From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]




‘Legacy of Ashes’ looks at the consequences of the U.S.’ ineffectual spying
Tim Weiner’s book is a magisterial account of the CIA’s history.
By Tim Rutten  /  June 29, 2007

ANY history of a secret agency is bound to be, in certain important
respects, provisional.

Even when you take that real-world caveat into account, however, it
still is clear that Tim Weiner’s “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the
CIA” is about as magisterial an account of “the agency’s” 60 years as
anyone has yet produced. More than that, it is a timely and vital
contribution to one of the most fraught debates now roiling our
bitterly divided capital: the correct role of the intelligence
agencies and their proper relationship not only to the executive and
legislative branches but also to the rule of law itself.

Clearly, Weiner’s publisher realizes that: When the CIA announced it
would this week release redacted accounts of its misconduct over the
years – the so-called family jewels – this book’s release was advanced
to this month, from Aug. 7. It was a shrewd decision. The agency’s
familial gems turned out to be mostly paste – at best, additional
details concerning things already broadly known – but “Legacy of
Ashes,” by contrast, fairly glitters with relevance.

Weiner, a New York Times reporter who covered the CIA for that paper
during the 1990s, has been working on this book for at least 20 years.
He’s a superb reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 at the
Philadelphia Inquirer for stories he did on the Pentagon’s “black,” or
secret, budget. He turned that material into his first book, which was
followed by what many people consider the definitive book on Soviet
mole Aldrich H. Ames’ devastating betrayal of the CIA.

The most remarkable and, for that matter, admirable thing about
“Legacy of Ashes” is that it is based entirely on primary sources and
on-the-record interviews. Nothing goes unattributed, and when the
author does draw his conclusions – which he does frequently and with
refreshing clarity – they have that muscular authority that only facts
can create.

Those facts are drawn from multiple sources, including the author’s
exclusive access to the CIA’s own numerous secret histories of its
operations, from more than 50,000 documents – many newly declassified
– in the archives of the agency, White House and State Department,
from on-the-record interviews with 10 directors of central
intelligence and from more than 300 interviews with current and former
CIA agents and officials.

In Weiner’s view, the story that emerges is “how the most powerful
country in the history of Western civilization has failed to create a
first-rate spy service. That failure constitutes a danger to the
national security of the United States…. The annals of the Central
Intelligence Agency are filled with folly and misfortune, along with
acts of bravery and cunning. They are replete with fleeting successes
and long-lasting failures abroad…. The one crime of lasting
consequence has been the CIA’s inability to carry out its central
mission: informing the president of what is happening in the world.”

The current war in Iraq is but the most immediate bloody consequence
of that failure.

Weiner does a brilliant job of delineating the ambivalence that
attended the CIA’s creation after World War II. President Truman
wanted to know what was going on in the world around him but was
reluctant to create an “American Gestapo”: He was initially convinced
that’s what a centralized intelligence agency would become. Indeed,
the CIA’s predecessor in World War II, the Office of Strategic
Services (OSS), had a spotty record, studded with heroism and
spectacularly costly failures. Its severest critics, however, noted
that the OSS’ greatest strengths had been analytic rather than
operational. Truman initially decided to forgo an intelligence agency,
and then he was maneuvered into creating the CIA not only by those in
the government who thought spies were needed but also by the
increasingly urgent exigencies of the nascent Cold War.

None of that ambivalence would keep Truman or his equally conflicted
successors from turning to the CIA for extralegal, clandestine
operations at home and abroad. The temptation, right down to the
present day, simply has proved too great for any occupant of the
executive office to resist. The irony, as Weiner documents, is that
the agency never has been more of a failure than when it has been most

Even its storied “successes” in Iran, Guatemala, Chile and Afghanistan
– all of which are examined in fresh new light in this book – turned
out to be long-term failures. The agency – despite the incalculable
cost of its technical and analytic component – has failed to give
warning of every significant international event from the onset of the
Korean War to 9/11. Along the way, it gave American officials and
military officials particularly faulty information on the Balkans and

From the beginning, the CIA’s most crucial responsibility – appraising
Soviet intentions and capabilities – evoked a mixture of invincible
ignorance and incomprehension. Weiner sketches out a particularly
chilling and detailed scene in which then U.S. envoy to Moscow Walter
Bedell Smith (Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s former chief of staff) goes
alone to the Kremlin for a one-on-one meeting with Josef Stalin,
designed to divine the dictator’s intentions. Further description of
their encounter would undercut the confrontation’s cinematic impact in
the book, which is considerable.

When it came to understanding and grappling directly with the Soviet
Union and its very effective intelligence operations, the CIA failed
miserably over and over again. As late as May 1981, Weiner writes,
“[t]he Soviets weighed the rhetoric and the realities of the Reagan
Administration and began to fear a surprise attack by the United
States. They went on a global nuclear alert that lasted for two years.
The superpowers came too close for comfort to an accidental nuclear
war without the CIA ever realizing it.” Former CIA director (and now
secretary of Defense) Robert M. Gates, who was then the agency’s
foremost Soviet analyst, told Weiner, “We did not then grasp the
growing desperation of the men in the Kremlin … how pedestrian,
isolated and self-absorbed they were; how paranoid, fearful they

Equally disturbing, the record shows that when it came to spy vs. spy,
the Soviets had the CIA for lunch. Moscow infiltrated the OSS and the
CIA from the start, planting moles who did invaluable service for the
Kremlin, decade after decade. The CIA never succeeded in penetrating
the Soviet regime or its intelligence agencies on any significant or
consistent level.

Weiner is particularly good on Bill Clinton’s cluelessly dysfunctional
relationship with the CIA – and on its consequences. It was a
devastating period for the agency, which had enjoyed a particularly
favored position when one of its former directors, George H.W. Bush,
occupied the White House. Clinton knew next to nothing about R. James
Woolsey when he named him director, and the two met precisely twice
over the next two years.

“I didn’t have a bad relationship with the president,” Woolsey said,
“I just didn’t have one at all.”

Clinton further affronted the agency because he “never came to the CIA
to pay respects to the dead and wounded” after a Pakistani-born gunman
attacked the agency’s Langley, Va., offices in 1993. “He sent his wife
instead.” According to Weiner, “It is hard to exaggerate how much fury
this created at headquarters.”

That anger was equaled when Clinton ordered an entirely ineffectual
response to what the CIA believed was Saddam Hussein’s attempt to kill
former President Bush and members of his family when they visited
Kuwait. The U.S. retaliated with a missile strike on the headquarters
of Iraqi intelligence, but as Woolsey told Weiner, “Saddam tries to
assassinate former President Bush and President Clinton fires a couple
of dozen cruise missiles into an empty building in the middle of the
night in Baghdad, thereby retaliating quite effectively against Iraqi
cleaning women and night watchmen.”

Clinton also refused to accept one of the agency’s rare, real-time
warnings concerning an impending international catastrophe: the
genocide in Rwanda. When he chose to intervene in Haiti to support
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, he discovered that the priest-turned-
president’s major antagonists were drug-dealing Haitian intelligence
officials, trained and financed by the CIA. As a consequence, he –
like other chief executives before him (notably Richard Nixon) – came
to believe the agency was riddled with opponents of his policies.

That was one of the reasons Clinton delegated dealing with the CIA to
a national security staffer, George J. Tenet. We’re still dealing with
the consequences of that mistake, though Weiner gives a far more
coherent and convincing account of the agency’s failures in the run-up
to the Iraq war than Tenet did in his own recent memoir.

Weiner believes in the indispensability of an intelligence agency, but
he’s too good a reporter and too realistic an analyst not to weigh the
possibility that, as the world’s most open society, we may lack the
genius for constructing a necessarily secret institution. As he points
out, during the years when the myth of the agency’s omnipotence was
being constructed, the CIA “concealed its failures abroad, lying to
Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. It told those lies to preserve its
standing in Washington. The truth, said Don Gregg, a skilled Cold War
station chief, was that the agency at the height of its powers had a
great reputation and a terrible record.”

In other words, we Americans may not be much good at spying, but we’re
hell at public relations.

{timothy [dot] rutten [at] latimes [dot] com}

Tim Weiner’s ‘Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA’
Bad Company: A history of the CIA, warts and all – but mostly warts
By Roger Gathman  /  Sunday, July 08, 2007

In archaeology, generally, the further back you dig, the more obscure
things get. We know more, for instance, about Greece in 500 B.C. than
Greece in 900 B.C. But in that peculiar subgenre of history that
studies the Central Intelligence Agency, the order is exactly the
reverse. Because top secret papers are only declassified decades after
they were written, we have a much better idea of what the CIA did in
1955 than 1995.

Thus, the big headlines two weeks ago announcing the release of a
batch of documents revealing the CIA’s illegal activities during …
the period between the 1950s and the 1970s.

Author Tim Weiner has clearly made up his mind about the CIA, but he
nonetheless presents a valuable and vivid critique.

And so it goes with New York Times reporter Tim Weiner’s “Legacy of
Ashes,” which, spurred by the recent CIA revelations, was rushed into
stores nearly six weeks ahead of schedule. Though the book purports to
be a history of the CIA to the present day, it’s stronger on the
Kennedy years than the Clinton years.

All histories of the CIA owe a debt to the founding fathers of CIA
history – Thomas Powers, author of “The Man Who Kept the Secrets,” a
biography of CIA director Richard Helms, and David Martin, whose “A
Wilderness of Mirrors” is an account of the CIA’s counterespionage
tactics during the ’60s. But unlike Powers and Martin, Weiner hasn’t
built his history the old-fashioned way, piecing together leaks and
obscure hints. Rather, he has taken advantage of the CIA’s vast trove
of declassified materials.

Of course, you have to know where to find the tidbits. You have to
keep tabs on journals like Studies in Intelligence. And you have to be
good at spotting patterns. Weiner is very good. But once the trail of
documents runs thin – right around the time of the Iran-Contra
scandals – there’s a distinct sense of running out of steam. Of
course, the CIA, in the post-Cold War era, has often exuded that same
sense of exhaustion.

The main thrust of Weiner’s book is encoded in the title, which is
taken from a comment Dwight Eisenhower made as he was leaving office.
Looking back on eight years of covert activity and increasingly
complex intelligent missions, Eisenhower felt that the whole thing was
a flop – that the U.S. was no better equipped to avert another Pearl
Harbor than it was before the CIA was created. He told CIA director
Allen Dulles that he was leaving a “legacy of ashes” for his
successor. Weiner thinks Eisenhower was right. As a historian, he
leans less toward the marmoreal distance of a Gibbon and more towards
the hanging judge’s summation of points. The CIA doesn’t stand a
chance in Wiener’s courtroom.

Doomed from the start?

The CIA’s failures might have been encoded in its DNA; from the start,
the agency was endowed with two conflicting goals. On the one hand, it
was supposed to perform the traditional work of spycraft – ferreting
out information. On the other hand, it was also supposed to manage
covert activities – in essence, act as America’s secret guerrilla

But from the beginning, nobody quite knew how to get good intelligence
on the Soviet Union, nor what it meant to take covert action against
it. Land paramilitaries? The CIA tried it in Albania and they were
wiped out. Parachute in resistance fighters? It was tried in the
Soviet Union and Poland, and the paratroopers were never heard from

The CIA was so obsessed with the Soviets that it failed to notice that
communism came in different flavors – that, for instance, North
Vietnam might not be a mere tool of the Soviets. Here, Weiner is
scathing. As he makes clear, the human cost of the CIA’s actions rose
exponentially when it began meddling in the third world. There were
disgraceful coups in Iran and Guatemala and even secret wars – one of
which, against Indonesia, took place in 1958 and eerily foreshadowed
the much more famous Bay of Pigs disaster in Cuba. Weiner’s chapter on
this episode is typical of what makes “Legacy of Ashes” so valuable.
It isn’t that he has come up with many scoops; rather, it’s the
connections and the narrative he draws that are new.

Until the ’90s, books about the CIA rarely if ever mentioned the
abortive plot to overthrow Indonesian president Sukarno; the official
chronology of the operation was only declassified in 2002. To
understand the human aspect of the operation, Weiner tracked down and
interviewed Al Pope, one of the American pilots who was shot down by
the Indonesians and imprisoned for three years. Pope, in the best cold
warrior fashion, explained himself thusly: “I enjoyed killing
Communists … I liked killing Communists any way I could get them.”
That, in fact, he wasn’t killing communists – that the Indonesian army
was staffed at the highest levels by officers who called themselves
the sons of Eisenhower, and that the entire operation was sparked by
hysteria over Sukarno refusing to ban the Communist party – made no
difference to the CIA.

Of course, it made a difference to Sukarno. After being attacked by
the U.S., he veered further to the left over the next eight years,
until he was overthrown in one of the bloodiest coups in history in
1965. And so it was that CIA failures, kept secret in the U.S., were
public knowledge elsewhere, creating an asymmetry between what
Americans knew about the world and what the world knew about

While these events have been studied by many historians, much of what
Wiener writes about is relatively fresh. The CIA’s manipulation of
Japanese politics was first revealed by Wiener himself in a series of
Times stories in 1994 and is enlivened here with new information. He
has interviewed all the principles and used documents declassified as
recently as 2006 to show that the CIA spent millions of dollars to put
a convicted war criminal in the Japanese prime minister’s chair in
1957, and then spent millions bribing the chief politicians of the
Liberal Democratic Party. Not coincidentally, that party had the money
to dominate Japan from the ’50s to the ’90s.

Prophecy’s not their business

Weiner’s critique of the CIA’s history of covert action is both vivid
and damning. But he is less convincing on the issue of intelligence
gathering, where he repeatedly faults the CIA for failing to predict
this event or that event.Contrary to common belief, intelligence isn’t
a matter of simple prophecy. Rather, it develops a sense of plausible
outcomes given a certain set of circumstances.

The CIA’s failure to predict the date of the fall of the Soviet Union
and the date of the first Indian bomb test weren’t failures of
intelligence. What were failures were biases that blinded analysts
from seeing that various crises were pushing the Soviet Union toward a
major meltdown, or that India would have to respond to Pakistan’s atom
test in some way. In other words, the problem with the CIA’s
intelligence is that it is not adaptive. Creating rigorous predictive
benchmarks actually creates worse intelligence, as it either produces
sterility (nobody wanting to be proven wrong) or encourages just the
kind of one-sided skewing that was the norm in the run-up to the Iraq

The last chapters of Weiner’s book are devoted to the period just
before and after Sept. 11, 2001. Here, one feels that his schematic
sense of the history of the CIA leads him to give a less than fair
reading of events. The CIA worked hard to alert Condoleezza Rice and
President Bush himself to the threat of al Qaeda. You can’t blame the
CIA for the fact that Bush wasn’t listening. On the other hand, you
can blame the CIA for keeping to its old compartmentalized ways. Yet,
oddly, Weiner doesn’t score the CIA on what is obvious in retrospect:
its inability to heal the breach with other agencies, particularly the

Perhaps all of the woes of the CIA, both those it has caused and those
it has suffered, stem, ultimately, from the habit of secrecy itself.
We are often told that democracies can’t fight wars, or that
democracies are fragile because a totalitarian foe has supposedly
endless reserves of “will” to call upon. This is bunkum. Democracies
are strong precisely because they are open, and therefore willing to
institutionalize self-correction. Closed societies and organizations,
by contrast, tend toward groupthink. Perhaps the grimmest irony to be
found in “Legacy of Ashes” is that the same problems that plagued the
Soviet Union – a geriatric leadership, an old-boy network that
promoted people to their highest level of incompetence, the energy
spent on preserving institutional privilege instead of improving
institutional performance – have long been mirrored in its old enemy,
the CIA.

Chalmers Johnson, Agency of Rogues

The secret prison was set up on a secure U.S. Naval base outside the
U.S. and so beyond the slightest recourse to legal oversight. It was
there that the CIA clandestinely brought its “suspects” to be
interrogated, abused, and tortured.

That description might indeed sound like Guantanamo 2002, but think
again. According to New York Times reporter Tim Weiner’s new history
of the Central Intelligence Agency, Legacy of Ashes — a remarkable
treasure trove of grim and startling information you hadn’t known
before — this actually happened first in the Panama Canal Zone in the
early 1950s. It was there, as well as at two secret prisons located in
Germany and Japan, the defeated Axis powers (and not, in those days,
in Thailand or Rumania), that the CIA brought questionable double
agents for “secret experiments” in harsh interrogation, “using
techniques on the edge of torture, drug-induced mind control, and
brainwashing.” This was but a small part of “Project Artichoke,” a 15-
year, multi-billion dollar “search by the CIA for ways to control the
human mind.”

No book in recent memory has done such a superb job of illuminating
the roiling, disastrous, thoroughly destructive path through history
of America’s top covert-operations agency over the last six decades,
what Chalmers Johnson has often called “the president’s private army.”
Johnson himself was an outside consultant for the CIA from 1967 to
1973 until, as he writes in his latest book Nemesis: The Last Days of
the American Republic (the third volume of his Blowback Trilogy),
“this consulting function was abolished by [National Security Advisor
Henry] Kissinger and [CIA Director James] Schlesinger during
[President Richard] Nixon’s second term precisely because they did not
want outsiders interfering with their ability to tell the president
what to think.” On first arrival at the Agency’s “campus” in Langley,
Virginia, Johnson reminds us, Schlesinger, in the typically highhanded
fashion of CIA heads, immediately announced, “I am here to see that
you guys don’t screw Richard Nixon.” Think of CIA Directors George
Tenet or Porter Goss and George Bush and you’re back in our present

As books, Nemesis and Legacy of Ashes complement each other superbly,
so I thought it worthwhile to set Johnson loose on Weiner’s new work
in a rare book review for Tomdispatch. – Tom


The Life and Times of the CIA Wall Street Brokers, Ivy League
Professors, Soldiers of Fortune, Ad Men, Newsmen, Stunt Men, Second-
Story Men, and Con Men on Active Duty for the United States
BY Chalmers Johnson  /  Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The American people may not know it but they have some severe problems
with one of their official governmental entities, the Central
Intelligence Agency. Because of the almost total secrecy surrounding
its activities and the lack of cost accounting on how it spends the
money covertly appropriated for it within the defense budget, it is
impossible for citizens to know what the CIA’s approximately 17,000
employees do with, or for, their share of the yearly $44 billion-$48
billion or more spent on “intelligence.” This inability to account for
anything at the CIA is, however, only one problem with the Agency and
hardly the most serious one either.

There are currently at least two criminal trials underway in Italy and
Germany against several dozen CIA officials for felonies committed in
those countries, including kidnapping people with a legal right to be
in Germany and Italy, illegally transporting them to countries such as
Egypt and Jordan for torture, and causing them to “disappear” into
secret foreign or CIA-run prisons outside the U.S. without any form of
due process of law.

The possibility that CIA funds are simply being ripped off by insiders
is also acute. The CIA’s former number three official, its executive
director and chief procurement officer, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, is now
under federal indictment in San Diego for corruptly funneling
contracts for water, air services, and armored vehicles to a lifelong
friend and defense contractor, Brent Wilkes, who was unqualified to
perform the services being sought. In return, Wilkes treated Foggo to
thousands of dollars’ worth of vacation trips and dinners, and
promised him a top job at his company when he retired from the CIA.

Thirty years ago, in a futile attempt to provide some check on endemic
misbehavior by the CIA, the administration of Gerald Ford created the
President’s Intelligence Oversight Board. It was to be a civilian
watchdog over the Agency. A 1981 executive order by President Ronald
Reagan made the board permanent and gave it the mission of identifying
CIA violations of the law (while keeping them secret in order not to
endanger national security). Through five previous administrations,
members of the board — all civilians not employed by the government
— actively reported on and investigated some of the CIA’s most secret
operations that seemed to breach legal limits.

However, on July 15, 2007, John Solomon of the Washington Post
reported that, for the first five-and-a-half years of the Bush
administration, the Intelligence Oversight Board did nothing — no
investigations, no reports, no questioning of CIA officials. It
evidently found no reason to inquire into the interrogation methods
Agency operatives employed at secret prisons or the transfer of
captives to countries that use torture, or domestic wiretapping not
warranted by a federal court.

Who were the members of this non-oversight board of see-no-evil, hear-
no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys? The board now in place is led by
former Bush economic adviser Stephen Friedman. It includes Don Evans,
a former commerce secretary and friend of the President, former
Admiral David Jeremiah, and lawyer Arthur B. Culvahouse. The only
thing they accomplished was to express their contempt for a legal
order by a president of the United States.

Corrupt and undemocratic practices by the CIA have prevailed since it
was created in 1947. However, as citizens we have now, for the first
time, been given a striking range of critical information necessary to
understand how this situation came about and why it has been so
impossible to remedy. We have a long, richly documented history of the
CIA from its post-World War II origins to its failure to supply even
the most elementary information about Iraq before the 2003 invasion of
that country.

Declassified CIA Records

Tim Weiner’s book, Legacy of Ashes, is important for many reasons, but
certainly one is that it brings back from the dead the possibility
that journalism can actually help citizens perform elementary
oversight on our government. Until Weiner’s magnificent effort, I
would have agreed with Seymour Hersh that, in the current crisis of
American governance and foreign policy, the failure of the press has
been almost complete. Our journalists have generally not even tried to
penetrate the layers of secrecy that the executive branch throws up to
ward off scrutiny of its often illegal and incompetent activities.
This is the first book I’ve read in a long time that documents its
very important assertions in a way that goes well beyond asking
readers merely to trust the reporter.

Weiner, a New York Times correspondent, has been working on Legacy of
Ashes for 20 years. He has read over 50,000 government documents,
mostly from the CIA, the White House, and the State Department. He was
instrumental in causing the CIA Records Search Technology (CREST)
program of the National Archives to declassify many of them,
particularly in 2005 and 2006. He has read more than 2,000 oral
histories of American intelligence officers, soldiers, and diplomats
and has himself conducted more than 300 on-the-record interviews with
current and past CIA officers, including ten former directors of
central intelligence. Truly exceptional among authors of books on the
CIA, he makes the following claim: “This book is on the record — no
anonymous sources, no blind quotations, no hearsay.”

Weiner’s history contains 154 pages of end-notes keyed to comments in
the text. (Numbered notes and standard scholarly citations would have
been preferable, as well as an annotated bibliography providing
information on where documents could be found; but what he has done is
still light-years ahead of competing works.) These notes contain
extensive verbatim quotations from documents, interviews, and oral
histories. Weiner also observes: “The CIA has reneged on pledges made
by three consecutive directors of central intelligence — [Robert]
Gates, [James] Woolsey, and [John] Deutch — to declassify records on
nine major covert actions: France and Italy in the 1940s and 1950s;
North Korea in the 1950s; Iran in 1953; Indonesia in 1958; Tibet in
the 1950s and 1960s; and the Congo, the Dominican Republic, and Laos
in the 1960s.” He is nonetheless able to supply key details on each of
these operations from unofficial, but fully identified, sources.

In May 2003, after a lengthy delay, the government finally released
the documents on President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s engineered regime
change in Guatemala in 1954; most of the records from the 1961 Bay of
Pigs fiasco in which a CIA-created exile army of Cubans went to their
deaths or to prison in a hapless invasion of that island have been
released; and the reports on the CIA’s 1953 overthrow of Iranian prime
minister Mohammad Mossadeq were leaked. Weiner’s efforts and his
resulting book are monuments to serious historical research in our
allegedly “open society.” Still, he warns,

“While I was gathering and obtaining declassification
authorization for some of the CIA records used in this book at the
National Archives, the agency [the CIA] was engaged in a secret effort
to reclassify many of those same records, dating back to the 1940s,
flouting the law and breaking its word. Nevertheless, the work of
historians, archivists, and journalists has created a foundation of
documents on which a book can be built.”

Surprise Attacks

As an idea, if not an actual entity, the Central Intelligence Agency
came into being as a result of December 7, 1941, when the Japanese
attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. It functionally came to
an end, as Weiner makes clear, on September 11, 2001, when operatives
of al-Qaeda flew hijacked airliners into the World Trade towers in
Manhattan and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Both assaults were
successful surprise attacks.

The Central Intelligence Agency itself was created during the Truman
administration in order to prevent future surprise attacks like Pearl
Harbor by uncovering planning for them and so forewarning against
them. On September 11th, 2001, the CIA was revealed to be a failure
precisely because it had been unable to discover the al-Qaeda plot and
sound the alarm against a surprise attack that would prove almost as
devastating as Pearl Harbor. After 9/11, the Agency, having largely
discredited itself, went into a steep decline and finished the job.
Weiner concludes: “Under [CIA Director George Tenet’s] leadership, the
agency produced the worst body of work in its long history: a special
national intelligence estimate titled ‘Iraq’s Continuing Programs for
Weapons of Mass Destruction.'” It is axiomatic that, as political
leaders lose faith in an intelligence agency and quit listening to it,
its functional life is over, even if the people working there continue
to report to their offices.

In December 1941, there was sufficient intelligence on Japanese
activities for the U.S. to have been much better prepared for a
surprise attack. Naval Intelligence had cracked Japanese diplomatic
and military codes; radar stations and patrol flights had been
authorized (but not fully deployed); and strategic knowledge of
Japanese past behaviors and capabilities (if not of intentions) was
adequate. The FBI had even observed the Japanese consul-general in
Honolulu burning records in his backyard but reported this information
only to Director J. Edgar Hoover, who did not pass it on.

Lacking was a central office to collate, analyze, and put in suitable
form for presentation to the president all U.S. government information
on an important issue. In 1941, there were plenty of signals about
what was coming, but the U.S. government lacked the organization and
expertise to distinguish true signals from the background “noise” of
day-to-day communications. In the 1950s, Roberta Wohlstetter, a
strategist for the Air Force’s think tank, the RAND Corporation, wrote
a secret study that documented the coordination and communications
failings leading up to Pearl Harbor. (Entitled Pearl Harbor: Warning
and Decision, it was declassified and published by Stanford University
Press in 1962.)

The Legacy of the OSS

The National Security Act of 1947 created the CIA with emphasis on the
word “central” in its title. The Agency was supposed to become the
unifying organization that would distill and write up all available
intelligence, and offer it to political leaders in a manageable form.
The Act gave the CIA five functions, four of them dealing with the
collection, coordination, and dissemination of intelligence from open
sources as well as espionage. It was the fifth function — lodged in a
vaguely worded passage that allowed the CIA to “perform such other
functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national
security as the National Security Council may from time to time
direct” — that turned the CIA into the personal, secret,
unaccountable army of the president.

From the very beginning, the Agency failed to do what President Truman
expected of it, turning at once to “cloak-and-dagger” projects that
were clearly beyond its mandate and only imperfectly integrated into
any grand strategy of the U.S. government. Weiner stresses that the
true author of the CIA’s clandestine functions was George Kennan, the
senior State Department authority on the Soviet Union and creator of
the idea of “containing” the spread of communism rather than going to
war with (“rolling back”) the USSR.

Kennan had been alarmed by the ease with which the Soviets were
setting up satellites in Eastern Europe and he wanted to “fight fire
with fire.” Others joined with him to promote this agenda, above all
the veterans of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a unit that,
under General William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan during World War II, had
sent saboteurs behind enemy lines, disseminated disinformation and
propaganda to mislead Axis forces, and tried to recruit resistance
fighters in occupied countries.

On September 20, 1945, Truman had abolished the OSS — a bureaucratic
victory for the Pentagon, the State Department, and the FBI, all of
which considered the OSS an upstart organization that impinged on
their respective jurisdictions. Many of the early leaders of the CIA
were OSS veterans and devoted themselves to consolidating and
entrenching their new vehicle for influence in Washington. They also
passionately believed that they were people with a self-appointed
mission of world-shaking importance and that, as a result, they were
beyond the normal legal restraints placed on government officials.

From its inception the CIA has labored under two contradictory
conceptions of what it was supposed to be doing, and no president ever
succeeded in correcting or resolving this situation. Espionage and
intelligence analysis seek to know the world as it is; covert action
seeks to change the world, whether it understands it or not. The best
CIA exemplar of the intelligence-collecting function was Richard
Helms, director of central intelligence (DCI) from 1966 to 1973 (who
died in 2002). The great protagonist of cloak-and-dagger work was
Frank Wisner, the CIA’s director of operations from 1948 until the
late 1950s when he went insane and, in 1965, committed suicide. Wisner
never had any patience for espionage.

Weiner quotes William Colby, a future DCI (1973-1976), on this
subject. The separation of the scholars of the research and analysis
division from the spies of the clandestine service created two
cultures within the intelligence profession, he said, “separate,
unequal, and contemptuous of each other.” That critique remained true
throughout the CIA’s first 60 years.

By 1964, the CIA’s clandestine service was consuming close to two-
thirds of its budget and 90% of the director’s time. The Agency
gathered under one roof Wall Street brokers, Ivy League professors,
soldiers of fortune, ad men, newsmen, stunt men, second-story men, and
con men. They never learned to work together — the ultimate result
being a series of failures in both intelligence and covert operations.
In January 1961, on leaving office after two terms, President
Eisenhower had already grasped the situation fully. “Nothing has
changed since Pearl Harbor,” he told his director of central
intelligence, Allen Dulles. “I leave a legacy of ashes to my
successor.” Weiner, of course, draws his title from Eisenhower’s
metaphor. It would only get worse in the years to come.

The historical record is unequivocal. The United States is ham-handed
and brutal in conceiving and executing clandestine operations, and it
is simply no good at espionage; its operatives never have enough
linguistic and cultural knowledge of target countries to recruit spies
effectively. The CIA also appears to be one of the most easily
penetrated espionage organizations on the planet. From the beginning,
it repeatedly lost its assets to double agents.

Typically, in the early 1950s, the Agency dropped millions of dollars
worth of gold bars, arms, two-way radios, and agents into Poland to
support what its top officials believed was a powerful Polish
underground movement against the Soviets. In fact, Soviet agents had
wiped out the movement years before, turned key people in it into
double agents, and played the CIA for suckers. As Weiner comments, not
only had five years of planning, various agents, and millions of
dollars “gone down the drain,” but the “unkindest cut might have been
[the Agency’s] discovery that the Poles had sent a chunk of the CIA’s
money to the Communist Party of Italy.” [pp. 67-68]

The story would prove unending. On February 21, 1994, the Agency
finally discovered and arrested Aldrich Ames, the CIA’s chief of
counterintelligence for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, who had
been spying for the USSR for seven years and had sent innumerable U.S.
agents before KGB firing squads. Weiner comments, “The Ames case
revealed an institutional carelessness that bordered on criminal
negligence.” [p. 451]

The Search for Technological Means

Over the years, in order to compensate for these serious inadequacies,
the CIA turned increasingly to signals intelligence and other
technological means of spying like U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and
satellites. In 1952, the top leaders of the CIA created the National
Security Agency — an eavesdropping and cryptological unit — to
overcome the Agency’s abject failure to place any spies in North Korea
during the Korean War. The Agency debacle at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba
led a frustrated Pentagon to create its own Defense Intelligence
Agency as a check on the military amateurism of the CIA’s clandestine
service officers.

Still, technological means, whether satellite spying or electronic
eavesdropping, will seldom reveal intentions — and that is the raison
d’être of intelligence estimates. As Haviland Smith, who ran
operations against the USSR in the 1960s and 1970s, lamented, “The
only thing missing is — we don’t have anything on Soviet intentions.
And I don’t know how you get that. And that’s the charter of the
clandestine service [emphasis in original, pp. 360-61]).”

The actual intelligence collected was just as problematic. On the most
important annual intelligence estimate throughout the Cold War — that
of the Soviet order of battle — the CIA invariably overstated its
size and menace. Then, to add insult to injury, under George H. W.
Bush’s tenure as DCI (1976-77), the agency tore itself apart over ill-
informed right-wing claims that it was actually underestimating Soviet
military forces. The result was the appointment of “Team B” during the
Ford presidency, led by Polish exiles and neoconservative fanatics. It
was tasked to “correct” the work of the Office of National Estimates.

“After the Cold War was over,” writes Weiner, “the agency put Team
B’s findings to the test. Every one of them was wrong.” [p. 352] But
the problem was not simply one of the CIA succumbing to political
pressure. It was also structural: “[F]or thirteen years, from Nixon’s
era to the dying days of the Cold War, every estimate of Soviet
strategic nuclear forces overstated [emphasis in original] the rate at
which Moscow was modernizing its weaponry.” [p. 297]

From 1967 to 1973, I served as an outside consultant to the Office of
National Estimates, one of about a dozen specialists brought in to try
to overcome the myopia and bureaucratism involved in the writing of
these national intelligence estimates. I recall agonized debates over
how the mechanical highlighting of worst-case analyses of Soviet
weapons was helping to promote the arms race. Some senior intelligence
analysts tried to resist the pressures of the Air Force and the
military-industrial complex. Nonetheless, the late John Huizenga, an
erudite intelligence analyst who headed the Office of National
Estimates from 1971 until the wholesale purge of the Agency by DCI
James Schlesinger in 1973, bluntly said to the CIA’s historians:

“In retrospect…. I really do not believe that an intelligence
organization in this government is able to deliver an honest
analytical product without facing the risk of political
contention. . . . I think that intelligence has had relatively little
impact on the policies that we’ve made over the years. Relatively
none. . . . Ideally, what had been supposed was that . . . serious
intelligence analysis could…. assist the policy side to reexamine
premises, render policymaking more sophisticated, closer to the
reality of the world. Those were the large ambitions which I think
were never realized.” [p. 353]

On the clandestine side, the human costs were much higher. The CIA’s
incessant, almost always misguided, attempts to determine how other
people should govern themselves; its secret support for fascists
(e.g., Greece under George Papadopoulos), militarists (e.g., Chile
under Gen. Augusto Pinochet), and murderers (e.g., the Congo under
Joseph Mobutu); its uncritical support of death squads (El Salvador)
and religious fanatics (Muslim fundamentalists in Afghanistan) — all
these and more activities combined to pepper the world with blowback
movements against the United States.

Nothing has done more to undercut the reputation of the United States
than the CIA’s “clandestine” (only in terms of the American people)
murders of the presidents of South Vietnam and the Congo, its
ravishing of the governments of Iran, Indonesia (three times), South
Korea (twice), all of the Indochinese states, virtually every
government in Latin America, and Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The
deaths from these armed assaults run into the millions. After 9/11,
President Bush asked “Why do they hate us?” From Iran (1953) to Iraq
(2003), the better question would be, “Who does not?”

The Cash Nexus

There is a major exception to this portrait of long-term Agency
incompetence. “One weapon the CIA used with surpassing skill,” Weiner
writes, “was cold cash. The agency excelled at buying the services of
foreign politicians.” [p. 116] It started with the Italian elections
of April 1948. The CIA did not yet have a secure source of clandestine
money and had to raise it secretly from Wall Street operators, rich
Italian-Americans, and others.

“The millions were delivered to Italian politicians and the priests of
Catholic Action, a political arm of the Vatican. Suitcases filed with
cash changed hands in the four-star Hassler Hotel. . . . Italy’s
Christian Democrats won by a comfortable margin and formed a
government that excluded communists. A long romance between the
[Christian Democratic] party and the agency began. The CIA’s practice
of purchasing elections and politicians with bags of cash was repeated
in Italy — and in many other countries — for the next twenty-five
years.” [p. 27]

The CIA ultimately spent at least $65 million on Italy’s politicians
— including “every Christian Democrat who ever won a national
election in Italy.” [p. 298] As the Marshall Plan to reconstruct
Europe got up to speed in the late 1940s, the CIA secretly skimmed the
money it needed from Marshall Plan accounts. After the Plan ended,
secret funds buried in the annual Defense appropriation bill continued
to finance the CIA’s operations.

After Italy, the CIA moved on to Japan, paying to bring Nobusuke Kishi
to power as Japan’s prime minister (in office 1957-1960), the
country’s World War II minister of munitions. It ultimately used its
financial muscle to entrench the (conservative) Liberal Democratic
Party in power and to turn Japan into a single-party state, which it
remains to this day. The cynicism with which the CIA continued to
subsidize “democratic” elections in Western Europe, Latin America, and
East Asia, starting in the late 1950s, led to disillusionment with the
United States and a distinct blunting of the idealism with which it
had waged the early Cold War.

Another major use for its money was a campaign to bankroll
alternatives in Western Europe to Soviet-influenced newspapers and
books. Attempting to influence the attitudes of students and
intellectuals, the CIA sponsored literary magazines in Germany (Der
Monat) and Britain (Encounter), promoted abstract expressionism in art
as a radical alternative to the Soviet Union’s socialist realism, and
secretly funded the publication and distribution of over two and a
half million books and periodicals. Weiner treats these activities
rather cursorily. He should have consulted Frances Stonor Saunders’
indispensable The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and

Hiding Incompetence

Despite all this, the CIA was protected from criticism by its
impenetrable secrecy and by the tireless propaganda efforts of such
leaders as Allen W. Dulles, director of the Agency under President
Eisenhower, and Richard Bissell, chief of the clandestine service
after Wisner. Even when the CIA seemed to fail at everything it
undertook, writes Weiner, “The ability to represent failure as success
was becoming a CIA tradition.” [p. 58]

After the Chinese intervention in the Korean War, the CIA dropped 212
foreign agents into Manchuria. Within a matter of days, 101 had been
killed and the other 111 captured — but this information was
effectively suppressed. The CIA’s station chief in Seoul, Albert R.
Haney, an incompetent army colonel and intelligence fabricator, never
suspected that the hundreds of agents he claimed to have working for
him all reported to North Korean control officers.

Haney survived his incredible performance in the Korean War because,
at the end of his tour in November 1952, he helped to arrange for the
transportation of a grievously wounded Marine lieutenant back to the
United States. That Marine turned out to be the son of Allen Dulles,
who repaid his debt of gratitude by putting Haney in charge of the
covert operation that — despite a largely bungled, badly directed
secret campaign — did succeed in overthrowing the Guatemalan
government of President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. The CIA’s handiwork in
Guatemala ultimately led to the deaths of 200,000 civilians during the
40 years of bloodshed and civil war that followed the sabotage of an
elected government for the sake of the United Fruit Company.

Weiner has made innumerable contributions to many hidden issues of
postwar foreign policy, some of them still on-going. For example,
during the debate over America’s invasion of Iraq after 2003, one of
the constant laments was that the CIA did not have access to a single
agent inside Saddam Hussein’s inner circle. That was not true.
Ironically, the intelligence service of France — a country U.S.
politicians publicly lambasted for its failure to support us — had
cultivated Naji Sabri, Iraq’s foreign minister. Sabri told the French
agency, and through it the American government, that Saddam Hussein
did not have an active nuclear or biological weapons program, but the
CIA ignored him. Weiner comments ruefully, “The CIA had almost no
ability to analyze accurately what little intelligence it had.” [pp.
666-67, n. 487]

Perhaps the most comical of all CIA clandestine activities —
unfortunately all too typical of its covert operations over the last
60 years — was the spying it did in 1994 on the newly appointed
American ambassador to Guatemala, Marilyn McAfee, who sought to
promote policies of human rights and justice in that country. Loyal to
the murderous Guatemalan intelligence service, the CIA had bugged her
bedroom and picked up sounds that led their agents to conclude that
the ambassador was having a lesbian love affair with her secretary,
Carol Murphy. The CIA station chief “recorded her cooing endearments
to Murphy.” The agency spread the word in Washington that the liberal
ambassador was a lesbian without realizing that “Murphy” was also the
name of her two-year-old black standard poodle. The bug in her bedroom
had recorded her petting her dog. She was actually a married woman
from a conservative family. [p. 459]

Back in August 1945, General William Donovan, the head of the OSS,
said to President Truman, “Prior to the present war, the United States
had no foreign intelligence service. It never has had and does not now
have a coordinated intelligence system.” Weiner adds, “Tragically, it
still does not have one.” I agree with Weiner’s assessment, but based
on his truly exemplary analysis of the Central Intelligence Agency in
Legacy of Ashes, I do not think that this is a tragedy. Given his
evidence, it is hard to believe that the United States would not have
been better off if it had left intelligence collection and analysis to
the State Department and had assigned infrequent covert actions to the

I believe that this is where we stand today: The CIA has failed badly,
and it would be an important step toward a restoration of the checks
and balances within our political system simply to abolish it. Some
observers argue that this would be an inadequate remedy because what
the government now ostentatiously calls the “intelligence community”
— complete with its own website — is composed of 16 discrete and
competitive intelligence organizations ready to step into the CIA’s
shoes. This, however, is a misunderstanding. Most of the members of
the so-called intelligence community are bureaucratic appendages of
well-established departments or belong to extremely technical units
whose functions have nothing at all to do with either espionage or
cloak-and-dagger adventures.

The sixteen entities include the intelligence organizations of each
military service — the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps,
Navy, and the Defense Intelligence Agency — and reflect inter-service
rivalries more than national needs or interests; the departments of
Energy, Homeland Security, State, Treasury, and Drug Enforcement
Administration, as well as the FBI and the National Security Agency;
and the units devoted to satellites and reconnaissance (National
Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office). The
only one of these units that could conceivably compete with the CIA is
the one that I recommend to replace it — namely, the State
Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Interestingly
enough, it had by far the best record of any U.S. intelligence entity
in analyzing Iraq under Saddam Hussein and estimating what was likely
to happen if we pursued the Bush administration’s misconceived scheme
of invading his country. Its work was, of course, largely ignored by
the Bush-Cheney White House.

Weiner does not cover every single aspect of the record of the CIA,
but his book is one of the best possible places for a serious citizen
to begin to understand the depths to which our government has sunk. It
also brings home the lesson that an incompetent or unscrupulous
intelligence agency can be as great a threat to national security as
not having one at all.

Chalmers Johnson’s latest book is Nemesis: The Last Days of the
American Republic (Metropolitan Books, 2007). It is the third volume
of his Blowback Trilogy, which also includes Blowback and The Sorrows
of Empire. A retired professor of international relations from the
University of California (Berkeley and San Diego campuses) and the
author of some seventeen books primarily on the politics and economics
of East Asia, Johnson is president of the Japan Policy Research

My Silent War: The Autobiography of a Spy (Modern Library Classics)
by Kim Philby


I. Taken On by the Secret Service

It was in the summer of 1940, to the best of my knowledge, that I
first made contact with the British secret service. It was a subject
that had interested me for some years. In Nazi Germany and later in
Spain, where I served as correspondent for The Times with General
Franco’s forces, I had half expected an approach. I was confident that
I would recognize my man the moment he made his first cautious
soundings. He would be lean, and bronzed, of course, with a clipped
moustache, clipped accents and, most probably, a clipped mind. He
would ask me to stick my neck out for my country and frown austerely
if I mentioned pay. But no, nothing happened. If anybody did size me
up during that time, he found me wanting. The only intelligence
officer who took the slightest interest in me during my Spanish days
was German, a certain Major von der Osten, alias Don Julio, who died
early in the World War in a motor accident in New York. He used to
take me to Abwehr headquarters in the Convento de las Esclavas in
Burgos, and explain his large wall maps dotted with the usual coloured
pins. He dined and wined me in desultory fashion for a year or so, and
it proved a useful contact as far as it went. It emerged in due course
that his real interest in me was to get an introduction to a lady of
my acquaintance. When I obliged him, he propositioned her forthwith,
both espionage-wise and otherwise. She turned him down indignantly on
both counts, and his manner to me became distant.

When the World War broke out, The Times sent me to Arras as their
correspondent accredited to the Headquarters of the British Army. By
June 1940 I was back in England, having been evacuated twice, from
Boulogne and from Brest. In London, I had written two or three pieces
for The Times, winding up the campaign and pointing its various
morals. I have no idea what I wrote and, having just read the pungent
comments on the campaign in Liddell-Hart’s memoirs, I am grateful for
the lapse of memory.x I must have produced dreadful rubbish. The main
point was that, by the end of June, I was at a loose end. The Times
showed no disposition to get rid of me or to overload me with work.
Thus I had ample leisure to plot my future, if only I could make a
good guess at the nature of the background I had to plot it against.

I decided early to leave The Times, considerate though they had always
been to me. Army field censorship had killed my interest in war
correspondence. Try writing a war report without mentioning a single
place-name or designating a single unit and you will see what I mean.?
Besides, the idea of writing endlessly about the morale of the British
Army at home appalled me. But, in decid- ing to leave The Times, I had
to remember that my call-up was fast approaching. I had no intention
of losing all control of my fate through conscription into the army.
It was therefore with increasing concern that I watched various irons
I had put in the fire, nudging one or other of them as they appeared
to hot up. I had one promising interview, arranged by a mutual friend,
with Frank Birch, a leading light in the Government Code & Cypher
School, a crypt-analytical establishment which cracked enemy (and
friendly) codes. He finally turned me down, on the infuriating ground
that he could not offer me enough money to make it worth my while.
Disconsolately, I went to Holloway for my medical.

A few days later, Ralph Deakin, then Foreign News Editor of The Times,
summoned me to his office. He bulged his eyes at me, puffed out his
cheeks and creased his forehead, habits of his when upset. A certain
Captain Leslie Sheridan, of the War Office, had telephoned to ask
whether I was “available for war work.” Sheridan had not impressed
Deakin. He had claimed to be a journalist on the grounds of a previous
association with the Daily Mirror. In short, Deakin wanted no part of
the affair, and pressed me to let the matter drop. I was sorry to
disappoint him. Although I had never heard of Sheridan, I strongly
suspected that one of my irons was glowing bright. I decided to strike
before it cooled, and immediately followed up the enquiry.

Soon afterwards I found myself in the forecourt of St. Ermin’s Hotel,
near St. James’s Park station, talking to Miss Marjorie Maxse. She was
an intensely likeable elderly lady (then almost as old as I am now). I
had no idea then, as I have no idea now, what her precise position in
government was. But she spoke with authority, and was evidently in a
position at least to recommend me for “interesting” employment. At an
early stage of our talk, she turned the subject to the possibilities
of political work against the Germans in Europe. For ten years, I had
taken a serious interest in international politics; I had wandered
about Europe in a wide arc from Portugal to Greece; I had already
formed some less than half-baked ideas on the subversion of the Nazi
regime. So I was reasonably well equipped to talk to Miss Maxse. I was
helped by the fact that very few people in England at that early date
had given serious thought to the subject. Miss Maxse’s own ideas had
been in the oven very little longer than mine.

I passed this first examination. As we parted, Miss Maxse asked me to
meet her again at the same place a few days later. At our second
meeting, she turned up accompanied by Guy Burgess,x whom I knew well.
I was put through my paces again. Encouraged by Guy’s presence, I
began to show off, name-dropping shamelessly, as one does at
interviews. From time to time, my interlocutors exchanged glances; Guy
would nod gravely and approvingly. It turned out that I was wasting my
time, since a decision had already been taken. Before we parted, Miss
Maxse informed me that, if I agreed, I should sever my connection with
The Times and report for duty to Guy Burgess at an address in Caxton
Street, in the same block as the St. Ermin’s Hotel.

The Times gave me little difficulty. Deakin huffed and sighed a
little, but he had nothing spectacular to offer me. So I left Printing
House Square without fanfare, in a manner wholly appropriate to the
new, secret and important career for which I imagined myself heading.
I decided that it was my duty to profit from the experiences of the
only secret service man of my acquaintance. So I spent the weekend
drinking with Guy Burgess. On the following Monday, I reported to him
formally. We both had slight headaches.

The organization to which I became attached called itself the Secret
Intelligence Service (SIS). It was also widely known as MI5, while to
the innocent public at large it was simply the secret service. The
ease of my entry surprised me. It appeared later that the only enquiry
made into my past was a routine reference to MI5, who passed my name
through their records and came back with the laconic statement:
Nothing Recorded Against. Today, every new spy scandal in Britain
produces a flurry of judicial statements on the subject of “positive
vetting.” But in that happier Eden positive vetting had never been
heard of. Sometimes, in the early weeks, I felt that perhaps I had not
made the grade after all. It seemed that somewhere, lurking in deep
shadow, there must be another service, really secret and really
powerful, capable of backstairs machination on such a scale as to
justify the perennial suspicions of, say, the French.But it soon
became clear that such was not the case. It was the death of an
illusion. Its passing caused me no pain.

Guy first took me to the office that had been assigned to me. It was a
small room with a table, a chair and a telephone, and nothing else.
With a snort of annoyance, Guy disappeared down the corridor and came
back with a sheaf of foolscap which he laid on the table. Satisfied
that I was now fully equipped for my duties, he told me that my salary
would be the same as his: £600 per annum, paid monthly in cash and no
nonsense from the Inland Revenue. No snooping after a single secret
shilling! In fact, the secrecy of pay-scales concealed gross
inequalities. Each contract was theoretically a private, secret one
between the Chief and his subordinate. And if the Chief could get A
cheaper than B, whatever their respective merits, he would be silly
not to do so. However, I was quite happy with the arrangement, and I
was then taken off to be introduced to some of my future colleagues.
As they play no substantial part in my story, I shall not embarrass
them by mentioning their names.

The section of SIS in which I found myself was known as Section D (for
Destruction). I never saw its charter-if it had one. From talks with
my colleagues, I gathered that the object of the section was to help
defeat the enemy by stirring up active resistance to his domination
and destroying, by non-military means, the sources of his power. The
head of the section was Colonel Lawrence Grand,? to whom I was
introduced a few days after joining his staff. Tall and lean, he
looked startlingly like the dream-figure who should have approached me
in Germany or Spain. The difference was that his mind was certainly
not clipped. It ranged free and handsome over the whole field of his
awesome responsibilities, never shrinking from an idea, however big or

Much attention was focused at that time on attacking the Iron Gates of
the Danube, to interrupt the supply of Rumanian oil to the Germans. I
had seen the Iron Gates, and was duly impressed by the nerve of
colleagues who spoke of “blowing them up,” as if it were a question of
destroying the pintle of a lock-gate in the Regent’s Canal. Such an
attempt was hopelessly out of keeping with the slender resources of
Section D in 1940. When it was finally made, it was discovered and
nipped in the bud by the Yugoslav police, causing the British
Government some embarrassment. The same disparity between ends and
means appeared in suggestions that Hitler’s oil supply could be
seriously interrupted by “putting the Baku oilfields out of action.” I
have since seen the Baku oilfields, and amused myself mildly by
wondering how I would launch such an enterprise, assuming that I
started from a base in Cairo. Even in 1940, I would have dismissed
such talk as fantasy, if I had not attended a press conference in
Arras given by General Pownall, then Chief of Staff to Lord Gort,x in
which he said that, given the strength of the Siegfried Line, better
prospects might be offered by an attack through the Caucasus. If
successful, such an attack would open “Germany’s weak eastern
defences” to Anglo-French assault.

Grand never had the resources to carry out his ideas, though they were
given freely to his successors. His London staff could fit easily into
a large drawing-room. We regularly did so on Sundays at his
headquarters in the country, where plans, plans, plans were the
inexhaustible topics of discussion. In the field, he had little more
than bits and scraps. His efforts to get a larger slice of the secret
cake were frowned on by the older and more firmly based intelligence-
gathering side of the service. Starting from the valid premise that
sabotage and subversion are inherently insecure (the authors of bangs
are liable to detection), the intelligence people rushed happily to
the invalid conclusion that bangs were a waste of time and money,
diverting resources from the silent spy. Thus Grand’s demands on the
Treasury and on the armed services were often blocked within the
service. At best, they were given lukewarm support.

On the side of political subversion, the difficulties were even more
serious, because they involved fundamental aspects of British policy.
By and large, the British Government had accustomed itself to
supporting the monarchs and oligarchs of Europe. Such men were
strongly averse to any form of subversion. The only people likely to
support any sort of resistance to Hitler were the Left-wing movements:
the peasant parties, the Social-Democrats and the Communists. Only
they were likely to risk their lives by continuing resistance after
the Germans had engulfed their countries. Yet they were extremely
unlikely to stir for the sake of a British Government which insisted
on playing footsie with the King Carols and the Prince Pauls who had
systematically persecuted them between the wars. Thus the ideologues
of subversion in Britain started out under a heavy handicap imposed by
the Foreign Office which failed to see until much too late that,
whatever the outcome of the war, the sun of its favourite puppets had
set for ever. Small wonder that, when the crunch came, the resistance
movements leant so heavily towards the Soviet Union, and that the
balance was only restored in France, Italy and Greece by a massive
Anglo-American military presence.

For reasons of security and convenience, all SIS officers are given
symbols which are used in correspondence and conversation. Grand was
naturally D. His sub-section heads were known as DA, DB and so on; and
their assistants were distinguished by the addition of numerals, e.g.
DA-1. Guy was DU. According to normal practice, therefore, I should
have been DU-1. But Guy explained, with heavy delicacy, that the
symbol DU-1 might have implied some subordination of myself to him; he
wanted us to be regarded as equals. He solved the dilemma by giving me
a third letter instead of a final numeral, and he chose the letter D.
Thus he launched me on my secret service career branded with the
symbol DUD.

DU was not the ideal starting-point for what I had in mind. I wanted
to find out how it was organized and what it was doing. But Guy,
following his own predilections, had turned DU into a sort of ideas
factory. He regarded himself as a wheel, throwing off ideas like
sparks as it revolved. Where the sparks fell he did not seem to care.
He spent a long time in other people’s offices, propounding his ideas.
As he warmed to his themes, shouts of raucous laughter would drift
down the corridor to my office where I sat thinking or reading the
newspapers. After a hard morning’s talking, Guy would return to my
office, chortling and dimpling, and suggest going out for a drink.

One day in July, Guy came into my office bringing some papers for a
change. They were pages of a memorandum written by himself. Grand had
given general approval to its contents, and had asked for further
study and elaboration of the subject. For that Guy needed my help. I
was excessively pleased. From long experience, I knew that “helping”
Guy meant taking all the donkey work off his hands. But as I had done
literally nothing for two weeks, I would have been glad of any work. I
took the papers and Guy sat down on my table to watch my face for
signs of appreciation.

It was a characteristic production: lots of good sense embedded to the
point of concealment in florid epigram and shaky quotation. (Guy had
quotations to meet almost any emergency, but he never bothered to
verify them.) What he proposed was the establishment of a school for
training agents in the techniques of underground work. It was an
astonishing proposal, not because it was made, but because it had not
been made before. No such school existed. Guy argued the case for its
necessity, obvious now but new then. He outlined the subjects of a
syllabus. At the end, he suggested that such a college should be named
the “Guy Fawkes College” to commemorate an unsuccessful conspirator
“who had been foiled by the vigilance of the Elizabethan SIS.” It was
a neat touch. He could hardly have proposed “Guy Burgess College.”

At last, I had got my teeth into something. I broke the subject up
into its component parts: syllabus, selection of trainees, security,
accommodation and so on, and produced a memorandum on each. I have
forgotten most of what I wrote and, in view of the huge training
establishment that gradually developed, I hope that my first modest
paper on the subject no longer exists. Having deposited his shower of
sparks into my lap, Guy seemed to lose interest in a fresh riot of
ideas. But it was not so. He saw that Grand read my papers, and
arranged committees to discuss them. I did not take to committee work
then, and have never taken to it since. Every committee has a bugbear.
My bugbear on the training committee was a certain Colonel Chidson.x
He had played an astute part in rescuing a lot of industrial diamonds
from Hitler in Poland, but to me he was a pain in the neck. He had
visions of anarchy stalking Europe, and resisted bitterly the whole
idea of letting a lot of thugs loose on the continent. One day, I
spotted him coming towards me in Lower Regent Street. A moment later,
he saw me and froze in his tracks. In a swift recovery, he turned up
his coat collar and dived into a side-street. Our training school had
evidently become very necessary.

– Kim Philby


ISBN: 9780375759833
Subtitle: The Autobiography of a Spy
Foreword: Greene, Graham
Author: Philby, Kim
Introduction: Knightley, Phillip
Publisher: Modern Library
Series Volume: 107-47
Publication Date: September 2002

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