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RussBaker.com » CIA: Out of Control (September 10, 1991)

CIA: Out of Control (September 10, 1991)

“An eye-opening look at the CIA, circa 1991. What is it supposed to do, and what does it really do?”  –  Russ Baker

THE CANCER IS GONE, but the cure is killing us. From Siberia to Slovenia, Tallinn to Timisoara, the totalitarian communist state has ceased to be; and along with it our own fevered nightmares of Soviet tanks rolling down Main Street. But the U.S. “national security state” is far too entrenched to be dismantled by the current political leadership, for whom life without it is simply unimaginable.

Today, there is ample evidence that those who administer the national security opiate–including the Central Intelligence Agency- -are preparing to keep us doped up for the rest of our lives. As the people of the disintegrating Soviet Union struggle to eliminate their own out-of-control security complex, it’s clearly time that the U.S. do the same. Yet despite new global realities, the American security apparatus keeps on growing and adapting to ensure its long-term survival. As we approach the 21st century, true democracy and open government move increasingly out of our reach. Consider these trends:

While our infrastructure crumbles, the U.S. spy conglomerate has quadrupled since 1980, and now consumes more than $35 billion each year; the CIA itself spends more than $5 billion and employs more than 25,000, with additional tens of thousands of “unofficial” workers on its payroll worldwide. America’s foremost intelligence agency has no comprehensive charter outlining what the CIA may or may not do (the last effort to impose one failed in 1980). And in a time of professed global togetherness, its brutal covert actions go right on violating international law and the rights of citizens everywhere.

The Soviet threat veneer torn away, agency operations prove more than ever a thesis shared by numerous former CIA agents–that the national security apparatus is little more than the private army of the Fortune 500. Besides the official spy outfits, a vast national security alumni network–positioned from Wall Street to Bangkok–is setting up private intelligence operations with the cooperation and encouragement of the CIA. In addition, the collaboration with multinational renegades is well illustrated by the collapsed global empire of the Bank of Credit & Commerce International–already called the largest financial fraud in history. The bank, with which the CIA had maintained close financial ties, engaged in spying, bribery, extortion, kidnapping, and possibly murder. “Time,” which broke the story, boldly went where few in the media will go: “The discovery of the CIA’s dealings with BCCI raises a deeply disturbing question: Did the agency hijack the foreign policy of the U.S. and in the process involve itself in one of the most audacious criminal enterprises in history?”

While the CIA remains the lightning rod for any criticism, an enormous parallel but unseen covert-action structure is rapidly growing inside the military. Their images buffed through “successes” in the Persian Gulf, Panama, and Grenada, war heroes like Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf put a new, improved face on the paramilitary actions and undeclared wars for which the CIA has been chastised in the past. The transition is an easy one: Unlike the CIA, military activities are outside the scope of the congressional intelligence committees.

Intelligence is big business for Uncle Sam. More than a dozen government agencies–including the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Air Force’s National Reconnaissance Office, and branches of the Customs and Treasury departments–inhabit this netherworld. Energy department spooks, for example, were recently in the news for surveilling energy employees who were reporting departmental violations. The vast government intelligence enterprise is funded largely through a secret “black budget,” hidden deep within the Pentagon’s overall allocation. Having more than quadrupled under Ronald Reagan, the estimated $30 billion black budget is greater than New York City’s entire budget, or the total federal outlay for education.

One of the most insidious byproducts of the Cold War, institutionalized secrecy–and the widespread “classification” of information designed to keep controversial subjects out of the public arena–seems here to stay. Even the Freedom of Information Act, created to open up the system, has become something of a joke as requested documents increasingly arrive heavily censored with a thick black marker. Since everything can be termed a matter of national security, the real operative American foreign policy is never properly debated or reviewed. And coated with the Teflon of executive deniability, institutionalized lying becomes more deeply ingrained in government.

One of the many dangers of foreign intrigues is how easily they become domestic subversions. As Marcus Raskin of the Center for Policy Studies described it recently: “The U.S. has been fixing elections abroad for 40 years. People who undertake to fix elections abroad have no problem doing that at home.” Examples abound, from Watergate to the unraveling of the 1980 Reagan-campaign October Surprise arms-for- hostages deal with Iran. Ongoing CIA links with academia, again in the news (notably the agency’s close association with the president of the Rochester Institute of Technology), show that the disease is infecting yet another generation.

Most troubling of all, congressional intelligence committees, charged with reining in the madness, are variously asleep at the wheel or helping to steer the ship of state into ever more dangerous waters. Reformist efforts have been virtually laughed out of Congress. One such effort, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s “End of the Cold War Act of 1991,” would transfer all CIA functions to the State Department, and define the Agency strictly as an information-gathering unit. Another, authored by Representative Barbara Boxer, would have eliminated almost all covert action. Moynihan’s bill is legislation non grata; Boxer’s has been terminated with prejudice. Meanwhile, Bush has moved to drastically weaken Congress’s recognized right and responsibility to oversee intelligence activities, and made it clear no one is to stand in the way of his vision of a new world order.

BUSH HAS WORKED UNCEASINGLY to weaken the checks and balances that were instituted following a string of White House-connected scandals in the 1970s. The ad hoc investigative committees at the time, chaired by Senator Frank Church and Representative Otis Pike, produced reports in 1976 that portrayed the intelligence community as dangerous, often incompetent, and unaccountable to the American people but “utterly responsive to the directions of the President.” It is telling that Bush, who was CIA director at the time of the reports should be the one to immobilize those reforms.

From those decade-old queries came today’s “watchdog” intelligence oversight committees, whose job it is to review the CIA budget and covert action plans, keeping the agency accountable. But many believe “lapdog” better describes the committees, which almost always meet in secret, and have knuckled under at every turn. Although some members talk tough in public, their records demonstrate that they often go along with secret U.S. interventionism and are eager to be “intelligence insiders.” For expert guidance on how to get tough with the CIA, committee members are advised by a staff that is itself dominated by former CIA agents who are not exactly outspoken reformists.

Iran-contra clearly demonstrated that Congress does not have a role in controlling the intelligence community. Even the Iran- contra hearings, during which Congress tried to discover the truth about activities it should have been regulating from the start, produced nothing tangible. After endless twists and perturbations, and hundreds of thousands of pages of testimony, the public was lost and exhausted, not sure what they’d seen and what it all meant. Despite overwhelming evidence of collusion and direction from the White House, the National Security Council (NSC), and the CIA, virtually no high officials went down, and no changes were implemented. Allegations of related drug-running disappeared from sight.

One CIA officer, Joseph Fernandez, was indicted as a result of Iran-contra, but the case was later dropped. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh helped him out by ruling that materials for Fernandez’s defense could not be introduced for “national security reasons.” Among the vital secrets to be protected: that Fernandez was CIA station chief in Costa Rica, or that there even was a CIA station in Costa Rica. “We’ve created a class of intelligence officer who cannot be prosecuted,” said frustrated independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, in his own report.

This September, if our legislators get around to grilling Robert Gates, President Bush’s ethics-parched nominee for CIA director, few will look beyond the tough questions to notice that the deliberative body has been further neutered by the White House. The latest step in the shanghaiing of Congress occurred last November 30, in a rather daring move by President Bush that stunned the Hill but received little press coverage.

For the first time in history, a president vetoed the annual Intelligence Authorization Act, which formally authorizes the expenditure of intelligence funds and designates how those funds will be spent.

Instead of tolerating the few trivial constraints the bill imposed on him–apprising the committee of certain covert actions– Bush simply told our elected representatives he didn’t like having to notify them when he uses private individuals, corporations, or foreign governments to act as surrogates for CIA operatives. Moreover, he didn’t feel he needed their authorization for anything (a false assertion, since The National Security Act of 1947 requires it). He flaunted the fact that the secret intelligence funds had already been approved in their usual hiding place, deep within the Pentagon budget.

The congressional humiliation was nothing less than a constitutional coup. “You get to a certain level and you’re dealing with King versus Parliament all over again,” says David MacMichael, a 13-year CIA veteran whose Association of National Security Alumni lobbies for stricter agency controls.

On May 2, with two-thirds of the fiscal year already over, the House finally passed this year’s Intelligence Authorization Bill, but backed off and deleted the oversight section altogether. Without a presidential signature, the committees continued to meet in mock session, and officials from the Agency and the White House continued to humor it with testimony of sorts. Finally, with the fiscal year virtually over, Bush in August signed an authorization bill that includes some mild oversight measures. But in September it will be time for a new, 1992 authorization bill, so the run around will simply begin again.

Hill observers are appalled by the debacle, but not really surprised. “The Congress is not in any way an equal branch of government,” says MacMichael. “Look at the State of the Union addresses; they’re basically a pronouncement from the throne. Even Stalin couldn’t ask for more–with the goddamn leaping and capering [members of Congress], trying to outdo each other with applause.” The Democrats, their hopes of ever regaining the White House slipping away, are right in there cheering.

One who isn’t so thrilled, the no-nonsense and unusually blunt Representative Henry Gonzalez, laid out the growing irrelevance of Congress in a May 7 speech on the floor of the House: “If a person can say today, `I am going to send half a million armed service personnel to Korea, to Europe, to Africa,’ and then, `By the way, I will consult with Congress,’ we have no constitution, and we do not have presidents. We have Caesars.”

It’s been a bad year, but even in a good year, oversight tends more toward the secondary definition found in Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary: “an overlooking; failure to see or notice.” Leading the parade of Mr. Magoos through the myopic and moot oversight process is Senate intelligence committee chair David Boren, widely considered an agency yes-man. Before Gates comes before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence this fall, he will have received an unusually complete list of questions that the committee plans to ask him. Boren claims that he sent them because the “questions will require a great deal of detail in answering them.”

It is the committee “progressives,” however who best illustrate why the system is out of control. Republican senator Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, mother of all intelligence reformers, is known as a zealous interrogator of the administration’s more offensive nominees, including Robert Gates and Robert Bork. Specter, who recently left the committee to comply with rules on revolving membership–but who hopes to return soon–has authored a number of “technical” reform bills over the years, designed to increase CIA accountability to Congress. For example, he wants to require that the president notify Congress of covert actions within 48 hours, because, he says, it would help avoid the possibility that two ultrasecret operations might inadvertently overlap.

But the measure Bush signed last month includes one unremarked feature of a Specter 1991 intelligence bill, which has the effect of legally sanctioning every vile behavior imaginable, simply by writing into law two words: “covert action.” The bite-sized phrase refers to secretly breaking the laws of another country to influence events there; in practice it includes bribery, kidnapping, torture, propaganda, coups, helping stifle dissent, and exterminating national liberation movements.

It’s a nasty business, not becoming of a democracy: One of many recent examples might include the allegation by former Salvadoran death squad member Cesar Vielman Joya Martinez that his unit–which received direct U.S. support and advice–carried out the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her child.

Legally neither fish nor fowl–not executive diplomacy or declaration of war–clandestine meddling has nevertheless been woven into the fiber of U.S. foreign policy.

COVERT ACTION SNUCK in the back door after World War II, when The National Security Act of 1947 was passed. Although Harry Truman said the act would help prevent another Pearl Harbor by creating the CIA and NSC as intelligence organs, his intentions may have been entirely different. Former Truman aide Clark Clifford, who began the study that led to the creation of the CIA (successor to the wartime Office of Strategic Services), has said the key was a brief, innocuous-looking phrase. It authorizes the CIA, beyond gathering intelligence, to perform “other functions and duties related to intelligence,” as the NSC “may from time to time direct.” Clifford says it was intended to authorize covert action, but only in the most limited way.

Clifford, himself mired in the BCCI scandal, says the whole thing is a lousy idea. “I believe that, on balance, covert activities have harmed this country more than they have helped us,” he told a House intelligence subcommittee in 1988. “Certainly, efforts to control these activities, to keep them within their intended scope and purpose, have failed.”

The creeping validation process–to which the public has never been a party–got a lift from the 1974 Hughes-Ryan Ammendment. It didn’t come straight out and authorize covert action, but did allow the president to carry out “other activities” besides spying if he finds they are “important to the national security,” and informs Congress.

Three decades after Truman tried to hide covert action, an audacious Ronald Reagan slapped democracy in the face, at times openly admitting to a policy of violating other nations’ sovereignty. But the American public turned cheek after cheek. Now open intervention is flourishing, thanks to congressionally-funded vehicles like the National Endowment for Democracy which pumps cash into Washington’s favorite political candidates in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, proving that it is less a matter of being “free” than of being costly.

Today, covert action is the cart, intelligence-gathering the horse; last November, CIA analyst John Gentry quit, charging that the agency regularly distorts information to support executive- branch policies. He says it lied about the strength of the Soviet Union. More recently, the CIA appears to have reversed its assessment that sanctions against Iraq would work when it became clear that Bush wanted to get on with the Persian Gulf war. Senator Specter says the problem is that the CIA director wears too many hats. He wants the director demoted from foreign-policy czar–as it was under William Casey–to foot soldier of the president.

But while Specter worries about lines of authority, his bill institutionalizes the kind of adventures Casey loved. Asked about the wisdom of carving the words covert action into stone, a testy Specter at first denied that those words were in the measure. Upon correction by an aide, he then argued that it wouldn’t be the first time a law codifies “covert action,” erroneously citing previous executive orders–which are not laws.

In truth, when Congress is not apologizing for covert action, it’s out of the loop altogether. Although the president does send the committees “findings”–or covert action reports–intelligence insiders say he manages to keep Congress in the dark much of the time. With low-visibility operations, there is little risk Congress will find out unless he chooses to tell them. And in the case of “extremely sensitive” operations, the White House has argued the necessity of delaying findings for up to a year or more. (Bush has not taken kindly to Congress’s rather timid request that he tell them “within a few days.”)

When and if committee members hear about covert operations, they are powerless to reject them no matter how offensive they may be. The legislation that created the oversight process simply called for notification, but did not authorize the committee to veto any activities. As for the public, it learns nothing from the black hole-like intelligence review process. The committees rarely hold public meetings, and never produce transcripts. Their periodic reports are filled with bland notations like “We held 320 hours of hearings,” to confirm that all’s well.

The congressional committees can’t tell the public what they know–“you just have to trust us,” says one committee staffer. Problem is, the committee’s own staff, who essentially run the place for the busy representatives, is swimming with former CIA officers. Victor Marchetti, a former top aide to the director of central intelligence, claims that’s by design: As soon as the oversight committees were created, the CIA targeted them and took them over. To work for the committees “they sent up top guns … like John Clark–who had been head of Planning, Programming, and Budgeting in the CIA on the director’s staff,” he recalls. “The whole idea was to snow these guys, con these guys, win these guys over, convert ’em, get ’em on the team. That’s what has happened. It’s now institutionalized.”

Some committee members get so fed up with the charade they simply leave. Democratic representative George Brown, of California, quit the House Intelligence Committee in 1986, saying he was tired of being placed in situations where commonly known information was presented to him in classified form, prohibiting him from referring to it in open debate on the floor. Former House committee member Democrat Norman Mineta, also of California, described being briefed by the CIA as “like being a mushroom: you’re kept in the dark and fed manure.”

In a recent interview, former House Intelligence Committee chair, Anthony Beilenson, a liberal Democrat from California, said he couldn’t talk about any matters that have come before the committee, but could assure that there are very few major covert operations rolling at the moment. There “aren’t any really bad things going on,” he says, a remarkable statement considering that in the final years of the Reagan administration, according to “Covert Action Information Bulletin” (the publication started by ex-CIA agent and agency critic Philip Agee), there were “major CIA operations” underway in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Suriname, Mexico, Afghanistan, Iran, Ethiopia, Libya, Chad, Lebanon, Seychelles, South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Zaire, the Philippines, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, among others. Many of these continue, most notably covert support for the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and a renewed effort to force Fidel Castro from power.

Both Beilenson and Specter became irritated when asked about specific types of covert operations. Specter, questioned about bribery of foreign officials, responded: “That’s a ridiculous question…. We don’t engage in bribery–that’s against the law.” On the other hand, he said, “Paying for information is not bribery.”

Ex-CIA officer MacMichael laments: “This splitting of hairs…. How would it be regarded in the United States if an official of the United States, for payment, offered information to a foreign government? Would that be legal in the U.S.? [Specter’s] statement is the most extraordinary distinction I’ve ever heard.”

When asked specifically about the dangers of practices like paying foreign journalists to write knowingly false stories that often work their way back into American living rooms, Specter replied: “I have not seen that come before the Intelligence Committee.” When asked again how committee members could possibly be unaware of such well-documented practices, Specter–answered haltingly: “I have not voted for any funds which involve bribery.”

IF COMMITTEE MEMBERS are so ill-informed, it’s partly because the CIA won’t provide correct answers unless the questions are posed in precisely the right way. Former CIA officials say they take advantage of unartful questioning in order to withhold information.

“We’d go down and lie to them consistently,” says ex-CIA officer Ralph McGehee. “In my 25 years, I have never seen the agency tell the truth to a congressional committee.”

“I ask questions a number of different ways,” says Specter. “But if they want to be evasive, there’s no way you can stop that…. We’ve had people who’ve been evasive to Congress–and we raised hell with them. It’s a big part of what we had with Bill Casey and Gates last time around–the preparation of testimony which was not candid.” Specter’s bill has a provision for a mandatory one-year sentence for lying to Congress. It’s unlikely to be signed into law and even less likely to be enforced, what with lying to Congress amounting to a way of life.

Often, it’s committee members who choose to be bamboozled. McGehee, a CIA officer in Vietnam, recounts one particularly juvenile exercise. During his predirector days, William Colby had been called to testify about the Phoenix operation, in which thousands of Vietnamese peasants were slaughtered. Colby confirmed that more than 20,000 died, but argued that the CIA was not to blame because the deaths were the result of “paramilitary operations.” McGehee recalls the committee members saying, “Oh, okay, so that excuses most of the deaths.” Of course, it excuses nothing, since the Phoenix program was a CIA-directed and -planned covert paramilitary operation.

Despite the committee’s passive, “just listening” role, Specter says he’s been able to actually block operations, but he can’t talk about them and wouldn’t want to characterize his success rate. “The entire Iran-contra oversight is a case where Congress disagreed with what the administration was doing,” he volunteers. That’s hardly the best example, since Congress only learned about the scandal by accident. “It was disclosed collaterally with–was it an Iranian newspaper?” Specter says. Actually it was a Lebanese newspaper. “Listen,” Specter says in frustration, “we look over what they’re doing and we raise objections and we do our best with congressional oversight.”

SINCE MEMBERS GET LITTLE public glory from their role, the motivation for serving on the committees is a more complex one. Senate committee chair Boren “suddenly has his own agency,” says Marchetti, coauthor of The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence. “He’s got a $30 billion industry there. He doesn’t want to oversee that, he wants a say in how it’s spent and how it works. He becomes part of it.

“You might be a little bit of a tiger like [current House Intelligence Committee chair Dave] McCurdy,” continues Marchetti, “but now they’re dangling something out in front of you–`You want to get on this committee? You want to chair this committee? You *can* chair it, but you’d better play it our way.’ All the conservatives would have sworn he was a liberal. Now he sounds like the biggest conservative in the world.”

By joining the committee, even the most skeptical agree to be silenced. Representative Ron Dellums, once the number one critic of the agency, faced a huge outcry from the right when he was named to the committee. But Dellums seems to have gone mute since joining the committee.

Dellums press secretary Max Miller says the representative from Berkeley, together with majority whip David Bonior–another outspoken liberal–made an agreement with Speaker Thomas Foley to maintain a low profile in return for gaining seats on the committee. After one full round of legislation and briefings, Miller says, Dellums will be heard from. “They wanted to find out as much as they could before speaking out.” Meanwhile, the energetic Oliver North, in his role as president of something called the Freedom Alliance, has launched a campaign to collect a million Dump Dellums signatures. He calls Dellums “a pro-Marxist, antidefense radical,” who would be a threat on the “supersensitive” committee. Putting Dellums on the panel, North says, was an “extremely reckless and very dangerous appointment.”

And those who make trouble get trouble. Reports and rumors that the apparatus pokes into the personal lives of members of Congress underlines the danger of investigating national security agencies. “There’s a little bit of fear that if you do go after the intelligence community, your career is threatened,” says McGehee, author of “Deadly Deceits: My 25 years in the CIA.” Even the complacent Senate intelligence committee chair David Boren has reason to worry. According to the “Voice”‘s Doug Ireland (see Press Clips, May 28), Boren faced a vicious primary battle in his first senatorial campaign, during which his opponents accused him of being a homosexual. At a press conference, Boren swore on a white Bible that he was not. “It would therefore be utterly churlish,” Ireland wrote, “to speculate on whether or not the Company has a file on the state of its tamed watchdog’s libido.” Since then, Boren has called Robert Gates “one of the most candid people we’ve ever dealt with.”

Leading congressional critics of the CIA have been defeated, despite their long, distinguished careers in Washington and Congress’s nearly foolproof 98 per cent reelection rate. Both Otis Pike and Frank Church were defeated soon after chairing their precedent-setting ’70s hearings. Pike’s report had been so incendiary that Congress voted not to release it before the White House had a chance to censor the document. (It was ultimately leaked to and published by the “Voice.”) Pike’s committee staff director had been warned by the CIA special counsel, “Pike will pay for this, you wait and see–we’ll destroy him for this,” according to “The New York Times.” Also defeated were outspoken senators Dick Clark, Birch Bayh, and Harold Hughes. Foreign money–possibly South African–is believed to have financed the defeat of Clark, a vocal critic of the CIA and U.S. ties with South Africa.

Challenging the CIA also means trying to rein in dictatorial tendencies that naturally accrue to the occupant of the Oval Office. “Every president of the United States, no matter what he says before he becomes president, about how he’s going to clean things up,” says Marchetti, “once he gets in there and finds out that’s *his* agency, that’s *his* intelligence community, hey, all bets are off.”

One man who told the truth blew his chance to become CIA director, thanks to “reformer” Jimmy Carter. Hank Knoche, acting director following Bush’s retirement, had been called down to a Senate committee. “The chairman was complaining that `we just don’t know what’s really going on,'” says Marchetti, who was privy to the details of the incident. “They asked [Knoche] about covert action operations: `Do we know all the stuff that’s going on? Could you tell us more about them?'” Asked to reveal the 10 largest ongoing operations, Knoche offered to name a few of the lesser ones, despite urgings from his aide that he keep his mouth shut. President Carter reportedly heard about it, and was none too happy. Instead of Knoche, the odds-on favorite for the slot, he named intelligence novice and old Naval Academy chum Admiral Stansfield Turner. “Hank learned his lesson that day,” says Marchetti.

WITH A CIA PRESIDENT and an AWOL Congress, the vast security bureaucracy is comfortable scaring up new bogeymen for its post- Soviet survival. “Peace, it turns out, is going to be even more expensive than the Cold War, and … a growth industry for the intelligence community,” wrote former NSC staffer Roger Morris in a “New York Times” op ed. Among the hits sure to play again and again are three covert action “growth areas” run by Bush when he was vice-president: counterterrorism, the drug war, and crisis management.

Raising the cries of alarm over terrorism are former government security officials, who presently offer their services and expertise to private security companies. Among those who have made the switch are Iran-contra cast members Joseph Fernandez, Clair George, and Ollie North.

This army of “experts” has fanned out across talk-show land to warn of the terrorist threat, but the numbers don’t bear them out. Domestic terrorism has been declining: from 111 acts in 1977 to 9 a decade later. In 1989 there were 35 Americans killed abroad by so- called terrorists (a striking statistic when compared with the 430,000 Americans who died from federally subsidized tobacco last year). Domestically last year, there was a grand total of 7 terrorist acts. Virtually all domestic terrorism in recent years has been attributed to either Puerto Rican separatist groups or the Animal Liberation Front. Alternative ways of dealing with the “terrorist threat”–other than spending billions of dollars to fund counterterrorist activities–are of course not a priority. Nor is seeking out root causes for the violent activities: Like why in 1990, for example, the largest number of attacks against American interests abroad came in Chile–an erstwhile ally–with many of those aimed at Mormon churches.

Terrorism has been a handy facade. It was under the auspices of Bush’s secret counterterrorism operation that his factotum, North, began building the contra enterprise. Furthermore, William Casey was able to continue dealing with shady Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar after such arms contacts were banned–by simply designating the man a legitimate contact on “terrorism” matters.

The war against terrorists dovetails nicely with another illusory battle: the drug war. Oliver North misused his anti-terrorism powers to harass Jack Terrell, a former contract employee of the CIA, who had complained to government officials that a ranch being used as a contra base was also being used to smuggle drugs. The owner of the ranch, an American named John Hull, is currently wanted in Costa Rica for drug trafficking. North’s–and the CIA’s– dealings with convicted drug traffickers should raise real doubts about whether the drug war is anything but another tool for foreign intervention.

Another hot-button phrase, crisis management, was a handy excuse for North to draw up a plan that reportedly would have suspended the Constitution in the event of a “national crisis,” including national opposition to a U.S. military invasion abroad. According to The “Miami Herald,” this called for rounding up domestic critics and putting them in internment camps.

Bush, meanwhile, wants to pump the whole thing up further. He signed National Security Directive 147 in October 1990, directing intelligence agencies to continue “rebuilding” their counterintelligence programs, according to “The Washington Times.”

GOVERNMENT PRIVATIZATION, the Reagan-Bush raison d’etre, can do for foreign policy what it did for domestic: Reduce it to a shambles by moving the intelligence community entirely out of the realm of public accountability and control. “The intelligence fraternity is big,” says Marchetti. “There are a lot of intelligence officers all over this country in all sorts of positions, and it’s kind of an Old Boys’ Club.” That includes Wall Street. “Dino Pionzio, after all his years in Latin America, ends up working for [investment house] Dillon, Read,” Marchetti says. Pionzio–like Bush a former Skull- and-Boneser at Yale–was a high-ranking CIA official in the 1970s.

As former CIA operations officer Bruce Hemmings describes it, “since at least 1981, a worldwide network of `free-standing’ companies, including airlines, aviation and military spare parts suppliers, and trading companies, has been utilized by the CIA and the U.S. government to illegally ship arms and military spare pans … [that is] staffed primarily by ex-CIA, ex-FBI, and ex-military officers….” A key component of the private intelligence circuit are non-profit organizations, including relief groups like the International Rescue Committee, AmeriCares, and Air Commando Association, which can quickly gain access to sensitive areas.

Proposing to take the CIA’s role as corporate America’s private army to new lengths, departing chief William Webster is calling for the agency to move into industrial espionage. A recently-revealed CIA-sponsored report, “Japan 2000,” called for creating a “national industrial policy” like Japan’s, in which the government’s overriding mission is to assist corporations. Senator Bill Bradley worried that economic espionage could become “a pretext for a new program of counterintelligence by the FBI of either foreigners or Americans,” according to “The Washington Post.” Bradley said he suspected the threat was being exaggerated, and that CIA director Webster had failed to answer his request for evidence to the contrary.

The corporate tilt in spy operations ignores a growing dichotomy. “As corporations have become multinational, they’ve lost that original Americanness that characterized them,” says John Prados, author of “Presidents’ Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations Since World War II.” While the CIA slaves for big companies, the firms are busy exporting jobs and bilking the government on taxes and contracts. Last month’s news that General Electric allegedly ripped off Uncle Sam to the tune of $30 million adds to a long string of such procurement scandals.

Despite this, influential think tanks like the Heritage Foundation continue to call for intervention against indigenous liberation movements abroad whose only connection with American security is their threat to the cheap labor markets and raw materials, prized by the multinationals. Heritage, staffed with Cold Warriors like Ed Meese, is pushing the doctrine of LIC, or “Low-Intensity Conflict,” which advocates battling insurgencies over long periods of time, by all available means.

Heritage is more direct than most in presenting the true goals of national security policy, albeit sugar-coated with the parlance of freedom. In a 1990 “Backgrounder” report, a Heritage scholar warns that insurgency, “risks U.S. access to strategic minerals and markets” while “thwarting U.S. attempts to promote democracy.” However, so inconsistent is the policy that Heritage in one breath warns of “rising Muslim fundamentalism,” and in another backs supplying the fundamentalist Mujahadeen movement in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, the document calls for Bush to “issue a Presidential Directive enabling the CIA to carry out … actions to kill or overthrow foreign leaders who pose an extreme and direct security threat to the U.S.” It says that the CIA should develop its own paramilitary units to perform low-level armed operations, and be given a greater role in planning and executing LIC operations. The wish list includes creation of a White House LIC “czar,” and for increasing use of the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command.

IN FACT, THE PENTAGON’S ROLE in clandestine operations has been growing by leaps and bounds since Reagan and Bush first took their oaths. As the Soviet threat recedes, Grenada, Panama, and the gulf war conveniently demonstrate that there will always be an enemy. The Pentagon, currently far more popular than the CIA, is ready to play a more active role than its traditional once-a-generation “big war” gig. In postwar appearances before Congress, generals Powell and Schwarzkopf laid the groundwork by complaining about ineffectual CIA intelligence provided during the war.

Military intelligence, once under the supervision of the CIA, is now itself “totally out of control, like a herd of steer,” says Marchetti. “Now, everybody has clandestine services, everybody has covert operations.” Already, 80 per cent of the intelligence black budget is controlled by the Pentagon, and is dispensed to a raft of different organizations most Americans have never heard of. The largest, with a budget of $12 billion to $15 billion, is the Air Force’s National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which collects satellite data. (The government denies its very existence.) Others include The National Security Agency (NSA), which monitors international phone calls, and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which analyzes military information.

Congress is now recommending that the military be authorized to conduct covert operations without any oversight whatsoever, so long as the actions immediately precede or take place during the execution of a formal, visible military operation. Critics, including CIA veterans of Indochina in the Association of National Security Alumni, fear this would encourage the president to stage fake provocative actions, a la the 1965 Tonkin Gulf “attack” that brought the United States into total, undeclared war in Indochina.

In fact, since 1980 there has been an explosion of covert military activity involving everything from hostage rescue to sabotage actions. These military operations have evolved into renegade actions that the Pentagon claims little knowledge of or control over, adding yet another dimension to the problem of accountability and control.

Some believe a battle royal is coming, as Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, who served on the House Intelligence Committee before joining the Bush administration, tries to reorganize military intelligence. He reportedly wants each branch of the military to have its own intelligence structure, with all reporting to an enhanced DIA, which would rival the CIA. Cheney takes a great personal interest in military covert operations: the Special Operations Command is believed to report directly to him, rather than going through the Joint Chiefs according to military intelligence specialists.

POLLS SHOW THAT the American public is of two minds about all of this: Each time a scandal erupts the majority turns briefly against covert action. But perceived external threats cause a quick reversal. Overall, the depth of the problem seems to escape most folks. “People have been brainwashed for years with novels and movies that have glorified the business and romanticized the intelligence community and the CIA,” says Marchetti.

Back on the Hill, our leaders seem equally confused. “Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?” asks Specter rhetorically. After all he has seen and heard, he still manages to talk about how “the interests of democracy and freedom and peace … are the objectives that we are trying to promote.”

Still, Specter says he is “not satisfied with the system,” and that is why he proposed creating an independent Inspector General to monitor the CIA from within. Specter calls the IG, Frederick Hitz, “a certified mole inside the CIA.” Hitz has been serving for less than a year, and it’s too early to tell how tough he will be. However, there are reasons for concern: In 1978 he was the legislative counsel for the CIA, before becoming the Company’s deputy chief of clandestine operations for Europe during the tenure of Bill Casey.

After the “Voice” visited the Hill, Congress finally produced a bill that Bush did sign. Among it’s mildly reformist components: (1) the president must issue written findings on covert actions by *any* governmental entity, not just the CIA, and (2) that Congress be notified when third parties are used for covert action. But for every proposed restriction, there’s a giveaway. The new law incredibly *expands* the president’s power to launch covert actions. No longer does the president have to claim that national security was threatened; a simple assertion that the covert action furthers “identifiable foreign policy objectives of the United States” is sufficient. Things are so bad that reformers reportedly had to struggle mightily just to get the word “identifiable” into the bill. And it codifies covert action just as Specter wanted.

Amid all this throat-clearing, a heroic few are seriously trying to get a handle on the CIA behemoth. Representative Boxer’s defeated bill would have virtually banned all covert action and attached severe penalties for violating the ban. She plans to reintroduce the bill in different form. Senator Moynihan–interestingly, a former, longtime hawk–proposes transfering all CIA functions to the State Department, unveiling the black budget, and prohibiting diversion of funds to third parties for banned covert actions. His bill lacks even a single cosponsor.

Maybe it was unintentional, but former House Intelligence chair Tony Beilenson underlined the folly of trying to legislate such a colossal morass. In floor debate, he said he could not vote for the Boxer bill because it “would not have prevented Iran-contra; the people there did not comply with the law that was in existence at that time. If this law were in existence, they would not have complied with it either.”

ULTIMATELY, THERE IS something deeply wrong with putting our collective security in the hands of people who don’t understand what it is they are protecting. Even an in-house CIA journal seems to recognize the fatal flaw. “[Oversight] forces the CIA, an organization schooled in activities abroad, to confront the American political process…. Exposure … forces them to learn how a closed intelligence agency fits into an open society.”

With the dearth of official leadership, it could well fall to the American people to challenge the national security opiate, just as it has been up to mass movements to lead the way on civil rights, abortion, and the Vietnam War. Perhaps, there’s a lesson to be learned from the oppressed peoples of Eastern Europe, who broke down the doors of the security apparatuses in their countries, seizing files, yanking electronic equipment from the walls, and trying to bring the agents to justice.

The current period of global realignment offers the United States an opportunity to question the knee-jerk aggression inherent in our national security policy. But the chance for profound change and reform is slipping away. No strong candidate emerges to challenge the tainted Bush. Congress snoozes on, waking only to munch at the trough that feeds it. A rare exception, representative Don Edwards–himself a former FBI agent and hence intimately familiar with the national security mindset–eloquently summed up a troublesome truth when he wrote in the “St. John’s Law Review” “I strongly disagree that communism, terrorism, or any other anti- democratic ideology has ever seriously threatened a nation confident in its own democratic values; I just as strongly dispute that it was ever necessary to curtail freedom in order to protect it.”

1 Comment

  • By Jordan Thurstoon, August 20, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

    Bravo, Mr. Baker. This is a clear expose of how a country can be led into such abysmal moral decay that it becomes unrecognizable to those who live near, but not in, it. I salute your courage and determination.

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