R.I.P. for the CIA?

In an era when citizens are upset about needless government
agencies, the Central Intelligence Agency may stand out as the
ultimate example of a bureaucracy whose lifespan has been
pointlessly prolonged. Long after its original mission ceased to
matter, a combination of iniquity and inertia has kept the CIA
intact.

Unlike other controversial government agencies that merely
squander taxpayers’ money, the Central Intelligence Agency is a
sinister enterprise with a long criminal record. Its sole rationale
— engaging in shadowy combat with its equally nefarious communist
counterparts — crumbled at about the same time the Berlin Wall
did. Without a Cold War to wage, the CIA has become a dinosaur
desperate to avoid extinction.

In the course of its 48-year rampage, it has left the
geopolitical landscape strewn with victims. Eric Alterman, writing
in Rolling Stone (March 23, 1995), reviews a ‘small sampling
of the CIA’s darker moments: the hiring of Nazi war criminals; the
overthrow of legally elected governments; the training and
financing of foreign police and paramilitary forces engaged in
systematic murder and torture; participation in clandestine
invasions and actual wars against nations with which the United
States was at peace; attempted assassinations of foreign
leaders.’

Add to that shameful litany the recent revelation that a CIA
henchman ordered the 1990 killing of an American innkeeper in the
Guatemalan mountains and the 1992 torture-slaying of a guerrilla
leader married to a U.S. citizen. As Robert Parry points out in
In These Times (April 17, 1995), those are only two of ‘the
countless thousands’ slaughtered in Latin America during the past
four decades ‘with tacit or explicit American support.’

Declaring that ‘the CIA has made our country into the granddaddy
of international terrorism,’ an In These Times editorial
(Dec. 12, 1994) concludes that it is time to ‘put an end to its
pernicious existence.’

No less an establishment figure than Senator Daniel Patrick
Moynihan agrees that the CIA should be abolished. What particularly
rankles the New York Democrat is the agency’s amply demonstrated
incompetence. Moynihan is still incensed over the CIA’s
consistently inflated estimates of the Soviet threat during the
’70s and ’80s; despite their stated purpose of gathering
information, the fall of communism and the Soviet Union took them
by surprise.

Other big embarrassments include its protracted failure to
unmask double agent Aldrich Ames; the charges by a top female
officer that the CIA practices systematic sexual discrimination;
and the bogus briefing given to U.S. lawmakers last year regarding
the psychiatric history of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand
Aristide.

Despite being thoroughly disgraced and discredited, the CIA
probably has little to fear from its fiercest foes. The Company has
too many powerful friends intent on ensuring that it remains open
for business.

The focus thus falls on reform proposals being brought before a
presidential commission charged with charting the agency’s future.
A moderate set of recommendations, involving appointment of an
‘intelligence czar,’ is championed by a pair of Republicans who
oversee the $28 billion budget for the dozen different spook shops
within the U.S. government.

Former CIA director Robert Gates, a certified hard-liner, is the
unlikely author of a comparatively radical revision that calls for
cuts in the CIA’s 19,000-person payroll, consolidation of various
functions, and, most significantly, an end to the agency’s
covert-action operations. Breaking the CIA’s habit of ‘overthrowing
heads of state and stealing elections’ is, according to Alterman,
‘an absolute prerequisite to the reassertion of democratic control
over U.S. foreign policy.’

But that may also be too much to expect from President Clinton,
his commission, and the Gingrich-Dole Congress. In Alterman’s view,
a move to open the entire U.S. spy budget to public scrutiny would
serve as the real litmus test of the reformers’ seriousness.

As the debate develops, the CIA is trying hard to make itself
useful.

With the active assistance of dozens of U.S. corporations, the
agency has begun intensifying its economic espionage activities. In
Mother Jones (Jan./Feb. 1995), freelancer Robert Dreyfuss
identifies Procter & Gamble, IBM, Campbell Soup, and Sears
Roebuck as some of the companies that supply the CIA with cover in
their overseas offices. These agents seek to steal secrets from
foreign firms while others try to thwart similar pilfering from
U.S. businesses.

It all amounts to a ‘new Cold War,’ as Dreyfuss puts it in In
These Times
(March 20, 1995). Today’s CIA targets, he observes,
‘are more likely to be in Tokyo, Frankfurt, and Mexico City than in
Moscow and Havana.’

The incompetence factor is once again germane, however. Dreyfuss
quotes inside sources who say the CIA doesn’t yet know how to
collect and collate truly useful economic and technical data.

The increasing emphasis on ‘spying for dollars’ can be seen as
another government handout to U.S. corporations. But as an In
These Times
editorial notes (April 17, 1995), the CIA has
always been in the business of disbursing corporate welfare. All
the agency’s murderous misdeeds in Guatemala and many other
countries were performed with the aim of making the world safe for
U.S.-based transnational corporations.

UTNE
UTNE
In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.