Sweden Offers Free-speech Refuge To U.S. Officials
Sweden Providing Platform for U.S. Officials Cowed by Bush
Intimidated bureaucrats regain their voice as protected guests of a
genuinely democratic regime.
By: Dennis Hans - 12/11/02
Also Published at www.liberalslant.com
STOCKHOLM - Blaine Williams hasn't stopped grinning since he arrived in Sweden two weeks ago. Several times a day he'll approach a complete stranger, offer a handshake and a smile, introduce himself as a former CIA analyst from America, and proceed to tell the bewildered Swede all the things he knows that directly contradict President George W. Bush's declarations about Saddam Hussein's intentions and capabilities.
"Free at last!" Williams exclaimed to a reporter as he sat on his front porch and waved to new neighbors. "I was stuck in a totalitarian bureaucracy for 14 months. What a relief it is to say in public who I am and what I think."
Williams is the first of dozens of former U.S. government employees expected to take refuge in Sweden over the next several months, courtesy of a bold project of the new social democratic government.
On October 15, the Swedish Parliament appropriated 500 million dollars for the "Palme Plan." Named for former Swedish president Olaf Palme, it promotes the virtues of free and honest speech among government officials in underdeveloped democracies.
"Swedes have always been generous in providing economic aid to countries with underdeveloped economies," said Erland Carlsson, the parliamentarian who conceived the Palme Plan. "But we've done little to promote democratic development in underdeveloped democracies."
Some leaders of underdeveloped democracies have welcomed Sweden's "democracy teams," encouraging their efforts to create a culture of candor and transparency in the corridors of power. Those efforts comprise the overt component of the Palme Plan. The covert component kicks in when a leader is hostile to the very notions of candor and transparency.
Palme, who was Carlsson's political mentor, believed his greatest failure as president was his inability, during the Vietnam War, to persuade U.S. officialdom of the virtues of public candor. "Palme believed that if the national security bureaucracy had not been cowed into silence in the face of a torrent of deceit from a determined White House, the U.S. would never have invaded and destroyed Vietnam," Carlsson said.
An October 8 story in the Houston Chronicle, by Jonathan Landy and Warren Strobel ( http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/nation/1607676), convinced Carlsson that the same suffocating environment had enveloped key sectors of the Bush administration.
Thirteen officials from the CIA, State Department and Pentagon, many with vast experience in the Middle East and South Asia, told Landy and Strobel the same thing: The White House has squelched dissent, imposed conformity and silence, demanded skewed analyses to justify its hard line, and repeatedly exaggerated or falsified intelligence information to inflate the Saddam threat.
What most alarmed the Swedish MP was that none of the analysts were willing to be quoted by name. Some were too frightened even to be quoted anonymously.
"I couldn't help thinking that if these informed, respected patriots could raise their voices openly and in unison, they'd stop the administration's chicken hawks in their tracks," Carlsson said. "Public and congressional support for the war path would whither, and the president would be exposed as the world's most crooked 'straight shooter.'"
Borrowing Bush's Brilliant Idea
When Bush insisted that U.N. weapons inspectors be able to take Iraqi scientists and their families outside of Iraq for interviews, thus protecting the scientists from possible retaliation by Saddam's secret police, Carlsson had the solution that had eluded Palme so many years ago.
"That's it!" he told a colleague. "We'll offer U.S. bureaucrats and their families safe passage to Sweden and a secure environment from which they can speak freely and publicly to the folks back home. They can stay here at our expense until a climate of openness and honesty prevails in the Bush administration."
In addition to Williams, 28 other bureaucrats and their families are en route to Stockholm. All were spirited out of Washington by a team of Swedish secret agents who had honed their rescue skills in Yugoslavia and the Congo.
Once the former officials settle into their new homes and get comfortable with saying who they are and what they think, they'll spend their time giving speeches an interviews.
Former CIA analyst Williams is already a sensation on Swedish TV as a regular guest on the top-rated chat show, Nugen Farger ("Hard Rugby"). On a recent edition, he parsed a string of Bush's statements on Iraq, including assertions at a Republican fundraiser that Saddam Hussein hopes to deploy al Qaeda as his "forward army" against the West, and that "we need to think about Saddam Hussein using al Qaeda to do his dirty work, to not leave fingerprints behind."
"I can assure you," Williams told Swedish viewers, "that no one at CIA believes a word Bush said. What's more, no one at CIA believes that Bush believes a word Bush said."
Strong words, and Williams anticipates an echo chamber as more of Sweden's newest residents regain their voice. But he wonders if members of the U.S. news media, particularly those he calls "the boobs on the tube," will dare to listen.
- Dennis Hans files fantastic stories from cities he's never visited for the Wishful Thinking Express. He is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, National Post (Canada) and online at TomPaine.com, Slate and The Black World Today (tbwt.com), among other outlets. He has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. Dennis is a contributing writer for Liberal Slant and can be reached at mailto:HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu