Operation Rollback

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Tue May 23 14:13:20 MDT 2000

New York Times, May 21, 2000

Operation Rollback: America's Secret War Behind the Iron Curtain
Houghton Mifflin

A study of the role of spies in the covert war against Communism.

(First Chapter: 'Operation Rollback':


Looking back at the cold war, Americans can rightly be proud of the policy
of containing the Soviet Union that was followed by every president from
Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan. It was steady, prudential and defensive, and
its most articulate spokesman was the diplomat George F. Kennan. Today
Kennan is probably best remembered as a scholar of Soviet affairs who
opposed the Vietnam War, who urged moderation in our dealings with Moscow
and whose elegantly written memoirs are invaluable to any understanding of
the postwar era.

But the Kennan of the 1940's was an enthusiastic cold warrior. While
serving in Moscow in 1946, he warned in his famous 8,000-word ''long
telegram'' to the State Department that the Soviet Union ''was committed
fanatically to the belief that with U.S. there can be no permanent modus
vivendi,'' that Moscow was determined to destroy ''our traditional way of

By 1947, according to Peter Grose's ''Operation Rollback,'' Kennan was back
in Washington and proposing a radical program of ''political warfare.'' He
wanted to employ sabotage, guerrilla tactics and propaganda behind the Iron
Curtain as a way of encouraging the local populations in Russia and the
Soviet bloc to rise up; at the very least, he intended to make trouble for
the Soviets.

Grose, the biographer of Allen Dulles, the director of central intelligence
under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, tells the riveting story of brave,
patriotic and staunchly anti-Communist Americans and refugees in their
struggle against the Soviet leviathan. He is fair-minded and sympathetic to
the intentions of these courageous men and women. But he also reveals the
ineptness, navete and folly of those who believed that anti-Communism alone
could overcome the conflicting ambitions and aspirations of the polyglot

After receiving authorization from the National Security Council, Kennan
and his staff started fashioning specific projects to undermine Communist
power in Eastern Europe through a variety of operations ''in which the
originating role of the United States government will always be kept
concealed.'' Since both the recently formed Central Intelligence Agency and
the Joint Chiefs of Staff were wary of engaging in sabotage or paramilitary
operations, the only alternative was to create a secret agency, the Office
of Policy Coordination. Neither officially under the control of the C.I.A.
nor part of the State Department, it hovered, as Grose puts it, ''with
little accountability, in between.'' This allowed the C.I.A. to assert that
it had not engaged in illicit subsidies, bribes and arms stockpiling,
''which may have been literally, though deceptively, true.'' Not until 1952
was the office folded into the C.I.A.

As Grose tells it, the use of refugees and displaced persons from the
Soviet bloc was a melancholy tale. In many instances, Soviet agents
infiltrated the training camps in Europe and reported their doings back to
Moscow; guerrilla warfare against the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe all
too often resulted in the capture and execution of these anti-Communist
warriors. In one notable example of Soviet retribution, the reports of the
notorious British spy Kim Philby, who in 1949 was stationed in the British
Embassy in Washington, brought about the arrest of resistance fighters
parachuted into Albania by the Office of Policy Coordination.

While the guerrilla and paramilitary operations were signal failures, the
activities of Radio Free Europe and the liberal anti-Communist Congress for
Cultural Freedom were relatively successful. Both groups were secretly
financed by the coordination office, but were presented to the public as
private organizations. Der Monat in Germany and Encounter magazine in
Britain were distinguished journals of opinion and perhaps would not have
survived if they had depended on private backing. (Without government
funding, the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has written, ''organizations
of the democratic left have no obvious and reliable sources of support.'')
But when the intellectuals who edited and wrote for these publications
found out that they were being duped by the American intelligence services,
a shadow was cast on the honesty of the anti-Communist intelligentsia. On
the other hand, had European intellectuals known the journals were financed
by the American intelligence services, many of them would most likely never
have agreed to be connected with them.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I myself was
employed as an editor on East Europe magazine in the late 1950's and early
60's. Published by the Free Europe Committee, the American arm of Radio
Free Europe, the monthly journal printed articles and news from behind the
Iron Curtain. I was unaware of any government financing, but shortly before
I left the magazine, I did hear rumors that the C.I.A. was somehow involved
with the committee. Nonetheless, the editors and writers, as far as I knew,
were never told what to write or how to write it.

Well before the end of the Eisenhower administration, the idea of
''rollback'' was abandoned; covert operations in the third world -- in Iran
and Guatemala and, under Kennedy, against Cuba -- were becoming the
preferred tools of American policy makers. In this same period, Grose
reveals, a 1956 presidential inquiry by two of the most respected veterans
of the cold war -- David Bruce and Robert Lovett -- made a judgment that
''undercut the entire concept of political warfare as it was played out
within the O.P.C. and C.I.A.''

The two elder statesmen declared: ''The C.I.A., busy, moneyed and
privileged, likes its 'kingmaking' responsibilities. The intrigue is
fascinating -- considerable self-satisfaction, sometimes with applause,
derives from 'successes' -- no charge is made for 'failures.' ''In a
devastating conclusion, the two authors asked plaintively, ''Should not
someone, somewhere in an authoritative position in our government . . . be
keeping in mind the long-range wisdom of activities which . . . are
responsible in a great measure for stirring up the turmoil and raising the
doubts about us that exist in many countries of the world today?''

Many years later George Kennan regretted his creation. ''The political
warfare initiative was the greatest mistake I ever made,'' he told a Senate
committee. ''It did not work out at all the way I had conceived it.''

(James Chace, who teaches international relations at Bard College, is the
author of a biography of Dean Acheson.)

Louis Proyect

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