A couple weeks ago (while I was still incommunicado; I apologize for the tardy post) the federal government observed a particular milestone. With little fanfare (appropriately enough), the CIA turned sixty.
Forgive me if I’m not ecstatic about this anniversary.
The CIA’s history is, to put it charitably, a dubious one at best. The more recent scandals of allowing intelligence information to be doctored to support the administration’s desire to invade Iraq, the CIA’s support of torture in “extreme rendition” and in possible “black sites” are only the most recent—and in many ways, least damning—in a long history of scandal.
The CIA was born as the descendant of the WWII OSS, and was created with an essentially legitimate purpose: “…procure intelligence both by overt and covert methods and will at the same time provide intelligence guidance, determine national intelligence objectives, and correlate the intelligence material collected by all government agencies.” Unfortunately, it was also considered a prime candidate to pursue subversive operations, and suffered a dearth of oversight. As is typical in such cases, it became increasingly independent and expanded its operations without any significant accountability (most notably under Director Allen Dulles). Administrations of all stripes succumbed to the temptation to use it for illicit and illegal activities which they felt important to the interests of the nation—or their administration.
The CIA has been involved in overthrowing several legitimate, democratically elected governments—often supporting in their place corrupt dictators and butchers (Iran in 1953; Guatamala 1954; The Democratic Republic of Congo in 1960 and 1965; Iraq in 1963 and 196, paving the way for Saddam Hussein; Chile on 9/11 of 1973)—not to mention several unsuccessful efforts at regime change in nations such as Nicaragua and Cuba.
The CIA is also known to play a role in supporting and protecting already established tyrants and unsavory groups considered “favorable” to U.S. interests (such as recent warlords in Somalia, past and present despots in Pakistan, Indonesia, and various brutal autocracies in the Middle East).
The series of reports infamous as “the family jewels” details a litany of activities ranging from widespread illegal domestic surveillance, to attempted assassionation of foreign leaders, to mind control experiments on non-consensual and often unwitting participants.
In “The Intelligence Community in the 21st Century” by the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, US House of Representatives (1996), it is estimated that the clandestine service of the nation’s various intelligence agencies break “extremely serious laws” several hundred thousand times a day.
This is reprehensible. Such actions cannot be justified in a moral nation. Its history is an albatross hanging around our neck.
There is certainly a need for entities within the government to collect, correlate, and interpret data vital to making policy decisions of this nation. We need reports such as the national intelligence estimates which the U.S. intelligence community produces each year (which seem to contradict the “intelligence” coming from the White House, and which the White House seems determined to ignore). But covert operations involving the invasion of privacy of U.S. citizens and residents or interfering with the political affairs of other nations are corrosive to foreign relations and to the integrity of our nation.
The recent scandals mentioned above suggest that despite efforts by Congress in the late Seventies and early Eighties, the CIA has changed little. The CIA must be reformed to provide the sort of accountability to keep the agency on a short leash and prevent the sort of nefarious operations in which they’ve engaged so often in the past.
If our government cannot provide such oversight, then the agency should not be around to celebrate its 70th birthday.