Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Abolish the CIA

I'm currently reading Pulitzer Prize winning author Tim Weiner's 20-years-in-the-making history of the Central Intelligence Agency, Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA (2007, Doubleday). All of Weiner's facts are sourced and on-the-record, including numerous recently declassified sources (some of which the government is attempting to re-classify).

This review of the book by Chalmers Johnson, a former outside consultant for the CIA, does a good job of pointing out some of the highlights and arguing at the conclusion for the abolition of the CIA and letting the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research fill in for the foreign intelligence function.

Weiner's book points out how the CIA has been mismanaged since its creation from the ashes of the Office of Strategic Services, failing to come up with accurate information about major events of significance and leaving a wake of damage from failed covert ops designed to stop the spread of communism even where there was none. And it has regularly deceived presidents, massaged or fabricated intelligence information, and violated the laws of the United States. Johnson writes:
Nothing has done more to undercut the reputation of the United States than the CIA's "clandestine" (only in terms of the American people) murders of the presidents of South Vietnam and the Congo, its ravishing of the governments of Iran, Indonesia (three times), South Korea (twice), all of the Indochinese states, virtually every government in Latin America, and Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The deaths from these armed assaults run into the millions. After 9/11, President Bush asked "Why do they hate us?" From Iran (1953) to Iraq (2003), the better question would be, "Who does not?"
This paragraph understates the case--Johnson goes on to describe how the CIA provided funding for Japanese and Italian politicians. Weiner's book observes that the CIA helped a convicted war criminal become prime minister of Japan in 1957 and bribed the leading officials of the Liberal Democratic Party, which it helped maintain in power until the 1990s. CIA broadcasts from Radio Free Europe called for uprisings. To their surprise, former Hungarian prime minister Imre Nagy, who had been expelled from the Communist Party, announced on state radio a break with Russia, and within days formed a new coalition government in October 1956, but CIA Director Allen Dulles rejected him because he had been a communist and RFE attacked him. RFE broadcasts as much as promised U.S. assistance to Hungarian rebels, only to leave them to die on their own in November 1956 when the Soviets crushed the rebellion. Tens of thousands of people were killed and thousands shipped off to Siberia. Dulles lied to Eisenhower about the content of the broadcasts, transcripts of which only became available in English in 1996, and claimed the U.S. had done nothing to encourage the Hungarians.

I've still got much to read in the book (I'm only up to 1958), but so far it is eye-opening and appalling.

UPDATE (August 11, 2007): The CIA has issued a press release taking issue with Weiner's book for its bias.

UPDATE (December 16, 2009): The CIA has published a review critiquing the accuracy and reliability of Weiner's book.


Pat Porter said...

Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes is a flawed recount of 60 years of CIA history that has been well documented in numerous public sources, other books, the Congressional Record, etc. There is nothing new in the book except the mistakes that the CIA Press Release point out. In my 26 year career in the intelligence business I was involved in some of the "blunders" Weiner depicts. Weiner fails to comprehend that Covert Action is not like Game Theory where all the variables are known or can be known and where all possible outcomes can be predicted. It is a messy game and sometimes things beyond our control just happen! All covert action operations are vetted by the president's national security team and approved by the President. Remember, we - the officers of the CIA - are just ordinary people trying to do an extraordinary job under extraordinary circumstances. We are average people, mothers, fathers with families. We go to soccer games, to church, to bars and parties just like everyone else. We have fears and ambitions just like anyone else. We abide by the laws of the land not out of fear but out of a belief in our form of government and a love of our country. To imply that we operate an independent agenda separate from US foreign policy objects and that we lack a method of controls and accountability is just not true.

It is sad to see that such a great intellect as Chalmers Johnson has chosen to waste his talents on such trivia as the flawed Legacy of Ashes.

Lippard said...

Unfortunately, as Weiner's book documents--and is also shown in such documents as the CIA's recently released "Family Jewels"--sometimes the CIA does not follow the law of the land, including all of its covert operations for the first 25 years of its existence, which were conducted without Congressional authority.

The CIA's history is one which includes numerous cases of lying to presidents and various CIA officers lying to their superiors about what they were up to (again, see the Family Jewels, documents which were collected by CIA Director James Schlesinger from CIA officers who were asked to report on any "skeletons in the closet").

Lippard said...

BTW, thanks for the post, Porter.

Porter says on his blog that he is not Porter Goss. He is apparently located in Newark, California, and his blog profile says:

"I have been retired from clandestine service since the mid 1990’s. I served for 26 years as a field intelligence operative, first with US Army Intelligence for three years, then with the CIA for 23 years. Entering the CIA as a very expendable GS-8, I climbed the ranks into the Senior Intelligence Service retiring as a GS-17. I was selected by the agency to be assigned to the deepest of deep cover assignments as a Non-Official Cover Case Officer for 18 years. I served both as an executive for the corporation that provided my cover and as an intelligence operative working in both Asia and Europe. I now live a reclusive life enjoying hiking, biking, fishing and fossil hunting."

He has a blog titled "Words from a Company Man."

Lippard said...

Porter: Thinking about your comment overnight, I have to say that it's an awfully glib dismissal of the material.

The CIA helped train, arm, and fund Osama bin Laden and his followers--and then pulled out of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal, allowing the rise of the Taliban. The CIA backed the Ba'ath party's rise to power in Iraq in 1963, which subsequently led to Saddam Hussein's rule. The CIA put the Shah of Iran in power in 1953 and supported his ruthless and corrupt dictatorship, setting the stage for the 1979 revolution, and then supplied Iran with missiles.

You don't seem very apologetic for the role your organization has had in making these disasters. "It is a messy game and sometimes things beyond our control just happen!" is a load of crap. The United States simply should not be intervening in the operations of other nations like this at all.