Friday, June 18, 2010

Alexander Cockburn Remembers Bill Christison -- A Noble Soul

I met Bill Christison and his wife Kathy, both of them former CIA officers, on the high seas off Mazatlan on a Nation cruise in December of 2001. Bill had been pretty high up in the Agency and at one point had been the official charged with discharging national threat assessments and the like into the armor-plated cerebellum of President Gerald Ford.  

Bill, a Princeton grad, had joined the CIA in 1950, and served on the analysis side of the Agency for 28 years. From the early 1970s he served as National Intelligence Officer (principal adviser to the Director of Central Intelligence on certain areas) for, at various times, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa. Before he retired in 1979 he was Director of the CIA's Office of Regional and Political Analysis, a 250-person unit. He’d met Kathy when they were both doing tours in Saigon.

After leaving the Agency they settled in Santa Fe and began their journey to the left, an itinerary on which they were well advanced by the time I met up with them and invited them to write for CounterPunch.

We published Bill’s first big piece on March 4, 2002, under the title “Former Senior CIA Officer: Why the War on Terror Won’t Work.”  The piece, which created quite a stir,  listed six root causes of terrorism, beginning,
“My number one root cause is the support by the U.S. over recent years for the policies of Israel with respect to the Palestinians, and the belief among Arabs and Muslims that the United States is as much to blame as Israel itself for the continuing, almost 35-year-long Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
My number two root cause is the present drive of the United States to spread its hegemony and its version of big-corporation, free enterprise globalization around the world. …. The gap between rich and poor nations, and rich and poor people within most of the nations, has grown wider during the last 20 years of globalization or, more precisely, the U.S. version of globalization.
Bill’s other prime causes of terrorism included the sanctions on Iraq and daily bombings; the continued presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia and the indiscriminate use of air power, with “missiles launched from a great distance, and now even on drone aircraft with no humans on board…But while few Americans get killed, sizable numbers of other nationalities do.”

This was just over six months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and Bill’s calm and rational analysis was a huge relief and inspiration for many, after week upon week of ideological saturation bombing in the main stream press.  He followed it up a couple of months later with a series  on what a rational US foreign policy would look like.  He and his wife Kathy, whose chief topic has been Palestine, became important and popular contributors to CounterPunch.

Bill was heading into his late 70s by now, but he was as frisky as a 20-year old as he and Kathy kept up a fierce schedule of talks in the south west and across the US, along with trips to the Middle East, often in somewhat grueling and even perilous circumstances.

He got more radical with each advancing year and chafed sometimes when Jeffrey and I expressed reservations about some of his strategies for direct action.

Kathy told us a few weeks ago that Bill had fallen victim to a rapidly advancing neurological condition – and on Sunday, June 13, he died in Santa Fe at the age of 81.  He was a noble soul and used his later years with an idealism and energy that we should all envy and hope to emulate.

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