The fearsome Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the largest and most powerful intelligence service in the world, is on Monday seventy years of ultra-secret missions that would delight the best thriller.
Assassinations, overthrows of governments opposed to US policies, coups, funding and training of paramilitary groups or selective kidnappings are part of the controversial history of the CIA, which was born on September 18, 1947.
That day came into force the National Security Act, promulgated by President Harry Truman to unite the fragmented body of intelligence abroad.
The CIA took the helm of the Strategic Services Office (OSS), created in the midst of World War II (1939-1945) to prevent surprise attacks such as the Japanese bombing of the US naval base at Pearl Harbor (Hawaii) in 1941.
Everything around the Agency is top secret, as its staff and budget, although information filtered in 2013 and published by The Washington Post gives overwhelming data: 21,575 employees and 14,700 million dollars.
Unlike the Soviet KGB, its great rival in the Cold War (1945-1990), the CIA is banned from acting on national territory and, in practice, only reports to the US president.
This Monday, the Agency will celebrate its 70th anniversary high in its headquarters, an unassailable campus-designed campus nestled in the middle of a thick forest in Langley, Virginia, outside Washington.
“We will have a birthday cake,” Efe Jeannette S. Campos, a spokeswoman for the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs, told Efe in the corridors of the headquarters building in Langley, noting that Agency Director Mike Pompeo , “cut” the cake.
The famous CIA logo stands in front of the memorial to its fallen spies in service: a wall with 125 stars (one for each dead agent) carved out of a gleaming white Alabama marble.
“The CIA protects the US and reinforces global security,” says Campos, who attempts to demystify the Agency’s “mystery” in the perception of citizens: “We are,” he explains, “a diverse mix of ordinary Americans who accomplish things extraordinary “.
The CIA, he adds, is trying to “solve the most difficult problems in the world,” a mission that in seventy years of history has had remarkable successes but also failed failures.
The Agency can boast, for example, of singing victory in the covert operation “PBSUCCESS”, which led to the coup in Guatemala in 1954 against the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, contrary to the USA.
Among many other actions, the CIA also had successes in the device to catch – and execute – the mythical Argentine guerrilla Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Bolivia in 1967, or in the financing and supply of arms to the Islamist fighters who fought against the invasion Soviet Union of Afghanistan (1979-1989).
However, the US spies. suffered the humiliation of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion (1961) to overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro, did not smell the fall of communism and did not foresee Al Qaeda attacks on September 11, 2001 against the Twin Towers of New York and the Pentagon in Washington (11S).
In the words of US spy expert Tim Weiner, 11S represented a “second Pearl Harbor.”
US Special Forces were recalled on May 2, 2011 with the assassination in Abbottabad (Pakistan) of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, whom the CIA had paradoxically trained and financed during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
The gun that Bin Laden kept in his Abbottabad lair, a Russian-made AK-47, can be minutely hung as a war trophy in a showcase of the CIA Museum in Langley.
In spite of its fiascos, the myth of the CIA like infallible and omnipresent organization has been perpetuated for decades not only in the minds of its enemies, but in the imaginary of many Americans influenced by the films of intrigue.
Hollywood “does not reflect us well … The films show explosions, car chases… That’s not our life,” a CIA historian tells Efe, under anonymity.
Henry Kissinger may have been right when he traveled to China in 1971 as National Security Adviser to US President Richard Nixon and Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai asked him about CIA subversions.
The then future secretary of state replied that Zhou “greatly overestimated the competence of the CIA,” and the president replied that, “when something happens in the world, they are always thought of.”
“That’s true,” admitted Kissinger, “and it flatters them, but they do not deserve it”.