1947: The CIA, an elitist culture operating in secrecy violating legal and moral precepts

The CIA was established by President Harry Truman in 1947 as an information gathering agency to apprise the President with accurate up-to-the-minute information in particular about trends and developments in all danger spots in the world. President Truman had not anticipated that the CIA would function as an elitist espionage agency whose leadership was dominated by a group of Wall Street lawyers and bankers whose interests and allegiance were held together by their common backgrounds and privileged position as members of the wealthiest and well-connected families who cast their influence over America’s boardrooms, financial and academic institutions, major newspapers and media, law firms and government.

CIA’s clubby elitism was acknowledged by CIA Director, William Colby in 1978:

Socially as well as professionally they cliqued together, and formed a sealed fraternity. They ate together at the same special favorite restaurants; they partied almost only among themselves; their families drifted to each other, so their differences did not always have to add up. In this way they increasingly separated themselves from the ordinary world and developed a rather skewed view of that world. Their own dedicated double life became the proper norm, and they looked down on the life of the rest of the citizenry. (Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA)

The CIA’s formative years were documented by Burton Hersh (Old Boys: The American Elite And The Origins Of The CIA, 1992; reedited with new preface in 2002). Hersh makes the case that the founders of the OSS and the CIA, were the well-connected “old boys” who came from the country’s prestigious Ivy League universities were con­sid­er­ably less than ide­al­is­tic. The “old boys” had deep roots in Wall Street’s aggressive law firms; they were motivated by a determination to preserve profitability for their corporate clients — both European and American clients with European interests. In the wake of World War I, the Dulles brothers helped construct the international treaties and legal definitions that shut down efforts to bring mass murderers of that time to justice. Between the wars, both were active in U.S.–German trade and diplomatic relations, particularly in developing ornate corporate camouflage intended to frustrate efforts to increase public accountability of major companies. The old boys’ disproportionate influence succeeded in protecting their clients’ interest throughout the depression, World War II, and beyond.

Allen Dulles was the longest serving CIA director who dominated U.S. intelligence for a generation; his brother John Foster Dulles, served as Secretary of State at the same time. Hersh shed light on the col­lab­o­ration of the Dulles brothers with Nazi indus­tri­al­ists — for which they received large legal fees. As a result of those collaborations “inevitably rem­nants of the Third Reich qui­etly infil­trated our intel­li­gence sys­tem.” Prior to his CIA position, during World War II, Allen Dulles headed the operations of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Switzerland. In the 1930s he served as legal adviser to the delegations on arms limitation at the League of Nations where he met with the world’s leaders including: Hitler, Mussolini, Litvinov. Bothe Dulles brothers were senior partners in the law firm, Oliver & Cromwell. It is significant that in 1997, when the ClA was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, the CIA put The Old Boys at the top of the list of accu­rate treat­ments of its inter­nal his­tory, not­ing that there was much to be found here ‘not avail­able elsewhere.’ Its own in-house pub­li­ca­tion, Stud­ies in Intel­li­gence, even acknowledged that The Old Boys “had obvi­ously been jus­ti­fied as to both its par­tic­u­lars and its final judg­ments. Even the vital­ity of the style would ulti­mately be for­given.”

The years since pub­li­ca­tion have made the lessons of The Old Boys more rel­e­vant than ever. The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War (2013) by Stephen Kinzer, a columnist for The Guardian, formerly foreign correspondent for The New York Times, notes that while the Dulles brothers were perceived mostly as exemplars of American virtue while they held all-powerful government positions. Kinzer skillfully depicts the Dulles brothers as Machiavellian power brokers who were narrow-minded in their world view, who set up dummy corporations, planted stories in the press to drum up fears about a much exaggerated Soviet “threat,” a country weakened by war, with a shattered economy, and wide civil unrest. They were utterly detached from the human consequences of their adventures.

Kinzer reveals their dark and sinister side; he shows that the two brothers often used their position of power for unsavory purposes — such as, organizing coups and undermining democracies, all in the name of resisting Soviet ambitions. He concludes that “their reckless adventures palpably weakened U.S. security” and, in the long run, “did not work out well for the United States.” Dulles and high ranking intelligence officials in the State Department and CIA, exerted inordinate influence to shield the Nazi elite for whom they had the highest regard. These were the Reich’s generals, chemists, medical doctors, and engineers whose research and achievements were mostly in wartime technology, racial hygiene, torture, and genocide. Read more Paperclip*

The CIA considered its objectives and methods to be exempt from moral precepts and U.S. law. The agency’s dubious activities earned the CIA the reputation as a “hotbed of ruth­less operators.” The agency’s shield of Top Secrecy and absence of oversight or accountability requirements, allowed the CIA to operate covertly within its own culture of lawlessness and immoral­ity. In OpEd opinion piece published in The Washington Post Dec. 22, 1963 — exactly one month after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy — Truman expressed the uneasy realization that “there is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.” He called for limiting CIA’s role to intelligence gathering — as he had intended:

. . .I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations. . .this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue — and a subject for cold war enemy propaganda.

But that was not to be. Allen Dulles, who was fired by President Kennedy after the Cuban Bay of Pigs fiasco, headed the Warren Commission investigating JFK’s assassination. In that capacity Allen blocked inquiry into CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro and censored agency records on Lee Harvey Oswald. Allen Dulles stuck to the coda of secrecy and deceit that has eroded public faith in government to the very end. (The Brothers)

McCoy has suggested that the CIA has been able to draw upon both military and civil resources to amplify its reach; and the agency has for a long time concealed its nefarious programs from the executive and legislative review. CIA’s lawless operations relied on deception, per­jury, euphemisms for murder — “executive action;” torture — “enhanced interrogation;” and reduced peo­ple to — “assets.” Its leaders have lied, promulgated disinformation and destroyed incriminating documents. (2006) CIA’s modus operandi borrowed more than one operational manual from the Nazis.

Intelligence officials in the CIA and Defense Department (DOD) were fixated by fear and suspicion that the Communist powers had perfected mind control techniques and that the U.S. had to catch up. They also feared that double agents had penetrated the CIA and were divulging secret information to the enemy. James Jesus Angleton, who headed CIA’s counterintelligence division, was one of the most influential and divisive intelligence officers in US history who shaped CIA counterintelligence for better or worse for 20 years from 1954 to 1974. Angleton insistently warned that the agency had been penetrated by a Soviet mole and was being deceived by “strategic deception” and his frenzied warnings fed the McCarthy witch hunt hysteria. Following Seymour Hersh’s exposé of CIA’s spying on Americans (1974), Angleton was fired.