The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is known for top secret, undercover operations. In the movies, spies have unlimited resources, cool gadgets and live every moment looking over their shoulder for their next near death experience. This is all done so that the citizens of the United States can go about their daily lives as usual. In real life, it may not be quite so glamorous, but there is definitely some truth to the secrecy and high stakes operations that the CIA carries out each and every day! Over the years, the media has made the failures of the CIA very well known to the public, but anything they get right stays very quiet in the name of national security.
But with any secret government agency, people will want to know all they can. Like the urban legends surrounding the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission and other power organizations, the CIA has long been thought to have more secrets than any agency should. On the surface, the CIA is tasked with gathering security information about every country around the world for the purpose of making informed security decisions in the interests of the United States. This all sounds great, but while everyone likes to eat the steak, no one likes to see how it’s made. So in the interests of transparency, here are 15 things the CIA doesn’t want you to know!
15. Big Money For Memoirs
People have always been fascinated with the secrets kept by the CIA. Many bestselling books and movies have been based upon real events that happened to agents in the CIA. Former agents are approached all the time by publishing companies to write about their experiences to give people more insight into what it’s like as a secret agent. It’s not uncommon for former agents to get six figure advances for writing about their time as an agent. Sometimes, higher ranking officials in the agency can become millionaires as a result of dishing the dirt. Provided that they don’t discuss specifics related to classified operations, there’s nothing illegal about this practice. But honor and discretion are both incredibly important to those affiliated with the CIA, so it may not always be seen in the most positive light amongst fellow agents.
14. Make Castro’s Beard Fall Out
After the Cuban Missile Crisis, there was discussion about potentially assassinating Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. This is widely known information today, but one potential plan that never materialized is swept under the carpet, likely because of how ridiculous it was in the first place! Instead of assassinating Castro, there was a discussion about how it may be better to embarrass or discredit him among his own people. One plan was to place thallium salt in his shoes which would allegedly make his beard fall out. Now there is obviously some science behind this to make it work, but the general idea that highly trained agents with the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1960s felt that he would lose credibility through the loss of his beard is the crazy part. It’s certainly a part of the history of the agency that they’d prefer everyone just overlook.
13. Project MK-ULTRA
Causing a huge stain on the reputation of the CIA for approximately 20 years, it’s hard to just overlook operations like MK-ULTRA, but the agency would love it if we all did! This project, which began in the 1950s, tested a series of mind-control techniques, including administering certain mind-controlling drugs to civilian subjects that were unaware of the tests, making them very wrong. The idea was that human behavior could be controlled, and the agency sought to have a deeper understanding of how they could accomplish this control. It incorporated many colleges and universities across the country and the influence of government involvement was substantial. This blemish on the agency and the idea that the government would be acceptable of these practices is more than just sad, it’s absolutely frightening!
12. Spying on French Presidential Election
It has become clear recently that Russia trying to gain intelligence and influence over the United States Presidential election is not exactly new behavior for a country. As it would happen, the United States itself has spied on the French Presidential election of 2012, to gain intelligence on the candidates and the process. The information was given to WikiLeaks, who made it public. In all truth, there was really nothing out of the ordinary in the way they collected intelligence, but it seems to be a bit on the ironic side with all the ill will toward Russia for their spying on our election. Certainly, the CIA did not want anyone knowing about all this, but the cat is kind of out of the bag thanks to good old WikiLeaks.
11. Operation Chaos
Thanks to President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, a Pandora’s Box was opened that hasn’t really ever closed. Operation Chaos allowed the CIA to begin spying on United States citizens. Before this, the agency limited itself to collecting information about foreign governments, but with Operation Chaos, now we could look into our own citizens. They began by looking into college youth organizations and other action groups such as the Black Panthers, as well as countless other groups. This was all in an effort to sniff out foreign influence upon the United States citizenship. Even today, this practice is still utilized to one extent or another, as has been brought to light in recent years. While the agency likely began with good intentions, for the security of the country, Operation Chaos made the lines of right and wrong significantly more blurry.
10. Hired Journalists To Influence Public Opinion
It’s amazing what the CIA has considered appropriate over the years in the name of national security interests. Take Operation Mockingbird for example. This is one of the lesser known blunders of the agency, but one that should certainly be considered. In Operation Mockingbird, the CIA set their sights on journalists. This effort essentially made journalists like agents of the agency themselves. They were to collect intelligence and report a favorable account of the government. If this doesn’t scream propaganda, I don’t know what does! In the mid 1970s, it was reported that journalists were paid off by the CIA to make the public think of communism as scary. This practice is apparently long gone, but it certainly is one that the CIA would rather no one remember or reference.
9. The Mujahideen
This is likely what we can all point to as the arming and training of radical terrorists that we have plaguing our world today. In 1978, Afghanistan was on the table to become a communist stronghold in the Middle East. When the Soviet Union began stepping in to stop the anti-communist rebels, known as the Mujahideen, the United States responded as well. The CIA began training and supplying the Mujahideen in an effort to squash communist forces in the country. Fast forward a few decades and as a result of the training offered by the CIA to the Mujahideen, we now have al-Qaeda. While it was not foreseeable at the time, choosing to supply and train people in this region without ongoing support and alliance has proven to be a horrendous mistake by the CIA.
8. Counter Terrorism Facilities in Somalia
Somalia is essentially a lawless shell of a country today. But in the city of Mogadishu, the CIA operates counter terrorism facilities. To be fair, it’s all “officially” run by the Somali government, but in truth, the CIA is paying for and running the show. They are training the Somalis in the area of counter terrorism as a way to maintain a force against Al Shabab and organizations aligned with al-Qaeda. While this isn’t necessarily a mistake, we’ll refer to the training and supplying of the Mujahideen in the late 1970s. When the CIA swoops in and offers sophisticated and targeted training in poor, war-torn areas, they’d better look to the future and think it through. These semi-secret sites in Somalia could be a necessary part of stopping these terrorist organizations in their tracks, but hopefully they won’t screw up the endgame.
7. Cat Spies
So, this was a real thing and so completely ridiculous that officials in the CIA can just hang their head in embarrassment. In a released report from 1967, the agency spent millions of dollars (I’m not sure how it cost that much, but we’ll just move on) training good old fashioned house cats to spy on the Soviet Union. Through implanting super cool electronics, the idea was that these cats would be an unsuspecting way to eavesdrop on communists. Maybe the theory isn’t all that dumb, but the idea that anyone could predict the actions of a cat or force them to do anything is beyond laughable. The program lovingly nicknamed “Acoustic Kitty” didn’t really come to pass, but it is just another example of communist paranoia during the Cold War.
6. Kidnapped Soviet Satellite
One night in the early 1960s, at the beginning of the “space race” between the United States and the Soviet Union, the CIA went to great lengths to keep the lead. They went so far as to track down the transport of the Soviet Lunik satellite, convince the truck driver to stop for the night to get some sleep and then steal the satellite temporarily. The agents took it apart, photographed the parts, reassembled it and then put it back on the truck. No one was the wiser and the Soviet Union apparently had no idea that anything had happened. This crazy scheme seems like something you might read in a spy novel, but actually happened in real life! At some point the report was declassified, so I guess enough time went by where there wouldn’t be any bad blood any longer about the issue.
5. Smuggled Anti-Communist Books to USSR
During the Cold War, the United States was bound and determined to do whatever it could to mess with the Soviets. If they were didn’t allow something in their country, we went to great lengths to make it available. For instance, when the Soviets banned the book “Doctor Zhivago” by Russian author Boris Pasternak, the CIA decided to help sneak it into the Soviet Union. Secretly, the CIA got a thousand copies of the book smuggled into the country in an attempt to create an anti-communist attitude within the USSR. This same practice was implemented for other book titles as well. The CIA even allegedly worked with the Vatican to help make this happen. It seems odd that they would think getting a thousand copies in a country with millions of people would create a revolution from within.
4. Resignation of Edward Price
Very recently, CIA agent Edward Price offered his resignation from the agency. The resignation has sent something of a shockwave due to his rationale. In a nutshell, Price believes that he will be unable to work in an agency under the current Trump administration. Wanting to join the CIA since his childhood, he said that he realized when the President spoke to the CIA just a day after his inauguration that he couldn’t do his job any longer. Commenting that he saw President Trump standing in front of the wall of stars that honors fallen agents, doing nothing but talking about himself and the huge crowd at his inauguration, made up his mind. The CIA can only hope that this will not be the first of many similar resignations.
3. Interrogation of Saddam Hussein
CIA agent John Nixon was selected as the agent to interrogate the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Nixon has gone on to write a book about this interrogation. He indicated that through the course of his questioning, he is of the opinion that the United States basically got it wrong. There were apparently no weapons of mass destruction found and the way Saddam Hussein was treated once handed back over to the Iraqi government was according to him not appropriate. This is kind of against the company line and everything that was originally expected from Saddam’s capture. Like so much of what the CIA has messed-up over the years, there’s no going back and undoing what’s already done. Most wouldn’t say that Saddam was innocent and he obviously should have been thrown from power, but the misinformation shared with the American people was astounding.
2. Not Preventing September 11, 2001 Attacks
When the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 shocked the United States, everyone wanted answers and they wanted them fast! While fingers were pointing in a lot of different directions, it turned out over time and intense investigation that the CIA had lots of intelligence about the hijackers of the planes ahead of time. They apparently had lots of information about them and their ties to Osama bin-Laden and al-Qaeda. They had been in the United States traveling on valid Visas! Since September 11, 2001, the way we view the security of our country has become radically different, but the truth that remains is that there is a lot that the CIA could have done to stop the attack before it happened. While nothing can be done to change the past, we just hope they have changed some of their own procedures so that it never happens again.
1. Area 51
Area 51 is the biggest conspiracy theory in the world of science fiction. This is mostly because true believers still think that there’s nothing fictional about Area 51. The 1996 movie Independence Day was centered largely around Area 51, giving the theories a rebirth. There has long been the belief that Area 51 is a site where alien intelligence crashed and is being kept and studied. Located in Southern Nevada, the facility wasn’t even acknowledged as existing for decades. In 2013, the CIA acknowledged its existence for the first time ever, and declassified documents explaining its purpose. They let out minimal information and it is believed that they test top secret equipment at this facility. The CIA is still very guarded about this project and that certainly doesn’t do anything to pacify the conspiracy theorists.