From-Left-Charles-Glass-Scott-Anderson-Kai-Bird-and-Jonathan-Shainin-at-a-session-on-The-CIA-and-the-Wilderness-of-Mirors-during-the-Literature-Festival-in-Jaipur-on-Sunday-25-January-2015-Photo-Mohd-Zakir-HT
From-Left-Charles-Glass-Scott-Anderson-Kai-Bird-and-Jonathan-Shainin-at-a-session-on-The-CIA-and-the-Wilderness-of-Mirors-during-the-Literature-Festival-in-Jaipur-on-Sunday-25-January-2015-Photo-Mohd-Zakir-HT

CIA: A spy agency gone rogue?

Fans of James Bond and other American spy flicks were in for an hour of disappointment as experts came together at the Jaipur Literature Festival to deconstruct the CIA and its many failures.
By Vishakha Saxena | Hindustan Times, Jaipur
UPDATED ON JAN 25, 2015 05:39 PM IST

Fans of James Bond and other American spy flicks were in for an hour of disappointment as experts came together at the Jaipur Literature Festival to deconstruct the CIA and its many failures.

It was quite clear from the word go that the session titled 'The CIA and the Wilderness of Mirrors' was going to be a no-holds-barred one as moderator Jonathan Shainin, an American journalist, began with sarcastic references to the spy agency.

He said that though popular representation of these agents was that of "sinister spies who secretly pull the strings all over the world, who topple the government, who pay off politicians, who fund tomorrow’s terrorists today," their work mostly came back to haunt the United States.

American author and journalist Charles Glass joined Shainin with anecdotal references where he first talked about the origins of the CIA and the failures from its very conception. He said that from its very formation in 1947, the agency had agents in the field "torturing people or bribing foreign officials". He talked about CIA’s role in overthrowing an elected parliamentary government in Syria in 1949, on behalf of an Arabian oil company "to have a dictator who would then allow an oil line to go through Syria." The country never really had a democracy again, the effects of which can be seen today.

Veteran American war correspondent Scott Anderson added that early on virtually every CIA operation was an "utter disaster" and got "hundreds and hundreds of people killed".

When asked about the role of CIA in the middle-east specifically and if it "screwed up there a little more", author of the book The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames Kai Bird said, "as a rule it screwed up everywhere". "The history of CIA is a history of failures, one after another," he said adding that even the agency’s so called successes like the coup in Iran or in Guatemala "years later resulted in terrible blowback".

Talking about its current operations, especially post 9/11, Bird said that the agency’s drone program is essentially an assassination program. Quoting from his research work for his books, Bird added that retired CIA operatives believe that "their mission has been corrupted" and the agency was no longer doing what it was originally supposed to do which was essentially the "covert collection of human intelligence to build where diplomats can’t go."

Glass explained that in the 1950s and 60s, the agency rigged the Lebanese elections with "suitcases full of money", organised a coup in Syria and from Beirut they even tried to arrange coups in Iraq. "They ran the region from there (Beirut) as their personal fiefdom," he said adding that the damage they did was "horrible".

The rigging of the 1957 elections in Lebanon led to the 1958 civil war in the country. In Glass’ words "they (CIA) were having the time of their lives" and "couldn’t see" the damage they were inflicting.

As for the Israel-Palestine conflict, Glass believes that "the CIA never did anything good for Palestinians because American policy did not allow anything good for Palestinians".

In another example, Glass talked about how in Vietnam the agency worked underground with people from all levels of the society for the ‘Phoenix’ program meant to identify and "neutralize" suspected members of "Vietnam infrastructure". When they couldn’t find them, they’d look for their families, friends or people who "put them up" and "blow their brains out". According to Glass, 30,000 people were effectively assassinated in the program.

So who’s to blame?
According to Anderson, "almost every operation the CIA took from its inception, they are following the policy of whatever (American) administration that’s in power". He said that with a change in administration in late the 1950s, during the presidency of Dwight D Eisenhower, the American policy changed from being an "agent of democratic change" to "overthrowing democratic governments".

Shainin explained it as "the era of the ‘he may be a bastard but he’s our bastard’".

Anderson went on to explain though the CIA was always criticised for things they never saw coming, the root of the problem laid in the administration which forced the agency to "tell the guy at the top what he wanted to hear".

As discussed by the panel, an example of this was the Iraq War. According to Glass the agency planned to go into Iraq even before they wanted to go into Afghanistan. Any evidence that supported their case for going in became part of the ‘dossier’ and any contradictory evidence was "simply rejected".

"Agents were told not to supply anything else," he said adding that some of the evidence was even fabricated. Anderson also stressed on the lack of intelligence gathering due to which the agency handlers "end up getting blinded and don’t really see what’s happening in the country". Stressing on CIA’s inability to carry out covert operations successfully, he said, "these guys can’t pull off a surprise birthday party."

According Bird another problem is how the agency has become a "bureaucracy" with almost 30 to 40 thousand members, effectively losing its mission. "If you want real intelligence you should probably read The New York Times or (watch) YouTube."

Anderson and Glass seemed to agree with Bird and said the only way to make the agency more effective was to considerably cut down its force.

Another concern voiced by the panel was the secrecy the enabled CIA or NSA to torture or illegally snoop on people. Anderson stressed on how since 9/11 getting any information about CIA’s operations was almost impossible often because they were "simply saving their own asses".

As the discussion reached its end, Glass took a moment to commend Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden for taking a stand against this secrecy and the audience joined in applauding each name.

Busting myths
Busting common myths about the life of secret agents, Kai Bird said that in reality they were no James Bond. Their day-to-day work is actually quite "mundane" and involves a "lot of listening to people and a lot of writing about what was said," said Kai, adding that "it’s hard mundane reporting—Journalistic reporting".

Agency ‘assets’
Charles Glass said that he was most certain that the agency had assets in the ISIS and other extremist groups. He went on to explain that many of the rebels in Syria were trained and armed by the CIA in Turkey and these went on to join the ISIS. He explained, for example, that the main Chechen leader was trained by them in Georgia to fight in Russia and is now in Syria. "Of course they know these people, but whether they can rely on them is another matter."

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
app
Close
"India 2030: The Rise of a Rajasic Nation" is a collection of essays by the likes of Bibek Debroy, Vikram Sood, Raghunath Anant Mashelkar, Ram Madhav and David Frawley, among others.(Amazon)
"India 2030: The Rise of a Rajasic Nation" is a collection of essays by the likes of Bibek Debroy, Vikram Sood, Raghunath Anant Mashelkar, Ram Madhav and David Frawley, among others.(Amazon)

Book tells what rise of India in the 2020s looks like

PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 23, 2021 06:51 PM IST
A new book captures the many aspects of a future that will culminate in India becoming the world's third-largest economy and a regional power before the decade gets over.
Close
Anindita Ghose (Vijay Prabakaran)
Anindita Ghose (Vijay Prabakaran)

Interview: Anindita Ghose on her debut novel, The Illuminated

By Simar Bhasin
UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 07:49 PM IST
The former editor of Mint Lounge talks about her forthcoming novel, about being irritated by the impulses of journalism in the Twitter era, and about what’s ahead for her in 2021
Close
Shamsur Rahman Faruqi in a photograph dated October 25, 2018. (Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
Shamsur Rahman Faruqi in a photograph dated October 25, 2018. (Amal KS/HT PHOTO)

Essay: Shamsur Rahman Faruqi - drawing out the colossus

By Mahmood Farooqui
UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 04:19 PM IST
In this excerpt from a forthcoming valedictory essay, SR Faruqi’s nephew writes about the Urdu poet, critic, and scholar’s last days
Close
The book throws light on the sensory development of children and the process by which toddlers learn to speak.(Unsplash)
The book throws light on the sensory development of children and the process by which toddlers learn to speak.(Unsplash)

Book 'Speak-A-Boo', documentary 'Talk To Your Child' released by Dr. Neeraj Suri

ANI, Ahmedabad (gujarat) [india]
PUBLISHED ON JAN 22, 2021 03:32 PM IST
Noted authors, journalists and behavioral specialists came together to interact with the public and encourage them to talk to their children during the launch of the book Speak-A-Boo by Dr Neeraj Suri.
Close
Gulzar’s mammoth project, A Poem A Day, an anthology that contains the best names in Indian poetry across languages, is rich and diverse. (Prabha S Roy/HT)
Gulzar’s mammoth project, A Poem A Day, an anthology that contains the best names in Indian poetry across languages, is rich and diverse. (Prabha S Roy/HT)

Essay: Poetry for every day of the year, for all seasons

By Sudeep Sen
PUBLISHED ON JAN 22, 2021 02:16 PM IST
Recent anthologies that stand out include one that’s a feat of sustained translation and another that features poetry on the Covid crisis from across the world
Close
Horses, hills, and how we make connections with each other - all that on this week’s list of interesting reads. (HT Team)
Horses, hills, and how we make connections with each other - all that on this week’s list of interesting reads. (HT Team)

HT Picks: the most interesting books of the week

By HT Team
UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 01:49 PM IST
Books on the history of horses in India, cuisine from the hills, and the networks that bind us feature on this week’s reading list
Close
A view of the Sanjay Van forest reserve, in New Delhi, that is part of the south central area of the greater Delhi Ridge. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)
A view of the Sanjay Van forest reserve, in New Delhi, that is part of the south central area of the greater Delhi Ridge. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

Review: Fractured Forest, Quartzite City by Thomas Crowley

By Sudhirendar Sharma
UPDATED ON JAN 21, 2021 04:02 PM IST
Presenting Delhi’s Ridge, that is spread over 80 square km of reserved forest, as a living entity
Close
Another anticipated book of the year -- "Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth" by Nigerian legend Wole Soyinka, his first novel in 48 years -- will be published in September by Bloomsbury.(Unsplash)
Another anticipated book of the year -- "Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth" by Nigerian legend Wole Soyinka, his first novel in 48 years -- will be published in September by Bloomsbury.(Unsplash)

2021 book list: Books lovers in for a treat with these new novels

PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 03:07 PM IST
Novels by Orhan Pamuk, Kazuo Ishiguro and Jhumpa Lahiri, a collection by Salman Rushdie and memoirs of Ravi Shastri, Girish Karnad and Priyanka Chopra are some of the highlights of 2021 that book lovers can look forward to.
Close
HarperCollins Publishers India is thrilled to announce a new and definitive biography of Kamala Harris by renowned journalist and writer Chidanand Rajghatta.(ANI)
HarperCollins Publishers India is thrilled to announce a new and definitive biography of Kamala Harris by renowned journalist and writer Chidanand Rajghatta.(ANI)

HarperCollins Publishers India announces 'Kamala Harris: Phenomenal Woman'

ANI
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 02:10 PM IST
HarperCollins Publishers India is thrilled to announce a new and definitive biography of Kamala Harris - who sworn today in as the Vice President of the United States of America - by renowned journalist and writer Chidanand Rajghatta.
Close
Lilly Singh(Instagram)
Lilly Singh(Instagram)

Lilly Singh to be guest at virtual book tour of Priyanka Chopra's memoir

ANI
PUBLISHED ON JAN 20, 2021 09:36 PM IST
Ahead of the release of her 'Unfinished,' actor-singer Priyanka Chopra Jonas on Tuesday announced the first four dates of the virtual book tour of her memoir.
Close
Dorah Sitole(Instagram)
Dorah Sitole(Instagram)

South Africa's trailblazing Black food writer Dorah Sitole dies of virus

AP
UPDATED ON JAN 19, 2021 02:40 PM IST
South Africa's trailblazing Black food writer Dorah Sitole's latest cookbook was widely hailed in December as a moving chronicle of her journey from humble township cook to famous, well-traveled author.
Close
Representational image. (Unsplash)
Representational image. (Unsplash)

Students tell story of Gurgaon through lives of 19 people

PTI, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 17, 2021 01:11 PM IST
Students tell story of Gurgaon through lives of 19 people
Close
Audrey Truschke and her book, The Language of History: Sanskrit Narratives of Muslim Pasts(Instagram/Amazon)
Audrey Truschke and her book, The Language of History: Sanskrit Narratives of Muslim Pasts(Instagram/Amazon)

Audrey Truschke's new book to analyse Sanskrit texts of Indo-Muslim history

PTI
PUBLISHED ON JAN 16, 2021 07:09 PM IST
The book, "The Language of History: Sanskrit Narratives of Muslim Pasts", seeks to collect, analyse, and theorize Sanskrit histories of Muslim-led and, later, as Muslims became an integral part of Indian cultural and political worlds, Indo-Muslim rule as a body of historical materials.
Close
Myth, relations between India and China, and reflections on the identity of an ethnic group feature on this week’s list of good reads.(HT Team)
Myth, relations between India and China, and reflections on the identity of an ethnic group feature on this week’s list of good reads.(HT Team)

HT Picks: The most interesting books of the week

By hindustantimes.com
PUBLISHED ON JAN 15, 2021 06:46 PM IST
This week’s list of compelling reads includes a collection of myth and folklore, an account of relations between India and China, and an anthology that reflects on the identity of an ethnic group displaced by Partition.
Close
Naipaul is not a contributor but his prickly presence can be sensed in the collection:VS Naipaul in a picture dated 9th November, 1968.(John Minihan/Getty Images)
Naipaul is not a contributor but his prickly presence can be sensed in the collection:VS Naipaul in a picture dated 9th November, 1968.(John Minihan/Getty Images)

Review: The Book of Indian Essays edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

By CP Surendran
UPDATED ON JAN 15, 2021 06:36 PM IST
Many of the well-known essays in this anthology still look and feel new.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP