This is the third in a series of articles that explores the iconic CIA and its use as a tactical weapon by the presidents of the Cold War (1947-1991). The Central Intelligence Agency – In the Beginning and The Central Intelligence Agency – Eisenhower and Asia’s Back Door are the preceding posts.
A very tired John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was sworn into office on a clear, windy, brutally cold January 20, 1961. It wasn’t an easy day. Eight inches of snow had fallen the night before causing a monumental traffic jam and the streets were littered with abandoned vehicles. Former President Herbert Hoover missed the entire inauguration event because Washington National Airport was closed due to the weather. An inauguration is an important national symbol that characterizes the Republic and the all-night effort to clear Pennsylvania Avenue greeted the sun with space to accommodate the large crowd that would gather to witness the duly elected president assume the helm of the ship-of-state.
The snowfall of the previous night and the windy, frigid temperatures of inauguration day are also apt codes for the sea change that had already gathered momentum around the relationship between the new president and his intelligence agency, the CIA. The CIA, as authorized by The National Security Act of 1947, was still fairly young, but Allen Dulles, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) was an old hand and seemingly enjoyed the game. By 1961, the CIA, in its short life, had tripped the light fantastic around the globe; Col. Lansdale was merrily fighting rebels in the Philippines following which he ported his obsession with asymmetric guerilla warfare to Vietnam where he spent two-years as a houseguest and confidant of President Diem, other CIA operatives overthrew governments in Iran and Guatemala, and raised general hell with Cuba and Chile.
During the latter Truman and Eisenhower administration there was a trend to combine the
Cold War (1947-1991) objective of fighting the creep of communism with business interests. Iran, for example, nationalized the British oil interests and Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh refused to budge in spite of punishing sanctions. According to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, “Eisenhower worried about Mossadegh’s willingness to cooperate with Iranian Communists; he also feared that Mossadegh would eventually undermine the power of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a staunch anti-Communist partner. In August 1953, the CIA helped overthrow Mossadegh’s government and restore the shah’s power. In the aftermath of this covert action, new arrangements gave U.S. corporations an equal share with the British in the Iranian oil industry.”
In Guatemala, the Jacobo Arbenz Guzman initiated land
reforms that seriously impacted the holdings of the anti-communist, New Orleans-based United Fruit Company who controlled over forty percent of Guatemala’s arable land. The Truman administration came to the support of the American business interests by arming the anti-Arbenz rebels. Under Eisenhower, the CIA finished the job by overthrowing Arbenz regime and installing Carlos Castillo Armas. Codenamed PBSUCCESS, the coup d’état was the first-ever clandestine military action in Latin America but it was certainly not the last.
After fifty years the controversy surrounding Kennedy and the CIA obscures the landscape like the white-out conditions in a blizzard. At one end of the opinion spectrum, Marquette University’s John McAdams’ The Kennedy Assassination site concludes that Kennedy and the CIA had some rough spots but got through them. At the other end of the spectrum is Dr. Jerome R. Corsi, who maintains that Kennedy and the CIA locked horns and never retreated. Excellent research and the documented citations for both perspectives leave the reader with many questions. One corner of this argument does not appear to be disputed; Kennedy consistently refused to use the U.S. military to support private sector interests. In this matter, President Kennedy was a traditionalist. The military, in his opinion, was to be used only in defense of national security interests. If we can escape the white-out conditions of the never-ending controversy, the political landscape, once again, becomes hard and navigable. Continue reading