Asawin Suebsaeng

Asawin Suebsaeng

Reporter

Asawin Suebsaeng is a reporter at the Washington, DC, bureau of Mother Jones. He has also written for The American Prospect, the Bangkok Post, and Shoecomics.com.

Full Bio | Get my RSS |

A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., Asawin came back to DC with hopes of putting his flimsy Creative Writing major, student newspaper tenure, and interest in human rights and political chicanery to some use. He started cutting his teeth at F&M's student-run weekly, The College Reporter, serving as editor in chief. He has interned at The American Prospect, been a reporter for the Bangkok Post, and scribbled for ShoeComics.com. His favorite movie is either Apocalypse Now or Pirahna 3D, depending on the day or mood.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

HBO's "Manhunt: The Search for Bin Laden": Way Cooler Than "Zero Dark Thirty"

| Wed May 1, 2013 8:31 PM EDT

Manhunt: The Search for Bin Laden
HBO Documentary Films
100 minutes

Forget Zero Dark Thirty. Instead, check out director Greg Barker's intimate look at the dogged nerds and tough-guy CIA officials who spent decades on Osama bin Laden's trail. This doc (based on Peter Bergen's 2012 book) has the pulse of a Michael Mann thriller, tracing the hunt from long before Al Qaeda became a household name. It offers a fascinating glimpse at "the Sisterhood," a crew of female CIA analysts who were "borderline obsessed" with nailing bin Laden in the 1990s. Details of their vital desk work are contrasted with interviews with former CIA higher-up (and torture advocate) Marty Martin, who refers to his "gangsta"-like role harvesting intel overseas.

Manhunt premieres Wednesday, May 1 (the two-year anniversary of the mission that killed bin Laden) at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT. Check out the trailer:

Click here for more movie and TV features from Mother Jones.

This review originally appeared in the May/June issue of Mother Jones.

A Brief History of CIA "Ghost Money"

| Tue Apr. 30, 2013 10:24 AM EDT
(Foreign-policy metaphors...)

On Monday morning, the New York Times ran a story reporting that for the past decade the CIA has been funneling tens of millions of dollars, off-the-books, directly to the office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The payments, occasionally dropped off in plastic bags, were part of the intelligence agency's attempts to buy access in Karzai's government and encourage support for the war against Al Qaeda and extremist elements. The CIA continued to transfer hundreds of thousands in cash, even as it became increasingly clear that the cash wasn't doing much to curb Karzai's tendency to defy and frustrate the United States government. Afghan officials have used the payments for an assortment of expenses, including underwriting "informal negotiations" and buying off warlords, some of whom are connected to the Taliban.

"We called it 'ghost money,'" Khalil Roman, Karzai's former deputy chief of staff, told the Times. "It came in secret, and it left in secret."

Since the news broke, Karzai released a statement admitting his office accepted the funds, but claiming that the small fortune was used only for legitimate and noble purposes, such as rental costs and helping "injured people." (Years ago, it was reported that Karzai's now deceased half-brother was a paid CIA asset.)

The Times report notes that though intelligence agencies will often pay foreign officials for information or influence, pouring satchels of "ghost money" directly into a foreign leader's office is a less common practice. However sketchy this sounds (and however corruption-infected the Karzai government may be), such transfers do not violate American law. "Under US law, there are statues that prohibit the payment of bribes in securing contracts, if you're [a part of] a corporation; but such laws don't necessarily apply to the US government itself," John Prados, a senior research fellow at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, says. "There is no provision in any executive order that governs the intelligence community that prevents this kind of thing...Cash is the mainstay of American covert operations in Afghanistan."

And this is not new. Here are a few other episodes in recent history in which the CIA has secretly sent wads of "ghost money" to the offices of foreign leaders:

Iran

Following the Western-backed coup in 1953 against democratically elected Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh, CIA officer Kermit "Kim" Roosevelt, Jr. (grandson of Teddy) sent over $1 million cash to General Fazlollah Zahedi, who replaced Mossadegh as prime minister.

South Vietnam

As American intervention in Vietnam deepened, the CIA lavished three-quarters of a million dollars on South Vietnamese leader Nguyen Van Thieu between 1968 and 1969. He had come to power following years of chaos caused by the CIA-supported coup against South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963.

The Congo/Zaire

Being a vicious anti-communist authoritarian, President Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire received CIA dollars of appreciation during several decades of the Cold War. He rose to power in the early 1960s with the help of a lot of foreign-supplied guns and cash, much of which was provided to him by you know who.

Jordan

Between the 1957 and 1977, the CIA allegedly paid millions of dollars to King Hussein of Jordan. Accounts of how these annual payments were used vary greatly. Some reports detail payments for extra security for the royal family, sports cars, and intel gathering.

Panama

Manuel Noriega, former US friend and military ruler of Panama, was on the agency payroll during his epic streak of racketeering, drug running, and money-laundering, as he turned Panama into his own private piggy bank. Shortly before Christmas 1989, President George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion that got rid of him.

This is the kind of thing that "ghost money" buys you.

8 Things You Won't See at the George W. Bush Presidential Library

| Thu Apr. 25, 2013 6:05 AM EDT
W.

"Eight years was awesome and I was famous and I was powerful."—Former President George W. Bush, July 2012

On Thursday, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum will be officially dedicated at Southern Methodist University, a school attended by the likes of former first lady Laura Bush, actor Powers Boothe, and Kourtney Kardashian. The invitation-only event will be attended by President Obama, before he visits a memorial at Baylor University for victims of the West, Texas, plant explosion. A spokesperson says attendance at the library dedication is expected to be in the thousands.

Richie Havens' Passion for Peace, Justice, and Damn Fine Music

| Tue Apr. 23, 2013 1:51 PM EDT

Richie Havens, 1941-2013.

On Monday, celebrated folk singer Richie Havens died of a heart attack at his Jersey City home at the age of 72. The Brooklyn-born musician was famous for his distinctive, husky baritone, and was a skilled and tough guitar player who could turn strummed rhythms into rhapsodies. He recorded and performed some of the best acoustic covers of the '60s and '70s, including renditions of Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman" and (my personal favorite) George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun."

Havens dabbled in cinema, including acting alongside comic giant Richard Pryor in 1977's Greased Lightning, a film about Wendell Scott, the first African-American to get a NASCAR racing license. Quentin Tarantino used his signature song "Freedom" in a pivotal shootout sequence in Django Unchained. Havens toured tirelessly for nearly five decades. But since history has a nasty habit of reducing notable lives into single episodes, Havens will forever be remembered as the man who opened Woodstock '69 with a mesmerizing three-hour set.

Through all this, he maintained his passion for liberal politics, environmental action, and education. Though he wasn't the most fiercely political or ideological of his generation of entertainers, his dedication and interest were impressive nonetheless. In 1976, Havens cofounded the North Wind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children's museum in the Bronx that reportedly "has a history of rescuing marine animals." He also formed the Natural Guard, an international organization created to promote hands-on activities that teach children about ecology and the environment. Here he is talking about it in the early '90s:

"I'm not in show business; I'm in the communications business," Havens told the Denver Post. "That's what it's about for me." You could feel this in virtually everything he recorded or sang on stage, most evidently in "Handsome Johnny," a song he cowrote that became a civil rights and anti-Vietnam War anthem. In 1978, his song "Shalom, Salam Alaikum," written after watching Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, was a huge hit in Israel. And on a lesser note, Havens performed at Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration in 1993.

To the very end, he was a gentle soul pushing for peace, justice, and damn fine music.

I'll leave you with footage of the Transcendent Nation Foundation interviewing Havens in 2008 about "how to save the world":

Thu Jun. 12, 2014 5:51 PM EDT
Mon Apr. 28, 2014 12:48 PM EDT
Fri Apr. 25, 2014 6:05 AM EDT
Sun Apr. 20, 2014 11:00 PM EDT
Thu Apr. 17, 2014 6:00 AM EDT