Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: it’s even worse than we thought!

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A useful tool for social justice activists is now more affordable. This January, John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Plume, $15) finally came out in paperback.

This book is a rare insider’s account of the things that the U.S. government and businesses do to ensure that they will dominate the economic and political life of countries worldwide. It is a great antidote for those who may still believe in corporate/government good intentions around the globe.

Doing in Indonesia. In 1965, as a 20-year-old student at Boston University, John Perkins faced the prospect of being drafted by the military and having to fight in Vietnam after his graduation. A friend of his father-in-law (“Uncle Frank”) worked for the National Security Agency and suggested he join the NSA to avoid the draft and have a good career.

Perkins opted for the Peace Corps rather than the NSA, and was surprised that Uncle Frank readily approved of his decision. He came to find out that the NSA and CIA use Peace Corps volunteers as unwitting spies.

On assignment for the Peace Corps in Ecuador, Perkins met a vice president of the Chas. T. Main company named Einar Greve. Conversations with Greve over a couple of days led to prolonged correspondence and a job offer after Perkins got out of the Peace Corps. The Main company turned out to be a very powerful but low-profile “economic consulting” firm. Perkins was hired as an economist and trained to do forecasting.

His first assignment was in Indonesia in 1971. Perkins learned that his economic forecasts were to be used to convince the Indonesian government of the desirability of accepting big loans through agencies such as the Asian Development Bank. These loans would finance the building of a national electrical grid, which would supposedly be the basis for progress and prosperity for Indonesia.

As a condition of the loans, most of the construction contracts involved went to U.S. corporations, which profited handsomely from their work. The Indonesian government ended up massively in debt and therefore more beholden to Uncle Sam’s interests. The construction caused damage to the Indonesian environment and brought little benefit to average Indonesians. Corporations, on the other hand, were left in a better position to exploit Indonesia’s natural resources and inexpensive labor.

First economic intrigue, then the CIA, then war. Perkins learned the term “economic hit man” from a sexy, secretive trainer named Claudine (I’m not making this up) who was assigned to him by Main. She made it quite clear that Main insiders knew the true intent of their work.

Perkins claims to have had doubts about the morality of his work almost from the beginning — but money, power and personal favors kept him working for Main for over a decade. During this time he rose to the rank of “chief economist” with a whole department of underlings.

From this position Perkins became familiar with the work of economic hit men around the world and participated in that work in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Panama.

In Panama, he saw what often happens when politicians in power in Third World countries get out of line by refusing to go along with the wishes of the economic strike force: they are set upon by CIA operatives known as “the jackals.” Assassination and fake accidents are two of the tools of these thugs. Perkins is convinced that the plane crash that killed Panamanian leader Omar Torrijos was their dirty work.

When hit men and jackals both fail, war is not far off. Perkins explains why he believes that the Iraq war is an example of such a failure. He goes on to urge his readers to become involved in the struggle to stop the U.S. from dominating the world.

Providing a public service — redeemed or not. These days Perkins spends his time promoting his book, and by doing so he educates people about some of the evil, formerly secret methods of imperialism. The news program Democracy Now! has an excellent interview with him from February 15, 2006, archived at

But make no mistake about it: Perkins’ book is indeed a confession. He sinned against humanity by working for Main for over a decade. He sinned again in the early 1980s by accepting a bribe to not write anything about his hit man experiences. Perkins only finally came clean by publishing his exposé in 2004. He did so after becoming convinced that the attacks of 9/11 were in large part a blowback reaction caused by the malevolent work of the hit men and jackals.

Fortunately, one need not believe that Perkins has morally redeemed himself to find his work valuable. The lurid, James Bond-ish details included in the book help make what could be a dry economic and political work into a lively read — and therefore a better educational resource.

Allen Thompson is a longtime Seattle socialist and supporter of Stand Up Seattle!

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