Five Worst CIA Mess Ups In History
Five Worst CIA Mess Ups In History

Five Worst CIA Mess Ups In History

Brian - September 28, 2016

2. Swine Screw: The Bay of Pigs

The previous screw up might arguably be the dumbest CIA mess up, but the Bay of Pigs probably goes down with the most colossal failure. At the start of 1959 Fidel Castro overthrew the American backed government in Cuba and declared the island a socialist state. The American government wasn’t happy, and neither were many powerful Cubans who had lost their wealth and property during the revolution.

Five Worst CIA Mess Ups In History

The then nascent CIA, however, was already getting to work on a plan that would see Castro pushed from power. In 1960, the CIA came up with a plan: arm Cuban-Americans and exiles, give them some boats, and let them invade. In theory, this ground assault would also be supported by an air campaign.

The CIA began training its army at various training centers across Latin America. Mostly, people of Cuban descent were piped out of Florida, trained, and then sent back to Florida. The State Department was refusing to permit any militias to be trained on U.S. soil, so they had to be trained out of state.

Somehow, these roughly 1,500 troops in the militia force were going to overpower Cuba’s army. Seems absurd, right? Well it turns out that the CIA actually had ulterior motives. Many within the CIA believed that if the invasion failed (and many spooks did believe it’d fail), President Kennedy would go ahead and provide American troops for support.

They never disclosed this to Kennedy, of course, and they also silenced doubts over the plan. Kennedy, meanwhile, never had any intention of getting American troops involved. This colossal miscommunication set the Bay of Pigs invasion up for failure from the get go.

While the CIA was drunk at the wheel, their Cuban intelligence counterparts were actually doing a good job of gathering information. They knew that an invasion was coming because many of the CIA’s militants liked to blab their mouths. The USSR knew even more, and many believe they knew the date, which they would have surely shared with their Cuban counterparts.

Either way, on April 14th, the invasion fleet departed Florida under the cover of darkness. They were in route to the Pay of Pigs, where they’d secure a beachhead, and an airstrip so American bombers could support them. The next day, American supplied, dissident piloted B-26 bombers painted to look like former Cuban government planes launched several attacks, destroying and damaging various Cuban assets.

Two days later, on April 17th, the Bay of Pigs invasion began. Two days after that, it was all but over. Immediately, the invaders were beset by strong resistance. Meanwhile, Cuba’s tiny air force managed to sink most of the invaders supply ships, resulting in a huge loss of equipment. All the while, the American military stood by and watched the disaster unfold.

Some hoped that the Cuban citizenry, which had largely supported the Cuban revolution, would rally to the invaders. That didn’t happen. Others hoped that Cuba’s response would be disorganized and lackluster. Instead, the Cuban military used its vastly superior numbers to quickly overwhelm the invaders.

Over a hundred invaders were killed, with Cuban forces suffering similar losses. Over 1,200 invaders were captured, and outside of establishing a small beach head for about a day, the CIA-trained troops managed to accomplish essentially nothing. Kennedy refused to commit more resources, and one of the CIA’s earliest big operations went down as a disaster.

On a side note, just a month before the Soviet Union sent nukes to Cuba the CIA released a report expressing doubt that the Soviets would make such a move. Of course, just a few weeks later the world was on the brink of nuclear war.

3. Secret Code Words Aren’t Always So Secret

If you’ve ever seen a James Bond film or similar flick, than you know that meetings are supposed to happen either in swanky hotels and casinos, or else dark back alleys and similar places. If you’re the CIA, you want to distance yourself as far as possible from the United States, right? You wouldn’t choose to meet your informants at McDonald’s or Pizza Hut, right?

Five Worst CIA Mess Ups In History
pizza hut

Wrong. Hezbollah in Lebannon was able to discover numerous CIA agents by staking out Pizza Hut. And how did Hezbollah figure out that the CIA was meeting with double agents and informants at Pizza Hut? Because the CIA decided to use the codeword “pizza” when communicating with agents.

Now, you might think that the CIA was clever if they used the codeword “pizza” but meant something totally different. For example, an agent might contact an information and say “hey, let’s meet for some pizza,” and then meet him at a grocery store instead. That’s not what the CIA did. When they said pizza, they meant pizza. When Hezbollah operatives figured out the code word, all they had to do was stake out pizza places and wait for the CIA agents and informants to show up.

Hezbollah decided not to go after the agents, but instead revealed their identity. Of course, for a spy, having their identity revealed can be a death kneel for their careers. After all, secrecy is a criteria necessary for every spy’s resume.

A total of ten agents had their identity revealed, and numerous other informants were discovered. The CIA was left essentially blind in Lebennon for several months, having to pull the agents out, all because agents were lazy and uncreative with their code words.

4. Iran’s Fine, Until It’s Not Fine

In 1953, the CIA helped overthrow Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, a democratically elected leader who was too friendly with the Soviets for American tastes, and who was threatening to restrict British influence in Iran’s oil industry. The CIA threw all of its power behind the Shah, the hereditary royal ruler of Iran.

Five Worst CIA Mess Ups In History

The Shah did enjoy some support in Iran before the coup. During the Shah’s rule, however, the government of Iran became more oppressive, pushed modernization too quickly, and brutally oppressed opposition groups. Further, many Iranians didn’t trust foreign powers, and especially the United States or Britain.

With the Shah pushing a largely secular, modern society, religion became a focus of grievances among growing anti-Shah movement. A massive network of Shia clerics spanned the country, and while they certainly weren’t the only power in Iran, they were gaining steam, and starting to mobilize the masses.

Only, the Central Intelligence Agency didn’t see them or the revolution coming. In the months and weeks leading up to the revolution, the CIA believed that everything was just hunky dory. After all, the Shah had survived numerous previous challenges to his authority, and if need be, he could crack down again.

Sure, the religious elements of Iran were becoming incised, but the CIA viewed religion as an anachronism, a challenge and threat from another time. There was no way a religious movement could overthrow a powerful, secular leader backed by Western powers, right? Just six months before the revolution, the CIA bluntly stated: “Iran is not in a revolutionary or even a pre-revolutionary situation.”

To be clear, the CIA’s failure isn’t just about ego. In the months leading up to the Shah was taking advice from American leaders to take it easy on the opposition, and to not sweat it so much. The Shah listened, helping to pave the way for the growing revolution movement. Then, six months later, the people took to the streets, general strikes were called, and rebel troops began engaging with troops loyal to the Shah. The U.S. Embassy was also besieged, and American diplomats were taken hostage.

5. The Uncrackable Cracking Wall of the USSR

The CIA was largely created in response to the growing specter of Communism around the world. Throughout most of the latter half of the 20th century, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was, by far, the biggest communist threat. So the CIA’s main job, in many respects, was to keep an eye on the Soviet Union.

Five Worst CIA Mess Ups In History

Yet when the Union collapsed at the end 1991, the CIA was caught off guard. Again, the failure to predict the collapse wasn’t just about pride. Instead, the United States was caught flat footed and didn’t know how to react, or how to help ensure a smooth transition.

So what happened to this great power? The Soviet Union had more citizens than the United States, a much larger landmass, and was rich in natural resources. For a period in the 1950’s and 60’s, Soviet advances in science and technology were out-pacing American developments. The Soviets were the first to reach space, and their advances in nuclear physics, chemistry, and other fields were groundbreaking.

For a time, the Soviet economy was growing so rapidly that some feared it would overtake the United States. In 1928, the Soviet Union was a poor agricultural economy. By the end of the 1950’s, it was an industrial power on par with the United States. The Soviet Union also regularly took home the most medals at the Olympics.

Yet by the end of the 1970’s cracks were starting to appear in the facade. The Soviet economy, as well as science and innovation, was falling behind. Support inside the bureaucracy was also beginning to splinter. Many viewed the war in Afghanistan as a last ditch effort to shore up support.

The CIA, however, continued to over-estimate the strength of the Soviet economy. While the facade of the empire was beginning to falter, the CIA still believed that the Soviet Union was far from collapse. In the late 1980’s the CIA was still arguing that the Soviet Union was in the midst of expansion, and that it would, if anything, grow in size and power.

When the Berlin wall fell in 1989, many began to doubt the viability of the Soviet Union. Many within the CIA, however, believed that even if the satellite states were weakening, the USSR itself was still stable and coherent. When the Soviet Union did collapse, the CIA and consequently the American government, was caught off guard.

The CIA’s failure was so immense that Congress began pushing for a complete overhaul of the CIA. The CIA defended itself by noting that it had foreseen many of the underlying weaknesses in the USSR’s economy, as well as its over investment in military technology.