Harriet Tubman, the CIA and diversity in the workforce

Earlier in September this year, current CIA director William Burns cut the ribbon for an official ceremony outside CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia. The occasion? The unveiling of a statue to anti slavery activist and African American abolitionist Harriet Tubman. The latter, best known for assisting fugitive slaves escape their condition by operating an Underground Railroad, worked as a military spy for Union forces during the American Civil War.

Why is the CIA promoting, or at least attempting to co-opt, Harriet Tubman to its cause? If you listen to the CIA director and his associates, it is all about cultural diversity in the workplace. The CIA’s upper echelons are almost exclusively white males. Burns, and the director of the CIA museum Robert Beyer, bolstering a diverse workforce is of paramount importance.

The conservative Right responded with predictable contempt – former CIA director Mike Pompeo dismissed the statue, stating that a woke military is a weakened military. This way of thinking is in line with the hard Right’s hostility to any measures promoting cultural and ethnic diversity in the workplace. However, there is another aspect of this statue unveiling that is important to note here. The cooptation of Tubman’s cause by the CIA is a perverse and cynical exercise to whitewash the many crimes of the CIA as an organisation.

Tubman, an anti slavery proponent, helped slaves in a practical way. Her efforts place her in the tradition of those fighting to expand the democratic rights and freedoms of those who are economically and racially oppressed. She did indeed help the Union cause during the Civil War, spying on Confederate shipping in South Carolina in 1863. The information she secretly relayed to the Union side helped the US navy avoid many casualties, and attack Confederate positions on the Combahee river. She led troops into battle against Confederate troops.

The CIA, by contrast, has done all it can in its power to undermine and overthrow democratically elected governments the world over, cultivated secret criminal insurgencies for such purposes, and overseen a network of torture chambers and secret rendition sites located in American-allied nations.

The objective of such criminal activities by the CIA is to reverse any progressive economic and social gains made by the targeted government, and install pro-US proxies. The latter then set about dismantling all the redistributive measures of the overthrown regime, and implemented pro-business policies friendly and amenable to US corporate interests. The policies pursued by the US-backed military dictatorship of General Pinochet in Chile are a classic example of this reversion to neoliberal capitalism.

In the 1970s and 80s, when the CIA supported the politically ultrarightist Afghan mujahideen insurgents against the then socialist government of Afghanistan, the associate allies of this American/British project were Saudi Arabia and Pakistan – two US allies which can best be described as petro-dictatorships. While religion was certainly a factor in the hostility of the Afghan mujahideen towards the socialist government, the British and American governments knew that the mujahideen were also feudal warlords, opposed to the far-reaching agrarian and social reforms of the Afghan regime.

The CIA actively supported an insurgency – one with an Islamist flavouring – which rolled back the gains of women’s rights, land reform for the peasantry, education for girls, and all the social reforms implemented by the socialist government in Kabul. Women in Afghanistan were returned to patriarchal subjection.

In fact, if the CIA was truly serious about promoting diversity in the workplace, they could highlight the long-standing and deep links that the organisation has with the Ukrainian diasporan far right communities. There is a durable relationship between the ultranationalist Ukrainian diaspora, and its role as footsoldiers for CIA initiatives in Ukraine. There is no need to be shy – let’s examine the multicultural footsoldiers for US empire deliberately cultivated by the CIA.

Cultural and ethnic diversity in the workplace is indeed a laudable goal – the political and economic institutions of a society should reflect the composition of the people which make up that society. However, being woke is not just a cosmetic exercise in window-dressing; reducing diversity to a catchy slogan is a worthless exercise. Actually, there is a point to that exercise; providing cover for the criminal policies of US imperial over-reach. As I have written previously, praising the ‘humans of the CIA’ is a slick public relations exercise.

Promoting women and ethnic minorities is very commendable. However, if they continue to provide rationalisations for the same predatory and criminal practices, then they are nothing more than mascots for US empire. Gina Haspel, the first female director of the CIA, certainly faced misogyny in the workplace. Her record as CIA chief confirms that she oversaw the same policies of torture and rendition as her predecessors. That is the exact opposite of the kind of change for which Harriet Tubman stood.

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