Philip Agee: Former CIA agent who accused his government of 'state terrorism'

Philip Burnett Franklin Agee, intelligence agent, writer and activist: born Tacoma Park, Florida 19 July 1935; twice married (two sons); died Havana 7 January 2008

To some he was a conscientious whistleblower, to others a "traitor" responsible for the deaths of American, and possibly British, intelligence agents. The former CIA officer Philip Agee stunned the world in 1975 when he published Inside the Company – CIA Diary, accusing the US intelligence agency of "state terrorism", authorised by the White House, to thwart rising left-wing movements in Latin America. It included a list of some 250 CIA agents in the region. As a result, Agee was forced to live underground fearing a CIA "hit" for much of the rest of his life.

He said that even before his exposé appeared the CIA were keeping track of him, with miniature microphones and location devices planted in his typewriter case, images he used for the first cover of the book. He was thrown out of Britain at the behest of Washington, and finally died in Cuba, where he had been given safe haven, and free medical treatment, by Fidel Castro.

Agee worked as a case officer for the CIA for 12 years, mostly in Washington DC or Latin America, until he resigned in 1969. He had served during what was probably the intelligence agency's highest peak of influence, emboldened by the perceived threat of Soviet expansion worldwide – but what was surely its lowest moral ebb. When Penguin first published Agee's book, in London – he had assumed the CIA would find a way to censor it if it were published in the United States – it came as a bombshell. The agency had considered itself untouchable in print but Agee's exposé struck a chord with youth around the world increasingly concerned by US foreign policy. CIA-bashing became the fashion.

He was the first person to publish what many Americans had preferred to ignore during the Cold War, that the CIA supported "dirty tricks", including assassinations, to keep pro-Soviet movements out of power in Latin America. He described how, while based in the CIA's station in Montevideo, Uruguay, he visited police headquarters to find they were torturing a prisoner he had tipped them off about merely as a possible leftist. When he complained, the police simply turned up the volume of a radio-broadcast football match to drown out the screams.

Initially, Agee was prime CIA material. He was a conservative Catholic from a comfortable white family in Tampa, Florida, a 1956 graduate in philosophy and law from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, who said later he had set out to serve his country. Interviewed by Playboy magazine after the book appeared, Agee said: "Millions of people all over the world had been killed or at least had their lives destroyed by the CIA. . . I couldn't just sit by and do nothing."

His decision to quit stemmed largely from the so-called Tlatelolco massacre of hundreds of students by troops in Mexico City 10 days before the 1968 Olympic Games. As a CIA agent in the Mexican capital at the time, Agee said he had worked with the then Mexican interior minister (and future President) Luis Echeverría to subdue student opposition to both the government and the games. A year earlier, he insisted, it was the CIA who had ordered the assassination in Bolivia of Cuba's Argentinian revolutionary hero, Ernesto "Ché" Guevara.

After resigning from the CIA, Agee took a master's degree in Latin American history at Mexico's biggest university, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, a hotbed of leftism, where he said he became radicalised and began planning the diary.

He insisted that he had disclosed the identities of his former CIA operatives in order to "weaken the instrument for carrying out the policy of supporting military dictatorships. . . regimes supported by the CIA where the human cost was immense: torture, executions, death squads". Little of what he revealed shocked Latin Americans who had been through it. It did, however, shock citizens of the United States, who had liked to think their government agencies held the high moral ground.

Immediately after the success of his book, Agee found himself hounded by the CIA, not least by the man who became its Director in 1976, the future US President George H.W. Bush. Agee was accused of having a drinking problem and of "vulgar propositioning of embassy wives" during his postings. To this day, George Bush Snr calls Agee a "traitor" and says he became a Cuban agent after accepting Castro's hospitality – and, allegedly, money. Bush also blamed him for the assassination of the CIA's station chief in Athens, Richard Welch, shortly after CIA Diary was published, but Welch had been named not in the book, but in a publication called Counterspy. "For more than 25 years I have been one more American working in solidarity activities with Cuba and against US hostility, aggression, blockade," Agee replied. "If this makes me a 'Cuban agent', then there are certainly a lot of us out there."

Having sought refuge in England after the publication of CIA Diary, Agee lived in Cambridge, where he also provided material on CIA activities to publications such as Time Out. But the Labour government of James Callaghan, under heavy pressure from the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, deported him in June 1977, saying his book's revelations might have led to the deaths of two MI6 agents in Poland.

Agee sought asylum in other European countries but, again under US pressure, was expelled from France, the Netherlands, Italy and West Germany, though the latter later allowed him back after he married the German ballet dancer Giselle Roberge. He spent his last years between Hamburg and Havana, where he was eulogised after his death as "a loyal friend of Cuba and staunch defender of the people's struggle for a better world". Despite his earlier deportation from the UK, and the fact that his US passport had been revoked in 1979, he was allowed in to both countries in recent years to lecture or attend rallies opposed to American foreign policy.

In 1987 he wrote an autobiography, On the Run. For several years until his death, he ran a Havana-based internet travel agency, which sought to help Americans find loopholes in the Trading with the Enemy Act, a US law under which the United States government tries to maintain the blockade of Castro's Communist regime.

Phil Davison

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc