David Robarge – Origins and Development of the CIA Paramilitary function in the early Cold War

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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


Dr David Robarge (CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence) – Origins and Development of the CIA Paramilitary function in the early Cold War

Covert action in all its forms—political action, propaganda, economic disruption, paramilitary support and other lethal activities—has always been the most controversial undertaking the CIA engages in.  Among the justifications for doing it that its proponents and defenders have advanced—protecting vital national interests, keeping up with the enemy, providing an essential supplement to diplomacy and sanctions, having an alternative between “talk, talk” and “war, war”—rarely is heard the idea that CIA covert action historically has been intended to promote and protect democracy or, in other situations, prevent the establishment of a totalitarian or extreme authoritarian system.  The conventional wisdom is just the opposite:  that the US Government has used CIA covert action mainly to undermine democracy, support pro-Western autocrats, and protect US economic interests.  This perspective implies a fundamental disconnect between the principles underlying US foreign policy and the objectives the CIA was given to assist in implementing that policy with covert action.

However, an examination of the roughly three dozen covert actions of all kinds during the period 1948-2001 that the CIA has officially acknowledged or that have been discussed in detail in Agency-approved publications shows that nearly 80% were intended to promote or protect democracy or resist dictatorship or authoritarian forces, while only just over 20% were intended to replace elected or popular supported leaders.  Moreover, 80% of the CIA’s long-term covert action successes and nearly two-thirds of its high-impact programs were designed to promote or protect democracy.   Two reasons why the popular perception is so different may be that the first extensive public discussion of covert action in the mid-1970s—mainly during the Church and Pike Committee investigations—and much discourse since has centered on a handful of undemocratic covert actions in a few countries; and that over one-third of the CIA’s high-impact programs fall into the less- or least-democratic categories.

David Robarge is the chief historian of the Central Intelligence Agency and has been a member of the agency’s history staff since 1996. Before that he worked in the C.I.A. Counterterrorism Center and the Directorate of Intelligence as an analyst on the Palestinian and Iraq accounts. He has published a classified biography of Director of Central Intelligence John McCone, and his articles and book reviews have appeared in the C.I.A.’s in-house journal “Studies in Intelligence,” and in “Intelligence and National Security” and the “Journal of Intelligence History.” Dr. Robarge holds a Ph.D. in American history from Columbia University, has taught United States intelligence history at George Mason University and has written a biography of Chief Justice John Marshall.

Contact details: Center for the Study of Intelligence, Washington DC 20005, USA

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