CIA’s Secret Operations

Title:                      CIA’s Secret Operations

Author:                  Harry A. Rositzke

Rositzke, Harry August (1988). CIA’s Secret Operations: Espionage, Counterespionage, and Covert Action. Boulder, CO: Westview Press

LCCN:    88005666

JK468.I6 R67 1988



  • Reprint, with new introd. Originally published: New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1977.
  • “A Westview encore edition.”

Date Updated:  March 1, 2017

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

An OSS veteran, Rositzke served twenty-five years in CIA in a variety of assignments as senior officer. Three of these composed the bulk of his CIA career-Soviet operations, India, and operations against communist parties. He goes to great pains to emphasize that this is not a history of CIA’s operations but is meant to redress the balance of the record on CIA. Without access to official records after retirement in 1970, he had to rely on recall. To protect sources and method, he alters the location of many operations, conceals identities, and leaves dates vague. The focus is on his major professional interest: secret operations against the Soviet Union, its intelligence services, and key communist parties. There is virtually nothing on his experiences in India; however, he does inform us that each of the wars between India and Pakistan was forecast by agents. There are segments on various types of operations of CIA against the Soviets and their allies. Much of what he writes of techniques has been said before, but he has blended in examples, some of which are new. Thus, he is perhaps the first expert Western official to verify the compromise of the Berlin Tunnel by the Soviet agent George Blake; he may be one of the first to discuss the WIN disaster in Poland. His descriptions of cross-border operations are rare for their intimate knowledge and because of his intelligence rank. His experience of secret operations and reflection give him a special perspective. He unequivocally calls the Soviet services “the most competent and aggressive secret service in the world.” He bases this judgment on the Soviet operational record but does not discuss Soviet analytical or estimative performance. There are also questionable facts and opinions. Rositzke cannot be certain that Philby was the KGB’s most productive postwar agent in the West; he is perhaps too categoric on the timing of Blake’s recruitment; there are gaps in his knowledge of the Abel case. Research indicates that Truman himself wrote the 1963 article criticizing CIA. Rositzke’s treatment of certain matters, like the Iran coup, shows that he is less familiar with them. His recommendations for the future include warnings against politicizing the intelligence function, appointing a counterintelligence ombudsman, and concentrating exclusively on strategic intelligence targets and the frank pronouncement that the heart of the U.S. intelligence problem is the large size of the intelligence bureaucracy. The selective picture he provides of CIA and its secret operations is as candid.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[2]

An important memoir based on the author’s 25 years of CIA experience in a variety of assignments in the Clandestine Services. The book contains a mixture of autobiographical descriptions and textbook-like, trade craft insights designed, as the author states, to “replace ignorance and distortion (about covert action) with fact.” Rositzke devotes three chapters to covert action dealing with black propaganda, paramilitary operations, and political action operations. The book is not without its pro-CIA, pro-covert action messages.


A series of often unfavorable yet generally complacent judgments on the CIA, interspersed with anecdotes, by a 1946-1970 Agency official involved in espionage, counterespionage, and covert operations.

Saying that most secret missions have been failures, Rositzke writes that the CIA became “overstretched” during the Cold War. First the agency allegedly concentrated on developing a warning capability against Soviet military attack, a focus Rositzke calls unwarranted, but it soon turned into “an all-purpose action instrument for secretly executing presidential policies” when, in the early 1950s, the USSR launched an “open and covert offensive against the US and Europe.”

Rositzke and his agents had considerable success recruiting spies, planting and “turning” Eastern diplomats and Communist Party functionaries, and redeploying double agents. But the paramilitary side was an “almost uniform failure”: this includes an attempt to overthrow the Albanian government as well as the agency’s involvement in lndochina (a few flat paragraphs).

Rositzke simply dismisses the spate of recent charges against the CIA (involvement in JFK’s assassination, involvement with domestic police, etc.) as an “exercise in absurdity” which can only aid the Soviet KGB; he also insists that, since the CIA always follows executive orders, it is being made a “fall guy.” His recommendations: end our “defensive strategy” of “containment, “use “economic power,” accommodate to the global “leftward direction,” divide innocuous intelligence work from a new, small “secret service,” and remember, this is “not a moral world.” Nor, although Rositzke was an important functionary, is this an important book, just a rather condescending one.

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

Rositzke was a professional intelligence officer, first in OSS, then in CIA from which he retired in 1970. Virtually his entire career was spent in the Clandestine Services, where he held several senior positions. This book is intended neither as an expose nor as a manual of tradecraft, although it discusses a good many secret operations (heavily disguised as to places and dates). Rather it is an account of some of CIA’s operations, expressing the author’s praise, and, at times, his personal criticism. Rositzke has no doubt of the need for a professional service free of abuses, although one can differ with some of his remedies as expressed in the last chapter.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 392-393

[2] 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. 214

[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. 54



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5 Responses to CIA’s Secret Operations

  1. Pingback: The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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