Re: [DEHAI] Nation Magazine: The CIA's Truth Problem By Tim Weiner

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From: Berhan Sium (
Date: Tue Jun 09 2009 - 18:57:37 EDT

Selam Senaey,

Thanks for the forward. In this article, investigative journalist Tim Weiner suggests that what the US needs badly at this stage is for Congress to do its job of oversight and rein in the CIA. However, in his conclusion he seems to suggest that Congress has been a doing a bad job at its task of "oversight" and is instead "oversleeping" and showing lack of leadership.

I disagree with the writer that this lack of leadership and failure of oversight on the part of congress is a recent phenomenon. In fact, it has been like that for well over 50 years. The CIA and the other 14 or so US national intelligence agencies have grown so powerful now that it is impossible for either Congress or the President (executive arm) to really control them and have some sort of oversight. Originally, the CIA was formed as a sort of private army for the president to do covert operation that must be kept hush-hush. As the authoritative historian and preeminent scholar on US empire, Chalmers Johnson, points out the CIA can be considered as a private army that have grown too strong and powerful over the years and gotten out of control.

Dehaiers are familiar with the history of the Roman Empire, may note that the CIA and the other US intelligence agencies can be compared to the Praetorian Guard of the Roman empire, which was first intended to be the special guards (or secret service) of the emperor. But over a period of time, as Rome degenerated from a republic into an empire, the Praetorian Guard grew so powerful that they even started assassinating emperors and replacing them by other favorite military leaders from within their rank. So, Weinier is either deliberately choosing to ignore this and misinform his readers, or he simply doesn't have a broad understanding of the historical facts like Chalmers Johnson. I hope that he has dealt with this shortcoming in his book about the CIA.

Of course, for us Eritreans at this particular juncture, it's essential to read up and know more of the background history and inner workings of the CIA.

For those who don't have the time or can't be bothered to read heavy books :-) I suggest they watch a recent movie on the early history of the CIA and its covert and overt operations throughout the world and within the US. The movie, THE GOOD SHEPHERD, produced in 2007, is directed by Robert De Niro, and has such luminaries as De Niro himself, Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Joe Pesci, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt and Timothy Hutton acting in it. The main character, EDWARD WILSON (Matt Damon's character) is based on the real life story CIA counterintelligence spy, James Jesus Angleton. The movie traces the history of the CIA from its precursor during the WW II era, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), into the mid 1970s. There are some funny and revealing dialogue lines in the movie. At one point the WASPish Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) is talking to a Mafia boss (Joe Pesci) in Miami and the Mafia guy wonders and asks him:

<<Joseph Palmi: Let me ask you something... we Italians, we got our families, and we got the church; the Irish, they have the homeland, Jews their tradition; even the niggers, they got their music. What about you people, Mr. Wilson, what do you have?

Edward Wilson: The United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.>>

I guess Wilson as a WASP is one of those "seb fluy rebHa" -- as our President refers to them, who feel they own the country and are barely tolerant of other "visiting" Americans :-)

In another scene, there's this memorable dialogue between newly appointed CIA director and Wilson:

<<[Richard Hayes and Ed Wilson walking into the new CIA building]

Richard Hayes: The President's asked me to become director and do a complete housecleaning at my discretion. I need someone I can trust. After all, we're still brothers. This building doesn't get built without you. You're CIA's heart and soul. Who knows, you might have a secret about me in that safe of yours.

[pointing down the hall]
Richard Hayes: This whole wing will be your part of the world: Counterintelligence. Take a look around. I've got an oversight meeting. Can you imagine? They think they can look into our closet, as if we'd let them.

[Hayes Starts to walk away, stops and begins talking as he turns]

Richard Hayes: I remember a senator once asked me. When we talk about "CIA" why we never use the word "the" in front of it. And I asked him, do you put the word "the" in front of "God"?>>

Such hubris! But that's precisely why the CIA now is beyond control of any power center in the US government. It's a sort of government within government, a dark force in the shadows that no one can control.

Earlier in the movie, as the former chief of OSS (played by Robert De Niro) is informing Wilson about the idea of forming a new spy agency called CIA, here's their exchange about "oversight":

<<[Bill Sullivan visits Ed at home to let him know that they're forming the CIA as a peacetime OSS]

Bill Sullivan: I have to tell you, I have some real problems with this whole thing despite how much we need it. I'm concerned that too much power will end up in the hands of too few. It's always in somebody's best interest to promote enemies real or imagined. I see this as America's eyes and ears; I don't want it to become its heart and soul. So I told the president for this to work there is going to have to be some kind of civilian oversight.

Edward Wilson: Oversight? How can you have a covert organization if you have people looking over your shoulder?

Bill Sullivan: You know who gave Hitler his power? The clerks and the bookkeepers, the civil servants. I have this one weakness: I believe in a just God. I always seem to err on the side of democracy.

[Bill Sullivan is getting into his car to leave]

Bill Sullivan: No matter what anyone tells you there'll be no one you can really trust.

[pause, looks away]

Bill Sullivan: I'm afraid when all is said and done we're all just clerks too. >>

Hmmmmmm . . . a bunch of clerks grown too powerful to think they are accountable to no one, that they are like God, and the whole world is just their playground, if you aske me.

What's important for us is to remember is never to under-estimate the lethal power of these bunch of dangerous clerks, to tread carefully around them, watch out for their web of lies and deception around the world, and make sure that we don't get entangled in their web of lies. The most important weapon against the dark force of lies and deception is to just put it under the powerful and glaring spotlight of TRUTH. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" as the Good Book tells us. I bet you won't see that wisdom on the walls of the CIA headquarters at Langley :-) Or maybe . . .

Well, actually, former CIA spy chief Allen Dulles (the brother of John Foster Dulles, who served as CIA directory during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations) had that biblical verse inscribed on the walls of the CIA headquarters memorial wall, as the motto of the agency. Talk about masters of lies quoting words of truth in order to confuse and deceive. That's quintessential CIA modus operandi for you. That's why their lies are the most dangerous that human history has ever witnessed. It's as if the devil himself was behind those lies, quoting even sacred text from the Bible to tempt and deceive the righteous. So, for New York Times journalist Tim Weiner to say that the CIA has a "truth problem" is akin to saying that the devil has a truth problem. It's what they call an oxymoron.

Berhan Sium


[DEHAI] Nation Magazine: The CIA's Truth Problem By Tim Weiner

From: senaey fethi (
Date: Tue Jun 09 2009 - 03:50:16 EDT

This article appeared in the June 22, 2009 edition of The Nation.

The CIA's Truth Problem
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Tim Weiner: Will the CIA tell Congress the truth? Would Congress listen if it did?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's recent charge that the CIA lied to her about the torture of suspected terrorists under President George W. Bush has started a whirlwind of spin. The big lie--President Bush said the United States didn't torture, though we did--has been lost in the maelstrom. So has a harsh truth: yes, the CIA has stonewalled and deceived Congress in the past, but Congress is stone deaf and derelict in overseeing the CIA.

Pelosi's old Congressional colleague Leon Panetta, who runs the CIA, wants to set things right. "There's been a lot of poison in the well," Panetta said on May 18, and "it hurts this country" when "Congress and the CIA don't feel like they're partners." He said he would commune with his Congressional overseers, hash things out in private, talk with them "in a way in which we can be honest with one another."

Good luck, Leon. Others have gone before you.

Like it or not, the United States needs trustworthy intelligence. But spying is a dirty and dangerous business. The CIA depends on officers who know how to lie, cheat and steal--"to use deception, to use manipulation, to use, frankly, dishonesty," in the words of former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith. But when things go wrong overseas--as they often do--the CIA is called to account in Washington from time to time. That's where things really go wrong.

The CIA is "an organization that thrives on deception," says John Hamre, former deputy secretary of defense. "How do you manage an organization like that?" Congress hasn't had the will or the wherewithal to do it.
Congress created the CIA in 1947, and for a generation most of its members did as Senator John Stennis advised: "Make up your mind that you are going to have an intelligence agency and protect it as such, and shut your eyes some, and take what is coming." Then a newly anointed president, Gerald Ford, let slip that the CIA had run lethal plots against foreign leaders, which would tarnish every president since Harry Truman.

Ford looked back in some anguish on this; he had been a Congressman when called to serve on the Warren Commission, which looked into the assassination of President Kennedy. Late in life he reflected on the CIA's keeping secrets from the commission--notably its plots against Fidel Castro. It was "unconscionable" that the CIA was "not giving us the full story," Ford said.

But when he was in the White House, Ford feared that the truth about the past would destroy the CIA and damage the United States. That same kind of fear is drowning out calls for a truth commission on the conduct of the "war on terror."

"The question is how to plan to meet the investigation of the CIA," Ford mused at a White House meeting in February 1975. His chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld, called for "a damage-limiting operation" to save the secrets from spilling in Congress. The man Ford chose to run the CIA--George H.W. Bush--tried his best. But no one protected former CIA director Richard Helms. He drew a two-year suspended sentence in 1977 on a federal charge of deceiving Congress about his orders from President Nixon to overthrow the government of Chile.

Helms had an obligation to testify truthfully, but he thought he had a higher oath to keep secrets. America's political history turned on which oath mattered more. For the past thirty years, Congress has fought for the right to oversee the CIA. It has failed to fulfill its responsibilities.
Before President Reagan took office, in 1981, Congress created intelligence oversight committees in the Senate and the House. Reagan's CIA chief, William Casey, foiled them for six years. "Casey was guilty of contempt of Congress from the day he was sworn in," said Robert Gates, Casey's number-two man, now defense secretary. Casey obfuscated gleefully before the intelligence committees; his senior officers testified evasively. Among the consequences was the Iran/Contra affair, which blew up in late 1986. The spectacle of the United States caught shipping weapons to Iran, skimming the profits and slipping the money to anticommunists in Central America came close to wrecking Reagan's presidency.

From 1986 to '94, the CIA sent ninety-five highly classified reports on Moscow's military strength to the White House. Senior CIA officials knew some of the data were manipulated by Moscow and designed to deceive the United States. They decided it didn't matter. The discovery of this deception in 1995 was "incredible" and "shocking," said Fred Hitz, then the CIA's inspector general. "What came out of this whole episode was a feeling that the agency couldn't be trusted." The CIA had broken "the sacred trust," said Hitz, "and without that, no espionage agency can do its job."

Starting in 1995, the CIA used the Peruvian air force to shoot down airplanes suspected of carrying cocaine. In April 2001, the operation attacked a plane carrying a family of Michigan missionaries over the Amazon. Veronica Bowers, 35, and her daughter, Charity, seven months old, were killed. CIA inspector general John Helgerson reported that CIA officers had violated presidential orders controlling the operation and hid their misdeeds from Congress, the Justice Department and the National Security Council.

Seven years after the shoot-down, Peter Hoekstra--the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, now running for governor of Michigan--published a few damning paragraphs from the report. He called it evidence that the CIA "operates outside the law and covers up what it does and lies to Congress." That's what Pelosi said about torture.

Now, on orders from President Obama to dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda, the CIA is killing suspected terrorists with remote-controlled missiles fired from drone aircraft above Pakistan and Afghanistan. The CIA decides if it has hit the right targets and whether civilian deaths are acceptable. Do we want to live in a world where the CIA's clandestine service has the authority to decide who lives and who dies? The idea that the CIA may be killing civilians, sparking an ever wider war, is too hot for Congress to handle.

Oversight is a word with two meanings--to oversee and to oversleep. So is mislead. It means to lie, and it means a lack of leadership. Congress has a responsibility to oversee the CIA that remains largely unfulfilled. It has to ask the right questions, demand full answers and report the facts annually to the American people.

Will the CIA tell Congress the truth? Would Congress listen if it did? If trust remains broken, intelligence will fail again. And when intelligence fails, soldiers and civilians die.

About Tim WeinerTim Weiner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, covered the CIA for the New York Times. He is the author of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, which won the 2007 National Book Award for nonfiction. more...


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