Classified Internal CIA Study Shows that Its Covert Arming of Foreign Forces Is Often Ineffective

Friday, October 17, 2014
CIA-armed Afghan rebels in 1979 (AP photo)

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has spent a lot of money over the years arming foreign forces, both regular armies and rebels. Now an internal CIA study has shown that the agency is not getting much bang for its buck.


The review, which is still classified, showed that arming foreign forces had “minimal” effect on the outcome of most conflicts in which the agency became involved, according to Mark Mazzetti in The New York Times. This was especially true when forces fought without American support on the ground.


President Obama mentioned the CIA study obliquely earlier this year when asked if the United States had acted quickly enough to arm Syrian rebels. “Very early in this process, I actually asked the CIA to analyze examples of America financing and supplying arms to an insurgency in a country that actually worked out well,” Obama told The New Yorker. “And they couldn’t come up with much.”


An early attempt, sending arms to Greece in 1947 to put down communist insurgents, was successful. But the 1961 Bay of Pigs operation, arming Cuban exiles and sending them to invade Cuba, was a colossal failure. President Ronald Reagan had the CIA support the contras in Nicaragua in an attempt to bring down the Sandinista government, an effort which eventually failed.


Now the CIA is attempting to arm “moderate” forces in Syria and Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State. That war is ongoing, but it’s already been found that ISIS is using U.S.-made arms captured from Iraqi forces, and any other equipment sent to that region has a good chance of ending up in the hands of those the United States is trying to defeat.


That’s what happened with one of the CIA’s great “successes.” The agency armed rebels to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The Soviets eventually withdrew from the country, but some of the rebels later formed a new group: Al-Qaeda. 

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

CIA Study of Covert Aid Fueled Skepticism About Helping Syrian Rebels (by Mark Mazzetti, New York Times)

CIA Classified Review: Covertly Arming Insurgents Doesn’t Work (RT)

Is the CIA Storing Weapons in Texas? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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