Long before Wikileaks was promoting “radical transparency” in the digital age, CounterSpy was publishing a magazine that named CIA station chiefs and exposed covert operations. Now, 23 issues from its 32-issue run have been pulled from the CIA’s own archives and digitised for your perusal. We can neither confirm nor deny that the agency is happy about this.
Photo: Philip Agee, one of CounterSpy’s most famous contributors. (AP)
CounterSpy started publishing from its headquarters in Washington, DC in 1973. Its staff and contributors were made up of journalists and former intelligence agents who wanted to expose the CIA and other intelligence apparatuses as corrupt organisations. It ran stories about subjects such as the CIA’s efforts to undermine labour movements around the world and psychological warfare conducted under COINTELPRO. The spooks at Langley weren’t fans but were certainly readers.
The article that made CounterSpy infamous ran in the Winter 1975 issue. “Chiefs of Station: Who They Are & What They Do” advocated for revealing the names and assignments of CIA station chiefs. It also named about 100 chiefs in the process, including Richard Welch, who was later murdered by Marxist terrorists in Athens in December of 1975. The article became a touch point for CIA officials to criticise Philip Agee, a former agent who wrote another piece in that same issue.
Both Agee and Counterspy were blamed for Welch’s death, despite the fact that Agee didn’t write the article and Welch was already exposed as an agent in 1968. Long after he stepped down as director of the CIA, George H.W. Bush continued to hold Agee responsible for Welch’s murder. Barbara Bush did the same in her 1994 memoir – until Agee sued her for libel. The claim was removed from later printings of the book. More recently, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo repeated this account while denouncing WikiLeaks and comparing their practices to Agee’s. In the process, Pompeo incorrectly claimed that Welch was named by CounterSpy as the CIA’s Athens station chief (the magazine listed him as Lima station chief).
CounterSpy shut down in 1984 following infighting and a staff exodus. Before it collapsed, Agee took some of the CounterSpy team and started CovertAction Information Bulletin, which published in one form or another until 1985. In the first issue, Agee attributed the split, in part, to pressures brought on by CIA harassment of CounterSpy staff.
It’s almost impossible to find old issues of CounterSpy, but the CIA likes to collect publications that are critical of its activities. And thanks to a series of executive orders modifying how classified information is handled, the agency is also required to release non-exempt historically valuable records after 25 years. Try searching the CIA’s CREST archive for CounterSpy and you’ll find about 20,000 items. Dr Susan Maret, an academic and intelligence researcher, combed through that mess for everyone and found 23 issues which she provided to AltGov2. They have all been digitised for searchability and are almost entirely intact, although that most infamous issue from 1975 has been heavily redacted. Check them out here.