Many people still think of the CIA as an agency designed to help American presidents make informed decisions about matters outside the United States. That was the basis for President Truman’s signing the legislation which created the agency, and indeed it does serve that role, generally rather inadequately, but it has become something far beyond that.
Information is certainly not something to which any reasonable person objects, but the CIA has two houses under its roof, and it is the operational side of the CIA which gives it a world-wide bad reputation. The scope of undercover operations has evolved to make the CIA into a kind of civilian army, one involving great secrecy, little accountability, and huge budgets – altogether a dangerous development indeed for any country which regards itself as a democracy and whose military is forbidden political activity. After all, the CIA’s secret operational army in practice is not curtailed by restrictions around politics, many of its tasks having been quite openly political. Yes, its charter forbids operations in the United States, but those restrictions have been ignored or bent countless times both in secret programs like Echelon (monitoring telephone communications by five English-speaking allies who then share the information obtained, a forerunner to the NSA’s recently-revealed collection of computer data) and years of mail-opening inside the United States or using substitutes to go around the rule, as was likely the case with the many Mossad agents trailing the eventual perpetrators of 9/11 inside the United States before the event….
When people write of America’s secret government or of its government within the government, it is far more than an exaggeration. It is actually hard to imagine now any possibility of someone’s being elected President and opposing what the CIA recommends, the presidency having come to resemble in more than superficial ways the Monarchy in Britain. The Queen is kept informed of what Her government is doing, but can do nothing herself to change directions. Yes, the President still has the power on paper to oppose any scheme, and then so does the Queen simply by refusing her signature, but she likely could exercise that power just once. In her case the consequence would be an abrupt end to the Monarchy. In a President’s case, it would be either a Nixonian or Kennedyesque end.
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