THE SECRET WARS OF THE CIA:
THE INNER WORKINGS OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL AND THE CIA'S COVERT ACTIONS IN ANGOLA, CENTRAL AMERICA AND VIETNAM
by John Stockwell
[Part 2 available at,
What we're going to talk about tonight is the United States national security syndrome. We're going to talk about how and why the U.S. manipulates the press. We're going to talk about how and why the U.S. is pouring money into El Salvador, and preparing to invade Nicaragua; how all of this concerns us so directly. I'm going to try to explain to you the other side of terrorism; that is, the other side of what Secretary of State Shultz talks about. In doing this, we'll talk about the Korean war, the Vietnam war, and the Central American war.
Everything I'm going to talk to you about is represented, one way or another, already in the public records. You can dig it all out for yourselves, without coming to hear me if you so chose. Books, based on information gotten out of the CIA under the freedom of information act, testimony before the Congress, hearings before the Senate Church committee, research by scholars, witness of people throughout the world who have been to these target areas that we'll be talking about. I want to emphasize that my own background is profoundly conservative. We come from South Texas, East Texas....
I was conditioned by my training, my marine corps training, and my background, to believe in everything they were saying about the cold war, and I took the job with great enthusiasm (in the CIA) to join the best and the brightest of the CIA, of our foreign service, to go out into the world, to join the struggle, to project American values and save the world for our brand of democracy. And I believed this. I went out and worked hard....
What I really got out of these 6 years in Africa was a sense ... that nothing we were doing in fact defended U.S. national security interests very much. We didn't have many national security interests in Bujumbura, Burundi, in the heart of Africa. I concluded that I just couldn't see the point.
We were doing things it seemed because we were there, because it was our function, we were bribing people, corrupting people, and not protecting the U.S. in any visible way. I had a chance to go drinking with this Larry Devlin, a famous CIA case officer who had overthrown Patrice Lumumba, and had him killed in 1960, back in the Congo. He was moving into the Africa division Chief. I talked to him in Addis Ababa at length one night, and he was giving me an explanation - I was telling him frankly, 'sir, you know, this stuff doesn't make any sense, we're not saving anybody from anything, and we are corrupting people, and everybody knows we're doing it, and that makes the U.S. look bad'.
And he said I was getting too big for my britches. He said, `you're trying to think like the people in the NSC back in Washington who have the big picture, who know what's going on in the world, who have all the secret information, and the experience to digest it. If they decide we should have someone in Bujumbura, Burundi, and that person should be you, then you should do your job, and wait until you have more experience, and you work your way up to that point, then you will understand national security, and you can make the big decisions. Now, get to work, and stop, you know, this philosophizing.'
And I said, `Aye-aye sir, sorry sir, a bit out of line sir'. It's a very powerful argument, our presidents use it on us. President Reagan has used it on the American people, saying, `if you knew what I know about the situation in Central America, you would understand why it's necessary for us to intervene.'
I went back to Washington, however, and I found that others shared my concern. A formal study was done in the State Department and published internally, highly classified, called the Macomber [sp?] report, concluding that the CIA had no business being in Africa for anything it was known to be doing, that our presence there was not justified, there were no national security interests that the CIA could address any better than the ambassador himself. We didn't need to have bribery and corruption as a tool for doing business in Africa at that time.
I went from ... a tour in Washington to Vietnam. And there, my career, and my life, began to get a little bit more serious. They assigned me a country. It was during the cease-fire, '73 to '75. There was no cease-fire. Young men were being slaughtered. I saw a slaughter. 300 young men that the South Vietnamese army ambushed. Their bodies brought in and laid out in a lot next to my compound. I was up-country in Tayninh. They were laid out next door, until the families could come and claim them and take them away for burial.
I thought about this. I had to work with the sadistic police chief. When I reported that he liked to carve people with knives in the CIA safe-house - when I reported this to my bosses, they said, `(1). The post was too important to close down. (2). They weren't going to get the man transferred or fired because that would make problems, political problems, and he was very good at working with us in the operations he worked on. (3). Therefore if I didn't have the stomach for the job, that they could transfer me.'
But they hastened to point out, if I did demonstrate a lack of `moral fiber' to handle working with the sadistic police chief, that I wouldn't get another good job in the CIA, it would be a mark against
So I kept the job, I closed the safe-house down, I told my staff that I didn't approve of that kind of activity, and I proceeded to work with him for the next 2 years, pretending that I had reformed him, and he didn't do this sort of thing anymore. The parallel is obvious with El Salvador today, where the CIA, the state department, works with the death squads.
They don't meet the death squads on the streets where they're actually chopping up people or laying them down on the street and running trucks over their heads. The CIA people in San Salvador meet the police chiefs, and the people who run the death squads, and they do liaise with them, they meet them beside the swimming pool of the villas. And it's a sophisticated, civilized kind of relationship. And they talk about their children, who are going to school at UCLA or Harvard and other schools, and they don't talk about the horrors of what's being done. They pretend like it isn't true.
What I ran into in addition to that was a corruption in the CIA and the intelligence business that made me question very seriously what it was all about, including what I was doing ... risking my life ... what I found was that the CIA, us, the case officers, were not permitted to report about the corruption in the South Vietnamese army....
Now, the corruption was so bad, that the S. Vietnamese army was a skeleton army. Colonels would let the troops go home if they would come in once a month and sign the pay vouchers so the colonel could pocket the money. Then he could sell half of the uniforms and boots and M-16's to the communist forces - that was their major supply, just as it is in El Salvador today. He could use half of the trucks to haul produce, half of the helicopters to haul heroin.
And the Army couldn't fight. And we lived with it, and we saw it, and there was no doubt - everybody talked about it openly. We could provide all kinds of proof, and they wouldn't let us report it. Now this was a serious problem because the south was attacked in the winter of 1975, and it collapsed like a big vase hit by a sledgehammer. And the U.S. was humiliated, and that was the dramatic end of our long involvement in Vietnam....
I had been designated as the task-force commander that would run this secret war [in Angola in 1975 and 1976].... and what I figured out was that in this job, I would sit on a sub-committee of the National Security Council, this office that Larry Devlin has told me about where they had access to all the information about Angola, about the whole world, and I would finally understand national security. And I couldn't resist the opportunity to know. I knew the CIA was not a worthwhile organization, I had learned that the hard way. But the question was where did the U.S. government fit into this thing, and I had a chance to see for myself in the next big secret war....
I wanted to know if wise men were making difficult decisions based on truly important, threatening information, threatening to our national security interests. If that had been the case, I still planned to get out of the CIA, but I would know that the system, the invisible government, our national security complex, was in fact justified and worth while. And so I took the job.... Suffice it to say I wouldn't be standing in front of you tonight if I had found these wise men making these tough decisions. What I found, quite frankly, was fat old men sleeping through sub-committee meetings of the NSC in which we were making decisions that were killing people in Africa. I mean literally. Senior ambassador Ed Mulcahy... would go to sleep in nearly every one of these meetings....
You can change the names in my book [about Angola]  and you've got Nicaragua.... the basic structure, all the way through including the mining of harbors, we addressed all of these issues. The point is that the U.S. led the way at every step of the escalation of the fighting. We said it was the Soviets and the Cubans that were doing it. It was the U.S. that was escalating the fighting. There would have been no war if we hadn't gone in first. We put arms in, they put arms in. We put advisors in, they answered with advisors. We put in Zairian para-commando battalions, they put in Cuban army troops. We brought in the S. African army, they brought in the Cuban army. And
they pushed us away. They blew us away because we were lying, we were covering ourselves with lies, and they were telling the truth. And it was not a war that we could fight. We didn't have interests there that should have been defended that way.
There was never a study run that evaluated the MPLA, FNLA and UNITA, the three movements in the country, to decide which one was the better one. The assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Nathaniel Davis, no bleeding-heart liberal (he was known by some people in the business as the butcher of Santiago), he said we should stay out of the conflict and work with whoever eventually won, and that was obviously the MPLA. Our consul in Luanda, Tom Killoran, vigorously argued that the MPLA was the best qualified to run the country and the friendliest to the U.S.