My Story

excerptd from the book

The Praetorian Guard

by John Stockwell

former CIA agent


This was at the end of the 10-year war that followed a previous decade of CIA activity in Vietnam. Two million people- had been killed. The equivalent of one 500-pound bomb had been dropped on the country [Vietnam] for every citizen. Ninety-thousand tons of carcinogenic and toxic materials had been dropped on the country, some of which would poison it for decades to come. We were returning to the "World," to continue our lives, while leaving our Vietnamese cohorts behind.


In the meetings of the National Security Council, busy, _ important men come together to make decisions about U.S. policy on various problems all over the world. The Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Vice-President, sometimes the President, the CIA Director, people like that, with enormous responsibilities and power. They are aware of their power. The etiquette is that they do not keep each other waiting. They try not to show up 30 minutes late to those meetings, because the other people are powerful and busy too-and they really are busy. That is one thing I noticed about people in those positions: they do work hard, long hours, long days, lots of meetings, keeping a lot of balls in the air.

In the first briefings on the Angola operation, the CIA Director, William Colby, with an aide with a flip chart, literally said, "Gentleman, this is a map of Africa. Here is Angola. Now, there are three factions in Angola. The FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola), they are the Good Guys; we have been working with them for fourteen years." And then he described the FNLA, and Holden Roberto, our rebarbative ally. Then he said, "The MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), they are the Bad Guys, led by the drunken psychotic poet"-that was what we had written into the briefing material-"Augustino Neto." And he used those words-"Good Guys" and "Bad Guys"-so these busy men would not be confused about the issues, and proceeded to brief them.

One day Henry Kissinger came to the meeting late, and everyone had to wait. Now mind you, this is not a meeting of the Supreme Court, where law prescribes where everybody sits, according to seniority. The National Security Council, at least at that time, met in an office in the White House, wit-in an oak table and some drapes and some maps, but no electronic flashing boards or anything like that. People sat around the great big table, with the staffers sitting in an outer ring of chairs so they could lean forward to advise their individual masters. Often staffers were not present when sensitive decisions were being made.

The Secretary of Defense plopped down in a chair to talk to somebody while we waited for Kissinger, and then Kissinger came steaming in and he told the Secretary of Defense, "I am here. We can go to work. Move down to your chair." To which the Secretary of Defense replied, "Well, I am all spread out here. You sit there today." And Kissinger said, "No, I am the Secretary of State, this is my chair. You sit down there." They proceeded to argue like five-year-olds for about five minutes. Eventually the Secretary of Defense would not move, and Kissinger had to go sit down at the far end of the table, but he turned his back on the briefings and sulked. He wouldn't pay attention to what we were saying that day because he couldn't have his chair-and we were making decisions that were getting people killed in Angola. I am not exaggerating that incident one bit.

When the operation was formally launched by the National Security Council in January 1975, Angola was moving toward peaceful elections as it gained its independence. The CIA introduced fighting forces into the country, forcing a violent, undemocratic solution instead. (See the Angola section of the next chapter for a summary of the entire fiasco.) The program was stopped by the U.S. Congress in the winter of 1975-76.

I spent six months reviewing the files and then resigned from the agency. After publishing a letter in the Washington Post on April 10, 1977, I testified for five days to congressional committees, eschewing the protections of the Fifth Amendment, while I gave them chapter and verse of what we had done in the misguided Angola operation. I gave them the numbers, dates and texts of cables and memoranda that proved we had broken laws and then lied about breaking them. I gave them the combinations to the safes where the documents were stored, and told them where in CIA headquarters those safes could be found. I challenged them to investigate thoroughly and do their duty.

They did nothing. The hearings had been conducted in secret, and after the Watergate scandal, the ouster of President Nixon, and the defeat in Vietnam, they were not willing to tackle another big scandal that might oblige them to put Henry Kissinger and the CIA Director in jail. I proceeded to write my first book, In Search of Enemies, to make the public aware of what had happened so they could judge for themselves. It remains today the only insider's account of a major CIA operation.

A year later, when Congress had had abundant time to investigate the secret scandal and prosecute the felons involved, In Search of Enemies was published. Without claiming that the book revealed any sensitive secrets, the CIA sued me and succeeded in seizing all future earnings. They also placed me under a court order which requires that all future writings for publication be submitted to the CIA Publications Review Board for censorship.

Since then, I have been on the greatest human adventure imaginable, of growth and of learning all the things about the world that they did not teach us in college. I began to read book after book about the United States and world security problems, and to meet the authors of some of them and talk to them about their findings. I travelled to countries that had been the targets of CIA destabilizations, including Grenada, Jamaica, Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, and Vietnam. In my travels I met people like Carl Sagan, Admiral Gene LaRocque Admiral Gene Carroll, Jr., Director of the Center for Defense Information, anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott, Daniel Ortega, the martyred Grenadan leaderMaunce Bishop, and numerous other authorities on national security and the nuclear arms race. I was invited to lecture and have addressed over 600 audiences, learning much from them in return. I have enjoyed the experience more than I could ever have imagined.

Much of this learning process was very personal. In March 1963 I was in Grenada for the anniversary celebration of the New Jewel Movement's takeover. At a cocktail party in a garden overlooking the Caribbean we received the news that President Reagan had given a speech announcing that Grenada was a threat to U.S. national security. The Minister of Education, Jacqueline Creft joked that they had been caught on the eve of their attack on the United States. She said their armies were about to take Washington and New York (Grenada is a small island, about 8 by 16 miles, with 80,000 people, and at the time had two poorly trained and equipped parapolice companies in its armed forces). They would sweep west and capture Chicago by the early summer and then launch their march on California. Everyone laughed, but I pointed out that President Reagan's speech wasn't really funny. If, out of all the million important things he could mention in a public address, he focusses on a country like Grenada and asserts that it is a threat to the "national security" it means that he is drawing attention to it in preparation for attacking it. Creft flared back at me, noting that I didn't need to lecture them about U.S. policy. They had been living under the wing and talon of the U.S. eagle for centuries; they knew its dangerous ways too well. But she was glad I was beginning to understand.

As I learned more and more about the history and cynicism of the CIA's so-called secret wars, I also became more concerned about other major problems of world security, including the nuclear arms race, drug smuggling, the abuse of the environment, and the coming world economic crisis. Until we learn to control human behavior at the level of covert destabilizations against countries like Nicaragua, for example, I doubt seriously whether we shall be safe from the planet-threatening aspects of the nuclear arms race.

Praetorian Guard