Propaganda and Disinformation: How the CIA Manufactures History
(Paper presented to the Ninth International Revisionist Conference)
In the eyes of posterity it will inevitably seem that, in safeguarding our freedom, we destroyed it. The vast clandestine apparatus we built up to prove our enemies' resources and intentions only served in the end to confuse our own purposes; that practice of deceiving others for the good of the state led infallibly to our deceiving ourselves; and that vast army of clandestine personnel built up to execute these purposes were soon caught up in the web of their own sick fantasies, with disastrous consequences for them and us.
- Malcom Muggeridge
That, in a nutshell, sums up what the CIA has accomplished over the years through its various clandestine propaganda and disinformation programs. It has unwittingly and, often, deliberately decieved itself - and the American taxpayer. The CIA is a master at distorting history - even creating its own version of history to suit its institutional and operational purposes. It can do this largely because of two great advantages it possesses. One is the excessively secret environment in which it operates, and the other is that it is essentially a private instrument of the presidency.
The real reason for the official secrecy, in most instances, is not to keep the opposition (the CIA's euphemistic term for the enemy) from knowing what is going on; the enemy usually does know. The basic reason for governmental secrecy is to keep you, the American public, from knowing - for you, too, are considered the opposition, or enemy - so that you cannot interfere. When the public does not know what the government or the CIA is doing, it cannot voice its approval or disapproval of their actions. In fact, they can even lie to your about what they are doing or have done, and you will not know it.
As for the second advantage, despite frequent suggestion that the CIA is a rogue elephant, the truth is that the agency functions at the direction of and in response to the office of the president. All of its major clandestine operations are carried out with the direct approval of or on direct orders from the White House. The CIA is a secret tool of the president - every president. And every president since Truman has lied to the American people in order to protect the agency. When lies have failed, it has been the duty of the CIA to take the blame for the president, thus protecting him. This is known in the business as "plausible denial."
The CIA, functioning as a secret instrument of the U.S. government and the presidency, has long misused and abused history and continues to do so. I first became concerned about this historical distortion in 1957, when I was a young officer in the Clandestine Services of the CIA.
One night, after work, I was walking down Constitution Avenue with a fellow officer, who previously had been a reporter for United Press.
"How are they ever going to know," he asked.
"Who? How is 'who' ever going to know what?" I asked.
"Hhow are the American people ever going to know what the truth is? How are they going to know what the truth is about what we are doing and have done over the years?" he said. "We operate in secrecy, we deal in deception and disinformation, and then we burn our files. How will the historians ever be able to learn the complete truth about what we've done in these various operations, these operations that have had such a major impact on so many important events in history?"
I couldn't answer him, then. And I can't answer him now. I don't know how the American people will ever really know the truth about the many things that the CIA has been involved in. Or how they will ever know the truth about the great historical events of our times. The government is continually writing and rewriting history - often with the CIA's help - to suit its own purposes. Here is a current example.
Just last month in Moscow, there was a meeting, a very strange meeting. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara met with former Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko and a member of the Cuban Politburo. These three men, along with lesser former officials of their governments, has all been involved in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, and they had gathered intheSoviet capital to discuss what has really occurred in that monumental crisis, which almost led to World War III.
Since I, too, had been personally involved in that crisis, I took some interest in the news reports coming out of Moscow concerning the doings of this rather odd gathering of former officials. Much to my surprise, I learned that Robert McNamara was saying that neither he nor the U.S. intelligence community realized there actually had been some 40,000 Soviet troops in Cuba in the autumn of 1962. The Former defense chief of the Kennedy administration was also saying that he and the U.S. government did not realize that the few dozen medium and intermediate range missiles the Soviets had tried to sneak into Cuba were actually armed with nuclear warheads and ready to be fired at targets in the U.S.
Furthermore, he was claiming that the U.S. did not understand that this huge military build-up by the Soviets had been carried out to protect Cuba and to prevent the U.S. from attacking the island's Communist regime. He added, for good measure, that he was surprised to learn from the talks in Moscow that the Soviets and Cubans thought the U.S. had plans to bring down the government of Fidel Castro through the use of force. According to McNamara, the entire Cuban missile crisis was a dangerous misunderstanding that came about because of the lack of communication among the governments involved in the near catastrophe.
Well, when I heard what McNamara and the band were playing in Moscow, I said to myself, "Either McNamara is getting a little dotty in his old age and doesn't remember what really happened during the Cuban missile crisis - or there's some other reason for this." Well, it soon became apparent that McNamara was not senile. What, then, is the reason for these curious -and false - "admissions" in Moscow? The reason is that the United States and the Soviet Union have decided to become friends again, and Washington wants to set the stage for rapprochement with Castro's Cuba.
It has evidently been decided by the powers that be in the U.S. to have a little meeting in Moscow and tell the world that we were all mixed up about Cuba and we didn't know what was going on there in 1962, because we weren't communicating well with the Soviets at the time. Thus, the American people would see how close to war we had come, how we should communicate more with the Soviets, and how they weren't really very bad guys after all. For that matter neither were Fidel and his gang. Therefore, it would follow that we should in a few months from now get on with disarmament and whatever else is necessary to bring about the new internationalism that is forming between east and west. At the same time, we should begin rebuilding the bridge to Cuba, too.
But to create the proper atmosphere for the coming rapproachement with Moscow and, later, Cuba, it was necessary to scare the American public and the world into thinking that the crisis of October 1962 was worse than it really was. To do that, McNamara, Gromyko, et al. were playing a little game - their own distorted brand of historical revisionism. They were rewriting history to suit the present purposes of their governments.
Now, I thought, what if I were a reporter. Would I be able to see through this little charade that was going on in Moscow? Probably not. I began studying the "knowlegeable" syndicated colunmists. They were writing things like, ". . . My God, we never did understand what the Soviets were up to in Cuba. Yes, we better do something about this." What McNamara and friends were saying in Moscow was now becoming fact. It’s becoming fact that we, the U.S. government, did not really know what was going on during the missile crisis. That is a lie.
If there was ever a time when the CIA in the United States intelligence community and the United States Armed Forces really cooperated and coordinated their efforts with each other, it was during the Cuban missile crisis. The Cuban missile crisis is probably one of the few examples - perhaps the only one - of when intelligence really worked the way it was supposed to work in a crisis situation.
I was there at the time, and I was deeply involved in this historical event. A colleague and friend of mine, Tack, my assistant at the time, and I were the original "crate-ologists"-which was an arcane little intelligence art that we had developed. We had learned through a variety of tricks of the trade, and some of our own making, to be able to distinguish what was in certain crates on Soviet merchant ships as they went into Cuba, into Indonesia into Egypt, Syria,and other places.We could tell if a crate contained a MIG-21,or an IL-28, or a SAM-2 missile.
We did this in such an amateurish way that we dared not tell anyone our methods. While the National Photographic and Interpretation Center employed 1,200 people in its office in downtown Washington, using state-of-the-art equipment to analyze aerial and satellite photography, Tack and I would sit in our office, feet up on the desk, using a beat-up old ruler to measure photos taken from U.S. submarines. I'd measure a crate on the deck of the Soviet freighter, say about three quarters of an inch in the photograph.
"Tack, do you think they could fit a Mig-21 in there?"
He'd thumb through an old Air Force manual and say,
"Mig-21, fuselage length 25 feet."
"Take the tail off, and we can fit it in."
"Okay, let's call it a Mig-21."
We were pretty good at this. We had other aids to identification of course. We were able to learn when the
Soviets were preparing shipments and from which ports they were sailing. We knew which personnel were involved, and the ships' destinations. Thus we could alert the navy, which sometimes conducted overflights, sometimes tracked them with a submarine.
We had an attaché in Istanbul row out in the middle of the night with a Turk whom he'd hired, looking for three things in a Soviet freighter: its deck cargo, how high it was riding in the water, and its name.
By these and other sensitive we were able to learn, in the summer of 1962, that the Soviets were carrying out an
unprecendented arms build-up in Cuba. While some of the other agencies, namely the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, did'nt agree with us, CIA director John McCone was able to get president John Kennedy to authorize more intelligence overflights. The overflights revealed that the Soviets were building
SAM (Surface-to-Air Missiles) launching sites to protect the build-up. Further overflights revealed the construction of launching sites for Soviet MRBMs (Medium Range Ballistic Missiles) capable of carrying nuclear warheads to most cities in the United States.
We know exactly how many there were. where they were, and that they had not yet been armed, because the warheads hadn’t arrived yet.
Thus McNamara is lying when he claims that the Soviet missiles in Cuba were armed and ready for launch against the United States. On the contrary, we were watching the ships which caried the warheads; American ships enforcing the blockade which President Kennedy had ordered boarded a Romanian ship (which we knew carried no arms), and the Russian ships bringing the nuclear warheads turned around in mid-ocean and went home.
It is also quite untrue that there were forty thousand Soviet troops in Cuba. We knew that there were only ten thousand of them, because we had developed a simple but effective way of counting them.
The Soviets had sent their troops over on passenger liners to disguise the military buildup. Some genius back in Moscow must have then said: "But these guys need to wear civilian clothes; let's put sport shirts on them." But someone at the department store said: We've only got two kinds." So half the troops wore one kind, half of them the other. They weren't very hard to spot.
Then, too, Soviet soldiers are a lot like our own. As soon as the first group got established, the colonel sent them out to paint some rocks white and then paint the name of the unit, 44th Field Artillery Battalion or whatever, on the rocks. All we had to do was take a picture of it from one of our U-2s. So it was easy to establish a Soviet troop strength of far below 40,000. Thus, McNamara is agreeing to a second lie.
The big lie, however, is that the Soviet Union came into Cuba to protect the Cubans. That was a secondary, or bonus, consideration. The primary reason for the build-up was that the Soviets at the time were so far behind us in nuclear strike capability that Khruschev figured he could make a quantum leap by suddenly putting in 48 missiles that could strike every city in America except Seattle, Washington.
Nor did we come as close to war as many think, because Khruschev knew he was caught. His missiles weren't armed, and he hadn't the troops to protect them. Kennedy knew this, so he was able to say: "take them out." And Khruschev had to say yes.
I must admit that at the time I was a little concerned, and so was my buddy Tack. We were manning the war room around the clock, catching four hours of sleep and then going back on duty. My wife had the station wagon loaded with blankets and provisions, and Tack's wife was standing by on alert. If either of them got a phone call with a certain word in it, they were to take our children and drive to my home town in the anthracite region of northeastern Pennsylvania. We figured they’d be safe there: if you've ever seen the coal region with its strip mines you would think it had already been bombed and we were hoping the Soviets would look at it that way too.
Last month's conference in Moscow is an example of how history is being rewritten. Any historian who relies on what he reads in the newspapers, on the statements from McNamara and the Russians and the Cubans will not be learning the truth. The CIA has manufactured history in a number of ways over the years not only through its propaganda and disinformation but through the cover stories it uses for their operations, and the cover-ups when an operation falls through Then there is "plausible deniability," which protects the president.
All these techniques have one thing in common, and depend on one thing: secrecy. Secrecy is maintained not to keep the opposition - the CIA's euphemistic term for the enemy - from knowing what's going on, because the enemy usually does know. Secrecy exists to keep you, the American public, from knowing what is going on, because in many ways you are the real enemy.
If the public were aware of what the CIA is doing, it might say: "We don't like what you're doing - stop it!," or You're not doing a good job - stop it!" The public might ask for an accounting for the money being spent and the risks being taken.
Thus secrecy is absolutely vital to the CIA. Secrecy covers not only operations in progress, but continues after the operations, particularly if the operations have been botched. Then they have to be covered up with more lies, which the public, of course, can't recognize as lies, allowing the CIA to tell the public whatever it wishes.
Presidents love this. Every president, no matter what he has said before getting into office, has been delighted to learn that the CIA is his own private tool. The presidents have leapt at the opportunity to keep Congress and the public in the dark about their employment of the agency.
This is what was at the basis of my book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence. I had come to the conclusion, as a member of the CIA, that many of our policies and practices were not in the best interests of the United States. but were in fact counterproductive, and that if the American people were aware of this they would not tolerate it.
I resigned from the CIA in 1969, at a time when we were deeply involved in Vietnam. And how did we get into Vietnam on a large scale? How did President Lyndon Johnson get a blank check from Congress? It was through the Gulf of Tonkin incident The American people were told by President Johnson that North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats had come after two American destroyers on the night of August 4, 1964. This was confirmed by the intelligence community.
The fact of the matter is that while torpedo boats came out and looked at the U.S. destroyers, which were well out in international waters, they never fired on them. They made threatening maneuvers, they snarled a bit, but they never fired. It was dark and getting darker. Our sailors thought they might have seen something, but there were no hits, no reports of anything whizzing by.
That was the way it was reported back: a bit of a scrape, but no weapons fire and no attempt to fire. Our ships had not been in danger. But with the help of the intelligence community President Johnson took that report and announced that we had been attacked. He went to Congress and asked for and received his blank check, and Congress went along. Everyone knows the rest of the story: we got into Vietnam up to our eyeballs.
Every president prizes secrecy and fights for it. And so did President Nixon, in my case. When I came to the conclusion that the American people needed to know more about the CIA and what it was up to, I decided to go to Capitol Hill and talk to the senators on the intelligence oversight subcommittee. I found out that Senator John Stennis, at that time head of the subcommittee, hadn't conducted a meeting in over a year, so the other senators were completely ignorant as to what the CIA was doing. Senators William Fulbright and Stuart Symington would tell Stennis, "Let’s have a meeting," but he was ignoring them. The other senators wrote Stennis a letter urging him to at least hear what I had to say in a secret executive session, but he continued to ignore them.
Then I would meet Fulbright - at the barber shop. He was afraid to met me in his office. I would meet with Symington at his home. I would meet with senators at cocktail parties, as if by chance. But still they couldn't get Stennis to convene the intelligence subcommittee.
Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania told me he had learned more about the workings of the intelligence community in one afternoon of conversation with me than in six years of work on the intelligence subcommittee. That didn't surprise me, because I, several years before, had done the budget for CIA director Richard Helms. It was feared that the Senate appropriations subcommittee might have some hard questions about the growing cost of technical espionage programs. Director Helms had evidently been through this before, however.
As Helms put it, he and the CIA's head of science and technology, Albert (Bud) Wheelon, staged a "magic lantern show" for the committee, complete with color slides and demonstrations of the CIA's most advance spy gadgets: a camera hidden in a tobacco pouch, a radio transmitter concealed in some false teeth, a tape recorder in a cigarette case, and so on. One or two hard questions were deflected by Senator Russell of Georgia, who chaired the committee and was a strong supporter of the agency. There were, of course, no slides or hi-tech hardware to exhibit the programs the CIA wanted to conceal from Congress, and the budget sailed through the subcommittee intact.
What I learned in my dealings with Congressmen, in the CIA and after leaving, was that the men who wanted to change the situation didn't have the power, while those who had the power didn't want any change. With Congress a hopeless case, and the White House already in the know and well satisfied to let the CIA continue to operate in secrecy, I decided to talk to the press. I gave my first interview to U.S. News and World Report, and that started the ball rolling. Soon I was in touch with publishers in New York, talking about doing a book.
I soon got a telephone call from Admiral Rufus Taylor, who had been my boss in the agency, but by that time had retired. He told me to meet him at a motel in the Virginia suburbs, across the Potomac from Washington. My suspicions aroused by the remoteness of the room from the office, I was greeted by Admiral Taylor, who had thoughtfully brought along a large supply of liquor: a bottle of scotch, a bottle of bourbon, a bottle of vodka, a bottle of gin . . . "I couldn't remember what you liked," he told me, "so I brought one of everything."
I began to make noise: flushing the toilet, washing my hands, turning on the television. Admiral Taylor was right behind me, turning everything off. I kept making noise, jingling the ice in my glass and so on, until the admiral sat down. There was a table with a lamp on it between the admiral's chair and the one which he now told me to sit down on. He looked at me with a little twinkle in his eye: the lamp was bugged, of course.
We talked, and Admiral Taylor told me the CIA was worried about what I might write in my book. He proposed a deal: I was to give no more interviews, write no more articles, and to stay away from Capitol Hill. I could write my book, and then let him and other retired senior officers look it over, and they would advise me and the agency. After that the CIA and I could resolve our differences. I told him, "Fair enough." We had a drink on it, and went out to dinner. That was our deal
What I didn't know was that a few nights later John Erlichman and Richard Nixon would be sitting in the White House discussing my book. There is a tape of their discussion, "President Nixon, John Ehrlichman, 45 minutes, subject Victor Marchetti," which is still sealed: I can't get it Ehrlichman told me through contacts that if I listened to the tape I would learn exactly what happened to me and why.
Whatever the details of their conversation were, the president of the United States had decided I should not publish my book. I was to be the first writer in American history to be served with an official censorship order served by a court of the United States, because President Nixon did not want to be embarrassed, nor did he want the CIA to be investigated and reformed: that would have hampered his ability to use it for his own purposes. A few days later, on April 18, 1972, I received a federal injunction restraining me from revealing any "intelligence information." After more than a year of court battles, CIA and the Cult of Intelligence was published. The courts allowed the CIA to censor it in advance, and as a result the book appeared with more than a hundred holes for CIA-ordered deletions. Later editions show previously deleted words and lines, which the court ordered the CIA to restore in boldface or italics. The book is therefore difficult to read, indeed something of a curiosity piece. And of course all the information which was ordered cut out ended up leaking to the public anyway.
All this was done to help the CIA suppress and distort history, and to enable presidents to do the same. Presidents like Harry Truman, who claimed falsely that "I never had any thought when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak-and-dagger operations," but who willingly employed the agency to carry out clandestine espionage and covert intervention in the affairs of other countries. Or Dwight Eisenhower, who denied that we were attempting to overthrow Sukarno in Indonesia, when we were, and was embarrassed when he tried to deny the CIA's U-2 overflights and was shown up by Khruschev at Paris in 1960. John F. Kennedy, as everyone knows by now, employed the CIA in several attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. We used everyone from Mafia hoods to Castro's mistress, Marita Lorenz (who was supposed to poison the dictator with pills concealed in her cold cream - the pills melted). I have no doubt that if we could have killed Castro, the U.S. would have gone in.
There was a fairly widespread belief that one reason Kennedy was assassinated was because he was going to get us out of Vietnam. Don't you believe it He was the CIA's kind of president, rough, tough, and gung-ho. Under Kennedy we became involved in Vietnam in a serious way, not so much militarily as through covert action. It is a fact that the United States engineered the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, South Vietnam’s premier, and Ngo Dinh Nhu, his powerful brother. A cable was sent out to the ambassador which said, "If Lou Conein goofs up [Lucien Conein was a key CIA operative in Saigon], it's his responsibility." So when E. Howard Hunt faked these memos and cables when he was working for the "plumbers" on behalf of President Nixon (and against the Democrats), he knew what he was doing. That was his defense, that he wasn't really forging or inventing anything. "Stuff like that really existed, but I couldn't find it," he said. Of course Hunt couldn't find it by that time the original documents were gone. But Hunt knew what he was doing.
President Nixon's obsession with secrecy led to the end of his presidency, of course. As indicated earlier, Nixon was determined to suppress my book. On several occasions after his resignation, Nixon has been asked what he meant when he said that the CIA would help him cover up the Watergate tapes, because "they owed him one." He has responded, "I was talking about Marchetti," in other words the efforts (still secret) to prevent The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence from being published.
Another instance of the Nixon administrations' attempts to suppress history is the ongoing attempt to cover up the details of the administration's "tilt" toward Pakistan in its conflict with India in the early 1970's. Although the basic facts soon emerged, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh's account of the affair in his unflattering book on Henry Kissinger revealed that Morarji Desai, an important Indian political leader who later became Prime Minister, was a CIA agent. Kissinger spurred Desai to sue Hersh, and the case is still dragging on today, seven years later. I know what the truth is; Hersh knows as well, but as a conscientious journalist refused to reveal his sources. Here historical truth is caught between official secrecy and Hersh's loyalty to his informants; nevertheless, I have a great deal of admiration for Hersh for his firm stand.
It is a fact that a good many foreign leaders, including those often seen as "neutral" or even hostile to the United States, have been secretly on the CIA's payroll. For instance, when Jimmy Carter came into office, he claimed he was going to reform the CIA. No sooner than was he in the White House, they decided to test him: the news that Jordan's King Hussein had been paid by the CIA was leaked. President Carter was outraged, because now it was his CIA. His efforts to deny the relationship were defeated by Hussein's nonchalant frankness. He told the press, "Yes, I took the money. I used it for my intelligence service. And that's all I'm going to say on that subject."
There were a lot of other national leaders in Hussein's category. As I revealed for the first time in my book, Joseph Mobutu, a corporal in the Belgian forces in the Congo before its independence, went on the CIA payroll. That is why he rules Zaire today. The CIA paid the late Jomo Kenyatta, ruler of Kenya, fifty or a hundred thousand dollars a year, which he'd spend on drink and women. Therefore we ended up paying Kenyatta twice as much, telling him: "This is for you and this is for your party."
The CIA has funded individuals and movements across the political spectrum in West Germany. A prime example is Willy Brandt, former chancellor of the Federal Republic, who received much CIA support when he was mayor of West Berlin. Axel Springer, the Christian Democratic-minded press and publishing magnate, who pointed the finger at Brandt for working with CIA, was also a CIA asset, who used his publications to spread CIA propaganda and disinformation. It was a case of the pot calling the kettle black: I knew his case officer quite welL
This is the way the CIA sees its mission, the job it was created to do. The CIA is supposed to be involved with everyone, not merely the Christian Democrats or the Social Democrats. The agency is supposed to have its fingers in every pie, including the Communist one, so that they can all be manipulated in whichever way the U.S. government desires.
An obvious area of disinformation and deception exists in our relationship with a nation often represented as our closest ally, Israel. I have often been asked about the relationship between the CIA and its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad. The CIA maintains some kind of liaison with virtually every foreign intelligence agency, including the KGB. These relationships vary from case to case, but our relationship with the Mossad was always a peculiar one.
When I was in the agency, the Mossad was generally not trusted. There was an unwritten rule that no Jews could work on Israeli or near Eastern matters; it was felt that they could not be totally objective.. There was a split in the agency, however, and Israel was not included in the normal area division, the Near Eastern Division. Instead it was handled as a special account in counterintelligence. The man who handled that account, James Jesus Angleton, was extremely close to the Israelis. I believe that through Angleton the Israelis learned a lot more than they should have and exercised a lot more influence on our activities than they should have.
For his trouble, James Angleton, who died last year, was honored by the Israelis, in the way that the Israelis customarily honor their Gentile helpers. They decided to plant a whole forest for Angleton in the Judean hills, and they put up a handsome plaque in several languages, lionizing Angleton as a great friend of Israel, on a nearby rock. Israeli's intelligence chiefs, past and present, attended the dedication ceremony. Later on, a television reporter of my acquaintance sought out Angleton's memorial during an assignment in Israel. After some difficulty, he was able to locate it, but something seemed odd about it. On closer inspection, Angleton's plaque turned out to be made, not of bronze, but of cardboard. Nor was the setting particularly flattering to Israel's late benefactor: the trees and plaque were at the edge of a garbage dump. My friend’s British cameraman put it best "This guy sold out his country for the bloody Israelis, and this is the way they pay him back!"
The CIA has distorted history in other ways than by outright coverups and suppression of the truth. One method was to produce its own books. For instance, one of its top agents in the Soviet Union was Colonel Oleg Penkovsky. Penkovsky was eventually captured and executed. But the CIA was unwilling to let it go at that The agency decided to write a book, which it published in 1965, called The Penkovsky Papers. This was purported to be drawn from a diary that Penkovsky had kept, a diary in which Penkovsky revealed numerous espionage coups calculated to embarrass the Soviets and build up the CIA.
Spies do not keep diaries, of course, and the Soviets were not likely to believe the exaggerated claims made for Penkovsky and the CIA in The Penkovsky Papers. Who was taken in? The American public, of course. More than once people have come up to me after a lecture and shown me the book as if it were gospel. I've told them, "I know the man who wrote it." "You knew Penkovsky?" they invariably ask, and I tell them, "No, I didn't know Penkovsky but I know the man who wrote the book."
Not just ordinary citizens were taken in by the Penkovsky deception, either. Senator Milton Young of North Dakota, who served on the CIA oversight subcommittee, said in a 1971 Senate debate on cutting the inteligence budget:
And if you want to read something very interesting and authoritative where intelligence is concerned, read The Penkovsky Papers . . . this is a very interesting story, on why the intelligence we had in Cuba was so important to us, and on what the Russians were thinking and just how far they would go.
Perhaps the most startling example ot the ClA’s manipulation of the publishing world is the case of Khrushchev Remembers. Khrushchev is still widely believed to have been the author. He is supposed to have dashed it off one summer and then said to himself, "Where will I get this published? Ah! Time-Life!" The tapes reached Time-Life, we all read it, and we told ourselves, "Isn't that interesting."
A little thought should be sufficient to dispel the notion that the KGB would allow Khrushchev to sit in his dacha dictating tape after tape with no interference. He certainly dictated tapes, but the tapes were censored and edited by the KGB, and then a deal was struck between the U.S. and the USSR, after it was decided, at the highest level, that such a book would be mutually beneficial. Brezhnev could use against some of the resistance he was encountering from Stalinist hardliners, and Nixon could use it to increase support for detente.
The CIA and the KGB cooperated in carrying out the operation. The tapes were given to the Time bureau in Moscow. Strobe Talbot, who appears on television frequently today and is Time's bureau chief in Washington, brought the tapes back with him. I was present in an apartment in which he hid them for a couple of days. The tapes were then translated and a manuscript developed. During this period Time refused to let people who had known Khrushchev personally, including White House staff members, listen to the tapes.
Knowledgeable people began to tell me. "I don't believe this." "There's something mighty fishy here." When they read what Khrushchev was supposedly saying, they were even more incredulous. But the book came out, Khrushchev Remembers, accompanied by a massive publicity campaign. It was a great propaganda accomplishment for the CIA and the KGB.
I touched on Khrushchev Remembers in my book. I did not go into any great detail, merely devoting several tentative paragraphs to the affair. Just before my book was published Time was considering doing a two-page spread on me until they learned of my expressed reservations on the trustworthiness of Khrushchev Remembers. I began to get phone calls from Talbot and Jerry Schaechter, then Time's bureau chief in Washington, telling me I should take out the offending passages.
I had written, correctly, that before publication Strobe Talbot had taken the bound transcripts of the Khruschhev tapes back to Moscow, via Helsinki, so that the KGB could make one final review of them. I told Schaechter and Talbot that if they came to me, looked me in the eye, and told me I had the facts wrong, I would take out the section on Khruschhev Remembers. Neither of them ever came by, the paragraphs stayed in my book, and in any event Time went ahead with the two-page spread anyway.
As I pointed out in the preface to The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence in 1974, democratic governments fighting totalitarian enemies run the risk of imitating their methods and thereby destroying democracy. By suppressing historical fact, and by manufacturing historical fiction, the CIA, with its obsessive secrecy and its vast resources, has posed a particular threat to the right of Americans to be informed for the present and future by an objective knowledge of the past. As long as the CIA continues to manipulate history, historians of its activities must be Revisionist if we are to know the truth about the agency’s activities, past and present.
Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 305-320.
Published with permission of and courtesy to the Institute for Historical Review (IHR).
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