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CIA Alliances: Purists Versus Interventionists

August 31, 1986|John Horton | John Horton served as a CIA operations officer from 1948 to 1975, and was the national intelligence officer for Latin America on the National Intelligence Council from 1983 to 1984

HOLLYWOOD, MD. — Secretary of State George P. Shultz's timing could not have been worse last month. He appeared before the Senate the day after Seymour M. Hersh, in the New York Times, revealed that the United States had given information on the African National Congress to the South African government. When called on the congressional carpet, Shultz told the senators that he had talked to William J. Casey, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who had flatly denied the allegation. There it rests, another one-day wonder in the torpor of an unusually hot Washington summer.

The story did stir up questions about U.S. intelligence ties with other governments. There are such ties but a former CIA operations officer may refer to them only generally. A government that may be quite happy to deal with the CIA might still prefer that the question not be raised publicly.

Every liaison between the CIA and a foreign intelligence or security service is different. Nonetheless, the connection is usually consistent with the formal relations between the United States and the other government. The CIA does not invent alliances. A liaison in intelligence may follow in the wake of diplomatic relations. It may not. Normal pro forma diplomatic relations or, say, a desire for commerce, are conventional motives for an exchange of embassies. There may be no such common interest for an exchange in the intelligence field.

Thus, national policy defines the role of the CIA. The Alliance for Progress in Latin America in the 1960s illustrates this. One aim of the alliance was to hamper Cuban subversion in the Americas. Some Latin countries were pretty sleepy about security. (But not all: Beware the sweeping generalization about Latin America.) In some countries the police served the narrow interests of those in power, smelling out domestic opposition to the in-group, stumbling right past the Cuban and Soviet intelligence operations going on under their noses.

To a certain turn of practical mind, arrest and torture are convenient ways of dealing with the opposition. The measures appear effective in the short term and the perpetrators do not seem to realize that brutality is, at best, politically unattractive. The CIA was told to try to change this face of the police just as the Agency for International Development's public safety program was set up to train the police in other disciplines. Persuading police officials to collect information within a framework of civil rights, leading them to concentrate on real enemies of constitutional government rather than on the political outs--that was the approach.

This was no mere technical mission but rather one of diplomacy. To be effective, the CIA could not blow into town and deliver the canned U.S. sermon on human rights. If it did not want the door to police headquarters slammed on its foot, the CIA had tactfully to lead the duller officers to tolerate new ways. The brighter ones were eager to build a force they could be proud of--even if it meant putting up with a certain amount of foreign meddling.

Often the advice was least heeded where most needed. Hard to generalize: In many countries the CIA, as did the AID program, left behind enduring good will that developed from working on common tasks. Working closely but quietly with these governments to modify bad practices was probably as effective as putting them in a public pillory for violating human rights--some would say more so. (With this history, the charge that the CIA was mixed up with torture in Latin America is peculiarly galling to CIA veterans. There was a certain grim amusement to be found in the notion that Latin American policemen needed advice on techniques of torture.)

Weak career bureaucracies are a worldwide problem, not only in Latin America. The police suffer as much as any other government service if a new crop of political hacks moves in on professional levels with every change of regime. The ban on training of police forces--a shortsighted residue of the birth of wrongheaded righteousness in Washington in the mid-1970s--was a blow to this continuity of experience.

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