Where Myths Lead to Murder

by Philip Agee
July 1978

This essay was prefaced with the following statement: "This article is a slightly modified version of the introduction to the book Dirty Work: The CIA in Western Europe, by Philip Agee and Louis Wolf, just published. It expresses much of the philosophy of the CovertAction Information Bulletin."
Philip Agee, 1935 - 2008, worked as a case officer for the United States Central Intelligence Agency from 1957 to 1968 before having a crisis of conscience and dedicating the rest of his life to exposing the crimes of "the company," something he was hounded endlessly for by the US government and its lackeys.
In 1975 he published a book about covert operations in Latin America entitled
Inside the Company: CIA Diary in order to inform the public about what the U.S. government was secretly doing on behalf of the American people. He founded and edited the amazing CovertAction Quarterly which had a regular "Naming Names" column, outing CIA agents. The column ended in 1982 with the passage of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which made the practice of revealing the name of an undercover officer illegal under U.S. law. It might be smart to re-read that last sentence after you finish reading this essay.

Today the whole world knows, as never before, how the U.S. government and U.S. corporations have been secretly intervening in country after country to corrupt politicians and to promote political repression. The avalanche of revelations in the mid-1970s, especially those concerning the CIA, shows a policy of secret intervention that is highly refined and consistently applied.

Former President Ford and leading government spokesmen countered by stressing constantly the need for the CIA to retain, and to use when necessary, the capability for executing the kinds of operations that brought to power the military regime in Chile. Ford even said in public that he believed events in Chile had been "in the best interests of the Chilean people." 1And even with President Carter's human rights campaign there has been no indication that the CIA has reduced or stopped its support of repressive dictatorships in Iran, Indonesia, South Korea, Brazil, and other bastions of "the free world."

The revelations, though, have not only exposed the operations of the CIA, but also the individual identities—the names, addresses, and secret histories —of many of the people who actually do the CIA's work. Yet, with all the newly available information, many people still seem to believe the myths used to justify this secret political police force. Some of the myths are, of course, actively spread by my former CIA colleagues; others come from their liberal critics. But whatever the source, until we lay the myths to rest, they will continue to confuse people and permit the CIA—literally—to get away with murder.

Myth Number One: The CIA is primarily engaged in gathering intelligence information against the Soviet Union.

This is perhaps the CIA's longest-playing myth, going back to the creation of the Agency in 1947 and the choice of the name "Central Intelligence Agency." As the Agency's backers explained the idea to the American Congress, afraid even in those early days of getting dragged into unwanted foreign adventures, the CIA was needed to find out what a possible enemy was planning in order to protect the United States from a surprise attack. Americans at the time still shared a vivid memory of the unexpected Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, and with the likelihood that the new enemy—the Soviet Union —would soon have atomic bombs, no one could really doubt the need to know if and when an attack might come.

The real success in watching the Soviets, however, came from technological breakthroughs like the U-2 spy plane and spy-in-the-sky satellites, and the job of strategic intelligence fell increasingly to the technically sophisticated U.S. National Security Agency. The CIA played a part, of course, and it also provided centralized processing of information and data storage. But in its operations the CIA tended to put its emphasis on covert action—financing friendly politicians, murdering suspected foes, and staging coups d'etat.

This deeply involved the Agency in the internal politics of countries throughout Western Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, as well as in the Soviet bloc. And even where CIA officers and agents did act as spies, gathering intelligence information, they consistently used that information to further their programs of action.

The CIA's operatives will argue that the ultimate goal of discovering Soviet and other governments' intentions requires live spies at work in places like the Kremlin—that the Agency exists to recruit these spies and to keep them alive and working. A Penkovsky or two should be on the payroll at all times to keep America safe from Russian adventures. This argument may influence some people, because theoretically, spy satellites and other forms of monitoring only give a few minutes' warning, whereas a person in the right place can report on decisions as soon as they are made, giving perhaps days or weeks of warning. Such a spy might also be of great value for the normal conduct of relations—whether in negotiations, cooperation, or confrontation.

Nevertheless, the vast CIA effort to recruit officials of importance in the Soviet Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, KGB, and GRU has never had significant success. There have indeed been defections, but these, I was told in the CIA, had nothing to do with the elaborate traps and snares laid out by the CIA around the world. They resulted from varying motivations and psychological pressures operating on the official who defected. In this respect, the CIA's strengthening of repressive foreign security services, necessary for laying out the snares (telephone tapping, travel control, observation posts, surveillance teams, etc.). can scarcely be justified by the nil recruitment record.

Today, notwithstanding recent "reforms", the CIA remains primarily an action agency—doing and not just snooping. Theirs is the grey area of interventionist action between striped-pants diplomacy and invasion by the Marines, and their targets in most countries remain largely the same: governments, political parties, the military, police, secret services, trade unions, youth and student organizations, cultural and professional societies, and the public information media. In each of these, the CIA continues to prop up its friends and beat down its enemies, while its goal remains the furthering of U.S. hegemony so that American multinational companies can intensify their exploitation of the natural resources and labor of foreign lands.

Of course this has little to do with strategic intelligence or preventing another Pearl Harbor, while it has a lot to do with the power of certain privileged groups within the United States and their friends abroad. The CIA spreads the myth of "intelligence gathering" in order to obscure the meaning of what the Agency is really doing.

Myth Number Two: The major problem is lack of control; that is, the CIA is a "rogue elephant."

This myth comes not from the CIA, but from its liberal critics, many of whom seem to believe that all would be well if only Congress or the President would exercise tighter control. Yet, for all the recent horror stories, one finds little evidence that a majority in Congress want the responsibility for control, while the executive branch continues to insist—rightly—that the Agency's Covert action operations have, with very few exceptions, followed the orders of successive presidents and their National Security Councils. As former Secretary of State Kissinger told Representative Otis Pike's Intelligence Investigating Committee, "Every operation is personally approved by the President."2

For its part the Pike committee concluded in its official report, first published in "leaked" form by the Village Voice, that "all evidence in hand suggests that the CIA, far from being out of control has been utterly responsive to the instructions of the President and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs."3

So the problem is said to be with the presidents—Democratic and Republican —who, over the past 30 years, have given the green light to so many covert operations. But why were the operations necessary? And why secret? The operations had to be secret, whether they involved political bribes, funding of anticommunist journals, or fielding of small armies, because in every case they implied either government control of supposedly non-governmental institutions or violation of treaties and other agreements. In other words, hypocrisy and corruption. If the government was going to subvert free, democratic, and liberal institutions, it would have to do so secretly.

There is, however, a more basic reason for the secrecy—and for the CIA. Successive administrations—together with American-based multinational corporations—have continually demanded the freest possible access to foreign markets, labor, agricultural products, and raw materials. To give muscle to this demand for the "open door", recent presidents have taken increasingly to using the CIA to strengthen those foreign groups who cooperate—and to destroy those who do not. This has been especially clear in countries such as Chile under Allende, or Iran 20 years earlier under Mossadegh, where strong nationalist movements insisted on some form of socialism to ensure national control of economic resources.

The CIA's covert action operations abroad are not sui generis. They happen because they respond to internal U.S. requirements. We cannot wish them away through fantasies of some enlightened President or Congress who would end American subversion of foreign peoples and institutions by the wave of a wand. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Senate rejected by a very wide margin a legislative initiative that would have prohibited covert action programs by the CIA.

Only prior radical change within the U.S., change that will eliminate the process of accumulating the value of foreign labor and resources, will finally allow an end to secret intervention abroad. Until then, we should expect more intervention by the CIA and multinational corporations—not less. Increasingly important will be the repressive capabilities of the Agency's "sister" services abroad.

Myth Number Three: Weakening the CIA opens wider the door for Soviet expansion and eventual world domination.

This myth is peddled especially hard at times when liberation movements make serious gains. Former President Ford and Dr. Kissinger used it frequently during the CIA's ill-fated intervention in Angola, and we continue to hear it again as liberation movements seek Soviet and Cuban help in their struggles against the apartheid policies of the white Rhodesians and South Africans.

The problem for America, however, is not "Soviet expansionism," despite all the anticommunism with which we are indoctrinated practically from the cradle. The problem, rather, is that the American government, preeminently the CIA, continues to intervene on the side of "friends" whose property and privilege rest on the remnants of archaic social systems long since discredited. The political repression required to preserve the old order depends on American and other Western support which quite naturally is turning more and more people against the United States—more effectively, for sure, than anything the KGB could ever concoct.

As Senator Frank Church explained in an interview on British television, "I'm apt to think that the Russians are going to choose [sides] better than we will choose nine times out of ten. After all we're two hundred years away from our revolution; we're a very conservative country."4

Myth Number Four: Those who attack the CIA, especially those who have worked in the intelligence community, are traitors, turncoats, or agents of the KGB.

This has been the Agency's chief attack on me personally, and I'm certain that the fear of being tarred with the same brush is keeping many CIA veterans from voicing their own opposition. But as with earlier efforts to find the "foreign hand" in the American antiwar movement, the CIA has failed to produce a shred of evidence that any of its major American (or European) critics are in the service of any foreign power. The reader will also see that the articles and authors appearing in this book are far too diverse adn spontaneous to have been "orchestrated," either by the KGB or by some other person or institution. The KGB no doubt appreciates the Agency's indirect compliments, but revulsion alone toward what the CIA is and does has been a quite sufficient stimulus.

Would-be "reformers" of the CIA have also discovered how the Agency reacts to criticism. According to Representative Pike, the CIA's Special Counsel threatened to destroy Pike's political career. In a conversation with Pike's chief investigative staff person, the Special Counsel was quoted thus: "Pike will pay for this [directing the vote to approve the committee report on the CIA]—you wait and see. I'm serious. There will be political retaliation. Any political ambitions in New York that Pike had are through. We will destroy him for this."5

CIA veterans must not be intimidated by the Agency's false and unattributed slander. We have a special responsibility for weakening this organization. If put at the service of those we once oppressed, our knowledge of how the CIA really works could keep the CIA from ever really working again. And though the CIA will brand us as "traitors," people all over the world, including the United States, will respond, as they have already, with enthusiastic and effective support.

Myth Number Five: Naming individual CIA officers does little to change the Agency, and is done only to expose innocent individuals to the threat of assassination.

Nothing in the anti-CIA effort has stirred up more anger than the publishing of the names and addresses of CIA officials in foreign countries, especially since the killing of the CIA Station Chief in Athens, Richard Welch. CIA spokesmen—and journals such as the Washington Post - were quick to accuse me and CounterSpy magazine of having "fingered" Welch for the "hit," charging that in publishing his name, we were issuing "an open invitation to kill him."6 The Agency also managed to exploit Welch's death to discredit and weaken those liberals in Congress who wanted only to curtail some of the Agency's more obvious abuses. The second edition of this book makes abundantly clear that CounterSpy had nothing to do with the Welch killing.

The result of the Agency's manipulations isn't hard to predict. The CIA, for all it's sins, came out of the recent investigations strengthened by the Ford "reforms," while the Congress may attempt to pass an official secrets act that will attempt to make it a crime for any present or former government official ever again to blow the whistle by making public classified information. No more Pentagon Papers. No more Watergate revelations. No more CIA Diaries.

Nonetheless, the naming goes on. More and more CIA people can now be held personally accountable for what they and the Agency as an institution do —for the real harm they cause to real people. Their military coups, torture chambers, and terrorism cause untold pain, and their backing of multinational corporations and local elites helps push millions to the edge of starvation, and often beyond. They are the Gestapo and SS of our time, and as in the Nuremberg Trials and the war in Vietnam, they cannot shed their individual responsibility simply because they were following a superior's orders.

But apart from the question of personal responsibility, the CIA remains a secret political police, and the exposure of its secret operations—and secret operatives—remains the most effective way to reduce the suffering they cause. Already a handful of journalists and former intelligence officers have managed to reveal the names and addresses of hundreds of CIA people, and even the Washington Post—which condemns us for doing it—has admitted that our efforts added greatly to the CIA's growing demoralization. We also noticed from our own investigations that the Agency was forced to step up its security precautions and to transfer many of those named to other posts. All of this disrupts and destabilizes the CIA, and makes it harder for them to inflict harm on others.

Of course, some people will always raise the cry that we are "trying to get someone killed." But, as it happens, violence is not really needed. By removing the mask of anonymity from CIA officers, we make it difficult for them to remain at overseas posts. We hope that the CIA will have the good sense to shift these people to the increasingly smaller number of safe posts, preferably to a desk inside the CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia. In this way the CIA will protect the operatives named—and also the lives of their potential victims.

From the old song and dance of the "intelligence gathering" to the claim that "those who expose are the murderers," these five myths won't simply vanish. The CIA—and its allies—will continue to propagate them, and the CIA's critics will have to respond. We must increasingly expose these myths and the crimes they cover up.

But besides debating, there is much more that we can do—especially in furthering the exposure of the Agency and its secret operatives. The CIA probably has no more than 5,000 officers experienced in running clandestine operations and it should be possible to identify almost all of those who have worked under diplomatic cover at any time in their careers. Dirty Work lists mainly those named as CIA operatives in Europe; we hope additional volumes can be published on the CIA's people in other areas. All that is required is a continuing effort—and a novel form of international cooperation. Here's how:

1. In each country a team of interested people, including journalists, should obtain a list of all the Americans working in the official U.S. Mission: the Embassy, consulates, AID offices, and other U.S. installations. This list can be acquired through a friend in the host Foreign Ministry, in the American Embassy—or by other means.

2. The team should then get past editions of necessary public documents - U.S. Foreign Service Lists and Biographic Registers (both published by the Department of State) from a local library, and the Diplomatic List and Consular List published regularly by every Foreign Ministry. The Diplomatic and Consular Lists will contain the names and addresses of the higher ranking members of the official mission, including some of the CIA people.

3. Check the names as suggested in the various articles in Dirty Work, especially John Marks' "How to Spot a Spook." Watch carefully for persons carried on the Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic and Consular Lists, but who are missing from the recent Biographic Registers and Foreign Service Lists. Most of these will be CIA people purposely left off the State Department lists.

4. After narrowing down the list of likely suspects, check them with us and with other Similarly oriented groups. CovertAction Information will follow up on all leads, and publish all the information it can confirm.

5. Once the list is fully checked, publish it. Then organize public demonstrations against those named—both at the American Embassy and at their homes—and, where possible, bring pressure on the government to throw them out. Peaceful protest will do the job. And when it doesn't, those whom the CIA has most oppressed will find other ways of fighting back.

Naturally, as new CIA people replace the old, it will be necessary to repeat the process, perhaps every few months. And as the campaign spreads, and the CIA learns to correct the earlier and more obvious flaws in its use of State Department cover, we will have to develop new ways to spot them. Already the Agency has gotten the State Department to restrict circulation of the all-important Biographic Register, and it is likely that the Administration will in future place more of its people under cover of the Department of Defense (for example, in military bases, and in Military Assistance Groups), the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the multinational corporations.

In rare cases, the CIA may even attempt changing the identities of certain operatives. Nonetheless, the CIA will always need a secure base in embassies and consulates to keep its files and communications facilities, and there are many ways to identify the CIA people in these missions without relying on public documents.

Within the United States, people can help this campaign by supporting the groups struggling to stop covert intervention abroad. There is also the need for continuing research into current CIA operations, and new programs to identify and keep track of all the FBI special agents and informers, military intelligence personnel, and the Red Squads and SWAT groups of local and state police departments.

Together, people of many nationalities and varying political beliefs can cooperate to weaken the CIA and its surrogate intelligence services, striking a blow at political repression and economic injustice. The CIA can be defeated. The proof can be seen from Vietnam to Angola, and in all the other countries where liberation movements are rapidly gaining strength.

We can all aid this struggle, together with the struggle for socialism in the United States itself.


1. News conference, September 16, 1974, reported in the International Herald Tribune, September 18, 1974.

2. Testimony by Kissinger to House Select Committee on Intelligence, October 17, 1975, as  reported in the International Herald Tribune, November 1-2, 1975.

3. Report of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, as reported in the Village Voice, February 16, 1978, p. 84.

4. "Newsday," BBC-2 television, February 18, 1975.

5. Hon. Otis Pike, speech on the floor of U.S. House of Representatives on March 9, 1976, as reported in the International Herald Tribune, March 11, 1976.

6. Editorial, Washington Post, as published in the International Herald Tribune, December 30, 1975.

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