Archive for the ‘Intelligence and Covert Operations’ Category

In virtually every spy movie, there’s always a big “reveal” moment, either close to the beginning or at the point where the uneducated protagonist is led into the inner sanctum, and then — Voila! Fancy computers! Panel upon panel of important-looking information! Suits bustling everywhere!

Sometimes that’s true, I suppose, but one of the necessary complications of having to travel and work undercover is that sometimes you really do have to work in conditions more or less decrepit enough to avoid attracting attention. That’s what happened to the unnamed CIA spy ship “LCFANGLED” (that’s the code name, not the ship name), in 1953. LCFANGLED left Panama in 1953 under command of Laurence Sillence, and headed toward target “Identity 1” — probably something related to Guatemala, since a related debriefing is coded “PBFORTUNE” after the CIA covert operation there. No details about the LCFANGLED are provided, but it is subsequently stated that the ship cannot be boarded or impounded by any other country because of “the illegality of both vessel and crew.”

Then things went wrong:



After the latest major leak from WikiLeaks, everyone seemed very interested in the American government’s blatant overreaction, which even featured politicians demanding that Julian Assange be either detained or summarily executed. An aspect that most of the media, even the non-American media, seems to have missed is just why so many other governments were willing to go along with Washington’s immediate and unsuccessful attempt to censor the Internet and dig up dirt on Assange.

Of course the real story wasn’t (usually) about the American government, but about how other governments (including democratically elected ones) lied to their own publics about the extent to which they were secretly collaborating with the American government. A cable that’s getting plenty of press this week noted, for instance, that Turkey allowed the U.S. to use its Incirlik airbase for torture flights, which the Turkish government previously denied. The media has not been much concerned with another aspect of that cable: the role of American military and diplomatic officials in lobbying foreign governments on behalf of American defense contractors.


The Central Intelligence Agency’s increasingly desperate schemes to assassinate or at least embarrass Castro, from exploding cigars and Mafia hitmen to beard depilatories, are legend. What is less well-known are some of the same agency’s other various schemes to attack Castro, one of which is detailed by Jack Pfeiffer in his secret history of the Bay of Pigs (a copy of which was obtained by a Florida researcher).

This one isn’t as serious (or illegal) as the Pentagon’s subsequent NORTHWOODS plan, which proposed (among other things) what amounted to a campaign of domestic terrorism within the U.S. The CIA considered and rejected such plans as doctoring photos of Cuban aircraft to make it look as though the Castro government was painting them in U.S. Air Force colours (presumably for some nefarious purpose), or sending a “Billy Graham type” speaker around Latin America in a white plane to warn people of the dangers of revolutionary movements in their own countries.

Then, it came across something far better. This too was rejected by the chief mucky-mucks, but it still deserves to be reproduced in full as an indication of CIA thinking:


In the 1970s, CIA historian Jack Pfeiffer prepared a classified multi-volume history of CIA covert operations in Cuba, with special reference to the Bay of Pigs. Although the history as a whole is (or at least was) classified, one volume made its way out via the Kennedy Assassination papers, and was copied by professor David Barrett of Villanova University.

What Barrett acquired was Volume 3 of the Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation, concerned with the pre-invasion covert operations of the CIA in Cuba. Unfortunately for readers it is divided into 18 separate PDFs, but all are still available. There are a number of important revelations in these files:


The longest-lived and most important international intelligence cooperation treaty is the UKUSA COMINT Agreement. Signed just after the Second World War, this agreement created a wide-open sharing arrangement between Britain and the United States, with secondary membership provided to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, in the area of signals intelligence. The National Security Agency (U.S.) is unquestionably the senior partner, but it and the Government Communications Headquarters (UK), Communications Security Establishment (Canada), Defence Signals Directorate (Australia), and Government Communications Security Bureau (New Zealand) basically grew up together.

What I didn’t expect, last year, was the decision by the British and American governments to finally open up the text of this agreement (mostly).