by Doctor Science
(who's back to being unable to log in under that name)
I grew up in the 60s and 70s, which means (among other things) that I tend to distrust the benevolence and competence of the "three-letter agencies" (FBI, CIA, NSA, KGB). That is: I tend to assume that they're up to not much good, and that what they *are* up to they do poorly. I have more respect for the FBI than the others, because I can see that they *do* do jobs they can talk about and that are worth doing, some of the time. But I don't know if my trust will ever recover from growing up during the reign of J. Edgar Hoover
Since Sept.11th, my always-shaky confidence in the intelligence agencies has dropped even further. What I see:
- Al Quaeda was unstopped not because of failure on the part of the agencies, but because there was no political interest in stopping them.
- CIA/NSA, at least, let themselves be used as political tools to argue for the Iraq War.
- The fact that the agencies didn't go *ballistic* when Valerie Plame was outed persuaded me that they think they *ought* to be political tools.
- It took the FBI 8 years to identify the anthrax terrorist, and they conveniently fingered someone who'd committed suicide years previously. Incompetence or political motivation? You be the judge!
- The CIA deliberately undermined the effort to exterminate polio to help track down Bin Laden. As far as I'm concerned, this makes them baby-killers aforethought.
- Security theater in the TSA, all in the spirit of covering one's ass.
- Massive, untrammeled surveillance of everyone and everything, just because.
Now, I'm told that this is necessary to "keep us safe", and that I should trust the people in charge. But you know what they say: Trust, but verify. So how do I verify?
Remember, I'm a scientist, and my null hypothesis is always: nothing non-random is happening. Is there any way for an observer without high-level access to tell whether the intelligence agencies are actually accomplishing anything? If so, is there any way to tell whether their accomplishments are outweighed by their costs?