The CIA’s Project FF: Before the “Special Relationship”

Project FF was a colorfully named (expletive deleted) CIA operation in Egypt aimed at pressuring King Farouk into instituting political reforms. The project was the brainchild of CIA Director Allen Dulles, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, CIA operative Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt Jr., and CIA Station Chief in Cairo Miles Copeland Jr.

The overthrow of the regime of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 was not the first CIA intervention in the region.  In reality, the agency’s failure in Egypt to impose an American agenda set the tone for the more aggressive intervention is Iran one year later.  Historian Matthew F. Holland wrote: “Kim’s idea was to orchestrate ‘peaceful revolution’ in Egypt to replace the corrupt political system in Egypt with a progressive dictatorship under the king that would be more amenable to American control.” Perhaps someone should have pointed out to Kim that the words progressive and dictatorship are mutually exclusive.  Certainly, the results of Project FF bear this out as much as its rudely colorful name.

The code name was Copeland’s humorous reference to the King’s girth and his petulance for the young ladies.  His lavish lifestyle (such as the legend that he ate 600 oysters per day) did not ingratiate him with his subjects.  The Egyptian populace largely blamed the loss of Egypt to Israel in the 1948 War to the king’s ineptitude. Due to the unwillingness of Farouk to change his ways, the project was changed in order to support his overthrow, and Roosevelt secretly met with the Free Officers Movement.  In the meeting, Roosevelt tipped his hat to the Free Officers Movement which overthrew Farouk in a bloodless coup d’etat led by General Mohammed Naguib and Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser on 23 July 1952.  He assured them that if they did not damage Western interests, they need not fear British or American retaliation.

The Youtube channel the Cold War is a great source of information on East-West rivalry. The link to their video on Project FF is below:

The CIA’s support for the Young Officers Movement did not end after the coup.  The military and security services of Egypt under Farouk were corrupt and ineffectual.  In order to help Egypt restructure the military and secret police, the Agency tasked some of its unmentionable elements.

The relationship between the CIA and former Nazi operatives is now a legendary embarrassment for America.  These “assets” were also used in Egypt .  For instance, Adolph Hitler’s favorite commando, SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny was sent to Egypt in 1953 by former General Reinhard Gehlen (who was now working indirectly for the CIA from West Germany) to act as Naguib’s military advisor.  The so called Gehlen Org included a formal and informal network of former Nazis, including members of the infamous ODESSA organization of former Nazis.

Skorzeny oversaw the recruitment of an advisory staff for the Egyptians made up of former SS and Wehrmacht officers. Among these were former Wehrmacht generals Wilhelm Farhmbacher and Oskar Munzel.  Open anti-Semites had places of importance, including the head of the Gestapo Department for Jewish Affairs in Poland Leopold Gleim and Joachim Daemling, former chief of the Gestapo in Düsseldorf.

In addition to training the Egyptian security services and army, Skorzeny also trained Arab volunteers in commando tactics for possible use against British troops stationed in the Suez Canal Zone. Palestinians also received commando training with Skorzeny planning their raids into Israel via the Gaza Strip in 1953-1954. One of these Palestinians was Yasser Arafat. Skorzeny stayed on to serve as an adviser to Egyptian President Nasser after his involvement in the Gaza operations ceased.

Israel struck back.  Ariel Sharon’s famous paratroop Unit 101 conducted counter terror raids into the strip.  Less successfully, the Israeli Mossad struck American and British targets in Egypt in 1954 in bloodless false flag attacks to destabilize the new Egyptian regime and keep the British in the Canal Zone as a stabilizing influence.  The operation was code named Operation Susannah (known also as the Lavon affair after Prime Minister Pinhas Lavon) and ended in disaster with the arrest and execution of many of the Mossad’s Egyptian assets. Lavon was forced to resign in the wake of the incident. Israel publicly denied involvement in the incident for half a century, only honoring the surviving agents in 2005 with certificates of appreciation presented to them by then Israeli President Moshe Katsav.

Many of the details of the CIA’s early involvement in Egypt are still sensitive.  Files on former Nazis only became available in the 1990s and early 2000s because of changes in US law opening files on Nazis who have worked for the US in covert operations.  Also files have been released from former Soviet bloc archives such as those of the Russian KGB and the East German STASI.

These files have not revealed all of the details of US-Israeli relations in the time before the 1960s when the two countries entered into the legendary “special relationship.”  Tons of documents at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, KS remain sealed.  Also, the Israeli government is not very forthcoming with details about this time that culminated in the 1956 Sinai Campaign and the subsequent Israeli withdrawal in 1957 under pressure from the Eisenhower Administration.  According to Dwight Eisenhower’s son John, he believes the two countries actually came close to war during the 1956 Suez Campaign.  The truth of this will only be ascertained as more records become available.

As the files are opened, more details will come out about a great many things.  However, one point should be crystal clear to Israeli leaders:  nothing is permanent in international relations.  In the heat of war and rumors of war, alliances die and are reborn.  The country’s foreign policy must remain flexible and adapt to an ever changing environment.

About the Author
Akiva ben Avraham is a former community college adjunct, US Army intelligence analyst and officer, and a caregiver.
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