Claiming to be our Horatio at the shadowy bridges of the international underworld, the CIA maintains three thousand staff operatives overseas. Approximately equal to the State Department in numbers of staff employees overseas, the CIA extends its influence by hiring dozens of thousands of paid agents. Operationally its case officers "publish or perish"-an officer who does not generate operations does not get promoted. The officers energetically go about seeking opportunities to defend our national security.
The CIA's function is to provide the aggressive option in foreign affairs. The 40 Committee papers for the Angolan operation, written by the CIA did not list a peaceful option, although the State Department African Affairs Bureau and the U.S. consul general in Luanda had firmly recommended noninvolvement.
In 1959 the CIA did not recommend to President Eisenhower that we befriend Fidel Castro and learn to live with him in Cuba. No, it presented the violent option, noting that it had the essential ingredients for a covert action: angry Cuban exiles, a haven in Guatemala, a beach in the Bay of Pigs, intelligence (later proven inaccurate) that the people of Cuba would rise up in support of an invasion. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy were persuaded. The operation was run, and it was bungled. Today we are still haunted by it.
At the end of World War II, we were militarily dominant, economically dominant, and we enjoyed a remarkable international credibility. With a modicum of restraint and self-confidence we could have laid the foundations of lasting world peace. Instead, we panicked, exaggerating the challenge of a Soviet Union which had just lost 70,000 villages, I,7l0 towns, 4.7 million houses, and 20 million people in the war. We set its dread KGB as a model for our own alter ego in foreign affairs.
In the words of the Hoover Commission report of 1954:
There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the U.S. is to survive, long-standing American concepts of "fair play" must be reconsidered. We must develop effective espionage and counterespionage services. We must learn to subvert, sabotage and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated and more effective methods than those used against us. It may become necessary that the American people be acquainted with, understand and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy.
It was a tragic, fallacious thesis. Our survival as a free people has obviously not been dependent on the fumbling activities of the clandestine services of the CIA, but on the dynamism of our economic system and the competitive energies of our people. Nor was Hoover's philosophy "fundamentally repugnant." Rather, it was irresistible, for it created an exhilarating new game where all social and legal restraints were dissolved. Cast as super-patriots, there were no rules, no controls, no laws, no moral restraints, and no civil rights for the CIA game-players.
No individual in the world would be immune to their depradations, friends could be shafted and enemies destroyed, without compunction. It was an experiment in amorality, a real-life fantasy island, to which presidents, legislators, and the American people could escape, vicariously.
Not surprisingly, the mortals of the CIA were unable to cope with such responsibility. Over the years, a profound, arrogant, moral corruption set in. Incompetence became the rule. The clandestine services, established a solid record of failure: failure to produce good intelligence; failure to run successful covert operations; and failure to keep its operatives covert. And its directors also failed to respect the sacred responsibility they were given of extra-constitutional, covert license. Eventually, like any secret police, they became abusive of the people: they drugged American citizens; opened private mail; infiltrated the media with secret propaganda and disinformation; lied to our elected representatives; and set themselves above the law and the Constitution.
But our attachment to the CIA's clandestine services nevertheless seems to be unshaken. We still argue that, no matter what it does, the CIA is essential to our national security.