Philip Agee: The spy who came in and told; Inside the Company: CIA Diary
July 28, 1975
Philip Agee: The spy who came in and told;
Inside the Company: CIA Diary
by Philip Agee
Stonehill . 640 pages . $9.95
Jonathan Kapstein; Jon Kapstein has played "Spot the Spook" on assignments for BUSINESS WEEK throughout Latin America and Canada.
There are no formal rules in the game of "Spot the Spook," but it's played vigorously by American foreign correspondents. Picking KGB agents from among Tass and Novosti newsmen and Soviet embassy chauffeurs doesn't count, however, because the assumption is that they are all spies of one sort or another. Senior French officials, too, are assumed to be working for their country's intelligence service, though, to be fair, the French often assume the equivalent about their American counterparts. No, the real challenge of the barroom exercise is picking the Central Intelligence Agency men out of the herd of attaches, consuls, advisers, ministers, and secretaries at the American embassy. The political section is most often the cover for the bright-eyed, tennis-playing "Company" man. Such a one was Philip Agee, who spent 12 years with the CIA in Washington, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Mexico before quitting in 1968 to write this clumsy but compelling reconstructed diary about his training and experiences.
Inside the Company is, as Agee intends, a dispiriting account. Agee's first overseas assignment began in 1960 in Ecuador, and before long, he says, his primary mission was to force a diplomatic break between Ecuador and Cuba, no matter the cost to Ecuador's shaky stability. The means were bribery, intimidation, bugging, and forgery. The casualties along the way were the Ecuadorians and their fragile institutions. In all, Agee spent four years in Ecuador penetrating Ecuadorian politics and, by so doing, subverting and destroying the politicial fabric of an already wretched country.
The jargon of the company and CIA "tradecraft" refleet life imitating art -- the art of Buchan, Fleming, and Le Carre. The CIA ran locals with cryptonyms like Ecstasy, Ecamorous, and Eccentric. Ecstasy worked for the Quito post office and turned over to the CIA all letters to and from Cuba and Red-bloc countries. That amounted to 30 letters daily that had to be steamed open, read, and resealed for delivery. Nevertheless, the chief accomplishment during Agee's years in Ecuador was entirely fortuitous. When a military junta seized power, the mistress of a local CIA employee was hired as secretary to the junta. She was promptly dubbed Ecsigh-1 and, writes Agee, she turned all minutes of high-level deliberations over to the U.S. ambassador.
Technically, Agee's finest operation was the bugging of the United Arab Republic code room in Montevideo, Uruguay, with two contact microphones placed on the ceiling of the room below. The UAR's Swiss-built encrypting machine put out a cipher virtually unbreakable by itself, but the microphones picked up the vibrations of the machine at work and electronic analysis of those sounds provided a key. Montevideo was on the same UAR embassy code circuit as London and Moscow, providing a major insight into Mideast events from a minor port.
Set against this success are accounts of bungled wiretaps and other inept operations. Agee tells how the CIA in Uruguay gave a penetration agent known as Avbask-1 a clean bill of health when he wanted to accept a bank job in Miami. And indeed a bank job it was: Avbask-1 absconded with $240,000 from Miami to Buenos Aires.
Agee portrays himself as a highly patriotic undergraduate at Notre Dame who believed that the most important word in the Notre Dame motto (For God, Country, and Notre DAme) was "country." He became radicalized, he says, by his job with the CIA. His work convinced him that the agency was repressing legitimate national ideals in the interests of American multinational corporations. Agee's personal convictions began to waver in Uruguay in 1965 when Lyndon Johnson sent U.S. forces into the Dominican Republic. The revolution was put down, Agee argues, "not because it was Communist but because it was nationalist."
About then in Uruguay, as Agee tells the story, the Tupamaro urban guerrilla movement began setting off bombs in earnest. In a remarkable display of insensitivity to current events and despite the existence of a wide network of Uruguayan agents, the CIA station chief decided the Tupamaros were not important. By 1972, however, the Tupamaros had kidnapped and killed two U.S. govenment employees, held the British ambassador hostage for nearly a year, and thrown the entire country into confusion.
Agee's own confusion came to a head on Dec. 12, 1965, during a routine visit to senior officers at Montevideo police headquarters when he realized that the screaming he heard from a nearby cell was the torturing of an Uruguayan named Oscar Bonaudi, whose name he had given the police as someone to watch. The senior officers merely turned up a radio report of a soccer game to drown Bonaudi's screams. Shortly thereafter, reflects Agee, he saw the dilemma of supporting "miserable, corrupt, and ineffectual governments . . . we're reduced to promoting one type of injustice to avoid another."
Even so, it took a term of running CIA operations within the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games before Agee quit, ran to Cuba to do research, and ended up in Paris where an alarmed CIA took him under surveillance. Among other CIA ploys that Agee describes, a putative friend loaned him a typewriter, and Agee eventually discovered that a microphone and direction finder were wired into the case.
Inside the Company, first published in the United Kingdom and Canada to avoid any U.S. government attempts at prior censorship, will be different things to different readers. For CIA men, it is full of insiders' gossip about many operational officers. For Latin Americans, it confirms what many suspect. Indeed, for several score Lain Americans, the 23 pages at the end of the book (listing the code names and real names of everyone Agee ever knew who worked for or with the CIA) put them in real danger, the same kind of danger in which Agee placed Oscar Bonaudi, if for different reasons. For rival intelligence operations, Agee has written a detailed handbook of how the CIA trains its personnel and runs its operations.
And for many americans who believe in Jeffersonian and Wilsonian democracy, it presents a documentary lesson in why CIA activities have made the U.S. so feared and disliked overseas by so many who should regard this country as their friend and hope.
THE SPOOKS WHO RUSH INTO PRINT
January 27, 1975
CIA director William Colby isn't the only one telling agency secrets these days. Indeed, part of Colby's presention to Congress last week was a plea for stronger laws to stop the spurt of tell-all books and articles by former CIA agents. Last year the agency was only partially successful in censoring a book entitled. "The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, co-authored by ex-agent Victor Marchetti. Now the CIA faces an even more difficult battle with a one time spook who has gone outside the country to publish his expose.
The book is called "Inside the Company: CIA Diary," and ex-agent Philip Agee avoided all attempts at prior censorship by having it published first in Great Britain.* Now an American edition is planned by Straight Arrow Press a publishing house connected with Rollins Stone magazine, and the CIA brass is more than a little concerned. "Nobody could doubt Agee's authenticity," said one former CIA operative, and the book's accuracy apparently extends right down to the ferocious wood ticks that infest "Isolation," the secret CIA training Base at Camp Peary, Va. More important, the book names dozens of undercover agents and collaborators whom Agee encountered during eight years in Latin America - including three Presidents of Mexico and a leader of the Communist Party in Ecuador. "I think it's terrible, frankly," Colby told NEWSWEEK in an interview two weeks ago, because this puts people's reputations in bad shape, it puts people in physical danger."
* 640 pages. Penguin Books, London.
Agee sees it differently, of course. A 1956 graduate of Notre Dame, he began his twelve-year CIA career as a conservative Roman Catholic, but eventually came to view himself as a revolutionary socialist whose mission was to warn the world about CIA machinations aboard. "Reforms of the FBI and the CIA, even removal of the President from office, cannot remove the problem," he writes. "American capitalism, based as it is on exploitation of the poor, with its fundamental motivation in personal greed, simply cannot survive without force - without a secret police force." And to buttress that shrill argument, Agee lists a variety of U.S. organizations - from the AFL-CIO to New York's First National City Bank to the International police Academy in Washington, D.C. - that he claims are financed, controlled or influenced by the CIA.
Disclosures such as Agee's, Colby told Congress last week, are not subject to criminal penalties under existing law unless "made to a foreigner or . . . with an intent to injure the United States . . . The irony," Colby added, "is that effective criminal penalties do exist for unauthorized disclosure of an income-tax return, patent information or crop statistics" - but not for the darkest secrets of the nation's most secret service.
GRAPHIC: Picture, Agee's book: Bad for the 'company'
Book details CIA activities
Facts on File World News Digest
January 25, 1975
Pg. 37 B3
A book describing day-to-day operations by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in three Latin American countries was published in London by Penguin Books, it was reported Jan. 14.
The book, "Inside the Company: CIA Diary," was written by Philip Agee, who worked for the agency in Ecuador, Uruguay and Mexico in 1960-68.
Agee described the CIA as an instrument to frustrate revolution and protect capitalism.
The book listed nearly 250 persons whom Agee called officers, local agents, informers or collaborators of the CIA. they included businessmen, labor and student leaders, and politicians in the countries where Agee served; in Mexico, Agee named as collaborators two former presidents, Gustavo Diaz Ordaz and Adolfo Lopez Mateos, and the current president. Luis Echeverria Alvarez. He said Echeverria cooperated with the CIA only in his capacity as interior minister, before he was elected president.
Agee said that during his years in Latin America, the CIA's main objective was to counterat Cuban influence in the hemisphere. He described CIA infiltration of local political parties, cooperation with local police forces to eliminate leftist subversives, tampering with local mail services, and wiretapping embassies of Communist countries.
The truth of Agee's account was not questioned, according to press reports. Miles Copeland, a former high-ranking CIA official, said in a review of the book in the British magazine the Spectator: "The book is . . . an authentic account of how an ordinary American or British 'case officer' operates . . . All of it . . . is presented with deadly accuracy."
CIA, Venezuela Exxon subsidiary linked -- Agee testified before the second Bertrand Russell Tribunal in Brussels Jan. 12 that his work as a CIA agent had included carrying out personal name checks of Venezuelan employes of Creole Petroleum Corp., the Venezuelan subsidiary of the U.S. Exxon Corp.
In 1960, Agee said, Creole was "letting the CIA assist in employment decisions, and my guess is that those name checks . . . are continuing to this day." The CIA customarily performed this service for subsidiaries of large U.S. corporations in Latin America, Agee wrote.
An Exxon spokesman in Washington denied Agee's claim Jan. 13.
Secret agent; INSIDE THE COMPANY: CIA Diary. By Philip Agee. Penguin. 640 pages. 95p.
The Economist January 11, 1975
Few people would raise an eyebrow if they read, in some anonymous revolutionary newspaper, that President Echeverria of Mexico, President Lopez Michelson of Colombia and President Figueres of Costa Rica were CIA agents or collaborators.The allegation would have scarcely more effect if it appeared in one of those handy guides to "Who's Who in the CIA" that are printed from time to time in East Berlin. But, cropping up in a 600-page book by a man who served with the CIA stations in Ecuador, Uruguay and Mexico between 1960 and 1969, it is guaranteed to make everyone who suspected that agency's skulduggery is behind most things that happen in Latin America leap to his feet and cry, "I told you so."
Mr Agee may not make his fortune with a book well timed to cash in on the post-Watergate appetite for revelations on the CIA (now domestically under heavy fire in the United States, see page 43); but he has certainly made some prominent people's faces red, and not just in Langley, Virginia. His book comes as a godsend to the anti-American left throughout Latin America: it names names, it catalogues the wide range of infiltration and "destabilsation" techniques employed by the CIA, it concludes that inter-American security, as defined by successive governments in Washington, is merely "the security of the capitalist class in the US" -- and the picture must be authentic because it is by a man once on the inside.
Or must it? There is little reason to doubt Mr Agee's account of the routine operations of the stations to which he was assigned. The basic modus operandi is confirmed by other people's revelations (and notably those of the former Bolivian minister of the interior, Antonio Arguedas). The priorities prescribed for the CIA in the 1960s were much the same throughout the continent: to neutralise (and, if possible, secure the expulsion of) the communist embassies; to support counter-insurgency; to penetrate all major political groupings; and to identify and undermine those in government suspected of anti-American leanings. In pursuit of these ends, the CIA colonised local intelligence services and frequently succeeded in creating a flow of information on left-wing groups, and much else, that was far superior to anything the local head of state could hope to gain from other sources. Mr Agee quotes many cases, for example, where, through agents in immigration departments, post offices and airports, the CIA had first crack at intercepting "interesting" foreign correspondence.
His picture of the daily grind of a CIA station in Latin America is often revealing, particularly on the scope of black propaganda operations designed to discredit or divide the left, on the emphasis placed on funding and manipulating trade unions, and on counterintelligence operations against the Cubans -- in which Mr Agee became a specialist. Mr Agee suggests that the CIA helped to topple the left-leaning President Arosemena in Ecuador in 1963, but then that president hardly needed anybody's help to fall over.
The first two-thirds of Mr Agee's book are so stuffed with pedestrian detail and so barren of personal comment or political analysis that one tends to swallow them whole -- although the style is a constant reminder that this is not a diary at all, but a reconstructed chronicle. But in the last part of the book, the tone alters. Mr Agee starts forgetting names as he gets closer to the present day; he devotes only a brusque 10 pages to a 15-month posting in Mexico City, compared with 210 pages for a three-year posting in Quito; and he starts complaining about the morality of operations.
His conversion to his new (and now, confessedly marxist) position is not adequately explained. On page 408, he uses a stolen key to start dipping into the secret correspondence in his boss's safe. A dozen pages later, he is worried about the ethics of the invasion of the Dominican republic. He then starts quoting United Nations statistics on the distribution of wealth in Latin America (collected by the UN, it should be noted, in 1970, after Mr Agee left the CIA). But his final decisionto leave the Agency seems to have been related more to marital problems than to a political awakening.
He admits to two visits to Cuba -- in May 1971 and May 1972 -- where one is surprised to find a man who spent most of his career service spying on Cuban embassies being received warmly and helped with "research materials". His disenchantment with his former employers now seems to have turned into a crusade; at a press conference in London last October, Mr Agee was already updating his book, issuing a list of 37 alleged current agents of the Mexico City station.
Mr Agee's book is inescapable reading for those interested in recent Latin American history and the way intelligence services operate. But one must be careful to read between the lines as well. The author is remarkably good at unveiling CIA operations and contacts (including many that one might have thought that a junior officer would have been kept in the dark about) without giving much away about what the Cubans or the Russians were doing. As his book makes clear, he was in a position to know all about black propaganda.