A modest proposal to save journalism and the CIA.

Scrutinizing culture.
Jan. 22 2010 1:46 PM

Outsource the CIA to Downsized Reporters

A modest proposal.

(Continued from Page 1)

These reporters have managed to infiltrate the CIA far better than the CIA has infiltrated any terrorist organization. The CIA has compiled a history of failure so replete with lethal blunders that even when a self-proclaimed mole within al-Qaida told them he could get al-Qaida's No. 2 man, al-Zawahiri, they credulously and, alas, tragically got the go-ahead to trust him and ended up losing seven lives because they were so eager to end their relentless run of defeats.

Newsmen have taken such a beating lately from the likes of corporate consultant-racket profiteers such as Jeff Jarvis, who get paid handsomely to tell the executive drones who hire them as consultants that the collapse of the newspaper industry wasn't their fault. No, it was somehow the fault of the reporters they had to fire to maintain their perks, so that these execs don't have to carry anything on their conscience about it. Just keep paying Jeff to tell them fairy tales about the future, and someday they'll find an online business model that really, really works (for Jeff, anyway).

Indeed, my modest proposal might be a morale booster to show the world just how resourceful and skillful and "creative" U.S. reporters can be. I'm not suggesting a Pulitzer Prize for spying. Maybe a Congressional Medal of Honor though. (Kidding!)

Let's face it: The only good secrets our intelligence agencies have are quickly scooped up and published by ace investigative reporters. In fact, any group of people randomly selected from the phone book (or Facebook) could have compiled a better record than our intelligence agencies over the past half-century. They've made us a laughingstock.

Do I need to recount the dismal, abysmal, horrible, very bad record of U.S. intelligence agencies over the past half-century? They may as well have been run by our worst enemies. (Indeed, some paranoia-inclined analysts believe they were run by double agents and moles, but my inclination is to follow the maxim: "Never believe in conspiracies when sheer incompetence provides an explanation.")

You want to see incompetence? Look at the record (or read Tim Weiner's encyclopedic compilation of CIA failures, Legacy of Ashes, for a start). After their hall-of-fame-worthy bungling of the Bay of Pigs, CIA incompetents almost got us into a global nuclear holocaust over the Cuban Missile Crisis, when they assured the Pentagon in October 1962 that the Russians had not yet armed their nukes in Cuba. This turned out to be totally false: The nukes were assembled, armed, and aimed, and Khrushchev had given operational control to Castro already, so that the invasion the Joint Chiefs almost talked JFK into would have almost certainly been an instant Armageddon. Heckuva job, Langley!

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Then there's the endemic problem with "connecting the dots"—which dates back to the veritable dot matrix that Lee Harvey Oswald presented, one that the CIA ignored (or siloed as the fashionable new management jargon has it). After all, consider Oswald: a guy who defects to the Soviet Union proclaiming his belief in communism and hatred of America, then redefects to the United States, where he gets deeply involved in violent post-Bay of Pigs CIA-financed intrigue, proceeds to threatens an FBI man who tries to question him, buys a rifle, and happens to work within gun scope range of the presidential motorcade. Nothing much here for the CIA to be concerned about or communicate to the Secret Service watch list, right?

Did all of this have something to do with the CIA being run by elite, WASP, Skull and Bones types who were pitifully easy marks for the darker-skinned people they were trying to control? Yes. But there was also a kind of Higher Stupidity at the CIA that masked itself as "complexity."

You can see this in the whole "molehunt" madness initiated by legendary (for paranoid delusion) James Jesus Angleton, the chief of the CIA's counter intelligence division for two misbegotten decades, who was made a fool of by Kim Philby, the British KGB operative who was perhaps the most obvious mole in history but who appealed to Angleton's Anglophilia, a pathology of most of the upper-class twits who ran the CIA from the beginning. After Philby made a fool of him, Angleton went mad, turned the CIA into a place where the paranoid inmates ran the asylum in their insane hunt for a nonexistent mole, a foolish crusade that utterly paralyzed the agency's chief mission: spying on the Soviets. And so at the height of the Cold War, the CIA had no intelligence it trusted about the Soviets.

Then, when it turned out there were no CIA moles during Angleton's watch, his hypervigilance discredited ordinary, rational vigilance and allowed a blundering creep like Aldrich Ames, a real mole, to steal every secret the CIA had for Soviet cash and cause the death of an untold number of our operatives in Moscow.

And then there was the Team A/Team B fiasco, another profoundly dangerous screw-up. It wasn't a bad idea in theory. George H.W. Bush, head of the CIA under President Ford, was persuaded that there was doubt about CIA estimates of Soviet missile progress, doubt raised by perennial "missile gap" alarmists. He appointed a team of outside "experts" to investigate and offer an alternative analysis, beyond the agency's.

They became known as "Team B" to the CIA's in-house "Team A," and they produced what turned out to be a totally inaccurate overestimate of Soviet capabilities and intentions. (See Cold War historian's Pavel Podvig's demolition of Team B's conclusions in the light of history.) Nonetheless, in a kind of forerunner to the WMD fiasco, Team B's paranoid analysis became the basis for the $1 trillion arms buildup during the Reagan administration to match the Soviet's illusory gains. Paradoxically, Team B's overestimation and the insane overspending that resulted may have made them a key factor in causing the collapse of the Soviet Union. The CIA's stunning record of ineptness led to Team B's epoch-making mistake. As Dylan wrote, "There's no success like failure." Though, he added, "Failure's no success at all."

The CIA's post Cold War failures are all too well-known from the WMD fiasco. (CIA head George Tenet famously told the president it was "a slam dunk" they were there. Maybe by "slam dunk" he was thinking of water-boarding and other supereffective "enhanced interrogation" methods that were shamefully adopted by the intelligence community.) And, of course, the entire intelligence community had a hand in producing the now-discredited 2007 National Intelligence estimate on the Iranian nuclear weapons program, which left the credulous media with the impression: nuthin' goin' on.

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