by John Perkins
February 17, 2005
About JOHN PERKINS
From 1971 to 1981, John Perkins worked for the international
consulting firm of Chas. T. Main, where he held the titles of Chief
Economist and Manager of Economics.
He later founded Independent
Power Systems, Inc., an alternative energy company.
Today, Perkins writes and teaches
about achieving peace and prosperity by expanding personal awareness
and transforming American institutions.
His previous books include
Shapeshifting, The World Is As You Dream It and The Stress-Free
Confessions of An Economic Hit Man is
John Perkins’ fast-paced autobiography, which reveals his career as an
economist for an international consulting firm.
Perkins says he was actually
an “Economic Hit Man” and his job was to convince countries that are
strategically important to the United States to accept enormous loans for
infrastructure development and to make sure that the lucrative projects were
contracted to U.S. corporations.
Perkins takes the reader through his career and explains how he created
economic projections for countries to accept billions of dollars in loans
they surely couldn’t afford.
He shares his battle with his conscience over
these actions and offers advice for how Americans can work to end these
practices, which he feels have directly resulted in terrorist attacks and
animosity towards the United States.
What Is An Economic
Perkins defines economic hit men as,
“highly paid professionals who cheat
countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money
World Bank, the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID), and other foreign ‘aid’
organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few
wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources.
Their tools include fraudulent financial
reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a
game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying
dimensions during this time of
In Perkins’ case, he was hired as an economist for the international
consulting firm of Chas. T.Main, Inc. (MAIN).
He was told in confidential meetings with
“special consultant” to the company Claudine Martin that he had two primary
He was supposed to justify huge loans
for countries. These loans would be for major engineering and
construction projects, which were to be carried out by MAIN and
other U.S. companies such as Bechtel, Halliburton, Stone & Webster
and Brown & Root.
He was supposed to help bankrupt the
countries that received these loans after the U.S. companies
involved had been paid. This would make sure that these countries
would remain in debt to their creditors and would then be easy
targets when the U.S. needed favors such as military bases, UN votes
and access to natural resources like oil.
Perkins’ job was to produce economic growth
projections that would make the case for a variety of major projects.
If the U.S. decided to lend a country money (in
order to persuade its leaders not to align with the Soviet Union, for
example), Perkins would compare the economic benefits of different projects
such as power plants or telecommunications systems. He would then produce
reports that showed the economic growth the country would experience due to
these projects. These economic growth projections needed to be high enough
to justify the loans. Otherwise, the loans would be denied.
The gross national product (GNP) was always the most important
factor in these economic projections. The project expected to increase the
GNP the most would be chosen. In the cases where there was only one project
under consideration, it needed to be shown that the project would greatly
benefit the GNP.
Luckily for the economic hit man, GNP figures can be quite
“For instance, the growth of GNP may result even when it profits
only one person, such as an individual who owns a utility company, while the
majority of the population is burdened with debt.”
All of these projects were meant to make huge profits for the contractors.
The U.S. engineering and construction companies involved would be assured of
great wealth. At the same time, a few wealthy families and influential
leaders in the receiving countries would become very happy and very rich
thanks to these loans. The leaders of these countries would also have
bolstered political power because they were credited with bringing
industrial parks, power plants and airports to their people.
The problem is that these countries simply cannot handle the debt of these
loans and their poorest citizens are deprived of health, education and other
social services for several decades as these countries struggle economically
to overcome their huge debts.
Meanwhile, the huge American media
conglomerates portray these projects as favors being provided by the United
States. American citizens in general have no trouble believing these
messages, and in fact are led to perceive that these actions are unselfish
acts of international goodwill.
Ultimately, due to the large debts, the U.S. is able to draw on these
countries for political, economic and military favors whenever desired.
And of course, the U.S. corporations involved
with the expensive projects become extremely wealthy.
The U.S. Government’s
Economic hit men [EHM] don’t actually work for a United States
government organization such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The risk
with such a direct association is obvious.
For example, if an EHM was
working to put a country in debt to the U.S. with the main reason being for
favorable military and political positions against the Soviet Union, the
Soviet Union would be quite likely to take military action against the U.S.
if that EHM were found to be working for the U.S. government. In the 1960s,
America found a way to use economic hitmen without directly implicating
It was during the 1960s that we saw the empowerment of international
corporations and multinational organizations such as
the World Bank. This
allowed for governments, corporations and multinational organizations to
form mutually beneficial relationships. United States intelligence agencies
were able to use these relationships to their advantage.
Government organizations such as the National Security Agency (NSA)
were now able to screen for potential economic hitmen (as they did
with Perkins) and then have them hired by international corporations such as
“These economic hitmen would never be paid
by the government; instead, they would draw their salaries from the
private sector. As a result, their dirty work, if exposed, would be
chalked up to corporate greed rather than to government policy.
addition, the corporations that hired them, although paid by government
agencies and their
multinational banking counterparts (with taxpayer
money), would be insulated from congressional oversight and public
scrutiny, shielded by a growing body of legal initiatives, including
trademark, international trade, and Freedom of Information laws.”
Perkins’ Story of
Being Recruited as an Economic Hit Man
Perkins married a former college classmate in 1967. A good friend of her
father’s, referred to as “Uncle Frank”, was a top-echelon executive at the NSA.
Uncle Frank immediately took a liking to Perkins and informed him that
a job with the NSA would make him eligible for draft deferment, meaning he
could avoid fighting in the Vietnam War.
After extensive interviews with the NSA, Perkins was offered a job, but
declined it to instead join the Peace Corps. Surprisingly, Uncle Frank
supported this decision, largely because it meant that Perkins would have
the opportunity to go to Ecuador and live with the indigenous people of the
It was with the Peace Corps in Ecuador when a vice president of Chas. T.
Main, Inc. approached Perkins about working for MAIN. The man explained that
he sometimes acted as an NSA liaison, which made this job opportunity a
perfect fit for Perkins, who had intended on accepting the NSA job when his
Peace Corps tour was over.
Upon returning to the U.S., Perkins was hired as an economist for MAIN. He
was told that MAIN’s primary business was engineering, but that their
biggest client, the World Bank, had insisted that the company keep
economists employed in order to produce the “critical economic forecasts
used to determine the feasibility and magnitude of engineering projects.”
Shortly after being hired, Perkins was trained confidentially by Claudine
Martin, a special consultant to MAIN. It was Martin who explained to Perkins
what his real job was.
It was Martin who explained that he was now an
“Economic Hit Man” and that once he accepted this job, he could never leave
Perkins’ first assignment took him took to Indonesia.
Indonesia was an
oil-rich country and had been described as “the most heavily populated piece
of real estate on the planet.” Perkins’ job was to produce very optimistic
economic forecasts for the country, showing that by building new power
plants and distribution lines, the country’s economy would explode. These
projections would allow USAID and international banks to justify huge loans
for the country, which would then be paid to U.S. corporations to build the
In 1971, Indonesia had become even more important to the U.S. in its battle
against Communism. Potential withdrawal from Vietnam had the U.S. worried
about a domino effect of one country after another falling under Communist
rule. Indonesia was viewed as the key. If the U.S. could gain control of
Indonesia (with the debts that would incur thanks to the loans for these
huge projects), they believed it would help ensure American dominance in
While spending three months in Indonesia to conduct interviews and study the
economic potential for the country, Perkins was exposed to the drastic
discrepancy between the wealthy and the extremely poor in Indonesia. While
there were certainly signs of a striving economy with first-class hotels and
mansions, Perkins also personally saw the tragic side of Indonesia where
women and children bathed in wretched, sewer-filled water and beggars packed
He also met some of the country’s native citizens and learned
of their resentment of American greed and extravagance in the face of their
These close encounters with the Indonesians created a struggle of conscience
for Perkins. He wondered if American capitalism was really the answer for
the people of Indonesia. He wondered if the population as a whole would
really benefit from the infrastructures the U.S. wanted to build in
Indonesia, or would it only be a wealthy few who became even wealthier while
the rest of the country became more entrenched in poverty and became even
While conducting his studies in Indonesia, Perkins was encouraged by his
superiors to create strong forecasts for economic growth. He was told that
growth rates of 17 percent per annum were expected. Also providing economic
forecasts for MAIN was an older employee named Howard Parker.
Perkins not to be pressured by his superiors, he told him not to buy into
the game, not to create unrealistic projections. He told Perkins that the
electrification project could not create economic growth rates of more than
Conversations with Parker led to more conscience battles for Perkins.
Ultimately, he told himself that the decision wasn’t really his to make, it
would be up to his bosses and they could simply choose between his high
economic forecast and Parker’s lower forecast. When the final projections
were presented to the executives at MAIN, Perkins’ figures pleased his
bosses with 17-20 percent growth rate projections while Parker’s forecast
came in at eight percent.
Parker was promptly fired and Perkins was
promoted to Chief Economist at MAIN and received a nice raise.
In 1972, Perkins was sent to Panama to close the deal on MAIN’s master
development plan with the country.
“This plan would create a justification
for World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and USAID investment of
billions of dollars in the energy, transportation, and agricultural sectors
of this tiny and very crucial country. It was, of course, a subterfuge, a
means of making Panama forever indebted and thereby returning to its puppet
Again, Perkins experienced the enormous differences between the wealthy and
However, in Panama, the differences were most extreme in one area,
the Canal Zone. In the Canal Zone, Americans lived in beautiful homes and
enjoyed golf courses and first-class shopping.
Just outside of the Canal Zone, Panamanians
lived in wooden shacks and among overflowing sewage. These harsh differences
created high levels of animosity between the Americans living in the Canal
Zone and the natives of Panama. It was not uncommon to see graffiti messages
demanding that the U.S. leave Panama.
On his trip, Perkins met with Panama’s president and charismatic leader, Omar Torrijos. Perkins was very impressed with Torrijos and became
friends with the leader. Torrijos was well aware of the EHM practices and
knew fully how the game was played. He knew that he could become a very
wealthy man by cooperating with the U.S. companies that wanted to build
their projects in his country, but he worried about Panama losing its
independence and not taking care of its many citizens living in poverty.
Torrijos made a peculiar deal with Perkins and MAIN. He wanted Panama to
take back control of the Panama Canal and in doing so he wanted to build a
more efficient canal, a sea-level one without locks that would allow for
bigger ships. The Japanese, the Canal’s biggest clients, would be interested
in financing this construction, which would anger Bechtel Group, Inc.
Bechtel was a company closely connected to Richard Nixon,
Gerald Ford and
George H.W. Bush.
Omar Torrijos was concerned that these actions might send the wrong signals
internationally. He wanted to make sure that Panama was recognized as an
independent country and was not dictated by Russia, China or Cuba. He did
not want Panama to be perceived as against the United States. Instead, he
wanted it known that they were simply protecting the rights of the poor.
Torrijos did want to invest in huge advancement projects in electricity,
transportation and communications for Panama, but he wanted to make certain
that these projects benefited his entire country, including those living in
extreme poverty. To do so would require huge amounts of money from the
World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Torrijos
worried that his commitment to taking back the Canal would anger the top
people at Bechtel so much that it would make it nearly impossible to achieve
his plans for these projects.
So, Torrijos made a deal with Perkins and MAIN. He told Perkins that if he
could secure the financing for these projects, MAIN could have all the work
they wanted on this master development plan.
Perkins agreed to the deal and would do Torrijos’
In response to the power of the international oil companies, which
collaborated to hold down petroleum prices, a group of oil-producing
countries formed OPEC in the 1960s.
The huge impact OPEC was capable of
became evident to the world with the 1973 oil embargo. This embargo was a
result of the United States’ support of Israel when Egypt and Syria launched
attacks on the country.
As the U.S. provided Israel with more financial
aid, Saudi Arabia and other Arab oil producing countries imposed a total
embargo on oil shipments to the U.S. While the embargo was short-lived, its
impact was huge as Saudi oil prices jumped from $1.39 per barrel on January
1, 1970 to $8.32 on January 1, 1974.
As a result, Wall Street and Washington became obsessed with protecting
American oil supplies and the U.S. was forced to recognize Saudi Arabia’s
importance to its economy.
“For Saudi Arabia, the additional oil income
resulting from the price hikes was a mixed blessing.”
Suddenly, the country’s conservative religious
beliefs were being replaced with a sense of materialism.
Washington recognized this movement and
negotiated with Saudi Arabia for assurance that there would never again be
an oil embargo from the country. The result of these negotiations was the
United States-Saudi Arabian Joint Economic Commission, known as JECOR. The
unprecedented agreement was the opposite of the norm, where countries had to
borrow from the U.S. until it could never get out of that debt. Instead,
this agreement relied on Saudi Arabia’s own money to hire American firms to
build up the country.
The U.S. wanted Saudi Arabia to guarantee to maintain oil supplies at prices
that would be acceptable to the U.S. and its allies. Due to Saudi Arabia’s
vast petroleum supplies, this guarantee would protect the U.S. even if other
countries threatened oil embargos. In exchange for the guarantee, the U.S.
offered the House of Saud a commitment to provide complete political and
military support (this would guarantee that the royal family would continue
to rule in Saudi Arabia).
The condition would be that the Saudis buy U.S.
government securities with their petrodollars and that the interest earned
on these securities would be used to pay U.S. companies to convert Saudi
Arabia into a modern industrial power.
Perkins was brought in as an adviser in the early stages of these
His job was,
“to develop forecasts of what might happen in
Saudi Arabia if vast amounts of money were invested in its infrastructure,
and to map out scenarios for spending that money.”
He was told that not only
would this job result in huge profits for MAIN, but that it was also a
matter of national security.
This job was different for Perkins as the final objective was not to burden
Saudi Arabia with debts it could never repay, but instead to “assure that a
large portion of petrodollars found their way back to the United States.”
Basically, MAIN and other U.S. corporations needed to convince Saudi Arabia
of the importance and benefits of transforming their country to a more
This would ultimately make Saudi Arabia more dependent on
U.S. corporations and make U.S. corporations extremely wealthy.
For his part, Perkins convinced a key player within the House of Saud, a man
he calls Prince W., that these projects would benefit his country as well as
him personally. Perkins was able to eventually persuade Prince W. by
arranging for a beautiful prostitute to live with him. By arranging for the
prostitute to live with Prince W., Perkins was able to gain his trust and
eventually convinced him of the value of the deal.
The entire package was finally approved by the
royal family of Saudi Arabia and MAIN was rewarded with one of the first
highly lucrative contracts, which was actually administered by the U.S.
Department of the Treasury.
“The deal between the United States and
Saudi Arabia transformed the kingdom practically overnight.”
It also marked the beginning of an ongoing
relationship between the House of Saud,
the bin Laden family and
Bush family, which benefited greatly from a financial standpoint
thanks to the deal.
Struggling with His
Perkins saw his career take off as he was promoted again and became the
youngest partner in the history of MAIN.
He would go on to head major
projects all over the world while taking home a huge salary. However,
Perkins could not stop struggling with his conscience over the negative
outcomes he believed he was causing as an EHM.
In 1978 and 1979, the
consequences of EHM empire building became clear to Perkins by what he saw
happen in Iran.
While the U.S. had supported the Shah, the results had led to class wars and
passionate animosity towards the “corporatocracy” being implemented in Iran.
Perkins had seen this hostility first-hand in several of the countries where
he had helped to create similar situations with his EHM practices.
of these countries hated U.S. policy and blamed it for their corrupt leaders
and despotic government. In Iran, the situation escalated and led to the
shah fleeing the country for his own safety and Iranians storming the U.S.
Embassy and taking 52 hostages.
It was then that Perkins fully realized that “the United States is a nation
laboring to deny the truth about its imperialist role in the world" and he
became overwhelmed with guilt over his role in this global movement.
Perkins sank into a depression and quit his job
at MAIN in 1980.
The Impact of the
Economic Hit man Continues
Perkins would continue to be haunted by the impact of economic hitmen even
as he started his own company (a company that committed to producing
environmentally friendly electricity), did special consulting for MAIN and
other corporations, and became involved with nonprofit organizations and
their efforts to work with and help indigenous people in Latin America.
In 1981, Perkins became deeply disturbed by the death of his friend and the
leader of Panama, Omar Torrijos. Perkins believes that Torrijos’ death in a
plane crash was a CIA assassination because of his positions on the Panama
Canal (Torrijos had achieved his goal of taking back the Canal) and his
unwillingness to cooperate with American corporations.
Torrijos was replaced
by Manuel Noriega, who “became a symbol of corruption and decadence.”
Eventually, in 1989, the United States attacked
Panama and the Arias family and the pre-Torrijos oligarchy, which had served
as U.S. puppets from the time when Panama was torn from Columbia until
Torrijos took over, were reinstated.
Perkins also watched closely throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s as the U.S. tried
to get Iraq and Saddam Hussein to buy into the EHM scenario as Saudi Arabia
had done before. Hussein refused and when he invaded Kuwait, the U.S. wasted
little time and attacked Iraq. The economic hitmen failed again in their
efforts following the invasion of Iraq and in 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq
Perkins began to write
Confessions of An Economic Hit Man on
several occasions, but stopped due to bribes or threats. But
Perkins knew he could no longer wait and felt he had to expose these
practices and the devastating consequences they create.
What to Do Now
Perkins now spends his life trying to educate people about the role of the
economic hit man and how we can end their practices and achieve more global
peace and prosperity by transforming our institutions.
“we have convinced ourselves that all
economic growth benefits humankind, and that the greater the growth, the
more widespread the benefits.”
We must realize that the American capitalism we
are trying to push on other countries may not be what’s best for the rest of
We can’t just blame this movement on a conspiracy.
“The empire depends on
the efficacy of big banks, corporations, and governments - the
corporatocracy - but it is not a conspiracy. This corporatocracy is
ourselves - we make it happen - which, of course, is why most of us find it
difficult to stand up and oppose it. We cannot bring ourselves to bite the
hand of the master who feeds us.”
Perkins offers several ways to help stop “the corporatocracy and to end
this insane and self-destructive march to global empire.”
Read between the lines of each and every
media report and help others do the same. The majority of our media
outlets - newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, television
stations, radio stations, etc. - are owned by huge international
corporations and these corporations aren’t afraid to manipulate the
news they deliver. Always seek the truth and encourage others to do
Cut back on oil consumption and
shopping. When you are shopping, be very aware of the products you
buy and the companies you’re supporting.
Downsize your personal possessions,
including your home, your car and your office.
Protest against unfair free trade
Protest against companies that exploit
desperate people in sweatshops.
Protest against companies that pillage
Look for ways to educate others about
what is going on in the world. This can be done by writing letters
and emails to friends, newspapers, school boards and local
And finally, ask yourself the following
Why have I allowed myself to be
sucked into a system that I know is unbalanced?
What will I do to make sure our
children, and all children everywhere, are able to fulfill the
dream of our Founding Fathers, the dream of life liberty, and
the pursuit of happiness?
What course will I take to end
starvation, and make sure there is never again a day like
How can I help our children
understand that people who live gluttonous, unbalanced
lives should be pitied but never, ever emulated, even if those
people present themselves, through the media they control, as
cultural icons and try to convince us that penthouses and yachts
What changes will I commit to making
in my attitudes and perceptions?
What forums will I use to teach
others and to learn more on my own?
These are the essential questions of our time.
- Book review of Confessions of an Economic
Hitman by David Korten -
How the Richest of the Rich Steal
...from the Poorest of
by David C. Korten
David C. Korten is the author of WHEN
CORPORATIONS RULE THE WORLD and THE POST-CORPORATE WORLD: Life After
John Perkins was for 10 years a player in
a high-stakes game of global empire.
Confessions of An Economic Hit Man
is his very personal account of the events that forced him to choose
between conscience and a glamorous life of power, luxury and beautiful
women. It is also an adventure thriller worthy of Graham Green or John Le
Carré that connects the dots between corporate globalization, American
the dynasty of the House of Bush.
During my own 30 years as a development worker in Africa, Latin America and
Asia, I came to realize that the institutions of the aid system and the
global economy persistently serve the interests of the rich at the expense
of the poor. I sometimes wondered whether the outcome might have been
orchestrated by some secret inner circle of power brokers who knew exactly
what they were doing.
By Perkins’ account, he was recruited and trained by just such a circle. He
served their cause until he defected in a fit of conscience and, later,
decided to spill the beans. Confessions tells stories of deals Perkins
helped to broker with key oil exporting countries such as Indonesia, Saudi
Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia.
Naming names, he
explains in riveting detail exactly how the system works - and illuminates the
reality behind the hostility of those the United States now condemns as
Perkins’ job as chief economist for Chas.T.Main, a secretive consulting
firm with close ties to the U.S. intelligence and corporate communities, was
much like that of an Enron accountant. He cooked the books in a gigantic
international con game. More specifically, he produced and defended grossly
inflated projections of economic growth that were then used to justify
super-sized infrastructure projects financed with debts to foreign banks
that could never be repaid.
Intentionally making unpayable loans to foreign governments may seem the
work of fools, but the money flowed directly into the bottom lines of
well-connected U.S. construction and energy companies like Bechtel and
Halliburton, and the perpetual debts gave the U.S. government a stranglehold
over the economic and political resources of the indebted nations.
ruling classes of the debtor nations who benefited rarely objected; the
people the projects displaced had no voice.
Selling bogus projections was specialized work that required the social
skills of a con man and the ethics of a hired killer. By Perkins’ account,
recruiters from the National Security Agency (NSA), one of the
U.S. intelligence services, decided he fit the bill.
Of particular interest is Perkins’ story of his role in the deal that tied
Saudi Arabia to U.S. interests, created a financial and political alliance
between the House of Saud and the House of Bush, and led to a partnership
that channeled billions of dollars to Osama bin Laden.
Under this agreement,
the Saudis hold their oil earnings in U.S. Treasury bonds. The Treasury
Department pays the interest on these bonds directly to favored U.S.
corporations, with which it contracts to modernize Saudi Arabia’s physical
infrastructure. In return the U.S. government uses its political and
military clout to keep the Saudi royal family in power.
According to Perkins, the Saudi agreement was to be a model for Iraq, but
Saddam Hussein refused to play - which explains why
Bush was so intent on invading Iraq to remove him from
office. The war was simply a different means to the same outcome. Effective
control of Iraqi oil reserves was transferred to U.S. hands. Bechtel,
Halliburton and other corporate Bush cronies received billions in new
Perhaps, as implied by Perkins’ experience, the assault on the world’s poor
was orchestrated out of some super-secret NSA project office charged with
recruiting and training economic hit men. Or perhaps it was the
unintentional consequence of playing out elite interests. In the end it
makes little difference. The power brokers and their minions win, and
hundreds of millions of losers are left to choose between death and slavery.
Either way, it’s important to address the deeper cultural and institutional
causes of what is a spreading global disaster.
It’s here that Perkins misses a key point.
“The fault lies not in the institutions
themselves, but in our perceptions of the manner in which they function
and interact with one another, and of the role their managers play in
that process…,” he writes.
“Imagine if the Nike swoosh, McDonald’s
arches and Coca-Cola logo became symbols of companies whose primary
goals were to clothe and feed the world’s poor in environmentally
Yes, the perceptions are important, but so are
Perkins should by now be aware of two historic truths:
Between the demands of financial markets
and legal interpretations of the fiduciary responsibility of
corporate officers, global for-profit corporations face strong
pressures to maximize returns to their shareholders without regard
to social or environmental consequences
Any unaccountable concentration of
institutional power is an invitation to the very corruption he so