Saturday, February 22, 2014

Inside the CIA

The anti-imperialist library
Inside the Company: CIA Diary

   Last summer the headlines were dominated by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. He leaked information that was a shock to some, but were already well known to others. These leaks have been pretty successfully suppressed in the mainstream media where they have turned into a debate about metadata, the NSA is not building these massive data collection centers to keep copies of who you called. They are recording and storing all the electric communications of the world; phone calls, texts, emails and faxes. Total information awareness is the technical term for this hubris, the national security state wants to be all knowing. They also have a concept known as full spectrum dominance America's military seeks strategic dominance on land, sea or air. In addition they want domination of space, the internet and media.
    Flashback 40 years or so to mid 70's a number of disillusioned CIA agents came forward to blow the whistle on the CIA. Undoubtedly the most radical was Philip Agee. Like Snowden he was forced into exile. Unlike Snowden he was nearly killed. For more on his trials and tribulations after blowing the whistle check out the interview with Agee titled hunted by jackals on youtube. (I'll post a link on my twitter) Agee sought not merely to expose the CIA but to destroy it. The book "CIA diary" was the weapon he choose.
      First a disclaimer it's not an actual diary it was written after the fact while he was on the run. It begins with a young idealistic Agee being recruited into the CIA, It was the late 50's so Agee a devout catholic, and patriotic young American never had any question that he was on the right side. He joined the CIA in order to avoid going into the family business  The first section describes his recruitment and training, but mostly goes into an exhaustive account of the CIA organizational structure at that time. His first task for the CIA was doing background checks on job applicants for a Rockefeller owned oil company in South america, in order to insure that no "subversives" got hired. The first clue that his actual role will be to serve the interests of American business.
    The next section is when things start to get exciting. Agee is given a field assignment in Ecuador arriving in december 1960.  Agee is still an idealist he hopes for genuine reform in order to stave off any revolution. At the same time he takes for granted that it is necessary to Fight communism.  It will take him years to realize that the only people genuinely interested in reform are the ones targeted by the CIA In Ecuador a populist politician, Velasco has been elected president.  His cabinet contains some people the CIA considers enemies. Agee arrives to carry out one of the chief duties of the CIA, subversion. This is a complex task. At the beginning of the section he gives a list of all the enemy groups that the CIA is targeting, unions, student organizations and political parties. Plus any embassies from the Soviet bloc and especially the Cubans. Isolating Cuba was a major goal at the time.
    It's the day to day account of CIA activities that is fascinating. They bribes politicians so they will serve US rather then Ecuadoran interests. They works with the local police on a phone tapping program. Actually some of the surveillance technology they had back then would be pretty shocking to people even today.  They pay journalists to publish propaganda. They frame people for imaginary terrorist plots. They forge documents detailing elaborate conspiracies falsely linking Cuba with plans to overthrow the government. They in fact create so much paranoia that Ecuador is destabilized and the president is forced from office. Of course they don't do it alone although the NSA only make brief appearances providing high tech surveillance equipment, the IMF always lurks in the shadows, forcing economic policies on countries that destroy any hope of reform, and forcing politicians to make unpopular moves that turn their people against them.
    A handful of CIA agents are enough to cause riots, panic, and coups. Only a few are required to completely subvert the political system of their host nation.
     Next he is assigned to Uruguay destined to become the torture capital of South America  He briefly mentions an earlier US training program that trained the police of Uruguay in torture. All over Latin america the US was trying to stave off reform by training the police and military to wage brutal counterinsurgency on their own people. This would lead to a string of coups that began with the overthrow of the reformer Goulart in Brazil and ended with most of Latin America suffering a reign of terror under US installed dictators.
     Fortunately for him he never served in one of the post coup countries. The only glimpse of Uruguay's sinister future is when he gives the police a name and later can hear from another room the man's cries of agony as he is tortured. Doubtless if he'd served in Uruguay in the 70's  he would have been witness to many more such incidents. It is in Uruguay that he finally begins to realize that despite US rhetoric about the need for reform their actual economic policies are the reverse to prevent any reforms that could threaten the profit margins of the multinational corporations. This is especially obvious in Uruguay where at the turn of the century Jose Battle y Ordonez conducted a series of reforms far in advance of anywhere else in Latin America or even the US at that time.  The IMF intervened to force a rollback of these reforms and by the time Agee arrives the country has been economically and politically destabilized. Once again his job is to bribe people, spy, and feed phony information about communist plots to the host government. He was also involved in setting up CIA sponsored unions that would serve corporate  interest rather then that of union members. The result once again is chaos and Uruguay is in danger of a political coup motivated by the CIA's manufactured red scare.
   His final assignment was in Mexico. The president of Mexico Luis Echeverria was a long time CIA asset.  It was in Mexico that Agee fell in love with a woman with leftist tendencies and finally decided to leave the CIA. He became increasingly radical becoming a supporter of the Cuban revolution. This led to his desire to destroy the CIA. Unlike other whistleblowers he attempted to expose as many CIA officers as possible as well as all their paid assets. This was to help revolutionary and progressive movements defend themselves against CIA machinations. I'd love to know what impact his book had in Ecuador and Uruguay imagine finding out that your politicians were traitors serving the CIA.
    Unfortunately in the 80's the Reagan administration put forward legislation that made it illegal to reveal the identities of CIA agents.  There have not been major CIA whistleblowers since then. So if you want an account of what the CIA does this is one of the best sources out there. Even though these events took place 50 years ago I was shocked by how little has changed, electronic surveillance, the IMF, covert destabilization,  they are even more important issues now then  they were in the 60's.   Of course there are a number of CIA activities that he wasn't involved in which aren't in the book. These include drug running, managing terrorists, running death squads, and setting up coups. This isn't because it was a more innocent time all these activities were ongoing at the time in either southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia Thailand) or in the middle east. Still this book is invaluable for showing how the CIA corrupts democracies and is highly recommended to the serious student of empire.


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