Covert Action Quarterly

Covert Action Quarterly
Covert Action Quarterly

The Washington, D.C.–based magazine Covert Action Quarterly (CAQ) began publishing in 1978 under the title of Covert Action Information Bulletin (CAIB). The magazine has developed a following not as a conspiracy-theory-related publication, but as a source for reliable, consistent, and accurate investigative reporting. Originally, CAQ was a watchdog journal that focused on the abuses and activities of the CIA, yet it has gradually evolved into a more general, progressive investigative magazine.

While almost every issue of CAIB focused on the CIA, detailing its activities in Central America and Southeast Asia, in the domestic media, and on university campuses, CAQ has covered a wider range of domestic and international political issues with stories and occasionally entire issues on surveillance technologies, the U.S. prison system, the environment, mad cow disease, AIDS, ECHELON, Bill Clinton, media cover-ups, Iraqi sanctions, and the drug wars.

Contributing authors have included intellectuals, writers, and activists such as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Michael Parenti, Sara Flounders, Philip Agee, John Pilger, Ramsey Clark, Leonard Peltier, Allen Ginsberg, Diana Johnstone, Laura Flanders, Edward S. Herman, and Ward Churchill.

CAQ was cofounded and copublished by Ellen Ray, William Schaap, and Louis Wolf, along with former CIA agents such as James and Elsie Wilcott, and Philip Agee, author of Inside the Company: CIA Diary. Following in the tradition of CounterSpy Magazine (1973–1984), with whom CAQ’s publishers originally worked, highlights of CAIB included the notorious “Naming Names” column, which printed the names of CIA officers under diplomatic cover.

These were tracked through exhaustive research in the State Department Biographic Register and various domestic and international diplomatic lists. This column, and others like it, came to an end in 1982 when the Intelligence Identities Protection Act was signed into law by Ronald Reagan.

CAIB had to end the “Naming Names” column, but more significantly, the act required that magazines such as CAQ be more wary about the names they published within the articles of their contributors. This was particularly significant after December 1975 when Richard S. Welch, a CIA station chief, was assassinated in Athens, Greece. CounterSpy was criticized by both the CIA and the press for its exposure of the agent’s name.

In 1992, Issue 43, Covert Action Information Bulletin changed its name to the current Covert Action Quarterly (“Recommended by Noam Chomsky; targeted by the CIA”), a 64–70-page magazine published four times a year. CAQ had a reputation for beating to the punch more mainstream standardbearers, such as the New York Times.

In 1995, it covered the genocide in Rwanda and U.S. complicity in those events, years before any other publication cared to notice; it ran in-depth investigative articles on the rise of homegrown militias before the Oklahoma city bombing; and it was the first U.S. publication to reveal the existence of ECHELON (the security agencies’ surveillance software). CAQ has been the regular recipient of the annual Project Censored awards for the Top 25 Censored Stories.

The magazine has often had several articles on the list, such as in 1997 with Karl Grossman’s “Risking the World: Nuclear Proliferation in Space,” John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton’s “The Public Relations Industry’s Secret War on Activists,” and David Burnham’s “White-Collar Crime: Whitewash at the Justice Department.”

In 1998, CAQ’s staff (comprising its editor of nine years, Terry Allen, associate editor Sanho Tree, and staff member Barbara Neuwirth) were dismissed by mail and without notice in a manner that seriously damaged the magazine’s reputation, particularly since the magazine was at its strongest during these years.

The conduct of the publishers was strongly criticized in newsgroups and on mailing lists, in articles in the Washington City Paper and the Village Voice, and by writers like Christopher Hitchens and Alexander Cockburn, who called the publishers “So-called leftists act[ing] like people from the Fortune 500” (Ripley, 12).

While the management suggested that the firings were due to interpersonal issues, editors Allen and Tree disagreed, claiming that the differences cut along political and editorial lines. In a widely distributed letter, Allen asserted that the publishers unsuccessfully attempted to have its editors publish articles that presented the Serbs as blameless victims of genocide and that denied the existence of concentration camps under Milosevic, and one that professed to expose Hitler’s secret bunker in Antarctica.

The publishers also took issue with an article that affectionately described Fidel Castro as a “nice old fart.” They also attempted to print articles that dealt with issues in a more conspiratorial fashion, thus playing out the traditional tension between conspiracy theory and the investigative reporting of governmental and corporate malfeasance.

Following a 2001 lawsuit between the publishers, the magazine’s electronic and print rights were split between its publishers, yet both the paper and online versions ( and www. have remained dormant since their inception.

Following the firings, CAQ lost both its contributor base and its ability to organize itself, eventually leading to the demise of the magazine. Excluding an issue assembled by the publishers, and another edited by Rory O’Neill (April–June 2001), who was consequently fired by the publishers, CAQ has not published regularly since the 1998 “purge.”