The Night Watch

Title:                      The Night Watch

Author:                  David Atlee Phillips

Phillips, David Atlee (1977). The Night Watch: Careers in Secret Operation. New York: Atheneum

LCCN:    76011855

JK468.I6 P54 1977


Date Updated:  February 28, 2017

For 25 years David Atlee Phillips stood “the night watch” for the CIA. He directed Western Hemisphere Operations when the Chilean government was overthrown (with CIA help) in 1973.

Phillips details his experiences in 18 countries. Along the way, we learn much about “the company,” certainly one of the least understood and most controversial pillars of our defense ever to have been invented.

“Phillips is as skilled a writer as he was a spook, and his astonishingly readable book makes a convincing case for the necessity of an intelligence service such as the CIA.” –Joseph C. Goulden.

Reviewing the book, Foreign Affairs[1] said: “[This book was] written by an ex-CIA senior officer with 25 years service in the agency, mostly on the clandestine side. Smith’s is more critical and disillusioned, decrying the arrogance and career opportunism which he claims have overtaken the CIA. Phillips, who was in charge of Latin American operations during the Allende years, [was] President of the Association of Retired Intelligence Officers. Though unabashedly supportive of the agency, his is nevertheless a[n] interesting and intelligent work.”

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[2]

Twenty-five years in CIA, Phillips attained the position of division chief before retiring in 1975. Almost all his career was in Latin America; he represents an example of the expertise, geographic and functional, that CIA developed. To speak and write in defense of U.S. intelligence, he retired and founded an association of ex-intelligence officers. The Night Watch can be said to be a number of things. It is the memoirs of a happy intelligence warrior who enjoyed his craft and took pride in his personal advancement. Second, it is a collection of anecdotes, mostly about CIA, and close-up shots of senior CIA personnel, from directors to directors of operations to officers like Richard Welch and E. Howard Hunt whose names became known for various reasons. Third, it is a careful recounting of major events and operations with which Phillips was somehow involved. A true professional, he tells his story without revealing the “good secrets,” to use William Colby’s term. Fourth, he gives a flavor of the work he did and of its demands, a sense of the moods and rationales at the time of events, and some retrospective judgments (the Guatemalan, Chilean, and Bay of Pigs operations). Fifth, there are his reactions and replies to attacks against CIA and his profession.

Admiration for Phillips’s writing skill was more general than agreement on how much he had said and how thoroughly he had covered his subjects. Phillips’ book appeared at the height of attacks on CIA, when only mea culpas would satisfy the extreme critics of intelligence. A close look will show that mixed with the generalities and careful presentation of his story, there are some primary-source nuggets for the intelligence researcher in some areas: the Bay of Pigs operation; the handling of intelligence of Lee Harvey Oswald in Mexico City; the events in 1965-1966 in the Dominican Republic; the operation to prevent Allende from assuming office; some CIA personalities. Howard Hunt in the National Review took strong exception to some items about himself.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[3]

The author’s relations with CIA began on a contractual basis in South America in 1950. After some years in this status, Phillips became a full-time member of CIA Is Clandestine Services, served in three countries in Latin America as Chief of Station, and rose to be the head of CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division. In 1975, he retired in order to speak out publicly in defense of the need for a strong American Intelligence Community (while recognizing some of its shortcomings) and to found the Association of Former Intelligence Officers for the same purpose. His book is a well-written, anecdotal and philosophic story of his intelligence career. It gives a meaningful account of the work and thoughts of a successful career officer, with obvious emphasis on his area of specialty.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[4]

A well-written memoir of the author’s experiences in the CIA’s Clandestine Services, first as a field operations specialist in Latin America and finally as chief of the Western Hemisphere Division of the Directorate of Operations. Phillips describes his role in the Bay of Pigs operation. Upon retirement from CIA he founded the Retired Intelligence Officers Association through which forum he, and others who have joined, are able to speak freely as private citizens in support of intelligence and the CIA.

[1] Andrew J. Pierre, Foreign Affairs (April 1977).

[2] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 370-371

[3] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 51

[4] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p.


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7 Responses to The Night Watch

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