A CIA Insider Talks….

Those famous words of Ronald Reagan were never more true:

“The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

When originally spoken, many will relate this quote’s initial intention to social situations of taxation, entitlement control and more social issues. However, it’s become evident that the government – once thought to primarily exist for our protection – has turned bare toothed on its citizenry with a more aggressive, subversive agenda of diabolical proportions.

Alphabet agencies wreaking havoc on the public, the country, and even its own, as we we’ll soon reveal. The dishonesty, the lies, corruptions, yea the treason, is running rampant through every office and orifice in our governing bodies and if not for those speaking out, we’d all be un or misinformed.

In my series of “Insiders,”  I’m pleased to talk next with a former CIA operative. Someone who saw not only the inside, but the dirty wrath of an agency gone amuck.

Verne Lyon-CIA:  Recruited first as a student, Lyon operated as a CIA agent in the 1960s and 1970s. While operating under deep cover Lyon engaged in domestic spying on antiwar Iowa State University students. Codenamed Operation CHAOS, the CIA launched the illegal program against U.S. citizens. Lyon was also involved in destabilizing operations in Cuba. He also worked in Peru, Chile and Mexico. Lyon wrote in a 1990 article in Covert Action Information Bulletin, “The CIA must be put in its place. Should we demand or allow anything less, we will remain vulnerable to these abuses and face the risk of decaying into a lawless state destined to self-destruction.”

This is a first hand account from Verne and his book dealing with sensitive activities perpetrated illegally on the American public. Some of his answers are short as some information is sensitive to his life, his past, the agency, and, at times, a short explanation is all that’s required. We’re grateful for the opinions he can share at this time. Verne offers this expose’ as a foundation for domestic spying.

RB ~  Verne, you’ve led a life whose tale is the basis of spy novels and horror stories; Attempted abductions and assassination, prosecutions. You found a passion for aviation at a young age but then made, or were seduced, into a left turn into an intelligence career. We know it started when you were approached by the CIA to spy on antiwar activities at Iowa State. How did they find and pick you for their Operation CHAOS?

Courtesy of Verne Lyon

VL~ I believe I was approached after a high school/college friend of mine went into Naval Intelligence. He told me he had talked to “some people” about me.  The job of spying on campus anti-war activities paid $300 a month and came with a guaranteed draft deferment. For over fifteen years, the CIA, with assistance from numerous government agencies, conducted a massive illegal domestic covert operation called Operation CHAOS. It was one of the largest and most pervasive domestic surveillance programs in the history of this country. Throughout the duration of CHAOS, the CIA spied on thousands of U.S. citizens. The CIA went to great lengths to conceal this operation from the public while every president from Eisenhower to Nixon exploited CHAOS for his own political ends.

After I signed the documents getting into their “student program,” I asked if university officials knew of their work on campus. They said yes but admonished me to keep this to myself. Apparently some officials at Iowa State not only knew of the CIA recruiting on campus but actually suggested names of select students to approach. Nobody mentioned that the work I just signed up for was illegal at worst and immoral at best. [1]

RB ~ You, like myself, grew up in a small midwestern town but found yourself directed to greater intrigue in your life. How did you take to this move up the status ladder working for a large int’l intelligence agency and did your views of a “worthwhile, needed and valuable gov’t agency soon change?”

VL~   I found it to be almost a dream at the first. Being a secret agent, paid undercover, part of the government’s inner decision making circle, etc. As time went on I became more skeptical with each passing day.

RB ~ Was this domestic spying expanded?

VL ~ As campus anti-war protest activity spread across the nation, the CIA reacted by implementing two new domestic operations. The first, Project RESISTANCE, was designed to provide security to CIA recruiters on college campuses. Under this program, the CIA sought active cooperation from college administrators, campus security, and local police to help identify anti-war activists, political dissidents, and “radicals.” Eventually information was provided to all government recruiters on college campuses and directly to the super-secret DOD on thousands of students and dozens of groups. The CIA’s Office of Security also created Project MERRIMAC, to provide warnings about demonstrations being carried out against CIA facilities or personnel in the Washington area

RB ~ This must have taken a lot of local resources to gather and review “information and activities” on so many people

VL ~ Under both Projects, the CIA infiltrated agents into domestic groups of all types and activities. It used its contacts with local police departments and their intelligence units to pick up its “police skills” and began in earnest to pull off burglaries, illegal entries, use of explosives, criminal frame-ups, shared interrogations, and disinformation. CIA teams purchased sophisticated equipment for many starved police departments and in return got to see arrest records, suspect lists, and intelligence reports. Many large police departments, in conjunction with the CIA, carried out illegal, warrantless searches of private properties, to provide intelligence for a report requested by President Johnson and later entitled “Restless Youth.[1]

RB ~ How much information was gathered and wasn’t this illegal?

VL ~ During the life of Operation CHAOS, the CIA had compiled personality files on over 13,000 individuals including more than 7,000 U.S. citizens as well as files on over 1,000 domestic groups. The CIA had shared information on more than 300,000 persons with different law enforcement agencies including the DIA and FBI. It had spied on, burglarized, intimidated, misinformed, lied to, deceived, and carried out criminal acts against thousands of citizens of the United States. It had placed itself above the law, above the Constitution, and in contempt of international diplomacy and the United States Congress.

RB ~ How ominous did it become when you found the agency who had you spy on Americans was now going after you by framing you for an airport bombing, chasing you to Canada to have you kidnapped and ultimately tracking you to Lima, Peru, bring you back for trial and sentencing you to 17 years in Leavenworth for that bombing? Yuri Totrov, former KGB counter intelligence officer says. “Verne Lyon’s story so shocked me that I hoped he would one day make it public.”

VL~   It was as if the weight of the world had fallen on my shoulders. I felt hopeless, betrayed, angry.

RB ~ “Eyes on Havana,” your revealing book, has the tag line “Memoir of an American Spy Betrayed by the CIA.” The title alone has a foreboding, gloomy aire about it. You talk about “the transformation of a young patriotic engineer…into the second class citizens I am today; a convicted felon who has survived fear, prosecution, and utter collapse of my dreams…” Are you able to realize at lease some of your dreams and goals?

VL~  I have become an accomplished pilot, although my aerospace engineering education was never used to its fullest, I did work as an engineer for a number of years.

Image courtesy of Verne Lyon

RB ~ In your book you say “…Things went from bad to worse and pitted three government agencies against each other and against me in games of cat and mouse around the globe.”[1] From an agency you wanted to dedicate yourself to, this must have been a shock.

VL ~ My two-day trial, the jury’s brief deliberations and the judge’s stern sentence. Seventeen Years, I heard him say. You shall be remanded to a Federal Penitentiary for 17 years. My freedom, my youth my wife, my son all disappeared in those words.[1]

RB ~ Did your overseas positions add any different perspective to your overall view of national security – both foreign and domestic until your apprehension in Peru and return to the states?

VL~  Having traveled to over 100 countries, I much appreciate the views of peoples and cultures  abroad. To best understand the geo/political problems of the USA, you must travel overseas to understand how the rest of the world views us and why.

RB ~ Today we see such a pervasiveness of corruption in the higher levels of leadership. In the early days, was there more of a separation between national security and politics? The line seems very blurry these days.

VL~   The difference between the two was always blurred. Higher ups in the CIA helped write both foreign and domestic policy instead of just providing intelligence.

RB ~ It used to be we never thought of much except who’s playing Friday night at the high school, where’s lunch after church on Sundays, but now… it’s the gov’t in our face, the IRS after our records, the NSA storing emails and phone numbers and the CIA doing who knows what. Did this really need to get to the level it is with normal everyday patriotic Americans?

VL~  It is where it is due to the rapid, uncontrolled expansion of technology in communications, satellites, social media, news from every corner of the world within a few minutes, the internet, hacking, etc. Our society as well as most governments live in the NOW and want to respond at once to news, etc. After 911, we all gave up personal  freedoms for security and the Patriot Act which the government exploits to the max.

RB ~  People used to think that national security meant protecting us from foreign entities bent on our destruction. But then talk of special phone equipment rooms in San Francisco surfaced with connections to the government and that huge collection facility in Camp Williams, Utah came to light. People couldn’t believe their eyes. How were explanations handled internally about such domestic activities? Was it common knowledge that the government in general was now in the data collection/citizen surveillance business?

VL~   I think that Edward Snowden, now living in exile in Russia, showed us how pervasive the government is in gathering all kinds of intelligence on the average citizen.

RB ~  Was Snowden a traitor or a hero?

VL~  Borderline hero

RB ~ While surveilling citizens with ties to terrorists should warrant close examination, can’t John Doe and his parents be left alone in peace? (AKA James Rosen from FOX News?) Has the CIA become more involved in domestic activities?

VL~ The line dividing the domain between the FBI’s former exclusive powers to do domestic spying and the CIA’s mandate to handle everything beyond the borders has become so blurred that the NSA’s collection of date from both actually negates separation of powers.

RB ~ You said in a 1990 article in Covert Action Information Bulletin, “The CIA must be put in its place. Should we demand or allow anything less, we will remain vulnerable to these abuses and face the risk of decaying into a lawless state destined to self-destruction.” Are we seeing that thought in spades these days? Lyon

VL ~  We thought that the East German STASI was the embodiment of George Orwell’s 1984 but we have achieved that status here at home now.

RB ~ You’ve been quoted as saying “The CIA is a state sponsored terrorist association. You don’t look at people as human beings. They’re nothing but pieces on a chessboard.” Was this scary concept surprising to you as you worked more and more in the agency?

VL~   The Agency’s view of the world was divided into spheres of influence where, at times, operations pitted one country or area against others for our benefit. The effects on the ordinary people were ignored for the goal of the greater good.

RB ~ Average Americans think about this data collection and that domestic spying should be spending time, money and resources chasing bad guys in Yemen, Iran or Syria, not worrying about some conversation or email between a guy and his grandmother. Are there other hidden reasonings behind collecting so much private and inconsequential information about non-threats within the country? Maybe political?

VL~  Certainly politics always has a role in what type of intelligence is collected and from whom. With today’s technology that allows us and foreign nations to encrypt private communications, the race to stay ahead of the curve out weighs the concerns for people’s rights.

RB ~ Is the invasion of our privacy “rights” (and maybe I’m using the term loosely) growing out of control, or has the presence of Trump in the oval office stemmed the tide of intrusion into our lives?

VL~   Basically and simply – No

RB ~  For most of us, the Clinton’s have been on the highway of free rides since the 80’s, bypassing every legal stop sign and prosecution toll booth in their path as they speedily wind their way toward fame and riches – mostly infamous riches. Everything they touch seems to be laden with bi-chromatic fingerprint dust and the blood of innocents mixed with confusion. With the questionable death of Seth Rich and other DNC maneuvering, for whose benefit and for what purpose? Was Rich to receive the blame for the hacking but wanted to prove otherwise?

VL~ Investigation, NO enforcement

RB ~  Is the CIA capable of assisting or independently pursuing “political crimes” to bring about justice to those involved in all this current Clinton/DNC/State Dept./intelligence corruption, or should they be more an investigative, enforcement force against more traditional crimes? Or is there really a difference anymore?

VL~   Dem’s vs Republicans – too political.

RB ~ Is enough finally being done to investigate and dig into these email scandals and schemes? Seems like 2 intelligence groups would be more efficient given the foreign component of things.

VL ~  More open but still restrictive

RB ~ And as a follow up, are the lines of communication between the FBI, CIA and NSA now more open than before, or is interagency pride and elitism keeping them from working together efficiently?

VL~     It’s all politics

RB ~  Did you in your wildest intelligence dreams ever think that a major political party could invade the sanctity of our election process by creating false documents, use them to smear an opposition candidate before an election, then use them to assault the privacy of his closest confidants, using them to corrupt the privacy process of the FISA system, all while the long term goal of removing a duly elected president loomed in the back of their destructive playbook?

VL~  Since FISA courts (hearings) are held in secret, much like grand jury hearings, the prosecutor usually controls the hearing and the court will go along with the prosecution’s request 99% of the time so its use is always, in my view, political. The fact that the election process can be corrupted to the degree that it has been is just another example of politics over-ruling facts. Its sad to see its degradation to the point that politics has apparently removed all fairness to the process.

RB ~ Knowing you weren’t there then, but has John Brennan stepped over the line of reason? Is his lying and anti-patriotic, partisan views a change or was it always there, hidden from public view?

VL~ Political leanings always influence decision and actions

RB ~ Did the decision to become so outspoken come easy given your patriotism and seeing the need for truth, or was it a life changing moment with thoughts of reprisals and long term career and personal ramifications?

VL~ I needed to tell the truth

RB ~  With Alexis, Echo, TVs with cameras, home security Wi-Fi cameras, Google phones tracking our every move and refrigerators knowing what we buy  and how we shop, are we living totally exposed with our non-private lives open to become fodder for anyone willing to review, sell or track?

VL~  We allow this for the sole sake of convenience

RB ~ With so many problems and scandals related to political corruption, spying on citizens, immigration, local communities and states opting out of abiding by federal law….are we losing America?

VL~  Its already lost and there is no real way back.

RB ~ And with all the action and complications of a government intelligence / law enforcement position, what was that one fun, rewarding, passionate moment you remember from your whole career?

VL~      Understanding that the world is not our enemy we don’t need to invent enemies.

Our thanks to Verne for his time, his service to our country and thoughts, and to his co-author, Professor Phil Zwerling for their input into this book and this article.  This and my other “insider” articles go to the question of whether we can truly trust our own government and their real intentions in their attempt to protect us.

Whistleblowers exist for a reason… to spread the truth of what’s behind the curtain and alert us to wrongdoings that affect our lives, our futures.

This article is just the beginning. You’ll find a fascinating read on the intrigue of Verne’s CIA life and adventures in the US, Cuba and beyond in his book, “Eyes on Havana.” I can’t recommend enough its addition to your reading shelf. It’s an eye opening revelation of what lengths the government will go to destroying policies, laws and lives to get to their final nefarious objectives.


Facts and opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily those of the author or erskineovernight.com. Certain passages and quotes used with permission from his book,"Eyes on Havana -Memoir of an American Spy Betrayed by the CIA."

[1] Eyes on Havana- Verne Lyon & Phil Zwerling, McFarland Publishing (January 12, 2018)