Exposing the CIA & Raising the Bar for Investigative Reporting

The new book featuring the reporting of the late Robert Parry, the founder of this site, should be assigned in college classrooms, writes John Kiriakou in a review of American Dispatches.

Robert Parry

By John Kiriakou
Convert Action Magazine 

There aren’t a lot of journalists that Americans can look up to these days, especially in the mainstream media. Edward R. Murrow and his “boys” are long gone. Americans don’t have a Walter Cronkite to set their minds at ease. Even the venerable 60 Minutes has had a carousel of unremarkable talking heads since the retirements of Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, and Harry Reasoner.

Instead, many (most, maybe?) Americans get their news from “news” channels that fall under the auspices of their networks’ entertainment divisions. They get their news from the likes of Ken Dilanian, the NBC News and MSNBC intelligence journalist who in 2014 was exposed sending his stories to the C.I.A. for comment and clearance before he sent them to his own editor. (In one email exchange, a new C.I.A. public affairs flack wrote, “I am looking forward to working with you, Ken!” Dilanian replied, “Hooray! Glad to have you guys.”

That’s what makes a new book by Nat Parry so welcome. American Dispatches: A Robert Parry Reader, is a compendium of the most impactful and important pieces of investigative journalism published by Nat Parry’s father Robert, the eminent reporter from the Associated Press, Newsweek, and PBS, and the founder of Consortium News.

Robert Parry is best known for breaking the news that the C.I.A. had provided the Contra rebels in Nicaragua with a copy of their notorious “assassination manual” and that the C.I.A. was helping the Contras send shipments of cocaine to the United States and then using the profits to buy weapons. Parry was a winner of the George Polk Award for his Contra stories, the I. F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence, and the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. He was also a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

One of the things that made Bob Parry so successful as an investigative journalist was the fact that he spent so much time and energy cultivating sources. Unlike the Ken Dilanians of the world, he didn’t just write to or call the C.I.A.’s Office of Public Affairs and then get a C.I.A. press release. He sought out sources, established relationships with them, and then reported the truths that they provided him.

Nat Parry, right. (CN Live!)

American Dispatches reminds us that he was one of the first journalists to report that the C.I.A. was surreptitiously opening the mail of American citizens. That was without a warrant or any legal authority whatsoever, of course. Parry reported the story at the ripe old age of 26.

[Listen to Nat Parry’s interview about the book with The Intercept.]

American Dispatches is like a walk through modern American history with a tour guide who really knows what he’s talking about, who cares about getting the history right, and who knows that his real role is that of a teacher. For nearly 700 pages, the reader gets a fresh, fact-based, unbiased, and apolitical view of what was happening as some of the most important events in modern history unfolded. Divided into four parts, it examines in depth issues as eclectic as busing, organized crime, drugs, politics, and the role of the media.

But for those readers who consider themselves students of the history of the C.I.A., there is a lot here. The book covers virtually the entire history of the C.I.A. from the time of the Church Committee through the September 11 attacks, and the illegal torture, secret prisons, and rendition programs. Parry pulled no punches in his work.

There is coverage of the C.I.A. and Iran, the C.I.A. and the mujahadeen, the C.I.A. and drugs, the C.I.A. and the Contras, and the C.I.A. and Iraq. He writes about every C.I.A. leader over the course of nearly two generations, the mistakes they made, the promises they failed to keep, and the crimes they committed in the name of the Americans they were supposed to be working for.

In honor of Robert Parry, read a collection of his work curated by the CIA • MuckRock
[Source: muckrock.com]

I sat down to skim this book and I finally put it down two days later having read it in its entirety. Dozens of the people Parry wrote about were former bosses or colleagues of mine at the C.I.A.. Some had been friends. In every single case, Parry got to the core of who they were. For the most part, they were people who considered themselves to be patriots. But they were also sociopaths who couldn’t see the line between serving their country and committing crimes against humanity.

American Dispatches reminds me very much of The Untold History of the United States, a work of truth, even if that truth is uncomfortable and is not the way we’d like to remember it. I hope that in the coming months it finds its way into college political science classrooms across America.

John Kiriakou is a former C.I.A. counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

5 comments for “Exposing the CIA & Raising the Bar for Investigative Reporting

  1. Cal Lash
    July 26, 2022 at 00:29

    I have my copy.
    If CIA agents would murder DIA folks the surely wouldnt have a problem shooting a Reporter in the head, Twice.

  2. July 25, 2022 at 13:59

    Excellent article John, about a true hero.

  3. July 25, 2022 at 03:53

    Fascinating stuff! Whether or not the conspiracy theories about Lockerbie are more than just theories, if you enjoyed this excellent and informative article you are going to love this non-promotional anecdote about real spies and authors from the espionage genre whether you’re a le Carré connoisseur, a Deighton disciple, a Fleming fanatic, a Herron hireling or a Macintyre marauder. If you don’t love all such things you might learn something so read on! It’s a must read for espionage cognoscenti.

    As Kim Philby (codename Stanley) and KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky (codename Sunbeam) would have told you in their heyday, there is one category of secret agent that is often overlooked … namely those who don’t know they have been recruited. For more on that topic we suggest you read Beyond Enkription (explained below) and a recent article on that topic by the ex-spook Bill Fairclough. The article can be found at TheBurlingtonFiles website in the News Section. The article (dated July 21, 2021) is about “Russian Interference”; it’s been read well over 20,000 times.

    Now talking of Gordievsky, John le Carré described Ben Macintyre’s fact based novel, The Spy and The Traitor, as “the best true spy story I have ever read”. It was of course about Kim Philby’s Russian counterpart, a KGB Colonel named Oleg Gordievsky, codename Sunbeam. In 1974 Gordievsky became a double agent working for MI6 in Copenhagen which was when Bill Fairclough aka Edward Burlington unwittingly launched his career as a secret agent for MI6. Fairclough and le Carré knew of each other: le Carré had even rejected Fairclough’s suggestion in 2014 that they collaborate on a book. As le Carré said at the time, “Why should I? I’ve got by so far without collaboration so why bother now?” A realistic response from a famous expert in fiction in his eighties.

    Philby and Gordievsky never met Fairclough, but they did know Fairclough’s handler, Colonel Alan McKenzie aka Colonel Alan Pemberton CVO MBE. It is little wonder therefore that in Beyond Enkription, the first fact based novel in The Burlington Files espionage series, genuine double agents, disinformation and deception weave wondrously within the relentless twists and turns of evolving events. Beyond Enkription is set in 1974 in London, Nassau and Port au Prince. Edward Burlington, a far from boring accountant, unwittingly started working for Alan McKenzie in MI6 and later worked eyes wide open for the CIA.

    What happens is so exhilarating and bone chilling it makes one wonder why bother reading espionage fiction when facts are so much more breathtaking. The fact based novel begs the question, were his covert activities in Haiti a prelude to the abortion of a CIA sponsored Haitian equivalent to the Cuban Bay of Pigs? Why was his father Dr Richard Fairclough, ex MI1, involved? Richard was of course a confidant of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who became chief adviser to JFK during the Cuban missile crisis. So how did Greville Wynne and Oleg Penkovsky fit in? You may well ask!

    Len Deighton and Mick Herron could be forgiven for thinking they co-wrote the raw noir anti-Bond narrative, Beyond Enkription. Atmospherically it’s reminiscent of Ted Lewis’ Get Carter of Michael Caine fame. If anyone ever makes a film based on Beyond Enkription they’ll only have themselves to blame if it doesn’t go down in history as a classic espionage thriller.

    By the way, the maverick Bill Fairclough had quite a lot in common with Greville Wynne (famous for his part in helping to reveal Russian missile deployment in Cuba in 1962) and has also even been called “a posh Harry Palmer”. As already noted, Bill Fairclough and John le Carré (aka David Cornwell) knew of each other but only long after Cornwell’s MI6 career ended thanks to Kim Philby shopping all Cornwell’s supposedly secret agents in Europe. Coincidentally, the novelist Graham Greene used to work in MI6 reporting to Philby and Bill Fairclough actually stayed in Hôtel Oloffson during a covert op in Haiti (explained in Beyond Enkription) which was at the heart of Graham Greene’s spy novel The Comedians. Funny it’s such a small world!

  4. Drew Hunkins
    July 24, 2022 at 16:11

    If Mr. Parry were alive today he’d be enraged and deeply concerned over all of the rampant Russophobia that permeates the news and entertainment media.

    He’d also agree with Norman Finkelstein that the Kremlin has the right to embark on its liberating SMO since Western Europe is acting in much the same way as it did just prior to Germany’s invasion of Russia in Word War II.

    Robert Parry is deeply missed, so is Stephen C0hen.

  5. Tony
    July 24, 2022 at 09:37

    One very disturbing aspect of the CIA is the possibility that it was responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988. Total death toll: 290.

    In 2001, the Guardian ran an article called “Flight from the Truth” which was based on a newly-published book: Cover-up of Convenience – the Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie by John Ashton and Ian Ferguson.

    The article claims that onboard that plane was a group of DIA intelligence officers led by Major Charles McKee.

    (The DIA is the Pentagon’s own intelligence agency)

    The article states:

    “Among the Lockerbie victims was a party of US intelligence specialists, led by Major Charles McKee of the DIA, returning from an aborted hostage-rescue mission in Lebanon. A variety of sources have claimed that McKee, who was fiercely anti-drugs, got wind of the CIA’s deals and was returning to Washington to blow the whistle. A few months after Lockerbie, reports emerged from Lebanon that McKee’s travel plans had been leaked to the bombers. The implication was that Flight 103 was targeted, in part, because he was on board.

    As with the official version, there is no proof of this scenario, but there is a chain of circumstantial evidence. Much of it comes from the army of police officers and volunteers who scoured the vast crash site in the weeks after the bombing. And much of it was either not revealed at the recent trial or, worse, covered up.”

    As is often the case, knowing what is true and what is not true can be very difficult. But this alternative explanation does seem very plausible and may, in the future, turn out to be true.

    N.B : The presence of Major McKee and his DIA colleagues is not mentioned on the official FBI/government website.

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