Only Major Policy Changes Can Help Washington Now

by BILL CHRISTISON


former CIA analyst

By November, the Roman circus of this U.S. election year may rival the old Barnum-and-Bailey "Greatest Show on Earth."

A couple of acts in the great show have recently been getting new publicity in the nation’s capital. Both the Bush administration and the 9/11 Commission (already part of the circus) have talked about establishing a National Intelligence Director and possibly even organizing a new Domestic Intelligence Agency, in what is quite clearly an attempt to distract the attention of voters from more important foreign and domestic policy issues. Actually implementing either of these proposals would in fact be a waste of time and money. Of course, in the absence of other deficiencies, wastefulness alone would not stop either the Republicans or the Democrats if they felt a little waste could improve the distractive potential of the circus.

In the last few years, the U.S. government has already increased its annual spending on intelligence matters from something under $30 billion to nearly $40 billion. Setting up two new agencies — one to support a national intelligence czar, and another for domestic intelligence — would increase the already absurd number of bureaucracies in the so-called intelligence community from 15 to 17 and would raise spending levels even higher. People are already falling over each other in this mess of agencies. In addition to CIA stations in most embassies around the world, the FBI now has its own facilities in many of the same embassies. It is a safe bet that fewer people and agencies are needed, not more.

Most Americans do not realize it, but the massive intrusions of both our intelligence and our military operations around the world are seen by other peoples as a mockery of our supposed ideals of democracy and freedom. Inside the U.S., establishing a separate domestic agency for intelligence would inevitably reduce still further the degree of real democracy, freedom, and privacy available to citizens.

Why do citizens of the United States even consider allowing these things to happen? The answer seems be that most Americans do not care much about either the foreign or the domestic policies of their own government, unless those policies directly and immediately hurt them or their families. Most have so far simply acquiesced in Bush’s view that the only good responses outside our borders to September 11 are warfare and covert actions wherever the administration decides they are necessary. Similarly, most have also acquiesced — as long as they personally are not seriously inconvenienced — in the view that repressive actions against civil liberties are necessary here at home to keep "evil" people from crossing our borders and carrying out further acts of terror.

But neither present nor future military and covert adventures abroad, nor expanded internal security measures at home, will prevent future terrorism against the U.S. and its allies. Specifically in the area of intelligence, it is utterly impossible that unlimited funding and any conceivable reorganizing of the U.S. intelligence establishment will give advance warning of all or even 90 percent of future terrorism against us. We have already reached spending levels that go well beyond the law of diminishing returns. My own estimate is this: the intelligence community today probably has a 65-percent chance of learning in advance about any specific terrorist act before it happens, but even a doubling of spending on intelligence from $40 billion to $80 billion a year would probably increase that 65-percent chance to no more than 75 percent. In too many cases, intelligence never gets better than that, no matter how great the effort. Anyone who believes the contrary is living on arrogance or stupidity.

There is another development in the intelligence arena that may add to the distractions of the 2004 election. In the past month or so, several reports have been received of special U.S. units in Iraq having received shipments of unknown types of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). These U.S. units have allegedly hidden the weapons in various locations, where they can then be "found" at some future date and announced to the world in a major PR coup for Bush. These reports have come from Iranian sources, and they may in fact be provocations from Iranian intelligence, intended to discourage the administration from indulging in such fraudulence.

On the other hand, Bush himself, in his prime-time news conference on April 13, talked at some length and quite repetitiously in one of his responses about "how deceptive the Iraqis had been . . . deceptive at hiding things. We knew they were hiding things." Was it a little odd for the President to be talking this way at such a late stage in the Iraqi WMD game? Was it just one more puerile and meaningless response at the press conference, or is it conceivable that Bush was preparing his audience for a later "I told you so" statement — a statement he knew he would be able to make fairly soon? If any WMD do turn up, arguments over their legitimacy could exhaust (and distract) the media and the defectively thinking faithful of both parties for a long time. Bush could easily come out the winner, unless the evidence that he was lying was incontrovertible.

* * *

Just as in Roman times the fights among gladiators and other spectacles did not really matter, none of the issues discussed above really matters either. Not one contributes meaningfully to solving the problems of war, terrorism, hatred, and injustice that plague the world. To work on such problems — undeniably the important ones — we first have to recognize that the U.S. itself perpetrates most of the warfare and injustice that in turn provokes most of the hatred and terrorism, and therefore that it needs to change its own foreign and military policies. So far, the Bush administration has refused to recognize any of this, and in just the past few weeks has caused the hatred against us to grow further, by widening the conflict in Iraq and forging a closer Bush-Sharon partnership that makes a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict less likely than ever.

The following truths should be branded into the brain of every U.S. elected or appointed official possessing any influence over future U.S. foreign and military policies: a majority of the world’s people believe that the chief culprit in the world today–that is, the chief pursuer of unjust, aggressive foreign and military policies–is the United states itself, and particularly the Bush administration. Beyond the very near future (no more than one or two years from now), this situation will almost certainly make the present U.S. position in the world untenable.

BILL CHRISTISON joined the CIA in 1950 and worked on the analysis side of the Agency for over 28 years. In the 1970s he served as a National Intelligence Officer (principal adviser of the Director of Central Intelligence) for Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Africa. Before his retirement in 1979, he was Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis, a 250-person unit. He can be reached at: christison@counterpunch.org.

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