The Central Intelligence Agency: Problems of Secrecy in a Democracy edited by Young Hum Kim

TL;DR  This won’t help you solve Kryptos but I think these things are worth your time

This was a publication as part of a series in “Problems in Political Science” which involved a collection of articles/essays regarding the defense and criticism of the CIA.  At it’s heart is the political and public blow-back over agency failures and revelations of agency involvement in public affairs (read: private or non-governmental).

There are a number of issues that come up in this collection that stand out in any postmortem of the past 66 years.  One is the use of sensationalist and propaganda-esque writing styles, particularly in the introduction.  I think the defenses of the CIA try to do rational justice to the idea of a central intelligence agency but I think that the rest assume too much.

The phrasing “secrecy in government is basically antithetical to democracy and is akin to totalitarianism” sort of summarizes much of the ideological criticism in this book.  The moral outrage is due to what one can only see as the inane stupidity of the concept of Original American Virtue.  The United States of America has consistently tried to define itself as something it is not and yet at the same time embraces a global mandate not bestowed upon it by the rest of the world.  Bottom line, the critiques often fall into morality issues that presuppose the majority of the American people feeling a sense of horrified repugnance at the notion of covert activities and “dirty deeds”.

Now take it further down, past the bottom line.  What you find is a battle between the Department of Defense and the State Department.  You can find the CIA, essentially a technical and tactical tool of the Executive branch, being cast as a villain in complete disregard to their sole function being in service to policy makers.  You can find the result of disgruntled employees trying to throw dirt.  You can find inter-bureaucratic in-fighting with a grudge held by the State Department against their own failures and potentially a result of significant budgetary differences between funding of the two groups.  You can find politicians with an axe to grind.  People don’t like feeling left out, they don’t like secrets.  Most of the commentary says that the need for some secrecy is there, that some of the covert activities are justified, that a lot of things done were with approval or at the behest of the leadership of the Federal government but by golly they sure do want those CIA spooks to feel darn bad for being dirty sneaks.

Two of the excerpts in particular struck a chord and I will upload them as soon as I conveniently can.  One is “Secret Operations are an Integral Part of Diplomacy” by Christopher Felix (pseud. for James McCargar) and the other is “Cover Operations Must Be Effective, Realistic, and as Consistent as Possible with Democratic Government” by Charles J. Micoleau.

My opinion of the CIA past and present is less that it is a 4th or Hidden Government or even a totalitarian arm of the military-industrial complex and more that it is an entrenched government bureaucracy beset with all that can be implied by that term.  I think much has been done lately (insert snarky comment on David Petraeus here) since the Bay of Pigs and N.S.A. funding debacle to remedy the ills of the agency.  No one is perfect and the whole culture in D.C. (not just the CIA) will continue to embarrass and frustrate the American people long into the future.

A lot of mountains were made out of mole-hills and somehow we managed to trudge along.

If I had one wish out of a reading like this it would be for Americans to replace their moral outrage with pragmatic realism.  It would be for them to accept the blame for electing their leaders (insert reference to Republicans and rape).  It would be for everyone to understand that Policy drives Activity in covert/overt/army/navy/air force/intelligence/government anything.  There are regulatory bodies in place and even budgetary regulation of the CIA.  Ability or ambitions aside, they were directed to an end and the means used were quite often the only issue discussed.

There is no global mandate or obligation for the USA to police or save the world.  Be our neighbor, be our friend, sometimes be our enemy; but stop pretending that you are the light of the world.  By all means, come down out of the ivory tower willingly but try not to get your hands too dirty on the way down.


Bonus Update: They did