February 28, 2006

Tom Clancy on Terror - Or What did people talk about after 9/11

What the field intelligence officers do is no different from what Special Agent Joe Pistone of the FBI did when he infiltrated the mafia under the cover name of Donnie Brasco. The purpose of these operations is to find out what people are thinking and talking about. However good your satellites are, they cannot see inside a human head. Only people can go and do that.

But America, and especially the American news media, does not love the CIA in general and the field spooks in particular. As recently as two weeks ago, CBS's "60 Minutes" regaled us with the hoary old chestnut about how the CIA undermined the leftist government of Chile three decades ago. The effect of this media coverage, always solicitous to leftist governments, is to brand the CIA an antiprogressive agency that does Bad Things.

In fact, the CIA is a government agency, subject to the political whims of whoever sits in the White House and Congress. The CIA does what the government of which it is a part tells it to do. Whatever evil the CIA may have done was the result of orders from above.

The Chilean event and others (for example, attempts to remove Fidel Castro from the land of the living, undertaken during the presidency of JFK, rather more rarely reported because only good came from Camelot) caused the late Sen. Frank Church to help gut the CIA's Directorate of Operations in the 1970s. What he carelessly left undisturbed then fell afoul of the Carter administration's hit man, Stansfield Turner. That capability has never been replaced.

It is a lamentably common practice in Washington and elsewhere to shoot people in the back and then complain when they fail to win the race. The loss of so many lives in New York and Washington is now called an "intelligence failure," mostly by those who crippled the CIA in the first place, and by those who celebrated the loss of its invaluable capabilities.

What a pity that they cannot stand up like adults now and say: "See, we gutted our intelligence agencies because we don't much like them, and now we can bury thousands of American citizens as an indirect result." This, of course, will not happen, because those who inflict their aesthetic on the rest of us are never around to clean up the resulting mess, though they seem to enjoy further assaulting those whom they crippled to begin with.


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