The CIA Considered Using Clergy As Intelligence Operatives

Further, as the committee knows, I have found no circumstances while I am Director of Central Intelligence, that have caused me to do either. But, Mr. Chairman, as the Director of Central Intelligence, I must be in a position to assure the President and the members of the National Security Council and this country, that there will never come a time when the United States cannot ask a witting citizen, knowledgeable citizen, to assist in combating an extreme threat to the Nation. So I, like all of my predecessors for the last 19 years, have arrived at the conclusion that the Agency should not be prohibited from considering the use of American journalists or clergy in exceptional circumstances.

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John Deutch, Director, Central Intelligence | “CIA’s Use of Journalists and Clergy in Intelligence Operations” | July 17, 1996 | p.7


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  1. Anyone interested in this topic might consider reading Matthew Avery Sutton’s 2019 book, “Double Crossed: The Missionaries Who Spied for the United States During the Second World War.”

  2. I can think of very few things less destructive to one’s witness as a missionary and to missionaries more broadly in a given nation that an individual can do. Gladys Aylward’s a pretty remarkable counter-example, though I don’t think it has to be normative to the full extent she went (becoming a Chinese citizen).

  3. Before we completely reject the idea of the American government ever recruiting missionaries, the United States had an entire unit of former missionaries and MKs who had spent decades in Korea, or grown up in Korea, were fluent in Korean, and were preparing to organize a resistance movement against the Japanese at the point that dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki made an invasion of the Japanese Home Islands, and of Korea, unnecessary.

    A number of those men were conservative Presbyterians who viewed their work with the United States, in a time of war, as the best way to defend the persecuted Korean church, in which ministers and elders were routinely deposed, jailed, tortured, or killed for refusing to worship the Japanese Emperor as god.

    I could cite other examples of Dutch missionaries in Indonesia who were in Japanese-occupied territory and used radios to call in troop positions and other intelligence during World War II.

    I understand the objections to recruiting American missionaries to spy for the American government. In our current political environment, I don’t want the US government recruiting missionaries as spies.

    But I think we did the right thing to do that during World War II, when the Japanese government was engaged in an all-out war to exterminate any form of religion that was unwilling to accept the divinity of the Japanese emperor, to help Christians under Japanese occupation.


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