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The CIA from Beginning to End

Actually, since the CIA considers itself in possession of the true picture of political reality, it feels it should manipulate even members of our own society. It has puzzled some that efforts like the use of the Congress for Cultural Freedom as a CIA front were indulged in when similar projects were undertaken without CIA aid, or with open encouragement by the government (e.g., the State Department’s use of Norman Cousins to attack the Waldorf Peace Conference of 1949). Why secretly suborn men who would willingly volunteer their efforts? Some, like Arthur Schlesinger, an OSS veteran, shrugged off complaints about such manipulation, arguing that the Agency helped along good projects. Others, like Tom Braden, who was one of the CIA men for such fronts, boasted of their contributions to our culture.

But the mini-scandals connected with Encounter, the National Student Association, and other secret findings (e.g., of Kissinger’s journal, Confluence) reveal one of the scarier aspects of the CIA. At the very least, they indicate a preference for indirect methods that can be compulsive in secret agencies, a taste for the devious carried to redundancy. General Eisenhower noticed this in his dealings with MI-6 during the war: “They resorted to every type of subterfuge…in order to confuse the Germans as to the amount of military strength and, more important, its disposition. Out of this was born a habit that was later difficult to discard” (Crusade in Europe, p. 320).

More important, the CIA’s direction of various cultural operations reflects the importance of “in place” thinking among secret agencies. Spokesmen for clandestine intelligence often complain that military or political leaders, wanting information in a specific area, think a spy can be planted there and begin to produce results immediately. That is unlikely all the time, and impossible much of it. There is a far better chance to find and recruit some sympathizer already “in place” or—best of all—to have a person previously planted for some such eventuality. That was what the Agency was up to in the 1950s. The need for an orchestrated cultural offensive might not arise; but if it did, the Agency would have its own officers, their agents, and those beholden or compromised by collaborating, in the right places to direct such an assault. Liberals did not mind the generally anti-McCarthyite tenor of CIA-funded projects in the Fifties. The story would have been different if that cultural apparatus had been revealed at the peak of the Vietnam crisis or in the current time of investigations aimed at the Agency itself.

This is the real threat implied in the Encounter episode—it reveals a belief that the open processes of democracy are not sufficient for our government, that they need some “help” afforded them from behind the scenes. The actions in Chile and elsewhere show such a tendency in its blatant form. The Encounter affair reveals it in a subtler and more dangerous guise. The Agency was expressing its instinct that even the best informed people in the freest kind of constitutional government need manipulation by their invisible guardians. For Chile, “destabilizing” operations. For America, “stabilizing” ones. The colonizing government, which has one kind of politics for its own citizens and another for colonial “natives,” ends up having to impose some colony-discipline even on its own—if for no other reason, to hide the steps it feels it must take in “backward” parts of the empire. Thus England itself had to live under the Official Secrets Act if the Empire was to be governed by methods best left in the dark. The CIA, in order to accomplish an Iranian coup abroad, must impose a discipline of silence on all citizens at home—voluntary for its own members, unwitting for most of the populace.

The CIA’s higher knowledge about the “real” struggle in the world gives it access to a higher code of morality. Richard Helms, testifying before the Church committee, expressed sympathy with the viewpoint of the CIA scientist who hid away shellfish toxin after President Nixon signed an international agreement to destroy all such weapons of biological warfare—the man, said Helms, was just acting “for the greater good.” The higher code gives special license. The lawyer for the Cuban defendants in the “plumbers” trial said that his clients felt entitled to break the law since they had broken other laws in the past and been decorated for it by the CIA.

The higher code also imposes special duties. If there is any overriding imperative for the Agency, it is “Protect your agents.” You might have to “protect” an agent by killing him; but in a world of endlessly mirrored mutual deceptions the minimal social glue is an agreement never to reveal an agent’s ties with the CIA. The CIA usually has a double pledge for the secrecy of its operations. In the Encounter case, for example, it tried to keep its actions secret to maintain their effectiveness; but even if that motive had, for some reason, disappeared, it would still be bound to silence in order to protect Melvin Lasky, who was the agent in this instance.

Buckley’s novel, of course, is a dramatization of the “higher law” ethic. The hero not only defies Congress at the novel’s conclusion. The action he is hiding was undertaken, in the first place, to protect the Queen of England from her own indiscretions. (At the climax of the novel, the hero is almost assassinated by the Agency to protect his CIA identity.) The “real” governors of the world must prop up the governments that need propping, just as they tear down those that deserve “destabilizing.” In a world view so shaped, it is laughable to expect “improved accountability” from the CIA. How can the superior organization be accountable to the inferior?

3) Coriolanus. The basic training for clandestine intelligence is in “trade-craft”—the rules to be observed for keeping one’s role and task and identity secret. These rules are based on an assumption that one is being watched, suspected, betrayed. You must always presume the worst, to be on guard against any surprise. The result is a kind of shadow-awareness, always, of some Other watching you, of the Foe, of the invisible man on the other side of the chess board. It would be foolish to think that the enemy is any less intelligent than we are. Indeed, to protect its own officers, the Agency must instill in them a healthy respect for “the other side.” This is needed, as well, to get funds and freedom of maneuver from one’s own government—the more it fears an enemy, and suspects it of extensive and effective espionage, the more it will demand intelligence work on its own side. Furthermore, when defectors are found, they must be presented as important and serious figures (as when the CIA forged the Penkovsky memoirs for a prize defector).

So the Soviet spy is portrayed as a mistaken but dedicated adversary. Here is the way Allen Dulles puts it:

He is blindly and unquestioningly dedicated to the cause, at least at the outset. He has been fully indoctrinated in the political and philosophical beliefs of Communism and in the basic motivation which proceeds from these beliefs, which is that the ends alone count and any means which achieve them are justified. Since the ingrained Soviet approach to the problems of life and politics is conspiratorial, it is no surprise that this approach finds its ultimate fulfillment in intelligence work. When such a man does finally see the light, as has happened, his disillusionment is overwhelming. The Soviet intelligence officer is throughout his career subject to a rigid discipline and, as one intelligence officer put it who had experienced this discipline himself, he “has graduated from an iron school.” On the other hand, he belongs to an elite; he has privileges and power of a very special kind. [Craft of Intelligence, pp. 95-96]

Watching yourself through such an adversary’s eyes, trying to think along with him to stay one step ahead of him, leads to a kind of intellectual marriage. He understands the stakes, just as you do. That is a bond that sets you apart from the duller and manipulated masses. Winning him over is the true victory. Arthur Koestler said, apocalyptically, that the final struggle for the world would be between communists and ex-communists. That was a view Whittaker Chambers expressed at times—and William Buckley brought Chambers onto the editorial staff of National Review, a magazine that seemed, at first, principally made up of ex-communists and ex-CIA employees. The CIA would like to amend the Koestler formula slightly, making the final struggle occur between the CIA and the KGB.

In a sense the formula, however expressed, is tautological: the final struggle can only take place among those who know there is a final struggle. The rest of us, who do not live on that high plane of awareness and conflict, may suspect that thinking there is a “final” struggle is the only thing that can produce one—which just shows that we do not know the stakes. We are blind to the scale of our own danger, and must be protected, despite ourselves, by our clandestine benefactors. A spy can easily come to respect his highly conscious foe more than he does the sheep on his own side. This may explain the equivocal, oddly generous attitude of some British intelligence sorts to Kim Philby when he fled. Miles Copeland, the retired defender of the CIA, wrote in Beyond Cloak and Dagger (Pinnacle, 1975, p. 282): “To those deep inside the intelligence establishments, both East and West, it often seemed that the term ‘the company’ should apply to all of them considered together. Considering that the interplay between them is what determines the future of the world, they may have something.”

The respect can also magnify the Enemy, turning him into an omnipresent threat, almost superhuman in his prescience and skill. Every move he makes must be presumed to be a feint. Even his setbacks may be staged ones to throw us off guard. For this reason James Burnham used to claim that the Sino-Soviet split was all a charade, played out for our deception. Even he gave up that analysis some time ago. It was no longer tenable anywhere but in the John Birch Society and in the CIA.

When James Angleton was dismissed from his post as CIA chief of counter-intelligence, the Washington Post was told by a retired top official of the Agency that Angleton still believed the clash of Russia with China and Yugoslavia was only a theatrical display to soften us up for the kill. Angleton retired from the scene muttering “police state” as the explanation for his dismissal. The government that retires a paranoid from a sensitive spot in its secret police apparatus is called the victim of police state tactics! That is a perfect glimpse of the CIA’s role-reversing world of schemers and counterschemers. Defenders of Angleton said he was needed, even at the end, to match his hard line with other intelligence agencies we depend on, like that of Israel—and, besides, isn’t it best to plan for the worst contingency, and to have someone willing to face it as a real possibility?

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