The Painful Truths Told by Phil Agee

Truly objective journalism would value facts and accuracy above all else, but the mainstream U.S. press while pretending to be “objective” treasures faux patriotism much more, as is evident with recent whistleblowers as it was with the hostility toward the late Phil Agee who exposed CIA crimes, as William Blum recalls.

By William Blum

Before there was Edward Snowden, William Binney and Thomas Drake before there was Bradley Manning, Sibel Edmonds and Jesselyn Radack there was Philip Agee. What Agee revealed is still the most startling and important information about U.S. foreign policy that any American government whistleblower has ever revealed.

Philip Agee spent 12 years (1957-69) as a CIA case officer, most of it in Latin America. His first book, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, published in 1974 a pioneering work on the Agency’s methods and their devastating consequences appeared in about 30 languages around the world and was a best seller in many countries; it included a 23-page appendix with the names of hundreds of undercover Agency operatives and organizations.

Under CIA manipulation, direction and, usually, their payroll, were past and present presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay and Costa Rica, “our minister of labor”, “our vice-president”, “my police”, journalists, labor leaders, student leaders, diplomats, and many others. If the Agency wished to disseminate anti-communist propaganda, cause dissension in leftist ranks, or have Communist embassy personnel expelled, it need only prepare some phony documents, present them to the appropriate government ministers and journalists, and presto! instant scandal.

Agee’s goal in naming all these individuals, quite simply, was to make it as difficult as he could for the CIA to continue doing its dirty work.

A common Agency tactic was writing editorials and phony news stories to be knowingly published by Latin American media with no indication of the CIA authorship or CIA payment to the media. The propaganda value of such a “news” item might be multiplied by being picked up by other CIA stations in Latin America who would disseminate it through a CIA-owned news agency or a CIA-owned radio station. Some of these stories made their way back to the United States to be read or heard by unknowing North Americans.

Wooing the working class came in for special treatment. Labor organizations by the dozen, sometimes hardly more than names on stationery, were created, altered, combined, liquidated, and new ones created again, in an almost frenzied attempt to find the right combination to compete with existing left-oriented unions and take national leadership away from them.

In 1975 these revelations were new and shocking; for many readers it was the first hint that American foreign policy was not quite what their high-school textbooks had told them nor what the New York Times had reported.

“As complete an account of spy work as is likely to be published anywhere, an authentic account of how an ordinary American or British ‘case officer’ operates All of it presented with deadly accuracy,” wrote Miles Copeland, a former CIA station chief and ardent foe of Agee. (There’s no former CIA officer more hated by members of the intelligence establishment than Agee; no one’s even close; due in part to his traveling to Cuba and having long-term contact with Cuban intelligence.)

In contrast to Agee, WikiLeaks withheld the names of hundreds of informants from the nearly 400,000 Iraq war documents it released.

In 1969, Agee resigned from the CIA (and colleagues who “long ago ceased to believe in what they are doing”).

While on the run from the CIA as he was writing Inside the Company at times literally running for his life Agee was expelled from, or refused admittance to, Italy, Britain, France, West Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway. (West Germany eventually gave him asylum because his wife was a leading ballerina in the country.)

Agee’s account of his period on the run can be found detailed in his book On the Run (1987). It’s an exciting read.

William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2; Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower; West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir; Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire. Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at This article was originally published in Blum’s Anti-Empire Report.

14 comments for “The Painful Truths Told by Phil Agee

  1. andreas w. mytze
    July 2, 2013 at 08:58

    On The Run (1987) is highly entertaining and often amusing, a lot of (London/UK) dirt re Kissinger (p.196), Vernon Walters et al. “Special treatment” for Agee in Germany and elsewhere of course!
    On Letelier this: “[Saul Landau and Michael Tigar] had worked relentlessly to bring out the truth behind the assassination of Orlando Letelier [in 1976], including sponsorship by the Chilean secret police and the fact that the CIA and FBI probably knew of the plan and c o u l d h a v e p r e v e n t e d it.” [my italics, AWM](p.280). Bob wrote about this important fact a couple of times.
    By the way, there seems to be no shortage of the book at AMAZON and possibly others.

  2. Rick
    July 2, 2013 at 06:34

    The government is far too large, was never supposed to be like this!

  3. Ethan Allen
    July 2, 2013 at 05:17

    A fitting time for a tribute to Phillip Agee.

  4. Greg Driscoll
    June 27, 2013 at 17:22

    With everything the U.S. government has done worldwide over the last 125 years to deprive people of their rights, livelihood and even life, it’s always amazed me that more people in foreign countries don’t try to kill Americans on sight – for it is we, the American people, who have allowed our government to become the greatest of terrorist entities across the globe…

    • LD
      June 27, 2013 at 19:04

      Greg Driscoll–It’s not fair to suggest that US citizens “allowed our government” to do these things. We’re a “captured” people.

      For one, time after time, we the citizenry are blatantly lied to repeatedly by “our leaders” about our foreign (even domestic) policy activities, as evidenced by countless numbers of dissidents, whistleblowers, leakers who are simply euthanized or destroyed for having the temerity to speak out against “the Washington Consensus narrative.”

      Second, our MSM is and has been compromised by the MIC, as Parry has described the CIA’s effort of “perception management,” and Project Mockingbird (Church Committee hearings) outlined.

      Third, the Nazis were meticulous in documenting their research findings. So much so, the US (Dulles) was committed to utilizing that information and the actual Nazi “talent” directly into the US MIC apparatus. In other words, all the propaganda sh*t that wrought the Nazis to absolute power in Germany was wholesale brought/integrated into US policy, both domestic/foreign.

      And as a result, the US population STILL has got to be THE MOST (?) propagandized citizenry on the planet. It’s in our schools (K-college,) in our businesses (“free-market/trickle-down”,) in our churches (“Jesus wants you to be rich,”) to the point where one has to actively brutally swim against a strong undercurrent of “inverted totalitarianism,” as Chris Hedges puts it (mostly, flat-out fascism,) in order to realize what US policy is actually taking place.

      We’re not stupid. We’re heavily and constantly propagandized to. Orwell’s 1984 really does apply to the US/UK/NATO consortium partners.

      • Paul G.
        June 28, 2013 at 02:10

        Saying that Americans are the most propagandized citizen,s I believe, misses the nuances of American social control. China for example has must greater overt press control. That said the US probably has the most effective and sophisticated social control, because it gives the illusion of freedom of the press, sending people the false impression that they are getting accurate news. Therefore they see no need to question it.

        Where in reality their news sources are highly compromised and largely controlled by the country’s elites. The main stream media distorts reality by overloading news, more than can be digested; however it is “inside the box” news, which makes a little information look like a lot. A good example of this is to watch the White House press corp in action, none daring to go beyond certain bounds in questioning or commenting. This is why Helen Thomas(Lebanese family back ground) was evicted for violating the sacred obsequiousness to Israel.

        • gregorylkruse
          June 28, 2013 at 11:33

          That’s the reason Rachel Maddow says, “We’ve got a lot of news to cover” at the beginning of her show. She likes to give the impression that she is trying to get all the news into her show, but it is only the news that fits neatly into the box Comcast provides her.

  5. jo6pac
    June 27, 2013 at 15:46

    Read this in 74 and before I know it was bad but this helped to know how really bad Amerika is and it’s looking like the branding may be getting a little thin.

  6. DanInAlabama
    June 27, 2013 at 14:22

    Thank you for this article Mr. Blum,
    The information Agee provided as to the CIA’s infiltration of the press is something to keep in mind regarding their treatment of the Snowden affair.

    I also wanted to thank you for the information contained in “Killing Hope”.
    A lot, if not most, Americans do not know, and may not want to know, the history of American foreign policy and the misery and death it has caused in South America and around the world. Thanks to you, I do.

  7. LD
    June 27, 2013 at 14:22

    It’s out of print (my local bookstore says.) So, it’s off to the used bookstores, local and online. Thanks for the tip.

  8. Hillary
    June 27, 2013 at 13:52

    Phil Agee is an American hero,
    Is telling the “American People” that ClA-backed coups have enabled dictators and corrupt puppet-presidents to govern as tyrants, torturers and killers in return for their loyalty to the US a crime ?
    US tax dollars and US-backed loans have made billionaires of the elite 2% while the majority of the people live in poverty and the Military receive training and weapons to guarantee a hold on power.

    Before it was called protecting the world from “communism” and now it is called “A War on Terror” or the “spreading of democracy” but essentially it is business as usual.
    Ronald Regan told us that they were all “freedom fighters” in Bolivia (1982), Honduras (1981), Argentina (1983), Brazil (1985), Uruguay (1984), Guatemala (1983), and Suriname (1987)etc while the CIA’s assassination campaigns or “counterinsurgency techniques” learned in Vietnam were being introduced to Latin American and later on to Iraq ,Libya and Syria uterly ruthless servants of US Administracions such as John Necroponte whom a US Public is completely unaware of.

    • rosemerry
      June 29, 2013 at 03:43

      Love the John Necroponte spelling. btw he is still alive and active.

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