The fact that the author of a book about the CIA writes for the New York Times raises skepticism in some quarters, the ones where I live for example… confirmed in the writer’s ambivalence about the CIA’s mission and in his failure to highlight the Bush/Cheney role in having intelligence fabricated and tailored to suit their intention to attack Iraq, blaming instead the agency itself, and in his acceptance of “U.S. interests”, security “needs” and “enemies”. The “need” for intelligence on and operations against other countries is never questioned and the idea of conducting straight-forward, transparent relations with other nations seems never to occur to the writer. He accepts the use of the word “we” as if it refers to the people rather than a ruling elite. Despite these misgivings Tim Weiner exposes many unsavory CIA projects. A few highlights featuring both morally ugly practices and incompetence:
- CIA used gangsters in France and Italy, post-World War II., to disrupt unions — not terrorists, not criminals but UNIONS! Political parties not favored by the U.S. were disrupted with various sabotage and dirty tricks and those favored (right wing of course) were supported with bribes and other funding.
- CIA lavishly funded the Gehlan Group, (Gehlan was Hitler’s chief of military intelligence). The group of former SS eventually became West Germany’s intelligence agency. Gehlan’s counter intelligence chief turned out to be a Soviet mole, accounting for the failure of almost all CIA operations in post-war Eastern Europe. These operations included dropping what can only be called terrorists into Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe. The mole insured that nearly all of these infiltrators were either killed or used to feed disinformation back into the west. Imagine the response if the Soviet Union had been air-dropping saboteurs and terrorists into the U.S.
- CIA Chief of Counter Intelligence James Angleton, a serious alcoholic, was responsible for protecting against double-agents. He coordinated closely with high-ranking British Intelligence officer Kim Philby, also a serious alcoholic and long-time Soviet spy.
- CIA spent millions, at a time when a million was a chunk, buying fabricated and useless information from imaginative con-artists in Europe and Asia. Very few CIA officers spoke the language or had studied the culture of the countries they worked in.
- CIA overthrew a democratically elected parliamentary system in Iran (1954), installing the Shah and his secret police and torture chambers. A similar operation took place the same year in Guatemala, and the agency was complicit in democracy-undermining coups in Indonesia (1965), Brazil (1963), Chile (1973) and supported death squad governments in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, Cuba (before Castro)… a long list continuing today in Columbia, Honduras and an aborted coup in Venezuela.
- CIA Phoenix Program: an operation in Vietnam where bounties were paid on human beings; paid informers created lists of suspected communist sympathizers — a minimum of 20,000 Vietnamese were tortured, killed or assassinated.
- CIA assassination stories were leaking during congressional investigations in 1975 so President Gerald Ford called a meeting of the editors and publisher of the NY Times to explain that public discussions of CIA history would ruin the reputations of every president since Truman and not serve the “national interest”. This makes sense only if you consider it in the “national interest” of a democracy to keep the people (voters) in the dark about criminal activities of its government.
- CIA torture and rendition-for-torture in Iraq and Afghanistan (on-going) with the prohibition against spying on U.S. citizens lifted (not for the first time).
The ideologues in the agency and their supporters/enablers in Congress and the media, seemed never to be troubled by the gross contradictions between U.S. rhetoric around “freedom and democracy” and the consistent siding with undemocratic regimes and forces throughout their history. This apparent puzzle evaporates once one realizes that, to them, the “enemy” is not brutality, dictatorship, tyranny but the appearance of any organized alternative to capitalism. Apparently insecure in their belief that free people would or should always choose “the market” over any alternative economic system, any alternative “threat” must be smashed. Though they were unable to completely stem the tide in Western Europe they did limit the “damage” and were wildly successful in many other parts of the world. State opposition to U.S. workers organizing in the early twentieth century, where National Guard and police were assigned to take the side of owners against workers, is an insightful domestic parallel revealing the actual values behind the rhetoric of what Chomsky calls the servants of power.