behind the telescreen
May 11, 2006 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Killing the CIA. A startling and important look at the recent dismantling of the CIA by the Bush Administration.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket (26 comments total)
Normally, I'd be all for this, but with BushCo, they'll just replace it with something far worse.
posted by eriko at 8:57 AM on May 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

A working-level CIA officer familiar with the operations directorate's Iran assets described Langley's CA abilities inside Iran from 2000 through 2004 as "unchanged: they're zero."
posted by Kwantsar at 9:06 AM on May 11, 2006

Hasn't Bush pissed them off enough yet? How far does Bush have to go before the CIA starts pushing back?

They know which closets keep the skeletons hidden. This doesn't seem like such a smart idea coming from, seemingly, one of the most corrupt administrations in history.
posted by mr.curmudgeon at 9:10 AM on May 11, 2006

The main problem that I have with dismantling the CIA quietly is that there will not be a truth commission and its agents will not stand trial for any of the things they've done. (Given that you have people with careers stretching back to the '70s and '80s, there's a long list of horrifying deeds that deserve to be brought to light. It is the CIA.) And it's certainly being replaced by an even less accountable, defense-oriented group.
posted by graymouser at 9:27 AM on May 11, 2006

Everytime I read about Foggo and Nine-Fingers, I start huming the song Frodo of the Nine Fingers from the old Return of the King animated movie.
posted by homunculus at 9:44 AM on May 11, 2006

they'll just replace it with something far worse.

yeah, except they already have.

from the WaPo
"Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, continued his aggressive efforts to develop a clandestine intelligence operation within his department. The Pentagon's human intelligence unit and its other clandestine military units are expanding in number and authority."
posted by slickvaguely at 10:24 AM on May 11, 2006

I tell ya, this is what happens when you put wooly-headed liberals in charge of any organization related to national-security. Dismantling, mismanagement, demoralization...
posted by namespan at 10:26 AM on May 11, 2006

The fact that Bush & Co. are still walking around breathing is what tells me that yes, the CIA is in fact generally made up of people with respect for the law and government. If they were the type to take matters into their own hands, they'd have done something really drastic like all the conspiracy theorists say they do.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:51 AM on May 11, 2006

namespan - that was so deadpan I almost thought you were serious.
posted by rougy at 11:05 AM on May 11, 2006

Goss combined the old-school tie with cynical zealotry. A graduate of Hotchkiss and Yale (class of 1960)

More than that, he was a fraternity brother of both his future boss John Negroponte, and Bucky Bush, brother of onetime CIA director George H.W. and uncle to Dubya. Cozy. Remarkably, Blumenthal calls this "coincidental".

namespan surely knows that the liberal stab-in-the-back strategy is well underway. The National Review editorialized, "The CIA has always had a leftist bent ..." and characterized inside opponents to the Goss purge "insurgents" (i.e. the same word used for Iraqi rebels). Others have accused the CIA of attempting a "coup" against Bush during the 2004 election (using millions and millions of voters!). Basically, they're out for blood, and the agency must be destroyed.
posted by dhartung at 11:34 AM on May 11, 2006

The Emperor must not be told night is coming.
His armies are chasing shadows,
Arresting whippoorwills and hermit thrushes
And setting towns and villages on fire.

In the capital, they go around confiscating
Clocks and watches, burning heretics,
And painting the sunrise over the rooftops
While the people wish each other good morning.

The rooster brought in chains is crowing,
The flowers in the garden have been made to stay open,
And still dark stains appear on palace floors
Which no amount of scrubbing can wipe away.

--Charles Simic, The Lights Are On Everywhere
posted by russilwvong at 12:58 PM on May 11, 2006

You folks do realize that this is being done because Congress ordered it, don't you?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:12 PM on May 11, 2006

"No president has ever before ruined an agency at the heart of national security out of pique and vengeance. " Sidney Blumenthal

That's a mouthful !!
posted by ahimsakid at 2:34 PM on May 11, 2006

Mark Schmitt had an interesting question about this: to what extent is this W's striking at his father, former head of the CIA, and for whom a CIA building is actually named?
posted by Aknaton at 3:02 PM on May 11, 2006

The bloated, arrogant, and incompetant bureaucracy at CIA is something of a legend. One recent editorial suggested that their last slam-dunk major victory was in spotting the Cuban missile installations during the Kennedy years.

Ironically, the destruction of the CIA ground operations began years before, caused by the infiltration of Britain's MI6 by the Cambridge Five. They pipelined every CIA effort to place intelligence agents into the Soviet Union, who were then rounded up, tortured and shot. From that point on, the CIA mostly gave up human intelligence and moved to electronic and political intelligence.

And the quality of the intelligence they obtain dropped.

Then, for many years their internal bureaucracy grew, using the same "honorable schoolboy" approach that had so failed the British. In this case, the organizational cancer of having far too many graduates of Yale and Harvard, rewarded more for school ties than capability.

In turn, the organization of the CIA by geography suffered, much as in the State Department, with personnel too connected to their area of expertise. Too fond of those they were supposed to be objective about. Agents who had at least in part psychologically, "gone native".

Congress could not diminish the CIA, by now it had become too powerful. So instead they created other intelligence agencies to challenge the CIA in specialized areas--to make what the CIA did redundant, and to act as a check on CIA mistakes.

And again, ironically, the Soviet Union again played a part with a massive propaganda campaign in the 3rd and 4th world, to convince people that the CIA was everywhere and deadly. Russia actually saved the CIA much work, by portraying them as omniscient and almost omnipotent. Many potential troublemakers behaved themselves because they feared CIA agents under their beds.

The beginning of the end happened not with the post-Watergate controls on domestic espionage, but later, in the Carter-Reagan years, when the CIA began to openly flout Congressional oversight, no matter who was in charge.
(Senator Moynihan resigned from the Senate Intelligence committee over one such rebuff.)

The Washington consensus was that CIA was too powerful to be reformed or diminished, and only with the trauma of post-911, was Congress stampeded into opening the door for massive reform.

Several questions still remain: first of all, was Porter Goss always meant to be a hatchet man with a short tenure; and will Hayden take over to rebuild the agency, or as Sidney Blumenthal suggests, to utterly gut it?

Second, does the recent rebuff from the National Security Agency to the Justice Department mean that they are next on the chopping block? The NSA outraged Congress not too long ago by building a new NSA satellite control center with black budget funds and without notifying Congress. This new refusal to grant security clearance to Justice to investigate the NSAs phone call database may be an opening salvo. (N.B.: the rules under which NSA operates are unique, and they have virtually no controls over their operations.)

This might also suggest a complete restructuring of the US intelligence community:
posted by kablam at 3:24 PM on May 11, 2006

"Second, does the recent rebuff from the National Security Agency to the Justice Department mean that they are next on the chopping block?"

So our National Security Agency thinks its in America's best interest to do away with the Justice Department?

"...the Soviet Union again played a part with a massive propaganda campaign in the 3rd and 4th world, to convince people that the CIA was everywhere and deadly."

Even propaganda is right once in a while.

That said, replacing the current CIA with a more polished neocon version is - terrifying.
posted by rougy at 5:23 PM on May 11, 2006

Once again, Bush is driven by daddy issues.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:25 PM on May 11, 2006

to what extent is this W's striking at his father

Bush the First hasn't had anything good to say about his namesake in years.
posted by Balisong at 5:47 PM on May 11, 2006

It sounds to me, kablam, that you're saying the CIA and NSA are beyond the complete control of the government. If this is the case, who is their master?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:10 PM on May 11, 2006

Senate Intelligence chairman quietly 'fixed' intelligence, and diverted blame from White House over Iraq. Says something about curtailed oversight under this administration.
posted by Eekacat at 6:49 PM on May 11, 2006

rougy: the Justice Department was going to investigate the NSA telephone call database, but the NSA has refused to grant them the security clearances to do so. The Justice Department immediately backed down and has given up on the investigation. Current news.

The premier book on the NSA is "The Puzzle Palace", by James Bamford. Which has to rate as one of scarier non-fiction books out there. A few highlights:

The NSA was created by a Presidential Memorandum by President Truman just before he left office. Congress eventually created enabling legislation with the unheard of provision that they only allocate a single, non-itemized budget to the NSA, and that Congress has NO regular authority to examine either the organization or its operations.

In other words, Congress gives the NSA a lump sum of money, and the NSA is supposed to do something with it, without telling anyone what. Ever.

Out of all their operations, the NSA compiles a "daily intelligence summary", usually a single page, that is given to the President's National Security Council. That is it.

Moynihan's Senate Committee was livid when one of the few details of their operations open to Congress, new facilities, was done without any hint to Congress. Among many in Washington, his resignation was a tipping point, in which the power of the intelligence agencies had passed any acceptable limit.

As far as turning the CIA into some kind of Neo-Con organization, it is unlikely, compared to what might be called the CIA's "militarization". That is, returning the emphasis of the CIA to its Kennedy-era human intelligence gathering capability.

This will mean replacing many of the staff with SOCOM combat operatives. Individuals who have been in the field actually fighting, instead of new college graduates. They will have no illusions or preconceived notions about places and situations known only from textbooks.

In a way, this could be very good for the CIA, both returning them to their "roots" of HUMINT, but also filling a longstanding gap in US intelligence gathering.

This is speculation, of course, as Sidney Blumenthal has proposed that Hayden's efforts will be to utterly gut the CIA and use completely new services to fill its intelligence role.
posted by kablam at 7:03 PM on May 11, 2006

Maybe when he gets out of office, they can get back at him by sending him to a secret prison from which he will never return or be heard of again.
posted by delmoi at 10:40 PM on May 11, 2006

It sounds to me, kablam, that you're saying the CIA and NSA are beyond the complete control of the government. If this is the case, who is their master?

The CIA's master is the President. The CIA works for the President. The idea of a "rogue" CIA which carries out assassinations and overthrows governments without presidential authorization is a fiction. All CIA covert actions are authorized by the President.

Thomas Powers (NYRB, subscribers only) describes this at length. My apologies for the length of the quote.
... for our purposes here it is enough to say that no one can understand, much less predict, the behavior of the CIA who does not understand that the agency works for the president. I know of no exceptions to this general rule. In practice it means that in the end the CIA will always bend to the wishes of the president, and as long as the director of central intelligence serves at the pleasure of the president this will continue to be the case. The general rule applies to both intelligence and operations: what the CIA says, as well as what it does, will shape itself over time to what the president wants. When presidents don't like what they are being told they ignore it. When they want something done they press until it happens. As a disciplined organization the agency does not complain about the one, or long resist the other. In a word, it is responsive. ...

The first time a Senate investigating committee seriously looked into the way presidents use the CIA was in 1975, following discovery by the public that the CIA had made serious and sustained efforts to assassinate Cuba's Communist leader, Fidel Castro. The existence of the plots raised the obvious question: Who authorized them? Efforts to kill Castro had begun under President Eisenhower, were actively pursued under President Kennedy, and were not abandoned until after the election of President Johnson in 1964. It was not only presidents and their defenders who denied that the White House had plotted murder; the chief of the CIA during the years when the plotting was at its height, John McCone, also insisted he knew nothing of these schemes and as a Catholic would never have agreed to them. At the outset of the investigation the committee's chairman, Senator Frank Church of Idaho, in effect accepted these denials at face value and said he thought the CIA had behaved like "a rogue elephant on a rampage" during the years when Castro's overthrow was a principal goal of American foreign policy. A "rogue elephant," of course, listens to no one.

But all talk of a "rogue" CIA had disappeared before the Senate investigating committee finally published its 350-page report on Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders in November 1975. This extraordinary document recounted in meticulous detail the CIA's many attempts, some with the help of notorious Mafia gangsters, to kill Castro, along with its involvement in other plots to kill Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, and Salvador Allende in Chile. The Church Committee report was unprecedented; no other nation had ever conducted a comparable investigation of its own intelligence activities, and the report's release was preceded by intense behind-the-scenes maneuvering. An increasingly alarmed President Ford, horrified as news of the plots leaked out during the months of the committee's investigation, reversed his initial support for an inquiry and urged members of Church's committee to keep their findings under wraps.

The pressure was so great that the Senate itself, fearful of taking a stand, refused either to support or oppose publication of the report. In the end committee members agreed to go ahead only after Senator Church threatened to resign in protest if they repudiated their own work. The result when the report appeared was a predictable nine-day-wonder in the news media and something like a crash course in political realism for reporters, scholars, historians, and the general public. In the past, when American officials had stoutly denied that the United States would ever stoop to secret murder, outsiders could never be really sure if they were being told the truth or a fairy tale. The Church Committee report introduced all who cared to know to the secret world as it is.

But what about the awkward question of authorization—did Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson approve the murder plots or not? The general rule leaves no room for doubt on this score; of course authority came from the White House—where else? Laymen need not agonize over this question; the absence of an explosion of official anger at the discovery of murder plots provides all the evidence anybody really needs.

The Church Committee did not have the ordinary citizen's luxury of addressing this question on the merits. The defenders of presidents were ready for a bare-knuckle fight to the death, and of course the surviving evidence was never quite 1,000 percent conclusive. Senator Church was a political man in a political town. What to do? In this painful situation the testimony of Robert McNamara unexpectedly offered the Church Committee and its chairman a soft resolution of their dilemma. As the secretary of defense under Kennedy, McNamara was in the government's innermost circle —not just intimately familiar with efforts to overthrow Castro but to some degree even their author. If anyone knew who gave the go-ahead it was McNamara, but he circled the matter with great care. He told the Church Committee that White House approval of assassination attempts would have been "totally inconsistent with everything I know about" President Kennedy and his brother Bobby, who had been placed in charge of efforts to get rid of Castro after the failure of the CIA-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961. At the same time, McNamara told the committee, he knew the CIA well—the agency would never go off on its own. He wasn't denying that the efforts to kill Castro took place, he wasn't saying that those efforts were duly authorized, and he wasn't saying that the CIA was out of control. "I understand the contradiction that this carries with respect to the facts," he concluded. The McNamara formula was intellectually weak but it offered a way out. Church accordingly chose caution over glory, followed McNamara's lead, and said in effect that the committee had been unable to establish exactly who authorized the plots.
posted by russilwvong at 1:59 PM on May 12, 2006

A copy of the Powers article that isn't behind a subscriber wall.
posted by russilwvong at 2:00 PM on May 12, 2006

Wow! Thanks!
posted by five fresh fish at 2:47 PM on May 12, 2006

No problem. Maybe I'll turn this into a FPP at some point.
posted by russilwvong at 5:19 PM on May 12, 2006

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