December 9, 2004


The Roots of Rage: a review of THE CRISIS: The President, the Prophet, and the Shah -- 1979 and the Coming of Militant Islam By David Harris and TAKEN HOSTAGE: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America's First Encounter with Radical Islam By David Farber (Fouad Ajami, November 28, 2004, Washington Post)

At its core, this was a Persian drama, the pain of a society of pride and hurt, the attempt of a people of high learning long in the crosswinds of mightier powers -- Russia, Britain, America -- to find their footing in the world. A poisoned chalice had come the way of the shah in 1973, with the quadrupling of the price of oil. As in The Tales from the Thousand and One Nights, the gift had played havoc with the receiver's world and his imagination. Dreams of glory now played upon the Persian ruler. In the shadows, in exile in the Iraqi Shiite holy city of Najaf, a turbaned redeemer held out to his people the image of an order at once pure and uncontaminated -- and wholly theirs.

Into this Persian struggle, there wandered Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States. Carter had promised a moral foreign policy. In his inaugural address, he had proclaimed his commitment to the cause of human rights. Iran emerged as the brutal test case of this moralism. As a revolution of many discontents gathered fury, the Carter administration appeared uncertain of its aims. Human rights pulled in one direction, strategic necessity the opposite way. It was even hard for American officials to divine the depth of Iran's crisis. Farber is good on the bureaucratic chaos that paralyzed Washington's principal players. There was the CIA's debacle -- reporting to Carter, as late as August 1978, that Iran was "not in a revolutionary or even pre-revolutionary situation."

This is the era that folks are referring to when they speak of the glory days of the CIA.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 9, 2004 8:20 PM

The glory days of the CIA were in Indochina where they could engage in drug smuggling without any serious oversight. The quicker every CIA agent is taken out and shot, and their bodies used for pig food, the quicker we will come to having an 'intelligence service' worthy of the name.

Posted by: Bart at December 9, 2004 10:13 PM

Just outsource the whole thing to the Mossad.

Posted by: Gideon at December 10, 2004 6:02 AM

The Mossad is over-rated and full of Labor Party hacks just like the IDF.

What we should do is figure out a way to work with the Russian mob, which is run by former KGC agents.

Posted by: Bart at December 10, 2004 6:41 AM

While CIA agents are out fighting and dying so that we can sit around and type, maybe we should hold off on calling for them to be shot. Besides which, the problem isn't the field officers, but the analysts in Langley. Goss seems to be doing a good job of clearing that stable.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 10, 2004 7:31 AM


When Aldrich Ames, on a salary of $70000, was publicly and indiscreetly spending more money than Mike Tyson for over a decade, nobody noticed anything, not the agents, not the analysts, not the counter-intelligence types, no one. For that to have occured, people have had to have asked where all the cash came from, and whether it came from any illicit source. If it didn't strike them as odd, especially when our turncoats in Russia starting getting bumped off, then lots of people were asleep at the switch, or part of the conspiracy, or had their own scams going, or some combination of the above.

It's time to end it, not mend it.

Posted by: Bart at December 10, 2004 8:20 AM

I'm not making the case for the CIA as an institution. It is consistently wrong and consistently soft and I would have no problem with shutting down the agency, destroying the building and salting the ground. Though it is worth remembering that todays CIA is what the Church reforms Congress and the Clinton administration wanted it to be.

I am suggesting that rhetoric about shooting the agents and feeding them to pigs is overkill.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 10, 2004 9:05 AM

The difference I guess is that I have problems with how we select our agents and how we prepare them. The intelligence function is essentially an outgrowth of the military function. It requires military discipline and a chain of command, and a million other things that are the product of a military culture. The KGB is an outgrowth of the Soviet military, with military ranks, uniforms, attitudes. It is precisely that military attitude which makes the Russian mob(basically the privatized KGB) so hard to crack.

Our approach has been entrepreneurial. We want people who are willing to play fast and loose, who have dubious moral character in the field. There is a romantic element in our hiring inspired by Reilly, Ace of Spies, and Tom Clancy novels. So we get an agency full of people with a scam going, with an eye towards making a fast buck however they can. Terpils and Wilsons are not produced by a system which prizes discipline and loyalty, and they are not the result of the Church reforms, however lamebrained and wrong-headed they were.

We bring in the wrong kind of people, we give them the wrong kind of training and follow it up with piss-poor oversight. So how can we expect the CIA to be anything but a gigantic expensive cluster****?

Posted by: Bart at December 10, 2004 9:48 AM


You seem to keep missing the point:

Yes the CIA is dysfunctional (as is most any government agency/department). That in no way justifies your call for the shooting of CIA agents, which I hope was just ill-considered hyperbole. By framing your comments around such statements, you discredit your arguments and coarsen what might otherwise be an interesting discussion.

Besides, if we get rid of the CIA agents, who'll fly all of the black helicoptors the government has?

Posted by: The Other Brother at December 10, 2004 12:22 PM

There is no honest way to discuss the traitors, Nazis, criminals, and incompetents of the CIA other than coarsely.

Sure, I engaged in hyperbole, only the most egregious criminals need to be shot(traitors should be denied a decent burial and the last rites) and the agency staff as a whole needs to undergo some form of grotesque public humiliation at the very least. Perhaps, we should issue them shoe phones and have them claim to work for a greeting card company.

Intelligence gathering is a serious matter and needs to be treated seriously. We have gone our entire nation's history without doing so and this needs to change, quickly, effectively and permanently. If Russian history is any indicator, the use of the extreme sanction would go a long way to improving things.

Posted by: Bart at December 11, 2004 1:42 PM

The CIA is dysfunctional. The changes that are needed are not embodied in the recent legislation. The institution needs to be rethought and rebuilt from the ground up -- with entirely new personel. What is done with the old ones depends upon their willingness to maintain silence in the future. Those who don't might very well be terminated with extreme prejudice.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at December 13, 2004 10:08 PM