The C.I.A during the Cold War. It’s impact on American rhetoric and the perception of the United States role in the world.

During the Cold War, the C.I.A became the flag bearer for American ideals, exporting American values across the globe through clandestine operations in the likes of Cuba, Vietnam and Nicaragua. These actions undertaken by the C.I.A, are the skeletons in the agency’s closet.  They reflect an attitude, a vision, pertaining to both the C.I.A and the United States government. Actions that often contradict the strong American rhetoric of freedom, liberty and justice. The C.I.A prides itself on a “Hallmark of quiet patriotism”, but when black operations go public, when this patriotism is not quiet, the C.I.A not only characterizes itself as an agency, but furthermore reveals how the United States sees itself, and it’s role as a global power in the struggle against communism.


In 1961, The C.I.A formulated a plan to oust Cuban leader Fidel Castro from Power. Fidel’s communist regime was a threat on the United States very doorstep. The agency had considered funding rebel groups in previous years, but in 1960 decided that it had to step in. Cuba, according to one U.S. embassy official at the time, “was incapable of maintaing order in its own house.” This declaration is key to understanding how the C.I.A acted during the Cold War, and how the United States defined it’s own global responsibility. If Cuba was incapable of having a democratic, capitalist government, than America would have to step in. The C.I.A began planning an invasion on behalf of President Kennedy, and the agency would become the President’s tool to export Americanness and American values overseas. America was world’s example of liberty, justice and order. Cuba threatened that. And the C.I.A would ultimately have to break these American ideals in order to protect them.

The operation itself showed how the C.I.A reflected this American responsibility of maintaing global order. The agency trained Cuban exiles in Florida, and hired Guatemalan and Nicaraguan mercenaries to fly Air Force supplied bombers. America had a responsibility to protect the free world, but with this responsibility came an air of superiority. One C.I.A trainer declared he would never tell the Cubans he was training when the invasion would take place “because I don’t trust any goddamn Cubans.” Kennedy did not want to risk U.S. casualties and so held back 1,500 U.S marines on standby. America had a responsibility, but if it could get away with using others to fulfill that role for them, then they would not have to risk their necks.

C.I.A activities in Vietnam echoed this sentiment as well, of the value the C.I.A places on American personnel. The agency in the late 60s, formulated what was known a the “Phoenix Program.” It was designed to weed out the Vietcong in rural areas, winning support among villages for the U.S. and South Vietnam. Originally the program would be conducted by U.S. special forces, conducting raids on Vietcong areas, tracking spies and conducting raids. yet as the war went on, the C.I.A relocated American personnel to the front, and started employing new members to the program. Bounty hunters from the Phillipines, and ex Viet-Cong made up the bulk of these forces, and unlike U.S. special forces did not have the same restrictions or political red tape. The program originally designed to win ‘hearts and minds’ turned into one of burning and pillaging villages, torturing farmers for intelligence, extortion and blackmail.

The C.I.A clandestine operations in Nicaragua during the 1980s are the best example of these two prominent attitudes that are thread throughout the C.I.A’s history of black operations. A global American ‘responsibility’ for maintaining order and justice, coupled with an idea of American superiority of it’s own values and personnel. President Reagan, like Kennedy was opposed to using the U.S. military to oust Nicaraguan leader Batista, on the President’s behest, the C.I.A began conducting operations in the country to usurp him. They favored one rebel group known as the ‘Contras’. They paid rebel leaders upwards of $7000 a month. However, also known to the C.I.A was that Contra rebels main proceeds came from cocaine trafficking, the majority of which ended up on U.S shores (particularly Florida), and has notorious cases of human rights abuses, such as the torture and rape of several villages in 1981. SO notorious, that U.S. congress specifically banned direct U.S government support of the rebels. The C.I.A countered this, using the proceeds of weapons trading with Iran (also prohibited by Congress), to supply them with arms and material. Not only did the C.I.A again engage in a war by proxy, but their ignoring of the Contras human rights record, trading with Iran and disobeying Congress demonstrated how highly it regarded it’s aforementioned global responsibility. It ignored the very fabric of justice and order (Congress) in the name of protecting those very values, and in addition to it’s continued use of proxy personnel in Cuba, Vietnam and now Nicaragua, manifests not only it’s idea of the superiority of American personnel, but furthermore it’s own. That the agency, as a tool of American power, can ignore the very ideals of justice, peace and liberty in order to protect them.

Further Reading:

Zalin Grant, Facing the Phoenix. Norton and Company, New York. 1991.

Trumbull Higgins, The Perfect Failure, Kennedy, Eisenhower and the CIA at the Bay of Pigs. Norton Publishing, 1989.

John L. Plaster, SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s Commandos in Vietnam. Onyx Publishing, 1993.

Sam Dillon, Comandos: The C.I.A and Nicaragua’s Contra Rebels. henry holt and Co. 1991.


6 comments on “The C.I.A during the Cold War. It’s impact on American rhetoric and the perception of the United States role in the world.

  1. juliendupuche says:

    This is a really well constructed argument and an interesting read on several levels. I had no idea that the C.I.A in fact operated against the very justice system it claimed to serve in order to preserve and maintain the American liberal democratic model around the world, which in itself is a massive contradiction because there is nothing liberal or democratic about their actions. I really like how you used several different case studies around the world including Vietnam, Nicaragua and Cuba because they all tie well together and reinforce your point (if I’m not mistaken) that the very fabric of American ideals, and the values they claim to represent is a massive contradiction and this only served to diminish how they were perceived in the world during the Cold War era. Great read 🙂

  2. I found this really interesting! I went to American high schools so I learnt all about this stuff… with a heavy American skew! Bay of Pigs and everything. You really say it right when you call it America protecting the world. The question I like that came out of your piece is, is it America protecting the world or maintaining justice? Or is it America serving America’s own future and desires?? You wrote about Cuba not being a democracy and JFK not trusting them – you really get the audience thinking!

    I think something which makes your article interesting is that you focus on operations we don’t know a whole lot about. I get a bit tired sometimes from hearing about Vietnam, even though it’s an intriguing time, and you focus on much more than just Vietnam. I had little knowledge about Nicaragua and now I’m interested.

    Great stuff! Thanks.

  3. I have to agree with the above two comments, very clearly and concisely written. Great insight into the events and the role of the C.I.A, and clever packing together of main historical events to produce a nice piece. I would have liked to see a few references which would enhance the veracity of this work, and some further reading to guide the readers own inquiries. But other than that a great enjoyable piece.

  4. bmccrum says:

    This is really good, I’ve always been interested in this sort of thing but never had the time to really research it. The various cases that you have used as evidence works really well and you get a good argument stemming from it. Given that there is often a perception of America as seeing itself as the ‘World Police’, this paper looks like it has a very interesting argument that can shed light on how true that really is. Well done mate!

  5. argon3103 says:

    I really love it when people talk about the appalling record of the CIA when it comes to international relations. its not often talked about in mainstream media particularly within the U.S. and i feel it is a subject we could all stand to learn a little more about. I really like how your article brings together three disparate eras and tries to make a universal foreign policy stance emerge from the actions against three different ‘enemies.’ I like how your article seems to paint the picture of the CIA not always if ever following the consensus of the people, attempting to keep them out of the loop as much as possible.

    I wonder how many “patriotic Americans” would agree with what you have to say, or are even aware of the sort of activities that an agency of their government is undertaking?

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