President Dwight David Eisenhower is perhaps best known for his policies and implementation of covert intelligence to better protect the United States. However, his policies were not always, especially from the outside, considered ethical, or even necessary, for the intelligence operations being run by the President’s operatives. With that said, a look will be taken into two case studies of President Eisenhower’s administration, and the results and actions will be analyzed as to their execution in regards to the doctrine of covert intelligence.
To begin with, the Eisenhower administration, like the Barak Obama administration now, had a lot of house cleaning to attend to. In the wake of the Truman administration, Eisenhower was left with many tough decisions which led into his fanatic employment of covert intelligence policies. His policies, which employed the CIA to act as secret operatives, using methods which are not always constitutional for gathering information, highlight Eisenhower as the first of many presidents to employ such tactics in an attempt to keep the United States as the super-power of the world.
The first case study that will be analyzed is President Eisenhower’s dealings in Iran during his first year in office. In an attempt to deal with a looming problem in Iran that began during Truman’s presidency, Eisenhower “authorized the CIA to deal with [the] problem. In 1951, the Iranian parliament nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, a British corporation that controlled the nation’s petroleum industry. The British retaliated with economic pressure that created havoc with Iran’s finances, but Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh refused to yield” (Miller Center of Public Affairs, 2009).
President Eisenhower understood the balance of power that was about to shift were Britain to gain control over the oil industry and knew that the United States had to become involved. To this end, Eisenhower authorized the CIA to help “overthrow Mossadegh’s government and restore the shah’s power” (Miller Center of Public Affairs, 2009). Moreover, it was because of this CIA operation that the United States gained an equal share of the Iranian oil industry, with the British, of course (Miller Center of Public Affairs, 2009).
And thus, it can be said that it is from this covert mission, the first, essentially of the Eisenhower administration, that sparked Eisenhower’s doctrine of covert intelligence. Indeed, what Eisenhower began during this year later became fodder for the Michael Moore documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” which remarked on the United States connection to Iranian oil, and the seemingly under-handed manner in which the relationship was conceived.
The second case study that will be analyzed occurred just a year after Eisenhower’s dealings in Iran where he gave the CIA permission to “overthrow the elected government of Guatemala. Eisenhower and his top advisers worried that President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was too willing to cooperate with local Communists, [at which point] U. S. fears reached new heights when Arbenz bought weapons from Communist Czechoslovakia after the administration cut off Guatemala’s access to U. S. military supplies” (Miller Center of Public Affairs, 2009).
Eisenhower was not a man to let his nation fall behind as the primary military power of the world and authorized the CIA to “drive Arbenz from power in June 1954. Guatemala appealed in vain to the United Nations, and administration officials denied that the United States had anything to do with the change in government in Guatemala” (Miller Center of Public Affairs, 2009). As always, Eisenhower took decisive action with his CIA operatives, but refused to acknowledge that any action had been taken once the media grew wise to the shifting of power.
Further, “many of the CIA’s early postwar targets, like Iran’s Mossadegh or Guatemala’s Arbenz, wanted, almost pleadingly, not to be enemies of the United States” (Johnson, 2007, p. 2). But Eisenhower was not a meek leader, and, “given the administration’s reluctance to engage in open unilateral action… the only way Eisenhower had left to oppose communism by force was through the secret operations of the Central Intelligence Agency” (Higgins, 1987, p. 19). Eisenhower knew that covert missions were the only way to achieve what he deemed necessary for the evolution of the United States.
Now, the above are just two examples in which Eisenhower employed covert intelligence (or, more succinctly, using the CIA as the final arbiters of truth and justice) for the gain of the United States. Moreover, neither of these cases has to do with the greater covert missions that happened after, when Eisenhower’s administration took full notice of the Russian threat and understood the true dimensions of the Cold War. According to Rositzke (1988), “the secret operations of the Central Intelligence Agency in the last thirty years have been part of America’s effort to cope with the reality of the Soviet Union.
During these years—the Cold War, the more temperate sixties, the uneven detente of today—Soviet power and Soviet intentions have transfixed Washington’s view of the world” (p. xxi). The Soviet had become so much of a threat that the covert tactics honed during previous missions became invaluable to the Eisenhower administration—not only were they able to keep tabs on the rogue country, but they were able to gain precious information (by torture, counterintelligence, etc) that helped turn the Cold War around.
Eisenhower “relied frequently on covert action to avoid having to take public responsibility for controversial interventions. He believed that the CIA, created in 1947, was an effective instrument to counter Communist expansion and to assist friendly governments. CIA tactics were sometimes unsavory, as they included bribes, subversion, and even assassination” (Miller Center of Public Affairs, 2009). But, Eisenhower fully believed in his actions, and that of the CIA, despite the unsavory side.
Moreover, he “authorized those actions, even as he maintained plausible deniability, that is, carefully concealing all evidence of U. S. involvement so that he could deny any responsibility for what had happened” (Miller Center of Public Affairs, 2009). Eisenhower was as clever as the CIA operatives that he employed and understood that sometimes devious and unseemly actions were the only ones that could be taken for the desired result. The truth is, that even in what the public has discovered of the reality of many of Eisenhower’s covert missions, the real truth may yet to be discovered.
In having to face the media, the Eisenhower administration worked hard to cover up the dark underbelly of the actual events, even going so far as to say that the CIA operated without presidential authority, or further, that there was no CIA involvement whatsoever. President Eisenhower is the first of many presidents to follow that understood, while the United States as a whole may have been against some of the missions, that the only means with which to secure a nation from outside threats was to employ unseemly tactics to gain intelligence.
And that meant that the CIA operatives had the authority to act as they saw fit, following their presidential orders to gain information in whatever manner possible—for the mission was United States intelligence. In the years that followed, “major American ‘secret’ operations, from Nicaragua and Angola to Cambodia and Afghanistan, were not very secret. They had become ‘overt’ covert action…[and] for its part the Regan administration regarded covert action as good policy and good domestic politics” (Johnson, 2007, p.
2) which essentially gave the government a reason to use the media to gain the trust of Americans. For, taking action was better than not taking any action at all—and further, taking action that could be deemed ‘covert’ gave weight to the ideal that the United States was a powerful nation that could not be fooled by other, lesser countries. Overall, President Eisenhower and his administration were responsible for the first undercover operations, sent to further the mission of United States intelligence.
His doctrine that formed on covert intelligence is nearly unparalleled in what he allowed his CIA operatives to accomplish without full disclosure to the citizens of the United States. And, further, as seen in the two case studies where Eisenhower first employed covert action, not only were the actions unseemly and devious, but they set into play the not-so covert actions that presidents employ today to keep the United States a super-power not only around the world, but within the minds of its citizens as well.
References. Higgins, Trumbull. (1987).The Perfect Failure: Kennedy, Eisenhower, and the CIA at the Bay of Pigs. New York: W. W. Norton. Johnson, Loch K. (2007). Strategic Intelligence: The Intelligence Cycle. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Publishing Group. Miller Center of Public Affairs. (2009). “Dwight David Eisenhower: (1890-1969). ” American President: An Online Reference Resource. Accessed June 23, 2009 http://millercenter. org/academic/americanpresident/eisenhower/essays/biography/5 Rositzke, Harry. (1988). The CIA’s Secret Operations: Espionage, Counterespionage, and Covert Action. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.