From charlesreid1


Thus wept the people of Merimna in the hour of their great victory, for men have strange moods, while beside them their old inviolate city slumbered safe. But back from the ramparts and beyond the mountains and over the lands that they had conquered of old, beyond the world and back again to Paradise, went the souls of Welleran, Soorenard, Mommolek, Rollory, Akanax, and young Iraine.

History, Edward Gibbon wrote in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, is “little more than the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” The annals of the Central Intelligence Agency are filled with folly and misfortune, along with acts of bravery and cunning. They are replete with fleeting successes and long-lasting failures abroad. They are marked by political battles and power struggles at home. The agency’s triumphs have saved some blood and treasure. Its mistakes have squandered both. They have proved fatal for legions of American soldiers and foreign agents; some three thousand Americans who died in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001; and three thousand more who have died since then in Iraq and Afghanistan. The one crime of lasting consequence has been the CIA’s inability to carry out its central mission: informing the president of what is happening in the world.

The challenge of understanding the world as it is has overwhelmed three generations of CIA officers. Few among the new generation have mastered the intricacies of foreign lands, much less the political culture of Washington. In turn, almost every president, almost every Congress, and almost every director of central intelligence since the 1960s has proved incapable of grasping the mechanics of the CIA. Most have left the agency in worse shape than they found it. Their failures have handed future generations, in the words of President Eisenhower, “a legacy of ashes.” We are back where we began sixty years ago, in a state of disarray.

Truman wanted it to serve him solely as a global news service, delivering daily bulletins. “It was not intended as a ‘Cloak & Dagger Outfit’!” he wrote. “It was intended merely as a center for keeping the President informed on what was going on in the world.”

Senior American military officers thought an independent civilian intelligence service run by Donovan, with direct access to the president, would be “an extremely dangerous thing in a democracy,” in the words of Major General Clayton Bissell, the assistant chief of staff for military intelligence.

Donovan had hoped that he could sweet-talk Truman, a man he had always treated with cavalier disdain, into creating the CIA. But he had misread his own president. Truman had decided that Donovan’s plan had the earmarks of a Gestapo.

In the rubble of Berlin, Allen Dulles, the ranking OSS officer in Germany, had found a splendid and well-staffed mansion for his new headquarters in the summer of 1945. His favorite lieutenant, Richard Helms, began trying to spy on the Soviets.

Helms had been happy to return to Berlin, where he had made his name as a twenty-three-year-old wire service reporter by interviewing Hitler at the 1936 Olympics.

On September 26, 1945, six days after President Truman signed away the OSS, General Magruder stalked down the endless corridors of the Pentagon. The moment was opportune: the secretary of war, Henry Stimson, had resigned that week, and Stimson had been dead-set against the idea of a CIA. “Seems to me most inadvisable,” he had told Donovan a few months earlier. Now General Magruder seized the opening left by Stimson’s departure.

And as the fear of a new war increased, the future leaders of American intelligence split into two rival camps. One believed in the slow and patient gathering of secret intelligence through espionage. The other believed in secret warfare—taking the battle to the enemy through covert action. Espionage seeks to know the world. That was Richard Helms. Covert action seeks to change the world. That would be Frank Wisner.

President Truman had relied on his budget director, Harold D. Smith, to oversee the orderly dismantling of the American war machine. But demobilization was turning into disintegration.

Truman saw he had created a snafu and decided to set it straight. He summoned the deputy director of naval intelligence, Rear Admiral Sidney W. Souers. A reservist, Souers was a Democratic Party stalwart from Missouri, a wealthy businessman who made his money in life insurance and Piggly Wiggly shops, the nation’s first self-service supermarkets. He had served on a postwar commission studying the future of intelligence created by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, but his sights were set on nothing grander than a swift return to Saint Louis.

Like every director of central intelligence who followed him, he was given great responsibility without equivalent authority.

The only American insights on the Kremlin in those days came from the newly appointed American ambassador in Moscow, the future director of central intelligence, General Walter Bedell Smith, and his ranking Russia hand, George Kennan.

The general repeated: “How far is Russia going to go?” Stalin looked right at him and said: “We’re not going to go much further.”

Vandenberg lacked three essential tools: money, power, and people. The Central Intelligence Group stood outside the law, in the judgment of Lawrence Houston, general counsel for Central Intelligence from 1946 to 1972. The president could not legally create a federal agency out of thin air. Without the consent of Congress, Central Intelligence could not legally spend money. No money meant no power. Vandenberg set out to get the United States back into the intelligence business. He created a new Office of Special Operations to conduct spying and subversion overseas and wrangled $15 million under the table from a handful of congressmen to carry out those missions. He wanted to know everything about the Soviet forces in Eastern and Central Europe—their movements, their capabilities, their intentions—and he ordered Richard Helms to deliver in a hurry.

Washington was a small town run by people who believed that they lived in the center of the universe. Their city within the city was Georgetown, a square-mile enclave of cobblestone streets lush with magnolias. In its heart, at 3327 P Street, stood a fine four-story house built in 1820, with an English garden out back and a formal dining room with high windows. Frank and Polly Wisner made it their home. On Sunday evenings in 1947, it became the seat of the emerging American national-security establishment. The foreign policy of the United States took shape at the Wisners’ table.

These men believed it was in their power to change the course of human events, and their great debate was how to stop a Soviet takeover of Europe. Stalin was consolidating his control of the Balkans. Leftist guerrillas battled a right-wing monarchy in the mountains of Greece. Food riots broke out in Italy and France, where communist politicians called for general strikes. British soldiers and spies were pulling out of their posts all over the world, leaving wide swaths of the map open for the communists. The sun was setting on the British Empire; the exchequer could not sustain it. The United States was going to have to lead the free world alone.

Truman’s popularity was plunging; his approval

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Truman’s popularity was plunging; his approval rating in public opinion polls had fallen 50 points since the end of the war. He had changed his mind about Stalin and the Soviets. He was now convinced that they were an evil abroad in the world.

Acheson explained that a communist beachhead in Greece would threaten all of Western Europe. The United States was going to have to find a way to save the free world—and Congress was going to have to pay the bill. Senator Vandenberg cleared his throat and turned to Truman. “Mr. President,” he said, “the only way you are ever going to get this is to make a speech and scare the hell out of the country.” On March 12, 1947, Truman made that speech, warning a joint session of Congress that the world would face disaster unless the United States fought communism abroad.

His credo was something new: “I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” Any attack launched by an American enemy in any nation of the world was an attack on the United States. This was the Truman Doctrine. Congress rose for a standing ovation.

General Vandenberg was counting the days until he could take over the new air force, but he delivered secret testimony to a handful of members of Congress in his last days as director of central intelligence, saying that the nation faced foreign threats as never before. “The oceans have shrunk, until today both Europe and Asia border the United States almost as do Canada and Mexico,” he said, in a turn of phrase repeated, eerily, by President Bush after 9/11.

Vandenberg ended by saying it would take at least five more years to build a professional cadre of American spies. The warning was repeated word for word half a century later, in 1997, by Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet, and Tenet said it again upon resigning in 2004. A great spy service was always five years over the horizon.

in the way that his brother John Foster Dulles, the party’s principal foreign policy spokesman, was seen as a shadow secretary of state. Allen was genial in the extreme, with twinkling eyes, a belly laugh, and an almost impish deviousness. But he was also a duplicitous man, a chronic adulterer, ruthlessly ambitious. He was not above misleading Congress or his colleagues or even his commander in chief.

The creation of a new American clandestine service was at hand. President Truman unveiled the new architecture for the cold war by signing the National Security Act of 1947 on July 26. The act created the air force as a separate service, led by General Vandenberg, and a new National Security Council was to be the White House switchboard for presidential decisions. The act also created the office of secretary of defense; its first occupant, James Forrestal, was ordered to unify the American military. (“This office,” Forrestal wrote a few days later, “will probably be the greatest cemetery for dead cats in history.”)

The agency was not their overseer, but their stepchild. Its powers were poorly defined. No formal charter or congressionally appropriated funds would come for nearly two more years. The CIA’s headquarters would survive until then on a subsistence fund maintained by a few members of Congress.

The new commander of the CIA’s Office of Special Operations, Colonel Donald “Wrong-Way” Galloway, was a strutting martinet who had reached the apex of his talent as a West Point cavalry officer teaching equestrian etiquette to cadets. His deputy, Stephen Penrose, who had run the Middle East division of the OSS, resigned in frustration. In a bitter memo to Forrestal, Penrose warned that “CIA is losing its professionals, and is not acquiring competent new personnel,” at the very time “when, as almost never before, the government needs an effective, expanding, professional intelligence service.”

Nevertheless, on December 14, 1947, the National Security Council issued its first top secret orders to the CIA. The agency was to execute “covert psychological operations designed to counter Soviet and Soviet-inspired activities.” With this martial drum roll, the CIA set out to beat the Reds in the Italian elections, set for April 1948.

tap into the Exchange Stabilization Fund set up in the Depression to shore up the value of the dollar overseas through short-term currency trading, and converted during World War II as a depository for captured Axis loot. The fund held $200 million earmarked for the reconstruction of Europe. It delivered millions into the bank accounts of wealthy American citizens, many of them Italian Americans, who then sent the money to newly formed political fronts created by the CIA. Donors were instructed to place a special code on their income tax forms alongside their “charitable donation.” The millions were delivered to Italian politicians and the priests of Catholic Action, a political arm of the Vatican. Suitcases filled with cash changed hands in the four-star Hassler Hotel.

On June 23, the Western powers instituted the new currency. In immediate response, the Soviets blockaded Berlin. As the United States mounted an airlift to beat the blockade, Kennan spent long hours in the crisis room, the double-locked overseas communications center on the fifth floor of the State Department, agonizing as cables and telexes flashed in from Berlin.

His organization soon grew bigger than the rest of the agency combined. Covert operations became the agency’s dominant force, with the most people, the most money, the most power, and so they remained for more than twenty years.

Wisner proposed to break communist influence over the largest trade federations in France and Italy with cash from the plan; Kennan personally authorized these operations.

The CIA’s money and power flowed into the well-greased palms of Corsican gangsters who knew how to break a strike with bare knuckles.

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“We will just have to tell the House they will have to accept our judgment and we cannot answer a great many questions that might be asked,” Vinson told his colleagues. Dewey Short of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, agreed that it would be “supreme folly” to debate the act in public: “The less we say about this bill, the better off all of us will be.”

in the twenty-five years between the passage of the CIA Act and the awakening of a watchdog spirit in Congress, the CIA was barred only from behaving like a secret police force inside the United States.

Another warned that “American Intelligence is a rich blind man using the Abwehr as a seeing-eye dog. The only trouble is—the leash is much too long.” Helms himself expressed a well-founded fear that “there is no question the Russians know this operation is going on.”

Angleton was promoted to chief of counterintelligence when it was over. He held the job for twenty years. Drunk after lunch, his mind an impenetrable maze, his in-box a black hole, he passed judgment on every operation and every officer that the CIA aimed against the Soviets. He came to believe that a Soviet master plot controlled American perceptions of the world, and that he and he alone understood the depths of the deception. He took the CIA’s missions against Moscow down into a dark labyrinth.

All told, hundreds of the CIA’s foreign agents were sent to their deaths in Russia, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, and the Baltic States during the 1950s. Their fates were unrecorded; no accounts were kept and no penalty assessed for failure.

The general’s task was to learn the secrets of the Kremlin, and he had a good idea of his chances. “There are only two personalities that I know of who might do it,” he told the five senators who confirmed him at an August 24 hearing where he wore a newly acquired fourth star, a prize from the president. “One is God, and the other is Stalin, and I do not know that even God can do it because I do not know whether he is close enough in touch with Uncle Joe to know what he is talking about.”

The president wanted the CIA’s best intelligence on Korea. Above all, he wanted to know whether the communist Chinese would enter the war. MacArthur, driving his troops deep into North Korea, had insisted that China would never attack.

The one true source of intelligence on the Far East from the final days of World War II until the end of 1949 had been the wizards of American signals intelligence. They had been able to intercept and decrypt passages from communist cables and communiqués sent between Moscow and the Far East. Then silence fell at the very hour that the North Korean leader Kim Il-sung was consulting with Stalin and Mao on his intent to attack. America’s ability to listen in on Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean military plans suddenly vanished.

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He was William Wolf Weisband, a linguist who translated broken messages from Russian into English. Weisband, recruited as a spy by Moscow in the 1930s, single-handedly shattered the ability of the United States to read the Soviets’ secret dispatches. Bedell Smith recognized that something terrible had happened to American signals intelligence, and he alerted the White House. The result was the creation of the National Security Agency, the signals-intelligence service that grew to dwarf the CIA in its size and power. Half a century later, the National Security Agency called the Weisband case “perhaps the most significant intelligence loss in U.S. history.”

Yet CIA headquarters asserted one last time that China would not invade in force. Two days later 300,000 Chinese troops struck with an attack so brutal that it nearly pushed the Americans into the sea. Bedell Smith was aghast. He believed that the business of the CIA was to guard the nation against military surprise. But the agency had misread every global crisis of the past year: the Soviet atom bomb, the Korean War, the Chinese invasion. In December 1950,

On January 4, 1951, Bedell Smith bowed to the inevitable and appointed Allen Dulles as the CIA’s deputy director of

On January 4, 1951, Bedell Smith bowed to the inevitable and appointed Allen Dulles as the CIA’s deputy director of plans (the title was a cover; the job was chief of covert operations).

Wisner’s operations had multiplied fivefold since the start of the war. Bedell Smith saw that the United States had no strategy for conducting this kind of struggle. He appealed to President Truman and the National Security Council. Was the agency really supposed to support armed revolution in Eastern Europe? In China? In Russia? The Pentagon and the State Department replied: yes, all that, and more.

“The operational tail will wag the intelligence dog,”

This posed “a distinct danger to CIA as an intelligence agency,” Bedell Smith fumed. “The operational tail will wag the intelligence dog,” he warned. “The top people will be forced to take up all their time in the direction of operations and will necessarily neglect intelligence.”

deputy director of intelligence, Loftus Becker. After Bedell Smith sent him on an inspection tour of all the CIA’s Asian stations in November 1952, Becker came home and turned in his resignation. He had concluded that the situation was hopeless: the CIA’s ability to gather intelligence in the Far East was “almost negligible.” Before resigning, he confronted Frank Wisner: “Blown operations indicate a lack of success,” he told him, “and there have been a number of these lately.” Hart’s reports and Haney’s frauds were buried.

The ability to represent failure as success was becoming a CIA tradition. The agency’s unwillingness to learn from its mistakes became a permanent part of its culture.

The CIA’s covert operators never wrote “lessons-learned” studies. Even today there are few if any rules or procedures for producing them.

The inability to penetrate North Korea remains the longest-running intelligence failure in the CIA’s history.

The agency opened a second front in the Korean War in 1951. The officers on the agency’s China operations desk, frantic at Mao’s entry into the war, convinced themselves that as many as one million Kuomintang Nationalist guerrillas were waiting inside Red China for the CIA’s help. Were these reports fabricated by paper mills in Hong Kong, produced by political conniving in Taiwan, or conjured up by wishful thinking in Washington? Was it wise for the CIA to make war against Mao? There was no time to think that through. “You do not have in government a basic approved strategy for this kind of war,” Bedell Smith told Dulles and Wisner. “We haven’t even a policy on Chiang Kai-shek.” Dulles and Wisner made their own.

One potential recruit, Paul Kreisberg, was eager to join the CIA until “they tested me on my loyalty and my commitment by asking whether I would be willing to be dropped by parachute into Szechuan. My target would be to organize a group of anti-communist Kuomintang soldiers who remained up in the hills in Szechuan and work with them in a number of operations and then exfiltrate myself, if necessary, out through Burma. They looked at me, and they said, ‘Would you be willing to do that?’” Kreisberg thought it over and joined the State Department.

When Li Mi’s soldiers crossed over into China, Mao’s forces shot them to pieces. The CIA’s espionage officers discovered that Li Mi’s radioman in Bangkok was a Chinese communist agent. But Wisner’s men pressed on. Li Mi’s soldiers retreated and regrouped. When FitzGerald dropped more guns and ammunition into Burma, Li Mi’s men would not fight. They settled into the mountains known as the Golden Triangle, harvested opium poppies, and married the local women. Twenty years later, the CIA would have to start another small war in Burma to wipe out the heroin labs that were the basis of Li Mi’s global drug empire.

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the luckless station chief, John Hart, had to start all over again, recruiting, training, and parachuting agents into North Korea from 1953 until 1955. All of them, to the best of his knowledge, were captured and executed.

A generation later, American military veterans called Korea “the forgotten war.” At the agency, it was deliberate amnesia.

at a secret conference held at the Princeton Inn in May 1952. “After all, we have had a hundred thousand casualties in Korea,” he said, according to a transcript declassified in 2003. “If we have been willing to accept those casualties, I wouldn’t worry if there were a few casualties or a few martyrs behind the iron curtain…. I don’t think you can wait until you have all your troops and are sure you are going to win. You have got to start and go ahead. “You have got to have a few martyrs,” Dulles said. “Some people have to get killed.”

“When you ask, ‘Shall we go on the offensive?’ I see a vast field of illusion,” Bohlen said.

commanded Frank Wisner and the CIA to conduct “a major covert offensive against the Soviet Union,” aimed at “the heartland of the communist control system.” Wisner tried. The Marshall Plan was being transformed into pacts providing America’s allies with weapons, and Wisner saw this as a chance to arm secret stay-behind forces to fight the Soviets in the event of war. He was seeding the ground all over Europe. Throughout the mountains and forests of Scandinavia, France, Germany, Italy, and Greece, his men were dropping gold ingots into lakes and burying caches of weapons for the coming battle. In the marshes and foothills of Ukraine and the Baltics, his pilots were dropping agents to their deaths.

None of this provided insight into the nature of the Soviet threat. Operations to sabotage the Soviet empire kept overwhelming plans to spy on it.

Deeply wary, Walter Bedell Smith dispatched a trusted three-star general, Lucian K. Truscott, an officer with impeccable connections and a distinguished war record, to take over the CIA’s operations in Germany and to find out what Wisner’s men were doing. General Truscott’s orders were to suspend every scheme he deemed dubious. Upon his arrival, he chose Tom Polgar of the CIA’s Berlin base as his chief aide. They found several ticking time bombs. Among them was one very dark secret, described in CIA documents of the day as a program of “overseas interrogations.” The agency had set up clandestine prisons to wring confessions out of suspected double agents. One was in Germany, another in Japan. The third, and the biggest, was in the Panama Canal Zone. “Like Guantánamo,” Polgar said in 2005. “It was anything goes.” The zone was its own world, seized by the United States at the turn of the century, bulldozed out of the jungles that surrounded the Panama Canal. On a naval base in the zone, the CIA’s office of security had refitted a complex of cinder-block prison cells inside a navy brig normally used to house drunk and disorderly sailors. In those cells, the agency was conducting secret experiments in harsh interrogation, using techniques on the edge of torture, drug-induced mind control, and brainwashing. The project dated back to 1948, when Richard Helms and his officers in Germany realized they were being defrauded by double agents. The effort began as a crash program in 1950, when the Korean War erupted and a sense of emergency seized the CIA. Late that summer, as the temperature approached a hundred degrees in Panama, two Russian émigrés who had been delivered to the Canal Zone from Germany were injected with drugs and brutally interrogated. Along with four suspected North Korean double agents subjected to the same treatment at a military base commandeered by the CIA in Japan, they were among the first known human guinea pigs under a program code-named Project Artichoke, a small but significant part of a fifteen-year search by the CIA for ways to control the human mind.

Richard Helms once said that American intelligence officers were trained to believe that they could not count on a foreign agent “unless you own him body and soul.” The need for a way to own a man’s soul led to the search for mind-control drugs and secret prisons in which to test them. Dulles, Wisner, and Helms were personally responsible for these endeavors.

Senior CIA officers, including Helms, destroyed almost all the records of these programs in fear that they might become public. The evidence that remains is fragmentary, but it strongly suggests that use of secret prisons for the forcible drug-induced questioning of suspect agents went on throughout the 1950s. Members of the clandestine service, the agency’s security office, and the CIA’s scientists and doctors met monthly to discuss the progress of Project Artichoke until 1956.

Shackley said he never forgot the sight of his fellow officers realizing that five years of planning and millions of dollars had gone down the drain. The unkindest cut might have been their discovery that the Poles had sent a chunk of the CIA’s money to the Communist Party of Italy.

Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency on a national-security platform that called for the free world to liberate the Soviet satellites, a script written by his closest foreign-policy adviser, John Foster Dulles. Their victory plans called for a new director of central intelligence.

Over the next eight years, through his devotion to covert action, his disdain for the details of analysis, and his dangerous practice of deceiving the president of the United States, Allen Dulles did untold damage to the agency he had helped to create.

Allen Dulles had been director of central intelligence for one week when, on March 5, 1953, Joseph Stalin died. “We have no reliable inside intelligence on thinking inside the Kremlin,” the agency lamented a few days later. “Our estimates of Soviet long-range plans and intentions are speculations drawn from inadequate evidence.”

But the agency’s speculations about the Soviets were reflections in a funhouse mirror. Stalin never had a master plan for world domination, nor the means to pursue it. The man who eventually took control of the Soviet Union after his death, Nikita Khrushchev, recalled that Stalin “trembled” and “quivered” at the prospect of a global combat with America. “He was afraid of war,” Khrushchev said. “Stalin never did anything to provoke a war with the nited States. He knew his weakness.”

Stalin and his successors were pathological about their frontiers. Napoleon had invaded from Paris, and then Hitler from Berlin. Stalin’s only coherent postwar foreign policy had been to turn Eastern Europe into an enormous human shield.

Americans were about to enjoy eight years of peace and prosperity under Eisenhower. But that peace came at the cost of a skyrocketing arms race, political witch hunts, and a permanent war economy.

He feared that the costs of the cold war could cripple the United States; if his generals and admirals had their way, they would consume the treasury. He decided to base his strategy on secret weapons: nuclear bombs and covert action. They were far cheaper than multibillion-dollar fleets of fighter jets and flotillas of aircraft carriers.

“We were engaged in the defense of a way of life, and the great danger was that in defending this way of life we would find ourselves resorting to methods that endangered this way of life. The real problem, as the President saw it, was to devise methods of meeting the Soviet threat and of adopting controls, if necessary, that would not result in our transformation into a garrison state. The whole thing, said the President, was a paradox.”

By the end of the Solarium project, the idea of rolling back Russia through covert action was pronounced dead at age five.

Under Eisenhower, the agency undertook 170 new major covert actions in 48 nations—political, psychological, and paramilitary warfare missions in countries where American spies knew little of the culture or the language or the history of the people.

The minutes of the daily meetings of Dulles and his deputies depict an agency lurching from international crisis to internal calamities—rampant alcoholism, financial malfeasance, mass resignations. What should be done about a CIA officer who had killed a British colleague and faced trial for manslaughter? Why had the former station chief in Switzerland committed suicide? What could be done about the lack of talent in the clandestine service?

During the nineteen months that Bedell Smith served as the president’s proconsul for covert action, the agency carried out the only two victorious coups in its history. The declassified records of those coups show that they succeeded by bribery and coercion and brute force, not secrecy and stealth and cunning. But they created the legend that the CIA was a silver bullet in the arsenal of democracy. They gave the agency the aura that Dulles coveted.

He learned that Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted the CIA to help overthrow Iran. Iran’s oil had propelled Churchill to power and glory forty years before. Now Sir Winston wanted it back.

On the eve of World War I, Churchill, as first lord of the British Admiralty, had converted the Royal Navy from coal-burning to oil-burning ships. He championed the British purchase of 51 percent of the new Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which had struck the first of Iran’s oil five years before. The British took a lion’s share. Not only did Iranian oil fuel Churchill’s new armada, but the revenues paid for it. The oil became the lifeblood of the British exchequer. While Britannia ruled the waves, British, Russian, and Turkish troops trampled northern Iran, destroying much of the nation’s agriculture and sparking a famine that killed perhaps two million people.

After the war, Mossadeq called upon the Majlis to renegotiate the British oil concession. Anglo-Iranian Oil controlled the world’s largest known reserves. Its offshore refinery at Abadan was the biggest on earth. While British oil executives and technicians played in private clubs and swimming pools, Iranian oil workers lived in shanties without running water, electricity, or sewers; the injustice bred support for the communist Tudeh Party of Iran, which claimed about 2,500 members at the time. The British took twice as much income from the oil as the Iranians.

He was seventy-six; Mossadeq was sixty-nine. Both were stubborn old men who conducted affairs of state in their pajamas. British commanders drew up plans for seventy thousand troops to seize Iran’s oil fields and the Abadan refinery. Mossadeq took his case to the United Nations and the White House, laying on the charm in public while warning Truman in private that a British attack could set off World War III. Truman told Churchill flatly that the United States would never back such an invasion. Churchill countered that the price for British military support in the Korean War was American political support for his position in Iran. They reached an impasse in the summer of 1952.

The stated foreign policy of the United States was to support Mossadeq. But the CIA was setting out to depose him without the imprimatur of the White House.

The CIA took its cues from the influence-buying network controlled by British intelligence.

On the way to meet him at the airport, members of the American embassy passed a toppled bronze statue of the shah’s father, with only the boots left standing.

sometime after 2 a.m., Wisner placed a frantic telephone call to John Waller, who was running the Iran desk at CIA headquarters. The shah had flown to Rome and checked into the Excelsior Hotel, Wisner reported. And then “a terrible, terrible coincidence occurred,” Wisner said. “Can you guess what it is?” Waller could not imagine. “Think of the worst thing you can think of,” Wisner said. “He was hit by a cab and killed,” Waller replied. “No, no, no, no,” Wisner responded. “John, maybe you don’t know that Dulles had decided to extend his vacation by going to Rome. Now can you imagine what happened?” Waller shot back: “Dulles hit him with his car and killed him?” Wisner was not amused. “They both showed up at the reception desk at the Excelsior at the very same moment,” Wisner said. “And Dulles had to say, ‘After you, Your Majesty.’”

Roosevelt handed Zahedi $1 million in cash, and the new prime minister set out to crush all opposition and jail thousands of political prisoners.

In his hour of glory, Kim Roosevelt flew to London. On August 26, at two in the afternoon, he was received at 10 Downing Street by the prime minister. Winston Churchill was “in bad shape,” Roosevelt reported, his speech slurred, his vision occluded, his memory fleeting: “The initials CIA meant nothing to him, but he had a vague idea that Roosevelt must be connected in some way with his old friend Bedell Smith.”

Roosevelt was hailed as a hero at the White House. Faith in the magic of covert action soared.

The shah wanted a secret police to protect his power. SAVAK, trained and equipped by the CIA, enforced his rule for more than twenty years.

The CIA wove itself into Iran’s political culture, locked in “a passionate embrace with the Shah,” said Andrew Killgore, a State Department political officer under the American ambassador from 1972 to 1976—Richard Helms.

The illusion that the CIA could overthrow a nation by sleight of hand was alluring. It led the agency into a battle in Central America that went on for the next forty years.

Plots for a coup against the president, Jacobo Arbenz, had been kicking around the agency for almost three years. They were revived the instant that Kim Roosevelt returned triumphant from Iran. An elated Allen Dulles asked him to lead the operation in Central America. Roosevelt respectfully declined. He determined after studying the matter that the agency was going in blind. It had no spies in Guatemala and no sense of the will of the army or the people.

He met with President Arbenz and reported: “I am definitely convinced that if the President is not a communist, he will certainly do until one comes along.”

The CIA’s charter demanded that covert action be conducted in ways so subtle that the American hand was unseen. That mattered little to Wisner. “There is not the slightest doubt that if the operation is carried through many Latin Americans will see in it the hand of the U.S.,” he told Dulles. But if Operation Success was curtailed “on the grounds that the hand of the U.S. is too clearly shown,” Wisner argued, “a serious question is raised as to whether any operation of this kind can appropriately be included as one of the U.S. cold war weapons, no matter how great the provocation or how favorable the auspices.” Wisner thought that an operation was clandestine so long as it was unacknowledged by the United States and kept secret from the American people.

The arrival of the arms—many of them rusted and useless, some bearing a swastika stamp, indicating their age and origin—created a propaganda windfall for the United States. Grossly overstating the size and military significance of the cargo, Foster Dulles and the State Department announced that Guatemala was now part of a Soviet plot to subvert the Western Hemisphere. The Speaker of the House, John McCormack, called the shipment an atomic bomb planted in America’s backyard. Ambassador Peurifoy said the United States was at war. “Nothing short of direct military intervention will succeed,” he cabled Wisner on May 21. Three days later, U.S. Navy warships and submarines blockaded Guatemala, in violation of international law.

For four weeks, starting on May Day 1954, the CIA had been waging psychological warfare in Guatemala through a pirate radio station called the Voice of Liberation, run by a CIA contract officer, an amateur actor and skilled dramatist named David Atlee Phillips. In a tremendous stroke of luck, the Guatemalan state radio station went off the air in mid-May for a scheduled replacement of its antenna. Phillips snuggled up to its frequency, where listeners looking for the state broadcasts found Radio CIA. Unrest turned to hysteria among the populace as the rebel station sent out shortwave reports of imaginary uprisings and defections and plots to poison wells and conscript children.

“Bomb repeat Bomb,” he pleaded. Haney weighed in less than two hours later with a blistering message to Wisner: “Are we going to stand by and see last hope of free people in Guatemala submerged to depths of Communist oppression and atrocity until we send American armed force against enemy?…Is not our intervention now under these circumstances far more palatable than by Marines? This is the same enemy we fought in Korea and may fight tomorrow in Indo-China.” Wisner froze. It was one thing to send legions of foreigners to their deaths. It was quite another to send American pilots to blow up a national capital.

Dulles picked up the phone and called William Pawley—one of the richest businessmen in the United States, the chairman of Democrats for Eisenhower, one of Ike’s biggest benefactors in the 1952 elections, and a CIA consultant. Pawley could provide a secret air force if anyone could.

The president and Pawley recorded the conversation almost identically in their memoirs—with one exception. Eisenhower erased Pawley from history, and it is clear why: he cut a secret deal with his political benefactor. “Ike turned to me,” Pawley wrote, “and he said: ‘Bill, go ahead and get the planes.’”

Ambassador Peurifoy met with the coup plotters on June 27, victory within his grasp. But then Arbenz ceded power to Colonel Carlos Enrique Diaz, who formed a junta and vowed to fight Castillo Armas. “We have been double-crossed,” Peurifoy cabled. Al Haney sent a message to all CIA stations identifying Diaz as a “Commie agent.” He ordered a silver-tongued CIA officer, Enno Hobbing, Time’s Berlin bureau chief before joining the agency, to have a little talk with Diaz at dawn the next day. Hobbing delivered the message to Diaz: “Colonel, you are not convenient for American foreign policy.” The junta vanished instantly, to be replaced in quick succession by four more, each one increasingly pro-American. Ambassador Peurifoy now demanded that the CIA stand down. Wisner cabled all hands on June 30 that it was time for “the surgeons to step back and the nurses to take over the patient.” Peurifoy maneuvered for two more months before Castillo Armas assumed the presidency. He received a twenty-one-gun salute and a state dinner at the White House, where the vice president offered the following toast: “We in the United States have watched the people of Guatemala record an episode in their history deeply significant to all peoples,” Richard Nixon said. “Led by the courageous soldier who is our guest this evening, the Guatemalan people revolted against communist rule, which in collapsing bore graphic witness to its own shallowness, falsity, and corruption.”

Guatemala was at the beginning of forty years of military rulers, death squads, and armed repression.

In the East Wing of the White House, in a room darkened for a slide show, the CIA sold Eisenhower a dressed-up version of Operation Success. When the lights went on, the president’s first question went to the paramilitary man Rip Robertson. “How many men did Castillo Armas lose?” Ike asked. Only one, Robertson replied. “Incredible,” said the president. At least forty-three of Castillo Armas’s men had been killed during the invasion, but no one contradicted Robertson. It was a shameless falsehood. This was a turning point in the history of the CIA. The cover stories required for covert action overseas were now part of the agency’s political conduct in Washington. Bissell stated it plainly: “Many of us who joined the CIA did not feel bound in the actions we took as staff members to observe all the ethical rules.” He and his colleagues were prepared to lie to the president to protect the agency’s image. And their lies had lasting consequences.

When McCarthy privately told Dulles face-to-face “that CIA was neither sacrosanct nor immune from investigation,” the director knew its survival was at stake. Foster Dulles had opened his doors to McCarthy’s bloodhounds in a public display of sanctimony that devastated the State Department for a decade. But Allen fought them off.

After his private confrontation with McCarthy, Dulles organized a team of CIA officers to penetrate the senator’s office with a spy or a bug, preferably both. The methodology was just like J. Edgar Hoover’s: gather dirt, then spread it. Dulles instructed James Angleton, his counterintelligence czar, to find a way to feed disinformation to McCarthy and his staff as a means of discrediting him.

McCargar succeeded: the CIA penetrated the Senate. “You’ve saved the Republic,” Allen Dulles told him.

“For some of us who have seen the other side of Allen Dulles, we don’t see too many Christian traits. I personally consider him a ruthless, ambitious and utterly incompetent government administrator.”

Dulles gave the job of building the plane to Dick Bissell, who knew nothing about aircraft but skillfully created a secret government bureaucracy that shielded the U-2 program from scrutiny and helped speed the plane’s creation. “Our Agency,” he proudly told a class of CIA trainees a few years later, “is the last refuge of organizational privacy available to the U.S. government.”

Bissell paced down the CIA’s corridors with long strides, a gawky man with great ambitions. He believed that he someday would be the next director of central intelligence, for Dulles told him so. He became increasingly contemptuous of espionage, and disdained Richard Helms and his intelligence officers. The two men became bureaucratic rivals and then bitter enemies. They personified the battle between spies and gadgets, which began fifty years ago and continues today.

“We didn’t raise the right questions,” Reber said. If the CIA had developed a bigger picture of life inside the Soviet Union, it would have learned that the Soviets were putting little money into the resources that truly made a nation strong. They were a weak enemy. If the CIA’s leaders had been able to run effective intelligence operations inside the Soviet Union, they might have seen that Russians were unable to produce the necessities of life. The idea that the final battles of the cold war would be economic instead of military was beyond their imagination.

With the CIA’s help, Nobusuke Kishi became Japan’s prime minister and the chief of its ruling party. Yoshio Kodama secured his freedom and his position as the nation’s number-one gangster by helping American intelligence. Together they shaped the politics of postwar Japan. In the war against fascism, they had represented everything America hated. In the war against communism, they were just what America needed.

The biggest domestic political issue in Japan that year was the enormous American military base on Okinawa, a crucial staging ground for the bombing of Vietnam and a storehouse of American nuclear weapons. Okinawa was under American control, but regional elections were set for November 10, and opposition politicians threatened to force the United States off the island. Kaya played a key role in the CIA’s covert actions aimed to swing the elections for the LDP, which narrowly failed. Okinawa itself returned to Japanese administration in 1972, but the American military remains there to this day.

Enthralled by covert action, Allen Dulles ceased to focus on his core mission of providing intelligence to the president. He handled most of the CIA’s analysts and much of their work with studied contempt.

Then as now, the CIA relied heavily on foreign intelligence services, paying for secrets it could not uncover on its own. In April 1956, Israel’s spies delivered the text to James Angleton, who became the CIA’s one-man liaison with the Jewish state. The channel produced much of the agency’s intelligence on the Arab world, but at a cost—a growing American dependence on Israel to explain events in the Middle East. The Israeli perspective colored American perceptions for decades to come.

The biggest surprise was that Nasser did not stay bought: he used part of the $3 million in bribes that the CIA had slipped him to build a minaret in Cairo on an island in front of the Nile Hilton. It was known as el wa’ef rusfel—Roosevelt’s erection.

First Israel would attack Egypt, and then Britain and France would strike, posing as peacekeepers while seizing the canal. The CIA knew none of this. Dulles assured Eisenhower that reports of a joint Israeli-UK-French military plan were absurd.

During the two-week life of the Hungarian revolution, the agency knew no more than what it read in the newspapers. It had no idea that the uprising would happen, or how it flourished, or that the Soviets would crush it. Had the White House agreed to send weapons, the agency would have had no clue where to send them. A secret CIA history of the Hungarian uprising said the clandestine service was in a state of “wishful blindness.” “At no time,” it said, “did we have anything that could or should have been mistaken for an intelligence operation.”

In four brutal days, Soviet troops crushed the partisans of Budapest, killing tens of thousands and hauling thousands more away to die in Siberian prison camps.

His ideas and his sense of order became as evanescent as his pipe smoke.

The only lasting legacy of the “secret task force” was the fulfillment of Frank Wisner’s proposal to put King Hussein of Jordan on the CIA’s payroll. The agency created a Jordanian intelligence service, which lives today as its liaison to much of the Arab world. The king received a secret subsidy for the next twenty years.

“He had given a mandate to Allen Dulles to do this…. And, of course, Allen Dulles just unleashed people.” As a result, “we were caught out in attempted coups, ham-handed operations of all kinds.” He and his fellow diplomats tried “to keep track of some of these dirty tricks that were being planned in the Middle East so that if they were just utterly impossible, we’d get them killed before they got any further. And we succeeded in doing that in some cases. But we couldn’t get all of them killed.”

The Syrians set up a sting. “The officers with whom Stone was dealing took his money and then went on television and announced that they had received this money from the ‘corrupt and sinister Americans’ in an attempt to overthrow the legitimate government of Syria,” said Curtis F. Jones, a State Department officer sent to clean up the mess Stone left behind.

The revelation of this “particularly clumsy CIA plot,” in the words of the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Charles Yost, had consequences that reverberate today. The Syrian government formally declared Rocky Stone persona non grata. That was the first time that an American diplomat of any stripe—be he a spy working undercover or a bona fide State Department officer—had been expelled from an Arab nation. In turn, the United States expelled the Syrian ambassador to Washington, the first expulsion of any foreign diplomat from Washington since World War I.

“We came to power on a CIA train,” said Ali Saleh Sa’adi, the Ba’ath Party interior minister in the 1960s. One of the passengers on that train was an up-and-coming assassin named Saddam Hussein.

in 1958, the CIA’s effort to overthrow the government of Indonesia backfired so badly that it fueled the rise of the biggest communist party in the world outside of Russia and China. It would take a real war, in which hundreds of thousands died, to defeat that force.

nearly one thousand inhabited islands, with thirteen major ethnic groups among a predominantly Islamic population of more than eighty million people—the world’s fifth-largest nation in the 1950s.

But it also raised fundamental questions about the consequences of American covert action. Arming the rebellious officers “could increase the likelihood of the dismemberment of Indonesia, a country which was created with U.S. support and assistance,” members of the Cumming group noted. “Since the U.S. played a very important role in the creation of an independent Indonesia, doesn’t it stand to lose a great deal in Asia and the rest of the world if Indonesia breaks up, particularly if, as seems inevitable, our hand in the breakup eventually becomes known?” The question went unanswered.

The agency appeared unmindful that some of the most powerful commanders in the Indonesian army had been trained in the United States and referred to themselves as “the sons of Eisenhower.” These were the men who were fighting the rebels. The army, led by anticommunists, was at war with the CIA.

“The operation was, of course, a complete failure,” Richard Bissell said. For the rest of his days in power, Sukarno rarely failed to mention it. He knew the CIA had tried to overthrow his government, and his army knew it, and the political establishment of Indonesia knew it too. The ultimate effect was to strengthen Indonesia’s communists, whose influence and power grew for the next seven years.

On January 1, 1959, Richard Bissell became the chief of the clandestine service. That same day, Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba. A secret CIA history unearthed in 2005 described in detail how the agency took on the threat.

Al Cox, chief of the paramilitary division, proposed to “make secret contact with Castro” and offer him arms and ammunition to establish a democratic government. Cox told his superiors that the CIA could ship weapons to Castro on a vessel manned by a Cuban crew. But “the most secure means of help would be giving the money to Castro, who could then purchase his own arms,” Cox wrote to his superiors. “A combination of arms and money would probably be best.” Cox was an alcoholic, and his thinking might have been clouded, but more than a few of his fellow officers felt the way he did. “My staff and I were all Fidelistas” at the time, Robert Reynolds, chief of the CIA’s Caribbean operations desk, said many years later.

On January 8, 1960, Dulles told Bissell to organize a special task force to overthrow Castro. Bissell personally selected many of the same people who had subverted the government of Guatemala six years before—and had deceived President Eisenhower face-to-face about the coup. He chose the feckless Tracy Barnes for political and psychological warfare, the talented Dave Phillips for propaganda, the gung-ho Rip Robertson for paramilitary training, and the relentlessly mediocre E. Howard Hunt to manage the political front groups.

Bissell almost never talked about Cuba with Richard Helms, his second-in-command at the clandestine service. The two men disliked and distrusted one another intensely.

Eisenhower walked into the Oval Office on May 9 and said out loud: “I would like to resign.” For the first time in the history of the United States, millions of citizens understood that their president could deceive them in the name of national security. The doctrine of plausible deniability was dead. The summit with Khrushchev was wrecked and the brief thaw in the cold war iced over. The CIA’s spy plane destroyed the idea of détente for almost a decade. Eisenhower had approved the final mission in the hope of putting the lie to the missile gap. But the cover-up of the crash made him out to be a liar. In retirement, Eisenhower said the greatest regret of his presidency was “the lie we told about the U-2. I didn’t realize how high a price we were going to pay for that lie.”

The president knew he would not be able to leave office in a spirit of international peace and reconciliation. He was now intent on policing as many parts of the planet as possible before leaving office. The summer of 1960 became a season of incessant crisis for the CIA. Red arrows signifying hot spots in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia multiplied on the maps that Allen Dulles and his men brought to the White House. The chagrin over the U-2 shootdown gave way to a murderous anger.

asked for another $10.75 million to begin the paramilitary training of the five hundred Cubans in Guatemala. Eisenhower said yes, on one condition: “So long as the Joint Chiefs, Defense, State and CIA think we have a good chance of being successful” in “freeing the Cubans from this incubus.” When Bissell tried to raise the idea of creating an American military force to lead the Cubans in battle, Dulles twice cut him off, evading debate and dissent. The president—the man who had led the biggest secret invasion in American history—warned the CIA’s leaders against “the danger of making false moves” or “starting something before we were ready.”

The agency had already selected the Congo’s next leader: Joseph Mobutu, “the only man in the Congo able to act with firmness,” as Dulles told the president at the NSC meeting on September 21. The CIA delivered $250,000 to him in early October, followed by shipments of arms and ammunition in November. Mobutu captured Lumumba and, in Devlin’s words, delivered him into the hands of a “sworn enemy.” The CIA base in Elizabethville, deep in the heart of the Congo, reported that “a Belgian officer of Flemish origin executed Lumumba with a burst of submachine gun fire” two nights before the next president of the United States took office. With the unwavering support of the CIA, Mobutu finally gained full control of the Congo after a five-year power struggle. He was the agency’s favorite ally in Africa and the clearinghouse for American covert action throughout the continent during the cold war. He ruled for three decades as one of the world’s most brutal and corrupt dictators, stealing billions of dollars in revenues from the nation’s enormous deposits of diamonds, minerals, and strategic metals, slaughtering multitudes to preserve his power.

As the 1960 election drew nearer, it was clear to Vice President Nixon that the CIA was far from ready to attack Cuba. At the end of September, Nixon nervously instructed the task force: “Don’t do anything now; wait until after the elections.” The delay gave Fidel Castro a crucial edge. His spies told him an American-backed invasion might be imminent, and he built up his military and intelligence forces, cracking down hard on the political dissidents whom the CIA hoped would serve as shock troops for the coup. The internal resistance against Castro began to die that summer, though the CIA never paid much heed to what was actually happening on the island. Tracy Barnes privately commissioned a public-opinion poll in Cuba—and it showed that people overwhelmingly supported Castro. Disliking the results, he discarded them.

Eisenhower had never approved an invasion of Cuba. But Kennedy did not know that. What he knew was what Dulles and Bissell told him.

“A great deal has been accomplished,” Dulles insisted to the president at the final gatherings of Eisenhower’s National Security Council. Everything is well in hand, he said. I have fixed the clandestine service. American intelligence has never been more agile and adept. Coordination and cooperation are better than they ever have been. The proposals of the president’s intelligence board were preposterous, he said, they were madness, they were illegal. I am responsible under the law for intelligence coordination, he reminded the president. I cannot delegate that responsibility. Without my leadership, he said, American intelligence would be “a body floating in thin air.” At the last, Dwight Eisenhower exploded in anger and frustration. “The structure of our intelligence organization is faulty,” he told Dulles. It makes no sense, it has to be reorganized, and we should have done it long ago. Nothing had changed since Pearl Harbor. “I have suffered an eight-year defeat on this,” said the president of the United States. He said he would “leave a legacy of ashes” to his successor.

The CIA then dispatched three .38-caliber pistols to the Dominicans. Bissell authorized a second shipment of four machine guns and 240 rounds of ammunition. The machine guns remained at the American consulate in Santo Domingo after members of the new administration questioned what the world reaction might be if it were known that the United States was delivering murder weapons via diplomatic pouch.

Dearborn received a cable, personally approved by President Kennedy, which he read to say: “We don’t care if the Dominicans assassinate Trujillo, that is all right. But we don’t want anything to pin this on us.” Nothing ever did. When Trujillo’s killers shot him two weeks later, the smoking gun might or might not have been the agency’s. There were no fingerprints. But the assassination was as close as the CIA had ever come to carrying out a murder at the command of the White House. The attorney general of the United States, Robert F. Kennedy, jotted down some notes after he learned of the assassination. “The great problem now,” he wrote, “is that we don’t know what to do.”

The knowledge that Stevenson was caught lying in public riveted Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who already had good reason to be enraged with the CIA. Only hours before, on the heels of another blown operation, Rusk had to send a formal letter of apology to Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore. The secret police in Singapore had burst into a CIA safe house, where a cabinet minister on the CIA’s payroll was being interrogated. Lee Kwan Yew, a key American ally, said that the station chief offered him a $3.3 million bribe to hush up the matter.

At 4:30 a.m. on Monday, April 17, Cabell called Rusk at home and pleaded for presidential authority for more air power to protect the CIA’s ships, which were loaded to the gunwales with ammunition and military supplies. Rusk called President Kennedy at his Virginia retreat, Glen Ora, and put Cabell on the phone. The president said he was unaware that there were going to be any air strikes on the morning of D-Day. Request denied. Four hours later, a Sea Fury fighter-bomber swooped down on the Bay of Pigs. The American-trained pilot, Captain Enrique Carreras, was the ace of Fidel Castro’s air force. He took aim at the Rio Escondido, a rust-bucket freighter out of New Orleans under contract to the CIA. Below him to the southeast, aboard the Blagar, a converted World War II landing craft, a CIA paramilitary officer named Grayston Lynch fired at the Cuban fighter with a defective .50-caliber machine gun. Captain Carreras let loose a rocket that hit the forward deck of the Rio Escondido six feet below the railing, striking dozens of fifty-five-gallon drums filled with aviation gasoline. The fire ignited three thousand gallons of aircraft fuel and 145 tons of ammunition in the forward hold. The crew abandoned ship and started swimming for their lives. The freighter exploded in a fireball that sent a mushroom cloud rising half a mile high above the Bay of Pigs. From sixteen miles away, on a beach newly littered with the brigade’s dead and wounded, the CIA commando Rip Robertson thought Castro had dropped an atomic bomb. President Kennedy called on Admiral Arleigh Burke, the commander of the U.S. Navy, to save the CIA from disaster. “Nobody knew what to do nor did the CIA who were running the operation and who were wholly responsible for the operation know what to do or what was happening,” the admiral said on April 18. “We have been kept pretty ignorant of this and have just been told partial truths.”

For two miserable days and nights, Castro’s Cubans and the CIA’s Cubans killed one another. On the night of April 18, the commander of the rebel brigade, Pepe San Roman, radioed back to Lynch: “Do you people realize how desperate the situation is? Do you back us up or quit?…Please don’t desert us. Am out of tank and bazooka ammo. Tanks will hit me at dawn. I will not be evacuated. Will fight to the end if we have to.” Morning came and no help arrived. “We are out of ammo and fighting on the beach. Please send help. We cannot hold,” San Roman shouted through his radio. His men were massacred standing knee-deep in the water.

“Situation for air support beachhead completely out of our hands,” the agency’s air operations chief told Bissell in a cable at noon. “Have now lost 5 Cuban pilots, 6 co-pilots, 2 American pilots, and one copilot.” In all, four American pilots on contract to the CIA from the Alabama National Guard were killed in combat. For years the agency hid the cause of their deaths from their widows and families.

In sixty hours, 1,189 members of the Cuban brigade had been captured and 114 killed. “For the first time in my thirty-seven years,” Grayston Lynch wrote, “I was ashamed of my country.” That same day, Robert Kennedy sent a prophetic note to his brother. “The time has come for a showdown, for in a year or two years the situation will be vastly worse,” he wrote. “If we don’t want Russia to set up missile bases in Cuba, we had better decide now what we are willing to do to stop it.”

At the hour of the invasion, Allen Dulles was making a speech in Puerto Rico. His public departure from Washington had been part of a deception plan, but now it looked like an admiral abandoning ship. Upon his return, Bobby Kennedy recounted, he looked like living death, his face buried in his trembling hands. On April 22, the president convened the National Security Council, an instrument of government he had disdained. After ordering the distraught Dulles to start “stepping up coverage of Castro activities in the United States”—a task outside the CIA’s charter—the president told General Maxwell Taylor, the new White House military adviser, to work with Dulles, Bobby Kennedy, and Admiral Arleigh Burke to perform an autopsy on the Bay of Pigs. The Taylor board of inquiry met that same afternoon, with Dulles clutching a copy of NSC 5412/2, the 1955 authorization for the covert operations of the CIA.

In his wrath after the Bay of Pigs, John Kennedy first wanted to destroy the CIA. Then he took the agency’s clandestine service out of its death spiral by handing the controls to his brother. It was one of the least wise decisions of his presidency. Robert F. Kennedy, thirty-five years old, famously ruthless, fascinated with secrecy, took command of the most sensitive covert operations of the United States. The two men unleashed covert action with an unprecedented intensity. Ike had undertaken 170 major CIA covert operations in eight years. The Kennedys launched 163 major covert operations in less than three.

Almost sixty years old, a deeply conservative California Republican, a devout Roman Catholic, and a fiery anticommunist, McCone would very likely have been secretary of defense had Nixon been elected in 1960. He had made a fortune building ships on the West Coast during World War II, then served as a deputy to Defense Secretary James Forrestal, hammering out the first budget of the new Department of Defense in 1948.

Halpern said to Richard Helms: “This is a political operation in the city of Washington D.C., and has nothing to do with the security of the United States.” He warned that the CIA had no intelligence about Cuba. “We don’t know what is going on,” he told Helms. “We don’t know who is doing what to whom. We haven’t got any idea of their order of battle in terms of political organization and structure. Who hates whom? Who loves whom? We have nothing.” It was the same problem the CIA would face when it confronted Iraq forty years later. Helms agreed. The plan was a pipe dream. The Kennedys did not want to hear that. They wanted swift, silent sabotage to overthrow Castro. “Let’s get the hell on with it,” the attorney general barked. “The President wants some action, right now.” Helms saluted smartly and got the hell on with it. He created a new freestanding task force to report to Ed Lansdale and Robert Kennedy. He assembled a team from all over the world, creating the CIA’s largest peacetime intelligence operation to date, with some six hundred CIA officers in and around Miami, almost five thousand CIA contractors, and the third largest navy in the Caribbean, including submarines, patrol boats, coast guard cutters, seaplanes, and Guantánamo Bay for a base. Some “nutty schemes” against Fidel were proposed by the Pentagon and the White House, Helms said. These included blowing up an American ship in Guantánamo Harbor and faking a terrorist attack against an American airliner to justify a new invasion. The operation needed a code name, and Sam Halpern came up with Mongoose.

Bill Harvey. Harvey was introduced to the Kennedys as the CIA’s James Bond. This seems to have mystified JFK, an avid reader of Ian Fleming’s spy romances, for the only thing Bond and Harvey had in common was a taste for martinis. Obese, pop-eyed, always packing a pistol, Harvey drank doubles at lunch and returned to work muttering darkly, cursing the day he met RFK. Bobby Kennedy “wanted fast actions, he wanted fast answers,” said McCone’s executive assistant, Walt Elder. “Harvey did not have fast actions or fast answers.” But he did have a secret weapon. The Kennedy White House twice had ordered the CIA to create an assassination squad. Under very close questioning by Senate investigators and a presidential commission in 1975, Richard Bissell said those orders had come from national security adviser McGeorge Bundy and Bundy’s aide Walt Rostow, and that the president’s men “would not have given such encouragement unless they were confident that it would meet with the president’s approval.” Bissell had handed down the order to Bill Harvey, who did as he was told. He had returned to headquarters in September 1959 after a long tour as chief of the Berlin base to command Division D of the clandestine service. The division’s officers broke into foreign embassies overseas to steal codebooks and ciphers for the eavesdroppers at the National Security Agency. They called themselves the Second-Story Men, and their skills ran from locksmithing to larceny and beyond. The division had contacts with criminals in foreign capitals who could be called on for cat burglaries, the kidnapping of embassy couriers, and assorted felonies in the name of American national security. In February 1962, Harvey created an “executive action” program, code-named Rifle, and retained the services of a foreign agent, a resident of Luxembourg but a man without a country, who worked on contract for Division D. Harvey intended to use him to kill Fidel Castro. In April 1962, the CIA’s records show, Harvey took a second approach. He met the mobster John Rosselli in New York. He picked up a new batch of poison pills, designed to be dropped into Castro’s tea or coffee, from Dr. Edward Gunn, the chief of the operations division of the CIA’s Office of Medical Services. Then he drove to Miami and delivered them to Rosselli, along with a U-Haul truck filled with weapons.

On May 7, 1962, the attorney general was briefed in full on the Rifle project by the CIA’s general counsel, Lawrence Houston, and the agency’s security chief, Sheffield Edwards. RFK was “mad as hell”—not mad about the assassination plot itself, but about the Mafia’s role in it. He did nothing to stop the CIA from seeking Castro’s death.

Helms thought political assassination in peacetime was a moral aberration. But there were practical considerations as well. “If you become involved in the business of eliminating foreign leaders, and it is considered by governments more frequently than one likes to admit, there is always the question of who comes next,” he observed. “If you kill someone else’s leaders, why shouldn’t they kill yours?”

McCone was the only one who saw the threat clearly. “If I were Khrushchev,” he said, “I’d put offensive missiles in Cuba. Then I’d bang my shoe on the desk and say to the United States, ‘How do you like looking down the end of a gun barrel for a change? Now, let’s talk about Berlin and any other subject that I choose.’” No one seems to have believed him. “The experts unanimously and adamantly agreed that this was beyond the realm of possibility,” notes an agency history of McCone’s years. “He stood absolutely alone.”

At the same August 15 meeting that sealed Jagan’s fate, McCone handed President Kennedy the CIA’s new doctrine on counterinsurgency. Along with it came a second document outlining covert operations under way in eleven nations—Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand; Iran and Pakistan; and Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Venezuela. That document was “highly classified because it tells all about the dirty tricks,” McCone told the president. “A marvelous collection or dictionary of your crimes,” Bundy said, with a laugh.

On August 21, Robert Kennedy asked McCone if the CIA could stage a phony attack on the American military base at Guantánamo Bay as a pretext for an American invasion of Cuba. McCone demurred. He told John Kennedy in private the next day that an invasion could be a fatal mistake. He warned the president for the first time that he thought the Soviets might be installing medium-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. If so, an American sneak attack might set off a nuclear war. He advocated raising a public alarm about the likelihood of a Soviet missile base. The president instantly rejected that idea, but he wondered aloud whether the CIA’s guerrillas or American troops would be needed to destroy the missile sites—if they existed. At that point, no one but McCone was convinced that they did. Their conversation continued in the Oval Office,

Their conversation continued in the Oval Office, shortly after 6 p.m. on August 22, when they were joined by Maxwell Taylor, the general Kennedy trusted most. The president wanted to go over two other secret operations before discussing Cuba. The first was the developing plan to drop twenty Chinese Nationalist soldiers into mainland China during the coming week. The second was a plan for the CIA to wiretap members of the Washington press corps. “How are we doing with that set-up on the Baldwin business?” the president asked. Four weeks before, Hanson Baldwin, the national security reporter for The New York Times, had published an article on Soviet efforts to protect intercontinental ballistic missile launch sites with concrete bunkers. Baldwin’s highly detailed reporting accurately stated the conclusions of the CIA’s most recent national intelligence estimate. The president told McCone to set up a domestic task force to stop the flow of secrets from the government to the newspapers. The order violated the agency’s charter, which specifically prohibits domestic spying. Long before Nixon created his “plumbers” unit of CIA veterans to stop news leaks, Kennedy used the agency to spy on Americans.

1965. By ordering the director of central intelligence to conduct a program of domestic surveillance, Kennedy set a precedent that Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and George W. Bush would follow.

McCone left Washington the next day for a long honeymoon. A recent widower who had just remarried, he planned to go to Paris and the south of France. “I would be only too happy to have you call for me,” he wrote to the president, “and if you do, I would be somewhat relieved of a guilty feeling that seems to possess me.”

A U-2 flight passed over Cuba on August 29. Its film was processed overnight. On August 30, a CIA analyst bent over his light table and shouted: I’ve got a SAM site! It was a surface-to-air missile, an SA-2, the same Soviet weapon that had brought the U-2 down over Russia. That same day, another U-2 was caught straying over Soviet airspace, violating a solemn American vow and prompting a formal protest from Moscow.

JFK ordered General Carter, the acting director of central intelligence during McCone’s honeymoon, to deep-six the report on the SAM. “Put it in the box and nail it shut,” the president said. He could not afford to let international tensions create a domestic political uproar, not with elections two months away. Then, on September 9, another U-2 was shot down over China. The spy plane and its risks were now regarded, as a CIA report put it, with “universal repugnance, or, at the very least, extreme uneasiness” at the State Department and the Pentagon. A furious McGeorge Bundy, spurred by Dean Rusk and acting in the president’s name, canceled the next scheduled U-2 flight over Cuba and summoned James Q. Reber, the CIA veteran in charge of the Committee on Overhead Reconnaissance. “Is there anyone involved in the planning of these missions who wants to start a war?” Bundy asked bluntly. President Kennedy restricted U-2 flights from passing over Cuban airspace on September 11. Four days later, the first Soviet medium-range missiles docked at Mariel Harbor in Cuba. The photo gap—a blind spot at a decisive moment in history—went on for forty-five days.

McCone, keeping watch on CIA headquarters through incessant cables from the French Riviera, commanded the agency to warn the White House of the “danger of a surprise.” It did not. The CIA estimated that there were 10,000 Soviet troops in Cuba. There were 43,000. The agency said Cuban troop strength stood at 100,000. The true number was 275,000. The CIA flatly rejected the possibility that the Soviets were building nuclear sites in Cuba.

Richard Helms brought the U-2 photos to the attorney general’s office at 9:15 a.m. on October 16. “Kennedy got up from his desk and stood for a moment staring out the window,” Helms remembered. “He turned to face me. ‘Shit,’ he said loudly, raising both fists to his chest as if he were about to begin shadow boxing. ‘Damn it all to hell and back.’ These were my sentiments exactly.” Bobby Kennedy thought: “We had been deceived by Khrushchev, but we had also fooled ourselves.”

The president flicked on his tape recorder. More than forty years went by before an accurate transcript of the Cuban missile crisis meetings was compiled. “THAT’D BE GODDAMN DANGEROUS” The president stared at the pictures. “How far advanced is this?” he asked. “Sir, we’ve never seen this kind of an installation before,” Lundahl said. “Not even in the Soviet Union?” Kennedy said. “No, sir,” Lundahl replied. “It’s ready to be fired?” asked the president. “No, sir,” said Graybeal. “How long have…we can’t tell that, can we, how long before they fire?” Kennedy asked. No one knew. Where were the warheads? asked Defense Secretary McNamara. No one knew. Why had Khrushchev done this? wondered the president. No one knew. But Secretary Rusk had a good guess: “We don’t really live under fear of his nuclear weapons to the extent that he has to live under ours,” he suggested. “Also, we have nuclear weapons nearby, in Turkey and places like that.” The president was only dimly aware that those missiles were in place. He had all but forgotten that he had chosen to keep those weapons pointed at the Soviets. JFK ordered three strike plans prepared: number one, to destroy the nuclear missile sites with air force or navy jets; number two, to mount a far bigger air strike; number three, to invade and conquer Cuba. “We’re certainly going to do number one,” he said. “We’re going to take out these missiles.” The meeting broke up at 1 p.m. after Bobby Kennedy argued for an all-out invasion. At 2:30 p.m., RFK cracked the lash at the Mongoose team at his enormous office in the Justice Department, demanding new ideas, new missions. Passing on a question posed to him by the president ninety minutes earlier, he asked Helms to tell him how many Cubans would fight for the regime if the United States invaded. No one knew. At 6:30 p.m., the president’s men reconvened in the Cabinet Room. Thinking of the Mongoose missions, President Kennedy asked if the MRBMs, the medium-range ballistic missiles, could be destroyed with bullets. Yes, General Carter told him, but these were mobile missiles; they could be moved to new hiding places. The problem of targeting mobile missiles has remained unsolved to this day. The president now contemplated the question of a nuclear war over Cuba. He began to grasp how little he understood the Soviet leader. “We certainly have been wrong about what he’s trying to do,” the president said. “Not many of us thought that he was gonna put MRBMs on Cuba.” Nobody save John McCone, Bundy muttered. Why had Khrushchev done it? the president asked. “What is the advantage of that? It’s just as if we suddenly began to put a major number of MRBMs in Turkey,” he said. “Now that’d be goddamn dangerous, I would think.” A moment of awkward silence fell. “Well, we did it, Mr. President,” said Bundy. The talk then turned to secret warfare. “We have a list of sabotage options, Mr. President,” said Bundy. “…I take it you are in favor of sabotage.” He was. Ten teams of five Mongoose agents were authorized to infiltrate Cuba by submarine. Their orders were to blow up Soviet ships with underwater mines in Cuban harbors, to attack three surface-to-air missile sites with machine guns and mortars, and perhaps to go after the nuclear missile launchers. The Kennedys were swinging wildly. The CIA was their blunt instrument.

McNamara pointed out that a surprise air strike on the bases would kill several hundred Soviets. Attacking them was an act of war against Moscow, not Havana. Then Undersecretary of State George Ball voiced what the CIA’s Marshall Carter had said two nights before: “A course of action where we strike without warning is like Pearl Harbor.”

“Well, it looks like it’s gonna be real mean. But on the other hand, there’s really no choice,” said the president. “If they get mean on this one—Jesus Christ! What are they gonna fuck up next?” His brother said: “There wasn’t any choice. I mean, you woulda had a—you woulda been impeached.” The president agreed: “I woulda been impeached.” At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, October 24, the blockade took effect, the American military went on its highest alert short of nuclear war, and McCone began his daily briefing at the White House. The director of central intelligence at last was serving as his charter commanded, bringing all of American intelligence to the president into a single voice. The Soviet army was not on full alert, but it was increasing its readiness, he reported, and the Soviet navy had submarines in the Atlantic trailing the fleet headed for Cuba. New photoreconnaissance showed storage buildings for nuclear warheads, but no sign of the warheads themselves. McCone took pains that day to point out to the president that the blockade would not stop the Soviets from readying the missile launching sites.

This is the moment when Rusk is supposed to have leaned over to Bundy and said: “We are eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

McCone agreed: it was specific, serious, and impossible to ignore. The arguments over how to respond dragged on all day, punctuated by moments of terror. First a U-2 strayed into Soviet airspace off the coast of Alaska, prompting Soviet jets to scramble. Then, at about 6 p.m., McNamara suddenly announced that another U-2 had been shot down over Cuba, killing Air Force Major Rudolf Anderson. The Joint Chiefs now strongly recommended that a full-scale attack on Cuba should begin in thirty-six hours. Around 6:30 p.m., President Kennedy left the room, and the talk immediately became less formal, more brutal. “The military plan is basically invasion,” McNamara said. “When we attack Cuba, we are going to have to attack with an all-out attack,” he said. “This is almost certain to lead to an invasion.” Or a nuclear war, Bundy muttered. “The Soviet Union may, and I think probably will, attack the Turkish missiles,” McNamara continued. Then the United States would have to attack Soviet ships or bases in the Black Sea. “And I would say that it is damn dangerous,” said the secretary of defense. “Now, I’m not sure we can avoid anything like that if we attack Cuba. But I think we should make every effort to avoid it. And one way to avoid it is to defuse the Turkish missiles before we attack Cuba,” McNamara said. McCone exploded: “I don’t see why you don’t make the trade then!” And the ground shifted. Other voices shouted out: Make the trade! Make the trade then! His anger rising, McCone went on: “We’ve talked about this, and we’d say we’d be delighted to trade those missiles in Turkey for the thing in Cuba.” He pressed his point home. “I’d trade these Turkish things out right now. I wouldn’t even talk to anybody about it. We sat for a week and there was—everybody was in favor of doing it”—until Khrushchev proposed it.

For many years thereafter, the world believed that only President Kennedy’s calm resolve and his brother’s steely commitment to a peaceable resolution had saved the nation from a nuclear war. McCone’s central role in the Cuban missile crisis was obscured for the rest of the twentieth century. The Kennedys soon turned against McCone. The

Helms replaced him as the man in charge of Cuba with his Far East chief, Desmond FitzGerald, a Harvard man and a millionaire who lived in a red-brick Georgetown mansion with a butler in the pantry and a Jaguar in the garage. The president liked him; he fit the James Bond image. He had been hired out of his New York law firm by Frank Wisner at the start of the Korean War and instantly made executive officer of the Far East division of the clandestine service. He had helped run the disastrous Li Mi operation in Burma. Then he commanded the CIA’s China Mission, which sent foreign agents to their deaths until 1955, when a headquarters review deemed the mission a waste of time, money, energy, and human life. FitzGerald then rose to deputy chief of the Far East, where he helped to plan and execute the Indonesian operation in 1957 and 1958. As Far East division chief, he presided over the rapid expansion of the CIA’s operations in Vietnam, Laos, and Tibet. Now the Kennedys ordered him to blow up Cuban mines, mills, power plants, and commercial ships, to destroy the enemy in hopes of creating a counterrevolution. The objective, as Bobby Kennedy told FitzGerald in April 1963, was to oust Castro in eighteen months—before the next presidential election. Twenty-five Cuban agents of the CIA died on those futile operations.