[The office of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency could belong to a business executive or doctor or an everyday, small-town high school principal. There are the usual collection of reference books on the shelf, degrees and photos on the wall, and, on his desk, an autographed baseball from Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench. Bob Archer, my host, can see by my face that I was expecting something different. I suspect that is why he chose to conduct our interview here.]
When you think about the CIA, you probably imagine two of our most popular and enduring myths. The first is that our mission is to search the globe for any conceivable threat to the United States, and the second is that we have the power to perform the first. This myth is the by-product of an organization, which, by its very nature, must exist and operate in secrecy. Secrecy is a vacuum and nothing fills a vacuum like paranoid speculation. “Hey, did you hear who killed so and so, I hear it was the CIA. Hey, what about that coup in El Banana Republico, must have been the CIA. Hey, be careful looking at that website, you know who keeps a record of every website anyone’s ever looked at ever, the CIA!” This is the image most people had of us before the war, and it’s an image we were more than happy to encourage. We wanted bad guys to suspect us, to fear us and maybe think twice before trying to harm any of our citizens. This was the advantage of our image as some kind of omniscient octopus. The only disadvantage was that our own people believed in that image as well, so whenever anything, anywhere occurred without any warning, where do you think the finger was pointed: “Hey, how did that crazy country get those nukes? Where was the CIA? How come all those people were murdered by that fanatic? Where was the CIA? How come, when the dead began coming back to life, we didn’t know about it until they were breaking through our living room windows? Where the hell was the goddamn CIA!?!”
The truth was, neither the Central Intelligence Agency nor any of the other official and unofficial U.S. intelligence organizations have ever been some kind of all-seeing, all-knowing, global illuminati. For starters, we never had that kind of funding. Even during the blank check days of the cold war, it’s just not physically possible to have eyes and ears in every back room, cave, alley, brothel, bunker, office, home, car, and rice paddy across the entire planet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we were impotent, and maybe we can take credit for some of the things our fans, and our critics, have suspected us of over the years. But if you add up all the crackpot conspiracy theories from Pearl Harbor to the day before the Great Panic, then you’d have an organization not only more powerful than the United States, but the united efforts of the entire human race.
We’re not some shadow superpower with ancient secrets and alien technology. We have very real limitations and extremely finite assets, so why would we waste those assets chasing down each and every potential threat? That goes to the second myth of what an intelligence organization really does. We can’t just spread ourselves thin looking for, and hoping to stumble on, new and possible dangers. Instead, we’ve always had to identify and focus on those that are already clear and present. If your Soviet neighbor is trying to set fire to your house, you can’t be worrying about the Arab down the block. If suddenly it’s the Arab in your backyard, you can’t be worrying about the People’s Republic of China, and if one day the ChiComs show up at your front door with an eviction notice in one hand and a Molotov cocktail in the other, then the last thing you’re going to do is look over his shoulder for a walking corpse.
But didn’t the plague originate in China?
It did, as well as did one of the greatest single Maskirovkas in the history of modern espionage.
It was deception, a fake out. The PRC knew they were already our number-one surveillance target. They knew they could never hide the existence of their nationwide “Health and Safety” sweeps. They realized that the best way to mask what they were doing was to hide it in plain sight. Instead of lying about the sweeps themselves, they just lied about what they were sweeping for.
The dissident crackdown?
Bigger, the whole Taiwan Strait incident: the victory of the Taiwan National Independence Party, the assassination of the PRC defense minister, the buildup, the war threats, the demonstrations and subsequent crackdowns were all engineered by the Ministry of State Security and all of it was to divert the world’s eye from the real danger growing within China. And it worked! Every shred of intel we had on the PRC, the sudden disappearances, the mass executions, the curfews, the reserve call-ups - everything could easily be explained as standard ChiCom procedure. In fact, it worked so well, we were so convinced that World War III was about to break out in the Taiwan Strait, that we diverted other intel assets from countries where undead outbreaks were just starting to unfold.
The Chinese were that good.
And we were that bad. It wasn’t the Agency’s finest hour. We were still reeling from the purges . . .
You mean the reforms?
No, I mean the purges, because that’s what they were. When Joe Stalin either shot or imprisoned his best military commanders, he wasn’t doing half as much damage to his national security as what that administration did to us with their “reforms.” The last brushfire war was a debacle and guess who took the fall. We’d been ordered to justify a political agenda, then when that agenda became a political liability, those who’d originally given the order now stood back with the crowd and pointed the finger at us. “Who told us we should go to war in the first place? Who mixed us up in all this mess? The CIA!” We couldn’t defend ourselves without violating national security. We had to just sit there and take it. And what was the result? Brain drain. Why stick around and be the victim of a political witch hunt when you could escape to the private sector: a fatter paycheck, decent hours, and maybe, just maybe, a little respect and appreciation by the people you work for. We lost a lot of good men and women, a lot of experience, initiative, and priceless analytical reasoning. All we were left with were the dregs, a bunch of brownnosing, myopic eunuchs.
But that couldn’t have been everyone.
No, of course not. There were some of us who stayed because we actually believed in what we were doing. We weren’t in this for money or working conditions, or even the occasional pat on the back. We were in this because we wanted to serve our country. We wanted to keep our people safe. But even with ideals like that there comes a point when you have to realize that the sum of all your blood, sweat, and tears will ultimately amount to zero.
So you knew what was really happening.
No . . . no . . . I couldn’t. There was no way to confirm . . .
But you had suspicions.
I had . . . doubts.
Could you be more specific?
No, I’m sorry. But I can say that I broached the subject a number of times to my coworkers.
The answer was always the same, “Your funeral.”
And was it?
[Nods.] I spoke to . . . someone in a position of authority . . . just a five-minute meeting, expressing some concerns. He thanked me for coming in and told me he’d look into it right away. The next day I received transfer orders: Buenos Aires, effective immediately.
Did you ever hear of the Warmbrunn-Knight report?
Sure now, but back then . . . the copy that was originally hand delivered by Paul Knight himself, the one marked “Eyes Only” for the director . . . it was found at the bottom of the desk of a clerk in the San Antonio field office of the FBI, three years after the Great Panic. It turned out to be academic because right after I was transferred, Israel went public with its statement of “Voluntary Quarantine.” Suddenly the time for advanced warning was over. The facts were out; it was now a question of who would believe them.
- ↑ The CIA, originally the OSS, was not created until June 1942, six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.