Secret History: The CIA's Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954

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Secret History: The CIA's Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954

Author: Nick Cullather
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Copyright: 1999
Pages: 200
Cover Price: $ 18.95

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In 1992, the Central Intelligence Agency hired the young historian Nick Cullather to write a history (classified “secret” and for internal distribution only) of the Agency’s Operation PBSUCCESS, which overthrew the lawful government of Guatemala in 1954. Given full access to the Agency’s archives, he produced a vivid insider’s account, intended as a training manual for covert operators, detailing how the CIA. chose targets, planned strategies, and organized the mechanics of waging a secret war. In 1997, during a brief period of open disclosure, the COA. declassified the history with remarkably few substantive deletions. The New York Times called it “an astonishingly frank account . . . which may be a high-water mark in the agency’s openness.

In the Cold War atmosphere of 1954, the U.S. State Department (under John Foster Dulles) and the CIA. (under his brother Allen Dulles) regarded Guatemala’s democratically elected leftist government as a Soviet beachhead in the Western Hemisphere. At the CIA’s direction, the government was overthrown and replaced by a military dictatorship installed by the Agency. This book tells, for the first time, how a disaster-prone operation—marked by bad planning, poor security, and incompetent execution—was raised to legendary status by its almost accidental triumph.

This early COA. covert operation delighted both President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers, and Allen Dulles concluded that the apparent success in Guatemala, despite a long series of blunders, made the venture a sound model for future operations. This book reveals how the legend of PBSUCCESS grew, and why attempts to imitate it failed so disastrously at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and in the Contra war in the 1980’s. The Afterword traces the effects of the coup of 1954 on the subsequent unstable politics and often violent history of Guatemala.

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Background Information

John Foster Dulles served as Secretary of State under President Eisenhower and advocated liberation rather than containment of worldwide Communism. The Central Intelligence Agency succeeded the Office of Strategic Services after World War II as the country's espionage service.