by Jon Schwarz, The Intercept:
AS I READ The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, a new book by Salon founder David Talbot, I couldn’t help thinking of an obscure corner of 1970s history: the Safari Club.
Dulles — the Princeton man and white shoe corporate lawyer who served as CIA director from 1953 to 1961, still the longest tenure in agency history — died in 1969 before the Safari Club was conceived. And nothing about it appears in The Devil’s Chessboard. But to understand the Safari Club is to understand Allen Dulles and his milieu.
Any normal person would likely hear the Safari Club saga as a frightening story of totally unaccountable power. But if there’s one thing to take away from The Devil’s Chessboard, it’s this: Allen Dulles would have seen it differently — as an inspiring tale of hope and redemption.
Because what the Safari Club demonstrates is that Dulles’ entire spooky world is beyond the reach of American democracy. Even the most energetic post-World War II attempt to rein it in was in the end as effective as trying to lasso mist. And today we’ve largely returned to the balance of power Dulles set up in the 1950s. As Jay Rockefeller said in 2007 when he was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, “Don’t you understand the way intelligence works? Do you think that because I’m chairman of the Intelligence Committee that I just say ‘I want it, give it to me’? They control it. All of it. All of it. All the time.”
In February 2002, Saudi Prince Turki Al Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence from 1977 until September 1, 2001, traveled to Washington, D.C.
While there, Turki, who’d graduated from Georgetown University in the same class as Bill Clinton, delivered a speech at his alma mater that included an unexpected history lesson:
In 1976, after the Watergate matters took place here, your intelligence community was literally tied up by Congress. It could not do anything. It could not send spies, it could not write reports, and it could not pay money. In order to compensate for that, a group of countries got together in the hope of fighting communism and established what was called the Safari Club. The Safari Club included France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Iran … so, the Kingdom, with these countries, helped in some way, I believe, to keep the world safe when the United States was not able to do that. That, I think, is a secret that many of you don’t know.
Turki was not telling the whole truth. He was right that his Georgetown audience likely had never heard any of this before, but the Safari Club had been known across the Middle East for decades. After the Iranian revolution the new government gave Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, one of the most prominent journalists in the Arab world, permission to examine the Shah’s archives. There Heikal discovered the actual formal, written agreement between the members of the Safari Club, and wrote about it in a 1982 book called Iran: The Untold Story.
And the Safari Club was not simply the creation of the countries Turki mentioned — Americans were involved as well. It’s true the U.S. executive branch was somewhat hamstrung during the period between the post-Watergate investigations of the intelligence world and the end of the Carter administration. But the powerful individual Americans who felt themselves “literally tied up” by Congress — that is, unfairly restrained by the most democratic branch of the U.S. government — certainly did not consider the decisions of Congress to be the final word.
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