Dick Cheney represents the pinnacle of the sputtering rise of the power of our clandestine services. He’s a true believer, an apostle and archbishop of what Victor Marchetti dubbed The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, the title of his heavily redacted 1974 book, the first book ever subject to pre-publication censorship by the US government. A book that was a required text book in one of my political science classes in the early 80′s (and available to read online at questia.com registration required). There are still deleted passages, and in some cases entire pages, although some of previous redactions I saw 25 years ago have been restored as new material is declassified.
The CIA can start wars, it can start revolutions, it can give millions of dollars away without the American people and their elected officials knowing a thing about it. The CIA is doing all these things — and much, much more.
This book was written before Iran/Contra, before we missed 19 nutjobs using airliners as missiles, and before WMD’s in Iraq were a “slam dunk.” However, it’s lessons are as fresh as today’s headlines.
In the eyes of posterity it will inevitably seem that, in safeguarding our freedom, we destroyed it; that the vast clandestine apparatus we built up to probe our enemies’ resources and intentions only served in the end to confuse our own purposes; that the practice of deceiving others for the good of the state led infallibly to our deceiving ourselves; and that the vast army of intelligence personnel built up to execute these purposes were soon caught up in the web of their own sick fantasies, with disastrous consequences to them and us.
Having a clandestine service is absolutely, without question an essential component of our national security requirements. By it’s nature, it impossible for such an organization to retain transparent accountability usually associated with bureaucratic agencies in the traditional sense. And therein lies the rub. They get away with murder because that’s what they are trained to do. It’s their reason for existing.
“It is a multi-purpose, clandestine arm of power…more than an intelligence or counterintelligence organization. It is an instrument for subversion, manipulation, and violence, for the secret intervention in the affairs of other countries.”
Allen Dulles wrote those words about the KGB in 1963 so that Americans would better understand the nature of the Soviet security service. His description was a correct one, but he could — just as accurately — have used the same terms to describe his own CIA. He did not, of course, because the U.S. leaders of Dulles’ generation generally tried to impute the worst possible methods and motives to the forces of international communism, while casting the “defensive actions of the free world” as honest and democratic.
Both sides, however, resorted to ruthless tactics. Neither was reluctant to employ trickery, deceit, or, in Dulles’ phrase, “subversion, manipulation, and violence.” They both operated clandestinely, concealing their activities not so much from the “opposition” (they couldn’t) as from their own peoples. Secrecy itself became a way of life, and it could not be challenged without fear of a charge that one was unpatriotic or unmindful of the “national security.”
They got their director, George H.W. Bush, elected Vice President and then President. They got his son elected President. They’ve switched enemies from Soviet Communism to Islamic Terrorism without pause, declaring war against a metaphor, a tactic, against which their paranoia knows no bounds.
There are few cold-warriors who survived the disgrace of the Nixon administration, the purges of the Church Commission or the exposure of Iran/Contra. Two such survivors stand out. Their names are Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney.
Crafty and ruthless, Rummy and Cheney have a different view of what it meas to be a patriotic American. Their loyalty has always been to the preservation and advancement of the United States position as the absolute leader in all the world, even at the expense of those quaint parchment documents preserved at the National Archives.
I understand and appreciate their position, but I and so many of my liberal ilk have loftier ambitions than raw power and military might as evidence of our position in the world. Not only are we a nation of laws, where the “rule of law” takes precedence, but a society based on ideas and ideals.
We’re not just dreamers, naive ideologues ungrounded in the practicality of the real world. We believe that to truly be an American patriot, you have to have faith in the ideas and honor the ideals that puts justice and honor above simple expedience.
We’re better than that because of what we do, not who we are, because what we do and what we allow to be done in our names defines who we are. We’re better than that paranoid old man shouting at clouds we witnessed speaking at his wife’s think tank Thursday; a man whose paranoid obsession with secrecy, faith in the manipulation and power of intelligence, and reliance on the nobility of his ends justifying any and all means required, legal or not, embodies the Cult of Intelligence that has dominated our national security apparatus your entire life.
Don’t count them out, ever. In one form or another they will be back, even as one of their Grand Poobahs, Dick Cheney, retires to ignominious obscurity and disgrace.