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.
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.