By Chet Yarbrough
The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War-A Tragedy in Three Acts
By: Scott Anderson
Narrated by : Robertson Dean, Scott Anderson
Scott Anderson (Author)
“The Quiet Americans” is an investigative reporter’s view of the American spy service. It is written by a veteran war correspondent and son of a former foreign aid officer. The author, Scott Anderson, is raised in East Asia. He reviews America’s spy network during and after WWII.
The American independent spy agency is formed after WWII to provide intelligence on growing clandestine activities of the U.S.S.R. The author notes there were intelligence operations during WWII, but they were not independent. During the war, Intelligence services were defined and executed by the military. It is only after WWII that an independent branch is formed along the lines of British intelligence.
In Anderson’s opinion, President Harry Truman is an inept manager of the nascent American intelligence service.
There are several surprising facts and interpretations of history compiled by Anderson. Kennan is characterized as a great diplomatic analyst, but capable of lying to protect his reputation.
George Kennan is viewed as an influential diplomat in the creation of what becomes known as the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Dulles brothers solidify the role of the CIA in American clandestine operations in the world. Their modus vivendi for CIA operations prevails today. Their intent is to have an agreement allowing conflicting parties to coexist peacefully. However, Anderson shows their action belies their intent.
Dulles Brothers (John Foster on the right, Allen on the left.)
Parenthetically, as an example of Stalinist ideology, Anderson notes Adolph Hitler’s remains were not found in a burned bunker in which Hitler is alleged to have committed suicide. His burned remains were secreted by Joseph Stalin and placed in an archive in the U.S.S.R. Stalin’s motive for secrecy is unknown.
An independent spy agency is initially opposed by Truman, and perennially opposed by FBI Director Hoover.
J. Edgar Hoover–Director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972. (Died in May of 1972 at the age of 77)
Anderson notes Ambassador Kennan’s prescient analysis (the long memorandum) reflects the duplicitous nature of Joseph Stalin. Kennan recommends a surreptitious and aggressive American containment policy enacted through the practice of espionage. Kennan plays an important role in the formation of the American Intelligence service. The first director of this operation is a close friend of Kennan’s, a man named Frank Wisner.
“The Quiet Americans” Anderson profiles are Edmund Michael Burke, Frank Wisner, Peter Sichel, and Edward Lansdale. In their stories, Anderson reveals the beginnings of the CIA and a history of minor espionage successes and significant failures. In the back of a listener’s mind is the consequence of American espionage—their cost in human lives and dollars, and American truths about what measures are taken to presumably secure freedom and equality in other countries.
This is not a pretty picture. American efforts to change the world for the better through covert action is shown to be, at best, questionable, and at worst horribly misguided. As an American, it seems clear that most covert activity is meant to do good but the definition of good is distorted by human nature.
America’s role in Albania, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan raises the hopes of many but at a cost of too many lives and dollars. Hope of many of these country’s citizens becomes despair. How many lives and dollars could have been saved and repurposed for freedom and equality, rather than destruction of cultural difference. What Anderson makes clear is that national purpose (American or other) is distorted when it is undisclosed because human beings are seduced by self-interest, whether that interest is money, power, and/or prestige.
Government disclosure offers visibility to the public. Disclosure offers opportunity for public influence on government policy. America prides itself on being a government of, and by the people–through popularly elected representatives. Covert government action that is undisclosed to elected representatives gives no opportunity for citizens to influence government policy.
The idea of full disclosure discounts poor intelligence like that given about “weapons of mass destruction” that compelled America to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. False disclosure by American intelligence misled both citizens and elected officials about what America should do in Iraq.
Dulles Brothers (John Foster on the right, Allen on the left.)
Anderson’s exposure of John Foster Dulles’s tenure as Secretary of State and his brother Allen, as the fifth CIA Director, exemplifies the worst characteristics of covert activities without oversight by elected representatives.
Anderson’s view is America’s opportunity to change the course of history after Stalin’s death is lost because of Dwight Eisenhower’s actions based on the Dulles brother’s political influence.
To Anderson, the course of the U.S.S.R. and American relationship may have been entirely different if the Dulles’s had not run Eisenhower down the wrong diplomatic road. It is impossible to judge what may have happened if a different course had been taken, but Anderson infers the Dulles’ Road led to years of lost opportunity. On the other hand, hindsight is always more perfect than foresight.
Though Burke, Wisner, Sichel, and Lansdale are great patriots, Anderson implies their patriotism and actions often failed to serve American ideals.
Burke’s extraordinary life led him to Italy, Albania, and Germany. He served his country by trying to save Albania from communism, and Germany from further encroachment by the U.S.S.R. At best, his success is limited to non-existent. Albania remained in the fold of communism and success in Germany is the split of Berlin from the eastern block at the expense of food deliveries by air and an agreed upon East and West Berlin.
Wisner kept the light on for covert operations of what became the CIA but failed to get the top job or temper the excesses of secret operations.
Sichel survives them all but appears to compromise a principle of not using bad actors who participated in the holocaust that murdered over 6,000,000 Jews and Nazi resistors.
And finally Wisner, who manages to gain the trust of Philippine and Vietnamese leaders, many of which America abandons by leaving them to fend for themselves.
Trapped, as all humans are, by the times in which they live, they were the instruments of many wasted lives. How many people must die because of undisclosed covert Intelligence operations?
Listening to “The Quiet Americans” makes one understand how important freedom of the press is to America.
Americans must lead by example, not by covert action. More recent episodes in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan show America continues to ignore history’s lessons.