out there, the law professors, for instance. The former privacy councils, even in government, to consider taking on this kind of a challenge. It's a real opportunity to have our cake and eat it too. All along, we have these two dual goals of catching the terrorists, detecting terrorist cells in our country that might do us harm--

DAVID BRANCACCIO: So that they would not do the terrorist act?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Right. And try to minimize, at least, future terrorist acts. And everyone claps for that goal. And then at the same time, protect civil liberties. And everyone, very nonpartisan, also claps for the other goal. Now the question is how is this done? And this civil liberties board is one of the best answers you can come up with, especially when specific facts of cases are cloaked in secrecy, so that the regular JQ Public cannot know the facts of cases.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: It's my understanding that some of the secrecy that surrounds these intelligence and anti-terrorism cases are secret forever?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Correct. Terrorists are partially criminal and partially intelligence oriented. And no one has really asked or answered the question as to whether perpetual secrecy is necessary or even beneficial for terrorist investigations. It is for country-sponsored intelligence and spying, without a doubt. Those types of things need to remain secret for long, long periods of time.

But with terrorists, often times who could be prosecuted, do we need the same type of secrecy?

DAVID BRANCACCIO: When you're trying to do oversight, I guess you could gather statistical information that don't give up the actual secret nature of specific cases.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Right. There is some general data that could be made public in order to prevent this down the road you know, outcry, possible outcry by the public that we were not informed about what was going on.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Rowley argues that too much secrecy actually hurts national security because it breeds distrust and could spark a backlash against the kinds of security measures needed to stop terrorists.

COLEEN ROWLEY: What I kind of liken the analogy to is going through the airport security. You take your shoes off. And you know it's a it's a small privacy intrusion and an inconvenience to take your shoes off and on. But you know what you're getting in return. You know that it's being scanned.

And it is so transparent what you're giving up in terms of that little bit of privacy in turn for some security. And it would be nice if all of these other 160 provisions, for instance, of the Patriot Act were equally transparent.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: You'd like to see a sort of national debate a public debate about how long should this stuff be kept under wraps?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Yeah. You know, we saw a need for the Patriot Act after 9/11 some things needed to change. But, that doesn't mean it is now considered an inviolate, perfect law. Because the quote-unquote "War on Terrorism" is essentially now a march into uncharted territory, especially in terms of the aggressive intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination, we're going to need to be proactive also with the authorities and even with the law itself.

And, without adjusting to mistakes and issues as they surface, and potential areas of concern, we're gonna be in just as bad a situation as we were pre-9/11.

Where is the pro-active nature now on protection of civil liberties, and putting those structures in place that will prevent a future abuse? We need to be pro-active on both fronts.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Well Coleen Rowley, thank you very much.

COLEEN ROWLEY: You're welcome.


BRANCACCIO:

For much of his career, as a consultant in international development, John Perkins says he was an empire builder… though maybe not in ways you'd think.

Perkins calls himself an "economic hit man" — a kind of secret agent of U.S. power, armed not with a Walther PPK pistol but a set of corrupt economic spreadsheets. His job, he says, was to convince developing countries to borrow money to build expensive projects. Projects like roads, dams and power grids that would ostensibly improve the quality of life.

But there was a catch: These projects would also leave these countries with more debt than they could ever hope to repay. This crushing debt, Perkins says, left those countries with little choice but to follow America's lead on foreign and economic policies. His controversial book, CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HIT MAN has been on THE NEW YORK TIMES best seller list for 11 weeks.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Well, John Perkins, welcome to NOW.

JOHN PERKINS: Thank you, it's great to be here, David.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: One of the things about reading your book is that you have to just take it on faith that you're being up front. I don't mean to be unkind, but even something as basic as the word in the title, "economic hit man," I mean it sounds like something a publisher came up with. But you say this was the term that was actually used in the biz.

JOHN PERKINS: Well, we used it tongue in cheek. But the term was one that really stuck with us because in fact, what we were called upon to do is very similar to what Mafia hit men do. Except we were a lot more efficient about it. A lot more secretive. A lot more professional and did it on a much larger scale.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: It's true that organized crime does use debt to exercise control. There's a way to do that. When someone is in hock, they are in your thrall, in a sense. And you've seen it--

JOHN PERKINS: Right.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: In this country. You're really translating that to the international sphere.

JOHN PERKINS: Yes. It's a game that's very very old. It's been played by empires for a long time. And we've taken it to a whole new level of perfection since World War II and especially in the last four decades. In fact we've managed to create what I believe is history's only truly global empire. And for the first time we've created an empire primarily without the military.

When the Romans or the Conquistadors or the English or the French sent their armies out to the world and created these empires, everybody knew they were doing it. The armies were obvious. But we've done it in a way that's much more subtle. A way that many people in the United States still believe that most of our aid is altruistic. It isn't altruistic for the most part. It's done in the process of creating this empire.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: But just for the sake of living with yourself when you're a younger man, I mean you must have said to yourself, "I am helping the population of this developing country, be it Indonesia, be it someplace else, by bringing, for instance, a hydroelectric project to them." Yes, it'll cost them a lot, yes, they'll have to borrow a lot. But ultimately you must have been guided by the sense that you're trying to help out poor folks.

JOHN PERKINS: Well, that's what I'd learned in business school and that's the model that the World Bank presents. But if you really get to know these countries, and I did, I spent a lot of time in them, what I saw was that the money that was going to build these projects like the hydroelectric projects or the highways or the ports, hardly ever actually made its way to the country.

The money was transferred from banks in Washington, DC to banks in Houston or San Francisco or New York where most of it went to big US corporations. The ones we heard a lot about these days like Halliburton and Bechtel. And these corporations then built these projects and the projects primarily served the very rich in those countries.

The electricity, the highways, the ports were seldom even used by the people who needed them the most. But the country would be left holding a huge debt and it would be such a large debt that they couldn't possibly repay it. And so at some point in time, we economic hit men, we go back into the country and say, "Look, you owe us a lot of money, you can't pay your debts. Therefore sell us your oil at a real cheap price or vote with us at a UN vote or give us land for a military base or send some of your troops to some country where we want you to support us."

DAVID BRANCACCIO: You think that from the word go that this kind of lending was meant to essentially put these countries into hock?

JOHN PERKINS: There's no question in my mind that this was what I was intended to do was to go out and create these projects that would bring billions of dollars back to US corporations and create projects that would put these countries into such deep debt, that in essence, they became part of our empire. They became our slaves in a way.

And, it's important to understand that what I was doing was not illegal. It is not illegal. It should be. But it isn't. Now, if I were a banker and I were to go to you and convince you to take a loan that I knew you'd never be able to repay, that's criminal. I could be taken to court for that or ...

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Yeah, it's like selling a naïve investor some sort of fancy investment vehicle. It's against the law.

JOHN PERKINS: It's exactly, it's against the law. But on the international scale, it's not against the law. We write the laws. And if you go to the textbooks in the business schools you'll see that increasing gross national product is toted as something that's good for development. And that's and we usually did that. However, in most of these countries or many of these countries, when you increase gross national product, you may only be increasing the wealth of a very few families who own most of the major resources in the country.

The people who live off subsistence farming and other activities or close to subsistence, don't gain anything. In fact, you build a hydroelectric dam across their river, destroys much of the life downstream. It destroys their farms, it destroys their fishing. It does them a great deal of damage. And they're left holding this debt that should be going to pay for their education, health services, other social services. But can't, because it's owed to us.

The reason I wrote the book, David, is because finally after 9/11 I realized that the American people must know what's going on. Because most Americans don't know. And the that 9/11 was just symbolic of a tremendous amount of anger around the world. And we in the United States don't are not aware of that. September 11th made us somewhat aware of it although I think we've really covered that aspect of it over. We say this is a rogue terrorist.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Or that it's based in sort of religious passion. Or that it's something about Saudi Arabia in particular. This isn't really about the United States and its international relations. That's the argument.

JOHN PERKINS: That's the argument. But in fact, if you go to Catholic countries in South America, you'll see that Osama bin Laden is a is a hero amongst a lot of people. He's on billboards. He's on T-shirts. It's very unfortunate that this mass murderer has become the symbol of a David who is standing up to a Goliath. The way they see it. He's like a Robin Hood to many people.

Twenty-four thousand people die every day from lack of nutrition. Thirty thousand children die every single day from - diseases for which we have cures. For which we have medicines. And that shouldn't be happening. It doesn't need to happen. That's over 50,000 people every single day dying terrible, painful, awful, needless deaths. So 3,000 at the World Trade Center was atrocious, terrible; 200,000 or whatever the tsunami is atrocious and terrible. And they make the news. But these 50,000 plus that die every single day needlessly, don't ever make the news. And their families and the people in those countries are very angry. Because we could prevent that. And in fact, our policies and especially many of our corporate policies, foster those kinds of conditions that create situations where those people are dying of lack of nutrition and lack of medicines.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: There will be Americans who reflect on this and say look we tried to share the wealth and for whatever reason, it came to naught.

JOHN PERKINS: We didn't try to share the wealth. We Americans believe that that's what we're doing. We're a good hearted compassionate people. But the fact of the matter the ones who make the decisions I was in that position. This is a lot of people out there today in that position. They're getting very wealthy. Their corporations are getting wealthy, and a few families in these developing countries who collaborate with us in this process, are getting fabulously wealthy, too.

But the poor are getting much poorer and the gap between rich and poor has increased tremendously over the last 30 years. Over this time when the World Bank and the United Nations has told us that we're making improvements in fact the gap is has more than doubled.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: You know, I saw a World Bank official quoted in regard to your book, hadn't read the book. Saw some account. But thought that your view of all this was really out of date. And regardless of whether or not your vision of this is really what happened, World Bank has moved on.

Even now they've shifted. I saw a statistic in 1980 something like three or five percent of their lending went into things like health and pensions and education. Now it's up to 22 percent. They're not giving so much money to big dam projects that runs up the debt.

JOHN PERKINS: If you really look behind those numbers of schools and hospitals and those kinds of things, you'll see that yes, we've spent more money on constructing those types of facilities — building the schools and the hospitals. The big construction companies have gotten rich building them.

But look behind the numbers and see how much money we've put into training health specialists. Doctors and nurses and technicians or how much money we've put into teaching into training teachers. To fill the schools. It's not enough to build schools and hospitals. You've also got to create the whole system that allows for better education and better health care. It's- I'm very sad to say it's a system that has really pulled the wool over people's eyes. We paint a very good picture, but when you go deep in, you find a very different story.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: John, I appreciate this. The book is called CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HIT MAN. John Perkins, thank you very much.

JOHN PERKINS: You're welcome, David, it's been my pleasure.


BRANCACCIO: Next week NOW returns again to the central topic of kitchen tables across the country. An issue that's very important to us at now, jobs in America.

WOMAN: I have the medical insurance and the bankruptcy coming out, plus the regular taxes that you have to pay out of your paycheck.

BRANCACCIO: What's happening to American workers? A filmmaker explores the devastating impact of outsourcing on families and entire communities across the country.

GREG SPOTTS: And a lot of people are suffering very quietly in their homes. People are starting to lose their cars; they're starting to worry about being foreclosed and many of them are going from church to social service group trying to raise money for their next dose of medicine.

BRANCACCIO: Now is the time when many public television stations are asking for your support.

We at NOW could not bring to you brave voices like Coleen Rowley and John Perkins without the support that you give to your local public television station.

If you like what you see on NOW and other public affairs programs on PBS, now is the time to cast your vote by giving generously to support your local public television station.

And that's it for NOW. I'm David Brancaccio.

We'll see you next week.


Connect to NOW, online at pbs.org

Join the debate over civil liberties after 9/11.

Uncover the history of the F.B.I.

More on global inequality

Connect to NOW at pbs.org