National Security Archive

Researcher and scholar as well as senior fellow of the National Security Archive, author John Prados makes a breakthrough account of the Central Intelligence Agency’s activities globally since it was established in 1947 until today. In his book Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA., readers are able to glean these secret documents including journals of former officials describing the CIA’s different operations situating them in the context of the foreign policies and America’s aspirations for democracy. It recounts in detail the efforts of the presidents and the Congress to maintain its control of the operations of the CIA. Having access to primary documentation, Prados delivers a convincing evidence of its covert operations, referencing his accounts with solid evidences of the “secret wars” since its establishment. Prados argues that the covert activities of the CIA are tempting vehicles for the powers-that-be to use it as its emergency solution to its difficult national problems.

Over the past 60 years, Prados is able to include the massive extent of CIA from the secret efforts in Iran, Guatemala and Cuba, even those from Guyana, Eastern Europe. In succinct terms, he pens, “The growing importance of proxies had implications for the use of covert action to implant democracy. To the old dilemma of shady means in service of lofty goals was added the spoiler of agents who acted in America’s name with their own agendas, or those who took the CIA cash and wouldn’t stay “bought.” These problems were, and are, intractable.” His accounts look into organizing of military coups including how it can infiltrate labor unions, funding of anti-Soviet partisan groups, and the subsidizing of several publication firms. In a way, he has this resigned attitude that while U.S. foreign policy sincerely wants to uphold democracy, it often produces the opposite results. It seems that it sabotages the very goals that it hopes to achieve because of these secret activities gone awry.

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What alarms the ordinary reader from Prados’ accounts is the extent with which the CIA encompasses different countries in its activities. More often than not, Prados reveal how counterproductive this has been in the larger context of the situation. In fact, the way the CIA has undergone its activities reveals a startling way of undermining U.S. interest in the long run. This may not be apparent at the start but from the documents that Prados divulge, the facts and figures do not lie. CIA seemed to have truly bungled on some of the major operations when it comes to the overall image of America. Yet, CIA is not to be blamed for all these faux pas. It would not have acted solely on its own. Its activities are known by the President and he provides the go signal for most of its major operations. The higher authorities of the land had a full knowledge of what was to be carried out and how it aims to end it all. Necessarily, it had the full capacity to stop operations anytime and CIA would have acquiesced. One sterling example Prados gives here is the Kissinger and Nixon pursuance of a more aggressive stance in the Chilean moves against Allende.

Readers are often intrigued as to how Prados is able to write all these clandestine CIA activities. He does this with such bravado, keeping as objective as he can as he divulges the men and women responsible in its covert operations, its strategies and resources of operations, and balancing it with its triumphs and failures. If only for the meticulous detail characterized by this dramatic narrative, the book is worth reading as the ordinary citizen is treated to the historic events of our nation and is at once transported to the ins and outs of the secret activities of the intriguing CIA

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