from the book

The CIAs Greatest Hits

by Mark Zepezauer


If you ever need a reminder that the CIA was founded and run by lawyers, you won't need to look any further than the overthrow of Guatemalan democracy. The Dulles brothers were partners in the Wall Street law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell; time permitting, they also worked for the US government. With John Foster Dulles heading the State Department and Allen Dulles heading the CIA, they were the czars of Eisenhower's foreign policy, and they made sure that the interests of Sullivan & Cromwell clients weren't ignored.

In 1951, Jacobo Arbenz was elected president of Guatemala by a landslide in a free and fair election. He hoped to transform Guatemala "from a backward country with a predominantly feudal economy to a modern capitalist state." The CIA, however, weighed in heavily on the side of feudalism.

When Arbenz appropriated some unused land controlled by the Rockefeller-owned United Fruit Company (for which United Fruit was duly compensated), the company undertook an extensive PR campaign in the US, designed to paint Arbenz as a tool of the "international Communist conspiracy." John Foster Dulles, ever alert for opportunities to roll back the red menace-and to help out a valued client-convinced Ike that Arbenz must go.

Brother Allen's CIA was only too happy to take the job, which ended up costing only about $20 million. The agency sponsored a propaganda offensive and hired about 300 mercenaries who sporadically sabotaged trains and oil supplies.

Finally, in June of 1954, unmarked CIA planes staged a series of air raids on the Guatemalan capital and dropped leaflets demanding Arbenz's resignation. At the same time, CIA-run radio stations warned of the impending invasion of an occupying rebel army (actually the agency's 300 hired thugs). Considering discretion the better part of valor, Arbenz fled, leaving Guatemala in the hands of the CIA's hand-picked stooge, General Castillo Armas.

The CIA has always been particularly proud of the Guatemalan operation, which inaugurated a series of bloodthirsty regimes that murdered more than 100,000 Guatemalans over the next 40 years. In retrospect, however, some CIA veterans concluded that it may have come off too easily, leading to a certain overconfidence. As one CIA officer put it, "We thought we could knock off these little brown people on the cheap."

CIAs Greatest Hits

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