21 May 2003. One of the Intelligence Community Black Actions series.

See the 1956 Bruce-Lovett Report on CIA covert actions. Information on locating this report welcomed; send to jya@pipeline.com.

See related: http://cryptome.org/ic-black5601.htm

Source: Robert Kennedy and His Times, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., 1978, pp. 454-458.

Intelligence agencies, sealed off by walls of secrecy from the rest of the community, tend to form societies of their own. Prolonged immersion in the self-contained, self-justifying, ultimately hallucinatory world of clandestinity and deception erodes the reality principle. So intelligence operatives, in the CIA as well as the FBI, had begun to see themselves as the appointed guardians of the Republic, infinitely more devoted and knowledgeable than transient elected officials, morally authorized to do on their own whatever they believed the nation's security demanded. Let others interfere at their peril. J. D. Esterline, the CIA's supevisor of planning the Bay of Pigs, bitterly told the board of inquiry, "As long as decisions by professionals can be set aside by people who know not of what they speak, you won't succeeed."36


36 Cuba Study Group, May 19, 1961, RFK Papers.

The CIA had struck out on its own years before. Congress had liberated it from normal budgetary restraints in 1949. Through most of the 1950s the fact that the Secretary of State [John Foster Dulles] and the director of Central Intelligence [Allen Dulles] were brothers gave the Agency unusual freedom. "A word from one to the other," wrote Howard Hunt, "substituted for weeks of inter- and intra-agency debate."37 Eisenhower, reluctant to commit conventional armed force, used the CIA as the routine instrument of American intervention abrod. Covert-action operators, working on relatively small budgets, helped overthrow governments deemed pro-Communist in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954), failed to do so in Indonesia (1958) and Laos (1959) and planned the overthrow and murder of Castro in 1960.


37 Howard Hunt, "The Azalea Trail Guide to the CIA," The National Review, April 29, 1977.

Congress and the press looked on these activities, insofar as they knew about them, with complacency. Only one group had grave misgivings and informed criticism; expressed, however in the deepest secrecy. This, improbably, was the President's Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Actitivites, created by Eisenhower in 1956 and composed of unimpeacheably respectable private citizens.

Almost at once the board appointed a panel, led by Robert Lovett and David Bruce, to take a look at CIA's covert operations. "Bruce was very much disturbed," Lovett told the Cuba board of inquiry in 1961. "He approached it from the standpoint of 'what right have we to go barging into other countries buying newspapers and handing money to opposition parties or supporting a candidate for this, that or the other office?' He felt this was an outrageous interference with friendly countries. . . . He got me alarmed, so instead of completing the report in thirty days we took two months or more."38


38 Cuba Study Group, May 11, 1961, RFK Papers.

The 1956 report, written in Bruce's spirited style, condemned

the increased mingling in the internal affairs of other nations of bright, highly graded young men who must be doing something all the time to justify their reason for being. . . . Busy, moneyed, and privileged [the CIA] likes its "King Making" responsibili9ty (the intrigue is fascinating -- considerable self-satisfaction, sometimes with applause, derives from "successes" -- no charge is made for "failures" -- and the whole business is very much simpler than collecting covert intellignece on the USSR through the usual CIA methods!).

Bruce and Lovett could discover no reliable system of control. "there are always, of course, on recrod the twin, well-born purpose of 'frustrating the Soviets' and keeping others 'pro-western' oriented. Under these almost any [covert] action can be and is being justified. . . . Once having been conceived, the final approval given to any project (at informal lunch meetins of the OCB [Operations Coordinating Board] inner group) can, at best, be described as pro forma." One consequence was that "no one, other than those in the CIA immediately concerned with their day to day operation, has any detailed knowledge of what is going on." With "a horde of CIA representatives" swarming around the planet, CIA covert action was exerting "signficant, almost unilateral influences . . . on the actual formulation of our foreign policies . . . sometimes completely unknown" to the local American ambassador. "We are sure," the report added, "that the supporters of the 1948 decision to launch this government on a positive [covert] program could not possibly have foreseen the ramifications of the operations which have resulted from it." Bruce and Lovett concluded with an exasperated plea:

Should not someone, somewhere in an authoritative position in our government, on a continuing basis, be . . . calculating . . . the long-range wisdom of activities which have entailed a virtual abandonment of the international "golden rule," and which, if successful to the degree claimed for them, are responsible in a great measure for stirring up the turmoitl and raising the doubts about us that exist in many countries of the world today? . . . Where will we be tomorrow?39


39 David Bruce and Robert Lovett, "Covert Operations," report to President's Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities [1956], RFK Papers.

In December 1956 the full board passed onto Eisenhower its concern about "the extremely informal and somewhat exclusive methods" used in the handling of clandestine projects.40 (Among those signing this statement was another board member, Joseph P. Kennedy. "I know that outfit," the ambassador said after the Bay of Pigs, "and I wouldn't pay them a hundred bucks a week. It's a lucky thing they were found out early.")41 In February 1957 the board pointed out to the White House that clandestine operations absorbed more than 80 percent of the CIA budget and that few of the projects received the formal approval of the so-called 5412 Special Group, the National Security Council's review mechanism. The CIA's Directorate of Plans (i.e., covert action), the board said, "is operating for the most part on an autonomous and free-wheeling basis in highly critical area." All too often the State Department knew "little or nothing" of what the CIA was doing. "In some qurgters this leads to situations which are almost unbelievable because the operations being carried out by the Deputy Director of Plans are sometimes in direct conflict with the normal operations being carried out by the Department of State."42


40 President's Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities (hereafter cited as PBCFIA), report to President Eisenhowe, December 20, 1956, RFK Papers.

41 William Manchester, Portrait of a President (Boston, 1962), 35.

42 PBCFIA, report to the Special Assistnat for National Security, February 12, 1957, RFK Papers.

When this happened, State did not always prevail. Indeed, State was often itself a CIA target. In 1957 the CIA station in Indonesia decided that the United States should back a military revolt against Sukarno."We began to feed the State and Defense departments intelligence," one CIA man said later. ". . . When they read enough alarming reports, we planned to spring the suggestion that we should support the colonels." The spooks moved on many fronts, even fabricating aSukarno mask for an actor to wear in a pornographic film to be ground out in the blue movie mills of Los Angeles and used thereafter to discredit the Indonesian leader. John Allison, the ambassador in Djakarta, opposed the idea of overthrowing the regime. "We handled this problem by getting Allen Dulles to have his brother relieve Allison of his post within a year of his arrival in Indonesia."43


43 Joseph B. Smith, Portrait of a Cold Warrior (New York,. 1976), 229-230, 240.

The Indonesian adventure -- a far more exact model for the Bay of Pigs than Guatemala -- was a total failure. The colonels rebelled in February 1958 after Allison's departure. Though Allen Dulles had personally promised to keep the new ambassador, Howard P. Jones, apprised of CIA activity in Indonesia, Jones was not informed that CIA was giving military assistance to the rebels.44 Eisenhower, fully aware of the CIA role, piously described American policy as one of "not taking sides where it is none of our business." As the rebellion collapsed in May, a CIA pilot, Allen L. Pope, was shot down and captured.45 "There was no proper estimate of the situation," the board told Eisenhower in a meeting in December 1958, "nor proper prior planning on the part of anyone, and in its active phases the operation was directed, not by the Director of Central Intelligence, but personally by the Secretary of State, who, ten thousand miles away from the scene of the operation, undertook to make practically all decisions down to and including even the tactical military decisions." The chief result, the board said, had been to strengthen the Communists in Indonesia. There were "no present provisons," it added, "for any regular external review of Clandestine Cold War programs and no formal accounting of them." It begged Eisenhower once more to reconsider these "programs which find us involved covertly in the internal affairs of practically every country to which we have access."46


44 Howard P. Jones, Indonesia: The Possible Dream (New York, 1971), 143, 145.

45 In addition to J. B. Smith and H. P. Jones, see ch. 8 of David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, The Invisible Government (New York: Bantam reprint, 1965); and Ray S. Cline, Secrets Spies and Scholars (Washington, 1976) 181-183.

46 White House meeting of the PBCFIA with Eisenhower, December 16, 1958, RFK Papers.

The board pressed its campaign in 1959 and 1960. Allen Dulles made minor organizational changes. In 1959 the 5412 Special Group began for the first time to meet regularly.47 The board was not satisfied, then or later. When Dulles, Bissell and J. D. Esterline briefed the board late in 1960 on the Cuban project, its members, Lovett particularly, registered dismay, especially over the manner in which planning was being administered.48 In its last written report to Eisenhower, in January 1961, the board said grimly: "We have been unable to conclude that, on balance, all of the covert action programs undertaken by CIA up to this time have been worth the risk or the great expenditure of manpower, money and other resources involved. In addition, we believe that CIA's concentration on political, psychological and related covert action activities have tended to distract substantially from the execution of tis primary intelligence-gathering mission. We suggest, accordingly, that there should be a total reassessment of our covert action policies."49 "I have never felt," Lovett told the Cuba board of inquiry," that the Congress of the United States ever intended to give the United States Intelligence Agency authority to conduct operations all over the world."50


47 Church committee, Final Report, bk. I, Foreign and Military Intelligence, 94 Cong., 2 Sess. (1976), 52.

48 Cuba Study Group, May 11, 1961, RFK Papers.

49 PBCFIA, report to Eisenhower, January 5, 1961, RFK Papers.

50 Cuba Study Group, May 11, 1961, RFK Papers.

The Board of Consultants had no visible impact. Allen Dulles ignored its recommendations. Eisenhower gave it no support. But its testimony demolishes the myth that the CIA was a punctilious and docile organization, acting only in response to express instruction from higher authority. Like the FBI, it was a runaway agency, in this case endowed with men professionally trained in deception, a wide choice of weapons, reckless purposes, a global charter, maximum funds and minimum accountability.