In January 22, 1946, President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order setting up a National Intelligence Authority,
and under it, a Central Intelligence Group, which was the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency. Truman recognized
the need for a centralized intelligence apparatus in peacetime to help ensure that nothing like the Japanese surprise attack
on Pearl Harbor would ever again happen. The organization that was to become the CIA took on a life of its own and over
the past four decades has become the secret army of the President of the United States. Presidents from Truman to Ronald
Reagan have used this secret army whenever they found it impossible to achieve their policy goals through overt means.
Over the years, the CIA has evolved from an agency whose primary assignment was to gather intelligence into a powerful
entity whose help is enlisted to help attain American foreign policy goals. Since 1947, the Agency has been involved in the
internal affairs of over fifty countries on six different continents. Although an exact number is impossible to determine,
there are over 20,000 employees affiliated with the organization. Of these, more than 6,000 serve in the clandestine
services, the arm of the CIA that is responsible for covert operations.
The purpose of this work will be to survey the covert operations that have been undertaken by the CIA in the past forty
years and to assess the effectiveness of a number of these activities. We shall begin by examining the various shapes
that covert operations may take. They are propaganda; political action; economic activities; and paramilitary operations.
After surveying the various types of covert operations, we will look at examples of CIA involvement around the world.
Since there have been eighty-five or so such operations since 1948, we will not attempt to look at every one (See Appendix
I). However, we will examine a number of covert operations to get an idea of what exactly the CIA does and continues
to do. We will evaluate both the particular operations examined in this work and covert operations in general.
Afterwards, we should be able to establish a number of criteria that separate good covert operations from bad ones.
Finally, we will look towards the future and try to see what it has in store for the Central Intelligence Agency.
According to the CIA's own definition, covert action means "any clandestine or secret activities designed to influence
foreign governments, events, organizations, or persons in support of U.S. foreign policy conducted in such manner that the
involvement of the U.S. Government is not apparent." Before we explore the various types of covert operations in which
the Agency engages, we should examine one of the methods that the CIA uses to mask its activities. What is being referred
to is the establishment of "front" organizations, better known as proprietaries.
CIA proprietaries are businesses that are wholly owned by the Agency which do business, or appear to do business, under
commercial guise. Proprietaries have been used by the CIA for espionage as well as covert operations. Many of
the larger proprietaries are also, and have been in the past, used for paramilitary purposes.
The best-known of the CIA proprietaries were Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. The corporate structures of the
two radio stations served as a prototype for later Agency proprietaries. Each functioned under the cover provided by
a board of directors made up of prominent Americans, who in the case of Radio Free Europe incorporated as the National Committee
for a Free Europe and in the case of Radio Liberty as the American Committee for Liberation. However, CIA officers in
the key management positions at the stations made all of the important decisions regarding the activities of the station.
Other CIA proprietaries, organized in the 1960s, were the CIA airlines--Air America, Air Asia, Civil Air Transport, Intermountain
Aviation, and Southern Air Transport--and certain holding companies involved with the airlines or the Bay of Pigs project,
such as the Pacific Corporation and Double-Chek corporation. In early 1967, it became known that the CIA had subsidized
the nation's largest student organization, the National Student Association. This revelation prompted increased press
interest in CIA fronts and conduits. Eventually, it became known that the CIA channeled money directly or indirectly
into a multitude of business, labor, and church groups; universities; charitable organizations; and educational and cultural
Propaganda is any action that is "intended to undermine the beliefs, perceptions, and value systems of the people under
the rule of the adversary government..." The ultimate aim of propaganda is to convert the people under the opposition
government into accepting the belief system of the country which is distributing the propaganda. Half of the battle
is won if the people of the target country begin to question the belief system of the government under whose authority they
Propaganda is among the oldest of techniques employed by governments in dealing with their foes. There are many different
propaganda methods that are used by governments to undermine the political machinery in other countries, some of which are
overt. One of these is the use of radio broadcasts. Radio provides a way to reach the people of the adversary
country that cannot be kept out by building walls.
In addition to the overt means of distributing propaganda that have been mentioned, there are covert means that are sometimes
employed. Covert action is used and becomes relevant when a country attempts to control the media of the enemy state.
This control is accomplished by influencing writers, journalists, printers, publishers, and so forth through money, exchanges
of favors, or other means. In the case of radio, covert action involves the operation of "black radio" which will be
discussed in a moment.
In their book The Invisible Government, authors David Wise and Thomas B. Ross make the following observations about the
radio activities of the Central Intelligence Agency:
United States radio activities have ranged all the way from overt, openly acknowledged and advertised programs of the Voice
of America to highly secret CIA transmitters in the Middle East and other areas of the world. In between, is a whole
spectrum of black, gray, secret and semi-secret radio operations. The CIA's Radio Swan, because it became operationally
involved at the Bay of Pigs, never enjoyed more than the thinnest of covers. But Radio Swan was a relatively small black-radio
operation. Other radio operations, financed and controlled in whole or in part by the Invisible Government [The
CIA and the U.S. Intelligence Community as a whole], are more skillfully concealed and much bigger.
It may now be helpful to examine exactly what is meant by black and white propaganda. Black propaganda conceals its
origin while white propaganda is an open, candid charge against an opponent. An example of black propaganda would be
the CIA's circulation of a supposedly Soviet anti-islamic pamphlet in Egypt in October 1964. The effort was intended
to hurt the image of the Soviet Union in that country.
"Black radio", in the specialized language of the intelligence community, is generally understood to mean the operation
of a radio broadcasting system which, after being captured by the intelligence network of the adversary nation, is operated
in the name of the original owner to conduct hostile, but subtle, propaganda against the owner while pretending that the station
is still in the original hands. Sometimes "black radio" simply means radio operations controlled directly or indirectly by
any intelligence apparatus. "Black radio" operations of this sort have been conducted by both super-powers on a large
scale in every form since the beginning of the Cold War. U.S. activities have ranged from the open Voice of America
broadcasting station to secret CIA transmitters in different parts of the world.
One more type of propaganda effort which deserves further mention here is printed propaganda. Every year, the CIA
engages in publishing slightly misleading newspaper and magazine articles, books, and even occasionally the memoirs of Soviet
officials or soldiers who have defected. The Agency also wages a silent war through disinformation and various other
ounterespionage techniques. The distribution through this method sometimes proves to be more difficult than conducting
Another type of influence that may be exerted through covert means is political action. Such action may be defined
as attempts to change the power structure and policies of another state through secret contacts and secret funds by means
which are stronger than mere persuasion (propaganda) and less severe than military action. Following the Korean War
and the shift in the perception of the Soviet threat as more political and less military, the CIA concentrated its operations
on political action, particularly in the form of covert support for electoral candidates and political parties.
Covert political action may be carried out in the form of support of a friendly government or against its domestic opposition,
a type of covert action known as subversive. It may also manifest itself in the form of support to a group that is the
domestic opposition of an unfriendly government. The latter type of covert action is known as benign.
Another and somewhat darker form of covert political activity is assassination. From time to time, a dictator unfriendly
to the United States or its interests will take control of a country that the U.S. deems to be of vital significance.
Perhaps the leader has a heavy Marxist bent like Fidel Castro or a somewhat unpredictable tendency to cause turmoil in the
world like Moammar Gadhafi. In cases where such a person has seized power, the U.S. is often interested in removing
the dictator by any means available. In cases where the leaders in the United States feel that the immediate removal of an
unfriendly dictator is absolutely necessary if the U.S. is to enjoy continued security, U.S. leaders may resort to the unpleasant
option of assassination.
In 1975, in light of questions about the conduct of the CIA in domestic affairs in the United States, the Senate Select
Committee on Intelligence, headed by Senator Frank Church of Idaho, began hearings on the CIA and its activities. The
Church Committee (as it become known) issued a report in 1975 entitled "Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders"
which provided a unique inside account of how such plans originate. The CIA was allegedly involved in assassination
plots against Fidel Castro of Cuba, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, and Ngo Din Diem of South Vietnam. The Agency also
allegedly schemed to assassinate President Sukarno of Indonesia and Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier of Haiti. The Agency had
provided arms to dissidents within Indonesia and Haiti, but witnesses before the Church Committee swore that those weapons
were never given for the purpose of murdering either man.
In addition to plotting to assassinate foreign leaders, the CIA often supplied dissidents within foreign countries controlled
by unfriendly governments with arms and ammunition. In Chile, the CIA passed three .45 calibre machine guns, ten tear-gas
grenades, and five-hundred rounds of ammunition. For Castro dissidents, the Agency prepared a cache composed of a rifle
with a telescope and silencer and several bombs which could be concealed in a suitcase. Finally, in the Dominican Republic,
where the United States disliked Rafael Trujillo, the CIA prepared to drop twelve untraceable rifles with scopes. That
drop was never executed.
In all of the plots in which the Agency was involved, it made sure that its role was indirect. Never once did an
American CIA agent actually make any of the assassination attempts. According to Loch Johnson in A Season of Inquiry:
In no case was an American finger actually on the trigger of these weapons. And even though the officials of the
United States had clearly initiated assassination plots against Castro and Lumumba, it was technically true--as Richard Helms
had claimed--that neither the CIA nor any other agency of the American government had murdered a foreign leader. Through
others, however, we had tried, but had either been too inept...or too late to succeed.
Economic covert operations are those in which an attempt is made to affect the economic machinery within a country with
the aim of achieving a desired result. An example would be the CIA's involvement in trying to contaminate part of a
cargo of Cuban sugar that was bound for the Soviet Union. This type of activity might also come in the form of helping
a country become more economically efficient and hoping that the success will be noticed by other countries who will then
embrace the democratic ideals and methods through which the "model" country has become prosperous.
Perhaps the most tangible type of covert action engaged in by the CIA is in the form of paramilitary operations. This category
of covert operations is also potentially the most politically dangerous. With the onset of the Cold War and the proliferation
of nuclear weapons, military operations became both necessary and dangerous at the same time. In countries where other
forms of persuasion did not seem to be working, it often seemed necessary to use military forces to further the foreign policy
goals of the United States. The perceived threat of Soviet domination of the Third World served to increase the pressure
for military intervention. It was thus decided by U.S. leaders that the nation should have paramilitary capabilities.
The responsibility for devising and carrying out these operations naturally settled upon the shoulders of the CIA.
Though the United States began to work on developing a paramilitary capability after World War II, with the exception of
an operation in Guatemala in 1954, the scale of activities was minimal before 1961. When President John F. Kennedy took
office in 1961, he and his closest advisors were convinced of the need for the U.S. to develop an unconventional warfare capability
to counter the growing evidence of communist guerilla activities in Southeast Asia and Africa. The aim of "counterinsurgency"
(as it became known) was to prevent communist supported military victories without causing a major U.S./Soviet Confrontation.
Simultaneously, Kennedy directed the CIA to develop and use its paramilitary capabilities around the world. Thus, in
the decade of the 1960s, developing a paramilitary capability became the primary objective of the CIA's clandestine activities,
and by 1967, spending on paramilitary activitieshad surpassed both psychological and political action in the amount of budgetary
In the early 1960s, the decolonization of Africa sparked an increase in the scale of CIA clandestine activities on that
continent. CIA activities there paralleled the growing interest within the State Department and the Kennedy Administration
in Third World Countries, which were regarded as the first line of defense against the Soviets. The U.S. Government
assumed that the Soviets would attempt to encroach upon the newly independent states. Thus the African continent, which
prior to 1960 was included in the CIA's Middle-Eastern Division became a separate division. In addition, between 1959
and 1963, the number of CIA stations in Africa increased by 55.5%. Also, the perception of a growing Soviet presence
both politically and through guerilla activity in Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia, resulted in a 40% increase in the size of the
Western Hemisphere Division between 1960 and 1965.
Throughout the 1960s, the CIA was involved in paramilitary operations in a number of countries. Its involvement included
efforts in Angola, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba. Many of the CIA's undertakings were either unsuccessful or without any clear
result and some of them will be discussed later. Before leaving this category of covert operations, it is interesting
to consider a story recounted by Fred Branfman, in a book entitled Uncloaking the CIA by Howard Frazier.
There are many stories I could tell about him, but I will tell just one. In the late 1960s a friend of mine was a
pilot for a private CIA airline. The agent threw a box on the airplane one day and said "Take this to Landry in Udorn".
(Pat Landry was the head of the CIA in Udorn, coordinating the Burma-Thailand-Laos-North Vietnam theatre). My friend
started flying the plane and noticed a bad odor coming from the box. After some time he could not stand it anymore and
opened up the box. Inside was a fresh human head. This was a joke. The idea was to see what Pat Landry would
do when someone put this box on his desk. You cannot throw a human head in the wastepaper basket, you cannot throw it
in the garbage can. CIA paramilitary activities were and are being carried out by people, like this agent, who have
gone beyond the pale of civilized behavior. There are hundreds of these people now working in the Third World.
This fact is, of course, not just a disgrace, but a clear and present danger.
In the first two decades following its establishment, the CIA initiated a number of programs to develop a chemical and
biological warfare capacity. Project NKNAOMI was begun to provide the CIA with a covert support base to meet its clandestine
operational requirements. This was to be accomplished by stockpiling several incapacitating and lethal materials for
specific use by the Technical Services Division of the CIA. Under this plan, the TSD was to maintain in operational
readiness special and unique items for the dissemination of biological and chemical materials. The project also provided
for the required surveillance, testing, upgrading, and evaluation of materials and items in order to assure the absence of
defects and the complete predictability of results to be expected under operational conditions. In 1952, the Special
Operations Division of the U.S. Army was asked to assist the CIA in developing, testing, and maintaining biological agents
and delivery systems for the purposes mentioned above.
The SOD helped the CIA develop darts coated with biological agents and different types of pills. The two also devised
a special gun which could fire darts enabling an agent to incapacitate guard dogs, enter the installation the dogs were guarding,
and return the dogs to consciousness upon departure from the facility. In addition, the CIA asked the SOD to study the
feasibility of using biological agents against crops and animals. Indeed, a CIA memo written in 1967 and uncovered by
the Church Committee gives evidence of at least three methods of covert attack against crops which had been developed and
evaluated under field conditions. Project NKNAOMI was discontinued in 1970, and on November 25, 1969, President Richard
Nixon renounced the use of any form of biological weapons that could kill or incapacitate. Nixon also ordered the disposal
of existing stockpiles of bacteriological weapons. On February 14, 1970, Nixon clarified the extent of his earlier order
and indicated that toxins--chemicals that are not living organisms but produced by living organisms--were considered bacteriological
weapons subject to his previous directive. Despite the presidential order, a CIA scientist acquired around 11 grams
of a deadly shellfish toxin from SOD personnel at Fort Detrick and stored it in a little-used CIA laboratory where it remained,
undetected, for over five years.
Another project, MKULTRA, provided for the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials
which could be employed in clandestine operations to control human behavior. According to the Church Committee, a CIA
memo was uncovered which stated the purpose of the project. The memo indicated that MKULTRA's purpose was
to develop a capability in the covert use of biological and chemical materials...Aside from the offensive potential, the
development of a comprehensive capability in this field of covert chemical and biological warfare gives us a thorough knowledge
of the enemy's theoretical potential, thus enabling us to defend ourselves against a foe who might not be as restrained in
the use of these techniques as we are.
Eighty-six universities or institutions were involved to some extent in the project.
As early as 1947, the CIA had begun experimentation with different types of mind-altering chemicals and drugs. One
Project, CHATTER, involved the testing of "truth drugs" for interrogation and agent recruitment. The research included
laboratory experiments on animals and human volunteers involving scopolamine, mescaline, and Anabasis aphylla in order to
determine their speech-inducing qualities. The project, which was expanded substantially during the Korean War, ended
Another, more controversial, program involved testing the hallucinogenic drug LSD on human subjects. LSD testing
by the CIA involved three phases. In the first phase, the Agency administered LSD to 1,000 soldiers who volunteered
for the testing. Agency scientists observed the subjects and noted their reactions to the drug. In the second
phase of research, Material Testing Programme EA 1729, 95 volunteers received LSD to test the potential intelligence-gathering
value of the drug. The third phase of the testing, Projects THIRD CHANCE and DERBY HAT, involved the interrogation of
eighteen unwitting non-volunteers in Europe and the Far East who had received LSD as part of operational field tests.
A tragic twist in the LSD experimentation occurred on November 27, 1953. Dr. Frank Olson, a civilian employee of
the U.S. Army died following participation in a CIA experiment with LSD. He unknowingly received 70 micrograms of LSD
which was placed in his drink by Dr. Robert Lashbrook, a CIA officer, as part of an experiment. Shortly after the experiment,
Olson exhibited the symptoms of paranoia and schizophrenia. Accompanied by Lashbrook, Olson began visiting Dr. Harold Abrahamsom
for psychological assistance. Abrahamson's research on LSD had been funded indirectly by the CIA. Olson jumped
to his death from a ten-story window in the Statler Hotel while receiving treatment.
It was disclosed by Senate Committees investigating the activities of the CIA in 1977 that the Agency was involved in testing
drugs like LSD on "unwitting subjects in social situations". In some situations, heroin addicts were enticed into participating
in order to get a reward--heroin. Perhaps most disturbing of all is the fact that the extent of experimentation on human
subjects cannot readily be determined, since the records of all MKULTRA activities were destroyed in January 1973 at the instruction
of then CIA director Richard Helms.
At least one project undertaken by the CIA in 1950 was aimed at finding ways to protect the security of agents in the field.
Project BLUEBIRD attempted to discover means of conditioning personnel to prevent unauthorized extraction of information from
them by known means. The project investigated the possibility of controlling an individual by employing special interrogation
techniques. BLUEBIRD also looked into memory enhancement and ways to establish defensive means against the hostile control
of Agency personnel. As a result of interrogations conducted overseas during the project, another goal was established--the
evaluation of the offensive uses of unconventional interrogation methods, including the use of hypnosis and various drugs.
In August 1951, the project was renamed ARTICHOKE. Project ARTICHOKE included "in-house experiments on interrogation
techniques, conducted 'under medical and security controls which would ensure that no damage was done to the individuals who
volunteer for the experiments'". Although the CIA maintains that the project ended in 1956, evidence indicates that
the Office of Security and Office of Medical Services use of "special interrogation" techniques continued for several years
The National Security Act of July 1947 established the CIA as it exists today. Under the Act, the CIA's mission was
loosely defined, since any efforts to flesh out its duties in specific terms would have unduly limited the scope of its activities.
Therefore, under the Act, the CIA was charged to perform five general tasks. The first is to advise the National Security
Council on matters relating to national security. The second is to make recommendations to the NSC regarding the coordination
of intelligence activities of the various departments. The third duty is to correlate and evaluate intelligence data
and provide for its appropriate dissemination. Fourth, the CIA is to carry out "service of common concern". Finally,
the CIA is authorized "to perform all other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as
the NSC will from time to time direct...".
It is from this final directive that the wide-ranging power to do everything from plotting political assassinations and
government overthrows to buying off local newspaper owners and mining harbors has come. The wording of that final directive
has allowed presidents of the United States to organize and use secret armies to achieve covertly the policy aims that they
are not able to achieve through overt means. It allows presidents both present and future to use the resources of the
nation's top intelligence agency as they see fit.
Now that we have become more educated regarding the Central Intelligence Agency and some of its numerous activities, we
shall proceed to the main purpose of this analysis. This work is intended to give the reader a clear understanding of
the types of covert operations in which the CIA involves itself. We will then assess the effectiveness of various techniques
used by the Agency. Doing so will help us draw conclusions about the proper scope of CIA activities and will enable
us to address questions about areas of legitimate involvement by the CIA. We shall begin by looking at a number of CIA
covert operations since 1947.
Radio Free Europe And Radio Liberty
In 1949, the CIA founded the National Committee for a Free Europe and the Committee for the Liberation of Peoples
of Russia. The immediate result of the establishment of these two committees was the founding of two broadcasting stations,
Radio Free Europe in Munich and Radio Liberation. These stations were staffed with emigres who broadcast to their countrymen
in their native languages. Radio Liberation, which became Radio Liberty in 1956, was targeted mainly at the Soviet Union
and broadcast in fourteen different languages. The main target of Radio Free Europe was the satellite countries of Eastern
Europe. The primary advantage of the emigre staffs was that the broadcasters were able to keep abreast of recent developments
in their former homelands by communicating to recent emigres and direct contacts inside their native countries. As a
result of the close contact, broadcasters were able to speak knowledgeably and intimately to their fellow countrymen.
The initial broadcasts by Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberation were designed to intensify the passive resistance of the
people in the target countries in hopes that such action would undermine European regimes by weakening the control of the
Communist party. The broadcasts were also intended to give the targeted listeners the strength to hold on to their hope
for ultimate freedom. Later, after Stalin died and relations between the East and West began to improve, U.S. leaders
began to realize that slow change was more likely than a dramatic shift in power. Therefore, the messages which were
broadcast dwelt less on liberation and more on themes involving political and social change.
In addition to broadcasting in Europe, the CIA used this persuasive propaganda technique elsewhere, most notably, in Cuba.
In 1961, the Agency used a broadcasting station in conjunction with other arrangements that were made to support the invasion
at the Bay of Pigs. The CIA used Radio Swan to mislead the Cuban government, encourage the rebels, and to make it seem
like there was massive support for a rebellion within Cuba.
Economic Covert Activities: Taiwan
A good example of the positive type of economic covert action is the success story of Taiwan. The Republic of China
is an example of the successful use of economic assistance (especially in agriculture) to further the interests of the United
States. In Taiwan, early land reform gave ownership of the land to those who worked it. Coupled with technological
guidance on modern farming techniques, the system provided a praiseworthy model for other developing countries. The
introduction of miracle seeds and chemical fertilizers helped to make Taiwan an economic showcase. Around 1960, the
U.S. came up with the idea of helping the Chinese Nationalists set up food-growing demonstration projects in Africa, the Middle
East, and Latin America, where both their techniques and personnel were suited to the task of helping primitive agricultural
The project in Taiwan was not only an economic aid program helping to build prestige and political contacts for the Nationalist
Chinese, it also provided a demonstration of what Chinese people working under a free market system were capable of doing.
The prosperity of the Taiwanese as seen against the backdrop of the economic shortcomings of Mao's programs on the mainland
was the kind of creative propaganda campaign that supported U.S. policies and principles. The CIA's role was to use
its contacts in the other developing countries to explain the mutual benefits and get the undertaking going. The economic
assistance program that was implemented could have been an overt one, but acknowledged U.S. sponsorship would have caused
some governments to shy away from it. Furthermore, an overt pushing of the program by the United States might have embarrassed
Taiwan by giving the impression that it was forced to do the job by the U.S.
Ray Cline, then a touring case officer for the CIA, explained the project in "off the record talks with Chiang Ching-kuo,
the savvy son of Chiang Kai-shek, who was perhaps the most far-sighted political leader in Taiwan." Cline added, Ching-kuo
grasped the concept immediately and saw the benefits, as did other Taiwanese Foreign and Agricultural policy officials.
The program was organized by the Chinese with a minimum of American help and it worked well for about ten years. In
some regions, it continued to work even longer, and everyone has profited from the program.
Thus, the success of the program in Taiwan was a testimonial to the potential for success for well planned economic covert
actions conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency.
In order to get a better idea of the kind of planning that went into the assassination schemes devised by the CIA, we will
look at the case of Fidel Castro. In addition, at the end of this work appears a number of messages that were transmitted
between the CIA station chief in Leopoldville and headquarters in Washington regarding the CIA attempts to assassinate Patrice
Lumumba (Appendix II). Now let us look at the story behind Operation Mongoose, the CIA plan to eliminate Fidel Castro.
When Castro took power in Cuba in 1959, U.S. leadership made it a top priority to remove him. According to Ray Cline,
former Deputy-Director of the CIA,
The CIA had advocated the 'elimination of Fidel Castro' as early as December 1959, and the matter was discussed at Special
Group meetings in January and March of 1960. At an NSC meeting on March 10, 1960, terminology was used suggesting that
the assassination of Castro, his brother Raul, and Che Guevara was at least theoretically considered.
Describing the political climate by the time Kennedy took office, Cline comments in his book Secrets, Spies, and Scholars,
"There was almost an obsession with Cuba on the part of policy matters" and it was widely believed in the Kennedy Administration
"that the assassination of Castro by a Cuban might have been viewed as not very different in the benefits that would have
accrued from the assassination of Hitler in 1944." It should also be noted that after the failure at the Bay of Pigs
in 1961, the pride of the United States was hurt and U.S. leaders wanted more than ever to dispose of Castro.
The number of strategies devised by the CIA to carry out the deed and the diversity of their applications illustrates the
creativity and shrewdness of planners within the agency. Johnson points out a number of ingenious plots that were at
least considered by planners within the agency at one time or another. This brief excerpt from his book is by no means
an exhaustive list.
The several plots planned at CIA headquarters included treating a box of Castro's favorite cigars with a botulinum toxin
so potent that it would cause death immediately upon being placed to the lips; concocting highly poisonous tablets that would
work quickly when immersed in just about anything but boiling soup; contaminating a diving suit with a fungus guaranteed to
produce a chronic skin disease called Madura foot and, through and intermediary, offering the suit as a gift to Castro; constructing
an exotic seashell that could be placed in reefs where Castro often went skin-diving and then exploded at the right moment
from a small submarine nearby; and providing an agent with a ballpoint pen that contained a hypodermic needle filled with
the deadly poison Black-leaf 40 and had so fine a point it could pierce the skin of the victim without his knowledge.
Perhaps more frightening than any of the above plots was the revelation that the CIA also attempted to launch a plot against
Castro through its contacts with underworld figures with connections in Cuba. The fact that the agency was willing to
resort to such desperate action illustrates the desire of the men in charge in Washington to eliminate Castro. One source
told a reporter in 1962 that then Attorney-General Robert Kennedy had stopped a deal between the CIA and the Mafia to murder
The CIA asked a mobster named Roselli to go to Florida on its behalf in 1961 and 1962 to organize assassination teams of
Cuban exiles who would infiltrate their homeland and assassinate Castro. Rosselli called upon two other crime figures,
Sam Giancana, a mobster from Chicago, and the Costra Nostra chieftain for Cuba, Santos Trafficante, to help him. Giancana,
using the name "Sam Gold" in his dealings with the CIA, was on the Attorney General's "Ten Most Wanted Criminals" list.
Castro was still permitting the Mafia gambling syndicate to operate in Havana, for tourists only, and Trafficante traveled
back and forth between Havana and Miami in that connection. The mobsters were authorized to offer $150,000 to anyone
who would kill Castro and were promised any support the Agency could yield. Giancana was to locate someone who was close
enough to Castro to be able to drop pills into his food while Trafficante would serve as courier to Cuba, helping to make
arrangements for the murder on the island. Rosselli was to be the main link between all of the participants in the plot.
Fortunately for the CIA, the Attorney General intervened before the plan was carried out. Had the plan succeeded
and it then become public knowledge that the CIA and the Mafia worked together intimately to murder Castro, the startling
revelation might have been too much for the American public to stomach. It most likely would have done serious damage
to the credibility of an agency which was already beginning to rouse public suspicion.
Guatemala: The Overthrow Of Arbenz
In 1951, leftist leader Juan Jose Arevalo was succeeded by his minister of defense, Jacobo Arbenz, who continued to pursue
Arevalo's hard leftist policy both domestically and in Foreign Affairs. The United States Government found Arbenz's
policy objectives unacceptable and cut off all military aid to Guatemala. President Eisenhower encouraged the CIA to
overthrow the Arbenz government in 1954.
Arbenz had angered the Eisenhower Administration by legalizing the Communist party and inviting it to join his government.
The real trigger for the action in Guatemala, however, was Arbenz's brazen rejection on September 5, 1953, of an American
protest denouncing Guatemala's proposed "expropriation " from the American owned United Fruit Company of 355,000 acres on
the Pacific and 174,000 acres on the Atlantic side of the country. The protest said that the $600,000 in agrarian bonds
proposed to be paid for these acres "bears not the slightest resemblance to a true evaluation." In addition, John Foster
Dulles, who by that time realized there would be no roll-back of communism in Eastern Europe, was determined to block communist
regimes from taking power elsewhere in the world, and especially in the Western Hemisphere. As a matter of fact, the
Eisenhower administration had earmarked $20 million for an operation against Guatemala.
The U.S. put political and economic pressure on the Arbenz government at the public level while the CIA diligently worked
behind the scenes. On the covert level, the CIA began trying to convince top Guatemalan military officers to defect
while simultaneously launching a campaign of radio and leaflet propaganda against Arbenz. The CIA engineered a brilliant
campaign (considered as much a propaganda success as a paramilitary one) using small-scale military action along with psychological
warfare to cause quite a disturbance in the Latin American country.
The main attempt by the CIA was to support a military plot to overthrow the government that was already in progress.
Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas had begun plotting a coup against the Arbenz regime in 1952 with the help of leaders in Nicaragua
and Honduras, and the encouragement of the United Fruit Company. The CIA action was aimed mainly at alienating the Guatemalan
Army from Arbenz. CIA operatives sought to attain this goal by inciting the Army through radio broadcasts and other
propaganda, and by supplying arms to the insurgents.
The operation began on May 1, 1954, a Guatemalan holiday. Steadily escalating psychological pressures were brought
to bear on the Arbenz government. It was no secret that Castillo Armas was training an army of several hundred men in
Honduras, and the United States officially denounced the Arbenz regime, leading the Guatemalan dictator to believe that a
large-scale U.S. effort to help overthrow him was underway. Since the poorly equipped Guatemalan Army was no match for
a U.S.-backed invasion, Arbenz was alarmed and his top advisors were divided over how to deal with the situation.
On June 17, 1954, Colonel Castillo, using about 450 troops, initiated a paramilitary operation against Arbenz which
ended on the 18th. Castillo and his men crossed over into Guatemala from Honduras to attack the Arbenz government.
Castillo set-up camp six miles inside Guatemala, and his Air-Force, a mixed handful of B-26s and P-47 fighters, dropped leaflets,
made strafing runs in outlying districts, and dropped a few bombs. The attacks were militarily insignificant, but they
contributed to the wide-spread fear of all-out raids.
Meanwhile, the Voice of Liberation, the CIA-run broadcasting station, was active around the clock, reporting phantom "battles"
and spreading rumors. Arbenz was bombarded with conflicting reports. Without even one serious military engagement
having occurred, Arbenz found himself confused, excited, undecided, and alone.
In mid-campaign, Castillo Armas had lost two of his three P-47s without which he would be incapable of maintaining a show
of force. The United States negotiated the "sale" of a number of planes to the Nicaraguan Air-Force. Sorties were
flown in the planes for Castillo Armas by CIA pilots.
Arbenz was forced to flee, and on June 25, 1954, he sought asylum in the Mexican Embassy. Two days later, he resigned.
A few days later, Castillo Armas, having taken charge, arrived victorious in Guatemala on the plane of U.S. Ambassador John
Peurifoy. Peurifoy's wrote the following jingle which appeared in Time magazine July 28, 1954, which seemed to sum up
nicely the U.S. attitude about the CIA-sponsored operation in Guatemala:
Sing a song of quetzals, pockets full of peace!
The junta's in the palace, they've taken out a lease.
The Commies are in hiding, just across the street;
To the embassy
of Mexico they beat a quick retreat.
And pistol-packing Peurifoy looks mighty optimistic
For the land of Guatemala is
no longer Communistic.
Cuba: The Bay Of Pigs
As surely as the successful operation in Guatemala was an example of how to conduct a covert action, the debacle in Cuba
was a primary example of what not to do. The disaster at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba seriously altered the perception of
the CIA's ability to plan and conduct covert paramilitary operations. Indeed, as Satish Kumar pointed out in his book
The CIA in the Third World: A Study in Crypto-Diplomacy, "it is certain that the Cuban operation cast serious doubts
as to the efficacy of large-scale para-military operations as an instrument of covert action." Says Harry Rositzke,
a former CIA operative,
Para-military operations are the "noisiest" of all covert actions. When they fail, they become public fiascos, and
no official denials are plausible. The history of American para-military operations as an element of America's containment
policy is one of almost uniform failure.
Such was the case with the ill-fated Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba.
The idea of a Soviet-oriented communist dictatorship a mere ninety miles from the United States was a grave concern for
U.S. leaders in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Neither President Eisenhower nor his predecessor John Fitzgerald Kennedy
were pleased to have a neighbor with such undemocratic ideals. As early as 1959, the CIA had advocated the elimination
of Castro, and as has already been pointed out, the Agency began an operation (Operation MONGOOSE) aimed at accomplishing
The alternative of initiating guerilla operations against Castro had been abandoned by the CIA in 1960. Instead,
Eisenhower set-up a CIA-run program for training hundreds of highly motivated anti-Castro Cuban refugees in the arts of guerilla
combat, planning to possibly use the force to overthrow the Castro government. Vice President Richard Nixon was a strong
supporter of a program to topple the Castro regime, and Eisenhower, upon the advice of the NSC Subcommittee responsible for
reviewing covert action schemes, approved the paramilitary training project as a contingency plan, leaving the decision of
whether or not to execute it up to the incoming Kennedy administration.
President Kennedy decided to go ahead with the plan after taking office. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman William
Fulbright, upon learning of plans for the proposed invasion, sent a memorandum to the White House that said that if American
forces were drawn into the battle in Cuba,
We would have undone the work of thirty years in trying to live down earlier interventions...To give this activity even
covert support is of a piece with the hypocrisy and cynicism for which the United States is constantly denouncing the Soviet
Union in the United Nations and elsewhere. This point will not be lost on the rest of the world nor our own consciences.
And remember always, the Castro regime is a thorn in the side but not a dagger in the heart.
The Senator's views were no doubt on Kennedy's mind when he later declined to commit American troops after the invasion
began to fall apart.
The CIA trained some 1400 Cuban emigres for action against Castro. Some of the Cubans were trained as ground forces
and the remainder as pilots. It was eventually decided that the guerilla brigade would make an amphibious landing in
the Bay of Pigs. Air support for the operation was to be supplied for the operation by emigre pilots flying in American
B-26s made up to look like Cuban Air Force planes. This would help create the illusion that Castro's own men were rebelling
against him. On April 15, 1961, eight U.S.-made planes conducted air strikes against three Cuban air bases with the
intention of destroying the Cuban Air Force on the ground. These attempts proved to be unsuccessful. The events
that followed spelled disaster for the Cuban guerrillas and the CIA.
When the invasion force landed at the Bay of Pigs, it met considerably more resistance than had been expected. Despite
broadcasts by the CIA run Radio Swan, the Cuban militia and citizens were not incited to rebel against the Castro regime as
the CIA had estimated. Instead, the Cuban forces fought valiantly against the exile force. The Castro Air Force,
which had not been completely destroyed, began to inflict severe damages on both the rebel air and ground forces. For all
intents and purposes, the invasion was over almost as quickly as it had begun, with Castro's forces easily quashing the rebellion.
Fatal to the operation were a number of bad breaks. U.S. air cover that was to be provided for one hour at the onset
of the invasion never materialized because of a miscommunication between the rebels and the U.S. Air Force. The rebel
Air Force sustained such heavy casualties that CIA pilots had to fly missions in a futile attempt to salvage the operation.
As has already been mentioned, the Cuban people did not react as had been expected, and without popular support, the invasion
had little chance of success. Even before the operation was a confirmed failure, the CIA cover story began to fall apart
and later revelations about U.S. involvement in the fiasco greatly embarrassed the United States.
The Castro forces took more than eleven-hundred prisoners during the fighting. Most of them were traded on Christmas
eve of 1962 to the United States for $10 million in cash and $53 million in medicines, baby foods, and other supplies and
equipment exempted from the American embargo on shipments to Cuba. Of the approximately 1300 guerrillas that actually
had gone ashore, 114 were killed during the three fatal days of the operation.
Laos: The Secret Army
The CIA was involved in what has been regarded by many experts as the most outstanding example of the depth and magnitude
of the clandestine operations of a major power in the post-war period. What is being referred to is the CIA's operations
in Laos, known as the "secret army". The CIA's "secret war" in Laos went on for over a decade, involving "a military
force of over 100,000 men, and in which were dropped over two million tons of bombs, as much as had been loosed on all Europe
and the Pacific Theatre in World War II".
The CIA involvement in Laos began with a presence in the country in the late 1950s. Initially, the operation involved
air supply and paramilitary training of the Meo tribesmen to help them defend their country against the North Vietnamese.
However, the operation gradually evolved into a full-scale management of the ground war in Laos by the CIA.
According to Fred Branfman, what the CIA did in Laos was very simple.
It created an army of its own, an army paid, controlled, and directed by American CIA officials entirely separately from
the normal Laotian government structure...Some troops from every people in Southeast Asia were bought into Laos as part of
what became known as "the secret army". The CIA trained the secret army; directed it in combat; decided when it would fight;
and had it carry out espionage missions, assassinations of military and civilian figures, and sabotage.
As was mentioned earlier, the U.S. dropped over two-million tons of bombs on Laos. The majority of those raids were
targeted by CIA officials, not Air Force officials. The CIA officials worked at Udorn Air Force base. They were
a special team of photo reconnaissance people who, because the CIA had men at Udorn and on the ground, bureaucratically decided
which targets would be bombed.
In Laos, the CIA put a great deal of emphasis on psychological warfare. Americans were told in the early '60s that
the core of our program in Laos would be to win the "minds and hearts" of the people. Indeed, a tremendous attempt was
made to do just that through land reform, education, and economic assistance. However, by the time President Nixon took
office, winning the "hearts and minds" of the people had failed and the emphasis was shifted to controlling their behavior.
The reasoning behind the shift in emphasis was simple. Although the United States might not be able to change the way
the people thought, it could certainly control their political behavior.
South Vietnam: The Phoenix Program
Another country in Asia in which the CIA found itself heavily involved was Vietnam. From 1962-1965, the CIA worked
with the South Vietnamese government to organize police forces and paramilitary units. After 1965, the CIA became engaged
in a full-scale paramilitary assistance program to the South Vietnamese Government. The CIA commitment paralleled the growing
U.S. commitment to South Vietnam.
Perhaps one of the most grisly of all CIA paramilitary operations in any country was the Phoenix Program, which was initiated
in South Vietnam in 1968. The program was originally designed to "neutralize", assassinate, or imprison members of the
civilian infrastructure of the National Liberation Front (NLF). Offices were set up from Saigon all the way down to
the district level. CIA advisors were present at every level. The function of the Phoenix offices was to collate
intelligence about the "Vietcong infrastructure", interrogate civilians picked up at random by military units carrying out
sweeps through villages, and "neutralize" targeted members of the NLF. The task of "neutralizing" NLF members was carried
out by CIA-led South Vietnamese soldiers, organized into Provincial Reconnaissance Units.
The original concept of the Phoenix Program was quickly diluted for two major reasons. One was that the pressure
from the top to fill numerical quotas of persons to be neutralized was very great. The second was the difficulties encountered
at the bottom levels in identifying members of the NLF civilian infrastructure who were often indistinguishable from the general
population. The end result of these two problems was an increase in the numbers of innocent persons rounded up, detained,
imprisoned, and murdered in an effort to show results.
William Colby, the director of the Phoenix Program, testified before Congress in 1971 that Phoenix was an American responsibility:
The Americans had a great deal to do with starting the program...we had a great deal to do in terms of developing the ideas,
discussing the need, developing some of the procedures, and so forth...maybe more than half the initiative came from us originally.
According to Fred Branfman, high-ranking American officials in South Vietnam bear the sole responsibility for the practice
of setting quotas of civilians to be rounded up under the program each month. Branfman continues, "The United States
clearly set quotas in an attempt to force the GVN Government of South Vietnam) officials into something they preferred not
to undertake". As a matter of fact, Vietnam Information Notes, published by the U.S. State Department in July 1969 reported
that, "The target for 1969 calls for the elimination of 1800 VCI per month" as fulfillment of the quotas set by those running
the Phoenix Program.
The CIA-backed Phoenix Program assassinated and jailed large numbers of Vietnamese civilians without evidence of judicial
procedure. This fact was confirmed by Colby in an admission to Representative Reid in his July 1971 testimony before
Congress. According to Colby, the Phoenix Program had resulted in the deaths of 20,587 persons as of May 1971.
That number, proportionate to population, would have totaled over 200,000 Americans deliberately assassinated over a three-year
period had Phoenix been conducted in the United States.
Chile: Activities Against Allende
A good example of the CIA's use of the type of political action mentioned above is the Agency's involvement in the internal
political affairs of Chile beginning in 1963 and reaching a climax in 1973. In 1964, the United States became involved
in a covert assistance program to Eduardo Frei in his campaign for the presidency of Chile. Frei was running against
Salvador Allende, a candidate disliked by U.S. leaders for his leftist leanings. The CIA had judged previously that
Frei would come to power regardless, with a plurality of the vote, and the assistance given by it to Frei was supposedly to
help strengthen the Democratic process in Chile. Although Frei won the election, the United States continued to meddle
in the internal affairs of Chile for another nine years.
The largest covert operation in Chile from 1963-1973 was propaganda. The CIA station in Santiago placed materials
in the Chilean media, maintained a number of assets or agents on major Chilean newspapers, radio, and television stations,
and manufactured and disseminated "black" propaganda. Examples of CIA activities ranged from support of the establishment
of a commercial television service in Chile to the placement of anti-Soviet propaganda on eight radio news stations and in
five provincial newspapers. The most significant contribution in this area of covert activity was the money provided
to El Mercurio, the major Santiago daily newspaper during the Allende regime. The CIA spent over $12 million on the
Another category of CIA involvement in Chile was that of political action. The most impressive of these actions undertaken
was the massive effort made from 1963 to 1974 to influence elections. The CIA spent over $3 million in election programs
alone. In addition to attempting to influence elections, the Agency combatted the principle Communist-dominated labor
union in Chile and wrested control of Chilean university student organizations from the Communists.
As was discussed earlier, the United States never liked Salvador Allende, and in 1970, the CIA began covert political operations
against the government of Allende under express orders from President Richard Nixon and his National Security Assistant, Dr.
Henry Kissinger. Both the CIA and the State Department were apparently reluctant to become involved in what appeared
to be an infeasible program to keep President Salvador Allende out of office, even though he had won by plurality in the September,
Nevertheless, the President and Mr. Kissinger directed the CIA, much against its officers' better judgments, to stage a
coup in Chile. The project never developed into anything substantial. However, the CIA provided large sums of
money (around $8 million) to support parliamentary opposition to Allende and to keep alive an opposition press. For all its
efforts, the CIA was unsuccessful in defeating Allende although on September 11, 1973, he was overthrown in a coup which,
though not under U.S. control, may well have been caused by U.S. anti-Allende pressures.
A major requirement of covert operations over the years has been that in the event something goes wrong, the president,
as head of state in the U.S., should be able to believably deny any knowledge of the clandestine activity. This concept
is known as plausible deniability and it has been a cornerstone in the foundation of presidential decisions to authorize covert
operations. The misconception that plausible deniability is a valid method of concealing U.S. involvement in covert
activities has led to a number of problems over the years.
The doctrine of plausible deniability led to many of the widespread abuses of power that occurred in the CIA before the
Intelligence Reform Era in the mid-1970s. It led the agency to believe that CIA officers had a green light to conduct
almost any actions they saw fit to reach their goals. McGeorge Bundy, a former Special Assistant for National Security
Affairs to President's Kennedy and Johnson, has stated:
While in principle it has always been the understanding of senior government officials outside the CIA that no covert operations
would be undertaken without the explicit approval of "higher authority", there has also been a general expectation within
the Agency that it was proper business to generate attractive proposals and to stretch them, in operation, to the furthest
limit of any authorization actually received.
It is easy to see how this misperception on the part of the CIA developed. A president, hoping to pursue his goals,
would communicate his desire for a sensitive operation indirectly, thereby creating sort of a "blank check". CIA officers,
intending to carry out the wishes of the president, would then set about furthering the expressed desires of the Commander
in Chief. However, instead of informing the president of the progress of the covert planning, the officers would be
tempted to keep him unaware of it, thereby enabling him to "plausibly deny" any knowledge of the scheme.
Darrel Garwood, the author of a comprehensive work on CIA activities entitled Under Cover writes,
"Plausible deniability" could be regarded as one of the most wretched theories ever invented. Its application...was
based on the idea that in an unholy venture a president could be kept so isolated from events that when exposure came he could
truthfully emerge as shiningly blameless. In practice, whether he deserved it or not, a president almost always
had to take the blame for whatever happened.
Also, as the Senate Intelligence Committee pointed out about plausible deniability, "this concept...has been expanded to
mask decisions of the President and his senior staff members."
A recent example of how problems linked to this concept can occur is the so-called "Iran-Contra Affair" which made the
headlines in late 1986 and earlier this year. The fiasco was an embarrassing illustration of the example which was discussed
above. Although the CIA itself was not directly implicated in the scandal, Colonel Oliver North and other members of
the government were discovered to have been carrying out the aims of the President--by channeling funds from arms sales to
Iran to the Contras in Nicaragua--supposedly without his knowledge. Whether or not President Reagan actually knew about
the diversion of funds is unclear, but in any event, top level planners of the operation believed that the President would
be able to plausibly deny any knowledge of the diversion of funds. However, because of the intense scrutiny placed upon
the operation by the media and Congress, President Reagan was unable to convince them and the country as a whole that he had
no knowledge of the diversion. As the president and his men learned the hard way, "inevitably, the truth prevails and
policies pursued on the premise that they could be plausibly denied in the end damage America's reputation and the faith of
her people in their government".
One of the major reasons that the CIA has gone astray over the last forty years is the veritable freedom from any type
of control or restriction that it has enjoyed. Though Congress investigated the activities of the Agency in 1975 and
subsequently instituted more stringent oversight procedures, the CIA of today is once again an agency that is able to do almost
as it pleases. The strictures placed on the CIA by the Ford and Carter Administrations were relaxed in 1981 when Ronald
Reagan took office. To understand how the Agency has become so omnipotent since 1947 will require a look back to a time
when the Agency really did as it pleased.
To get an idea of the characteristics of the men in the Agency during its first three decades, we shall look at a description
of CIA case officers.
CIA men abroad were called case officers within the organization. As individuals, they were generally efficient,
dedicated, highly motivated and incorruptible. The trouble in the CIA was likely to be that, for anything short of the
meanest of all-out wars, they were too highly motivated. A severe beating administered to a reluctant informant, or
the assassination of a would-be left-wing dictator, could seem trivial to them in the light of their goal of outscoring the
nation's potential enemies. And naturally, until one happened, they could not imagine a nationwide furor over actions
which to them seemed unimportant.
In a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors in April, 1971, then DCI Richard Helms said, "The nation must
to a degree take it on faith that we too are honorable men, devoted to her service."
CIA officials were not the only ones who believed that the CIA could be trusted to carry out the objectives of the United
States Government. The Agency had a number of champions in the Congress of the United States as well. Feelings
about the sanctity of sensitive information dealt with by the Agency led to wide support for a laissez faire policy in Congress
regarding the CIA. For example, Richard Russell, the Democratic Senator from Georgia, once gave the following explanation
of why he led the fight against a resolution to provide for closer Congressional surveillance of the CIA.
Russell noted that the statement had been made on the floor that the Armed Services subcommittee of which he was a member
had not revealed to the country what it had learned about CIA operations.
"No, Mr. President," Russell said, "we have not told the country, and I do not propose to tell the country in the future,
because if there is anything in the United States which should be held sacred behind the curtain of classified matter, it
is information regarding the activities of this agency...It would be better to abolish it out of hand than it would be to
adopt a theory that such information should be spread and made available to every member of Congress and to the members of
the staff of any committee".
With such a powerful man and others like him on its side, it is small wonder that the CIA got away with the things that
it did prior to 1975.
CIA officers cleverly played upon the fears of Congress to consolidate the power of the Agency. Former CIA director
Allen Dulles, speaking before a Congressional committee, warned,
Any investigation, whether by a congressional committee or any other body, which results in disclosure of our secret activities
and operations or uncovers our personnel, will help a potential enemy just as if the enemy had been able to infiltrate his
own agents right into our shop.
Such statements led Senators like John Stennis to comment, "If you are going to have an intelligence agency, you have to
protect it as such...and shut your eyes some, and take what's coming".