Light on the shadowy of cloak and dagger; Ex-agent faults CIA in Mideast; Ropes of Sand: America's Failure in the Middle East, by Wilbur Crane Eveland. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. $14.95.
Reading this book by a retired CIA operative in the Mideast is like watching a film about something I lived through -- but with significant parts speeded up, slowed down, or stopped for close scrutiny.
It offers a stinging indictment of the Central Intelligence Agency's covert operations in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, and elsewhere, written by an author who took part in many and initiated some of them.
Though I never met Eveland in many years of reporting from the Mideast, he describes scenes and mentions people that are familiar to me, among them the late Sam Pope Brewer of the New York Times; Abu Said Abu Rich, the Palestinian stringer and informat for Time magazine in Beirut; Miles Copeland, Eveland's ex-CIA associate and friend of former Egyptian President Nasser; and elder Lebanese statesman CAmille Chamoun.
Eveland's thesis grew out of his experiences as an Arabic-speaking military attache in Baghdad, then as a senior CIA operative (with State Department cover) in Damascus and Beirut in the 1950s, and finally as a consultant to oil and construction companies in the Mideast. It is stark and simple: Today's troubles -- from energy dependence and the Palestinian problem to Soviet adventurism and Israel's unwillingness to quit widenign its borders -- took root 30 years ago, when CIA symaster Allen Dulles's obsession with secret political operations aggravated the Mideast and helped make it the tinderbox it is today.
Instead of leaving diplomacy to the diplomats, Dulles chose to meddle, while neglecting the Cia's real job of gathering information, Eveland charges. This left the United States totally unprepared for the 1956 Suez war, the overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy (and with it Britain's power in the Mideast) in 1958, the 1958 Lebanese civil war, and the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973 (though Eveland accuses members of the Johnson administration of helping Tel Aviv plan the earlier conflict, unbeknownst to either the US secretary of state or Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban).
Important disclosures in the book that survived the CIA's prepublication censorship include:
* Confirmation that a US Joint Chiefs of Staff directive in existence since the early 1950s calls for US military destruction of Iran's oil fields if they appear to be falling into the hands of advancing Soviet armies.
* Affirmation (strengthening charges made by authors James Ennes and Anthony Pearson) that former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan ordered a deliberate attack on the US intelligence ship Liberty during the June 1967 war off Sinai. The attack, billed at the time as a mistake, killed 34 US Navy personnel. Eveland says the raid was ordered because th ship intercepted communications showing that Israel intended to exceed a plan, discussed with President Johnson's advisers, to overthrow Nasser; the radio transmissions indicated the Israeli's also planned to occupy the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Syria's Golan Heights, as well as Sinai.
(Eveland maintains the US has covered up the Liberty affair, and Israel's failure to try those responsible or pay full reparations for the "mistake," so as to keep Israel from exposing close collaboration between its Mossad intelligence agency and former CIA counter-intelligence chief james Angleton. Israel, says Eveland, has been the CIA's best intelligence source on the Soviet Union for years, a relationship that has given Tel Aviv leverage on successive US administrations.)
* The assertion that British intelligenc e in the 1950s was obstinately devoted to Nasser's overthrow. (The CIA eventually seconded this cause, after first backign Nasser and helping him to build an image as the Arab world's leader.) Early Arab-Israeli peace feelers between Nasser and Israel's dovish Prime Minster Moshe Sharett were discouraged or even sabotaged by the British.
* Eveland's acknowledgment that he knew both Kim Philby, the Briton who worked as a master spy for the Soviets and finally fled from Beirut to Moscow in 1963, and Philby's second wife, Eleanor (formerly Mrs. Sam Pope Brewer). He managed to communicate with Philby after his flight. He surmises that Philby's penetration of the CIA as well as Britain's Secret Intelligence Service was wrose than yet reported and that Philby may still have been masterminding Soviet espionage and "disinformation" operations in the Mideast until recently.
"If we use reasoned judgment," Eveland argues, ". . . and take lessons from the history of our past failures, our adversities can be turned to an advantage." The US "must demonstrate to the third world nations," he continues, "that we are concerned foremost with the people of the Middle East and that we do not regard that area as merely a source of oil or a platform for military bases."
Resolution of the Plaestinian conflict would put the US in a better position to deal with problems of energy, Soviet expansion, and growing Muslim hostility, Eveland reasons. In response to America's "immutable" 30-year commitment to Israel's survival, "making peace with its Arab neighbors could be Israel's greatest contribution as an American aly . . .," he writes. "We don't have another thirty years to find the answer. The world's stake in the Middle east is nothing less than peace itself."