Doug Valentine’s new book, The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World, is a compilation of newly updated articles and recent interviews. The book, which discusses a part of history that is rarely mentioned nowadays but is vital to understand as we enter the Trump era, is divided into four sections. The first covers the CIA’s Phoenix program in Vietnam; the second looks at how the agency manages the War on Drugs; the third reviews how the Phoenix program became the model for Homeland Security and the War on Terror; and the fourth takes a look at the the CIA’s influence on the media.
The CIA created the Phoenix program in South Vietnam in 1967 as a means of identifying, capturing, detaining, interrogating and assassinating the civilian leaders of the insurgency. As detailed in the book, the program has become the template for Homeland Security, as well as for waging the War on Terror and the War on Drugs.
The following edited excerpt, which focuses on the CIA’s illegal domestic spying program, Chaos, was omitted from the book. It is taken from an interview Valentine did with Guillermo Jimenez in November 2014, originally titled “The CIA Has Become the Phoenix.”
Cloaked in secrecy, the CIA is rarely written about and poorly understood. But while researching the infamous Phoenix program, Valentine managed to penetrate the agency and interview dozens of agency officers. His Phoenix research materials are available to the public at the National Security Archive. His interviews with several CIA officers are available online here and here.
GUILLERMO JIMENEZ: The Phoenix Program has recently been republished by Open Road Media as part of their Forbidden Bookshelves series. Would you mind sharing with us how your book was chosen for the series? What do you make of this new-found interest in Phoenix; what the CIA was up to in Vietnam; and what the CIA is up to generally?
VALENTINE: When the book came out in 1990, it got a terrible review in The New York Times. Morley Safer, who’d been a reporter in Vietnam, wrote the review. Safer and the Times killed the book because in it I said Phoenix never would have succeeded if the reporters in Vietnam hadn’t covered for the CIA.
Several senior CIA officers said the same thing, that “So and so was always in my office. He’d bring a bottle of scotch and I’d tell him what was going on.” The celebrity reporters knew what was going on, but they didn’t report about it in exchange for having access. I said that in the book specifically about The New York Times. So I not only got the CIA angry at me, I also got the Vietnam press corps angry at me too.
Between those two things, the book did not get off to an auspicious start. The Times gave Safer half a page to write his review, which was bizarre. The usual response is just to ignore a book like The Phoenix Program. But The New York Times Book Review serves a larger function; it teaches the media elite and “intelligentsia” what to think and how to say it. So Safer said my book was incoherent, because it unraveled the bureaucratic networks that conceal the contradictions between policy and operational reality. It exposed Bill Colby [who ran Phoenix for the agency and later became CIA director] as a liar. Safer was upset that I didn’t portray his friend and patron as a symbol of the elite, as a modern day Odysseus.
Luckily, with the Internet revolution, people aren’t bound by the Times and network news anymore. They can listen to Russia Today and get another side of the story. So Mark Crispin Miller and Philip Rappaport at Open Road chose The Phoenix Program to be the first book they published. And it’s been reborn. Thanks to the advent of the e-book, we’ve reached an audience of concerned and knowledgeable people in a way that wasn’t possible 25 years ago.
It’s also because of these Internet developments that John Brennan, the director of CIA, thought of reorganizing the the agency. All these things are connected. It’s a vastly different world than it was in 1947 when the CIA was created. The nature of the American empire has changed, and what the empire needs from the CIA has changed. The CIA is allocated about $30 billion a year, so the organizational changes are massive undertakings. If you want to understand the CIA, you have to understand how it’s organized.
JIMENEZ: I want to talk to you about that but first I’d like to touch upon the CIA’s infiltration of the US media. I find it curious, because the way that you describe it, it’s not so much a deliberate attempt to censor the media. There’s a lot of self-censorship as a result of that already existing relationship. Is that how you see this?
VALENTINE: Yes. The media organizes itself the way the CIA does. The CIA has case officers running around the world, engaged in murder and mayhem, and the media has reporters covering them. The reporter and the case officer both have bosses, and the higher you get in each organization, the closer the bosses become. The ideological guidelines get more restrictive the higher up you go. To join the CIA, you have to pass a psychological assessment test. They’re not going to hire anybody who is sympathetic towards poor people. These are ruthless people who serve capitalist bosses. They’re very rightwing, and the media’s job is to protect them. Editors only hire reporters who are ideologically pure, just like you can’t get into the CIA if you’re a Communist or think the CIA should obey the law.
It’s the same thing in the media. You can’t get a job at CNN if you sympathize with the Palestinians or report how Israel has been stealing their land for 67 years. The minute you say something that is anathema or upsets the Israelis, you’re out. The people who enforce these ideological restraints are the editors and the publishers. For example, while covering the merciless Israeli bombardment of civilians in Gaza in 2014, Diana Magnay was harassed and threatened by a group of bloodthirsty Israelis who were cheering the slaughter. Disgusted, Magnay later referred to them as “scum” in a tweet. She was forced to apologize, transferred to Moscow, and banished forever from Israel.
In a similar case, NBC correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin was playing soccer with four young boys in Gaza when Israel shelled the playing field. Mohyeldin witnessed their murders, which he reported in a series of tweets. Without ever providing a reason, NBC pulled Mohyeldin from Gaza and prevented him from ever returning. NBC replaced Mohyeldin with Israeli sympathizer Richard Engel.
Any dictator would be happy with the way American media is organized. The minute you step out of the box, they fire you or send you off to Siberia. It’s a homogenous system. Not just the media and CIA, but politicians too. As the 2016 primaries proved, you can’t be a candidate for either party unless you pass the ideological test. You must be a freewheeling capitalist. You must support Israel with billions of tax payer dollars. You must give the military whatever weapons it wants. That’s the nature of the American state. These things naturally work together because that is the way it has been structured for 240 years.
JIMENEZ: We’ve seen pseudo alternatives emerge in the Internet posing as adversarial or anti-establishment when they’re anything but. We’ve seen this growing trend, and it’s something to be mindful of as we look for these sources on the Internet.
VALENTINE: The Internet is a free for all, so you have to approach it the way any enlightened person approaches every part of America, which is buyer beware. Capitalism is not designed to protect poor people or make sure people lead healthy, fulfilling lives. It’s designed to make sure the super-rich can steal from the poor. There’s only so much wealth and the rich want it.
The rich want to monopolize information too. Is a particular piece of information on the Internet coming from a reliable source? Who knows? Just because some of it is true doesn’t mean that all of it is true. To be able to discern whether the information is accurate or complete, you must be grounded in the reality that the capitalist system are organized to oppress you, keep you in the dark and off balance as much as possible. It’s a game of wits and you’ve got to be smart about it. Buyer beware.
JIMENEZ: Now I’d like to talk about the recent organizational changes in the CIA. It stems from an article in The Washington Post by Greg Miller. The headline is “CIA Director John Brennan Considering Sweeping Organizational Changes.” What the article is saying is that Brennan wants to restructure the CIA using the model of their Counterterrorism Center; merging different units and divisions, combining analysts with operatives into hybrid teams that will focus on specific regions of the world. This sounds to me like the organizational changes that were born out of Phoenix and that were exported to other parts of the world over the years. The CIA appears to be applying the same structure to all of its operations. Is that how you read this?
VALENTINE: Yes, and it’s something that, from my perspective, was predictable, which is why The Phoenix Program was re-released now, because what I predicted 25 years ago has happened. And you can only predict accurately if you know the history.
The CIA initially, and for decades, had four directorates under an executive management staff: Administration, Intelligence, Operations, and Science and Technology. Executive management had staff for congressional liaison, legal issues, security, public relations, inspections, etc. Administration is just that: staff for finance, personnel, and support services like interrogators, translators and construction companies. Science and Technology is self-explanatory too, but with a typical CIA twist – science for the CIA means better ways to kill and control people, like the MKULTRA program. And now there’s a fifth directorate, Digital, that keystrokes and hacks foreign governments and corporations.
The Operations people overthrew foreign governments the old fashioned way, through sabotage and subversion. The Operations Directorate is now the National Clandestine Service. The Intelligence Directorate, which is now called Analysis, studied political, economic and social trends around the world so that executive management could mount better operations to control them.
The Operations Directorate was divided into several branches. The Counterintelligence (CI) branch detected foreign spies. Foreign Intelligence (FI) staff “liaison” officers worked with secret policemen and other officials in foreign nations. They collected “positive intelligence” by eavesdropping or by recruiting agents. The Covert Action branch engaged in deniable political action. The Special Operations Division (now the Special Activities Division) supplied paramilitary officers. There was also a Political and Psychological branch that specialized in all forms of propaganda.
These branches and directorates were career paths for operations officers (operators) assigned to geographical divisions. An FI staff officer might spend his or her entire career in the Far East Asia Division. The managers could move people around, but those things, generally speaking, were in place when the CIA began. The events that led to the formation of the current Counterterrorism Center began in 1967, when US security services began to suspect that the Cubans and the Soviets were infiltrating the anti-war movement. Lyndon Johnson wanted to know the details, so his attorney general, Ramsay Clark, formed the Interdepartmental Intelligence Unit (IDIU) within the Department of Justice. The IDIU’s job was to coordinate the elements of the CIA, FBI and military that were investigating dissenters. The White House wanted to control and provide political direction to these investigations.
The Phoenix program was created simultaneously in 1967 and did the same thing in Vietnam. It brought together 25 agencies and aimed them at civilians in the insurgency. It’s political warfare. It’s secret. It’s against the rules of war. It violated the Geneva Conventions. It’s what Homeland Security does in the US: bringing agencies together and focusing them on civilians who they think look like terrorists.
The goal of this kind of bureaucratic centralization is to improve intelligence collection and analysis so reaction forces can leap into the breach more quickly and effectively. In 1967, the CIA already had computer experts who were traveling around by jet. The world was getting smaller and the CIA, which had all the cutting edge technology, was way out in front. It hired Ivy Leaguers like Nelson Brickham to make the machine run smoothly.
Brickham, as I’ve explained elsewhere, was the Foreign Intelligence staff officer who organized the Phoenix program based on principles Rensis Likert articulated in his book New Patterns of Management. Brickham believed he could use reporting formats as a tool to shape the behavior of CIA officers in the field. In particular, he hoped to correct “the grave problem of distortion and cover-up which a reporting system must address.”
Likert organized industries to be adaptable, and the CIA organized itself the same way. It was always reorganizing itself to adapt to new threats. And in 1967, while Brickham was forming Phoenix to neutralize the leaders of the insurgency in South Vietnam, James Angleton and the CIA’s Counterintelligence staff were creating the MHCHAOS program in Langley, Virginia, to spy on members of the anti-war movement, and turn as many of them as possible into double agents.
Chaos was the codename for the Special Operations Group within Angleton’s Counterintelligence staff. The CIA’s current Counterterrorism Center, which was established in 1986, is a direct descendent of Chaos.
The CIA’s CT Center evolved from the Chaos domestic spying mechanism into the nerve center of the CIA’s clandestine staff. Same thing happened with the CIA’s Counter-Narcotics Center at the same time. Both are modeled on Phoenix, and both are wonderful tools for White House cadres to exercise political control over the bureaucracies they coordinate. These “centers” are the perfect means for policing and expanding the empire; they make it easier than ever for the CIA to track people and events in every corner of the world. The need for the old-fashioned directorates is fading away. You don’t need an entire directorate to understand the political, social and economic movements around the world anymore, because the United States is controlling them all.
The US has color revolutions going everywhere. It’s got the World Bank and the IMF strangling countries with debt, like the banks are strangling college students and home owners here. The War on Terror is the best thing that ever happened to US capitalists and their secret police force, the CIA. Terrorism is the pretext that allows the CIA to coordinate and transcend every government agency and civic institution, including the media, to the extent that we don’t even see its wars anymore. Its control is so pervasive, so ubiquitous; the CIA has actually become the Phoenix.
VALENTINE: It’s the eye of god in the sky; it’s able to determine what’s going to happen next because it’s controlling all of these political, social and economic movements. It pits the Sunnis against the Shiites. It doesn’t need slow and outdated directorates. These Phoenix centers enable it to determine events instantaneously anywhere. There are now Counterterror Intelligence Centers all over the world. In Phoenix they were called Intelligence Operations Coordinating Centers. So it’s basically exactly the same thing. It’s been evolving that way and everybody on the inside was gearing themselves for this glorious moment for 30 years. They even have a new staff position called Targeting Officers. You can Google this.
JIMENEZ: Right, right, exactly.
VALENTINE: The centers represent the unification of military, intelligence and media operations under political control. White House political appointees oversee them, but the determinant force is the CIA careerists who slither into private industry when their careers are over. They form the consulting firms that direct the corporations that drive the empire. Through their informal “old boy” network, the CIA guys and gals keep America at war so they can make a million dollars when their civil service career is over.
JIMENEZ: The Washington Post and subsequent articles frame it as if these changes are drastic. But to hear you, it’s a natural progression. So what does this announcement mean? Is the CIA putting out its own press release through the Washington Post just to give everyone the heads up?
VALENTINE: Well, everybody in the CIA was worried that if the directorates were reorganized, it would negatively affect their careers. But executive management usually does what its political bosses tell them to do, and Brennan reorganized in 2015. He created a fifth directorate, the Directorate for Digital Innovation (DDI) ostensibly as the CIA’s “mantelpiece”. But, as the Washington Times reported, “it is the formation of the new ‘mission’ centers – including ones for counterintelligence, weapons and counter-proliferation, and counterterrorism – that is most likely to shake up the agency’s personnel around the world.”
The CIA’s “ten new Mission Centers” are designed to “serve as locations to integrate capabilities and bring the full range of CIA’s operational, analytic, support, technical and digital skill sets to bear against the nation’s most pressing national security problems.”
This modernization means the CIA is better able to control people politically, starting with its own officers, then everyone else. That’s the ultimate goal. Politicians, speaking in a unified voice, create the illusion of a crime-fighting CIA and an America with a responsibility to protect benighted foreigners from themselves. But they can’t tell you what the CIA does, because it’s all illegal. It’s all a lie. In order for the politicians to hold office, they have to cover for the CIA. Their concern is how to explain the reorganization and exploit it. They squabble among themselves and cut the best deals possible.