August 4, 2004


A Lot of Cloak, Not Much Dagger and a Bit of Genius: A CIA old boy brushes away some espionage myths. (Charles McCarry, July 30, 2004, LA Times)

Deservedly or not, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has enjoyed a formidable reputation for omniscience, omnipotence and dark doings ever since it was founded in 1947. In most of the world, this view of American intelligence probably still obtains, notwithstanding the findings of recent investigations. How can the United States, with visible power that is so overwhelming, not also be possessed of invisible powers and secret intentions that boggle the imagination? [...]

During the bitterest periods of the Cold War, public opinion supported that rationale and accepted that a certain amount of distasteful practice, occurring offstage, was a reasonable price to pay for preventing the end of Western civilization.

Actually, in my time as a CIA covert operative in Europe, Africa and Asia in the 1950s and 1960s, I observed very little skulduggery. We and our prime adversaries eschewed violence against each other as a sort of charm against revenge. The one fellow officer who habitually did carry a gun was regarded as something of a cartoon figure by the rest of us.

Much of what we did could just as effectively have been done openly and owed more to gamesmanship than to concealed weapons. We were infinitely more likely to fund a democratic trade union or a political party than blow up the offices of a communist front.

Nothing will do more to destabilize our enemies than openly discussing the state of their societies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 4, 2004 4:54 AM

Another CIA fantasist. He's nuts if he thinks people thought the CIA was a crackerjack outfit.

The problem with spook agencies is that they cannot recruit grownups.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 4, 2004 1:27 PM

McCarry is the patriotic alternative to Le Carre,
his own impressions on intelligence reform (ie;
The Federal Intelligence Service,a network of
businessman under commercial cover; outlined twenty five years ago in the Better Angels; are much more edifying than the pastiche of the 9/11 Report; particularly the DNI; which is unlike any setup in the espionage network; with the possible exception of the former KGB. He predicted a militant Islamist network, who would employ planes and or suicide bombers. The great foe was
a holy man out of a Saudi (or if you like Qumari)
oil satrapy called Hagreb; which deals in weapons
of mass destruction (before that word was coined).
targeted at NYC and or Tel Aviv. The liberal president ( a composite of Carter and Udall) is
forced to pre-empt this fate; by terminating the
warlord and covering up the act. A radical Cockburnish reporter learns of the plot; and spins
it way; against the conservative challenger; a technocratic business executive sponsored by a
industrial cartel; one half Oxxy Petroluem and
Halliburton, and of course the President is re-elected due to electronic ballot stuffing; by a
Skull & Bones clique; redolent of the Bundys which
includes the Agency's Middle East troubleshooter and the vainglorous self doubting Presidential Chief of Staff. This leads to his impeachment trial. Of course, the movie version; Wrong is
Wright: was so butchered that the journalist is
the hero; and the two candidates are in cahoots.
It's time for a decent remake

Posted by: narciso at August 4, 2004 9:22 PM