Theodore Shackley is one of the most infamous figures in the history of the CIA. His career in the CIA involved him in many of their most notorious operations. He recruited Nazis and traitors to spy on the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. He managed the covert war on Cuba from the Miami CIA station after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. There he formed links with many suspected of being involved with the JFK assassination both in organized crime and the CIA. He was chief of Station in Laos during a massive expansion of the dirty war there. Laos was also at the center of the international heroin trade which was used to finance the war. Next he became Chief of Station in Vietnam where he oversaw death squads, fixed elections, manipulated the media, and distorted intelligence to please the Nixon Administration. His next assignment was the Western Hemisphere division where he managed the destabilization of Chile and tried to stop Phillip Agee from revealing the Agency's many dirty dealings in Latin America. Next he was in charge of the Far Eastern Division while America finally lost its decades-long war in Asia with the fall of Saigon.
Shackley's career continued to rise; he was appointed Associate Deputy Director of Operations during George H. W. Bush's Infamous reign as DCI during 1976, overseeing a string of assassinations and terror attacks. Shackley had long been destined to head the CIA himself one day. "Unfortunately" the election of Jimmy Carter and his refusal to keep George Bush as CIA director would ruin Shackley's chances of heading the CIA. Together with Bush and Shackley's many loyal followers in the Agency they plotted the destruction of Jimmy Carter. Shackley began to operate his own privatized "off the books" intelligence network that would lead to a string of scandals: Nugan Hand, EATSCO, The Safari Club, Iran-Contra, and ultimately 9/11 itself. However despite this he became George H.W. Bush's speechwriter and adviser during his presidency.
I first became interested in Ted Shackley during my research on the Iran-Contra scandal, so you may find it useful to read that series of articles, particularly the first one from May 2016, Iran-Contra Part 1: The Secret Team, which introduces Shackley and his many partners in crime, and the fourth one from August 2016, Iran-Contra Part 4: WACL 2, which discusses the events of 1976 while Shackley was running operations for George H. W. Bush. Of course to do Shackley justice one would have to write a whole series of books and still one might fail, because Shackley was very good at covering his tracks. For Shackley and the CIA to ever speak the truth was treason pure and simple, and manipulating reporters while pretending to give them the "inside scoop" was one of both Shackley and the CIA's specialties. Shackley took much of America's true history with him to the grave. Therefore anything written on Shackley can only be a rough draft. We have no idea what secrets are still left to uncover. In that sense Shackley embodies America's secret history. Through studying his life we can uncover many episodes in the deep history of the United States but the full truth may never be known.
Shackley was an intensely secretive man. His personality was in many ways the opposite of the usual "cowboys" who carried out the covert operations for the CIA. Typically the "cowboys" were tough-talking, hard-drinking, and slightly reckless. Shackley was the opposite, a "suit" - private, hard working, introverted. Doug Valentine who interviewed him describes him as "a pale cold fish". He had a photographic memory and a ruthless ambition. He never questioned the why of it all, he just carried out the mission in his intense obsessive way. He worked 15-hour days, sometimes working for 48 hours during a crisis. He inspired fierce loyalty but could be treacherous to his friends. He rarely talked about himself and became the object of strange rumors and legends. Some said he was an orphan adopted and raised by the CIA. Shackley didn't debunk the legend because he was slightly ashamed of his actual origins.
Of course even before World War 2 was ended the next war World War 3, or the Cold War as it is more commonly known, was already beginning. In October 1945 Shackley joined the military and was assigned to the counter-intelligence corps or CIC, arriving in Germany April 13, 1946. What exactly he did during this period remains a mystery. He recruited spies and Nazis in the displaced persons camps. He was sent to train at the European Intelligence School in Oberammergau in Southern Germany. Daniel Sheehan claims that Shackley was assigned to be the personal translator and deputy to the infamous Nazi Spy Chief Reinhardt Gehlen, but I wasn't able to find the source of this rumor in my weeks of research. Details on this period of his career are hard to come by because it would expose America's alliance with the Nazis that sparked the Cold War, as I discussed in my June 2014 article Nazis and the CIA. Thus whether he was merely a novice case officer or was involved in something more sinister remains to be revealed. However we do know that he was promoted quickly. Eventually Shackley left the army and went to the University of Maryland, turning down Princeton to go to the same school as a high school friend, Norman Hamer. He studied history, ran for class president, losing in a landslide. The summer before his senior year he married his high school sweetheart Betts Brown. Upon graduating early in January 1951 he planned to go to law school but he was in the army reserve and was called up because of the Korean War. Shackley was an MP for a couple months and managed to get recruited into the CIA because of his language skills and experience with military intelligence.
After going to the "Farm", as the CIA training camp was nicknamed, he returned to Germany where William Harvey would later become the Berlin COS (Chief of Station). Harvey, who had been recruited out of the FBI and was a tough-talking, cigar-chomping, overweight man, liked Shackley because he didn't have the elite upbringing of the OSS (the predecessor to the CIA) types like Allen Dulles or James Jesus Angleton. Shackley would become Harvey's protege. Shackley was assigned to Nuremburg where he worked under another of the most infamous CIA officers, Lucien Conein, who had joined the Corsican Mafia, advised Ho Chi Minh, would later give the green light to the coup against Diem in Vietnam, would explain the politics of heroin in Southeast Asia to Alfred McCoy, later running a DEA hit squad composed of Cuban exiles. Shackley recruited agents to spy and wage covert war on the socialist world. It was a futile effort; almost every agent they sent in was captured and executed or sent to prison. Still, since he was hard working and eager to please, his superiors singled him out for promotion.
In 1955 he would transfer to the Berlin Station, then the biggest and most important CIA station in the world. Before Shackley's arrival Walter Potocki, who had been handling Czechoslovakia for 3 years, was promised he would be promoted to head the Czechoslovakia task force. He went home on leave and returned to discover that Shackley had been appointed to head all the satellite countries including Czechosolvakia. Shackley would be in charge of the CIA efforts in all the "satellite" countries, the Warsaw pact countries liberated by the Soviet Union during the war and retained as a buffer because of America's aggressive moves, like rearming West Germany, which while given a P.R. rebranding as "Democratic" was actually run by the same fascists from Hitler's reign - men like Reinhardt Gehlen. Or the West's covert wars in Albania, Poland, the Ukraine and anywhere else they could stir up trouble. Or the constant threats to nuke the USSR. Of course this is no place to begin the long overdue rewriting of the origins of the "Cold War", but it is amazing that 70 years later people are still accepting Cold War propaganda as history. Of course for men like Shackley these myths served to justify whatever crimes they would commit all done in the name of stopping a monolithic international communist conspiracy to conquer the world. Yet an accurate retelling of these years would focus on America's alliance with fascism and its endless aggressive bullying and lies directed against Russia, China, and anyone else who dared to defy them. It was the CIA's jobs to feed these lies into the government back home and it had its fascist agents manufacture a constant stream of disinformation about an impending Russian invasion.
Recruiting agents, spreading lies and disinformation were among Shackley's main duties. He managed to get a communist Slovak leader fired by framing him as a former collaborator with the Nazis. He worked with former Nazis. He ran cross border raids. The CIA decided he had management talent. He was sent back to CIA headquarters in Washington to manage the Czechoslovakia desk. While in Berlin Shackley and his wife's marriage fell apart because of Shackley's overwork. He fell in love with CIA secretary Hazel Burson, a lower-ranking CIA man John Burson's wife. Hazel, a Native American, and Shackley began an affair, meeting in CIA safe houses to conduct their adulterous romance. Shackley even had John Burson transfered so he and Hazel could spend more time together. Shackley broke up his marriage in a typically cold and cruel manner. They got divorced in 1960 and Shackley and Hazel would later marry. She was an adventurous woman moving with him to Laos with their daughter. Interestingly a CIA man once joked that it was Hazel not Ted who had the makings of a criminal mastermind, so she doubtless played her own largely unknown role in America's deep history.
Peter Dale Scott points out that at least 5 of Shackley's Miami associates - David Morales, Frank Ragano (Trafficante's lawyer), Howard Hunt, Dave Phillips, and John Martino - boasted of a role in the JFK assassination, although he warns that these admissions could be part of a disinformation campaign. Still, David Morales, a veteran of the coup against Arbenz in Guatemala and Shackley's liason to the mob in Miami and Laos, would brag, "I was in Dallas when we got that motherf***er [JFK] and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard [RFK]." Shackley grew to hate Robert Kennedy, who was supervising the covert war on Cuba and would constantly berate the CIA for their poor performance in the most insulting terms. Ed Lansdale had created Task Force W (named for American mercenary William Walker, who had made himself dictator of Nicaragua during the 19th century). Lansdale filled the Kennedys' heads with unrealistic expectations, promising to mount a full-scale coup in Cuba by October 1962. A legendary figure for his exploits in the 50's within the CIA, by the 60's Lansdale had become despised as an out of touch meddler whose overoptimistic brainstorming had become dangerously out of touch with reality.
While in Miami Shackley staged the first of his big betrayals. The ambitious Shackley didn't need the hard-drinking Harvey anymore and started telling RFK dirt on his former mentor and taking credit for Harvey's accomplishment, eventually getting him fired. It was in Miami that Shackley met another of the most notorious CIA agents in history, Desmond Fitzgerald, an old OSS vet from China who had been deeply involved in the CIA alliance with the fascist drug dealers of the KMT and the Mafia. Allied to William Pawley and Paul Helliwell, Fitzgerald set up a global drug-smuggling network as part of Operation Paper. Shackley had already befriended Helliwell before Harvey was fired. Now Fitzgerald, Harvey's replacement, selected Shackley as his protege setting him on the path to head the CIA one day.
Although he was merely following orders from the Kennedy White House, it was Shackley's ever-intensifying terror campaign that would provoke the Soviets into sending nuclear missiles to Cuba to prevent what they saw as the steadily mounting threat of invasion. Shackley liked to claim his agents were the first to discover the missiles, but since they had sent so many false reports about missiles they were ignored until the reports were confirmed by a U2 flight. In reality the intelligence on the misslies came from interviewing newly arrived exiles, not Shackley's spy network. The covert war on Cuba had nearly caused a nuclear war. It was also the moment when all the gossip Shackley had passed Robert Kennedy finally cost Harvey his job. The Kennedys' promised to end the covert war on Cuba in exchange for the withdrawal of the missiles but they merely moved the bases to Central America and slowly began to escalate the war again, now under Fitzgerald's management. Shackley also began working with the shadowy William Pawley and authorized Pawley's infamous raid on Cuba during which he bragged that JFK would be eliminated. After the assassination of JFK, Shackley helped with the coverup and spread rumors blaming the Russians and Cubans for the rest of his life. Whatever Shackley knew he never revealed.
Perhaps the most important contact Shackley would make in Miami was with Thomas Clines. They had first met in Germany but it was in Miami that Clines would take on his role as Shackley's right-hand man. Unlike the cold Shackley, the fast-talking Clines was likeable and despite Clines' initial dislike of Shackley he would carry out his will for decades. Clines became, as David Corn calls him, Shackley's shadow. Clines would carry out Shackley's dirty work in Miami, Laos, Australia, Iran, Egypt and many other places. The two names Shackley and Clines would be linked to many of the scandals of the 1970's and 1980's from Nugan Hand, to Eatsco, Iraqgate, culminating in Iran-Contra. Clines was merely the most prominent of a network of Shackley loyalists whom he promised to help advance as he climbed the ladder at the CIA.
No doubt thanks to his connections to the Desmond Fitzgerald, Paul Helliwell, and William Pawley trio, Shackley would be assigned to the heroin-funded dirty war in Laos after being briefly sent back to Berlin in 1965 to rebuild spy networks disrupted by the Berlin Wall (Shackley announced on his return to Berlin, "I am here to tear down this wall). Shackley was assigned as Chief of Station in Laos in July 1966. There he would run the massive CIA dirty war in the country. Laos was a tiny landlocked country of only 3 million people. The CIA had pushed the country into a civil war because it would not tolerate a neutral Laos under Souvana Phouma. This forced the left-leaning Pathet Lao to take up arms to defend themselves after the CIA launched a right-wing coup attempt backing Phoumi Nosavan. The coup backfired, provoking a neutralist coup by Kong Le. The history of Laos is far too complex to go into here, with a long series of coups and counter-coups often aimed at controlling the heroin trade. In Laos there was a coup attempt every year. The CIA backed the Royal Laotian Army against the Pathet Lao but because of their poor performance the CIA also relied increasingly on the Hmong. Hmong meant "mankind" in their language but the CIA frequently called them the Meo which means barbarians in Chinese. The Hmong were similar in some ways to the Native Americans; the Hmong had a rich culture and had lived self-sufficiently on their sacred lands until the French in the form of Col. Roger Trinquier recruited them to fight the Viet Minh and began to market the opium that they grew to finance their war effort. It was known as Operation X. After the French lost Indochina the CIA man Bill Lair (a veteran of Thailand, where he trained the drug-linked police death squads) in December 1960 had taken over the French role, meeting with General Vang Pao and using his Hmong as guerrilla troops. The Hmong called the CIA the sky people since they were flown in by Air America pilots bringing rice, advisers and weapons and taking out opium. Eventually the CIA would bring in heroin labs to the Hmong lands, boosting the value of the drug trade in Laos and insuring the profits ended up funding the dirty war in Laos. The decision of their ambitious leader Vang Pao to turn his entire people into CIA mercenaries would have disastrous consequences for them.
Shackley sought to turn the Hmong from a guerrilla force into a conventional army, a policy that would lead them to destruction. They were tough fighters but didn't have the numbers to survive the massive casualties from trying to battle the NVA head on, who of course were also tough fighters. Thus many CIA vets in Laos who had lived with and grown attached to the Hmong came to hate Shackley. Actually Shackley himself grew to like the Hmong and would serve as their patron after the war. But this didn't stop him from sacrificing them as pawns in a geopolitical game of chess. He knew all his bosses cared about was Vietnam next door. As more and more Hmong died fighting the CIA dirty war the recruits got younger and younger; soon there were 13-year-olds fighting on the front lines. Shackley oversaw a massive bombing campaign in the plain of jars, bombing defenseless villages and turning the whole area into a wasteland. Shackley oversaw a number of military disasters in Laos. There was his plan to lure the enemy into battle at Nam Bac; his advisers warned him the plan was dangerous - the geography made it easy for the force stationed there to be surrounded from the ring of mountains. Shackley went through with the plan anyways, sending a huge force in to provoke a battle but they ended up surrounded, crushed and fleeing in a rout. It was a Laotian Dien Bien Phu and became known as "Shackley's Folly." He also lost the secret radar base on sacred Hmong Land at Phou Pha Ti surrounded by fields of opium. It was used to direct bombing raids into North Vietnam and was manned by American troops under civilian cover, most of whom were killed when the base was captured.
In addition to escalating the level of death and destruction in Laos, Shackley also played a role in the global drug trade. Shackley himself admits that he "looked the other way"; after all both the CIA-backed Laotian Generals of the Royal Army like Ouane Rattikone and Phoumi Nosvan as well as Vang Pao's Hmong were deeply tied to the drug trade. Of course it was the CIA that had backed their rise to power in the first place. But while the exact degree of Shackley's involvement in the global drug trade is unclear, he definitely did more than just look the other way. He brought in his loyalists Thomas Cline and Dave Morales and assigned them to bases central to the drug trade. Clines became Vang Pao's chief adviser while Morales was assigned to the infamous base at Pakse where Air America flew out heroin. Both had worked with the Mafia in Miami and Santo Trafficante their old friend was soon flooded with Laotian heroin. CIA veteran Victor Marchetti claimed that Shackley managed to run most of the Laos war off the books. He told Author Joseph Trento
We were officially spending $27 million a year on the war in Laos while Shackley was there. The war was costing ten times that amount. It was no secret how they were doing it: they financed it with drugs they gave Shackley a medal for it.Shackley's most dramatic connection to the drug trade was when he intervened in the Laotian "Opium War" in 1967. As Richard Secord admitted to Douglas Valentine, Shackley though Patry Loomis had Richard Secord bomb a Thai-based group of KMT who were battling Rattikone over a 16-ton opium caravan, ensuring that the Laotian generals would have the right to tax the opium trade and the profits would fund the secret war in Laos. Although the war in Laos would prove a disaster for the empire with the Pathet Lao victorious in 1975 while Shackley was there, it was viewed as a major success story. Before he left in October 1968 he got massively drunk at a fairwell party with Vang Pao and his Hmong, a rare moment of letting loose for the tightly controlled Shackley. By the time Shackley left Laos 40,000 Hmong had died as a result of being used as cannon fodder and being bombed by their American allies.
Shackley's next assignment in 1968 was as Chief of Station in Saigon, which had become the largest and most important CIA station in the world. It was in the wake of the Tet Offensive when the NLF launched a massive offensive which while costly in casualties dealt the Americans a psychological blow they never recovered from, leading Kennedy's successor Lyndon Baines Johnson to cancel his re-election campaign. Shackley arrived in Vietnam to attempt to improve American Intelligence in the wake of the Tet Offensive. He also sought to shift responsibility for the Phoenix Program onto the military while still secretly maintaining CIA control. Military advisers were brought in to replace CIA advisers who were then freed up to focus on trying to penetrate the NLF infrastructure. Shackley was a demanding boss and an absolute control freak. He was a numbers man, always demanding quantifiable results and setting ever rising qoutas for reports or "neutralizations." He rode to work every day chauffeured in an armored car with a pistol in his briefcase. The NLF were actually far better at spying then the Americans and had bombed CIA headquarters under one of Shackley's predecessors as chief of station. They had also heavily penetrated the South Vietnamese government and military with an estimated 30,000 spies. Shackley tried to improve counter-intelligence but the size of the problem was so huge that he usually found it wiser to cover up the problem than risk the embarrassment exposing America's South Vietnamese allies would cause. However, with South Vietnamese President Thieu's permission one high-level spy ring was busted. Meanwhile despite all the pressure Shackley put on the CIA officers he was managing they failed to develop many high-level spies in the communist ranks. The major exception being an agent code named HACKLE who provided high-level intelligence on NLF and NVA intentions.
Of course Shackley was smart enough to know was that what the bosses wanted back home was not accurate intelligence but cheerful news that would make it appear Nixon and Kissinger's strategy was paying off. Valuable reports that painted a bleak picture never made it out of Saigon while reports that made it seem the war was going well were quickly forwarded to Washington. Above all Shackley's goal was to make the CIA and himself appear highly successful. He cultivated a circle of reporters that he could rely on to print the lies he told them. He brought over Cuban exiles like Felix Rodriguez who served under Donald Gregg, who would go on to supervise Iran-Contra for VP Bush. Meanwhile Shackley himself had yet to be mentioned in the press and was completely unknown to the general public. This was despite the fact that he was among the 4 most powerful Americans in the country along with Ambassador Bunker, General Abrams, and Bill Colby, head of CORDS, a cover for the Phoenix Program and other "pacification" schemes.
However, this would slowly change as Shackley was involved in his first major scandal. This was the so called Green Beret murder trial. A former CIA officer serving with Special Forces Alvin Smith had befriended his translator Thai Khac Chuyen but then suspected him of being a double agent for the NLF. A bunch of South Vietnamese collaborators had quit working for Smith because they suspected Chuyen. Then he found a photo that his often over-active imagination believed was of Chuyen posing with a bunch of NLF years earlier. He decided to tell his fellow special forces and they went to the CIA for advice; they wanted them to lock him up on a secret island or somewhere where he couldn't talk to the South Vietnamese - the CIA refused to help denying they had their own prisons. The CIA Phoenix Program prisons called PICS were run by the South Vietnamese Special Branch police but the truth is they just didn't think Chuyen was important enough to bother going to the trouble. Instead the special forces received an unofficial green light to just kill Chuyen from one of Shackley's proteges, Harold Chipman, who foolishly brought Shackley's name into it, saying, "Shack won't mind; he carried out 250 political murders in Laos." Unfortunately for the Green Berets, when they kept badgering the CIA for permission to kill Chuyen they were leaving an embarrassing paper trail. They should have merely killed Chuyen in secret, Shackley felt. The Green Berets waited for word back and finally decided that no word back was in itself permission; they killed Chuyen and made it look like he had been sent on a mission to Cambodia. They were shocked to discover a telegram the next day from Shackley warning them not to kill Chuyen and threatening to turn them in to their superiors.
Whether Shackley was merely covering himself or whether he had his own reasons for stirring up trouble between General Abrams, head of the military in Vietnam, and the Green Berets is unclear. But despite Shackley's efforts the CIA was nearly drawn into the case, an outrage to CIA old-timers who believed they were above the law. Meanwhile the Green Berets and their commander nearly ended up in prison for killing a single double agent in a war that had killed millions. Of course Chuyen refused to confess despite a polygraph and being drugged with sodium pentothal. Was he merely a traitor working for the Americans and caught up in a misunderstanding, or a heroic secret agent spying on the American Special Forces for the NLF, or perhaps an opportunist trying to work both sides? Circumstantial evidence suggested that he really was spying for the NLF. All we know is that he and his wife deeply loved each other. But regardless of whatever sympathy I felt for Chuyen, it still seemed an absurd level of hypocrisy - while the CIA was running a mass assassination program that killed 30-60,000 people and the military was engaged in indiscriminate mass slaughter that killed millions - to hold a murder trial for 16 men accused of killing 1 man. On the other hand a trial might have been a valuable way of exposing some of the uglier aspects of the war in Vietnam like the Phoenix Program. And the Special Forces men charged had probably done all sorts of terrible things in the past. Of course the special forces themselves saw it as pure hypocrisy and by dragging the CIA into it they managed to get the charges dropped eventually thanks to orders from President Nixon himself, who had enjoyed watching the whole episode make CIA director Richard Helms squirm. Shackley came to regret sending the memo when Chipman's remarks involving him were aired at the secret hearing and Chipman made even more embarrassing admissions when testifying. Luckily for Shackley the press never mentioned him by name despite knowing who he was.
Shackley's move to Vietnam did not mean he gave up his major activities from Laos. He would be closely linked to the Vietnamese generals who controlled the heroin traffic in the country. He would oversee the PRU death squads through his subordinates; tens of thousands would be kidnapped, tortured and assassinated under his watch. He fixed the Vietnamese elections for President Thieu while also bugging his presidential palace. He would play a major role in supervising the bloodbath in Vietnam that would kill millions.
As head of the Far East division Shackley would befriend and dig up blackmail dirt on future president and long-time deep cover CIA officer George H. W. Bush. Bush had been appointed Ambassador to China where he worked closely with Shackley ally and CIA station chief in Beijing James Lilley. While in China Bush and Lilley managed to recruit the future leader of China Deng Xiaoping as an agent, in an amazingly little discussed episode of history. Bush and Shackley had a strange relationship; it is difficult to establish which of the two was in control of the other. Shackley would, during the Bush/Reagan years, carry out Bush's secret orders, carrying out off the books intelligence operations that would culminate in Iran-Contra and eventually lead to 9/11. Of course the most important developments while Shackley was head of the Far Eastern division were the final liberation of Vietnam and Laos in 1975. The mighty empire had finally been defeated; Shackley watching the scene on his TV with his daughter wept.
It was a busy time for Shackley. Earlier he had helped cover up CIA foreknowledge of the Watergate break-in and "the plumbers" dirty tricks. CIA dirty tricks in Thailand provoked riots. In Australia Shackley and Clines were deeply involved with Nugan Hand, a bank used to launder drug money and fund arms deals. The bank was run by two Shackley associates, Bernard Houghton, a former CIA Station chief in Thailand, and Green Beret Michael Hand, plus Frank Nugan, a shady Australian businessman. Shackley used the bank to fund a soft coup against the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. Whitlam had tried to stop Australian intelligence from helping the CIA overthrow Allende in Chile, and had criticized the war on Vietnam. Nugan Hand Bank was used to fund a smear campaign while back at Langley Shackley warned Australian Intel to do something about Whitlam or be kicked out of the 5 Eyes spy club. (The US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.) Whitlam would be overthrown by a legalistic coup similar to the one in Brazil this year; Shackley's secret message had worked. The Nugan Hand scandal would later erupt when Frank Nugan was found dead in 1980. Luckily for Shackley the US media refused to cover the massive network of corruption, arms dealing, drug trafficking and money laundering the Australians managed to uncover.
Nobody has proven Shackley personally was enriching himself with his involvement with the drug trade in Laos and Vietnam. However, perhaps because of Shackley's relationship with Edwin Wilson whom he ranough Clines (and who had managed to get rich managing CIA front companies), Shackley and Clines now began to get greedy. Or perhaps it was simply being posted back in the US on a government salary after living like a king in Laos and Vietnam. Wilson had a multimillion-dollar estate and was allied to powerful Republican lobbyists like Robert Keith Grey. Ed Wilson was another of the CIA's most infamous officers. Shackley would eventually betray Wilson and have him sent to prison so that he and Clines could gain control of Wilson's arms dealing empire. From this period on Shackley became involved in the world of privatized off the books operations. Wilson helped them set up Eatsco fronting a half a million dollars to set up a company to profit off the arms deals Egypt received in exchange for Sadat's treacherous peace deal with Israel. Sadat himself would end up assassinated as part of the EATSCO scandal, propelling the corrupt Mubarak to power, who wanted Sadat dead to hide all the bribes he was getting as part of EATSCO. Sadat's assassination also cleared the way for the later Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The fall of the Shah may well have been part of Shackley and Bush's plot to topple president Carter, as Iranian researcher Fara Mansoor has revealed. This is what is known as the Deep October Surprise.
What is certain is that Shackley's friends like Von Marbod and Richard Secord were deeply involved in all sorts of shady dealings in Iran during this time along with former CIA Director Richard Helms. Wilson's activities in Libya were closely tied in with the schemes in Iran. He sold arms to the Libyans both to make a profit and to get close enough to spy on them. The Libyans were training the Iranian Revolutionaries and Wilson spied on them for SAVAK, Iranian intelligence. He supplied their names and SAVAK assassinated them once they left Libya. Libya also was an ally of Russia so Wilson was able to steal Russian weapons secrets. He believed he was working for Shackley and the CIA while behind the scenes Shackley plotted his downfall, leaking a distorted version of Wilson's activities to the press labeling him a rogue and encouraging prosecutor Larry Barcella to pursue him. Wilson had made the mistake of turning down Shackley for a $100,000 "loan" and in revenge Shackley had Wilson framed and stole his whole arms dealing business. He and Clines would make millions.
This was also the period when infamous Counter-Intelligence Chief James Jesus Angleton was finally fired in 1974. His legendary paranoia had inadvertently protected the Soviet Union since Angleton believed every agent recruited and every defector was a fake sent by the USSR. He paralyzed the CIA with his endless mole hunts. He also controlled the domestic drug trade on behalf of the CIA through men like the infamous former communist Jay Lovestone. But for Shackley the most important thing was that Angleton had been the Israelis' liaison to the CIA. With Angleton out Shackley called and offered his services to Israel; he would be their friend in the CIA. Although they didn't trust him like their long-time ally Angleton, they agreed. Shackley started sharing intelligence and through Clines had Wilson unwittingly spying for them in Libya and Egypt in addition to spying for the CIA.
In January 1976 Shackley's friend George H. W. Bush was appointed DCI (head of the CIA). He soon appointed Shackley the Associate Deputy Director of Operations. Shackley's supposed boss William Wells was a mere figurehead; Shackley was in charge of all covert operations. Shackley's Cubans formed CORU that same year and engaged in a global terror campaign, blowing up a Cuban airliner and assassinating the former Chilean Ambassador and Pinochet critic Orlando Letelier along with American Ronni Moffit a few blocks from the Capitol in Washington, DC. Bush helped cover that one up. John Rosselli was found dead in a barrel that same year after testifying about the CIA-mob connection to the House Committee on Assassinations and William Harvey died of a heart attack. Harvey's death was probably purely natural causes; he was an elderly overweight alcoholic after all - I just find the timing interesting. Rosselli was clearly murdered and Bush saved Shackley from having to answer any questions by refusing to reveal to the police who had been COS in Miami on November 22, 1963. This is another aspect of Shackley's career that will remain unknown, but he is widely rumored to have had a number of people murdered to cover up the many scandals he was involved in. Gene Wheaton claimed Shackley's crew had killed at least 17 US citizens to cover up their crimes. Talking about Shackley or his Secret Team friends could get you killed.
Carter's win in the presidential race would ruin Bush and Shackley's plans for the future. Bush practically begged Carter to let him stay on as DCI; he loved his job. Carter refused; Bush resigned on inauguration day and vowed his revenge. It was like a real life "House of Cards", the original British version not the over-rated bloated American remake inspired by the Clintons. Shackley and his allies within the CIA would work to undermine the Carter administration from within. Meanwhile Bush plotted his presidential run while running a shady BCCI-connected London bank for the Safari Club. The Safari Club was formed to get around congressional oversight after the CIA was forbidden from funding the covert war in Angola after Fidel Castro sent thousands of Cuban soldiers to successfully stop a South African invasion in support of UNITA, which hoped to topple the MPLA from power. Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Iran (before the fall of the Shah), France, and Israel formed the Safari club to do the CIA's dirty work for them while they were being investigated by Congress. Through Shackley Bush used the Safari club to fund illegal wars across the planet. Their biggest effort was in Afghanistan, which replaced Southeast Asia as the new center of the global heroin trade. Thus the Safari Club would eventually lead to 9/11 and Shackley's off the books operation would lead to the war on terror. Though Shackley died in 2002 his activities in the 70's and 80's would have consequences which would outlive him. BCCI, the so-called outlaw bank, would be formed in response to the collapse of Nugan Hand and would carry on the role of laundering drug money and funding illegal weapons deals.
Carter appointed Navy Admiral Stansfield Turner as the new CIA director. Shackley's plot to betray Wilson managed to cost him his chances of promotion under Turner. Turner was outraged when he read about the "rogue" agent Edwin Wilson and to later discover Shackley's "friendship" with Wilson. He had been brought in to clean up the CIA and Shackley seemed to embody everything he was trying to stop. Ironically Shackley was himself the one who had leaked the story to the press. Turner removed Shackley from his post as Associate Director of Operations in February 1978, transferring Shackley to NITC, an intelligence fusion center that linked the CIA, NSA, DIA, military intelligence and the intelligence services of America's allies. This enraged Shackley and his supporters. On the other hand, the new job allowed him carry out his work on behalf of the Safari network, especially Israel and the Saudis. However, when his boss at NITC quit and Turner refused to promote him, Shackley decided it was time to "retire." In reality he merely switched to managing a privatized parallel CIA in the service of George H. W. Bush.
To fully do justice to the second half of Shackley's career will require a completely separate article which I hope to write one day. But even before Shackley had left CIA all the seeds had been planted that would bloom into a jungle of scandals. Shackley's immediate mission was to destroy Carter. With his ally Michael Ledeen he seduced Jimmy Carter's brother Billy into making a deal with the Libyans to help them get some planes they were owed. They then revealed it to the press, creating the "Billygate" scandal. Shackley had his friends in the CIA hide what was going on in Iran and Afghanistan so Carter would be caught by surprise. Carter was surrounded by treacherous allies of Shackley like Zbigniew Brzezinski whom Shackley had recruited into the CIA in the 1960's. Another valuable Shackley ally was Donald Gregg, who provided the information allowing Reagan/Bush to sabotage Carter's hostage deal, the "October Surprise." Carter lost the 1980 election.
Reagan came to power in 1981. Even before that Shackley and Clines were organizing the Contras. They set up a series of front companies like API and Research Associates International, a privatized CIA. They were in business with shady Iranian businessman and Israeli spy Albert Hakim which would evolve into the Iran arms deals. Once Reagan was in office these activities would expand, leading to the Iran-Contra scandal involving Shackley and a whole host of his allies from Berlin, Miami, Laos, and Vietnam that Daniel Sheehan dubbed the "Secret Team" . Now once again they would fund a dirty war thru the drug trade, waging a terror campaign like the one Shackley had run against Cuba directed against Nicaragua and managed by familiar names like Donald Gregg and Felix Rodriguez (who had also worked on Operation Condor in Argentina in the meantime). They also waged a Vietnam-style Phoenix program in Guatemala and El Salvador where almost 200,000 would die as part of the dirty war.
Shackley had helped popularize the blueprint for the many covert wars Reagan would wage in the 1980's which I cataloged in my article Iran-Contra pt 2 World War 3. Not only did Shackley give lectures demanding the US wage a global counterinsurgency war, he even wrote a book about it for a general audience called The Third Option, which he dedicated to the "Meo." Although too controversial to be named DCI, Shackley would be brought in to secretly completely restructure military intelligence. He would also oversee the creation of JSOC, the special forces command, with General Stillwell. Shackley was not only at the center of managing the whole Iran-Contra network, the "Secret Team", he also set in motion the scandal itself when he met with Manucher Ghorbanifar, who told Shackley about a possible arms-for-hostages deal with Iran. Shackley then passed the info to his old friend Michael Ledeen who sold the idea to the White House. Despite this fact, Shackley pretended he had nothing to do with Iran-Contra. Amusingly his CIA-published Autobiography claims he was falsely accused of complicity in Iran-Contra and Shackley chose to remain silent about the entire shadowy second half of his career from the mid 1970's onwards in the book.
In addition to Nugan-Hand, EATSCO, the Safari Club, BCCI, and Iran-Contra, Shackley would also work for a shady South African billionaire during the 1980's, aiding Apartheid South Africa. I assume he met him through his Israeli friends in the Safari Club, since Africa was seemingly the only continent in which Shackley was not deeply involved, although as ADDO during 1976 he supervised the war on Angola along with all the other covert operations the CIA was running. Thanks to his friend Bush, Shackley picked up a lucrative contract in Kuwait worth tens of millions. Through the Safari Club and EATSCO Shackley was deeply involved in funding the dirty war on Afghanistan, a country very similar to Laos, as Peter Dale Scott has observed. Shackley the Cold Warrior would thus help give birth to the war on Terror. He was also a key figure in getting the CIA into the "War on Drugs" as a means of controlling the global drug trade. Shackley would oversee the CIA recruitment of numerous drug lords as agents which gave them complete protection from the DEA, which Shackley infiltrated and sabotaged from within. Shackley would use his privatized intelligence agency to help loot eastern Europe on behalf of western oil companies. He also strongly advocated that the CIA rely increasingly on business executives as a cover and it is doubtful whether he ever truly left the CIA at all. When Bush managed to become president, Shackley was one of his closest advisers and even his main speechwriter. While his friend Thomas Clines would serve a short prison sentence, and Ed Wilson would be locked up for decades, Ted Shackley emerged relatively unscathed. Thanks to Daniel Sheehan's Christic Institute lawsuit, a slightly exaggerated version of his career would become known to those who closely followed the case, enraging Shackley. However, despite years of murders, coups, assassinations, terrorist attacks, drug dealing, arms dealing, dirty wars, and treachery, Shackley would never pay any real penalty. Instead he became a wealthy and highly influential figure close to the center of power. He died in 2002. His schemes to reorganize the CIA were later adopted in 2006 with the creation of a Director of National Intelligence to replace the DCI position. Today the CIA is more powerful than ever with even more secrecy and impunity then in Shackley's day. Privatized intelligence has also massively expanded, becoming a multi-billion dollar industry involved in funding terror attacks, drug dealing, human trafficking and many other crimes. Today we all live in the world Theodore Shackley helped build.
My main source was David Corn's The Blonde Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades. It is a must read for anyone interested in Shackley, but it fails to dig deeply into the second half of Shackley's career.
Prelude to Terror: Edwin P. Wilson and the Legacy of America's Private Intelligence Network by Joseph J. Trento digs much more deeply into Shackley's career and should be read by anyone interested in the origins of 9/11.
I read Shackley's autobiography Spymaster: My Life in the CIA by Ted Shackley with Richard A Finney, which is of course a self-serving whitewash but is still interesting reading.
For the definitive account of the Phoenix Program read The Phoenix Program by Douglas Valentine, who interviewed Shackley, Clines, and Secord for the book. All his books are a must read for anyone interested in the CIA and the war on drugs. TDY a novel paints a vivid picture of Laos. Strength of the Wolf and Strength of the Pack tell the true story of the fake war on drugs.
I relied heavily on another one of my favorites, American War Machine: Deep Politics, The CIA Global Drug Connection and the Road to Afghanistan by Peter Dale Scott. I also recommend his Iran-Contra Connection: Secret Teams and Covert Operations in The Reagan Era.
For more on the Green Beret murder case, read A Murder in Wartime: The Untold Spy Story that Changed the Course of the Vietnam War by Jeff Stein.
I also read Manhunt: The Incredible Pursuit of a CIA Agent Turned Terrorist by Peter Maas who intentionally covered up Ed Wilson's relation to the CIA and provides a misleading account.
Doug Valentine is the world's leading expert on the CIA. Here is a link to his new book available now in E-Book and will be out in hardcover by Christmas.
Doug Valentine has made his Phoenix Program Tapes available online, they are a must listen.
And check out his website.
And here is the first in a series of interviews with Fara Mansoor on the "Deep October Surprise".
@OurHiddenHistry Sent me this article on Shackley. Subscribe to his great YouTube channel with tons of videos on the CIA.
I am taking a couple months off from writing this blog and will be back in February. However, check out this great Archive from @OurHiddenHistry while I'm gone. Begin your own investigation of the world's "deep history."
I did an interview with SOTT where I discussed Ted Shackley, which also has links to my first 3 Iran-Contra articles which they added great illustrations to.
The article intersects with many CIA operations I have dealt with in depth in the past:
- Iran-Contra 4: WACL 2 (On Bush 76)
- Iran-Contra 3: WACL 1
- Iran-Contra 2: World War 3
- Iran-Contra 1: The Secret Team
- Operation Condor
- Nazis and the CIA
- Inside the CIA (On Agee)
- The Phoenix Program
Hugo Turner's blog is Anti-Imperialist U.