Philip Agee: He made a clean break
Published Jan 24, 2008 10:53 PM
The struggle of the masses of people for social justice can win over even
individuals highly trained, flattered and paid well to think and act in the
interests of the super-rich ruling class. It happens rarely, but Philip Agee
was proof that it can happen.
Agee, who died in Havana on Jan. 7 at the age of 72, took the conscious
decision in 1969 to not only leave his job as a CIA officer but to do
everything he could to expose the crimes of that agency, especially in relation
to Latin America.
The Cold War was in full force. Latin America was seething after decades of
Yankee invasions, dictatorships and exploitation.
The Cuban Revolution was 10 years old but had already survived a bloody
campaign of sabotage and an economic blockade. It had routed an invasion by
thousands of mercenaries at the Bay of Pigs. These efforts to bring down its
popular revolution were all planned and coordinated by the CIA and other U.S.
In Asia, the CIA had facilitated the 1963 murder of the Diem brothers in South
Vietnam; they were hated dictators, but the intent was to replace them with
another U.S. puppet who Washington hoped would more effectively carry out the
war against the Vietnamese revolutionary patriots. The CIA had also been behind
the military coup in Indonesia in 1965 that led to the horrendous massacre of
up to 1 million communists and nationalists.
Perhaps some in the agency flippantly looked at all this as a giant chess game.
But Agee, aided by deep friendships with Latin Americans, overcame this
egotistical view so inculcated by imperialist culture and came to recognize
that his work was responsible for terrible suffering and injustice.
In his best-known book, “Inside the Company: CIA Diary,” published
in 1975, Agee recalled how his belief in what he was doing plunged like a
stone. In 1965, during a meeting with top police officials in Uruguay, he had
heard the moans and screams of someone being tortured. He realized that his
work for the CIA—which involved sending agents into labor unions, student
groups and other mass organizations and compiling lists of suspected
leftists—had provided the police with the names of who to arrest, torture
and perhaps even kill.
Agee formally left the agency in 1969 after 12 years as an officer. He took
with him information that would eventually lead to his “naming of
names” of CIA agents all over the world. It was because of Agee that
Congress in 1982 passed an act making it a crime to intentionally reveal the
identity of a covert intelligence officer.
This writer, together with Key Martin, chair of Youth Against War and Fascism,
first had a meeting with Agee in Canada in the mid 1970s. He was prevented from
coming to the United States, but was speaking to large audiences in its
We found him to be a warm individual, very focused, precise and creative. While
not coming from any kind of left background—he was from a well-to-do
Florida family and had gone to a Jesuit high school and then Notre Dame before
being recruited by the CIA—he realized that the system of capitalism was
responsible for the immense suffering of what was called the Third World, and
had told Newsweek magazine that he wanted to join a revolutionary socialist
In “CIA Diary,” he very meticulously documented how the much-touted
Alliance for Progress, devised by the Kennedy administration to counter the
effect of the Cuban Revolution on Latin America, had funneled $5 billion in
investment to Latin America. The money went mainly to the rich there and also
made it possible for U.S. corporations to take out some $20 billion in profits
over the next 10 years.
After Agee went public with his attack on the CIA, other agency employees also
defected. However, Agee went further than any of them in not only damaging the
murderous workings of the agency but also in explaining what class it
In one diary entry, written before he resigned, he wrote: “I wonder what
the reaction would be if I wrote out a resignation telling them what I really
think,” and proceeded to outline a whimsical letter to CIA Director
Richard Helms, in which he would say, “The ruling class will never
willingly give up its special privileges and comforts. This is class warfare
and is the reason why communism appeals to the masses in the first place. We
call this the ‘free world’; but the only freedom under these
circumstances is the rich people’s freedom to exploit the
Agee made a clean break with the forces of imperialist oppression and sided
with the revolutionary movements in Grenada, Cuba, Nicaragua and elsewhere. He
was loved by the people and hated by the bosses for what he had done.
Does the CIA today fear that its horrible crimes against the peoples of the
world, especially in countries now occupied by U.S. troops, will jolt others in
its employ to understand the true face of imperialism, find their humanity and
become new Philip Agees?
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