Not signed in (Sign In)


Welcome, Guest

Want to take part in these discussions? If you have an account, sign in now.

If you don't have an account, apply for one now.

Vanilla 1.0.3 is a product of Lussumo. More Information: Documentation, Community Support.


    So, I've been digesting the Spione stuff and reading newspapers. In Europe we have this big political scandal going on over apparent CIA operations in several countries. It seems CIA had several secret prisons in former East Block countries for the purposes of illegal incarceration and torture, which they dismantled shortly before the matter became public. The US government is denying (lying, at this point) all this while the European leaders deny knowledge (apparently lying, also), but there's quite a bit of proof, apparently.

    The subject here: I know next to nothing about the espionage world, so I was wondering how the above topic reflects on the history. Ron? Especially, I get the impression from the Spione materials that CIA does and has always done this kind of thing on a routinely basis. What's the overall picture here? Does this sound like something CIA would do? And especially, are our newspapers misleading us by making this up as something huge and unbelievable? I thought "having secret prisons beyond US borders" is more or less a given for a superpower intelligence agency. I'd be interested in some sense of scale, here.


    Damn good question. My failing is that I've tended not to read very much about CIA activity after 1991. I hope some other folks can give us the needed background.

    There's a tricky aspect to the question, though. For most other countries, espionage is espionage and military is military, with paramilitary falling firmly in the latter. Even in the KGB, for instance, prisons for dissidents or political opponents would be a feature of the 2nd Directorate (internal security) and have nothing to do with spying. So the terminology is going to be weird if we do any comparing.

    Anyway, the CIA is historically practically defined by its failure to collect and collate information (its nominal brief) in favor of its self-designed, self-implemented paramilitary activities. Think of that generalization persisting in full flower through the 1950s, peaking with the Bay of Pigs (1961), and then being tamped down after the Church investigation (1974-75). It flared up again in the 1980s under Casey, until 1987 or so (Iran-Contra), at which point "black ops" were pretty much shut down and the agency's activities cleaned up substantially. Or so I thought.

    If the CIA ran such prisons, the program would have to have been very, very separate from their 1990s-on emphasis on real spying. I mean, really subterranean, in terms of oversight and policy and accountability. I would have thought such things persisted in the form of informal, pseudo-agency, ex-agency power networks rather than actual policy officially (but secretly) carried out by the agency itself. Such networks have existed since the Church investigation and are a real problem, of which Iran-Contra was only one example that managed to get itself facilitated by the agency's head.

    So color me a little confused. I would not hesitate for a moment to accept that such a "extra-CIA, ex-CIA, instead-of-CIA" cabal of ideologues was capable of torture-prisons. Some pretty awful things are documented about these people, e.g. the Nugan Hand bank scams and a frighteningly large amount of heroin trafficking. But the CIA itself, as currently construed? Weird. Makes me curious about exactly when the prisons are supposed to have been set up.

    Best, Ron


    The Economist magazine is rather good for recent changes to the intelligence agencies: especially the CIA and MI5.

    I can't post links at the moment, since I'm typing on a nasty little laptop. But if you go to and do a search through the archives for "Intelligence", you'll find a lot of good articles.


    My search on "CIA prisons" at their site turns up the most promising-looking articles for this discussion. However, it's a subscription site. Graham, I assume you're a subscriber - could you take a look over the articles yielded by these search terms, and give us a synopsis?

    I'm especially interested in when these prisons were set up. As I hope to demonstrate in some new threads soon, the blanket term "the CIA" is inadequate for discussion purposes - we have to know who and when.

    Best, Ron


    Let's see. Those articles are about the political row over the CIA allegedly using airports and secret prisons in Europe.

    The Washington Post recently alleged that terror suspects were being held in eight different countries, including some East European democracies. A New York based group, Human Rights Watch, identified two of these countries as Poland and Romania.

    Lots of European countries are up in arms about this and are initiating investigations into CIA-related incidents (reports of kidnappings, etc).

    In other words, and sadly, the articles are mostly about what's not known. The Americans won't talk about CIA activities, but the Europeans are suspicious and are investigating.

    There's no word on when the prisons were set up. The article makes it sound as thought they're recent - it refers only to terror suspects and Al Qaeda being held there - but it's not explicit.


    Well, it's been a while since we posted to this thread, but as of this month, the book that addresses this question and related ones has appeared: James Risen's State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.

    I'm still in the middle, but Chapter 2 provides a good, if shadowy overview of how the CIA underwent a post-9/11 transformation that left many of its own officers dismayed. Part of the story concerns director George Tenet's shift in policy to stay on the new president's good side. Part of it concerns the weird shift in activity that created several new prisons scattered in dubious places around the world, out of U.S. jurisdiction and apparently devoted to "harsh interrogation." Some of them are apparently staffed by CIA, others are simply farmed out to agencies such as the Egyptian Muhabarat.

    To answer the original question of this thread, all of this is strictly a post-9/11, Bush administration thing. The reporting, comments, and discussion of Tenet under Clinton are all clear about that.

    Risen's sources for chapter 2 are all privileged. This is one of those cases in which the author's track record is the only indicator for what can be regarded as valid reporting, and Risen has a good one. He is not a loony or a conspiracy theorist or anything like that.

    In my reading of that chapter, the whole thing seems an eery repeat of the Dulles-Helms philosophy from the late 1950s and early 1960s - "if the president doesn't know about it, he's not responsible, but since we're doing what the president wants, then we're (a) not responsible either and (b) we're ultra-patriots and not to be criticized."

    Which makes the president's various public statements about how awful and disgusting the prisoners' treatment was and is at Guantanamo Bay sort of dubious - not necessarily that he's out-and-out lying, but that his statements simply have nothing to do with what is happening and what is sanctioned in the old-school way to be happening.

    Best, Ron


    Wow, it's kind of interesting to hear that the CIA apparently didn't do this kind of stuff during the nineties, then. (Yeah, I clearly expect worse from the intelligence agencies than they apparently are.) Almost makes me believe in politics again, if not having Bush made that kind of difference ;) Can an organization like that really change it's operations and directions that quicly? I somehow thought that all this espionage stuff happens on the time-scale of decades, when anything is actually accomplished. Like growing a tree, it takes time.

    But for fictional purposes (from this forum and Ron's Spione materials), I'm getting this weird picture of the the CIA as a cross of the marines and Anton Lavey. Now I'll just have to figure out what kind of archetypal activities this translates into in terms of the Cold War Berlin. They sound almost like made to be morally bankcrupt antagonists.



    Welllll ... that's quite the controversial topic, as the spy fiction attests. Just making the CIA as a whole into boogeymen doesn't work, not if one is being politically honest at the larger scale.

    After all, espionage (or "intelligence" to de-French the term and make it less sexy) is a crucial part of anyone's national policy. I can't see any reason to throw up one's hands and say, "golly, spying is awful, we shan't do it." Crudely, if I had a country, I'd run spies. All the time, on friends & foes & neutrals. The term used for an inside source is "asset," and I think that's an example of useful, meaningful jargon.

    The U.S. problems with espionage seem to lie in the concept of policy - who sets it, who carries it out. As I wrote about in one of the "spy nut" documents, for a variety of historical reasons, the CIA has an operational arm, active or inactive depending on presidents and CIA directors.

    Back around 1950, originating with Allen Dulles (using Bill Donovan as his icon), the classic CIA director tactic was to seduce an incoming president. "We are at war," he'd say, "and the people want to win it, but they don't want to hear it or pay for it directly. And those dingos in the military are just nuts. So let us do it. We'll fight that war, our way, without silly delays and discussions. You'll be a wiz leader in the field as our supersecret ops hit them where they can't know it or prove it. We'll be your eyes and ears too; you'll be a wiz at the negotiating table and they'll never know why. You'll be the best president ever, making everyone happy and keeping the country safe, because of us."

    Like clockwork, during the first half of the Cold War, American presidents bought this line of total, unrealizable bullshit. Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon. What it meant was permitting an unofficial pseudo-State Department to operate without any integration with the rest of the government. Every single one of them regretted it and after their first experiences with the results of CIA ops, considered the agency a menace and threatened to disembowel it (well, Johnson I'm not sure of).

    Let's not forget that the agency was also conducting bang-on espionage as well, and that these guys were (a) not privy to the covert-ops activities and might even have thought they were pure fantasy, and (b) working hard on simply keeping the government informed, just like any spies for any government at any time.

    Viewpoints differ. I, for instance, think the Church, Rockefeller, and Pike investigations of covert ops during the 1970s were a good idea. Others think they destroyed a crucial element of our foreign policy.

    Reagan resurrected this aspect of the CIA, whether inadvertently or not, who knows. But after Iran-Contra in his second term, it was squelched again, although as usual the principal architects were subjected to the mildest of consequences.

    Following the middle 1980s, the main concern for me as a citizen is whether the cultural presence of this arm, often disconnected or even estranged from the real CIA, is active. That's why my broken dotted line is about in that one file. Mercenary wars in Africa, Iran-Contra, etc, are all related to that issue, and those power structures still exist. But since then, the real CIA has been pretty squeaky-clean, just good ol' spies.

    And in many cases, perhaps most, I at least consider the spying officers and analysts of the CIA and other agencies to have been doing good work, for good reasons, and in some cases (best you can hope for in espionage) with good results. I don't think our intelligence apparatus is fundamentally a nest of monsters ... I'm not a conspiracy theorist.

    Viewpoints differ. According to many, the 1990s CIA was castrated, and useless, and gutted, even treasonously so, because its operations (i.e. paramilitary missions, not spying) were under extreme oversight and generally were not very active. And my readings suggest that its spying, too, was pretty low-grade during this time, which is (to me) a problem.

    To be continued ...

    • CommentAuthorRon Edwards
    • CommentTimeFeb 4th 2006 edited


    9/11 changed all that. It's really complicated, because apparently Rumsfeld, who'd wanted to be CIA director, set up a CIA-ops type group from within the Pentagon. And the long-dormant covert-ops group in the CIA, directed toward Iraq, suddenly went from the bottom of the agency to the top of the totem pole ... with no assets or information to work with. The person to look at, as I see it, in the activities of both groups is not Bush, but Cheney. All these guys swung into action, using a bizarre malformation of legal technique in which their own lawyers pronounce it OK, mainly using interpretations of wartime-presidency military leadership ... but those pronouncements are classified and therefore not subject to anyone else's review.

    Top of the list would be the prisons that started this discussion.

    So ... if I or anyone else were to object to this utterly independent use of paramilitary action (and all this was well before war was under way), particularly in terms of effects (because this wasn't intelligence-gathering, absolutely everything they did was designed to support going to war) ... then saying "the CIA" is obviously simplistic and inaccurate. Some of the CIA. CIA-like groups. Shadowy power-structures. Plausible denial for Bush, State-Dept like activity with military backup, and absolutely no connection to any other aspect of government, most especially Congress and Justice.

    By contrast, the meat-and-potatos CIA activity (people who had no idea of what was happening in the above paragraph) was suggesting left and right that Iraq had no WMD and was (albeit run like a prison by a rotten guy) not directly or meaningfully involved in 9/11. Unlike, say, people in Saudi Arabia.

    I'm not an expert. I'm parroting Risen for all this discussion of post 9/11 activity, and taking that one presentation through a cross-reference with my understanding of classic Cold War history. I'm just a guy with a lot of books and a Cold-War-intensive personal history. This is not an insider, academic or journalistic set of ideas.

    However, limitations and all, it's shocking to me just how swiftly the Richard Helms* and Allen Dulles philosophy of espionage/covert-ops has been resurrected. It reminds me very greatly of Kennedy's relationship to the agency - the Bay of Pigs, Operation Mongoose, and various African operations of that time. The atmosphere of frat-boy like hysteria and hyper-righteous intensity described by Risen for post 9/11, is exactly like the accounts of the interactions between Robert Kennedy and the CIA around 1960-1961.

    So yes, Spione and indeed any spy fiction from this point on, set in Cold War Berlin, permits us to make statements about today, through analogy.

    Best, Ron

    * CIA mythology claims that Helms was the big "no ops" director. Subsequent information, including his gross perjuries when questioned during the 1970s investigations, have falsified this claim beyond repair.

    (edited for a format glitch)


    Ron, I find your writing on the spy stuff really interesting, even if I have no previous knowledge or interest in the topic. I appreciate you taking the time to explain it all.

    Also, now I at least have some idea of the kind of compare and contrast that can be done with CIA towards some kind of imaginary "median intelligence agency". Like, I could have a character in Spione who's appalled by the mix-up of paramilitary vs. intelligence work evident in CIA in some decades, and not be completely ahistorical. I understand from your user sheets that the paramilitary behavior was not a norm for the other agencies operating in Berlin (unless you count Stasi, but they only operated on their own people, as I understand), so perhaps an European intelligence professional could be afraid or apprehensive of the CIA paramilitary action? Which of course, if I'm not completely confused, makes me query about the role of military intelligence and paramilitary action during these decades in other countries. As I understand, all these countries have and had their own, separate military intelligence organizations. Some of those novels I read last fall made a point of the cooperation between f.ex. British military intelligence and MI-6, if I remember right. But I guess this is a topic for another thread.

    Yeah, I'm pretty clueless of all this. I think I understand the Story Now aspect, however :D

    • CommentAuthorRon Edwards
    • CommentTimeFeb 6th 2006 edited

    Now that I've finished the book, this seems to be the sequence.

    1. The power-structure for military action during the invasion of Afghanistan seems to be based on a Pentagon and Vice-Presidential alliance (Rumsfield and Cheney respectively). The intelligence-agency connections are apparently with the then-dormant covert-ops team directed toward Iraq.

    2. During the interim period between Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq, CIA director George Tenet is included in that alliance; this is apparently when the prisons or detainment centers get going. The official detainment center at Guantanamo Bay is augmented by others in unspecified places, using CIA connections, rumored locales being Egypt, Poland, and Rumania. Both CIA staff and local security forces are apparently involved in interrogations, varying by place.

    3. Well prior to the invasion of Iraq, the CIA essentially splits. Tenet and the top level (which I might add is not only "CIA," but Tenet in his role of overarching Director of Intelligence and effectively the National Security Council) are now very tight with Cheney and Rumsfield, ignoring and sidelining Condoleeza Rice (then National Security Advisor and technically an authority in this matter).

    They are fueled by a sudden increased activity by very junior case officers and other agents whose input floats directly to the top, without analysis or corroboration, if it accords with what the top wants to hear. The yellow-cake uranium issue and the aluminum-tube issue are both in this category.

    Meanwhile, the experienced case officers and the analytical teams of the CIA are consistently saying something completely different: that no reliable evidence for WMD exists, that intelligence sources concerning Iraq are poor, and that these data are both tainted and uncorroborated. Standard CIA analysis would not treat such reports as conclusions or as part of, for instance, a PDB (president's daily brief). Officers who press this point forcefully suffer career punishments.

    4. Colin Powell is briefed as if the evidence for WMD is overwhelming, with the full authority of the CIA (i.e. Tenet says so) behind it. His presentation to Congress and to the American public, in combination with the State of the Union address at that time, results in an unusual "pre-invasion, provisional" agreement to go to war by Congress.

    All of the above is my paraphrasing of Risen's text and may suffer from over-statements or poor understanding on my part.

    I am astonished at the parallel between Colin Powell's role in convincing Congress to go to war, and Dean Acheson's role in claiming our U-2 overflights were mere Soviet propaganda in 1958. Both were immensely respected statesmen who served as relative centrists and publicly reassuring presences for an aggressive presidential staff. Both were apparently deceived based on the CIA director's advice or influence. Both announced specific information based on these lies to the American people at a crucial moment in policy-making. Both suffered diminished reputations and political fallout based on that.

    Regarding the prisons, I think it's now fair to speculate that they would be a direct product of the Tenet/Cheney/Rumsfield policy, with surprised and reluctant participation from the steadier/traditional staff of the contemporary CIA.

    Best, Ron
    (edited for a couple typos)