1949-1953, Albania: CIA 'Cut its Teeth' with "Operation Valuable"

By Major D.H.Berger, Marine Corps Command and Staff College (MCCSC).

 By 1946, Enver Hoxha, a WWII resistance leader in Albania, had consolidated power, declared himself president and established a communist government.  British intelligence (SIS) established contact with Albanian émigrés in 1946.   In 1947, they sent in agents to fuel a civil war to unseat Hoxha.  Britain wanted a royalist, anti-Communist government in Albania.  

      James Macarger headed the CIA project under Frank Wisner.  They created a government-in-exile with tribal warlord King Zog (who seized power in a 1924 coup and made himself king in 1927) and Bali Kombetar (whose "National Front" collaborated with the Nazis and Fascists in WWII).  Macarger spent almost a year laying the political groundwork for a paramilitary operation. He became head of the CIA's Southeast Europe region.

      At a joint CIA/SIS base in Malta, émigrés (called "Pixies") were trained and sent to Albania to contact resistance groups.  By 1951, the operation was entirely U.S.-run.  Repeated attempts for two years to infiltrate paramilitary elements were unsuccessful.

      If the objective was to unseat Hoxha, then it was a dismal failure.  If the objective was to determine the feasibility of a full-blown program, then efforts were not futile.  Albania was where the CIA "cut its teeth" in covert operations.  They learned valuable lessons, but failure to modify operational techniques and procedures led to similar failures in Poland and the Ukraine. 

 Source: "The Use of Covert Paramilitary Activity as a Policy Tool: An Analysis of Operations Conducted by the U.S. CIA, 1949-1951."  Written for the MCCSC.  Berger interviewed Macarger (1994) and Lindsay (1995).  He cites Harry Rositzke's The CIA's Secret Operations: Espionage, Counterespionage and Covert Action (1988) and Thomas Powers' The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA (1979).