Gas Week

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CIA’s history is of bribery, coercion and brute force: often out of control, embattled, mistrusted

Posted by gasweek on 17 October, 2007

In Tim Weiner’s account, Legacy of Ashes: History of the CIA the CIA had emerged as a tawdry creation: part elite club, founded on arrogance and insufficient geography, part quasi-criminal racket operating outside the laws of the United States, wrote Chris Petit in The Canberra Times (13/10/2007, p. 16). Knew little about its enemies: The CIA had been barred from behaving like a secret police force inside the US, which still didn’t prevent it from conducting a seven-year domestic surveillance operation in the 1960s codenamed Chaos. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the agency stood exposed. The idea that the final battles of the Cold War would be economic instead of military was beyond its imagination. For all its recruitment of the brightest and the best, too much of the world remained unknown to the CIA. It was created in the image of an enemy it knew little about.

Helped create secret police in many countries: There was a history of bribery, coercion and brute force. In Iran, the agency had rented the allegiances of soldiers and street mobs, faking violent unrest in order to stage a coup in 1953, the consequences of which were still apparent today. It had helped create the secret police of Cambodia, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Peru, the Philippines, South Korea, South Vietnam and Thailand. It had established a “bomb school” in Los Fresnos, Texas, whose graduates had included future leaders of death squads in Honduras and El Salvador. Back home in its Langley headquarters it had been often out of control, embattled and mistrusted by the White House, in crisis but resistant to change — and in thrall to its own myths.

CIA worked around the law: The Nixon administration had been the first to treat intelligence as simply another form of politics, Richard Nixon’s line having been ‘if it’s secret, it’s legal’. Under Ronald Reagan, intelligence had become a business. CIA head William Casey had sidestepped Congress and worked round the law to find private financiers for his grand designs, which mostly boiled down to running guns to warlords. To Casey, espionage had been just another kind of deal, hence the scandal of Iran-Contra, which had laundered profits from illegal weapons sales into covert operations in Central America. Casey’s successor Bob Gates had noted, “The clandestine service is the heart and soul of the agency. It is also the part that can land you in jail.” CIA intelligence, once called a $US40 billion pile of crap, had produced “slam dunk” evidence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

Reference: Legacy of Ashes: History of the CIA, by Tim Weiner. Reviewer: Chris Petit


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