The CIA's release last week of top secret files detailing its illegal activities from the 1960s to the 1970s offered few surprises.
The agency's plans to assassinate foreign leaders like Fidel Castro and Vietnam's president Diem, its spying on Americans, and its often amateurish cloak-and-dagger operations are by now well known.
Unfortunately, many other secret operations that violated U.S. law -- an attempt to kill Egypt's president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, or waging war in Indonesia -- remain classified. Former CIA directors, Adm. Stansfield Turner and Dr. James Schlesinger, both told me that they had wanted to reveal far more information about the CIA than has so far come out, but were not able.
Revelations of the CIA's "family jewels," as these agency malefactions are known, certainly bring me lots of Cold War nostalgia.
Americans, however, are asking how these past CIA illegalities compare to today's violations of the Constitution and federal laws by U.S. security agencies. The answer: Today's violations are far more serious and widespread, though their justification, the alleged threat to national security by "terrorists," is tiny compared to the Soviet nuclear threat in Cold War days.
U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney engineered the Iraq war, urges attacks on Iran and Syria, and has championed domestic surveillance programs. He sees America surrounded and infiltrated by enemies.
In this regard, Cheney bears a remarkable resemblance to the fabled Cold Warrior, and grand master of U.S. intelligence, James Jesus Angleton.
Angleton rose through U.S. wartime intelligence to become director of CIA's powerful counter-intelligence division. He was extremely close to the senior British MI6 intelligence officer, Kim Philby, who fed the doting Angleton a steady stream of disinformation.
When Philby was unmasked as a Soviet KGB agent, something snapped in Angleton's brain -- just as the 9/11 attacks or heart problems appear to have transformed Dick Cheney from a capable but colourless senior bureaucrat into an ardent militarist and sword-bearer of America's far right.
By the late 1960s, the brilliant, eccentric, Angleton, who loved poetry, orchids, and puzzle solving, turned into a roaring paranoid. He believed genuine Soviet defectors were KGB plants, and KGB plants legitimate defectors. He also become an active "asset" or at least very close ally of Israel's Mossad, and a champion of Israel's cause in Washington.
On orders of President Lyndon Johnson, Angleton unleashed notorious operation "CHAOS" that conducted illegal surveillance of anti-war and civil rights groups. He accused the FBI of being infested by Soviet moles and blocked CIA-FBI co-operation.
By the '70s, Angleton was seeing enemy spies everywhere. He suspected Henry Kissinger, and accused Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau of being Soviet agents. He claimed Britain's PM Harold Wilson, Sweden's PM Olof Palme and Germany's chancellor Willy Brandt were Soviet agents.
Angleton's galloping paranoia caused him to believe the CIA was filled with Soviet moles. Similarly, Cheney concluded today's CIA is unreliable, filled with "defeatists" and "Arabists," and cannot be trusted with national security. Cheney and old ally Don Rumsfeld created two "special" intelligence offices in the Pentagon designed to bypass the CIA and feed the White House and Congress bogus reports justifying invading Iraq and waging the so-called "war on terrorism."
Angleton created his own internal intelligence unit with the agency that spied on its co-workers and fed his growing dementia. Agency morale collapsed. This period of fierce mutual suspicions, snooping, double or triple agents, and ruined careers became aptly know as "a wilderness of mirrors."
Angleton, a hero of America's hard right, kept warning the White House the Soviets were about to attack. In 1974, a mentally unstable Angleton was forced to retire, having nearly wrecked the CIA and severely damaged relations with key U.S. allies. Ironically, three decades later, senior CIA and FBI agents Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen were unmasked as KGB moles.
Now, official Washington is worrying deeply about how to retire the equally paranoid figure of VP Cheney, who, like Angleton, has lost touch with reality in a wilderness of mirrors.
Copyright © 2007 Canoe Inc.