The can’t-shoot gang

The Reagan administration’s effort to persuade Congress to vote funds for the guerrillas fighting the left-wing regime in Nicaragua is designed, in effect, to underwrite covert operations by the Central intelligence Agency (CIA), which manages the anti-Sandinista rebels. But the CIA’s record in such ventures is very spotty indeed, and its present role in Central American could end up doing far more harm than good.

I have observed several of the agency’s clandestine actions around the world over the past 30 years or so, and there is a good deal of truth to the quip that “it’s the gang that can’t shoot straight”. During the 1950s, for example, the CIA’s abortive attempt to stage a rebellion against President Sukarno’ of Indonesia only served to strengthen his power, providing him as it did with the opportunity to assert that he had set back the US.

Fidel Castro also benefitted from revelations that the CIA had tried to eliminate him by such ludicrous means as giving him exploding cigars and exposing him to depilatory powder that would make his beard fall out. One of President Kennedy’s great blunders was the plan to topple Castro by sending an army of his foes into Cuba in 1961.

The result was the Bay of Pigs disaster, which was to haunt and embarrass Kennedy for the rest of his term in office. In many instances, the CIA mobilises opponents of a regime earmarked for ouster, then leaves them stranded when US policy changes. Such was the case of the Hmong tribes in Laos, which still are paying the price for having worked for the agency against the communists.

The CIA-backed movement designed to overthrow Sandinista authority in Nicaragua has been a series of miscalculations from its inception in 1981. President Reagan now has stated plainly that his objective is the ouster of the Sandinistas through the use of the Contras and their CIA tutors.


But even General Paul Gorman, who has just retired as the US commander in Central America, dismisses that goal as unrealistic. To assign the CIA to futile crusades is to destroy its image and morale, which already are rather shaky. — Cowles Syndicate.

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