AP Obit Paints Traitorous Ex-CIA Agent, Castro Apologist As Travel Agent

January 9th, 2008 1:28 PM

Update (17:35): Paul Colford with AP e-mailed me with an updated obit posted at 14:40 EST that had more information. See more at bottom of the post.

Philip Agee, a leftist who exposed fellow CIA operatives by name in a book he published in the 1970s has died in Cuba. Agee's perfidy was one reason Congress in 1982 passed the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. If that doesn't ring a bell, that's precisely the law that Bush administration critics charged Karl Rove and/or Scooter Libby violated in the "outing" of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Yet while the Plame case was a media obsession for roughtly four years, the AP's Will Weissert buried that detail deep in its January 9 obituary. What's more, the wire service practically painted Agee's defection to Cuba as retirement from CIA work to the private sector:

Agee's U.S. passport was revoked in 1979. U.S. officials said he had threatened national security. After years of living in Hamburg, Germany — occasionally underground, fearing CIA retribution — Agee moved to Havana to open a travel Web site.

The site, cubalinda.com, is designed to bring U.S. tourists to Cuba, offering package tours and other help that is largely off-limits to Americans because of the U.S. trade embargo. Agee opened the site in 2000 with European investors and a state-run travel agent as his partners.

The AP, again buried deep within the obit, noted that Agee defended Castro's human rights abuses as late as 2003 in Granma, the island's official Communist Party propaganda newspaper:

The author of several other books besides "Inside the Company," one of Agee's last essays was published in Granma International newspaper in 2003 and came shortly after a Cuban government crackdown led to the arrest of 75 leading dissidents and political activists.

"To think that the dissidents were creating an independent, free civil society is absurd, for they were funded and controlled by a hostile foreign power and to that degree, which was total, they were not free or independent in the least," he wrote.

Agee has been accused of receiving up to $1 million in payments from the Cuban intelligence service. He denied the accusations, which were first made by a high-ranking Cuban intelligence officer and defector in a 1992 report.

Also unmentioned in the AP obit: Agee wrote periodically for Counterpunch.org, a far left Web magazine.

This isn't the first time Agee has received soft treatment in the press. CNN.com ran a puffy item on Agee back in June 2000:

HAVANA (CNN) -- Philip Agee, a former CIA agent who in the 1970s wrote a book about the agency and its operations, is now telling Americans to break the law and take a vacation in Cuba.

"Well, I would like to see people ignore the law, that is to the degree the law doesn't have any meaning anymore," said Agee, 65.

The law Agee considers meaningless is the 38-year-old U.S. trade embargo, which prohibits Americans from doing business with or spending money in Cuba.


Agee has compared breaking that law to people breaking the Prohibition laws against alcohol in the 1920s and 1930s.

"The whole idea is to take a chance. I mean, what fun is life if you're not taking a chance. I've been taking chances for a long, long time. I took a lot of chances when I was in the CIA," Agee said

And like the bootleggers who ignored Prohibition, Agee has financial reasons to urge others to break the trade embargo against Cuba.

From spy to travel agent

Agee runs a travel Web site from Havana called Cubalinda.com, which translates to pretty Cuba. It books hotels and tours and answers e-mail questions, many that originate from the United States.

Update (17:35): AP Director of Media Relations Paul Colford shot me an e-mail noting an updated story was posted this afternoon:

I saw your post regarding the AP’s Philip Agee obituary. You may have missed a subsequent writethru that moved on AP’s wire at 2:40 p.m. today, New York time. I have appended it below.

Thanks very much.

Paul Colford

Director of Media Relations


HAVANA (AP) _ Renegade former CIA agent Philip Agee, whose naming of agency operatives helped prompt a U.S. law against exposing government spies, has died in Cuba, his wife said Wednesday. He was 72.

¶ Agee quit the CIA in 1969 after 12 years working mostly in Latin America at a time when leftist movements were gaining prominence and sympathizers. His 1975 book "Inside the Company: CIA Diary," cited alleged misdeeds against leftists in the region and included a 22-page list of purported agency operatives.

¶ The list created an uproar around the world and helped prompt Congress to pass a law against naming clandestine U.S. agents abroad. It also led the State Department to strip Agee of his U.S. passport.

¶ Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism chief, said Agee's book "was considered a very serious blow to CIA's clandestine operations."

¶ "It had a major impact, some people had to be pulled out," he said.

¶ Former CIA colleagues and some U.S. officials called Agee a traitor and alleged he was linked to Cuban and Soviet intelligence agencies. Agee denied the allegations and said he thought of himself as part of the American tradition of dissent and as "a critic of hypocrisy, a critic of crime in high places."

¶ His wife, Giselle Roberge Agee, said Agee was hospitalized in Havana on Dec. 16 and underwent surgery for perforated ulcers. He died Monday because of a related infection and his remains were cremated. He is survived by her and two grown sons from a previous marriage.

¶ Agee said she and her husband lived in Hamburg, Germany, but kept an apartment in Havana's Vedado district and frequently traveled to Cuba as part of Agee's business, a Web site specializing in bringing Americans to the island despite Washington's decades-old embargo.

¶ "He was a friend of the Cuban revolution," she said.

¶ Granma, Cuba's Communist Party newspaper, published a small story Wednesday, describing Agee as "a loyal friend of Cuba and fervent defender of the peoples' fight for a better world."

¶ Brian Latell, a former top Cuba analyst at the CIA, said he never met Agee, but "of course I know him by his reputation, by his betrayal of his former colleagues and of the CIA and of his country."

¶ Soviet and Cuban defectors alleged Agee had received money or aid from communist intelligence services, and critics noted he spent several months in Cuba after retiring from the CIA.

¶ In denying Agee a new passport in 1987, Secretary of State George Shultz cited CIA reports that said he was a paid adviser to Cuban intelligence, had trained Nicaraguan security officials and had instructed security officials in Grenada before a U.S. invasion toppled a communist government there.

¶ Agee attorney Melvin Wulf called those charges "a tissue of lies."

¶ Agee was never prosecuted in the United States. Cannistraro said that was because officials feared a trial would expose Soviet defectors living in America under new identities.

¶ In 1989, Vice President George H.W. Bush _ a former CIA director _ said he had "nothing but disdain" for Agee: "Those who go around publicizing the names of CIA people abroad are despicable."

¶ Agee sued Bush's wife, Barbara, over an allegation in her autobiography that Agee had exposed the CIA's Greece station chief, Richard S. Welch, who was later killed by leftist terrorists.

¶ She settled the issue by dropping the reference to Agee, who had not mentioned Welch in his book. Instead, she blamed a magazine Agee worked for that also named alleged CIA agents. Agee's defenders said that Welch's identity was already known.

¶ While Agee's actions inspired the law against exposing covert U.S. operatives, he drew a distinction between what he did and the naming of CIA officer Valerie Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who had raised questions about the basis of President Bush's Iraq policy.

¶ "This is entirely different than what I was doing in the 1970s," Agee said at the time. "This is purely dirty politics in my opinion."

¶ Agee said that he disclosed the identities of his former colleagues to "weaken the instrument for carrying out the policy of supporting military dictatorships" in Greece, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

¶ Those regimes "were supported by the CIA and the human cost was immense: torture, executions, death squads," he said.

¶ After years of living in Spain and Germany _ occasionally underground, fearing CIA retribution _ Agee began spending more time in Havana, where he opened the travel site with European and Cuban government investors in 2000. It offers package tours and other help getting to an island that is largely off-limits to Americans because of the embargo.

¶ One of Agee's last essays was published in Granma International newspaper in 2003 shortly after the Cuban government arrested 75 leading dissidents and political activists.

¶ "To think that the dissidents were creating an independent, free civil society is absurd," he wrote, "for they were funded and controlled by a hostile foreign power and to that degree, which was total, they were not free or independent in the least."