Tag Archives: CIA

Scientific Conferences Are Filled with Spies

AP Photo/Michel Spingler

Nations have long done battle with one another in different ways. These days, they spy from satellites, send viruses to corrupt government software, poach scientists and infiltrate academia. At The Guardian, Daniel Golden describes how international intelligence agencies send operatives to scientific conferences to gather intel, and how the U.S. has worked to convince foreign nuclear scientists to defect.

Scientific conferences attract people from all corners of the world and facilitate the exchange of information. Conferences are also one of the few opportunities for nuclear scientists from Iran to leave the country, so they function as what Golden calls “a modern-day underground railroad” for potential defectors. U.S. intelligence agencies routinely create their own sham conferences through an intermediary in order to isolate their targets and engage them one-on-one. The system has worked on many scientists. It’s fraught with many dangers: how to blend into a relatively small academic community and impersonate a scientist with actual scientific knowledge? How to get the target away from his guards without attracting attention? The larger question is whether this billion-dollar industry keeps the world safer.

“From the Iranian point of view, they would clearly have an interest in sending scientists to conferences about peaceful uses of nuclear power,” Ronen Bergman told me. A prominent Israeli journalist, Bergman is the author of The Secret War With Iran: The 30-Year Clandestine Struggle Against the World’s Most Dangerous Terrorist Power, and is working on a history of Israel’s central intelligence service, the Mossad. “They say, ‘Yes, we send our scientists to conferences to use civilian technology for a civilian purpose.’”

The CIA officer assigned to the case might pose as a student, a technical consultant, or an exhibitor with a booth. His first job would be to peel the guards away from the scientist. In one instance, kitchen staff recruited by the CIA poisoned the guards’ meal, leaving them incapacitated by diarrhoea and vomiting. The hope was that they would attribute their illness to aeroplane food or an unfamiliar cuisine.

With luck, the officer would catch the scientist alone for a few minutes, and pitch to him. He would have boned up on the Iranian by reading files and courting “access agents” close to him. That way, if the scientist expressed doubt that he was really dealing with the CIA, the officer could respond that he knew everything about him, even the most intimate details – and prove it. One officer told a potential defector: “I know you had testicular cancer and you lost your left nut.”

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Why (and How) the U.S. Overthrew Iran’s Democratic Government

Harry Truman and Mohammad Mossadegh in 1951. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

In 1953 the United States was still new to Iran. Many Iranians thought of Americans as friends, supporters of the fragile democracy they had spent half a century trying to build. It was Britain, not the United States, that they demonized as the colonialist oppressor that exploited them.

Since the early years of the twentieth century a British company, owned mainly by the British government, had enjoyed a fantastically lucrative monopoly on the production and sale of Iranian oil. The wealth that flowed from beneath Iran’s soil played a decisive role in maintaining Britain at the pinnacle of world power while most Iranians lived in poverty. Iranians chafed bitterly under this injustice. Finally, in 1951, they turned to Mossadegh, who more than any other political leader personified their anger at the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC). He pledged to throw the company out of Iran, reclaim the country’s vast petroleum reserves, and free Iran from subjection to foreign power.

Prime Minister Mossadegh carried out his pledges with single-minded zeal. To the ecstatic cheers of his people, he nationalized Anglo-Iranian, the most profitable British business in the world. Soon afterward, Iranians took control of the company’s giant refinery at Abadan on the Persian Gulf.

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British agents began conspiring to overthrow Mossadegh soon after he nationalized the oil company. They were too eager and aggressive for their own good. Mossadegh learned of their plotting, and in October 1952 he ordered the British embassy shut. All British diplomats in Iran, including clandestine agents working under diplomatic cover, had to leave the country. No one was left to stage the coup.

Immediately, the British asked President Truman for help. Truman, however, sympathized viscerally with nationalist movements like the one Mossadegh led. He had nothing but contempt for old-style imperialists like those who ran Anglo-Iranian. Besides, the CIA had never overthrown a government, and Truman did not wish to set the precedent.

—From journalist and author Stephen Kinzer’s All the Shah’s Men, the history of the CIA’s 1953 coup in Iran, which deposed the only democratic government the country ever had. Earlier this month, negotiators announced an accord to restrict Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. The deadline for a final deal is June 30.

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How U.S. Spies Dug Up Hitler’s Sex Secrets

Earlier this week Mother Jones published a fascinating sampling from the CIA’s psychological profiles of various international figures. In 1943, the Office of Strategic Services (the WWII-era CIA predecessor) tasked a Harvard psychologist with drafting a profile of Hitler’s personality. Below is an excerpt, as compiled by Dave Gilson of Mother Jones:

There is little disagreement among professional, or even among amateur, psychologists that Hitler’s personality is an example of the counteractive type, a type that is marked by intense and stubborn efforts (i) to overcome early disabilities, weaknesses and humiliations (wounds to self-esteem), and sometimes also by efforts (ii) to revenge injuries and insults to pride…

Sexually he is a full-fledged masochist…Hitler’s long-concealed secret heterosexual fantasy has been exposed by the systemic analysis and correlation of the three thousand odd metaphors he uses in Mein Kampfand yet—Hitler himself is Impotent. [original emphasis] He is unmarried and his old acquaintances say that he is incapable of consumating the sexual act in a normal fashion.

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The story of a 21-year-old who was the first American woman to die in the Vietnam War. For years the CIA refused to acknowledge that she worked for the agency:

It is Warren who inherited from his dead parents the one thing that most illuminates his sister’s time in Vietnam: a trove of 30 letters she wrote home, dating from her arrival in Saigon to the week before her death.

The letters offer a glimpse into the life of a young woman supposedly working for the State Department as she launched her career and looked for love amid Vietnam’s escalating violence.

‘Reading these letters,’ said Warren, 65, a retired airline mechanic, who hadn’t looked at them since he was a kid, ‘it’s like I got to know her all over again.’

August 6 1964: Dear Mother, Dad & Warren , I think I’m going to really enjoy working for the State Dept. Security-wise we do have to be careful — but you’d never feel that way right here in Saigon if it weren’t for the Vietnamese Police all over the city.

“Barbara Robbins: A Slain CIA Secretary’s Life and Death.” — Ian Shapira, Washington Post

More #longreads from Ian Shapira

When your wedding doubles as a covert operation. A look at the complications of CIA marriages, and how secrets often lead to separation:

The Fredericksburg woman divorcing her husband laid out all the messy details, including the most secret of them all. Her husband, she wrote in now-sealed court documents, is a covert operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency. His CIA job, she said, poisoned their five-year-old marriage.

“[He] used me and our daughter . . . to run cover for his undercover operations . . . I never felt safe, never knew who people were or why they were interested in us or why they were photographing us,” wrote the woman, who is in her 30s, in December. “As a result of [his] different assignments I never had a good support network of people I could trust or rely on to help out.” And, she claimed, her spy-husband had little interest in household chores. “[He] never so much as washed or folded a load of laundry, swept or mopped one floor, or changed one dirty diaper.”

“CIA Divorces: The Secrecy When Spies Split.” — Ian Shapira, The Washington Post

More from Shapira: “How a Letter on Hitler’s Stationery, Written to a Boy in Jersey, Reached the CIA.” — Oct. 31, 2011

At CIA headquarters in Langley, one of the newest artifacts in the agency’s private museum is a message from a father to his 3-year-old son. The gold-embossed letterhead features a swastika and the name Adolf Hitler.

“Dear Dennis,” the seven-sentence letter begins. “The man who might have written on this card once controlled Europe — three short years ago when you were born. Today he is dead, his memory despised, his country in ruins.”

“How a Letter on Hitler’s Stationery, Written to a Boy in Jersey, Reached the CIA.” — Ian Shapira, The Washington Post

See more #longreads from The Washington Post

At CIA headquarters in Langley, one of the newest artifacts in the agency’s private museum is a message from a father to his 3-year-old son. The gold-embossed letterhead features a swastika and the name Adolf Hitler.

“Dear Dennis,” the seven-sentence letter begins. “The man who might have written on this card once controlled Europe — three short years ago when you were born. Today he is dead, his memory despised, his country in ruins.”

“How a Letter on Hitler’s Stationery, Written to a Boy in Jersey, Reached the CIA.” — Ian Shapira, The Washington Post

See more #longreads from The Washington Post