By Roland G. Simbulan, Convenor/Coordinator, Manila Studies Program
University of the Philippines
(Lecture at the University of the Philippines-Manila, Rizal Hall, Padre Faura, Manila, August 18, 2000.)
For a long time, Manila has been the main station, if not the regional headquarters, of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for Southeast Asia. This is perhaps so because the Philippines has always been regarded as a stronghold of US imperial power in Asia. Since the Americanized Filipinos were under the spell of American culture, they were easy to recruit without realizing they were committing treason to their own people and country. And from the beginning of the 20th century to 1992, there were the US military bases, the mighty symbols and infrastructure of American power.
CIA human intelligence assets in Manila are said to have provided vital information at crucial times. According to declassified documents under the Freedom of Information Act, on Sept. 17, 1972, a CIA asset in the Philippines who was in the inner circle of Marcos informed the CIA station in Manila that Ferdinand Marcos was planning to proclaim martial law on Sept. 21,1972. The CIA station in Manila was also provided in advance a copy of Proclamation 1081--the proclamation that declared martial law in the country--and a list of the individuals whom Marcos planned to arrest and imprison upon the declaration of military rule.
I would like to mention --without going into any conclusions--that, so accurate was the CIA's assessment about the Sept. 21, 1972 declaration of martial rule that it boosted the prestige of the CIA station in Manila. Upon his retirement a few years later, Henry Byroade, the American ambassador to Manila when martial law was declared, was honored by the CIA headquarters in Langley,Virginia--a tribute that is said to be very rarely given to any retiring ambassador. Also, in 1982, the CIA was able to verify from a high-ranking Philippine immigration officer the names of the two doctors who visited the Philippines to treat Marcos for kidney failure, giving the CIA a clear picture of Marcos's health problems.(Richelson, 1999).
It is important to expose US imperialism's clandestine apparatus in the Philippines. If the activities of this sinister agency are not meticulously documented, there is a tendency to mythologize, or even Hollywood-ize, its notoriety and crimes against the Filipino people and Philippine national sovereignty. The CIA is the covert overseas intelligence agency of the United States government and is likewise an "action-oriented " vehicle of American foreign and military policy. The 1975 Church Committee Report of the US congressional investigations into the CIA's covert activities abroad revealed how countless foreign governments were overthrown by the CIA; how the CIA instigated a military coup d'etat and assassinated foreign political leaders like Chilean President Salvador Allende, who merely tried to safeguard the interests of their own country; and how "special ops" and paramilitary campaigns contributed to the death, directly or indirectly, of millions of people, as a result of those actions.
The 1974-75 US congressional investigations also uncovered CIA intervention in the domestic politics of target countries--from the overthrow of governments, attempted assassinations, to subsidies and financial support for the media, political parties, trade unions, universities and business associations--all designed
Doing covert action that undermines Philippine national sovereignty and genuine democracy in order to prop up the tiny pro-US oligarchical minority that has cornered most of the wealth in their poor country is what the CIA is all about and is the real reason for its existence. It is no longer just the collection and analysis of foreign intelligence which is officially its mandate under the US National Security Act of 1947 that created the CIA.
The CIA in the Philippines has engaged in countless covert operations for intervention and dirty tricks particularly in Philippine domestic politics. On top of all this is the US diplomatic mission, especially the political section that is a favorite cover for many CIA operatives. CIA front companies also provide an additional but convenient layer of cover for operatives assigned overseas. In general, wherever you find US big business interests (like Coca-Cola, Ford, Citicorp, United Fruit, Nike, etc.), you also find a very active CIA. But the covers often used are diversified.
Desmond Fitzgerald, for instance, a former CIA chief of station in Manila was said to have fronted as a legitimate businessman of an American multinational company. Joseph Smith, a top CIA agent assigned to the Philippines in the early 1960s, posed as a "civilian employee" of the Clark Airforce Base's 13th Air Force Southeast Asia Regional Survey Unit .On the other hand, CIA operative Gabriel Kaplan's initial cover was really more "civilian"--with the CIA-created Asia Foundation (formerly the Committee for a Free Asia), then later as resident director of another CIA creation, the COMPADRE both of which we shall be dealing with more extensively later.
On the other hand, CIA operative David Sternberg fronted as a foreign correspondent for an American newspaper based in Boston, the Christian Science Monitor, when he assisted Gabriel Kaplan in managing the presidential campaign of Ramon Magsaysay in the '50s.
The Agency's assets and technical infrastructure in Manila have been drastically affected by the withdrawal of the bases by 1992 because, before this, the CIA operated jointly with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) major listening posts into most of Indochina and southern China. The joint CIA/DIA structure called the Strategic Warning Staff, is headquartered in the US Department of Defense (Pentagon) and operated a number of similar posts as the one in Manila. The Manila station includes very sizeable logistical capabilities for a wide range of clandestine operations against Asian governments.
The loss of the bases in the Philippines was a tremendous blow to the CIA's Asian infrastructure, if not a major setback. From the mid-50s, the US bases in the Philippines served as operational headquarters for "Operation Brotherhood" which operated in Indochina under the direct supervision of the CIA's Col. Edward Lansdale and Lucien Conien, and it involved several Filipinos who were recruited and trained by the CIA. Lansdale was the classic CIA operative in Southeast Asia who was romanticized in Graham Greene's novel, The Quiet American. Lansdale was even appointed by former President Ramon Magsaysay as his "military adviser" but was, in fact, his speechwriter as well, who determined Magsaysay's foreign and military policy. So successful was the CIA in pulling the strings thru Lansdale that in 1954, a high-level US committee reported that, "American policy in Southeast Asia was most effectively represented in the Philippines, where any expanded program of Western influence may best be launched."
Examples of such programs were the Freedom Company of the Philippines, Eastern Construction Co. and "Operation Brotherhood," which provided "a mechanism to permit the deployment of Filipino personnel in other Asian countries, for unconventional operations covertly supported by the Philippines." (Shalom, 1986). The CIA also actively used Philippine territory, particularly Clark Air Base, for the training and launching of operatives and logistics in the late 1950s, where the US covertly supported dissident Indonesian colonels in the failed armed overthrow of Indonesian President Sukarno. The CIA then established supply, training and logistical bases on several islands in the Philippines, including an airstrip in the Tawi-Tawi Island of Sanga-Sanga. A CIA-owned proprietary company, the Civil Air Transport, was actively used by the CIA from Philippine territory to give direct assistance to Indonesian military rebel groups attempting to overthrow Indonesian President Sukarno in the late 1950s.
Manila was also the center of operations for the Trans-Asiatic Airlines Inc., a CIA outfit operating along the Burma-China border against the People's Republic of China. Using the Trans-Asiatic Airlines Inc. as a front company, the CIA recruited for this operation in the early 1950s several Filipino aviators who were World War II veterans, including operatives of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Military Intelligence Service (MIS) who were still in active service.
In his memoirs, former Philippine Ambassador to Burma Narciso G. Reyes narrates that one of these Filipino "undercover" MIS agents posed as the labor attache at the Philippine embassy in Rangoon even before this was formally established. The Filipino CIA undercover agent was also reporting to the American ambassador to Burma from whom he was also getting paid! (Reyes, 1995).
Side by side with CIA proprietary companies Civil Air Transport, Sea Supply Co. and Western Enterprises Co., the agency used Trans-Asiatic Airlines Inc. in an attempt to invade the People's Republic of China in the early 1950s, using the mercenary Chinese warlord Gen. Li Mi as leader of the invasion force. After a few skirmishes with the People's Liberation Army (PLA), Gen. Li Mi later on "retired" and pocketed the US financial and military assistance for an invasion against China and concentrated on the lucrative opium trade along the Burmese-Thai border.
US military advisers of the Joint US Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) and the CIA station in Manila designed and led the bloody suppression of the nationalist Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB) which was vehemently opposed to the post-war Parity Rights amendment and the onerous military agreements with the United States. The CIA's success in crushing the peasant-based Huk rebellion in the 1950s made this operation the model for future counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam and Latin America. Colonel Lansdale and his Filipino sidekick, Col. Napoleon Valeriano were later to use their counterguerrilla experience in the Philippines for training covert operatives in Vietnam and in the US-administered School of the Americas, which trained counterguerrilla assassins for Latin America. Thus, the Philippines had become the CIA's prototype in successful covert operations and psychological warfare.
After his stint in the Philippines using propaganda, psywar and deception against the Huk movement, Lansdale was then assigned in Vietnam to wage military, political and psychological warfare. It was Lansdale's view that the tactics that he used to solve the problem in the Philippines were applicable to Vietnam. He was wrong. In 1975, after two decades of protracted warfare, the Vietnamese people defeated the strongest superpower on earth.
The CIA's actions and activities in its Manila station have never been limited to information gathering. Information gathering is but a part of an offensive strategy to attack, neutralize and undermine any organization, institution, personality or activity they consider a danger to the stability and power of the United States. The late Senator Claro M. Recto was believed to have been a victim of the CIA's dirty tricks department because of his staunch crusade against the US military bases in the Philippines. It is now a well-documented fact that General Ralph B. Lovett, then the CIA station chief in Manila and the US ambassador, Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, had discussed a plan to assassinate Recto using a vial of poison. A few years later, Recto was to die mysteriously of heart attack (though he had no known heart ailment) in Rome after an appointment with two Caucasians in business suits. Before this, the CIA had made every effort to assure the defeat of Recto in the 1957 presidential election wherein the CIA manufactured and distributed defective condoms with a label that said, "Courtesy of Claro M. Recto--the People's Friend." Could it be that Recto was a victim of the CIA's covert operations, or what they call "executive action" against those perceived as dangerous enemies of the United States?
It was also during the time of Recto and the Huks that the CIA covertly sponsored the Security Training Center as a "countersubversion, counterguerrilla and psychological warfare school" on the outskirts of Manila. CIA funds concentrated on the sensitive area of "rural development" and funds were channeled to the National Movement for Free Elections' (Namfrel) community centers, the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) and a rural development project called Committee for Philippine Action in Development, Reconstruction and Education (COMPADRE) thru CIA fronts and conduits like the Catherwood Foundation and the "Committee for a Free Asia (CFA), later renamed the Asia Foundation." (Shalom, 1986).
In the late 1980s, the CIA assigned Vietnam veteran U.S. General John Singlaub to organize anti-communist vigilante groups all over the country for mass terror, particularly as part of the Philippine government's "total war policy" against people's movements. General Singlaub posed as an American "treasure hunter" and even secured all the necessary official permits for treasure hunting in the Philippines. Another operative active in the "total war" operations in the Philippines was Vietnam counterinsurgency specialist Col. James Rowe, Joint US Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) adviser, whose cover was blown off when he was ambushed in 1989 by urban guerrillas of the New People's Army in Timog Avenue, Quezon City. Rowe was clandestinely involved in the organization of anti-communist death squads like Alsa Masa and vigilante groups patterned after "Operation Phoenix" in Vietnam which had the objective of eliminating legal and semi-legal mass activists and their political sympathizers that constituted the political infrastructure of the insurgency movement.
The CIA lost its huge telecommunications installation at Clark Air Base--the Regional Relay Station when the Philippine Senate rejected on Sept. 16, 1991, the proposed treaty for the bases' renewal. Before 1970, according to a former CIA operative, the sprawling Subic Naval Base was the site of a China operations group of the CIA and
There is, however, a vital covert installation that the CIA was able to retain and maintain: the "Regional Service Center" (RSC). Located along Roxas Boulevard in Manila at the Seafront Compound about a mile south from the US Embassy, the RSC fronts as a facility of the United States Information Service (USIS), formerly called the US International Communications Agency. This ultra-modern printing facility functions as a secret CIA propaganda plant. It has the ability to produce large quantities of high-quality color offset magazines, posters, leaflets and the like in at least 14 Asian languages.
During the Vietnam War, the RSC was ceaselessly involved in economic sabotage against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) or North Vietnam. The RSC was involved in counterfeiting North Vietnamese currency which were airdropped all over the DRV to sabotage the economy and weaken the country's resistance. The CIA's Technical Services Division maintains close liaison with the RSC, which still actively operates within the Seafront Compound along Roxas Boulevard. The post-Vietnam War and later on, the post-bases era has only increased the importance of Manila as a major listening post and regional headquarters of the Agency.
A former junior case officer of the CIA, Janine Brookner, who was stationed in Manila described the capital city of the Philippines as "a wild place" for CIA operatives who spent a lot of time in bars, sex shows and brothels. This was because, according to her, the standard CIA procedure for recruiting targets was to "get him drunk, get him laid, and then get him on the Agency's dole." Brookner was an attractive but determined blonde who claimed to have developed assets in both the government and the Communist Party during her assignment to the Philippines. Brookner was also a very productive recruiter who, as a handler of important assets and as a CIA case officer, claims to be able to make her targets confess everything. "You take care of them," Brookner recalls, "and they tell you their fears and nightmares...I'm good at people depending on me." In fact, her targets, especially high-ranking Philippine government officials, often propositioned her. (Starobin, 1997)
The CIA has long utilized in the Philippines sophisticated or subtle means for clandestine propaganda, such as the manipulation of trade unions and cultural organizations, rather than heavy-handed activities such as paramilitary operations, political assassinations and coups as they had done extensively in Africa, Latin America and Vietnam. During my interview in 1996 with Ralph McGehee, a former CIA agent, and other former CIA operatives assigned to the Manila station, I was told that the CIA had many unheralded successes in the Philippines such as the manipulation of the trade union movement through the Asian-American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI) and through funds which were channeled thru the USAID, Asia Foundation and National Endowment for Democracy.
In a recent article in the Journal of Contemporary Asia, American sociologist James Petras describes how progressive non-government organizations can be neutralized, if not coopted, thru US government, big business-backed funding agencies or CIA fronts and conduits masquerading as foundations. The purpose, according to Petras, is
It must be emphasized that the US places high premium on the ideological legitimation of its continuing neo-colonial domination over the Philipines and, as such, depends heavily on US-financed and US-sponsored institutions, especially on the ideological front. Thus, grants are generously poured in by such agencies like USAID, NED, Asia Foundation and the big business-sponsored Ford Foundation. The objective is to constantly lure and lull the masses into the elite-dominated electoral process, thus legitimizing the neo-liberal economic system and its political apparatus, producing a fragile social peace and a "peaceful" mechanism for competition among the Filipino elite and oligarchy. In his book on French colonialism in Algeria titled, The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon wrote:
One of the most critical moments of the CIA station in Manila was the immediate post-Marcos years when they tried to dissociate US links with the Marcoses and politically influence the contours of the post-Marcos era. Financial, technical and political support for the pro-US "agents of influence" assured the dominance of pro-US local elites and institutions as a counterweight to the progressive anti-imperialist, anti-Marcos forces that threatened to define and restructure the architecture of the post-Marcos neo-colonial regime.
USAID was directed to grant the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) with a generous financing so it could formulate a position paper on an economic program anchored on "the partnership between labor and capital." USAID even temporarily set up an agrarian reform office, working closely at TUCP offices. Political analysts of the CIA and USAID wanted to design an agrarian reform program that would not disrupt the agro-export sector and one which could be synchronized with the counterinsurgency program and defuse peasant unrest. The CIA and US military advisers also wanted a deeper role in the design and command of counterinsurgency. These funds were supplemented by the so-called "democracy promotion" initiatives of the NED which poured in heavy funding for TUCP, Namfrel, the Women's Movement for the Nurturing of Democracy (KABATID) and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI). The NED gave a total of $9 million from 1984-1990 to these institutions and organizations.
Following the ouster of Marcos, the US set about to transform the "new" Armed Forces of the Philippines into an effective counterinsurgency force that would integrate military, political, economic and social initiatives, including broad "civic action" campaigns, psychological operations, military aid and training. It was a massive comeback of the low-intensity conflict years of the Magsaysay-Lansdale era! Between 1987-1990, Washington reportedly authorized stepped-up clandestine CIA operations against the Left in the Philippines, including a $10 million allocation to the AFP for enhanced intelligence-gathering operations. There was also an increase in the number of CIA personnel, from 115 to 127, mostly attached as "diplomats" to the US embassy in Manila. (Oltman and Bernstein, 1992)
In general, US military and economic aid are used quite effectively and they remain key elements of US policy in the Philippines. The CIA station handles political aid and political matters. This means, according to the CIA's Intelligence Memorandum on the 1965 Philippine presidential elections for instance, assuring that the victorious national candidates who are acceptable to the US should be
Among the most prominent CIA fronts in Manila is the Asia Foundation with offices at Magallanes Village, Makati. According to a former US State Department bureaucrat William Blum in a recent book, the "Asia Foundation is the principal CIA front" and funding conduit in Asia. The Asia Foundation funds and supports known anti-communist groups or influential personalities, i.e. academics, journalists, local officials, etc. and institutions. (Blum, 1999) According to the former executive assistant to the CIA's Deputy Director for Operations Victor Marchetti in his book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, the Asia Foundation had the objective "to disseminate throughout Asia a negative vision of Mainland China, North Vietnam, and North Korea." (Marchetti and Marks, 1980 edition). New York Times investigative journalist Raymond Bonner has also identified the Asia Foundation as "a CIA creation" and "front" in one of his books, Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy (1987). My interviews with former CIA operatives in the Philippines in 1996 confirm the active use of this foundation for the "Agency."
But the most credible and authoritative source that I have come across identifying the Asia Foundation as a CIA front and conduit is Marchetti's book where the CIA-Asia Foundation link is defined in no uncertain terms:
"Another organization heavily subsidized by the CIA was the Asia Foundation. Established by the agency (CIA) in 1956, with a carefully chosen board of directors, the foundation was designed to promote academic and private interest in the East. It sponsored scholarly research, supported conferences and symposia, and ran academic exchange programs, a CIA subsidy that reached $88 million dollars a year. While most of the foundation's activities were legitimate, the CIA also used it...to recruit foreign agents and new officers. Although the foundation often served as a cover for clandestine operations, its main purpose was to promote the spread of ideas which were anti-communist and pro-American--sometimes subtly and stridently...Designed--and justified at budget time--as an overseas propaganda operation, the Asia Foundation also was regularly guilty of propagandizing the American people with agency views on Asia. The Agency's connection with the Asia Foundation came to light just after the 1967 exposure of CIA subsidies to the (American) National Student Association. The foundation clearly was one of the organizations that the CIA was banned from financing and, under the recommendations of the Katzenbach committee, the decision was made to end CIA funding. A complete cut-off after 1967, however, would have forced the foundation to shut down, so the agency made it the beneficiary of a large 'severance payment' in order to give it a couple of years to develop alternative sources of funding. Assuming the CIA has not resumed covert funding, the Asia Foundation has apparently made itself self-sufficient now.... during the 1960s, the CIA developed proprietary companies for use in propaganda operations. These proprietaries are more compact proprietaries and more covert than the now exposed fronts like Asia Foundation and Radio Free Europe." (Marchetti and Marks, pp.157-158)
The CIA-linked Asia Foundation has long been active in the Philippines. It has generously funded academic seminars, researches, study tours, and conferences in most of the leading Philippine universities, most especially among many colleagues and programs at the University of the Philippines (UP).
You name it, they have their fingers stuck into it! Many nongovernment organizations, journalists, local governments and civic organizations have had their projects funded by Asia Foundation. This is what makes it strategic and well-placed, thus naturally, a matter of great concern and alarm to friends and colleagues in both the academe and the NGO sector who may be very upset by this information on the origins and CIA links of the Asia Foundation. But I did not invent this issue about the CIA-created Asia Foundation. I merely documented the previous testimonies from mostly open sources. It is part of the CIA's history in this country, which I have documented from the accounts of former CIA agents and operatives. Many recipients of Asia Foundation grants as well as the Filipino staff of the Asia Foundation in Manila may not even be aware of its notorious history. But now we know a little better.
It is important to note that in 1961, the chief of the CIA's Covert Action Staff wrote that books were "the most important weapon of strategic propaganda." Tens of thousands of books have been produced, subsidized or sponsored by the CIA and its conduits such as the Asia Foundation in support of US foreign and military policy.
Together with the National Security Agency, the CIA also maintains "Project Echelon," the most sophisticated and the most technologically advanced eavesdropping system that has ever been devised. Through a relay system of satellites and spook stations in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada and United States, the US intelligence system is able to intercept all telephone, fax, e-mail, Internet and cellphone transmissions worldwide. Its nerve center is located at Fort Meade in Maryland where the NSA maintains its headquarters. This has grave implications for both our public and private security.
The National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States has developed a global surveillance system, Echelon, which is a powerful electronic net operated by super-computers that intercept, monitor and process all phone, fax, e-mail and modem signals. The European Parliament in a 1998 report entitled, "An Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control" has listed serious concerns and has recommended an intensive investigation of US-NSA operations. The NSA Echelon system provides awesome potential for abuse against civilian targets and governments worldwide, even against allies of the United States.
It can be recalled that under the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the coverage for special privileges and criminal immunity includes not only US armed forces personnel but also
According to Nicky Hager's book, Secret Power (1986) which deals with the international electronic spy network, the US has not only been using its NSA Echelon system to collect political, military and economic intelligence against its enemies, but it also targets its own allies. According to Hager:
Through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the US plans to fully restore its Echelon system in the Philippines which was greatly interrupted by the pullout of US military facilities and bases in 1992. The CIA heavily relies on the Echelon Project for its technologically advanced Signal Intelligence or SIGNIT, which is managed by the US National Security Agency (NSA).
Every CIA station is virtually an infrastructure for political, military, cultural and even economic intervention. In the Philippines, the CIA has not only functioned as a listening post but has been actively used to engage in covert operations, sabotage and political intervention to undermine Philippine sovereignty and self-determined national policies. Former CIA operatives in the Philippines confirm the use of official "diplomatic covers," especially in the political section of the US Embassy where they are given secure communications, protected files and diplomatic immunity. They have also used "non-official covers," disguised as businessmen in US firms. Covers under the guise of US naval or air force personnel are now minimal after the US bases and military facilities in the Philipines were dismantled. But as we can now see, the CIA has long been operating with virtual impunity and has always gotten away with its deep involvement in Philippine domestic affairs. Shall we allow this continued intervention in Philippine political and economic life?
Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press,1995.
Hager, Nicky. Secret Power. New Zealand: Craig Porton Publishing, 1996.
McGehee, Ralph. Deadly Deceits: My 25 years in the CIA. New York: Sheridan Square Publications, 1983.
Reyes, Narciso G. Memories of Diplomacy:A Life in the Philippine Foreign Service. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing Inc.,1995.
Richelson, Jeffrey T. The US Intelligence Community. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1999.
Robinson, William I. Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention and Hegemony. Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Shalom, Stephen. The United States and the Philippines: A Study of Neo-colonialism. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1986.
Simbulan, Roland. The Bases of Our Insecurity: A Study of the US Military Bases in the Philippines. Quezon City: Balai Foundation, 1983.
Smith, Joseph Burkholder. Portrait of a Cold Warrior. Toronto: Longman Canada, Ltd., 1976.
Petras ,James. "NGOs in the Service of Imperialism," Journal of Contemporary Asia. Vol. 29, No. 4 (1999).
Oltman J. and Bernstein, R. "Counter-insurgency in the Philippines," Covert Action Information Bulletin. No. 4, 1992, pp. 18-21
Starobin, Paul. "Agent Provocateur," George Magazine. Oct. 1997, pp.86-91.
Ralph McGehee, former CIA operative assigned to the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand; Herndon, Virginia, April-May 1996.
Interviews with former CIA operatives in the Philippines at McLean and Herndon,Virginia, April-May 1996.