Day By Day

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Corruption of the CIA

One of the little-reported stories of the Bush administration has been its determined attempts to reform the nation's intelligence services, especially the CIA. Unfortunately the corrupt, complacent and incompetent agency does know how to do one thing extremely well -- defend its turf. The agency, led by a group of self-styled VIPs ["veteran intelligence professionals"] has hit back hard against the reformers, manufacturing and leaking information calculated to embarrass and undermine the current administration.

Critics of the Bush administration, many of whom have been highly critical of the CIA in the past, have seized eagerly on this material and used it to support their contention that Bush and his top advisers are "incompetent." That is to be expected in a partisan political culture. But an unbiased observer would do well to discount information originating within the intelligence community -- it is seldom fully accurate, and always calculated to produce a political effect.

Now comes confirmation of the abject incompetence and deep corruption of the CIA in the form of Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes. Weiner is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer for the New York Times, and no friend of the current administration. He is, however, an expert on intelligence activities and has produced a damning indictment.

The C.I.A.’s loudest champions have traditionally insisted that its successes were classified and its failures heralded, and that anyone with full access to the secret record would venerate its role in United States national security since its founding under President Harry S. Truman. With Iraq as the end point, Mr. Weiner’s thesis is instead that from the 1940s on, intelligence gaffes, sloppy covert action and bootlicking in the Oval Office have kept the agency from making the kind of grandiose contributions often claimed for it and, at crucial times, have done this country damage.

Anyone tempted to write this book off as an anti-C.I.A. screed had better look at Mr. Weiner’s sources. The author has impressively studied the archival record, teased out newly declassified primary documents and done numerous interviews to glean as much as can be publicly known about the agency’s history. Some of the most damning criticism of the C.I.A.’s past performance in this book comes not from gadflies or ideologues but from ex-officials and long-secret authorized accounts by C.I.A. historians.

Read the whole thing here.

Whenever I have criticized the CIA's record in conversations with liberals and government bureaucrats, I have heard time and again the statement that we just don't hear about their successes. Well now we do know. There are damn few of them. Information leaking out of the intelligence community has long been, and remains to this day, of limited value. Take its criticisms of current policy and its apocalyptic predictions with a grain..., no make that a shaker, of salt.