On occasion of the CIA’s 70th anniversary, Lars Schall talked with U.S. researcher Douglas Valentine about the Central Intelligence Agency. According to Valentine, the CIA is “the organized crime branch of the U.S. government”, doing the dirty business for the rich and powerful.
Douglas Valentine is the author of the non-fictional, historical books “The Hotel Tacloban”, “The Phoenix Program”, “The Strength of the Wolf”, “The Strength of the Pack”, and “The CIA as Organized Crime”.
70 years ago, on September 18, 1947, the National Security Act created the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA. Douglas, you refer to the CIA as “the organized crime branch of the U.S. government.” Why so?
Everything the CIA does is illegal, which is why the government provides it with an impenetrable cloak of secrecy. While mythographers in the information industry portray America as a bastion of peace and democracy, CIA officers manage criminal organizations around the world. For example, the CIA hired one of America’s premier drug trafficker in the 1950s and 1960s, Santo Trafficante, to murder Fidel Castro. In exchange, the CIA allowed Trafficante to import tons of narcotics into America. The CIA sets up proprietary arms, shipping, and banking companies to facilitate the criminal drug trafficking organizations that do its dirty work. Mafia money gets mixed up in offshore banks with CIA money, until the two are indistinguishable.
Drug trafficking is just one example.
What is most important to understand about the CIA?
Its organizational history, which, if studied closely enough, reveals how the CIA manages to maintain its secrecy. This is the essential contradiction at the heart of America’s problems: if we were a democracy and if we truly enjoyed free speech, we would be able to study and speak about the CIA. We would confront our institutionalized racism and sadism. But we can’t, and so our history remains unknown, which in turn means we have no idea who we are, as individuals or as a nation. We imagine ourselves to be things we are not. Our leaders know bits and pieces of the truth, but they cease being leaders once they begin to talk about the truly evil things the CIA is doing.
A term of interest related to the CIA is “plausible deniability”. Please explain.
The CIA doesn’t do anything it can’t deny. Tom Donohue, a retired senior CIA officer, told me about this.
Let me tell you a bit about my source. In 1984, former CIA Director William Colby agreed to help me write my book, The Phoenix Program. Colby introduced me to Donohue in 1985. Donohue had managed the CIA’s “covert action” branch in Vietnam from 1964-1966, and many of the programs he developed were incorporated in Phoenix. Because Colby had vouched for me, Donohue was very forthcoming and explained a lot about how the CIA works.
Donohue was a typical first-generation CIA officer. He’d studied Comparative Religion at Columbia and understood symbolic transformation. He was a product and practitioner of Cook County politics who joined the CIA after World War Two when he perceived the Cold War as “a growth industry.” He had been the CIA’s station chief in the Philippines at the end of his career and, when I spoke to him, he was in business with a former Filipino Defense Minister. He was putting his contacts to good use, which is par for the course. It’s how corruption works for senior bureaucrats.
Donohue said the CIA doesn’t do anything unless it meets two criteria. The first criterion is “intelligence potential.” The program must benefit the CIA; maybe it tells them how to overthrow a government, or how to blackmail an official, or where a report is hidden, or how to get an agent across a border. The term “intelligence potential” means it has some use for the CIA. The second criterion is that it can be denied. If they can’t find a way to structure the program or operation so they can deny it, they won’t do it. Plausible denial can be as simple as providing an officer or asset with military cover. Then the CIA can say, “The army did it.”
Plausible denial is all about language. During Senate hearings into CIA assassination plots against Fidel Castro and other foreign leaders, the CIA’s erstwhile deputy director of operations Richard Bissell defined „plausible denial“ as “the use of circumlocution and euphemism in discussions where precise definitions would expose covert actions and bring them to an end.”
Everything the CIA does is deniable. It’s part of its Congressional mandate. Congress doesn’t want to be held accountable for the criminal things the CIA does. The only time something the CIA does become public knowledge – other than the rare accident or whistleblower – is when Congress or the President think it’s helpful for psychological warfare reasons to let the American people know the CIA is doing it. Torture is a good example. After 9/11, and up until and through the invasion of Iraq, the American people wanted revenge. They wanted to see Muslim blood flowing, so the Bush administration let it leak that they were torturing evil doers. They played it cute and called it “enhanced interrogation,” but everyone understood symbolically. Circumlocution and euphemism. Plausible denial.
Do the people at the CIA know that they’re part of “the organized crime branch of the U.S. government”? In the past, you’ve suggested related to the Phoenix program, for example: „Because the CIA compartmentalizes itself, I ended up knowing more about the program than any individual in the CIA.“
Yes, they do. I talk at length about this in my book The CIA as Organized Crime. Most people have no idea what cops really do. They think cops give you a speeding ticket. They don’t see the cops associating with professional criminals and making money in the process. They believe that when a guy puts on a uniform, he or she becomes virtuous. But people who go into law enforcement do so for the trill of wielding power over other people, and in this sense, they relate more to the crooks they associate with than the citizens they’re supposed to protect and serve. They’re looking to bully someone and they’re corrupt. That’s law enforcement.
The CIA is populated with the same kind of people, but without any of the constraints. The CIA officer who created the Phoenix program, Nelson Brickham, told me this about his colleagues: “I have described the intelligence service as a socially acceptable way of expressing criminal tendencies. A guy who has strong criminal tendencies but is too much of a coward to be one, would wind up in a place like the CIA if he had the education.” Brickham described CIA officers as wannabe mercenaries “who found a socially acceptable way of doing these things and, I might add, getting very well paid for it.”
It’s well known that when the CIA selects agents or people to run militias or secret police units in foreign nations, it subjects its candidates to rigorous psychological screening. John Marks in The Search for the Manchurian Candidate told how the CIA sent its top psychologist, John Winne, to Seoul to “select the initial cadre” for the Korean CIA. “I set up an office with two translators,” Winne told Marks, “and used a Korean version of the Wechsler.” CIA shrinks gave the personality assessment test to two dozen military and police officers, “then wrote up a half-page report on each, listing their strengths and weaknesses. Winne wanted to know about each candidate’s ability to follow orders, creativity, lack of personality disorders, motivation – why he wanted out of his current job. It was mostly for the money, especially with the civilians.”
In this way, the CIA recruits secret police forces as assets in every country where it operates, including occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. In Latin America, Marks wrote, “The CIA…found the assessment process most useful for showing how to train the anti-terrorist section. According to results, these men were shown to have very dependent psychologies and needed strong direction.”
That “direction” came from the CIA. Marks quoted one assessor as saying, “Anytime the Company spent money for training a foreigner, the object was that he would ultimately serve our purposes.” CIA officers “were not content simply to work closely with these foreign intelligence agencies; they insisted on penetrating them, and the Personality Assessment System provided a useful aid.”
What’s less well known is that the CIA’s executive management staff is far more concerned with selecting the right candidates to serve as CIA officers than it is about selecting agents overseas. The CIA dedicates a huge portion of its budget figuring how to select, control, and manage its own work force. It begins with instilling blind obedience. Most CIA officers consider themselves to be soldiers. The CIA is set up as a military organization with a sacred chain of command that cannot be violated. Somebody tells you what to do, and you salute and do it. Or you’re out.
Other systems of control, such as “motivational indoctrination programs”, make CIA officers think of themselves as special. Such systems have been perfected and put in place over the past seven decades to shape the beliefs and responses of CIA officers. In exchange for signing away their legal rights, they benefit from reward systems – most importantly, CIA officers are immune from prosecution for their crimes. They consider themselves the Protected Few and, if they wholeheartedly embrace the culture of dominance and exploitation, they can look to cushy jobs in the private sector when they retire.
The CIA’s executive management staff compartments the various divisions and branches so that individual CIA officers can remain detached. Highly indoctrinated, they blindly obey on a “need to know” basis. This institutionalized system of self-imposed ignorance and self-deceit sustains, in their warped minds, the illusion of American righteousness, upon which their motivation to commit all manner of crimes in the name of national security depends. That and the fact that most are sociopaths.
It’s a self-regulating system too. As FBN Agent Martin Pera explained, “If you’re successful because you can lie, cheat, and steal, those things become tools you use in the bureaucracy.”
Can you tell us please what’s behind a term you like to use, the „Universal Brotherhood of Officers“?
The ruling class in any state views the people it rules as lesser beings to be manipulated, coerced, and exploited. The rulers institute all manner of systems – which function as protection rackets – to assure their class prerogatives. The military is the real power in any state, and the military in every state has a chain of command in which blind obedience to superiors is sacred and inviolable. Officers don’t fraternize with enlisted men because they will at some point send them to their deaths. There is an officer corps in every military, as well as in every bureaucracy and every ruling class in every state, which has more in common with military officers, top bureaucrats, and rulers in other states, than it does with the expendable, exploitable riff raff in its own state.
Cops are members of the Universal Brotherhood of Officers. They exist above the law. CIA officers exist near the pinnacle of the Brotherhood. Blessed with fake identities and bodyguards, they fly around in private planes, live in villas, and kill with state-of-the-art technology. They tell army generals what to do. They direct Congressional committees. They assassinate heads of state and murder innocent children with impunity and with indifference. Everyone to them, but their bosses, is expendable.
In your opinion, it is the „National Security Establishment’s deepest, darkest secret“ that it is involved in the global drug trade. How did this involvement come about?
There are two facets to the CIA’s management and control of international drug trafficking, on behalf of the corporate interests that rule America. It’s important to note that the US government’s involvement in drug trafficking began before the CIA existed, as a means of controlling states, as well as the political and social movements within them, including America. Direct involvement started in the 1920s when the US helped Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist regime in China support itself through the narcotics trade.
During World War II, the CIA’ predecessor, the OSS, provided opium to Kachin guerrillas fighting the Japanese. The OSS and the US military also forged ties with the American criminal underworld during the Second World War, and would thereafter secretly provide protection to American drug traffickers whom it hired to do its dirty work at home and abroad.
After the Nationalists were chased out of China, the CIA established these drug traffickers in Taiwan and Burma. By the 1960’s, the CIA was running the drug trade throughout Southeast Asia, and expanding its control worldwide, especially into South America, but also throughout Europe. The CIA supported its drug trafficking allies in Laos and Vietnam. Air Force General Nguyen Cao Ky, while serving in 1965 as head of South Vietnam’s national security directorate, sold the CIA the right to organize private militias and build secret interrogation centers in every province, in exchange for control over a lucrative narcotic smuggling franchise. Through his strongman, General Loan, Ky and his clique financed both their political apparatus and their security forces through opium profits. All with CIA assistance.
The risk of having its ties to drug traffickers in Southeast Asia exposed, is what marks the beginning of the second facet – the CIA’s infiltration and commandeering of the various government agencies involved in drug law enforcement. Senior American officials arranged for the old Bureau of Narcotics to be dissolved and recreated in 1968 within the Justice Department as the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The CIA immediately began infiltrating the highest levels of the BNDD for the purpose of protecting its drug trafficking allies around the world, especially in Southeast Asia. The CIA’s Counter-Intelligence Branch, under James Angleton, had been in liaison with these drug agencies since 1962, but in 1971 the function was passed to the CIA’s operations division. In 1972, CIA officer Seymour Bolten was appointed as the CIA director’s Special Assistant for the Coordination of Narcotics. Bolten became an advisor to William Colby and later DCI George H.W. Bush. By 1973, with the establishment of the DEA, the CIA was in total control of all foreign drug law enforcement operations and was able to protect traffickers in the US as well. In 1990 the CIA created its own counter-narcotics center, despite being prohibited from exercising any domestic law enforcement function.
Is the war on drugs also a war on blacks? Let me give you some framework for this question, because John Ehrlichman, a former top aide to Richard Nixon, supposedly admitted that: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” (1) And I can quote from H. R. Haldeman’s diaries in this respect, of course. In the early stages of his presidency, more specifically