Americans should have suspected that something was amiss when, after the end of World War II, U.S. officials began enlisting former Nazis into the service of the U.S. government. Given the massive death and destruction of World War II and the Holocaust, Nazi Germany was obviously one of the most evil regimes in history. That’s in fact one of the major justifications given for America’s entry into World War II — to bring an end to that evil regime.
Yet here were U.S. officials recruiting and employing Nazis. The reason? The Cold War had started! While the Allies had vanquished Nazi Germany, they simultaneously acquired a new official enemy — the Soviet Union, which had served as their ally and partner during the war.
The U.S. embrace of Nazi functionaries signaled what would become a guiding motif for the U.S. national-security state: The end justifies the means. Whatever needed to be done to defeat communism — as represented primarily by the Soviet Union but also by Red China and North Korea — was considered morally justified. It was a motif that would ultimately lead to the embrace of policies that, ironically, characterized totalitarian regimes, including Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
Consider, for example, the CIA’s highly secret drug experiments, a program known as MKULTRA. Under that program, the CIA subjected unsuspecting Americans to LSD and other mind-altering substances. They did it to people in hospitals, to people in prisons, and to others, with the knowledge and cooperation of officials in those facilities, always under a vow of secrecy. What they didn’t have was the consent of many of the people to whom they were administering the drugs.
What was the justification for those drug experiments, which somewhat resembled the medical experimentation that had been undertaken by the Nazis? Why, national security, of course. Pentagon and CIA officials had learned that the Soviet Union was conducting LSD experiments on people. Therefore, U.S. officials concluded that in order to keep up with the communists and ultimately defeat them, it was necessary to do the same thing. In war, sometimes people have to be sacrificed. The end justifies the means.
It is impossible to know how many people’s minds were damaged or destroyed or, indeed, how many people were killed, by the CIA’s drug experiments. When information about the program became public, the CIA destroyed most of its MKULTRA files, no doubt on the grounds of national security. After all, if the public and the world were to learn the details of MKULTRA, including the identities of the victims, the CIA could be damaged, which, in the minds of national-security-state officials, would logically threaten national security.
One of the best accounts of MKULTRA is found in the book A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments, by H.P. Albarelli Jr. (2011). This fascinating and gripping book recounts the life and death of a CIA agent named Frank Olson.
For years, the CIA’s official story was that Olson had taken his own life while suffering the throes of depression. It was all a lie. Many years after Olson’s death, it was discovered that the CIA had actually subjected him to an LSD experiment, without telling him or asking him.
Once that truth came out, the CIA’s official story changed. Under its new story, it acknowledged that it had in fact drugged Olson without his knowledge or consent. Thus, it said that Olson was suffering from both hallucinations and depression as a result of the LSD experiment on him, which supposedly led to his jumping out of a window from an upper floor of a New York City hotel. Under the new official story, the CIA deeply regretted what it had done and apologized profusely to Olson’s widow.
Why would the CIA subject one of its own employees to an LSD experiment? Why, national security, of course. The CIA wanted to see how someone would react if he ingested LSD without being told in advance, information that could enable the United States to defeat the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
The natural question arises: Why would the CIA feel the need to do that to one of its agents, when that was precisely what it was doing to patients and prisoners in hospitals and prisons?
In his carefully researched book, one that relies on confidential sources within the CIA, Albarelli provides a convincing case showing that the CIA’s new official story was also a lie and that, in fact, it was a fallback position to disguise the CIA’s murder of Frank Olson.
Why would the CIA murder one of its own agents? Why, national security, of course. Albarelli’s research disclosed that Americans were not the only ones who were the subject of the CIA’s LSD experiments. He points to a small village in France, Pont St. Esprit, that in 1951 became a target of the CIA’s LSD experiments. The experiment resulted in the death of five people and in the need for 300 people to seek medical care or to be placed in treatment facilities.
According to Albarelli, Frank Olson had participated in that horrifying LSD experiment and was deeply troubled about it. Ultimately, in a crisis of conscience, he disclosed the highly classified secret to an unauthorized person.
In other words, Olson knew too much and talked too much. He had become a threat to national security. If people were to find out about the CIA’s LSD experiment on an entire village in France, that would damage the CIA, which in turn would threaten national security. There was no effective choice. In order to protect national security, Olson had to be eliminated. Albarelli’s sources revealed that Olson didn’t jump out of a window. He was thrown out of it, by two men working for the CIA.
There were also several regime-change operations in different parts of the world, where agents of the national-security state initiated what can be described only as undeclared attacks on foreign regimes, with the goal of ousting their rulers from power and replacing them with U.S.-approved rulers — all under the notion that national security required that such operations be conducted.
In 1953, the CIA instigated a coup in Iran that succeeded in ousting the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, from power and replacing him with the brutal dictatorial regime of the shah of Iran. Needless to say, in justifying its coup, the CIA cited national security, saying that Mossadegh had been leaning toward communism and the Soviet Union. Never mind that British officials had asked the CIA to oust Mossadegh owing to his nationalization of British oil interests.
One year later, 1954, the CIA ousted the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, and installed a brutal unelected military dictatorship in his stead. The justification? National security, of course. U.S. national-security- state officials maintained that Arbenz was a communist, as reflected by his socialist economic policies and his sympathies for Guatemalan communists, some of whom were serving in his administration. Never mind that some high CIA officials and some members of Congress owned stock in the United Fruit Company, some of whose land in Guatemala was being seized and redistributed to the poor. U.S. officials were convinced that the national security of the United States would be severely threatened if a communist regime were permitted to exist in the Western hemisphere. When Arbenz was caught purchasing weaponry from the Soviet satellite state of Czechoslovakia, his fate was sealed.
It is interesting that defenders of the national-security state justify the CIA’s Guatemala coup by claiming not only that it protected U.S. national security but also that it saved Guatemala from tyranny and destruction at the hands of a communist regime. Their argument is that a country’s laws and constitution are not a suicide pact. Moreover, voters make mistakes, and if illegal means are necessary to save a country from such mistakes, then it is right and proper that such means be employed. The end justifies the means.
Arbenz was lucky. By fleeing the country early in the coup, he saved his life. It later turned out that among the CIA’s contingency plans were his assassination and those of other Guatemalan officials.
There were the countless regime-change operations against Cuba, a country that had never attacked the United States, including the Bay of Pigs invasion, terrorist attacks on Cuban soil, the U.S. embargo against Cuba, and, of course, the many assassination attempts against Fidel Castro and other Cuban officials.
In fact, there is every reason to believe that the CIA was behind the 1967 extrajudicial execution of Che Guevara, one of Castro’s fellow communist revolutionaries. After he was taken into custody by the Bolivian military, Guevara’s captors executed him on orders from above. The killing was a grave violation of international law. While the CIA has always denied any role in the illegal execution, the fact is that a CIA agent was present during the execution. Given the subservient nature of most Latin American regimes to the U.S. military, which has long supported and trained Latin American troops, the chances that the Bolivian military would have executed Guevara in the face of ardent opposition by the CIA are nil. Moreover, given that Guevara was on the CIA’s assassination list, the chances that it would have objected to his extrajudicial execution are also nil. Finally, soon after the execution the CIA issued a report detailing the benefits of Guevara’s death.
The CIA’s participation in another extrajudicial execution had occurred in South Vietnam a few years previous to the Che Guevara execution. A few weeks before the John Kennedy assassination, a CIA-supported military coup succeeded in ousting the South Vietnamese president, Ngo Dinh Diem, from power. Soon after Diem was taken into custody, South Vietnamese military forces executed him. While the CIA denied any role in the assassination, there is little doubt that the South Vietnamese military would never have done it if the CIA had fiercely opposed it.
It is not surprising that the CIA-supported regime-change operation in South Vietnam was justified by the claim of national security. Diem’s authoritarian regime — a regime that was long supported by the U.S. government — was so brutal and corrupt that it increased the odds of a communist takeover of South Vietnam. If the communists took over South Vietnam, that presumably would cause Southeast Asian “dominoes” to start falling, which would ultimately mean a communist takeover of the United States. Thus, the idea was that national security required Diem’s ouster.
Support for dictatorships
Support for brutal Latin American dictatorships, especially military ones, was another policy of the U.S. national-security state. Often pro-U.S. dictatorships were more brutal than communist ones. Like the shah’s pro-U.S. regime in Iran, the pro-U.S. dictatorships in Latin America, especially the military dictatorships, brutalized their own people — torturing them, “disappearing” them, and killing them with U.S.-trained military and intelligence forces. Whenever citizens who were suffering under such brutal dictatorships resisted the U.S.-supported tyranny under which they were suffering, they were considered communists and terrorists who needed to be captured, tortured, executed, or otherwise suppressed. National security required it.
U.S. officials didn’t care what their puppet regimes did to people within their own countries. After all, national security requires order and stability, which is, in fact, why the U.S. national-security state has always leaned toward pro-U.S. military dictatorships.
In fact, when American citizens became the victims of torture at the hands of U.S.-trained military or intelligence goons in Latin America, U.S. officials were noteworthy for their lack of interest. One example involved the torture and rape of an American nun, Sister Dianna Ortiz, who stated that present during her ordeal was a man who spoke Spanish with an American accent. Needless to say, no subpoena was ever served by Congress or the Justice Department on the CIA demanding the production of all CIA agents operating in Guatemala during the time that Sister Dianna was tortured and raped. Obviously, revealing the identities of such agents would have threatened national security; therefore Sister Dianna was simply left to adjust to her unfortunate experience without any expectation of justice from the U.S. government.
A similar example involved an American woman named Jennifer Harbury, who married a Guatemalan insurgent, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, who was resisting the tyranny of the U.S.-supported military dictatorship in Guatemala. Bamaca was captured by Guatemalan forces and was “disappeared.” Harbury attempted to locate him and save his life through a series of hunger strikes and legal actions.
Through it all, the CIA claimed to have no information about Bamaca’s whereabouts. It turned out to be a lie. A U.S. State Department official blew the whistle and disclosed not only that the CIA knew where Bamaca was but also that it had a close working relationship with his torturers and killers. By the time Harbury acquired that information, Bamaca had been killed by his captors, another grave violation of international law. The CIA retaliated against the whistleblower by ensuring that he lost his security clearance, which was essential to his position at the State Department.
And at home …
In the United States itself, the preoccupation with communism and communists caused the national-security state to take extraordinary actions against the American people, actions that constituted severe violations of the principles of freedom.
First of all, there were investigations and accusations of Americans who were suspected of having connections to communism and the Communist Party. Reputations and careers were ruined on the supposition that anyone who believed in communism or had believed in communism during some part of his life was obviously a threat to national security.
Only a few people had the courage to point out that a free society protects the rights of people to believe anything they want, associate with whomever they want, and to promote anything they want, no matter how despicable such beliefs and associations might be to others. After all, to defend the right of people to be communists subjected the defender to the charge of being a communist.
Both the FBI and the CIA illegally spied on and closely monitored the activities of American citizens. Secret files were kept on people, often detailing nothing more than their sexual activity or other personal matters, with the aim of blackmailing them, embarrassing them, or destroying them.
Of course, those were the sorts of things that were done by the Gestapo and that were being done by the KGB. In the mind of the ordinary national-security-state official, however, such practices were evil only when committed by Nazis or communists, not when they were committed by U.S. officials, who were charged with the difficult and dangerous task of protecting national security from people like the Nazis and the communists. The end justified the means.
In fact, the communist scare started long before the formal advent of the national-security state. As Americans were later to find out, the federal government was keeping secret files on Americans suspected of being communists as far back as World War I, when U.S. officials were raiding, busting, and prosecuting communist-socialist organizations and deporting foreign residents for having communist views.
Among the most famous of the victims during that time was a Russian immigrant named Emma Goldman, who was arrested and deported for advocating anarchy and communism. She described her thoughts as she was involuntarily departing New York harbor: “It was my beloved city, the metropolis of the New World. It was America, indeed America repeating the terrible scenes of tsarist Russia! I glanced up — the Statue of Liberty!”
Among the national-security state’s favorite tactics during the Cold War was to plant “moles” within communist organizations, with the goal of getting their membership lists, spying on them, and looking for evidence of subversion and treason. If a person were caught doing something illegal, sometimes he’d be promised leniency if he agreed to become a spy for the national-security state.
Hardly anyone noticed the totalitarian nature of those extraordinary “national security” measures. That didn’t matter. What mattered was the defeat of communism. Anything that had to be done to achieve victory was justified. The end justified the means. If the United States was doing it, it had to be good, since it was being done to defeat communism.
Two organizations that the U.S. national-security state was determined to destroy were the U.S. Communist Party and an organization called the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, an organization that included many mainstream Americans who were sympathetic to the communist-socialist revolution in Cuba. U.S. officials successfully planted moles in both organizations. Such moles were trained by the national-security state to falsely portray themselves as communists. They were so well-trained that they successfully fooled people in those organizations into believing that they were genuine communists.
Meanwhile, at the height of the Cold War, as the U.S. national-security state was doing everything it could to destroy communists, one of the most mysterious episodes in the history of the national-security state occurred, an event that can be described as a Cold War miracle.
An American man who supposedly attempted to defect to the Soviet Union and promised to divulge to the Soviet communist regime all the information that he had acquired during his time in the U.S. military — a man who later returned to the United States and then openly started a chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee — a man who openly corresponded with the U.S. Communist Party — a man who was a self-described Marxist — a man who supposedly visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies in Mexico with the intent to re-defect to the Soviet Union — sauntered across the Cold War stage with not even a single grand-jury subpoena, much less arrest, torture, incarceration, or criminal prosecution at the hands of the U.S. national-security state. That man was a former U.S. Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald.