- Back in 1960, the CIA hatched a plan to kill Patrice
Lumumba by infecting his toothbrush with a deadly disease. The Congolese
leader would brush his teeth and, presto, in a few days or weeks he would
- Around the same time, the CIA's Health Alteration Committee
-- who thought that name up? -- sent a monogrammed, poisoned handkerchief
to Gen. Abdul Karim Kassem, the leader of Iraq.
- And the CIA's "executive action" unit plotted
for years to murder Fidel Castro. It hired the Mafia to poison his food
and tried to give him a diving suit contaminated with Madura foot, a rare
tropical disease that starts in the foot and moves upward, slowly destroying
the body. The CIA also considered offing the Cuban leader with an exploding
cigar, a poison pen and a seashell that would blow up underwater when he
- Not one of the plots was successful. Lumumba and Kassem
were executed by their foes, and Castro is still alive. But the plots make
clear that the CIA has been licensed to kill for decades.
- Congress -- especially congressional Democrats -- was
outraged earlier this month when it was disclosed that, apparently on orders
from Vice President Dick Cheney, the CIA for eight years concealed from
Congress a program to assassinate the leaders of Al Qaeda, starting with
Osama bin Laden. But they shouldn't have been surprised that such a plan
was being hatched.
- The CIA's involvement in planning assassinations goes
back at least to 1954, when it prepared a manual for killings as part of
a U.S.-run coup against the leftist government of Guatemala. The 19-page
manual, which was declassified in 1997, makes chilling reading. "The
essential point of assassination is the death of the subject," it
declares, noting that while it "is possible to kill a man with the
bare hands ... the simplest local tools are often much the most efficient
means of assassination. A hammer, ax, wrench, screwdriver, fire poker,
kitchen knife, lamp stand or anything hard, heavy and handy will suffice."
- The agency's manual recommends "the contrived accident"
as the best way to dispose of someone. "The most efficient accident
... is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface. Elevator shafts,
stairwells, unscreened windows and bridges will serve." The manual
suggests grabbing the victim by the ankles and "tipping the subject
over the edge. ... Falls before trains or subway cars are usually effective,
but require exact timing."
- The manual goes on to discuss "blunt weapons,"
noting that "a hammer can be picked up almost anywhere in the world"
and that baseball bats are also excellent. The manual explains the best
place in the body to stab people or how to bash their skulls in and the
pros and cons of rifles, pistols, submachine guns and other weapons.
- During the Cold War years, the CIA plotted against eight
foreign leaders, five of whom died violently. The agency's role varied
in each case.
- After the plots were publicized by a Senate committee,
President Ford issued an executive order in 1976 barring political assassination.
President Reagan broadened the ban, dropping the word "political"
and extending the prohibition to include contract killers as well as government
- Although the ban remains in effect, it has largely been
ignored on the premise that it does not apply in a military setting. Consider
- In 1986, Reagan ordered the bombing of Libya in retaliation
for a terrorist attack on a Berlin disco that killed three people, including
two U.S. servicemen, and wounded more than 200 others. In the airstrike,
Libya's leader, Moammar Kadafi, a target of the raid, escaped unharmed,
but his 2-year-old adopted daughter was killed.
- During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, when the first Bush
administration bombed Baghdad, Robert M. Gates, the former CIA director
and current Defense secretary, said White House officials hoped that "Saddam
Hussein would be killed in a bunker." At an air base in Saudi Arabia
that year, Cheney, then secretary of Defense, and Gen. Colin L. Powell
signed a 2,000-pound laser-guided bomb destined for Iraq. "To Saddam
with affection," Cheney wrote.
- In 1998, President Clinton ordered a cruise missile strike
on Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan after the bombing of two U.S.
embassies in Africa. The White House was clearly disappointed when the
strike failed to kill Bin Laden, who reportedly left one of the camps shortly
before the attack.
- A year later, again during the Clinton administration,
NATO bombed Belgrade after Serbia forced ethnic Albanians to flee from
Kosovo. A cruise missile was lobbed right into the bedroom of Slobodan
Milosevic, the Serbian leader and Yugoslav president, but he was not sleeping
there and escaped injury.
- In Yemen in 2002, a CIA Predator drone fired a Hellfire
missile that destroyed a car in which a top Al Qaeda leader, Qaed Sinan
Harithi, was riding.
- The problem with assassination, morality aside, is that
the U.S. is not very good at it, as the CIA's farcical efforts to murder
Castro demonstrate. It seems unlikely that the CIA will kill Bin Laden
with a baseball bat. And there is the real possibility of retaliation for
a state-sponsored assassination. President Kennedy was quoted as saying,
"We can't get into that kind of thing or we would all be targets."
Perhaps CIA Director Leon Panetta had that in mind when he canceled the
- David Wise writes frequently about intelligence. He is
the author of "Nightmover: How Aldrich Ames Sold the CIA to the KGB
for $4.6 Million" and "Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI's
Robert Hanssen Betrayed America."
- Source url for this story is not yet known. - ed