<<

. 17
( 52 .)



>>

officials in the American Embassy held an urgent meeting to ponder its meaning.
The political officer then dispatched a long classified report to Washington,
alerting top policy makers to the possibility of a startling turn in Latin American
Communist politics.9

In 1955 the Agency carried out an action against Figueres that was more
immediately threatening. A deep personal and political animosity between Figueres and
Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza had escalated into violence: an attempt against
Somoza's life, launched from Costa Rica with Figueres's support, was countered by an
invasion from Nicaragua by land and air. Figueres's biographer, Charles Ameringer, has
related that:
Figueres accused the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency of aiding the Somoza
movement against him. He claimed that the CIA felt indebted to Somoza for the
help he had given in overthrowing the Arbenz regime. He asserted that the same
pilots and planes (the F-47) that had participated in the attack upon Guatemala,
"afterwards came from Nicaragua and machine-gunned eleven defenseless towns
in our territory." According to Figueres, at the same time that the U.S. Department
of State arranged the sale of fighter planes for Costa Rica's defense, CIA planes
and pilots were flying sorties for the rebels.10




83
It is interesting to note that during this period, when virtually nothing had yet
been revealed about such blatant CIA covert activities, the fact that the Agency had
been caught red-handed tapping Figueres's telephone was worthy of condemnatory
editorial comment by the Washington Post and a like statement by Senator Mike
Mansfield on the floor of the Senate.11
Jose Figueres did not regain the presidency of Costa Rica until 1970, at which
time a renewed CIA effort to overthrow him was undertaken, for not very different
reasons.




12. Syria 1956-1957
Purchasing a new government

"Neutrality," proclaimed John Foster Dulles in 1956, "has increasingly become
an obsolete conception, and, except under very exceptional circumstances, it is an
immoral and shortsighted conception."1
The short-sightedness of the neutralist government lay perhaps in its inability to
perceive that its neutralism would lead to John Foster Dulles attempting to overthrow it.
Syria was not behaving like Washington thought a Third World government
should. For one thing, it was the only state in the area to refuse all US economic or
military assistance. Damascus did not much care for the strings which came attached”
the acceptance of military aid usually meant the presence of American military advisers
and technicians; furthermore, the US Mutual Security Act of 1955 specified that the
recipient country agree to make a contribution to "the defensive strength of the free
world", and declared it US policy "to encourage the efforts of other free nations ... to
foster private initiative and competition [i.e., capitalism]."2
Another difficulty posed by Syria was that, although its governments of recent
years had been more or less conservative and had refrained from unpleasant leftist
habits like nationalizing American-owned companies, US officials”suffering from
what might be called anti-communist paranoia or being victims of their own
propaganda”consistently saw the most ominous handwritings on the walls. To
appreciate this, one has to read some of the formerly-secret-now-declassified documents
of the National Security Council (NSC), based in part on reports received from the
American embassy in Damascus during 1955 and 1956 ...
"If the popular leftward trend in Syria continues over any considerable period,
there is a real danger that Syria will fall completely under left-wing control either by
coup or usurpation of authority" ... "the fundamental anti-US and anti-West orientation
of the Syrians is stimulated by inevitable political histrionics about the Palestine
problem" ... "Four successive short-lived governments in Syria have permitted
continuous and increasing Communist activities" ... "the Communists support the leftist
cliques [in] the army" ... "apathy towards Communism on the part of politicians and
army officers" is a threat to security ... "the Arab Socialist Resurrectionist Party
(ASRP)" and "the Communist Party of Syria are capable of bringing about further
deterioration of Syrian internal security" ... danger of ASRP "coup d'etat" and
"increased Communist penetration of government and army" ... "Of all the Arab states


84
Syria is at the present time the most wholeheartedly devoted to a neutralist policy with
strong anti-Western overtones" ... "If the present trend continues there is a strong
possibility that a Communist-dominated Syria will result, threatening the peace and
stability of the area and endangering the achievement of out objectives in the Near East"
... we "should give priority consideration to developing courses of action in the Neat
East designed to affect the situation in Syria and to recommending specific steps to
combat communist subversion" ...3
It would appear that the idea of military men who were leftist and/or apathetic to
communists must truly have been an incongruous phenomenon to the American official
mind. But nowhere in any of the documents is there mention of the
leftists/Communists/ASRP having in fact done anything illegal or wicked, although the
language employed is similar to what we saw in the Guatemala chapter: These people
don't join anything, they "infiltrate", they "penetrate"; they "control", they're
"opportunistic". In actuality, the behavior described is like that of other political
animals: trying to influence key sectors of the society and win allies. But to the men
holding positions of responsibility in the National Security Council and the State
Department, the evil intent and danger of such people was so self-evident as not to
require articulation.
There is one exception, perhaps expressed to explain away an uncomfortable
observation:
In fact, the Communist Party does not appear to have as its immediate objective
seizure of power. Rather it seeks to destroy national unity, Co strengthen support
for Soviet policies and opposition to Western policies and to exacerbate tensions
in the Arab world. It has made significant progress coward these objectives.4

There is no indication of what the author had in mind by "national unity".
A leftist-oriented or communist-dominated Syrian government, reasoned the US
ambassador to Syria, James Moose, Jr., would clearly threaten American interests in
neighboring Turkey, which, in turn, could outflank all the states of the NATO alliance,
and so forth and so on.5 It was clear that since the Syrian government could not be relied
upon to do anything about this major impending disaster, something would have to be
done about the Syrian government.
To this we add the usual Middle-Eastern intrigue: in this case, Iraq plotting with
the British to topple the governments in both Syria and Nasser's Egypt; the British
pressuring the Americans to join the conspiracy;6 and the CIA compromising”leave
Nasser alone, at least for the time being, and we'll do something about Syria.7
An implausible scenario, scandalous, but in the time-honored tradition of the
Middle East. The British were old hands at it. Dulles and the Americans, still exulting in
their king-making in Iran, were looking to further remake the oil region in their own
image.
Wilbur Crane Eveland was a staff member of the National Security Council, the
high-level inter-agency group in Washington which, in theory, monitors and controls
CIA clandestine activities. Because of Eveland's background and experience in the
Middle East, the CIA had asked that he be lent to the Agency for a series of assignments
there.
Archibald Roosevelt was, like his cousin Kermit Roosevelt, a highly-placed
official of the CIA; both were grandsons of Teddy. Kermit had masterminded the
overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953. Archie had fond hopes of doing the same
in Syria.
Michail Bey Ilyan had once served as Syria's foreign minister. In 1956 he was
the leader of the conservative Populist Party.


85
At a meeting of these three men in Damascus, Syria on 1 July 1956, as described
by Eveland in his memoirs, Roosevelt asked Ilyan "what would be needed to give the
Syrian conservatives enough control to purge the communists and their leftist
sympathizers. Ilyan responded by ticking off names and places: the radio stations in
Damascus and Aleppo; a few key senior officers; and enough money to buy newspapers
now in Egyptian and Saudi hands."
"Roosevelt probed further. Could these things, he asked Ilyan, be done with U.S.
money and assets alone, with no other Western or Near Eastern country involved?"
"Without question, Ilyan replied, nodding gravely."
On 26 July, Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser announced that his
government was taking over the operation of the Suez Canal. The reaction of the British
and French was swift and inflamed. The United States was less openly hostile, though it
was critical and Egyptian government funds in the US were frozen. This unexpected
incident put a crimp in the CIA's plans, for”as Ilyan explained to Eveland in despair”
Nasser was now the hero of the Arab world, and collaboration with any Western power
to overthrow an Arab government was politically indefensible.
Eventually the coup was scheduled for 25 October. The logistics, as outlined by
Ilyan, called for senior colonels in the Syrian army to:

take control of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, and Hamah. The frontier posts with
Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon would also be captured in order to seal Syria's borders
until the radio stations announced that a new government had taken over under
Colonel Kabbani, who would place armored units at key positions throughout
Damascus. Once control had been established, Ilyan would inform the civilians
he'd selected that they were to form a new government, but in order to avoid leaks
none of them would be told until just a week before the coup.

For this operation, money would have to change hands. Ilyan asked for and
received half a million Syrian pounds (approximately $167,000). The Syrian further
stipulated that to guarantee their participation the Syrian plotters would require
assurance from the highest level of the American government that the US would both
back the coup and immediately grant recognition to the new government. This, Ilyan
explained, could be communicated as follows: in April, President Eisenhower had said
that the United States would oppose aggression in the Middle East, hut not without
congressional approval. Could the president repeat this statement, in light of the Suez
crisis, he asked, on a specified date when Ilyan's colleagues would be told to expect it?
Eisenhower's words would provide the guarantees they were seeking.
An affirmative reply to Ilyan's plan arrived in Damascus from Washington the
next day. A proper occasion for the requested statement would have to be found and
Secretary Dulles would be the one to use it. The scheme was for Dulles to make public
reference to Eisenhower's statement between 16 and 18 October, thus giving Ilyan the
week he needed to assemble his civilian team.
Before long, John Foster Dulles held a press conference. In light of recent Israeli
attacks on Jordan, one of the reporters present asked whether the United States might
come to Jordan's aid per "our declaration of April 9".
Yes, replied the Secretary of State, repeating the reference to the April
statement. The date was 16 October.
But following close on the heels of this was a message from Ilyan in Damascus
to Eveland in Beirut postponing the date of the coup for five days to 30 October because
Colonel Kabbani had told Ilyan that his people weren't quite ready.
The postponement was crucial. Early in the morning of the 30th, a very
distraught Michail Ilyan appeared at Eveland's door. "Last night," he cried, "the Israelis


86
invaded Egypt and are right now heading for the Suez Canal! How could you have
asked us to overthrow our government at the exact moment when Israel started a war
with an Arab state?"8
The leftist-trend-in-Syria bell continued to ring in Washington. In January 1957,
wrote President Eisenhower later, CIA Director Alien Dulles "submitted reports
indicating that the new Syrian Cabinet was oriented to the left".9 Two months later,
Dulles prepared a "Situation Report on Syria" in which he wrote of an "increasing trend
toward a decidedly leftist, pro-Soviet government". Dulles was concerned with
"organized leftist officers belonging to the Arab Socialist Resurrection Party".10 That
same month, a State Department internal document stated:

The British are believed to favor active stimulation of a change in the present
regime in Syria, in an effort to assure a pro-Western orientation on the part of
future Syrian governments. ... The United States shares the concern of the British
Government over the situation in Syria.11

Then, in June, an internal Department of Defense memorandum spoke of a
possible "leftist coup". This was to be carried out, according to the memo, against "the
leftist Syrian Government".12
Thus it was that in Beirut and Damascus, CIA officers were trying their hands
again at stage-managing a Syrian coup. On this occasion, Kermit Roosevelt, rather than
cousin Archibald, was pulling the strings. He arranged for one Howard ("Rocky"! Stone
to be transferred to Damascus from the Sudan to be sure that the "engineering" was
done by a "pro". Stone was, at thirty-two, already a legend in the CIA's clandestine
service as the man who had helped Kim Roosevelt overthrow the Iranian government
four years earlier, though what Stone's precise contribution was has remained obscure.
The proposed beneficiary of this particular plot was to be Adib Shishakly,
former right-wing dictator of Syria, living covertly in Lebanon. Shishakly's former chief
of security, Colonel Ibrahim Husseini, now Syrian military attache in Rome, was
secretly slipped into Lebanon under cover of a CIA-fabricated passport. Husseini was
then to be smuggled across the Syrian border in the trunk of a US diplomatic car in
order to meet with key Syrian CIA agents and provide assurances that Shishakly would
come back to rule once Syria's government had been overthrown.
But the coup was exposed before it ever got off the ground. Syrian army officers
who had been assigned major roles in the operation walked into the office of Syria's
head of intelligence, Colonel Sarraj, turned in their bribe money and named the CIA
officers who had paid them. Lieut. Col. Robert Molloy, the American army attache,
Francis Jeton, a career CIA officer, officially Vice Consul at the US Embassy, and the
legendary Howard Stone, with the title of Second Secretary for Political Affairs, were
all declared personae -non gratae and expelled from the country in August.
Col. Molloy was determined to leave Syria in style. As his car approached the
Lebanese border, he ran his Syrian motorcycle escort off the road and shouted to the
fallen rider that "Colonel Sarraj and his commie friends" should be told that Molloy
would "beat the shit out of them with one hand tied behind his back if they ever crossed
his path again."
The Syrian government announcement which accompanied the expulsion order
stated that Stone had first made contact with the outlawed Social Nationalist Party and
then with the army officers. When the officers reported the plot, they were told to
continue their contacts with the Americans and later met Shishakly and Husseini at the
homes of US Embassy staff members. Husseini reportedly told the officers that the



87
United States was prepared to give a new Syrian government between 300 and 400
million dollars in aid if the government would make peace with Israel.
An amusing aside to the affair occurred when the Syrian Defense Minister and
the Syrian Ambassador to Italy disputed the claim that Husseini had anything to do with
the plot. The Ambassador pointed out that Husseini had not been in Syria since 20 July
and his passport showed no indication that he had been out of Italy since that time.
The State Department categorized the Syrian charge as "complete fabrications"
and retaliated by expelling the Syrian ambassador and a Second Secretary and recalling
the American ambassador from Syria. It marked the first time since 1915 that the United
States had expelled a chief of mission of a foreign country.13
In the wake of the controversy, the New York Times reported that:

There ace numerous theories about why the Syrians struck at the United States.
One is that they acted at the instigation of the Soviet Union. Another is that the
Government manufactured an anti-U.S. spy story to distrait public attention from
the significance of Syria's negotiations with Moscow.14

In the same issue, a Times editorial speculated upon other plausible-sounding
explanations.15 Neither in its news report nor in its editorial did the New York Times
seem to consider even the possibility that the Syrian accusation might be true.
President Eisenhower, recalling the incident in his memoirs, offered no denial to
the accusation. His sole comment on the expulsions was: "The entire action was
shrouded in mystery but the suspicion was strong that the Communists had taken
control of the government. Moreover, we had fresh reports that arms were being sent
into Syria from the Soviet bloc."16
Syria's neutralism/" leftism" continued to obsess the United States. Five years
later, when John F. Kennedy was in the White House, he met with British Prime
Minister Macmillan and the two leaders agreed, according to a CIA report, on
"Penetration and cultivation of disruptive elements in the Syrian armed forces,
particularly in the Syrian army, so that Syria can be guided by the West."17
Decades later, Washington was still worried, though Syria had still not "gone
communist".

<<

. 17
( 52 .)



>>