‘Bill Adler checked out of the Company in 1969 a very bitter customer. Maybe he was just a disgruntled left-wing commie, but tons of those are still in the Company. Sometimes the good ones are the worst, the mediocre ones are just civil servants with wire-tapping skills. But the good ones either become him or me. And he was sometimes very good. After he was done with Ecuador, a four-year job done with, dare I say it, brio; all I had to do was clean up the stray debris. Of course I’d much rather remind him of that lovely mess in Tlatelolco. The boss called me an innovator but I was just following the Adler rulebook….. Either way, he left the CIA with a critical case of conscience and has been making trouble and endangering lives ever since. Last year he dropped a book, not a very good one but there were explosions in it. We knew it was coming but let it go, thinking well, maybe a diversion with his out-of-date info would actually help us out there doing real work. Turns out his info was very nearly top-notch, and why wouldn’t it be, come to think of it. He named names too….Top brass didn’t read it, but Miles Copeland did, another whiny faggot who used to run the Cairo office. He ordered the London office restructured from the ground up. Then Richard Welch got murdered in Athens by 17 November, a second-rate terrorist group that we wouldn’t have sent a candy striper to monitor. Killed with his wife and driver too….’
Extract from: A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel, by Marlon James. This 2015 Man Booker Prize winner is a ‘life imitates art imitates life’ story about Bob Marley, assassination, Rastas, regime change, covert action, ganga-gangstas, reggae, politics, murder, oh, and everyone’s fave spy v spy guys, the CIA. (See #).
‘Over the final months of JFK’s presidency, a clear consensus took shape within America’s deep state: Kennedy was a national security threat. For the good of the country, he must be removed. And (CIA Director Allen) Dulles was the only man with the stature, connections, and decisive will to make something of this enormity happen. He had already assembled a killing machine to operate overseas. Now he prepared to bring it home to Dallas. All that his establishment colleagues had to do was to look the other way—as they always did when Dulles took executive action.’
Extract from: The Devil’s Chessboard, Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of the American Secret Government, by David Talbot.
‘…These with a thousand small deliberations/Protract the profit of their chilled delirium/…Excite the membrane, when the sense has cooled/With pungent sauces, multiply variety/In a wilderness of mirrors….’
From: T.S. Eliot, “Gerontion”.
‘And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ John VIII-XXXII – Inscription etched into the foyer wall of the original CIA building, presumably a mission statement of sorts.
To all those CIA officers who died in the line of duty believing in the righteousness of the cause, and for whom the truth arrived too late to set them free.
Brief: For Americans inclined to reflect on such matters, it must be disquieting in the least that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)—ostensibly established to protect and preserve their country’s national security—has done more than any other entity to compromise that security, and devalue the international good-will and moral capital that America enjoyed at the end of World War Two. The CIA must not only shoulder the lion’s share of the blame for the position in which the U.S. finds itself within the geopolitical order; with little sign the ‘Company’ has learned any lessons from its nefarious past, it appears self-evident for all but their most ardent apologists, the ‘Company’ can no longer be trusted—or for that matter, lay claim—to act in the national interest or in the interests of global stability, peace and security. In paraphrasing TS Eliot’s Gerontion above, as Capitalism’s Invisible Army—whose core business is serving the Corporate Interests of America—we might argue [that] the degree of success the CIA has enjoyed ‘protract[ing] the profit of their chilled delirium’ for their ultimate overlords and masters should be best viewed then evaluated via the prism of the cost they’ve exacted from the rest of humanity in the process. In this the first instalment of the series, we begin to explore some of the reasons why.
— The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Best Truth —
In his introduction to a recently published extract from David Talbot‘s masterful biography of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Allen Welsh Dulles, WhoWhatWhy founder and editor Russ Baker had the following to say:
‘No one can possibly understand the precarious state of American democracy today without scrutinizing the often secret path the country was taken on by those in power from the 1950s to the present. Among the elemental figures in forging that path was Allen Dulles. He was the most powerful, and, it appears—the most sinister—director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Given that outfit’s history, that’s some accomplishment. Dulles’s job…was to hijack the US government to benefit the wealthy….Perhaps nothing is more troubling than Dulles’s behavior around the time [president] John F. Kennedy was assassinated.’
In any consideration of US national security and foreign policy since 1945, the role played by the CIA is as iniquitous as it is ubiquitous. And it is with the JFK assassination that the story of the CIA herein must begin and end. Moreover, it is perhaps just as appropriate it should also begin and end with Dulles.
As Baker has alluded to, it was during Dulles’ reign the dubious, multi-faceted business model that those of us in the know have all come to identify with the organisation, was forged. The supreme impresario of espionage, Dulles—the CIA Director between 1953-61 under President Dwight D (Ike) Eisenhower, and for a short period under Kennedy—was to the CIA what the CIA was/is to America!
All of which is to say is that whatever it was that Dulles brought to the Company, it reflected itself in what the CIA—both during and well after his tenure—brought to the country. For all its impact and significance—which can hardly be overstated—the Kennedy assassination is but the tip of the proverbial.
As it turns out, for his part Baker should know a thing or three about the CIA, Dulles, JFK and related matters, along with America’s generally low-key, yet high impact power elites and their secretive machinations in general. His own work on the JFK hit ranks amongst the finest investigative reporting on the subject, both exploring old propositions, and coming up with a few new ones.
Along with being in a ‘previous life’ a self-confessed card carrying conspiracy sceptic, Baker’s insights are rendered that much more credible by his own prior background as a respected mainstream investigative journalist. Moreover, being—by his own admission—a relative latecomer to entertaining the alternative realities attending numerous ‘deep events’ and ‘state crimes against democracy’ for which full, satisfactory explanations remain outstanding, [this] has possibly allowed Baker plenty of time and ‘space’ to assess these deep events with a greater degree of intellectual detachment and journalistic objectivity. And to be seen do have done so!
Baker’s ‘conversion’ from conspiracy sceptic to someone at least prepped to consider these “alternative realities” so favoured by the conspiracy cohort resulted from his intrepid research into the Bush family, itself a journey of discovery apparently inspired in large part by the debacles that unfolded once George W Bush and his cronies were ensconced in the White House. His investigation encompassed Bush Junior himself of course, but by necessity also included George HW Bush (Senior) and even his old man Prescott Bush.
The result: his book Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years is, as the title makes plain, one hell of an engrossing yarn; it is without doubt one of the most important books chronicling the dirty secrets and ignoble lies that constitute the fabric of the not always Grand American Narrative.
George HW Bush—like Allen Dulles a CIA Director at one point—is a man of course, again as with Dulles, for whom said “dirty secrets and ignoble lies” are second nature and standard operating procedure. Suffice it to say if there’s one living individual in American political history whose ‘hard drive’ this writer would love to hack and download before he ‘buys the farm’ or succumbs to advanced dementia it would be ‘Poppy’ Bush, and that’s a large call! (Bill ‘n Hillary anyone; Dick Cheney; Donald Rumsfeld et. al.?)
For prurient political interest alone the contents therein of HW’s memory banks would to all intents render the National Security Archives and the as yet unreleased Family Jewels of the CIA prosaic by comparison; it would certainly have everyone from conspiracy junkies to investigative journos to aspiring history Ph.Ds—to say nothing of the redoubtable Alex Jones—wetting themselves at the prospect of being granted an exclusive “Access All Areas” privilege as it were.
In Baker’s book, he places HW front and centre at the conspiracy to dispatch POTUS Number 35, with two recurring refrains relevant herein, to wit:
- prior to and outside of his time as DCI from 1976-77, the degree to which Bush the Elder was actively—if covertly— involved with the CIA and just what his role might have entailed, questions posed by many but never satisfactorily answered; and
- how ‘Poppy’ can credibly claim not to remember his whereabouts on 11/22 and what he was doing, something unique amongst sentient, bipedal, carbon-based life forms of the era—in particular those aspiring to high office within the national political firmament.
It probably goes without saying then that it is these “dirty secrets and ignoble lies” in general that have long fuelled conspiracy theories regarding the assassination, to the perennial consternation of those within the power elite structure who would much prefer to let sleeping presidents lie. You know, the very folks who cannot seem to get their heads around one simple reality—that being it is their propensity for secrecy, subterfuge and high political sleight of hand that is the very fuel keeping those conspiracy home-fires burning!
This begs the following rhetorical questions, and should provide a fitting segue to the rest of the narrative herein: When does a conspiracy theory stop being a theory? Who are the real conspiracy theorists? Those that believe in them because of the overwhelming evidence, or those that deny them in spite of the overwhelming evidence?
(Ed. Note: One cannot talk about conspiracy without reference to the CIA, and the reverse is true also. See here, here and here for a recently published, in depth, serial exposition by your humble author of The Conspiracy Thing, which includes complementary ruminations of CIA exploits within and across the conspiratorial, deep state, para-political milieu. )
As if they required further corroboration, such theories about the JFK Thing were underscored recently once more by revelations that the CIA—under the then directorship of Dulles’s successor John McCone—conspired to withhold crucial evidence from the Warren Commission. ‘Warren’ was the perennially controversial committee of inquiry set up by president Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) to investigate in 1964 the events leading up to and surrounding Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
What makes these revelations even more startling—although hardly shocking—is that they have been sourced from an internal CIA report declassified in 2013 on the QT, but have only since come to light. The documents also reveal that the CIA was in communication with alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald before JFK’s murder in 1963, and they had been monitoring his mail since 1959, something which has been consistently denied since that fateful day.
McCone and other senior CIA officials stand accused of withholding ‘incendiary’ information from the commission and therefore perverting the course of justice. The CIA reportedly has admitted this, lending a wholly fresh take on the old joke about the Warren Omission!
After noting that the report is based on evidence given by CIA historian David Robarge, Sophie McAdam from Activist Post observes the following. He (Robarge),
‘….has claimed the cover-up was intended to keep the Commission focused on “what the agency believed at the time was the best truth—that Lee Harvey Oswald, for as yet undetermined motives, had acted alone in killing John Kennedy.” McCone directed the CIA to provide only “passive, reactive and selective” assistance to the Warren Commission, meaning the investigation was severely compromised and did not follow up any other leads which may have been crucial in the search for truth.’ [My emphasis].
For his part, what David Talbot makes clear in his aforementioned book is that it was Dulles who was both instigator and architect of these cover-ups, the final arbiter of “the best truth” as distinct from the actual truth. This is something that most of the much derided conspiracy theorists have maintained, or at the very least suspected, all alone.
Dulles, although officially ‘retired’ after JFK fired him in the wake of the blowback from the Bay of Pigs debacle—a presidential ‘decision point’ that induced in the imperious, pipe smoking former CIA chieftain and his powerful allies an abiding, vengeful animosity towards the president—remained the real power behind the Langley throne, ever the Stringmaster!
Such was his clout within and across the establishment and the national security state, Dulles virtually owned the Warren Commission, and was therefore in the strongest position to determine both the terms of reference and the outcome from the investigation. In political life it is said that one of the most sacrosanct rules by which politicians and public officials live and die—especially those looking to invoke the KYAC* principle—is ‘never call an inquiry or allow one to proceed unless you can predetermine the outcome’. Until possibly the 9/11 Commission, for its part Warren represented history’s quintessential exemplar in this regard—its definitive, ‘go to’ case study.
After emphasising the extraordinary degree to which the security services such as the CIA and FBI had variously and ‘thoroughly infiltrated and guided’ the conduct of the Warren Commission’s line of inquiry, Talbot offers up the following:
‘there was no possibility of the panel pursuing an independent course. [And] Dulles was at the centre of this subversion. During the Commission’s ten-month long investigation, he acted as a double agent, huddling regularly with his former CIA associates to discuss the panel’s internal operations.’ [My emphasis]
Dulles then predetermined the Commission’s findings with unflinching ruthlessness and unfailing attention to detail. Although the Big Lie of the Commission—the lone gunman/single bullet theory—may not have been one he authored (this has long been attributed to Arlen Specter, a senior Commission lawyer who later went on to become a U.S senator), the spymaster doubtless would have been comfortable with this monumentally preposterous contrivance. It wasn’t like he and his co-conspirators had that many alternatives given the way things turned out on the day.
What may have made these recent revelations of CIA-inspired Commission cover-ups much more startling—although again hardly shocking for legitimate JFK researchers—would have been if they had revealed that McCone himself was pressured, cajoled or even convinced for some as yet unknown, but ‘justifiable’ reason to withhold relevant evidence from the Commission by his Machiavellian predecessor, so as to arrive at that “best truth”.
Now that would have really set a cat amongst the JFK conspiracy theorists and their tin-foil hat wearing cheer-squad.
Having been appointed by the slain president—and having a background far removed from the usual clubby, incestuous career intelligence milieu—it remains uncertain as to where McCone’s real loyalty lay at the time, and whether or not he was pressured to keep a lid on any revelations to which he might have actually been privy. All of which is to say, the ‘ring-in’ McCone is unlikely to have had insider knowledge of the Company’s most ‘valuable’, and preciously treasured, of their Family Jewels. And if he was privy to such, there was no way he was going to rock the boat. There weren’t that many life-jackets!
To this day, one of the dodgiest aspects of the Warren investigation was Dulles’ appointment by LBJ to the Commission. Understandably this decision has long been one of the key anomalies fuelling JFK conspiracy theories—not just regarding the legitimacy of the investigation and the integrity of its subsequent findings, but the very criminal act that prompted it in the first instance. Of all the movers and shakers directly involved in the conduct of the investigation—from lawyers, investigators, to actual Commission members—Dulles was the boy least likely as it were.
Indeed, Dulles’ should have been the subject of investigation as a possible prime suspect, nay perpetrator, and certainly a key witness, under oath, upon pain of serious jail time if his exposition of the truth was subsequently found wanting.
But when it came to the JFK hit, there was no way Dulles was ever going to speak the whole truth and nothing but. Nor allow anyone else to do so.
After observing it was the national security establishment…‘that advised the new president (LBJ) to put Dulles on the Warren Commission…[and that] Johnson—finely tuned to the desires of the men who had put him in the Oval Office—wisely obliged them’…Talbot continued with the following:
‘The Dulles camp itself made no bones about the fact that [Dulles] aggressively lobbied to get appointed to the commission. [Later CIA Director Richard] Dick Helms later told historian Michael Kurtz that he “personally persuaded” Johnson to appoint Dulles. According to Kurtz, Dulles and Helms “wanted to make sure no agency secrets came out in the investigation…. And, of course, if Dulles was on the commission, that would ensure the agency would be safe. Johnson felt the same way—he didn’t want the investigation to dig up anything strange.”‘
— Intermission —
The Top 4 Most Mind-Blowing CIA Operations You’ve Never Heard Of | by Abby Martin, Big Brother Watch, RT
Abby Martin goes over a few of the most outrageous CIA operations around the world, such as its efforts to destabilize Latin America through coups, assassinations and even an attempted character assassination through a CIA produced porno film.
— Capitalism’s Invisible Army —
To say then the CIA looms large in the not always grand, rarely noble, yet frequently enthralling narrative that is modern, post-war US history is something that may strike many as obvious. But much of the history behind the observation remains less than obvious for most.
That said, its unofficial designation as “Capitalism’s Invisible Army”—or as some equally mischievious wags have suggested, [the] “Corporate Interests of America”—should be enough to give readers a hint of what to expect when we delve further into the CIA’s dirty laundry basket.
It should be noted at the outset that the sins of omission and commission of America’s premier, most recognised espionage and intelligence marque are legion to be sure.
Within and across this broad milieu, they are now more than ever as easy to catalog and elucidate as their value-added achievements and successes are as difficult to define and evaluate. The revelations recounted in the above introduction underscore this.
Indeed, much of the U.S. geopolitical, national security and foreign policy narrative of the past 65+ years has been driven by the antics of the organisation, one that is regarded by no less a personality than Oliver Stone—along with many others—as more a criminal organisation than a security and intelligence entity.
To the extent such sentiments are true, it is a “criminal organisation” funded by the hard-earned of the American taxpayers and paid for in blood and treasure by millions of hapless citizens of the post-War, post-colonial developing world seeking to establish their own national sovereignty and political independence more or less free from the constraints, deprivations and impositions of the old school empires—much like one suspects America’s Founding Fathers of the nascent republic attempted all those years ago.
This, not to mention the blood of plenty of those aforementioned Americans, not least of whom many CIA employees who genuinely believed they were acting in the best interests of their country by defending the cause of freedom, democracy, liberty and ultimately, the rule of national and international law.
As it is, the very existence of an organisation calling itself the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) isn’t just a pointer to the degree to which the CIA has lost the confidence and trust of some of its former employees who dedicated their lives and careers to what they believed to be the CIA’s legitimate brief, its purported raison d’être. It should also serve as a sign to the American people as a whole that there is something seriously amiss with how this agency conducts business.
Which is to say, that “raison d’être”, however it might have been defined or continues to be so defined, is in dire need of wholesale reevaluation then reinvention. Put simply, throwing the baby out with the bathwater sounds like an eminently good idea.
In the seemingly interminable battle for geo-political market share then and the deadly and sinister game of plutonium-powered ideological one-upmanship that was the 45 year-long Cold War, for America’s intrepid and indefatigable Cold Warriors, the CIA ‘bunker boys’ were the ‘go-to’ guys for leading the fight against ‘Johnny Red’, defending freedom, democracy, and liberty, and upholding the capitalist cause.
Although the CIA’s brief from the outset may have been ambiguous, the principal players past and present weren’t going to let that inhibit them from preserving the status of the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free for the folks explicitly defined by the phrase. This, even if the vast majority of “the brave” and “the free” weren’t even aware of the specific kind of ‘assistance’ the CIA provided in such matters, much less the degree that “assistance” was actually benefiting them. Indeed it was this ambiguity that eventually became the gift that kept on giving for the CIA. A blank cheque accompanied by a Get out of Jail, Free card and underwritten by ‘plausible deniability’.
Overall then, that the CIA’s ‘role’ since its inception may or may not have added value to the US’s particular definition of democracy, to the worldwide acceptance of its particular brand of freedom, to its credibility, moral standing or even its national interest or security, or indeed [to] its reputation, integrity and influence as a world political, economic, cultural and social power is another matter altogether. Along with the fact that this was not even in the original charter as envisioned by president Harry S Truman—he being the president who midwifed the birth of the CIA with the enactment of the National Security Act of 1947—is of course something else we will explore later.
As already hinted the CIA had its own ‘take’ on covering America’s back both at home and internationally, that was ostensibly protecting, preserving and promoting fundamental US values and interests abroad such as they were defined in the US Constitution as ‘self-evident truths’ and accepted by ‘right thinking’ people. These may or may not include individual freedom, popular sovereignty, national independence, democratic government, civil liberty, the rule of law and the common good, amongst other ostensibly noble and admirable aspects more commonly and definitively associated with the American experience.
That folks in the respective administrations at the time—even as far up the food chain as the Oval One—did or did not know what the CIA was up to, or did not want to know—is also something we will continue to explore along with looking at whether the White House might have instigated some of the CIA’s boys’ (mostly) own adventures. For the CIA specifically and the US generally though, it may have been possibly less about national security than energy and resource security, or more about protecting and promoting America’s economic and strategic interests (both of which if not generally one and the same, are at least interrelated), and in this context many might argue that nothing much has changed.
It is no accident that Allen Dulles had very close personal and pecuniary ties to the then notorious United Fruit Company (UFC), throughout this era the preeminent ‘poster-boy’ global corporation for leveraging immense political clout in the ruthless exploitation of third world countries for its own economic and financial gain, especially so in Central and South America. Indeed, the indelible phrase ‘banana republic’ derives from the UFC’s machinations in Latin America. For several years Dulles sat on the UFC board, and was on the board in 1956 when the left leaning Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz was toppled after declaring they would nationalise large amounts of its agricultural land—most of which was owned by—and from which were derived huge profits—the UFC.
And needless to say the CIA inspired coup—like the earlier Iranian coup in 1952, and the later attempted, abortive Cuban coup in 1961 with the Bay of Pigs—was instigated by Dulles, whose prints were all over it. And for those contemplating the current crisis in Syria, it is instructive to note that it was in this war-torn and tattered country that the CIA really cut its teeth in the regime change business as early as 1949, and not as many think in Iran in 1953.
(The following video presentation by historian Hugh Wilford is a fascinating insight into the background of this period.)
— Spy v Spy v Spy —
It’s fair to say then that the CIA narrative is a mixture of monumental misconduct, malevolence, mismanagement, malicious mayhem, mismanagement, malignant misdeeds, misfortune, mercenary misadventure, meddling, mendacity, mythomaniacal machinations, manipulation, and everything else in between. And that’s just the “M”s. Mos def not a show for the family then?
Once again, memory lane beckons. The CIA emerged from the break-up of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) at the end of World War II. Indeed it was with this organisation that Dulles cut his spy teeth. The OSS was established to coordinate the strategic intelligence activities of the US government during the war after the ‘surprise’ bombing of Pearl Harbor, and at the same time service the intelligence needs of all branches of the US military in concert with the Allies own intelligence services such as the UK’s MI5 and MI6. The OSS was disbanded at the end of the war.
As indicated, the CIA in its current formation was eventually established in 1947, after an Executive Order of President Truman (he of ‘the buck stops here’ fame), who assumed the presidency in the wake of FDR’s not unexpected death in office less than 6 months before he—Truman—twice invited the Japanese to reconsider their reluctance to surrender by dropping a very large bomb firstly on the hapless citizens of Hiroshima and then again on those of Nagasaki three days later. These actions—along with the long dreaded, imminent Soviet entry into the war from the West on the side of the US—helped convince the gung-ho, never say die ‘Knights of Bushido’ that their hitherto undying devotion to the Emperor and their dedication to the cause of victory in his honour might just have reached its limits after all. Yet like Truman himself did with the Bomb and the Korean War, I digress.
In any event, originally the CIA’s official charter was the creation of a ‘one-stop shop’, fully centralised intelligence procurement, analysis, and national security apparatus, but its unofficial charter was much more than that. This time the bad guys were the Soviets, not the Nazis or the Nips. This then is the story of the CIA mostly operating outside the spirit and letter of the charter, recurring elements in its ongoing narrative. Then of course there is the small matter of the spirit and letter of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Especially it is about the consequences of some of these under the radar and off piste actions and how they have dramatically shaped the world we live in, along with some observations of those who might have known about them, what they might have known, when they might have known about them, and what their motives might have been.
That is to say from the get-go, and without putting too fine a point on it, it is also a story of what the big ‘spy kids’ will get up to without ‘adult supervision’. What came to be known as the Family Jewels—the detailed reports of illegal or inappropriate CIA activity, especially those activities that fell outside of the aforementioned charter—were eventually released in 2007, thirty years after they were requested, and we will look at some of these espionage escapades in later episodes too. There’s a big menu to choose from. Treachery, sabotage, infiltration, duplicity, revenge, betrayal, human rights deprivation and abuse, deception, propaganda, disinformation, physical and psychological torture, assassination, cognitive reorientation, drug smuggling, money laundering, arms dealing, sensory deprivation, regime change, economic and political destabilisation, subterfuge, extraordinary rendition, criminal conspiracy, and intrigue and some old fashioned lying, cheating, stealing etc. were/are just some of the power tools of the trade and characteristic of The Agency’s ‘MO’.
And the CIA made sure these “tools” were always powered up. If these were supposed to be the good guys—imagine what the bad guys must have been getting up to! In reality the CIA covertly exercised with monotonous frequency enormous powers to initiate and partake in action that might have ranged from propaganda, coercion, and subversion directed against hostile states and leaders (real and imagined). They also provided financial, paramilitary, technical and logistical support, and counter-intelligence assistance to any resistance groups, rebel militias, freedom fighters or guerrilla armies with a ‘the enemy of our enemy is our friend’, ‘whatever gets the job done’ mindset generally underpinning and justifying all sorts of unholy alliances and special operations.
Yet it was regime change that proved to be their signature covert gambit, even applying it in my own country Australia in 1975, where it is now clear they had a hand in precipitating—albeit with a helping hand from MI6 and the media mogul many folks love to hate, Rupert Murdoch of News Corp—the 1975 constitutional crisis. This “crisis” subsequently led to the downfall of the duly elected, left-leaning (Gough) Whitlam government, who had pissed off a lot of folks inside the CIA and in the broader national security establishment in the US by being well, a tad too left-wing! (More on this in a later instalment.) And they initiated regime change more times than one could point a private military contractor/combatant at—with a chunk of ‘gringo green’ in one hand and a fully locked and loaded AK-47 in the other—in a month of mercenary paydays. Some of these actions, operations, alliances and missions were legitimate, occasionally even legal. Still further, some of these ostensible democracy building and freedom expanding initiatives were successful, although as we will see later it has to be said that “successful” and “legitimate” etc. have very generous definitions in this context, whilst the word “initiative” becomes shorn of its normally benign meaning. But the key words here are not so much about being “successful” and/or “legitimate”; it was more to do with whether any of these misadventures were even necessary at all, and whether the motives underpinning them were legal, noble, righteous or moral.
For decades following its establishment, the CIA was the international standard bearer in the fight against communism—by far and away, the biggest perceived threat to US national security—at the height of the Cold War against the USSR with the KGB—the Soviets’ equivalent—more or less trying to matching the Company blow for blow. The real and deadly, futile, absurd and national destiny defining game of Spy v Spy (the shorthand description of Cold War espionage, derived from the MAD comic strip of the same title), was on for the young and old and the left and right, in both the East and West and the North and South and every point on the geographical and ideological compass in between! For its part, Spy v Spy (the comic strip, of which more later), was a great example of art imitating life imitating art, itself a recurring motif of the Grand American Narrative. And as we have noted with Marlon James excellent Booker Man winning novel, a recurring one with the Company as well.
— The Law of Unintended Consequences (aka ‘Blowback’) —
The list of CIA operations that would qualify as ‘successful’ cock-ups (or in the words of one observer, ‘perfect failures’) is a long one indeed. However, before embarking on a recollection of some of the more memorable, consequential and, it has to be said, entertaining of these, it is important to have a clear appreciation of the concept of the Law of Unintended Consequences (LUC). This quasi-law describes any direct, conscious action that produces an unexpected or undesirable outcome, one that is at odds with, or counterproductive to, the result was intended by the “direct, conscious action” in the first instance. Although the concept in general can actually define a positive unexpected outcome, in the case of the CIA, this is rarely the situation.
The LUC was first put forward by a US sociologist named Robert Merton, and was/is intended as a self-evident caution against man’s seeming conviction that he can control all of the outcomes of his actions, something of a philosophically determinist worldview it would seem. Even for those with a passing awareness of history and sense of irony in much of it tells us time and time again is seldom justified and invariably causes—in the short- and long-term—more problems than it solves. In other words it’s all about cause and effect, each “cause” having more than one “effect” that will invariably include at least one unforeseen, undesirable—and indeed, sometimes profoundly regrettable—side effect.
As the LUC theory goes, the unintended side effect can potentially be more significant than any of the intended effects, and outweigh any advantages that might have been sought and achieved by initiating the action in the first place. Al-Qaeda anyone? ISIS anyone? The Agency—no stranger to the frequently immutable workings of the LUC—apparently coined the euphemistically inspired, yet still vividly evocative term ‘blowback’ to describe the same phenomenon. (Another choice euphemism was ‘domestic replay’.) It’s fair to say though that the CIA may not have fully appreciated—either at the time, or indeed for that matter, upon reflection—that their actions might often invoke said Law. Not to mention how much it might prove embarrassing to the CIA themselves, the American government, and the international reputation of the US. Risk management (or reflection upon past errors) was never The Company’s strong suit.
As we will see then, in this respect, the story of the CIA is one of ‘blowback’. Lots of it! The point where the top spooks in Langley scramble for the remote to press the ‘rewind’ button, but the look on their faces gives it all away—they know it’s too late. The best they could hope for is a freeze-frame picture of the looks on their faces for posterity as they’re contemplating what this could do to their careers and in some cases their freedom. Although herein is one of the CIA’s biggest conundrums, to wit: why so many get to keep their jobs even after the blowback has made itself known, and how many actually avoid jail time.
Which brings us to the principle of ‘plausible deniability’, in some respects a close cousin to KYAC. Although the actual phrase is sometimes attributed to Dulles, the concept had been around since Cain began short-sheeting Abel’s bed and then lying his ass off to avoid any repercussions from the old man. Minimising said blowback always seems to be part and parcel of any such CIA strategy. Something like an all encompassing ‘errors and omissions rejected’ approach to being able to refute any connection to wrongdoing or illegal activity should it be inconveniently discovered and exposed.
On another level, plausible deniability is that wonderfully all too human—and DSM-V recognised—predisposition to transfer blame someone else when you have fucked up, or to credibly deny any knowledge of, contribution to, or involvement in, said fuck-ups by others for whose actions you are responsible for. Its polar opposite may well be Truman’s immortal ‘The buck stops here’.
The ‘fuck(up) stops here’ is maybe what Harry the Haberdasher really said, and he’s been misquoted forever and a day since. I’m not sure how that subtle distinction between what Truman said (or might have said) might have made much difference to any of the folks past and present in Langley, although it is something we will no doubt explore in the episodes ahead.
Like HST’s buck, the story stops here….for now!
Yo’ all come back now….
End Part One….
© Greg Maybury, 2012-2015.
* Keep Your Ass Covered
# The above extract is a first person reflection by Barry Diflorio, the fictional Kingston, Jamaica CIA station chief. The Diflorio character is reportedly based on Norman Descoteaux, the real-life CIA Jamaican station chief who instigated a destabilization program of the left leaning, democratically elected Manley government in late 70s.
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