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you to know!
Piece of advice: Never refer to a CIA employee as an "agent." They are an "officer." The agents are the ones giving information to the officers.
The CIA is charged with providing all decision makers in the US with the intelligence needed to do so. It was set up to be the foreign intelligence agency for the United States; however, due to the fragmentary nature of the US political system, there were soon many, many others. Today, the CIA is just one of many intelligence services vying for resources and the attention of policy makers. Until this decade, however, the DCI (Director of Central Intelligence) was still considered the top figure in the intelligence field; after 9/11, Congress passed a law creating a new post above the DCI, the "Director of National Intelligence." In theory, the DNI is above all intelligence agencies, but is instead a (slightly) more glorified and (vastly) more removed Director of Central Intelligence, one more beholden to the White House than the actual CIA; the latter was pissed about this.
Questionable things they did
While the CIA is in charge of gathering intelligence and conducting covert operations to defend the United States, not all of the things they did are justifiable.
Here is a list of actions known to have been done by the CIA:
- Orchestrating the 1949 Syrian coup, installing a client regime in the interest of constructing the Trans-Arabian Pipeline.
- Conducting unethical and involuntary human experimentation on men, women and children under Project MKULTRA, with such methods as psychological torture, bizarre medical experiments, rape and physical abuse, driving many of them permanently insane.
- Assisting in the rise of Augusto Pinochet by ousting Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973. This is after spending more in 1964 in support of Allende's electoral opponent than was spent on Johnson's and Goldwater's 1964 electoral campaigns combined. The CIA also trained Pinochet's secret police (D.I.N.A.) who tortured and murdered thousands of Chileans.
- Giving covert support to Operation Condor, a mass murder campaign initiated by Pinochet in which six South American regimes participated. 400,000 were imprisoned and 80,000 killed or "disappeared". Latin intelligence chiefs communicated through a CIA telecommunications database (CONDORTEL) and were on the CIA payroll.
- Staging a military coup in Guatemala in 1954 against the democratically elected president Jacobo Árbenz. Human rights groups estimate 200,000 were killed and 40-50,000 "disappeared" under successive US-backed regimes. The CIA supported and worked inside a Guatemalan army intelligence unit called G-2 which operated a network of torture centers with crematoriums to dispose of the victims.
- Removing the democratically elected (although increasingly authoritarian) Mohammad Mossadegh, replacing him with the Shah in Iran, and creating SAVAK (Pahlavi's secret police). The subsequent (26 years later) Iranian Revolution resulted in Pahlavi's defeat and the rule of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, thereby turning Iran into an Islamic theocracy.
- Dwight Eisenhower directly ordered CIA Director Allen Dulles to "eliminate" Patrice Lumumba, Congolese politician fighting for independence from Belgium, and Allen Dulles sent one of its scientists to the Congo in September 1960 "with a vial of deadly poison that could be injected into something Lumumba might eat." They failed to even get the vial to Lumumba, but Lumumba was assassinated anyway by Mubutu Seso Seko, Lumumba's army chief who the CIA directly supported and propped up.
- Helping Richard Nixon spy on the government (including Henry Kissinger). Nixon's Plumbers were former CIA spooks like Howard Hunt, Jim McCord, and Eugenio Martinez.
- Helping Ronald Reagan with his sordid Contra affairs.
- Was involved in terrorist activities in Nicaragua during the Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations.
- Failing to eliminate Fidel Castro. (Over 600 times!)
- Training and funding the secret police of Chadian dictator Hissene Habre (dubbed "Africa's Pinochet" by human rights groups) and lavishing his regime with covert aid as a bulwark against Libya from 1982-1990. A UN-sponsored truth commission holds him responsible for systematic torture and up to 40,000 political murders.
- Spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee, though typical of the agency, denying it first.
- At least collaborating with and funding right wing terrorist groups in NATO member states (Italy in particular), if not running them entirely.
- Collaborating with Cuban exile terrorist groups, who attempted to "liberate" Cuba by bombing a night club full of German tourists in 1997 in Havana. Despite all the participants being known, none have been prosecuted.
- Protecting, paying and giving platforms to unrepentant Nazi war criminals all throughout Europe and the world.
- The Phoenix Program, a covert torture, assassination and terrorism campaign in Vietnam.
- Collaboration (at minimum) with drug traffickers all around the world.
- Support, either direct, or indirect, of many, many bloodthirsty dictators worldwide.
- Torturing prisoners in the War on Terror.
- Trying to advertise themselves as a "progressive" employer. Poe's Law?
Institutional function (plausible deniability)
Pretty much all of the operations listed above (and many more omitted ones) are in the service of extending the power and influence of the Executive branch of the US government (incl. by proxy that of the corporate elites backing that government). Since the CIA's actions so abundantly often undermine democracy and human rights which the US government publicly professes to promote one of the CIA's main institutional roles within the US power structure may be boiled down to giving the Executive branch plausible deniability to deflect charges of criminality and immorality from the public and shifting the blame for unlawful or immoral activities onto the supposedly independent acting agency or rogue elements within it. This doctrine was very much in full force at the height of the Cold War. Attempts have been made to rein plausible deniability in and to try to put the agencies activities under more direct presidential control after the Watergate Scandal. A couple of CIA lawyers even wanted to do away with that concept completely since to them it reinforced the notion that the agency should be tightly supervised to guarantee it would abide by US and international law. They in essence followed the logic of Jack Nicholson's Col. Jessup: "Hey, our work is dirty, so just look away and don't complain when we come home with dirty hands. Our propaganda operations are for the greater good." At least since the W. Bush administration one tactic to elude public scrutiny and prosecution is to invoke a supposed threat to national security if journalists or other branches of government look for paper trails documenting orders and directives that led to unlawful activities, e. g. that of torturers and their superiors in Iraq.
- Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. Common Courage Press (1995). ISBN 1-56751-052-3
- Ok, at least their World Factbook is pretty good.
- And now they have a Twitter account to keep up with the young'uns.
- As per Karl Inderfurth
- Allan Nairn. The Nation, 4/17/1995
- CIA admits to spying on Senate committee, CNET
- The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on CIA's use of torture.
- Humans of CIA