CIA detracts from national security by purporting to know what it doesn’t
One of the original neoconservatives, Moynihan had served on the 1975/76 Church Committee, which exposed CIA crimes around the world. Thereafter, he emerged as a staunch supporter of the CIA from his perch on the Senate Foreign Intelligence Committeee—which was set up to provide oversight of the CIA but in practice rubber-stamped most of its activities.
Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff called Moynihan, “the biggest friend of the CIA the Agency ever had.”
However, with the end of the Cold War, Moynihan started arguing that the country did not need a CIA—which accords with my own view.
The CIA had not redeemed itself after the Church Committee exposed the fact that the CIA had been working around the world to overthrow governments, influence election, assassinate world leaders, and spy on Americans involved in civil rights or anti-war organizations.
Moynihan’s bill was referred to the Senate Intelligence Committee, where it garnered not a single cosponsor and died a quiet death. Worse than that, the debate over the appropriateness of even having a CIA has ended.
Sorkin focuses on the many travails that the Agency has had over the years. She’s not the first person to write about the crimes that the CIA has committed, beginning with stealing the Italian election of 1948, the CIA’s first covert action operation and continuing through the overthrow of the Mossadegh government in Iran, the attempted (and in some cases successful) assassinations of Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba, Rafael Trujillo, Sukarno, Ngo Dinh Diem, Salvador Allende, Muammar Qaddhafi, and others.
Sorkin’s analysis is both deft and important. But it’s incomplete.
She neglects that the predicate for the Agency’s very existence is flawed, i.e., that clandestine intelligence collection and analysis can produce political, economic, or sister clairvoyance to advance the national security. That task is indistinguishable from alchemy or from a perpetual motion machine. The future is inherently unknowable with the degree of certainty required for enlightened planning and actions.
There is no credible evidence that the CIA has ever materially influenced the future to alter the course of history to the advantage of the United States, whether through covert action, spying, or intelligence estimates. There is no credible evidence that economic markets are impacted by CIA projections.
The CIA detracts from national security by purporting to know what it doesn’t know, for example, that the Chinese would not enter the Korean War or that Cubans would revolt against Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs fiasco.
Astrologers are as reliable and much less costly. Countless former policymakers over the years have said, sometimes with a chuckle, that they learned more about foreign leaders’ intentions from the New York Times and Washington Post than they ever did from a CIA analysis or an Intelligence Community estimate. The old CIA taunt of, “Well, if you had access to the information that I have access to…” just doesn’t hold water.
The CIA endures by making the nation feel safer because tens of billions of dollars are expended thrashing around to outfox the future. Secret intelligence activities, simpliciter, have a placebo effect. The intellectual fraud persists shielded by layers of secrecy. And those on the inside who know have a conflict of interest in exposing the pointlessness of their well-paid handiwork.
If this weren’t true, how and why did the CIA get wrong the analysis throughout such notable events as the Berlin crisis, the Mossadegh government in Iran, again, the Suez Crisis, the Vietnam War (with the notable exception of Sam Adams), the fall of the Shah of Iran and the ensuing hostage crisis, the Contra war, the fall of the Soviet Union, and even the threat of al-Qaeda’s terrorism right here on American soil?
For those who argue that the abolishment of the CIA would create an unacceptable intelligence gap and security risk, one only needs to point out that the U.S. government has another 18 intelligence agencies spanning the State Department and Pentagon to the uniformed services, to the Energy, Commerce, and Treasury Departments, and even the Coast Guard. We can have a separate conversation about abolishing some or all of those, too.
But in the meantime, abolishing the CIA and its functions would strengthen the national security, not weaken it. But who on Capitol Hill has the courage to say it? Who will blurt out like the child, “the Emperor has no clothes”?
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About the Author
John Kiriakou was a CIA analyst and case officer from 1990 to 2004.
In December 2007, John was the first U.S. government official to confirm that waterboarding was used to interrogate al-Qaeda prisoners, a practice he described as torture.
Kiriakou was a former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former counter-terrorism consultant. While employed with the CIA, he was involved in critical counter-terrorism missions following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but refused to be trained in so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” nor did he ever authorize or engage in such crimes.
After leaving the CIA, Kiriakou appeared on ABC News in an interview with Brian Ross, during which he became the first former CIA officer to confirm the existence of the CIA’s torture program. Kiriakou’s interview revealed that this practice was not just the result of a few rogue agents, but was official U.S. policy approved at the highest levels of the government.
Kiriakou is the sole CIA agent to go to jail in connection with the U.S. torture program, despite the fact that he never tortured anyone. Rather, he blew the whistle on this horrific wrongdoing.