The CIA at Home

By Taylor, Henry | Contemporary Review, September 1996 | Go to article overview

The CIA at Home


Taylor, Henry, Contemporary Review


What is the popular image of America's Central Intelligence Agency today? Some form, perhaps, of a subversive organisation more concerned with protecting a power elite than the people of the USA? Gary Powers and the U2? The Bay of Pigs? Nefarious goings-on in Latin America? What is it like, then, to be invited to visit the 'CIA at its home in Langley, Virginia? Indeed, who visits there? How is it possible to penetrate its well guarded perimeter in the woods there? Not many can, unless they are on official business. For example, when I enquired, a year or so ago, whether it was possible to visit the CIA Museum I was eventually told, by reasonably well informed citizens of Washington, DC, that there was no such Museum. Well, there is, and it was part of my recent visit.

Driving out to Langley you pass through the control gates along the perimeter fence. Surveillance cameras dot the wooded landscape: all quite to be expected. The headquarters building consists of two blocks, built in the shape of two Ts, joined at the base, with a garden at the join. You enter by the original building, the second part of the T being the new building, constructed during the Reagan administration. But, before you enter the headquarters itself you are likely to be conducted to the geometric dome to the right of the main entrance. Here you will be shown a montage film sequence of world crisis points and America's response to them, from the Soviet Union/Russia to the Gulf war, Haiti and Bosnia. Seen from such a vantage point, much of the world is not a pretty place: this is not tourist country. On the occasion of my visit we were addressed by Major General John H. Landry, National Intelligence Officer for General Purpose Forces (US Army). He delineated the changed world since the fall of the Berlin Wall; the end of the Cold War; and the signing of the nuclear non-proliferation and arms reduction accords. The enemy, he said, has changed. More than this, the nature of conflict has changed: high technology, as in 'Desert Storm'; the machete wars of Burundi and Rwanda; Operations Other Than War (OOTW) such as Somalia where US Marines landed with such unconventional weapons as wooden bullets and sticky foam guns which, literally, glued adversaries to the ground. From this it is evident that a key function of the CIA is military intelligence. In this context the CIA has been criticised for not forecasting the Korean War (nor the fall of the Berlin Wall) and not much credited with the detailed compilation of Soviet inter-continental ballistic missiles, nor with its repeated warnings on the inadvisable involvement in Vietnam. The speaker went on to describe some of the 'new enemies': much more difficult to identify, some internal, most not wearing uniforms, all of them trans-national and many involving terrorism linked to international organised crime and the Mafia. He emphasised that, perhaps contrary to popular belief, the need for military and other intelligence was even more vital then ever. An example: the CIA had revealed that several nations (he mentioned Russia and Libya) have built complete underground war complexes so deep that no warhead can reach them and no satellite survey them in depth. Not only can operations be directed from these underground military cities but they contain underground airfields from which aircraft can emerge in flight through vast, hidden exit trapways. (One might ask whether we, too, in Britain have this capability?).

From here we began our tour of the headquarters itself. We were guided, of course, and our route was restricted so I can do little more than describe the 'corridors of power' and not the inner sanctums. In the entrance hall a memorial to CIA agents who have lost their lives in service to their country is flanked by the Stars and Stripes and the CIA's own flag. Individual stars commemorate the fallen and a roll of honour names many but not all of them. On the other side of the hall stands a bronze statue of the founder of the CIA, Major General William J. …

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