“Secrets of the CIA”: Phil Roettinger tells his story

Secrets of the CIA is a film written and directed by James Otis. Produced by Turner Original Productions, Inc., 1998. The transcript below is an extract courtesy of John Bernhart. Full transcript is available here from Darrel G Moen’s blog.

A frightening and true story, Secrets of the CIA draws on highly personal stories of numerous ex-CIA agents.

Phil Roettinger: I went through World War II as an officer in the Marine Corps, came back, and one night the doorbell rang and I want [to the door] and here was this nattily dressed man in a nice suit and a snap-brim hat. And he said, “May I come in?” And I said, “Well, I think you had better identify yourself. Who are you?” “Well,” he said, “I know who you are and you’ve been recommended very highly to our organization.” I said, “What’s your organization?” [He said,] “Well, I’m not at liberty to tell you what the organization is.” And I said, “This is crazy! But I told him, “Come on in,” [because] he was a little guy and I thought I could handle him pretty well. And he said, “You have been accepted in our organization, and we want you to go to Central America.” And I said, “What? Central America? Come on!” So that’s how it happened. I was to join this group that went to Central America and I found out that I was supposed to be in charge of overthrowing a government in Central America. “It doesn’t sound right,” and I said, “What’s the government?” “Well,” [he said,] we don’t want to go into it too deeply here, yet.” “Well,” I said, “I think you’d better forget the whole thing.” “Oh, no no no no no! It’s very important,” and so finally he did let out that we were going to overthrow the government of Guatemala.

Well now, I had been to Guatemala before several years before that because I was a member of the U.S. Olympic team and we were requested to go down and help organize the Games, the Central American/Caribbean Games.

Voiceover: Doves are released: living symbols of the peace and friendship among the twenty-two nations represented.

Phil Roettinger: So I knew people down there. I knew this gentleman by the name of Arbenz, and the CIA was going to have me overthrow these friends of mine. Well, they explained to me that this is extremely important to the security of the United States. (When they pull that, you know there’s something wrong because the United States is so secure that nobody is ever going to do anything to it.) Anyway, so I said, “Well, okay, I’ll do it.” And we organized a group of dissident Guatemalans, armed them and trained them minimally, and sent them off up to overthrow the government [Operation El Diablo].

Voiceover: Fighting ends in Guatemala. These rebel troops backed by air power have compelled the ousting of Guatemala’s pro-communist regime and have won a ceasefire from government forces. That red rule in Guatemala is over is grimly symbolized by the determination of the insurgents themselves and by this effigy of ex-president Arbenz who fled the country. The sign reads: “Go back to Russia.”

Richard Nixon: You know there were some people during the Arbenz regime that said there was a question as to whether it was truly a communist regime and as to whether it was controlled by Moscow. Do we have here the proof that there was no question whatsoever?

1954 Guatemala Coup Spokesman: There was no doubt at all that Russia controlled all the communists here in Guatemala, sir.

Richard Nixon: In other words, the Arbenz regime was not a Guatemala government; it was a foreign government controlled by foreigners.

Phil Roettinger: What happened was that they went up there and caused great bloodshed and great damage, which have never been corrected even to this day. That started the whole thing in Guatemala and is why we’re having all this trouble today.

The only thing that can be done, of course, is to work with our Congress because everything that happens in Latin America or any place else in the world begins in our Congress.

Now look: Are you in favor of killing somebody that you don’t know? Are you in favor of torturing somebody? Are you in favor of locking people up in dungeons and things? Are you really in favor of that because I don’t think that you are? And I think that I can get that across to you pretty well if I get a chance to talk to you like that.

Ralph McGehee: I feel that because of the problems that I went through, the realizations that I came to, the efforts that I’ve taken to counter–if I may call it this–this monster, that I am contributing so much now that I could not have contributed had I not joined the agency.

Verne Lyon: There’s no way I can make amends, but certainly helping in this effort to expose the abuses of our intelligence services, perhaps, in some small way will help pay that debt.

Narrator: In an organization that celebrates loyalty and security, the public confessions of these former agents have been hard to swallow, but as revelations of the Agency’s failures and deceit pile up, the courage to speak out has spread from one agent to another.

Phil Roettinger: I promise that I will do as much as I can for peace in Latin America. Thank you very much.


More information on Operation PBSuccess
Charlie Clements Reflects on Guatemala, Past and Present
The Secret Government – PBS Documentary
Guatemala’s Respite From War

Categories: Culture

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