David Rockefeller Lyndon Johnson

Looking back at David Rockefeller’s key role in building the imperial US ‘deep state’

Plutocrat David Rockefeller was a capitalist cold warrior with deep CIA ties who helped craft US foreign policy to maintain American hegemony and crush the socialist left.

By Ben Norton / AlterNet

David Rockefeller was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and he died on March 20, at the age of 101, with a gold one.

A grandson of robber baron John D. Rockefeller, David grew up in a family mansion in midtown Manhattan that was the tallest private home ever built in New York City. He went on to become chairman and CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank, and one of the most influential plutocrats in the United States — with the help of an enormous inherited fortune.

Just a few months before his death, David Rockefeller’s net worth was estimated at a staggering $3.3 billion.

Over a span of more than five decades, every U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower met with Rockefeller to seek his advice and support. Richard Nixon twice asked him to be his secretary of the treasury.

It is well known that Rockefeller frequented Republican circles and was a major donor to GOP causes. Less known is the pivotal role he played in formulating U.S. foreign policy and the long-standing ties he had to the Central Intelligence Agency and what has now become a hot topic of discussion: the deep state.

A committed capitalist cold warrior from the start, Rockefeller deftly navigated the worlds of corporate America, the U.S. government and the foreign policy establishment — sometimes all at once. Not only was he one of the greatest champions of neoliberalism; he helped lead and create powerful organizations that greatly undermined the global left and maintained U.S. hegemony.

The Council on Foreign Relations and US foreign policy

David Rockefeller’s heavy hand was visible in one of the most prominent U.S. foreign policy institutions: the Council on Foreign Relations. The influential think tank, which was founded in 1921, established itself as a key vehicle for Cold War capitalist politics. Rockefeller sat on the organization’s board of directors, and later served as its chairman.

Since the end of the Cold War and the destruction of large-scale socialist movements, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has remained a prominent proselytizer for right-wing, pro-corporate policies around the planet. As part of this profit-making process, it dutifully justifies and sells Western wars and military intervention.

CFR’s board is a Who’s Who of eminent militarists and capitalists. Joining Rockefeller on the body have been by a slew of corporate elites from Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, Kraft, Barclays Capital, the Gates Foundation and beyond.

While advising U.S. presidents, David Rockefeller prioritized several topics of concern. One such subject was Iran, an oil-rich nation where the CIA backed a coup in 1953, toppling the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh at the bequest of international oil corporations.

Before Iran’s 1979 revolution, Rockefeller was a staunch supporter of the U.S.-backed shah, and helped influence policy on the matter. In his book on U.S. statesman John J. McCloy, journalist Kai Bird noted that Joseph V. Reed, Rockefeller’s personal assistant at Chase Manhattan, referred to Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger and McCloy as the “Triumpherate.”

Like Rockefeller, McCloy passed in and out of the government-corporate-think tank revolving door. McCloy had extensive ties to the Rockefellers and, like the billionaire family, Kissinger, and his foreign policy peers, was a belligerent anti-communist who believed in the use of military violence in the name of containment.

McCloy served as chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, where he and Rockefeller became very close. McCloy also chaired the Ford Foundation and sat as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation multiple times. Moreover, like Rockfeller, McCloy chaired CFR.

Right-wing conspiracy theorists fixate on figures like Rockefeller and McCloy, as well as organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations and the Bilderberg Group, characterizing them as “globalists” in a putative conspiracy to create a “one-world government.” The truth is just the opposite.

Rockefeller and other billionaire plutocrats have played a key role helping Western capitalist governments and large financial institutions crush socialist and other revolutionary movements throughout the world on behalf of fellow billionaires, multinational corporations and their bottom lines.

The so-called “New World Order” they supposedly want to establish already exists; by and large, it is one of unchallenged corporate power, in which eight capitalists control half of global wealth, while billions of impoverished workers toil on the brink of death.

The CIA and Chile

A case study of just how plutocrats like Rockefeller and the U.S. government worked together to crush international socialist movements can be seen in Chile and the CIA-backed coup in that country.

In his college days, Rockefeller befriended the CIA’s Dulles brothers and rubbed elbows with prominent CIA apparatchiks like Richard Helms, William Bundy and Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt Jr.

Former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger was likewise a pal of David Rockefeller. Kissinger previously served as the director of the Special Studies Project for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

In 1970, when the Chilean people elected marxist Salvador Allende, Chase Manhattan Bank was furious, as was the U.S. government. “I don’t see why we have to let a country go marxist just because its people are irresponsible,” Kissinger declared.

David Rockefeller repeatedly corresponded with Kissinger before a CIA-backed coup toppled Allende on Sept. 11, 1973 — the “first 9/11,” as Chileans know it.

“The very name of Allende was anathema to the extreme right in Chile, to certain powerful corporations (notably ITT, Pepsi Cola and the Chase Manhattan Bank) which did business in Chile and the United States, and to the CIA,” journalist Christopher Hitchens wrote in his book The Trial of Henry Kissinger.

Top U.S. officials held a series of meetings within two weeks of Allende’s election, to plan ways to undermine his socialist government. Rockefeller and Donald Kendall, the CEO of Pepsi Cola, who had close ties to President Richard Nixon, both discussed Chile with Kissinger, Hitchens noted, citing declassified documents.

CIA director Richard Helms, Kissinger, and Nixon agreed that Chile’s democratically elected leader must be stopped. Notes from their meeting read: “Not concerned risks involved. No involvement of embassy. $10,000,000 available, more if necessary. Full-time job — best men we have… Make the economy scream. 48 hours for plan of action.”

Kissinger and Rockefeller stayed in touch on the issue. A declassified memo to Kissinger details his correspondence with the billionaire banker.

One of Allende’s earliest actions was to nationalize mines exploited by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, which owed hundreds of millions of dollars to Chase Manhattan and other U.S. banks.

On August 10, 1971, Rockefeller wrote a letter to Kissinger noting that John Place, the former vice chairman of Chase Manhattan bank, had recently left to become president and CEO of the Anaconda Company. Chile’s government had nationalized the company and was not paying up, Place complained.

Rockefeller requested that Kissinger organize a meeting in Washington with Place. A week later, the meeting was held in Kissinger’s office. He was joined by Place, William Quigley, the vice chairman of the board of the Anaconda Company, and Arnold Nachmanoff of the National Security Council.

A memo from the meeting shows that “Mr. Place and Mr. Quigley expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in Chile.” Quigley called on the U.S. to send an envoy to Chile to threaten the government “that if they do not reach fair settlements [with U.S. corporations], we will make every effort to cut off their access to international credit.”

Kissinger “noted that this was a very difficult problem: we cannot buy Allende off,” the memo said. He affirmed that “there is still a chance that Allende might be overthrown,” and emphasized “that he favored a tough line.” The memo added, “Mr. Place and Mr. Quigley reiterated their approval of a tough line.”

On September 2, Kissinger sent a letter to Rockefeller, thanking him for his original missive and notifying him of the August 17 meeting with the Anaconda Company executives. “We will do whatever we can to help Anaconda receive fair compensation for its properties,” Kissinger wrote.

In 1973, Allende was toppled and killed in a CIA-backed coup. His democratically elected socialist government was replaced with a U.S.-backed capitalist dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet. The Anaconda Company was paid hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of Chilean leftists were murdered, tortured and disappeared.

The Trilateral Commission and neoliberal trade policies

In addition to his work leading the Council on Foreign Relations, David Rockefeller created other institutions that pushed for capitalist domination and neoliberal, pro-corporate policies.

The Americas Society and Council of the Americas published a statement expressing “their deepest sadness over the death of” the billionaire. Rockefeller had founded and served as honorary chairman of the Council of the Americas, a corporate-backed organization that advocated for so-called free trade policies in North and South America.

Rockefeller wrote in his memoir that, at the organization’s Forum of the Americas in Washington, D.C. in 1992, “I proposed creating a ‘Western Hemisphere free trade area’ no later than the year 2000.” President George W. Bush delivered the event’s keynote address, but it was President Bill Clinton who helped fulfill the billionaire’s dream.

In 1994, the Clinton administration passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which destroyed local economies in Mexico and led to massive outsourcing, harming workers across the continent.

The International Executive Service Corps, another organization co-created by Rockefeller, with government funding and ties to large corporations, was a Cold War capitalist project that continues to encourage private ownership and corporate partnerships as a solution to poverty, inequality and other systemic problems.

Scholar Noam Chomsky observed in 1981 that one of the most striking features of the Jimmy Carter administration was the large role played by the Trilateral Commission, a group of anti-communist, liberal capitalists from the U.S., Europe and Japan that Rockefeller assembled in 1973.

“All of the top positions in the government — the office of President, Vice-President, Secretary of State, Defense and Treasury — are held by members of the Trilateral Commission, and the National Security Advisor was its director,” Chomsky wrote.

One of the body’s functions, he noted, was to ensure continued U.S. hegemony over the Global South. The Trilateral Commission’s most infamous work, nonetheless, was a book-length report titled “The Crisis of Democracy.” In the document, Chomsky highlighted, the commission insisted countries need “a greater degree of moderation in democracy” to deal with the problem of an “excess of democracy.”

The Trilateral Commission, which was created with the help of the Chase Manhattan Bank billionaire, lamented that, in the U.S., “previously passive or unorganized groups in the population” like “blacks, Indians, Chicanos, white ethnic groups, students and women” had become “organized and mobilized in new ways to achieve what they considered to be their appropriate share of the action and of the rewards.”

This destabilized the political order, which “usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups,” the report claimed.

“Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers,” the report observed. “By the mid-1960s, the sources of power in society had diversified tremendously, and this was no longer possible.” Something had to be done about this; corporate elites were losing their grip on society.

Just a few years later, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan would usher in neoliberalism, a new wave of even less restrained capitalism which Rockefeller and his billionaire friends would ride to the bank.

David Rockefeller enjoyed a long career as a key figure in the U.S. ruling class, and an even longer life. He was a billionaire plutocrat who used his enormous inherited wealth and influence to crush any threat to Western capitalist interests. And he was very successful in that mission.