Frank J. Rafalko’s MH/CHAOS: The CIA’s Campaign Against the Radical New Left and the Black Panthers (Naval Institute, 352 pp., $32.95) is an insider’s account of the CIA’s 1967-73 secret domestic spying program started by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the height of the Vietnam War. Rafalko went to work for the CIA’s Special Operations Group (SOG), known around the agency as MHCHAOS or Operation CHAOS, soon after joining the agency in July of 1967. He went on to put in a twenty-four-year CIA career.
During the late sixties and early seventies Counterinsurgency Officer Rafalko’s job was to help uncover foreign influences on the antiwar movement. Part of that effort included undercover agents who spied on U.S. citizens abroad and infiltrated antiwar groups such as SDS and the Black Panther Party at home, looking for connections to operatives from the Soviet Union, China, and North Vietnam. Operation CHAOS also spied on a wide range of left-of-center activists and other groups that had little or nothing to do with opposing the Vietnam War. The latter included women’s groups. All in all, CHAOS maintained files on some 7, 000 individuals and 1, 000 groups and organizations.
Operation CHAOS became extremely controversial after its domestic spying came to light in 1974 through an article by Seymour Hersh in The New York Times. That led to congressional hearings and then a federal investigation by the Rockefeller Commission that looked into the legality of the domestic spying. Many were outraged after the congressional hearings and Rockefeller Commission’s final report revealed the details of the operation.
Rafalko, though, believes that what he and his undercover colleagues did—including spying on the antiwar movement—was legal and correct.
“In my personal view, ” he writes, “these American students carried placards and banners that said ‘Peace, ‘ and raised their voices to cry ‘Peace, ‘ but they either did not understand or refused to acknowledge that ‘Peace’ to a Communist meant Communist world control. In effect, the North Vietnamese manipulated them into a kind of fifth column for the sole purpose of stage managing U.S. public opinion.”