The U.S. owes a great debt of gratitude to the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who after ten years of painstaking intelligence work finally led to the location in Pakistan and death of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011. It is also about time we extend our gratitude to this government agency that for several decades has been at the forefront of untold battles in the defense of this nation's freedom, and yet has remained almost unacknowledged by the nation and unappreciated by its citizens.
Along with the men and women of our military, the CIA has been the protective, security shield of the USA, the guardian of our national security and preserver of our liberty — all the while remaining in the background, in the shadows.
For years, the CIA has been the punching bag of critics in the media, academia, and even Hollywood moguls, who have castigated the agency for some real or very frequently imagined offenses — offenses, which when real had been pursued for our national security. While the CIA did conduct some testing of LSD, the charge that the CIA had tested LSD in the New York subway system was ludicrous. And an even more absurd calumny was the charge that the CIA had created the AIDS virus for warfare and to carry out genocide of African-Americans! This gruesome charge we now know from KGB defector Vasili Mitrokhin and other sources, and confirmed by the Russian government, was KGB disinformation conducted to discredit the CIA and as psychological warfare against the U.S.
The highly critical and largely hypocritical attitude of the liberal establishment toward the CIA has been developing for years, precisely for carrying out operations or providing services (and sometimes unsavory tasks that had to be performed by some entity or persons in the penumbra of legality) in our national interest. Whereas the legality of some of these operations may be questioned, the intention has always been to protect those freedoms enshrined in our Bill of Rights, not to mention protecting those very liberties exercised by the armchair pundits themselves while criticizing in safety the action of those frequently in harm’s way!
And if a frequent punching bag has been needed for the media to let off steam or for the Hollywood movie industry to make profits, a more appropriate agency should have been chosen, and I propose, not the CIA, but the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF). This sometimes rogue agency has on many occasions run roughshod over the rights of law-abiding American citizens. The BATF has even forcefully entered homes (aka dynamic entries) and launched attacks on the liberties of the American people, as was the case of the atrocious raid in Waco, Texas, and other lesser known but no less reckless raids carried out in the 1990s, not against real enemies of the USA, but against American citizens suspected but not convicted of any crimes!
During the years of the Cold War, it was the CIA that protected the nation overseas, while the FBI provided internal security within the nation. Unlike the work of the CIA, the good service that the FBI has provided to the nation has been widely publicized, even popularized, from its inception to the present day, particularly under the leadership of legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. (photo, right) The FBI has had favorable publicity in movies and even serialized TV shows. One can even find movies picturing the navy and the military (even if it was the single The Green Berets during the Vietnam War), but one is hard pressed to find movies of the CIA portrayed clearly in a favorable light.
Even the liberal magazine, Time, in its website listing of "the top 10 CIA movies" admits, "Ever notice how movies almost always make the Central Intelligency [sic] the bad guy? Ridley Scott's new Body of Lies is no different." Watch any one of those movies, and you will find double-dealings, cowardice, mistrust, criminal behavior, lust, greed, etc., in the portrayal of the fictitious cloak and dagger characters, the supposed men and women of the CIA. Fiction it is but in the zeitgeist of our time, life imitates art and perception becomes reality. Bad publicity may be lethal, particularly for an agency that requires funding and congressional blessings to properly do its job!
The CIA was founded in 1947 by the National Security Act as the successor civilian agency for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which during World War II was led by attorney turned secret agent William ("Wild Bill") Donovan in the fight against the Nazi juggernaut.(1)
During the early years of the Cold War under CIA Director Allen Dulles (photo, left), the agency fought the militant expansionism of communism, in accordance with the dictum of diplomat and influential historian, George F. Kennan's need of “containment,” which was implemented as U.S. policy by President Harry S. Truman. During the 1950s, the CIA scored notable success in Iran and Guatemala, but one will not find them described as victories; never mind we were fighting a cold war with a Russian bear that had terrible claws and nuclear weapons, and was a big bully in the world's neighborhood.(2)
And yes, the failure of the clandestine operations of the CIA in Cuba have been written about extensively, including the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 and the iniquity of Operation Mongoose to assassinate Fidel Castro in the years 1961-1963. The fact remains that those operations were ordered by U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who in the former, doomed the mission by his insistence on "plausible deniability,"(3) and in the latter, persisted with his brother, the Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, that while the "special task" was feasible, it needed to be carried out with secrecy and with equal political deniability! The culpability for the failure of all clandestine operations in Cuba rested with the then President and Commander-in-Chief, John F. Kennedy.(4,5)
When President Kennedy, who was beginning to enjoy himself with cloak and dagger intrigue, wanted to know if we had an American version of James Bond. The answer was yes, of course, CIA officer William (“Bill”) Harvey. The American 007, though rough and ready but overweight, was devoted to his presidentially assigned missions. He won some battles in Berlin in the midst of the Cold War, but in Cuba, he failed although for no lack of trying.(6)
The left-wing faction of the Democratic Party has never been a friend of the CIA. Ever since the days of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the Democrats blamed the CIA for every malfeasance imagined, downplayed the communist Soviet threat, and did what it could to defang the agency.
In the wake of the Watergate Scandal and the fall of Richard Nixon in 1974, the Democrats led by Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho) finally got their chance, and in the Jimmy Carter years largely dismantled the U.S. security and intelligence apparatus. The CIA had been defanged. Richard Helms, CIA Director from 1966-1973, was convicted of "lying to Congress" about covert activities, in reality protecting the CIA and national security secrets. For his part, Helm’s successor, William Colby, CIA Director from 1974-1975, revealed all secrets to the world, and Carter's CIA Director from 1978-1980, Admiral Stansfield Turner (photo, right), also lent his hand to the dismantling of the CIA intelligence apparatus with horrible consequences.
The Shah of Iran fell from power in 1979, and we lost Iran to the Ayatollah Khomeini. Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviets that same year. Communist regimes were set up in Angola, Ethiopia, Somalia, Mozambique, etc., so that the Russians, East Germans, and their Cuban surrogates made Africa their playground for communist aggression and militarism. In Ethiopia, the legendary Lion of Judah, Emperor Haile Selassie I (photo, right), was overthrown and unceremoniously strangled by the communist Derg led by Mengistu Haile Mariam.
And in our own backyard in the Western hemisphere, where Cuba was already a Soviet satellite, the U.S. was threatened with communism in Nicaragua, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc. Soviet power and prestige were growing everywhere at the expense of American influence and security. Hostages had been taken in Iran, and the U.S. had been greatly humiliated by a failed rescue attempt and multiple other foreign policy failures. President Jimmy Carter noted a malaise in American society!
But with the advent of Ronald Reagan's presidency in 1981 and the ascendancy of William C. Casey (pictured below with Reagan) as Director of the CIA from 1981-1986, the CIA became resurgent.(1) As Reagan himself stated under his administration not one inch of territory was lost to the Soviets. But there were still problems. Not only did the CIA and FBI have to contend with the explosive "1985 the Year of the Spy," but even after the fall of Russian communism, two acts of supreme betrayal rocked the nation with repercussions for both the CIA and the FBI.
In 1994 after an extensive investigation, Aldrich (Rick) Ames, a chief of CIA Soviet counterintelligence, was found to have spied for the Soviets since 1985, and later for the Russians until his arrest. His betrayal had resulted in the execution of at least ten Russian agents who had been working for the CIA. His arrest, conviction, and treason were a serious blow to the prestige of the CIA.(7-9) It benefited the FBI in its intelligence and capabilities rivalry with its sister agency. As a result of Ames’ betrayal, the FBI gained prestige and power at the expense of the CIA during the years of President Bill Clinton's White House tenure.
But the FBI ascendancy over the CIA was not long lived. The tables turned in 2001, when Robert Hanssen, an FBI counterintelligence officer, was exposed and convicted of spying for the Soviets and the Russians for 22 years, from 1979 to 2001. His treason has been characterized "as possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history."(10,11)
So like a phoenix, the CIA rose from its ashes. Despite the ominous and vast powers of the Soviet KGB, the Sword and the Shield of Soviet communism, the CIA ultimately triumphed over the KGB. The CIA survived. The Soviet extensive, repressive and intelligence apparatus, the KGB, which vastly surpassed the CIA both in funding and manpower resources, won many battles supported by the totalitarian government of the USSR, but lost the war.(12-14) The USSR and its Central and Eastern European, Warsaw Pact allies, began to crack in 1989, and the great Soviet bear itself toppled over and was no more in 1991.
Felicity was short-lived despite the prematurely proclaimed "end of history." The tragedy of September 11, 2001, unfolded and took us by surprise; a new conflict had arisen, brought about by hate and Islamic terrorism, al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden (photo, right). In the meantime, quietly the CIA worked assiduously to root out and defeat al-Qaeda terrorists and to bring to justice Osama bin Laden.
At the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, the CIA used harsh interrogation techniques and water boarding to obtain information from terrorist prisoners under arrest. The administration of President George W. Bush justified the practice in the name of national security, but his administration and the CIA were castigated in the media for the practice, which they considered torture. (President Barack Obama allegedly banned the practice in 2009.)
A great brouhaha broke out in 2003 when Robert Novak, a Washington Post columnist, revealed the identity of Valerie Plame (aka Valerie Wilson; photo, left) as a CIA operative in one of his columns. Suddenly, the liberals in the media and government were uncharacteristically up in arms, allegedly outraged that a CIA operative had been exposed, blaming and blasting officials in the George W. Bush administration for being behind the act of "blowing the cover of a CIA covert officer." Indeed, there had been a government leak, and serious as the exposure may have been, there was no sudden love for the CIA by Washington's liberal establishment.
Mrs. Wilson had not been in danger of life or limb, but Mrs. Wilson's husband, Joseph, was an official in the Democratic Party. The outrage was all about politics. The liberal establishment thought it was expedient to defend Mrs. Wilson to score political points against the Bush administration. There should be no surprise there. A mistake had certainly been made but the way it was promulgated and repeatedly reported showed that the end game was politics.
It took the CIA ten years of painstaking, hard work to locate bin Laden. We now know that the CIA interrogation practices, including water boarding, played major roles in identifying the trusted courier, who in turn led us to bin Laden’s hideout. U.S. Navy Seals Team 6 did the rest in an intrepid raid that ended in the death of Osama bin Laden, who was later buried at sea.
Today, the CIA functions as the main intelligence collection organization for U.S. intelligence, assisted by the National Security Agency (NSA) and working under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). (The Department of Homeland Security was created in the wake of 9/11 to protect the U.S. homeland from terrorism, while the ODNI became the top managing agency for the U.S. Intelligence Community in 2004.)
The CIA, nevertheless, remains our shield, the main source of human intelligence and counter-intelligence, as well as general research and analysis of national security information gathered overseas about friendly and hostile nations. I did not dwell on the overt mistakes committed by the CIA over the years, for this has been done repeatedly and extensively by the mass electronic media and printed publications, including Time magazine that was cited earlier in a somewhat different context.
As long as we have enemies, we will need the men and women of the CIA. I tip my hat to the unknown heroes of the CIA, not only for the demise of a terrorist mass-murderer, but also for all they have done to preserve the peace and security of this great nation.
Caveat: Any errors contained herein are my own and not those of the Central Intelligence Agency. Neither the CIA nor its website were consulted or participated in the drafting, writing or revising of this article.
1) Persico, Joseph. Casey. The Lives and Secrets of William J. Casey: From the OSS to the CIA. New York: Viking, 1990.
2) Grose, Peter. Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.
4) Faria, Miguel. Cuba in Revolution---Escape From a Lost Paradise. Macon, Georgia: Hacienda Publishing, Inc., 2002.
5) Lazo, Mario. American Policy Failures in Cuba---Dagger in the Heart! New York: Twin Circle Publishing, Inc., 1968.
6) His story is told as a cliffhanger thriller by Bayard Stockton in Flawed Patriot: The Rise and Fall of CIA Legend Bill Harvey. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, Inc., 2006.
7) Earley, Pete. Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1997.
8) Bearden, Milt and Risen, James. The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA's Final Showdown with the KBG. New York: Random House, 2003.
9) Wise, David. Nightmover: How Aldrich Ames Sold the CIA to the KGB for $4.6 Million. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995.
10) Wise, David. Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI's Robert Hanssen Betrayed America. New York: Random House Publishers, 2003.
11) Shannon, Elaine and Blackman, Ann. The Spy Next Door: The Extraordinary Secret Life of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Damaging FBI Agent in U.S. History. Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.
12) This is a must-read introduction for the study of the history of the KGB and its secrets. Andrew, Christopher and Gordievsky, Oleg. KGB: The Inside Story. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1990.
13) Andrew, Christopher and Mitrokhin, Vasili. The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archives and the Secret History of the KGB. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1999.
14) Andrew, Christopher and Mitrokhin, Vasili. The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 2005.
Written by Dr. Miguel Faria
Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D. is a former Clinical Professor of Surgery (Neurosurgery, ret.) and Adjunct Professor of Medical History (ret.) Mercer University School of Medicine; Former member Editorial Board of Surgical Neurology (2004-2010); Recipient of the Americanism Medal from the Nathaniel Macon Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) 1998; Ex member of the Injury Research Grant Review Committee (aka the Initial Review Group (IRG)) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2002-05; Founder and former Editor-in-Chief of the Medical Sentinel (1996-2002); Editor Emeritus, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS); Author, Vandals at the Gates of Medicine (1995), Medical Warrior: Fighting Corporate Socialized Medicine (1997), and Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002).
The photographs used to illustrate this article came from a variety of sources and did not appear in the original GOPUSA article.
Copyright ©2011 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.