I find as a general rule that sweeping generalizations coming out of the media and punditry about anything are frequently wrong. As a former intelligence officer, I find it amusing to read articles in the mainstream media that blithely report how the latest international outrages are undoubtedly the work of CIA and the rest of the U.S. government’s national security alphabet soup. The recurring claim that the CIA is somehow running the world by virtue of a vast conspiracy that includes the secret intelligence agencies of a number of countries, while using blackmail and other inducements to corrupt vulnerable politicians and opinion makers, has entered into the DNA of journalists worldwide, frequently without any evidence that the current crop of spies which includes an increasing number of not-trained-as-spies paramilitary officers is capable or even interested in doing anything that complicated.
One might reasonably object that running the entire world, particularly on a coercive fashion, is a big job and nobody has the resources to address hundreds of “problems” simultaneously. But, nevertheless, any way you slice it, the myth of the Agency being all-powerful and also uniquely malevolent is pervasive, to include the tale that it and the other national security elements conspire to effectively control both American presidents and the mainstream media.
Non-Americans, if anything, are even more persuaded that America’s intelligence community knows all and is in a certain sense directly or indirectly responsible for whatever occurs worldwide. A highly educated Turkish diplomat who became a close friend insisted to me that there was a big computer located in Washington that had complete information on everyone in the world included in its files. Ironically, that observation was somewhat humorous in 1988, but it is closer to today’s reality of total government control and massive cyber intrusion conducted by the U.S. National Security Agency.
To be sure, one can and certainly should oppose the policies enabling regime change that the Agency has been associated with worldwide but there is a context to all the mayhem that must be understood. First of all, de facto regime change is now practiced openly by the U.S. government under the direction of the President of the United States and his close associates. Witness, for example, what took place in Ukraine and what is being attempted in Syria. State Department and USAID manipulations, unleashing of the allegedly non-governmental National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and direct military intervention are the preferred tools since 2001 and they all take place relatively transparently. One might say that what the CIA used to do is now being done out in the open.
Indeed, the various iterations of the Authorization to Use Military Force and also the Patriot and Military Commissions acts give the government a free hand in terms of how it responds to the rest of the world and also to its errant U.S. citizens, to include assassinations of names on lists prepared in the White House and death by drones in response to “profiling,” which overwhelmingly kills mostly innocent civilians. Recall for a moment how Senator John McCain and neocon State Department officer Victoria Nuland passed out cookies in Maidan Square in Kiev as part of a $5 billion dollar successful subversion program to overthrow Ukraine’s pro-Russian government. And Syria was a direct military intervention with the openly stated intention of replacing the Al-Assad government. It should also be noted that both interventions took place under the smooth talking Barack Obama, as well as the disastrous overthrow of Libya’s government, which turned one of Africa’s few prosperous regimes into a hell hole. And the exercises in regime change occurred even though none of those countries threatened the United States in any way.
Those policies and others are set by this country’s civilian leadership to include the president, secretary of state and national security council and, when necessary, they are imposed on CIA and other national security related government agencies by their own political leadership as most recent directors have been political appointees, not professional intelligence or law enforcement officers. The Agency, which bureaucratically speaking works for the president, does not hold stop to hold referenda among its employees to determine which foreign policy option they prefer any more than soldiers in the 101st Airborne are consulted when they receive orders to deploy. Nearly all current and former intelligence officers that I know are, in fact, opposed to the politics of U.S. global dominance that have been pretty much in place since 9/11.
Based on my own experience, the often-cited fundamental evil of the intelligence community was seldom visible, though that appears to have changed somewhat since 9/11, to include the enhancement of the organization’s paramilitary role, the creation of secret prisons and the use of torture. Given the CIA’s presumed invincibility and the taint surrounding how it operates, it has frequently become low hanging fruit for those in government and the media who want to find someone to blame when things go wrong. The problem with the criticism often being levelled is that it is far too sweeping and generic. In reality, there are two distinct CIAs. The first is the place where something approaching 20,000 intelligence collectors and agent handlers, analysts, technical officers and other support personnel work. They are career employees who collect and analyze the information which is then passed on to the consumers, most important of whom is the president and his foreign policy plus national security staff. Professional intelligence officers work hard to be objective, but those people surrounding the top officials are highly political and serve as filters for the information. They frequently ignore or otherwise reject intelligence if it does not fit their idea of what is important. It is that rejection that creates Vietnams, Afghanistans and Iraqs. Consequently, it is the divide between producer and consumer where there is most often a problem and when there is real corruption of the system it usually comes down to a few individuals who are politically motivated.
Ironically, much of the damage comes when officials with access to intelligence and security resources go rogue. Recent claims of national security state interference in U.S. elections should be taken very seriously indeed, as they threaten the very basis of democratic elections, an issue that it unfortunately under siege coming from many directions. The recent coordinated attempt by John Brennan of the CIA that included the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence amounted to an illegal covert operation organized and executed by the top officials in the U.S. intelligence and national security community to defeat the Republican Party candidate, Donald Trump. Clapper, Brennan and former FBI Director Jim Comey appear to have all played critical leadership roles in carrying out this conspiracy and they may not have operated on their own. Almost certainly what they may have done would have been explicitly authorized by the Clinton campaign and also by the then serving President of the United States, Barack Obama, and his national security team.
It is now known that President Barack Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan had created a Trump Task Force in early 2016. This Task Force played a critical role in creating and feeding the meme that Donald Trump was a tool of the Russians and a puppet of President Vladimir Putin, a claim that still surfaces regularly to this day. Working with Clapper, Brennan fabricated the narrative that “Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.” Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell supported the effort with a New York Times op-ed which described Trump as a Russian agent, a claim that was supported by zero evidence and which was given credibility only by Morell’s headline boast that “I ran the CIA.” In other words, Morell was using his CIA credentials to validate a narrative that he surely knew to be a lie.
As a result, Trump and his staff were on the receiving end of a number of conspiracies, first to deny him the GOP nomination, then to ensure that he be defeated in the presidential election, and subsequently to completely delegitimize his presidency. Brennan even illegally approached foreign intelligence services in Europe to obtain dirt on Trump and the conspirators did not stop there, even paying for and disseminating a scandalous report by a former British intelligence officer referred to as the Steele Dossier after Trump was elected. The truly most devastating aspect of the entire affair is the likelihood that if President Obama actually was knowledgeable of what was going on it meant that an incumbent president was using his national security resources to destroy a political opponent.
It is important to recognize that it was not the CIA that sought to destroy Trump. It was one individual named John Brennan and a circle of other security service chiefs around and loyal to the president. That Obama himself and Brennan have never been questioned by the FBI over possible abuse of office is shameful, but more often than not, it is the intelligence agencies that are on the victimization end of political manipulation. The Afghanistan evacuation problems recently experienced are perfect examples of how intelligence can be abused or twisted. There is growing politically motivated commentary expressing the view that there was an intelligence failure, in that the White House and Defense Department did not know about the weakness of the Afghan Army and the strong possibility that the country’s government would fall quickly under Taliban pressure. Those allegations are a lie and everyone at a senior point in the system knows it, just as the George W. Bush administration’s claims that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had or was seeking weapons of mass destruction and was threatening the United States was a elaborate lie fabricated by the neoconservatives in 2002-3.
There is overwhelming evidence that the intelligence provided by the Agency, State Department and even the Pentagon, as well as the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) was unanimous when it arrived at the desks of the senior policy makers in Washington: the Afghan Army was riddled with corruption that no training could compensate for. It was plagued by desertions, with officers stealing payrolls, and by ghost battalions that had no soldiers but drew salaries for them. The government in Kabul was equally corrupt and had little popular support.
This message was delivered by the intelligence agencies regularly for the past fifteen or more years, but when it reached the level of the White House it was turned on its head. The press spokesmen told the media and the American people that everything was fine, progress was being made and the Afghan Army was being trained by NATO to become a fighting force that would defeat the Taliban. The national security and intelligence agencies were telling the truth but it was all converted into a lie to deceive the public. Indeed, it is now being reported that President Biden was himself intimately involved in the lie, having called Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and insisted that he say publicly that the fight against the Taliban was going well “whether it is true or not.”
So now the White House is again claiming “Mission Accomplished” on the evacuation from Kabul, something long overdue but which was executed disastrously, seemingly unplanned and unanticipated by a tone-deaf White House. It did not even get all Americans out of Afghanistan and any return by U.S. forces to take control of the airport again is unimaginable as the Taliban are substantially in control and thanks to Washington well-armed with heavy weapons.
So why do the government and media strut around suggesting how the CIA controls the world while at the same time accusing it of intelligence failures whenever something goes wrong even when the information provided was accurate? It is because the intelligence community can serve as a convenient punching bag since it does so much of its work in secret and is required by law to protect its sources, which means it cannot strike back when it is attacked. To blame it for the failures of others is plausible and doing so means that no one else is to blame, which appears to be the guiding principle of American government. No one important is ever to blame. Whistleblowers who reveal crimes are the only ones who are ever tried and convicted. When it becomes a crime to reveal a crime, you know that it is the criminals who are actually in charge.
Philip Giraldi, Ph.D. is Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest.