The War Against the CIA
A reader sends an article from Time Magazine describing how efforts to "reform" the CIA are in reality creating enormous damage to an institution which has long defended America from its enemies. Some excerpts from the article:
The embattled agency is opened up, aired out and trimmed down
Never before has a secret agency received such public scrutiny. It is indeed a unique event that a modern nation is exhaustively examining one of its chief weapons of defense for all the world to see—including its adversaries. Yet this unprecedented exposure of the Central Intelligence Agency is perhaps the inevitable result of attacks on a vast bureaucracy that operated too long out of the public eye. America's premier defense agency has been under intense fire both at home and abroad for violating what many critics felt were proper standards of international conduct.
Once a proud company of proud men acting with the confidence that not only would their accomplishments serve their country but that their fellow citizens would support them, the agency has found its very functions and rationale severely questioned. It has had five directors in five stormy years. Its chiefs seem to spend more time before congressional committees than in planning and administering. Its agents, never public heroes because of the secrecy of their work, are now portrayed in the harshest of press accounts as conspiratorial villains. Somehow the rules of the spy game changed and, as the CIA men keep telling themselves, changed in the middle of the game.
The result has been inevitable—sagging morale, deteriorating ability to collect intelligence, and declining quality of analysis. Increasingly, this has worried Government policy framers, who are all too well aware of the need for prime intelligence sources and evaluation.
It has also, not incidentally, comforted those who work against the CIA. A Soviet KGB agent told a TIME correspondent in Cairo last week: "Of all the operations that the Soviet Union and the U.S. have conducted against each other, none have benefited the KGB as much as the campaign in the U.S. to discredit the CIA. In our wildest scenarios, we could never have anticipated such a plus for our side. It's the kind of gift all espionage men dream about. Today our boys have it a lot easier, and we didn't have to lift a finger. You did all our work for us."
KGB? Is the phrase KGB a slip of the keyboard? No. The passage quoted above is from the February 6, 1978 edition of Time Magazine and the President accused of destroying the CIA isn't George W. Bush. It's Jimmy Carter. The article continues.
In an effort to restore the CIA'S esteem, reorganize the U.S. intelligence community, and deflect further criticism from the agency, President Carter last week signed an Executive order that places all nine U.S. intelligence agencies under the direct budget control and loose coordination of one man: CIA Director Stansfield Turner, 54. Incorporated in the order were sharp curbs on the kinds of clandestine practices that brought the CIA much of its criticism.
The Time article goes on to describe "skepticism that the overall problems of intelligence, coordination and direction could be cured either soon or simply"; it complains that "more is expected of the CIA just when its capabilities are being restricted"; of hamstringing its ability to supply intelligence on Third World countries even as it is needed most. The article exposes how intelligence agencies, contrary to intent, are being run from the White House by political figures. "When last week's executive order was finally hammered out, Admiral Turner, perhaps only half in jest, threw up his arms, sighed and told Brzezinski: 'They call me the intelligence czar, but you're the boss.'" Long time agency veterans complained about the new Director's abrasive style. "With scant regard for the feelings of people who had served their country unsung for decades, he permitted a photocopied memo informing 212 employees of their dismissal to be distributed last Oct. 31. Some of the people fired thought he bore them a personal grudge."
If journalism were held to the same standards as fiction, the courts would be clogged with accusations of plagiarism. Although plot details may vary, news "narratives" bear a closer resemblance to each other than Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code did to Baigent and Leigh's Holy Blood, Holy Grail. That plaigarism case went to court, though Baigent and Leigh lost; and Time doesn't have to sue itself. The real function of an editorial room isn't to maintain stylistic consistency. Its true purpose is to enforce a certain point of view. The mainstream media's strength lies in its role as a foundry of news objects; as the creator of stories and masters of its lifecycle. Media power consists in being able to determine a narrative's birth, evolution and its final fate. The media has, as Orwell said, the power over history; a history which as Marx observed and Time demonstrates, always appears twice, first as tragedy and the second time as farce.