Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson, Agency of Rogues

The secret prison was set up on a secure U.S. Naval base outside the U.S. and so beyond the slightest recourse to legal oversight. It was there that the CIA clandestinely brought its “suspects” to be interrogated, abused, and tortured.

That description might indeed sound like Guantanamo 2002, but think again. According to New York Times reporter Tim Weiner’s new history of the Central Intelligence Agency, Legacy of Ashes — a remarkable treasure trove of grim and startling information you hadn’t known before — this actually happened first in the Panama Canal Zone in the early 1950s. It was there, as well as at two secret prisons located in Germany and Japan, the defeated Axis powers (and not, in those days, in Thailand or Rumania), that the CIA brought questionable double agents for “secret experiments” in harsh interrogation, “using techniques on the edge of torture, drug-induced mind control, and brainwashing.” This was but a small part of “Project Artichoke,” a 15-year, multi-billion dollar “search by the CIA for ways to  control the human mind.”

No book in recent memory has done such a superb job of illuminating the roiling, disastrous, thoroughly destructive path through history of America’s top covert-operations agency over the last six decades, what Chalmers Johnson has often called “the president’s private army.” Johnson himself was an outside consultant for the CIA from 1967 to 1973 until, as he writes in his latest book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (the third volume of his Blowback Trilogy), “this consulting function was abolished by [National Security Advisor Henry] Kissinger and [CIA Director James] Schlesinger during [President Richard] Nixon’s second term precisely because they did not want outsiders interfering with their ability to tell the president what to think.” On first arrival at the Agency’s “campus” in Langley, Virginia, Johnson reminds us, Schlesinger, in the typically highhanded fashion of CIA heads, immediately announced, “I am here to see that you guys don’t screw Richard Nixon.” Think of CIA Directors George Tenet or Porter Goss and George Bush and you’re back in our present age.

As books, Nemesis and Legacy of Ashes complement each other superbly, so I thought it worthwhile to set Johnson loose on Weiner’s new work in a rare book review for Tomdispatch. Tom

The Life and Times of the CIA

Wall Street Brokers, Ivy League Professors, Soldiers of Fortune, Ad Men, Newsmen, Stunt Men, Second-Story Men, and Con Men on Active Duty for the United States
By Chalmers Johnson

This essay is a review of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner (Doubleday, 702 pp., $27.95).

The American people may not know it but they have some severe problems with one of their official governmental entities, the Central Intelligence Agency. Because of the almost total secrecy surrounding its activities and the lack of cost accounting on how it spends the money covertly appropriated for it within the defense budget, it is impossible for citizens to know what the CIA’s approximately 17,000 employees do with, or for, their share of the yearly $44 billion$48 billion or more spent on “intelligence.” This inability to account for anything at the CIA is, however, only one problem with the Agency and hardly the most serious one either.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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