The CIA's 'Hollywood Myth' Debunking Doesn't Stand Up To Even The Slightest Scrutiny
from the implausible-deniability dept
The CIA must still be smarting from its portrayal as torture-happy thugs in the critically acclaimed/declaimed “Zero Dark Thirty.” Not only did acting CIA director Michael Morell take the time to claim that shock a Hollywood film took “significant artistic license,” but the agency's website has published a supposedly myth-busting piece that aims to portray the CIA as a bunch of good guys (and girls) who always play by the rules. I suppose being a secretive agency that's frequently linked with torture, assassinations, indefinite detention and round-the-clock surveillance isn't as much fun as it used to be.
It's a very sparse selection of myths, attached to even sparser “debunkings.” Sadly, the CIA's debunkings can be easily debunked simply by taking a few quick peeks into the past, along with even briefer peeks into its present actions.
Myth: Everyone at the CIA is a spy.
The CIA points out that the agency is more likely to recruit foreign agents to do local spying work (sometimes with catastrophic outcomes), leaving the homeland force free to establish mini-fiefdoms in the manner best befitting bureaucrats operating with little to no oversight. Hardly as glamorous as jetting all over the globe while reading a Mandarin-to-English dictionary, but on the other hand, it keeps the agents close to their homes and loved ones they're endangering simply by acting like any other bloated government agency.
With more than 90 percent of all CIA employees now living and working entirely within the United States, most CIA employees are far from the sources of intelligence needed to protect Americans…
The intelligence bureaucracy likes this [needing a few billion more in the budget to “hire better people”] because it lets them create ever more layers of managers, who swan about Washington area conference rooms “communicating.” What is needed is more intelligence operators on the ground, and the intelligence they gather must be sent to where it's needed quickly.
The intelligence on Northwest Flight 253 was delivered to an American Embassy in Nigeria by the suspect's father. But this information could not be processed through the masses of chiefs and deputy chiefs in the time needed, roughly five weeks. The enormous and redundant staffing of U.S.-based offices with administrators and managers, arranged in complex hierarchies, stifles the flow of intelligence coming in from the field.
Myth: The CIA spies on US citizens.
The CIA post reminds us that domestic spying duties belong to the FBI, even though it admits to working closely with the Bureau, along with other law enforcement agencies, to aid them with their domestic spying operations. But! It “does not collect information concerning the domestic activities of US citizens.” Except when it does, as it quite possibly is doing currently in its partnership with the NYPD, or as it has in the past on multiple occasions.
Project MERRIMAC was a domestic espionage operation coordinated under the Office of Security of the CIA. It involved information gathering procedures via infiltration and surveillance on Washington-based anti-war groups that might pose potential threats to the CIA. However, the type of data gathered also included general information on the infrastructure of targeted communities. Project MERRIMAC and its twin program, Project RESISTANCE were both coordinated by the CIA Office of Security. In addition, the twin projects were branch operations that relayed civilian information to their parent program, Operation CHAOS. The Assassination Archives and Research Center believes that Project MERRIMAC began in February 1967.
Project RESISTANCE was a domestic espionage operation coordinated under the Domestic Operations Division (DOD) of the CIA. Its purpose was to collect background information on groups around the U.S. that might pose threats to CIA facilities and personnel. From 1967 to 1973, many local police departments, college campus staff members, and other independent informants collaborated with the CIA to keep track of student radical groups that opposed the U.S. government's foreign policies on Vietnam. Project RESISTANCE and its twin program, Project MERRIMAC were both coordinated by the CIA Office of Security. In addition, the twin projects were branch operations that relayed civilian information to their parent program, Operation CHAOS.
Then there's this bit of unpleasantness, uncovered by the very unflattering Church Committee report:
The major facts regarding CIA domestic mail opening may be summarized as follows:
a. The CIA conducted four mail opening programs in four cities within the United States for varying lengths of time between 1953 and 1973: New York (1953-1973) ; San Francisco (four separate occasions, each of one to three weeks duration, between 1969 and 1971) ; New Orleans (three weeks in 1957) ; and Hawaii (late 1954 — late 1955). The mail of twelve individuals in the United States, some of whom were American citizens unconnected with the Agency, was also opened by the CIA in regard to particular cases.
b. The stated purpose of all of the mail opening programs was to obtain useful foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information. At least one of the programs produced no such information, however, and the continuing value of the major program in New York was discounted by many Agency officials.
c. Despite the stated purpose of the programs, numerous domestic dissidents, including peace and civil rights activists, were specifically targeted for mail opening.
d. The random selection of mail for opening, by CIA employees untrained in foreign intelligence objectives and without substantial guidance from their superiors, also resulted in the interception of communications to or from high-ranking United States government officials, as well as journalists, authors, educators, and businessmen.
e. All of the mail opening programs were initiated without the prior approval of any government official outside of the Agency.
Myth: The CIA is above the law.
If you possess the cognitive dissonance needed to disregard the CIA's illegal domestic spying and solely concentrate on this “myth,” you run headlong into this — the first rule about being “above the law” is: never declare you are above the law. It just makes people upset. The CIA's post points to the National Security Act of 1947 and the fact that it reports to two Congressional oversight committees as evidence that it couldn't, even if it wanted to, operate in an “above the law” fashion.
Of course, it's easy to stay within the confines of the law if you get applicable laws waived. Now everything's “legal” because the CIA has a nice stack of administration-stamped get-out-of-jail-free cards!
The administration recently approached members of the U.S. Congress to seek a waiver that would allow the CIA to use cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment on detainees in U.S. custody outside the United States.
Moreover, administration officials have previously told Congress that they do not consider CIA personnel operating outside the United States to be bound by legal prohibitions against “cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment” under treaties to which the United States is party.
Although the CIA will not acknowledge details of its system, intelligence officials defend the agency's approach, arguing that the successful defense of the country requires that the agency be empowered to hold and interrogate suspected terrorists for as long as necessary and without restrictions imposed by the U.S. legal system or even by the military tribunals established for prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.
These exemptions are of utmost importance, otherwise everyone from senior State Department officers to the Red Cross, is going to accuse the agency of participating in a number of illegal activities.
[T]he New York Times reported that Richard Nuccio, a senior State Department officer, has been threatened with criminal charges and faces the ruin of his government career because last year he made it known to a member of the House Intelligence Committee that the CIA had repeatedly lied to it, in defiance of the law, about its responsibility in the murders of an American citizen and the husband of another American in Guatemala.
The CIA argues that it is a crime (the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation of Mr. Nuccio) for an official of the government to privately inform an appropriate member of Congress — properly cleared to receive classified information — that the CIA had lied to Congress about illegal actions that included complicity in murder.
The State Department, after investigation, imposed a year's security probation on Mr. Nuccio. That decision was overruled by the CIA — an unprecedented action — and John Deutch, CIA director, now has appointed a special outside panel to advise him as to whether Mr. Nuccio should be forced out of government, and effectively out of a career in international relations.
It's tough to look like the “good guys” when you've got the Red Cross pointing out your illegal activities.
Red Cross investigators concluded last year in a secret report that the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation methods for high-level Qaeda prisoners constituted torture and could make the Bush administration officials who approved them guilty of war crimes, according to a new book on counterterrorism efforts since 2001.
The book says that the International Committee of the Red Cross declared in the report, given to the C.I.A. last year, that the methods used on Abu Zubaydah, the first major Qaeda figure the United States captured, were “categorically” tortured, which is illegal under both American and international law.
And, of course, using US and Canadian citizens as test subjects for a variety of psychological and physiological experiments, including sensory deprivation, torture and sexual abuse, isn't illegal — unless you get caught.
Project MKUltra is the code name for a covert research operation experimenting in the behavioral engineering of humans (mind control) through the CIA's Scientific Intelligence Division. The program began in the early 1950s, was officially sanctioned in 1953, was reduced in scope in 1964, further curtailed in 1967 and “officially halted” in 1973. The program engaged in many illegal activities; in particular it used unwitting U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects, which led to controversy regarding its legitimacy. MKUltra involved the use of many methodologies to manipulate people's individual mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs (especially LSD) and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as various forms of torture.
The scope of Project MKUltra was broad, with research undertaken at 80 institutions, including 44 colleges and universities, as well as hospitals, prisons and pharmaceutical companies. The CIA operated through these institutions using front organizations, although sometimes top officials at these institutions were aware of the CIA's involvement. MKUltra was allocated 6 percent of total CIA funds.
Myth: The CIA arrests people who break the law.
Quite right. The CIA only “detains” and “holds” suspects, sometimes indefinitely, in super-secret “holding facilities” scattered around the globe and away from the prying eyes of various governments, including our own. Sure, the CIA won't be coming after the drug dealer that lives in your neighborhood, but if your name is something like Hussef al-Foreigner and you live somewhere we're currently at “war” with (currently: the rest of the globe, including the United States) and have a third cousin who once accidentally subscribed to Jihadist Quarterly while trying to close a popup, you can probably expect a visit from the CIA, who will take you “downtown” for a few questions that might take as long as 6-8 years to answer correctly.
The CIA operates secret prisons abroad for holding key suspects in the war on terror, President Bush acknowledged Wednesday.
Bush's acknowledgement came as the president announced that he was sending legislation to Congress that would authorize military tribunals for terror suspects and set clear rules to protect U.S. military personnel from facing prosecution for war crimes.
The official also said there were no detainees still in the secret CIA prisons but that the CIA still has the authority to detain suspects.
A Human Rights Watch report details the ultra-scary fact that the CIA can basically “wish you into the corn/poppy/minefield” if it so desires.
The report provides the most comprehensive account to date of life in a secret CIA prison, as well as information regarding 38 possible detainees. The report explains that these prisoners’ treatment by the CIA constitutes enforced disappearance, a practice that is absolutely prohibited under international law.
Myth: The CIA makes foreign policy.
Nope. It only “heavily influences” foreign policy. (The CIA refers to it as “informs.”) And why be worried about foreign policy, when it, like local laws, doesn't apply to the agency and its activities. And whatever hasn't been specifically exempted can be flatout ignored, all in the interest of “fighting terrorism.”
Congressionally approved exemptions generally authorize activities that benefit a specific U.S. goal, such as countering the terrorist threat to U.S. citizens overseas or combating drug trafficking.
In addition to the exemptions previously discussed, there are other authorities that waive the prohibition on assistance to police forces of foreign countries. For example, the President may authorize foreign assistance when 'it is important to the security interests of the United States'. This allows the President to waive any provision of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, including section 660.
See also: selected portions from above debunkings.
“…administration officials have previously told Congress that they do not consider CIA personnel operating outside the United States to be bound by legal prohibitions against “cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment” under treaties to which the United States is party…”
“The CIA operates secret prisons abroad for holding key suspects in the war on terror, President Bush acknowledged Wednesday… The official also said there were no detainees still in the secret CIA prisons but that the CIA still has the authority to detain suspects.”
“…these prisoners’ treatment by the CIA constitutes enforced disappearance, a practice that is absolutely prohibited under international law…”
“For example, the President may authorize foreign assistance when 'it is important to the security interests of the United States'. This allows the President to waive any provision of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, including section 660…”
So, citizens and non-citizens, you have nothing to fear from the kinder, gentler Central Intelligence Agency! It's nothing like the torture-happy thuggery portrayed in the latest blockbuster. It's actually much, much worse.