New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man - John Perkins

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High level summary

  • America is an empire, its agents are (1) economic hitmen who create inflated economic models thus encouraging developing nations to take on debt they cannot pay off, (2) jackals who pull of character [and fatal] assassinations, and (3) the military

  • List of CIA atrocities (link) committed for reasons/in a pattern that corroborates the above point

  • Case-studies:

    • School of the Americas (old-name)/WHINSEC—counter-insurgency training school operated by America to train American-compliant regime officers… e.g. 1 in 7 of Pinochet’s intelligence agency’s officers came from here. Many dictators came from here too. Democrats promised to close WHINSEC, but then Trump got elected.

    • US invaded Panama in 1989 to arrest Manuel Noriega (a SOA grad), repatriate him, and try him in the US for crimes committed in Panama. For what crimes? Essentially, having too much information regarding how America dealt with regimes considered non-compliant, via compliant regimes such as his own.

    • The mysterious and still unsolved death of Ecuador’s president Roldos who died in a plane crash in 1981, shortly after presenting new hydrocarbon laws that would have allowed Ecuador to retain more control of its own assets

  • The 'death economy' is domestic too: banking scandals / war on drugs -> prison labor/ food safety act

  • Looking towards the future: will China be a more benevolent hegemon?

Keywords: empire, death economy, corporatocracy, military-industrial


In The New Confessions of an EHM (2016), a partly autobiographical book and revision of an earlier 2004 novel, the author John Perkins does two things: (1) ‘connect the dots’ regarding how the US and its corporations deceive, abuse, and exploit economically developing nations, and (2) map out his personal journey from being a perpetrator of this exploitation to a reformed whistleblowing change-maker. 

This second part is not very interesting, but provides a narrative thread to make the first part readable in an autobiographical form. However, for serious readers hoping to understand the machinations of the American Empire, but who are not interested in a badly-written redemption story, New Confessions only partially delivers – Confessions at times often achieves a sappy, over-sentimental tone that is painful to read. So let me fast-forward through the narrative so I can focus on the Empire bits. With a mysterious familial connection in the NSA, Perkins as a fresh graduate from Middlebury College gets through preliminary NSA screening in order to avoid the Vietnam War draft, but eventually ends up joining a Peace Corps mission to Ecuador. This makes him employable to Chas. T. MAIN, an international consulting agency, (which did exist, but of which there are few details), which Perkins claims hired him as an economist to obfuscate developmental econometric models with complicated math so that developing nations might take American-led funding they could never hope to pay off.

Acting in this role, Perkins calls himself an economic hitman (EHM), one agent in a well-oiled exploitative machine that works a little like this. If a developing country fails to sign off on a particular set of quasi-usurious loans – of which failure to pay would result in the handing over of public/national assets to private American corporations – then the jackals come in. Jackals are CIA agents who pull off character and political assassinations in order to install new regimes that are amenable to American corporate interests, and in doing so, deter other nations from disobeying. If even the jackals are ignored, then the military is called for. EHM > jackal > military. At the end of this document you will find a link to a table of CIA activity that seems to validate at least the jackal/military portion of this.

So how does the American empire/corporatocracy work?

Throughout the novel, Perkins claims to have encounters with many top figures and to advise on huge infrastructure deals – both of which though unverifiable, are still meaningful in that they represent more dots in an increasingly indisputable constellation of American corporatocracy – such as in 1972 when he claims to have met withOmar Torrijos, ruler of Panama, who knew Perkins was making inflated infrastructure projections, but agreed to a compromise: he would say yes to any plan so as long as Perkins made sure the necessary infrastructure got built. Torrijos wanted Panama to be a Central American economic success story that might inspire the hopes of lower and middle classes of a region so used to the stifling of any and all progress. Torrijos appeared cognizant of the fact that he was beholden to American corporate interests when Perkins quoted him as saying that he could not accept a Japanese proposal to finance and build an expansion of the Canal because doing so would take the project out of Bechtel’s hands – a company ‘loaded with Nixon, Ford, and Bush cronies’. Torrijos suggests that if he did so, he would probably end up being overthrown with CIA help just like how Jacobo Arbenz, president of Guatemala in 1954, was when he threatened to nationalize the United Fruit Company, or Mhd. Mossadegh of Iran was in 1953 when he threatened to nationalize BP. 

It is illuminating to follow this Panamanian narrative further. In July 1981, three months after the death of Ecuador’s president Roldos in a plane crash that Perkins claims had “all the markings of a CIA-orchestrated assassination” (Roldos had presented new hydrocarbon laws that were considered revolutionary and would influence much of Latin America, thereby threatening big oil interests; here is a quote from his inaugural address: “the hydrocarbons policy will be managed with broad programmatic criteria… our decisions will be inspired solely by national interests and in the unrestricted defense of our sovereign rights.”), Panama’s ruler Torrijos died in a plane crash too. Though the investigation into the crash was inconclusive – just as the investigation into Roldos’ death was – Perkins notes that Torrijos was “openly loathed by President Reagan,” a president, he sardonically remarks knew how to follow orders passed down from moguls thanks to his training as a Hollywood actor. What Perkins primarily attributes American acrimony towards Torrijos, however, is Torrijos’ deal with President Carter (in ’77) to expel the School of the Americas (SOA) from Panama by 1984. 

If you are like me, you would not know what the SOA was or is. Now based in Fort Benning, Georgia, it was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2000, and is officially a military training school assigned with the goal of “teaching anti-communist counterinsurgency training.” Graduates of SOA/WHINSEC have gone on to high-ranking military and civic positions in despotic, but US-compliant, regimes. For example, graduates comprised 1 out of every 7 members of the command staff of DINA, the Chilean intelligence agency responsible for the worst human rights atrocities during the Pinochet years. Some have even went on to install their own regimes, such as Gen. Efrain Montt, a 1950 graduate, who took power of Guatemala in 1982 in a military coup. Montt’s regime was documented by two Truth Commissions as having committed widespread massacres, rape, and torture in what has been called the Guatemalan Genocide. The UN estimates that 170,000 were killed. To further Perkins’ point, Reagan met with Montt in 1982 and declared that he “[was] a man of great personal integrity and commitment. ... I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.” An anachronism in a post-Cold-War world, WHINSEC represents a thorough undermining of the right to self-determinism of Latin and South American nations, and a grotesque, modern fulfillment of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine which warned European nations that the US would not tolerate interference in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere, i.e. that Latin and South America belonged to the US. Fortunately, a Platform Committee issued a call for the closing of WHINSEC to be a part of the Democratic Party’s policy platform in 2016.

However, SOA makes one more appearance in Perkins’ Panamanian story when Torrijos’ successor, Gen. Manuel Noriega, a SOA graduate, was made an example for the rest of the world to witness America’s might. David Harris’ observation captures the true purpose of the 1989 Panama Invasion precisely:

“Of all the thousands of rulers, potentates, strongmen, juntas, and warlords the Americans have dealt with in all corners of the world. General Manuel Antonia Noriega is the only one the Americans came after like this. Just once in its 250 years of formal national existence has the United States ever invaded another country and carried its ruler back to the United States to face trial and imprisonment for violations of American law committed on that ruler’s own native foreign turf.”

Noriega’s crime? Being a drug-trafficking monster in a country which as Perkins puts it “coincidentally happened to sit on one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the world.” The irony? There is undeniable proof that high level officials in the US government were fully aware, and had been fully aware for quite some time, of Noriega’s crime because he had worked for them. A valued CIA asset paid $320,000 (at least), Noriega had acted as a listening post for the US during turbulent times, a spy who reported the possible communist leanings of his neighbor countries. Noriega was tried in the US so that he would have no control over the judicial process. Back home, he would have no doubt spilt the beans “regarding his contacts with Oliver North, John Poindexter, CIA chief William Casey and other key figures in the Ronald Reagan and Bush administrations who, allegedly, connived in the supply of arms to Nicaragua's Contra rebels paid for with Medellín cartel drug cash.” (link, Guardian article: "Why Manuel Noriega became America's most wanted")

 Through Perkin’s Panamanian narrative we have now seen all three agents of America’s corporatocracy in action: the EHMs, the jackals, and the military. But do not think for one second that American empire furthers itself through these devious means only in the Western Hemisphere. (Link at end for reference) Or that it does not continue to do so today: in 2009 Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran president was overthrown in a coup, most likely for advocating a 60% increase in the minimum wage… Ecuador’s president subsequently reversed course on his prior decision to nationalize the nation’s oil.

According to historian John Coatsworth, the US overthrew 41 governments in Latin America between 1898 and 1994, and many of those regime changes were ostensibly carried out, as Woodrow Wilson once put it in reference to Mexico, to teach Latin Americans "to elect good men."

What’s the end result? Who’s behind it?

Throughout Confessions, what Perkins reiterates is that the American corporatocracy is not some centrally planned organization (A la Illuminati, etc.), but instead that it is decentralized: a result that amoral people, guided by free market principles – i.e. profit via seizing developing countries’ assets – reached by themselves. This is a scarier notion than the conspiracy idea, however, because it means that, whether they know it or not, every actor in the system is complicit in deeds as heinous as assassinating foreign leaders for espousing the very same principles, e.g. self-determination, that America outwardly claims to support.

It’s at home too

America is not safe from itself either. Banking scandals… prison labor… safe foods act

China as an alternative, will it be a benevolent hegemon?


Other story parts

  • 1974, as an advisor to JECOR (US-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation), Perkins is tasked with finding ways to spend hundreds of millions of Saudi dollars in ways that would send them back to American engineering and construction companies and therefore increase Saudi interdependence with America

    • Context: Oil Embargo of 1973 demonstrates US reliance on Middle Eastern oil and elevates Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical status, thereby forcing Washington to recognize its strategic importance, and pressuring US industry to find methods to funnel petrodollars back to America

    • Other: despite Saudi Arabia being the epicenter of terrorist financing, US turns blind eye… Vanity Fair conclusion that “The Bush family and the House of Saud, the two most powerful dynasties in the world, have had close personal business, and political ties for more than 20 years.”

      • Saudi supported Harken Energy, a struggling oil company invested in by Bush Jr.

      • Bush Sr. appeared before Saudis at fundraisers for Carlyle, and continues to serve as a senior advisor to it, a firm whose investors include Saudis accused of ties to terrorist groups

      • Just after 9/11, wealthy Saudis, including members of the bin Laden managed to flee US on private jets… no one will admit to clearing their flights

  • On a visit to Iran between 1975-78, Perkins has a meeting with the ‘Doc’, a nose-less, (cut off?) purported ex-advisor of the Shah, who personally knew Eisenhower, Nixon, and de Gaulle, and was trusted with leading Iran towards a capitalist future, who tells him how all of the Shah’s crimes are committed with full knowledge and support of the US government who ignore them because of Iran’s strategic importance; ‘Doc’ advises Perkins to not work with Iran because he might not get paid


Other interesting parts

  • Arnold Toynbee’s hypothesis in Civilization on Trial and The World and the West (1958) that the real war in the 21st century would not be between Communists and capitalists, but between Christians and Muslims

  • Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903 with support from the US under the understanding that the Panama Canal would be built and controlled by the US; it was only returned to Panamanian control in 1977.