Spooks On Strike

by

There’s been a fair bit of discussion in the news and blogosphere, lately, about President Obama’s need to thread the needle on the torture issue.  On the one hand, there are the demands of the rule of law and of an open society.  On the other hand, he can’t afford to make the CIA mad at him.

I don’t get it.

Point the First

If the CIA’s morale depends on being able to do this kind of stuff without consequences, the proper presidential response isn’t to continue letting them do this stuff or shielding them from the consequences.  The proper presidential response is to clean house at Langley, because we’ve apparently got a lot of sociopaths and small children working there.

Point the Second

If, as it seems, some in the CIA are actually issuing grumbled threats to the White House that if agents who tortured prisoners are investigated, they (the grumbly CIA) will resent it and therefore stop doing their jobs well (or, you know, not start doing their jobs well), the proper presidential response is to clean house at Langley.  Your chief intelligence agency is not the place you want a bunch of people who put personal pique above duty and country.

I keep hearing CIA agents described as heroes.  Been hearing it ever since 9/11.  They sure don’t sound like heroes.  Heroes don’t sit by and let their country be damaged because they don’t like a policy.  A hero does one of two things: sucks it up and keeps doing his job, or turns in his resignation.  To do neither — to just resign in place — is not heroic.  It’s cowardice.

Point the Third, Being Partially Repetitive of Point the Second

If, as it seems, some in the CIA are actually issuing grumbled threats to the White House that if agents who tortured prisoners are investigated, they (the grumbly CIA) will resent it and therefore stop doing their jobs well (or, you know, not start doing their jobs well), the proper presidential response is to clean house at Langley.  The CIA does not issue threats to the president.  The CIA has long had far too much independence, setting and executing its own policy.  It’s gone to their heads.

Point the Fourth, Being Partially Repetitive of Points the Second and Third

If, as it seems, some in the CIA are actually issuing grumbled threats to the White House that if agents who tortured prisoners are investigated, they (the grumbly CIA) will resent it and therefore stop doing their jobs well (or, you know, not start doing their jobs well), the proper presidential response is to clean house at Langley.

As that last parenthetical indicates, and Yglesias pointed out in the linked post, above, these people aren’t exactly in a strong bargaining position.  They’re not very good at what they do.  I know, I know, we never hear about the successes because they’re classified.  Here’s the problem with that argument: they’ve never been very good at what they do.  Tim Weiner’s book did a pretty convincing job of demonstrating, based on the declassified records and internal reviews of the CIA’s Cold War operations, that the CIA has never been a competent intelligence agency when it comes to field operations.  Basically, only two of their major Cold War operations succeeded — overthrowing the democratically elected and highly popular Mossadeqh government in Iran and replacing it with the Shah (how’d that work out?), and overthrowing the government of Guatemala (see Weiner’s book or Yglesias’s post for details on how well that one worked out).

In short, if these people are disgruntled, let them quit.  It’s no great loss.

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5 Responses to “Spooks On Strike”

  1. michaellasley Says:

    Amen.

    Except deep down, we want them on that wall, we need them….nevermind. (No, I cannot have a conversation without throwing in Col. Jessup. I do this all the time, not just when I’m talking about defending freedom.)

    How arrogant can an entire organization be? That they would grumble if the Commander in Chief! told them to do their jobs in a certain way? They would grumble!? How much of this is actually coming from the CIA and how much is coming from Republicans, do you think? Is this just a way to create tension? In other words, is the grumbling systemic, or is it just a vocal / agenda-laden minority withing the CIA? (Check with your sources on that and get back with me.)

    Weiner’s book is still on my list of books to read. I might get to it one day. Every time I pick it up to read it, I put it back down because I’m not sure I really want to know. Sad, I know.

    • urbino Says:

      It seems like a good bit of it really is coming from the CIA, insofar as anybody outside the CIA can tell about these kinds of things. I’ve got no idea how systemic it is. My sources said, “Santa is joyous when the rooks fly homeward,” but I don’t speak Spook.

      Reading the Weiner book would answer your question about how arrogant an entire organization can be.

      One point, just for the record: I don’t think the CIA should just salute and do whatever the White House says. That’s how we got into this mess.

  2. Terry A. Says:

    We must have Victory for the Forces of Democratic Freedom.

    Or something. I always forget.

  3. michaellasley Says:

    If more people would spend more time championing VftFoDF, the world’d be a better place.

  4. urbino Says:

    Truer words…

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