Scorpion's Dance, The President, the Spymaster, and Watergate
St. Martin's Press, 326 pages
Just about every lousy U.S. foreign policy escapade from the 1950s to the late '70s traces back to the CIA. From the catastrophic1953 coup of Iranian president Mohammad Mossadegh, the 1954 regime change of Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz for daring to step on United Fruit's toes, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the many, some of them quite ridiculous, attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem's demise, a possible right-wing Cuban link to the JFK assassination, the murder of Chilean general Rene Schneider and the overthrow of Chilean president Salvador Allende, the Watergate break-in and much, much more – the CIA's fingerprints were all over these crimes. It got so bad that two high-level, echt-centrist government officials called for scrapping the CIA: senator Patrick Moynihan in 1995 and president Harry Truman in 1963. They were right.
A new book proves it. Jefferson Morley's Scorpion's Dance, the President, the Spymaster and Watergate, details decades of CIA funny-business, and there was loads of it. Indeed, if you ever wonder how the world got to be such a mess and who's responsible, read this book. And there's no reason to believe the nonsense has stopped or that somehow, despite the Taliban, the CIA is just quietly minding its own business and watering its poppy fields in Afghanistan.
No. The CIA trained terrorists throughout the greater Middle East and Nazis in Ukraine. They're still at it, though their adventures on Russia's border make for by far the most deadly possible disaster in a history riddled with them, for the simple reason that the Russia caper could go nuclear at any time. From the way they've behaved, it's almost as if that's what the CIA wants. If Biden can control the agency and avert nuclear winter and radioactive global mass death, I'll be very impressed.
Morley's book focuses on the relationship between president Richard Nixon and CIA director Richard Helms. Their somewhat uncomfortable, edgy teamwork led to debacles domestic and foreign. With Nixon's approval, Helms illegally spied on the antiwar movement. Meanwhile the CIA-assisted murder of general Schneider – because he supported a civilian transfer of power and would not undo Allende's legitimate presidency, something which profoundly affronted the testy pride of Nixon and his advisor Henry Kissinger – encouraged fascist killers to go after Allende himself. It signaled that the U.S. not only would not stop their excesses, but also supported them.
And Chile did not even threaten any vital American interest. It was of international insignificance to Washington. But Morley observes: "Chile mattered as Cold War theater." And the U.S. stole the show. The anti-Allende coup provided a stellar performance of how Nixon and Helms deployed the CIA to the ruin of freedom, fairness, democracy and decency. It ushered in decades of overt fascism under Pinochet. But U.S. elites considered this worth it. Managing the public perception that Washington was winning the cold war remained paramount, and the gaudier the exhibition, the better.
This was and remains typical. Washington believes it must be seen as winning and its enemies as utterly depraved. "There is no disputing that the idea of staging a spectacular crime," Morley writes, "and blaming it on Cuba as a way of overthrowing Castro was in circulation at the highest levels of the Pentagon and CIA in mid-1963." Sound familiar? Substitute Russia for Cuba and Putin for Castro and you'll see little has changed in 50 years. The CIA owns a very skimpy playbook, peppered almost exclusively with failed strategies, but this failure never seems to stop the agency from repeating the same idiocy, hoping for a different result – Einstein's definition of insanity. And by that rule, Helms was one of the craziest of all. "Helms, like Nixon, favored action. Communism, they believed, had to be resisted everywhere." Even with the manifest fiasco of Vietnam, Helms and Nixon still doubled-down on the strategy. Now, communism in the twenty-first century may be in retreat, but the fanatical, paranoid sense of a threat to America saturates Washington's upper echelons. That combined with other governmental maladies is toxic.
"One of the chief legacies of Nixon and Helms was cynicism," Morley writes, and later of the American people: "In the absence of a credible explanation of Kennedy's death, mistrust of government exploded and conspiratorial thinking was legitimized." And who's to say it wasn't legitimate? The CIA, the mafia, the anti-Castro Cubans all hated Kennedy, and their skullduggery all intertwined. Indeed, Robert Kennedy assumed some such lethal combo killed his brother, but Morley notes, he could not act on it until he became president. He very conveniently didn't. And the JFK assassination was swept under the rug. As Morley writes of French president Charles De Gaulle: "Not long after Dallas, he predicted that American officialdom would shy from investigating the enigmatic crime of Dallas. 'They don't want to know,' De Gaulle said. 'They don't want to find out. They won't allow themselves to find out.'"
The late 1970s Frank Church congressional committee investigation of CIA and FBI abuses marked the zenith of government efforts to drag these shadowy criminal enterprises into the light. It's been steeply downhill and a plunge into darkness ever since. After 9/11 came the insane war on terror, when things got much worse. With carte blanche from the George "Mission Accomplished" Bush administration, the CIA tortured innocent people at black sites all over the world. These pointless and gruesome atrocities were never prosecuted. In fact, Barak "I'm Good at Killing People," Obama deliberately swept them under the rug and matters only deteriorated during his reign. But they plummeted to rock bottom under Joe "Russian Regime Change" Biden: Thanks to CIA and U.S. special forces in Ukraine, humanity gets to peer over the abyss at nuclear annihilation.
According to the New York Times June 25, "some CIA personnel have continued to operate in [Ukraine] secretly, mostly in the capital, Kyiv, directing much of the vast amounts of intelligence the United States is sharing with Ukrainian forces." Because the Russians, of course, know this, it is a recipe for nuclear Armageddon. If the CIA pulls that off, that will be its worst atrocity yet, far, incomparably worse than its possible involvement in Kennedy's assassination.
Biden proclaims he wants to avoid World War III, but his actions tell a different story. This is something for which he will pay at the polls in 2022 and 2024, but that is cold comfort. We could all be dead by then on account of his nuclear brinksmanship. "As usual it appears that the administration wants to have it both ways: assure the American people that it is being 'restrained' and that we are not 'at war' with the Russians, but doing everything but planting a U.S. soldier and flag inside Ukraine," wrote Kelley Vlahos in the June 27 Responsible Statecraft. The Quincy Institute's "George Beebe…wonders if Washington even knows how far it is going here." It probably doesn't and thus plays an iniquitously cavalier game with the fate of humanity. Who's rolling the dice in that game? The CIA of course, just the sort of amoral gang dedicated to its own perpetuation regardless of cost that you don't want anywhere near the borders of a nuclear-armed nation.
This is the agency Helms bequeathed us: Violent, criminal, secretive, lawless, it is an agglomeration of murderers and torturers who rampage across the globe with impunity. Former CIA director Mike Pompeo boasted of the agency that "We lied, we cheated, we stole." Those, unfortunately, are merely the agency's misdemeanors. It's the felonies that should worry you. The CIA not only collaborates with Nazis, it trains them. And it does so right under the nose of a country deeply, tectonically offended by Nazism and, it happens, armed with more nuclear warheads than the U.S. So currently, the CIA flirts with the ultimate genocide, the extinction of the human species. It is an instrument of evil incarnate. Dissolve it.