War and Pornography
By William Blum
"I think it's time we held Sukarno's feet to the fire,"
said Frank Wisner, the CIA's Deputy Director of Plans (covert operations),
one day in autumn 1956. Wisner was speaking of the man who had
led Indonesia since its struggle for independence from the Dutch
following the war. A few months earlier, in May, Sukarno had made
an impassioned speech before the US Congress asking for more understanding
of the problems and needs of developing nations like his own.
The ensuing American campaign to unseat the flamboyant leader of
the fifth most populous nation in the world was to run the gamut
from large-scale military maneuvers to seedy sexual intrigue.
The previous year, Sukarno had organized the Bandung Conference
as an answer to the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO),
the US-created political-military alliance of area states to "contain
communism". In the Indonesian city of Bandung, the doctrine
of neutralism had been proclaimed as the faith of the underdeveloped
world. To the men of the CIA station in Indonesia the conference
was heresy, so much so that their thoughts turned toward assassination
as a means of sabotaging it.
In 1975, the Senate committee which was investigating the CIA heard
testimony that Agency officers stationed in an East Asian country
had suggested that an East Asian leader be assassinated "to
disrupt an impending Communist [sic] Conference in 1955".
(In all likelihood, the leader referred to was either Sukarno or
Chou En-lai of China.) But, said the committee, cooler heads prevailed
at CIA headquarters in Washington and the suggestion was firmly
Nevertheless, a plane carrying eight members of the Chinese delegation,
a Vietnamese, and two European journalists to the Bandung Conference
crashed under mysterious circumstances. The Chinese government claimed
that it was an act of sabotage carried out by the US and Taiwan,
a misfired effort to murder Chou En-lai. The chartered Air India
plane had taken off from Hong Kong on 11 April 1955 and crashed
in the South China Sea. Chou En-lai was scheduled to be on another
chartered Air India flight a day or two later. The Chinese government,
citing what it said were press reports from the Times of India,
stated that the crash was caused by two time bombs apparently placed
aboard the plane in Hong Kong. A clockwork mechanism was later recovered
from the wrecked airliner and the Hong Kong police called it a case
of "carefully planned mass murder". Months later, British
police in Hong Kong announced that they were seeking a Chinese Nationalist
for conspiracy to cause the crash, but that he had fled to Taiwan.
In 1967 a curious little book appeared in India, entitled I
Was a CIA Agent in India, by John Discoe Smith, an American.
Published by the Communist Party of India, it was based on articles
written by Smith for Literaturnaya Gazeta in Moscow after
he had defected to the Soviet Union around 1960. Smith, born in
Quincy, Mass. in 1926, wrote that he had been a communications technician
and code clerk at the US Embassy in New Delhi in 1955, performing
tasks for the CIA as well. One of these tasks was to deliver a package
to a Chinese Nationalist which Smith later learned, he claimed,
contained the two time bombs used to blow up the Air India plane.
The veracity of Smith's account cannot be determined, although his
employment at the US Embassy in New Delhi from 1954 to 1959 is confirmed
by the State Department Biographic Register.
Elsewhere the Senate committee reported that it had "received
some evidence of CIA involvement in plans to assassinate President
Sukarno of Indonesia", and that the planning had proceeded
to the point of identifying an agent whom it was believed might
be recruited for the job. (The committee noted that at one time,
those at the CIA who were concerned with possible assassinations
and appropriate methods were known internally as the "Health
To add to the concern of American leaders, Sukarno had made trips
to the Soviet Union and China (though to the White House as well),
he had purchased arms from Eastern European countries (but only
after being turned down by the United States), he had nationalized
many private holdings of the Dutch, and, perhaps most disturbing
of all, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) had made impressive
gains electorally and in union-organizing, thus earning an important
role in the coalition government.
It was a familiar Third World scenario, and the reaction of Washington
policy-makers was equally familiar. Once again, they were unable,
or unwilling, to distinguish nationalism from pro-communism, neutralism
from wickedness. By any definition of the word, Sukarno was no communist.
He was an Indonesian nationalist and a "Sukarnoist" who
had crushed the PKI forces in 1948 after the independence struggle
had been won. He ran what was largely his own show by granting
concessions to both the PKI and the Army, balancing one against
the other. As to excluding the PKI, with its more than one million
members, from the government, Sukarno declared: "I can't and
won't ride a three-legged horse."
To the United States, however, Sukarno's balancing act was too
precarious to be left to the vagaries of the Indonesian political
process. It mattered not to Washington that the Communist Party
was walking the legal, peaceful road, or that there was no particular
"crisis" or "chaos" in Indonesia, so favored
as an excuse for intervention. Intervention there would be.
It would not be the first. In 1955, during the national election
campaign in Indonesia, the CIA had given a million dollars to the
Masjumi party, a centrist coalition of Muslim organizations, in
a losing bid to thwart Sukarno's Nationalist Party as well as the
PKI. According to former CIA officer Joseph Burkholder Smith, the
project "provided for complete write-off of the funds, that
is, no demand for a detailed accounting of how the funds were spent
was required. I could find no clue as to what the Masjumi did with
the million dollars."
In 1957, the CIA decided that the situation called for more direct
action. It was not difficult to find Indonesian colleagues-in-arms
for there already existed a clique of army officers and others who,
for personal ambitions and because they disliked the influential
position of the PKI, wanted Sukarno out, or at least out of their
particular islands. (Indonesia is the world's largest archipelago,
consisting of some 3,000 islands.)
The military operation the CIA was opting for was of a scale that
necessitated significant assistance from the Pentagon, which could
be secured for a political action mission only if approved by the
National Security Council's "Special Group" (the small
group of top NSC officials who acted in the president's name, to
protect him and the country by evaluating proposed covert actions
and making certain that the CIA did not go off the deep end; known
at other times as the 5412 Committee, the 303 Committee, the 40
Committee, or the Operations Advisory Group).
The manner in which the Agency went about obtaining this approval
is a textbook example of how the CIA sometimes determines American
foreign policy. Joseph Burkholder Smith, who was in charge of the
Agency's Indonesian desk in Washington from mid-1956 to early 1958,
has described the process in his memoirs: Instead of first proposing
the plan to Washington for approval, where "premature mention
... might get it shot down" ...
we began to feed the State and Defense departments
intelligence that no one could deny was a useful contribution
to understanding Indonesia. When they had read enough alarming
reports, we planned to spring the suggestion we should support
the colonels' plans to reduce Sukarno's power. This was a method
of operation which became the basis of many of the political action
adventures of the 1960s and 1970s. In other words, the statement
is false that CIA undertook to intervene in the affairs of countries
like Chile only after being ordered to do so by ... the Special
Group. ... In many instances, we made the action programs up ourselves
after we had collected enough intelligence to make them appear
required by the circumstances. Our activity in Indonesia in 1957-1958
was one such instance.
When the Communist Party did well again in local elections held
in July, the CIA viewed it as "a great help to us in convincing
Washington authorities how serious the Indonesian situation was.
The only person who did not seem terribly alarmed at the PKI victories
was Ambassador Allison. This was all we needed to convince John
Foster Dulles finally that he had the wrong man in Indonesia. The
wheels began to turn to remove this last stumbling block in the
way of our operation." John Allison, wrote Smith, was not
a great admirer of the CIA to begin with. And in early 1958, after
less than a year in the post, he was replaced as ambassador by Howard
Jones, whose selection "pleased" the CIA Indonesia staff.
On 30 November 1957, several hand grenades were tossed at Sukarno
as he was leaving a school. He escaped injury, but 10 people were
killed and 48 children injured. The CIA in Indonesia had no idea
who was responsible, but it quickly put out the story that the PKI
was behind it "at the suggestion of their Soviet contacts in
order to make it appear that Sukarno's opponents were wild and desperate
men". As it turned out, the culprits were a Muslim group not
associated with the PKI or with the Agency's military plotters.
The issue of Sukarno's supposed hand-in-glove relationship with
Communists was pushed at every opportunity. The CIA decided to make
capital of reports that a good-looking blonde stewardess had been
aboard Sukarno's aircraft everywhere he went during his trip in
the Soviet Union and that the same woman had come to Indonesia with
Soviet President Kliment Voroshilov and had been seen several times
in the company of Sukarno. The idea was that Sukarno's well-known
womanizing had trapped him in the spell of a Soviet female agent.
He had succumbed to Soviet control, CIA reports implied, as a result
of her influence or blackmail, or both.
"This formed the foundation of our flights of fancy,"
wrote Smith. "We had as a matter of fact, considerable success
with this theme. It appeared in the press around the world, and
when Round Table, the serious British quarterly of international
affairs, came to analyze the Indonesian revolt in its March 1958
issue, it listed Sukarno's being blackmailed by a Soviet female
spy as one of the reasons that caused the uprising."
Seemingly, the success of this operation inspired CIA officers
in Washington to carry the theme one step further. A substantial
effort was made to come up with a pornographic film or at least
some still photographs that could pass for Sukarno and his Russian
girlfriend engaged in "his favorite activity". When scrutiny
of available porno films (supplied by the Chief of Police of Los
Angeles) failed to turn up a couple who could pass for Sukarno (dark
and bald) and a beautiful blonde Russian woman, the CIA undertook
to produce its own films, "the very films with which the Soviets
were blackmailing Sukarno". The Agency developed a full-face
mask of the Indonesian leader which was to be sent to Los Angeles
where the police were to pay some porno-film actor to wear it during
his big scene. This project resulted in at least some photographs,
although they apparently were never used.
Another outcome of the blackmail effort was a film produced for
the CIA by Robert Maheu, former FBI agent and intimate of Howard
Hughes. Maheu's film starred an actor who resembled Sukarno. The
ultimate fate of the film, which was entitled "Happy Days",
has not been reported.
In other parts of the world, at other times, the CIA has done better
in this line of work, having produced sex films of target subjects
caught in flagrante delicto who had been lured to Agency
safe-houses by female agents.
In 1960, Col. Truman Smith, US Army Ret., writing in Reader's
Digest about the KGB, declared: "It is difficult for most
of us to appreciate its menace, as its methods are so debased as
to be all but beyond the comprehension of any normal person with
a sense of right and wrong." One of the KGB methods the good
colonel found so debased was the making of sex films to be used
as blackmail. "People depraved enough to employ such methods,"
he wrote, "find nothing distasteful in more violent methods."
Sex could be used at home as well to further the goals of American
foreign policy. Under the cover of the US foreign aid program, at
that time called the Economic Cooperation Administration, Indonesian
policemen were trained and then recruited to provide information
on Soviet, Chinese and PKI activities in their country. Some of
the men singled out as good prospects for this work were sent to
Washington for special training and to be softened up for recruitment.
Like Sukarno, reportedly, these police officers invariably had an
obsessive desire to sleep with a white woman. Accordingly, during
their stay they were taken to Baltimore's shabby sex district to
The Special Group's approval of the political action mission was
forthcoming in November 1957, and the CIA's paramilitary machine
was put into gear. In this undertaking, as in others, the Agency
enjoyed the advantage of the United States' far-flung military empire.
Headquarters for the operation were established in neighboring Singapore,
courtesy of the British; training bases set up in the Philippines;
airstrips laid out in various parts of the Pacific to prepare for
bomber and transport missions; Indonesians, along with Filipinos,
Taiwanese, Americans, and other "soldiers of fortune"
were assembled in Okinawa and the Philippines along with vast quantities
of arms and equipment.
For this, the CIA's most ambitious military operation to date,
tens of thousands of rebels were armed, equipped and trained by
the US Army. US Navy submarines, patrolling off the coast of Sumatra,
the main island, put over-the-beach parties ashore along with supplies
and communications equipment. The US Air Force set up a considerable
Air Transport force which air-dropped many thousands of weapons
deep into Indonesian territory. And a fleet of 15 B-26 bombers was
made available for the conflict after being "sanitized"
to ensure that they were "non-attributable" and that all
airborne equipment was "deniable".
In the early months of 1958, rebellion began to break out in one
part of the Indonesian island chain, then another. CIA pilots took
to the air to carry out bombing and strafing missions in support
of the rebels. In Washington, Col. Alex Kawilarung, the Indonesian
military attaché, was persuaded by the Agency to "defect".
He soon showed up in Indonesia to take charge of the rebel forces.
Yet, as the fighting dragged on into spring, the insurgents proved
unable to win decisive victories or take the offensive, although
the CIA bombing raids were taking their toll. Sukarno later claimed
that on a Sunday morning in April, a plane bombed a ship in the
harbor of the island of Ambon -- all those aboard losing their lives
- as well as hitting a church, which demolished the building and
killed everyone inside. He stated that 700 casualties had resulted
from this single run.
On 15 May, a CIA plane bombed the Ambon marketplace, killing a
large number of civilians on their way to church on Ascension Thursday.
The Indonesian government had to act to suppress public demonstrations.
Three days later, during another bombing run over Ambon, a CIA
pilot, Allen Lawrence Pope, was shot down and captured. Thirty years
old, from Perrine, Florida, Pope had flown 55 night missions over
Communist lines in Korea for the Air Force. Later he spent two months
flying through Communist flak for the CIA to drop supplies to the
French at Dien Bien Phu. Now his luck had run out. He was to spend
four years as a prisoner in Indonesia before Sukarno acceded to
a request from Robert Kennedy for his release.
Pope was captured carrying a set of incriminating documents, including
those which established him as a pilot for the US Air Force and
the CIA airline CAT. Like all men flying clandestine missions, Pope
had gone through an elaborate procedure before taking off to "sanitize"
him, as well as his aircraft. But he had apparently smuggled the
papers aboard the plane, for he knew that to be captured as an "anonymous,
stateless civilian" meant having virtually no legal rights
and running the risk of being shot as a spy in accordance with custom.
A captured US military man, however, becomes a commodity of value
for his captors while he remains alive.
The lndonesian government derived immediate material concessions
from the United States as a result of the incident. Whether the
Indonesians thereby agreed to keep silent about Pope is not known,
but on 27 May the pilot and his documents were presented to the
world at a news conference, thus contradicting several recent statements
by high American officials. Notable amongst these was President
Eisenhower's declaration on 30 April concerning Indonesia: "Our
policy is one of careful neutrality and proper deportment all the
way through so as not to be taking sides where it is none of our
And on 9 May, an editorial in the New York Times had stated:
It is unfortunate that high officials of the
Indonesian Government have given further circulation to the false
report that the United States Government was sanctioning aid to
Indonesia's rebels. The position of the United States Government
has been made plain, again and again. Our Secretary of State was
emphatic in his declaration that this country would not deviate
from a correct neutrality ... the United States is not ready ...
to step in to help overthrow a constituted government. Those are
the hard facts. Jakarta does not help its case, here, by ignoring
With the exposure of Pope and the lack of rebel success in the
field, the CIA decided that the light was no longer worth the candle,
and began to curtail its support. By the end of June, Indonesian
army troops loyal to Sukarno had effectively crushed the dissident
The Indonesian leader continued his adroit balancing act between
the Communists and the army until 1965, when the latter, likely
with the help of the CIA, finally overthrew his regime.
1. Joseph Burkholder Smith, Portrait of a Cold Warrior (G.P.
Putnam's Sons, New York, 1976) p. 205.
2. New York Times, 18 May 1956.
3. Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Foreign and Military
Intelligence, Book 4, Final Report of The Select Committee to
Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities
(U.S. Senate), April 1976, p. 133.
4. New York Times, 12, 30 April 1955; 3, 4 August 1955;
3 September 1955; 22 November 1967, p. 23.
5. John Discoe Smith, I Was a CIA Agent in India (India,
1967) passim; New York Times, 25 October 1967, p. 17; 22
November, p. 23; 5 December, p. 12; Harry Rositzke, The KGB:
The Eyes of Russia (New York, 1981), p. 164.
6. lnterim Report: Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign
Leaders, The Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations
with Respect to Intelligence Activities (U.S. Senate), 20 November
1975, p. 4, note.
7. David Wise and Thomas Ross, The Invisible Government
(New York, 1965, paperback edition) pp. 149-50.
8. Julie Southwood and Patrick Flanagan, Indonesia: Law, Propaganda
and Terror (London, 1983) pp. 26-7.
9. Wise and Ross, p. 148.
10. J.B. Smith, pp. 210-11.
11. Ibid., pp. 228-9.
12. Ibid., p. 240.
13. Ibid., pp. 229, 246.
14. Ibid., p. 243.
15. Sex-blackmail operations: ibid., pp. 238-40, 248. Smith errs
somewhat in his comment about Round Table. The article's only (apparent)
reference to the Soviet woman is in the comment on p. 133: "Other
and more scandalous reasons have been put forward for the President's
leaning towards the Communist Party."
16. New York Times, 26 January 1976.
17. Truman Smith, "The Infamous Record of Soviet Espionage",
Reader's Digest, August 1960.
18. J.B. Smith, pp. 220-1.
19. Referred to in a memorandum from Allen Dulles to the White
House, 7 April 1961; the memo briefly summarizes the main points
of the US intervention: Declassified Documents Reference System
(Arlington, Va.) released 18 December 1974.
20. The military operation and the Pope affair:
a) Wise and Ross, pp. 145-56.
b) Christopher Robbins, Air America (US, 1979), pp. 88-94.
c) Col. L. Fletcher Prouty, US Air Force, Ret., The Secret Team:
The CIA and its Allies in Control of the World (New York, 1974)
pp. 155, 308, 363-6.
d) New York Times, 23 March 1958, p. 2; 19 April; 28 May,
e) Sukarno, An Autobiography, as told to Cindy Adams (Hong
Kong, 1966) pp. 267-71; first printed in the US in 1965; although
a poor piece of writing, the book is worth reading for Sukarno's
views on why it is foolish to call him a Communist; how he, as a
Third-Worlder who didn't toe the line, was repeatedly snubbed and
humiliated by the Eisenhower administration, apart from the intervention;
and how American sex magazines contrived to make him look ridiculous.
f) J. B. Smith, pp. 246-7. There appears to be some confusion about
the bombing of the church. Smith states that it was Pope who did
it on 18 May before being shot down. Either he or other chroniclers
have mixed up the events of April and May.
21. Wise and Ross, p. 145.
This is a chapter from Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions
Since World War II by William Blum
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