The CIA, licensed to kill
The agency has been involved in
planning assassinations since at least 1954
by David Wise
Los Angeles Times, July 22, 2009
Back in 1960, the CIA hatched a plan to kill Patrice Lumumba by
infecting his toothbrush with a deadly disease. The Congolese
leader would brush his teeth and, presto, in a few days or weeks
he would be gone.
Around the same time, the CIA's Health
Alteration Committee -- who thought that name up? -- sent a monogrammed,
poisoned handkerchief to Gen. Abdul Karim Kassem, the leader of
And the CIA's "executive action"
unit plotted for years to murder Fidel Castro. It hired the Mafia
to poison his food and tried to give him a diving suit contaminated
with Madura foot, a rare tropical disease that starts in the foot
and moves upward, slowly destroying the body. The CIA also considered
offing the Cuban leader with an exploding cigar, a poison pen
and a seashell that would blow up underwater when he touched it.
Not one of the plots was successful. Lumumba
and Kassem were executed by their foes, and Castro is still alive.
But the plots make clear that the CIA has been licensed to kill
Congress -- especially congressional Democrats
-- was outraged earlier this month when it was disclosed that,
apparently on orders from Vice President Dick Cheney, the CIA
for eight years concealed from Congress a program to assassinate
the leaders of Al Qaeda, starting with Osama bin Laden. But they
shouldn't have been surprised that such a plan was being hatched.
The CIA's involvement in planning assassinations
goes back at least to 1954, when it prepared a manual for killings
as part of a U.S.-run coup against the leftist government of Guatemala.
The 19-page manual, which was declassified in 1997, makes chilling
reading. "The essential point of assassination is the death
of the subject," it declares, noting that while it "is
possible to kill a man with the bare hands ... the simplest local
tools are often much the most efficient means of assassination.
A hammer, ax, wrench, screwdriver, fire poker, kitchen knife,
lamp stand or anything hard, heavy and handy will suffice."
The agency's manual recommends "the
contrived accident" as the best way to dispose of someone.
"The most efficient accident ... is a fall of 75 feet or
more onto a hard surface. Elevator shafts, stairwells, unscreened
windows and bridges will serve." The manual suggests grabbing
the victim by the ankles and "tipping the subject over the
edge. ... Falls before trains or subway cars are usually effective,
but require exact timing."
The manual goes on to discuss "blunt
weapons," noting that "a hammer can be picked up almost
anywhere in the world" and that baseball bats are also excellent.
The manual explains the best place in the body to stab people
or how to bash their skulls in and the pros and cons of rifles,
pistols, submachine guns and other weapons.
During the Cold War years, the CIA plotted
against eight foreign leaders, five of whom died violently. The
agency's role varied in each case.
After the plots were publicized by a Senate
committee, President Ford issued an executive order in 1976 barring
political assassination. President Reagan broadened the ban, dropping
the word "political" and extending the prohibition to
include contract killers as well as government employees.
Although the ban remains in effect, it
has largely been ignored on the premise that it does not apply
in a military setting. Consider the following:
In 1986, Reagan ordered the bombing of
Libya in retaliation for a terrorist attack on a Berlin disco
that killed three people, including two U.S. servicemen, and wounded
more than 200 others. In the airstrike, Libya's leader, Moammar
Kadafi, a target of the raid, escaped unharmed, but his 2-year-old
adopted daughter was killed.
During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, when
the first Bush administration bombed Baghdad, Robert M. Gates,
the former CIA director and current Defense secretary, said White
House officials hoped that "Saddam Hussein would be killed
in a bunker." At an air base in Saudi Arabia that year, Cheney,
then secretary of Defense, and Gen. Colin L. Powell signed a 2,000-pound
laser-guided bomb destined for Iraq. "To Saddam with affection,"
In 1998, President Clinton ordered a cruise
missile strike on Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan after
the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa. The White House was
clearly disappointed when the strike failed to kill Bin Laden,
who reportedly left one of the camps shortly before the attack.
A year later, again during the Clinton
administration, NATO bombed Belgrade after Serbia forced ethnic
Albanians to flee from Kosovo. A cruise missile was lobbed right
into the bedroom of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader and
Yugoslav president, but he was not sleeping there and escaped
In Yemen in 2002, a CIA Predator drone
fired a Hellfire missile that destroyed a car in which a top Al
Qaeda leader, Qaed Sinan Harithi, was riding.
The problem with assassination, morality
aside, is that the U.S. is not very good at it, as the CIA's farcical
efforts to murder Castro demonstrate. It seems unlikely that the
CIA will kill Bin Laden with a baseball bat. And there is the
real possibility of retaliation for a state-sponsored assassination.
President Kennedy was quoted as saying, "We can't get into
that kind of thing or we would all be targets." Perhaps CIA
Director Leon Panetta had that in mind when he canceled the assassination
David Wise writes frequently about intelligence.
He is the author of "Nightmover: How Aldrich Ames Sold the
CIA to the KGB for $4.6 Million" and "Spy: The Inside
Story of How the FBI's Robert Hanssen Betrayed America."