Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Brief History of the CIA: 1945-1953 (Truman)

Source and page references are to Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, 2007, Doubleday, pp. 1-70.

President: Harry S Truman

September 20, 1945: Office of Strategic Services ordered to disband; General William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan fired. OSS Intelligence analysts moved to the State Department.

January 24, 1946: Truman appoints Rear Admiral Sidney W. Souers as chief of the "Cloak and Dagger Group of Snoopers" and "Director of Centralized Snooping," the Central Intelligence Group. Brigadier General John Magruder interprets this as meaning the group should operate a clandestine service, though Truman has said nothing of this and no legal authority has been given.

June 10, 1946: General Hoyt Vandenburg appointed director of central intelligence. He creates an Office of Special Operations and obtains $15 million in Congressional funding. The group uses the money to buy intelligence information in Europe about the Soviets, most of which turns out to be fraudulent.

July 17, 1946: Vandenburg obtains an additional $10 million in funding from the Secretary of War and Secretary of State.

September-October 1946: The OSO attempts to organize Romania's National Peasant Party into a resistance force. Soviet intelligence and the Romanian secret police detect the plot and imprison the Peasant Party's leaders. The OSO gets the former foreign minister of Romania and "five other members of the would-be liberation army into Austria" and out to safety on October 5. "A brutal dictatorship took control of Romania, its rise to power hastened by the failure of American covert action." (pp. 18-19)

May 1, 1947: Rear Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter becomes head of central intelligence.

June 27, 1947: A Congressional committee holds secret hearings that lead to formal creation of the CIA on September 18. Dean Acheson writes "I had the gravest forebodings about this organization, and warned the President that as set up neither he, the National Security Council, nor anyone else would be in a position to know what it was doing or to control it." (p. 25) James Forrestal wrote that "This office will probably be the greatest cemetery for dead cats in history." (p. 24) The National Security Act says nothing about clandestine operations overseas, only the correlation, evaluation, and dissemination of intelligence information.

September 1947: CIA counsel Lawrence Houston warns Hillenkoetter that the agency has no legal authority to conduct covert action without Congressional approval.

December 14, 1947: The National Security Council instructs the CIA to engage in "covert psychological operations designed to counter Soviet and Soviet-inspired activities." (p. 26) The CIA's first plan of action is to defeat the communists in the April 1948 Italian elections. The CIA gains access to the Exchange Stabilization Fund, which held $200 million for the reconstruction of Europe. $10 million is distributed to wealthy Americans, many of whom are Italian-Americans, who pass it on to CIA political front groups as "charitable donations," and on to Italian politicians in suitcases filled with cash. Italy's Christian Democrats win the election, and the CIA repeats this process in Italy and many other nations for the next 25 years (p. 27).

March 5, 1945: After Communists seize power in Czechoslovakia, General Lucius D. Clay, head of occupation forces in Berlin, cables the Pentagon that he fears Soviet attack. The CIA's Berlin office assures the president that there is no sign of a Soviet attack. Truman warns Congress of an imminent Soviet attack, gaining approval of the Marshall Plan. 5% of Marshall Plan funds are allocated to the CIA ($685 million), used to create front organizations throughout Europe and to create underground political groups that would become a fighting force if needed. This operation was carried out under the Office of Policy Coordination inside the CIA, reporting to the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State.

September 1, 1948: Frank Wisner becomes head of covert operations at the CIA; his organization quickly becomes larger than the rest of the CIA. Wisner recruits spies from Ivy League institutions, obtains a quarter of a billion dollars worth of military equipment in Europe and Asia, and builds a huge organization.

November 1948: Wisner attempts to break communist influence over trade organizations in France and Italy using U.S. labor leaders Jay Lovestone (former head of the American Communist Party) and Irving Brown to deliver cash to "labor groups backed by Christian Democrats and the Catholic Church" (p. 36). The CIA creates the Congress for Cultural Freedom and Radio Free Europe.

Early 1948: James Forrestal asks Allen Dulles to investigate the weaknesses of the CIA. The report's main conclusions are (in Weiner's words) that "the CIA was churning out reams of paper containing few if any facts on the communist threat," "the agency had no spies among the Soviets and their satellites," and "Roscoe Hillenkoetter was a failure as director." (p. 37)

May 27, 1949: Congress passes the Central Intelligence Act of 1949, giving the CIA power to do pretty much whatever it wanted, except for acting as a secret police force inside the United States. One clause of the act permits the CIA to admit 100 foreigners per year into the U.S., giving them "permanent residence without regard to their inadmissibility under the immigration or any other laws." The CIA brings Ukrainian Mikola Lebed into the U.S. under this law, despite the fact that the CIA's files describe Lebed's organization as "a terrorist organization." Lebed went to prison for his murder of the Polish interior minister in 1936, escaping when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. The Justice Department considered Lebed a war criminal responsible for the slaughter of Ukrainians, Poles, and Jews, but he was defended by Allen Dulles for his assistance in operations against the Soviets.

December 1948: CIA officer Steve Tanner assesses a band of Ukrainians in Munich, the Supreme Council for the Liberation of the Ukraine, as a group deserving CIA backing. July 26, 1949: CIA special operations chief General Willard G. Wyman approves an operation to drop two Ukrainians from the group into their homeland. Tanner hires "a daredevil Hungarian air crew who had hijacked a Hungarian commercial airliner and flown it to Munich a few months earlier" (p. 44). The men were dropped on September 5, 1949; a CIA history declassified in 2005 says that "The Soviets quickly eliminated the agents."

July 1949: The CIA took over the Munich-based group run by General Reinhard Gehlen, former leader of Hitler's military intelligence service, the Abwehr. This group turned out to be penetrated by Soviet and East German moles at the highest levels, including Gehlen's chief of counterintelligence.

September 5, 1949: An air force crew flying out of Alaska detected traces of radioactivity in the atmosphere. September 20, 1949: While those radioactive traces were being analyzed, "the CIA confidently declared that the Soviet Union would not produce an atomic weapon for at least another four years." (p. 48) September 23, 1949: Truman informs the world that Stalin has the atomic bomb.

October 1949: Frank Wisner and the British send nine Albanian rebels from Malta into Albania. Three are killed immediately, the rest are captured by secret police. Wisner sends additional recruits via Athens with Polish pilots after training in Munich, each time all are captured or killed. It turns out that the German training camps were infiltrated by Soviet spies, and CIA counterintelligence head James Angleton was sharing information with Kim Philby at MI6, who was also working for the KGB. "Angleton gave Philby the precise coordinates for the drop zone for every agent the CIA parachuted into Albania." (p. 46)

1950s: "hundreds of the CIA's foreign agents were sent to their deaths in Russia, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, and the Baltic States during the 1950s." (p. 47)

1945-1949: U.S. signals intelligence intercepts and decrypts messages between the Soviet Union and the Far East. This ends when William Wolf Weisband, a Russian translator and Soviet spy recruited in the 1930s, gives information about broken codes to the Soviets. The loss of intelligence information leads to the creation of the National Security Agency.

July 25, 1950: The Korean War begins with a surprise attack from North Korea.

October 1950: General Walter Bedell Smith becomes head of the CIA.

October 11, 1950: Truman leaves for Wake Island. The CIA assures him that "no convincing indications of an actual Chinese Communist intention to resort to full-scale intervention in Korea .. barring a Soviet decision for global war." CIA Tokyo station chief George Aurell, however, "reported that a Chinese Nationalist officer in Manchuria was warning that Mao had amassed 300,000 troops near the Korean border." October 18: The CIA "reported that 'the Soviet Korean venture has ended in failure.'" October 20: "The CIA said that Chinese forces detected at the Yalu were there to protect hydroelectric power plants." October 28: "those Chinese troops were scattered volunteers." October 30: "after American troops had been attacked, taking heavy casualties, the CIA reaffirmed that a major Chinese intervention was unlikely." November 1: "300,000 Chinese troops struck with an attack so brutal that it nearly pushed the Americans into the sea." (All quotes from p. 52.)

1950-1960s: Classified CIA histories of the Korean War "say the agency's paramilitary operations were 'not only ineffective but probably morally reprehensible in the number of lives lost.'" (p. 54) "Bedell Smith repeatedly warned Wisner to watch out for false intelligence fabricated by the enemy. But some of Wisner's officers were fabricators themselves--including the station chief [Albert R. Haney] and the chief of operations [Hans Tofte] he sent to Korea." (pp. 55-56) Haney's 1952 replacement, John Limond Hart, found that "nearly every Korean agent he had inherited had either invented his reports or worked in secret for the communists. Every dispatch the station had sent to CIA headquarters from the front for the past eighteen months was a calculated deception." (p. 57) Similar operations in Taiwan to recruit spies and drop them into mainland China failed. Over $100 million is spent on weapons for a "third force" of 200,000 guerillas between April 1951 to the end of 1952, but the agency was unable to recruit them.

January 4, 1951: Allen Dulles appointed CIA deputy director of plans (a cover for his actual position, chief of covert operations) despite not getting along with Bedell Smith. Shortly thereafter, deputy director Bill Jackson resigns, and Dulles is appointed to deputy director and Frank Wisner to chief of covert operations.

Early 1951: 1,500 followers of Chinese Nationalist General Li Mi were stranded in northern Burma; the CIA supplied guns, gold, and additional Chinese Nationalist soldiers. Those who crossed into China were killed; Li Mi's radioman in Bangkok was a Chinese communist agent.

July 1952: A four-man Chinese guerilla team is dropped into Manchuria and radios for help four months later, which turns out to be a trap that leads to the death or capture of the rescuers--with two young CIA agents spending the next 19-20 years in Chinese prisons. "Beijing later broadcast a scorecard for Manchuria: the CIA had dropped 212 foreign agents in; 101 were killed and 111 captured." (p. 60) The CIA supplies more guns and ammunition, but Li Mi's men choose not to fight, but instead to settle into the Golden Triangle, harvest opium poppies, and marry local women. Li Mi becomes a heroin kingpin. [Note added 23 November 2014: The CIA film "Extraordinary Fidelity" tells the story of John T. Downey and Richard G. Fecteau, the two young CIA agents imprisoned in China mentioned here.]

July 1953: After the armistice, the CIA nearly kills South Korean President Syngman Rhee when a yacht he is on sails past Yong-do, an island where the agency trained Korean commandos. The CIA's paramilitary group is given 72 hours to leave the country.

1950s: Wisner's men are active in Europe, spending Marshall Plan money to prepare for a future war against the Soviets, including "dropping gold ingots into lakes and burying caches of weapons for the coming battle" (p. 64).

1948-1950s: Secret prisons set up to interrogate suspected double agents--in Germany, in Japan, and in the Panama Canal Zone (the largest such prison).

May 15, 1952: Dulles and Wisner receive a report on Project Artichoke, a "four-year effort to test heroin, amphetamines, sleeping pills, the newly discovered LSD, and other 'special techniques in CIA interrogations.'" (p. 65) Dulles approves Ultra, under which "seven prisoners at a federal penitentiary in Kentucky were kept high on LSD for seventy-seven consecutive days" and Army civilian employee Frank Olsen is dosed and leaps to his death out the window of a New York hotel. Project Artichoke continues until 1956, but most records of these activities were destroyed.

1952: The "Young Germans" (many of which were aging Hitler Youth) are supported by the CIA. The "Free Jurists' Committee," an underground group in East Germany, was taken over by Frank Wisner, whose men selected one of Gehlen's officers to train them as a fighting force. "After Soviet soldiers kidnapped and tortured one of their leaders on the eve of the international conference, every one of the CIA's Free Jurists was arrested." (p. 67)

1952: Wisner supported a Polish liberation group, the Freedom and Independent Movement (known as WIN). They had contacts with "WIN outside," emigres in Germany and London, and believed they were supporting thousands of sympathizers of "WIN inside" in Poland. They dropped $5 million in gold and weapons for "WIN inside," but the Polish secret police and the Soviets had wiped out WIN in 1947 and it was all a trap. (p. 67)

October 27, 1952: Gen. Bedell Smith convened a "Murder Board" to kill off the worst of the CIA's covert operations, but his efforts came to naught when Eisenhower appointed Allen Dulles as head of the CIA.

November 26, 1952: "British spy Monty Woodhouse flew to Washington to meet with Walter Bedell Smith and Frank Wisner" about how to get rid of Mossadeq in Iran (p. 83).

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