17 March 2009

CIA Still Evil

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was used as a U.S. government authorized method of committing war crimes. The documents regarding the Bush Administration's use of the agency to engage in torture and secret indefinite detention without any semblance of due process or concern for human rights is detailed in a leaked memorandum that has now been leaked, although many of the details were leaked in less easily confirmed ways.

These policies have increased U.S. exposure to terrorist threats, and have produced casualties for U.S. troops in Iraq, by providing many who would not otherwise have supported or participated in anti-U.S. terrorism the justification for doing so. These policies have deprived the U.S. of foreign cooperation critical to fight terrorism, in one Italian case, even resulting in the ongoing prosecution of CIA personnel. These methods have also been proven time and again to be ineffective means of securing useful intelligence.

The biggest disappointment of the Obama Administration has been its steadfast refusal to disavow the Bush Administration legal doctrines that made this possible, or to pursue the criminals in the Bush Administration who carried out this regime (the Military Commission Act limits civil and criminal remedies available to punish these individuals, but we, the people in whose name these atrocities were committed, are, at least, owed the name of those involved and the details of what happened).

This isn't the first time that the agency once led by George H.W. Bush has abused its authority. The agency's culture remains rotten to the core. It repeatedly violates human rights, its covert actions frequently backfire disasterously, it is unaccountable, and it doesn't do a very good job of providing intelligence or carrying out covert action relative to private sector news agencies or other government agencies with parallel responsibilities such as the State Department, the FBI, and the U.S. military's special forces.

To be clear, I am not disputing that the spy satellite and signals intelligence of the NRO and NSA may have an important role to play. I am not arguing that the U.S. should limit itself to investigating terrorist from its own territory. I am not even arguing that there isn't an important role to play for human covert intelligence, or rare covert actions.

Instead, I am arguing that the CIA has outlived its usefulness in serving these functions. The agency is a failed tool.

A good part of that agency's staff consist of analysts who can be more effective in the State Department where the institutional culture calls for secrecy to be maintained when necessary to serve large foreign policy goals, not simply for secrecy's stake.

The covert operations responsibilities of the CIA, including all detentions and arrests of persons targeted for action, need to be transferred to the U.S. military special forces where the military justice system, and internal military rules of engagement, at the very least, can provide some relief from abuses and public oversight. These rules of engagement furthermore, need to be consistent with what humanity tells us is right and experience tells us work, goals that fortunately are not inconsistent.

Where possible, human intelligence should be conducted as investigations by the FBI (which is authorized to have agents go under cover when necessary).

If this division of CIA responsibilities leaves the nation with no one capable of providing some kinds of human intelligence important to U.S. national security, which can be achieved without torture or detention or assassination, those residual CIA responsibilities should be transferred to a new, much smaller agency, created from scatch with a new institutional culture, that has no other responsibilities or mandate, its own inspector general, a public budget top line, and closer supervision from a mix of political appointees and senior civil servants.

Anything less than the dismantling of the CIA can't fix its failed legacy.


Steve Balboni said...

Have you read "Legacy of Ashes"? Highly recommended if you haven't. After reading it I couldn't agree more with your conclusion.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Just the detailed review. But that is part of my sourcing for my conclusion.