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Book review of Inside the Company: CIA Diary by Philip Agee

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Communist expansion was desirable in order to allow political forces to evolve a better society. He finished his three and one half years in Quito in tune with the station program. He wanted to resign by the end of his Montevideo assignment, however, because-he says-he arrived slowly at the conclusion that the U.S. role in Latin America, while superficially well intended, perpetuated injustice rather than reducing it. In Mexico City his increasing dissent amounts to defection. After resigning from the Agency in Mexico City, he cast about for other employment. His need to earn a living became acute, and the writing of this book appears to have been a solution to that problem. In the last and briefest part of the book he shares some of his new economic views on Latin America and describes some of his steps and problems between 1970 and 1974 in preparing and publishing his "diary."
The effect of the publication of the classified information in his book is clearest in its damaging impact on CIA's activities and persons with whom it dealt in Ecuador, Uruguay, and Mexico. Those whose interests lie in identifying and neutralizing U.S. covert action will find it useful, especially the alphabetized Appendix of 429 names and descriptions of "CIA Employees, Agents, Collaborators and Organizations," largely in Latin America. He does not discuss specific projects or identify agents in other geographic areas, though some of the text could be used to identify operations outside Latin America, such as CIA's international security cooperation, Labor, Division D, and UN operations. His description of the Clandestine Service's modus operandi is valid outside Latin America, and Agee is said to be working on a larger project describing CIA activities all over the world. I would assume that he has prepared a long extension of the Appendix name list, with the new title of "Probable and possible CIA employees, Agents, Collaborators and organizations," and that such a list would be extremely useful to other intelligence organizations. However, I would judge that most Latin readers will perceive his revelations in context with the Soviet and other nations' activities and within the concrete realities of their own continuing struggles, and that they will express no broad new surge of moral revulsion against the U.S. The book's main achievement is to provide the Communists and extreme Left with specific knowledge of CIA's Latin American operations and insight into CIA modus operandi in order to permit them to counter U.S. and particular CIA actions. As such, it will doubtless make the required reading list of the KGB midcareer course. The book will, of course, disillusion some U.S. readers and will doubtless be used to support some "causes." It may also, however, educate the broader public beneficially on the subject of secret intelligence.
The book will affect the CIA as a severe body blow does any living organism: some parts obviously will be affected more than others, but the health of the whole is bound to suffer. A considerable number of CIA personnel must be diverted from their normal duties to undertake the meticulous and time-consuming task of repairing the damage done to its Latin American program, and to see what can be done to help those injured by the author's revelations.
Agee's knowledge of local personalities and history is impressive. I have no great quarrel with his reporting and analysis of events, though I remain uneasy as to the extent of the bias introduced into his recollections from 1970-1974 by his research in institutions in Mexico City, Havana, Paris and London, as well as by his strong, but not ultimately clear, attitudes and feelings about his own past or the world about him. Nor do I fault his concern (shared by the U.S. Government) for the unequal distribution of income in Latin America, a point he returns to frequently. I can even stay with him as he claims that U.S. policies do not always deal fully with injustices.
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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:43 AM
Last Updated: Aug 10, 2011 02:26 PM