The CIA, Rockefeller,
and the Boys in the Club
by Howard Zinn, 1975
from the Howard Zinn Reader
The CIA, it is generally understood by now (1996), has a long
and dirty record of violating, again and again, norms of moral
behavior: overthrowing governments, installing military dictatorships,
planning the assassinations of foreign leaders, spying on American
citizens, interfering in foreign elections, causing the deaths
of large numbers of innocent people. In 1975, at the end of the
Vietnam War, some of its activities were just coming to the fore,
and to quiet further inquiry an investigating commission was set
up under Nelson Rockefeller. When the commission released its
report, I wrote a column 'June 7, 1975) for the Boston Globe.
"Rockefeller Inquiry Clears CIA of Major Violations"
was the headline in the New York Times. Now we can relax. Except
for one troubling question: who will clear Rockefeller?
All these fellows go around clearing one another. It seems that
only at the top levels of government is serious attention paid
to the principle that criminals should be tried by juries of their
peers. What would be the public reaction to the headline: "Boston
Strangler Clears Cambridge Mugger"? Is that more shocking
than: "Attica Massacre Chief Clears Assassination Plotters"?
Rockefeller was the perfect choice to head a commission investigating
the CIA. Questioned during his nomination hearing last fall by
Sen. Hatfield: "Do you believe that the Central Intelligence
Agency should ever actively participate in the internal affairs
of another sovereign country, such as in the case of Chile?"
Rockefeller replied, "I assume they were done in the best
national interest." According to CIA head William Colby's
testimony, the CIA tried-with $8 million-to change the election
results in Chile when it seemed a Marxist, Allende, would win.
American corporations didn't like Allende because he stood for
nationalization of Anaconda Copper and other businesses. Anaconda
Copper owed a quarter of a billion dollars to a group of banks
led by Chase Manhattan, whose chairman is David Rockefeller, Nelson's
brother. Now we are catching on to the meaning of "national
But the circle is still not closed. The CIA action to overthrow
Allende was approved by the Forty Committee, whose chairman is
Henry Kissinger. And it was Kissinger who recommended that Rockefeller
head the commission to investigate the CIA.
Rockefeller summed up the commission report: "There are
things that have been done which are in contradiction to the statutes,
but in comparison to the total effort, they are not major."
The same report can be made on the Corleone family, after
studying them in the motion picture The Godfather. True, they
murdered people who challenged their power, but in comparison
to all the harmless things they did, like drinking espresso, going
to weddings and christenings, and bouncing grandchildren on their
knees, it was nothing to get excited about.
Yes, the CIA had its little faults. For instance: It kept
secret files on 10,000 American citizens. It engaged in domestic
wiretapping, breaking and entering, and opening people's mail.
It approved Mr. Nixon's "dirty tricks" plan, and abetted
Howard Hunt's burglarizing. All this was illegal. And its director,
Richard Helms, lied about it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The CIA plotted to overthrow various governments: successfully
in Iran and Guatemala, unsuccessfully in Cuba. It discussed assassinating
Fidel Castro, with the Kennedys' approval, Gen. Lansdale has testified.
The CIA ran a program of assassination, torture and imprisonment
in Vietnam between 1967 and 1971, called Operation Phoenix, headed
by the present CIA director William Colby, who admitted over 20,000
Vietnamese civilians were executed without trial. That is a blood
bath, by any definition.
One more fact: no President, no Congress, no Supreme Court,
for 25 years, has done anything to stop these activities.
There is murder and deceit on the record of the CIA. But we
mustn't abolish it, because we need it to fight Communism. Why
do we need to fight Communism? Because Communism roams the earth,
conspiring to overthrow other governments. And because we don't
want to live in a society where secret police tap our wires, open
our mail, and have the power to quietly eliminate anyone they
decide will hurt "national security." Once, there was
the Stone Age. Now, the Age of Irony. It is only fitting that
Rockefeller and his commission should befriend the CIA. It would
confuse us if they denounced members of their own club. The Rockefeller
report clears the air; our problem is not the CIA, but the club
Zinn On War