Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson on the CIA and a blowback world

No longer will Dick Cheney have to pay visits to Langley, Virginia and lean on CIA analysts to produce the kind of intelligence a Veep might need; not now that the President has his man, Republican loyalist Porter J. Goss, heading up the Agency, and a second term in hand. Of course, the CIA was already highly politicized in the first Bush term. Run by George Tenet (accurately dubbed "a political apparatchik" by Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis), throughout most of the last four years, it proved a servile agency despite possessing perfectly clear-eyed analysts who knew the truth about Iraq and wanted to pass it on.

But not, it seemed, servile enough. Unhappy with the intelligence pickings from the CIA, the Bush administration turned to its loveably, unreliable then-"friend," Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi, for the sort of intelligence that could actually be used to terrify a nation into war -- you know, all those weapons of mass destruction in Saddam's hands, all those ties between Saddam and al-Qaeda -- and then Douglas Feith, the number three man in the Pentagon, created the Office of Special Plans to "search for information on Iraq's hostile intentions or links to terrorists." It cherry-picked intelligence from Chalabi and others and passed it up the line to those eager to speak of mushroom clouds going off over American cities.

Such a complicated process, though. Now, former Republican congressman as well as ex-CIA agent and spy-recruiter Goss will bring no less loyal political aides from the House and elsewhere into the Agency's leadership and so simplify matters in a second Bush term. Already, before November 2, Goss's CIA was working hard to suppress crucial 9/11 information, as Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer reported. The CIA will now be but another, ever expanding militarized arm of an administration that will already control Congress (hence no possibility of serious oversight over the Agency), significant parts of our courts and justice system, a media machine, a political machine, a religious machine, a majority of the state governments in our federalist system, and sizeable hunks of the government bureaucracy. The Pre! sident, in other words, will have his own intelligence arm and secret army at his beck and interventionist call for the next four years, and no one around to take a peek. The ultimate check on the administration was the electorate and it just failed. (Oh, let's not forget that there will at least be angry CIA agents and others still stuck in this highly politicized system, feeling betrayed, and as things begin to go truly off the tracks, leaking like mad.)

Of course, this administration has long been intent on putting much of what it does not only beyond all oversight, but utterly out of sight. After September 11, they put extraordinary effort and legal thought into creating an offshore mini-gulag, beyond the courts, beyond prying eyes, a torture-system beholden only to the President of the United States in his role as commander-in-chief. The CIA was put in charge of the most secret aspects of this system and, as the part of the government best tooled in the arts of offshore interrogation, from Abu Ghraib to a "ghost prison" in Jordan, they have overseen the worst parts of this black hole of injustice.

From the penumbra of the secret world of the Bush administration and the CIA will come future acts sure to outrage Americans. This then is a moment to return to history and remind ourselves of exactly what mayhem and misfortune the CIA has actually caused -- us as well as the rest of the world. That makes the Chalmers Johnson essay below on the CIA and Afghan blowback a must read. Johnson is the author of the prophetic book Blowback, written before 9/11, and more recently The Sorrows of Empire, which explores our military reach in the world. This piece has been slightly adapted from a review that originally appeared in the London Review of Books, a lively English literary/political publication, and that is reprinted with the Review's kind permission. Tom

Abolish the CIA!

By Chalmers Johnson

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to 10 September 2001, by Steve Coll, New York: Penguin, 2004, 695 pp, $29.95.

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