When I start hearing the old trope about plucky rebels attempting to overthrow a vicious government, my first reaction is to check and see if the story is being carried by The New York Times and, if it is, I search for “${region} CIA involvement”. I’m sad that we live in such a cynical world, but that’s what it is.

The next thing to check is whether there’s oil under ${region}. If there is, it’s almost a sure thing that we’ll find there’s CIA involvement, or a US proxy involved. It’s all part of the program to control the oil. I forget who it was who said it (it may be from Dune come to think of it) but “you don’t have to possess a resource if you control it” or something like that. The US is content to let the oil stay where it is, so long as it has the option of ordering a country to turn the valve on if they ever need the price lowered.

I’ve got to admit that I have not followed Ethiopia closely, so this is all just surface digging. The situation, as far as it looks, is that the Tigray rebels are getting support from the United Arab Emirates (a US proxy). This is one of those cases for advanced cynicism, UAE was also used by the US to clear money and weapons for the US-backed rebels in Syria. Of course, at that time, we were still pretending it was an internal rebel movement, but as soon as the regime started pushing back on them, the US began Vietnamizing Syria: sending “advisors” and offering “strategic intelligence” etc. That should be read as code for “building secret bases” and “setting up death-squads.” It sounds like that’s what’s going on in Ethiopia, too. The country is sitting on a lake of oil, and has a long history of CIA-backed anti-government propaganda. [merip]

In his February 1986 Message to the Congress on Foreign Policy, Ronald Reagan announced his support for “growing resistance movements now [challenging] communist regimes installed or maintained by the military power of the Soviet Union and its colonial agents — in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Ethiopia and Nicaragua.” In four of Reagan’s five regional hot spots, an avowed anti-communist contra-style force maintains a field presence against a regime allied with the Soviet Union. But in Ethiopia, Congressional findings determined that “talk in Washington of supporting ‘democratic freedom fighters’ in Ethiopia defies the reality in the field, because the simple fact is that there are no ‘democratic freedom fighters’ on the ground in Ethiopia, only Marxist guerrillas fighting a Marxist government, and they both speak the same Marxist language.”

When the US supports “growing resistance movements” that means we’ve got CIA down there fomenting rebellion. Of course this was all the 80s, and none of that matters any more, right?

In 1981, Reagan signed a presidential finding under the National Security Act authorizing the CIA to conduct a “non-lethal” campaign to support the “democratic resistance” to Ethiopia’s Mengistu. Since then, the EPDA has received an estimated $500,000 annually from the CIA and the assistance of a Washington-based public relations firm for the promotion of anti-Mengistu propaganda within Ethiopia and among the exile communities in the United States. Though as yet it has received only limited support from the administration, the EPDA is the darling of the New Right. Deressa made impassioned speeches to both the World Anti-Communist League conference in Dallas in 1985 and the “contra summit” in Washington in the summer of 1986. Though the CIA turned down an 1982 EPDA request to train 350 field commanders for its fledgling army, there are reports that the Alabama-based Civilian Material Assistance (CMA) has taken up the call. CMA officials confirm that they have volunteers in Sudan, but will not say whether they are involved in Ethiopia or the conflict in southern Sudan.

Whenever I read that the CIA is offering “non-lethal” aid, I now assume that means they’re waterboarding people to within an inch of their lives, and are teaching their proxies how to murder and torture with abandon.

Back in 1984, the Ethiopians actually caught a CIA agent and gave them a taste of CIA medicine: [wapo]

Two years ago, Ethiopian security police abducted and tortured a Central Intelligence Agency officer involved in a CIA covert propaganda campaign against the Marxist government in Addis Ababa, according to informed sources.

The officer was held captive for more than a month, suffering a fractured skull, chipped vertebrae and dislocated shoulders during his captivity. He was freed in February 1984 when then ambassador-at-large Vernon A. Walters flew secretly to Addis Ababa, confronted Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile-Mariam and obtained the officer’s release, the sources said.

According to these sources, the CIA officer was subjected to hours of terror, including a form of “Russian roulette” played by his captors, and was denied sleep for five days until he signed a confession stating he worked for the CIA. He was constantly bound during this period and was not allowed to shower for 35 days.

That was just “harsh interrogation” techniques. Boys will be boys, etc.

Nowadays, the New York Times is on the job: [nyt]

NAIROBI, Kenya — Fighters from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region have looted food stores holding U.S. government aid as Ethiopia’s civil war spreads into new areas and hunger rises across the country, America’s top aid official there has charged.

Tigrayan fighters leading a military assault on the neighboring Amhara region have destroyed villages and emptied aid stores, Sean Jones, the head of USAID in Ethiopia, told Ethiopian state television in an interview that aired Tuesday night.

“In recent weeks, some of our warehouses have been looted and emptied by advancing T.P.L.F. troops, especially in Amhara,” said Mr. Jones, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. “I do believe T.P.L.F. has been very opportunistic.”

A spokesman for the T.P.L.F. denied the charge and blamed any looting on local groups and individuals in Amhara.

I suspect that sort of story is window-dressing for “… and that’s why they’ve got American gear and food and trucks and guns.” Although, to be fair, it’s not like the Libyan “rebellion” where there were pictures of American “operators” in battle gear running around. They’re getting smoother.

Maybe this isn’t another fake rebellion. To me, that’s the problem with this whole thing: it’s impossible to sort the bullshit from the reality because the bullshit closely matches reality enough that the only way to tell it apart is through careful inspection. And careful inspection is exactly what we won’t get from the New York Times.

Samantha Power, who leads the USAID, last month accused the Ethiopian government of obstructing access to Tigray and said that humanitarian assistance to the northern region was “woefully insufficient.”

See, this is a problem: the US uses aid organizations as a cover for brewing rebellions where it wants them. You give the food and stuff to the people who are against the government and of course the government will try to stop it – they’re using starvation as a weapon and the US is trying to defang that weapon. Meanwhile in Yemen, the Saudis are being allowed to starve out the Houthis and the rest of the population and the US isn’t doing a damn thing.

This is why “secret diplomacy” is anti-democratic. The US government has massive intelligence efforts going on around the world, manipulating other countries’ politics, and the US citizens who are theoretically represented by that government, have not a clue what’s being done in their name.

This is a good summary (I think) of US special forces activities in Africa under AFRICOM: [pulitzer]

In 2019, US Special Operations forces were deployed in 22 African countries: Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Côte D’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Tanzania and Tunisia.

This accounts for a significant proportion of US Special Operations forces’ global activity: more than 14% of US commandos deployed overseas in 2019 were sent to Africa, the largest percentage of any region in the world except for the greater Middle East.

These figures come from information provided to the M&G by the US military’s Special Operations Command and Africa Command (AFRICOM).

The military footprint of the United States in Africa is extensive. Previous reporting has revealed the existence of a string of military bases across the continent. Formerly secret 2019 AFRICOM planning documents show that there were 29 bases located in 15 different countries or territories, with the highest concentrations in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.

More secretive still are the activities of US special operators. Their presence in African countries is rarely publicly acknowledged, either by the US or host nations; citizens are not told what these elite troops are doing on their land.

Obviously, they’re just there because they like the local cuisine.

Back in 2020 the NYT tried to explain what’s happening in Ethiopia as that the government decided to put down a growing threat and suddenly the rebels grew massively in power. Why and how did that happen? [nyt]

When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia launched an offensive against rebel forces in the northern Tigray region in November, he vowed that the fighting would be over in mere weeks. But the war may really just be beginning.

Tigrayan rebels have rebounded, taking on thousands of new volunteers, and on Monday, June 28, they entered the regional capital after Ethiopian forces retreated.

We won’t know ’till the bodies are buried, but first the corpses need to be created.


  1. bmiller says

    My understanding is that Ethiopia has several different ethnic groups, and the Tigray were largely in charge after Mengistu’s departure. So, there is definitely internecine bad blood, which the CIA obviously supports and worsens.

    Mengistu WAS quite a nasty character, though. One does not have to like American foreign policy to recognize that reality?

  2. JM says

    Maybe this isn’t another fake rebellion. To me, that’s the problem with this whole thing: it’s impossible to sort the bullshit from the reality because the bullshit closely matches reality enough that the only way to tell it apart is through careful inspection.

    It’s actually worse then that. In a lot of cases it’s impossible to tell the fake from the real because it’s actually bits of both. Rebellions on a scale big enough to matter tend to be made up of multiple groups with their own histories, leaders and degrees of comprise.

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