THE CIA AND THE CULT OF INTELLIGENCE
BY VICTOR MARCHETTI AND JOHN D. MARKS
REVIEW & COMMENTARY by CHARLES SULKA
VER 1 (UPDATED 09-19-2012 17:27 -0500)
In the eyes of posterity it will inevitably seem that, in safeguarding our freedom, we destroyed it; that the vast clandestine apparatus we built up to probe our enemies’ resources and intentions only served in the end to confuse our own purposes; that the practice of deceiving others for the good of the state led infallibly to our deceiving ourselves; and that the vast army of intelligence personnel built up to execute these purposes were soon caught up in the web of their own sick fantasies, with disastrous consequences to them and us.
–Malcolm Muggeridge (May, 1966)
[Ed. note: I could not have put it better, so I won’t try. Quoting the final pages of Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks’ masterpiece, THE CIA AND THE CULT OF INTELLIGENCE . . . .]
The CIA has a momentum of its own, and its operatives continue to ply their trade behind their curtain of secrecy. They do not want to give up their covert activities, their dirty tricks. They believe in these methods and they rather enjoy the game. Of course, without a presidential mandate they would have to stop, but the country has not had a chief executive since the agency’s inception who has not believed in the fundamental need and rightness of CIA intervention in the internal affairs of other nations. When a president has perceived American interests to be threatened in some faraway land, he has usually been willing to try to change the course of events by sending in the CIA. That these covert interventions often are ineffective, or damaging to the national interest has not prevented presidents from attempting them. . . .
[The government’s — and particularly the CIA and it’s director’s] view that “deniability” somehow allows the United States a free hand for covert intervention abroad (and at home) is an anachronistic hangover from the Cold War. Perhaps such actions could once have been justified when the future of the country was seemingly at stake; but no such threat now looms on the horizon. The only two foreign powers with the potential to threaten the United States–the Soviet Union and China–have long ceased to be meaningful targets of CIA operations. Instead, the agency works mainly in the Third World, in nations that pose no possible threat to American security. . . .
The CIA is not defending our national security. It seeks rather to maintain the status quo, to hold back the cultural clock, in areas that are of little or no significance to the American people. These efforts are often doomed to failure. In fact . . . the CIA has lost many more battles than it has won, even by its own standards. Furthermore, the very fact that the United States operates an active CIA around the world has done incalculable harm to the nation’s international position. Not only have millions of people been alienated by the CIA’s activities, but so have a large number of Americans, especially young people.
The time has come for the United States to stand openly behind its actions overseas, to lead by example rather than manipulation. The changeover might disturb those government officials who believe in the inherent right of the United States to exercise everywhere, clandestinely when that seems necessary; but in the long run non-interference and forthrightness would enhance America’s international prestige and position.
Even in an era when the public is conditioned to ever expanding and ever more expensive government activities, the [astronomical cost of American intelligence activities] represents a significant slice of the national treasury. The government spends more money on the various forms of spying than on the war against crime and drugs, community development and housing, mass transportation systems, and even the country’s overt international programs carried out under the State Department, the USIA, and AID combined. Yet, unlike other federal activities, information on the intelligence community–how much money is being spent and where the money goes–is systematically withheld from the American people and all but a handful of Congressmen. Behind this wall of secrecy (which exists as much to conceal waste and inefficiency as to rotect “national security”) intelligence has grown far beyond the needs of the nation.
The time has come to demysticize the intelligence profession, to disabuse Americans of the ideas that clandestine agents somehow make the world a safer place to live in, that excessive secrecy is necessary to protect the national security. These notions simply are not true; the CIA and other intelligence agencies have used them to build their own covert empire. The U.S. intelligence community performs a vital service in keeping track of and analyzing the military capability and strengths of the Soviet Union and China, but its other functions–the CIA’s dirty tricks and classical espionage–are, on the whole, a liability for the country, on both practical and moral grounds.
But because of bureaucratic tribalism, vested interests, and the enormous size of the intelligence community, internal reform never [amounts to anything]. The people in charge like things essentially as they are, and they have never been subjected to the kind of intense outside pressure which leads to change in our society. Presidents, furthermore, have not wanted to greatly disturb the existing system because they have always wanted more, if not better, intelligence; because they were afraid of opening up the secret world of intelligence to public scrutiny; because they did not want to risk losing their personal action arm for intervention abroad.
The Congress, which has the constitutional power and, indeed the responsibility to monitor the CIA and U.S. intelligence has almost totally failed to exercise meaningful control. Intelligence has always been the sacred shibboleth which could not be disturbed without damaging the “national security” and, despite loud protests from a few outspoken critics, neither legislative house has been willing to question seriously the scope or the size of intelligence activities. Yet, if there is to be any real, meaningful change in the intelligence community, it must come from Congress, and, judging from past experience, Congress will act only if prodded by public opinion. [The Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Watergate affair, and the Iran-Contra scandals have, to some extent, played such a role . . . .]
Congress should require the various intelligence agencies to keep it informed of the information collected. This kind of data should be routinely supplied to the legislative branch so it can properly carry out its foreign-policy function and [allocate] funds for the national defense. If the same information can be given to foreign governments and selectively leaked to the press by administrations in search of votes on military spending issues, then there is no “security” reason why it must be denied to the Congress. The Soviets know that U.S. spy satellites observe their country and that other electronic devices monitor their activities; it makes little sense to classify the intelligence involved “higher than top secret”. No one is asking that technical details such as how the cameras work be given to the Congress or made public–but the excessive secrecy which surrounds the finished intelligence product could certainly be eased without in any way limiting the nation’s ability to collect raw intelligence data by technical means.
As for the CIA proper, Congress should take action to limit the agency to the role originally set out for it in the National Security Act of 1947–namely, the CIA should concern itself exclusive with coordinating and evaluating intelligence. At the minimum, if clandestine activities must be continued by the U.S. government, the operational part of the CIA should be separated from the noncovert components. In the analytical and technical fields the agency can make its most important contribution to the national security, but these functions have been neglected and at times distorted by the clandestine operators who have almost always been in control of the CIA. Intelligence should not be presented to the nation’s policy-makers by the same men who are trying to justify covert operations. The temptation to use field information selectively and to evaluate information to serve operational interests can be irresistible to the most honest men–let alone to the clandestine operatives.
However, the best solution would be not simply to separate the Clandestine Services from the rest of the CIA, but to abolish them completely. The few clandestine functions which still serve a useful purpose could be transferred to other government departments, but, for the most part, such activities should be eliminated. This would deprive the government of its arsenal of dirty tricks, but the republic could easily sustain the loss–and be the better off for it.
The Clandestine Services espionage operations using human agents have already been made obsolete by the technical collections systems, which, along with open sources, supply the United States government with almost all the information it needs on the military strength and deployment of the Soviet Union and China. The truly valuable technical systems–the satellites and electronic listening devices — should be maintained, although without the duplication and bureaucratic inefficiency . . . . It is difficult to justify the [enormous expense of classical espionage activities]. Assuming the CIA’s most valuable agents will continue to be volunteers — “walk-ins” and defectors — a small office attached to the State Department and embassy contacts could be established to receive the information supplied by these sources.
While the CIA has been much more successful in penetrating the governments of the Third World and some of its allies, the information received is simply not that important and can be duplicated to some extent through diplomatic and open sources. While it might be interesting to know about the inner workings of a particular Latin American or Asian or African country the intelligence has little practical use if the CIA has no intention of manipulating the local power structure.
The Clandestine Services’ counter espionage functions should be taken over by the FBI. Protecting the United States against foreign spies is supposed to be the bureau’s function anyway, and the incessant game-playing with foreign intelligence services–the provocations, deceptions, and double agents–would quickly become a relic of the past if the CIA were not involved in its own covert operations.
Playing chess with the taxpayers’ money against the KGB is unquestionably a fascinating exercise for the clandestine operatives, but one that can properly be handled by the internal-security agency of he United States–the FBI.
As for the CIA’s paramilitary tasks, they have no place in an intelligence agency, no place in a democratic society. Under the Constitution, only the Congress has the power to declare war, and the United States should never again become involved in armed conflict without full congressional approval and public knowledge. If “American advisors” are needed to assist another country legitimately, they can be supplied by the Pentagon. The other forms of covert action — propaganda, subversion, manipulation of governments — should simply be discontinued. These are more often than not counterproductive and, even when successful, contrary to the most basic American ideals. The CIA’s proprietary companies should be shut down or sold off. The agency would have little use for one of the largest aircraft networks in the world if it were not constantly intervening in foreign countries. The proprietaries, with their unregulated profits, potential conflicts of interest, and doubtful business practices, should in no case be allowed to continue operations.
The other countries of the world have a fundamental right not to have any outside power interfere in their internal affairs. The United States, which solemnly pledged to uphold this fundamental right when it ratified the United Nations’ charter, should now honor it. The mechanisms used to intervene overseas ignore and undermine American constitutional processes and pose a threat to the democratic system at home. The United States is surely strong enough as a nation to be able to climb out of the gutter and conduct its foreign policy in accordance with the ideals that the country was founded upon.
I could not agree more with these words. I feel that these two writers — Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks — have penned what must be one of the most important books ever written. Unlike Agee, an admitted communist who exposed the agency’s employees worldwide, the authors here rarely refer to individuals by name, always managing to keep the level of discussion on a higher plane. Recriminations against individuals is not the purpose of the book, but rather an exposition of the danger a country faces from state secrecy, which inevitably leads to government out of control.
There will be little need for the CIA in the future. In the New World Order being ushered in by the Free Traders, the multinational corporations will ally themselves against the proletariat and wage war against the human race through ever-changing alliances with various governments. Only when every government of every nation on earth realizes that multi-national corporations, the so-called Free Traders, are the real enemy, rather than the neighboring countries themselves, and measures taken to reign in on this new evil, to bring the multi-national corporations under control and make them accountable to the people of the world will the battle be won.