Operation Valuable Fiend

Title:                      Operation Valuable Fiend

Author:                 Albert Lulushi

Lulushi, Albert (2014). Operation Valuable Fiend: The CIA’s First Paramilitary Strike Against the Iron Curtain. New York: Arcade Publishing

LCCN:    2014004159

DR977 .L85 2014

Scope and content

  • “In 1949, a newly minted branch of the CIA (the precursor of today’s national clandestine service), flush with money and burning with determination to roll back the Iron Curtain, embarked on the first paramilitary operation in the history of the agency. They hatched an elaborate plan, coordinated with the British Secret Intelligence Service, to foment popular rebellion and detach Albania, the weakest of the Soviet satellites in Europe, from Moscow’s orbit. The operation resulted in dismal failure and was shut down by 1954. In Operation Valuable Fiend, Albert Lulushi gives the first full accounting of this CIA action, based on hundreds of declassified documents, memoirs, and recollections of key participants, including Albanian exiles recruited for missions and their Communist opponents. Up till now, the story of the operation has been obfuscated and even distorted. Some blamed the Soviet mole Kim Philby for sabotaging it; the communists credited the prowess of their secret police; and CIA memoirs were heavily sanitized. Lulushi documents a range of factors that led to the failure, from inexperienced CIA case officers outsmarted in spy-vs-spy games by their ruthless Stalinist opponents; to rivalries between branches of the CIA and between the agency and friendly intelligence services; and conflicts among anti-Communist factions that included Albania’s colorful exiled leader, King Zog. The book also shows how this operation served as the proving ground for techniques used in later CIA Cold War paramilitary actions-involving some of the same agency operatives-including the coup d’e;tats in Iran and Guatemala and the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba”– Provided by publisher.


  • Acronyms — Cryptonyms and Pseudonyms — Note on the Pronunciation of Albanian Names — Prologue — The Office of Policy Coordination — Albania between 1912 and 1949 — Genesis of Operation Fiend — The National Committee for Free Albania — Philby in Washington — First Infiltrations of 1949 — Reevaluation of Project Fiend — Labor Services Company 4000 — Odyssey of the First CIA Paramilitary Team — Philby’s Exit — Propaganda and Psychological and Economic Warfare — Adverse Developments in the Infiltration Program — A Bucket of Diamonds and Rubies — A Rich Harvest of Bitter Fruit — King Zog Overstays His Time in Egypt — Planning the Fondest Dream — The American Backers Are Obliged to Withdraw — Lessons and Legacy of Project Fiend — Epilogue.


Date Posted:      December 16, 2016

Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).[1]

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[2]

Operation Valuable Fiend: The CIA’s First Paramilitary Strike Against the Iron Curtain

By Albert Lulushi

Arcade Publishing, 2.014, 32.6 pp., endnotes, bibliography, photos, index.

Albert Lulushi is an Albanian-American who learned in the 1970s of the multiple operations conducted by the CIA and its allies aimed at overthrowing the communist Albanian regime—headed by Enver Hoxha—beginning in 1949. He remembers the museum in Tirana, run by the Albanian secret police (the Sigurimi) that housed an extensive display of artifacts taken from the “diversionists”—teams captured when their attempts to bring down the regime failed.

After the protests of 1989 led to reforms by the communist government, Lulushi left Albania and arrived in the United States in 1990. It was here that he learned about other versions of the unsuccessful attempts to topple the Hoxha regime. The prevailing explanation for the failed operations at that time was laid out in a book by Nicholas Bethell[3] that placed the blame squarely on Kim Philby, a view he accepted. Then in 2012, Lulushi had occasion to examine the case again and discovered that the timeline of events ruled out Philby as the source that compromised many of the operations. Seeking to find the complete story, he learned the CIA files on the operations had been declassified and were available at the National Archive. Access to former participants in America and Albania followed. Operation Valuable Fiend is the result.

There was no Operation Valuable Fiend. Project FIEND or BGFIEND (p. xii) was the first, or one of the first, covert action projects undertaken by the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC). The more experienced British, who initially played an equally active role in the project, gave their plan the codename VALUABLE. (p. 53) Lulushi describes some operational collaboration between the two, for example, his very interesting account of the 15 November 1949 joint planning session in the Pentagon chaired by Frank Wisner, with Philby representing SIS. But his emphasis is on FIEND, the Albanian reactions and the multiple sources that could account for failure after failure of the infiltration attempts. And while he makes a plausible case that Philby was not the one who compromised the first British attempt, he does not disprove Bethell’s assertion, and the MI6 didn’t provide any documents that helped. By 1950, with CIA’s absorption of the bulk of the effort, it was agreed that, while collaboration would continue at the policy level, operations would be continued unilaterally. (p. 95)

Operation Valuable Fiend chronicles in detail the numerous attempts to achieve the FIEND goals even as the possibility of success spiraled out of view. Lulushi also describes ancillary programs of propaganda, economic warfare, and psychological persuasion designed to enhance the probability of success. Nothing worked, and by 1953 the programs were shut down. Thus ended any hope that the former ruler of Albania, King Zog—who had cooperated in FIEND projects, albeit reluctantly at times—could regain his throne.

Lulushi concludes, somewhat surprisingly, that despite the failure of the project, “the world is a better place because of the efforts spent.” (p. 259) His is the most complete account to date and well worth close attention.

[1] On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]

[2] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (21, 3, Fall/Winter 2015, pp. 122-123). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at http://www.cia.gov

[3] Bethell, Lord Nicholas (1984). The Great Betrayal: The Untold Story of Kim Philby’s Biggest Coup. London: Hodder and Stoughton

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