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On the Value and Need for "Intelligence"

chicago dyke's picture

Question for the group, asked in honest and open-minded interest:

What "good in the world" can the CIA claim? What, specifically, has it done that makes America safer, and/or the world a better place?

There's a lot of chatter about Obama's pick of Brennan, of whom I don't really know that much, and his experience and position on the use of torture as a valid interrogation technique. I'll leave aside that argument for now (except to say it still shocks me we even have an "arugment" about it, feh) and wonder instead about what we need, what we have and don't have, and what we might and should have, in our premier intelligence agency.

I can run down a pretty long list of CIA failures. Just off the top of my head, they were totally wrong predicting the timing and reasons for the collapse of the USSR; they propped up torturing dictators in South and Central America; they failed to provide anything useful in the criminally misguided effort in Vietnam; they've covered for drug lords and murderers and Nazis, allowing them to go unpunished and even rewarded for their crimes; Osama Bin who?; WMD and Iraq...really, it's sort of like shooting fish in a barrel.

So I have a hard time understanding why some people on the left would bother to defend practically anything or anyone associated with today's CIA. Especially after what I imagine to be the usual contamination with cronies and criminals that has been the hallmark of the Bush administration's treatment of virtually every government agency. Via CQPolitics, comes this little gem which more or less sums up how I feel about the Agency today:

"Almost anyone working at the agency since [Sept. 11] is tainted," says retired CIA veteran Milt Bearden, a former Pakistan station chief, expressing the facts of life.

"If he wants experience, get an old-timer who left before that. Or go with a completely new face, maybe someone like a [Richard] Holbrooke, though I doubt he'd take it."

I know some people who've worked in intelligence, and I'm not trying to paint with an overly large brush. I understand there is a difference between the Directorates of operations and intelligence, the people who work in them, and what they do. I know that there really are Bad Guys in the world who are on a mission to hurt and kill Americans for all the wrong reasons, and that it makes sense of a nation like ours to have eyes and ears in dangerous places, the better to anticipate groups who would bring another 9-11 to our shores.

But I'm also always most interested in results. So I'm asking: are there any that CIA can point to, and recently, that would convince a progressive like me that CIA is not in need of massive housecleaning and investigation? My mind is truly open on this, if anyone wants to step up and defend them.

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admin_lambert's picture
Submitted by admin_lambert on

CD asks:

But I'm also always most interested in results. So I'm asking: are there any that CIA can point to, and recently, that would convince a progressive like me that CIA is not in need of massive housecleaning and investigation?


If they had the results, they would already have leaked them.

NOTE Of course, the old argument is that "we can't tell you about the successes." But the world is round, and now rather small. And there are already failures all over the map, including some "successes" that turned into failures through blowback. So, at this point, where would we even look?

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

Tellingly, neither required illegal wiretaps or torture -

While it's all the rage to forget, the CIA warned Bush about 9/11 attacks (using info it and the FBI had obtained).

And the CIA predicted the difficulty an invasion of Iraq would bring.

The CiA can't claim those things because they make Bush look bad and Bush is the CIA's boss.

None of which is to say the CIA isn't a mess (and it's been made a bigger mess by the politicization (read - falsification) of intelligence by policy makers like Cheney) or that the national security sector (much bigger than the CIA) isn't more of a hindrance than a help. Overall, I'd say they've failed.

Salmo's picture
Submitted by Salmo on

Intelligence is not limited to the CIA, or even government service. So, in thinking about the people I know who are engaged in some form of foreign intelligence (I think) I am not at all sure that they would publicize their successes. The spookier ones have paranoia honed to a fine art.

Still, it is worth asking if the huge structure our government supports to know what every other government and fringe sect is planning or doing is worth the cost. My guess is, no. Putting a sharper point of the way I think of this, what is the appropriate punishment for the organizations and people on the operations side who have so badly betrayed our nation and its principals? The argument that they have reservations for a special corner of hell is not good enough.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

is, as we saw most glaringly with the Bush Administration, it can be manipulated. While Bush is the most recent and perhaps outrageous example, he's hardly the only policy maker to fake intelligence or cherry pick it. In light of this tendency to misuse intelligence (which is often wrong or incomplete anyway), the usefulness of the intel agencies is undermined greatly by the misuse of them. In a perfect world where intel agencies simply informed the decision makers, they'd be useful. But often that's not what they do and instead are used to provide bullshit backing up bad policies or, worse, provide a means for doing really awful things (like the shock treatments funded by the CIA) in secret.

Reform should be the word. It won't be. But it should be.