July 2, 2007


CIA's darkest secret (James Carroll, July 2, 2007, Boston Globe)

Ike appointed a secret commission to define the role of intelligence. Its chair, Jimmy Doolittle, the hero who had bombed Tokyo, issued his report in 1954:

"It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and whatever cost. There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the United States is to survive, longstanding concepts of 'fair play' must be reconsidered. We must develop effective espionage, and counter espionage services, and must learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, and more effective methods than those used against us. It may be necessary that the American people be made acquainted with, understand, and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy."

This vision was immediately embodied in covert initiatives in the Middle East (Iran), Southeast Asia (Vietnam), and Latin America (Guatemala) that haunt the United States to this day. A vast, hidden apparatus was put in place, and a most effective alliance was quickly established with its exact equivalent behind the Iron Curtain. The world of Cold War espionage was commonly called a house of mirrors, but the real mirror imaging was of one side's secret establishment by the other's. The CIA and the KGB, precisely in their "clever . . . sophisticated" combat, sustained the conditions in which both could thrive. Each acted as the avant-garde of a burgeoning military establishment.

But that last Doolittle recommendation was never implemented -- getting the American people to understand and support "this fundamentally repugnant philosophy." Instead, the CIA's culture of secrecy was programmed to hide as much from the US public as from any foreign entity, on the theory that the public would not tolerate unethical and illegal activity. That is why one of the Cold War era abuses revealed last week involved assaults on American journalism -- the absurdly dubbed Operation Mockingbird. (The Times cited a document naming my father, General Joseph Carroll, as one of its perpetrators, but that is another story.)

The irony, of course, is that the CIA, which has almost always been wrong about America's enemies, has been proven wrong, in the end, about the American public. When the national security establishment's most heinous acts are laid bare -- whether through the Church Committee Hearings in the 1970s or in the release of the "family jewels" last week -- the revelations are greeted with a national yawn. The monstrous military establishment, which intelligence crimes protect, is not questioned.

Why are the congressional switchboards not jammed with angry phone calls of dishonored Americans? Except for an ineffectual, if passionate, minority of objectors, the people of the United States handle the knowledge of past and present crimes committed in their name quite nicely, thank you. Ah, but there's the darkest secret of all.

The rare nearly smart column from Mr. Carroll. He's right, of course, that the public doesn't care what means we use to defeat our enemies--such is the nature of democracy that anything we choose to do is de facto justified. But he misses the point that acting in secrecy just makes the Intelligence community inefficient, insulating them from scrutiny and market forces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 2, 2007 7:09 AM

And I'm willing to venture that Mr. Carroll keeps wondering why the American people give higher approval marks to the military (and by small extension, the CIA) than any other institution in American life. It probably galls him that the approval ratings are at least three times that of his own profession.

Posted by: Brad S at July 2, 2007 7:41 AM

Hard to see ,how this is General Carroll's kid; Carroll was FBI and later DIA; so its dubious
that he would be mentioned in a CIA document. He
thought they would be driven into the naval gazing
circle jerk of the 70s; so far that hasn't happened; they're to busy flagelating themselves
over Gitmo, & Abu Ghraib.

Posted by: narciso at July 2, 2007 8:19 AM

Indeed, one may well be convinced (even if not be neccessarily true) that the secrecy of such secret organizations as the CIA, KGB, MI5, Mossad, is precisely their inner, hidden, built-in flaw.

The Hamartia of spooks.

The correlation being: the more secretive, comprehensive and all-encompassing a country's spy organization, the more likely that country will fail---or fall victim to its spies' success (or in this case, necessarily, excess).

So remind me, why are we clamoring to close down the CIA when we should exult in its glorious ineptitude?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at July 2, 2007 8:28 AM

Any chance the intelligence agencies are really not incompetent, but running a scam for the media's consumption? We must be doing something right or the bad guys would have taken over long ago. Here's a wonderful example of what one American is doing.

Posted by: erp at July 2, 2007 9:34 AM

the national security establishment's most heinous acts

Did he actually read the list? It struck me as often not good but really rather slim pickings considering it covered 50+ years of Cold Warring. The people we were fighting against would consider the entire list to be a poor week's work.

Posted by: PapayaSF at July 2, 2007 11:59 AM

Ever read his awful book about him and his dad?

Posted by: oj at July 2, 2007 1:40 PM

Opacity, deception and misdirection are essential to victory. Recall Normandy, recall Gulf War I.

If the enemy doesn't know whether you may attack point A, B or C, he defends everywhere, and, as Frederick taught, therefore defends nowhere. Let the enemy say of us, "You never knew what the Americans would do, but you knew it would be bad."

The puerile facination with sunny-faced forthrightness is frankly immoral. It sacrifices lives for a warm, fuzzy feeling of "transparency."

As to much of the above thread, I ask once more, if these things we have lived through have been "failures," what would success have looked like?

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 3, 2007 4:14 AM

No Cold War, no WoT and WWII over in '45. It was only the secrecy of the intelligence agencies that allowed people to delude themselves about the strength of the USSR.

Secrecy killed hundreds of millions and saved no one.

Posted by: oj at July 3, 2007 7:06 AM

People didn't allow themselves to be deluded and it wasn't only the intelligence agencies that lied to them. They were lied to by the media and almost everyone one in prominence and power, not only here in the U.S., but worldwide, the U.N. leading the way. The few who tried to expose the left ended up like McCarthy, an object of derision whose reputation will never, no matter how many times his charges are substantiated by the facts, recover.

Posted by: erp at July 3, 2007 7:28 AM

People who believe in pure nonsense are allowing themselves to be misled. The notion that the USSR was a threat was risible.

Posted by: oj at July 3, 2007 9:07 AM

No argument here. The Soviet Union was risible, but only a handful of people were aware of it. The media kept us in a constant state of anxiety, to wit, the Cuban missile crisis. We canceled our daughter's 4th birthday party because we were afraid that we'd be at war or at the least have bombs rained upon us.

Posted by: erp at July 3, 2007 12:11 PM

Would you have flown your four year old over the Pacific on Aeroflot or driven them around in a Lata?

Posted by: oj at July 3, 2007 2:46 PM