BBC R4 Documentary - 'Spies R Us, A History Of The CIA'
Presented by Tom Mangold
Broadcast February 6, 13 & 20, 2003
NB Programmes 1 & 2 only here. Transcript of Programme 3 included.
Coded from tape at 128/44.1
These programmes offer new insights on the struggle with the Soviet Union, Vietnam and the
deadly terrorist threat confronting the US and the wider world. Will the CIA survive for another fifty years?
Programme 1 - Soviet Union
Focuses on the Soviet Union: the key danger the CIA confronted for nearly fifty years of its
history. Former top spies and intelligence analysts who advised successive Presidents speak
frankly about how the Agency did in assessing the military strength, political intentions and
economic power of the Soviet Union. They also reveal why some of its judgments were
spectacularly off-beam, resulting in over-estimation of the threat. In particular, the
programme tells the astonishing and hitherto little-known story of how close the world came
to the brink of nuclear confrontation in the early 1980s partly because of the Agency's
inability to understand the extent of Soviet paranoia about US military actions and the
Reagan administration's rhetoric about 'the evil empire'.
Programme 2 - Iran and Vietnam
Looks at two examples of the CIA's remarkably broad impact on global history: Iran and
Vietnam. Oil reserves and a common border with the Soviet Union put Iran high on the CIA's
list of priorities from the start of the Cold War. Washington's fateful involvement with
Tehran started early - joining the British in toppling the government there in the early
1950s. But after that coup the CIA's long support of the Shah fatally boomeranged with his
precipitous fall in 1979 and the resulting US hostage crisis. Since then relations have been
frosty with a country which has been dubbed by President Bush part of the "axis of evil" -
yet remains one of the most strategically important for the US in the campaign against
terrorism. With the help of those involved in plotting the 1953 coup through to those who
thought the Shah would never be overthrown, the programme tells the story of how the Agency
went from being the power behind the Peacock throne to outcast.
The programme also reveals the role the CIA played in America's deeply traumatic - and hugely
costly - Vietnam experience in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Contrary to popular myth, the CIA
was not gung-ho about US involvement in Indo-China. In the face of the prevailing wisdom of
the "domino theory" - which argued that Vietnam's succumbing to communism would trigger the
collapse of all south-east Asia into the Soviet embrace - the programme shows how the
Agency's lack of enthusiasm for military action led to it being cut out of the key decisions
- ultimately leading to a drift towards internal crisis in the 1970s - and how those most
intimately involved reacted to being ignored.
Programme 3 - Present and Future [Transcript only]
The final programme comes into the present and asks how the CIA is tackling the new threat of
al Qaeda and associated terrorist networks. Ex-Agency officials - and those called back to it
in a desperate effort to make up for lost time - candidly admit the extent of the
intelligence failure which led to the horror of the September 11 attacks. The programme
considers the huge problems the CIA faces in both confronting its new challenge and
re-assuring the American public about the dangers. But how did the Agency get it so wrong?
Can the battle still be won? What tools will be required? And will the CIA survive for
another fifty years?