all the president’s spies
John Judis would like to have more discussion about the possibility of ditching the CIA, or at the very least completely restructuring it:
The question that Congress might ponder, but won’t, is whether the structure of our foreign policy apparatus – the power and responsibility vested in a secret branch of government — invites abuse. That was the position of the late Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan who argued for abolishing the CIA. He didn’t want to eliminate intelligence, but he wanted to return it to the purview of the State Department, while giving the armed forces the responsibility for overseas intervention.
The CIA, of course, was born after World War II, when the sudden lack of a real war rendered the OSS irrelevant. President Truman was reluctant to charter an intelligence agency to replace it, so former members of the OSS started what was essentially a private spy agency and then – for lack of a better word – forced their way into government. From that point on, clandestine operations have been largely out of the hands of the State and War Departments, and certainly out of the control of Congress.
Personality reigned supreme at the CIA, as did nepotism, for years under its original founders, and still does to large degree today. There is nothing at all surprising about Cheney using the agency to influence policy. It was always a convenient place for overly interventionist presidents (read: Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Bush) to go when they wanted some dirty work done – coups, assassinations, and so forth. LBJ referred to the Kennedy brothers as “Murder Inc.” for their involvement with the CIA as essentially an assassination agency. It became, in many ways, a direct extension of executive power.
Now we’ve arrived at the torture debacle, and once again it’s the CIA at the heart of it all.
It’s not just that CIA personnel were involved in doing something bad, it’s that the specific institutional structure of the government really does seem to have played a role. After all, why were CIA personnel involved in this at all? Pre-Bush, the CIA didn’t have any interrogators. The FBI had interrogators, and the military had interrogators, but the CIA didn’t. But responsibility for interrogations wound up gravitating toward the CIA not because the CIA had relevant expertise but precisely because the CIA has an institutional history and track record of law-breaking and war crimes.
For a lot more on the CIA, read Joseph Trento’s Secret History of the CIA. It’s fascinating.