Human Rights

USA Theme A-2 - Page 8

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Early Successes

The first postwar U.S. covert activities took place in Italy at a time when the Soviets were offering assistance to Italian communists. Payments were made to help defray the election expenses of certain individual politicians, and to cover the costs of printing posters, pamphlets, and communist newspapers. Fearing that communists would take power in national elections in 1948, the United States took steps to prevent it. Richard Barnet, a former State Department official, notes: "The Special Procedures Group of the Office of Special Operations in the CIA spread money to various Italian centrist parties, a generosity that in time would be extended to politicians in Iran, Zaire, Chile, and many other places."[16] Covert action in Italy, along with diplomatic and economic efforts, was viewed by government officials as an enormous success as the U.S.-backed parliamentary parties triumphed at the polls.

In 1948 the National Security Council authorized the creation of the Office of Special Projects (soon renamed the Office of Policy Coordination, which replaced the Special Operations Group) to combat Soviet and communist activity generally. Ironically, given the State Department's current disdain for covert activities, it was George Kennan, then the director of the policy planning staff, who advocated the formal creation of a permanent, covert, political-action capability.

In addition to mounting the successful operation in Italy, the United States sent agents on missions in the Eastern bloc, including the Soviet Union, where for several years after the war, a Ukrainian resistance movement continued to fight the Red Army. Because the Ukraine was an acknowledged part of the Soviet Union, the operations were tantamount to war. This initiative was far less successful than the Italian episode. The Ukrainian resistance had no hope of winning unless America went to war on its behalf. Because America was not prepared to do so, Washington was in effect encouraging the Ukrainians to adopt a suicidal course--not exactly what one would call a successful "middle" option.[17] It did, however, demonstrate both Washington's increasing experimentation with the covert option and the ruthlessness with which officials could employ it.

Emboldened by their success in Italy, U.S. policymakers also turned their attention to Greece. Faced with the prospect of a communist takeover, because the British could no longer afford to support the fight against communism in Greece and Turkey, President Truman decided to pursue the battle. In his joint address to Congress on March 12, 1947, he called for $400 million in military and economic assistance for Greece and Turkey, and he articulated the Truman Doctrine to "support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure." Although most U.S. actions in Greece were carried out overtly, the CIA did conduct many covert operations, notably in the areas of propaganda and psychological warfare. American policy initially aimed at containing the Greek left, but ultimately succeeded in destroying it. However, over the long term the policy had serious drawbacks. Although publicly committed to democratic reforms in Greece, American officials ultimately contributed to the rightward, authoritarian swing of Greece's politics. Civil liberties were eroded, economic corruption was proliferated, and the power of the armed forces was enhanced.[18] Indeed, George Papadopoulous, the Greek army colonel who led the military coup in 1967, had received a CIA subsidy since 1952.[19]

By this time, U.S. officials no longer questioned the need for covert capabilities. The cold war was well under way, and the American public supported it. As a result of the strengthening of cooperation between the CIA and the military brought about by the Korean War, the standing and influence of the covert-action side of the CIA increased throughout the 1950s. After the Korean War the "communist menace" was perceived in more general and worldwide terms. It was no longer believed that communism was a threat only to those geographic areas bordering China and the Soviet Union. The CIA changed its operations and attitudes accordingly. Emphasis began to shift from Europe and from crisis management to a worldwide effort to forestall and contain what was seen as communist aggression.