Student Bill Clinton 'spied' on Americans abroad for CIA
A new book alleges that Bill Clinton spent his Oxford days monitoring anti-Vietnam war activists for the CIA, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports from Washington
WHEN Bill Clinton ran for the US presidency four years ago, Republicans tried to prove that, as a student, he burnt the Stars and Stripes in protest at the Vietnam War.
Now Dr Roger Morris, author of an astonishing new book called Partners in Power, claims that, in the late 1960s, Mr Clinton worked as a source for the Central Intelligence Agency. So, was the young Clinton a patriot or just an opportunist? He was certainly no dangerous radical. "No attack by his reactionary opponents would be more undeserved than the charge that young Bill Clinton was 'radical'," concludes Morris.
According to the book, the bearded, dishevelled Rhodes scholar was recruited by the CIA while at Oxford - along with several other young Americans with political aspirations - to keep tabs on fellow students involved in protest activities against the Vietnam War. Morris says that the young Clinton indulged in some low-level spying in Norway in 1969, visiting the Oslo Peace Institute and submitting a CIA informant's report on American peace activists who had taken refuge in Scandinavia to avoid the draft. "An officer in the CIA station in Stockholm confirmed that," said Morris.
The Washington Establishment would like to dismiss this troubling book as the work of a fevered conspiracy theorist. But Morris is no lightweight. He worked at the White House in both the Johnson and Nixon administrations, resigning from the National Security Council in 1970 in protest over the US invasion of Cambodia. He went on to become an acclaimed biographer of Richard Nixon.
Rhodes scholars such as Mr Clinton were favourite targets for recruitment
As a member of America's tight-knit association of retired intelligence officers, he has access to highly privileged information. "It's an incredible network," he explained. "They pass you along from source to source."
The CIA started recruiting campus informants under President Lyndon Johnson when he demanded hard proof that there were, in his words, "commie money and organisers behind this student s***". The programme, known as Operation Chaos, would offer informants a wide range of inducements: a little cash on the side; taking care of their draft problems; and promises of future help. "You know, if the agency's in a position to help at some point in their careers, there'd be an institutional memory," explained one CIA officer. "They knew the advantages of helping out."
Rhodes scholars such as Mr Clinton were favourite targets for recruitment. This caused serious friction with Britain's MI5 because it violated a US-UK agreement that neither country would conduct covert operations or recruit on each other's home territory. "Because of the sensitivity of the UK, these kids were treated in some ways like high-level agents," recalled one officer.
In the mid-1970s the CIA shredded its archives on Operation Chaos. One of those involved in the purge of the records told Morris that he had seen Bill Clinton listed as a former informant who went on to run for political office. "He was there in the records, with a special designation," the official is quoted as saying in the book.
Mr Clinton's alleged ties to the CIA would explain some later episodes during his tenure as Governor of Arkansas, when his state became a staging-point for President Ronald Reagan's secret effort to supply the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. An Arkansas State Trooper, L. D. Brown, has testified in a deposition that he was inducted into the CIA on Mr Clinton's suggestion, and then went on two clandestine flights to deliver weapons to Central America.
Mr Clinton was even commended for his "patriotic" work by the Reagan White House after he had sent the Arkansas National Guard to Honduras for manoeuvres. The deployment was a ruse by the Pentagon, according to Morris. The Arkansas Guard left its "excess" inventory behind, providing a cache of weapons that were slipped to the Contras.
The point is not that Bill and Hillary Clinton are Right-wingers in disguise . It is that they have no conviction, no ideology, no guiding purpose
Even Hillary Clinton was a Cold Warrior of sorts. Described in Morris's book as "a closet Contra supporter", she quietly aided Contra fund-raising in Little Rock. She also used her influence in US liberal circles to undercut the legitimacy of peace activists and pro-Sandinista church groups opposed to President Reagan's policies in Central America.
The point is not that Bill and Hillary Clinton are Right-wingers in disguise - although Morris demolishes the pretence that they were progressive reformers in Arkansas. It is that they have no conviction, no ideology, no guiding purpose. Driven by raw ambition, they will make any compromise necessary to advance their interests.
Partners in Power is the first of what will be a succession of books about the Clintons whose authors are not fooled by the shadow-boxing that often passes for substantive debate in American politics. (A second book, by the editor of the American Spectator, will be coming out later this month with another set of revelations.)
Morris violates all the taboos. Impatient with the manicured myth that Bill Clinton was the apple-pie boy from Hope, Arkansas, he reveals the little-known fact that the President spent much of his childhood in Hot Springs, the capital of gambling, drug-smuggling and organised crime in the central United States, where his powerful uncle and mentor, Raymond Clinton, was a member of the Dixie mafia.
It was not Mr Clinton's fault, of course, that he grew up in the culture of "the Mob". But it is central to understanding who Bill Clinton really is. It helps explain why his brother, Roger, ended up as a convicted drug dealer, and why Bill himself allegedly became a regular user of cocaine. (On a police surveillance videotape quoted from in the book, Roger can be heard saying to a supplier of cocaine: "Got to get some for my brother. He's got a nose like a vacuum cleaner.")
For Morris, ensconced in his New Mexico mountain retreat, the American political system is now fatally corrupted. Democrats and Republicans noisily dispute how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. But both are indentured servants of the permanent government - "a bureaucracy so self-corrupted it is unfit for democracy" - and the interlocking interests of the lobby machine to be found on Washington's K Street.
It already looks as if the US media will try to ignore Partners in Power, which is to be published next week. "Their reaction is entirely predictable," said Morris. "If they were to behave any other way, my book would not be true."
This report appeared in the last edition of The Sunday Telegraph