Quotable: Harry S. Truman on the CIA

“For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government…I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak-and-dagger operations. Some of the complications and embarrassment that I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue and a subject for cold war enemy propaganda.”

–Former US president Harry S. Truman, interviewed by the Washington Post, December 21, 1963

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4 Responses to Quotable: Harry S. Truman on the CIA

  1. anon says:

    Oh come on now, don’t go spreading the myth of the CIA as a rogue agency acting nefariously apart from the intentions of noble American leaders.
    The CIA does what the chief executive orders it to. Truman I suspect just wanted to distance himself from the “complications” and “embarrassments”.

  2. Bina says:

    Could be…could be.
    But then again, the CIA did act nefariously, apart from the intentions of JFK, back when they were trying to hire mafiosi to kill Castro. JFK was no angel, but he wasn’t stupid, either–he knew it would be a foreign relations disaster if another Bay of Pigs were to happen, as if the first one wasn’t bad enough–and he knew that too, but he made a mistake and let himself be persuaded to give the go-ahead anyway. His actions thereafter are telling–he regretted it deeply. (And not just because of the Cuban Missile Crisis, either.)
    The last thing a Cold War-oriented CIA would have wanted was a popular, detente-minded president who could put the brakes on them–or, as JFK threatened to do, dismantle them altogether.
    Plus, there was his brother, the gang-busting attorney general. Bobby was making the Mafia his particular target. That was a real danger for the CIA–their Mafia ties have long been suspected and talked about, and are now officially confirmed with the release of the Family Jewels file. It doesn’t take a conspiracy nut to gather that they must have wanted JFK out of the way first of all–that way, RFK would no longer be Attorney General with the power to bust the Mob, but just another lawyer. LBJ, who had a rap sheet as long as Shaq’s arm when it came to election fraud, corruption, and boogying with Texas oil interests, could be counted on to keep mum, because otherwise he could incriminate himself and be driven out of office by scandal. He would appoint someone safe and uninquisitive in Bobby’s place–which of course he did. That’s why Bobby wasn’t touched until 1968–when he announced his intention to run for president.
    But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a collection of articles on JFK’s attempts at rapprochement with Castro:
    http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB103/index.htm
    Journalist Lisa Howard was the go-between; they weren’t ready to formally announce talks, but both were definitely putting out feelers toward that end. It would have been a great opportunity for regional peace, and probably would have ended that disastrous trade embargo that’s still in place, too. Too bad the assassins saw fit only to squander that.
    And here are some links about the RFK assassination and those three spooky CIA men who were there:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,1952393,00.html
    http://www.democrats.com/Did-the-CIA-Kill-Bobby-Kennedy
    The latter has video; it’s worth seeing. Three CIA men, all with known anti-Kennedy views, placed by independent witnesses who knew them, at the scene on the night Bobby died? PLUS forensic evidence that shows that Sirhan couldn’t have fired the fatal shot? If that’s just a coincidence, it’s the spookiest one I ever heard of.
    BTW, the newly released “Family Jewels” files don’t include anything on JFK or RFK. I had an opportunity to look through the whole file, and there were an awful lot of blanked-out pages. Some things are being revealed–the “safe” ones, or stuff that was already pretty much common knowledge–while real conspiracies, including those still in progress, are still being covered up until all the perpetrators are safely dead. Else why keep the JFK files closed until 70 years after his death? And why “declassify” so many blank pages, leaving huge gaps in the files they came from? What is there to be gained from that, when openness would do so much more to heal a still-shattered nation?
    So, long story short: Truman was and was not telling us some interesting things here. What he WAS telling us is that the CIA, though created on his executive order, had taken on a sinister life of its own, and this dismayed him, as it should. They are unelected and have no business acting like a shadow government. What he was NOT telling us, of course, is that he knew full well that the CIA was behind JFK’s assassination, and that this was an unpardonable crime–a coup d’etat against a democratically elected head of state. This would have caused terrible guilt feelings for Truman as creator of the organization, even though it was no longer in his hands to command. If there were anything he were trying to distance himself from, it would surely be that. (The date of the interview, about a month after the murder, is very telling.)
    The “cold war enemy propaganda” bit, in other words, is not the whole truth. Yes, some subversives COULD seize on these utterances–but many non-subversives, who are genuinely interested in keeping government agencies honest, also could, and should. Many of those who suspected the CIA of being way out of line were loyal, patriotic Americans–JFK among them. They certainly weren’t acting on his order when they disregarded instructions to back off of Castro. Whose instructions WERE they acting on, then? That is the great unanswered question of the century.

  3. Wren says:

    I believe that Truman was referring to the recruitment of Nazis by the CIA in order to gain intelligence on the Soviets even though Truman expressly excluded anyone found “to have been a member of the Nazi party and more than a nominal participant in its activities, or an active supporter of Naziism or militarism” to even be allowed to immigrate to the U.S. http://www.consortiumnews.com/2001/051601a.html
    It would seem the CIA was making policy with respects to U.S. Soviet relations.

  4. Bina says:

    Yes, there’s that, too. The fact that the CIA saw fit to ignore Truman’s prudent order to leave Nazis alone, tells you that from the outset, they self-constituted as an antidemocratic shadow organization. If they were so contrary to the wishes of elected leaders right after their inception, would they ever obey a president who gave orders contrary to their own whims? I very much doubt it.

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