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CIA involvement with religious groups not a new charge

Posted: 2009-03-16
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Recent reports from central Asia and Latin America suggest the CIA is back in its old business of mixing espionage with religion and giving credence to what some observers claim `CIA` actually stands for: `Christians In Action.`


by Wayne Madsen
(Online Journal)

WMR) -- Accusations that the CIA is involved with various religious movements, including the Nurcilar movement of Pennsylvania-based Turkish moderate Islamist leader Fethullah Gulen and the Unification Church of one-time Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) operative Reverend Sun Myung Moon, follow a long history of suspicions that the U.S. intelligence agency is deeply involved with some religious movements. The CIA has also been accused of using foreign missionaries as espionage agents.

 

A 1975 report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities concluded that between the 1950s and 1960s, 21 missionaries were used as agents by the CIA. One of them was Roman Catholic missionary Reverend Tom Dooley who spied for the CIA as a doctor in Vietnam and Laos. He passed on information to the CIA about the political leanings of villagers and troop movements near the Laotian hospital where he worked as a doctor. The CIA recruited a number of their Chinese analysts from the families of U.S. missionaries in China.

A religious charity, World Medical Relief of Detroit, was used by the CIA as a conduit to funnel millions of dollars in secret aid to Laotian Hmongs that made up the CIA’s secret army in Laos that fought against the Communist Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. Retired Air Force Brigadier General Harry Aderholt and former CIA station chief in Laos and Thailand Daniel Arnold admitted their role in funneling money to the Hmong through World Medical Relief in a November 1982 interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Philadelphia Bulletin, on May 4, 1981, reported how the Wycliffe Bible Translators’ Summer Institute of Linguistics was suspected of working with the CIA. The institute reportedly received U.S. government grants for “special projects.” The institute employed some 1,500 missionaries worldwide who translated unwritten native languages in remote locations into written form and then translated the written text into the New Testament. The institute maintained supply bases and radio stations in some of the world’s most remote villages. In 1981, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based institute missionary, Charles Bitterman 3rd, was kidnapped by leftist rebels in Colombia and accused of being a CIA agent. Bitterman was later executed by his captors. The Bulletin said the Summer Institute “has been a target for more than a decade of rumors that it has spied, set up missile bases and even mined precious metals or run drug operations in Latin American countries. The rumors have never been confirmed.”

After the reports of links between the Summer Institute and the CIA, Mexico, Brazil, Panama, and Ecuador expelled Summer missionaries.

In February 1993, a Panamanian rebel group opposed to the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 -- the December 20-Torrijista Patriotic Vanguard -- kidnapped three American missionaries with an evangelical Sanford, Florida-based group called “New Tribes” or “Nuevas Tribus.” The rebel group claimed the three men were CIA agents. In 1983, an investigation by the Venezuelan Congress concluded that “New Tribes,” which was active in the Amazon region of the country and was converting native tribal members, was funded by General Dynamics and Westinghouse and industrial agents for the two firms were disguising themselves as missionaries to conduct mineral surveys in the resource-rich Amazon region of Venezuela.

In 2005, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered all New Tribes Mission (NTM) missionaries, then active in 17 countries, expelled from Venezuela citing their links to the CIA. Chavez said the missionaries possessed wireless communications equipment and built landing strips for aircraft that avoided Venezuelan Customs. U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield defended the missionaries’ work. Brownfield, who is now the U.S. ambassador to Colombia’s narco-fascist regime, was accused of helping to organize coups and secessionist movements against Chavez.

Venezuelan Justice Minister Jesse Chacon accused NTM of conducting medical experiments on Venezuelan Yanomami Indians, killing 80 in the process. Chacon reiterated that the group had ties to both Westinghouse and General Dynamics and was seeking access to strategic mineral resources in the states of Amazonas, Bolivar, and Delta Amacuro.

Given links between New Tribes and the Reverend Billy Graham’s organization, there could be links between the missionaries and the defense contractor-infused and supported secretive Christian Fellowship of Arlington, Virginia, which treats Graham as its spiritual leader.

Right-wing Hindu groups have accused Christian missionaries of working for the CIA in India.

In 1975, President Gerald Ford admitted that the CIA had, in the past, used missionaries as agents and held out the possibility that it might do so in the future. Ford’s CIA director, George H. W. Bush, issued an internal CIA memo in 1976 that terminated “paid or contractual” relationships with “American clergymen” and stated the agreements would not be renewed. President Jimmy Carter’s CIA director, Stansfield Turner, issued another CIA guideline in 1977 that stated: “American church groups will not be used as funding cut-outs (fronts) for CIA purposes and that “no secret, paid or unpaid, contractual relationship with any American clergyman or missionary . . . who is sent out by a mission or church organization to preach, teach, heal or proselytize” will be established by the CIA.

National Council of Churches official Eugene Stockwell, a Methodist missionary, urged a ban on contacts between missionaries and the CIA. He stated, “Church bodies overseas have the right to expect that the relationships of United States religious personnel to those churches will be solely at the service of common worldwide Christian missions and will not be used in any way for the purpose of one government.” He added that the CIA’s use of missionaries threatened their safety.

In 1982, the issue of CIA use of missionaries was once again raised. CIA director William Casey and Vice President Bush tried to assure religious leaders that the agency had not returned to the practice of using missionaries as spies. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch of June 13, 1982, Casey and CIA External Affairs Director William Doswell told the Richmond-based Southern Baptist Foreign Missions Board that the CIA’s use of missionaries violated the First Amendment on separation of church and state. The Baptist Mission Board president, Dr. R. Keith Parks, had requested the meeting with Casey due to “persistent rumors of contact” by CIA agents with missionaries. The same day Casey was meeting with the Southern Baptists in Richmond, Bush was taking up the missionary spy issue with officials at the Southern Baptist convention in New Orleans.

More recently, the CIA has been actively recruiting Mormon missionaries due to their foreign language skills and supposedly “clean” backgrounds.

Congolese Tutsi rebel General Laurent Nkunda, now allegedly exiled in Rwanda, is associated with a mysterious U.S.-based group called “Rebels for Christ.” Nkunda has been accused of receiving covert U.S. intelligence support through Rwanda.

Perhaps the most infamous CIA association with a religious group was the People’s Temple compound in Jonestown, Guyana.

On August 31, 2007, WMR reported, “WMR has uncovered documents that show the CIA kept extensive open source records on the agency’s suspected involvement in the People’s Temple cult that set up shop in Jonestown, Guyana, after moving from the San Francisco Bay Area. Most official U.S. intelligence files on Jonestown remain classified . . . The U.S. ambassador to Guyana at the time of the Jonestown massacre was John Burke, who served with his deputy chief of mission, Richard Dwyer, and were allegedly working for the CIA in Bangkok during the Vietnam war. Dwyer was wounded in the Port Kaituma shootings where [Congressman Leo] Ryan and the others were killed. On Sept. 27, 1980, Jack Anderson reported that Dwyer was a CIA agent and a friend of Jones. Anderson reported that on one of the tapes made during the mass suicide Jones was heard saying, “Get Dwyer out of here before something happens to him.” Dwyer reportedly left Guyana for Grenada after the massacre. The US consular officer at the embassy in Georgetown, Guyana, was Richard McCoy, who allegedly liaised with Jim Jones and was a U.S. Air Force intelligence official. Another alleged CIA employee, operating under State Department cover, was Dan Webber, who also visited the Jonestown the day after the massacre. Joe Holsinger, Ryan’s assistant and friend, later said that he believed that Jonestown was a massive mind control experiment and that the CIA and military intelligence were involved in the program.”

Recent reports from central Asia and Latin America suggest the CIA is back in its old business of mixing espionage with religion and giving credence to what some observers claim “CIA” actually stands for: “Christians In Action.”

--Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).
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