Charles Morin, CIA

16May16

In 1951, as his law practice was beginning to bloom and Betty was pregnant with their first child, Charlie received a telephone call from an old Harvard classmate, Doug Pernie. Pernie worked for the CIA, was aware of Morin’s stint in the South Pacific and wanted Charlie to run the Philippine desk of the Central Intelligence Agency. Never one to say no to his country, he moved his then-pregnant wife to Alexandria, Virginia and became a “G-man.”    The principal mission at the time was to rid the Philippines of the growing threat of communism, embodied in the burgeoning rebel movement of Hukbong Magpapalaya ng Bayan (“the Huks”). The Huks were gaining power under the increasingly corrupt administration of President Elpidio Quirino, and the United States considered it in their best interests to quash this rebellion and install a new President who was friendly to American interests.

Under the leadership of the staunch anti-communist psywar specialist, Colonel Edward Lansdale, the C.I.A. recruited Ramon Magsaysay, Quirino’s Defense Secretary, to run for President.[1] Morin and fellow agents Elger Ellis and Joseph Smith devised Magsaysay’s campaign plan, which was funded by the C.I.A. and American corporate interests in the Philippines.[2] Morin’s participation was from C.I.A. offices in Washington, so it would be unlikely that he was involved in some of the more bizarre efforts of Lansdale’s campaign.[3] Rather, Morin was involved with the more conventional political campaign strategies employed in electing the popular Magsaysay, including such things as writing and recording campaign jingles which were then relentlessly played through car-mounted loudspeakers as the vehicles moved through the countryside. “The CIA ran Magsaysay’s campaign as if the agency were the Republican or Democratic National Committee and he were its man for the White House.”[4]

Besides the jingles (which he could still sing in his 80’s) Morin spoke little of the details of this part of his life. Whatever his involvement, the CIA’s mission was accomplished, Magsaysay was elected President, and in 1953, Morin brought his wife, now the mother of two children, back to Boston where he resumed his legal career.

By the mid 1950’s, Morin was back to building his law practice in Boston, struggling like many other lawyers in the city after the war. One of his clients at the time was Francis D. Burke, a young law school graduate who was beginning a real estate development business. Frank knew that, like himself, Charlie was scrambling to pay his bills, but nevertheless he observed that Charlie always “looked like he had a million dollars in his pocket and was on his way to pick up a second million.”

[1] “The U.S. and the Philippines: In Our Image,” PBS series produced by Andrew Pearson and Eric Neudel, 1989.

[2] Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism, “With a Little Help From Our (U.S.) Friends,” 2004. (http://www.pcij.org/imag/2004Elections/Campaign/consultants2.html)

[3] According to one account, “In an area thought to be harboring a team of Huk guerrillas, Lansdale’s ambushers snatched a peasant one night, punctured his neck with two holes, vampire-fashion, hung the body by the ankles to drain it of blood, then put the corpse back on the trail. When the peasants found the toothmarked bloodless corpse, the entire Huk unit moved away. The novelty of these games amused Lansdale, who slyly passed them on as combat anecdotes, enchanting his CIA superiors…. Lansdale’s experiments were given top priority.” The Marcos Dynasty, Sterling Seagrave (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 145.

[4] Waltzing With a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy, Raymond Bonner (New York: Times Books, 1987)

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