A Brief History
On April 13, 1953, the US Central Intelligence Agency launched Project MKULTRA, attempting to learn how to use drugs and other techniques for the purpose of mind control. Unfortunately, the CIA did not help its reputation by using unsuspecting innocent people as human guinea pigs. Many secret agencies, whether for the purpose of international intrigue or homeland security, have brought fear and distrust upon themselves, whether deserved or not. Sometimes the fear is from people who richly deserve to be afraid, sometimes the fear is from innocent people. Here are 10 secret agencies infamous for either ruthlessness, bungling, deadly efficiency, disregard of law, or any combination of these.
10. Okhrana, Imperial Russia.
Serving Imperial Russia until the communist revolution, the Okhrana was the prototype for all the other Soviet and Russian secret police that followed. A feared unit using undercover agents to undermine trade unions and political opposition, they were not above killing people perceived to be enemies of the state. The secret police tradition did not die out with Imperial Russia, nor with the Soviet Union, and it lives today by another name in the Russian Federation.
9. Praetorian Guard, Rome.
We will include the Frumentarii along with the Praetorian Guard as they co-existed from 753 BCE to 476 CE, functioning as bodyguards and henchmen for the emperor, sometimes used to gather information or sent to do political dirty work. Unfortunately for Roman nobility, the so called body guards sometimes had their own agenda and several Roman emperors were killed by their own Praetorian Guard! The successor organization was the Agentes in Rebus, that operated from the 400’s to the 800’s CE in a more clandestine fashion, similar to modern agencies such as the Gestapo or KGB.
8. Office of Strategic Services, United States.
The OSS came to life during World War II and shortly after the war was disbanded by becoming the CIA. During the war the OSS engaged in all sorts of clandestine operations using American and foreign agents to sabotage enemy operations and gather intelligence, as well as spread misinformation. (Note: Most of these agencies also engage in spreading misinformation. So does the weatherman!) The OSS is remarkable for starting from scratch and making it up as they went along. Led by Maj. Gen. William Donovan, the OSS was also allegedly involved in assassinations.
7. National Security Agency, United States.
Unlike the portrayals on television and in the movies, the NSA does not have field agents killing people and blowing things up. They are an intelligence gathering agency that targets electronic, communication, and photographic intelligence. In the news recently for monitoring telephones and computers inside the borders of the US, the NSA has taken quite a step backwards in the public opinion.
6. Secret Intelligence Service, MI-6, United Kingdom.
Bond, James Bond. You would almost expect Miss Moneypenny to answer the phone if you called MI-6. The image of a dashing and debonair James Bond gives an unrealistic but aura of competence to the SIS. In existence for over 100 years, the British government only acknowledged the existence of MI-6 in 1994. A s with the “No Such Agency” in the US, the public had already heard of it.
5. SAVAK, Iran.
After being set up by the CIA for the Shah of Iran, the SAVAK only had from 1957 to 1979 to earn a miserable reputation as murderers and torturers. The fear and loathing inspired by the SAVAK certainly must have outweighed any good they did for the Shah, and this disgust had a lot to do with the revolutionary fervor that overthrew the Peacock Throne. Some of the atrocities alleged to have been inflicted on Iranians by the SAVAK include putting broken glass and pouring boiling water in victims’ rectums!
4. Mossad, Israel.
Not just intelligence gathering and counterintelligence, the Mossad apparently also works as a “hit squad” when needed. An example would be exacting revenge for the 1972 Munich Olympic terrorist slaughter of Israeli athletes, after which Mossad agents went around the globe searching for and killing the perpetrators. Since Israel does not acknowledge Mossad operations, every time some terrorist gets murdered the Mossad is blamed, only increasing its fear factor. When you answer your cell phone and it explodes taking your head with it, that may have been the Mossad!
3. Gestapo, Nazi Germany.
These goons in the black uniforms are pretty much the iconic image of what we think of when we think of secret police. The terror of German citizens who may have let slip a “defeatist” word or two, or perhaps spoke out against murdering the Jews, the Gestapo also terrorized the German occupied countries during World War II. Another short lived agency, their legacy will seemingly last forever as the most archetypical secret police organization. Now, sign zee papers old man…
2. KGB, Soviet Union.
Known in the Soviet Union as The Committee for State Security, who could question the purity of their motives? Similar to the CIA, FBI, and Secret Service rolled into one, the KGB was a worthy successor to the Russian and Soviet secret police and intelligence agencies that preceded it (including the Okhrana, Cheka, NKVD, and GRU). Known to use all the nifty spy gadgets that you would expect in a movie, such as hollowed out coins, poison pens and umbrella tips, secret cameras and microphones, hidden weapons and everything else a spy could want for Christmas, they were not above using heterosexual and homosexual sex traps to blackmail Westerners. The KGB is not really gone, or forgotten, just another name change. Oh, and that Putin guy causing all the trouble lately… he was KGB.
1. CIA, United States.
Not the oldest agency, but certainly the one that spends the most money. The CIA even had its own airline during the Viet Nam War. Supposedly not allowed to operate inside the United States, the CIA gathers intelligence (largely through HUMINT) and engages in counterintelligence overseas. Additionally, the CIA has operated training and paramilitary operations using foreign nationals in both counter-insurgency and in attempts to disrupt foreign governments. It is generally accepted that the CIA conducted various crackpot schemes against Fidel Castro in Cuba, trying to assassinate him with poisoned or exploding cigars or embarrassing him by making his hair fall out. The experiments they did on unsuspecting innocent civilians with LSD and other drugs and accusations of torture and murder continue to haunt “The Company.”
Question for students (and subscribers): Which agencies not listed here would you include? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please read…
Bamford, James. Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency. Anchor Books, 2002.