Cold War Spying: 1952
1952: With the war in Korea still going strong, the Joint Chiefs command Frank Wisner and the CIA to conduct “a major covert offensive against the Soviet Union, aimed at “the heartland of the communist control system.” Wisner tries using the Marshall Plan’s pact building provisions to expedite the efforts. As America’s allies are provided with weapons, Wisner tries arming secret “stay-behind forces” to fight the Soviets in the event of war in Scandinavia, France, Germany, Italy, and Greece. He continues dropping agents to their deaths in the Ukraine and the Baltics.
The CIA sets up clandestine prisons in Germany, Japan, and the Panama Canal Zone. Prisoners are injected with drugs and interrogated. Dulles, Wisner, and Helms provide leadership. The endeavor is named Project Artichoke.
A worldwide program called Red Cap is initiated, taking its name from the railroad porters who help travelers with their baggage. Red Cap aims to induce Soviets to defect from their country and work for the CIA. Ideally, they would serve as “defectors in place” — remaining in their government posts while spying for America. Failing that, they would flee to the West and reveal their knowledge of the Soviet system.
January 1952: The McCarran-Walter Act is passed by Congress. It empowers the Department of Justice to deport any alien or nationalized citizen who is found to have engaged in subversive activities.
May 1952: Allen Dulles (soon to be named Director of the CIA) holds a secret conference of his closest friends at the Princeton Inn. He believes that the “real war” for Western civilization is in Europe, and justifies the intelligence casualties in Asia. He asks his colleagues to consider how best to destroy Stalin’s ability to control his satellite states. He believes that communism can be undone by covert action and argues that the CIA is ready to roll Russia back to its old borders. “If we are to move in and take the offensive, Eastern Europe presents the best place to start,” he says.
May 15, 1952: Dulles and Wisner receive a report on Project Artichoke, spelling out the agency’s effort to test heroin, amphetamines, sleeping pills, and LSD on human subjects. A few months later, Dulles approves a new program testing long term use of LSD on humans. It is code-named Ultra.
May 21, 1952: Whittaker Chambers’ 799 page memoir, Witness, is published by Random House. It is chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection, and has an unprecedented 10-part serialization in the Saturday Evening Post. On its cover, the Post brags that the book is “One of the Great Books of Our Time.” The book was #1 on The New York Times best seller list for most of the summer, and went on to become the 9th best-selling nonfiction book of 1952.
Spring and Summer 1952: More than 1,500 Korean agents are dropped into North Korea. They send back a flood of detailed radio reports on North Korean and Chinese communist military movements. It is later determined that nearly every one of the Korean agents either invented his reports or worked in secret for the communists. One CIA agent noted: “all important Korean agents were con men who had for some time been living happily on generous CIA payments supposedly being sent to ‘assets’ in North Korea. Almost every report we had received from their notional agents came from one of our enemies.”
July 1952: The CIA drops a four-man guerilla team into Manchuria. Four months later, the team radios for help. It is a trap. The team has been captured and turned against the CIA. The agency authorizes a rescue mission, but the rescue plane goes down. Beijing later broadcasts a scorecard for Manchuria: the CIA had dropped 212 foreign agents into the region. 101 were killed and 111 captured.
July 9, 1952: Senator Joseph McCarthy addresses the Republican National Convention in Chicago. After several references to the ongoing Korean conflict his speech ends with these words:
I say one Communist in a defense plant is one too many. One Communist on the faculty of one university is one Communist too many. One Communist among the American advisers at Yalta was one Communist too many. And even if there were only one Communist in the State Department, that would still be one Communist too many.
October 27, 1952: Bedell Smith convenes a conference of the CIA’s 26 most senior officers and proclaims that “until CIA could build a reserve of well-trained people, it would have to hold its activities to the limited number of operations that it could do well, rather than attempt to cover a broad field with poor performance” from “improperly trained or inferior personnel.” He orders the convening of a Murder Board — a jury to kill off the worst of the CIA’s covert operations. Soon the Murder Board is disbanded.
November 1952: The CIA’s Deputy Director of Intelligence, Loftus Becker, goes on an inspection tour of all the CIA’s Asian stations. He returns home to resign in disgust, concluding that “the CIA’s ability to gather intelligence in the Far East is ‘almost negligible.’” The agency’s inability to penetrate North Korea remains the longest running intelligence failure in the CIA’s history, and the agency’s unwillingness to learn from its mistakes becomes a permanent part of its culture.
Kim Roosevelt, the CIA’s Near East operations chief, goes to Tehran to clean up a mess for British intelligence. He pays off a network of Iranian agents who had worked for the British. The British had been forced out of Iran when Iran’s prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, caught wind of a British plot to topple him and expelled everyone in the British Embassy On the way home, Roosevelt stops in London and discovers that Prime Minister Winston Churchill wants the CIA to help in a renewed effort to overthrow Mossadegh. For those of you who might be wondering, it’s all about oil.
November 4, 1952: General Dwight D. Eisenhower wins the US presidency on a national-security platform that calls for the free world to liberate the Soviet satellites. He chooses a new CIA director: Allen Dulles. Dulles is devoted to covert action and he is not a fan of analysis. He also is adept at deceiving the president.
November 26, 1952: The British Spy Monty Woodhouse flies to Washington to meet with the CIA’s Walter Bedell Smith and Frank Wisner. The men discuss how to “unseat Mossadeq” even though the stated policy of the United States is to support Iran’s prime minister. The agency sets out to depose Mossadeq without the knowledge or approval of the White House.
End of 1952: Some of Frank Wisner’s improvised operations are falling apart. Wisner and his men had dropped about $5 million worth of gold bars, submachine guns, rifles, ammunition, and 2-way radios into Poland. They had established contacts with emigres in Germany and London. These efforts weren’t successful. In fact, the Poles had sent a chunk of the CIA money to the Communist Party of Italy.
Frank Lindsay (who had run operations in Eastern Europe) tells Dulles and Wisner that “scientific and technical means of spying on the Soviets will have to replace covert action . . . paramilitary missions to support imaginary resistance movements could not push the Russians out of Europe.”
The CIA is now a worldwide force with 15,000 people, half a billion dollars in secret funds to spend each year, and more than 50 overseas stations. It looks pretty much the way it will for the next 50 years. The Office of Policy Coordination and the Office of Special Operations have been forged into s single clandestine service to serve abroad, there is a unified system for analysts at home, and there is a measure of respect for the CIA at the White House.