June 2016

The CIA's Holy War

No espionage operation or covert action was deemed too extreme by a CIA that saw only friends or enemies

by Stephen Kinzer

"The Cold War became a holy war against the infidels, a defense of free God-fearing men against the atheistic Communist system," . . .

In 1947 Dulles helped draft the National Security Act, which created the Central Intelligence Agency. This CIA was radically different from other Western secret services, especially those of Great Britain, widely considered the world's best. Those services were shaped around the principle that intelligence gathering and analysis must be kept strictly separate from covert action, to avoid the temptation of skewing intelligence reports so they would lead to the conclusion that covert action was necessary. The CIA was created without this firewall. Indeed, Dulles conceived it as an agency designed not to help American leaders understand the world, but to help them change it - by any means necessary.

The first two foreign leaders the CIA set out to overthrow after Eisenhower's inauguration had both tormented the Dulles broth- ers when they were lawyers at the legendary firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. The first, Prime Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran, had been instrumental in killing a huge contract Allen Dulles had negotiated between Iran and one of his clients, an engineering consortium called Overseas Consultants Inc. After that, Mossadegh had nationalized his country's oil industry, which had been owned by the British government and used another Sullivan & Cromwell client, the Schroeder Bank, as its financial agent. In just a few weeks during the summer of 1953, the CIA threw Iran into chaos, promoted a military coup, pushed Mossadegh from power, and placed the Shah back on his Peacock Throne. That led to 25 years of royal dictatorship, followed by a revolution and the emergence of a violently anti-American regime.

Less than a year later, the Dulles brothers struck against President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala. His sins were equivalent to Mossadegh's. He was promoting land reform that affected the interests of a longtime Sullivan & Cromwell client, United Fruit, and seemed too friendly with Communists. The CIA organized a motley band of exiles into a bogus invasion force, bombed targets inside Guatemala, ooded the country with anti-Arbenz propaganda, and pushed military o cers to stage a coup. Arbenz was overthrown in June 1954. That set off a 30-year civil war in which an estimated 200,000 people were killed. Guatemala has never recovered.

Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers believed Mossadegh and Arbenz posed political as well as economic challenges to the United States. Both leaders were neutralists who refused to take sides in the Cold War. By deposing them, the United States sent a message: it would consider all countries not fully pro-American as enemies.

Over the next few years, the CIA set out to destabilize governments in neutralist countries from Costa Rica to Egypt to Cambodia. One of its largest-scale efforts was in Indonesia, where President Sukarno had emerged as a hero of the emerging "third world." In 1956 the CIA began promoting a civil war aimed at destroying Sukarno's government or, if that failed, splitting the country so that part of it would secede and become actively pro-American.

. . . American leaders misunderstood the world, shaping it to fit their own preconceptions rather than appreciating its complexity. "The Cold War prism created in the minds of diplomatic and military strategists a clear-cut world of black and white," he lamented. "There were no grays."


"Regime Change American Style," The Wisdom Fund, February 15, 2001

"Why Do They Hate US?," The Wisdom Fund, December 19, 2015

Ishaan Tharoor, "The long history of the U.S. interfering with elections elsewhere,", October 13, 2016

Rich Whitney, "US Provides Military Assistance to 73 Percent of World's Dictatorships,", September 23, 2017

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