Friday, 22 June 2007

The CIA: coming clean

The CIA is to declassify years of documents confirming many of it's shady and illegal Cold War practices. Topics like this — knowing, or rather not knowing, what a supposedly free and democratic country as the United States was and still is doing against any measure of human rights, freedoms, and more — get me a bit fired up.

The Washington Post reported:

The CIA will declassify hundreds of pages of long-secret records detailing some of the intelligence agency's worst illegal abuses -- the so-called "family jewels" documenting a quarter-century of overseas assassination attempts, domestic spying, kidnapping and infiltration of leftist groups from the 1950s to the 1970s, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

The documents, to be publicly released next week, also include accounts of break-ins and theft, the agency's opening of private mail to and from China and the Soviet Union, wiretaps and surveillance of journalists, and a series of "unwitting" tests on U.S. civilians, including the use of drugs.

"Most of it is unflattering, but it is CIA's history," Hayden said in a speech to a conference of foreign policy historians. The documents have been sought for decades by historians, journalists and conspiracy theorists and have been the subject of many fruitless Freedom of Information Act requests.
The CIA documents scheduled for release next week, Hayden said yesterday, "provide a glimpse of a very different time and a very different agency."
Hayden's speech and some questions that followed evoked more recent criticism of the intelligence community, which has been accused of illegal wiretapping, infiltration of antiwar groups, and kidnapping and torturing of terrorism suspects.

The BBC went further into what exactly these papers will reveal.
The papers, to be released next week, will detail assassination plots, domestic spying and wiretapping, kidnapping and human experiments.

Many of the incidents are already known, but the documents are expected to give more comprehensive accounts.
Among the incidents that were said to "present legal questions" were:

* the confinement of a Soviet defector in the mid-1960s
* assassination plots of foreign leaders, including Cuba's Fidel Castro
* wiretapping and surveillance of journalists
* behaviour modification experiments on "unwitting" US citizens
* surveillance of dissident groups between 1967 and 1971
* opening from 1953 to 1973 of letters to and from the Soviet Union; from 1969 to 1972 of mail to and from China

These actions are not those of an agency of a free, liberal democratic government. While not turning into a paranoid, "everyone's out to get me"-ist, a citizen should always remain aware of what his or her government is doing to prevent the removal of their own liberties. Those of us who live in America, Germany, India, and other democratic countries should protect our freedom by using the powers democratic governance gives us; those who live in unfree states should also do what they can for freedoms. Moreover, fake wars are no excuse for taking away the freedom of citizens or of others outside of the country. Doing so is counter-intuitive and, as I said before, not the actions of a free state.

People like former secretary of state and still-foreign policy leader Henry Kissinger want skeletons like these to remain in the dark closets of the CIA, so to speak. He has fought any investigation into America's intelligence agency's misdeeds. Perhaps the reason he fights against the ugly truth is because he himself was a proponent of despicable policy, like bombing civilians in Cambodia or overthrowing democratically-elected world leaders and killing many for the sake of posturing. Why stoop to the enemy's level? Who did Kissinger turn to to commit these misdeeds? The CIA. These are no conspiracy theories.

In 1975, CIA Director William Colby told then-President Gerald Ford that his summary of the CIA's activity had descriptions of "things [the CIA] shouldn't have done". A day later on 4 January, Secretary of State Kissinger told Ford that divulging these documents — in effect telling a nation the truth about all the horrible things its government has been doing — would result in a political disaster, like a new Watergate. Further withholding information of illegal and shady deeds from the public for your own political security is pretty sad on the part of Kissinger and the Ford administration.

While it's good that the CIA is finally doing this (a bit late though), I wonder how exactly some of these — need I emphasize it more — horrible acts are, as Hayden calls them, "crown jewels". Moreover they are reminders of a time which I for one hope America never returns too. The Cold War was much worse than the current GWOT in how the government acted and how people's freedoms were suppressed — but that's no excuse for the Bush administration's condemnable "war on terror" actions either.

Many of the misdeeds listed above were similar to what the unfree, authoritarian Soviet government agencies were doing, just as Bush is in some ways using similar scare tactics as the terrorists he is fighting against. See a pattern? An enemy develops, government takes advantage of people's fear, government gains power and engages in illegal and bad activities for its own power and for whatever other reasons in its 'war'.

Nowadays the CIA is actually weak. It has lost the badge of authority it carried as it painted a picture of the Red Army marching across American soil and performed commonly operations like the ones listed above. Now the Defense Department has far more power; the CIA is underfunded and the intelligence community often thrust aside — even when it is right, like in the case of 9/11 and the failure in Iraq; and more directly under the president's political authority, the FBI is more notorious for restrictions of domestic civil liberties.

For a bit more on the foreign policy of America during and before the Cold War, see my Monroe Doctrine essay. The National Security Archive has a page on these "family jewels".
The Central Intelligence Agency violated its charter for 25 years until revelations of illegal wiretapping, domestic surveillance, assassination plots, and human experimentation led to official investigations and reforms in the 1970s, according to declassified documents posted today on the Web by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

Let's just hope that chapter in the American intelligence community's history has come to a close, or is to end at least with the next president. I highly recommend checking out the archive page linked above; it also documents all the CIA's broken promises of declassification — making Hayden's announcement look less and less like a positive step forward and more like something that should have happened long ago.

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