THE SECRET WARS OF THE CIA
JOHN STOCKWELL, 10 October 1987
Copyright (C) 1987 The Other Americas Radio. HTML by Harry White. Non-commercial distribution is encouraged.
John Stockwell is the highest-ranking CIA official ever to leave the agency and go public. He ran a CIA intelligence-gathering post in Vietnam, was the task-force commander of the CIA's secret war in Angola in 1975 and 1976, and was awarded the Medal of Merit before he resigned. Stockwell's book In Search of Enemies, published by W.W. Norton 1978, is an international best-seller. This is a transcript of a lecture he gave in June, 1986.
THE INNER WORKINGS OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL AND THE CIA'S COVERT ACTIONS IN ANGOLA, CENTRAL AMERICA AND VIETNAM
"I did 13 years in the CIA altogether. I sat on a subcommittee of the NSC, so I was like a chief of staff, with the GS-18s (like 3-star generals) Henry Kissinger, Bill Colby (the CIA director), the GS-18s and the CIA, making the important decisions and my job was to put it all together and make it happen and run it, an interesting place from which to watch a covert action being done....
I testified for days before the Congress, giving them chapter and verse, date and detail, proving specific lies. They were asking if we had to do with S. Africa, that was fighting in the country. In fact we were coordinating this operation so closely that our airplanes, full of arms from the states, would meet their airplanes in Kinshasa and they would take our arms into Angola to distribute to our forces for us....
What I found with all of this study is that the subject, the problem, if you will, for the world, for the U.S. is much, much, much graver, astronomically graver, than just Angola and Vietnam. I found that the Senate Church committee has reported, in their study of covert actions, that the CIA ran several thousand covert actions since 1961, and that the heyday of covert action was before 1961; that we have run several hundred covert actions a year, and the CIA has been in business for a total of 37 years.
What we're going to talk about tonight is the United States national security syndrome. We're going to talk about how and why the U.S. manipulates the press. We're going to talk about how and why the U.S. is pouring money into El Salvador, and preparing to invade Nicaragua; how all of this concerns us so directly. I'm going to try to explain to you the other side of terrorism; that is, the other side of what Secretary of State Shultz talks about. In doing this, we'll talk about the Korean war, the Vietnam war, and the Central American war.
Everything I'm going to talk to you about is represented, one way or another, already in the public records. You can dig it all out for yourselves, without coming to hear me if you so chose. Books, based on information gotten out of the CIA under the freedom of information act, testimony before the Congress, hearings before the Senate Church committee, research by scholars, witness of people throughout the world who have been to these target areas that we'll be talking about. I want to emphasize that my own background is profoundly conservative. We come from South Texas, East Texas....
I was conditioned by my training, my marine corps training, and my background, to believe in everything they were saying about the cold war, and I took the job with great enthusiasm (in the CIA) to join the best and the brightest of the CIA, of our foreign service, to go out into the world, to join the struggle, to project American values and save the world for our brand of democracy. And I believed this. I went out and worked hard....
What I really got out of these 6 years in Africa was a sense ... that nothing we were doing in fact defended U.S. national security interests very much. We didn't have many national security interests in Bujumbura, Burundi, in the heart of Africa. I concluded that I just couldn't see the point.
We were doing things it seemed because we were there, because it was our function, we were bribing people, corrupting people, and not protecting the U.S. in any visible way. I had a chance to go drinking with this Larry Devlin, a famous CIA case officer who had overthrown Patrice Lumumba, and had him killed in 1960, back in the Congo. He was moving into the Africa division Chief. I talked to him in Addis Ababa at length one night, and he was giving me an explanation - I was telling him frankly, 'sir, you know, this stuff doesn't make any sense, we're not saving anybody from anything, and we are corrupting people, and everybody knows we're doing it, and that makes the U.S. look bad'.
And he said I was getting too big for my britches. He said, `you're trying to think like the people in the NSC back in Washington who have the big picture, who know what's going on in the world, who have all the secret information, and the experience to digest it. If they decide we should have someone in Bujumbura, Burundi, and that person should be you, then you should do your job, and wait until you have more experience, and you work your way up to that point, then you will understand national security, and you can make the big decisions. Now, get to work, and stop, you know, this philosophizing.'
And I said, `Aye-aye sir, sorry sir, a bit out of line sir'. It's a very powerful argument, our presidents use it on us. President Reagan has used it on the American people, saying, `if you knew what I know about the situation in Central America, you would understand why it's necessary for us to intervene.'
I went back to Washington, however, and I found that others shared my concern. A formal study was done in the State Department and published internally, highly classified, called the Macomber [sp?] report, concluding that the CIA had no business being in Africa for anything it was known to be doing, that our presence there was not justified, there were no national security interests that the CIA could address any better than the ambassador himself. We didn't need to have bribery and corruption as a tool for doing business in Africa at that time.
I went from ... a tour in Washington to Vietnam. And there, my career, and my life, began to get a little bit more serious. They assigned me a country. It was during the cease-fire, '73 to '75. There was no cease-fire. Young men were being slaughtered. I saw a slaughter. 300 young men that the South Vietnamese army ambushed. Their bodies brought in and laid out in a lot next to my compound. I was up-country in Tayninh. They were laid out next door, until the families could come and claim them and take them away for burial.
I thought about this. I had to work with the sadistic police chief. When I reported that he liked to carve people with knives in the CIA safe-house - when I reported this to my bosses, they said, `(1). The post was too important to close down. (2). They weren't going to get the man transferred or fired because that would make problems, political problems, and he was very good at working with us in the operations he worked on. (3). Therefore if I didn't have the stomach for the job, that they could transfer me.'
But they hastened to point out, if I did demonstrate a lack of `moral fiber' to handle working with the sadistic police chief, that I wouldn't get another good job in the CIA, it would be a mark against my career.
So I kept the job, I closed the safe-house down, I told my staff that I didn't approve of that kind of activity, and I proceeded to work with him for the next 2 years, pretending that I had reformed him, and he didn't do this sort of thing anymore. The parallel is obvious with El Salvador today, where the CIA, the state department, works with the death squads.
They don't meet the death squads on the streets where they're actually chopping up people or laying them down on the street and running trucks over their heads. The CIA people in San Salvador meet the police chiefs, and the people who run the death squads, and they do liaise with them, they meet them beside the swimming pool of the villas. And it's a sophisticated, civilized kind of relationship. And they talk about their children, who are going to school at UCLA or Harvard and other schools, and they don't talk about the horrors of what's being done. They pretend like it isn't true.
What I ran into in addition to that was a corruption in the CIA and the intelligence business that made me question very seriously what it was all about, including what I was doing ... risking my life ... what I found was that the CIA, us, the case officers, were not permitted to report about the corruption in the South Vietnamese army....
Now, the corruption was so bad, that the S. Vietnamese army was a skeleton army. Colonels would let the troops go home if they would come in once a month and sign the pay vouchers so the colonel could pocket the money. Then he could sell half of the uniforms and boots and M-16's to the communist forces - that was their major supply, just as it is in El Salvador today. He could use half of the trucks to haul produce, half of the helicopters to haul heroin.
And the Army couldn't fight. And we lived with it, and we saw it, and there was no doubt - everybody talked about it openly. We could provide all kinds of proof, and they wouldn't let us report it. Now this was a serious problem because the south was attacked in the winter of 1975, and it collapsed like a big vase hit by a sledgehammer. And the U.S. was humiliated, and that was the dramatic end of our long involvement in Vietnam....
I had been designated as the task-force commander that would run this secret war [in Angola in 1975 and 1976].... and what I figured out was that in this job, I would sit on a sub-committee of the National Security Council, this office that Larry Devlin has told me about where they had access to all the information about Angola, about the whole world, and I would finally understand national security. And I couldn't resist the opportunity to know. I knew the CIA was not a worthwhile organization, I had learned that the hard way. But the question was where did the U.S. government fit into this thing, and I had a chance to see for myself in the next big secret war....
I wanted to know if wise men were making difficult decisions based on truly important, threatening information, threatening to our national security interests. If that had been the case, I still planned to get out of the CIA, but I would know that the system, the invisible government, our national security complex, was in fact justified and worth while. And so I took the job.... Suffice it to say I wouldn't be standing in front of you tonight if I had found these wise men making these tough decisions. What I found, quite frankly, was fat old men sleeping through sub-committee meetings of the NSC in which we were making decisions that were killing people in Africa. I mean literally. Senior ambassador Ed Mulcahy... would go to sleep in nearly every one of these meetings....
You can change the names in my book [about Angola]  and you've got Nicaragua.... the basic structure, all the way through including the mining of harbors, we addressed all of these issues. The point is that the U.S. led the way at every step of the escalation of the fighting. We said it was the Soviets and the Cubans that were doing it. It was the U.S. that was escalating the fighting. There would have been no war if we hadn't gone in first. We put arms in, they put arms in. We put advisors in, they answered with advisors. We put in Zairian para-commando battalions, they put in Cuban army troops. We brought in the S. African army, they brought in the Cuban army. And they pushed us away. They blew us away because we were lying, we were covering ourselves with lies, and they were telling the truth. And it was not a war that we could fight. We didn't have interests there that should have been defended that way.
There was never a study run that evaluated the MPLA, FNLA and UNITA, the three movements in the country, to decide which one was the better one. The assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Nathaniel Davis, no bleeding-heart liberal (he was known by some people in the business as the butcher of Santiago), he said we should stay out of the conflict and work with whoever eventually won, and that was obviously the MPLA. Our consul in Luanda, Tom Killoran, vigorously argued that the MPLA was the best qualified to run the country and the friendliest to the U.S.
We brushed these people aside, forced Matt Davis to resign, and proceeded with our war. The MPLA said they wanted to be our friends, they didn't want to be pushed into the arms of the Soviet Union; they begged us not to fight them, they wanted to work with us. We said they wanted a cheap victory, they wanted a walk-over, they wanted to be un-opposed, that we wouldn't give them a cheap victory, we would make them earn it, so to speak. And we did. 10,000 Africans died and they won the victory that they were winning anyway.
Now, the most significant thing that I got out of all of this, in addition to the fact that our rationales were basically false, was that we lied. To just about everybody involved. One third of my staff in this task force that I put together in Washington, commanding this global operation, pulling strings all over the world to focus pressure onto Angola, and military activities into Angola, one third of my staff was propagandists, who were working, in every way they could think of, to get stories into the U.S. press, the world press, to create this picture of Cubans raping Angolans, Cubans and Soviets introducing arms into the conflict, Cubans and Russians trying to take over the world.
Our ambassador to the United Nations, Patrick Moynihan, he read continuous statements of our position to the Security Council, the general assembly, and the press conferences, saying the Russians and Cubans were responsible for the conflict, and that we were staying out, and that we deplored the militarization of the conflict.
And every statement he made was false. And every statement he made was originated in the sub-committee of the NSC that I sat on as we managed this thing. The state department press person read these position papers daily to the press. We would write papers for him. Four paragraphs. We would call him on the phone and say, `call us 10 minutes before you go on, the situation could change overnight, we'll tell you which paragraph to read. And all four paragraphs would be false. Nothing to do with the truth. Designed to play on events, to create this impression of Soviet and Cuban aggression in Angola. When they were in fact responding to our initiatives.
And the CIA director was required by law to brief the Congress. This CIA director Bill Colby - the same one that dumped our people in Vietnam - he gave 36 briefings of the Congress, the oversight committees, about what we were doing in Angola. And he lied. At 36 formal briefings. And such lies are perjury, and it's a felony to lie to the Congress.
He lied about our relationship with South Africa. We were working closely with the South African army, giving them our arms, coordinating battles with them, giving them fuel for their tanks and armored cars. He said we were staying well away from them. They were concerned about these white mercenaries that were appearing in Angola, a very sensitive issue, hiring whites to go into a black African country, to help you impose your will on that black African country by killing the blacks, a very sensitive issue. The Congress was concerned we might be involved in that, and he assured them we had nothing to do with it.
We had in fact formed four little mercenary armies and delivered them into Angola to do this dirty business for the CIA. And he lied to them about that. They asked if we were putting arms into the conflict, and he said no, and we were. They asked if we had advisors inside the country, and he said `no, we had people going in to look at the situation and coming back out'. We had 24 people sleeping inside the country, training in the use of weapons, installing communications systems, planning battles, and he said, we didn't have anybody inside the country.
In summary about Angola, without U.S. intervention, 10,000 people would be alive that were killed in the thing. The outcome might have been peaceful, or at least much less bloody. The MPLA was winning when we went in, and they went ahead and won, which was, according to our consul, the best thing for the country.
At the end of this thing the Cubans were entrenched in Angola, seen in the eyes of much of the world as being the heroes that saved these people from the CIA and S. African forces. We had allied the U.S. literally and in the eyes of the world with the S. African army, and that's illegal, and it's impolitic. We had hired white mercenaries and eventually been identified with them. And that's illegal, and it's impolitic. And our lies had been visible lies. We were caught out on those lies. And the world saw the U.S. as liars.
After it was over, you have to ask yourself, was it justified? What did the MPLA do after they had won? Were they lying when they said they wanted to be our friends? 3 weeks after we were shut down... the MPLA had Gulf oil back in Angola, pumping the Angolan oil from the oilfields, with U.S. gulf technicians protected by Cuban soldiers, protecting them from CIA mercenaries who were still mucking around in Northern Angola.
You can't trust a communist, can you? They proceeded to buy five 737 jets from Boeing Aircraft in Seattle. And they brought in 52 U.S. technicians to install the radar systems to land and take-off those planes. They didn't buy [the Soviet Union's] Aeroflot.... David Rockefeller himself tours S. Africa and comes back and holds press conferences, in which he says that we have no problem doing business with the so-called radical states of Southern Africa.
I left the CIA, I decided that the American people needed to know what we'd done in Angola, what we'd done in Vietnam. I wrote my book. I was fortunate - I got it out. It was a best-seller. A lot of people read it. I was able to take my story to the American people. Got on 60 minutes, and lots and lots of other shows.
I testified to the Congress and then I began my education in earnest, after having been taught to fight communists all my life. I went to see what communists were all about. I went to Cuba to see if they do in fact eat babies for breakfast. And I found they don't. I went to Budapest, a country that even national geographic admits is working nicely. I went to Jamaica to talk to Michael Manley about his theories of social democracy.
I went to Grenada and established a dialogue with Maurice Bishop and Bernard Cord and Phyllis Cord, to see - these were all educated people, and experienced people - and they had a theory, they had something they wanted to do, they had rationales and explanations - and I went repeatedly to hear them. And then of course I saw the U.S., the CIA mounting a covert action against them, I saw us orchestrating our plan to invade the country. 19 days before he was killed, I was in Grenada talking to Maurice Bishop about these things, these indicators, the statements in the press by Ronald Reagan, and he and I were both acknowledging that it was almost certain that the U.S. would invade Grenada in the near future.
I read as many books as I could find on the subject - book after book after book. I've got several hundred books on the shelf over my desk on the subject of U.S. national security interests. And by the way, I urge you to read. In television you get capsules of news that someone else puts together what they want you to hear about the news. In newspapers you get what the editors select to put in the newspaper. If you want to know about the world and understand, to educate yourself, you have to get out and dig, dig up books and articles for yourself. Read, and find out for yourselves. As you'll see, the issues are very, very important.
I also was able to meet the players, the people who write, the people who have done studies, people who are leading different situations. I went to Nicaragua a total of 7 times. This was a major covert action. It lasted longer and evolved to be bigger than what we did in Angola. It gave me a chance, after running something from Washington, to go to a country that was under attack, to talk to the leadership, to talk to the people, to look and see what happens when you give white phosporous or grenades or bombs or bullets to people, and they go inside a country, to go and talk to the people, who have been shot, or hit, or blown up....