Young Bernie Sanders in 1974: “Dangerous” CIA “Has Got To Go”
Cheered Remarks At Vermont Senate Forum Resurface

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | February 24, 2016                      

Young Bernie Sanders As a Presidential candidate, many feel Bernie Sanders’ real forté is economic matters, not foreign policy. Yet the veteran Senator, who often touts his 2002 “no” vote on the Iraq War, has recently caught attention for his more reflective approach to international relations, particularly with his rejuvenation of the long U.S. history of regime change.

“[N]obody knows who Mossadegh was”, Sanders told the Milwaukee audience at the 6th Democratic debate, describing the still little-known 1953 coup in Iran which crushed his democratic government and its disastrous outcome in some detail. It was his third time raising the issue at the debates.

In response, a Feb. 22nd Politico piece delved further into Sanders’ rich history of CIA-bashing, quoting from a forgotten 1974 event featuring he and two other Vermont Senatorial hopefuls. Then a candidate with the short-lived Liberty Union Party, Sanders had just turned 33 at the time, less than half the age he is now at 74.

The election held the following month resulted in Sanders finishing a distant third, far behind Rep. Mallary and the 34 year-old victor, Patrick Leahy. Leahy went on to a long career in the Senate which continues today. His wariness of the Central Intelligence Agency carries on as well. After they were caught spying on the Senate, an “appalled” Leahy demanded an explanation from CIA Director John Brennan, saying “The CIA’s misconduct threatens the institution of the Senate and its role in ensuring the proper oversight of our government.”

Michael Crowley of Politico

As The Politico article by Michael Crowley showed, young Bernard Sanders was particularly harsh in his criticisms of the unaccountable spy agency, going as far as calling for the CIA’s abolishment. The discovery of this Nixon-era episode in Vermont, once of local interest only, is obviously of some significance now, as the background of Presidential candidates and their past views are inevitably dug up and scrutinized during an election cycle.

Picking up from The Politico, Jon Schwarz of The Intercept offered some context to the remarks, quoting other famous CIA-skeptics who called for the diluting or termination of the agency like Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Sec. of State Dean Acheson (He could have also included someone still living like Ron Paul). So, suggested the article, perhaps the “abolish the CIA” stance is not quite as radical as it might seem.

Schwarz’ other angle was that Crowley may have been fed this data by the Hillary Clinton campaign to make Sanders seem looney. Crowley does open with some arguably snarky language, and he did solicit comments from Jeremy Bash, formerly CIA and Pentagon Chief of Staff under Leon Panetta, who is critical of Sanders’ views and now advising the Clinton campaign.

While Crowley’s piece does not strike me as being particularly biased, I don’t think it’s an unfair question to ask—this could end up becoming a real talking point in the race. Sanders might be confronted about his decades-old comments in interviews or at the debates themselves.

Jon Schwarz of The Intercept

Schwarz says during a phone conversation he repeatedly asked Crowley if the Clinton camp was involved at all, yet he would not give a direct answer. For whatever reason, Crowley dodged all efforts to reveal the source of these newfound Bernie quotes, making it difficult to verify their authenticity. (Crowley was not the first to point out that Sanders once called for the CIA to be shut down. Mother Jones, for one, did so back in May 2015).

I believe I’ve found Crowley’s sources, or at the very least, confirmed the quotes in his article. All of the Sanders quotes Crowley selected can be found in an Oct. 1st write-up in The Bennington Banner. All but one, that is, about domestic terrorism, which can be found in the June 16, 1976 edition of the very same Vermont newspaper.

It should be noted that Crowley did briefly reference the Banner, though I can’t say for sure whether or not it was his sole source. Yet Crowley seems to have made some errors: he states that the forum took place in October 1974, when it was actually on September 27th. He indicates that Sanders referred to Mossadegh, yet the article makes no mention of him or Iran. And unless there are conflicting transcripts floating around, he appears to have badly misquoted Sanders. Compare the following:


Sanders called the CIA “a dangerous institution that has got to go,” saying the CIA is “responsible to nobody except a handful of right-wing lunatics and the big multinational corporate interests.”


The agency was accountable to no one, he fumed, “except right-wing lunatics who use it to prop up fascist dictatorships.” [Perhaps Crowley intended to isolate “right-wing lunatics” as a quote but forgot]

Here’s another reason why getting the quotation right matters—at last night’s Democratic Town Hall in South Carolina, just one day after the Politico article posted, Sanders was indeed asked about his 1974 CIA remarks. Not only did CNN moderator Chris Cuomo read directly from Crowley’s apparently garbled transcription, these words—some of which probably did not belong to Sanders—were posted on screen as well.

Sanders disavowed his call to shut down the CIA, which “plays an important role”, but not the essence of his criticism, taking the opportunity to once again discuss the CIA covert operations against Mohammad Mossadegh and Salvador Allende. Watch:

In the interest of full disclosure and a better understanding of Bernie Sanders’ position and the context in which he expressed them, here is the original article from which it all began.

October 1, 1974
The Bennington Banner

‘Beast of secrecy’
Senate hopefuls criticize
secret activities of CIA


PUTNEY — The Central Intelligence Agency was the prime target of the three major candidates for U.S. Senate from Vermont when they met in Putney Friday night to discuss the role of the Senate in foreign affairs.

Democratic Chittenden County State’s Attorney Patrick J. Leahy, Republican Rep. Richard W. Mallary, and Bernard Sanders of the Liberty Union Party were the guests of the Windham World Affairs Council in the first of the Council’s fall lecture series.

Write-in senatorial candidate Earl S. Gardner of Newfane also was present as a member of the audience, but was not invited to speak with the other candidates in the more than two hours of debate.

The topic of the CIA as a force in foreign affairs was broached by Sanders. Sanders took Mallary to task for not mentioning the CIA in his keynote remarks on the operations of U.S. foreign policy.

Mallary replied later that he had been trying to stick to the topic of to Senate’s role as he outlined to “inextricably intertwined” elements of foreign policy.

Sanders called the CIA “a dangerous institution that has got to go,” saying the CIA is “responsible to nobody except a handful of right-wing lunatics and the big multinational corporate interests.”

Leahy said that the CIA frightened him, and that Congress should exercise stronger control over the “secret government”.

Leahy attacked what he called the “beast of secrecy” which seemed to overwhelm the U.S. government under the strong “executive initiative” of the Nixon years.

According to Leahy, “executive fiat” has had more to do with foreign policy than the deliberations of Congress in recent years.

Mallary replied that while executive agreements between the President and foreign powers have been common, they almost all need Congressional approval for their implementation. Leahy retorted that the Congress almost always agrees with the executive agreements, and the only question is “how much of an appropriation they get.”

Mallary said that “none of us knows” what the CIA is really doing. When Sanders asked Mallary if he, as a member of the U.S. Congress, knows any more about the operations of the CIA than the average citizen does, Mallary said, “I don’t believe I do.”

Mallary called the current level of supervision by Congress of the CIA “totally inadequate”and suggested an “oversight committee” be formed to vouchsafe the validity of CIA projects.

As it is, Mallary said, CIA activity becomes known to Congress “only after to fact,” and then only through a “limited number of CIA cronies who are thought to be reliable and are told somewhat about what’s going on.”

Mallary said he did not think the CIA should be disbanded, as Sanders asked. Mallary said he thought the CIA intelligence gathering would have to continue, “given the state of the world.”

He said it was an “unfortunate fact of life” that foreign governments are conducting covert operations beyond mere intelligence work around the world, including here in the United States.

Leahy called the CIA’s apparent involvement in the political history of Chile “absolutely morally reprehensible”. He said the U.S. government must promote the defense and security of the country, but must not foster subversion in other nations.

Sanders said that the purpose of U.S. foreign policy seems to be only to protect U.S. investments overseas, and to support foreign governments that foster those investments, even if they are “vicious, reactionary military dictatorships.”

Sanders repeatedly returned to the topic of the CIA support of such governments by quelling insurrection in the interest of big business. Sanders said that the CIA has overthrown many governments unfriendly to the U.S. corporations and that they might even be able to overthrow the U.S. government if they chose to.

The audience of some 150 persons warmed to the topic of CIA operations, apparently alarmed by recent news reports of CIA covert accomplishements [sic] in Chile. Sanders was cheered at one point when he called for immediate disbanding of the CIA, and Mallary was coolly received when he said some CIA activity, although very little, was still necessary.

Mallary summed up the goals of American foreign policy as “self preservation” and “an appropriate interest in the development of individual peoples throughout the world.”

He said, “democratic governments are not multiplying around the world to the extent we’d like to see.”

Leahy said he understood the security consideration, did not see the value in telling foreign countries, “We are going to show you the good life, and you’re going to get it whether you want it or not.”

Sanders said that the U.S. policy of “propping up vicious military dictatorships” was part of the problem, not part of the solution to many world problems.

“Let them fall,” he urged, “let revolutions take place where they are needed, then go in and offer the technology to help.”

In answer to questions, all three candidates said they thought the U.S. should “decrease the American military presence” in NATO, as Mallary put it, but still remain part of the organization.

All three also said they believed that the U.N. served a valuable, if limited, purpose as a world forum, and all three said they did not know if the U.S. should recognize the jurisdiction of the World Court.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on Iran, U.S. Foreign Policy
Bernie Sanders on Iran, Mossadegh, Foreign Intervention


Related links:

Hillary Clinton: U.S. Regrets Overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran (VIDEO)

2020 Presidential Candidate Tom Steyer on Iran, Trump, Soleimani Assassination

The CIA on Twitter: A One Year Retrospective by Arash Norouzi

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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