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.

It's rare that one is able to solve two profoundly troubling societal problems with one quick fix, but I feel I've done it! Well, in a metaphorical, Swiftian, satirical "Modest Proposal" way. I suspect that most Slate readers will be aware that Jonathan Swift's 18th-century "Modest Proposal" to solve the Irish famine by encouraging starving parents to eat their children was meant as satire, right? Because when I ran my own modest

proposal by a journalist friend, she took it a little too seriously, and heatedly informed me, "That's the worst idea I ever heard!" That's sort of the point! When things are bad, the only way to make the situation crystal-clear is to show how difficult it would be to come up with an idea that is ludicrously worse.

On the other hand, as they say in cheesy movies, "Sounds crazy, but it just might work!"

FBI emblem. Click image to expand.

So: My modest proposal to solve America's "intelligence" failures is to fire the entire CIA and our other many tragically inept intelligence agencies and outsource all intelligence operations to investigative reporters downsized by the collapse of the newspaper business. Thereby improving our "intelligence capability" (it can't possibly get worse!) and giving a paycheck to some worthy and skilled investigative types—yes, some sketchy, crazed, paranoid (but in a colorful, obsessive, yet often highly effective way) reporters who once made the journalism profession proud, exciting, and useful, not boring stenography for the power elites.

How bad are things in U.S. intelligence? I refer you to a Jan. 20 Reuters report on the Congressional investigation into the failure to "connect the dots" on the Christmas bomber: the guy who—as just about everybody in the world except U.S. intelligence knew—was trying to blow up a plane. Why?

A senior counterterrorism official said on Wednesday his agency lacks "Google-like" search capability that could have identified the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing.

The National Counterterrorism Center, the agency charged with reviewing disparate data to protect against attacks, does not have a computer search engine that could have checked for various spellings of the alleged bomber's name and his birthplace in Nigeria, the center's chief told a Senate hearing on security reform. "We do not have that exact capacity," said Michael Leiter, adding that the agency is working on solutions that could be in place within weeks.

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Don't you love "that exact capacity"? Sort of trying to say they almost have the capacity but not ... exactly. Remember the Hertz commercial in which a junior exec gets some loser car and has to say that it's "not exactly" what he could have gotten from Hertz? I see Michael Leiter pulling up in a DayGlo-painted clown car, his crack team of Google-like computer experts in full clown makeup emerging with their Commodore 64s at the ready saying, "We almost identified the would-be terror bomber, but ... not exactly."

That's the Michael Leiter, by the way, who is our Supreme Chief of Connecting the Dots in our gazillionith reorganization of U.S. intelligence. Yes, that would be the same Michael Leiter who decided after the Christmas bombing attempt to proceed with his previously booked ski vacation. Hey, the "Google-like" capacity wouldn't be available for weeks, so why not spend some cozy time at a ski resort with all the fixings, maybe even some after-dinner Pong or Donkey Kong.

Why this guy hasn't been summarily fired, not just for the vacation (hope the trails were fluffy!) but for the lack of a "Google-like" search capacity for U.S. intelligence is baffling to anyone with any intelligence. And I think it's sufficient evidence that my modest proposal should be taken more seriously. After thinking about my proposal for a few days during my ski vacation, I've come up with some bells and whistles for it.

I wouldn't stop with firing our entire intelligence team (leave behind the slide rules, though, will you guys, before you turn out the lights—or blow out the candles?) and outsourcing their jobs to downsized print journalists. I'd include the unfairly down-played and down-market wings of media that get no respect, like The Enquirer. (Who knew Hugo Chavez had a love child?) I'd enlist the legion of bloggers and even celebrity-gossip Web sites to join in my new U.S. intelligence team. Do you have any doubt that it would take TMZ less than 48 hours to come up with an (alleged) Mullah Omar sex tape? Or for Gawker Stalker to spot OBL at a Kandahar bazaar. Or for Page Six to get the details on the "gymnastic" skills of Vladimir Putin's 20-somethng hottie and link her somehow to Tila Tequila?

I know: J-school ethicists wouldn't approve of this, and I agree with Glenn Greenwald's argument that journalists shouldn't get mixed up in government business, and I've practiced what I preached. (I once turned down a CIA offer to deliver a lecture about Hitler and the nature of evil at their Langley headquarters.) But, hey, do I need to reiterate that this is a "modest proposal" satire remember.

And I wouldn't limit my recruitment to the new CIA (renamed the Creative Intelligence Agency) to just the downsized. Why not unleash some of the still-employed fearsome legends of investigative reporting, like Sy Hersh or Jane Mayer, on our nation's foes? They invariably have ways of outsmarting the CIA's rudimentary secrecy protections, publishing leaks from inside sources. The warrantless wiretaps, the "black flight" illegal renditions of suspects to torture-friendly countries, the "enhanced interrogation" torture program itself, you name it—if the CIA's got a secret, the New York Times and the Washington Post have it a day later.

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