Tuesday 27 August 2013

Intelligence and Accountability: From the Cold War to the War on Terror


The use by nations of their intelligence agencies to preserve their interests as well as to facilitate the undermining of their ideological and economic adversaries is a well-trodden path.

For it is through intelligence that the strength of rivals can be assessed, their weaknesses detected and strategies implemented to promote the geo-political and economic advantage of one nation or alliance of nations over others.

It is also the case that the work undertaken covertly by intelligence agencies in the pursuit of national objectives may often stray into what is perceived as being morally objectionable.

Indeed, there is something of a universal understanding among both practitioners and non-practitioners of the dark arts of covert espionage of the inevitable conflict between many aspects of intelligence and what is considered as being ethically sound and within the boundaries of the law.

How far can actions taken by intelligence agencies in the furtherance of the national interest be taken and be justified? The works of early renaissance-era thinkers bear thinking about.

It was of course Niccolo Machiavelli who argued that essentially all means employed by a ruler in terms of preserving and promoting the stability and the prosperity of his domain was inherently justifiable, regardless of whether such methods involved the use of violence, murder, deception and cruelty. The ends, in other words, justified the means. Giovanni Botero argued against Machiavelli’s thesis both on the basis of its amorality as well as it counter-productivity.

The resonance of these opposing arguments is not lost when transferring the context from the preservation of power within medieval and early renaissance states to the preservation of American power and hegemony in the modern circumstances of international relations and power politics. 

In straightforward language, governments, both totalitarian and democratic, use various arms of their intelligence services to do their “dirty work”; thus allowing for a psychopathic quality enabling politicians to outwardly espouse an adherence to democratic and humane values while deviating from conventional morality via the policies and operations which their intelligence services follow covertly in the pursuance of the national interest.

For instance, a 1954 report compiled by the National Security Council for President Eisenhower stated that in “international communism”, the United States faced “an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and whatever cost.”

It advised that the US needed to “learn to subvert, sabotage and destroy its enemies by more clever and more ruthless methods than those of its opponents.” This of course would entail adopting a “fundamentally repugnant philosophy” which contradicted “longstanding American concepts of ‘fair play’”, but it insisted that such an approach was necessary given the gravity of the international situation.

What then the question of accountability of those involved in destroying the enemies of the nation by fair means or foul? Are the values of human rights and respect for the rule of law to be inviolable? Or are there as Oliver Cromwell once said, “great occasions in which some men are called to great services, in the doing of which they are excused from the common rule of morality?”

It is while perhaps bearing Cromwell’s statement in mind that Henry Kissinger said the following:

The average person thinks that morality can be applied as directly to the conduct of states to each other as it can to human relations. That is not always the case because sometimes statesmen have to choose among evils.

Such evils which involve the adoption of morally repugnant schemes that traverse laws made within nations as well as the laws regulating the conduct of nations. But American statesmen like Kissinger have for long appeared to be above accountability.

The case may be made that the concept of ‘American Exceptionalism’ forms the basis for the belief that it be excused from aspects of international law as they pertain to criminal transgressions.

It is a matter of historical and contemporary record that the United States through the use of its various intelligence service branches, most notably the Central Intelligence Agency, has instigated successful and failed attempts geared towards the destabilisation of sovereign nation states, the assassination of leaders, as well as the funding of death squads and extremist militias who have tortured and murdered civilian populations.

Of its relationship -including payments- with human rights violators such as the head of the Chilean DINA, Colonel Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, the CIA, in the 1970s, claimed that it made “a deliberate decision balancing the nature and severity of the human rights abuse against the potential intelligence value of continuing the relationship.” The veracity of such pronouncement was in doubt then as it is now.

The record of contemporary events has revealed the involvement of the same agency in the aforementioned plots and mechanisms with the popularisation of terms such as ‘extraordinary renditions’, black camps and the medieval-type of torture known as ‘waterboarding.’

This has implications for the democratic nations, pre-eminent of which are the United States and its Western European allies, who proclaim their societies to be predicated on the rule of law and the values associated with democracy.

The inauguration of the War on Terror, encompassing the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq and the countering of the subsequent insurgency in the latter, military operations in the Yemen and Pakistan, as well as the civil wars in Libya and Syria in the context of the Arab Spring, has brought the role of Western intelligence services into sharp public focus.

It is now universally accepted that the war launched in 2003 against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq by nations allied to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) under the leadership of the United States was based on the falsehood of the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

A decade later, the issue of the morality of waging a war which arguably was a breach of the rules of international law, continues to prompt heated debate but has yielded little or nothing in the manner of actual accountability of the relevant political leaders and chiefs of intelligence.

The issues of ethics and accountability regarding the involvement of Western intelligence officials have come to the fore in regard to the handling of persons detained under the US Homeland Security regime as alleged members of al-Qaeda.

The background to the legal arguments as to whether or not they are entitled to prisoner of war status under the Geneva Convention, whether they should face trial in criminal courts or military commissions as well as the indefinite detention of others is littered with allegations of unethical practices of intelligence operatives.

Suits launched against the British and German governments based on their obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights have done the same. These lawsuits have highlighted one avenue by which governments and intelligence operatives may be held to account.

This however, has proved not to be the case so far as the United States is concerned. The memory of the terror attacks on September 11th has not led to a backlash against the CIA as occurred in the post-Watergate era with the revelation of the agency’s excesses. Indeed, a segment of American political and public opinion has consistently been in favour of empowering their intelligence operatives and granting them legal immunities.

Nonetheless, the recent prosecutions and convictions for human rights abuses of American and Italian Intelligence officials in Italy, albeit that the Americans were convicted in abstentia, serves as a testament as to what can be achieved if the sentiment for setting higher standards of accountability is backed up by a willingness to vigorously pursue such an end.


Inherent to the healthy functioning of the political system of any nation which considers itself to be a democracy is a strict adherence to the rule of law. Public officials comprising the political classes and civil servants are expected to discharge their duties and responsibilities with a high level of moral probity. The need for transparency and the accountability of officials for their errors as well as their misdeeds is paramount.

These values do not readily transfer into the ambit of the security and intelligence branches of government. The security services are often granted certain immunities to help them in the conduct of their duties. This includes the commission of or the involvement in the commission of criminal offences.

For instance, under the Intelligence Services Act (1994) agents working for the Secret Intelligence Service of Britain, otherwise known as M16, are allowed to conduct illegal activities such as bribery, breaking and entering and to plant listening devices in the interests of national security.

While section 7 of the Act does not specifically give agents a ‘license to kill’, it does offer protection to agents who may become involved in murder, kidnap and torture where such actions have been authorised in writing by a government minister.

The transparency of the workings of government, a notion represented through laws governing the freedom of access to information, are not uniformly applied across the departments of government. The intelligence arms of state after all operate in stealth. Secrecy is a much valued and necessary criterion for the successful running of such areas.

The CIA is protected by standard rules governing freedom of information legislation while in Britain, the security services are not subject to the 30-year rule governing the disclosure of cabinet and high level government papers.

So far as the constructing of many a sensitive covert operation is concerned, the value of accountability within the intelligence community is often replaced by the requirement of ‘plausible deniability’; the maxim of “hear no evil, see no evil” comes to mind. The object is to create a situation whereby in the event of the failure of an operation, responsibility could be denied by political figures and possibly those within the intelligence service.

For instance, within the bowels of the American secret state has existed an interdepartmental committee associated with the National Security Council (NSC). Known variously as ‘The Special Group’, ‘The 303 Committee’ and later as ‘The Forty Group’, it reviewed and authorised covert operations and was ultimately the basis through which a serving president would not be compromised if things went wrong.  

There is evidence that the activities of ‘The Special Group’ and its successors acted without the knowledge of their political masters. And while legislatively prescribed mechanisms exist for the intelligence services to be accountable to the executive and legislative branches, there are covert programs which in recent times are kept hidden from elected officials.

For instance, in 2009 the termination of a long term covert program kept secret from Congress for eight years was announced.

It is pertinent to note that the levels of secrecy attendant to intelligence operations in a democracy may carry with this the insidious effect of distorting history. An example of this may be found in regard the nearly century’s long obfuscation surrounding the British government’s alleged hand in an attempt to assassinate Vladimir Lenin and overthrow the Bolshevik government in Russia.

Files associated with the ‘Lockhart Plot’, an operation engineered by MI-1C, the precursor to MI6, and overseen by Robert Bruce Lockhart, a British diplomat based in Russia, remain under lock and key preserving the pretence that today’s policy regarding the intelligence services which is averse to the subverting of foreign governments and the assassination of foreign political leaders has always held sway.

So far as Britain is concerned, issues of accountability and transparency of its security and intelligence organs were historically abstract concepts given the fact that the existence of both its domestic and foreign branches, MI5 and MI6 was not officially acknowledged until near the closing of the 20th Century.

The case of Harman and Hewitt v The United Kingdom (1991) held that the failure of United Kingdom to provide a statutory basis for the existence of a body having powers of surveillance and file-keeping ran counter to the rights protecting privacy, and, by extension, was an abrogation of the rule of law. The Security Service Act (1989) and then the Intelligence Services Act of 1994 followed to correct this state of affairs.


The gradual but inevitable fracture in the war time alliance between the risen American superpower and the Soviet Union after the conquest of Nazi Germany led to the Cold War.

The resultant drawing of an ‘Iron Curtain’ from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic coast, in actuality a foreseeable set of events given Churchill’s wartime consultations with Stalin over post-War spheres of influence, produced an ideologically-predicated standoff between the capitalist West led by the United States and the Soviet Union-led Eastern Bloc of socialist states.

It led to the establishment of military alliances. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation brought into effect on April 4th 1949 had as a central plank of its existence the objective of keeping the Russians out of Western Europe.

It had already been made clear two years earlier by President Harry Truman in his doctrinal statement on the containment of communist influence, that the United States intended to do the same on a worldwide scale. The Soviet response to the creation of NATO was the signing of the Warsaw Pact. It also sought to extend its influence around the world by aiding or forming alliances with anti-colonial liberation movements.

Thus, the stage was set for a tense geo-strategic confrontation spanning the continents in which the CIA would play a key role in American attempts to aid friendly states and groups and to destabilise those adjudged to be unfriendly.

Intelligence expertise and resources would play a crucial part in a four decades long tussle which would involve espionage, counter-espionage, the support of authoritarian regimes, the facilitating of coup d’etats and proxy wars. Along with these endeavours came the attendant moral implications of funding and supporting campaigns of murder, torture and deception.


The CIA was created by the National Security Act (1947) as a replacement for a number of short-lived organisations most notable of which was the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the first independent US Intelligence agency which ceased to exist in late 1945.

In a directive issued on June 18th 1948, the National Security Council (NSC) gave the CIA the authority to carry out covert operations “against hostile foreign states or groups or in support of friendly foreign states or groups but which are so planned and conducted that any US government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons.”

President Harry Truman’s enunciation of what came to be known as the ‘Truman Doctrine’ formally put into words the defining statement of US foreign policy of the age, and the CIA would become a key instrument in the aggressive defence and promotion of American interests in regard to the dangers of the extension of the spheres of Soviet or Chinese communist influence.

As it turned out, the CIA would also act against non-communist regimes or groups who may have been anti-colonial and reformist in their tendencies. It did not matter that such regimes or movements were popular and democratically elected.

The overthrow of the elected government of Mohammed Mosaddegh in 1953 after he had nationalised British oil interests was the first of major covert operations undertaken by the CIA to destabilise and successfully engineer the removal of a foreign government.

Led by the section chief of the Middle East, Kermit Roosevelt, Operation Ajax involved acts of bribery and the disseminating of false information including an exaggerated concern about Mosaddegh’s association with communists.

It meant the silencing of influential religious clerics who withdrew support from Mosaddegh, payments to underworld figures who intimidated voters and created disturbances during elections and the suborning of figures in the military who staged a coup which installed the Shah as the ruler of a repressive regime until his removal through a popular uprising twenty seven years later.

The following year, the agency was also involved in the overthrow of the government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, who had inaugurated a popular policy of land reform which threatened the commercial interests of the American multinational concern known as the United Fruit Company.

The completion of Operation PBSUCCESS also known as the ‘Banana Revolt’ involved funding and training an avowedly anti-communist “army of liberation” which invaded Guatemala and prompted a coup d’etat that installed Colonel Carlos Armas at the head of a military junta.

The prelude to the invasion involved CIA-inspired disinformation in the form of rumour mongering, air-dropped pamphlets and poster campaigns which heightened anti-communist sentiment and provoked sedition among the officer corps of the Guatemalan military.

The CIA was very active during the 1950s and the 1960s in fomenting dissent in Indonesia. The target was President Sukarno who was allied to the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). Sukarno successfully put down a military rebellion in 1958, but an amalgam of CIA and MI6 operatives, backed respectively by the US State Department and British Foreign Office succeeded in deposing him.

The usual tricks of deception, disinformation and the strengthening of opposition groups were put in motion. Newspapers trumpeted the increasing and ‘malevolent’ power of the communists which were intended to alienate the public from communist organisations and to incite the army –a bastion of anti-communist sentiment- which was given increasing financial aid at the time when the United States was withdrawing and scaling down aid to the Indonesian state.

A psychological warfare strategy was worked out and implemented by the Foreign Office from a base in Phoenix Park in Singapore. This involved its Information Research Department (IRD) and MI6 personnel. Links were maintained with officers of the Indonesian military who used an attempted coup allegedly sponsored by the PKI as the pretext for ousting Sukarno and replacing him with Suharto, the army commander.

Perhaps one of the most reprehensible schemes perpetrated by the IRD during the campaign against the PKI was the consistent aligning of the PKI with “Chinese communism”; a diabolical ploy aimed at identifying communism with the ethnic minority Chinese against whom Indonesians acted during the anti-communist purge that followed failed coup attempt.

The violent overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende, the first Marxist leader to be democratically elected in Latin America, by the Chilean military in 1973 is perhaps the most widely known and notorious of CIA-sponsored coups, which was engineered during the Cold War. As in Guatemala, a major US owned multinational company had its interests at stake, in this case the International Telephone and Telegraph Company.

The findings of the Church Committee and US government records since unearthed have implicated the CIA in a plot to bribe members of the Chilean Congress in order to persuade them not to appoint Allende as President. The agency admitted that it had paid the gang which kidnapped Chile’s army chief of staff, General Rene Schneider, who was later killed for failing to use the army to block Allende’s appointment. Approaches were made to members of the Chilean army to instigate a coup.

As in other targeted nations Black Propaganda played a role. The CIA spent between $800,000 and $1,000,000 on covert action in an attempt to influence the outcome of the 1970 elections which would bring Allende to power.

After his election, the 40 Committee committed itself to planting stories in the European and Latin American press which would spin dire predictions on the future of Chile.

The agency’s tentacles spread into the US media. It succeeded in changing the previously favourable tone given by the Time magazine correspondent in a cover story as well as its timing.

The CIA also knew to be “likely disinformation”, the production of the “White Book” by civilians collaborating with the CIA, which was intended as a justification for Allende’s overthrow on the grounds that he had intended to murder the Chilean high command in the months prior to the coup.

The aforementioned operations leading to regime change were at the time of their implementation construed as successes. But the costs and benefits assessments as details of these covert operations came to the public attention came into sharper focus.

The installation of a political ally in the form of the Shah of Iran whose regime benefitted American and British interests in oil is now viewed as disastrous. His repressive regime alienated the masses and prompted a revolution leading to the Shah’s fall and a subsequent power vacuum filled by an Islamist regime and perpetual hostile relations with the West.

The benefits of bringing to power an anti-Communist junta in Guatemala at the expense of a progressive liberal coalition government needs to be weighed against decades of corrupt and repressive military rule which led to fratricidal conflict with Leftist and democratic-reformed groups which involved the use of ruthless, US-backed death squads.

As for Indonesia, the fall of Sukarno led to an anti-Communist purge which resulted in the deaths of over 500,000 people and the concentration camp-imprisonment of hundreds of thousands.

And if the military government headed by General Augustino Pinochet saved Chile from becoming a pit of Marxist misery from which the ‘Domino Principle’, Latin American-style, would play out, the violation of democracy, the torture and extra-judicial execution of thousands in prisons and ‘black camps’ as well as publically staged assassinations of political dissents requires rueful reflection as a suitable cost.

By the middle of the 1970s, the cost to the image of America among the community of nations including importantly those in the developing world, hit a low. The costs were also felt internally as the reputation of the CIA reached a nadir.

It was the ‘Family Jewels’, a report which compiled the more insalubrious record of domestic rather than foreign operations and which had been intended to be a damage limitation exercise but which turned out to be almost the undoing of the CIA.

The subsequent specially convened Congressional committees in the 1970s and reforms of the agency instituted under the helm of Stansfield Turner, who was director during the ethically-minded and human rights-promoting administration of Jimmy Carter, appeared to set the agency on a more ethically sensitive path in its foreign endeavours.

Carter’s predecessor, Gerald Ford had set the tone for what was hoped to be a more morally sensitive mode of conducting foreign intelligence by issuing in 1975, an executive order which prohibited the assassination of foreign leaders.

But the post-Watergate atmosphere of public recantation of past misdeeds and violations of its legislative charter did not have a lasting effect. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan prompted calls for the CIA and other foreign intelligence services to be given “more dagger” in combating the ‘menace’ of Soviet communism.

It would lead to the cynical operation which led to the Iran-Contra Scandal and other covert interventions in Central America which led to the support of mass killing death squads –a continuum in many ways of the CIA-sanctioned Operation Condor- a phenomenon which would be deliberately replicated in the era of the War on Terror in Iraq, and as evidence may well reveal in the course of time, in the present civil war in Syria.     


The United States of America took the lead in the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi domination and was also the facilitator of its economic rehabilitation through the Marshall Plan.

With the formation of NATO, it became the major shareholder in a military alliance designed to forestall the invasion of the West by Soviet-led forces. As the guarantor of Western European freedom and independence, America was keen to preserve what was referred to as the ‘Yalta System.’

Given this backdrop and the circumstances of the supervening Cold War, it is not surprising that the policy of the United States was not to countenance any scenario in which the essentially free market economies and democratic systems of government would come under the influence or control of Communist parties, some of which were large and powerful as was the case in Italy.  

Italy was a special priority for the Americans so far as the threat of falling in to the hands of the communists was concerned. A large network of communist partisans had fought against the Nazis and an influential communist party was established on the resumption of democracy.

The question was just how far the United States was prepared to go in securing a non-Communist post-war political order. An indication of this concern is indicated by the fact that one of the first secret operations mounted by the nascent CIA was to support the Christian Democrat Party during Italy’s first post-war elections.

The aftermath of the Second World War saw the establishment of a network of stay-behind cells in countries of Western Europe who were to have the role of mounting guerrilla attacks on occupying Soviet forces were they to invade and conquer. These secret armies, whose existence would not be revealed until decades later, were brought under the control of NATO.

NATO coordinated the running of the secret armies under the Clandestine Planning Committee (CPC) and a military command centre named Allied Clandestine Committee (ACC). The supervision of the stay-behinds was facilitated through the offices of the CIA, SIS and the various military secret services of the relevant European nations. The secret soldiers were trained under the auspices of the British Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) and the American Green Berets.

The receding threat of an invasion by the Warsaw Pact did not apparently condemn the stay-behinds to mere training drills and inactivity. Evidence would come to light that they would be utilised in the engineering of military coups in Turkey and Greece as well as in Italy.

The secret armies bore different names in the respective countries in which they were based, but the code designated in Italy, that of ‘Gladio’, has become something of a brand name.

Evidence which has come to light shows that Gladio was used to combat the threat of communist influence by staging terrorist incidents which killed and maimed innocent members of the public and which were blamed on far left groups such as the Marxist-Leninist inspired Brigate Rosse.

The objective was to two-fold. First was to discredit the Left whose electoral successes through the Communist Party (PCI) had steadily increased in successive elections.

The second was to create a state of mind in the population; one in which people, fearful for their security would turn to the state for protection by a Right-wing authoritarian government. In time this would become known as ‘La Strategia della Tensione’: The Strategy of Tension.

Among the most notorious of bombings carried out during the Anni di Piombo’ (Years of Lead) were the outrages of Milan in 1969, Peteano in 1972 and Bologna in 1980.

It is clear that many of those who were recruited into the ranks of the secret armies such as in Italy were persons with far Right political inclinations. The rationale was based on the thinking that such persons would be reliable in the battle to prevent the spread of communism.

The revelations of Vincenzo Vinciguerra to Felice Casson, an investigating judge confirmed long-term suspicions about Peteano. Blamed on the Brigate Rosse, it was in actuality mounted by members of Ordine Nuovo, a party to which Vinceguerra belonged, who had received directions from members of the Italian military secret service.

The explosives used in the bombing were identified as NATO-issued C4 explosives which had been buried underneath a village cemetery located on the outskirts of Verona.

There is no specific data available indicating that American intelligence operatives specifically directed any of the bomb outrages, but there is evidence that members of the Italian military secret service received regular payments from the American intelligence figures.

American intelligence also had close links with members of Propaganda Due (P2), the pseudo Masonic lodge which had among its ranks high-ranking military officers, members of the secret services, the police, industrialists, politicians, civil servants and journalists.

Headed by Licio Gelli, P2 had the ultimate aim of staging a golpista (coup d’etat) which would form the basis of its ‘Plan For Democratic Rebirth’. In 1974, Gelli secretly met with Alexander Hague, the White House Chief of Staff, at the US embassy in Rome. Hague had assured Gelli of continuing support for Gladio and for efforts geared towards circumventing the political Left.

To many Italians, the United States bears a great deal of responsibility for the tragedy of the anni di piombo and such culpability is reflected in a 2000 report based on a second parliamentary investigation into Organizzazione Gladio, the Left-leaning Gruppo Democratici di Sinistra wrote:

“Those massacres, those bombs, those military actions had been organised or promoted or supported by men inside Italian state institutions and, as has been discovered  more recently, by men linked to the structures of United States intelligence.”


1.Operation Condor

Operation Condor was an agreement between the nations of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay in which the respective intelligence services, armies and police services would pool resources in apprehending members of Left-wing groups, their sympathisers or other political dissidents after which they would be imprisoned, tortured and or liquidated.

It meant that apart from the internal dispensing of individual entitlements to due process, the legal obligation under international law to grant sanctuary to political dissenters was abrogated.

Refugees were captured in a foreign country and returned to their country of origin to face torture and execution. Condor also extended its terror outside of Latin America to the cities of Europe and the United States where dissidents were targeted for assassination.

The CIA denies American responsibility for the actions of these states, albeit that it met the needs of the Cold War policy of stemming the spread of communism and Leftist ideologies within its hemispheric sphere of influence, but there is an argument for American culpability based on the knowledge US agencies had of Condor as well as the material and financial assistance given by American intelligence to the executors of the programme.

Some trace the roots of Condor to the decades-long relationship developed between the US military commanders and their Latin American counterparts formalised through defence and mutual military assistance pacts which followed the Inter-American Conference held in Mexico City in 1945.

It was at this conference that the spectre of Communism and the dangers of its spreading in Latin America was raised by American officers. Marxist ideas were like a contagion that needed containment lest its spores be spread to America’s borders.

American officers had of course a long-standing tradition of serving as advisers to South American armies and trained their officers at their colleges in the United States as well as at the US Army’s School of the Americas (SOA) located in the Panama Canal Zone.

The Conference of American Armies (CAA) which met annually was inaugurated in 1960 at the Panama base of the head of the US Southern Command. It was later turned into a biennial event and the meetings transferred to the American Military College, West Point. However, a standing committee situated in the Canal Zone which served as a conduit for the exchange of information and intelligence was established.

This system would later serve as an important part of the communication process when Condor was created. Indeed, a blueprint of sorts appears in part of the 1968 speech made by one General Porter, the head of the US Southern Command in his proposed strategy for taking on Left-wing and radical elements in Latin America:

In order to facilitate the coordinated employment of internal security forces within and among Latin American countries, we are...endeavouring to foster inter-service and regional cooperation by assisting in the organisation of integrated command and control centres; the establishment of common operating procedures and the conduct of joint and combined training exercises.

In September of 1973 at the 10th meeting of the CAA, the commander of the Brazilian army, General Fortes asserted that so far as combating communism was concerned, “the only effective methods are the exchange of experience and information, plus technical assistance when requested.” It led to a joint agreement that information exchange needed to be strengthened “in order to counter terrorism and control subversive elements in each country.”

As one-by-one successive Latin American nations came under the rule of the military, this method of information sharing would form the bedrock of their combined ferocious assault on the suspected dissident members of their populations. It did not only target leftists but also proponents for democracy, human rights activists, as well as those critical of the governments such as journalists, trade unionists, priests and students.

The most famous Condor operation was the assassination in September 1976 of Pinochet critic Orlando Letelier, in Washington D.C. The assassin was Michael Townley, a former CIA agent who had taken up employment with the National Defence Directorate (DINA).

In exchange for identifying his Cuban exile accomplices as well as the man who ordered the assassination, Colonel Manuel Contreras, the head of DINA, Townley was handed a reduced sentence and put on the Federal Witness Protection Program.

This incident led to the sacking of Contreras, a CIA asset between 1974 and 1977 who received a large payment for his services, and the disbanding of DINA. The newly elected administration of Jimmy Carter, pledged to promote democracy and human rights put pressure on the Chileans in solving the Letelier killing.

The precise extent of the role of the CIA and other US intelligence agencies in Condor is difficult to gauge given the exemption it has under Freedom of Information laws. However, files culled from diplomatic cables, the FBI and other sources have shed some light.

An FBI cable in 1976 from its legal attaché in Buenos Aires explains the modus operandi of Condor. Another is a State department cable dated October 13 1978 from Robert White, the US ambassador to Paraguay, to Cyrus Vance, the Secretary of State in which White informs Vance of the manner in which Condor is run and how the countries:

Keep in touch with one another through a US communications installation in the Panama Canal Zone which covers all Latin America...it is...employed to coordinate intelligence information among the southern cone countries. They maintain the confidentiality of their communication through the US facility in Panama by using bilateral codes...obviously this is the Condor network which all of us have heard about over the last few years.

The ambassador further informed Vance that communication was through an encrypted system within the US communications net and advised the secretary of state to “review this arrangement to insure that its continuation is in US interest.”

To some such as Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, the contents of the cable suggested, “foreknowledge, cooperation and total access to the plans and operations of Condor.”

While allegations that the CIA actually supervised Condor operations cannot be fully corroborated, in addition to the aforementioned evidence of the potential knowledge of all critical aspects of Condor, it should be mentioned that the training given to numerous Latin American officers at the Army School of the Americas included Pentagon and CIA-issued manuals on torture.

The ‘Doctrine of National Security’, the basic ideology underpinning the Latin American military regimes from the late 1960s to the early 1980s which focused on the internal threat of subversion and class warfare had its philosophical-spiritual home at the SOA, run of course, by the Pentagon.

2.The Death Squads of Central America

The notion of America’s interest in the affairs of Latin American countries of course predates its resolve to fight communism globally. The Monroe Doctrine, The Roosevelt Corollary and the Good Neighbour Policy each adjusted American policy geared towards a framework which assured the United States of its continued hegemony within the southern part of the Western hemisphere.

Latin America, as the phrase went was the ‘Back Door’ of America, and the Roosevelt Corollary provided justificatory grounds for mounting ‘police actions’ in Latin America in order to keep European powers out of the region.

But policies which alternatively were interventionist such as the Roosevelt modification to the Monroe Doctrine, and the Good Neighbour Policy which was ostensibly non-interventionist, led to unsatisfactory results from the perspectives of the little nations of Central America and the Caribbean.

The former led to spells of occupation in Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic while the latter led to the unchallenged emergency of dictatorships in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Nicaragua.

In fact the three dictators, Rafael Trujillo, Francois Duvalier and Anastazio Samoza all shrewdly made use of the American concern about the global spread of communism to bolster and perpetuate their respective rules.

Some aspects of the Truman Doctrine overlap with the corollary because of the Cold War-era belief that the formation of Left-wing governments in Latin America would equate to giving a foreign power, namely the Soviet Union, a foothold to challenge American supremacy in the Western hemisphere.

This line of thinking prevailed even at the expense of defeating the expression of the democratic will of countries in which the United States intelligence services help engineer overthrows of governments; the cases of Guatemala and Chile being prime examples.

American foreign policy in Latin America was not only tolerant of Right-wing dictatorships but also sought to preserve these regimes because of their anti-Communist credentials even though they did not fulfil the prerequisites for been democratic anymore than were governments which functioned according to communist designs.

In the 1980s, Jean Kirkpatrick, the US Ambassador to the United Nations would justify this by drawing a distinction between those states which were ‘authoritarian’ on the one hand and those which were ‘totalitarian’ on the other.

So far as Central American countries are concerned the legacy of American intervention is tainted by the bitter legacy of a phenomenon that came to be termed the ‘Death Squad’.

These are armed paramilitary groups which have been created with the objective of killing people, most notably those who stand in political opposition. The typical activities range from specifically targeted assassinations to mass killings of combatants and civilian populations.

They serve the function not only of physically eliminating those who threaten the power base or power aspirations the killers, but also of instilling a climate of fear in the wider population which is intended to work as a form of control.

The United States utilised death squads during the Vietnam War through Operation Phoenix, a plan of action hatched and executed by the CIA and US Special Forces. It targeted civilians and not combatants. Its aim was to neutralise the infrastructure of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam.

Unlike Operation Condor in South America in regard to which the extent of American involvement is disputable, the evidence of a United States military intelligence agenda in creating death squads institutionally as well as the funding and the training of the participants is solid and incontrovertible.

Starting in the early 1960s, agencies of the United States encompassing the State Department, CIA and US military formed two organisations in El Salvador which formed the germ of what developed into the Death Squad formations which would traumatise the nation.

They were ORDEN, a rural paramilitary and intelligence network and ANSESAL, an elite intelligence agency attached to the president’s office. ORDEN, which was conceived to “use clandestine terror against government opponents”, was the direct ancestor of the ‘Mano Blanco’ which carved out a notoriety all to itself.

An ironic feature of the development of what would metamorphose into the ill-famed death squads was that they evolved in response to the Kennedy administration-initiated ‘Alianza para el Progreso’ or ‘Alliance for Progress’, an ostensibly enlightened decade-long multibillion-dollar aid program for Latin America.

It was designed to help promote economic growth and prosperity which would create the conditions which would discourage the appeal of communism to the masses.

However, the agencies of the United States government overseeing the program came to believe that the success of its implementation would have to be predicated on a security system involving a combination of civil, paramilitary and military structures whose roles would be synthesised with the aim at obstructing any form of subversion or dissent on the part of individuals or organisations.

The model of such a national security apparatus as applicable not only to El Salvador but to the rest of the countries of Central America (Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica) was laid down in March 1963 at the Declaration of San Jose.

At the meeting, President Kennedy had declared that “Communism is the chief obstacle to economic development in the Central American region,” and this theme was followed by subsequent meetings between the interior ministers of the relevant nations and the various interested organs of the United States government including the State Department and the CIA.

These meetings, at which ideas and information were exchanged, were formalised so that they occurred every three months under the supervision of the state department.

The security organisations which were created such as the Salvadorian ORDEN and ANSESAL were armed and trained in the counter-insurgency with the aim of disrupting the designs of “international communism.”

The leaders of these security organisations such as General Jose Alberto Medrano, appear at one time or another to have been paid CIA assets. The CIA provided them with the day-to-day intelligence while training was given by American Green Berets.

While ORDEN served to indoctrinate the peasant masses against communism and gathered an information database on those deemed to be “suspicious”, ANSESAL would receive such information and determine the action that needed to be taken.

The action, often a targeted slaying, would be carried out by one of several groups: ORDEN, its death squad offshoot named the Blanco Nero, detatchments of the army or the National Guard. What is also clear is that the CIA furnished death squads with information on dissidents who were later murdered.

The role of army Colonel James Steele is worth mentioning. According to US House Representative Dennis Kucinich, Steele was responsible for implementing a plan under which many Salvadorans were murdered or disappeared. Steele’s term of service covered the period in 1980 when Archbishop Oscar Romero and four American nuns were murdered.

Steele would resurface twenty years later in Iraq at the special request of US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld where, as ‘Counselor for Iraqi Security Forces’ he would be part of a team which implemented the ‘Salvador Option’ as a means of combating the Sunni-led insurgency in the wake of the occupation of Iraq. 


The crashing of two aeroplanes into the twin towers of New York City’s iconic World Trade Center, among other targets, on September 11th 2001 may be pinpointed as the commencement of what has come to be known as the ‘War on Terror’.  

The main participants in this confrontation on a global scale are a network of Islamic militants with the designation ‘al-Qaeda’ whose ideological figurehead was the Saudi Arabian, Osama Bin Laden. Arraigned against al-Qaeda is the Western world and as with the Cold War, it is led by the United States.

The September 11th attack led for the first time to the invoking of article 5 of the constitution of NATO which provides that an attack on one member state is considered as an attack on others. Bin Laden was been sheltered by the ruling Taliban government of Afghanistan which the US attacked under the auspices of a NATO mission.

This was followed by the war and occupation of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as well as military action in Islamist strongholds in North West Pakistan and Yemen. While the administration of President Barak Obama officially refers to US and NATO-involved military action as Overseas Contingency Operations, the term ‘War on Terror’ is still used.


The ‘Arab Spring’, is an appellation used by the Western media and governments to describe protest movements against Arab regimes in North Africa and the Middle East.

It was often posited as spontaneous expressions by coalitions of groups composed of youthful, modern-thinking masses imbued with sentiments which were generally sympathetic to Western notions of freedom and democracy.

Beginning with the self-immolation of a petty trader protesting against excessive administrative red tape in Tunisia in December of 2010, unrest led to the unseating and fleeing of President Ben Ali and spread to Egypt a month later where protests centred on Cairo’s Tahrir Square became the focus of media. Like Ben Ali, President Hosni Mubarak fell from power.

This phenomenon continued in Libya starting with public protests in the eastern city of Benghazi which transmogrified into a civil war with the founding and expansion of various militias who with the aid of NATO were able to defeat the forces of Muamar Gaddafi.

In Syria, a series of protests which began in February 2011 led to the formation of the so-called Free Syrian Army and a protracted and still ongoing civil war being waged against the Alawite minority government led by Bashar Assad.

If historians in the future choose to continue the view of the War on Terror and the Arab Spring as distinct passages, the pattern of intervention by the United States in crucial intelligence operations as well as military action tend to suggest a continuum of selected interventions based on long-term geo-political objectives.

The war waged against Iraq and later on the NATO intervention in Libya and evidence of covert influence in the prosecution of the Syrian Civil War while choosing not to intervene in other countries which are key centres in the spread of Jihadist sentiment such as the Wahhabist Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and where despotic regimes suppress popular protests as in Bahrain, bear this out.

Some idea of underlying American goals which are an enduring feature of its foreign policy can be found in the document produced by a think-tank called the Project For The New American Century (PNAC) which was established in 1997.

PNAC proposed a post-Cold War world in which the vacuum left by the disintegration of the Soviet Union would be utilised to American advantage in terms of moulding the global framework to its advantage.

In order to do this, the United States would be required to bolster its expenditure on military resources and resolve to “challenge” regimes which were hostile to the “interests and values” of the United States.

At the top of the list was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. This appeared to be the uninhibited policy adopted by the administration of President George Bush which had already made the decision to attack Iraq long before it was made public and which was based on manipulated and flawed intelligence.

Confirmation of the scheme came via retired General Wesley Clarke, the former supreme commander of NATO who was informed by a former colleague on a visit to the Pentagon while Afghanistan was being bombed that a just-released internal memorandum had described how the United States was going to “take out seven countries in five years.” These he revealed to be Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and “finishing off” with Iran.


Before critiquing the ethical soundness of intelligence operations conducted in relation to both the War on Terror and the Arab Spring, it is useful to briefly set out the national objectives of the United States and contrast this with the publically enunciated justifications for its direct and covert interventions in a number of countries.

Publically stated goals
 Strategic objectives
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·          <!--[endif]-->Combating and containing Islamist-inspired terrorism.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·          <!--[endif]-->Promote democracy. For example, by overthrowing “oppressive dictators.”

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·          <!--[endif]-->Humanitarian intervention. For example, by protecting civilian populations from massacres under the Doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) as was applied in regard to Libya and a supposedly threatened massacre of people in the city of Benghazi.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·          <!--[endif]-->Securing and protecting access to raw materials such as oil and gas resources.

The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan along with US bases in neighbouring Gulf states and agreements with countries on its northern borders effectively form an encirclement of Iran.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·          <!--[endif]-->Overthrowing “hostile regimes.” For example, removing and dismantling the Baathist regimes of Iraq and Syria.


1.The support given to anti-Assad groups as well as to neighbouring states who are supporting opposition groups serves not only to weaken the Assad regime but is also designed to marginalise Hezbollah.

2.The dismembering of sovereign states into smaller entities along ethnic-religious lines such as may result in Syria

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·          <!--[endif]-->The overthrow of governments designated as “hostile” as occurred in Libya (despite a temporary rapprochement with the Gaddafi regime), and as threatened in regard to the Assad regimes attack on protesters and the prescribing of the so-called “red line” condition concerning the regime’s use of chemical weapons.



The decision to go to war in Iraq as is now long known was based on flawed intelligence relating to Saddam Hussein’s possessing what are termed ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ (WMD). Also discernable soon after the occupation of Iraq was how ill-prepared the United States and NATO were in terms of running a post-Saddam country.

One key feature of this lack of foresight was the effectiveness of a Sunni-mounted insurgency against the occupying forces. The response, using counter-insurgency techniques applied by the CIA and US military intelligence during Cold War-era in Central America, was brutally effective, but has left the country seriously scarred and America’s reputation among the wider population, most of who were in support of the removal of Saddam Hussein, severely impaired for the foreseeable future.

1. Promulgating the war

After the attack of America in September of 2001, the Bush administration set about casting the regime of Saddam Hussein as a state sponsor of terrorism and one with a direct connection to the perpetrators of the 9/11 atrocity. The existence of such a link between the secular Baathist government and an Islamist cell of al-Qaeda appeared unlikely at first sight and was this was confirmed on closer scrutiny.

Stories appeared in the press alleging the presence of Iraqi agents in the uranium-rich West African state of Niger. Evidence of the sort of ‘black propaganda’ techniques employed by intelligence agencies during the Cold War appeared to be confirmed by an expose in the UK Sunday Times in December 2003 about the SIS-conducted ‘Operation Mass Appeal’ which was a campaign to plant stories about Iraq’s WMDs in the media. The aim, it appears, was to exaggerate threat Iraq posed. 

In a Parliamentary announcement designed to coincide with the release of a dossier for which he gave a personal foreword, Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed that Iraq’s WMD programme was “up and running” and that weapons could be deployed “within 45 minutes.”

The reality was that the evidence was based on a combination of fabrication and lies. Although other reports filed by figures in the CIA and British intelligence painted a far more cautious picture, it appears that the political will was to pursue a course of war which entailed heightening the importance of two Iraqi defectors, one a chemical engineer codenamed ‘Curveball’ and another, a former military intelligence officer; both of whom proved to be unreliable sources.

Indeed, an official memo which surfaced after the war from Richard Dearlove, then the head of SIS, to Tony Blair revealed that the prime minister had been advised that President Bush had decided on attacking Iraq even though the case for the existence of weapons of mass destruction was “thin”. The lack of evidence was no problem according to Dearlove because “intelligence and facts were being fixed (by the US) around the policy.”

The now infamous presentation made in February 2003 by US Secretary of State Colin Powell before the United Nations Security Council claimed that Iraq was harbouring “weapons of mass destruction” and refusing to disarm.

2. Combating the insurgency

The losses suffered by American forces as well as civilian casualties in the first two years of the Iraq occupation convinced the Pentagon to take action to stem the flow of attacks mounted by Sunni insurgents. The solution that it found was in a model which US military intelligence had tried and tested with devastating success but with a tragic legacy: The ‘Salvador Option’.

This essentially was a reapplication of the methodology employed by the United States government during the Cold War years in Central America when it funded and trained death squads run by military dictatorships in their wars with Left-wing guerrillas.

It is the sort of operation that can be run at arm’s length by the CIA giving America’s political leaders the ability to deny it. But when US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld was denying any knowledge of such a program even as bodies began turning up in the alley ways and refuse tips of Baghdad, the strategy was all but an open secret.

Rumsfeld knew of course. Two US Special Forces colonels, James Steele, retired, and serving Colonel James Coffman were consultant-advisers to a group of Special Police Commando attached to the Iraqi Interior Ministry. It would be funded by a multi-billion dollar fund with Coffman reporting directly to General David Petraeus.

Defeating the insurgency would require intelligence about the leadership: their identities, the locations in which they were based or hid and also their planning.

The Americans needed the interior ministry to operate death squads who could ruthlessly hunt down and either kill or kidnap the insurgents or their sympathisers and also operate a special prison system which would torture captured persons in order to extract valuable information on the insurgency.

The dominant strain of the death squads, the most notorious of which was known as the Wolf Brigade (The 2nd Battalion of the Interior Ministry’s Special Commando), was composed in the main of members of the two largest Shia militias, the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army. These Shias would be motivated by feelings of revenge against Sunnis whom they considered a privileged group during the oppressive reign of Saddam.

There is evidence that both Steele and Coffman had access to the prisons built around Baghdad to cater for detained suspected insurgents or sympathisers and that they supplied the commandos with lists of people who they wanted brought in.  

The counter-insurgency programme, of “fighting terror with terror” achieved its aim but at the cost of a sectarian civil war between Sunni and Shia which cost the lives of thousands of innocent civilians who were murdered indiscriminately as well as intellectuals and professionals who were the victims of targeted assassinations.

It was, as was the earlier death squad policy conducted in Central America, in effect a centrally planned genocide.


The government of Colonel Muarmar Gaddafi had for long been targeted by the American CIA for overthrow. Over the decades of his rule, he had survived a number of insurrections and assassination attempts; some of them traced to Western intelligence agencies.

A blatant attempt had been made to assassinate him in 1986 when the Reagan administration had launched a bombing attack on Tripoli in retaliation for his alleged involvement in the bombing of a Berlin discotheque in which American soldiers had lost their lives. The renegade MI5 officers, David Shayler and Anne Machon alleged that British intelligence had mounted an operation to have him killed.

A rapprochement with his regime had been in process for some years when the Arab Spring arrived in Libya. The West decided to seize the opportunity to overthrow him by aiding a bourgeoning rebellion in the eastern city of Benghazi which had traditionally served as a hotbed of dissent against his regime.

The pretext of an imminent massacre threatened by Gaddafi against protesters in Benghazi prompted a UN resolution allowing the United States and NATO to impose a ‘No Fly Zone’ over Libyan territory.

The result was to allow NATO to bomb much of Libya’s infrastructure and to target Gaddafi and key members of his government for assassination under the pretext of getting rid of the command and control centres of the Libyan defence forces. The bombings also enabled the rebel militias, prominent among which was the Jihadist Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), to seize territory.

British intelligence involvement was apparent earlier on in the conflict with the uncovering of a bungled attempt to make contact with rebel leaders by an SIS officer and Special Forces soldiers who had been arrested.

British Special Forces were revealed to have trained rebels and co-ordinated their ground fighting strategies with the NATO bombing campaign. The Special Air Regiment (SAS) were reported in August of 2011 to have taken a lead in hunting Colonel Gaddafi who was eventually captured in Sirte and lynched by his captors.


The destabilization of the regime headed Bashar al Assad has long been a priority for Western intelligence agencies. The construction of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was an attempt to create an opposition army composed of military figures who it was hoped would defect from the government in substantial numbers.

This has not transpired and the FSA does not have a unified command structure but is instead an umbrella name for disparate groups of mainly Sunni rebels many of whom are Islamist in sentiment. A large degree of the operations launched by the FSA have been conducted by members of the Jabhat al Nusra Front, a body composed of al Qaeda affiliated fighters.

The role of the CIA and the intelligence division of the Pentagon has been to provide covert support to rebel militias as well as to infiltrate Syrian intelligence, its armed forces and civil service. Support is also offered to the regional powers involved, namely Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, all of whom may be interested in the dismemberment of Syria.

Rebels, composed by a large segment of foreign mercenaries, receive training in the Gulf region from private security consultancies run by former US Special Forces, while arms shipments have come through the Syria’s borders with Turkey and Jordan respectively on the north and the south.

These ‘Syrian Contras’ conduct sabotages of government installations and conduct killings of civilians and the assassination of government officials. The sectarian nature of the conflict is one which given the record in Iraq, US intelligence have no qualms in exploiting.

The Alawite minority government that has dominated Syria since the assent of the Assad family to power cannot survive without the support of sections of the majority Sunni. The FSA and al Nusra Brigades have fomented sectarian divisions by targeting members of the Alawite, Druze, Kurdish and Christian Orthodox communities. They have also executed Sunnis designated as traitors for opposing their control of various districts.

Press reports about the role of US intelligence in aiding the rebels has occasionally filtered through. On March 8th 2013 the Daily Telegraph reported a massive airlift of 3,000 tons of weapons via Zagreb by “the US and Europe” to “Syrian militants”. These shipments of former Yugoslav weapons were, it was indicated, done at the behest of the United States and paid for by the Saudis.

A New York Times article from 24th March 2013, titled “Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expand, With CIA Aid” partly read:

With help from the CIA, Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders.

Many of the cargo military flights under Jordanian, Saudi Arabian and Qatari colours land at Esenboga Airport near Ankara, while others landed at various Turkish and Jordanian airports.

There have been reports of British French and American military advisers operating in countries which border Syria who offer training to rebel leaders and former Syrian military personnel.


The tactics employed during the War on Terror arguably form a continuum of the sort which had been established in the Cold War era. Assassinations, US-state sponsored terrorism including the use of death squads and proxy wars are part of this as are the utilization of extremist groups and the possible employment of false flag operations. The use of extraordinary rendition and ‘black camps’ where torture has been employed are somewhat reminiscent of the tactics adopted by Latin American Juntas during Operation Condor.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->(A) <!--[endif]-->Ethics of The War on Terror in comparison to the Cold War.

  • Extraordinary Renditions

Terrorist suspects designated as illegal combatants kidnapped by the CIA and sent to secret camps or handed over to an allied nation where they would face torture. It is estimated that over 130 were extra-judicially rendered in this way enduring abuse with many been released due to lack of evidence.

For example, Khalid el Masri, a German citizen was kidnapped in Macedonia in December 2003 then handed over to a CIA ‘rendition team’ at Skopje airport before being secretly flown to Afghanistan for interrogation.

He was tortured for months before being released without trial in Albania in May 2004. His civil suit against CIA chief George Tenet was dismissed by the US Supreme Court in 2007. The reason was that such a trial would reveal state secrets.

President Obama by an Executive Order entitled “Ensuring Lawful renditions” in January 2009. This designed to ensure that detainees who were transferred to foreign nations did so under circumstances which would ensure that their detention would not contravene US law, policies or international law. It allows for “third party oversight” but does not outlaw renditions.

  • ‘Black Camps’

Black camps is the appellation designated to the network of secret prisons operated by the CIA outside the territory and jurisdiction of the United States. Many of these camps have been established as having existed in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Thailand and Diego Garcia. The flight paths covered Airports in Ireland, Britain, and Morocco amongst many.

  • Torture

The usage of physical and psychological torture by the CIA as a legitimate means of extracting intelligence is predicated on the logic of the permissibility of anything against what is perceived as being an “inhuman enemy”. The Phoenix program in Vietnam involved the most inhuman and degrading forms of torture many of which led to the deaths of detainees.

The means of torture cover a wide range of techniques which include waterboarding, stress positions, forced nudity, beatings as well as sleep and sensory deprivation which have been utilised at illegal CIA prison sites as well as at Guantanamo Bay.

During the Bush years, the CIA was allowed to use what were termed “enhanced interrogation techniques”, an allowance believed to allow for what is defined as torture.

The United States is a signatory state of the United Nations Convention against Torture which was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the United States Senate in 1994. Torture is also against the United States Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Although President Bush issued an Executive Order in 2007 banning the torture of suspects by American intelligence officials, it cannot be confirmed that the practice no longer exists.

  • Assassinations

The CIA had early in its history developed a capability for “Executive Action” i.e. to murder foreign leaders. Its predecessor, the OSS had developed drugs to incapacitate or kill members of the Nazi leadership. Later on, the Cold War saw plots hatched to assassinate Arbenz in Guatemala and Castro in Cuba.

The former, to be engineered by means of a “silent bullet”, was aborted because of an unwillingness to make him a martyr, while numerous plots failed against the latter. Discussions relating to the liquidating of Sukarno by Macmillan and Kennedy were doubtlessly similar ones between Blair and Bush over Saddam Hussein.

The objective of assassination was certainly at the forefront of NATO policy in regard to Colonel Gaddafi under the guise of the bombing raids aimed at “removing the command and control structure” of the Libyan military but which succeeded in killing members of his family.

  • Supervision of extremist militias and death squads

1. The United States military intelligence has trained and funded death squads since the time of the Vietnam War. As mentioned above, the institutionalised security mechanism which facilitated death squads in El Salvador and other Central American countries was adapted to fight the Iraqi insurgency. The Libyan opposition militias adopted these death squad tactics as indeed do Syrian opposition forces.

2. Heightening ethnic strife as a means of weakening resistance of the unfriendly state or opposition.

This was evident to some extent during the Cold War in Indonesia, via the identification of the Chinese community with Red China and so far as the War on Terror-Arab Spring is concerned, the stimulating of ethnic confrontation between Sunni and Shia to counter the Sunni-led insurgency as well as between Sunni on the one hand and Alawite, Druze, Shia and Christians on the other in Syria.
3. Use of criminals and political extremists.

The Cold War saw the CIA consorting with criminal organisations; notably the American Mafia, who were utilised in efforts to assassinate Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Also, political extremists in Europe were used as recruits to NATO-run stay-behinds which were suspected of involvement in terrorist outrages in Italy (Milan, Peteano and Bolognia), Belgium (Brabant Shootings) and West Germany (October Fest Bombing).

There were also high level US contacts with members of the P2 pseudo-Masonic lodge in Italy which along from its political objectives was involved in assassinations and money laundering.

In Afghanistan, the Islamist Mujahadeen, including among their ranks the young Osama bin Laden, was funded and trained by the United States during their war against the Soviet occupiers. While there was at yet no global confrontation with political Islam, the US had absorbed a limited although violent backlash which had arisen after the siege of Mecca in 1979.

During the War on Terror-Arab Spring, Islamic extremists were used to unseat Gaddafi in Libya as well as to destabilize and possible fracture the Syrian nation state. This had led some to pose the question, and a serious one at that, as to whether al-Qaeda have become NATO’s shock troops of choice?

Seymour Hersh’s 2007 report in The New Yorker entitled, “The Redirection: Is the Administration’s New Policy Benefitting Our Enemies in the War on Terrorism?” provided a pointer of sorts on this:

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations which are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organisation that is backed by Iran. The US has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam are hostile to America and sympathetic to al-Qaeda.

  • Manipulation of the media (including Black Propaganda).

During the Cold War, the aforementioned Indonesian and Guatemalan operations are prime examples, as well as the also mentioned meddling in the European and Latin American press in regard to Chile. So far as the War on Terror is concerned, the SIS conducted Operation Mass Appeal has been noted.

Can BBC errors such one regarding footage broadcast during the Libya unrest depicting an anti-Gaddafi demonstration, but which was discovered later on to be actually old footage from India, be taken at face value? Later, a picture utilised by the BBC regarding a dead baby after a massacre in Syria, was quickly identified as an old picture from the Iraq conflict.

  • False Flag Operations

The simple definition of a ‘false flag’ operation is the commission of a terroristic outrage which the perpetrator then blames on their opponent. The objectives for such undertakings are manifold and often are interlocking.

The primary motive is to discredit the opposition in the court of public opinion and the resultant manufactured fears and concerns of the populace create the conditions for a response which involves the taking of an extraordinary measure or series of measures. This may range from the declaration of a state of emergency to some form of military intervention.

The December 1969 massacre at Milan which inaugurated the Italian ‘Years of Lead’; perpetrated by state-sponsored members of the extreme Right, had in fact been designed to pave the way for the declaration of a state of emergency and the installation of an authoritarian government.

Long before Judge Felice Casson’s breakthrough discovery of the use by Ordine Novo of materiel designated to the NATO-administered Gladio stay-behind, there were clues pointing in the direction not only of the manipulations of the Italian military secret service, but also of the possible involvement of this American-led supranational military entity. 

In November of 1971, a builder who was repairing the roof of a building in Castel Franco Veneto accidentally broke into a partition wall which served as the storage point for a cache of weapons and explosives.

Of particular noteworthiness was the presence of ammunition boxes which were similar in form to those used as bomb containers in the Milan outrage. Each bore the inscription of NATO.

General Vito Miceli, the head of SID; the Italian Military Secret Service, provided an admission that strategic direction in the unorthodox combating of the communist threat was given by NATO and, effectively, the Americans.

In 1974, he had been arrested by an investigating judge, Giovanni Tamburino, who charged with organising elements in the military and civilians toward fomenting an insurrection. Miceli blurted out that the United States and NATO “asked me to do it.”

The template of just what a false flag operation entails in terms of its modus operandi as well as the immorality and criminality inherent in such designs can be discerned from the memorandum ‘Justification For US Military Intervention in Cuba’; a top secret document earmarked for the eyes of President John F. Kennedy and his defence secretary Robert McNamara.

It called for the invasion of Cuba by staging a series of hijackings, bombings and shootings in American cities which would be blamed on operatives working for the secret service of Cuba.

The plan, dubbed ‘Operation Northwoods’, was discarded by the Kennedy administration but some wonder if the diabolical thinking behind such an enterprise was not transferred to Italy and a number of Western European nations when the architect of Northwoods, General Lyman Lemnitzer, was redeployed as the supreme commander of NATO forces in the early 1960s.

Certainly General Gianadelio Maletti, the former head of Italian military counter-intelligence, in 2001 made the allegation in open court that the United States had instigated and abetted Right-wing terrorism in his country during the 1970s.

The lamentations of many Italians about the damage done to their country by false flag outrages make that nation a huge reservoir of sceptics so far as the September 11th attack in New York is concerned. Judge Ferdinando Imposimato, an honorary president of the supreme court of Italy, for one is of the opinion that a ‘strategy of tension’ ploy was at work to justify the armed intervention in foreign nations.

For others, the fact that mock security exercises geared towards specific eventualities took place prior to the bomb blasts which ripped through train carriages in the European cities of Madrid and London respectively in 2004 and 2005 does not inspire confidence in the official narratives presented to the public.

These, the reasoning goes, were the capital cities of two nations where significant opposition to the wars instigated by NATO after the commencement of the so-called ‘War on Terror.’

Cold War

Military government
Kill and neutralise rebel leaders and sympathisers
Operation Phoenix killed over 26,000 between 1968 and 1972.
Military government
Kill and neutralise rebel leaders and sympathisers
36-year-old civil war claimed 200,000 lives
Military government
Kill and neutralise rebel leaders and sympathisers
Hundreds assassinated by government death squads such as Battallion 3-16
4. El Salvador
Military government
Kill and neutralise FNLM rebel leaders and sympathisers or activists
A civil war with the deaths of 75,000 people and 1 million refugees out of a total population of 6 million.
5. Nicaragua
Contra guerrillas (Anti-Sandinista militias based in Honduras)
Destabilise the Sandinista regime
The cross border Contra attacks claimed 50,000 civilian lives.
6. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay
Military Juntas
To kidnap, torture, execute and assassinate Leftist guerrillas including the Argentinean People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) and the Chilean Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) and political dissidents.
35,000 murdered with a substantial amount of them ‘disappeared.’ Also, hundreds of thousands imprisoned and tortured

War on Terror/Arab Spring
Objectives and Methods
Wolf Brigade (2nd Battalion of the Interior Ministry’s Special Commando)

Using Kurdish and Shia militias.

Shia militias such as the Badr organisation and the Mahdi Army
To kill Sunni leaders and neutralise post-Saddam insurgency.

Civilians targeted so object of fomenting sectarian violence.
A civil war between Sunni and Shia.

Libyan Islamic Fighting Group
Training and guiding a militia of Islamist guerrillas and irregular volunteers in battles against forces of Colonel Gaddafi.

Militias summarily executed captured tribal rivals fighting for the Gaddafi forces and targeted Black Africans who were viewed as mercenaries on the side of the Gaddafi regime.
A civil war that led to the overthrow of the regime of Colonel Gaddafi.

Free Syrian Army (components of which have Islamist sentiments) plus Al Nusra Brigades
Mount terrorist attacks against figures in the Assad government, military and industrial complexes and massacre of civillains: Alawite, Shia, Druze and Christian ‘enemies’ as well as Sunni ‘traitors’.
An ensuing civil war which has claimed thousands of lives and created a refugee crisis in neighbouring countries.


The scope of the powers and the responsibilities granted to the security and intelligence services in the United States and United Kingdom derive from statutes. And in keeping with democratic traditions, these bodies are expected to be accountable to democratically elected institutions and office holders as well as to be subject to the rule of law.

While the starting point must be the legislative instruments that create the respective intelligence organisations, the full range of avenues of accountability must take into account further pieces of legislation which are linked to powers granted to combat terrorism and a panoply of measures linked for instance to immigration control and invasions of privacy.

Laws in place play a crucial part in setting the basis of providing ethical guidance in regard to the boundaries within which security agencies may operate. Breach of regulations and legal provisions would thus provide an avenue through which accountability for ethical misdeeds and the exceeding of powers granted is ensured.

Such avenues include the functions played by law makers in special committees which monitor the intelligence services as well as the application of sanctions and redress through the system of civil and criminal courts.

1. The United States

Regulating Acts of Congress

The CIA was established in 1947 by the National Security Act as an independent civilian intelligence agency with a remit to gather national security intelligence assessments as to the capabilities and intentions of friendly and unfriendly nations which was to be provided to senior United States policymakers. The Act specifically did not give it police or law enforcement functions “either at home or abroad.”

The Hughes-Ryan Amendment Act of 1974, which amended the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, attempted to regularise accountability by imposing checks on covert operations by stipulating Presidential approval for covert operations and an obligation to provide briefings to the Senate.

The key provision of the legislation was to prohibit the use of US funds “to provide training or advice or provide any financial support for police, prisons, or other law enforcement forces for any foreign government or any program of internal intelligence or surveillance on behalf of any foreign government.”

The Intelligence Authorisation Act (1991) was passed in the wake of the ‘Iran-Contra Scandal’ provided for a mechanism aimed at managing covert operations. This was to be handled by an authorising chain of command involving a report being made to the President and the supply of information to the intelligence committees of both houses of Congress.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Protection Act (2004) which attempts to ensure the co-ordination of vital intelligence data reaching the President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high officials of state from the intelligence community, created the position of ‘Civil Liberties Protection Officer’.

The role of this official is to ensure that the policies and procedures which are implemented by the office of the Director of National Intelligence as well as “elements of the intelligence community within the National Intelligence Program” comply with the constitution and to assess complaints of any breaches relating to civil liberties and privacy.

So far as the use of torture in regard to the extracting of intelligence from prisoners is concerned, the War Crimes Act of (1996) technically provides the basis for holding officials to account for war crimes.

The Act defines a war crime as a “grave breach” of the Geneva Convention which includes the use of “torture or inhuman treatment.” This would include members of the United States armed forces, its intelligence branches as well as officials of state.

The Supreme Court decision in Hamdan v Rumsfeld (2006) held that the War Crimes Act applied to the circumstances of the War on Terror. The ruling that al-Qaeda prisoners were covered by certain provisions under Common Article 3 of the convention meant that the law could potentially be invoked against American officials and contractors.

Regulation by the Executive

The executive branch of government has over the course of time made initiatives geared towards promoting ethical conduct in the intelligence community. Soon after taking over the reins of power from Richard Nixon, President Gerald Ford set up the Rockefeller Commission to look into the excesses of the CIA.

During this period following the fallout from Watergate and the Crown Jewels report, the Justice Department also weighed in; publishing a 683-page report on the “questionable activities” of the CIA.

Several Executive Orders have been issued by United States Presidents as means of prescribing a moral and ethical course for the nation’s intelligence agencies. President Jimmy Carter’s Executive Order 12036, issued on 24th January 1978, outlawed all covert operations within the United States except those approved by the executive.

It also outlawed assassinations and restricted the surveillance of what it termed “US Persons” to overseas jurisdictions although exceptions could be made with the approval of the President and the Attorney General. Carter continued the Intelligence Oversight Board established by President Ford which had the duty for reviewing intelligence activities and reporting irregularities to the President.

Executive Order 1273 of 17th October 1990 during the administration of George H. Bush, also attempted to place ethics at the helm of intelligence operations. The so-called “Deutsch Rules” provided the requirement that permission be sought by agencies in the recruitment of persons with criminal records or negative human rights records. Recent key executive orders setting out a course for ethical conduct during covert operations are the aforementioned 2007 Executive Order issued by George W. Bush banning the torture of suspects by American intelligence officials and President Obama’s 2009 Order with the objective of ensuring Lawful renditions.

The reforms initiated by President Carter, while attempting to re-establish the rule of law and assert a higher standard of moral conduct were, however, littered with loopholes which would in future provide inadequate protection from abuse; much the same of which could be said of the orders issued by Presidents Bush and Obama

The definition of “national security”, the notional requirement by which exemptions could be made under the outlawing provisions was then as it is now a vague expression often pregnant with a subtext of being an urgent and unchallengeable judgement made by experts to which politicians and members of the judiciary are duty bound to bow. The issue of foreign-geared political operations also appeared to be sidestepped.

Political Accountability

Laws and mechanisms of scrutiny are not always enough. There has to be the will of elected officials to effect such scrutiny. This has not always been the case. The decades following the CIA’s formation up to the middle of the 1970s may be characterised as a period when the CIA conducted operations untrammelled by the prying eyes of ostensibly supervisory committees of both houses of Congress.

The attitude of John Stennis, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee was revealed in the following comment made in November 1971:

This agency (the CIA) is conducted in a splendid way. As has been said, spying is spying...You have to make up your mind that you are going to have an intelligence agency and protect it as such, and shut your eyes some and take what is coming.

Not surprisingly, the Intelligence Sub-Committee was not regularly convened in the early years following his appointment. His fellow senator, Stuart Symington ruefully reflected thus:

I wish his interest in the subject had developed to the point where he held just one meeting of the CIA subcommittee this year; just one meeting!

The Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board of the House did not fare any better.

The constitutionally derived investigatory capacities of both Senate and House of Representatives have come to the fore in the wake of disastrous failings in ethics by the intelligence services. These include the period following Watergate and the Iran-Contra Affair.

Following the ‘Crown Jewels’ expose through the famous New York Times feature written by investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, the CIA found itself the subject of public scrutiny respectively by the Church Committee headed by senator Frank Church and the Pike Committee presided over by congressman Otis Pike.

While committees have formed a suitable public arena for ethical infractions to be aired and the basis on which reforms may be based, they have not always guaranteed the practice of ethical behaviour at hearings.

For instance, William Colby lied before the Church Committee when denying that the United States was not engaged in covert operations during the war in Angola. Colby’s perjury was merely an expression of the ethics of a career intelligence serviceman who had being sworn under oath to protect the secrets of his nation as indeed had been the conduct two years earlier of Richard Helms who had also lied to the Senate about United States involvement in anti-Allende activities in Chile.

Accountability to Judicial Authority

While William Colby was convicted of perjury and fined, charges failed to materialise in the cases of both Richard Helms and Henry Kissinger.

As mentioned earlier, under the homeland security regime legislation promulgated since the beginning of the ‘War on Terror’, CIA and other designated military and civilian figures have immunities conferred on them while executing the orders of the state and thus effectively exempt from prosecution for involvement in torture or war crimes.

2. The United Kingdom

Regulating Acts of Parliament

Both of Britain’s main security agencies dealing respectively with domestic and foreign intelligence originate from the same organisation, the Secret Service Bureau, which was established in 1909. The bureau splintered some years later; both styled as the Directorate of Military Intelligence, with the home service becoming known as Section 5 (MI5) and the foreign department Section 6 (MI6).

Both would continue their roles through war and peace for over eight decades without their existence being acknowledged by the law; the Security Service (still widely referred to as MI5) in 1989 and the Secret Intelligence Service five years later.

The Intelligence Services Act (1994) enshrines in statutory format what the SIS has always functioned as, that is, as a provider of foreign intelligence to Her Majesty’s Government, and is tasked with the twin roles of espionage and counter-espionage. The internal Security Service is charged with protecting parliamentary democracy, as well as, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage.

Political Accountability

The work of both SIS and the Security Service along with the intelligence community consisting of Defence Intelligence (DI) and General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) are overseen by the Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Parliament whose members are directly appointed by the prime minister.

Accountability to Judicial Authority

Section 8 of the Intelligence Services Act provided for the creation of a Tribunal headed by a commissioner with experience of high judicial office which is empowered to investigate any complaints persons may have about the intelligence Service or GCHQ.

The invocation of the European Convention on Human Rights has provided a powerful tool for holding government officials to account. The law of England is quite clear about refusing to allow as admissible evidence in court, that which has been extracted by torture.

The case of A v Home Department (No2) (2005) confirmed this by holding that evidence acquired by an allied secret service could not be used during the trial of an alleged terrorist.

Furthermore, the cooperation between the SIS and the secret service of the late Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi in the surveillance and apprehension of suspected Islamist militants –a threat to the secular regime of Gaddafi- has led to one high profile legal suit.

Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a prominent leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a prominent militia among the groups that overthrew the colonel, had been arrested in Malaysia in 2004 and sent to a secret prison in Thailand which was operated by the CIA.

Belhadj was then transported to Diego Garcia, a British-controlled territory, under the auspices of MI6 from where he was sent on and delivered into the hands of Gaddafi’s secret service which he alleges tortured him. Belhadj has thus far refused a financial settlement.

The operation which led to Belhadj’s capture was, according to his lawyers, undersigned by the then foreign secretary Jack Straw. If so, the existence of such a fact would render immunity to those British intelligence officials involved in Belhadj’s rendition.


1.The United States

The potential liability imposed by the War Crimes Act and Hamden v Rumsfeld were effectively limited in scope by section 6 of the Military Commissions Act (2006).

Although the Act was amended as a result of the case of Boumediene v Bush (2008) in so far as the issue of denial of the writ of habeas corpus is concerned, the judiciary’s susceptibility to accepting arguments of ‘national security’ effectively neutralise the use of the War Crimes Act in holding officials to account –particularly those with “command responsibility”- for the use of extracting intelligence via torture.

The earlier Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 which requires military interrogations to be performed according to the US Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations was designed to effectively nullify accountability for efforts aimed at extracting information which veered on torture.

While prohibiting “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” of any prisoner of the US government, including prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the Act conferred immunities to government agents and military personnel from civil and criminal action or using interrogation techniques that “were officially authorised and determined to be lawful at the time they were conducted.”

Guidelines pertaining to how the phrase was to be interpreted were lacking as was a reference to the specific edition of the aforementioned manual.
The putative safeguards contained in pieces of legislation such as within the Intelligence Authorisation Act (1991) are, as in the past, susceptible to wide degrees of interpretation and are not put under heavy scrutiny until secret operations are brought to light. 

2.The United Kingdom

Section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act (1994) confers immunity to agents involved in crimes committed abroad where their activities were sanctioned by the Foreign Secretary.

The security services are only required to be “proportionate and compliant” with legislation such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), the Data Protection Act (1998) are exempt from disclosure under section 23 of the Freedom of Information Act (2000)

Successive attempts to curtail US covert operations have been continually circumvented; this by flagrant disregard of the law or by adopting an arms-length approach i.e. indirect means.

For instance, as noted above, the Hughes Amendment Act of 1974 was ignored in the conduct of the civil wars in El Salvador and other Central American countries in the funding and training of death squads.

There can appear to be an ebb and flow in terms of the will to initiate reforms to ethicize the conducting of intelligence operations. For instance, in the post-Watergate period which saw the collapse of the imperial presidency, the failure in Vietnam, and the publication of the CIA’s ‘Crown Jewels’ report, public outrage at the excesses of the secret state led to various inquiries established by the legislative and executive branches of government.

Reforms followed, but those initiated by the Carter Administration ignored foreign covert actions. The Soviet invasion developed the widespread sentiment to roll back restrictions placed on US intelligence agencies.

The Iran-Contra Scandal brought with it much umbrage at the conduct of certain forms of covert intelligence from both the public and members of the political class which led to the passage of the aforementioned Intelligence Authorisation Act (1991).

Later, however, in the aftermath of the massacres of September 11th, legislation represented by instruments such as the PATRIOT Act and the introduction of the Homeland Security regime, reflected an urge to give the security services “more dagger”.

President George Bush rescinded the ban on foreign assassinations (which now allows for the killing of US citizens who are designated as enemies of the state) and immunities are conferred on members of the intelligence services and armed forces for involvement in acts of torture and war crimes.

While the rationale for affording such protections to its citizens may be based on the presumption of fighting “the inhuman enemy” who recognises no civilised restraints as is ‘normally’ operated in the culture of the United States, the benefits of using torture as a technique for enabling the extractor to establish leads in combating the enemy remains open to debate.

It is, of course, a debate which has lasted several millennia and from which the strongest argument against its usage emanate from the words of Ulpian, a Third Century Roman Jurist who noted that “the strong can resist torture and the weak will say anything to end their pain.”

Some who have served in the highest echelons of intelligence are strident in their opposition to its usage. Harry E. Soyster, a retired lieutenant general who served as head of the US Army Intelligence and Security Command as well as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency recently opined that torture is “both destructive and self-destructive.” Adding that, “a nation that resorts to torture is not only in moral hazard but is also less secure.”

The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has compiled an as yet unreleased 6,000-page report based on a three-year review of “enhanced interrogation techniques” during the Bush administration which allegedly failed to produce any major breakthroughs in intelligence. 

But here, the potentially cleansing mechanism which would serve to enlighten the populace and provide evidence of probative value on the failure of the United States torture program is threatened by the recurrent recourse to secrecy: The veil of national security threatens to prevent the release of this extensive insight which was culled from approximately six million pages of official records.

1. The Punishment of Perpetrators.

It is clear that the period spanning the Cold War era to the present has been characterised by a lack of accountability on the part of political leaders, as well as their intelligence and military chiefs. This state of affairs has existed despite the evidence of serious abuses and transgressions of the law which occurred with the explicit or tacit approval of those in control of national policy. Most have not faced prosecution while others who were in fact prosecuted were treated relatively leniently.

Cold War

Politicians and statesmen

  • Henry Kissinger
Allegations against Henry Kissinger, the National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State during the administration of Richard Nixon, as a transgressor of the law are well documented and have been many and wide ranging; arguably reaching a peak when a book written by the journalist Christopher Hitchens, ‘The Trial of Henry Kissinger’ was published. It detailed his role in directing covert operations in notable theatres such as Indochina and Chile where war crimes and significant abuses of human rights resulted.

For instance, of Kissinger’s role in the secret bombings of Cambodia and Laos, it was alleged that he involved himself in the minutiae of devising mission patterns by actual selecting bombing raids after having read the raw data of intelligence reports. He was part of an elaborate deception by which military records were altered by having bombing missions recorded as been undertaken in Vietnam when in fact they had been re-routed to targets in Cambodia. He also chaired the 40 Committee which gave the go ahead for all the bombing raids.

Intelligence service personnel

  • William Colby
Colby was convicted of perjury for lying before the Church Committee regarding US involvement in Angola, however, Richard Helms, the CIA director at the time of the anti-Allende intrigues which culminated in the military coup, was not convicted for lying before the senate regarding Chile.

  • Oliver North
The face of the Iran-Contra Scandal was convicted of three out of twelve charges relating to the illegal support of the Contra rebels. These were falsifying and destroying documents, obstructing Congress and illegally receiving a gift.

He received a three-year suspended prison sentence, two years on probation, 1,200 hours community service with inner city drugs projects and a $150,000 (£94,000) fine. His superior, National Security Adviser, Robert McFarlane was fined and sentenced to community service while his other boss, Admiral John Poindexter, was convicted of conspiracy, obstructing congressional enquiries and lying to Congress and sentenced to a term of six month imprisonment.

The results were decidedly unsatisfactory. North, who was convicted of offences which attract a maximum of 10 years in prison and $750,000 (£470,000) fine was in the final analysis dealt with leniently, and he succeeded in getting his convictions overturned some years later as did Poindexter.

War on Terror

Politicians and statesmen
  • George Bush, US President
  • Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defence
  • Dick Cheney, US Vice President
  • John Ashcoft, US Attorney General
  • Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister

It is the legal opinion of many experts in the field of international law that evidence has long existed for prosecuting both George Bush and Tony Blair for waging a war of aggression in Iraq; this based on the principles established at the landmark Nuremburg trials.

It is argued that both leaders were culpable for alternatively presiding over the manipulation of flawed intelligence or for failing to exercise due diligence in relying on such defective intelligence to lead their nations into a war which was prima facie illegal.

As the government’s chief legal adviser, John Ashcroft, the US Attorney General during the Bush administration, arguably bears an all encompassing responsibility for those illegal policies and actions which flowed from the extreme measures employed in pursuance of the War on terror.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary for Defence, is arguably liable for gross human rights violations for presiding over the policy of using death squads in Iraq where he handpicked El Salvador veteran Colonel James Steele to advise the Iraqi government on its creation and implementation. Rumsfeld, of course, was a party to the decision to take America into the Iraqi War as indeed was Vice President Dick Cheney.

Intelligence and military personnel
  • George Tenet
  • General David Patraeus
  • Zbigniew Siemiatkowski
  • Nicolo Pollari
  • Jeffery Castelli
  • Robert Seldon Lady

The conduct of the ‘War on Terror’ has, as detailed in this paper, raised grave concerns in regard to the violations of international and municipal law in the area of human rights. George Tenet, director of the CIA from 1997 to 2004 arguably has culpability for presiding over that organisation’s policies of mounting extraordinary rendition and condoning torture.

Among the military, General David Petraeus, for a period the overall commander of US and Coalition forces in Iraq, would have a case to answer for presiding over the implementation of the death squad policy executed by the aforementioned Colonels Coffman and Steele (rtd) as a means of combating the insurgency in Iraq.

The complexities involved with the running of the rendition programme would have made its operation impossible without the collusion of other countries. As a result, those officials from the nations allied to the United States who facilitated the implementation of extraordinary renditions have also received attention.

These have included the former Polish intelligence chief, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski for allowing the CIA to run a secret prison in his country. Siemiatkowski, who was also the interior minister, was indicted by a Polish court in March of 2012 for “unlawfully depriving prisoners of their liberty.”

This however has been stalled and may be discontinued owing to the severe embarrassment which a trial would give to the Polish state.

Another intelligence figure, Nicolo Pollari, the former head of the Italian military intelligence service SISMI, was in February 2013 sentenced to 10 years in jail for presiding over SISMI’s cooperation with the CIA in the 2003 kidnapping and rendition of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian Muslim cleric granted asylum who was a resident of Milan.

Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was snatched off the streets in broad daylight and bundled into a white van which sped off. He was held at military bases in Italy and Germany before been transported to Egypt where he was tortured whilst in detention only to be released when an Egyptian judge ruled that he had no case to answer.

The CIA Milan station chief Robert Lady and Rome Station Chief Jeffrey Castelli who allegedly pushed for Nasr’s abduction along with 21 other Americans were convicted in abstentia in 2009. These were upheld in 2012 by the highest court of appeal. An application for their extradition to Italy was frustrated by the combined efforts of the Obama administration and that of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

It is important to note that neither the Bush nor Obama administrations have acknowledged US involvement in Nasr’s rendition and that no individual has been held accountable for this programme which involved widespread human rights violations.

As mentioned earlier, the rendition and the drone assassination programmes bear similarities with Operation Condor operated by Latin American dictatorships. In 2012, 25 senior military officers including former heads of state were brought to court on charges of conspiracy to “kidnap, disappear, torture and kill” political opponents.

“Holding these officials accountable for the multinational crimes of Condor cannot help but set a precedent for more recent abuses of a similar nature,” argues Carlos Osorio, the director of the Southern Cone Documentation project. 

2.Redress for Victims.

The requirements of justice dictate that wrongful conduct; apart from attracting sanctions against the perpetrator may entitle the victim to compensation for the damage they sustain. However, recompense has been a difficult goal to attain given the perennial issue of national secrecy.

For instance, the relatives of the victims of the Brabant shootings and the October Fest Bombing respectively in Belgium and Germany are unable to get relevant details of information which tie in the security establishment with these outrages.

The skeletons of an overarching corrupt Belgian state have not been opened despite the insights given by the scandal involving the paedophile Roger Dutroux, and in Germany, items of critical forensic evidence which were supposed to be secure in police vaults have over the years gone missing. 

Cold War

In 2001, the son of Rene Schneider, the Chilean Army Chief of Staff who was murdered using weapons dispatched by the CIA and under a process monitored by Henry Kissinger filed a civil action in New York against Henry Kissinger on September 11th 2001. The case was later struck out.

War on Terror

Victims of intelligence operations pursuant to the rendition programme have, despite the denials or the paucity of information offered by the United States government, have made inroads in achieving redress for the harm they sustained.

This has come under the auspices of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 3 prohibits the use of torture. This is an absolute right from which governments cannot derogate. In other words, it cannot be deviated from in limited circumstances or be qualified.

  • European Court of Human Rights cases

In December of 2012, the European Court of Human Rights handed down a landmark ruling when it stated that the aforementioned Khaled el-Misri was tortured by the CIA while Macedonian police state officials looked on. The methods of torture included sodomising, shackling and beating him. The court ordered the Macedonian government to pay el-Misri 60,000 Euros (£49,000) in compensation.

The court also ordered the US government to voluntarily pay compensation. It of course remains to be seen whether the German authorities will prosecute the Americans involved.

As earlier mentioned, Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a member of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group which NATO aided in its action to unseat Colonel Gaddafi, is suing the British government over his rendition which occurred in 1994.


Two matters remain clear. First, that it is not possible to subordinate all aspects of intelligence work under a rigorous moral code. The caveats placed within legislation granting immunities to certain officials for criminal acts as seen respectively in the Detainee Treatment Act (2005) and the British Intelligence Service Act (1994) or otherwise implanting ostensible safeguards which can be circumvented by interpretations given officials or by judges do not allow for this.

Secondly, is that oversight mechanisms such as intelligence committees staffed by elected politicians have frequently had limitations imposed on their ability to disclose vital information to the wider public who they serve due under pressure from both senior figures in the government of the day as well as from intelligence establishment.  

So it is that in 2013 the situation exists that while the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture is referred to by its chairman, the Democrat Diane Feinstein as “one of the most significant oversight efforts in Senate history”, its release is being stalled and even put in doubt owing to the apparent reluctance of President Obama. Also, the CIA is believed to be against releasing the report or otherwise redacting huge portions of it.

The recalcitrant state is often adept at evading or diluting the scrutinizing eyes of information seekers. When Italian Prime Minister Guilio Andreotti revealed the existence of the stay-behind network of secret armies, he did so only under pressure from the Italian Senate enquiring into the possible hand of state agencies in fomenting terrorism during the anni di piombo

Italy, Belgium and Switzerland, are the only countries who mounted parliamentary investigations into the existence of the secret armies not known to and unaccountable to the democratic institutions of state; this inspite of the condemnation of the warped role of the Gladio programme issued in November 1990 by the European Parliament.

The names of each stay-behind force has not been revealed in some countries and there was never an announcement that the networks had been dissolved, if they had been succeeded by other entities and in either case, what the present scope of their activities are.

Although former CIA director William Colby alluded to the existence of secret armies in his memoirs, the policy of the United States has been not to confirm or deny requests for documents under the auspices of Freedom of Information legislation.

Whatever files that may exist in the various military intelligence departments of European states as well as that of NATO are not open to parliamentarians, journalists or historians who may wish to access data as pertaining to the running of Operation Gladio.

The restriction of information as relates to the intelligence services while ostensibly protecting what is often referred to as “national security” also has an insidious effect. Distortions, half-truths and outright fictions may result. Counter-productive policies and practices are allowed to continue; criminal wrongs remain unpunished.

The crucial question is, if the past can’t be properly addressed, what hope is there in meeting the challenges of the present and the future? In referring to the issue of the stalled Senate Intelligence Committee report on the United States-run torture program, Vice President Joe Biden is on record as having said that the “only way you exorcise demons is you acknowledge exactly what happened straightforwardly.”

These sentiments square with the analysis of Professor Robert Service about learning from the past. Referring to the fact that documents associated with the Lockhart Plot remain unreleased presumably as a justification of the British government’s continued pretensions of having always conducted an ethical policy in the conduct of intelligence operations, he is scathing calling it “fatuous” and asserting that such policies serve to in effect “distort” history.

A solid understanding of the past enables the capacity to comprehend the present as well as to anticipate the future. After the release of detailed files relating to its activities in Chile, the CIA professed not to condone human rights abuses. But these can only be taken at face value given to a situation which has yet to amount to a full disclosure of its past transgressions. 

On observation, it is clear that controls exercised on the intelligence services of a democracy such as the United States have tended to wax and wane over the course of time. During the ‘trough periods’ which follow scandal and failure, efforts are made to circumvent their powers, while during the ‘peak’ periods of concern for national security, the emphasis has been to afford them the use of a range of powers.

At the height of the Cold War there was very little substantive oversight; a state of affairs which lasted until the ‘Crown Jewels’ scandal. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan rolled back whatever mechanisms of checks and restraints that had been put in place until the Iran-Contra Scandal brought renewed scrutiny.

However, the inauguration of the War on Terror along with accompanying draconian legislation, Homeland Security regime and its threatened endurance for an indeterminate period has seriously compromised the process of genuine oversight and accountability.

It means that so long as there is an absence of the political will to abrogate laws and policies which encourage unethical strategies and techniques in the conduct of intelligence, it is left to the vigilance and the persistence of the legal profession, human rights organisations and an independent media to ensure that the idea of genuine accountability does not become an illusory concept.


Adeyinka Makinde is a Lecturer in Law. He is the author of two biographies on pugilists

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