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Welcome to Spookland: Tricks of the Trade of the CIA

by Steve Mizrach
Posted Oct. 19, 2006

Origin and Function of the CIA: The "Cult of Intelligence"

The CIA was created at the outset of the Cold War by Truman's National Security Act of 1947. That Act was a response to Yalta, and to the general pervasive fear that, after WW II, the greatest threat to world peace was the communists. The CIA was mostly formed out of the reorganized OSS (Office of Strategic Services) which coordinated espionage and intelligence activities against the Nazis. (However, anti-communism was an overarching concern for the new agency, which enlisted some of its old enemies against a previous ally: many former Nazis functionaries, such as Richard Gehlen, were enlisted into the CIA spy network in Eastern Europe.) The mission the CIA was expressly charged with was the centralization and coordination of all the data from the intelligence agencies of the government - namely, those associated with the branches of the military service; and after 1952, the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Reconaissance Office, and the intelligence activities of the Atomic Energy Commission, State Department, Treasury Department, and Justice Department.

The CIA was also granted in 1952 sweeping "other" powers besides merely the gathering of intelligence. And despite the fact that it was created for that purpose, due to counterintelligence and countermeasures, the CIA has only been able to get minor information, mostly from serendipitous occasions, such as getting their hands on a defector that was not a "plant." Despite the glamourizations of the spy trade in James Bond movies, the truth is that field operatives can only get so much information on troop movements, weapons stockpiles, and the intentions of foreign leaders. For that reason, the CIA has relied ever increasingly on electronic techniques; but spy sattelites, wiretaps, and spy planes are subject to electronic (and other) countermeasures. It has often been demonstrated in the past that the CIA took intelligence and distorted it to support the policy inclinations of its Director or the current Commander-in-Chief, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Reams of data are collected by the agency every day, much more than anyone can ever process, and no one coordinates what to do with the humongous piles of uncracked ciphers and unprocessed intelligence.

Perhaps because of the limitations of 'intelligence,' or in spite of them, the CIA has chosen to excel in an entirely different area: covert operations. The CIA has become a secret branch of the President's foreign policy apparatus, able to act where he cannot do things openly, because the CIA does not have to answer questions from the press. All agents agree that, when necessary, they will lie to anyone, including Congressional Oversight committees, in the interests of 'national security.' This policy, called "plausible denial," goes hand-in-hand with the fact that every agent must sign a contract agreeing not to reveal anything 'sensitive' that they learned during their service without the CIA's prior consent. To the "imperial presidency", the CIA became seen as a 'can-do' agency, because unlike any other part of the government, they had full control over their own budget and operations - they answered to nobody. This is part of what Victor Marchetti called the 'theology of national security,' maintained through the 'cult of intelligence.' It is a theology of salvation through duty to country - and adherents of the ritual believe all sins may be forgiven them.

The CIA has always maintained that all its secrecy and "clandestine mentality" are part of its efforts to keep vital secrets out of the hands of America's enemies. They claim that disclosure of their activities might jeopardize agents in the field and also destroy many important efforts of foreign policy, because CIA-controlled foreign agents would be revealed as such to their own people. As far as they are concerned, freedom of the press and freedom of information take a back seat, because any secrets given up are secrets betrayed into the hands of the enemy. Of course, to many others, all this secrecy is just a way for the CIA to hide its activities from the criticism of the American people, in the name of national security. But the art of the spook trade is like a poker game: know as much as you can about your enemy while giving the least away. In a world where anybody can be working for the other side - and paranoia is never in short supply in the halls of Langeley - you can't trust anybody, and anything is fair game. "Black operations" are necessary, 'cause we gotta do it to 'em before they do it to us. That is the commandment at the heart of the cult of intelligence and its spookly apostles.

The CIA, whose chief sphere of operations during the Cold War was to be the Soviet Union and China, made much of its actual focus the developing or "Third World." It was there that the CIA flexed its political muscle, recruited its hired hands, and interfered in other peoples' business, all the while pretending to be aiming its operations against the other threatening "superpowers." Unfortunately, the KGB was as good at the game as the CIA, and for that reason the CIA was never able to score very many successes in either the intelligence or covert operations field - which is why they made the Third World, an area the U.S. has always been better at pushing around, their chief focus of activity. Most Third World nations were no real security threat to the United States, but the CIA could always claim that there was the danger of their falling into the "Soviet sphere of influence." The CIA's goals in the developing world were really based on other factors: strategic interests (military bases, listening posts, naval ports), material interests (natural resources and trade goods), and economic interests (protecting the property of multinational U.S. corporations such as United Fruit, IT&T, and Exxon.) Democracy and freedom necessarily took a back seat.

Here on Our Shores: Domestic Operations
Despite its mandate to handle 'foreign' threats, the CIA has never kept its hands off domestic groups right here in the U.S. Its policy of persecution of such groups has always been based from the belief that they are the tools of foreign manipulation. And why not? If the CIA was manipulating Eastern European organizations during the rebellions of the Prague Spring, it figured the KGB was just as likely to be behind the revolutionary groups here in the U.S. Finding those links pointing to Soviet support was a pretty hard task (because there were none), but it never kept the Agency from its dirty work. Despite the fact that some of the groups, like the Trotskyist SWP, openly eschewed Soviet communism, the CIA could never accept the fact that such organizations were "homegrown" developments of dissent and discontent. They had to be getting their financing from abroad, thought the spookmasters...

During the late 60s, the CIA frequently recruited young men to infiltrate 'subversive' (generally antiwar) groups as agents provocateurs . These infiltrators were to try and agitate the groups and get them to surrender their nonviolent tactics for more militant ones. As part of the joint COINTELPRO effort with the FBI, the CIA maintained wiretaps, 'bugging' devices, hidden tape recorders, and other gimmicks for the invasion of privacy at the premises of the meeting places of many of these groups. Files were maintained on important (but potentially 'threatening') citizens such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Tom Hayden. Anybody who was a potential troublemaker of whistleblower soon would discover how the CIA used its relationship with other government agencies (such as the IRS)... and find his or her credit rating slashed, employee record blacklisted, bank account frozen, incoming mail opened, and careers ruined. If they were authors, they might soon discover publishers avoiding them like the Plague; if they were film directors or producerers, they might find their projects suddenly 'cancelled.' You tangle with the Company at your own peril.

The groups that the COINTELPRO effort targeted primarily were the Socialist Workers' Party, the Black Panther Party, and the Young Communist League. Radical, revolutionary, militant, and communist organizations were the initial targets; but liberal, socialist, pacifist, and reformist groups (like Ralph Nader's) often found themselves under scrutiny as well. Often immigrants to the U.S. were monitored for possible ideological or other connections to 'hostile' foreign governments or to 'terrorist' organizations, and lost their right of residency (and speech) in the U.S. when they were suspected of 'un-American' sentiments. (Nixon's "plumbers" squad had some former CIA men on it, and they focused primarily on Nixon's real and perceived enemies, including columnist Jack Anderson, who received death threats.) The CIA found clever ways of discrediting organizations (such as the American Indian Movement) by 'framing' their leaders for crimes they did not commit or creating false trails to violent incidents and terrorist organizations.

"Center for International Assassination": Attempts on Poltical Leaders
The assassination attempts that the CIA made on Fidel Castro in the 1960s - including using a poisoned cigar and Cuban exile 'hit squads' like Alpha 66 - are fairly well known. But the CIA has tried to kill other foreign leaders - in direct violation of the Geneva Convention and other articles of international law - when it felt them to be a sufficient 'threat' to U.S. interests. Other attempted victims included President Nasser of Egypt and Kim Il Sung of North Korea in the 1950s. The CIA provided names of prominent members of the Communist party of Indonesia in the 1960s to paramilitary forces under General Suharto, who killed some 60,000. In a similar operation called Project Phoenix, the CIA and South Vietnamese security forces may have killed some 12,000 VietCong leaders in North and South Vietnam. Prominent terrorists, such as Abu Nidal, have been on the CIA's 'hit list' for a long time, but they are tough 'marks' for killing due to their great mobility. The reason why many of us haven't heard much of this is that the CIA is not above murdering journalists, when that becomes necessary.

But did the CIA conspire to kill U.S. officials right here at home? Might they have even murdered a president? Jim Garrison's investigation of the Kennedy Assassination revealed many potential links between the CIA, Cuban exiles, and the Mafia, who all hated Kennedy for different reasons. Richard Helms finally admitted in 1974 that one part of Garrison's investigation, Clay Shaw, was indeed a CIA operative. The CIA hated Kennedy because in one of his executive orders, he issued a presidential directive to put the CIA under joint military and civilian control. In the wake of the bay of pigs fiasco, Kennedy threatened to seek detente with the USSR and Cuba, and "break the CIA into a thousand pieces." It is clear that the CIA knew Oswald pretty well, enough to be sending him money some months before November 1963; and other principals in the Garrison investigation had connections, as well. Jack Ruby may have helped the CIA run guns into Cuba on some trips there, and Guy Banister was with the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), which often worked closely with the CIA. If there was a conspiracy to kill the President, then the CIA was almost surely part of it. Some "assassination researchers" have also found curious CIA links to the King and Robert Kennedy, Jr. slayings, as well, where there are some hints of suspicious activity.

The CIA rarely dirties its own hands with something as messy and jeopardizing as assassination. Often, mercenaries and contract agents are maintained for such actions. When the CIA does get personally involved, it tries to make the death of the victim appear to be as much of an 'accident' as possible, through the use of poisons and other 'invisible' techniques. Weapons training of all kinds is standard for field operatives, but the best of the black ops are trained in the more subtle means of killing. The preferred method for killing foreign leaders is to get their own countrymen to pull off the execution - then the CIA can attempt to wash its hands of the whole matter. Thus, the CIA trains, advises, and equips many of the paramilitary 'death squads' of El Salvador and Guatemala, while claiming to have nothing to do with them. There are often very few international inquiries into the deaths of guerilla leaders, no matter how suspicious the circumstances...

The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: Mind Control Research
Ostensibly, the agency began its MKULTRA project with the search for nothing more than the perfect truth serum. Such a drug would set intelligence light years ahead, and deal with the headaches posed by defectors, spies, and double agents. In its quest for The "Truth Drug", the CIA would use in the 1950s just about every chemical that the counterculture would turn to a decade later - Albert Hoffman's LSD, Gordon Wasson's 'Magic Mushroom' psilocybin, and marijuana. It was thought that such drugs could 'destabilize' the personality enough to elicit confessions or even whole changes of belief structures (deprogramming.) Then came the revelations from Korea of American soldiers producing taped confessions renouncing "the wars of imperialist regimes" and their citizenship. A Miami Herald article written by a CIA disinformant attempted to solve the mystery of how red-blooded American boys could turn against their country. And it coined a new word taken from a Korean translation: "brainwashing."

The CIA had always used the same methods of coercion as the KGB: sexual entrapment; blacklisting; 'framing' people for uncommitted crimes; or outright physical torture. But there was no foolproof method for assuring that confessions were true; no polygraph test was 100% certain, and even then the information could be 'planted.' Along with the technological supremacy of the United States came a belief in the omnipotence of science. So the CIA was eager to test the powers of technology in new realms. Spy sattelites and electronic bugs were great information gatherers. But the realm of 'human intelligence' still demanded more innovations. Further, new chemical agents could facilitate covert warfare: the CIA thought that "dusting" a crowd with LSD could pacify them; and they experimented with other drugs that might alter the emotions, including the hallucinogen BZ which created paranoid delusions and rage toward the nearest people. In a paramilitary situation, use of such tactics could be devastating.

For a while, the CIA thought that LSD might be the ultimate Spook Drug. They tested it on unsuspecting army privates; put it in the food of federal prisoners; gave it to people visiting prostitutes in hotel rooms; (while watching from behind a see-through two-way mirror in the next room - Operation Twilight Climax) and even put in drinking water, 'just to see what would happen.' Methods of delivery were often comical: such as the time when they tried to spray a convention of foreign dignitaries with an LSD aerosol, with little success (it dissipated too quickly.) Eventually, they found it too 'unpredictable,' but one maverick agent, Ronald Stark, may have been instrumental in getting LSD onto the street black market, and thence making it a staple for the 'counterculture' of the period. Martin A. Lee and Norman O. Solomon note the curious cultural politics of LSD in their recent book, and point out the curious connection of the CIA to some of the early acid gurus at Millbrook.

It is always the case in the echelons of national security that when the enemy is believed to have a capability that it becomes a priority to beat them to the punch. Hence, the CIA attempted to create its own Manchurian Candidate, someone who could literally be 'reprogrammed' to kill Communist leaders or even have his ideology and loyalty switched. In its search for mind control, the CIA found willing allies in the academic behaviorist psychological establishment. Tired of controlling salivating dogs, running rats, and flying pigeons, the behaviorists were beginnning to look into the possibility of controlling human behavior. J.B. Watson and his successor B.F. Skinner looked toward a Clockwork Orange world where antisocial behavior could be completely eliminated. Delgado impressed the world by stopping a bull in its tracks with a pair of electrodes and a handheld transmitter; what was on everybody's minds was... what next?

The head of the American Psychological Association, a behaviorist named Donald Cameron, was internationally recognized for his work in 'psychic driving'. He was searching for a technique of wiping the mind 'clean', making it a tabula rasa , so that new beliefs could be implanted. Originally he was only interested in using this technique to 'cure' the mentally ill. But the CIA's head of TSS (Technical Support Services), Sid Gottlieb, saw other possibilities, as did his colleague Morse Allen. Cameron used a variety of techniques ranging from sensory deprivation (also taken up eagerly by countercultural figures, including John Lilly) to electroshock, hallucinogens, isolation, and bombardment by radiofrequency waves, to 'treat' his subjects. The CIA could provide Cameron with what he was lacking: subjects. People from marginal sectors of society like prisoners, drug addicts, prostitutes, the homeless, and deviants. It was assumed that these people had nowhere to turn to and were the least possible security risk.

The irony of medical torture being used to assist a regime was not lost on Cameron's colleagues, such as neurologist William Sargant, who still remembered the Hippocratic Oath, and the statements of the Nazi doctors at the Nuremberg trials. Cameron also was unable to provide the success that the Agency wanted: he could lobotomize his patients and turn them into virtual zombies, but he couldn't manage to return them as functioning members of society with new personalities. The human spirit just remained too damn slippery for the Scottish doctor. In the post-Kennedy shakeup of 1964, Cameron lost his MKULTRA funding. LSD had slipped out of the hands of the controllers and into the uncontrollable rebellious hippies. The Agency saw the need to practice damage control in a new post-Dulles era.

MKULTRA was renamed MKSearch and placed under the control of ORD (Operations Research & Development.) The new agenda became more focused on direct brain stimulation and hypnosis. Neurologist Wilder Penfield showed that patients could recall vividly past memories when areas of their brain were stimulated. What, the Agency wondered, could they achieve if they could use electrical stimulation of the brain to cause a man to hallucinate that his beloved leader was his worst enemy? Could hypnosis create a 'sleeper' who could be 'activated' to carry out a mission five years down the road after being 'triggered' by a word or signal and perform it with no recall of his action? These experiments also met with highly limited success. A Cuban exile was hypnotized and told he would kill Castro when he heard the word "cigar." Before being brought out of the trance, he was told Castro was in the room. The hypnotist then said the word "cigar." The Cuban politely replied, "Sorry, I don't smoke." The Cuban dictator would survive yet another attempt to rub him out.

Perhaps in desperation, in the 1970s the Agency would turn to the occult. Telepaths were asked to try and read minds and even place suggestions into them. Clairvoyants and fortunetellers were consulted for their usability in intelligence-gathering. Palmists and phrenologists were asked for their techniques of personality assessment. Could easily controllable people be found by their palms? One project even looked into the links between eye color and mental illness. Victims of multiple-personality disorder or those claiming to be 'spirit possessed' were studied. In the Vacaville prison, famous for its detention of Prof. Timothy Leary, weird experiments were performed with altered consciousness which made even the king of 'trippers' worry. The Devil was alive and well and working in Langeley.

The Doping of America: The CIA and the Drug Trade
During the same period of its LSD experiments, it was well known that the CIA was involved with the drug merchants of the 'Golden Triangle' who were smuggling in much of the United States' heroin supply. Some opium was also entering the U.S. from Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the CIA at the least turned a "blind eye" toward the drug trade. The CIA has never stopped looking the other way when drug dealers have had the right politics - they also had connections with the Medellin cocaine cartel in the early 80s, who at the time where providing information on the Communist insurgency in the region. While the DEA was busy busting narco-traffickers, the CIA often kept many of them (such as General Manuel Noriega) on its payroll. Many insurgent groups supported by the CIA - including RENAMO, the Contras, and the Afghan mujaheddin - engaged in drug trafficking with the U.S., to pay for U.S.-built arms and materiel. There is some evidence to suggest that the CIA may have even been flying in the drugs for them, on their return flights to the U.S. (!) The fact that many of the 'freelance' mercenaries employed by the agency (a la Soldier of Fortune) often "part-time" to train the private security forces of the traffickers is not a complete coincidence.

But the CIA, while undermining the official policy of the DEA through its own covert policy, never lost sight of the propaganda value of the War on Drugs. That "war" allowed a much more open use of military force in Latin American countries such as Peru and Colombia, where there was virtual 'civil war' between the narco-traffickers and the government. However, the American 'foreign policy establishment' tried to portray a different picture, suggesting that it was the guerillas and rebels in those countries - such as the Shining Path or other Marxist groups - that were doing the trafficking, with the complicity of countries such as Nicaragua and Cuba, who allowed overflights of drug-bearing planes. Rather than going after the big cartels and their processing plants, the CIA has often cooperated with the Peruvian army to go after coca-growing peasant villages, suspected of being hotbeds of 'subversive' activity. It is entirely possible that many revolutionary groups are engaged in the drug trade, but the lion's share comes in from the vast organizations and distribution networks created by the drug cartel heads, many of whom are former important "agribusiness" leaders who got support from the CIA-backed Agency of International Development (AID).

One might wonder, of course, why the CIA, which is so concerned with the subversive effects of foreign influences on our great nation, assists other countries to ply their drug trade here. The answer is chilling, but any inner-city resident can tell you why: crack in in the 'hood keeps the poor killing each other (the incessant 'gang wars' over drug turf) rather than going after their real enemies - "divide and conquer." You can't demand your rights or freedoms when you're enslaved to drugs, or think about your oppression when you're strung out on crack. Many radical black groups, such as the Nation of Islam, call upon black youth to stay drug-free. It's not just for silly moralistic purposes, a la "Just Say No." They realize that drugs are a tool of the shadow government to keep people in the inner-city down and out, and also that the "War on Drugs" gives government an excuse to throw our civil liberties out the window and use police-state tactics to fight the 'drug epidemic' their own CIA brought here.

In the Name of Democracy: Covert Operations and Interventions
The CIA has never had a problem with overthrowing democratically elected governments, especially when they democratically decide to do something that the Agency considers not to be in the U.S.'s interests. Michael Manley in Jamaica, Salvador Allende in Chile, and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala were three leaders overthrown by CIA-led insurgencies. The CIA has also provided covert support for rebel groups such as RENAMO in Mozambique, the Contras in Nicaragua, the Afghan mujaheddin , the Kurds in Iraq, and the Inkatha Zulu party in South Africa. The current president of Nicaragua, Violeta Chamorro, was also on the CIA payroll when she was publishing La Prensa , urging her people to overthrow the Sandinistas. Many of the paramilitary coup d'etats in South America were supported by the CIA, including the takeover by the generals in Paraguay and Argentina. The CIA also supported some 30,000 Meo tribe mercenaries in Laos in the 1960s, as well as other soldiers of fortune, to destabilize the existing regime. Of course, the CIA has done their best to tamper with undemocratic governments as well, but with less success - agents of the CIA were wandering through Tibet in the 1950s, doing their best in whip the Tibetans into a bloody revolt against the Chinese. And several unsuccessful invasions of Cuba have been attempted in the wake of the original Bay of Pigs Fiasco, by CIA-armed Cuban exile brigades such as Alpha 66.

But overt, naked, military force can often jeopardize the CIA, especially when it fails and their role in the action stands revealed. For that reason, they often utilize more 'subtle' methods to destabilize governments. They have stuck their fingers in many elections and 'rigged' them to produce a more 'beneficial' result. To make governments more unopopular with their people, they have also used economic sabotage - they tried to ruin a whole years' sugar crop from Cuba by coating it with an unpalatable substance; and for years in East Germany they attempted to sour milk, disrupt mining activity, sabotage factories, and ruin other productive industries. Another technique is to use propraganda and disinformation - they spread false stories about the regime, especially here in the U.S. and the presses of its allies, in the hope that other nations will stop trading with the country. The CIA also uses techniques to reduce the charisma and appeal of foreign (especially revolutionary/anti-US) leaders - at one point, they tried to make the beard of Fidel Castro fall out, as if that was somehow the source of some Samson-like power for him!

That is their "negative" policy. But when they want to support pro-capitalist or pro-United States political parties, they often use other techniques. They provide "political advice and counsel," which we might call "spin doctoring" here in the U.S., to make those parties more palatable. Sometimes they give financial assistance to those parties covertly, or subsidies to important individuals. Other times they try and support private organizations like trade unions, business firms, and "think tanks" that are willing to 'lobby' for better relations with the U.S. Occasionally there is even "private" training and coaching of opposition leaders here in the United States, and carefully crafted exchange programs. Many of the organizations who exist ostensibly to aid and support democracy and development in the Third World - like the Foundation for Democracy - are CIA fronts who really support anti-communist regimes, even if they are basically undemocratic and under military rule. Pro-U.S. regimes like ARENA in El Salvador and the PRI Nationalist Party of Mexico often receive "technical" assistance from the CIA in managing the affairs of their country - especially as regards 'unruly' peasants and the possibility of insurrection.

The irony of using undemocratic means to 'protect democracy' has not been lost on many commentators. In many cases, the leftist leaders overthrown by the CIA were elected in fair and popular elections, and were not even inclined to allowing Soviet hemispheric ambitions into their country; but the CIA did not believe that, and certainly tried to convince others that that was a real danger. The CIA feels it has some god-given right, somehow, to interfere with the affairs of other nations; while at the same time supposedly carrying out its mission of blocking such infiltrations right here at home. How would the American people react if they found out that the KGB was interfering in our democracy? They shouldn't cry foul, then, when countries protest when the CIA does the same thing in trampling on their national sovereignty. While the Peace Corps was trying to nudge the Third World toward a pro-U.S. attitude, the CIA was doing its best to turn them into the other camp by playing the "ugly American."

Keeping Company with the Company: Friends of the CIA
The CIA has many controversial friends. Over the years, it has maintained many ties with the Mafia and organized crime, and it is very likely that Mob hit men have done contract work for the CIA in the past. Another group that it has frequently been involved with has been the international arms traders, like Adnan Khashoggi. Such arms dealers have turned up in countries with very flimsy explanations as to their presence there... inevitably with some CIA equipment for sale. True to their business, the arms dealers will often sell to both sides of a conflict - for example, arming both Iran and Iraq during their long war. One tie the CIA has worked hard to maintain over the years is with the Vatican, for obvious reasons. In the world of gathering intelligence you need to spread your tentacles far; who better to pick up some juicy info then a priest hearing Confession? The CIA has many connections to the para-Jesuit order Opus Dei and also to the Sovereign and Military Order of the Knights of Malta (the order descended from the Knights Hospitaller of St. John, kicked off the isle of Malta by Napoleon's troops.) Several CIA officials, including Bill Casey, have been made honorary members of this Catholic order. Needless to say, the CIA has had no problem making friends with prominent dictators, such as Pinochet, "Baby Doc" Duvalier, Marcos, the Pahlevi Shah, Somoza, General Franco, and, until 1989, Noriega in Panama and Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

But is there really a connection between the CIA and "international fascism" as some more conspiratorially-minded individuals have suggested? It does appear that the CIA was involved in some of the shady right-wing intrigues of Europe, including the whole P2 Masonic affair in Italy. Also, the group connected to Pope John Paul II's attempted assassination, the Gray Wolves, is part of a fascist "Black International" which is linked closely to the Reverend Moon's organization and Gen. Singlaub's World Anti-Communist League, which have been known to work with the CIA. There are those who think that the CIA was part of Project Paperclip, which smuggled ex-Nazi scientists and S.S. officials into this country to spy on Russia or develop rocket technology, or that it assisted the right-wing generals in South America to hide Nuremberg war criminals from international justice in exchange for what information could be gleaned on Soviet military forces. Some U.S. far-right groups are actually as paranoid about the CIA and its 'internationalist' agenda as they are about the Trilateral Commission or the Council for Foreign Relations, so it is doubtful that the CIA works with them...

It's not always clear where the CIA stands in the shifting sands of international politics: they can and do switch sides and double-cross their "friends." The CIA supported the Kurds from 1975-79 in their war for independence from Iraq, but when the Ayatollah Khoemini came to power in Iran, he was perceived as a greater threat. Keeping Saddam Hussein in power to 'buffer' Iraq took precedence over the Kurds' rights, and they were abdandoned to his savage response. Then, when Khoemini died and Hussein invaded Kuwait, the U.S. turned against Hussein, who they had been arming for the past eight years. Following the 'liberation' of Kuwait, the U.S. invited the Kurds to rebel yet again, only to abandon them to Saddam Hussein's forces once more. Having been double-crossed twice, I am sure that the Kurds will run the other way the next time the CIA comes around with some scheme. It is not suprising that the only 'friends' the CIA has are people who are equally as untrusting of others, and untrustworthy, as it is in its affairs - mercenaries, soldiers of fortune, cutthroats, adventurers, and other spy agencies such as the Israeli Mossad.

The CIA and the KGB often get involved with complex games with each other - games so elaborate and pointless that, as one commentator has noted, it seems that they are jokes for their benefit and at our expense. In the cloak-and-dagger world of Spookland, anything is fair game. The CIA has had 'sleepers' placed in many countries - these agents often going over to live in those countries for months or even years under some cover before they are finally 'activated' to carry out some mission. In order to 'sting' KGB operatives, the CIA has often leaked all kinds of false documents to people in order to 'weed' out their contacts, even involving people who really should not be under any suspicion. What goes on in the Soviet and American embassies would almost be funny if it were not such a waste of taxpayer money. The CIA has often gone to elaborate lengths to embarass their enemies, including taking pictures of them visiting brothels or other compromising situations. Nonetheless, these games are often carried out with a spirit of comraderie. After all, the CIA and the KGB had a mutual interest in keeping the Cold War going, because it kept them in business. That made them the strangest 'friends' of all, but after all, politics does make strange bedfellows.

Cloak and Gown: The CIA and College Campuses
The nation was shocked by a series of revelations in 1967 that the CIA was connected to the National Student Association. It was revealed in a series of articles that the CIA often maintained professors as recruiting agents on college campuses who were to keep their eyes out for students who would make good potential Company cadres. As a result, many campuses moved to bar the CIA from recruiting their students; but the confidential informal networks between the administration and faculty and the CIA often remained, and were used to send more recruits the Agency's way. Some of the young agents hired in this way were used to infiltrate campus leftist groups and spy on them, or to "plant" stories in the campus newsletter, or to found Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapters where the CIA could easily locate future allies. Many universities discovered, to their discomfort, that CIA-connected professors were often taking a cue on their curriculum from the Agency, and saw it as threat to academic freedom. Student leftists often tried to 'out' those professors and get them fired.

The CIA has also used funds from its Science & Technology Directorate to subsidize academic research projects. Many academic behaviorists received those funds for their research into human-behavior control. But academic research into covert warfare technology - remember Bond's amazingly lethal devices - was also supported as well, in addition to the general DoD funding of projects such as SDI. Much of the early LSD research - in the pre-Leary era - was controlled by academics working for the CIA as well. Amazingly, there were some CIA links to the 1969 University of Colorado investigation of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). Some UFO buffs feel that this may be because the CIA still suspects that UFOs are "some foreign power's secret air force," and they wanted to throw other people off the trail of their investigation... but others think this is because the CIA is doing research into the 'psychological warfare' aspects of utilizing UFO 'true believers' and they want to throw them off this trail as well.

Certainly, the CIA was carrying out clandestine activity at many U.S. universities in strategic locations. The University of Miami in the early 1960s was an important staging base for many of its operations against Cuba. Jim Jones, the cult leader who had his Peoples' Temple followers commit suicide in the jungles of Guiana, may have been part of a CIA operation within the University of California system focusing on psychological warfare. Even today there are people who wonder whether Jones was just crazy or if he was really following orders. Some international universities, especially those in equatorial Africa, are used for training local, native henchmen and agents, much as the KGB trains its African operatives as Patrice Lumumba Friendship University. The CIA has always felt it a priority to get the true WASP bluebloods into the Company, by recruiting the sons of "well-bred" families at Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale. Changing demographics and political winds have caused the Agency to focus its efforts much more on recruiting from midwestern and southern schools.

The Secret Government: Banks, Guns, and Shadow Proprietaries
The "Enterprise," as it was called, was a joint effort during the 1980s between the NSA, CIA, and DIA to go over Congress' policy in Central America. As the Christic Institute has pointed out, the 'Shadow' government behind the 'Enterprise' has been active for 25 years, and the recent Iran-Contra hearings have only scratched its surface, grabbing its more visible members such as North, Secord, and Poindexter. The "Enterprise' was to sell arms to Iranian 'moderates' in order to raise funds to support the Nicaraguan Contras, whose aid had been reduced to a minimal level in 1985. Links to the Islamic Republic were not hard to find since the 'moderate' contacts made by Reagan's "October Surprise" Team (which included Bill Casey) in 1980 were all too eager to accept our weapons in their war with Iraq. It was thought, somewhat erroneously, that these 'moderates' had some connection to the Shiite groups in Lebanon who were holding Americans hostage, and that they could obtain their release. The "Enterprise" also was involved with some attempted bombings right here in the U.S., and sabotage efforts against groups opposing U.S. Central America policy, such as the Pledge of Resistance and the Christic Institute. Bill Moyers called the Iran-Contra hearings a "Constitutional Crisis," much as some people called Watergate 20 years earlier... but they did not result in the resignation of a president.

It turns out that unscrupulous businessmen, like Stefan Halper and Harvey D. MacLean, Jr., who founded the Palmer National Bank in 1983, used deregulation in order to make loans to ex-CIA operatives involved in funding the Contras. Much of the S & L swindle, it turns out, may have turned up in the hands of the CIA. Halper, not unsurprisingly, was one of the individuals who helped set up Oliver North's defense fund. Other banks, such as Robert L. Corson's Vision Banc Savings, were involved in the 'laundering' of money connected with Noriega... and the Houston bank went under four months after Corson took ownership. The "vanishing money" in the Iran-Contra scandal went, in part, to secret Swiss accounts belonging to its principals - but at this point it intertwines with another recent scandal, involving the Bank of Commerce and Credit, International (BCCI). BCCI has been branded an 'outlaw' bank for its supports of brutal Middle East regimes, but one of its big trading partners, it seems, was the CIA, as well. Yet another banking scandal - the Banco Ambrosiano scandal, where millions of dollars disappeared from the Vatican Bank into the pockets of "G-d's Banker," Roberto Calvi, has CIA written all over it... Licio Gelli and his Italian organization may have worked with the CIA to frame the Communists in a train station bombing in Italy in 1980.

The CIA has a rather remarkable 'financial empire.' Despite the fact that it is the only government agency with a totally unmonitored 'black budget' - they can spend as they see fit (within set limits) - it is also the only one that annually turns a profit! That is because it maintains many 'shadow proprietaries,' commercial enterprises that operate "up-front" operations until the point where they are called on to do CIA business. Some of those proprietaries include major airlines, such as Pacific Air and its subsidiary Air America, and trade organizations (such as the International Trade Mart) that are really used for covert operations coordination. These shadow companies are maintained tightly and squeaky-clean (and often turn over a hefty profit) until their covert support becomes necessary. It is well known that the CIA brass reguarly invest much of the Agency's money in stocks and risky investments rather than the generally tame security bonds issued by the government. It isn't just James Bond who believes in gambling... the CIA feels that financial independence is an important key to remaining free of government oversight.

Conclusions: What Future for Shadow-Politics?
Robert Gates, who became Director of Central Intelligence recently over questions that he (like other illustrious predecessors) distorted intelligence to support policy, declared that the Agency would be taking "new directions." In the post-Cold War world, the Agency would focus on "new threats." Two new sources identified as potential threat sources were Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism in the Middle East, and economic 'warfare' on the part of ostensible U.S. 'allies' such as Germany and Japan. In addition, Bush had directed Gates to marshal the CIA's resources to curtail the proliferation of "weapons of mass destruction" - chemical, biological, and nuclear devices. (That is ironic, in light of the U.S. refusal to sign chemical weapons accords in the 1970s and its own huge nuclear arsenal.) Industrial espionage and sabotage were to be part of the new focus of the Agency - but, needless to say, the Company will probably do more than just prevent foreign powers from doing it to us: they will try to "do it to them before they do it to us." If Japan can steal our technological secrets, well, surely there must be ways the cult of intellligence can beat them at their own game? Gates seems to think so.

The founding fathers enjoined their nascent republic to constant vigilance against its enemies. There is vigilance, and then there is paranoia. One can be on guard against danger, or one can go out of their way to see enemies where there aren't any. The Pentagon has always profitting by overestimating the size and capability of American enemies, and the CIA knows the value of that game as well - lest their budget fall to the cutback axe as well! The CIA simply cannot handle a world without enemies, without people ready for a double-cross. Once you're part of the spook trade, it becomes impossible to see things any other way. And if the CIA doesn't have communism as a scapegoat, it may have to create something else to fulfill its role as the justifier of its actions, and find another sparring partner altogether in the absence of the KGB. No federal bureaucracy ever mandates itself out of existence, saying "Hey, our job's done, we can go home!" And if most small government bureaucracies are reluctant to cease their self-promotion and perpetuation, consider the Agency, which is a multibillion dollar organization with some 16,000 admitted employees...

But if the CIA isn't willing to pack its bags and go home, perhaps it is time for Congress to act. The National Security Act of 1947 should be revoked, or at least have many of its provisions changed severely. The CIA should be turned back into what it was meant to be, an intelligence-processing center with lots of number-cruching bureaucrats, like elsewhere in Washington. But Clandestine Services and Covert Operations are fossils, and should be scrapped. The "black ops" should be retired. Spying in peacetime - in the absence of a clear and present threat - should be illegal. But most certainly interference with the democratic processes of other countries should be made illegal, especially paramilitary exercises. The shadow government's covert policy has often been at open odds with the stated public policy of the elected government in many areas, putting us in the position of considerable distrust by the rest of the world. In a free society, foreign policy should be as open and democratic as domestic policy. If the President wants to aid nations that have democratic values and protect human rights, or to sanction or use military force against those countries that are true threats to the United States or its allies (and not just ruled with a form of government we don't like), let him openly ask for the support of the American people, not go behind their backs.

There will always be a need to gather intelligence about the military capabilities of other nations, and for a center to coordinate the gathering of that intelligence. Such a center would really know when a country was preparing for war or invasion, and how to plan a response. The CIA's dismal failure in predicting Iraq's aggression against Kuwait shows that it is not competent for that task. And it is not competent because since 1952 it has gained proficiency in all the "black operations" to the detriment of improving intelligence techniques. The CIA must be "broken in a thousand pieces," as Kennedy wanted, and built anew, into something that will not be a disgrace to American principles and ideals. That new agency will address real concerns to national security, and not chase after phantoms. And it will take a sea change in the government to bring about a "new" CIA; but such a sea change is well overdue.

Steve Mizrach


The CIA: Criminals in Action (July 15, 2008)


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