CIA Phoenix Program was model for Department of Homeland Security.
CIA Phoenix Program was model for Department of Homeland Security.
I’ve been researching the CIA for over 30 years and I’ve interviewed over 100 CIA officers. So naturally, people often wonder how I prepare myself. In one of the interviews that’s included in my new book, James Tracy asked me how I know where to look for information that’s pertinent to a given story.
I told James that’s it’s complicated, that my experience is different from most other CIA researchers and writers. I didn’t follow the usual career course. I didn’t go to the Columbia School of Journalism. I’m a college dropout who climbed trees for a living for ten years. But I did want to be a writer, and my philosophy of life is based on the study of language and literary criticism. I take a very broad approach. When I went to college, I studied Greek and Roman literature, read the Norton anthologies of English and American literature, and took courses in classical myth and the Bible.
Very early in my studies I was introduced literary critics like Robert Graves, poet and author of The White Goddess, and Sir James Fraser who wrote The Golden Bough. Fraser brought a socio-anthropological way of looking at the world of literature. That led me to Mircea Eliade, Carl Jung, Eric Newman, Northrop Frye and a few other people who approached literature from a variety of different perspectives – psychological, political, anthropological, sociological, historical, philosophical. All those things were of interest to me. So when I look at a subject, I look at it comprehensively from all those different points of view, plus my blue collar, working class perspective.
Literary criticism teaches the power of symbolic transformation, of processing experience into ideas, into meaning. To be a Madison Avenue adman, one must understand how to use symbols and myths to sell commodities. Admen use logos and slogans, and so do political propagandists. Left or right; doesn’t matter. The left is as adept at branding as the right. To be a speech writer or public relations consultant one must, above all, understand the archetypal power of the myth of the hero. That way you can transform Joe the Plumber, or even a mass murdering politician, into a national hero.
When I decided to research and write about the CIA’s Phoenix program, that was how I thought about it. I went directly to William Colby, who’d been Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I didn’t know enough to be intimidated, it was just the smart thing to do. Colby was the person most associated with Phoenix, the controversial CIA “assassination” program that resulted in the death of tens of thousands of civilians during the Vietnam War. No one had written a book about it, so I wrote Colby a letter and sent him my first book, The Hotel Tacloban, which is about my father’s experiences in combat and as a POW in World War Two.
Tacloban was key to unlocking the CIA’s door, for two reasons. First, it demonstrated that I understood what it means to be a soldier, which was essential in terms of winning the trust of CIA officers, most of whom think of themselves as soldiers. The CIA is set up like a military organization with a sacred chain of command. Somebody tells you what to do and you salute and do it. Colby himself had parachuted behind enemy lines in France during World War Two.
On a deeper level, Tacloban showed that I could bridge the “man” gap that divided my frag-happy, draft-dodging generation from Colby’s “saved the world for freedom and democracy” generation. I felt that “father-son” dynamic with Colby and several of the senior spooks he referred me to. Some of them even acknowledged that I was attempting to reconcile with them in a way their own sons never had.
So I told Colby I wanted to write a book that would de-mystify the Phoenix program, and he was all for that. Colby liked my approach – to look at it from all these different points of view – so he got behind me and introduced me to a lot of senior CIA people. And that gave me access from the inside. After that it was easy. I have good interview skills. I was able to persuade a lot of these CIA people to talk about Phoenix. I approached it from an organizational point of view, which is essential when writing about bureaucracies like the CIA or the DEA. You have to understand them as a bureaucracy, that they have an historical arc. They begin somewhere, they have a Congressional mandate, they have a purpose, and organizational and management structures. And in that regard I really lucked out. One of the first people I interviewed was the CIA officer, Nelson Brickham, who organized the Phoenix program in 1967 in Saigon. Brickham graduated magna cum laude from Yale and was something of an organizational genius. He explained to me how he organized Phoenix. He also explained the different divisions and branches of the CIA so I’d be able to understand it. All of that went into my book The Phoenix Program.
So I lucked out. Through Colby I had access to the CIA people who created the Phoenix program and its various components. I was able to find out what was on their minds and why they did what they did. That never would have happened if I had gone to the Columbia School of Journalism, or if I’d been working for mainstream media editors for many years. I’d have had a much narrower way of going about the thing. But the CIA officers I spoke with loved the broad view that I was bringing to the subject. They liked me asking them about their philosophy. It enabled me to understand the subject comprehensively. I related to them on a very personal level, and when the book came, they reeled. Colby was furious.
So the New York Times killed the book in its cradle. As Guillermo Jiminez noted in one of our interviews, the book didn’t take off until Open Road Media republished it 25 years later as part of their Forbidden Bookshelf series. Guillermo asked me why my book was chosen for the series, why there was new-found interest in Phoenix, and what the CIA is up to, generally, nowadays.
As I explained, when the book came out in 1990, it got a terrible review in The New York Times. Morley Safer, who’d been a reporter in Vietnam, wrote the review. Safer and the Times killed the book because in it I said Phoenix never would have succeeded if the reporters in Vietnam hadn’t covered for the CIA.
Several senior CIA officers told me the same thing, that some correspondent “was always in my office. He’d bring a bottle of scotch and I’d tell him what was going on.” The celebrity reporters knew what was going on, but they didn’t report about it in exchange for having access.
I said that in the book specifically about The New York Times. I said, “When it comes to the CIA and the press, one hand washes the other. To have access to informed officials, reporters frequently suppress or distort stories. In return, CIA officials leak stories to reporters to whom they owe favors.” I told how, at its most incestuous, reporters and government officials are related. I cited the example of Charles LeMoyne, a Navy officer who ran the CIA’s counter-terror teams for a year in the Delta, and his New York Times correspondent brother James. I said that if Ed Lansdale hadn’t had Joseph Alsop to print his black propaganda in the US, there probably would have been no Vietnam War.
So I not only got the CIA mad at me, I also got the Vietnam press corps angry at me too. Between those two things, the book did not get off to an auspicious start. The Times gave Safer half a page to write his review, which was bizarre. The usual response is just to ignore a book like The Phoenix Program. But The Times Book Review section serves a larger function; it teaches the media elite and “intelligentsia” what to think and how to say it. So Safer said my book was incoherent, because it unraveled the bureaucratic networks that conceal the contradictions between stated CIA policy and operational reality. It exposed Colby as a liar. Safer was upset that I didn’t portray his buddy, Bill Colby, as a symbol of the ruling elite, as a modern-day Odysseus.
Safer vented his professional hatred for me when he wrote the half page review in The New York Times that killed my book in its cradle.  And, at the time, I wasn’t surprised that the Times employed Safer to assassinate my book. But I was totally unaware of the personal basis for his animosity.
At the time of the review (October 1990), I thought Safer hated me primarily for accusing the press corps of covering up CIA war crimes. I thought he did it for pecuniary reasons too; Safer’s grandiose and self-congratulatory book on Vietnam had come out a few months before mine. I wrote the Times editor about that conflict, but of course never heard back. And I didn’t have another book published for 14 years.
It wasn’t until 25 years later that I found out that Safer owed William Colby a favor. Safer revealed his incestuous relationship with Colby for the first time at the American Experience conference in 2010. 
“I got a call to come and see [Colby] in his office,” Safer explained. “And I walked in – and I had met him; we had no strong relationship at all – but – and [Colby] said, ‘Look, can you disappear for three days?’
(Laughter.) And I said, ‘I guess.’ (Laughter.) And he said, ‘Well, be at the airport – be at (inaudible) at the airport tomorrow morning at 5:30.’”
Bernard Kalb, the moderator, asked Safer if Colby wanted him to bring along a camera crew.
“No, no,” Safer replied. “And I showed up and [Colby] said, ‘Okay, here are the rules. You can see that I’m going on a tour of all the stations. You can’t take notes and you can’t report anything you hear.’ And I spent three days first of all, down in the Delta and they were really, really revealing. There was only one meeting that he would ask me to leave the barracks. And it was fascinating because the stuff that these guys were reporting through whatever filters to you had been so doctored by the time it got to you – I mean, to this day, I still feel constrained in terms of talking about.”
So, Colby introduced Safer to all the top CIA officers in Vietnam. He introduced him to the guys who ran the interrogation/torture centers and the counterterrorism teams. Safer got to see how the CIA crime syndicate was organized and operated. And like Don Corleone dispensing favors in The Godfather, Colby knew that one day Safer would be obligated to return it. Colby, of course, hated me more than Safer did.
That is how the CIA, as the organized crime branch of the US government, functions like the Mafia through its old boy network of complicit media hacks.
Luckily, with the Internet revolution, people aren’t bound by The Times and network news hacks like Safer anymore. They can listen to Russia Today or tune in to Counterpunch and get another side of the story. So Mark Crispin Miller at Open Road chose The Phoenix Program to be the first book they published. And it’s been reborn. Thanks to the advent of the e-book, we’ve reached an audience of concerned and knowledgeable people in a way that wasn’t possible 25 years ago.
It’s also because of these Internet developments that John Brennan, the current director of CIA, thought of reorganizing the CIA into “centers” that have their origin in the Phoenix program. Phoenix is the template for the war on terror and the homeland security boondoggle.
All these things are connected. It’s a vastly different world than it was in 1947 when the CIA was created, or in 1967 when the CIA created the Phoenix program, or in 1990 when my book came out. The nature of the American empire has changed, and what the empire needs from the CIA has changed. The CIA is allocated about $30 billion a year, so the organizational changes are massive undertakings.
If you want to understand the CIA, you have to understand how it’s organized and how it relates to the press and every other thing that’s going on. And that’s what I try to explain in my new book.
 Behind the scenes, the CIA was doing it’s best to prevent Valentine from completing his research. Valentine found out the CIA was keeping a file on him and, through the ACLU, sued the CIA in federal court. Here’s the link to the documents that were released to Valentine in 1993.
 US Department of State, Media Roundtable Discussion, The American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975, 29 September 2010.
By Doug Valentine
Original at Counterpunch
The outlawing of narcotic drugs at the start of the Twentieth Century, the turning of the matter from public health to social control, coincided with American’s imperial Open Door policy and the belief that the government had an obligation to American industrialists to create markets in every nation in the world, whether those nations liked it or not.
Civic institutions, like public education, were required to sanctify this policy, while “security” bureaucracies were established to ensure the citizenry conformed to the state ideology. Secret services, both public and private, were likewise established to promote the expansion of private American economic interests overseas.
It takes a book to explain the economic foundations of the war on drugs, and the reasons behind the regulation of the medical, pharmaceutical and drug manufacturers industries. Suffice it to say that by 1943, the nations of the “free world” were relying on America for their opium derivatives, under the guardianship of Harry Anslinger, the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).
Narcotic drugs are a strategic resource, and when Anslinger learned that Peru had built a cocaine factory, he and the Board of Economic Warfare confiscated its product before it could be sold to Germany or Japan. In another instance, Anslinger and his counterpart at the State Department prevented a drug manufacturer in Argentina from selling drugs to Germany.
At the same time, according to Douglas Clark Kinder and William O. Walker III in their article, “Stable Force In a Storm: Harry J. Anslinger and United States Narcotic Policy, 1930-1962,” Anslinger permitted “an American company to ship drugs to Southeast Asia despite receiving intelligence reports that French authorities were permitting opiate smuggling into China and collaborating with Japanese drug traffickers.”
Federal drug law enforcement’s relationship with the espionage establishment matured with the creation of CIA’s predecessor organization, the Office of Strategic Services. Prior to the Second World War, the FBN was the government agency most adept at conducting covert operations at home and abroad. As a result, OSS chief William Donovan asked Anslinger to provide seasoned FBN agents to help organize the OSS and train its agents to work undercover, avoid security forces in hostile nations, manage agent networks, and engage in sabotage and subversion.
The relationship expanded during the war, when FBN executives and agents worked with OSS scientists in domestic “truth drug” experiments involving marijuana. The “extra-legal” nature of the relationship continued after the war: when the CIA decided to test LSD on unsuspecting American citizens, FBN agents were chosen to operate the safehouses where the experiments were conducted.
The relationship was formalized overseas in 1951, when Agent Charlie Siragusa opened an office in Rome and began to develop the FBN’s foreign operations. In the 1950s, FBN agents posted overseas spent half their time doing “favors” for the CIA, such as investigating diversions of strategic materials behind the Iron Curtain. A handful of FBN agents were actually recruited into the CIA while maintaining their FBN credentials as cover.
Officially, FBN agents set limits. Siragusa, for example, claimed to object when the CIA asked him to mount a “controlled delivery” into the U.S. as a way of identifying the American members of a smuggling ring with Communist affiliations.
As Siragusa said, “The FBN could never knowingly allow two pounds of heroin to be delivered into the United States and be pushed to Mafia customers in the New York City area, even if in the long run we could seize a bigger haul.” [For citations to this and other quotations/interviews, as well as documents, please refer to the author’s books, The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs (Verso 2004) and The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics, and Espionage Intrigues that Shaped the DEA (TrineDay 2009). See also www.douglasvalentine.com]
“If an author writes a book critical of the CIA, the Agency will tell newspapers and other outlets to not review the book. It’s all very heavy-handed.”
JOHN KIRIAKOU: With that said, on the operations side of the CIA, every employee is taught to lie, about everything, to everyone. Some officers do not know when to, or cannot, turn the lies off. That leads to policy disasters. It leads to cover-ups. It leads to Congressional investigations. The only way there can be justice is if the President lets the legal system run its course. But Presidents don’t do that. They participate in the cover-ups. They issue pardons to the wrong people. It’s bad for the country, and it’s bad for democracy.
JOHN KIRIAKOU: I think the institutional ideology of the CIA is an extreme right-wing ideology. Throughout history it has been the CIA leading Presidents, not Presidents leading the CIA … Unfortunately, most of the CIA’s fixes have very serious and severe long-term consequences. Look at Greece as an example. Don’t like Communism? Overthrow the government and replace it with a military dictatorship that still, more than 40 years later, traumatizes society. Don’t like the Iranian government taking “our” oil? Overthrow the democratically-elected Prime Minister and replace him with a fascist dictator, which leads to a theocracy that we are still fighting. These poor decisions, internationally-criminal decisions in some cases, have very long-term consequences, which the CIA doesn’t seem to care about.
Censorship in Amerika, state secrets and the insicious ways that power keeps them.
As soon as Kevin Drum at Mother Jones absolved the CIA of spewing poison gas as a provocation, many on the Liberal Left cautiously threw their weight behind Obama and the thrill of waging a punitive war on Syria.
“Perhaps regime change is a good idea,” Tom Hayden speculated in The Nation.
Left paterfamilias Noam Chomsky, who generally shows an appreciation for the subtleties of covert action, claimed that America is not supplying its Al Qaeda mercenary army with arms – even though Eric Schmidt at The New York Times reported over a year ago that CIA officers in Turkey were “helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arm.”
As if Hayden fomenting war and Chomsky covering for the CIA isn’t irony enough, Drum cleared the CIA in response to allegations of a provocation made by Rush Limbaugh. Which raises the question, what are the facts about the CIA’s penchant for “provoked responses” like the one in the Tonkin Gulf that started the Vietnam War?
Simply stated, black propaganda is one of many criminal but legally deniable things the CIA does. It often involves committing a heinous crime and blaming it on an enemy by planting false evidence, and then getting a foreign newspaper to print the CIA’s scripted version of events, which sympathetic journalists in America broadcast to the gullible public.
In the case of Syria, the CIA is using cooked Israeli “intelligence” as a catalyst – which is why, as Johnstone and Bricmont explain, the “intelligence” is so “dubious.”
Black propaganda has other “intelligence” applications as well, and is often used to recruit informants, and create deserters and defectors.
In his autobiography Soldier, Anthony Herbert told how he reported for duty in 1965 in Saigon at the joint CIA-military Specials Operations Group. The spooks asked him to join a secret psywar program. “What they wanted me to do was to take charge of execution teams that wiped out entire families and tried to make it look as though the VC themselves had done the killing. The rationale was that other Vietnamese would see that the VC had killed another VC and would be frightened away from becoming VC themselves. Of course, the villagers would then be inclined to some sort of allegiance to our side.”
As counter-terror guru David Galula explained, “Pseudo insurgents are a way to get intelligence and sow suspicion at the same time between the real guerrillas and the population.”
In a similar case in 1964, a famous CIA propaganda officer organized three armed “survey teams” which operated in neighboring hamlets simultaneously. When Vietcong propaganda teams departed from a hamlet, his cut-throat cadre would move in and speak to one person from each household, so the VC “would have to punish everyone after we left.”
In other words the CIA’s mercenaries (like some the CIA’s mercenaries in Syria) were provocateurs, setting people up for recriminations, for intelligence and publicity purposes.
Here’s another example: in 1964, CIA officer Nelson Brickham worked in the Sino-Soviet Relations Branch, where he managed black propaganda operations designed to cause friction between the USSR and China. At the heart of these black ops were false flag recruitments, in which CIA case officers posed as Soviet intelligence officers and, using actual Soviet cipher systems and methodology, recruited Chinese diplomats, who believed they were working for the Russians. The CIA case officers used the Chinese dupes to create all manner of mischief.
Brickham in 1967 created the Phoenix program in South Vietnam. The Phoenix program’s operations chief in 1970, Colonel Thomas McGrevey, had a “penetration agent” inside COSVN – the Central Office of South Vietnam. COSVN’s deputy finance director was the penetration agent. The deputy alerted McGrevey when the finance director was going on vacation, enabling McGrevey to mount a black propaganda campaign which framed the finance director for running off with embezzled funds.
A circular about the Phoenix program issued by the revolutionary Security Service in 1970, described how the nationalists viewed the CIA. As stated in the circular, “the most wicked maneuvers” of the CIA “have been to seek out every means by which to terrorize revolutionary families and force the people to disclose the location of our agents and join the People’s Self-Defense Force. They also spread false rumors. Their main purpose is to jeopardize the prestige of the revolutionary families, create dissension between them and the people, and destroy the people’s confidence in the revolution. In addition, they also try to bribe poor and miserable revolutionary families into working for them.”
Forged letters are a CIA specialty. Former CIA officer Philip Agee told how he mounted a successful operation using forged letters against Ecuadoran Antonio Flores Benitez, a key member of the Communist revolutionary movement. “By bugging Flores’ phone, we found out a lot of what he was doing. His wife was a blabbermouth. He made a secret trip to Havana and we decided to do a job on him when he landed back in Ecuador. With another officer, I worked all one weekend to compose a “report” from Flores to the Cubans. It was a masterpiece. The report implied that Flores’ group had already received funds from Cuba and was now asking for more money in order to launch guerrilla operations in Ecuador. My Quito station chief loved it so much he just had to get into the act. So he dropped the report on the floor and walked on it awhile to make it look pocket-worn. Then he folded it and stuffed it into a toothpaste tube-from which he had spent three hours carefully squeezing out all the toothpaste. He was like a kid with a new toy. So then I took the tube out to the minister of the treasury, who gave it to his customs inspector. When Flores came through customs, the inspector pretended to go rummaging through one of his suitcases. What he really did, of course, was slip the toothpaste tube into the bag and then pretend to find it there. When he opened the tube, he of course “discovered” the report. Flores was arrested and there was a tremendous scandal. This was one of a series of sensational events that we had a hand in during the first six months of 1963. By late July of that year, the climate of anti-Communist fear was so great that the military seized a pretext and took over the government, jailed all the Communists it could find and outlawed the Communist Party.”
Likewise the catalyst for the 1973 coup in Chile was a forged document-detailing a leftist plot to start a reign of terror – which was discovered by the enemies of President Salvador Allende Gossens. The result was a violent military coup, which the CIA officers (who had set it in motion through disinformation in the Chilean press) sat back and watched from their hammocks in the shade.
And on and on it goes.
General Ed Lansdale formalized CIA black propaganda practices in the early 1950s in the Philippines. To vilify the Communists and win support of Americans, one of his Filipino commando units would dress as rebels and commit atrocities on civilians, and then another unit would magically arrive with cameras to record the staged scenes and chase the “terrorists” away. Cameras were the key.
The CIA also concocted lurid tales of Vietminh soldiers’ disemboweling pregnant Catholic women, castrating priests, and sticking bamboo slivers in the ears of children so they could not hear the Word of God. Lansdale’s henchman, CIA agent-cum-journalist Joseph Alsop, gleefully reported this black propaganda.
The American “press” is the vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X in black propaganda. When it comes to the CIA and the American press, one black hand washes the other. To gain access to CIA officials, reporters suppress or distort stories. They sell their black souls for scoops. In return, CIA officials leak stories to them. At its most incestuous, reporters and CIA officers are blood relatives. At one point, The New York Times correspondent in Vietnam, James Lemoyne, just happened to be the brother of the CIA’s counter-terror team chief in the Delta, Navy Commander Charles Lemoyne.
In a democratic society the media ought to investigate and report objectively on the government, which is under no obligation to inform the public of its activities and which, when it does, puts a “spin” on the news. As part of the Faustian Pact, when government activities are conducted in secret, illegally, reporters look away rather than jeopardize profitable relationships. The intended result is that the unwitting public is robbed of its freedom of speech – for how can you speak freely if you don’t know what’s going on?
If Lansdale hadn’t had Alsop to print his black propaganda, there probably would have been no Vietnam War. Likewise, Judith Miller, disgraced facilitator of the war on Iraq and rehabilitated Fox KKK-TV correspondent, brought you the Iraq War through false documents provided by CIA analysts.
We rarely know who the Alsops and Millers are in our midst, until after the fact. The CIA has a strict policy of keeping its atrocities to itself. And it is aided, in its eternal quest to deceive the American public, by the fact that black propaganda validates the beliefs of the Kevin Dumbs among us, as it assures their imagined security and sense of being exceptional.
In fact, black propaganda operations, and the CIA itself, are antithetical to democratic institutions.
A big part of the CIA’s current success is its ability to deliver its message through Left publications, and the Left’s unstated policy of self-censorship in regard to CIA operations. Most insidious, perhaps, are the former CIA officers who claim to be anti-war, and seek a veil of immunity by claiming to have been “analysts.” This is akin to saying “I was a bookkeeper for the Mafia. I never killed anyone.”
Of course it’s the bookkeepers who tell the bosses the names and addresses of the delinquents who haven’t paid their extortion money this week. The Phoenix Directorate in Saigon had analysts performing the same assassination, kidnapping and torture function on an industrial scale.
Despite the popular portrayal of the CIA as patriotic guys and girls risking everything to do a dirty job, the typical CIA officer is a sociopath without the guts to go it alone in the underworld. They gravitate to the CIA because they are protected there by the all-powerful Cult of Death that rules America.
The most dangerous facet of having former CIA officers slithering around is their uniform message that the CIA is necessary. These are not Phil Agees, revealing the ugly truth and calling for the CIA’s abolition. Like all the CIA’s political and psychological warfare experts, they are at the forefront of the war on terror, using psywar to achieve the goals of the Cult of Death that rules America. The result is a theatre of the absurd, a world of illusion.
Now we are told that the CIA Syrian mercenaries may launch a chemical attack on Israel from government-controlled territories as a “major provocation.” What you can be sure of is that some provocation will be launched and that the press, including most of the Left, will cover it up.
Limited Hangout — A limited hangout, or partial hangout, is a public relations or propaganda technique that involves the release of previously hidden information in order to prevent a greater exposure of more important details.
PFB contributor Douglas Valentine has alerted me to his audio podcast interview with James Corbett and Corbett Report.
Explosive revelations cast doubt on the sincerity of whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and potential CIA motivations for releasing the “Pentagon Papers” at the moment they were published. Ellsberg’s own hidden history as a CIA operative is brought out, and Valentine ties investigations into the Phoenix Program and CIA connected drug smuggling to the timing of the release. This is a side of history that few have ever considered before, and it should be heard in full.
Valentine takes on the fake left media establishment as well. CIA is off limits at DemocracyNow, The Nation, Mother Jones et al. This is my own view as well, and this information is quite valuable to those seeking the full truth.
Regarding Jeremy Scahill (DemocracyNow contributor) and his new film Dirty Wars, Valentine calls out the history as “thin” and pointedly avoiding the CIA’s longstanding and central role in these dirty wars.