The CIA’s Operation CHAOS was a covert program that ran during one of the most tumultuous periods in the United States. And while its name might suggest disorder and confusion, its objectives and methods were calculated and deliberate.

The Central Intelligence Agency has been the epicenter of the United States’ efforts to gather intelligence and maintain security for decades. However, not all its endeavors are known to the general public. 

Among these obscured pages of history is the CIA’s Operation CHAOS. Its primary goal was to monitor and influence the anti-Vietnam War movement and other activist groups during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

But why would America’s premier intelligence agency turn its gaze inward, focusing not on external threats but on its own citizens? As you’ll discover, the answers to this question reveal the intersections of national security, political paranoia, and civil rights. 

Origins of the Operation

In the late 1960s, America was a nation in flux. Protests against the Vietnam War gained momentum, civil rights movements were in full swing, and counterculture flourished. 

In this volatile environment, the CIA’s Operation CHAOS was born. Initiated under the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, the operation was a response to growing concerns about the influence of foreign agents on domestic protests. 

The objective was to uncover potential ties between anti-war activists and foreign governments. It also aimed to determine whether these groups received foreign support to undermine the U.S. government.

The CIA Turns Inward


Traditionally tasked with monitoring foreign threats, the CIA experienced a significant shift in focus during the late 1960s. The organization directed its formidable resources inward toward American citizens.