The current brouhaha over the outing of an undercover CIA officer brings to mind vivid memories and comic ironies. The 1982 law that now threatens Karl Rove, or whoever it was who leaked the officer’s name, is the Intelligence Identities Protection Act -- and it was adopted to silence me.
I was a CIA agent for 11 years in Latin America, but I quit in 1969 and wrote a book that told the true story of my life in the agency.
In the 1970s, some colleagues and I followed up with a campaign of “guerrilla journalism” to expose the CIA’s operations and personnel around the world because we thought we could combat the agency’s role in support of so many murderous dictatorships at that time, including those in Vietnam, Greece, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. The Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it a felony to expose a covert intelligence agent, was designed to stop us.
Here’s the first irony: It was President George H.W. Bush who fought to get that law passed when he was CIA director in 1976-1977 and later as vice president.
To justify the law’s restriction of 1st Amendment rights, Bush the elder and other CIA officials repeated the same lie many times over: That by publicly identifying Richard Welch, the CIA chief in Athens who was assassinated by terrorists in December 1975, I was responsible for his death.
Bush repeated that lie long after Congress passed the law, during his term as president and even afterward. His wife, Barbara, also repeated it in her 1994 autobiography -- and I sued her for libel. As part of the legal settlement, she sent me a letter of apology containing the admission that I had not identified Welch.
In fact, I’d never met Welch, didn’t know he was in Athens and had never published his name or given it to anyone.
But Bush’s campaign in the 1970s was effective. While he was CIA director, the agency worked with friendly intelligence services in Europe to label me, at different times, a security threat, a defector and a Soviet or Cuban agent, and they succeeded in having me expelled from five NATO countries.
Fast-forward to today. The son of George and Barbara is now a sitting American president with a harsh, neo-imperialist agenda, including waging war to ensure U.S. control of Middle East oil.
In order to sell this war of choice as a war of necessity, the younger Bush concocts a pack of lies. But when former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV pokes a small hole in Bush’s farrago of justifications, someone in the White House outs Wilson’s wife as a CIA officer in retaliation, a clear attempt to ruin her career.
One has to wonder what Papa Bush thinks of this clear violation of his law in his own son’s office.
We were right in exposing the CIA in the 1970s because the agency was being used to impose a criminal U.S. policy. Today I continue to believe that the agency’s operations should be exposed in places like Venezuela, where it is doubtless working overtime to organize and support the forces bent on overthrowing the twice-elected President Hugo Chavez. His apparent crime is to develop programs that will finally bring the benefit of that country’s fabulous oil wealth to the common people.
But instead of that appropriate kind of exposure, U.S. intelligence officers are being outed, and the law violated, by the Bush administration itself as part of a cheap political tactic to punish an enemy and to maintain support for a dishonest and indefensible war.
The ironies are depressing.