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Bush's designs on intelligence

Goss Putsch
Bush’s War on Intelligence

Peter Goss’s resignation at the CIA can always be held up as the one bright spot in his disastrous year-long tenure: at least he had the dignity to quit before entirely destroying the agency, though he was well on his way to doing to Langley what Bush has done to Baghdad (reshape in a carcass’ image). And his resignation isn’t nearly as telling as the realignment taking place beyond the CIA’s control. What Richard Nixon couldn’t do (control the CIA and the FBI), Bush appears to be accomplishing pretty effectively and out of sight, until today, of the national press, hung over though it still is from its whoring approval of Bush’s little comedy routine at the Correspondents dinner and its Peter Lorre-like excoriation of Stephen Colbert’s routine. (Missed in all the clammy reporting about Colbert’s performance was any sense of irony that the president could devote so much attention to his comedy routine by preparing it since last January, yet couldn’t be bothered with reading a one-page policy brief or, what was certainly no joke, except perhaps for the president, his President’s Daily Briefings). Leave it to the likes of War and Piece or our earthy Micromegas to do what the press is once again too dyspeptic with deference to do responsibly. So to return to the Goss flush: The whole story smells of scandal, but it should not fog up the deeper scandal: Bush is diminishing the CIA to a vassal second-rate agency, because his real interest in intelligence is with Rumsfeld’s remaking of Pentagon spying into an international and domestic multinational enterprise (to hell with Posse Comitatus).

From a recent Wall Street Journal article: “After 9/11, the Bush administration declared the continental U.S. a theater of military operations for the first time since the Civil War, creating a demand to better research potential threats to American forces at home. Now several parts of the vast Pentagon bureaucracy are building large databases of information from sources including local police, military personnel and the Internet. In doing so, the military is edging toward a sensitive area that has been off-limits to it since the 1970s: domestic surveillance and law enforcement. […] According to documents seen by The Wall Street Journal, the Pentagon has monitored more than 20 antiwar groups’ activities around the country over the past three years. It has reviewed photographs and records of vehicles and protesters at marches to see if different activities were being organized by the same instigators.”

Consolidation, “synergy,” is a corporate fetish. In Bush’s hands, it’s a power thing. As he sees it, it’s worth destroying the CIA in order to save it for some ulterior, manageable purpose. As Rumsfeld sees it, it’s just worth destroying it, period.

Destroying the CIA would not be such a terrible idea: in the world of strict constructionists and originalists, the agency couldn’t possibly have a place in the federal government, at least not a constitutionally defensible place. To wit: Here’s the CIA’s assassination primer, written in 1954, at the time of the agency’s covert coup in Guatemala (and published in the August 1997 Harper’s): “Assassination is an extreme measure, and it should be assumed that it will never be ordered or authorized by any U.S. headquarters, though officials may in rare instances agree to its execution by members of an associated foreign service. No assassination instructions should ever be written or recorded. Ideally, only one person will be involved. No report may be made, though the act will usually be properly covered by news services. JUSTIFICATION: Murder is not morally justifiable. Assassination can seldom be employed with a clear conscience. Persons who are morally squeamish should not attempt it.” And so on. The primer was declassified in 1997, back when the Clinton administration was on a declassification spree. Care to guess the chance that similar documents would be declassified during this administration?

But destroying the CIA to replace it with a Pentagon-sponsored replica puppetteered from the White House would intensify presidential power in proportion to the elimination of the sort of reality checks the CIA, at its rare but nevertheless necessary best, could provide. The problem isn’t even a matter of intelligence per se. The problem is that “culture of secrecy” Daniel Moynihan documented and judged more harmful than protective. Government, he wrote, has become an “administration of ‘secret sessions’: in so far as it can, [the national-security bureaucracy] hides its knowledge and actions from criticism … [and] naturally welcomes a poorly informed and hence a powerless parliament—at least in so far as ignorance somehow agrees with the bureaucracy’s interests.” He wrote this in 1999. He could have been describing, deception for deception, the way the Bush administration sexed up the case for war in Iraq, and the way Congress fell for it, with numbing, practiced submission.

The Goss era at Langley, and the post-9/11 era at the FBI, make Moynihan’s point several-fold. Rather than improving intelligence services to the point where they could, maybe, function enough to notice when nineteen fanatics are about to blow up the most visible buildings in the country, Bush has been systematically undermining and depleting them for the sake of his born-again “unitary executive” power fixation. The Goss resignation trails a fishnet behind it. But whatever this latest scandal’s spoils, they don’t compare with the larger, institutional, direction the Bush unitary-intelligence complex is taking. The oxymoron should be warning enough. Despite and still, the press looks elsewhere.

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