EX-CIA OFFICIAL SPEAKS OUT: An Interview with Victor Marchetti
By Greg Kaza
This article is reprinted from Full Disclosure. Copyright (c) 1986
Capitol Information Association. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby
granted to reprint this article providing this message is included in its
entirety. Full Disclosure, Box 8275, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48107. $15/yr.
Full Disclosure: I'd like to start out by talking about your well-known book,
`The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence.' What edition is that in today?
Marchetti: The latest edition came out last summer. Its the Laurel edition,
FD: Its gone through a couple of printings?
Marchetti: Yes. It was originally published by Alfred Knopf in hardback and
by Dell in paperback. That was in 1974 with Knopf and 1975 with Dell. Then a
few years later we got some more of the deletions back from the government,
so Dell put out a second printing. That would have been about 1979. Then
recently, during the summer of 1983, we got back a few more deletions and
that's the current edition that is available in good bookstores (laughs) in
Dell paperback, the Laurel edition.
Originally the CIA asked for 340 deletions. We got about half of those back
in negotiations prior to the trial. We later won the trial, they were
supposed to give everything back but it was overturned at the appellate
level. The Supreme Court did not hear the case, so the appellate decision
stood. We got back 170 of those deletions in negotiations during the trial
period. A few years later when the second paperback edition came out there
were another 24 deletions given back. The last time, in 1983, when the the
third edition of the paperback edition was published, there were another 35
given back. So there are still 110 deletions in the book out of an original
As for the trial, the CIA sued in early 1972 to have the right to review and
censor the book. They won that case. It was upheld at the appellate court in
Richmond some months later, and again the Supreme Court did not hear the
case. Two years later we sued the CIA on the grounds that they had been
arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable in making deletions and were in
violation of the injunction they had won in 1972. We went before Judge Albert
V. Bryan Jr., and in that case, he decided in our favor. Bryan was the same
fourth district judge in Alexandria who heard the original case. He said that
there was nothing in the book that was harmful to national security or that
was logically classifiable. Bryan said the CIA was being capricious and
arbitrary. They appealed, and a few months later down in Richmond the
appellate court for the fourth district decided in the government's favor,
and overturned Bryan's decision. Again, the Supreme Court did not hear the
case. It chose not to hear it, and the appellate court's decision stood.
By this time, we had grown weary of the legal process. The book was published
with blank spaces except for those items that had been given back in
negotiations. Those items were printed in bold face type to show the kind of
stuff the CIA was trying to cut out. In all subsequent editions, the
additional material is highlighted to show what it is they were trying to cut
Of course the CIA's position is that only they know what is a secret. They
don't make the national security argument because that is too untenable these
days. They say that they have a right to classify anything that they want to,
and only they know what is classifiable. They are establishing a precedent,
and have established a precedent in this case that has been used subsequently
against ex-CIA people like Frank Snepp and John Stockwell and others, and in
particular against Ralph McGee. They've also used it against (laughing), its
kind of ironic, two former CIA directors, one of whom was William Colby.
Colby was the guy behind my case when he was director. In fact, he was sued
by the CIA and had to pay a fine of I think, about $30,000 for putting
something in that they wanted out about the Glomar Explorer. He thought they
were just being, as I would say, ``arbitrary and capricious,'' so he put it
in anyway, was sued, and had to pay a fine. Admiral Stansfield Turner was
another who, like Colby when he was director, was the great defender of
keeping everything secret and only allowing the CIA to reveal anything. When
Turner got around to writing his book he had the same problems with them and
is very bitter about it and has said so. His book just recently came out and
he's been on a lot of TV shows saying, ``Hells bells, I was director and I
know what is classified and what isn't but these guys are ridiculous,
bureaucratic,'' and all of these accusations you hear. It is ironic because
even the former directors of the CIA have been burned by the very precedents
that they helped to establish.
FD: What are the prospects for the remaining censored sections of your book
eventually becoming declassified so that they are available to the American
Marchetti: If I have a publisher, and am willing to go back at the CIA every
year or two years forcing a review, little by little, everything would come
out eventually. I can't imagine anything they would delete. There might be a
few items that the CIA would hold onto for principle's sake. Everything that
is in that book, whether it was deleted or not, has leaked out in one way or
another, has become known to the public in one form or another since then. So
you know its really a big joke.
FD: Looking back on it, what effect did the publication of the `The CIA and
the Cult of Intelligence' have on your life?
Marchetti: It had a tremendous effect on my life. The book put me in a
position where I would forever be persona non grata with the bureaucracy in
the federal government, which means, that I cannot get a job anywhere, a job
that is, specific to my background and talents. Particularly if the company
has any form of government relationship, any kind of government contract.
That stops the discussions right there. But even companies that are not
directly allied with the government tend to be very skittish because I was so
controversial and they just don't feel the need to get into this. I have had
one job since leaving the CIA other than writing, consulting and things like
that, and that was with an independent courier company which did no business
with the government, was privately owned, and really didn't care what the
government thought. They ran their own business and they hired me as their
friend. But every other job offered to me always evaporates, because even
those individuals involved in hiring who say they want to hire me and think
the government was wrong always finish saying, ``Business is business. There
are some people here who do not want to get involved in any controversial
case.'' Through allies or former employees somebody always goes out of their
way to make it difficult for me, so I never have any other choice but to
continue to be a freelance writer, lecturer, consultant, etcetera, and even
in that area I am frequently penalized because of who I worked for.
FD: The government views you as a troublemaker or whistleblower?
Marchetti: As a whistleblower, and, I guess, troublemaker. In the
intelligence community, as one who violated the code.
FD: The unspoken code?
Marchetti: Right. And this has been the fate of all those CIA whistleblowers.
They've all had it hard. Frank Snepp, Stockwell, McGee, and others, have all
suffered the same fate. Whistleblowers in general, like Fitzgerald in the
Department of Defense, who exposed problems with the C-5A, overruns, have
also suffered the same kind of fate. But since they were not dealing in the
magical area of national security they have found that they have some leeway
and have been able to, in many other cases, find some other jobs. In some
cases the government was even forced to hire them back. Usually the
government puts them in an office somewhere in a corner, pays them $50,000 a
year, and ignores them. Which drives them crazy of course, but thats the
government's way of punishing anybody from the inside who exposes all of
these problems to the American public.
FD: Phillip Agee explains in his book the efforts of the CIA to undermine his
writing of `Inside The Company' both before and after publication. Have you
run into similar problems with extralegal CIA harassment?
Marchetti: Yes. I was under surveillance. Letters were opened. I am sure our
house was burglarized. General harassment of all sorts, and the CIA has
admitted to some of these things. One or two cases, because the Church
Committee found out. For example, the CIA admitted to working with the IRS to
try and give me a bad time. The Church Committee exposed that and they had to
drop it. They've admitted to certain other activities like the surveillance
and such, but the CIA will not release to me any documents under the Freedom
of Information Act. They won't release it all -- any documents under FOIA,
FD: About your time with the CIA?
Marchetti: No, about my case. I only want the information on me after leaving
the agency and they just refuse to do it. They've told me through friends
``You can sue until you're blue in the face but you're not going to get
this'' because they know exactly what would happen. It would be a terrible
embarrassment to the CIA if all of the extralegal and illegal activities they
took became public.
The most interesting thing they did in my case was an attempt at entrapment,
by putting people in my path in the hopes that I would deal with these
people, who in at least one case turned out to be an undercover CIA operator
who was, if I had dealt with him, it would have appeared that I was moving to
deal with the Soviet KGB. The CIA did things of that nature. They had people
come to me and offer to finance projects if I would go to France, live there,
and write a book there without any censorship. Switzerland and Germany were
also mentioned. The CIA used a variety of techniques of that sort. I turned
down all of them because my theory is that the CIA should be exposed to a
certain degree in the hope that Congress could conduct some investigation out
of which would come some reform. I was playing the game at home and that is
the way I was going to play. Play it by the rules, whatever handicap that
meant. Which in the end was a tremendous handicap.
But it did work out in the sense that my book did get published. The CIA drew
a lot of attention to it through their attempts to prevent it from being
written and their attempts at censorship, which simply increased the appetite
of the public, media, and Congress, to see what they were trying to hide and
why. All of this was happening at a time when other events were occurring.
Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers had come out about the same time I announced I was
doing my book. Some big stories were broken by investigative journalists. All
of these things together, my book was part of it, did lead ultimately to
congressional investigations of the CIA. I spent a lot of time behind the
scenes on the Hill with senators and congressman lobbying for these
investigations and they finally did come to pass.
It took awhile. President Ford tried to sweep everything under the rug by
creating the Rockefeller Commission, which admitted to a few CIA mistakes but
swept everything under the rug. It didn't wash publicly. By this time, the
public didn't buy the government's lying. So we ultimately did have the Pike
Committee, which the CIA and the White House did manage to sabotage. But the
big one was the Church Committee in the Senate which conducted a pretty broad
investigation and brought out a lot of information on the CIA. The result of
that investigation was that the CIA did have to admit to a lot of wrongdoing
and did have to make certain reforms. Not as much as I would have liked. I
think everything has gone back to where it was and maybe even worse than what
it was, but at least there was a temporary halt to the CIA's free reign of
hiding behind secrecy and getting away with everything, up to and including
murder. There were some changes and I think they were all for the better.
FD: So instead of some of the more harsher critics of the CIA who would want
to see it abolished you would want to reform it?
Marchetti: Yes. Its one of these things where you can't throw out the baby
with the bathwater. The CIA does do some very good and valuable and
worthwhile and legal things. Particularly in the collection of information
throughout the world, and in the analysis of events around the world. All of
this is a legitimate activity, and what the CIA was really intended to do in
the beginning when they were set up. My main complaint is that over the years
those legitimate activities have to a great extent been reduced in
importance, and certain clandestine activities, particularly the covert
action, have come to the fore. Covert action is essentially the intervention
in the internal affairs of other governments in order to manipulate events,
using everything from propaganda, disinformation, political action, economic
action, all the way down to the really dirty stuff like para-military
activity. This activity, there was too much of it. It was being done for the
wrong reasons, and it was counterproductive. It was in this area where the
CIA was really violating U.S. law and the intent of the U.S. Constitution,
and for that matter, I think, the wishes of Congress and the American people.
This was the area that needed to be thoroughly investigated and reformed. My
suggestion was that the CIA should be split into two organizations. One, the
good CIA so to speak, would collect and analyze information. The other part,
in the dirty tricks business, would be very small and very tightly controlled
by Congress and the White House, and if possible, some kind of a public board
so that it didn't get out of control.
My theory is, and I've proved it over and over again along with other people,
is that the basic reason for secrecy is not to keep the enemy from knowing
what you're doing. He knows what you're doing because he's the target of it,
and he's not stupid. The reason for the CIA to hide behind secrecy is to keep
the public, and in particular the American public, from knowing what they're
doing. This is done so that the President can deny that we were responsible
for sabotaging some place over in Lebanon where a lot of people were killed.
So that the President can deny period. Here is a good example: President
Eisenhower denied we were involved in attempts to overthrow the Indonesian
government in 1958 until the CIA guys got caught and the Indonesians produced
them. He looked like a fool. So did the N.Y. Times and everybody else who
believed him. That is the real reason for secrecy.
There is a second reason for secrecy. That is that if the public doesn't know
what you are doing you can lie to them because they don't know what the truth
is. This is a very bad part of the CIA because this is where you get not only
propaganda on the American people but actually disinformation, which is to
say lies and falsehoods, peddled to the American public as the truth and
which they accept as gospel. That's wrong. It's not only wrong, its a lie and
it allows the government and those certain elements of the government that
can hide behind secrecy to get away with things that nobody knows about. If
you carefully analyze all of these issues that keep coming up in Congress
over the CIA, this is always what is at the heart of it: That the CIA lied
about it, or that the CIA misrepresented something, or the White House did
it, because the CIA and the White House work hand in glove. The CIA is not a
power unto itself. It is an instrument of power. A tool. A very powerful tool
which has an influence on whoever is manipulating it. But basically the CIA
is controlled by the White House, the inner circle of government, the inner
circle of the establishment in general. The CIA is doing what these people
want done so these people are appreciative and protective of them, and they
in turn make suggestions or even go off on their own sometimes and operate
deep cover for the CIA. So it develops into a self-feeding circle.
FD: Spreading disinformation is done through the newsmedia.
Marchetti: Yes. Its done through the newsmedia. The fallacy is that the CIA
says the real reason they do this is to con the Soviets. Now I'll give you
some examples. One was a fellow by the name of Colonel Oleg Penkovsky.
FD: Penkovsky Papers?
Marchetti: Yes. I wrote about that in `The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence.
The Penkovsky Papers was a phony story. We wrote the book in the CIA. Now,
who in the hell are we kidding? The Soviets? Do we think for one minute that
the Soviets, who among other things captured Penkovsky, interrogated him, and
executed him, do you think for one minute they believe he kept a diary like
that? How could he have possibly have done it under the circumstances? The
whole thing is ludicrous. So we're not fooling the Soviets. What we're doing
is fooling the American people and pumping up the CIA. The British are
notorious for this kind of thing. They're always putting out phony
autobiographies and biographies on their spies and their activities which are
just outright lies. They're done really to maintain the myth of English
secret intelligence so that they will continue to get money to continue to
operate. Thats the real reason. The ostensible reason is that we were trying
to confuse the Soviets. Well that's bullshit because they're not confused.
One of the ones I think is really great is `Khruschev Remembers.' If anybody
in his right mind believes that Nikita Khruschev sat down, and dictated his
memoirs, and somebody -- Strobe Talbot sneaked out of the Soviet Union with
them they're crazy. That story is a lie. That book was a joint operation
between the CIA and the KGB. Both of them were doing it for the exact same
reasons. They both wanted to influence their own publics. We did it our way
by pretending that Khruschev had done all of this stuff and we had lucked out
and somehow gotten a book out of it. The Soviets did it because they could
not in their system allow Khruschev to write his memoirs. Thats just against
everything that the Communist system stands for. But they did need him to
speak out on certain issues. Brezhnev particularly needed him to
short-circuit some of the initiatives of the right wing, the Stalinist wing
of the party. Of course the KGB was not going to allow the book to be
published in the Soviet Union. The stuff got out so that it could be
published by the Americans. That doesn't mean that the KGB didn't let copies
slip into the Soviet Union and let it go all around. The Soviets achieved
their purpose too.
This is one of the most fantastic cases, I think, in intelligence history.
Two rival governments cooperated with each other on a secret operation to
dupe their respective publics. I always wanted to go into much greater length
on this but I just never got around to it. Suffice it to say that TIME
magazine threatened to cancel a two-page magazine article they were doing on
me and my book if I didn't cut a brief mention of this episode out of the
FD: How was this operation initially set up?
Marchetti: I don't know all of the ins and outs of it. I imagine what
happened is that it probably started with somebody in the Soviet Politburo
going to Khruschev and saying, ``Hey, behind the scenes we're having lots of
trouble with the right-wing Stalinist types. They're giving Brehznev a bad
time and they're trying to undercut all of the changes you made and all of
the changes Brehznev has made and wants to make. Its pretty hard to deal with
it so we've got an idea. Since you're retired and living here in your dacha
why don't you just sit back and dictate your memoirs. And of course the KGB
will review them and make sure you don't say anything you shouldn't say and
so on and so forth. Then we will get in touch with our counterparts, and see
to it that this information gets out to the West, which will publish it, and
then it will get back to the Soviet Union in a variety of forms. It will get
back in summaries broadcast by the Voice of America and Radio Liberty, and
copies of the book will come back in, articles written about it will be
smuggled in, and this in turn will be a big influence on the intelligentsia
and the party leaders and it will undercut Suslov and the right wingers.''
Khruschev said okay. The KGB then went to the CIA and explained things to
them and the CIA said, Well that sounds good, we'll get some friends of ours
here, the TIME magazine bureau in Moscow, Jerry Schecter would later have a
job in the White House as a press officer. We'll get people like Strobe
Talbot, who is working at the bureau there, we'll get these guys to act as
the go-betweens. They'll come and see you for the memoirs and everyone will
play dumb. You give them two suitcases full of tapes (laughs) or something
like that and let them get out of the Soviet Union. Which is exactly what
Strobe brought all of this stuff back to Washington and then TIME-LIFE began
to process it and put a book together. They wouldn't let anybody hear the
tapes, they didn't show anybody anything. A lot of people were very
suspicious. You know you can tell this to the public or anybody else who
doesn't have the least brains in their head about how the Soviet Union
operates and get away with it. But anybody who knows the least bit about the
Soviet Union knows the whole thing is impossible. A former Soviet premier
cannot sit in his dacha and make these tapes and then give them to a U.S.
newspaperman and let him walk out of the country with them. That cannot be
done in a closed society, a police state, like the Soviet Union.
The book was eventually published but before it was published there was
another little interesting affair. Strobe Talbot went to Helsinki with the
manuscript, where he was met by the KGB who took it back to Leningrad, looked
at it, and then it was finally published by TIME-LIFE. None of that has ever
been explained in my book. A couple of other journalists have made references
to this episode but never went into it. It's an open secret in the press
corps here in Washington and New York, but nobody ever wrote a real big story
for a lot of reasons, because I guess it's just the kind of story that it's
difficult for them to get their hooks into. I knew people who were then in
the White House and State Department who were very suspicious of it because
they thought the KGB...
FD: Had duped TIME?
Marchetti: Exactly. Once they learned this was a deal they quieted down and
ceased their objections and complaints, and even alibied and lied afterwards
as part of the bigger game. Victor Lewis, who was apparently instrumental in
all of these negotiations, later fit into one little footnote to this story
that I've often wondered about. Lewis is (was)... After all of this happened
and when the little furor that existed here in official Washington began
dying down, Victor Lewis went to Tel Aviv for medical treatment. He came into
the country very quietly but somebody spotted him and grabbed him and said,
``What are you doing here in Israel?'' ``Well I'm here for medical treatment,
'' Lewis said. They said, ``What?! You're here in Israel for medical
treatment?'' He said, ``Yes.'' They said, ``Well whats the problem?'' ``I've
got lumbago, a back problem, and they can't fix it in the Soviet Union. but
there's a great Jewish doctor here I knew in the Soviet Union and I came to
see him.'' That sounds like the craziest story you ever wanted to hear. But
then another individual appeared in Israel at the same time and some reporter
spotted him. He happened to be Richard Helms, then-director of the CIA. He
asked Helms what he was doing in Israel, and he had some kind of a lame
excuse which started people wondering whether this was the payoff. Helms
acting for the CIA, TIME-LIFE, and the U.S. government, and Lewis acting for
the KGB, Politburo, and the Soviet government. Its really a fascinating
story. I wrote about briefly in the book and it was very short. You'll find
it if you look through the book in the section we're talking about.
Publications and things like that. When I wrote those few paragraphs there
wasn't much further I could go, because there was a lot of speculation and
Around the time my book came out, TIME magazine decided that they would do a
two-page spread in their news section and give it a boost. Suddenly I started
getting calls from Jerry Schecter and Strobe Talbot about cutting that part
out. I said I would not cut it out unless they could look me in the eye and
say I was wrong. If it wasn't true I would take the book and cut the material
out. But neither of them chose to do that. Right before the article appeared
in TIME I got a call from one of the editors telling me that some people
wanted to kill the article. I asked why and he said one of the reasons is
what you had to say about TIME magazine being involved in the Khruschev
Remembers book. I asked him, ``Thats it?'' I had talked to Jerry and Strobe
and this was their backstab. This editor asked me if I could find somebody
who could trump the people who were trying to have the article killed.
Somebody who could verify my credentials in telling the story. I said why
don't you call Richard Helms, who by that time had been eased out of office
by Kissinger and Nixon, and was now an ambassador in Teheran. So this editor
called Helms to verify my credentials (laughing) and Helms said, ``Yeah, he's
a good guy. He just got pissed off and wanted to change the CIA.'' So the
article ran in TIME. I think you're one of the very few people I've explained
this story to in depth.
FD: Did this operation have a name?
Marchetti: It probably did but I was already out of the agency and I don't
know what it was. But I do know it was a very sensitive activity and that
people very high up in the White House and State Department who you would
have thought would have been aware of it were not aware of it. But then
subsequently they were clearly taken into a room and talked to in discussions
and were no longer critics and doubters and in fact became defenders of it.
FD: Let me make sure I am clear about the CIA's motivation...
Marchetti: The CIA's motivation was that here we have a former Soviet premier
talking out about the events of his career and revealing some pretty
interesting things about his thinking and the thinking of others. All of
which shows that the Soviet Union is run by a very small little clique. A
very small Byzantine-like clique. There is a strong tendency to stick with
Stalinisn and turn to Stalinism but some of the cooler heads, the more
moderate types, are trying to make changes. Its good stuff from the CIA's
point of view and from the U.S. government's point of view. This is what
we're dealing with. This is our primary rival. Look at how they are. And
Khruschev had to dictate these things in sec
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