The CIA has never enjoyed a good reputation domestically, and naturally not abroad. Still, there was a time when Americans perceived the organization as a necessary evil, a dark force to counter other clandestine, international entities. As for interventionism, that was ostensibly done at the behest of our elected leaders. Sure, the CIA was dirty and duplicitous, even perverted, but it was ours.
Over decades of the agency's history, we have seen CIA fingerprints on shady deals for arms and drugs, coup d'etats, and countless color revolutions. In fact, those categories appear to many to be the primary function of the agency.
In the early going, President Trump played nice. His very first official act as a sitting president was to visit CIA headquarters at Langley, VA. His speech praised the agency and called for unity. In the spring of 2018, despite promising to release all the JFK assassination files, Trump held back some of the information, due to “identifiable national security, law enforcement, and foreign affairs concerns,” according to a White House memo. In the eyes of many, that meant "covering for the CIA's foreknowledge of the assassination attempt."
The relationship never warmed, however. Especially in the past several months, Trump has forced intel's hand, and made it clear that the CIA is in fact a shadow government, a rogue force operating above the law, bent on self-preservation, and entirely divested of any sense of duty to the United States.
Formed in 1947 under President Truman, the CIA can trace its ideological lineage back to Great Britain's famed MI6, whose operatives were so successful in World War II that President Roosevelt felt compelled to create a copycat, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was dissolved after the war. Shortly thereafter, against the will of the FBI and military leaders, the National Intelligence Agency was created, which in turn became the CIA.
With over 20,000 employees (estimated) and a $15 billion budget (declared), the CIA is a massive global operation. They even operate their own fleet of an estimated 80 Predator drones. In effect, the agency maintains a larger air force than those of Norway, South Africa, Mexico, Belgium, or Denmark.
A neat Catch-22 protects the CIA from oversight: any real audit of the agency would "endager lives of agents and the efficacy of ongoing operations." So their activity cannot be investigated until well after completion, and sometimes not even then. And that's an increasingly dangerous stance to take, as Alex Newman points out:
“We're seeing the CIA turn into more of a paramilitary organization without the oversight and accountability that we traditionally expect of the military,” National Security Project director Hina Shamsi with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) told the Post.
The myriad assassination programs are particularly troubling to critics. In the U.S. Congress, for example, representatives on both sides of the aisle have blasted the “illegal” murders.
“Think of the use of drone air strikes as summary executions, extra-judicial killings justified by faceless bureaucrats using who-knows-what ‘intelligence,’ with no oversight whatsoever and you get the idea that we have slipped into spooky new world where joystick gods manipulating robots deal death from the skies,” noted Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) in an editorial.
Ron Paul is another noted anti-CIA politician. From a 2010 speech:
There’s been a coup, have you heard? It’s the CIA coup. The CIA runs everything, they run the military. They’re the ones who are over there lobbing missiles and bombs on countries… And of course the CIA is every bit as secretive as the Federal Reserve… And yet think of the harm they have done since they were established [after] World War II. They are a government unto themselves. They’re in businesses, in drug businesses, they take out dictators … We need to take out the CIA.
The famous quote attributed to President Kennedy, "I will splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds," is impossible to verify. Nevertheless it is clear that he hoped to pare back or even dissolve the agency, and may have met his demise as a result.
It is easy to imagine a similar fate befalling Trump if he were to attempt to bring the agency down, or even bring it to heel. The sneering face and treasonous texts of disgraced former FBI agent Peter Strzok during the early days of the Mueller hearings confirmed how U.S. intel feels about the president.
It is unlikely that Trump alone could dissolve the agency. The CIA was created when the National Security Act was approved by congress and signed into law by Truman, so an executive order would almost certainly fail to pass muster. Furthermore, such a plan would be seen by Democrats as Trump eliminating a watchdog that could identify his own misdeeds, despite the fact that executive overview is not a function of the agency.
To precipitate the dissolution of the CIA, the following factors would have to be at play:
These criteria are very difficult to fulfill, seemingly impossible. On the other hand, never before have we seen national intelligence so nakedly thwart the will of a sitting president, let alone seek his removal from office.
On Monday, a former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, appeared on Tucker Carlson's show on FOX. He urged Trump to use the Senate to investigate the CIA and their role in the recent whistleblower complaint, saying that it didn't look like any complaint he'd seen before--and Kiriakou filed a complaint while with the agency--and called for reform.
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