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On the Run

On the Run - Philip Agee Meet Philip Agee. As a college student in the mid 1950's he must have exhibited that elusive blend of qualities which the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was looking for in new recruits. He was enticed into "the Company" (as CIA members refer to it) with cash and promises of adventure. From 1957-69, Philip bounced around the Western Hemisphere as an undercover agent, posing as support staff for various American embassies. For over a decade he was extremely well-compensated to party with heads of state, meet fascinating people, romance beautiful women, travel to exotic locales, and engage in thrilling intrigues. It is easy to see how a smart and hungry new college graduate would embrace the life of a Central Intelligence agent. Throughout these hijinks, Philip believed he was keeping the world free for democracy, even as he met with locals and taught them how to destabilize elements of their democratically-elected governments... governments the United States was ostensibly friends with. Philip spread propaganda, recruited new operatives, disrupted union activities, and assisted client states in the identification, tracking, harassment, torture, and even murder of dissidents and their families. “For democracy”, remember.(cue uplifting music) Then something unexpected happened… while on assignment living in Mexico City in 1968, he fell in love with a local woman who changed his entire view of the world. Don't tell me that sounds schmaltzy or contrived; this is nonfiction. Through her eyes, Agee began to question not only “the Company’s” methods, but also their intent. On reflection, Philip had to admit that CIA operations were not -as they claimed- merely intelligence gathering for US self-defense purposes. Instead, the Agency operated a paramilitary force actively intervening in the political, commercial and civil affairs of foreign nations, in order to create circumstances favorable to American-based multinational corporations wishing to enter, dominate and ultimately subsume local markets and resources. Agee's tenure with the CIA spanned some of the tensest years of the Cold War… years you would expect a CIA agent to be chasing Soviet spies, tapping phones at the Bulgarian embassy and decoding messages from the KGB. But Philip saw none of these things. He and his co-workers were preoccupied with busting up unions in Brazil; undermining political support for grass-roots movements advocating improved workplace safety and fair wages in Argentina and Ecuador; and installing and protecting corrupt cronies to the likes of Exxon, J.P. Morgan/Chase, Citibank, Bechtel, United Fruit Company and Alcoa in Panama, Guatemala and El Salvador.In 1969, Agee decided he had had enough. He decided to quit "the Company" and find other work. He wasn't looking to bring down the organization; he just wanted out. Before long, though, his conscience got the better of him, and he moved to Paris to begin work on a book that would expose some of the darker truths of the CIA, and particularly its history in South America. This is not that book. That book is [b:Inside the Company|320742|Inside the Company CIA Diary|Philip Agee|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1235404468s/320742.jpg|261674] (ITC), and it was released in 1974. This book, published in 1987, details all the backlash Agee experienced after ITC’s publication. As he moves from Paris to London to Amsterdam to Hamburg, Agee is constantly followed by CIA or cooperating local agencies. His phone is tapped, his personal effects are bugged, and the press is continually fed lies and half-truths to impugn his character and embarrass his family. On several occasions, Philip learns that friends and acquaintances he comes to know are actually undercover agents monitoring his activities. It is easy to imagine what psychological toll this takes on him over the years, preventing him from trusting people. In each new place he resides, he is eventually expelled, at the request of the CIA... not the United States Department of State, mind you, but directly at the request of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. That's kind of disturbing, because it shows not only how independently the CIA operates from the rest of our federal government, and what sway it holds as its own entity with other nations; it also shows how the CIA doesn't really have the United States' best interests on its agenda. If it did, it would go through the State Department, to avoid messing up whatever delicate negotiations the SD has going on with those countries. Agee shows again and again how the CIA follows its own agenda, which may or may not coincide with the interests of the United States. The agenda is driven by considerations of institutional survival and growth, and to do the bidding of its corporate masters… the transnational corporations who use The Company to install crony regimes in foreign countries, and whose banks launder, hide, and invest the CIA’s illegal drug money. When senior leadership retires from the Agency, many of them find lucrative jobs with these companies. The book covers these things, but it is primarily Agee’s personal story. Soon after release, ITC began to get worldwide attention- not just because it gave a rare insider's view of how the organization operates, but also because it specifically named operatives who were still in the field at the time of publication. That's right- Agee blew the cover of over a hundred active agents working under secret or fabricated identities. Today that would be illegal (more on that later), but at the time of printing it was not. That isn't to say plenty of people in Washington weren't upset about it. Depending on who you ask, Inside the Company ranged from being an embarrassment to being an executable act of high treason. In several different forums, high office holders repeatedly admonish Agee by name for damaging the CIA's credibility.For his part, publication of the book only whets Agee's activist appetites. Soon, he is approached by all sorts of people and organizations who want to pick his brain on what the CIA is doing in their backyards. He is only too happy to cooperate. Throughout the mid 70's, Philip travels around, analyzing agent movements and publishing more lists with the names and addresses of active Agency employees. It's kind of amazing that they didn't take him out.…Or maybe not amazing, but it’s worth exploring a bit. On one of his book tours, he is asked "Why didn't the CIA kill you?" The Italian government wondered the same thing, and in fact refused to believe the contents of his book, citing the fact that he hadn't been assassinated as proof he’s actually part of an elaborate ongoing CIA operation. So why didn’t Philip Agee end up dead in a ditch someplace? He believes it is because once he became a recognized public figure, and once the CIA's motivation to kill him became so obvious, the Agency simply didn't think they could get away with it. That’s morbidly funny, because on one hand, there are a lot of ways you can look at the CIA and say they have no accountability: most of their operations are classified such that even senators are refused information, and the Agency’s budget is never questioned, much less audited. YET... the CIA requires the appearance of being a publicly-answerable part of the federal government, and maintaining this appearance does entail a certain degree of true accountability. This is an ongoing theme throughout the book: that while the CIA in some ways is incredibly powerful, it is not all-powerful, and in fact very weak and vulnerable in certain circumstances. Despite their culture of secrecy, Agee was able to force them to divulge certain tidbits of information by using the Freedom of Information Act! It’s enough to (partially) restore one’s faith in our system! This is about where the book ends, but I’ll just add a little addendum here to tell you that eight years after Inside the Company was published, the CIA managed to get legislation passed which now makes it a crime to expose federal undercover agents. The Intelligence Identities Protection Act was passed in 1982. That’s what made it illegal for “Scooter” Libby of the Bush II administration to blow Valerie Plame’s cover in 2003.Philip Agee kept running another twenty-one years after this book was published. When his residence options in Western Europe ran out, he moved to Cuba. He died in 2008 of complications from a perforated gastric ulcer.