Jacobin: The CIA Is Not Your Friend

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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35 Responses

  1. gregiank says:

    Nope the CIA is not my or your friend. It has a seamy past and plenty of screw ups to its score card. It also has a role to play in the defense of the country. We actually do need an IC. It’s neither friend nor foe but one source of info that should be considered. If the FBI, NSA and CIA are agreeing on something that is also an important bit of info. It’s like every darn thing. When used well its a good thing, when used poorly it isn’t.Report

  2. Stillwater says:

    This fantasy comes from liberals’ desire to ostentatiously distance themselves from Russia’s increasingly belligerent foreign policy and to displace the blame for Clinton’s surprising, but deserved, loss.

    I’m not sure about that. It could be that individual liberals have shifted their views to account for an unpleasant reality, or it could be that an uncomfortable reality* has shifted around individual liberals.

    Either way, the CIA isn’t your friend.

    *That conservatives have lost their minds.Report

  3. Morat20 says:

    The CIA is one of 17 different government groups (not counting many private groups, including the ones the DNC itself hired to figure out how they’d been penetrated) to finger Russia for doing this.

    So what’s believing the CIA — or rather, believing everyone else whom the CIA also agrees with — got to do with thinking the CIA is “progressive’s friend”?

    It’s a weird piece of projection — the assumption underlying the piece, implicitly required to make it the piece coherent at all, is that the CIA is engaging in propaganda — that is, lying to the public about the hack — in a way that happens to align with progressive views, and thus progressives should be wary of getting in bed with those liars, because they’ll lie about progressives next.

    Except….in the real world, lots of people who AREN’T the CIA are saying the same thing. Even a lot of Republicans (who aren’t Trump, at least) on the relevant House and Senate committees are saying this. (McCain springs to mind, as does whats-his-face from Utah).

    That whole piece comes from a weird bizarro land where, basically, the CIA is engaging in some weird propaganda aimed at America that liberals are swallowing — instead of a world where the CIA is just one of many organizations, public and private, saying the same thing.Report

    • Kim in reply to Morat20 says:

      To believe that the CIA is not lying is to believe that they have dismissed the idea that the server was already hacked before the Russians got in. And to believe that our national security apparatus is incompetent.Report

  4. Kolohe says:

    Since then, the CIA has rebranded: now home to nerdy liberals like Edward Snowden or true-hearted defenders of democracy like Joe Wilson, the liberal public sees it as an important balance to war-mongers from Dick Cheney to Donald Trump.

    This is an unserious sentence on a topic that deserves serious treatment.Report

  5. Chip Daniels says:

    The LAPD is not “our friend” either, and for that matter neither is the FBI, California Highway Patrol, Coast Guard, NSA, or Social Security Administration.

    It is weird how far left and far right groups like to sort the various governmental agencies into Friend and Foe;

    Conservatives might go on about how the police are the heroic Thin Blue Line, while the EPA is a bunch of jackbooted thugs (Rush Limbaugh’s actual term back in the day);

    Liberals may do the reverse;

    And both will do a two minute hate on the FBI, depending on whether it is a militia group or anti-nuclear group being investigated.

    A healthy skepticism about governmental agencies is a good thing. But this white hat/ black hat thing is just silly.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Even a short history of the CIA ought to incline you to not view them as a friend.

      And ironically, given another thread where we’ve been talking about Russian involvement in the US political process, one of the first claims you’ll read at Wiki is this:

      Moreover, the CIA is the only agency authorized by law to carry out and oversee covert action at the behest of the President … It can, for example, exert foreign political influence through its tactical divisions, such as the Special Activities Division.[10]

      Oh, my! Maybe Putin’s behavior isn’t so outrageous afterall!Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Stillwater says:

        The LAPD admitted in court to a long pattern of criminal behavior, including shooting an unarmed man and framing him for a crime.

        So really, when you look at the KGB murders of journalists, they are not so bad after all.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          It’s not a matter of degree, really, since we don’t know. But I’m pretty comfortable saying that the LAPD, the CIA and the KGB are not my friend.

          Opinions differ.

          Add: Or, in response to your specific point, CIA assassinations of heads of state….Report

  6. LeeEsq says:

    Intelligence provides an interesting problems for liberal democracies. A lot of intelligence works goes against some very liberal democratic principals like “gentlemen do not read other gentleman’s mail” (aka the right to privacy) and that people are basically trustworthy and don’t need heavy supervision. The type of people drawn to jobs in intelligence tend towards the illiberal, security hawk position. At the same time not having an intelligence agency or not paying close attention to it can lead you to trouble.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to LeeEsq says:

      It also presents the citizens of a democracy with a dilemma, in that intelligence by its very nature happens in the dark, and can never fully be examined, and even to its practitioners, can never really present anything that is unassailable “truthful”; it is always shadowy, suspcion, rumor, and careful fitting together of pieces that may or may not actually fit.

      Yet the citizens are forced to make voting decisions based on this, or at the very least, entrust the decisions to others.

      Worse, counterintelligence especially by tyrannies often consists of spewing a cloud of dust and confusion in a deliberate attempt to make it impossible to determine what is real or fake.

      But again, we as citizens have to make decisions.

      Which is why I come down hard on cynicism and nihilism, since these are cop-outs, excuses for not really engaging in the hard work of being a citizen.

      There are some sources of information that re better than others, some governmental agencies that behave better or worse, and although none can be completely trusted, they are not all the same.Report

      • Don Zeko in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        very well put. I agree 100%Report

      • InMD in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        I think there’s truth to your point here but I also find it incomplete. There are things we can do and can demand that our politicians do to limit the real dangers these agencies pose. I get your point that we should be realistic but doesn’t that require acknowledging that our intelligence agencies have been allowed to run rampant with zero oversight or accountability?

        The CIA is at least in theory supposed to work for the citizens of this country and yet we often find out that even Congress is just as in the dark about what they do as we are.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to InMD says:

          That’s why I posted that intelligence is a problem for liberal democracies. Its necessary for security reasons but the nature of the work is illiberal and it tends to attract illiberal types who don’t feel the need to keep elected politicians informed of what they are doing. Popular media encourages this.Report

          • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

            How many spies do you know? Have you actually talked to anyone who works in intelligence?

            Most spies are more republican than not, but that’s not to call them illiberal. It’s just a personality type that tends to show up there.Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Kim says:


              The only spies that you speak to, come when you are straight-jacketed and in your padded cell.

              Do you realize that no one believes you speak to all these people in really interesting jobs because it is impossible for one person to know all these people?

              Spies don’t tell people they are spies!!! That would make them very bad at their jobs. So maybe you do know a spy but an incompetent one.

              I have no idea why the powers that be find your inanities so damn amusing.Report

          • InMD in reply to LeeEsq says:

            I agree and that’s why I think the Jacobin article isn’t without some merit. Granted I also feel like this election resulted in the mainstream left defending a whole lot of entities and organizations it typically wouldn’t.Report

      • Kim in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        We were pretty sure that we had an ally with a mental disorder running Afghanistan for a while. We’re certain that GWB went back to drinking while still president.

        I mean, really, what do you expect? Everything in life is shadowy rumor, really. You make guesses, you see how people react. You adjust. This is life, not just spywork. At least in spywork, you can actually read the internal documents.Report

  7. Kolohe says:

    The worst part of Trump’s presidency will be that any time he has the nugget of a good idea, the fact that he’s voicing it immediately sours good thinking people from taking any action in that direction.

    President-elect Donald Trump, a harsh critic of U.S. intelligence agencies, is working with top advisers on a plan that would restructure and pare back the nation’s top spy agency, people familiar with the planning said.

    The move is prompted by his belief that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has become bloated and politicized, these people said.

    One of the people familiar with Mr. Trump’s planning said advisers also are working on a plan to restructure the Central Intelligence Agency, cutting back on staffing at its Virginia headquarters and pushing more people out into field posts around the world.

    Now, politicized is a BS charge – but bloated is not. And getting rid of HQ staff in exchange for more people at the pointing end of the spear is almost always a good tradeoff.

    ODNI has been a failure, insofar as the CIA institutionally has never recognized its authority as the grand poobah of all US intelligence (it still think it should have that job, and more often than not acts that way).Report

  8. Saul Degraw says:

    When all my liberal friends were voicing a lot of concern and dismay that Trump was not attending his intelligence briefings, my thought was “Wait a minute, when did liking the CIA become a liberal position.”Report

    • Don Zeko in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      But this depends upon collapsing all nuance and depth. It’s not a binary choice between uncritically accepting everything the CIA says and ignoring their findings entirely, no matter how much some of the less reflective voices on the left might insist otherwise. The CIA is deeply flawed and has its own priorities and interests, but there’s no escaping the president’s need for information about the world.Report

    • Morat20 in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Do…you think the intelligence briefings in question are just the CIA telling the President stuff?Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Morat20 says:

        @morat20 @don-zeko

        I think it is very tricky. There is a need for intelligence and preventing security risks and terrorism.

        But the CIA and the FBI have very bad histories on the left and as Lee noted, the people who go into the CIA and FBI are often very dismissive of civil liberties and Liberal Democracy. When the Dulles Brothers were in Control of the CIA, the organization seemed to distrust anyone to the left of Franco and worked against democracy in many parts of the world because the democratic wants and needs of those countries went against U.S. business interests and profits. J.Edgar Hoover spent long parts of his career attacking and getting dirt on politicians so they did not challenge him, he also tried to ruin MLK, and other left groups. It looks like rogue right-wing agents in New York’s FBI office pressured Comney to release his October surprise letter which did enough damage to give Trump his freak victory.

        So I don’t know what to do here.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          Well, I think when you find the CIA is agreeing with every other agency involved AND the private firms the folks in questioned hired to figure out how they got hacked, you might consider they might have something worth listening to.

          And that doesn’t make “The CIA your friend”. It just acknowledges the fact that the CIA isn’t always wrong, and that the CIA isn’t alone making this claim, and that this claim isn’t even actually that bizarre.

          Many countries have interfered (subtly or not) in other countries elections, including us. It’s just really freaking rare for someone to do it to the US to this extent.

          If Putin had simply talked up Trump while badmouthing Clinton, no one would care that much (that’s the socially accepted form of meddling). Had he just hacked the DNC and the RNC, there’d be the usual white papers and security agencies muttering to themselves.

          It was hacking, leaking, and generally trying to push the narrative past “This is the opinion of my country” through subterfuge and illegal means that is the issue. (Compounded of course by the fact that instead of being privately grateful and publicly condemning it, Trump has been publicly grateful while denying it happened at all. That’s also…really unusual).Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Morat20 says:

        Morat20: Do…you think the intelligence briefings in question are just the CIA telling the President stuff?

        Yes, that what the PDB’s are. Intelligence operations and authorization for them (when they need Prez personal approval) are done seperately because they involve different people.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Kolohe says:

          Do…you think the intelligence briefings in question are just the CIA telling the President stuff?

          I bolded it to make my point a little clearer.

          It’s not just the CIA. The PDB is condensed from all departments, including domestic issues tracked via the FBI and the like. It’s not a foreign policy only brief, it’s not a CIA only brief. Getting the regular intelligence briefings is not, as he seems to imply, a sit-down session where the President is monologued at by the CIA over their issue de juor.

          Which is the weird part of this whole thing. It’s the double reductionism — every departmental report (and the private ones and even foreign agencies agreeing with us) gets reduced to “the CIA” and “believing this actually happened” is reduced to “loving the CIA”.

          In real life — that is, the place occupied by us and not hordes of strawmen and bizzaro assumptions — you have a number of independent agencies, public and private, including some foreign, agreeing that Russia hacked a whole bunch of things and decided to play selective leaking to screw with Clinton. (Her losing was probably not something they thought would happen either, but sometimes your number comes up). This sort of silly buggers is something Russia has done before, fits squarely into both their current geopolitical aims AND their leader’s methods and viewpoints on the candidates.

          Love or hatred of the CIA has nothing to do with it, and is just a rather crude deflection.Report

  9. Saul Degraw says:

    This link belongs here more than in society but Chait has a good essay about how Assange went from enemy to friend for the GOP: