Used cars and the CIA
I wandered over to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
via The Blogging of the President: 2004
, and it reminded me of a couple of quotes that I had included in a previous paper, A look at some of the costs of secrecy
today, and now appear to be even more relevant:
"A national security system was in place, and would thereafter be on the defensive more than otherwise. It became easy to argue that the Government was hiding something. Conspiracy theories emerged to explain misfortune or predict disaster. There is nothing novel in the appearance of conspiratorial fantasies, but it could be argued that it is something new for large portions of the American public to believe that agencies designed to protect them are, in fact, endangering them."
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy
, 1997 (SENATE DOCUMENT 105-2 PURSUANT TO PUBLIC LAW 236, 103RD CONGRESS).
One of the most interesting points I found in the Report
was that it also looked at the broader intelligence community distributed among various departments and agencies, the related contractor organizations and a large host of university and research institutions as a large information economy. In this light, the report views secrecy and the classification system as a set of regulations, and provides insight into how the system distorts the information economy. Of course, much of this must rely on extrapolation from the data available, as this regulatory system self regulates itself into intentional/unintentional levels of obscurity. The report states that secrecy is the ultimate mode of regulation; leaving citizens unaware that they are being regulated. Regulations of the normal nature inform a citizen about his required behavior and are therefore disseminated to inform the citizen. In contrast, secrecy regulates what knowledge a citizen may have, but does not let him know what he legally may not know.
As Sen. Moynihan stated in the Chairman's Forward
Even so, "overregulation" is a continuing theme in American public life, as in most modern administrative states. Secrecy would be such an issue, save that secrecy is secret. Make no mistake, however. It is a parallel regulatory regime with a far greater potential for damage if it malfunctions.
Ah, so what you ask?
Well, there's this from Evan Thomas, Gaining Access to CIA's Records
, Studies in Intelligence, Volume 39 Number 5, 1996:
"Polls show that nearly 80 percent of Americans believe JFK died as a result of a conspiracy, and about half believe the CIA was somehow involved. Whatever remains in the CIA files cannot be nearly as awful as the American public imagines. To be sure, I hardly saw everything there was to see, but I got not even a whiff of dirty tricks that had somehow remained hidden from Church Committee investigators or the army of historians and authors who write about the CIA. I really believe that it would be in the Agency's interest to let historians see for themselves what remains classified. I do not see why the Agency does not declassify almost any secret that is more than 30 years old."
The question now seems even more relevant, "Why the Agency does not declassify almost any secret that is now more than 40 years old?"
But the bigger point is, why should I trust our intelligence community? Their bunglings, disasters, and even their radical ineptness is well known. Ah you counter, they can't tell you about their successes.
Okay, so how do I know they had any?
And besides, if you can miss the Soviets putting missiles in Cuba (which came damn close to starting a nuclear holocaust), the development of nuclear weapons by India, Pakistan, Israel and N Korea, and then mistakenly say that Iraq has WMD and allow us to go to war - what the fuck successes have you had that make up for failures of this magnitude?
Bungled assassination attempts. Moles destroying intelligence networks. The emplacement of ruthless dictators into power to serve our corporate interests?
And, why should I, as a tax payer provide you huge amounts of money, that you spend on who-knows-what, based on trust?
Our entire intelligence system reminds me of a used car sales operation. "Don't worry, this car is a cream puff. Our maintenance team has looked it over, and we're so confident, we'll give you a 90 day warranty. And, we can arrange all the financing right here. Trust me. You'll love this car."
Yeah, right. A buddy I used to work w/ told me how new and used car sales work. New car sales are for amateurs - they hire someone, promise them the world, and expect them to last about three months - the time it takes to sell a car to their mother, and two friends, 'cause after that, most fail. The real pros (best con men) are over at the used car lot. That's where the real money is.
And that's how I look at the CIA. They are the 'used car salesmen' of our government. They just keep telling us, "You don't have to look under the hood of our "intelligence vehicle"; don't worry - trust us. Our crack maintenance team, the supposed
intelligence oversight committees, have looked it all over, and it's fine. Really. We'll give you a 90 day warranty on this war." And then of course, "Come back when you're ready for your next war, misadventure, etc."
The worst part of the system, is that lies and mistakes are self re-enforcing. The first person stamps something secret for; the second person assumes it must be the truth - because it's stamped secret. Why would you go to the trouble of guarding a lie? The next person in line, knows it's the truth, because now there are two secret stamps on it, so it must be true. And on up the chain of command.
On the otherhand, most of this stuff, can be found out in open sources. As Robert David Steele states at OSS.Net, Inc.
in "New Rules for the New Craft of Intelligence
002 Value-Added Comes from Analysis, Not Secret Sources
The all-source analyst can no longer rest their conclusions and their reputation on the 2% of the information they deal with, most of it from secret sources. In an era when over 90% -- some would say over 95% -- of the relevant information is readily available to anyone in the private sector, and especially in the absence of processing and translation capabilities available to the mainstream profit-making institutions, it is analytic tradecraft -- a truly superior ability to create value-added insights through superior analytical knowledge (including historical knowledge) and technique -- that distinguishes and gives value to the new craft of analysis.
And, this is where the CIA appears not to do a very good job. Hell, they couldn't predict the collapse of the Soviet Union, when I could back when I was 13 years old. All you had to do was go over to East Berlin, the pride of the Soviet Bloc outside of Moscow, and you could see their economy could not survive. Just walk into the stores, there was almost nothing on the shelves. The East German border guards would give you uniform items for a pack of American cigarettes, and the entire uniform off their back for a copy of Penthouse. Hell, they couldn't even maintain the autobahns in East Germany. They hadn't been touched since Hitler had them constructed. And yet, we were supposedly surprised by the rapid fall of the USSR in the last couple of years.
So, personally, I view the CIA as either criminally inept, or criminal. I'm not sure which would be worse, but I'm sure as hell tired of my tax dollars going to fund a bunch of largely elitist cronies playing war games with my money, and showing me any return on my investment.