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Fifty Years - Too Many? - for the CIA

The 50th anniversary of the Central Intelligence Agency, July 26, when President Truman signed the authorizing legislation, went without much notice.

The $30-billion-a-year agency (that figure is still officially a secret) has not been looking for much attention - beset, beleaguered, and bedeviled as it is over its controversial past and its uncertain future.

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Leaving aside the recent humiliation of moles like Aldrich Ames, even the agency's greatest covert action successes have led to tragic disappointments.

The governments that it helped to overthrow in Iran, Guatemala, Chile, and Afghanistan were all succeeded by more brutal regimes. Even its assassination plots - most conspicuously with Mafia help against Fidel Castro - all failed or were aborted.

There is one more failure to record: the effort to mount a coup from northern Iraq starting in 1991 to topple Saddam Hussein and install a friendlier government. The opposition force was penetrated by Saddam's agents. Eventually, the CIA fled in disarray, leaving its local allies to be captured or submit to Saddam Hussein, who has effectively reoccupied part of the north.

While it usually takes years before some congressional committee digs out the full story of CIA bungling, this time the CIA officer who was in charge, Warren Marik, now retired, went public to tell the story to ABC television and to Jim Hoagland of The Washington Post.

He told of arranging flights of unmanned aircraft over Baghdad to drop leaflets, of organizing military training and supplies to Kurdish guerrillas, and millions of dollars worth of radio and television propaganda denouncing Saddam Hussein's regime.

He told, too, how the plan went sour when it switched from a methodical build-up of an alternate regime in northern Iraq to the effort to mount an armed offensive against Saddam Hussein in 1995. Altogether, the ill-fated project cost about $110 million.

What has been the outcome of the Marik revelations? You guessed it. The agency says that Marik may have violated his written agreement not to disclose confidential information. It has referred the matter to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.

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Happy 50th, CIA!

* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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