Bits of Personal History and More
In this section we’ll tell you about surprising encounters with key players and observations along the way that added a special quality to our understanding.
-DC Insider’s Take on President Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski
“Today’s Zbigniew Brzezinski looks nothing like the Zbig of 1979-80. Another book could be written about his role in ”discovering” and promoting Jimmy Carter, his use of Rosalynn to get the President’s ear and turn his mind, and his endless wars with Cy Vance and Paul Warnke. I remember vividly sitting with Paul in our office in Geneva, talking by transatlantic phone with Spurgeon Keeny (Paul’s deputy), about ways to counter Zbig’s successful campaign, then under way, to persuade Carter that playing the China card was more important than SALT and the CTB. We knew it was a losing battle. Paul left ACDA soon after returning to Washington, and perhaps I should have too.
There was probably no group more collectively, and furiously, incensed at the Soviets than the Polish émigrés in the US, Zbig at their forefront. Even the Polish Communists themselves were: in their Washington embassy is (or was in the 1970s, so I’m sure it’s still there) a huge mural celebrating the 1920 Battle of the Vistula in which the Poles brilliantly defeated a huge Soviet army. It was routinely concealed by a heavy curtain, but I was one of the visitors to the embassy who was given a sneak peek at it by a friendly Polish diplomat after a pleasant lunch. His name, alas, I now forget, but I won’t forget the mischievous grin with which he swept aside the curtain. But Polish diplomats in Washington couldn’t do half as much to destroy US-Soviet relations as one well-placed Polish-American National Security Advisor.”
-Afghanistan, Oliver Stone and Eric Hamburg
In 1992 we began to develop the Afghanistan screenplay for Oliver Stone. Early 1993 Oliver’s partner, Janet Yang contacted us about Eric Hamburg. At the time Eric was an aid to Rep. Lee Hamilton who was in charge of the committee dealing with the de-classification of the JFK assassination files. Eric met Oliver after the film JFK had forced Congress to reconsider how soon to declassify the files. Janet sent Eric’s resume and asked if he could be helpful in the background research for our screenplay. Eric was hired shortly after that. Before Eric left Washington for LA we filled him on our thesis.
Excerpt from letters to Eric:
June 14, 1993 “TEAM B, Nitze, Brzezinski and Casey are all of interest… Brzezinski figures prominently in the Afghan/Soviet crisis… The big issue here is when the US was feeding the rebels weapons… Amin went to Columbia in the late 50’s and early 60’s, a time when Brzezinski was also a professor. Read Garthoff and you will see how pivotal his relationship was to the Soviets being drawn in militarily in ‘79.”
July 15, 1993 “ABC linked the bombing of the World Trade Towers directly to the CIA and the Mujihadeen in a ground breaking piece that should provoke a full scale investigation of the CIA…there are specific examples where Brzezinski intentionally misrepresented to Carter what was going on….”
As we worked on the script we continued to update Eric until we took our rights back form Oliver to the Afghanistan Project early in 1996. As it turned out, we never received any help from Eric at all. Oliver made Eric’s film, Nixon in 1995.
Then in 1998, Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and former CIA director Robert Gates confirmed the crisis in Afghanistan was widened by a covert U.S. “operation” prior to the Soviet invasion. The plot was designed to trap the Soviets in their own Vietnam and then bleed them to death. According to Brzezinski “the operation was an excellent idea,” adding, “The effect was to draw the Russians into the Afghan trap.” (1/13/98 Agence France-Presse)
As early as 1998 our thesis, that a covert U.S. designed to trap the Soviets in their own Vietnam and then bleed them to death, was now part of the public record.
When Eric published his book JFK, Nixon, Oliver Stone & Me in October, 2002 he included this summary of the validity of our Afghanistan thesis.
Excerpt from Eric’s book
“Oliver’s fascination with Paul Nitze was related to another of his pet projects-the “Afghanistan Project.” This was to be a film based on Oliver’s belief that the CIA had actually induced or tricked the Soviet’s into invading Afghanistan, and that the war was actually the fault of the United States, not the Soviet Union. He believed that the CIA’s “Team B”-a group of hard-line cold warriors assembled by George Bush while he was the CIA director in 1976 and 1977-had drawn up this secret plan. Nitze, as a member of Team B was thus personally responsible for the Afghan War.
The flaw in this theory is that there is no evidence for it. The Soviets did not invade Afghanistan until the end of 1979, by which time Jimmy Carter was president. George Bush and Team B had long been purged from the CIA, and Nitze was out of government. Furthermore, Mikhail Gorbachev had written in his memoirs that the decision to invade Afghanistan was made by a small group consisting of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and a few other top Soviet leaders. Even Gorbachev, who was a member of the Politburo himself, was not told about the decision until after the fact. Paul Nitze was not included in this decision.
Yet this did not stop Oliver from believing in his theory, and commissioning several drafts of a script based on it. The movie, of course, met with the same fate as so many of his pet projects-it never got made”
A Review of Eric’s book by Justin Peters in the Washington Monthly
The Interview from a 1998 Le Nouvel Observateur (France) with Zbigniew Brzezinski on the Us role in
Afghanistan that Eric must have missed before publishing his book in 2002
Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [From the Shadows], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct? Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, closely guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.
Question: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it? Brzezinski: It isn’t quite that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.
Question: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn’t believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don’t regret anything today? Brzezinski: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, in substance: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.
Question: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalists, having given arms and advice to future terrorists? Brzezinski: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?**
Question: Some stirred-up Moslems? But it has been said and repeated: Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today. Brzezinski: Nonsense! It is said that the West had a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid. There isn’t a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner and without demagoguery or emotion. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is there in common among Saudi Arabian fundamentalism, moderate Morocco, Pakistan militarism, Egyptian pro-Western or Central Asian secularism? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries
-Lead up to the Valentine Day Assassination of Ambassador Dubs
Shortly after Ambassador Adolph Dubs was assassinated in early 1979 Afghan Foreign Minister Hafizullah Amin asked the Soviets to send a division of troops to stop interference from Pakistan. Nine months later Amin would get his wish when a squad of Soviet commandos parachuted onto the grounds of the Darul-Aman Palace on the outskirts of Kabul and shot their way through a contingent of Afghan troops guarding him. Amin had played a dangerous double-edged game, looking for Soviet support to contain the resistance supported by the U.S., China and Pakistan, while at the same time hoping to keep the Soviets from overthrowing him. His death at the hands of Kremlin troops set the stage for a Soviet invasion that would rock the world. Can Afghan President Karzai escape the same fate with the United States? As he desperately tries to balance U.S. and NATO support for his regime with their outside meddling in Afghan affairs, his dilemma more and more comes to resemble Hafizullah Amin’s by the day. The 2009 presidential elections may prove a watershed with neoconservative Zalmay Khalilzad rumored to be vying for the job. A Khalilzad candidacy would mark a comparison with another Afghan – Babrak Karmal – installed by the Soviets after the overthrow of Hafizullah Amin.
-Afghanistan in Perspective
In 1979, it was claimed that the Soviet Union “invaded” Afghanistan in order to prop up a pro-Soviet regime on its vulnerable southern border and expand its reach into the Persian Gulf. As we now know, the Soviet’s effort was unsuccessful, leaving in its wake more than 2 million dead, millions more wounded and displaced, a countryside littered with a record number of landmines and an economy reliant on the world’s largest heroin industry for economic survival.
Had this been merely an act of aggression by the Kremlin, it would have succeeded in being one of the most heinous acts of commission in a century of heinous acts. However, the Soviet invasion did not occur as much as an outgrowth of Soviet Imperialism as a carefully crafted British/American plot to enhance the image of Soviet imperialism while intentionally trapping them in their own Vietnam. This plot, part of an ongoing effort hatched in 1948 by George Kennan that inaugurated the Cold War, but carried forward over the next 40 years by Paul Nitze was designed to wear down the Soviet Union via whatever means possible.
Now that Cold War game of cat and mouse with the Soviet Union has come full circle with America’s war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the larger mythic implications of what is now occurring in South Central Asia must be addressed.
How did we in the United States get to replace the Soviet Union? How did we come to portray to the world the same rigid centralized authoritarian strain of behavior that so defined the hated Union of Soviet Socialist Republics?
The answer is both geopolitical and mythological – The fear and panic represented by the so-called USA Patriot Act with its disposal of Constitutional guarantees, the scrapping of a thousand years of legal precedents and jurisprudence, signals the end of the United States as a mold for what all nations might become. In a larger sense it also represents the rejection of our founding fathers vision in creating a viable model of society.
-An experience with Imperial Hubris
In 1979 we began production of a documentary on the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union and its impact on our economy. The main question asked in this documentary was at what point does the size of the military budget cease to protect the country and in fact harm it. The interviews we conducted at the time aided us in our understanding of the problem the United States faced not just from our enemies but from our own military industrial process. SALT negotiator Paul Warnke, former Eisenhower science advisor George Kistiakowski, Economist John Galbraith and Manhattan project scientists, Phyllis and Phillip Morrison all offered their wisdom and advice. In time we came to see the arms race as a system that had acquired a life and a personality of its own that in many ways reflected the personality of its creators.
One man central to that creation was Paul Nitze. It had been Nitze who’d taken the ideas that George Kennan had created and turned them into the Cold War and it had been Nitze who’d revived it for the Presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy and again with the 1976 Team B report. In an act of geopolitical prescience, the Team B report had anticipated a Soviet move into Afghanistan three years prior to the Soviet invasion and we had reason to believe his prophecy had been designed to be self-fulfilling.
In 1994 while working on the film project with Oliver Stone, Paul Nitze agreed to be interviewed by us. But upon learning that our interest was Afghanistan – then about to be consumed by the Taliban – he recanted. Aside from our disappointment at his unwillingness to discuss his role in the pivotal event of the Cold War, in the end it was his loss of an opportunity to present himself and the cause of his actions before his creation spread out of control.
-CBS News’ War on Truth and The Hollywood Connection
It wasn’t a total surprise when our Afghan story was propagandized by CBS News with Dan Rather in 1981. But when we read a Columbia Journalism Review article that same spring that questioned why the media’s coverage of the US role in financing the insurgency went missing we were intrigued. It pinpointed Dan Rather’s April 6, 1980, 60 Minutes segment as “consolidating popular misconceptions about the war into one high-impact, coast-to-coast broadcast.” From first hand experience we knew CBS News was propagandizing the Afghan story, but it was stunning to have proof that Rather was the point man that established the “acceptable tone” for the media industry.
After years of fighting the heavy-handed propagandizing of the Afghan story by the mainstream media that followed Rather’s 60 Minutes segment, we left the realm of news in 1987 to write screenplays. Then in 1989 another piece of the “Dan Rather” puzzle fell into place. Many of Rather’s Afghan newscasts were exposed as more than propaganda in a series of New York Post articles by Janet Wilson. She claimed that over a period of years Rather and CBS had “aired fake battle footage and false news accounts” regarding the Afghan War. FAIR, a national media watch group reported that “CBS coverage often resembled partisan war propaganda more than reporting. Rather’s role appeared to be more that of a cheerleader than a journalist.” Dan Rather and CBS News were publicly exposed as outright frauds in their coverage of Afghanistan. But the charges against Rather and CBS barely made it into the public discussion.
Beginning in 1992 our effort to shift to screenplays paid off when we started working with Oliver Stone to develop our Afghanistan story. After years of struggling against the Eastern media’s orthodoxy we soon realized that Hollywood was no more prepared to take on the real story of Afghanistan than the network news. In fact we found that aside from Stone as a one man army, Hollywood was as embedded a media outlet as the New York network news and our story would never be allowed to be told in its entirety. Disheartened and afraid our story would be cannibalized for parts and reworked by a crew of opportunist Hollywood producers, we took the rights back in 1996, just as Afghanistan approached its darkest hours.
They were dark and our fears were well deserved. From Rambo to the Kite Runner, Hollywood’s take on Afghanistan was as Cold War driven as New York’s. In fact it had been Hollywood that created the mythology that helped keep the Soviets in Afghanistan, exalting Ronald Reagan’s “fiercely religious freedom fighters,” motif while helping to bury any vestiges of the modern nation Afghanistan had been struggling to become.
A cynical account of why the U.S. public never gained an accurate picture of the deluded mind-set driving the decade long Afghan conflict and were subsequently left unprepared for the World Trade Tower bombings of 1993 and 2001, was provided by Alvin A. Synder in his 1995 book Warriors of Disinformation. “The war in Afghanistan was the American government’s ‘made-for-TV’ movie. It was the first war in which both AK-47’s and video cams were standard infantry issue. It was a war in which media coverage was purchased from a mail order catalogue, and Uncle Sam owned the warehouse.”
The TV movie version of Afghanistan was still effect in 2004 when we read that CBS producer George Criles’s Charlie Wilson’s War would be made into the first major film on the Afghan conflict directed by Mike Nichols. Charlie Wilson was immortalized in Crile’s book as a hero of the Afghan people. But the hidden truth that Nichols avoided in the film was that Crile’s telling was primarily the CIA’s cover story-propaganda of the era, re-cooked and re-sold as fact. Cleverly dramatized like Dan Rather’s newscasts, after reading Crile’s book the reader would know less about the US role in Afghanistan than before!
But why had Hollywood chosen to use Crile’s fictionalized glorification of the Afghan war while ignoring all the serious books that exposed Crile’s account as rehashed CIA propaganda?
To this day the media, intelligence and policy operatives still distort and deny with impunity the true nature of the US role in Afghanistan while the public remains enthrall to an image of the war inaugurated by Dan Rather in 1980- and suffer the price. If America is to succeed in any meaningful way in Afghanistan, the spell conjured by Rather and nurtured by Hollywood must be broken.
Until we understand the Devil’s bargain that our media struck when the Soviets entered Afghanistan, we will not realize how our freedom to know the “truth” has been severely compromised. The need for a free press to maintain a democracy was so clearly understood by America’s founding fathers that it was enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. But in order to fulfill the vision of the founding fathers and truly protect the rights of Americans to know from their media what is really going on in the world we must demand a new standard.
-Invisible History is the antidote to the Media’s War on Truth
When the opportunity to enter Afghanistan for an exclusive look behind Soviet lines presented itself, we jumped at the chance. But what followed was more than just a news story. It was a decades long education in how “reality” is created by the mainstream media that brought us inside CBS News, ABC Nightline, PBS, Harvard Law School, to the top floors at the UN and even Hollywood.
Our education started in earnest when we gained access to Kabul in 1981 following the expulsion of the Western media. Commissioned by CBS News, we not only got a look at how the US defined itself under the veil of Superpower confrontation – we got a view of an unappreciated Afghan life. But for CBS there was no room for complexity, especially the struggle of the Afghan people. Instead, the report they aired focused only on the Soviet presence.
As we continued to report on events in Afghanistan, the Soviet occupation dominated the news. But as the decade wore on, the story became the romanticized struggle of “Kiplingesque holy warriors against the atheist evil empire.” Journalists had accepted reconstituting anachronistic 19th century myths for the nightly news showing little concern for the impact that corrupted storytelling would have on our future. It was far more important back then to rally American support from all sides of the political spectrum for a war against communism that was unstoppable.
The press left Americans isolated from the complexities of the story for decades. As many work today to resurrect Afghanistan from the ashes of the Cold War through the political process, we’ve come to realize it is the ignorance of the US role by Americans that is the biggest obstacle. If there is no understanding of the context of events that created Afghanistan’s travail today, there will never be any meaningful solutions.
Now the mainstream media has forgotten its pact with the devil as Hollywood continues to draw from this faux mythology by immortalizing the story of Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson. Written by CBS producer George Crile, Charlie Wilson’s War lionizes the wild-west fantasy world of the CIA’s largest covert operation, the arming of the Mujahideen by Congressman Wilson. This film sets an understanding of the atrocity to the Afghan people back a century while the propaganda about the US role is permanently codified into the mainstream thinking of America.
When truth was compromised by journalists they compromised their ability to leave the story for posterity. We must undo the compromise that eroded the authority and vibrancy of journalism through decades of Cold War secrecy, bureaucratic pressure and intellectual corruption. Getting the full story of the media’s impact on Afghanistan into the light will start the dialogue necessary to understand America’s true role. Only through that reflective process can our storytellers once again, create a genuinely new mythology that will help us construct a future that we can all live within.
- A review of the DVD Release of Charlie Wilson’s War turns Propaganda into History :
“War-movie fatigue” might have caused this entertaining, enlightening history play to get lost amid last fall’s impressive prestige-film crop, but in its own way, “Charlie Wilson’s War” could prove as timeless as anything that came out in ‘07. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director Mike Nichols recount the true story of smart-but-rascally Texas Rep. Charlie Wilson (played by Tom Hanks), who covertly led the campaign to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, then watched as the stability he’d hoped to bring to the region collapsed with the end of the Cold War. Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman give lively performances as, respectively, a promiscuous right-wing socialite and a grouchy, laconic CIA agent. The DVD features short documentaries on the making of the film and on the real Wilson — who might be even more colorful than the movie makes him out to be.”