I rarely have the chance to watch TV, but I would be lying if I say I did not love political dramas. As a former student of Political Science, I see the way American politics is played out on television as a dramatized caricature of reality. My feelings are slowly changing with each passing day into the Trump administration, as the caricature presented on TV is beginning to play out right before our eyes.
As I look at the recent firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and the promotion of Mike Pompeo from the Director of the CIA to Secretary of State, I am reminded of the show Madam Secretary, a show about a career CIA spy that transitions into the role as lead diplomat, ironically under the auspices of a president who previously served as Director of the CIA. Of course the show isn’t an exact replica of what we are seeing today, but remember that political dramas are a caricature of our political culture. I would state moreso that in this country our culture of diplomacy is a caricature in itself. There are some similarities of course.
In one episode of Madam Secretary, Sec. Elizabeth McCord, played by actress Tea Leoni has to come to terms with her previous participation in "enhanced interrogation" techniques (torture), and vociferously defends her actions as a CIA agent. Of course, torture is illegal under international law, which of course means nothing to the US war machine, but it is a unique conflict of interest for someone in the position of lead diplomat. This conflict of interest exists with Mike Pompeo, who has voiced his support not only for torture, but has criticized the closing of Black Sites.
Criticism of the State Department has been rampant during the Trump administration, with accusations of the state department being gutted, leading to more of an emphasis on strong arm threats of military action as opposed to traditional diplomacy. This blurring of the lines between espionage and diplomacy isn’t new, with the United States forging the insidious realm of espionage into the very foundation of diplomacy itself.
You won’t have to look too deep into the history of the relationship between diplomacy and espionage to find a connection. A cursory examination of history shows a connection that is even forged by blood. Allen and John Foster Dulles, or the Dulles Brothers, simultaneously occupied the posts of Secretary of State and CIA Director during the Eisenhower administration. These two were in positions of power during the height of the Cold War when the US government was most concerned about Soviet expansion. Both Dulles brothers shared a disdain for Communism, and shared other similar worldviews as well. According to historian Stephen Kinzer in his book The Brothers – John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, And Their Secret World War this was not a very good thing.
Kinzer writes of this shared worldview:
One reason Foster and Allen never re-examined their assumptions was that the two men so fully reinforced each other. Their worldviews and operational codes were identical. Deeply intimate since childhood, they turned the State Department and the CIA into a reverberating echo chamber for their failed certainties
"I have always felt it was a great mistake that the two men should have had these two offices at the same time," John Allison, the ambassador Foster removed from Indonesia in 1957, mused after retiring. "Because while I had a high regard for both of them, it was only human that Foster would listen to Allen before he would listen to anyone else. And he would take Allen’s views in preference to those of anyone else."
During the reign of the Dulles brothers, the US was involved in the overthrow of the governments of Iran and Guatemala, the assassination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba of the DR Congo, and the attempted invasion of Cuba through the planning of the "Bay of Pigs" operation, among other monumental criminal acts. Throughout this period of global turmoil that emanated from Washington, the State Department was along for each step, often playing the good cop to the CIA’s bad cop, although I would argue it was moreso "slightly lesser violent cop to extremely violent cop". Allen Dulles would often refer to himself as "the secretary of state for unfriendly countries". The nefarious partnership of the State Department and the CIA came together in a very violent way through the overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala.
The overthrow of Arbenz, or what the CIA called "Operation Success" was by all accounts a joint CIA-State Department operation. Walter Bedell Smith, who was CIA director from 1950–1953, was serving as Undersecretary of State during "Operation Success", and was responsible for the appointment of many embassy officials to key positions in Guatemala, undoubtedly to aid with the operations. One such appointment was that of "Smiling Jack" Peurifoy as Ambassador of Guatemala, who had a history with the CIA and had an axe to grind with Communism.
Journalist Tim Weiner in his book Legacy of Ashes – The History of the CIA writes of Peurifoy:
Pistol-packing Jack Peurifoy had made his name ridding the State Department of leftists and liberals in 1950. On his first tour abroad, as ambassador to Greece from 1951 to 1953, he worked closely with the CIA to establish covert American channels of power in Athens. Upon arriving at his new post, Peurifoy cabled Washington: "I have come to Guatemala to use the big stick." He met with President Arbenz and reported: "I am definitely convinced that if the President is not a communist, he will certainly do until one comes along."
Peurifoy would at one point use the secure communications of the CIA at the American Embassy in Guatemala in order to write to Allen Dulles that the US should "Bomb repeat Bomb" the rebels in order to set off the coup. This echoed many other calls from CIA agents to do that very same thing, showing that the State Department was basically acting as a CIA proxy.
This blood connection between the State Department and the CIA continued throughout the decades to the very present, with the State Department continuing to provide a very convenient cover for CIA operations. According to a Mother Jones investigation into CIA Non Official Cover (NOC) operations, stationing operatives at embassies eventually became preferred saying "Since it was cheaper to station spies in the U.S. embassy, cost-cutting led the CIA to scale down the number of NOCs by the 1960s".
CIA defector Philip Agee, in his 1978 book Dirty Work: The CIA in Western Europe claimed that "more than a quarter of the 5,435 employees who purportedly work for State overseas are actually with the CIA". Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer who worked in the Middle East (who is also Time magazine’s intelligence correspondent) says of this relationship "You can always find diplomats who are happy to co-operate with the CIA. There are ambassadors who love that stuff. In the American system it sloshes over from side to side."
Recently declassified files that came about through the JFK Records Act, reveals another way that the State Department aids CIA operations, allowing the CIA to smuggle weapons to CIA stations chief through "Diplomatic Pouch". A Diplomatic Pouch is basically any properly identified transport apparatus (package, pouch, envelope, bag, etc.) that is used to transport documents or articles intended for diplomatic use between embassies and other offices associated with diplomatic missions. These pouches are not subjected to official customs under the guise of diplomatic immunity, meaning that anything could be smuggled in them.
With the CIA having such a large presence at US embassies, it is no surprise that Diplomatic pouches would be used for gun running operations. Besides smuggling, we know via documents released by Edward Snowden that over 80 US embassies around the world conceal joint CIA-NSA "Special Collection Service" (SCS) radio and electronic surveillance equipment, allowing embassies to be used as spy hubs for more prominent sites throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America.
When Americans see Trump seemingly taking measures to gut the State Department and emphasize a more aggressive form of diplomacy, then go on to appoint someone like Mike Pompeo to Secretary of State, one may think that Trump is single handedly destroying the integrity of the US State Department. I think this comes from the mistaken view that the State Department had any sort of integrity in the first place.
While I am sure that diplomacy often gets done on some levels, you don’t have to look very hard to find out about the clear infiltration by the CIA into diplomatic affairs, and I am sure that is common knowledge to all nations that we conduct diplomacy with, whether those nations are allies or "hostile". There is no rosy picture of a State Department that is free from the clutches of the Deep State, as you may see in a show like Madam Secretary.
As mentioned earlier, this relationship between diplomacy and espionage is one that is forged among blood relatives, and while the Dulles brothers are long gone from this world, their legacy lives on. For instance, their "reverberating echo chamber for their failed certainties" that allowed for them to self reinforce one another in regards to global affairs still lives on, as it is practically scripture that US diplomacy must always take a back seat to US militarism, which has certainly hampered many peace negotiations. Mike Pompeo moving from the CIA to the State Dept. is no surprise, and until we come together and see the real common enemy, which is the entire militarized Deep State as a whole, we will always be looking at the symptoms instead of the illness itself.
Michael Byrne is an antiwar activist who works in the Washington DC area. He holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from Cleveland State University. This is reprinted with permission from his blog.
Read more by Mike Byrne
- Children of War: Why We Need an Antiwar Future – February 6th, 2018
- Lumumba: The Man, the Idea, and the Crisis in the Congo – January 28th, 2018