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 2)

A record like that, an unprecedented, massive, relentless record of failure deserves only one response: accountability. We've got to fire them all. At the very least, this action would say that failure won't be the new normal forever. But who to replace them with? And who to handle the transition?

My modest proposal may have been engendered by rereading something I wrote a while ago in Harper's ("The Shadow of the Mole," October 1983, subscription only) about the whole Angleton mole madness which mentioned a little noticed Washington conference on "intelligence," sponsored by a shadowy group called "The Consortium for the Study of Intelligence." The conference produced a volume, Intelligence Requirements for the 1980s. In it was a paper by veteran espionage journalist (and Slate contributor) Edward Jay Epstein, who I think should play a key role in managing the transition after we fire the CIA en masse.

Epstein's essay had the forbidding academic-sounding title "Incorporating Analysis of Foreign Governments' Deception Into the U.S. Analytical System." But buried within it was an important distinction between "Type A Deception," which involved manipulation of foreign governments' perception of our overt behavior, and "Type B Deception," which "purports to emanate from the highest levels of decision making"—and might involve journalists staging deception—giving the foe a false impression of our secret, esoteric strategy. I'm not doing its complexity justice.

But there was a key passage in the essay that startled me because it broke out of the gray, bureaucratic prose of most of the volume to raise an imaginative, even cinematic idea: a "Type B Deception" team. "It might conceivably employ functional paranoids, confidence men, magicians, film scenarists or whomever seemed appropriate to simulate whatever deception plots seemed plausible."

"Functional paranoids?" "Confidence men." He might as well be describing the mind and character of our better investigative reporters! I'm not strictly an investigative reporter myself, though I've done a lot of it, and I know a lot of them and I think I know the mind-set. They'd be a perfect fit for replacing our discredited intelligence community.

My first step would be to contact the IRE (the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization) and see whether we can scare up some volunteers. Then I'd ask Ed to be my (wartime) consigliore. We will save America from its external enemies! We will end abusive practices and endless bungles! We will put the dangerous, worse-than-useless CIA out to pasture.

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That's my modest proposal.

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