Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 01/30/2011

The CIA's complicated relationship with Egypt

By Jeff Stein

Like a long and mostly unhappy marriage, the CIA’s relationship with Egypt is complicated, with plenty of ups and downs.

The Egyptian security services and the CIA have been co-dependents for over six decades, from 1952, when the young agency supported the Free Officers movement that toppled the monarchy, to the twilight partnership against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism that began in earnest in 1995.

Gamal Abdel Nasser, the army officer who came to power in 1956, wanted assurances that the CIA would not work against him. Of course, he got them, from the American ambassador, only to be disappointed later.

As Tim Weiner related in "Legacy of Ashes," his critical history of CIA operations, “a happy-go-lucky case officer carelessly exposed the agency’s relationship with a prominent Cairo newspaper editor named Mustapha Amin [who] had been close to Nasser.” A photograph was taken of the agency officer handing Amin an envelope.

Likewise, the CIA had a dual relationship with Nasser’s successor, Anwar al-Sadat, supporting him with one hand, spying on him with many others.

“A CIA security operation in Egypt, designed to provide...Sadat with protection and warnings of coup and assassination plots, also provided the CIA with electronic and human access to Egypt’s government, its society and its leader,” The Post’s Bob Woodward wrote in “Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987.”

“The place was wired,” Woodward wrote.

The CIA’s double-vision in Egypt, of course, was no different than in any other “friendly” country. But the partnership with its Cairo counterpart intensified in the mid-1990s with the swelling threat of Islamic fundamentalism.

Michael Scheuer, the first head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, told Congress how the Clinton administration enlisted Egypt as a key collaborator in the agency’s “renditions” program in 1995.

“It was begun in desperation.… We were turning into voyeurs. We knew where these people were, but we couldn’t capture them because we had nowhere to take them” due to legal and diplomatic complications, Scheuer told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing in 2009.

The CIA, Scheuer said, realized that “we had to come up with a third party.” Egypt was the obvious choice, because the Islamic Jihad was trying to bring down the Egyptian government, while many Islamic Jihad militants also worked for al-Qaeda.

"There were no qualms at all about sending people to Cairo," Scheuer testified.

And there were no illusions. At the CIA, Scheuer maintained, there was a “kind of joking up our sleeves about what would happen to those people in Cairo in Egyptian prisons.”

The CIA shipped between 60 and 70 terrorist suspects to Egypt, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said in 2005. But he denied torture was routine.

"It happens sometimes, and we've seen police abuses all over the world," Nazif said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "But I don't think it should be taken as a standard practice."

The CIA’s man to see in Cairo was Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian intelligence boss whom Hosni Mubarak nudged from the shadows Saturday to be his vice president.

“Omar Suleiman negotiated directly with top [CIA] officials” on the renditions, Jane Mayer wrote in “Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals.”

Edward S. Walker, the American ambassador in Cairo at the time, described Suleiman as "very bright, very realistic,” according to the account of Mayer and others. The envoy said that Suleiman was aware of the flap potential of “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on.”

Walker added that Suleiman “was not squeamish, by the way."

At the same time, diplomats in the American Embassy were critical of CIA-funded Egyptian security projects, Walker told the British journalist Stephen Grey, including a "program to train Egyptian special operations forces in counterterrorism arrests.”

The trouble, though, was that "too many people died while fleeing...It got to be a little too obvious, and the agency got very nervous about this,'” Walker told Grey.

Now, of course, the tables have been turned. It’s Suleiman and Mubarak who are nervous, and no doubt the CIA, too. But the two Egyptians have far more cause for worry than the CIA.

The spy agency will always find a way -- many ways -- to stay at work in Egypt after Mubarak is gone.

“I can’t see that there’s any way Mubarkak can reestablish himself," Walker told SpyTalk on Sunday. "He’s wounded and discredited, and ultimately the military is going to look out for itself."

As for Suleiman, “If he's talking to the CIA station chief, I think they’re both talking about stability and how you guarantee it -- what’s the best process," Walker said. "I’m sure they’re doing everything they can to let him know that they’re with him, that we also want stability and a transition to a government that has popular support."

When Mubarak goes down, in other words, Suleiman won't be going with him.

“I think that’s right," Walker said.

As for the CIA, "They’re going to want to make sure that they have continuing access, that the relationship between the intelligence agencies is strong and survives this, so we can use it in the future."

By Jeff Stein  | January 30, 2011; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy, Intelligence, Military, Politics  | Tags:  Edward S. Walker, Omar Suleiman; Hosni Mubarak  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Egypt’s spy chief stands in the wings
Next: FBI in hundreds of privacy violations, report finds


Suleiman sounds like a real snake. Thankfully in this situation, the U.S. has ZERO control over what is going to happen in Egypt this time... and oh, if Mubarak goes, Suleiman will be on the next plane behind him.

Posted by: scoob1900 | January 30, 2011 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Our spook agencies have a long history of screwing up our long term foreign policy in order to achieve petty short term advantages. It is time to shut these opaque, unaccountable organizations down! They are one of the biggest threats to freedom in America!

Posted by: dmasnaghetti | January 30, 2011 11:31 AM | Report abuse

These two comments posted so far are the usual silly, adolescent and uninformed stuff one reads here about the C.I.A.

Posted by: CharlesGriffith1 | January 30, 2011 12:11 PM | Report abuse

The US CIA interference and meddling in internal affairs of other nations as per US so called policies is an unending fiasco all over the world from South America, all of Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and all of Asia. All that at some several trillion dollar cost to the US taxpayers money over three or four decades. To that end what is happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Israel, Lebanon etc is no different.

Posted by: winemaster2 | January 30, 2011 12:12 PM | Report abuse

The main question here is: Who is in control of the CIA?

It certainly seems that the President isn't!

The CIA Directorate isn't!

Otherwise, why don't heads roll after we learn of intelligence blunders within the agency?

So who IS in control of the CIA?

Posted by: helloisanyoneoutthere | January 30, 2011 12:32 PM | Report abuse

whiners and fellow travellers again have the opportunity to further damage our intelligence operations,thanks again wapo for publishing the BS ur hacks write.the arab(muslim) countries will take $$$$$$$$$$$ from anyone.lie,cheat,steal is a way of life for islam in order to acheive its goal of world dominance. the brother hood is back in egypt for good and now have the support of all scumlims. farouk,nassir,sadat,mubarak all the same.only ? is who will be the next pharouh.perhaps the paks will locate the lunatic obl and send him to restore order. black bag sheet no longer works when u have oil.

Posted by: pofinpa | January 30, 2011 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Ike created the CIA to do corporate America's dirty work on foreign soil subrosa. Democracy at home and away have suffered ever since. Egypt is just the latest country in the news about CIA operations there.What it and the rest of our warfare industry have sewn there we shall reap.

Gary Brumback

Posted by: garybrumback1 | January 30, 2011 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Ike created the CIA to do corporate America's dirty work on foreign soil subrosa. Democracy at home and away have suffered ever since. Egypt is just the latest country in the news about CIA operations there.What it and the rest of our warfare industry have sewn there we shall reap.

Gary Brumback

Posted by: garybrumback1 | January 30, 2011 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Putting aside the CIA's "failed" operations - take any of their "successes" and add 20-25 years and they all fall apart with negative consequences and costs for the United States.

Posted by: chucka1 | January 30, 2011 12:46 PM | Report abuse

I just wanted to wait them out around a ..... but the WH had to keep propagating the protesters. First with the aid, so the civilians had no fear of the military, endorsing the MB, putting the officers in two minds and taking control of the military from the President hence succession had to be arranged with the military. One thing is clear that after the deadline has elapsed that people will die regardless of ..... I wanted to avoid that. Now it will be messy real messy in more ways than one, some units are loyal some units are not. But there are peace with both Libya and Israel so no hostile force to allow this to be worked out internally. Once the aid is cut after the crackdown alternate fiscal supply can be found via the Kingdom of Saud and other Sunni benefactors.

Posted by: tcmsols1 | January 30, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Very useful and informative article, Jeff-certainly better than the breathless, ignorant shite being spewed by the Post editors that's for sure!

Mubarak WILL survive this-and Egypt's long history and support for counter-terrorist operations, their cooperation and support for the CIA will continue-it's good to know more about Suleiman-he sounds like the right man for the job, should Mubarak want to cede some power to him in an interim government.

As for the protestors-let them continue to protest, as in Thailand, they will eventually wear themselves out. It's clear that the Egyptian professional military supports Mubarak 100%-which is why military jets were flying low over the crowds today, as a warning to them that the military does NOT back the protests.

And Charles Griffith-absolutely correct-it's astounding how naive and ignorant the American public is about our intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA.

Posted by: Spring_Rain | January 30, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

In the end, just like here, the people will do as they're told.

Posted by: hc2254 | January 30, 2011 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Not squeamish? Neither was the Boston Strangler.

Posted by: brewstercounty | January 30, 2011 2:10 PM | Report abuse

And pray tell; what legitimate reason is there for the CIA to be that involved with Egyptian politics? (Answer - imperialism.) What would be the reaction if Egyptian intelligence services were manipulating the US political scene? (Answer - outrage.)
The problem with the US is that it ignores it's own deficiencies and meddles with others. All for the sake of multinational corporations.
Tragic waste of money and lives.

Posted by: ccalhoun1 | January 30, 2011 5:14 PM | Report abuse

I hope the CIA is covertly supporting somebody to take over Egypt that is favorable to us. Otherwise, it looks like we got caught flatfooted.

Posted by: Doctor_Evil | January 30, 2011 5:47 PM | Report abuse

> Ike created the CIA to do corporate America's dirty work...

I'm impressed. The CIA was established by the National Security Act of July 1947 and Ike was inaugurated in January 1953. So I guess he was a time traveler?

Posted by: TexLex | January 30, 2011 9:47 PM | Report abuse

It is the CIA in control of the President most likely and he is then under constant surveillence for the rest of his life too... and no doubt the darkside and glovesoffishness is as true here at home as anywhere else if not more so...

Posted by: Wildthing1 | January 31, 2011 8:28 PM | Report abuse

Plant something in your garden or house to make up for loss of green. You can't win them all.

Posted by: jobandon | January 31, 2011 8:52 PM | Report abuse

It's not mentioned in Wikipedia, but I distinctly remember Reinhard Gehlen mentioning in his autobiography that he helped set up Egyptian Intelligence. The immediate benefit would be a great read on how to handle the Muslim Brotherhood. Remember Gehlen's aid to the CIA gave it a big leg up.

Posted by: eGREGie | February 1, 2011 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company