Saturday, February 21, 2009

The perversion of humanitarian activities

The United States has a long history of using humanitarian ventures as a cover for promoting its own self-interest. Here is an example I found from the early 20th century regarding Herbert Hoover's relief work following World War I.

Andelman, David A. 2008. A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today (New York: J. Wiley).

31: "Colonel Edward House recognized that the peace was likely to be won by the power that had the best understanding of the situation on the ground of each of the territories that the delegates were about to carve up and remodel. So in mid-November House and Van Deman hit on an original approach to the rapid establishment of an effective spy network throughout Europe. Van Deman described it in his own words: "It will be remembered at the time Herbert Hoover had been given charge of providing food and relief for certain devastated sections of Europe. We desired to send with Mr. Hoover's workers going into those areas certain intelligence agents who were familiar with the country, but to this Mr. Hoover violently objected."

31: "It was a brilliant system of the utmost simplicity. Herbert Hoover, who would become the 31st president of the United States, then headed network of private relief workers in the defeated nations. They could move with total freedom and without a scintilla of suspicion among all the subject people of Europe. Indeed, as the dispensers of life-giving food and water they would be welcomed as saviors. The only remaining problem was to persuade Hoover himself. House insisted as his allies you Gibson, a gifted young American diplomat. While serving as principal aide to Hoover and his relief efforts in Belgium during the war, and Gibson also managed to distinguish himself in gathering battlefield intelligence by wriggling through German lines. House now promised Gibson a cushy post as coordinator of the intelligence effort at the U. S. Legation in Vienna if he would persuade Hoover to go along with the plan."

32: "Gibson was surpassingly discreet, but he and House prevailed. In a face-to-face showdown in Paris was Col. House, Hoover, who never really managed to overcome his roots as a simple mining engineer from Iowa was forced to give in. The coordinator of the largest international relief effort ever mounted was persuaded to the use of his pan-European organization as a cover for the first network of spies the United States ever fielded in a coordinated fashion across the continent."


Shag from Brookline said...

Otherwise, how else did things work out in the Paris peace talks in 1919? What feedback did these spies provide that let us know how things were going in Germany that eventually led to WW II and what was happening with the world economies that led to the Great Depression? And how well did our spies do regarding the Middle East?

Michael Perelman said...

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner does a bang up job of debunking the value of US spycraft.