Philip Agee (1935-2008)
Let Us Now Praise an (In)famous Man
10 January 2008 (NNN)
Philip Agee, former agent of the CIA, died in Havana, Cuba, on 8 January 2008 at the age of 72. He was the first agent to leave “The Company” and reveal its dirty secrets, having become disillusioned with its appalling practices in Latin America.
I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting Philip on three occasions in Stockholm, and he once confided that he was a distant relation of author James Agee,whose best-known work is probably Let Us Now Praise Famous Men— a book-length reportage on the desperately grim lives of dirt-poor farmers in the U.S. South during the 1930s’ Great Depression. It is an apt reference, as it was Philip’s eye-opening encounter with the desperate conditions of South America’s impoverished masses– and his growing insight into the central role played by U.S. foreign policy in perpetuating their misery– which led to his resignation from the CIA and the disclosure of its criminal activities in the political and literary bombshell, Inside the Company: CIA Diary.
That process and the very high price it entailed, including the inevitable outraged cries of “traitor!” and the CIA snapping at his heels as he sought refuge in several European countries, are recounted in Philip’s memoir, On the Run.
Inside the Company, though published in 1975, remains a basic reference on the methods and procedures by which the United States pursues and maintains its interests in the countries it seeks to control. In fact, I happened to be re-reading it a few years ago as Venezuela was being subjected to a classic destabilization campaign whose evident purpose was to soften up the country for the coup against President Hugo Chávez which in due course took place a few months later.
The basic procedure was all laid out in Philip’s book: One could read his detailed account of how he and his colleagues had organized the downfall of Ecuador’s President Velasco in 1961, and in the daily news follow the same tactics and procedures as they were being applied in Venezuela forty years later. Then as now, the mainstream media played a central role in creating the necessary pre-coup atmosphere of diffuse anxiety, widespread malaise, and seething rebellion against a “dictator” who happened to be democratically elected.
Now as then — despite the numerous subsequent revelations of Philip and others who have followed his example — the same media have divulged little or nothing about the shadowy figures and agencies who orchestrate such processes. For the most part, the CIA and other instruments of U.S. domination continue to operate behind a media smokescreen of willful neglect and obfuscation.
These and related matters were the focus of a speech by Philip in Stockholm on 24 September 2001, just thirteen days after the revenge attacks against symbols of U.S. economic and military might. A soft-spoken and unfailingly courteous man, he was also a captivating speaker who held the rapt attention of a large audience as he outlined the history and methods of the CIA, its long involvement in international terrorism, and with characteristic foresight analysed the likely consequences of the terror attacks in New York and Washington. Here are a few excerpts:
Untold history of U.S. terrorism
“There has been some reporting, but not very much, about the fact that Osama bin Ladin [chief organizer of the terror attacks on the U.S.] is a product of the United States. He is a creature of the CIA, having gone to work for the it in Afghanistan. It was the largest operation ever carried out by the CIA, and its purpose was to bleed the Soviet Union.
“Bin Ladin was one of thousands who volunteered to fight with the mujihadin against the Soviets. As I recall, there were seven different groups. All seven were basically fundamentalist Islamic forces, who felt that the Soviet invasion defiled an Islamic country. Bin Ladin was among those who did not stop fighting after the Soviets were expelled. In fact, he started laying plans for the future while the war against the Soviet Union was still going on. He was able to develop a world-wide network which today is operating in sixty countries or more.
“Very little of this background on bin Ladin as a creation of the United States has been brought to public attention during the past two weeks. Most of what we have seen and heard is related to the ‘solution’, which is war. How much have we read or heard about those voices calling for alternative solutions to the problem of international terrorism? How much reporting have we seen on analyses of what has driven these people to such desperation that they carried out those attacks on September 11th?
“… Since the attacks on September 11th, I do not believe there has been any serious effort by the U.S. mainstream press to review the history of U.S. involvement in and support of terrorism. The news is monopolized by those who want to go to war.
“For that reason, I do not think it will be very easy to avoid this ‘war on terrorism’. The U.S. media are so powerful, and they fill our minds every day with what they think we should know and how we should interpret it. They are working hand-in-hand with the government, and they share the same values. This is what makes it possible for them to earn a lot of money by selling advertising. After all, these are privately-owned institutions whose capital is supposed to yield a return for stockholders. They have to keep this constantly in mind, like any other corporation, and so they go along with the government.
“… Journalists are also very important to the CIA for non-journalistic activities. They serve as very convenient agents of access for the Agency. Particularly since they come from a country with a neutral tradition, Swedes in general have always been of great interest to the CIA. This is because they do not carry a lot of political baggage, as do people from most other countries. I am aware of the ongoing debate here concerning just how neutral Sweden has or has not been. But in the rest of the world, the neutrality of Sweden has created a special attraction for U.S. intelligence agencies, because Swedes have readier access to certain target individuals than, say, an American or a German would.
“[The current attitude] is pretty much the attitude we had in the CIA during the 1950s. When we analysed the operational climate and all the political forces in any given country, we had our friends and we had our enemies. There was no one in between. The friends were centre and right-wing social democrats, conservatives, liberals, in some cases all the way over to neo-fascists. The enemies were left-wing social democrats, socialists, communists, all the way to those advocating armed struggle.
“This is the way we saw the world. It was a strictly dualistic view of the political climate in any given country where we were operating. It was very much like what we are hearing today from Washington.
“It was not until I got down to Latin America that I began to get a political education. Whatever my ideas when I went down there, I saw things around me every day that influenced me. I saw the terrible economic and social conditions, and the injustices that could not be ignored.
“… The aim of our programmes was to support the status quo, to support the oligarchies of Latin America. These are the power structures that date back centuries, based on ownership of the land, of the financial resources, of the export-import system, and excluding the vast majority of the population. With all of our programmes, we were supporting these traditional power structures. What first caused me to turn against these people were the corruption and the greed that they exhibited in all areas of society. My ideas and attitudes began to change, and eventually I decided to resign from the CIA.
“… I was myself involved in some of these activities. I worked, for example, with the police in Latin American countries, and they were often involved in torture. I remember one Sunday morning in the office of the chief of police during a state of siege in Montevideo. My boss, the CIA chief of station in Uruguay was present, along with the local army colonel in charge of anti-riot forces.
“We began to hear a low moaning coming through the walls and, at first, I thought it was a street vendor outside. But then it became clear that it was someone being tortured in another part of the building. As this horrible sound became louder and louder, the police chief told the colonel to turn up a radio in order to drown out the groans and screams.
“There is no end to such examples, and Latin America was one of the places where the worst offences occurred. But it was not just Latin America. Remember Greece under the military junta, which was urged by the CIA to prevent the election of Georgios Papandreou. That began seven years of severe political repression by this fascist regime.
“So it does not have to be in a Third World region like Latin America. It can happen right in Western Europe.
New and better threat
“… Since the events of two weeks ago, there has been much comment and speculation about the new era we may now be entering. Looking back, there was a long Cold War that had already begun during World War II. An important turning point occurred in 1950, when it was decided to start an arms race that would serve the dual purpose of forcing the Soviet Union into bankruptcy while stimulating the U.S. economy. Since the Soviet Union was still recovering from the devastation of World War II, it would never be able to catch up; but it would be compelled to make the effort, nevertheless. Meanwhile, military spending in the U.S. would keep going up and up, which in turn would stimulate the U.S. economy through a sort of ‘military Keynesianism’. This continued through the Reagan administration of the 1980s.
“But in the decade since the end of the Cold War until September 11th, the U.S. security establishment– the political class, the CIA, the people who fought the Cold War– had no real enemy to focus on. True, they had Saddam Hussein for awhile, and they might have had a minor enemy here, another one there. But there was no real worldwide threat similar to that of the Cold War. Well, now it seems that they have one again.
“What this means is that the United States is going to be in this for quite some time. I have feeling that it is going to go on for ten or fifteen years, because they are not going to wipe out international terrorism or something like bin Ladin’s group overnight. During this period, they are going to be doing the same things they did in the Cold War. We can already here it in such expression as, ‘Whoever is not with us is against us.’ They are going to be trying to use every bit of power they have to bring countries in line behind the United States.
“It also means important changes within the United States, because the war on terrorism will serve as the justification for restraints on civil liberties. They are building a huge crisis in the United States. They are building the psychological climate for broad-based acceptance of an ongoing war, for which there will be no quick resolution. There will be no great battles, either.
“During this period, there will be very little room for alternative views and alternative solutions in U.S. news media. What are the alternatives? Well, one is obviously to address the question of why these people are doing these things: What are the roots of international terrorism? How does U.S. foreign policy create this type of reaction? How does U.S. support of everything that Israel does, including the oppression of the Palestinian people, influence fundamentalist Islamic groups?
“…Unfortunately, I suspect that there will be greater self-censorship by U.S. media in order to line up behind the government, however its policy of war may turn out. There is already talk of a personal identification system of some kind for the entire country, together with large-scale surveillance of the population — especially immigrants, and Muslim immigrants in particular. There will be some opposition to this; but historically, the courts have usually gone along with the government, even though they are theoretically supposed to be the guarantors of civil liberties. For example, the courts went along with the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. So, it will be possible to restrict, and even infringe upon, civil liberties and human rights in the U.S.
“It is early days to draw any conclusions about how all this is going to develop, since it is still in the planning stage. But in my opinion, if they carry out this military solution– with an attack or a series of attacks, or the establishment of military bases in Islamic countries– they will be doing exactly what bin Ladin wants them to do. It would turn more and more people to fundamentalism and to his organization.
“… Certainly, the CIA and the other components of the U.S. intelligence apparatus will be using all available technical means to locate and attack these groups, wherever they may be. They should certainly know where all the training bases are located, since they were established by the CIA, itself. But that will not be nearly enough.”
For the complete text of Philip’s Stockholm speech, see “Appendix E” at:
Other web resources
Duncan Campbell’s obituary in The Guardian provides a concise summary of Philip’s life and work: http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,,2238063,00.html
“Terrorism and Civil Society” by Philip Agee
Review of U.S. aggression against Cuba and other Latin American countries
Nordic News Network (NNN) http://www.nnn.se
Original Article is from
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in Jan. 22nd 2008