On March 17, William H. Blum, the feisty investigative journalist who (literally) wrote the book on CIA crimes and coverups – and who passed away on December 9 at age 85 – was remembered and celebrated at a public memorial in Washington, D.C. The event, which took place at the Washington Ethical Society, was hosted by CovertAction Magazine, an organization Bill worked with for decades and helped recently re-launch.
Celebrants may wind up on the CIA “Watch List”
Expected to attend, albeit anonymously, will almost certainly be observers from the CIA and its sister intelligence agencies – not so much to celebrate Bill Blum as to identify and photograph those who show up to do so.
This would certainly be in keeping with the CIA’s 50-year obsession with Bill and everything he has ever said or published about the agency – an obsession that began with his 1969 blockbuster exposé that put names to hundreds of previously anonymous CIA drones dutifully laboring in the bowels of Langley, VA, to plot political murders and destabilize insufficiently pro-American governments around the globe.
A celebration of a life well fought
Colorful reminiscences – in person and by video – were shared by many of those who knew and worked with Bill, among whom were film-maker Oliver Stone, former CIA analyst and whistle-blower Ray McGovern, Bill’s wife, Adelheid Zofel, his son Alex Blum, and the surviving co-founders and re-launchers of CovertAction Magazine Louis Wolf and Chris Agee.
Videos of Bill brought him into the event in a lively way, and in-person reminiscences were shared by his close friends and colleagues, including Gareth Porter, Joe Brown, and Brian Becker. The folk music duo Terry Leonino and Greg Artzner, of Magpie, serenaded the audience with “When I’m Gone,” and Luci Murphy and Eric Sheptock sang “May The Work I’ve Done Speak For Me” and “We Shall Not Be Moved”.
Exposing the crimes our government was committing in our name
Bill spent a large part of his 85 years documenting U.S. intervention and exposing U.S. intelligence agencies for their illegal and murderous role in abetting U.S. imperialism after World War II. He did so in five explosive books, hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, his popular Anti-Empire Report and – as was most satisfying to Bill – in front of thousands of eager college students at lecture halls on university campuses across America and around the world.
Noam Chomsky and Osama bin Laden were among Bill’s fans
Bill’s influence was extensive, and his admirers legendary, ranging from Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, I. F. Stone, and Helen Caldicott to Howard Zinn,Oliver Stone, Ramsey Clark, Michael Parenti and John Stockwell.
For example, Noam Chomsky, praised Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II as “far and away the best book on the topic.”
Even Osama bin Laden was an admirer – with both good and bad consequences for Bill. Although Bill’s book sales spiked in 2006, after bin Laden told Americans to read Rogue State (jumping that book from number 200,000 all the way to number 21 on Amazon’s book list), being praised by bin Laden panicked timid college administrators, who feared being labeled as “soft on terrorism.” So they began banning Bill’s campus speaking engagements. For the same reason, equally timid magazine editors began rejecting his articles.
Nevertheless, Bill kept researching and writing. His books shone a light into the darkest corners of Langley, and focused critical public attention on the lawless activities of secret and unaccountable government agencies that were not only accustomed to operating in the shadows, but also to bribing or bullying journalists and media executives into cowardly silence – or (notoriously, as in the case of The New York Times and Washington Post) into willing complicity.
As one might guess, Bill despised corporate mainstream media coverage of U.S. foreign policy, not only as disseminated by shameless propaganda outlets like FOX News, but also by “respected” and/or so-called “liberal” outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC and NPR. Even iconic left-wing venues like The Guardian, The Nation and Democracy Now! earned his scorn for pandering to AIPAC; supporting the invasion of Syria; promoting the “Russia-stole-the-2016-election” hysteria; or, in their rage against Trump, anointing as heroes such longtime war hawks and enemies of free speech and human rights as Robert Mueller, James Clapper, Michael Hayden, John Brennan, and Mike Pompeo.
Bill did, however, have some media heroes of his own. During an interview with C-SPAN in 2006, he said: “Speaking about U.S. foreign policy, which is my specialty, the authors I would most recommend would be Michael Parenti, Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, Howard Zinn and Alexander Cockburn.”
Bill rocked the CIA and made headlines around the world
What first put Bill on the CIA’s radar (and kept him there for nearly 50 years) was his 1969 blockbuster exposé that revealed the names and addresses of more than 200 theretofore anonymous CIA employees, some of whose CVs included fomenting coups, subverting democratic institutions, and plotting the murders of popular but “uppity” foreign leaders by poisoning their cigars (Fidel Castro), blowing up their airplanes (General Omar Torrijos) or obligingly arranging for their alleged suicides (Salvador Allende). Bill’s CIA exposés, together with the book Inside the Company: CIA Diary – a 1975 international best-seller by ex-CIA officer Philip Agee – so frightened the agency that it pressured Congress into passing the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) which thereafter made exposés like Bill’s and Philip Agee’s a federal crime.
Bill was notable for being quotable
When interviewed about the U.S. military budget, Bill noted that “it currently equals more than $20,000 per hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born.” Asked to define a “terrorist,” he replied, “A terrorist is someone who has a bomb but doesn’t have an air force.” And he famously warned his student audiences: “No matter how paranoid or conspiracy-minded you are, what the government is actually doing is always worse than you imagine.”
Bill’s books include The CIA: A Forgotten History (1986); Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (1995); Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (2000); West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (2002); Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (2005); and America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy (2013).
Translated into fourteen languages, including Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Arabic, Finnish, Japanese, Greek, Dutch, Polish, Turkish, Malayalam (India), and Bulgarian, Bill’s books have become required college reference texts. They have also, in effect, become “self-defense manuals” for wary (we might even say “spooked”) government leaders in Third World countries all over the globe – which would have surely tickled Bill’s sense of irony.
That being so, it is scarcely surprising that Bill’s obituary in The New York Times (though appropriately lengthy) was patronizing and dismissive – surely a confirmation that Bill had indeed been annoying the right people for the right reasons. As FAIR’s editor Jim Naureckas put it in Bill’s obituary in EXTRA!:
For those interested, Bill’s definitive obituary appears on the website of CovertAction Magazine, on whose Advisory Board Bill served.
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