The Central Intelligence Agency portrays itself as a protector of Americans and their freedoms. It claims to act in the best interests of the people and their government.
The reality, of course, is very different. The CIA has a long history of violent anti-democratic behaviour around the world, and even in the US itself.
The Agency has played a part in the overthrow of governments around the world which were considered a threat to US interests, including democracies. It’s also been involved in torture, as well as the “rendition” of suspects to allied regimes in the Middle East for questioning under torture.
One of the more astonishing episodes of CIA skulduggery was a conspiracy to fund a puppet army in Nicaragua, called the Contras. This ended up involving the use of profits from a massive drug ring run by Contra funders in the Unites States in the 1980s.
The CIA was fighting dirty wars against leftist governments and movements in Latin America at the time, and the revolutionary government of Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, was considered a threat to US hegemony in the region. Hence, Washington decided to back orphaned army officers who had worked for the dictatorship which had been overthrown by the Sandinistas.
Organised by the CIA, it was these groups which became the Contras. The right-wing proxy movement was named after la contrarrevolución – the counter-revolution.
The CIA allowed supporters of the Contras in Los Angeles to run a massive drugs racket which imported cocaine to be sold all over America. It was mostly consumed in the cheaper – and more addictive – form of the drug known as “crack” which overwhelmingly blighted African-American communities. This led to the “crack epidemic” of the 1980s.
All of this was exposed in the nineties by Gary Webb in his “Dark Alliance” series for the San Jose Mercury News, and later book of the same title, which expanded greatly on the evidence.
Despite an all-out assault on Webb’s credibility by the CIA via its mainstream media contacts, internal US government reports later reluctantly conceded that, not only was Webb’s series correct, if anything he had not gone far enough in describing the deep knowledge that the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other US intelligence agencies had about the Contra drugs ring.
Another aspect of the hidden history of the CIA which is not often talked about is its recruitment and support for Nazi war criminals after the end of World War Two. Take, for example, the case of Reinhard Gehlen, the Nazi regime’s chief of intelligence on the Eastern Front during Hitler’s war against the Soviet Union.
Gehlen had a huge number of files on the Soviets. He stashed them away as the Nazi regime crumbled, hoping to use the information to gain leverage with the Americans. After the war, he was recruited by the CIA, which was at that time desperate for sources in the Soviet Union. He then ran his organisation on behalf of the Agency, who used it as a covert proxy.
What’s more, Gehlen himself recruited a large number of former Nazi war criminals to work for his group. According to his Washington Post obituary, it was estimated that he hired thousands of people to work for him: “…many of them were ex-Nazis. He was financed with millions of US dollars.”
One of the governments which the CIA trained, using Gehlen and his fellow Nazis in the process, was the military regime which overthrew the Egyptian monarchy in the early 1950s. Although Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt later allied itself reluctantly to the Soviet Union, the military regime had a brief period of friendly relations with the Americans through the CIA.
According to Andrew and Leslie Cockburn in Dangerous Liaison (their 1991 book about the Israeli-American military-intelligence relationship), covert CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt played a part in bringing the military to power in Egypt in 1952. Roosevelt cabled to Washington that he had found “a large measure of agreement” with the Free Officers. He later engineered the overthrow of Iranian democracy as well.
The CIA was attempting to mould the military regime in Egypt into a reliable client state. Nasser’s later trajectory proves that this effort was ultimately a failure, but for a time it looked to US agents that it would succeed.
When the CIA decided to send trainers to Egypt in order to build up its internal security and intelligence operations, it was agreed that it was too sensitive an issue for the Agency to get involved directly. It sent a proxy instead; the Gehlen organisation.
According to the Cockburn book, Gehlen delegated a former SS commando to the job, who accepted the commission “on condition that the CIA augment the slender stipend” offered by the Egyptian military. The book also states that the CIA had paid Gehlen as much as $100 million by 1955, and that his group was basically “a wholly owned subsidiary of the CIA.”
The CIA’s claim to be the protector of American democratic values today is as much a farce now as it was when it was sending Nazis to do its dirty work overseas.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.