Michael Hayden, current head of the CIA, has decided to declassify a CIA report on its “indiscretions” … that was completed in 1973. It is a big deal that this administration is going to release any information – such a big deal that one might ask “Why?”.
Many people have perhaps forgotten that it was findings of the “Church Committee” (United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities) that instituted controls on the Intelligence Community to protect the constitutional rights of the population – controls that have been more than eliminated by legislation since 2001.
Perhaps the motive for releasing the report from 1973 is to make the activities of the Bush administration seem “usual.” The CIA had a long history of unsavory covert activities. The most publicized being Iran-Contra. Less publicized is the recruiting, training, and supplying of Islamist fighters to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan (who became al Qaida). A laundry list of past actions would place current Bush administration activities (such as NSA spying without a warrant on US citizens, or extraordinary renditions, or secret CIA prisons) on a continuum of illegal activities. Current administration policies could then be argued as necessary, and not that extreme, within the context of the posed new threats to “civilization.”
It was with some interest that I read the France has banned state employees from using BlackBerrys. The belief of the government of France is that use of the popular handheld risks US intelligence monitoring access to confidential material. The ban has been in place for the last year and a half. Notably, that while a denial of any such information security risk was issued by Research in Motion (the producers of BlackBerry), no such assurances came from the NSA or other intelligence agency on the US.
Meanwhile, there is a steady stream of reports of abuse of power that the virtually unfettered “intelligence” and “justice” communities have engaged in. While some abuses are attributed to unclear procedural issues, it is clear that the real procedural failure is a lack of limits on the power of the agencies. The problem starts at the top with Bush’s refusal to follow law in demanding illegal programs – the NSA “wiretapping” without a warrant being one example. With the administration taking an “anything goes” approach, is it really surprising that other arms of the Executive Branch would do the same?
Hayden’s decision to declassify a 24 year old investigation seems more strategic to me than a symptom of attempts at transparency by an administration renowned for everything being secret and “executive privilege.”
Articles of Interest
FBI Finds It Frequently Overstepped in Collecting Data