Robert J. McMahon – The CIA and the FRUS series: the Indonesian case

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Event Date: 29 April – 1 May 2011
East Midlands Conference Centre
University of Nottingham  
University Park
Nottingham NG7 2RJ



Landscapes of Secrecy: The CIA in History, Fiction and Memory


Professor Robert J. McMahon (Mershon Center, Ohio State University) – The CIA and the FRUS series: the Indonesian case

In 1957-1958, in one of the least known covert operations of the Cold War era, the United States (with an important assist from Great Britain) secretly aided and armed a regional rebellion led by dissident Indonesian military officers and their political allies. The operation, which aimed at destabilizing if not toppling the Sukarno regime, proved a colossal blunder. Indeed, it ranks as one of the most fatally flawed and counterproductive efforts in the entire annals of U.S. covert actions. In 1994, the U.S. Department of States released an important volume in its venerable documentary series, Foreign Relations of the United States, that shed important light on this operation. At the time, the Washington Post heralded volume’s appearance with a feature news story that identified it as the first official publication by the U.S. Government to acknowledge complicity in a covert operation. Yet, as I will suggest in this paper, the Indonesian volume obscures, omits, and deletes from the official record nearly as much as it reveals. A careful analysis of its strengths and shortcomings, moreover, raises a host of questions about past and current U.S. Government policies and practices with regard to the declassification of critical records pertaining to intelligence matters.

Robert J. McMahon is the Mershon Professor of History at Ohio State University. He is the author of Dean Acheson and the Creation of an American World Order (2009); The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction (2003); and several other books. A past president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, he has served on the State Department’s Historical Advisory Committee on Diplomatic Documentation since 2003.

Contact details: Department of History, Dulles, Hall, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43201, USA.

Email: mcmahon.121@osu.edu

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