Chapter 14: Junk Library Science
By Geoff Davidian and Project Censored Interns: Sean Arlt, Jacob Rich, Bridget Thornton, and Michele Salvail
Recommended reading for summer 2005*
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
By John Perkins
Intriguing autobiographical exposé of
how Mr. Perkins assisted American intelligence agencies and multinational
corporations to persuade other nations to take action to benefit narrow U.S.
foreign policy and commercial objectives. Praised by some (mostly liberals)
as an honest look at dubious
* From the Social Sciences/Economics
Department Web site at
The corporate media blending of news with entertainment – and its influence on how we see the world – has been a perennial concern of Project Censored. With the formation of media giants – and consolidation of local newspaper and broadcast ownership – TV, radio, cable and newspapers are less reliable or interested in proving or disproving the matters at issue in a democracy.
As the alternative, universities, independent publishers and libraries became bulwarks of relevance in a politicized, commercialized information world.
But as this year’s Project Censored Investigative Report suggests, these institutions may not be adequately separating non-fiction from fancy. In our team investigation into John Perkins’ best selling book, “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” we found that none of the writer’s claims that were not previously known could be independently verified.
If this were just another thriller, a simple memoir alleging nothing consequential, no one would care whether the claims were fact or fiction.
But Perkins’ story goes to
the heart of what
Nevertheless, from the Library of Congress to community bookshops, universities to best-seller lists, “Hit Man” is cataloged as a “non-fiction” source under headings such as “Imperialism – History – 20th Century,” and “Corporations, American – Foreign countries.”
While libraries do research themselves in some cases, for the most part they simply copy publishers’ claims as to veracity of content, perpetuating the spin as they go in what amounts to Junk Library Science.
2. The issue
“That is what we EHMs do best:
we build a global empire. We are an elite group of men and women who utilize
international financial organizations to foment conditions that make other
nations subservient to the corporatocracy running
our biggest corporations, our government, and our banks. Like our counterparts
in the Mafia, EHMs provide favors. These take the
form of loans to develop infrastructure – electric generating plants,
highways, ports, airports, or industrial parks. A condition of such loans is
that engineering and construction companies from our own country must build
all these projects. In essence, most of the money never leaves the
“Despite the fact that the money is returned almost
immediately to corporations that are members of the corporatocracy
(the creditor), the recipient country is required to pay it all back,
principal plus interest. If an EHM is completely successful, the loans are so
large that the debtor is forced to default on its payments after a few years.
When this happens, then like the Mafia we demand our pound of flesh. This
often includes one or more of the following: control over United Nations
votes, the installation of military bases, or access to precious resources
such as oil or the
Excerpt from Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
More than 100 years ago, philosopher William James asked us to consider a society in which millions were kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture.
“What except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain.”
But John Perkins’ treatise on post WWII America portrays a world where a few are kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that millions of souls lead lives of economic misery and exploitation, through a system in which religious groups, corporations, dictators and U.S. policy converge wherever poor nations have resources US industry wants.
What makes Perkins’ story more chilling yet is that it is listed as non-fiction in libraries, book stores and even the New York Times’ best-seller list. And that classification ironically gives Perkins, who made his living by lying, a cult following among groups most disgusted by his story – environmentalists, social justice advocates and progressives.
At a standing-room-only
appearance at the University of Michigan in February 2005, Perkins received a
standing ovation after he went point by point through events he says he
participated in that explain why terrorists would want to hit the United
States. He was put up during that
Domestically as well,
Perkins writes he was paid as a consultant and expert witness to advance the
fortunes of the Seabrook nuclear power plant in
Perkins, 60, gives us a good insight into everything wrong with capitalism, and in doing so shows us an example of the kind of person who makes it all wrong.
“And we wonder why terrorists attack us?” he writes.
The Project Censored team set out with the goal of proving John Perkins was telling the truth by dividing up the countries and assignments to check the facts for ourselves.
If Perkins’ story was true, if the
Many on the left applaud Perkins’ work because it fits nicely into critical understandings of US global empire. Yet, without documentation and verifiable content his book lacks the necessary prerequisites for academic scholarship and become just another tale of greed and corruption. — muckraking without the muck.
And whether or not Perkins was lying – again making money off unwitting consumers – why were students, environmentalists and anti-nuclear groups rallying around him after the greed, drunkenness and ethical lapses he details?
Gary McCool, interim director of the Lamson Library at
Autobiographies and memoirs, for example, may be the writer’s best recollection rather than an attempt to mislead.
Libraries don’t want to
impose regulation or judgment, he said. Categorizing is, however, the heart
of what a librarian does, and has been since ancient
Of course, McCool noted, libraries have not always classified by the categories now used. In fact, he said, some libraries maintained their collections based on the color of the covers.
In some smaller libraries today, the staff may not have the type of collection that requires careful examination of every acquisition.
But research libraries are different: their collections are not driven by popularity and the librarian does not decide on the quality of the content without having it in hand.
You would think McCool would be the perfect source for analyzing the historical value of Hit Man, having spent 10 of his 61 years fighting the Seabrook funding scheme that Perkins was paid to lie about. But he has not read the book and his library does not possess it.
Here is what a librarian, with a copy of the book in hand, would face trying to determine whether to catalog it fiction or history:
“My job was to justify, under oath, the economic feasibility of the highly controversial Seabrook nuclear power plant,” Perkins writes.
In a pattern not different
from Perkins’ explanation, the people of
“Part of my job on the Seabrook case was to convince the
“The balance also was beginning to shift away from the old theory that nuclear power was safe. Serious questions were being raised about the integrity of backup systems, the training of operators, the human tendency to make mistakes, equipment fatigue, and the inadequacy of nuclear waste disposal. I personally became uncomfortable with the position I was expected to take — was paid to take – under oath in what amounted to a court of law.” 
In 1981, the directors of the New Hampshire Electric Co-op agreed to buy a 25 megawatt share, or two-percent ownership, of the Seabrook project at a time when Public Service of New Hampshire was desperate for money.
Librarian Gary McCool along with other members sued the co-op to stop the deal.
“If things increased in cost, it would mean ever-increasing debt with only the members to pay,” McCool said.
Arguing pro se before the state supreme court, McCool prevailed at five of eight oral arguments. But because so much already had been sunk into the project – $75 million or more – the court required that any alternative project to the twin nuclear plants planned for Seabrook include a savings of the existing outlay.
Meanwhile, the folks Perkins says paid him were putting out the message, “You will freeze in the dark if you don’t build Seabrook. If you want to bathe and turn on lights, you need Seabrook.”
After the Public Service
Company of New Hampshire (PSNH) began building the Seabrook nuclear power
“Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH or company) is the owner of an approximately 35% interest in the Seabrook Unit I nuclear generating station, which for practical purposes had its construction phase completed on or about October 31, 1986, at a cost to PSNH of $1.77billion. The total project cost, we were told at argument, has, since the completion date, been increasing at the rate of $50 million per month. Because its final licensing proceeding is yet to be complete, the plant is producing neither electricity nor income, and the likelihood and timing of either event are matters of speculation and uncertainty.”
Of little consolation,
McCool was right. Within a short time, both the co-op and the Public Service
“The bottom line is they
built the plant,” McCool said. It cost the members $185 million to buy in,
and millions in legal fees and costs out of our pockets. “And
Some of the costs were caused by anti-nuclear protestors who tied up the project, keeping the utility from gaining revenue through the production of electricity, McCool acknowledges, “but the definitive study of that has not been done, although that’s a common discussion around here.”
Whether Perkins is telling the truth could be an issue in the push to build a new generation of nuclear plants. If he is telling the truth, it is bad for the contractors and utilities. If he is lying, it is good for them.
“I never had faith in the bureaucratic process,” says Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Watchdog Project for the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. NIRS is the national information and networking center for citizens and environmental activists concerned about nuclear power, radioactive waste, radiation and sustainable energy issues, which initiates large-scale organizing and public education campaigns on specific issues.
“I was chaining myself to the gates by that time,” said Gunter, who was part of the Clamshell Alliance, formed in 1976 to protest the construction of the nuclear reactor in Seabrook.
One thing McCool and Gunter have in common: They were in the middle of the action, and they never heard of John Perkins.
What’s a librarian to do?
The information that Perkins
For example, Perkins writes that engineering
companies were awarded huge contracts – information that can be found with a
simple Google search of “Bechtel” and “
“Bechtel has managed the project since it began, and last year, the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu asked the company to manage Jubail II, a $3.8 billion expansion of the city's industrial and residential areas.
“Before the early 1970s, Saudi natural gas deposits were considered more of a nuisance than an asset. Gas from oil wells was typically flared off. The challenge was to put this wasted energy to productive use by powering Saudi industrial development.” 
Perkins’ book is informative
but he doesn't get into details, like the "extremely profitable
Perkins writes about the
If Perkins is using his skills as a liar to put himself into the picture, he provides enough info to help his book sell, but nothing new.
What’s a librarian to do?
The historical politics in the Hit Man are well documented and closely follow the economic theories of leftists and academia.
It seems, however, that the
story of the man John Perkins could be almost entirely made up. Furthermore,
why would a writer take the time to document well-know facts so well, yet
manage to leave out any direct references to
FACT OR FICTION: A big
problem in verifying his story on
Still, there was the off
chance that imprisoned former Panamanian President Manuel Noriega, who was
taken from his country by force and tried in the
But one month after Perkins’ book was published, Noriega was said to have suffered a minor stroke.
Noriega's attorney's office referred Project Censored to the correctional facility where Noriega was held, but officials said he could only communicate through letters.
Noriega’s lawyer, Frank Rubino, would
not comment on anything to do with Noriega or
What’s a librarian to do?
Notes related to the research, see Endnote[i]
Perkins claims his job “was to present the case for exceedingly large loans . . . . I felt I had no choice but to develop inflated economic and electric load forecasts.”
The contracts were for “hydroelectric facilities and distribution systems to transport electricity from deep in the jungle to cities high in the mountains.”
Despite the vivid recollection and dialogue in the story, we found no confirmation that Colombian rebels attacked the plant’s engineer, Manuel Torres.
However, from 1976-1983, there were several news stories reporting guerilla violence and wars between the state and indigenous communities in the jungles and mountains, according to the LexisNexis database.
After Perkins left in 1980, things went downhill for the South American nation.
The Colombian president who
was previously against foreign investment did a quick turn around and became
a big supporter of President Ronald Reagan. Again, this is three years after
Despite the size of
What’s a librarian to do?
See the endnote.[ii]
“If Perkins truly cared about exposing these injustices, he would take a more academic approach to the book. He would craft it to withstand strong scrutiny. He would cite many sources, give precise illustrations. He would make his book appealing to those with the power to change it or amend it. Instead, he sensationalizes the content. He appeals to the leftist, as we all agree. He wrote a book that is so unbelievable, that it cannot be used to incite serious, scholarly debate. Could it be that he wrote this book at the behest of 'the other side' to which he still may belong? He describes the entire system as too complex to penetrate, too difficult to topple.
“I felt from the beginning of the project that if he could be bribed as many times as he had, why not this time too?”
Bridget Thornton, 2005 Project Censored Investigative team
Einar Greve, a former Chas. T. Main, Inc. vice-president who hired Perkins in 1971, is quoted in The Business: “The basic theory is wrong.” Developing countries "were not purposely put into hock."
ivory towers came up with the idea of doing a Marshall Plan for the underdeveloped
world. But the
That these countries were saddled with big debts they couldn't pay definitely took place, but it was because of poor planning,’ he said. ‘There were also many projects that should never have been built, but it was largely because of incompetence, not by design.
McCool said that in addition to what the publishers say about their products, online services provide access to other analyses of materials, including such sources as Amazon.com’s reader review. But, he concedes, it is possible for a publisher to post its own reviews, all favorable to the work.
Ultimately, it is up to the reader to sift the facts.
And with consolidation of media ownership coupled with integrated production and marketing, that task is no less difficult for the reader than for the librarian.
Even with access to critical trade publications, the publisher’s description trumps the professional reviewer.
For example, Publisher’s Weekly reviewed Perkins’ work, but had no impact on the non-fiction classification at most libraries:
“The story as presented is implausible to say the least, offering so few details that Perkins often seems paranoid, and the simplistic political analysis doesn't enhance his credibility. Despite the claim that his work left him wracked with guilt, the artless prose is emotionally flat and generally comes across as a personal crisis of conscience blown up to monstrous proportions, casting Perkins as a victim not only of his own neuroses over class and money but of dark forces beyond his control. His claim to have assisted the House of Saud in strengthening its ties to American power brokers may be timely enough to attract some attention, but the yarn he spins is ultimately unconvincing, except perhaps to conspiracy buffs.”
Is it possible that the existing system of classification needs reform; that the fiction/non-fiction division should offer more gray area? Some additional classifications might include, “Memoir – Unsubstantiated,” or “History – documented.”
And Economic Hit Man, who says it was his lies that ate up 10 years
of McCool’s life; his lies that brought nuclear power to
Following its success with Hit Man, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., has taken a bold step to market its stock to people who have bought its books. But don’t consider this opportunity “an offer to sell, nor a solicitation of an offer to buy these securities.”
“We are pleased to announce the first-ever Direct Public Offering of Berrett-Koehler stock. This is an Offering of 125,000 shares of Common Stock of The Berrett-Koehler Group, Inc. (which is the parent company of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.). The price of the shares is $8.00 per share. The minimum number of shares offered to any one investor is 100 shares. Thus, the minimum investment is $800.00. The shares are being sold on a first-come, first-served basis.”
“This Direct Public Offering has been registered for
offer and sale in
“This announcement is neither an offer to sell nor a solicitation of an offer to buy these securities. The offer is made only by means of the Direct Public Offering Circular. Copies of the Circular may be obtained only from The Berrett-Koehler Group, Inc.”
 Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, (2004,
 Ibid, p. 154.
 The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life, William James. An address to the Yale Philosophical Club, published in the International Journal of Ethics, April 1891.Online at http://www.philosophy.uncc.edu/mleldrid/American/mp&ml.htm
 Hit Man, p. 154.
 Ibid, p. 163.
 Petition of Public Service Company of New Hampshire (New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission) No. 87-311 SUPREME COURT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE 130 N.H. 265; 539 A.2d 263; 1988 January 26, 1988
 See the Clamshell Alliance Papers at http://www.izaak.unh.edu/specoll/mancoll/clamshell.htm
 Hit Man, chapters 15-16, p. 81-98.
 See Bechtel Web site, http://www.bechtel.com/spjubail.htm
 Hit Man, p. 233
 Ibid. p. 84.
 Ibid. p.71 et seq.
 Hit Man, p. 122.
 Ibid. p. 124.
Joe Lauria, Controversial book raises doubts over
 Publisher’s Weekly
used the classification “Biography & Autobiography | Business; Political
Science | Conspiracy & Scandal Investigations; Business & Economics |
Government & Business” in a
[i] Notes related to Estimated Amounts:
a. Commitment: estimates apply the current commitment rate less any applicable waiver.
b. Interest: estimates are based on the current interest rates and do not include any applicable waiver.
Most of the articles pertained to guerilla fighting, hijacked planes, kidnappings, drug trafficking, and the coffee industry.
Factiva No news with “chas t. main”,
1976-1980 No news with “hydroelectric contracts”, 1976-1980 No news about
[ii] Colombian Political/Economic Environment (1960’s to 1987)