CIA Covert Operations Panama And Nicaragua

CIA Covert Operations: Panama And Nicaragua Essay, Research Paper

CIA Covert Operations: Panama and Nicaragua

In the 1950’s, the repression of domestic political dissent reached near

hysteria. In the process the CIA’s covert operations, already in progress in

Europe, expanded worldwide. By 1953, according to the 1970’s Senate

investigation, there were major covert programs under way in 48 countries,

consisting of propaganda, paramilitary, and political action operations. In

1949, the agency’s covert action department had about 300 employees and 47

stations. In the same period, the budget for these activities grew from $4.7

million to $82 million. In this paper I will discuss the United States’ use of

covert actions using Panama and Nicaragua as examples. I had planned on writing

my paper on Manuel Noriega and his connections with the CIA but the more I read

into him I found the major topic outlying him was much more interesting. So

with that I will continue on with this paper showing my findings on the CIA and

thier covert operations.

Covert operations have become a way of life and death for millions of

people world wide who have lost their lives to these actions. By 1980, covert

operations were costing billions of dollars. CIA Director William Casey was

quoted as saying ?covert actions were the keystone of U.S. policy in the Third

World.?(Agee, 2) Throughout the CIA’s 45 years, one president after another has

used covert operations to intervene secretly, and sometimes not so secretly , in

the domestic affairs of other countries, presuming their affairs were ours.

Almost always, money was spent for activities to prop up political forces

considered friendly to U.S. interests, or to weaken and destroy those considered

unfriendly or threatening.

The friends were easy to define, they were those who believed and acted

like us, took orders and cooperated. Until the collapse of communism in Eastern

Europe, enemies were also readily recognized: the Soviet Union and its allies,

with China having ambiguous status since the 1970’s. But there were other

countries the CIA took actions against who were not associated with the Soviets.

Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Indonesia in 1958, Cuba in 1959, Ecuador in

1963, Brazil in 1964, Chile in 1970, Nicaragua in 1979 and Grenada in 1983 to

name a few.(Agee, 2) These governments, and others attacked by the U.S., were

left, nationalist, reform-minded, populist or uncooperative and U.S. hostility

drove some of them to seek arms and other support from the Soviet Union.

Usually, the CIA mounted covert operations to weaken and destroy the programs

supporting communism by leading and advertising anti-Communist solidarity. The

local elites, whose privileged position was also threatened by movements for

social change, were the CIA’s natural allies.(Agee, 3) For more in-depth

examples, I will look at some covert operations in the 1980’s.

Central America was a major focus of U.S. attention during the 1980’s.

Through CIA covert and semi-covert operations, the U.S. tried simultaneously to

overthrow the government of Nicaragua and to destroy the movement for

revolutionary reform in El Salvador. In Nicaragua the means were terrorism and

destruction through a 10,000 man paramilitary force, along with a economic

blockade, propaganda and diplomatic pressures.(Stiles, 346) About 1% of the

population, some 35,000 people, died. In El Salvador, the CIA an U.S. military

expanded local military and security forces, and with the use of death squads,

the U.S backed forces killed over 70,000 people. Although they targeted trade

unionists, student activists, human rights advocates and peasant organizers, the

majority of the deaths were killed to instill terror. The CIA in El Salvador

used demonstration elections as public relations exercises to cover their

atrocities. The military controlled civilian government could then be renamed a


In the 1980’s, in both Nicaragua and El Salvador, the U.S. introduced a

new way for exporting U.S.-style democracy, the National Endowment for

Democracy(NED). The NED allowed money to flow from the CIA to a bogus

foundation, then to U.S. private organizations like the National Student

Association(NSA), and from there to a foreign government. The money was to flow

to foundations that were fighting the ?global ideological challenge.? The

projected beneficiaries were governments, political parties, media, universities,

trade unions, churches and employer associations, all traditional CIA covert

action targets.(Agee, 5) In the Soviet Bloc, the NED money would be used to

promote anti-Communist dissidence through propaganda and would support internal

opposition programs. The NED was also used as a way to spot potential recruits

as sources of intelligence and agents of influence.

Panama was an early example of political intervention through the NED.

In the 1984 election, General Manuel Noriega selected an economist, Nicholas

Barletta, as the presidential candidate for the military controlled Democratic

Revolutionary Party(PRD). The U.S. feared that, if elected, Barletta and his

anti-military platform would bring instability to Panama. The U.S. interest was

to ensure that a new Panamanian president would continue to cooperate with U.S.

efforts to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and to defeat the

insurgency in El Salvador. Noriega, a long-time CIA ?asset?, was at the time

providing services of great importance to the U.S., allowing Panama to be used

for Contra training and supply bases, as well as for training Salvadoran

military officers.(Kinsley,46) Barletta’s election would ensure untroubled

continuation of these activities. During the election campaign, the NED passed

money through the Free Trade Union to finance Panamanian unions which actively

supported Barletta. The vote count fraud organized by Noriega gave Barletta his

election victory, but the Reagan-Bush administration made no protest even though

the U.S. Embassy count showed Arias the winner by 8,000 votes.(Kinsley, 46)

Reagan received Barletta in the White house and Shultz attended his

inauguration. A more thorough study of the 1984 Panamanian elections would

probably uncover more NED money and showed that the CIA funded the victory. By

1987, Noriega’s usefulness to the U.S. was coming to an end. A military mission

went under way for his indictment by the Justice Department for drug trafficking

and the CIA began to plot his removal from power.(Kinsley, 47) The lesson of

the Noriega saga seem very clear. The Bush justification of the invasion to

combat drug trafficking and bring Noriega to justice could not be the real

reason because the CIA and other agencies had known of his drug dealing since

the early 1970’s. The real reasons were that Noriega was no longer needed for

support of U.S. goals in Nicaragua and El Salvador and it was Noriega himself

that was becoming the source of instability in Panama. Using Noriega as a

pretext for invasion, the Bush administration could destroy the Panamanian

Defense Forces and reverse the social reforms favoring the poor

majority.(Kinsley, 48) This keep the door open to the U.S. to retain its

military bases and control of the Panama canal past the 1999 turnover date set

by the Carter – Torrijos treaties. On the night of the invasion, Guillerma

Endara, was sworn in as President on a U.S. military base and democracy was

restored. Within a short period of time, the drug dealing and money laundering

in Panama would exceeded that of the Noriega period(Kinsley, 48)

A military force was also required to ? restore democracy? in Nicaragua.

In this case, however, the invasion was carried out by a surrogate army of

10,000 contras built by the CIA around the remnants of the 43-year old Somoza

dictatorship’s National Guard, itself a U.S. creation.(Agee, 7) Beginning in

1981, through terrorism and destruction, this force gradually bled the economy,

undermined the Sandinista social programs, and demoralized the a large sector of

the population which had supported the revolution. By 1990, faced with nothing

but worsening poverty and continuing terror, the Nicaraguan electorate gave the

victory to the Nicaraguan Opposition Union (NOU). This anti-Sandinista

coalition was created and financed by various U.S. agencies, including the CIA

and the NED. In order to undermine links between the Sandinistas and the people,

the CIA deflected the Contras away from the Nicaraguan military toward ?soft?

targets having minimum defenses: clinics, schools, infrastructure like roads and

bridges. They also destroyed port installations and mined harbors. As a result,

average individual consumption dropped 61% between 1980 and 1988. On estimate

puts the U.S. investment in the Contra war at $1 billion.(Agee, 7) Though the

Contras successfully sabotaged the economy and terrorized large sectors of the

rural population, they failed to defeat the Sandinista military or even take and

hold the smallest town for any length of time. Meanwhile, the U.S. economic

blockade cost the economy $3 billion. Another very popular covert action that

the CIA is guilty of is that of the propaganda war.

From the beginning of the war against Nicaragua, the Reagan-Bush

administration faced the problem of overcoming public opposition at home. The

solution was to repeat Edward W. Barrett’s 1950 domestic propaganda campaign to ?

sell the soviet threat? . In 1982, Walter Raymond, moved from the Agency to the

National Security Council to head the campaign while the Contras, under CIA

direction, began their own PR campaign in the U.S. A public office was set up

in the State Department as the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and

the Caribbean and the man behind the scenes was Raymond. The office then

handled the contacts with think tanks, researchers and media. The purpose was

to place, in the public’s imagination, black hats on the Sandinistas and white

hats on the Contras.(Agee, 8) In effect, it became a huge government campaign

using taxpayer money to propagandize the same taxpayers and their

representatives in Congress. By 1987, it was clear that, although they could

continue to terrorize and destroy infrastructure, the Contras could never win a

military victory. So the CIA needed a way to mobilize a large propaganda war to

divide the Sandinistas and the 3.5 million Nicaraguan’s

A U.S. plan called for mobilizing three main bodies, a political

coalition to oppose the Sandinistas, a trade union coalition, and a mass civic

organization. The most important part of the propaganda campaign would be the

use of the media operations. The first group that was targeted was the

political coalition in Nicaragua. The operation was to use the U.S. Embassy in

Managua and let it be known to about two dozen disparate factions that money

would be available only to those that ?got on board?.(Agee, 8) The result was

UNO, whose electoral budget was prepared in the U.S. Embassy, and whose

presidential candidate, Violets Chamorro, owned the anti-Sandinista daily La

Prensa, which had received money from the CIA.

The second operation involved the labor coalition which was called the

Permanent Workers Congress(CPT). This organization, crucial to using the

economic crisis as a principal campaign issue, grouped five union centers for

propaganda and voter registration. Some of these unions had also received prior

U.S. funding. The NED spent at least $12.5 million to finance this election in

Nicaragua but the NED spent upwards of $2 billion in the total U.S.

intervention. Most of that $2 billion was spent on an array of intermediary

organizations in the U.S. and other countries that spent it for programs in

training, propaganda and support of the coalitions. The CIA, in addition, is

estimated to have spent $11 million, possibly even more, in these fraudulent

elections.(Agee, 9) Even though the U.S. has been easy to spot behind these

covert operations, it seems that the CIA does not plan anytime soon to abort

with future actions.

The 1993 U.S. defense plan, at $1.5 trillion for the next five years,

suggests that the money will be there for covert interventions. The Bush plan

called for a 3% reduction in defense spending under the projections made before

the dissolution of the Soviet Union. According to the then Director of Central

Intelligence, Robert Gates, reductions in the intelligence community budget

hidden in the overall defense budget but generally believed to be in excess of

$31 billion will begin at only 2.5%.(Wilson) Meanwhile plans under discussion

in Congress for reorganizing the whole intelligence community would maintain the

capability and legality, under U.S. law to continue covert operations. The

Defense Department, CIA and other intelligence agencies have had to make new

justifications for their budgets now that the Soviet menace is gone.

The worldwide opportunities and needs for covert operations will remain

as long as stability, control and authority form the cornerstone of a U.S.

policy that permits it. In fact, Congress passed the National security

Education Act in 1991, providing $150 million in ?start up? money for

development and expansion of university programs in area and language studies,

and for scholarships, including foreign studies, for the next generation of

national security state bureaucrats.(Wilson) The notable fact is that this

program is not to be administered by the Department of Education but by the

Pentagon, the CIA, and other security agencies. Alternatives to continuing

militarism abroad and social decay at home still exist. Yet militarism and

world domination continue to be the main national priority, with covert

operations playing an integral role. Everyone knows that as long as this

continues, there will be no solutions to domestic troubles, and the U.S. will

continue to decline while growing more separate and unequal. The U.S.

government has no ?red menace? to whip up hysteria, but the war on drugs seems

to be quite adequate for justifying law enforcement practices that have

political applications as well. The U.S. should note that in the current

political climate, with clamor for change everywhere, the guardians of

traditional power will not give up without a fight. The CIA will find their new

“threats” and “enemies” in black youths, undocumented immigrants,

environmentalists, feminists, gays and lesbians and go on to more “mainstream”

opponents in attempts, including domestic covert operations, to divide and

discredit the lager movement for reform.

Works Cited

Agee, Philip. Covert Action Quarterly.

Washington D.C. 1991. Kinsley, Michael. Time. We Shoot People Don’t We.

October 23, 1989. Time Warner. Stiles, Kendall. Case Histories in

International Politics.

Harper Collins Publishers, New York 1995 Wilson, Catherine. The

Philadelphia Inquirer.

New trial is ruled for Noriega. March 28, 1996.


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