The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence is a 1974 controversial non-fiction political book written by Victor Marchetti, a former special assistant to the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, & John D. Marks, a former officer of the United States Department of State.
The authors claim to expose how the CIA actually works & how its original purpose (i.e. collecting & analyzing information about foreign governments, corporations, & persons in order to advise public policymakers) had been subverted by its obsession with clandestine operations. It’s the first book the federal government of the USA ever went to court to censor before its publication. The CIA demanded the authors remove 399 passages but they stood firm & only 168 passages were censored. The publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, chose to publish the book with blanks for censored passages & with boldface type for passages that were challenged but later uncensored.
The book was a critically-acclaimed bestseller whose publication contributed to the establishment of the Church Committee, a Senate select committee to study governmental operations with respect to intelligence activities, in 1975. The book was published in paperback by Dell Publishing in July 1974.
What is the CIA really up to? What does it do and why? No other element of the U.S. government is so lapped in mystery, no other is quite so plainly self-willed and independently powerful. And in the end, no other represents quite such a threat to our long-treasured democratic principles. Never before had there been a book about the CIA that laid bare the facts so explicitly and with such absolute authority. Victor Marchetti spent 14 years in the CIA, much of the time as a high-ranking officer. Co-author John Marks learned about the agency and intelligence procedures while working in the State Department. Their experience and knowledge give this book its authenticity and make incontestable its basic thesis: that an obsession with clandestine operations – illegal, even immoral interference in the internal affairs of other countries (and in some cases our own) – has largely supplanted the agency’s original and proper mission of supervising, coordinating, and processing of intelligence. Many of the details reported for the first time in this book will surprise and probably shock.
What surprises remain hidden in the sections censored out? Nevertheless, the real significance of The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence lies not in these startling revelations, but in the wholly convincing picture it gives of a giant, costly organization running wild, altogether free from supervision and accountability. Soberly, comprehensively, the authors anatomize the Agency – its structure, its huge budgets, its functions and personnel – and show how it has, shielded by self-serving (and frequently self-invented) rules of secrecy, built for itself a covert empire capable of stifling, with depressing efficiency, every serious attempt at outside control: by Congress, by various Presidents (who admittedly found the agency useful as a kind of private army, and still do), and by the press. There can be only one reason why the CIA tried to censor this book: it tells the truth about the CIA.
Victor Marchetti used the expression “cult of intelligence” to denounce what he viewed as a counterproductive mindset and culture of secrecy, elitism, amorality and lawlessness within and surrounding the Central Intelligence Agency in the service of American imperialism:
There exists in our nation today a powerful and dangerous secret cult — the cult of intelligence. Its holy men are the clandestine professionals of the Central Intelligence Agency. Its patrons and protectors are the highest officials of the federal government. Its membership, extending far beyond governmental circles, reaches into the power centers of industry, commerce, finance, and labor. Its friends are many in the areas of important public influence — the academic world and the communications media. The cult of intelligence is a secret fraternity of the American political aristocracy. The purpose of the cult is to further the foreign policies of the U.S. government by covert and usually illegal means, while at the same time containing the spread of its avowed enemy, communism. Traditionally, the cult’s hope has been to foster a world order in which America would reign supreme, the unchallenged international leader. Today, however, that dream stands tarnished by time and frequent failures. Thus, the cult’s objectives are now less grandiose, but no less disturbing. It seeks largely to advance America’s self-appointed role as the dominant arbiter of social, economic, and political change in the awakening regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. And its worldwide war against communism has to some extent been reduced to a covert struggle to maintain a self-serving stability in the Third World, using whatever clandestine methods are available.
In his 1978 memoir, Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA, William Colby, a former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, endorsed Marchetti’s critique and adopted the use of the expression “cult of intelligence”:
Socially as well as professionally they cliqued together, forming a sealed fraternity. They ate together at their own special favorite restaurants; they partied almost only among themselves; their families drifted to each other, so their defenses did not always have to be up. In this way they increasingly separated themselves from the ordinary world and developed a rather skewed view of that world. Their own dedicated double life became the proper norm, and they looked down on the life of the rest of the citizenry. And out of this grew what was later named — and condemned — as the “cult” of intelligence, an inbred, distorted, elitist view of intelligence that held it to be above the normal processes of society, with its own rationale and justification, beyond the restraints of the Constitution, which applied to everything and everyone else.