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An interview with Nick Cullather

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Nick Cullather obtained his PhD from the University of Virginia. In July, 1992, Cullather was awarded a one-year contract as a staff historian at the Central Intelligence Agency. His work at the CIA was eventually declassified and published as Secret History: The Classified Account of its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-54 (1999). He is currently associate professor of history at Indiana University and associate editor of the Journal of American History. He is also co-author of Making a Nation: The United States and Its People (2001).

(1) Could you explain the reasons why you decided to become a historian?

(2) How do you decide about what to write about?

(3) Do you ever consider the possibility that your research will get you into trouble with those who have power and influence?

(4) Did the publication of Secret History: The CIA’s Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala hurt or help your career?

(5) Did you have any problems having your book published? Would it have been easier and better for your career if you wrote a book about more positive aspects of CIA’s activities?

(6) The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the “committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”. However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh’s, the author of the official Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?

(7) What is your basic approach to writing about what I would call “secret history”? How do you decide what sources to believe? Is it difficult to write about subjects like this without speculating what might be in the sources that are not available to historians?

(8) Historians writing about the CIA have tended to rely on “leaks” from former officers. Given that they are usually leaking this information because they have their own agenda, are these sources reliable? For example, have you read the internal CIA document, Cleveland Cram’s Of Moles and Molehunters: A Review of Counterintelligence Literature (1993) that looks at the influence that people like James Jesus Angleton and other CIA leakers had on books written about the agency?

(9) If you were publishing an updated edition of Secret History: The CIA’s Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala, what new material would you include?


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