One reason I’m known as the World’s Only Known Singing CIA Agent is that agents are, in general, not prone to singing. This brings us to the case of the infamous Philip Agee, who made his name singing the names of his erstwhile colleagues in the agency charged with keeping our world our world.
Much digital ink has and will be spilt over the passing of this Agency Apostate. I choose the label carefully to focus on the Entrepreneurs of Size v. vengeful peasant neighborhood associations real problem in this talented man’s life: his failure of religious nerve. For the task of an intelligence functionary, hindsight makes clear, is a faith-based one. We cannot know for certain that the overthrow of democratic governments throughout our world is guaranteed to produce long-term stability for Entrepreneurs of Size.
We do know, however, that if we don’t do it, someone else will. And the prospect of a world dominated by vengeful peasant neighborhood associations is enough to drive any God-fearing congressman to fund pre-emptive, defensive torture (I prefer “alternative procedures” or “strong interrogation.”)
Agee entered the secret side of public service in that vibrant interregnum between America’s ascendancy as a non-empire and the complete privatization of the defense of our borders (especially our borders in the southern hemisphere, Middle East, and anything named Stan). In this connection, those who feel queasy about the innovative role of Blackwater should recall the truly horrifying scandal of the previous era, Whitewater. Feel better?
In our early ascendancy we were able to help so many people, so that they would not help themselves. That is, to their resources. People are far too resourceful for their own good.
Our helping began in Greece, which we cleansed of Communists. Unfortunately or otherwise, our helpfulness budget had run out by the time their colonels became differently helpful.
We helped Iran, finding them their Shah, who had been missing. This was the first time we were really in a position to help a nation in the Middle East—or anyway, British Petroleum. And we had to help: Mossadegh had nationalized the oil fields. Friends don’t let friends make friends. Which is fine, except it was by the wrong nation. So we found their Shah. And then for some reason 25 years later they had a fundamentalist revolution. Go figure. Luckily, we’ve been able to play the fundamentalist card against communists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia. Now we can afford to use the fundies as enemies. Old dictum: Friends don’t let friends make friends.
We helped France, at least in Vietnam. We helped Vietnam, at least the South, which is to say, Marshall Ky.
We helped Guatemala, or, one might say more precisely, United Fruit.
The list goes on, but the point is clear: Agee was fortunate to have a place at the center of the helping professions. So why did he lose faith? Many things can contribute to a fall from grace. Some feel that thinking causes a surplus of information; others think that feeling is the cause of an overdose of compassion. Either way, wavering of faith in the gospel of trickle- Thinking causes a surplus of information; feeling causes an overdose of compassion. down, vague feelings of unease with the triumph of middle class consumerism as the inevitable product of the ascent of generalized greed—these are ditherings hard to fathom in a scion of privilege.
Some have said that Phil must have been working for the KGB. If his desertion of duty had come later, he would have been clearly in the thrall of al Qaeda. But Phil preferred to look for flaws in his own house, describing the activities of the CIA and the governments it supported as “the worst imaginable horrors.” He was called by some a traitor; I think he was something more serious: a whistle-blower. Nobody likes a tattle tale. He shall be long remembered as a tall tattle tale teller, endangering the pre-emptive horrors we have been forced, with a heavy heart, to perpetrate in defense of Western Values.
If the general public has grown suspicious, even weary, of our pre-emptivity in defense of that most fundamental human right, the right to profit from resources we find on or under other people’s lands, then they have Phil Agee to blame for their Those who do not know their history will have the opportunity to repeat it. weary suspicion. May the next person to name names be indicted and imprisoned for life. (Offer not valid for Vice Presidents or their aides.) Philip Agee, rest in peace. You taught the American people a bit of their history. Which is a shame, because those who do not know their history will have the opportunity to repeat it.