Book Review: ‘The CIA as Organised Crime’ by Douglas Valentine

The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World by Douglas Valentine (2016, Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press, Inc).

Review by T.J. Coles

Douglas Valentine is an American journalist renowned for the dual approach of interviewing multiple sources and consulting the documentary record. The National Security Archive at George Washington University even boasts The Douglas Valentine Collection, which consists mainly of his interviews with people involved in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His previous books have included exposés of the US government’s Phoenix Program (the part-counterinsurgency, part-heroin trafficking operation in Vietnam, documented in Valentine’s eponymous book), and The Strength of the Wolf, which explored corruption in the now-defunct US Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Valentine’s works to date have challenged the self-aggrandising myth of US moral supremacy, both in its foreign and domestic policies.

Valentine’s latest, The CIA as Organized Crime, is a compilation of interviews conducted by academics and journalists with the author, as well as articles that have appeared elsewhere. The book argues that there are different levels of criminality. Petty crooks are at the bottom. Gangs are at another level. By the time we get to organisations like the CIA, crime is not only rampant within, crime (as an underlying tactic of social domination) is the very purpose of those organisations. Crime is a means of maintaining and expanding power and profit, frequently employing unlawful and immoral methods of doing so. This is quite a different picture from the CIA painted by mainstream media; that of a secretive bureaucracy sometimes doing bad for the greater good of protecting the US populace.

The book is structured as a narrative, making it easy to read. Valentine begins by noting that the CIA is structured like a military unit and that many officers think of themselves as soldiers. This is significant, given that the Agency is officially civilian and ultimately controlled by Congress and the Executive (another myth exploded by Valentine). Structurally, the CIA is an ‘“old boy” network’ (p. 26) above a certain administrative level, whose secrecy obscures the true workings of the Agency to those working below.

Valentine says that other journalists who have successfully penetrated the network, notably Gary Webb (who allegedly committed suicide (p. 27)) and Alfred McCoy (who felt compelled to leave the USA for many years (p. 27)) have been victimised not only by the Agency, but, more alarmingly, by their colleagues in journalism. This is not too surprising, says Valentine, because it is not just ‘that the CIA infiltrated journalism, rather that the CIA is promoting the business of journalism’ (p. 139-40). Valentine cites some interesting cases: At the turn of the Millennium, psychological operations specialists were caught working for National Public Radio and CNN (pp. 102, 421n1); the CIA seeds media stories (e.g., the case of reporter John Barry who told tall tales about Iraq in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion (p. 89)); and the CIA’s information-gathering venture capital, In-Q-Tel (p. 133).

Valentine agrees with and quotes (p. 137) the late, ex-CIA officer and whistleblower, Philip Agee, who half-jokingly said that CIA standards for Capitalism’s Invisible Army. The architecture of deception shaped in part by the CIA via its media influence helps not only to hide its structural (i.e., institutionalised greed) as opposed to specific crimes (e.g., torture), but when certain crimes do come to light, mass media try to shape the public perception of the CIA as working in the greater interests of the American people. In fact, the CIA is working to promote the general business culture of the US elite, or ‘capitalists’ as Valentine calls them. Valentine agrees with interviewer Ryan Dawson, that the CIA is ‘the secret military wing of the plutocrats’ (p. 137).

In order to shape this world order, the CIA and US military, which continue to work together, murder innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq, using tactics acquired in Vietnam. In Vietnam, the CIA actively recruited hardened criminals (p. 117) to do its dirty work, including drug-running. In Cuba, it worked with local mafia as part of anti-regime activities (p. 138). Today, it uses drones (p. 103). It hacks and infiltrates foreign businesses and governments with its recent Digital Directorate (p. 157). It plays a hand in the so-called Colour Revolutions (p. 169). It unconstitutionally assists in blacklisting travellers (pp. 312-13). It works with the State Department’s Agency for International Development to exploit ‘developing’ countries (p. 369).

These are important themes and, building on his earlier works, Valentine has compiled a kind of anti-CIA handbook, which will doubtless inspire a new generation of researchers.

The book’s main flaws are twofold. One, it fails to address exactly how the CIA is organised crime, as opposed to how the CIA contributes to the organised crime that is the US Empire. The evidence is clear that, by drug-running, murdering, torturing, and having its own venture capital firms, the CIA supports an exploitative system of international plunder and greed. But the CIA is an arm of the US Empire. Empire is a crime by the very nature of its having power over others and using that power to the detriment of the oppressed. The CIA is merely an element of this overall criminal, global structure.

Two, Valentine has a tendency to attack other journalists, including those who have done courageous work: Glenn Greenwald (p. 130), Seymour Hersh (p. 322-23), and Jeremy Scahill (pp. 28-34). Valentine argues that because these journalists allegedly don’t critique the CIA’s role in the overall system of US ‘capitalism’, ergo they aren’t being honest. He also says that they work for paymasters linked to the system: e.g., Greenwald and Scahill work for The Intercept, which is funded (via First Outlook Media) by the eBay billionaire, Pierre Omidyar. For that reason, their journalism only goes so far.

The latter is a valid point which raises questions about the agendas of editors and the limits of journalism. Valentine previously exposed the fact that one hero of the ‘left’, Daniel Ellsberg (who famously leaked the Pentagon Papers) was ex-CIA and, Valentine alleges, was instructed to leak them (pp. 29-30). The ‘left’ chose to ignore the shattered image of their hero. But, where Hersh et al. are concerned, in the absence of a case-by-case analysis, Valentine’s criticisms come across as sour grapes. It would seem that being ostracised or marginalised by academics and media colleagues (McCoy, Webb, and academic Peter Dale Scott) is a badge of honour for Valentine (pp. 30-33, 26-27, 31). Making it big (Greenwald, Scahill, and Hersh) is a sign of being a shill. This is an unfortunate and baseless perspective which only sows division among critics of US power.

Putting that aside, the book remains essential reading.

T.J. Coles is a postdoctoral researcher at Plymouth University’s Cognition Institute and the author of several books, including Real Fake News (Red Pill Press, 2018).