The CIA’s Intersectional Imperialism Video Is a Travesty

In a bizarre “woke” recruitment ad, the CIA uses the language of the movement to try to recruit people of color to their organization, a central pillar of U.S. imperialism.
  • Tatiana Cozzarelli and Julia Wallace | 
  • May 3, 2021

The CIA is making some changes. Not changes like ending their support of dictatorships or attempts to overthrow democratically elected governments. Rather, they are updating the packaging of their imperialism to seem more “woke.” An ad that was posted online showcases one of their “employees,” a first generation Ecuadorian child of immigrants. In a bizarre “woke” recruitment ad, the CIA uses the language of the movement to try to recruit people of color to their organization, a central pillar of U.S. imperialism.

The CIA agent featured in the video is wearing a T-shirt with a raised fist inside the symbol for female emblazoned above the word “Mija.” The video shows her laughing, walking confidently down the hall, and speaking in the rhythm and cadence of a spoken word poem.

“I am a woman of color”

“I am a cisgender millennial”

“I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder”

“I am intersectional”

“I am unapologetically me. I want you to be unapologetically you, whoever you are. Whether you work at CIA, or anywhere else in the world. Command your space. Mija, you are worth it.”

This video is the ultimate expression of neoliberal identity politics, of degraded institutions draping themselves in progressive language to keep the system entirely intact. And it highlights the complete bankruptcy of the language of individual empowerment — we need internationalist, socialist feminism. 

I Am Not Tragically Colored” 

This ad starts off with a voiceover quoting Zora Neal Hurston: “I am not tragically colored. There is no sorrow damned up in my soul.” And she’s right; being a woman of color is not a tragedy — it is a source of joy, community, and empowerment. And indeed, Hurston’s own writing has been a source of empowerment. But there is sorrow damned up in our souls — the sorrow of enslaved ancestors or the sorrow of imperialist violence. What imperialism and capitalism have done to our families and our communities is a tragedy — not an accident, but a product of imperialism and capitalism. Hurston’s own political views called on people of color to pull themselves up from their bootstraps — an oppressive ideology used by capitalism to ignore, repress, and stifle dissent, blaming oppressed people for our own oppression. 

Mentioning Hurston, a prolific Black woman writer, is meant to suggest that the CIA can be a vehicle for personal empowerment for people of color. This is of course what the CIA wants: that immigrants, Black folks, and women overcome the numerous and violent obstacles that the U.S. capitalist state has put in their way to become reinforcers of that system. There is nothing transgressive about working for the CIA. The CIA tours the world murdering and torturing the young activists who dare defy U.S. imperialism. This ad is resistance culture without the resistance.  

“Intersectional” Imperialism

Throughout the unbelievably cringeworthy commercial, the CIA agent proudly refers to herself being a “child of immigrants” — speaking about how she can belt “Guayaquil de mis amores” and also “wax eloquent” about “complex legal issues.” 

This characterization for the intent of propaganda — for the ad is objectively U.S. state propaganda — omits why immigrants come to the U.S. from Latin America in the first place. A large reason is U.S. imperialism held up by the CIA. The CIA has played a role in supporting death squads and dictatorships throughout Latin America for decades — from Nicaragua and Guatemala to Chile and Argentina. This led to people to flee their homes and the threat of death to come to the United States.

Furthermore, the CIA also participated indirectly in the distribution of cocaine throughout the United States as part of a deal to help fund the counterrevolutionary “contras” in Central America. This infusion of crack cocaine into poor communities of color and the resulting “war on drugs” meant the devastation Black and Latinx communities in the United States and the imperialist devastation of Latin America. This is the legacy of the CIA that they are trying to re-brand. 

In fact, it is reported that the CIA infiltrated governments, police, and non-profits to advance U.S. interests in Ecuador, where the ad’s alleged CIA agent is from, for the past 50 years. As part of Operación Condor, the CIA spearheaded the establishment of bloody dictatorships across Latin America, including in Ecuador, to quell any “communist threat” in Latin America.

In 1963, the United States. led a coup to oust the democratically elected president of Ecuador, Carlos Julio Arosemena Monroy, who refused to condemn the Cuban Revolution. In 1981, Jaime Roldós Aguilera, elected President of Ecuador in 1979, was mysteriously killed in a plane crash. Evidence points to his murder by the CIA. John Perkins, in his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, says that Roldós was assassinated, because he planned to reorganize the hydrocarbon sector of the Ecuadorian economy, which would have threatened U.S. interests. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The CIA hasn’t changed — it’s just been repackaged.

Imperialist domination of Ecuador continues. Just last year, a mass uprising in Ecuador erupted against austerity measures imposed by the IMF — another tool of U.S. imperialism.

Representation Ain’t Liberation

With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, capitalists have raced to adjust their rhetoric and act as though they are on the side of oppressed people. Amazon, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo have all donated to the Black Lives Matter Global Network. They want you to believe that racism is about individual bigots and individual bad cops — and similarly, that liberation comes from individuals breaking the glass ceiling. But while the money was flowing, the banks also targeted Black homeowners. Amazon fired Black worker Chris Smalls for demanding PPE at the height of the pandemic and crushed the unionization attempt by a majority Black workforce in Bessemer, Alabama. And so corporations and the CIA have dressed themselves literally and figuratively in radical language, all the while holding up the systemic racism and imperialism that are inherent to the capitalist system. 

The CIA clearly needs to improve its public perception. After all, BLM and Trump both took aim at the institutions of the “deep state,” and the public listened. With young people paying attention to the systemic problems of bigotry in the United States, the cheap pandering by the CIA is an attempt to let people of color know they are welcome to assist in imperialism and quelling uprisings around the world. This CIA agent is free to assist in oppression and to feel empowered for having reached one of the most powerful institutions in the world. Perhaps the CIA realizes that the old image of white guys in suits isn’t going to work. Perhaps an Ecuadorian child of immigrants with a disability using “woke” verbiage will be more convincing? 

The CIA’s cheap pandering to identity is intended to take the husk of a social movement and turn it a tool for murder. They are counting on young people not knowing or remembering the CIA killing socialists. This is the height of what Nancy Fraser dubbed progressive neoliberalism —  a “perverse, political alignment” made up of an “alliance of mainstream currents of new social movements (feminism, anti-racism, multiculturalism, and LGBTQ rights), on the one side, and high-end ‘symbolic’ and service-based business sectors (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood), on the other.” Progressive neoliberalism is meant to put working-class and oppressed people to sleep. It’s meant to give us empty words and symbols while at the same time governing for the capitalist class.

And that’s what the Biden administration is all about — representation and half-measures to try to restore faith in the system. The Biden administration boasts having the most diverse cabinet in U.S. history, including the first female, Black, and Asian vice president in US history. This representation is significant because of all the centuries of undemocratic violent bigotry that attacked Black people, women, and Asians. But having a Black Indian-American in the White House hasn’t made the Biden-Harris administration waive patents, which would save hundreds of thousands of Indian lives, decimated by the pandemic. Having a diverse cabinet and crocodile tears over “kids in cages” under Trump hasn’t stopped Biden from keeping Latinx kids in cages — kids who likely look just like our CIA agent’s children, who can also sing “Guayaquil de mis amores” but are currently being kept in overcrowded camps overseen by the Biden administration. 

As Jamal Jones said, “Representation Ain’t Liberation.” A child of Ecuadorian immigrants turned CIA agent won’t change the system because the system itself can accommodate tokenism. The CIA, the Biden administration, and the entire sociopolitical system will maintain racism, imperialism, and sexism, regardless of their “woke” language and token representatives. Oppression is inherent to and profitable for the functions of capitalism.

Internationalist Socialist Feminism

This CIA ad is in some ways a cautionary tale; even movements meant to empower and liberate can be co-opted and used by our oppressors if they are not firmly and deeply rooted in anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. That’s why we have to fight for internationalist, anti-imperialist, socialist feminism — a feminism that knows that pant suit #GirlBoss empowerment is a tool to strengthen the oppressive capitalist system, not to fight against it. Real liberation means fighting head on against the CIA, U.S. imperialism, and the capitalist state. 

It means siding not with a  CIA agent — even if they are the child of immigrants and mentally ill — but with the victims of the CIA all over the world. It means siding with the kids in cages at the U.S. border and the kids who lost their parents because the United States won’t release Covid patents. It means siding with the brave Ecuadorian — indigenous folks and youth — who fought the police, the government, and the IMF two years ago. It means fighting against all institutions of U.S. imperialism, from the IMF to the CIA. 

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Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana is a former middle school teacher and current Urban Education PhD student at CUNY.
Julia Wallace

Julia Wallace

Julia is a contributor for Left Voice and has been a revolutionary socialist for over ten years. She served on the South Central Neighborhood Council in Los Angeles and is a member of SEIU Local 721. Julia organizes against police brutality and in defense of LGBTQ, women, and immigrants' rights. When she's not actively fighting the patriarchy, white supremacy and/or capitalism, she enjoys many things: she loves Thundercat, plays ultimate frisbee and is a founder of the team, "Black Lives Hammer."

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