Shortly after its birth as the Cold War heated up, the Central Intelligence Agency found its calling propping up dictators like Taiwan’s Chiang Kai-Shek and South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem (before arranging the coup during which he was assassinated), and subverting legitimate governments like those of Chile’s Salvador Allende and Haiti’s Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Such covert actions have invariably clashed with both the ethics and priorities of most Americans – who have seen America’s good name lost in the translation from anti-communist doctrine into anti-democratic policy. Then how has the Agency survived a seemingly endless succession of scandals? Part of the answer recently stared us in the face.
In March, the Commission on the Roles and Capabilities of the United States Intelligence Community – appointed by Congress and President Clinton when the Aldrich Ames scandal knocked the C.I.A. against the ropes – issued its report and recommended little more than cosmetic changes at the Agency.
Appointing a commission had once again meant spin control. It had taken the C.I.A. years to realize that Ames, a senior Agency official, had paid cash for his Jaguar and sprawling home … that he’d gotten the money from Moscow in return for a Who’s Who in U.S. spying … and that even years after realizing it had been penetrated like Swiss cheese, the Agency fed Washington lies served up by Soviet agents.
You might have expected a self-respecting Commission to shut down the C.I.A. or at least order a house-cleaning. Then again … “If you want to make foreign policy, there’s no better fraternity to belong to than the Council on Foreign Relations, C.F.R..” So wrote Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist J. Anthony Lukas. “The influential but private C.F.R. … has long been the C.I.A.’s principal ‘constituency’ in the American public.” So wrote former C.I.A. agent Vincent Marchetti.
True to form, the C.F.R. helped bail out the Agency.
Of the Commission’s 17 members, the chair, former Defense Secretary Harold Brown, vice chair, former Republican senator Warren B. Rudman, and five others belong to the New York-based Council. Likewise, five of the eight members of the 1975 Rockefeller Commission that investigated illegal C.I.A. domestic spying on opponents of the war in Vietnam were members of the C.F.R.
Formed following World War I “for the study and discussion of international affairs,” the C.F.R. today has 3,000 individual members – primarily from the U.S., but also from Europe and Japan – plus 200 corporate affiliates that pay over $1 million in combined annual dues. Its members include politicians like Bill Clinton, academics, foundation directors and reporters, plus every living former – and the present – director of the C.I.A. Though women were long excluded, the C.F.R. now includes not only women, but progressive women like children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman.
But the big wheels have always been business magnates like David Rockefeller, statesmen like Rockefeller’s protege Henry Kissinger, and Wall Street lawyer/bankers like John J. McCloy – who became chair of the Council, the Ford Foundation and the Chase Bank, all in one year.
No less influential members were Eisenhower’s secretary of state John Foster Dulles and his brother, longtime C.I.A. director Allen W. Dulles.
During World War II – as early as 1942, according to Christopher Simpson’s “The Splendid Blond Beast” – the Dulles’ lobbied for a peace settlement with German behind Stalin’s back. Allen – a C.F.R. director from 1927 to 1969 – ran the Switzerland-based operations of the C.I.A.’s wartime predecessor, the O.S.S.. Pushing for a separate peace in 1944, he engineered the liberation of SS General Karl Wolff from anti-fascist Italian partisans.
Under the same Dulles, the C.I.A. executed its first major coup in Iran in 1953, its second in Guatemala in ’54. Each responded to a move to nationalize foreign holdings: of British and American oil companies in Iran, of the Boston-based United Fruit Company – to which both Dulles’ were connected – in Guatemala.
There followed decades of repression: by the dictatorship of the Shah of Iran – which beat the 1979 Islamic revolution and taking of American hostages; and by military-dominated governments in Guatemala – where the C.I.A. is currently under fire for covering up the murder of a U.S. citizen by a Guatemalan army officer on Agency payroll.
Indeed, apart from Indochina, where the CFR issued a stream of reports urging Washington to defend US business interests – ultimately with tragic consequences – Guatemala has borne the heaviest burden of CIA intervention.
Are the C.I.A. and C.F.R. – or U.N. and C.F.R., as fantasized by those of the militia mentality – part of (dare I say it?) a conspiracy? No more than lobbyists and Congress are, for protecting corporations from personal injury lawsuits.
The Council on Foreign Relations is merely the lodge of those with a vested interest in – and history of making – foreign policy. Its members don’t conspire. They simply fill strategic positions where foreign policy – and the survival of the agency that secretly carries it out – are decided.