Central Intelligence Agency

Hollywood’s Subversive Strategies: Unmasking the Power of Propaganda


I was watching F9 (of the Fast & Furious franchise) and I was struck by one line. The Fast crew is working for the CIA now (who are somehow the good guys) and the bad guy’s plan is to “reboot the world order within minutes.” As if that’s a bad thing. As if this world order is anything but permanent imperial war. But that’s Hollywood for ya.

The Fast Crew then proceeds to trash random countries willy-nilly because that’s the world order. This is why I root for the villains in movies now.

The full line in F9 is, “if you take Aries and upload it to a satellite, then it’ll be a matter of time before someone can control any weapon system, traditional, nuclear, stuff we haven’t even seen yet, and just point it wherever they want.” Of course this is what the American government, who they’re freelancing for, already does. They already have massive weapons systems pointed wherever they want. And they have already used them to kill millions this short century alone. They have already dropped nukes on civilian populations twice, invaded multiple countries and constantly assassinate and torture people — including American citizens and journalists — at will. This is the system the supposedly rebellious Fast & Furious crew defends, against imaginary opposition. Even more horrifying, this is the status quo we actually live under.

Defending this world order is the general plot of every Hollywood blockbuster. Some villain tries to change the status quo and gets violently put down. The superheroes of Avengers work with a US government department and many of this scripts have to be cleared with the Department of Defense before they’re released. The core propaganda message is that the way things are is fine, and any change is evil and must be violently resisted. This also matches the general perception on the western news, which is that bad guys are everywhere and America/NATO just has to be bombing/occupying/sanctioning everyone all the time.

There is actually no reason for this in the real world, but in Hollywood propaganda there’s always someone trying to end the world, which is why all this violence and violent technology is necessary. American hegemony system is necessary because otherwise people would be pointing nukes at you. Nevermind that the system is literally America pointing nukes at everyone else, and making themselves less safe in the process. No, you should be afraid of, uh, aliens, or Russians, or Arabs, or literally anything but the violent empire you actually live under.

Once you spot the narrative it’s hard to unsee it, because this storyline is everywhere. It’s loosely the hero’s journey, except weaponized by history’s greatest villains. The White Empire has figured out the plot to Star Wars and now uses it to put down any rebellious thoughts. Hell, they get people to cheer on the CIA, which to any moderately observant person is like watching a film cheering on the Gestapo. People sit in the cinema cheering Avengers or whatever, but what are they actually cheering for?

Despite having superpowers, those ‘heroes’ don’t actually do anything to change the world. They don’t build anything or do anything with their powers to help the oppressed of the world. Indeed, they both fictionally and actually collaborate with the US government and military. It’s only the villains that have any ideas, and they get beaten to death for their troubles. That’s what you’re cheering for. Rebellion is commodified and made into a Hollywood dream state, for people to sit in the dark and delude together. Meanwhile the climate-choking, nation-destroying, soul-crushing nightmare of White Empire goes on and on.

As another example (I’m just going by movies I’ve seen, but you can choose literally any one), take TENET. The Christopher Nolan film is about a future devastated by climate collapse which decides to do something. They send technology back to effectively reboot time. In response, the CIA gets one of their agents to violently defeat the ‘bad guys’ (Russians and Indians) which actually means… continuing civilization on course to collapse. Once you unwind the radical time-shift of Nolan’s work, it’s a shockingly conservative film.

No one here is remotely concerned about fact that the Earth gets unlivably bad. Instead they violently reassert the status quo, so a billionaire white woman can drop her kid off at private school. That’s literally the emotional climax of the film, while the CIA agent murders an old Indian lady that was trying to do something. I liked TENET when I saw it, but now that I’ve deconstructed the plot, it’s the same as every other film. Someone tries to change the world and that person is evil and must be murdered.

In both TENET and F9, the people doing the beating down are diverse. Modern Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion means being included into Empire, not Empire going down. For the global majority, it is us becoming like them, not them becoming like us. Some day a black man will be James Bond, causing havoc in random countries, when what we really need is a Jemis Bonda, trashing England, toppling the King, and stealing our stuff back. But that will never happen. The players change but the song remains the same. Full speed ahead down a climate, cultural, and spiritual cliff. They’re letting colored people and women take the wheel just in time to take the blame.

Hence you cast a black man or a white woman in a role which could just as easily be a white man. It’s purely cosmetic change. The new colored or female characters are still doing the same things that the old white men did. The women in these action films are ‘liberated’ by being as violent as the men and the black men are working for the CIA. Fucking great. It’s just a new lick of paint on the old imperial war machine which always was, come to think of it, staffed by colored people.

This is of course reflects reality. Art shapes life and life shapes art, it’s hard to say where one starts or ends. Hence in the UK they have brown Home Office Ministers being even more racist than the white ones. You get black artists and athletes expressing paeans to capitalism, because it worked for them. The deprivation that so many celebrities come from is sold as inspirational, and an exhortation to ‘work harder’, as if we must all be the best at something rather than simply living in a decent world. As if this is somehow a good system and not some wretched version of the Hunger Games, forcing people to entertain or fight gladiatorial battles for the basic ability to provide for their families.

Cosmetically, more and more of these blockbusters look like a diverse world, while under the hood it’s the same old imperial logic. Power is good, anything that changes power relations is bad, and any violence is justified in preventing change. Hence in F9, the formerly criminal Fast crew is now working for the CIA, and this world order is just presumed to be good. Yet this world order is the single worst polluter in the world, occupies over 750 military bases, besieges much of the world, coups/manipulates everyone else, and for what? There’s no aliens, there’s no villains trying to kill everyone for lols. The imperial violence is real and the threats are made up. That’s Hollywood’s role, and that’s the dirty work that the decades of propaganda has done.

Today countless films (here’s an attempted count from 2016) work with the US Department of Defense Entertainment Media Unit to produce privatize propaganda. As the Pentagon itself says, “Production agreements require the DoD to be able to review a rough cut of a film, so officials can decide if there are areas that need to be addressed before a film is released.” Hence if you’re going to depict the American military (in a big way), you need to be working with the bastards, which Hollywood has no particular problem with. More perniciously, almost all blockbusters follow the narrative demands of empire, which is to show that there are constant threats requiring constant external violence. This is general the plot of every big film, whether it plays with DoD toys or not.

People literally watch movies cheering on the CIA, whose literal job is to murder, lie, and steal. This, to me, is like the Nazi-film-within-a-film of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Watching that we laugh at a movie glorifying Nazi snipers, but there’s literally a movie called American Sniper. Because of the relentless films, Brits somehow think they won World War II by retreating and getting bombed and Americans think that they were somehow the victims of the Vietnam War. History truly repeats as farce, and people are oblivious to it. It is far better to — as they did in Inglourious — light this whole wretched cinema on fire.

What Hollywood thus produces is propaganda for a genocidal, racist, and planet-destroying White Empire which has merely hopped capitals from Europe to America. The American state (which was much admired by Hitler) are just Nazis that won. And today victors don’t just writes the history, they film the propaganda. And so the narrative of empire permeates all of its blockbusters, and lubricates actual block-busting of human homes. And we sit in the cinema and clap along. But not me. Not no more. I’m with the villains now.

Source: Medium

Henry Kissinger: Killer Case Officer


Many years ago I made a trip to New York to pitch publishers on a book about a murder case in South Vietnam involving the Green Berets and the CIA in Cambodia.  

At one of my stops, a young assistant editor gushed, “I love your proposal! But there’s one thing in the story I don’t understand: How could we bomb Cambodia ‘in secret?’”

Well, I thought, that’s a stupid question: The Pentagon Papers, leaked decades earlier, had detailed all sorts of secret raids on North Vietnam. But the young person’s question, intentionally or not, dug at something more complex: How was it that both Cambodian ruler Prince Sihanouk and Hanoi, whose troops in Cambodia were the target of American B-52s, also saw reason to stay quiet about the devastating carpet bombing? I ended up devoting considerable space to the issue in my book, even though it provided only an introductory context to the case I was recounting, about the Green Berets’ murder of one of their own spies in Cambodia.

The 1969 covert bombing of Cambodia was the brainchild of Henry Kissinger and his padrón, Richard Nixon, both devotées of the dark arts.  They knew that North Vietnam would not protest because it would require it to admit it had troops in Cambodia.  Likewise, Sihanouk would stay mum because he’d allowed them to gather there.

Sounds clever until the butcher’s bill is added up. The bombing of Cambodia would not shorten the Vietnam War, but expand  it, killing an estimated 150,000 civilians over four years, fueling the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge, toppling the Sihanouk regime  and eventually prompting a North Vietnamese invasion that solidified communist control of Indochina. 

Had Kissinger been more properly labeled a case officer than diplomat, his risk-versus-take record in this and other arenas would score him a walking disaster, no matter his heralded diplomatic skills in regard to China and Russia. At heart, he was a ruthless, amoral operator, no different in effect than his predecessors in the White House and CIA who engineered coup d’etats and assassination plots from Guatemala to Cuba, to the Congo and beyond.

Take Chile: In the autumn of 1970, “Kissinger supervised covert operations—codenamed FUBELT—to foment a military coup that led directly to the assassination of Chile’s commander-in-chief of the Army, General René Schneider,” according to CIA documents unearthed  by the privately run National Security Archive. It flopped. After the socialist Salvador Allende was inaugurated, “Kissinger personally convinced Nixon … to authorize a clandestine intervention” to create the conditions for Allende’s overthrow. It succeeded on September 11, 1973, when a coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet ousted and killed Allende, but the widely suspected U.S. hand in the events further damaged U.S. standing in the world, handed Moscow and Beijing propaganda windfalls and hardened the determination of liberation movements from South Africa to El Salvador.

At home, revelations of Kissinger’s demand that the FBI illegally wiretap his own aides in a search for leakers—operating as his own counterintelligence agent—further despoiled him and the Nixon administration. 

Abroad, his “realist” approach to backing despots over reformers led to setbacks and bloodbaths, from Cambodia to East Timor, East Pakistan to Iran, Egypt to Argentina,  to the whole of Central America and onto the streets of Washington, D.C. itself, where Chile’s secret police brazenly assassinated a prominent opponent in exile, Orlando Letelier.

Some record that is.  JFK fired Allen Dulles for far less. Yet Kissinger, the operator, is still with us, a “towering” figure in a crumbling Washington establishment that abides by his cynicism and relishes his bon mots. On Tuesday he turned 100, but his legacy remains very alive in the secret raids and drone strikes carried out by the U.S. from Syria to Somalia, Kabul and far beyond, unconstrained by a timorous Congress.

“You can trace a line from the bombing of Cambodia to the present,” Greg Grandin, author of Kissinger’s Shadow, recently told journalist Nick Turse, who’s carried out numerous investigations of Indochina atrocities.  “The covert justifications for illegally bombing Cambodia became the framework for the justifications of drone strikes and forever war…”

All this gave me reason today to revisit my 1992 book, A Murder in Wartime. Its underlying theme was the thuggery that had infiltrated the minds of the men conducting the long war and turned U.S. troops into natural born killers. You can do that to a man with enough time, brutality and weapons. But it starts at the top. 

God forbid that Henry Kissinger find a final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery. He deserves no rest at all. 

Source: SpyTalk

Espionage: Jack Teixeira and Me


Jack Teixeira and I have a couple things in common: Cape Cod and a Top Secret security clearance.

Way back in the summer of 1966, holding a draft notice that threatened to send me into combat in Vietnam, I found a way to apply for enlistment as an Army intelligence case officer. As I’ve oft said, I didn’t care much for camping, so I knew I’d fare badly as an infantryman in the Big Muddy.  An intelligence job held the prospect of landing me in some safe place like West Berlin, where I’d be tasked to recruit spies against the Soviets  Or so I thought. I ended up in Vietnam anyway, but that’s another story.

For final acceptance into the intelligence school, I needed to have a Top Secret clearance. According to my personnel file that I got decades later, Army counterintelligence agents fanned out to interview past neighbors, teachers, friends and so forth, to see if I could be trusted enough to hold a classified job and handle secret materials.  They all said nice things. Things went smoothly until they reached out to one of my few past employers—I was just a kid— a Mr. Sugarman, the proprietor of Sugarman Shoes, in Hyannis, Mass., where I’d briefly held a summer job three years earlier.  Sensing a potential national security threat, the agents raced down to Cape Cod to grill Mr. Sugarman in person. 

Why had he fired me? they asked Sugarman. “He was no good with women’s shoes,” he told them. 

Catastrophe averted, they probably bolted to the beach. 

But I wasn’t out of the woods, it would turn out. Checking my college records, the agents discovered I had seen a shrink briefly when I was a college freshman.

What was that about? they asked. I told them I’d wrestled with my sanity after a girl dropped me like a rock. It was no big deal, they decided. I was cleared for takeoff into the higher realms of intelligence training.

Standards must have changed a lot since then. Federal prosecutors revealed Wednesday that Jack Teixeira, the Air Force techie charged with leaking massive troves of highly classified military and intelligence documents, had been kicked out of high school in 2018 after a classmate overheard him talking about “Molotov cocktails, guns at the school, and racial threats.”  He was, they say, “a gun enthusiast.”

Teixeira continued his path down into an extremist wormhole after high school, prosecutors further alleged that, saying that last November he wrote a social media post that he wanted to kill a “ton of people” because it would be “culling the weak minded.” In February, he asked a fellow gun nut “for advice about what kind of rifle would fire best from an SUV,” according to The Washington Post’s account,  saying he wanted to commit a shooting in a ‘crowded urban or suburban environment.’” He was well prepared for that, investigators say, having a “virtual arsenal of weapons” stored at his places of residence.

“A search of Teixeira’s bedroom found that he kept a gun locker two feet from his bed containing handguns, bolt-action rifles, shotguns, an AK-style weapon and a gas mask, among other weapons,” the Post reported.  

“​​They also found a silencer-style accessory in his desk, and a military-style helmet and mounting bracket in the dumpster outside the house,” Gizmodo added. “All weapons were seized, but a search of his parents’ residences found bolt-action rifles, AR and AK-style weapons, and a bazooka.”

Missing Link

Obviously, all the circuit breakers that should’ve prevented Teixeira from getting into the Air Force, much less anywhere near classified documents, failed to work.

The Air Force has suspended the operation commander and detachment commander of the 102nd Intelligence Wing, where Teixeira served. It’s a start.

But it hardly needs saying that the Air Force needs to look at its security-clearance investigators as well, who failed to live up to the standards Army gumshoes applied to me and Mr. Sugarman.  Teixeria’s high school suspension should have triggered a deeper security clearance probe—that’s how it’s supposed to work: They trip over one oddity and start digging.  Did they dismiss Teixeira’s chatter about “Molotov cocktails, guns at the school, and racial threats” as the typical braggadocio of white male teens at the school lockers?  Or did they share Teixeira’s enthusiasm for guns and race-hazing and find his warped bullshit entertaining? Alas, it’s all too possible. 

As the Jan. 6 investigators discovered, too many neo-Nazi and white supremacy extremists have found a home in the military services, including their intelligence ranks. Last year SpyTalk reported that an internal U.S. intelligence messaging system—a kind of classified Twitter channel for I.C. employees—had become a “dumpster fire of hate speech” by 2019, in the wake of PresidentTrump’s repeated lenient remarks about white supremacists.

Signs are it’s getting worse. Over the weekend, two soldiers were suspected of lighting fires and spray-painting racial slurs and a penis on the walls of a barracks at Ft. Hood, Texas, Military.com reported. On Wednesday a soldier at Ft. Bragg, N.C., home of the Green Berets,  pleaded guilty to possessing an unregistered short-barrel rifle, which he intended to use “to physically remove” as many of black and brown people he could find in neighboring counties, according to the feds. A search of his home found “two extended magazines, ammunition, as well as an American flag with a Swastika, instead of the blue field and stars, and other Nazi-type patches.”  

So perhaps we should not be all that surprised that, despite Teixeira’s troubled backstory, he won an assignment to the 102nd Intelligence Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base on the Cape—whereupon he was not only granted a Top Secret security clearance, he began sharing high level classified traffic with his pals in guns and wargamers chat rooms. It went undetected for a year, investigators think.

Something is seriously wrong here. It’s a bigger story—and problem—than one man’s torrential leak.

Pardon Me

Which brings me to another personal point of reference:  During the year I spent at the Defense Language School preparing to go to Vietnam, I and a number of classmates turned sour on the war. I even tried to transfer out of intelligence into the medics. (The bid was rejected.) My dismay about Vietnam only deepened after a few weeks in-country. (“What took you so long?” a CIA veteran chortled to me over lunch last year.) But it never crossed my mind to leak the classified documents I had showing the futility of the U.S. war effort. Nor, I bet, did it occur to my comrades.  

Plenty of leaks did occur, to be sure, about the disparity between the Saigon command’s rosy claims and battlefield realities. In 1971, Daniel Ellsburg leaked the sordid history of the U.S. in Vietnam only after it was clear officials’ upbeat statements about their progress in the war were malevolent hogwash. But most any journalist conscientious enough to travel with troops in the field knew that.

What I’m struck by is Teixeira’s evident lack of purpose in leaking documents other than to show off—and his chatroom pals’ utter indifference to the eye-popping documents and reporting the breach, according to reports.  

Is this a Gen-Z thing, an age group soaked into passivity by tides of political posturing, government lies (say, about Iraq WMD and the Afghanistan war), and social media’s wicked crosscurrents of conspiracy theories, spy-agency disinformation campaigns and “fake news”? 

Or is it a wargamer and gun enthusiasts thing, abetted by the military?  

“Teixeira’s  blithe attitude toward sharing top secret documents on the [Discord] channels is less surprising when we consider how the military’s recruitment and training eroded important boundaries separating harmless, at-home wargaming from real life military conflicts,” extremism and propaganda expert Emma L. Briant wrote here at SpyTalk two weeks ago. “That followed last year’s problematic Army recruitment ads for its 4th Psychological Operations Group, which, amazingly enough,  were created to appeal to young folks drawn to conspiracy theories. Research shows that the embrace of conspiracy theories can lead to radicalization and violence, which in the military  may be worsened by combat-induced trauma or psychological distress.”

In America today, radicalism takes the form of rank racism, says extremism expert Kathleen Belew, author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.

“If anybody thinks this is just a kid playing around on Discord, please go look at the charging documents, which feature the ideological writings, and the weapons, of Teixeira,” she wrote Thursday on Twitter. 

“Also, in case you haven’t yet heard me say this, when it comes to the white power movement, THERE ARE NO LONE WOLVES,” she added (her caps). “Actors work WITHIN A MOVEMENT and we have to study both. DO NOT allow this to remain a narrative about one disaffected young man.”

It’s not. The movement is here, and metastasizing, it seems. How the military, especially, deals with it, is one hell of a problem—for us all.

Courtesy: SpyTalks

Bombing Khartoum; CIA’s Latest Attempted Coup in Africa


As I write the Sudanese Air Force is bombing Sudan’s capital city of Khartoum, an act of desperation really, because the war launched by the CIA backed coup attempt is not going very well for the coupsters. Reliable reports from Sudan say over 75% of the country is under the control of “opposition” fighters of the Rapid Strike Forces (RSF) with the head of Sudans National Intelligence surrendering along with a senior general and with another senior general being captured.

The CIA’s henchman, Sudanese Supreme Commander Gen. Burhan and self styled “Sultan of Sudan” was set on dismantling/crushing his main opposition, Gen. Hemeti, head of the RSF and preventing a civilian government from taking power from him, something Gen. Hemeti supports. Hemeti was the one who first pushed through the return to civilian rule after the former gangster President Bashir was overthrown in a palace coup by Gen. Burhan. Burhan has since staged another coup against the civilian government, and is the absolute ruler of Sudan today.

Apparently the CIA couldn’t get Gen. Burhan to act quickly enough to wipe out the RSF and arrest Hemeti, his main rival. The RSF, true to their name, struck first last week and the Sudanese Army under Burhan has been on the back foot from the get go.

The RSF has captured a long rumored Egyptian Air Force base in south Sudan, broadcasting images of Egyptian Air Force personnel and several Egyptian Air Force fighter bombers. This base was where the Egyptian military, whose salaries are paid by $1.5 billion in US funds dispersed by the CIA, were threatening to launch an attack on Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam if  Ethiopia didnt agree to give Egypt control of the Nile River’s water.

Gen. Burhan is well known for sending dozens of flights of heavy Antonov cargo planes with hundreds of tons of weapons to the CIA backed TPLF attempted coup against the Ethiopia government during the “ceasefires” the CIA forced the Ethiopians to accept during the war from 2020-2022.

Hemeti is supported by the Eritreans, from which he returned from a visit last month, and the Ethiopians, who have been threatened repeatedly by the Egyptians. Last year Hemeti visited Russian for an extended period and when he returned it turns out, thanks to a Burhan press conference, that Sudan and Russia had agreed to a Red Sea naval base for the Russian Navy. 

Burhan is the one who has been pressing for normalization of relations with Israel, something not popular with the Sudanese people but very much supported by the CIA.

Now Burhan has sent “his” air force force to bomb “his” capital city, something never before done in history. Questions are being raised about who is actually piloting the planes dropping high explosives on the citizens of Khartoum for most of the families of the Sudanese Air Force pilots live in Khartoum. Speculation is that Egyptian pilots are the only ones Burhan can rely on to carry out some pretty desperate acts, war crimes really, as his forces on the ground are being routed.

Hopefully this war, which came out of the blue and has developed rapidly will come to an end soon and the long suffering Sudanese people will be able to live in peace once again. Unfortunately, not if the CIA has its way, they want their henchman Burhan or no one, the US way or let all hell break loose. Happily, it looks so far that the latest CIA coup attempt in the Horn of Africa is being defeated. We will see what the future brings for Sudan. One thing is for sure, Eritrea and Ethiopia are not going to sit by and watch the CIA destroy peace in Sudan like they tried to do in Ethiopia.

Views expressed are the author’s own

The CIA’s Legacy: Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones on Key Events that Shaped American Intelligence


Exclusive to Sri Lanka Guardian

by Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor

In his most recent book, A Question of Standing, historian and former political candidate Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones takes a close look at the first 75 years of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the recognizable events that have shaped its history. In a recent interview with our diplomatic affairs editor, Jeffreys-Jones discussed the ongoing relevance of the CIA and the vital intelligence function it continues to perform in a wide variety of situations.

Born in Wales in 1942, Jeffreys-Jones boasts an impressive academic background, including a B.A. from UCW Aberystwyth and a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. He has held numerous postdoctoral fellowships and research awards, including from the Leverhulme Trust, the British Academy, and the Fulbright Programme. For many years, Jeffreys-Jones was a Professor of History at the University of Edinburgh and the chair of its Department of History, the largest department of any description in a non-collegiate UK university.

Jeffreys-Jones is the author of five edited books and twelve more books as the sole author, including The American Left: Its Impact on Politics and Society since 1900 and The Nazi Spy Ring in America: Hitler’s Agents, the FBI, and the Case that Stirred the Nation. He is also the founder and former chair of the Scottish Association for the Study of America, where he currently serves as honorary president.

Read on for Jeffreys-Jones’s insights into the CIA’s past, present, and future

Sri Lanka Guardian (SLG): What inspired you to write A Question of Standing, and what do you hope readers will take away from it?

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones (RJJ): My interest in espionage arose from an earlier concern with labour spies. One day, my friend Draguliub Zivojinovic suggested, in the light of that concern, that I look at the papers of English novelist Somerset Maugham, who, it transpired, spied on the Bolsheviks in St Petersburg on behalf of the UK and USA. It sparked my long-term interest in intelligence history. More recently, with the approach of the 75th anniversary of the CIA, I noticed there was no up to date survey of the agency’s history. I thought there was an opportunity to meet that need and at the same time to correct what in my view seemed to be certain misconceptions. The book is organized chronologically and around particular themes that most readers will recognize, such as Cuba, Iran, and the killing of Osama bin Laden. I hope readers will take away a better understanding of topics in which they are already interested, and take the opportunity to develop a broader view, too.

SLG: The CIA has been a controversial agency throughout its history. What, in your opinion, are some of the key moments or decisions that have shaped its reputation?

RJJ: There has been a tendency to take a US-centered view of this matter. According to this perspective, the CIA’s reputation for anticipating events had proceeded from one trough to another. Failure to predict when the Soviets would achieve atomic capability, to anticipate the Yom Kippur War, and to forestall 9/11, are legendary. The assumption is that between these events the agency has registered a stream of unknown triumphs, unknown because of the secret nature of the business. On the operational front, too, visible disasters have affected perceptions. The failure of the Bay of Pigs operation to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba is an example. There have also been perceived operational triumphs, such as the killing of Bin Laden, an event that inspired a spontaneous gathering of people outside the White House chanting ‘CIA! CIA!’

A main argument on my book is that the reputation of the CIA outside America is a different story. The CIA’s overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s produced an adverse reaction in non-aligned nations and contributed to the USA’s loss of a majority in the UN General Assembly. They were disasters masquerading – in the USA – as successes. Outside the USA the Bay of Pigs was a culmination of woes, not (as perceived in the USA) a first-time occurrence.

SLG: Your book takes a balanced approach to the CIA, neither celebrating nor condemning its actions. Can you talk more about this approach and how you arrived at it?

RJJ: US and other reviewers of the book comment on my objectivity. My non-partisanship can be explained by the fact that I am neither a US citizen who has grown up unconsciously supportive of American perspectives, nor a citizen of a victim country that has been adversely affected by the CIA’s actions, and thus takes an instinctively critical stance.

The point could be made that I am not quite so objective as reviewers say, as I am British, and the UK is a loyal supporter to the USA in international affairs. However, there is a further gloss here. I grew up in a small Celtic country. My native language is Welsh, not English. When kids of my generation went to the cinema in Wales and saw ‘Western’ movies, we cheered the ‘Indians’ and booed the US cavalry. Long ago, the Celts were victims of Roman, then Norman, then English imperialism. Even if that is a fading memory, resistance to external domination remains in the blood.

SLG: In your view, what is the most important contribution that the CIA has made to US foreign relations over the past 75 years?

RJJ: Restraint. The sober intelligence estimates supplied by civilian analysts in the CIA have helped more than once to enable the USA to step back from the brink of disaster. In the 1950s, the CIA discredited a distorted view of Soviet intentions and capabilities promoted by the military. In the 1970s the agency supplied intelligence that led to a limitation of the nuclear arms race. In the 1980s its reports facilitated the end of the Cold War. In 2007, a famous intelligence finding discredited claims that Iran was constructing nuclear weapons. In all these cases, bloodthirsty militaristic hawks were kept at bay.

SLG: How has the role and standing of the CIA changed over time, and what factors have contributed to these changes?

RJJ: One factor is that in times of international tension American citizens rallied to support the CIA, seeing it as a patriotic institution. Conversely, in periods of detente, such as in the 1970s and 1990s, there were press criticisms and congressional investigations. Since 9/11, the picture has changed, and people have post-Cold War priorities. For example, the CIA plunged in Republican voters’ esteem when the agency confronted President Trump over the Russian attempt to manipulate the 2016 presidential election. Outside the USA, the drivers of standing have been different. For example, I have never met an American who did not approve of President Obama’s decision to kill Bin Laden instead of bringing him to trial. Outside the USA, there are questions about the wisdom and justice of that act, and of the wider policy of assassination by drone.

The domestic standing of the CIA — in the White House, Congress, and public opinion — governs the degree to which it can influence policy. Infractions of civil liberties at home, for example spying on student protesting the Vietnam War, are a sure stimulus to discontent with the CIA. It should be added that the position changed in 2004, when an intelligence reform act reduced the standing of the CIA. After that date, the director of the CIA no longer had the additional job of coordinating the entire intelligence community. That change reflected two events that damaged the standing of the CIA — its failure to anticipate the 9/11 attack, and its erroneous endorsement of the view that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — a finding that led to the disastrous US invasion of Iraq that destabilized the Middle East.

SLG: One of the chapters in your book focuses on the CIA’s involvement in the War on Terror. How do you evaluate the agency’s performance in this conflict?

RJJ: Not highly. On the tactical level, the CIA can be superficially effective. For example, it can use technology and sometimes information from informers to identify suspects and to kill them, or to ‘render’ (i.e. kidnap and deliver) them to interrogation centers. This kind of operation comes at a cost in terms of ‘soft diplomacy’ as it alienates many who might otherwise by sympathetic with what the US is trying to accomplish. The US projects an image of a country devoted to the rule of law, but certain actions of the CIA make that seem like hypocrisy.

A more fundamental flaw stems from the foreign policy objectives that underpin the CIA’s choice of actions. One person’s terrorist is another person’s patriot, saint, or martyr. Those whom the CIA targets often seem, to the target’s sympathizers, to have right on their side. The classic example, one that evokes strong reactions in the overlapping Moslem and Arab worlds, is the Palestinian resistance movement. America’s one-sided support of the Israeli government’s disregard for Palestinian rights and aspirations has for decades been the single greatest fomenter of international terrorism. To deal with that type of terrorism, policy change is more important than any action the CIA may undertake.

SLG:  The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 is seen as having diminished the CIA’s role. Can you talk about the reasons for this and whether you think it was the right decision?

RJJ: The Act seemed to diminish the CIA’s role because it implied that the agency had been incompetent in regard to 9/11, and then to weapons of mass destruction. These verdicts diminished faith in the agency and caused demoralization within it. In administrative terms, management of the wider intelligence community (including the FBI, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, etc.) passed from the office of the director of the CIA to the office of the newly created Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Important analytical responsibilities shifted to the Council for National Security, which reported in turn to the DNI. It remains to be seen whether the DNI coordinates intelligence better than the CIA. My view is that the arrangement will remain in place until the next intelligence disaster.No-one can convincingly argue that a Pearl Harbor or 9/11 will never again happen. To return to a subtlety in your question, ‘seen as having diminished the CIA’s role’, all is indeed not as it seems. The CIA is still a powerful and essential tool in the USA’s national security kit. It has an espionage and analytical capacity that remains indispensable.

SLG: Your book defends the CIA’s exposure of foreign meddling in US elections. What do you think are the key challenges facing the agency in this area, and how can they be addressed?

RJJ: The CIA’s John Brennan warned the Russians in advance that any attempt to meddle in internal US affairs would backfire. Consciously or unconsciously, he may have been thinking of the CIA’s own experiences — for examples, the agency’s participation in a plot to overthrow the democratic government of Iran in 1953 created a backlash that continues to the present day.

When President Vladimir Putin’s surrogates ignored Brennan’s advice and secretly tried to discredit Hilary Clinton’s bid for the US presidency in 2016, it was with the intention of strengthening the chances of Donald Trump, a declared friend of Russia. But when the CIA exposed the plot, it made it impossible for President Trump, once elected, to enact his dream of more harmonious Russo-American relations. Arguably, Russian enactment of distrust of NATO via the invasion of Ukraine would not have taken place, had Trump succeeded in his foreign policy goal. A cynic might push the argument further and argue that the CIA should have let matter lie.

As things stand, the key challenges now facing the CIA are how to expedite Ukrainian resistance while, at the same time, facilitating a ‘back channel’ approach to Moscow to try to bring about a return to peace.

A Question of Standing

SLG: Looking to the future, what role do you think the CIA will play in US foreign relations, and what challenges will it face?

RJJ: The CIA will continue to perform a vital intelligence function in a wide variety of situations we can only guess at today. Under the current leadership of President Joe Biden and CIA director William Burns, it would seem that (except for operations no doubt currently underway in Ukraine) the agency has turned a corner and is running fewer undercover action programs. It remains to be seen whether future presidents will have the strength of character to resist taking the apparently easy option of covert action when faced with difficult foreign policy issues.

In intelligence terms, the challenge is to know how and when to change. America was taken by surprise at the time of 9/11 partly because the CIA did not have sufficient foreign-language capacity quickly to translate digital messages emanating from Afghanistan that would have given clues about the attack. But such crises are difficult to foresee. Which languages should CIA specialists learn for the future?

I concur with the warning given by many specialists, that digital threats to national security will become more and more serious. Countering them will take a great deal of technical skill and — a CIA responsibility — counterintelligence. Proportionality needs to be kept in mind. Do you exclude Chinese chip technology at a cost to your communications systems? Would it be better to trade, bearing in mind the economist Adam Smith’s axiom that world trade equals world peace? Does trade-dependency always carry an unacceptable risk of blackmail?

SLG: Finally, what are you working on next, and what can readers expect from your future writing?

RJJ: I have now returned to my earlier interest in labour espionage. Spying on workers was the economic mainstay of America’s ground-breaking Pinkerton National Detective Agency. My near-complete book, Allan Pinkerton: His Life and Legacies, opens with chapters about the agency’s founder, who was born in Scotland, where I now reside. The book goes on to discuss the origins of modern surveillance, and the respective merits of public and private police services. Once Georgetown University Press have published that book, my plan is to write a number of shorter pieces on subjects ranging from the origins of US central intelligence to the politics of preserving non-English languages, especially Welsh.