How the CIA Destabilizes the World

Jeffrey Sachs regrets that the C.I.A.’s rogue operations did not end after the crimes exposed by the 1975 Church Committee.

“Spies in D.C., code name ‘Giddy Up.’ ” (Lorie Shaull, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

By Jeffrey D. Sachs
Common Dreams

There are three basic problems with the C.I.A.: its objectives, methods and unaccountability. 

Its operational objectives are whatever the C.I.A. or the president of the United States defines to be in the U.S. interest at a given time, irrespective of international law or U.S. law.

Its methods are secretive and duplicitous.

Its unaccountability means that the C.I.A. and president run foreign policy without any public scrutiny. Congress is a doormat, a sideshow.

As a recent C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, said of his time at the C.I.A.

“I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. We had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”

The C.I.A. was established in 1947 as the successor to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The OSS had performed two distinct roles in World War II, intelligence and subversion. The C.I.A. took over both roles.

On the one hand, the C.I.A. was to provide intelligence to the U.S. government. On the other, the C.I.A. was to subvert the “enemy,” that is, whomever the president or C.I.A. defined as the enemy, using a wide range of measures: assassinations, coups, staged unrest, arming of insurgents, and other means.

It is the latter role that has proved devastating to global stability and the U.S. rule of law. It is a role that the C.I.A. continues to pursue today. In effect, the C.I.A. is a secret army of the U.S., capable of creating mayhem across the world with no accountability whatsoever.

When President Dwight Eisenhower decided that Africa’s rising political star, democratically-elected Patrice Lumumba of Congo was the “enemy,” the C.I.A. conspired in his 1961 assassination, thus undermining the democratic hopes for Africa. He would hardly be the last African president brought down by the C.I.A.

Lumumba in Brussels for a conference in 1960 with other members of the Congolese National Movement delegation. (Harry Pot, Anefo, CC0, Wikimedia Commons)

In its 77-year history, the C.I.A. has been held to serious public account just once, in 1975. In that year, Idaho Sen. Frank Church led a Senate investigation that exposed the C.I.A.’s rampage of assassinations, coups, destabilization, surveillance and Mengele-style torture and medical “experiments.”

[Related: The US Press, Spooks & the Church Committee

The exposé by the Church Committee of the C.I.A.’s shocking malfeasance has recently been chronicled in a superb book by the investigative reporter James Risen, The Last Honest Man: The C.I.A., the FBI, the Mafia, and the Kennedys ? and One Senator’s Fight to Save Democracy.

That single episode of oversight occurred because of a rare confluence of events.

In the year before the Church Committee, the Watergate scandal had toppled Richard Nixon and weakened the White House. As successor to Nixon, Gerald Ford was unelected, a former congressman and reluctant to oppose the oversight prerogatives of the Congress. 

The Watergate scandal, investigated by the Senate Ervin Committee, had also empowered the Senate and demonstrated the value of Senate oversight of executive branch abuses of power. Crucially, the C.I.A. was newly led by Director William Colby, who wanted to clean up the C.I.A. operations. Also, F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover, author of pervasive illegalities also exposed by the Church committee, had died in 1972.

Hersh Exposes CIA Ops Against Antiwar Movement 

In December 1974, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, then as now a great reporter with sources inside the C.I.A., published an account of illegal C.I.A. intelligence operations against the U.S. anti-war movement. 

The Senate Majority Leader at the time, Mike Mansfield, a leader of character, then appointed Church to investigate the C.I.A. Church himself was a brave, honest, intelligent, independent-minded, and intrepid senator, characteristics chronically in short supply in U.S. politics.

If only the C.I.A.’s rogue operations had been consigned to history as a result of the crimes exposed by the Church Committee, or at the least had brought the C.I.A. under the rule of law and public accountability. But that was not to be. 

The C.I.A. has had the last laugh — or better said, has brought the world to tears —by maintaining its preeminent role in U.S. foreign policy, including overseas subversion.

Since 1975, the C.I.A. has run secretive operations backing Islamic jihadists in Afghanistan that utterly wrecked Afghanistan while giving rise to Al-Qaeda. 

The C.I.A. has likely run secretive operations in the Balkans against Serbia, in the Caucuses against Russia and in Central Asia targeting China, all deploying C.I.A.-backed jihadists. 

In the 2010s, the C.I.A. ran deadly operations to topple Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, again with Islamist jihadists. 

For at least 20 years, the C.I.A. has been deeply involved in fomenting the growing catastrophe in Ukraine, including the violent overthrow of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 that triggered the devastating war now engulfing Ukraine.

[C.I.A. has been involved in Ukraine from 1948 with operation CARTEL, later called AERODYNAMIC. See: “On the Influence of Neo-Nazism in Ukraine”]

What do we know of these operations? Only the parts that whistleblowers, a few intrepid investigative reporters, a handful of brave scholars and some foreign governments have been willing or able to tell us, with all of these potential witnesses knowing that they might face severe retribution from the U.S. government.

No Restraint 

There has been little-to-no accountability by the U.S. government itself, or meaningful oversight or restraint imposed by Congress. On the contrary, the government has become ever-more obsessively secretive, pursuing aggressive legal actions against disclosures of classified information, even when, or especially when, that information describes the illegal actions by the government itself.

Once in a while, a former U.S. official spills the beans, such as when Zbigniew Brzezinski revealed that he had induced Jimmy Carter to assign the C.I.A. to train Islamic jihadists to destabilize the government of Afghanistan, with the aim of inducing the Soviet Union to invade that country.

National Security Advisor Brzezinski, on left of those standing, with Carter during a tour of Strategic Air Command’s headquarters in Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, October 1977. (U.S. Air Force, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

In the case of Syria, we learned from a few stories in The New York Times in 2016 and 2017 of the C.I.A.’s subversive operations to destabilize Syria and overthrow Assad, as ordered by President Barack Obama. 

Here is the case of a dreadfully misguided C.I.A. operation, blatantly in violation of international law, that has led to a decade of mayhem, an escalating regional war, hundreds of thousands of deaths, and millions of displaced people, and yet there has not been a single honest acknowledgment of this C.I.A.-led disaster by the White House or Congress.

Major Covert Role in Ukraine

In the case of Ukraine, we know that the U.S. played a major covert role in the violent coup that brought down Yanukovych and that swept Ukraine into a decade of bloodshed but to this day, we don’t know the details. 

Russia offered the world a window into the coup by intercepting and then posting a call between Victoria Nuland, then U.S. assistant secretary of state (now under-secretary of state) and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt (now assistant secretary of state), in which they plot the post-coup government. 

Following the coup, the C.I.A. covertly trained special operations forces of the post-coup regime the U.S. had helped bring to power. The U.S. government has been mum about the C.I.A.’s covert operations in Ukraine.

June 2014: Ukraine’s post-coup President Petro Poroshenko, Pyatt and Nuland meeting in Warsaw. Then Secretary of State John Kerry, in background on right. (State Department)

We have good reason to believe that C.I.A. operatives carried out the destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline, as per Seymour Hersh, who is now an independent reporter. Unlike in 1975, when Hersh was with The New York Times at a time when the paper still tried to hold the government to account, the Times does not even deign to look into Hersh’s account.

[See: Seymour Hersh Accuses US of Nord Stream ‘Cover Up’]

Holding the C.I.A. to public account is of course a steep uphill struggle. Presidents and the Congress don’t even try. The mainstream media don’t investigate the C.I.A., preferring instead to quote “senior unnamed officials” and the official cover-up. Are the mainstream media outlets lazy, suborned, afraid of advertising revenues from the military-industrial complex, threatened, ignorant, or all of the above? Who knows.

There is a tiny glimmer of hope. Back in 1975, the C.I.A. was led by a reformer. Today, the C.I.A. is led by William Burns, one of America’s long-standing leading diplomats. Burns knows the truth about Ukraine, since he served as ambassador to Russia in 2008 and cabled Washington about the grave error of pushing NATO enlargement to Ukraine. Given Burns’ stature and diplomatic accomplishments, perhaps he would support the urgently needed accountability.

The extent of the continuing mayhem resulting from C.I.A. operations gone awry is astounding. In Afghanistan, Haiti, Syria, Venezuela, Kosovo, Ukraine, and far beyond, the needless deaths, instability, and destruction unleashed by C.I.A. subversion continues to this day. The mainstream media, academic institutions, and Congress should be investigating these operations to the best of their ability and demanding the release of documents to enable democratic accountability.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of the Church Committee hearings. Fifty years on, with the precedent, inspiration, and guidance of the Church Committee itself, it’s urgently time to open the blinds, expose the truth about the U.S.-led mayhem and begin a new era in which U.S. foreign policy becomes transparent, accountable, subject to the rule of law both domestic and international, and directed towards global peace rather than subversion of supposed enemies.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is a university professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he directed The Earth Institute from 2002 until 2016. He is also president of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a commissioner of the UN Broadband Commission for Development.

This article is from Common Dreams.

Views expressed in this article and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

35 comments for “How the CIA Destabilizes the World

  1. robert e williamson jr
    February 17, 2024 at 12:45

    In the comment I just left here I committed an error of ommission. In that Cable Burns sent to D.C. he stated the NATO move I wrote about would be a big mistake.

    Later in the write up at the CIA web site text reads as, “Following his retirement from Foreign Service in late 2014 he served as President of the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace.

    Avril Haines was sworn in as Director of National Intelligence on Jan 21, 2021.

    I just thought everyone might want to know. BTW it smells worse already!

    Thanks CN

  2. robert e williamson jr
    February 17, 2024 at 12:23

    Mr. Sachs has their number, Objectives, Methods and Unaccountability.

    In Jeff’s third to last paragraph above he writes of William Burns, very interesting indeed. When Burns was a diplomat he claimed in a cable to D.C. 2008 that expanding NATO to Ukraine.

    So what happened? We deserve answers about the abrupt change, what the hell happened?

    I claimed form day one that the entire “situation” in Ukraine should have been handled much differently.

    I’m very distant from being an expert in either diplomacy or intelligence, regardless what Sachs writes here is very disturbing to me. I’m glad that he pointed this out. I had not put this together and likely missed it all together. Great Job Jeff I see this as being very significant to the point it needs to be explained.

    The reason is his appointment made history. From: hXXps:// Bill Burns was sworn in as Director of CIA in March 2021, (soon after Biden was sworn in as POTUS), making him the first career diplomat to be appointed. The man who appointed him director was John Ratcliffe who served as Director of National Intelligence from 2020 until March of 2021. Biden promoted him to Cabinet rank June of 2023. I smell something and is stinks.

    I’m figuring Burns is desperate to stay alive at this point. I wonder if he was given an offer from CIA to head the agency or an ultimatum, ” You work for us or you have a massive unexpected heart attack!”

    Thanks CN

  3. Coleen Rowley
    February 17, 2024 at 00:16

    Whether Senator Church knew it at the time or not, he himself was a top target of “intelligence” spying: hxxps:// The NSA “Minaret” spying targeted Americans as did the FBI’s “Cointelpro” and CIA’s “Chaos” programs.

  4. February 16, 2024 at 13:50

    Facts now acknowledged in most of the world outside of the NATO crime family. In the US, well, even there it is becoming less opaque as the CIA and its fellow travelers subvert US elections as well, no thanks to the corporate media though.

  5. Joe Nieroski
    February 16, 2024 at 10:35

    Isn’t it apparent that within the Central Intelligence Agency, there exists the Central Influence Agency?

  6. Lois Gagnon
    February 15, 2024 at 21:02

    I would think it obvious by now the CIA is the mercenary army of the corporate banking class who wish to rule over the entire planet for their own profit at the expense of the rest of humanity. Bring down that class of psychopaths and you take down the CIA. Abandoning capitalism would do the trick.

  7. RT
    February 15, 2024 at 20:13

    No changes will ever happen. The CIA and who knows who else have been spying on our own government and I suspect holding them hostage. What Congresscritter wants his or her porn habits, drinking or affair history out in public? I suspect that even if you are squeaky clean, they’ll just make shit up and the press will dutifully print it. They have the ability to dig up info like never before in history and they will use it.

    • Robert
      February 17, 2024 at 05:38

      Agree with you. Comparatively, the Russian KGB was a bunch of high school girls doing mean things, almost exclusively within its own country. The CIA spreads chaos, destruction, assassination, worldwide. One of the most destructive organizations in world history, and there is little chance of reform for the reasons you stated. I can’t name a single Senator or Congressman who is willing to even mildly criticize the CIA.

  8. Jackie Lopez
    February 15, 2024 at 16:19

    “How the CIA destabilizes the world?”
    A: By its very existence.

    A related cousin to the old advice …
    “How to tell when a politician is lying.”
    A: When their lips are moving.

    But, seriously, has the CIA ever been accused of “stabilizing” the world?

  9. February 15, 2024 at 14:40

    Was CIA behind ouster of Imran Khan in Pakistan that is fomenting crisis right now?

    • Dennis
      February 15, 2024 at 22:47

      Mr. Khan claims the U.S. urged his removal by promising to reward a no-confidence vote. After his ouster, he was convicted of violating Pakistani secrecy law by publicly waving a document that allegedly discussed the plot. The absurdity of the case against him speaks for itself.

  10. jamie
    February 15, 2024 at 14:21

    Can we say the CIA picked up what Goebbels left off? It sounds about right to me

    • michael888
      February 16, 2024 at 08:41

      While Obama made domestic propaganda (domain of State/ CIA now) legal by “modernizing” Smith Mundt and the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016 (due to Russia! Russia!! Russia!!! and their preferred candidate, which Taibbi and Shellenberger have recently unveiled as Hillary), the CIA does much more than Goebbels who was only a propagandist.

      Reinhard Gehlen was the NAZI spymaster whom Allen Dulles saved from the Nuremberg gallows, and who helped turn the CIA into the arm of the totalitarian state it is today.

  11. Black Cloud
    February 15, 2024 at 13:47

    US presidents (with the exception of H.W. Bush, a former director of the CIA) do not “run foreign policy”, they are just puppets following a script laid out by the CIA, whose primary repsonsibility is controlling governments.

    Assuming that the CIA only operates on foreign governments is a fundamental error.

    Remember JFK.

  12. Larry McGovern
    February 15, 2024 at 13:34

    We should be very thankful for Prof Sachs’ prodigious efforts in articles, interviews and addresses to set the record straight on the USA’s foreign policy over the last few decades. And this article is another example of those efforts.

    However, I would just like to point out one problem in the article. To say that William Burns gives us a “glimmer of hope” is way off the mark. Despite Burns’ “telling it like it is” in his famous memo from his ambassadorship in Moscow in 2008 (“Nyet means Yet!!” re Russia’s red line in Ukraine), somebody must have taken over his mind, because he has turned 180 degrees, doing and saying actually the opposite! He has been a cheerleader for our atrocious proxy war in Ukraine, even claiming Russia has lost the war in the face of the opposite being true. And who was the CIA Director while the agency largely planned and executed the NordStream Pipeline destruction that Sachs rightly decries – Burns!! One more example: Burns has allowed himself to be included in Biden’s cabinet. That’s a NO-NO, for any CIA director, who should be, and remain independent of the policy-makers.

    • Larry McGovern
      February 15, 2024 at 22:03

      Correction to my comment quoting the title of the Ambassador Burns memo: “Yet” in my comment should be “Nyet”. (kept typing “Nyet”, but the damn miniature mice in my computer kept changing it to “Yet”.). So just to clarify, the title of Burns’ memo, was a direct quote of what Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said to Burns. Lavrov went on to say that if the West continued to entice Ukraine into NATO, that would likely lead to civil war in Ukraine, and that Russia would then have to decide whether or not to intervene.

  13. Drew Hunkins
    February 15, 2024 at 12:38

    Nowadays it’s not necessarily the CIA per se that runs counter insurgency, destabilization campaigns, subversions and other violence and malevolence against sovereign countries that give the finger to Washington militarism, Zionism, and Wall St.

    It’s often NGOs or those Soros funded programs that get their hooks into certain malcontents in various countries. Non-profits and odious Samantha Power outfits do the dirty work. This gives the CIA (the covert arm of the Executive branch) some plausible deniability, to use a phrase they love.

    • Jack Lomax
      February 15, 2024 at 18:06

      All covert (and many non covert) action in the US are approved by the Neocons (often referred to to as the Deep or Dark government) .The Church committee of long was a welcome anomaly but nothing since has escaped their evil clutches. And the POTUS are also their servants .Or else. JFK refused to obey in a major way and received a major punishment. Nixon was Watergated and Carter degraded as a mere Peanut Farmer. The present POTUS is a self fervently declared Zionist so no problems there. To reform the CIA first of all this has to be swept away. But propping all of this up is mega money and who are what is rich enough to overcome that? It will decay of course but sadly so will the globe as it succumbs to their enriching Greenhouse gases .

      • michael888
        February 16, 2024 at 08:59

        While the Church and Pike Committees exposed much of the evil doing and out-of-control Intelligence Agencies, THERE WAS NO ACCOUNTABILITY. NO ONE WENT TO JAIL (unlike Watergate, where some CIA members went to jail for political crimes. Nixon was unpopular.) E. Howard Hunt became a CIA Hero (as did many lesser CIA officials) and bragged about lying “majestically” in his sworn testimony to the Church Committee.

        The CIA’s “ends justify the means” mantra seems to be the norm now in DC, along with “lie, cheat and steal”. The CIA is now emblematic of “American Democracy” (as most countries are well aware).

    • Mickrick
      February 15, 2024 at 19:20



    • Mickrick
      February 15, 2024 at 19:23

      If a 1 to 2 million strong protest were to take place, in London outside of the High Courts when this (final) “”decision”” is “actually” being made at the “same time” it is being made, can be organized, with people from outside of Britain supporting those in Britain who are trying to stop this extradition of Julian from taking place, then that also can facilitate an end to this Judicial Outrage and thus facilitate FREEDOM for Julian Assange.

    • Mickrick
      February 15, 2024 at 19:26

      If the British Courts final decision, is to Extradite Julian, then the TUC General Council, should call for a General Strike to stop this extradition process

      • Rebecca
        February 16, 2024 at 10:22

        In which parallel universe would that talking shop for corporate union aristocrats, the Trades Union Congress, call a general strike for anything at all, let alone for someone as anti-corporate-state as Julian Assange? The TUC and Britain’s unions are closely allied to that state, whichever of our two corporate parties happens to be ruling us. If the ongoing mass slaughter of Palestinian trade unionists in Gaza hasn’t roused a single union to take action in solidarity, I hardly think that Mr Assange’s extradition to spend the rest of his natural life in solitary confinement will.

        • Mickrick
          February 17, 2024 at 20:05

          Even though you are probably correct, applying a “Assume Nothing Confirm Everything” philosophy, still means it should therefore, be tried and if it does not succeed, it does not stop, in theory at least, workers just walking out. This by the way isn’t written by someone who has never been in a Long Protracted Strike, its written by someone who has and who probably knows Rank and File TU Members better than you who probably have never been in one.
          In Ireland, the BDS movemnt are trying and as far as I know, having success winning support for essentially Boycotting Israeli goods and if the TUC in Britain is not doing that, then it obviously should. By the way I have been supporting Julian since day 1 of his ordeal, will you be outside the Court in London on the 20th and 21st of Febuary when Julian is due in Court again because if your answer is NO, then maybe its you thats living in a Parrallel universe if you think that not turning up is going to help stop this extradition process as it must be stopped.

  14. Skip
    February 15, 2024 at 12:23

    Good piece.

    Regarding William Colby, it might be worth noting that he was behind the infamous Phoenix Program in Vietnam.

    • February 15, 2024 at 20:42

      Colby’s death by drowning is curious, given that he was experienced paddling a canoe. No doubt some of the spooks were less than pleased with his testimony before the Church committee. Nevertheless, it appears he was fatalistic and turned down security after retiring.

  15. Caliman
    February 15, 2024 at 12:07

    Another excellent article by Dr. Sachs …

    As they used to say on the X Files, the truth is out there. Are the American people willing to deal with it or are we going to continue sticking our heads in the sand as the country disintegrates around us?

  16. Ray Peterson
    February 15, 2024 at 11:59

    Left begging the question: Did the CIA have a hand
    in 9/11 since that event opened the US military-industrial
    complex to over twenty years of war?

    • Cara Anderson
      February 15, 2024 at 16:40

      I have no doubt they were involved. There are way too many unlikely things that had to have been put in motion for the various attacks of 9/11 to unfold successfully. I have read several books detailing the inconsistencies in the official story, which in my view is the one that should be called a conspiracy theory.

      • Rebecca
        February 16, 2024 at 10:24

        Pretty much any event at all, even you going shopping the other day (how could I know that?), can be viewed with hindsight as a conspiracy.

    • Leslie Trager
      February 15, 2024 at 17:03

      Too bad no mention of CIA domestic crimes, such as Russia hoax, assassination of both President and Senator Kennedy, selling drugs through mafia as part of Iran contra and involvement in 9 11. We have become destabilized because of this, but no chance of stopping this

      • Tony
        February 17, 2024 at 07:46

        Planning the assassination of President Nixon and then bringing him down through Watergate.

        Check out Bill O’ Reilly’s 1997 interview with Frank Sturgis on YouTube.


        “He’s lucky he didn’t get killed. He’s lucky he didn’t get assassinated like President Kennedy got assassinated.”

        Possibly Chappaquiddick and the neutralisation of Ted Kennedy.

        Possibly the shooting of John Lennon.

    • Arch Stanton
      February 15, 2024 at 18:27

      Definitely a possibility that they were involved.

      Regarding the 5 Israelis who were seen celebrating the scenes of one of the planes crashing into the Towers from vantage point that gave them a perfect vista to watch events unfold. A woman phoned 911 about them and they were soon arrested, held in detention for weeks, questioned by the FBI before being released and returning to Israel.

      Some of the men discussed what happened to them on an Israeli talk show. One of them made this remarkable comment: “The fact of the matter is we are coming from a country that experiences terror daily. Our purpose was to document the event.” But how can you document an event unless you know it is going to happen?

      I wouldn’t put it past the genocidal monsters to have had their fingerprints involved in what happened that day, heck, just look at what they are doing to Palestinians in front of a watching world.

    • Bill Mack
      February 16, 2024 at 14:29


    • C. Parker
      February 17, 2024 at 12:14

      Senator Bob Graham of Florida (1987-2005) served on the 911 Intelligence Commission (2002-2004) is convinced President GW Bush was well aware of, and perhaps knew when the twin towers were to be attacked. Canadian news producer, Paul Jay, (the analysis news) hosted several interviews on the topic with Senator Bob Graham. Senator Graham planned to publish his 911 findings in a book, Keys to the Kingdom, but publishing it was nearly impossible. In 2011 Bob Graham chose to share these finings with the public so he changed the book’s category from nonfiction to fiction. Bob Graham is the younger brother to Phil Graham former publisher and co-owner of The Washington Post.

      You can watch the Paul Jay’s interviews of Senator Graham if you go to

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