Did the CIA Try to Kill Phil Agee? Ask the CIA!

CIA whistleblower Phil Agee’s papers are headed to a library at New York University. A Washington Post article by Jeff Stein (10/27/10) notes that Agee, who died in 2008,revealed information that was”arguably more damaging than anything WikiLeaks has produced.”

But Stein, an intelligence blogger for the Post, devotes some time to critiquing the library’s press release, since it “made no mention of the renegade agent’s KGB and Cuban intelligence connections.” Actually, Agee always denied working with the KGB; he did get help from Cuban intelligence files while writing his expose of his CIA activities in Latin America, but rejected accusations that he was on the Cuban payroll.

Stein continues with his critique of the library, in the processgiving a lesson in howa journalist can abuse anonymity:

But it did maintain that “for the rest of his life Agee was a target of CIA assassination threats.”

In response to a query, Michael Nash, the library’s associate curator, said, “This information came from the Agee book On the Run, and it is supported by some CIA documents that Agee received as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request.”

A CIA spokesperson, speaking on the condition of anonymity, dismissed the allegation as “not only wrong, but ludicrous.”

So the library cites CIA documents. The Washington Post, meanwhile, asks the agency that is accused oftargeting Agee,and they tell him, ANONYMOUSLY, that this is “ludicrous.” Huh.

An August 2, 1987 New York Times review of Agee’s book On the Run by Thomas Powers helps provide some details:

Did Mr. Agee’s activity hurt the agency? You bet it hurt. The best evidence of how much can be found in his careful account of CIA efforts to convince him he had been neither forgiven nor forgotten–following him on his travels, spreading rumors about his alleged connection with the KGB and DGI, surrounding him with agents, tapping his telephone and even providing him with an elaborately wired typewriter in order to monitor what he was putting down on paper. Most difficult of all was a two-year period in the mid-1970s, when the agency, with high-level help, managed to bar him from residence in Britain, France, Italy and the Netherlands, apparently hoping to hound him until he was forced to take up residence in the Soviet bloc, where his true allegiance (from the agency’s point of view) would no longer be in doubt.

Mr. Agee’s account of how he finally won a residency permit in West Germany is one of the best parts of his book, an artful blend of law and clandestine strategem. The man is not without ability. Tough as that period was, Mr. Agee suspects still darker plots, a phony drug bust in Spain perhaps, or even an attempt to kill him. He may be right; a Federal judge refused to release secret documents describing ”illegal acts” targeted on Mr. Agee on the grounds of national security.

This is where the United States Constitution comes in. Mr. Agee would certainly seem to be a prime candidate for prosecution under the espionage laws if it weren’t for the legal tangle the agency had created for itself when it planned or carried out ”illegal acts” against him.

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About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.