The CIA Strikes Again

A half-century of always being wrong - often on purpose.

Ask the man on the street to name a spy, and the answer will almost certainly be "James Bond."  Suave, omni-competent (particularly with the fairer sex), and invariably bringing victory to the Right Side, Agent 007 represents all that's glamorous and effective about clandestine operations.  Miss Moneypenny's heartthrob has so entered popular culture that, it's said, a residual veneration and admiration for Her Majesty's Secret Service contributed to the British government's willingness to go to war in Iraq on the basis of what we now know to be somewhat flimsy intelligence.

America's leaders have no such excuse.  Even the movies, long the promoters of unrealistic expectations of what spies can prove and accomplish, rarely find anything good to say about the CIA.  When a CIA agent accomplishes something good and right, it's always over the opposition of his moronic, venal, or otherwise incompetent superiors; more commonly, CIA agents represent a force for corruption and evil.

While "American government agents" do appear as heroes on film, they're always from some other agency.  If a competent spy is required by the script, a super-secret and previously unknown government home is created for them.  The spy may wield all manner of unlikely gadgets and avail himself of preposterously good luck in carrying out his mission, but it would stretch the bounds of credulity just too far to expect any notable accomplishments from the CIA, even in a work of fiction.

It's in this context that we read the truly amazing news that the CIA - or, in journalese, the "American intelligence community" - has decided that Iran does not, after all, have any plans to make nuclear weapons, and haven't for four years.  That is to say, they stopped their ambitions in 2003 -- or so -- and could not achieve a bomb by 2015 - or possibly 2010...

On what basis do they arrive at this conclusion?  How do they know that Iran stopped nuclear development four years ago, when last week they thought they'd been going at it full throttle for all that time?  Or did they know, but lied for the last four years?  Or has nothing changed in the facts, just the interpretation?  How are we supposed to know what to think?

The history of the last few years shows that the CIA and other intelligence agencies are at war with our government.  At every turn, the CIA has massaged intelligence, "leaked" false but authoritative-sounding information, and covered truth in an attempt to embarrass the administration.

They are not alone, the State Department has done much the same thing; neither is the CIA the only intelligence agency that does this.  Pakistan's ISI is worse, having conducted their own private foreign policy for years, up to and including making war.  But American government agencies are not supposed to operate this way.

What's more, the last half-century is a litany of total incompetence and error on the part of the CIA.  From the CIA-backed coup against Iran's Mohammed Mossadeq, which led to the Ayatollah Khomenei and the mullahcracy we're now at war with; to the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and various assassination attempts against Castro, which motivated Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate JFK and whose abysmal failures Fidel still ridicules us with; through the week before the Berlin Wall fell, when the CIA figured the Communists were still in the lead over us both economically, technically, and militarily; and on up to the famous intelligence failures of 9-11, which need no detailing here - in every major world event, and pretty much all the minor ones too, the CIA has been totally, completely, irredeemably clueless.

It would be a foolish president indeed who trusted anything they said.  This may explain their desire to game the system by spreading lies.  Since nobody powerful believes them anyway, it doesn't matter, but a strategic lie at the right time can still influence events in their favor.  Thus far, this strategy appears to have protected the agency from the consequences of its failures -- their budget just goes up and up, even as their reliability digs new depths.

Is it possible that the CIA is delivering this report out of vengeance?  It is no secret that Bush and CIA dislike each other.  A friend of mine who worked at the NSA for many years, recounts events where the CIA would take NSA intelligence reports, wrap them with their own memos and present them as their own findings to the President.  They would even go so far as to remove the NSA's letterhead and briefing material.

Early in Bush's first term, he was made aware of this practice and the relatively insignificant additions that the CIA were making.  So he dumped the process and started asking to see the raw NSA one instead.  This made the spooks upset.  If they didn't get their face time, their budget would finally start to drop.

There are two good reasons, then, that this NEI was produced.  It is either a knee-jerk makeup for their previous incompetence with Iraq, or the CIA likes to see Bush sucking wind.  Perhaps both reasons contributed.

By taking this preposterous action, the CIA has provided a signal service.  There has long been question over the extent and intent of Iran's nuclear program.  Having now come down firmly on the side of Iran's innocence, however, our intelligence community has provided us with conclusive, actionable proof - the truth of Bush's accusations.

The CIA says Iran is innocent?  You couldn't ask for more certain evidence of their guilt.  Time to take them out, and by "them", I'm referring not just to Iran, but to the CIA.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments

What really bothers me about this NIE is that it is so obviously mistaken that even I, a high school teacher in the middle of nowhere, can see that the idea that Iran has abandoned nuclear  weapons is ridiculous. By far the most significantly difficult and time consuming part of creating a weapons program is creating the uranium enrichment facilities, and, having done so, produce a sufficient quantity of weapons-grade uranium to make enough weapons to provide the desired deterrent. Iran already has delivery systems capable, at least in principle, of striking the most obvious targets.

The actual design of a warhead is, technologically speaking, not nearly as time-consuming or difficult as the enrichment technology, though optimizing a design for a particular mode of delivery (missile warhead vs. aircraft, for example) is more complex.

What bothers me is that the relative challenges of the two different technologies (enrichment vs. warhead design) have been largely un-discussed in the media. Partly, I'm sure, this is the media's schadenfreude at the administration's discomfiture, but I suspect it's mostly because none of the people reporting on the situation understand the underlying engineering realities - the reporters majored in journalism or mass communications  because they didn't have to take any courses that might have that scary math stuff.

I've not been a big fan of the idea that threatening Iran, let alone using force against their enrichment program, would prevent their development of a fuel-cycle. I think, in the long run, that the US will have to rely on a nuclear deterrence policy with respect to Iran, rather than the doomed fantasy of preventing their development of a native nuclear weapons program.

December 9, 2007 10:07 AM

What HAS the CIA done right in the past 20 years?  Can anyone name a single thing?

December 11, 2007 8:15 AM

"The history of the last few years shows that the CIA and other intelligence agencies are at war with our government"

How is this the case?  The CIA originally supported Bush's agenda to invade Iraq.  Now that they oppose his agenda on Iran, suddenly they are irrelevant and insignificant?

December 11, 2007 8:22 AM

The NY Times has FINALLY caught on to the fact that there are issues with the CIA.  They just sent me an email which said:

"Lawyers Cleared Destroying Tapes


A clandestine branch of the C.I.A. gave advance approval

for the destruction of hundreds of hours of videotapes

documenting interrogations.


Where was the NY Times while Scrag was noticing that there are issues with the CIA?  Where they so pleased that the CIA seemed to be causing Mr. Bush issues that they overlooked all this?

December 11, 2007 11:51 AM

It's true that the CIA originally supported the invasion of Iraq.  I don't know how important that was to the decision-makers.  But for me, the fact that the CIA thought Saddam had WMDs was of rather less importance than the fact that the secret services of France, England, Germany, Russia, S. Korea, Japan, and Israel - basically, every other secret service in the world - thought the same thing.  Obviously they were all wrong, but not all of them have the same history of incompetence and stupidity that the CIA has.

And in fact, we now see the other secret services, most particularly that of France and Israel, telling us now that the CIA is a bunch of fools, and that Iran is certainly pursuing nukes.  I'm much more inclined to listen to them than I am to the CIA.

December 11, 2007 6:45 PM

Now that the Russians have delivered nuclear fuel to the Iranian reactor, one wonders if some of the spooks might own stock in the company that sold the uranium?

Wow.  How brain-dead can they get?

December 18, 2007 8:50 AM
These waspy, Virginia Rednecks in Langley THINK they RULE the world ! They are the nations 3rd political ruling mafia-party. Consider the case of Navy Commander William Pitzer. Read at:
How DISGUSTING is this ? " . . . Col. Marvin's description of his being solicited by a CIA agent, in August 1965, to "terminate" Lieutenant Commander William B. Pitzer who was then on active service at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. Lt. Cmdr. Pitzer may have been in possession of a 16-mm movie film of President Kennedy's autopsy (see, for example, Harrison E. Livingstone's Killing Kennedy, published by Carrol & Graf, p. 336). In October 1966, Pitzer was found dead at BNH of a gunshot wound to the head - officially ruled a suicide."
This truly is a "mafia" style organization that is a cancer on our country. There is a need for intelligence but scaled down to a smaller organization and directly under the supervision of the President . . Not this huge lumbering, wasteful, murderous bureaucracy . .
December 29, 2008 1:18 PM

If this article is true, the CIA didn't always mess up.....

JAKARTA - A former World War II Dutch resistance fighter played a key role in the US Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) theft of Indonesian military secret manuals on the SA-2 surface-to-air missile, allowing the Americans to develop countermeasures against the deadly weapon in the early stages of the Vietnam War.

The inside story of the long-faded episode appears in "In Red Weather", a new book by Daniel Cameron, a Surabaya-based CIA undercover agent during the lead up to the army's bloody purge of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965-66 that claimed more than 500,000 lives.

Etc. It has this interesting tidbit:

Another key figure in the Surabaya cloak-and-dagger saga was the late CIA agent David Barnett, stationed there between 1967 and 1970, who a decade later became the first officer in the agency's then 33-year history to be indicted on espionage charges.

He was jailed for 18 years for selling details of so-called Operation Habrink, one of the most successful undercover operations ever mounted against the Russians. He also exposed Vermeulen and 29 local operatives to the KGB to pay for a $92,000 debt he owed to Indonesian businessmen.

March 28, 2021 10:44 PM
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