Tuesday, February 26, 2008

From the Cold War to the War on Terror: Laissez les bons temps rouler

For some reason, Larry Devlin is back in the news. He was the CIA station chief in Congo in the early 1960s and witnessed the rise and fall of Patrice Lumumba and supported the rise of Mobutu Sese Seko. (He was also stationed in Laos during the United States war with Vietnam.)

From the New York Times story:

Mr. Devlin had no problems with bribery, blackmail or other varieties of skulduggery — “all part of the game” for the C.I.A. under Allen Dulles at the height of the cold war, he said. But he thought the order to kill Patrice Lumumba, the charismatic Congolese politician the Eisenhower administration feared would become an African Fidel Castro, was both wrong and stupid, a desperate plan that could easily go awry and devastate American influence in Africa.

“Worldwide it would have been disastrous,” he said.

Lumumba was later tortured and killed by political opponents with the help of the Belgian military.

But here is the real reason for the Devlin story:

Today, Mr. Devlin’s story has new resonance amid a renewed debate about the proper limits of C.I.A. actions to counter a different global threat and their cost to the United States’ standing. The C.I.A.’s destruction of videotapes of harsh interrogations is under criminal investigation. Congress has been reviewing the C.I.A.’s secret detention program and the transfer of terrorist suspects to countries that practice torture, though so far no inquiry has approached the sweep of the Church Committee in the Senate in the 1970s, whose reports quote Mr. Devlin under a pseudonym, Victor S. Hedgeman.

“I think there’s an eerie and disturbing correlation between that era and this one,” said John Prados, an intelligence historian and the author of “Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the C.I.A.”

He said the threat of terrorism now, like the threat of communism then, was used to justify extreme measures that “later become controversial legally, morally and politically.”

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