Last year I published a 4000-word essay in The Nation that sums up most everything I think about the CIA and the debate on both the left and the right about it. In short: blaming the agency for the failures of magical thinking on the part of presidents, Democrat and Republican, is a category error. The CIA fails because the imagination and expectations of the country are unrealistic and irresponsible. I called the agency a symptom and an accelerant of American empire. I’m pretty proud of the piece. Like more proud of it than most things I’ve written. Ever.
Chris Hayes, who doesn’t even cover the same beat, surpassed it.
Read Chris’ cover story for the new issue of The Nation. I’ve just finished reading it for the second time. It’s about the legacy of the Church Committee, the enduring relationship between secrecy and abuse, and the need for a new architecture of legislative restriction and refinement — and enhancement, since the proposition that secrecy is necessarily the ally of intelligence work is actually a dubious one — on the intelligence bureaucracy. If it doesn’t win an award, that proves journalism panels are corrupt.
I really could go on and on. Chris, with great precision, strips the cant and the myth away from the committee. This, for instance, is a subtle and overlooked point:
As historian Kathy Olmsted argues in her book Challenging the Secret Government, Church was never quite able to part with this conception of good Democrats/bad Republicans. Confronted with misdeeds under Kennedy and Johnson, he chose to view the CIA as a rogue agency, as opposed to one executing the president’s wishes. This characterization became the fulcrum of debate within the committee. At one point Church referred to the CIA as a "rogue elephant," causing a media firestorm. But the final committee report shows that to the degree the agency and other parts of the secret government were operating with limited control from the White House, it was by design. Walter Mondale came around to the view that the problem wasn’t the agencies themselves but the accretion of secret executive power: "the grant of powers to the CIA and to these other agencies," he said during a committee hearing, "is, above all, a grant of power to the president."
Exactly so. Church’s willingness to excuse Democratic abuses contributed to the misconception of the CIA as a rogue agency — the precise opposite of the agency’s relationship with the presidency. Presidents make conscious decisions not to pay attention or be informed about what their policies demand the CIA perform.
I really could go on. But just read the piece. I don’t know how someone this perceptive and this insightful and this diligent is allowed to go on television.