The US Empire’s Eyes and First Sword

“The distance is so great between how we live and how we ought to live that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done learns his ruin rather than his preservation; because a man who wants to make a profession of goodness in everything is bound to come to ruin among so many who are not good.”  Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (1513)

The Central Intelligence Agency was established in 1947.  For the first time, a separate civilian organization became the command center for all US intelligence rather than the Pentagon.  Covert operations were explicitly authorized by the new law.

The CIA was always intended to be the global eyes and secret means of the Western political elite, as directed by the United States from the White House.  That remains the central role of the CIA today.

The creation of the CIA was a reversal of sorts by President Harry Truman.  Truman had dissolved the highly successful US Army WWII Office of Strategic Services in 1945.  The war was over making the office no longer necessary.

But many more US wars were to come starting with a Western military defense of South Korea that Truman led.  History’s greatest military superpower needed a permanent command hub for worldwide spying and espionage even in peacetime.  The US became in legend the global police force beginning on the day the CIA was born.  The Cold War with the Soviet Union was beckoning.

The creation of the CIA was the first grand success of the public-private partnership called by President Dwight Eisenhower the military-industrial complex.  The “agency” remains the royal castle of the national security state today, though it now shares the spotlight with the NSA and US Cyber-Command that were established within the Pentagon (but somehow separate) beginning in 1952 and 2010.

The Agency Takes the Lead


With the Cold War heating up, the CIA binged in the 1950’s and 1960’s on disrupting leftist political movements and governments from Asia to the Middle East to South America and beyond.  Yet, the missions of the agency remained fully hidden from public reporting.

There was one firm legal limitation that was to apply even to the CIA and the Pentagon forever, the red line.  The two were strictly prohibited from the surveillance of US citizens or from conducting spy operations on US soil.  At home, the US security state would have to be satisfied with the services of the FBI when needed.

As the world now knows courtesy of Edward Snowden, that solemn legal limitation on power has somehow been overcome by the agency and the NSA, now spying on literally every communication across the world with the cooperation of American industry.  The powers of the CIA and NSA have grown audaciously to operating a worldwide killing by drone program to keeping a complete database on every American citizen ready to be searched whenever needed, the agency’s “Corporate Store”. 

More than ever the intelligence agencies have become the military services rolled into one secret, cyber-warfare, missile-shooting, hostage-snatching, special-forces army operating independently as directed by the President (supposedly). 

The CIA’s global war is daily, permanent and ever growing.  The CIA’s enemies are as easily discovered as their friends are tossed away, sometimes in unison, like the cases of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. 

Present longtime US ally Saudi Arabia may become the next “terrorist” nation that must be firmly dealt with once the Petrodollar loses its monopoly.   Soon to be past enemy Iran may become Washington’s new strategic partner on the Persian Gulf confronting Saudi Arabia and the radical Sunnis and with Western oil flowing now from Iran.  Western plutocrats running the global chess game though seem a bit fickle on this emerging plan still.

It has become a covert world.  Force, deception and personal advantage are the primary shared values within the Western elite.  The CIA/NSA /GCHQ are the spearhead of this methodology.

But hopefully a tipping point has finally been reached.

The Spies Found Out Again

Suddenly, over the past year, the national security state has had its mass surveillance methods exposed for the world to see.  The global blowback is beginning to prove tremendous. 

The US Congress may even pass its first bill to substantially protect general civil liberties since the 1960’s, the USA Freedom Act ending mass surveillance of all kinds.  The trustworthiness of the United States has been deeply challenged across the globe.  A new worldwide web free of American surveillance is being seriously proposed.

The CIA has now also become embroiled in a monumental struggle with its own congressional oversight committee while trying to keep its Bush-era torture program away from the public view.  The agency is accused of digitally pilfering key records from the Senate oversight committee’s investigation of the torture program, a treasonous act, among other felonies.

But this is not the first time that tyrannical behavior at the intelligence agencies has been a subject of focused national concern. 

Indeed, there was a time not so long ago when the Congress was able to investigate and reform the CIA.   Unfortunately, nothing lasts for long it seems in the cloak and dagger world of espionage or with the growth cycle in power that dominates Washington, D.C. generally.

What does the CIA’s looking-glass show?

A Nation that Will Always be on the Rise

There is always a cultural high point in nations that choose to embark on empire building.  That point typically comes long before the time the empire reaches maximum size and influence.  It often begins as deserved pride.

In the case of the United States in the 20th Century the cultural high lasted for two decades following the decisively won global war against Hitler and To Jo and against totalitarianism in general.  Never much of a global player until quite recently, suddenly the United States in 1945 was by far the mightiest nation on earth, the exceptional leader of the free world and even the guarantor of continued Western existence.

Until the protests against the Vietnam War began in 1964, the American people literally believed their nation, their government, the feds especially, were truly sainted in their both their mission and their means, selfless heroes leading the way.  To Americans world history was coming just now to its logical conclusion.  An everlasting world of liberty and democracy led by the United States was on the march and quite certain to prevail against godless communism in the end.

Little thought at all was given to what war-making the CIA and its minions might be doing in other nations.  Americans were supremely secure neither the CIA nor the FBI would do anything other than the right thing.  It was difficult to find stories in the Western press that undermined this basic conception of a black-and-white world.  Movies and television series and news mined this American identity theme endlessly.

It was quite easy for Americans to experience heady times like this given the achievements of WWII and of the roaring American economy.  Somehow though heady times lead to large mistakes, often called hubris.  The hubris of an empire over time cycles to its destruction, whether suddenly or slowly.  The worst rot begins in secrecy.

And when the cracks in empire visibly begin to show, the reflection is one of authoritarian government.

1970-1976:  Finally Reigning in the Intelligence Services

In January, 1970 former Army Lieutenant Christopher Pyle became the American national security state’s first political whistleblower.  Pyle revealed in detail how US Army intelligence had a contingent of 150 spies infiltrating the Anti-Vietnam War movements.

This revelation had importance well beyond the impact of the My Lia massacre in Vietnam in 1968.  This was instead an impeachment of US policy itself, secret, high-level decision-making breaching the Bill of Rights quite incredibly, spying directly on Americans.  This was the military brass being un-American.

Then the CIA decided to take sides in the 1972 Presidential election by allegedly helping out the bumbling Watergate burglars spying for President Richard Nixon on the quite pathetic George McGovern campaign.  It was a huge misstep for the agency.  The US press was overwhelmingly on McGovern’s side hating Nixon to his soul.

Freed now from the taboo on criticizing the activities of the CIA, the Democrats in Congress decided to bring down the management of the agency in a sense along with the Nixon Administration.   The new meme was Nixon had tried to co-opt and exploit the agency for personal nefarious purposes.  The inference to be made was that Democrats were seriously needed to fix things at the agency and in foreign policy in general.


Beginning with the Sam Ervin Watergate hearings and extending into the Frank Church congressional review of all CIA policies and practices, the agency was publicly under siege throughout the Gerald Ford presidency.  There were many areas of CIA activity for Congress to discuss in a negative light. 

Until the aftermath of the US Presidential campaign in 1972 the idea that the national security state was acting duplicitously and violently across the globe was simply not something written about, almost never beyond offering pure speculation on the subject.

By 1975 with the publication of the Church investigations conducted by a select Senate committee many thousands of pages on the subject of covert operations, both abroad and at home, were on the public record.  The public drama in the Senate had been ongoing for three years first as a part of the downfall of Richard Nixon.  The Church committee itself included four major presidential candidates and a future Secretary of State.

The mountain of detail contained in the Church committee reports is astonishing.  The committee documented the CIA was spying on dissident groups in association with the FBI while using the NSA, unlawfully storing toxic agents like anthrax and smallpox, opening mail, plotting foreign coups left and right, and, most sinister, trying to carry out assassination attempts against foreign leaders.  The flood of officially-sanctioned whistleblowers coming before the committee was as refreshing a development as Washington, D.C. has ever managed.  Obviously, the committee was able to get to the top of the most top-secret materials and then released most of it to the public.

The Church committee did though find the CIA had not yet been directly responsible for the assassination of a foreign leader. 

The revolutionary leader Patrice Lumumba of Congo never was actually poisoned with the CIA supplied hemlock.  The serial plots against the life of Cuban President Fidel Castro never succeeded, including two in association with organized crime.  It was unproven that the CIA supplied the weapons used in the assassination of dictator Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic.  In the case of Chile’s military-chief Rene Schneider the CIA-supported kidnapping attempt failed and the CIA was not proven to be behind the second kidnapping effort that ended with Schneider’s death.  In the case of the assassination of South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother, the CIA had only encouraged the assassins and worked closely with the assassins afterward.

The Church committee was further unable to find how high up the CIA food chain the foreign plots and the rest reached to.  The cell-like CIA organization and the seminal agency doctrine of “plausible deniability” were found to be especially confounding to the committee.

Few heroes arise from the pages of the committee reports, but one is the United States Postal Service.  The loyal USPS obstructed and blew the whistle on the CIA opening mail so effectively the agency was forced to off-shore its operation to a clandestine location, then only borrowing the US mail for a few hours or days at a time. 

So, that poem about the tenacity of the Postal Service does have historical support.  Even today apparently the intelligence agencies keep their hands off the US mail, the most protected modern form of communication.

But, so well known at the agency, perseverance usually succeeds.


The Wages of a Rogue Agency

Three major policy changes were enacted due to the revelations of CIA serial misdeeds from its beginning.  This aftermath is the best image from the looking glass.

The prime solution enacted in 1978 was the creation of a judicial watchdog for the agency and for the NSA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court).  This was intended as the salvation of the Fourth Amendment protections of privacy.

Now a court, acting itself in secret usually, would be able to regulate all forms of spying and enforce strictly the golden rule against domestic spying by demanding fact-specific warrants for intercepting any communications of Americans.

To cover the CIA coup-making method, President Ford signed a Presidential Executive Order in 1976 strictly prohibiting “political assassination” abroad.  The rule and its successor rules, one strengthening the order by Jimmy Carter and one weakening the order by Ronald Reagan, have never been limited to elected leaders or government officials.  The United States was now prohibited from killing anyone, even abroad.

The remaining policy change was with the internal rules of the agency and FBI, how much they should share information and work together.  Barriers to sharing information were introduced that were later in large part repealed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

One would assume that prohibiting assassination and imposing the watchful eye of an independent civilian court would finally tame the excesses at the CIA and NSA.  One would assume these legal protections would render a quite different world than the world that exists now, after another generation of war.

Now, instead, the CIA is not only at the point for the “drone-program” that operates in gross violation of international law killing at will.  The agency with the help of JSOC conducts lethal ground raids, sometimes taking hostages, anywhere in the world it chooses to, typically outside the knowledge of the foreign state.  The Osama Bin Laden raid as described was a multiple assassination on friendly foreign soil at a time of “peace”. 

Now, even concerning the ultimate question, the CIA/FBI will not admit it lacks the authority to assassinate US citizens on US soil.

Now, the FISA court has authorized in secret the surveillance and storage of all US electronic communications.  The FISA court, in effect, consorted with US technology companies to impose an Orwellian eye on every American for the agency.  The intelligence agency’s batting average before the FISA Court for getting everything they want is .99931.

Meanwhile on the ground, now the government may come into your house for a “sneak and peak” anytime, if a selected judge goes along (or even without).

When a person is having his communications searched by the government, he is supposed to be served with the search warrant for his documents along with service on the holder of the documents, like a phone company or bank.  The FBI long ago dispensed with this citizen notice requirement in national security cases. 

Privacy from official surveillance does not exist with normal electronic communications.  How the federal government uses and abuses its secret database on every American is largely unknown.  Some of the old barriers preventing a fully unified police state have been discarded in fear-mongered legislation.

Through the Looking-Glass

The futility over time of Congress’ last large effort to tame the national security state was accomplished without reversing the law banning foreign assassinations and without changing the essential makeup and procedures of the FISA court that was established to police the NSA and the CIA. 

Yet, both the new sheriff and the formal rules of the game on assassination have been effectively voided by the agency as it kills thousands at will overseas and spies on every world citizen and their government.

The atmosphere of imperial lawlessness at the agency has risen to where the Congress itself has become a prime target of covert operations.  Quite threatening to Americans as a show of the true balance of power with the agency is how the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairperson reacted after the CIA was found out in this ultimate abuse of power, a covert mission against the agency’s own oversight committee. 

All Senator Diane Feinstein wants from the agency is an apology for targeting her committee with a crime-spree striking at the heart of constitutional government. 

Yet, the agency is comfortable with laughing in public at her suggestion of an apology to one of its victims.  Who truly is in charge one has to wonder?

There is no discussion anywhere in Congress or in Obama’s Justice Department about prosecuting the numerous recent CIA/NSA felonies now clearly imprinted on the public record.  The agency is openly above the law now for all to see.  Even the NSA chief of operations may commit serial perjury before Congress, in full public view, while retaining the complete confidence of the President and of the intelligence committees.  The committees even propagate the spy chief’s canard that that there is a credible foreign enemy not of our own direct making.

There is also no discussion in Congress of ending the mountain of official secrecy that is the keystone of the national security state and the war on whistleblowers.  The arcane opacity of the CIA/NSA’s fortress of information goes beyond even the impenetrable Jabberwocky nonsense poem written by Lewis Carroll in his Looking Glass novel concerning a different unreal world.

And, most eerie, there is no discussion in Congress of ending the worldwide killing program by drone attack launched by the CIA and guided by the NSA. 

If not gone already, how does the American Republic survive?  Clearly, it will not with its present “leaders”.

Ending the Duality

Possibly the best general observations on this conundrum between security and liberty was offered about three hundred years after Machiavelli’s time, formulated by an American revolutionary who became a President leading an existential war with Britain, the War of 1812.

“I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

 “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. “

“It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.”

 “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

James Madison (1751 – 1836)

Assuming the truth of these nostrums, controlling the US national security state with partial measures is a false hope.  Even a quite firm measure like the USA Freedom Act is certain to wither, as was the case with its 1970’s predecessors, if the global wars the CIA has been waging for two generations continue as US foreign policy.

The only truly effective solution to this existential threat America faces like never before is quite obvious.

First, bring the US troops home finally, along with the ships and drones: stop disrupting the internal affairs of other nations: decimate the practice of classifying records as secret held from public view.

Then, abolish the CIA as a separate agency and send the legitimate part of its mission, along with the proper mission of the NSA/Cyber-Command, back to the Pentagon building, with military uniforms all around reporting to the Secretary of Defense, a place this Pandora’s Box should never have left.

Also, enact whistleblower laws that truly arm the citizens of the US with the power of knowledge and therefore the capacity of self-government.

And try our best thereafter to keep a vigilant, open eye on our spies.

Hopefully, the consuming human predations of Machiavelli’s world are now tempered by a good ways five hundred years hence.  Humanity can rise above the evil sides of character and has proven so in many places and times. 

 Peace for America should have its second chance after a long century of warfare.  Peace with the world worked so well for so long and will again.  It all appears hazily now from the mirror to America’s past.  EDITOR