Origins of the CIA

Researchers Thomas Bodenheimer and Robert Gould link the creation of the CIA to the Amerikan foreign policy of ‘rollback’ in response to the spread of proletarian struggle, socialism and policies favorable to the Soviet Union. In the book, “Rollback!: Right-Wing Power in US Foreign Policy,” Bodenheimer and Gould describe the US’ first attempt to stifle challenges to capitalism emanating from ‘Moscow’:

“In August 1918, 7,000 Marines landed at Vladivostok, Russia and remained until January 1920, as part of an Allied occupational force with the aim of rolling back the Bolshevik Revolution. In September, 1918, 5,000 US troops joined the Allied intervention force at Archangel. The US forces suffered 500 casualties. They left in 1919, thereby forever ending US attempts at direct military rollback of the Russia revolution.” (11)

Attempts by the US to ‘rollback’ peoples’ democratic gains against capital did not end. After World War II the subsequent years became known as the Cold War, but could better be described as a Third World War: one waged by capital (through the CIA, conventional military means, propaganda, NSSs, etc) against Third World people and anyone perceived as a threat at the systemic level.

The CIA was founded on the heels of World War II when the National Security Act of 1947 was signed by President Harry S. Truman. The new agency was staffed by former officers of the Office of Strategic Services, which had conducted intelligence gathering and covert support operations in support of anti-Axis forces in Europe and China. Following World War II, fascists were recruited into the CIA’s anti-communist activities throughout Europe and Latin America. (12)

A general guideline for US covert operations was given by President Eisenhower in a 1955 executive directive:

“Create and exploit troublesome problems for International Communism, impair relations between the USSR and Communist China and between them and their satellites, complicate control within the USSR, Communist China and their satellites… Counter any threat of a party or individuals directly or indirectly responsive to Communist control to achieve dominant power in a free world country… In areas dominated or threatened by International Communism, develop underground resistance and facilitate covert and guerrilla operations.” (13)

One of the first major CIA operations was in Albania, which had recently liberated itself from fascist rule and aligned with the Soviet Union. In 1950, groups of CIA-trained militants were landed in the country, but unable to locate or create any resistance they were quickly captured or killed. (14) During the same years, the CIA developed operations in Burma from which it harassed the borders of China and later intervened in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. (15)

The Early Years: Sown in Blood

The CIA’s first major ‘success’ occurred in Iran in August 1953. There the CIA and British Intelligence overthrew the democratically-elected President Mohammed Mossadegh and put the despotic Shah Mohammed Riza Pahlevi into power. Mossadegh was overthrown for attempting to nationalize Iranian oil reserves, a policy which would have hurt English and Amerikan financial interests. (16) The Shah was later overthrown by a popular movement led, in part, by Islamists in 1979: an event described in CIA terminology as “blow-back.”

Beginning the same years in Guatemala,

“[T]he government of moderate nationalist Jacobo Arbenz expropriated almost 400,000 acres of unused United Fruit Company land as part of a moderate land reform program. Compensation was offered, which United Fruit rejected. United Fruit instead approached the CIA to take action. The CIA trained a small army, and arranged for the CIA-run airline Civil Air Transport to conduct bombing raids flown by Chinese nationalist [KMT] pilots. The main thrust of the operation was psychological warfare… A CIA radio station was set up to create rumors making the government and population think that a major rebellion was taking place. As a result, the small CIA army and a few bombing raids created a panic leading Arbenz to flee.  Guatemala has suffered one after another military dictatorship or military-controlled government with a high level of political repression.” (17)

It should also be noted that the post-Arbenz period was marked by the death of over 200,000 people. An estimated 83% of those killed were Mayan. (18)

Similar CIA operations against Cuba have met with less ‘success.’ In March 1960, US President Eisenhower approved a plan to arm and train Cuban exiles to overthrow the pro-Soviet government, then led by Fidel Castro. In April 1961, with the help of CIA transport and airstrikes, 1,400 Cuban militants landed at the Bay of Pigs and were killed or captured by forces loyal to the popular government. The news of the failed operation was an early political blow for the administration of John Kennedy. Cuba and its political leadership have been targeted by the CIA since. According to his former body guard, there have been over 600 assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, many of them initiated or supported by the CIA. (19)

Castro hasn’t been the only victim of CIA assassination plots. According to investigative journalist William Blum, the CIA network has been involved in the assassinations or attempted assassinations of Zhou Enlai (former Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of China), Sukarno (the first president of independent Indonesia, eventually deposed by a CIA-backed coup in 1967), Kim Il Sung (former leader of the DPRK), José Figueres (President of Costa Rica), Patrice Lumumba (Prime Minister of the Congo, executed at the side of a road as part of a CIA supported plot), Che Guevara (one-time minister in Cuba, killed with CIA support), Michael Manley (former Prime Minister of Jamaica), Muammar Qaddafi (former leader of Libya, recently killed after a CIA and NATO-backed uprising in 2011), Ayatollah Khomeini (former leader of Iran) and Saddam Hussein (for leader of Iraq, killed as par of a US-led invasion), to name a few. (20)  In 2009, it was revealed that a global CIA “executive assassination ring” was directed in secret by then-Vice President Dick Cheney during his two terms in office. (21) Assassinations are nominally prohibited under US domestic law. (22)


11. Bodenheimer, Thomas, and Robert Gould. Rollback!: right-wing power in U.S. foreign policy. Boston: South End Press, 1989. p 24. Print.

12. Bodenheimer, Thomas, and Robert Gould. ibid.

13. Quoted in, Bodenheimer, Thomas, and Robert Gould. ibid.

14. Prados, John. Presidents’ secret wars: CIA and Pentagon covert operations since World War II. New York, N.Y.: W. Morrow, 1986. p 40-45 Print.

15. Blum, William. Rogue state: a guide to the world’s only superpower. Monroe: Common Courage Press, 2000. Print.

Chomsky, Noam. The Culture of Terrorism. South End Press. p. 291. 1998. Print

16. Risen, James. “New York Times Special Report: The C.I.A. in Iran.” The New York Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <;.

17. Bodenheimer, Thomas, and Robert Gould. Rollback!: right-wing power in U.S. foreign policy. Boston: South End Press, 1989. p 26. Print.

18. “Conclusions.” Guatemala, Memory of Silence. American Association for the Advancement of Science, n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2011. <;

19. Campell, Duncan. “638 ways to kill Castro.” The Guardian . N.p., 2 Aug. 2006. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <;.

20. Blum, William. Rogue state: a guide to the world’s only superpower. Monroe: Common Courage Press, 2000. p. 49-51. Print.

21. Black, Eric. “Seymour Hersh: “Executive Assassination Ring” Answered to Cheney, Had No Congressional Oversight.” N.p., 12 Mar. 2009. Web. 31 Oct. 2011. <,_had_no_congressional_oversight/&gt;

22. “EO 12333 – UNITED STATES INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITIES.” Federation of American Scientists. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <;.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Here’s a better question:

    How do you spell “terrorist”?


  2. Patriotism is blind obedience
    to American imperialism.


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