What is the nature of the CIA and its role in American security?
Washington Post columnist David Ignatious and Think Progress blogger
Matthew Yglesias have presented clashing interpretations for months.
Whether it was over whether to prosecute CIA officers for torture, as
in April, or whether the debate was pegged to long-term CIA
restructuring, as it is today, the two have clearly different
existential senses of the CIA. Ignatious sees it is a body empowered to
judge best how to protect security, Yglesias argues it's subservient to
- Ignatious, in April: For a taste of what’s ahead, recall the chilling effects of past CIA scandals. In
1995, then-Director John Deutch ordered a "scrub" of the agency's
assets after revelations of past links to Guatemalan death squads.
Officers were told they shouldn’t jettison sources who had provided
truly valuable intelligence. But the practical message, recalls one
former division chief, was: "Don’t deal with assets who could pose
political risks." A similar signal is being sent now, he warns.
- Yglesias, in April: If the CIA had a sterling track record as a hugely effective agency
that had made one random slip-up, I'd be sympathetic to this view. But
the evidence is overwhelming that that’s not the case. Instead,
alongside occasional doses of incompetence, the CIA veers between
out-of-control behavior (death squads, torture) and whining that past
efforts to prevent it from going rogue are the reason that it can’t do
- Ignatious, yesterday:
The question is how to put the pieces back together -- how to restore
public trust in intelligence. [...] The old "secret state," in which
intelligence agencies could
do pretty much as they liked, is gone. In its place is a "protecting
state," in which the public gives the intelligence agencies certain
powers needed to keep the country safe. It's a "citizen-centric
approach," Omand explained, based on the reality of mutual
dependence. The spies need information from the community (especially
the large Muslim population in Britain), and the public needs
protection. [...] The Obama administration should try to strike the
kind of "grand
bargain" that Omand described. The CIA should become more transparent
and "citizen-centric." The president and Congress will set rules for
interrogation and the rest, and the public should understand the
inherent trade-offs and risks.
- Yglesias, today: How is it that we’re having this conversation? This isn't East Germany. Of course
intelligence services are supposed to be "citizen-centric" rather than
have the ability to "do pretty much as they liked." But what’s the
bargain here? My general understanding of the bargain between the law
and citizens is that citizens are supposed to follow the law and in
exchange they don’t get subjected to criminal penalties. That’s the
bargain I have. And people who work at the CIA are also American
citizens, right? Subject to the law, right?
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