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March 05, 2014

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Those Langley folks have been giving the concept of 'civil service' a black eye since the Dulles brothers ran the show.

This is the epitome of misguided institutional inertia that cannot be overcome by simply electing 'better politicians'. It's well past time to blow this up.

But, of course, we're supposed to believe that the NSA's all seeing eye averts it's gaze from politicians.

At this point my default assumption is that NSA data is being used to warp our politics, the only question being, how systematic is it?

I fear it is not just systematic but systemic. The only question is, do they snoop on themselves too?

It's remarkable to me that the Griswold right to privacy, once invoked, has not yet to be used to guarantee some semblance of actual privacy.

Is this sort of thing inevitable? Would it do any good to disband the CIA, rethink the whole intelligence gathering concept, and design some sort of new intelligence gathering entity? I can remember a discussion about the CIA way back during the Church hearings. Someone made the comment that if the CIA was disbanded or significantly downsized that lots of seriously crazy and dangerous people would be let loose on the world with no monitoring of where they were or what they were doing. The theory was that it was better to employee the E Gordon Liddy types so that they would be supervised and controlled...I'm not sure I buy this theory. I wish our culture didn't breed types like that in the first place. The implication is scary: that the CIA is an employment agency for paranoid rightwing extremists who otherwise would be blowing up buildings in Oklahoma or ratfucking on behalf of the Koch brothers..

Um, wouldn't the smart thing be to hire some sort of off-the-books spy agency with extrajudicial powers to "take care of them" all...?

Hartmut,

Spy agencies are paranoid by nature. It is obvious that CIA has internal counter-intelligence, although I would not bet on its effectiveness.

sanbikinoraion,

There are precedents for that sort of thing. It usually ends badly for everyone involved.

In Stalin's Russia, the last group of people executed in 1936-38 purges were the GUGB personnel who "had taken care of" the other victims. The internal investigations division (OO directorate) purged them. Thereafter, the OO was purged.

Who purges the purgers?

Domestic surveillance is fair comment. But, as BobbyP would have it, blowing it all up? Context plays some role, does it not? What is, if there is one, the progressive consensus on how to deal with a world in which China, which continues to not only modernize but expand its military, rattles its saber at Japan and Taiwan, N Korea rattles constantly at S Korea, Russian threatens to invade the Ukraine and people fly planes into office buildings?

An organisation/agency may (have) become so corrupt that tear down and build anew is the only option since renovation goes only for the symptoms not the root causes. Plus the CIA has shown its incompetence for such an extended amount of time that a temporary loss of it while the new service gets built would not make much of a difference. Newest case in point: predicting that Putin would not go into Crimea mere hours before he did.

Bad Mistakes
The Bay of Pigs, Viet Nam

Coups
Guzman, Allende, Sukarno (failed), Castro (failed), Mossadegh, Diem

Our return on investment in the CIA seems to me to be negative.
Their budget should have been zero'ed after they got caught playing cowboy with the Contras.

An organisation/agency may (have) become so corrupt that tear down and build anew is the only option since renovation goes only for the symptoms not the root causes.

Are there any precedents for this in the last 50 years or so? And this doesn't really answer the larger question.

The CIA's record in covert ops has never been particularly good. But they used to be pretty solid on analysis. Although their current record is nowhere near as impressive.

But I am surprised nobody has mentioned the other "feature" of the Senate panel investigation. In spite of being barred from domestic surveilance, and having promised not to monitor Senate staffers from the panel (who were required to review certain documents at Langley because they were too sensitive to let out of the building), it turns out that the CIA actually did monitor what the Senate panel was doing. See this
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/03/05/220280/senators-express-outrage-at-cia.html

nobody has mentioned

That's because no one was surprised that the CIA's public statement was a lie.

The CIA's record in covert ops has never been particularly good.

I'm sure this goes without saying here at ObWi, but what is the evidence of this, in particular? Seems like a rather broad statement, and difficult to verify, since covert operations, by definition are covert and therefore largely unknown.

Not every covert operation is going to succeed. That is the nature of the business. I'm in the lawsuit business, but I don't win every case.

Again, domestic surveillance is fair comment and even cause for concern. But, tearing down the house even for discrete examples of clear overreaching sets a really bad precedent, see ACA as an example.

Yes, I know it's awesome, or will be someday, but that is subjective perception, at least to some degree. Others see it differently. The role of the CIA in foreign intelligence gathering and even operations is not viewed as negatively across the board as it is among progressives.

Finally, I'm still waiting for the progressive consensus, if it exists, in a world where the lion has yet to lay down with the lamb.

Well, all this would be made easier if we simply didn't know about it, right?

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/04/nsa-chief-keith-alexander-david-miranda

“I think we are going to make headway over the next few weeks on media leaks. I am an optimist. I think if we make the right steps on the media leaks legislation, then cyber legislation will be a lot easier,” [NSA head Keith] Alexander said.

Media leaks seems to be his code word for the Snowden documents reaching the papers. I have no clue what "media leaks legislation" might be.

McK:

Not part of the progressive consensus, but I've seen little evidence that the CIA is currently playing a compelling role in any of those things you've mentioned. Yes, there may be classified examples, but believing that these examples (a) exist and (b) are worth the price we pay by allowing an agency to operate in secret requires trust.

This is something Schneier has talked on a great deal. If the CIA (for example) needs to operate in secrecy, *we need to trust them.* The average american on the street needs to nod their head and say: "The CIA? Yeah, they're the good guys."

When they repeatably betray the public trust, as they have been for decades, that secrecy is going to be stripped one way or another.

I am utterly unconvinced that the CIA is currently acting as a bulwark against China or Russia. The evidence saying they are is their word, which has been shown to be unreliable repeatably.

I think, short of "blowing it up" the US needs to have a serious and public discussion about what we expect out of our intelligence services, how the labor is going to be divided among the TLAs, how much secrecy is afforded, and what the limits are.

As it stands, all the TLAs have roles that have grown and changed and varied with little oversight and blank checks on spending. That kind of unregulated mission creep is what leads to the CIA spying on congressional staffers.

What is, if there is one, the progressive consensus on how to deal with a world in which...

There isn't one.

If you were asking me, personally, rather than The Progressive Mind, I would say shut down the directorate of ops and restrict the use of force to the military, for starters.

Then I'd say knock off the f***ing domestic surveillance ops.

The FBI can engage in domestic surveillance, with a warrant. The CIA and NSA cannot.

Since you ask.

The theory was that it was better to employee the E Gordon Liddy types so that they would be supervised and controlled

Are there no workhouses?

Thompson, you are not supposed to see what the covert people are doing, that is the point. The question is: do you know for a fact what they are doing in these arenas and, if you do, can you demonstrate that the CIA is consistently ineffective/counterproductive?

With respect, I think subjective and preconceived viewpoint drives a lot of this discussion once we get past the more immediate and legitimate concern of domestic surveillance.

Russell, do you have enough information on covert ops for the last 30 years or so to back up your position that the country would be better off without than we are with it?

I ask because 9/11 type things, nukes falling into the wrong hands--requiring, if possible, getting them back out of wrong hands, and who know what going forward, are the kinds of things covert operations are designed to deal with. I think that is an arrow worth having in the quiver. Or, giving a nod to Count, a dart worth having for the old atlatl.

It is easy to say, in a vacuum, that we can do without X or Y, but then if something really bad happens, who is held accountable for taking X or Y off the table?

When Obama came into office, he signaled a fair amount of skepticism for CIA related things. A reasonable inference underlying his change in attitude was that he became privy to the hard reality of a world outside our borders that he did not expect to see and was compelled by a reality the rest of us can barely, if that, comprehend to readjust his views.

Again, with respect, does anyone here have enough of a handle on the nasty side of this world's actors to know what the CIA does, why it does it and what we would face without them?

Again, with respect, does anyone here have enough of a handle on the nasty side of this world's actors to know what the CIA does, why it does it and what we would face without them?

Doesn't this go both ways? If we don't know (entirely) what the CIA is up to, why should we assume it's worthwhile (or not harmful)?

Doesn't this go both ways? If we don't know (entirely) what the CIA is up to, why should we assume it's worthwhile (or not harmful)?

Ok, I'll bite, but the evidence is unavoidably circumstantial: since 9/11, Al Qaeda is much reduced and Bin Laden is dead. Knocking off Bin Laden was CIA covert ops and intelligence gathering. Domestic attacks originating overseas are minimal, inferentially because the bad guys are getting whacked/hounded/defunded. You can't do this kind of thing diplomatically, other than in support of covert ops.

Russell, do you have enough information on covert ops for the last 30 years or so to back up your position that the country would be better off without than we are with it?

I work with the information I have. That information tells me that CIA covert ops have, at best, mixed results, and those results are not always in the best interest of this country.

If you expect me to hold an opinion based on information I don't have, you're basically asking me to trust the CIA. Which I do not, and you are offering little reason to persuade me otherwise.

Secrecy cuts both ways.

Yes, there are bad people in the world, and yes sometimes we must act in secrecy. I would prefer that those actions be carried out by organizations who demonstrate a greater level of accountability, and which have stronger institutional safeguards against rogue action.

Need to recover a nuke? Send military special ops. Let the intelligence agencies gather and analyze intelligence.

Knocking off Bin Laden was CIA covert ops

Navy SEALs.

Let the intelligence agencies gather and analyze intelligence.

Gathering intelligence often involves covert operations. I think this is a philosophical thing: the leftish view never has and never will be open to a robust CIA. Thats fine. We all have our likes and dislikes. I'm fine with and believe we need the CIA, although we have common ground on domestic surveillance.

More generally, the problem with using an ax on the institution disfavored by one quarter is that it invites other quarters to ax their disfavored institutions.

Navy SEALs.

They didn't find him, they killed him. The CIA, using its covert ops people, tracked him down.

I'd say knock off the f***ing domestic surveillance ops

Seconded.

More generally, the problem with using an ax on the institution disfavored by one quarter is that it invites other quarters to ax their disfavored institutions.

Hey! I thought you were into smaller government.

I don't believe that if there were large numbers of really important and successful covert ops that we wouldn't know about many or most of them eventually. People leak that kind of thing for bragging purposes. What you're proposing is actually what is called a "conspiracy theory" when someone says the CIA is doing all sorts of large scale dastardly things for which we have no evidence. The reply to such claims is always that it's impossible to keep a big secret for very long. If they are saving the world like James Bond does, then maybe there are also rogue CIA operatives out there trying to destroy the world. Or maybe I should finally break down and become a Kennedy assassination buff.

Gathering intelligence often involves covert operations.

I have no problem with covert actions to gather intelligence.

I have a problem with the directorate of ops, which does way way way more than collect and analyze intelligence.

So - somebody like Valerie Plame, living and working abroad under an assumed identity, to gather information about nuclear proliferation, I have no problem with.

Assassinations, acts of false flag terrorism, interference with the indigenous political process of other countries, etc., I have a problem with.

And yes, I know that Plame worked in the Directorate of Ops, but I think you take my point.

They didn't find him, they killed him. The CIA, using its covert ops people, tracked him down.

As noted immediately above, I have no problem with the CIA finding stuff out.

I have a problem with the CIA killing people, or engaging in any of the other forms of action above and beyond gathering intelligence that fall under the general purview of the directorate of ops.

CIA finds, SEALs kill seems like a good division of labor to me. Assuming, of course, we're talking about somebody who we have some business killing in the first place.

I've got to go with Russell on this one. And it does occur to me to ask, if the CIA's covert ops folks are so good, why did the Seals get involved at all? One could almost suspect that Seal Team 6 was tapped for the job precisely because the CIA wasn't capable of reliably doing it.

Moved on, but a couple of things:

Thompson, you are not supposed to see what the covert people are doing, that is the point. The question is: do you know for a fact what they are doing in these arenas and, if you do, can you demonstrate that the CIA is consistently ineffective/counterproductive?

That's a point I yielded. I can't demonstrate they haven't saved the world over and over. But if you're asking me to (a) fund something and (b) yield civil liberties either legally or practically, I'm going to need more than a vague handwavy "trust us, we are saving you from the bad people." Especially when on numerous occasions there is evidence that the CIA has done staggeringly stupid things.

Before I'm willing to sign off on something where the costs are high, I need to trust that the abuse is minimal and the need is great. The first is eroded by actual CIA behavior that gets leaked and the second is regularly not demonstrated.

You can get some traction with me that revealing ops that save the world compromise our ability to do it in the future, but not much. The CIA has been around for awhile, there is surely some evil Soviet plot that they foiled that they can talk about to demonstrate their use.

With respect, I think subjective and preconceived viewpoint drives a lot of this discussion once we get past the more immediate and legitimate concern of domestic surveillance.

I'd buy that, but that's not really a dismissal of the argument. I'm not saying you're for domestic surveillance, but this is just another example of how they aren't doing anything useful and are doing something detrimental. Notably in absence are a large numbers of examples of them doing something useful.

When Obama came into office, he signaled a fair amount of skepticism for CIA related things. A reasonable inference underlying his change in attitude was that he became privy to the hard reality of a world outside our borders that he did not expect to see and was compelled by a reality the rest of us can barely, if that, comprehend to readjust his views.

I think another reasonable inference is that Obama is a politician with an authoritarian bent, is willing to say what is needed to pacify the base during the campaign, and sees the very real political consequence of any perceived slowdown of the security state: if there is an attack, however unlikely, and he supported restraining program Y at the CIA, it will be used against him.

I do not take politicians acting like politicians as evidence of a capable enemy at the gates.

CIA finds, SEALs kill seems like a good division of labor to me. Assuming, of course, we're talking about somebody who we have some business killing in the first place.

Yeah.

In closing, I'm reminded of the Onion:
http://www.theonion.com/articles/smart-qualified-people-behind-the-scenes-keeping-a,17954/

I think bobbyp's suggestion is simply a means to russell's ends (sort of).

Someone has to do the things there seems to be general agreement here that need to be done intelligence-wise. It's just that the CIA has been doing more than just those things, and the list of other things seems have been growing over time, with no reason to think that list won't continue to grow.

Institutionally, as has already been mentioned, it's hard to get an existing organization to make fundamental changes or reverse course. So it may not be feasible to work within the context of the CIA to end the operations that at least some people think need to be ended at the CIA.

In effect, taking the ax to the CIA is how you get them to stop doing the things they shouldn't be doing, meaning you have to start a new organization to do those things the CIA should be doing.

It's a judgement call whether you reform the CIA or kill it and start over to get to where you want to be. But where you want to be isn't *no intelligence apparatus whatsoever* in either case.

McKinney,

Just how much evidence do you need? Special Ops has given us the regime in Iran, cemented the Castro government in Cuba...just for starters. Their folly on this front is well documented.

And they're not so good at intelligence either. They missed the fall of the Iron Curtain; blew 9/11, arab spring...etc. What is the purpose of such a well funded, highly secret and covertly powerful institution in our democracy?

I put it to you that the costs of their excess and their failures is beyond justifiable.

I don't believe that if there were large numbers of really important and successful covert ops that we wouldn't know about many or most of them eventually.

You have a lot of qualifiers in here, e.g. 'large', 'really important and successful' that kind of frame the debate in a way that then allows for the assumption we would eventually know about them because someone would leak.

My answer is: maybe.

My SWAG is simply that the vast majority of covert ops are of brief duration, pointed and have a variety of outcomes.


I have a problem with the CIA killing people, or engaging in any of the other forms of action above and beyond gathering intelligence that fall under the general purview of the directorate of ops.

Unless, in order to gather info, someone has to be killed in the process, self defense, whatever.

Some people need to be killed. It is a hard fact of life. Who does the killing seems a matter of semantics and legalistic parsing.

acts of false flag terrorism

Examples?

interference with the indigenous political process of other countries, etc.

So, had the CIA funded Nelson Mandela, you would have opposed that? Funding, supporting moderates in Iran is a bad idea? Working to overthrow the N Korea regime, if that were possible, is off limits?
And it does occur to me to ask, if the CIA's covert ops folks are so good, why did the Seals get involved at all? One could almost suspect that Seal Team 6 was tapped for the job precisely because the CIA wasn't capable of reliably doing it.

Maybe your question suggests that the covert ops folks aren't as ubiquitous as some assume. The CIA is reported to have some paramilitary capability, but the ingress/egress of people to enter buildings, hit what they shoot at and whatnot is a purely military function--too many elements involved in that kind of operation (sometimes Navy, sometimes Air Force, sometimes Army in support) and the training takes years.

Still no takers, other than Russell, on the larger question.

Still no takers, other than Russell, on the larger question.

I said previously I think the CIA provides little bulwark against Russia and China. And they clearly did little to prevent 9/11. Their actions to track down Bin Laden and degrade AQ were done in the larger context of massive military action in the region and intense political pressure on Pakistan.

And I have no objection to CIA action in that context: foreign and targeted.

But if you're asking me to (a) fund something and (b) yield civil liberties either legally or practically, I'm going to need more than a vague handwavy "trust us, we are saving you from the bad people.

No one is asking you to do this. Even a less than careful reading of everything I've written won't get even close to this kind of tendentious construction.

BP--I was waiting for Cuba (55 years ago) and Iran (60 years ago). Anything more recent? And, you know, maybe a bit less attenuated? By your logic, if a rogue gets a nuke and pops it, it is because we developed nukes to win WWII. Or blaming Wilbur and Orville Wright for 9/11--no airplanes, no 9/11, simple cause and effect.

Also, as a tag line on Cuba, the CIA was acting on the authority of two presidents. That wasn't the CIA formulating policy. As for the coup in Iran the year before I was born, I don't know whether that had administration buy-in or not. If it did, blaming the CIA for carrying out acts authorized by an elected president seems focused on the wrong party.

As for failing to forecast, that isn't operations, that's analysis. You are a minority in wanting that function taken away. But if mistakes are enough to ax an organization, I have a long list of domestic snafu's that will let me pare gov't and the budget down dramatically. There will be blow back and pain, but having set the bar so low, well, that's where it gets us.

Especially when on numerous occasions there is evidence that the CIA has done staggeringly stupid things.

This is an article of faith for those whose views you reflect--do you have any recent examples?

Some people need to be killed. It is a hard fact of life. Who does the killing seems a matter of semantics and legalistic parsing.

...and which people are those, now? Who's picking them again? We have laws against extrajudicial execution for a reason. It's all well and good for you to posture and look tough and pragmatic compared to us weak-willed, rosy-eyed leftists, but your "some people need killed"" platitude is echoed in terrorist training camps around the world. I suspect you don't accept their "right" to make judgements about the necessity of extrajudicial killings. I'd also expect you don't take so cool and callous a view to, say, the North Korean intelligence community's convictions that "some people need killed".

This nation was founded on rule of law, not rule of man. So "some people" may "need killed", but that doesn't mean that individuals outside of and often unconstrained by the legal system should be trusted to make such decisions - especially in secrecy. And that's a damned sight more than a mere "matter of semantics and legalistic parsing".

Still no takers, other than Russell, on the larger question.

Well, what russell said. Particularly the "lack of consensus" part. But for my money, kill the Directorate of Ops. Restrict use of force to responsible (and accountable) agencies in the defense and law enforcement communities. Reduce CIA to an intelligence gathering organ. Go from there.

They missed the fall of the Iron Curtain; blew 9/11, arab spring...etc.

And the Russian invasion of Crimea.

Who does the killing seems a matter of semantics and legalistic parsing.

Um, no.

acts of false flag terrorism

Examples?

For example.

So, had the CIA funded Nelson Mandela, you would have opposed that? Funding, supporting moderates in Iran is a bad idea? Working to overthrow the N Korea regime, if that were possible, is off limits?

As covert actions of the intelligence community, yes, in all three cases.

Unless, in order to gather info, someone has to be killed in the process, self defense, whatever.

But that's really not the same thing as killing people as your primary goal, for whatever reason. Intelligence gathering can get messy, but we're talking about missions that are about killing people, regardless of gathering intelligence.

I don't think anyone is proposing that no one who works for the CIA ever kill anyone for any reason. I think we're talking about them undertaking killing missions, after the intelligence has been gathered.

I think we're talking about them undertaking killing missions

Correct.

Wasn't there a thread about drones a few months back where all the reasons not to have the CIA, as opposed to the military, heading up strikes were hashed out?

Should we just copy and paste?

It's all well and good for you to posture and look tough and pragmatic compared to us weak-willed, rosy-eyed leftists, but your "some people need killed"" platitude is echoed in terrorist training camps around the world.

I'm sure you're right about what people in terrorist training camps think, and everyone else you speak for as well. And your high moral ground is clearly unassailable. That said, OBL needed killing years before it finally happened. The crew the pulled off 9/11 needed killing if their goal and location had been known.

I'm not much on moral equivalency. You seem to be, and that is fine. I think the US's judgement is superior to N Korea's. We don't have to be perfect to be objectively *morally superior* than N Korea or Al Qaeda. I think the reason we didn't kill OBL early on is because we are reticent about those kinds of things.

And the Russian invasion of Crimea

Yep, that was a bad call. I'll wait for the fallout, if any, before commenting further.

I think we're talking about them undertaking killing missions, after the intelligence has been gathered.

My view isn't too far off. Most military style operations are best handled by the military for what I would hope are obvious reasons.

If, OTOH, Bad Actor X is located in a populated area and is amenable to a targeted assassination with minimal to non-existent collateral damage, I don't care who pulls the trigger.

Examples?

Russell, that was 65 years ago.

Russell, that was 65 years ago.

I wasn't aware there was a time limit.

It seemed to me that you wanted an example of a CIA-sponsored act of false flag terror. I gave you one.

If time frame is important, I'll point out that the topic under discussion is the CIA's actions to frustrate the Senate in its legal obligation to oversee the agency and investigate their (the CIA's) operation of a network of secret prisons around the world, including a program of interrogation via torture.

Which is against the freaking law. If we did not prevent it, some of those folks would be brought up before the Hague, and would likely hang.

So, all of that's pretty recent. And by "all of that" I mean the programs themselves, and the agency's attempt to undermine the effort of the Senate to investigate and oversee their actions. Which attempt includes spying on the Senators and staffers.

At what point does "rogue" kick in, for you?

We have just tons of SECRET evidence of anthropogenic global warming, that requires immediate, major action in response. For our protection!

From your attitude toward the CIA, I guess McKTx is all in favor of taking such action.

I think the reason we didn't kill OBL early on is because we are reticent about those kinds of things.

As an aside, if I'm not mistaken the effort to kill Bin Laden preceded 9/11. We were after him since at least the '93 WTC bombing, if not before.

And by "after him", I mean "dropping cruise missiles on his head".

The biggest reason we didn't kill Bin Laden earlier was that he was a hard guy to find.

This is an article of faith for those whose views you reflect--do you have any recent examples?

Listed by the others, including the very subject of the thread...I could copy them, I suppose, but seems silly. I'd throw in MKULTRA and associated projects, but that might not be recent enough for you. WMDs and Curveball also come to mind.

No one is asking you to do this. Even a less than careful reading of everything I've written won't get even close to this kind of tendentious construction.

It seems you are, although perhaps I'm misinterpreting your argument. If so, my apologies. You seem to want the CIA funded and given broad authority and minimal oversight, I want justification as to why they should receive that.

They need trust to operate, and they seem to be doing their damnedest to make sure they have none.

the CIA was acting on the authority of two presidents.

Taken a little out of context, but as a side note, I don't necessarily view the president as sufficient oversight. That isn't what you said, but I think its worth mentioning.

Even if the president has absolute authority and oversight over a secret agency (doubtful), that doesn't make my concerns go away. It just means the president has a great tool that they can use to circumvent the law. Because national security demands secrecy, these actions are beyond review of the courts and the electorate.

why did the Seals get involved at all? One could almost suspect that Seal Team 6 was tapped for the job precisely because the CIA wasn't capable of reliably doing it.

My answer would be that this is exactly the kind of operation that SEALs are trained to do, and that CIA ops don't tend to have that team-sport aspect to them.

But I don't really know for certain.

"You have a lot of qualifiers in here, e.g. 'large', 'really important and successful' that kind of frame the debate in a way that then allows for the assumption we would eventually know about them because someone would leak.

My answer is: maybe."

Well of course I have qualifiers. If you want to claim that the CIA has saved us from some 9/11 terrorist style attacks with secret James Bond heroics then I can't rule it out. By the same logic I can't rule out the possibility that the CIA has been involved in some grotesque terrorist actions that nobody has leaked. If anything, that seems more likely. Bob Woodward in "Veil" and also in the Washington Post claimed that the CIA was behind a car bombing in Lebanon back in the 80's, one aimed at some terrorist leader, which killed 80 people. A terrorist act, in other words. If someone leaked that to Woodward then I suspect that someone would leak word of successful operations. You want to assume all sorts of secret James Bond successes. Given what we know, if there are secrets of that sort, it'll probably turn out that many of them were of the car bombing variety.

In some post that I don't think appeared (maybe I didn't hit send or maybe it's in the spam box), I mentioned that I think most bad US actions are pretty much out in the open. They may not be common knowledge, but that's because of how our press operates. For example, the US supported the invasion and brutal occupation of East Timor for about 25 years or a bit less. It wasn't a secret and you could find out about it from mainstream sources if you looked, but it was rarely discussed and very few Americans ever heard of East Timor until 1999, when our policy changed. Or when wikileaks came out, one of the bad things revealed was that a US missile killed dozens of Yemen civilians and we lied about it. But I think Amnesty International had already exposed this. Even the NSA revelations aren't really a big surprise. And that the US government consorts with nasty people and gives them weapons and calls them freedom fighters (or close allies) isn't exactly a secret either.

Russell, that was 65 years ago.

Oops, sorry, I see now where you were framing your questions in more of a last-30-years timeframe.

No, I don't have an example of a CIA-sponsored false flag terror action in the last 30 years.

And then the search got called off in essence because the administration did no longer really care. The lesser Bush even said it in public.

Btw, the method the CIA found ObL with had an unintended serious consequence (I am not talking about pissing off the Pakistanis). There is a very strong indication that it torpedoed the international campaign to get rid of a certain unpleasant disease for good and threw it back for many years. Well, I know of some people* that would see it as a feature not a bug but I think it was just lack of thought in this case.

*there is a strange unholy alliance of religious fundamentalists (Hindu, Muslim, Kristian(TM)) that are opposed to the very idea of vaccination. Another mantle the RCC dropped long ago and that got taken up by others.

Wikipedia has a short article on the car bombing in Lebanon. It's not proven that we did it, and Reagan denies that he gave authorization (which I can easily believe) but given the sort of nun-raping, child killers we were supporting in various parts of the world at the time, I don't see the big deal about one car bomb. What moral standard would have been violated here that wasn't being violated by the lovely folks we were supporting in Central America and Angola?

link

At what point does "rogue" kick in, for you?

I stated in the beginning and then repeated that the domestic surveillance angle is fair comment, i.e. absolutely something that merits investigation and, if warranted, prosecution.

*That* is a separate issue from dismantling the agency or a significant part thereof.

Suppose the IRS was used for political purposes by a particular administration and suppose further there was objective evidence of selective audits, assessments, etc--that would be as bad as domestic surveillance wouldn't it?

If that were to happen, can we agree to shut down the enforcement/collection arm of the IRS?

You seem to want the CIA funded and given broad authority and minimal oversight, I want justification as to why they should receive that

I would be grateful if you can point to my words. I think you are mind reading.

You want to assume all sorts of secret James Bond successes.

See my comment immediately above. You are mind reading. If you think I favor indiscriminate car bombing, particularly in an urban setting with highly probable collateral damage, you are misreading everything I've said.

What I do assume is that most covert operations do not involve loss of life, destabilization of existing regimes (although I suspect many here are fine with *some* regime change, particularly back in the day), acts of terror or other such things. I suspect they are relatively mundane and please note the use of the word 'relatively'.

No, I don't have an example of a CIA-sponsored false flag terror action in the last 30 years.

Cool. I appreciate your going back and looking at what I said.

Conflating the concept of an intelligence arm independent of a particular branch of the military that has an operational capacity with approval of (1) discrete examples mis- or malfeasance or (2) unlimited, unaccountable power vested in any adjunct of gov't is flawed logic. Both, and particularly (2), are also, as I think the overall thrust of my time at ObWi will bear out, the polar opposite of my worldview, at least for those who have read me closely.

If that were to happen, can we agree to shut down the enforcement/collection arm of the IRS?

I imagine you'd get more traction with me than most here talking about IRS activities, but it actually gets to my point.

The IRS did something stupid (or didn't, some will say, don't think its to relevant at this juncture). There is oversight and investigation by congress. They can issue subpoenas and hold people in contempt, etc.

And on top of that, the IRS performs the pretty important function of funding the government (I may not agree with the level of funding, but it has to happen).

And even if IRS does something wrong and even if Congress fails to exercise oversight, individuals damaged by the actions can use the courts.

The IRS has far more oversight, transparency, and recourse than the CIA does. Doesn't mean I wouldn't like to see more.

The CIA is well funded and basically oversightless. I have no idea if they've done anything useful in the past few decades. I do know they've done some illegal things very recently. I do know they've had some key intelligence failures.

IRS: Oversight, transparency, important function
CIA: minimal oversight, no transparency except through leaks, important concept but substantial question about whether it actually functions.

So, I'm thinking its time to crack open the shroud of secrecy a little bit, and start in on the second part of "Trust, but verify."

McKinney, I think you have a different understanding of what "operations" means than I, and perhaps others here, have. "Operations," as I have understood it, means precisely taking actions which will directly harm individuals, groups, property, etc. It does not mean taking actions to gather information (regardless of whether that information could potentially be used to do damage).

If someone here has experience actually working with (or in) an intelligence organization, feel free to correct my understanding.

*That* is a separate issue from dismantling the agency or a significant part thereof.

A very fair point.

I was going to bring up Hartmut's point re: how the CIA found Bin Laden. The method they chose, a fake vaccination campaign, should have been discarded out of hand as both morally reprehensible and likely to damage US reputation (and power and interests) for many years to come.

The bad consequences were not merely "unintended", they were *obvious* and *huge*. Like invading Iraq without a post-war plan, I don't think it's honest to call the dead of thousands of children and a severe blow to US credibility "unintended consequences": they are either the result of damning unprofessionalism and incompetence, *or* of people who see the likely consequences and Just. Don't. Care. It's the old "Stupid or Evil? Why not both!"

I'm in the camp who thinks that both the CIA and the NSA need to have their hard drives formatted. That is, we probably need *some* kind of "intelligence" services, but radically smaller and with a different structure and accountability.

DocSci: *or* of people who see the likely consequences and Just. Don't. Care.

Pretty much this. The both option is a good one too.

Legacy of Ashes is basically one long tale of CIA DO incompetence (DI too), beginning right from the beginning.

McKinney - yes the Mosaddegh coup was 60 years ago. We are still paying for it today.

If that were to happen, can we agree to shut down the enforcement/collection arm of the IRS?

this is an interesting analogy. the place it falls down is that, whereas the IRS is actually supposed to audit financial activity, the CIA is by law not supposed to engage in domestic surveillance at all, full stop.

so, not a partisan abuse of a legitimate activity, but a totally illegitimate activity.

long story short, the CIA has a very very very long history - more or less its entire history - of resisting oversight and engaging in activities that are illegal and harmful to the interests of the US.

they are deliberately interfering with the Senate's legitimate oversight of their activities. they should knock it off.

yes the Mosaddegh coup was 60 years ago. We are still paying for it today.

also a very fair point.

Also rare for innocent people to die when the IRS fncks up.

I'm not much on moral equivalency. You seem to be, and that is fine.

I'm not big on double standards. You seem to be, and that is unfortunate. I think the US does not possess some special inherent moral high ground which makes it good and just and right to do the things we decry when other nations do them. You seem to. You're advocating extrajudical governmental executions, with minimal oversight. You're stating that concerns over what precise portion of the government carries out such killings is "semantics" and "legalistic parsing". This is appalling, and quite curious to hear from someone as given to cautioning against governmental overreach as you are. What you fiercely lionize is anathema to rule of law. The executive should not be in the business of performing executions at their own discretion. Period, full stop.

And while you were quite keen to sidetrack into a lecture on how (NABA! NABA!) the US is morally superior to the hyperbolic examples I chose, the point remains that you're not willing to address the fact that you're advocating situational morality, not the moral universalism your proud invocations of objective moral superiority might imply. You're straight-up telling us that we should tolerate - nay, encourage - behavior from our government against foreign nationals that we don't want to see turned against us by foreign states. Any foreign states, not just hyperbolically bad ones. I'm sorry, but this is bully's logic. And it's all well and good to misdirect into a discussion of the moral character of states and transnational paramilitary networks, but if we're talking about the morality of their actions - specifically extrajudicial killings - it's still a misdirection. If the only standard you're willing to apply to such actions is whether the Exceptional American opinion is that this person did or did not "need to be killed", you wield zero moral authority outside of American Exceptionalists. If a person "needs to be killed" according to the logic of the objective morality you chose to invoke, it doesn't matter one solitary bit what passport they carry, or who made the determination. And it's just semantics and legalistic parsing whether they're executed in a prison after having been proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt by a jury of their peers who presumed their innocence, or assassinated in the street by a foreign organization who took it upon themselves to kill them based on circumstantial evidence and hearsay. Because if you don't accept that for Americans living in America, we're kinda forced onto the conclusion that your touted objective moral standards on this subject are nothing more than garden-variety hypocritical double standards, grounded in situational morality and a reasonable conviction that you'll never suffer the (direct) consequences of said "objectivity".

And when all the above is coupled with an angry assertion that we have to trust that this unchecked and unaccountable power is unquestionably necessary, and not subject to abuse, and totally without need of oversight beyond self-serving executive monitoring of unknown thoroughness...

I'm leaving for Myanmar in a few days, so I can only do a drive-by, but the reason there is no progressive consensus is the same reason that there is no conservative consensus. The coalition of the right is just as much the sum of authoritarians who feel our country right or wrong + the drown the government in a bathtub as the progressive consensus is we live in a global society + we need to start behaving like an example. (my phrasing reveals my own biases)

This is not to say that I have, living an hour and a little bit from Seoul, a bit of a different view that most folks here about some of the questions here. But when I look at how much South Korea and South Korea's outlook has been deformed by its stance towards North Korea (here and here for two examples) and, I think, continues to be deformed, I think you really have to have these constant house cleanings.

I also feel that a lot of the tear Langley down is ranting in frustration, cause that's what powerless folks do. That's why I'm all for letting the occasional rant come out, and if someone says (to make up an example) 'that's the dumbest thing I've heard', I'm inclined to let it pass rather than say 'really? Cause I can think of these other things that seem quite a bit dumber than that'.

As I said, I'm sympathetic to your point McT, but if it is played like a gotcha, then I have to wonder about the intellectual consistency of people who make an argument like you do above about Obama changing in response to being confronted with reality but then harp on Benghazi, Syria, Georgia (the Russian one) and now Ukraine, which serves to force Obama to deal with even more crap. Not saying you are, and I'm not thinking of anyone here (cause I can't remember if anyone has hyperventilated about that and I'm not going to check), but you can't scream about Benghazi in one breath and then complain that government is too big with the next.

Here is a comprehensive list celebrating the glorious history of CIA covert ops:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covert_United_States_foreign_regime_change_actions

And for a particularly uplifting in-depth account of CIA foresight, bravery and efficiency I highly recommend Steve Coll's
"Ghost Wars":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Wars

McKinney - yes the Mosaddegh coup was 60 years ago. We are still paying for it today.

Cause and effect are very tenuous here. I could argue, equally linearly and without regard for the events of the last 60 years, that N Korea's nukes are the result of Truman firing MacArthur and not letting him finish the war correctly.


NV--you're a mind reader; plus, you lecture too much. I don't mind an extended explication or illustration of policy/reality clashes, but I don't like being scolded, particularly in extended and somewhat turgid prose underscored by the steady patter of cliche. Plus, you're a theoretician--nothing wrong with this part, but I don't agree with your theory and that isn't going to change, and you push it so relentlessly that further discussion is pointless.

As I said, I'm sympathetic to your point McT, but if it is played like a gotcha, then I have to wonder about the intellectual consistency of people who make an argument like you do above about Obama changing in response to being confronted with reality but then harp on Benghazi, Syria, Georgia (the Russian one) and now Ukraine, which serves to force Obama to deal with even more crap. Not saying you are, and I'm not thinking of anyone here (cause I can't remember if anyone has hyperventilated about that and I'm not going to check), but you can't scream about Benghazi in one breath and then complain that government is too big with the next.

LJ, have you read anything I've posted here: Syria, Benghazi, Georgia? Gotcha?

I posit an unhappy world and ask how we should defend/gather intelligence. The answers run the gamut. But, with regard to my comments, I have no clue what you are talking about.

As for commenting and fleeing the scene, which I am about to do, reality presses. Back to the salt mines. Have a nice weekend.

"If you think I favor indiscriminate car bombing, particularly in an urban setting with highly probable collateral damage, you are misreading everything I've said."

Now you're misreading. I didn't say you favored car bombing--I said that if we're going to argue on the basis of unknown covert operation successes, then we should also assume that some of those unknown operations included acts of terrorism. We'd know about the terrorism, but not about the CIA involvement. It's a plausible assumption, given what we actually do know has happened and what sorts of people we've supported and lied about. In fact, on reflection I don't mean to deny that there could have been some successes. I still suspect that as the years pass, we'd know about most of them. You could probably go through all the books and articles published about the CIA and scrape together some success stories. But if we're going to argue on the basis of unknown successes, then we should also argue on the basis of unknown CIA connections to various crimes including terrorism, drug smuggling, and the like.

The problem is that we can't trust our government on these issues. They're more apt to cover up failure or crime than to admit it, and nobody high ranking ever faces the risk of jail time.

NV--you're a mind reader; plus, you lecture too much.

Pot, kettle. I'm less inclined to curb creeping scolding tones with you than with others primarily owing to your tendency to preach and lecture. And judgmentally ascribe unstated motivations. So yeah, pot, kettle. Which admittedly dovetails pretty neatly with the gist of my current round of turgid prose.

Have a nice weekend.

And cliches!

LJ, have you read anything I've posted here: Syria, Benghazi, Georgia? Gotcha?

I think I pointed out that I wasn't talking about anyone here when I said

Not saying you are, and I'm not thinking of anyone here (cause I can't remember if anyone has hyperventilated about that and I'm not going to check)

You asked about the 'progressive' consensus and I suggested there were some problems with the 'conservative' consensus that mirror the points you were talking about. People complain about things they don't like, but have no power to change. Not exactly a surprise.

Cause and effect are very tenuous here.

There's a butterfly-flapping-its-wings aspect to any kind of speculation like this.

But in this particular case, I think the relationship is not so tenuous.

Just my opinion.

turgid, tumescent, turmeric....how they do roll off the tongue. I think I'm going to hyperventilate. And what's up with the "w's" here anyway?

In response to the larger question posed by fellow golfer Tex: The available record indicates an abject failure of agency mission as per the 1947 legislation. There most likely is not much in the secret record that would offset this assessment, and there might well be a lot there that would support it. Do you really want to go there?

Covert actions: In the whole, largely pointless and subject to huge unanticipated blowback. Like firecrackers, should be kept out of the hands of children....and the CIA seems to draw folks who have not entirely grown up. Taking sides: Yes, we should have aided Mandela in the 80's-and publicly. Nothing 'covert' necessary in that regard. The Reagan administration chose to actively support the apartheid regime in Pretoria. This was a public political choice.

Intelligence assessment: The agency's record in this regard is abysmal. If not wrong or clueless, it's often politically driven ("Yes sirree, Mr. President, a slam dunk."-note to self, this was relatively recent).

Institutional pattern of law-breaking. Again, well established, and apparently ongoing. A public institution that has a demonstrated contempt for the law is a danger to democracy (Hoover's FBI which see).

Like a lame horse, the CIA needs to be put down. It's the humane thing to do.

My personal suggestions in this regard are not to be conflated with the "progressive consensus" since there is no such thing, and demanding that it be provided is simply quite hilarious and cannot be taken seriously.

I think we progressives have at least reached a consensus on our lack of consensus.

i disagree!

i disagree!

Once again, Russell demonstrates the progressive consensus. The further to the left one goes, the more pronounced this consensus becomes.

I think we should just disagree to agree.

We should just disagree to agree.

We should just disagree to agree.

I cannot disagree to that.

McKT: I could argue, equally linearly and without regard for the events of the last 60 years, that N Korea's nukes are the result of Truman firing MacArthur and not letting him finish the war correctly.

Srsly???

I mean if you'd said "without regard for common sense or the consensus of historians" there might have been a twisted logic there, but your "counterfactual" is not just counterfactual but counter-probability. If by "finish the war correctly" you mean "drive right up to (and across if necessary) the Yalu River," then the extremely high probability is that China would have felt obliged to declare all-out war on the USA, and certainly to give full open support - as opposed to substantial tacit support - to North Korea. And if we had responded by means of our air and nuclear superiority (to China, as it was then), there's a pretty high likelihood that the USSR - which didn't much care for the whole adventure, but couldn't afford not to be in the Vanguard of World Revolution - would have jumped in, too, and bingo, we have World War III. Which probably does not end with North Korea sixty years later still intact and waving around nukes.

But you go on believing Cowboy Mac could somehow have won in Korea.

And if you believe that, boy, do I have a bridge to sell you!

Here's my "progressive" take--the lack of consensus will be evident:

Open a domestic office in Texas to keep an eye on right-wing survivalist/terrorists (the idea that there is no spying within the US is a fiction, so let's do it more openly);

Cut the budget of the NSA, CIA, DIA, and DEA by 40%;

Use the Texas office to "debrief" all those officers being cut loose, and cut them loose in Texas. They won't stick out there and can spy on/co-opt each other.

Then we can figure out what are the bounds of the rights to privacy which we claim, but which are not currently respected, and along with that, what the penalties will be when they are evaded or disregarded.

I just had an interesting class where the guest speaker was a former CIA operative who worked for them for decades.

What I heard was that those guys have all kinds of opinions, and, yes, are potentially a bit paranoid but the over-arching mindset seems to be that they just do what they are told. They might erroneously think that torture is a great way to get information but most of them aren't going to torture anyone without instructions to do so and none of them will if the strictures against that are strongly enforced by their management.

"Blowing it up" and starting over would mean losing a ton of expertise in both field ops and analysis. It would be interesting to see them try to do a huge management reorganization but it would not be easy to pull that off, either politically or operationally. I'd love to be wrong about this, but in the current dysfunctional political climate it's probably impossible.

Relevent:

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/03/11/220853/feinstein-statement-on-intelligence.html

It seems to be a pretty clear statement describing the events, and even though Feinstein isn't exactly *harsh* its clear she's not happy with the CIA.

Surprising to say the least.

And if they have lost Senator Feinstein, they are in really serious political trouble. I don't know what will happen to the CIA as a result. But it isn't going to be pleasant for them.

Thanks thompson.

Feinstein notes "The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to" the Senate Intelligence Committee.

I also like how she describes the fun little dance CIA Director Hayden did when talking to the committee after they learned the CIA destroyed the torture tapes:

After we read about the tapes’ destruction in the newspapers, Director Hayden briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee. He assured us that this was not destruction of evidence, as detailed records of the interrogations existed on paper in the form of CIA operational cables describing the detention conditions and the day-to-day CIA interrogations.

The CIA director stated that these cables were 'a more than adequate representation' of what would have been on the destroyed tapes.

Right, the CIA destroyed them to save space, or something.

A link to Feinstein's full statement on her website. For some reason the McClatchy article is cut off for me.

Yeah, it's full of quotable quotes.

In May of 2010, the committee staff noticed that [certain] documents that had been provided for the committee’s review were no longer accessible. Staff approached the CIA personnel at the offsite location, who initially denied that documents had been removed. CIA personnel then blamed information technology personnel, who were almost all contractors, for removing the documents themselves without direction or authority. And then the CIA stated that the removal of the documents was ordered by the White House. When the committee approached the White House, the White House denied giving the CIA any such order.

After a series of meetings, I learned that on two occasions, CIA personnel electronically removed committee access to CIA documents after providing them to the committee. This included roughly 870 documents or pages of documents that were removed in February 2010, and secondly roughly another 50 were removed in mid-May 2010.

Sounds like a coverup to me.

And if they have lost Senator Feinstein, they are in really serious political trouble.

Yeah, its not great for them. Feinstein has been their biggest cheerleader.

Also of note is that the WH and the CIA don't seem to agree on their stories...which makes me think the administration isn't going to run to the CIA's defense.

Feinstein notes that the acting-CIA general counsel filed a crimes report with the DOJ regarding what CIA views as Senate Committee staff pilfering classified documents. She then states:

I should note that for most, if not all, of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, the now acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center—the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the detention and interrogation program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study.

And now this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff—the same congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers—including the acting general counsel himself—provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice about the program.

Wow.

Wow.

Yeah, I'd add something, but that pretty much sums it up.

If congress itself is still under threat of prosecution while performing its oversight role...can we have meaningful oversight?

Just finished reading Senator Feinstein's entire speech. Wow, indeed. It seems likely that heads are going to roll at the CIA. Starting with the director and the current chief counsel, but going well beyond there.

P.S. If Brett wants to go on about "evil in government", I suspect that this is one instance where he would find a lot of agreement from everybody here. He certainly would from me.

And if they have lost Senator Feinstein, they are in really serious political trouble

I hope she stays good and pissed.

Brett might switch to the "necessary" half of the CIA argument, if only to tip this board over the 300-comment edge.

What's interesting here is that there is no way that Brennan and the acting General Counsel can stay, or at least I can't imagine it happening, no matter what the actual facts are.

You simply cannot be at that level of the CIA and have the head of the Senate intelligence committee say the things Feinstein said on the Senate floor, true or not.

You simply cannot be at that level of the CIA and have the head of the Senate intelligence committee say the things Feinstein said on the Senate floor, true or not.

Yeah, I hope you are right. I hope they kicked over a hornets nest and the investigation is just getting started, heads roll, etc etc

I'm not optimistic, however. There isn't the political stomach for a non-partisan investigation. Partisan, sure. But a senior senator going up against an administration controlled by her party?

Even if a lot of the problems reference back to the prior administration it would get too messy, too fast, and give pundits too much fodder to pick apart who knew what, when, how high did it go, who's obstructing, etc etc. Midterms are coming up. The response needs to be enough that her constituents know she is 'serious about the problem' but not enough to actually rock the boat.

I have a feeling one or two people are going to get thrown under the bus and everybody will nod their heads sagely and say thank god we solved that problem.

But I'm cynical about the state of our government, so, there's that.

Did anyone get fired after the church and pike committee findings?

I know they set up FISA afterwards but I don't remember if any "heads rolled".

I know they set up FISA afterwards but I don't remember if any "heads rolled".

Alas. The hearings were old history by the time Bill Casey took charge of the outfit.

And DCIA's message to the troops. Unsurprisingly it says nothing:

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/03/11/220938/dcia-message-to-the-workforce.html

Summary: I heard what she said (but didn't respond to it). Token shout out to oversight. The report is important, we helped write it. We don't agree with all of it. We learned a lot from our mistakes with the torture program which was ended a long time ago. We really should just forget about it and move on, because we have so many other important things to work on. It's really important to move on.


And Brennan's letter to Feinstein from January talking about the security breach.

He admits the CIA searched - er, excuse me "conducted a limited review" of - the Committee's "side" of the CIA network. But they "had" to, you see.

Brett Bellmore:
"But, of course, we're supposed to believe that the NSA's all seeing eye averts it's gaze from politicians.

At this point my default assumption is that NSA data is being used to warp our politics, the only question being, how systematic is it?"

It's always a bad sign when I agree with Brett.

There's a legend about Hoover, that when somebody was elected to Congress, became a federal judge, or was appointed to the cabinet, Hoover had a one on one meeting with them. The ostensible goal was to educate them on the Valuable Work Our G-Men were doing to Protect America, but the real goal was to give the person an idea of just how much the FBI had on them.

And their spouse.
And their in-laws.
And their parents.
And their siblings.
And their business associates.
And their college roommate.
And so on.

Given the known capabilities and actions of the NSA, it's really unlikely that they didn't hoover up (so to speak) all sorts of useful tidbits on people whose judgment might need to be 'corrected'.

[In addition, the Big Boys of Wall St like inside information, and have massive money and influence of their own. There's *got* to be a pipeline from the NSA to Goldman Sachs, at the very least.]

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Whatnot


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