In the 1950s and 60s, the CIA ran a mind-control research program code-named Project MKULTRA in the United States and Canada. The project in Montreal included developing techniques used by Nazi scientists to wipe out the existing personalities of the victims.
In its earliest years the CIA, and its predecessor, the OSS, attempted to rollback communism in Eastern Europe by supporting local, anti-Communist political and para-military groups; none of the attempts were particularly successful. Attempts at instigating right-wing counter-revolutions in the Ukraine and Belarus, by infiltrating anti-Communist spies and saboteurs failed. In Poland, the CIA spent years sending money and equipment to an anti-Communist organization invented and run by Polish intelligence.
Yet, it was successful in limiting native Communist influence in France and Italy, notably in the 1948 Italian election. After WWII, the CIA set up the right-wing Gladio network, a secret government network of organizations, in Italy and other Western European countries. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Gladio operatives were involved in a series of "false flag" fascist terrorist actions in Italy that were blamed on the "Red Brigades" and other Left-wing political groups in an attempt to politically discredit the Italian Left wing.
After World War II, the CIA protected many high profile Nazi war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann. The Agency absorbed as many as tens of thousands of Nazis into the intelligence apparatus, many of whom were later sent to aid in operations in South America.
In some unexplained way, the CIA managed to acquire the Rosenholz files, containing the list of foreign spies of the Stasi, in the former GDR.
In the 1950s, with Europe stabilizing along the Iron Curtain, the CIA then tried limiting the spread of Soviet influence elsewhere around the world, especially in the poor countries of the Third World. Encouraged by DCI Allen Dulles, clandestine operations quickly dominated the organization's actions. Initially, secret intervention proved very successful: in 1953, they successfully overthrew the Mossadegh Government of Iran, ostensibly removing the perceived anti-Western influence of the strong Iranian Communist Party. In 1954, they executed the anti-democratic coup d'état against the elected government of Guatemala, however, the political and consequent social instability created in Guatemala resulted in a very long civil war and its consequent, destructive impact upon the society, the economy, and the culture of Guatemala.
With relatively little funding, the CIA overthrew these governments, replacing them with right-wing, pro-American military regimes. According to John Stockwell, formerly a high-level CIA operative, no fewer than six million people were killed in America's Secret Wars in many Third World countries.
The limitations of large scale covert action became apparent during the CIA-organized Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba in 1961. The failed para-military invasion embarrassed the CIA and the United States world-wide. Recently de-classified documents show in written confirmation that President Kennedy had officially denied the CIA authorization to invade Cuba. Cuban leader Fidel Castro used the routed invasion to consolidate his power and strengthen Cuba's ties with the Soviet Union. Later, the CIA tried and failed several times to assassinate Fidel Castro.
CIA operations became less visible after the Bay of Pigs, and shifted to being closely linked to aiding the U.S. military operation in Vietnam. Between 1962 and 1975, the CIA organized a Laotian group known as the Secret Army and ran a fleet of aircraft known as Air America to take part in the Secret War in Laos, part of the Vietnam War.
The CIA's Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War was described by a former official as a "sterile depersonalized murder program". Quote: "I never knew an individual to be detained as a VC suspect who ever lived through an interrogation".
On September 4, 1970 Salvador Allende gained presidency after four elections and became the first socialist to be democratically elected in the Western Hemisphere in the 20th century. Soon after, President Richard Nixon ordered a covert operation to undermine Allende's government and promote military coup in Chile. Joining the operations included Henry Kissinger (National Security Advisor), Richard Helms (CIA Director), and Attorney General John Mitchell. Under the supervision of Thomas Karamessines, a special task force was established and led by veteran David Atlee Phillips. On September 11, 1973 General Agusto Pinochet, who had just 19 days prior become the commander in chief of the army, executed a bloody coup d'etat which resulted in the death of Allende and Pinochet's rise to military control of the state.
PBSUCCESS, authorized by President Eisenhower, is the codename for the CIA first covert operation in Latin America, carried out in Guatemala. According to most historians, the CIA-sponsored military coup in 1954 was “the poison arrow that pierced the heart of Guatemala's young democracy.” The purpose of the operation was to overthrow Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, the democratically-elected President of Guatemala. The U.S. began to worry about the growth of Communism there because of policies set forth by Jacobo Arbenz. By recruiting a Guatemalan military force the CIA's operation succeeded in eliminating the democratic government and replacing it with a military junta headed by Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas.
Often cited as one of the American intelligence community's biggest mistakes was the training, arming, supplying and supporting of the Mujahedeen (Islamist fighters) in Afghanistan, initiated under Carter and greatly expanded under Reagan, as American proxy soldiers against the Marxist regime and later the Soviet intervention. Part of the Mujahedeen trained by the CIA later became the core cadre of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda Islamist organization. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security Advisor under President Carter, has discussed U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan in several magazines.
A report by the human rights organisation Human Rights Watch, entitled Enduring Freedom - Abuses by US Forces in Afghanistan, claims that the CIA has operated in Afghanistan since September, 2001; maintaining a large facility in the Ariana Chowk neighborhood of Kabul and a detention and interrogation facility at the Bagram airbase.
Britain, fearful of Iran’s plan to nationalize its oil industry, came up with the idea for the coup in 1952 and pressed the U.S. to mount a joint operation to remove the Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and restore the exiled Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to the throne. Brigadier General Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr. and CIA guru Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. were ordered to begin a covert operation. A complex plot, codenamed Operation Ajax, was conceived and executed from the US Embassy in Tehran.
According to certain authors the CIA supported the 1963 military coup d'état in Iraq against the Qassim government and supported the subsequently installed government of Saddam Hussein, until the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. U.S. support for the invasion was predicated upon the notion that Iraq was a key buffer state in geopolitical relations with the Soviet Union. There are U.S. court records indicating the CIA militarily and monetarily assisted Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. The CIA also was involved in the failed 1996 coup against Saddam Hussein.
The CIA also supported the Ba'ath Party's 1968 coup d'état against the Government of Rahman Arif, with Saddam Husein eventually assuming power.
According to former U.S. intelligence officials, the CIA orchestrated a bomb-and-sabotage campaign against civilian and government targets in Baghdad between 1992 and 1995. The civilian targets included, at least, one school bus, killing schoolchildren; a cinema, killing many people. The campaign was directed by CIA-agent Dr. Iyad Allawi, the man later installed as prime minister by the U.S.-led coalition after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to at least one official.
In 2002 an anonymous source, quoted in the Washington Post, says the CIA was authorized to execute a covert operation, if necessary with help of the Special Forces, that could serve as a preparation for a full military attack against Iraq.
U.S. intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have been focus of intense scrutiny in the U.S. In 2004, the continuing armed resistance against the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, and the widely-perceived need for a systematic review of the respective roles of the CIA, the FBI, and the Defense Intelligence Agency are prominent themes. On July 9, 2004, the Senate Report of Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq of the Senate Intelligence Committee reported that the CIA exaggerated the danger presented by weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, largely unsupported by the available intelligence.
Support for foreign dictators
The CIA's activities are controversial, both in the United States and abroad, in countries with which the U.S. has a nominal friendship, where the agency has operated (or allegedly operated). Particularly during the Cold War, the CIA supported many dictators, including General Augusto Pinochet of Chile; dictators in Central America, the Shah of Iran, and the religious despots in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kuwait and Indonesia, who have been friendly to perceived U.S. geopolitical interests (anti-Communism, natural resource access for petroleum companies and multinational corporations, and implementing neoliberal economics), often against elected governments.
Later, the CIA facilitated the Reagan Doctrine, the illegal channelling of weapons and material to Jonas Savimbi's right-wing UNITA rebel movement in Angola (in addition to the Afghan Mujahedeen and the Nicaraguan Contras), in response to Cuban military support for the MPLA, converting, thus, an otherwise low-profile African civil war into one of the larger battlegrounds of the U.S.–U.S.S.R. Cold War.
Moreover, the CIA nominally supported Pol Pot's nativist, communist rule in Cambodia when Vietnam attempted toppling the regime in 1979. Though Communist, Pol Pot's regime was anti-Soviet and anti-Vietnamese; being aided by China during the Sino-Soviet split (at the time, there existed a Sino–American rapprochement), thus gaining the CIA's approval.
Since World War II, the CIA has broadened spy and counterspy missions in Europe and around the world. It has also led infiltration, propaganda and “sponsoring” missions in various intellectual circles with the support of important American cultural institutes. During Cold War years, Thomas Braden was in charge of cultural action at the CIA.
One of the most common practices is financial support brought to foundations organising exhibitions introducing American artists. In Europe, the CIA recruits plasticians, writers, musicians and other personalities with critical views representing the cultural elite who are socially involved, independent from the political instruments of their countries and uses them for its ideological and cultural fight. They will be asked to bring their support and contribution to anticommunist fight through the Congress of Cultural Freedom, an organisation built by the Agency in 1960 and financed by a fictive foundation whose funds come from the CIA. Journals like Der Monat in Germany, Preuves in France and Encounter in Great Britain are financed by the CIA.