Saturday, January 23, 1993

CIA, Out of Control



"Tyranny is always better organized than freedom."
Charles Péguy

The Central Intelligence Agency appears to be out of control, answerable to no one from a practical standpoint and even its funding is "black," that is, hidden from all public disclosures. It's hard to make judgments about an agency so shrouded in mystery and held from public view, but like you, I have gut feelings.
As to their budget, the fact that it's black means it doesn't show up anywhere, not even as a bump on that huge mass of federal expenditure, if you try to deduct everything else and identify what's left. It makes me additionally uncomfortable to not know how much it's costing for them to not tell me what they're doing. Doesn't that make the hairs stand up just a bit on your neck?
So what would I ask, listing of funding by category? So much to infiltrate the PLO and so much to find out who the President of France is sleeping with? Obviously not, but I think it's in my interests to know whether the CIA is costing me six billion dollars a year or sixty. The Congress is supposed to evaluate expenditure against need and value. When they tell me how much Medicare costs and what the perceived values are, I can make a judgment call whenever they decide to increase or decrease funding. It would seem to me it's not out of line to require the same of the CIA.
I don't like or trust black budgets. Can you imagine a business that wouldn't tell it's board of directors how much they spend on research and development, because they don't trust them to know?
It's not the same thing, supporters argue. It is the same thing. Research and development determines and shapes and devises a company product, well down the road. The research within the CIA determines to a very large degree what our foreign policy will be years from now. As a citizen, I'd rather not have another Gulf War sprung on me, like some impromptu Saturday night dance party. That's not too much to ask in a free society and can be accomplished without entirely emasculating our James Bonds from Virginia. A little more public shedding of light might even go a long way toward preventing things like the Gulf War.
Maybe and maybe not, but more probably maybe. We've had some very effective Directors of the CIA and we've had one or two who, by all reports, were scary as hell. It makes me angry and very worried to learn twenty years after the fact, that a Director or two had their own personal agenda. Scarier yet, to learn those agendas didn't always include the advice and consent of either the Senate or the President.
Do I think we ought to disband the whole thing, just because we don't know what they're up to? Throw out the baby with the bathwater?
I suggest nothing of the kind. Certainly we need a well organized surveillance system throughout the world. It's a dangerous world, becoming more secretively dangerous by the day and any country who hopes to combat the many threats to its freedom and sovereignty must surely have undercover information, the best that can be provided.
But I am saying that it gives me a major amount of discomfort, when the CIA takes off on independent projects that come as a surprise to the Senate and the President as well. The Ollie North experience should have raised some flags in that regard, yet it seems as though the CIA has more lives than a cat. Thirty years after the fact, there's still conjecture about their possible role or involvement in the Kennedy assassination and in plots on the lives of foreign heads of state. In my mind, that's just plain wrong.
Supporters point out that it's difficult to organize a spy outfit, if its operations require publication in the New York Times. Damn, they say, the thing is called the Central Intelligence Agency, it's supposed to do secret stuff. Secret is one thing, unsupervised and unknown is entirely another matter. With all its sputtering and chugging, this is a democracy in which we live. It's not as efficient as a dictatorship, but part of the agreement we make to be governed, is to know what that government is doing---all of it, not just the parts they choose to show us.
Can't be done, say the cloak and dagger set, not and be effective. Take the World Trade Center bombing as an example. Do you think if those terrorists knew we were infiltrating their organizations, they'd have ever been caught?
My response is that I have no need to know about particular operations and of course they have to work in secret, that's the nature of undercover operations. But someone should know and that someone is most certainly the Senate committee charged with such duty and when the targets are sufficiently sensitive, most certainly the President.
There have been altogether too many instances when everyone has been caught flat-footed. No one in the oversight chain knew what Ollie North was up to. His superiors ordered him to lie to the Senate and lie to the President, his Commander In Chief, because the truth was not acceptable.
Clearly a mistake, they say. I guess so, and yet the man who was charged and found guilty of those lies came within a whisker of being elected Senator from Virginia. That's more than a mistake, it's a very dangerous mind set in regard to where truth ends and fiction begins.
It isn't as simple as whether or not Ollie North won or lost an election or did or didn't get a prison term. The FBI answers to the Attorney General and the CIA answers to the Senate and the President. When either of them, key as they both are to our personal freedoms, stop answering, then I become one very worried citizen of this country.
Our constitution is set up in such a way that power is shared in three branches of government, for the very explicit reason that the founders worried about power and how power might be used or abused. The Constitution makes no provision for a fourth branch. CIA funding is rumored to exceed the budget of either the legislative, executive or judicial arms of our federal government and most likely, all three combined. It seems to set its own foreign-policy agenda, it seems to carry out what cannot be called other than acts of war and it seems to have ungoverned powers. If it seems to have powers that only accrue to governments, it is too much like a shadow-government for me.
In this computer age, citizens have reason to worry about what these guys know concerning each and every one of us and what purpose they might have in the knowing. The CIA is explicitly prevented in its charter from activity within the United States, but given the implications of terrorism and the like, one has reason to doubt that they feel themselves bound by that charter. I expect the Senate and my President, no matter how dull and ineffective I may or may not believe them to be, to know what's going on.
I would propose a Cabinet rank Secretary of Intelligence (I know there will be jokes, perhaps we can find another name), to whom the the directors of the several scattered intelligence agencies, including the CIA would report. The Secretary of Intelligence would represent, along with the President, the Executive branch of our government.
I would further propose a Congressional committee, made up of the Speaker of the House, the majority and minority leaders of the Senate and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee to oversee all intelligence activity. That covers the legislative branch.
I admit to not knowing how to include the judicial. It's very hard to imagine our Supreme Court justices acknowledging and approving what are, for the most part, illegal activities worldwide. It is said that justice is blind, but in this case I suppose we have to be sure of the fact.
The CIA and other intelligence agencies would be allowed no activities unknown to these sources and their budget would be subject to the same scrutiny.
We have had in my lifetime, three major undeclared wars and a number of so-called police actions. This nation has drifted away from the protections of the Constitution in this regard and it is a dangerous tendency.
The name Central Intelligence Agency says it all, or at least all it was meant to say. It was formed for the very necessary purpose of collecting intelligence on matters worldwide that affect the security interests of the United States. That does not include, nor should it, such activities as political assassination or support of those who would overthrow sovereign governments, whether or not we approve of those governments.
The recent developments with Hamas, the Islamic insurgent group that has claimed responsibility for the bombings in Israel are a point in case, an example of misdirected efforts that have come back to bite us in the ankle. The nucleus of Hamas was trained in this country by the military and the CIA in order to support Afghan rebels in their conflict against Russian forces. We have no damn business undertaking those kinds of operations. If such activities are mounted against us by others, it is the business of the CIA to uncover them and with the advise and consent of the President and the above mentioned Congressional committee, take appropriate action.
I do not believe, as Ollie North proclaims while wearing a uniform he dishonors, that there are any national interests so vital that they cannot be entrusted to an elected president and the highest-ranking of our elected Congressmen and Senators.