by James M. Wall.
Christianity & Crisis.
Insecurity: U.S. Intelligence After the Cold War, edited by Craig Eisendrath
(Temple University Press, 2000)
diplomats, former congressional staff members and journalists who specialize
in intelligence coverage, join forces in this collection of essays to
call for a total overall of U.S. intelligence strategy. The Cold War
has been over for almost a decade, enough time for these writers to
view the past with a sober and critical eye and anticipate a future
for intelligence gathering that respects human rights and international
law without giving up the important assignment of information gathering
for the protection of U.S. security.
the book's editor, writes in a concluding chapter that the essays were
motivated by a desire to find the best possible intelligence system,
one that serves the national interest and does the least possible harm
here and abroad. The ten authors assembled for the book by the Center
for International Policy, a Washington-based research organization,
examine the failures and successes of the various intelligence agencies,
including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and conclude that there
is no present moral or practical justification for the extremity of
illegal and nondemocratic actions that the United States practiced during
the Cold War.
are especially harsh on covert action which Melvin A. Goodman, former
CIA operative, defines as a secret operation to influence governments,
events, organizations, or persons in support of a foreign policy in
a manner that is not attributable to the United States. Destabilizing
foreign governments, influencing elections, and fermenting civil unrest
are all practices which were never included in the National Security
Act of 1947 which created three U.S. agencies, the CIA, the Department
of Defense and the National Security Council, but which were practiced
throughout the Cold War era.
the end of World War II, CIA operatives provided undercover support
for democratic forces in elections in Italy, France and Japan, usually
without the knowledge of the resident U.S. ambassador. Those early covert
successes helped prevent the election of communist governments, but
they also set a bad example and encouraged subsequent failed attempts
to assassinate Fidel Castro, invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and make
illegal use of federal funds in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s.
And more recently, with an intelligence budget (estimated at 60%) designed
to gather information on activities in the Soviet Union, no intelligence
agency predicted the 1991 sudden collapse of the communist empire.
the end of the Cold War ended U.S. intelligence failures. With its budget
still at a high Cold War level, the U.S. still failed to detect the
Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, allowed U.N. arms inspectors in
Iraq to be compromised as intelligence agents, bombed the Chinese embassy
in Belgrade in error because of an outdated city map, and conveniently
destroyed historical records about CIA activities in Iran in the 1950s.
points out that while defenders of covert action justify the practice
as essential to U.S. security, he quotes a cogent comment from Hodding
Carter III, a former State Department official: covert action is by
definition outside the ambit of democracy. A series of case studies
in this book acknowledges occasional successes of the intelligence services,
but the overall impression is clear: Our government played secrecy games
with U.S. tax dollars that too often read like a poor espionage novel
in actions that encouraged dictators, drug dealers, and oppressive governments
over the legitimate voices in the local populations.
E. White, former ambassador to Paraguay and El Salvador, writes in a
chapter entitled Too Many Spies, Too Little Intelligence that from the
overthrow of the government of Guatemala to the Iran-Contra fiasco of
the 1980s, the CIA not only violated solemn treaties but allied us with
the most violent, reactionary elements of Latin American society. This
perversion of American values led the CIA to suppress democracy, free
speech, and human rights in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras,
and Panama. The torture and assassination of democratic leaders, including
presidential candidates journalists, priests and union officials, became
security forces worked at odds with the U.S. foreign service is a constant
theme in the chapters that reexamine the past. Ambassador White, who
arrived at his post in El Salvador a few months before the assassination
of Archbishop Oscar Romero, is especially critical of the arrogance
of CIA officials who had aligned the U.S. with forces of the extreme
right in El Salvador. With the support of President Jimmy Carter, White
denounced the killing of Romero and in a burst of rare diplomatic candor,
openly accused right-wing military leaders of conspiring in Romero's
murder. White was forced to fire his CIA station chief when he refused
to carry out the ambassador's instructions to gather information on
violent right-wing officials, many of whom were actually on the U.S.
he was replaced by the Reagan administration, White continued to veto
all lethal military assistance until the Salvadorian army's human-rights
record improved in the government's dealing with leftist rebels. Reagan's
election halted Carter's human rights strategy, and in El Salvador led
to an all-out effort to defeat the rebels. White adds that it took ten
years, 75,000 murdered civilians and a million Salvadorian immigrants
to pry U.S. policy loose from the misguided attempt to put down what
proved to be one of the strongest, most resourceful guerrilla movements
ever seen in Latin America.
and costly mistakes came about because the CIA from the start went beyond
its assignment to gather information for the president and the Congress.
Instead, the agency has sought to shape U.S. foreign policy by covert
action in what Eisendrath summarizes as paramilitary operations, election
rigging, misinformation, massive electronic eavesdropping, and aiding
and abetting a host of the world's most undesirable characters.
Clinton's 1996 Intelligence Oversight Board, asked to investigate the
CIA station's role in Guatemala, found, according to Ambassador White,
that the Agency had been working at cross-purposes with the Ambassador
and that CIA officers had lied to Congress about their activities. White
asks: What possible defense could be made for the CIA's backing of a
campaign of torture and terror that ended up killing an estimated 200,000
Guatemalans? There was nothing at stake in Guatemala that could have
possibly justified support for barbarism.
the recommendations made by Eisendrath is to ask Congress to make it
illegal for the CIA to utilize journalists, clergy and Peace Corps volunteers
for intelligence gathering purposes. These U.S. citizens on foreign
soil need to be free of a suspicion that undermines their relationship
with the people with whom they work. Still other foreign alliances must
be curtailed. One of the book's authors, Alfred W. McCoy, documents
the Agency's support of drug traffickers from Laos to Central America;
he calls for the end of the CIA's protection of foreign agents from
U.S. Drug Enforcement officials. President Clinton has ordered the CIA
to protect American citizens from drug traffickers, but as several authors
in this book point out, the CIA is hopelessly compromised by past alliances.
concludes with the reminder that there is no need to embrace childish
optimism in dealing with future threats to national security; the U.S.
must continue to watch its flanks and backside. There will continue
to be powerful and unstable countries that must be watched, international
terrorists who need to be stalked; nuclear materials that need to be
tracked; and chemical and biological weapons that need to be monitored.
But these tasks must be carried out in full compliance with the laws
of a free and open society.