It may be a lot of fun to wave the flag and scowl and loudly "support our troops" and, when in the comfortable center of a mob, call for tar and feathers for those who don’t agree, but it’s not necessarily relevant to the issue at hand. For by the time "our" troops are overseas, fighting to defend the interests of people who live off interest, the CIA has already been there, done that, softened up the "enemy," bribed or recruited their top officers, and more or less settled things. If it weren’t for the damn military marching in and breaking stuff, the CIA might have a relatively clean batch of dominoes to set up and knock down (clean for us TV viewers; for the natives of the "enemy" country nothing’s ever good).
Douglas Valentine knows about the CIA, having studied it intensely, on paper and in personnel, for over twenty years, culminating in his seminal book, "The Phoenix Program," about the CIA’s infamous Phoenix Program in Vietnam.
"TDY" is based on a true story told to Valentine by a photographer named Richard Finkle. Finkle is not "TDY’s" protagonist, Pete, per se, but his TDY account and Valentine’s years of research and interviews with CIA personnel provided the author with the material he needed to write an action story with punch, a parable that used as its literary model Hemingway’s short novel, "The Old Man and the Sea."
"I wanted to write a book that told a linear story in as few words as possible," said Valentine. "When Finkle told me his story in his darkroom, I knew immediately that I could write a book about it. The Old Man and the C…IA."
The CIA operates by softening up a target through stealth operations, assassinations, propaganda and recruiting its top military officers and politicians. Unlike the regular armed forces, whose sizeable $400 billion dollar budget is dispersed through payroll, hardware, technology etc., the CIA operates on a $30 Billion budget but little accountability. CIA operatives are not expected to report weekly activities or fill out mountains of paperwork, and can thus be more deviously creative with their resources.
The CIA goes into a country and develops covert operations for the first couple of years. Once the country is "softened up" by assassinations, rebellions, guerrilla warfare, economic warfare etc., then the war becomes overt. That is, the military is sent in with masses of uniformed personnel and heavy equipment.
Thus, when it came time to fight, officers who fled would be remunerated with top positions in the new regime.
Unlike the career soldier in the regular military, who lives a life of routine, continual accountability to the chain of command, and has little but a modest pension to look forward to, a successful CIA operative has many perks and options, not to mention the black market.
"Once you’re a CIA agent, you’re not expected to report to headquarters all the time. The CIA doesn’t micro-manage. You have a lot more freedom," said Valentine. "You work for the CIA and succeed, and everything’s possible. Sex, money, power, travel. You’re like James Bond. The regular army guy who fought to save his life in Vietnam, what did he have to come back to? A young, ambitious CIA agent, on the other hand, could really make a life for himself."
Valentine’s next book, The Strength of the Wolf, will be published by Verso in the spring of 2004.
ADAM ENGEL can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.