Perhaps the most telling element of Joseph Burkholder Smith’s compelling and controversial exposé of his life as a CIA agent, Portrait of a Cold Warrior: Second Thoughts of a Top CIA Agent (1976 ISBN 0-345-29839-X) is what amounts to something of an apology, although, as he states several pages later, he’s not exactly apologizing. He does say:
“We sometimes reported only the intelligence that supported our case for actions we thought should be taken, as we did in Indonesia in 1957 and 1958. We lied to ambassadors who tried to thwart our plans and even maneuvered their reassignment when they persisted in opposing us. Living lies and inventing self-serving excuses for failures, and, worse still, believing them, eroded the character of CIA officers from the lowest to the highest.” (p. 422)
And for sure, he has a lot to address. This career CIA officer, like many of the rest, came into the Agency with great intentions and a notion of integrity. It got waylaid in petty politics and beaurocracy, and, as Smith admits sometimes resulted in the U.S. taking the side of the least democratic of two positions (e,g. Chile). The book is fascinating in virtually every page, as we learn about the CIA’s almost unbelievable reliance on David Maurer’s classic book The Big Con, a history of confidence games, as a textbook. In terms of Southeast Asia, some of Smith’s best stories relate to the attempt to overthrow Indonesia’s Sukarno, noting his sexual peccadilloes (a CIA specialty), and the Agency’s development of a faked porno film, starring an alleged lookalike, in an ill-fated and misplaced effort at propaganda.
Smith’s description of rigging the political system in the Philippines is terrific, too, a must-read for anyone wishing to delve into the twisted political history of that nation. Although written in 1976, the book has tremendous value in describing the myriad of inner workings involved in clandestine operations, and the pitfalls of re-engineering political systems to suit the perceived, and ever-changing needs of world powers. Buy it now from the WoWasis Spycraft eStore.