Ralph McGehee, the CIA, and Deadly Deceits
By Wade Frazier
Revised July 2014
Statement for Ralph's Protection
My 2014 Synopsis of Deadly Deceits
In 1990, I began my education in the alternative media and other areas, and one of the first books that I obtained was Deadly Deceits, which is Ralph W. McGehee's memoir. Ralph had a 25-year career working for the CIA, both at Langley and internationally. In 1996, I published my first website, and asked Ralph if I could publish a summary of Deadly Deceits. Ralph not only consented, but he published my summary across the Internet and told me that it was the best summary of his work that he had seen, and we became friends.
Ralph publicly criticized the CIA, and only a handful of former CIA employees ever have. Ralph is interviewed on Bill Moyers's Secret Government video. Ralph maintained his CIABASE archives on the Internet for years, which exposed the CIA's activities by using public domain sources. In running his CIABASE, Ralph was doing what anybody could. He nevertheless endured endless harassment from the CIA as they tried to silence him. Ralph had more than my respect; he had my awe. After riding in the saddle for years with Dennis Lee, I discovered how rare people like Dennis and Ralph were. People of conscience, living it at those levels, are one in many thousands.
After escalating harassment by the CIA and friends, leading to bodily injury to Ralph, his CIABASE web site went down in the spring of 2000 and will never reappear. I last updated this essay in 1999, and this 2014 revision may be my last.
Statement for Ralph’s Protection
In August 2001, Ralph sent me the below statement. He wanted to have me post it on my site, and wherever else it can be posted, for his protection.
“I moved to Florida in July 2000. Immediately the harassment I experienced in Herndon transferred here. A major difference is that the FBI here openly advises I am a threat to National Security -- because, I assume, I tell unclassified truths to the American people.
“In 1990 the CIA officially advised me in writing that I may use any information in the public domain -- making the FBI's actions against me false if not illegal as I have never and will never expose secret persons or information.
“Harassment here has grown to such a degree that I fear staged incidents to arrest me for something -- anything.
“I base my actions on what is in the best interests of the United States. This may be difficult to believe given my negative commentary, but I participated in and watched CIA operations in Vietnam and other countries nearly destroy the US/us.
“The CIA said I was an analyst with few peers and awarded me its Career Intelligence Medal. I use this ability and those experiences to inform about the CIA's many opportunities and deficiencies.
“Anyone wishing to know more may find details via a Google search under my name.”
-- Ralph McGehee
Ralph also asked me to post his letter from the CIA that informed him that his CIABASE activities were perfectly legal, and were no threat to “national security.” Here it is.
Click on image to enlarge
My 2014 Synopsis of Deadly Deceits
Deadly Deceits became a college textbook, and after a moving introduction, it begins slowly to eventually climax with a series of haunting revelations. During Ralph's 25-year CIA career, he heartily believed in its stated mission of "fighting communism." Ralph wrote that CIA fieldworker candidates are psychologically screened before being hired, and their most treasured quality is the willingness to blindly follow orders.
Ralph joined the CIA in 1952, after an All-American football career at Notre Dame (where Phil Agee also studied) during their national championship years. Ralph was raised on and believed in the American dream - "the Protestant work ethic, truth, justice, freedom." Ralph was a high-profile recruit and joined the CIA as a dedicated cold warrior. He spent the next ten years stationed at home and abroad: at Langley (the CIA headquarters in Washington), Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, and then Thailand. Ralph enthusiastically dedicated himself to halting the spread of communism.
During the mid-1960s, communism was sweeping Southeast Asia. Ralph's job was saving Thai villages from communist insurgency. Ralph viewed his career as a cross between "Peace Corps and missionary work." Building upon a British method used earlier in Thailand, he developed an inexpensive method of intelligence gathering that identified communists and exposed their network. The strategy was partly intimidating the villagers through terror, such as holding a gun to a baby's head to get the mother to talk, yet was benign when compared to other "counterinsurgency" methods of the time, such as torture and boiling suspected communists in oil.
The operation's goal was to make communists confess their "crimes," name their cohorts, return to the Thai government's fold, and become "good peasants" again. Forgiveness was offered and given to those who talked, with escalating intimidation for those harder to crack. The Thailand strategy was effective and Machiavellian, which Ralph crafted and believed in. It obtained a quality of intelligence that the region had never before achieved. It also reversed communist inroads. The Thai government's brute force response to "communist insurgency," backed by its American sponsors, alienated the villagers and drove them into the communists' arms. Ralph's method was far more subtle and effective.
The operation's results were awarded universal praise in intelligence circles in 1967, and it was Ralph's greatest career achievement. He discovered a way of exposing and defeating the communists, and his future looked bright. In the wake of the accolades, William Colby (future CIA director, and then the Far East division chief) visited, and Ralph briefed him:
"I explained the procedures of the survey and then outlined my general conclusions, including my doubts about previous Agency reporting which said that the communists did not have the support of the local people and that they forced people to support them with threats and terrorism.
"'Such a picture is inaccurate,' I told Colby...'We have found that the Communists concentrate the majority, almost the entirety, of their time winning the cooperation of the peasants.'"
Ralph exposed the communist movement as a grassroots movement with peasant support, primarily because their goal was freeing themselves from colonial and neocolonial oppression, enforced by the Thai ruling class and their industrialized-nation sponsors. The Communist Revolution in Southeast Asia was an exercise in freedom, although Ralph would not attain that realization for years. In 1967, Ralph was ecstatic that his method had reversed communist infiltration.
Colby silently received Ralph's presentation and finally muttered, "We always seem to be losing." Ralph was astonished. Soon after Colby's visit, Ralph was removed from the field, his successful program was canceled, and he found himself behind a meaningless desk at Langley. He was shocked and confused. He eventually realized that his intelligence work, although arguably the most effective that the West had ever seen in Southeast Asia, produced an undesirable answer. Communism could not be damned as an evil if the people wanted it. If that fact became widely known, the USA's Vietnam adventure could be seen in an unsavory light: killing millions to prevent them from choosing a government that we disapproved of. The American experience in Vietnam was an attempt at reconquering the region, keeping it in the capitalistic fold, and keeping those people enslaved.
Ralph still believed his indoctrination and volunteered for Saigon, which no sane CIA employee did in 1968. Ralph was a true believer in America's good intentions, even if their tactics sometimes seemed regrettable. Defeating the communists was his great desire.
One pivotal evening in his quarters near Saigon in December of 1968, Ralph finally understood:
"I sat there in agony thinking about all that had led me to this private hell. My idealism, my patriotism, my ambition, my plans to be a good intelligence officer to help my country fight the communist scourge - what in the hell had happened? Why did we have to bomb the people we were trying to save? Why were we napalming young children? Why did the CIA, my employer for 16 years, report lies instead of the truth?
"I hated my part in the charade of murder and horror. My efforts were contributing to the deaths, to the burning alive of children - especially the children. The photographs of young Vietnamese children burned by napalm destroyed me."
Ralph thought of killing himself that night in Vietnam. He thought of various ways to kill himself to protest what was happening. In the end, however, he committed his life to telling the world what really happened in Vietnam and the true nature of America's fight against communism. Ralph began on the hard, lonely journey of exposing what his nation was really doing.
When his devastating tour of duty in Vietnam was finished, Ralph left:
"I was glad to be going home. But I knew I would never be the same person again. All of my ideals of helping people, all my convictions about the processes of intelligence, all my respect for my work, all the feelings of joy in my life, all my concepts of honor, integrity, trust and love, all in fact that made me what I was, had died in Vietnam. Through its blindness and its murders, the Agency had stolen my life and my soul. Full of anger, hatred, and fear, I bitterly contemplated a dismal future."
The year was 1970, and Ralph had nearly 20 years of CIA service. He spent mere weeks in the USA before returning to Thailand. He sought somewhere to serve out his career's remaining years; somewhere that he could stand living. Ironically, he saw the fruit of his anti-communist efforts in Thailand. The peaceful culture of Southeast Asia was destroyed by American involvement. Where Ralph had earlier witnessed pastoral scenes of Thai and Vietnamese people quietly living their lives, Southeast Asia had been turned into an armed camp, with violence, drug use, and prostitution commonplace. A barbed-wire fence surrounded the Thai school that his children happily attended on an earlier tour of duty. The students were bodily searched as they entered the school's grounds. The Thai government destroyed the villages that Ralph had "helped" on his earlier tours. He helped establish the framework that destroyed those that he "helped." He became a squeaky cog was put on probation.
Ralph soon returned to Langley and spent several years getting educated in the CIA's archives. He finally understood what communism meant to the communists, and realized that the Western view of communism was a fantasy to justify our violence against them. They were not trying to conquer the world. They sought freedom. For that crime, the USA murdered millions of them. Ralph retired after spending 25 years with the agency and accepted a career achievement medal so that his future work could not be called that of a CIA employee with a failed career. He began his book's conclusion with:
"The CIA is not now nor has it ever been a central intelligence agency. It is the covert action arm of the President's foreign policy advisers. In that capacity it overthrows or supports foreign governments while reporting "intelligence" justifying those activities. [Ralph says he has never once seen a CIA official tell the truth to Congress. Instead comes a steady stream of lies. - Ed.] It shapes its intelligence, even in such critical areas as Soviet nuclear weapon capability, to support presidential policy. Disinformation is a large part of its covert action responsibility, and the American people are the primary target of its lies.
"As noted in the Church Committee's final report, the Agency's task is to develop an international anti-communist ideology. The CIA then links every egalitarian [which means "all men are created equal" - Ed.] political movement to the scourge of international communism. This then prepares the American people and many in the world community for the second stage, the destruction of those movements. For egalitarianism is the enemy and it must not be allowed to exist."
Ralph called for the CIA's abolition in Deadly Deceits and described it as an unsalvageable organization. In Deadly Deceits's appendix, Ralph reported on the gauntlet that he ran to publish the book. He did not want to lose his pension, go to jail, or leave the country, so he abided by the secrecy agreement that he signed when joining the CIA. The appendix began:
"The secrecy agreement that I signed when I joined the CIA allows the Agency to review prior to publication all writings of present and former employees to ensure that classified information relating to national security is not revealed. This provision seems logical and necessary to protect legitimate interests. However, my experiences in getting this book approved show that the CIA uses the agreement not so much to protect national security as to prevent revelations and criticisms of its immoral, illegal, and ineffective operations. To that end it uses all possible maneuvers, legal and illegal. Had I not been represented by my attorney, Mark Lynch of the American Civil Liberties Union, and had I not developed a massive catalog of information already cleared by the Agency's publication review board, this book could not have been published."
Ralph's journey in publishing Deadly Deceits is a damning indictment of the USA's secrecy laws and their enforcement. The CIA tried ambushing Ralph with a room full of lawyers, before they knew that he hired a lawyer with the necessary security clearance to represent him. The CIA man assigned to work with Ralph made his feelings plain, telling him, "It's too bad you didn't work for the Israeli intelligence service. They know how to deal with people like you. They'd take you out and shoot you."
Ralph's original manuscript contained nothing that he felt was classified information, and he was careful. The CIA made 397 deletions from his original draft, after retracting hundreds of their more whimsical deletions, which they made before discovering that he had obtained competent counsel. The legal battle took more than two years, and the CIA went around in circles. They would permit certain passages after battling with Ralph, then they would retract that permission, then grant it again, then take it away once more, and on different grounds each time. The CIA’s effort was an impressive feat of double-talk and duplicity. At one point, Ralph was threatened with prosecution for stealing state secrets if he could not prove that every fact in his book was obtained in the public domain. The published book is riddled with censorship deletions, with text such as "[19 words deleted]" in the middle of a sentence. Ralph stated:
"John Marks and Victor Marchetti's book The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, published in 1974 [nine years before Ralph's book – Ed.], was the last approved critical book written about the Agency by an ex-employee. In light of my own experiences the reason is obvious: the secrecy agreement and the way it is abused by the Agency. It is virtually impossible to write in an atmosphere where everything is secret until it is deemed otherwise....It is clear that the secrecy agreement does not halt the flow of information to our enemies, for it does not affect the CIA employee who sells information...What the CIA's secrecy agreement does quite effectively, however, is to stop critics of the Agency from explaining to the American public what the CIA is and does. It is sad to say, but the truth is that the primary purpose of the secrecy agreement is to suppress information that the American people are legitimately entitled to."
For all the mainstream media's rhetoric regarding the First Amendment, freedom of speech in America has had a rough ride. From the Sedition Act of 1798, which made it a crime to criticize high-ranking American officials (not dealt with by the U.S. Supreme Court until 1964, in the New York Times versus Sullivan decision), to pre-Civil War Southern laws that made it a crime to speak or write about abolition, to the Espionage Act that made it a crime to criticize World War I (which is still in force in 2014, a century after World War I began), freedom of speech has often been more imagined than real in America. During my lifetime, freedom of speech has waxed and waned.
The Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") would be unnecessary if the principle of freedom truly guided the American legal system. The FOIA was originally passed during the Civil Rights era in the 1960s. The Nixon years saw the FOIA erode, but the aftermath of the Watergate scandal tipped the scales back toward freedom. The Carter years saw a new openness in government and a focus on human rights, but that was relative. Under no American president have we truly had freedom of information, nor have human rights concerns ever prominently guided America’s foreign policy. Knowledge is power, and keeping information secret is a time-honored method of amassing and maintaining power. The USA is no exception, and there is no reason why it should be. People can point to the Constitution, but America’s freedom of information is scant for a nation that calls itself democratic, and has gotten worse since the World Trade Center attacks. America’s military and spy establishment has the largest secrecy apparatus of any nation, by far, and Edward Snowden's revelations show what kind of friends the spy agencies are to their constituents.
The rich and powerful run the Democratic Party, just as with the Republican Party, but the Democratic Party sometimes has at least an appearance of allegiance to average Americans. The FOIA has endured many vicissitudes in my lifetime, and the Reagan-Bush years witnessed the greatest assaults on the FOIA, at least until the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks and subsequent "War on Terror." The Reagan administration even tried reclassifying previously declassified information used in Ralph's book, to enter bizarre, Orwellian realms. Bludgeoning Central America was one of many evil deeds performed during the Reagan-Bush years, and secrecy was its handmaiden, which was evident in the Iran-Contra scandal, among others. Although the pendulum swung marginally back to freedom's side during Bill Clinton's reign, it swung far to the right after 9/11, as Bush, Ashcroft, and friends seemed to try raising McCarthy from the grave. Freedom of speech in America is a farce if one offends or exposes the powerful.
To date, Ralph is one of a handful of ex-CIA employees to publicly criticize the CIA. Ralph does not agree with me, but I believe that he did not attain his realizations due to his intelligence, which is considerable. He figured it out because he fervently digested his indoctrination and believed that his efforts made the world better. Because he was such a true believer, he chased experiences (such as volunteering for Saigon duty in 1968) that eventually provided him with his agonizing revelations. When he realized that his efforts helped murder millions of people in Southeast Asia, his conscience assailed him. His pure heart enabled his comprehension, not his intelligence.
I can only wonder how often Ralph thinks back to those Southeast Asians that he "helped," as he abetted their horrific experiences at the USA's bloody hands. He probably thinks about it every day. His CIABASE and other efforts were attempts to help balance his scales, while helping us awaken, to help prevent further murders in greed's name. Ralph's weathering of the CIA's continuing harassment was inspiring. John Stockwell (another rare ex-CIA employee who spoke out and paid dearly for his efforts) has written, "More effectively than any other ex-CIA author, Ralph McGehee deals with the anguish of a principled man seeking a career in the CIA."
Ralph is the rare individual possessing the integrity to walk his arduous and heartbreaking path. Of the many thousands who have filed through the CIA's ranks since 1947, Ralph is in an elite company of less than ten people who woke up and took a public stance. That list includes Philip Agee, John Stockwell, Victor Marchetti, and David McMichael. There are not many more, and probably no others of their stature. They have my admiration, and even my awe. None of them think of themselves as heroes. In 2004, John Perkins spoke out like Ralph did, but from the privatized “middle management.” As Noam Chomsky said, their motivation is partly being able to look themselves squarely in the eye while shaving. They are responding to the insistent call of their consciences and feel compelled to act. Ralph and those few others like him rarely see themselves as heroes, but are doing what any decent person would do. The problem is, few will do the decent thing if it might really cost them. I will always be grateful for the "heroic" efforts of Ralph, Chomsky, Agee, Stockwell, McMichael, Marchetti, Dennis Lee and others. They helped me figure out how our system works.
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