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“Just because you’re paranoid,” noted Kurt Cobain. “Doesn’t mean they’re not after you!” Although the media often dismisses government conspiracy theories as the ramblings of nutty bloggers who live in their parents’ basements, truth sometimes can be stranger than fiction. Whether Democrat, Republican or independent, we can all agree that the FBI, CIA and other agencies have engaged in covert operations that merit a royal public spanking. Here are some of their biggest blunders.
5 Air America
The story of Air America remains murky. No one disputes the charter airline was a CIA front during the Vietnam War, flying missions all over Indochina during that period. Although some of these flights were humanitarian, Alfred McCoy argues in “The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia” that the CIA either ignored or actually assisted in the smuggling of heroin from Laos. By the early 1970s, countless American GI’s in Vietnam became addicted to the contraband, to say nothing of what happened when the drugs arrived in the United States.
The CIA may seem a bit too straight-laced to play around with LSD, but long before Woodstock, they tested the drug on various subjects, some knowingly, some not. The general goal of the operation involved the development of mind-control techniques that could be used against Communist leaders, military figures and spies under interrogation. Not surprisingly, these experiments sometimes went awry, leading to suicides and institutionalizations. As with Operation Mongoose, Senator Frank Church exposed this operation during his hearings in 1975.
3 Nixon’s “Plumbers”
In itself, the Watergate burglary remains but a peccadillo in the crimes of the Nixon Administration. However, it lit the fuse that exploded in a media bombshell of covert activities against people on Tricky Dick’s “enemies list.” The notorious “plumbers” who perpetrated the burglary also bear responsibility for many other impeachable hi-jinxes, including the break-in at the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s shrink, cash “donations” from mobsters that found their way into the President’s campaign fund and digging up dirt on Edward Kennedy.
2 Castro Assassination Plots (Operation Mongoose)
“If you first don’t succeed, try, try again.” The CIA must have kept that old saying in mind when they tried to assassinate Fidel Castro, not once, not twice, but dozens of times. Their ambitions made for strange bedfellows when they hired mobsters Sam Giancana, Santo Trafficante and Johnny Rosselli to carry out the job. The mafia never succeeded, but they created very bad publicity for Langley when Senator Frank Church exposed the operation during Congressional hearings in 1975.
Standing for “COunter INtelligence PROgram,” COINTELPRO became a catch-all surveillance, infiltration and disruption operation against all of J. Edgar Hoover’s imagined enemies on the left. The FBI program began in the 1950s and only wound down a year before Hoover died in 1972. Agents did not just spy upon and persecute suspected Communists. Anybody to the left of Eisenhower was fair game. Some lowlights of COINTELPRO included an intimidating note sent to Martin Luther King Jr. that urged him to commit suicide, a disinformation campaign against movie starlet Jean Seberg that did result in her suicide and collaboration with the Chicago Police Department to assassinate Fred Hampton, a leader of the Black Panthers.