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The Useful Myth of the Rogue Agency

How Coverage of the NSA Scandals Ignores the (Obedient) CIA


Recently the people behind Cryptome.org have raised an interesting point amid the torrent of NSA stories: the NSA doesn’t work in a vacuum, rather it is part of a much larger community that includes heavyweight deep state actors like the CIA. Here are a couple of choice snippets [1]:

“The CIA is the principal customer of NSA products outside the military. When global cyber spying Cybercom was proposed NSA did not want to do it, claiming it exceeded NSA’s military mission. However, the pols, and CIA, wanted that very excess, in particular for spying inside the US, ostensibly banned for the CIA but now needed for terrorists inside.”

“The joint CIA-NSA Special Collection Service (SCS) — with 5-Eyes Echelon — has been doing for decades what NSA is now alone accused of doing: CIA provided the targets, NSA did the technical collection from those global stations identified by X-Keyscore (most located in embassies or nearby)”

“SCS also does burglaries, code snatches, decrypts, doc drops, stings, ploys, blackmail, the panoply of CIA operations. The increased civilian target panoply bestowed upon NSA came from CIA demands channeled through ODNI.”

“The last thing CIA and its supporters want is a revelation of its manipulation of civilian leaders institutionalized by the 1947 National Security Act (also opposed by the military).”

Note the reference to 1947. It’s part of the public record that President Truman, who created the CIA when he signed the National Security Act of 1947, publicly regretted that the CIA had become a nexus of covert operations. In a Washington Post op-ed written shortly after President Kennedy was assassinated Truman confided [2]:

“I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations. Some of the complications and embarrassment I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue—and a subject for cold war enemy propaganda.”

However, this doesn’t mean that the CIA is a rogue agency. When Congressman Otis Pike investigated the CIA in the 1970s [3] he found that the CIA was blundenlargely an obedient arm of the executive, a conclusion that was later echoed by CIA officer Philip Agee [4].

“All evidence in hand suggests that the CIA, far from being out of control, has been utterly responsive to the instructions of the President and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.”

This would make sense as both POTUS and the CIA tend to be linked heavily to the same sources of wealth and influence outside of the government [5]. In fact, when the “rogue agency” narrative is dusted off it’s usually done so to serve an institutional purpose. Recall the strategy of plausible deniability used to build a wall around President Reagan during the Iran-Contra affair [6]. Noam Chomsky observes [7]:

“What the record shows is that the C.I.A. is just an agency of the White House, which sometimes carries out operations for which the Executive branch wants what’s called ‘plausible deniability'; in other words, if something goes wrong, we don’t want it to look like we did, those guys in the C.I.A. did it, and we can throw some of them to the wolves if we need to.”

According to Daniel Ellsberg the executive, ordering secret operations under the authority of secret laws supported by the secret rulings of secret courts, has used the NSA and CIA (and other IC members) to skew the power structure of the republic [8].

“I don’t see how democracy can survive when one branch, the executive branch, has all the personal communications of every member of Congress, and every judge, every member of the judiciary, as well as the press, the fourth estate that I have just been describing.”

The ongoing struggle between the CIA and the Senate bolsters this hypothesis. Senator Feinstein, normally a stalwart supporter of the intelligence community, warned [9]:

“Mr. President, the recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our Intelligence Community. How Congress responds and how this is resolved will show whether the Intelligence Committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.”

Yet, considering all of this political in-fighting, it’s also important to keep in mind that POTUS is just a faithful servant of his constituents [10]. The oligarchic factions [11] that purchase what they want [12].

Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including The Rootkit Arsenal , and Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex. Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.


[1] “Geoff Stone, Obama’s NSA Review Group,” Cryptome, April 3, 2014, http://cryptome.org/2014/04/nsa-stone.htm

[2] Harry S. Truman, “Limit CIA Role To Intelligence,” Washington Post, December 22, 1963.

[3] Mark Ames, “The first congressman to battle the NSA is dead. No-one noticed, no-one cares.” Pando Daily, February 4, 2014,

[4] Dirty Work: The CIA in Western Europe, by Philip Agee and Louis Wolf, 1978, pp. 17-28, http://cryptome.org/dirty-work/cia-myths.htm

[5] Peter Dale Scott, “The State, the Deep State, and the Wall Street Overworld,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Volume 12, Issue 10, No. 5, March 10, 2014,

[6] Accountability and Democracy: Presidential Responsibility and “Plausible Deniability”, Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs.

[7] Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, The New Press, 2002, ISBN-13: 978-1565847033

[8] “Were Snowden’s Actions Justified? Daniel Ellsberg, Michael Mukasey DebatePBS News Hour, July 17, 2013.

[9] “Dianne Feinstein statement on CIA torture report ‘cover-up’ – full text,” Guardian, March 11, 2014.

[10] Tom Ferguson, “Who Buys the Spies? The Hidden Corporate Cash Behind America’s Out-of-Control National Surveillance State,” Next New Deal, October 23, 2013.

[11] Peter Phillips and Kimberly Soeiro, “The Global 1%: Exposing the Transnational Ruling Class,” Project Censored, August 22, 2012,

[12] Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court Strikes Down Overall Political Donation Cap,” New York Times, April 2, 2014,