I may be terribly old-fashioned–I still wear a waistcoat and spats- but I’ve always lived by the simple dictum “don’t dick with the Central Intelligence Agency”. This is the agency, let us recall, that parts the hemispheres of people’s brains with a spatula in the course of ordinary conversation. It’s the same organization that has overthrown several dozen governments, assassinated countless persons, and hunted down Robert Redford in ‘3 Days of the Condor’. The CIA is a collection of the baddest cats this world has ever seen, and while I do not share in its ideals or goals (although they did help to keep the price of bananas down by overthrowing the government of Guatemala, so props for that) I do extend to the CIA my very greatest respect. It doesn’t need my admiration; it is a vile machine. But you don’t mess with the CIA, any more than you would mess with a Kodiak bear at the helm of an M1-Abrams tank. Thus it came as something of a shock to discover the Bush administration thought it could, with impunity, invent a bunch of phony intelligence (‘hooey’ in CIA-speak), get caught, and blame it on the CIA.
Let it be noted that the word ‘intelligence’ is used here in the sense of ‘information’. All other senses of the word would be sorely malapropulent. We have in the CIA an agency that blows some 3-4 billion dollars per year (people used to think that was a lot of money) and yet can’t provide us with the kind of geopolitical data you could get from a subscription to Tiger Beat magazine. The core intelligence upon which the late unpleasantness in Iraq was purportedly based was of such poor quality one suspects it was excerpted from the government section of the Baghdad Yellow Pages– a copy stolen from a pay phone with half the pages torn out and the remainder obliterated by dog whiz. So this wretched CIA-generated intelligence, which would have earned a pretty low grade in the context of a 6th grade special-ed social studies report, was of little real value to the current administration’s case for war. But rather than ask the CIA to improve its data-gathering efforts in the region, for instance by watching the news on television, the Bush administration decided to just go ahead and make things up. They turned out to be no better at it than the CIA.
The administration made up official-sounding numbers: 500 tons of sarin gas, 38,000 liters of botulinum (more than twice the amount accepted in school lunch programs), 25,000 liters of anthrax, and a quart jug of spider juice. They probably felt like these numbers were safe enough: nobody knows how much a liter is. Colin Powell could be seen before the United Nations waving around a vial of white powder, presumably a sample gotten from either the CIA or Marion Berry; it looked like he meant what he said. They made up exact numbers of warheads and delivery systems and boxes of thumb tacks to be strewn in America’s streets. They even gave us a timeline: we had 45 minutes from green light to deployment on all these nasty items in the Iraqi arsenal. We’re talking about specific numbers. All of them completely and utterly made up. Which leads us to Niger’s uranium, or rather, doesn’t.
Because when someone in the media accidentally picked up the story about some ambassador guy who went to some African country that can you believe it is called Niger to find out if they sold yellowcake uranium, which until this time everybody assumed was a type of flower you could get out of the Burpee’s catalogue, and this ambassador guy’s negative report got buried and the president instead said Iraq was practically choked with the stuff during his State of the Onion speech well, you can imagine. The whole thing blew up, tempest, teapot, and all. Eventually George Tenet, head of the CIA and therefore an individual you do not want to cross, was ordered to throw himself on his sword and admit it was the CIA’s fault that the fissile materials claims got into the speech. Which in fact it was not. But Tenet being a Bush yes-man, he did the requisite auto-transfixion and exonerated the White House from blame. But he didn’t forget this. Noooo. And then the story, which appeared to have blown itself out, was rekindled. Because the Bush gang don’t know when to quit. So one of them got revenge on this ambassador guy, who looks just like my chiropractor but I’m pretty sure it’s not him, by outing his wife’s big secret, which was–wait for it-that she’s a CIA operative!
Can I get an ‘oops’, people? Here we have an agency that was publicly cornholed not long ere, and all of a sudden one of its covert operatives—working the anti-terrorism beat, no less-has been exposed by the Executive Branch in a fit of petulance that would have made Caligula blush. Not only has she been exposed, but the front company she worked with, and anybody who showed up at the annual picnic, and her entire list of pen pals. It’s safe to assume there are people in foreign countries who are dead because of this. If not dead, at least they’ve had to disguise themselves as llamas and flee the territory on their hands and knees. If that isn’t tweaking the bull on the bag, I don’t know what is. And Tenet agrees with me on this point- not just because we’re lovers, either. He has initiated proceedings.
When the CIA initiates proceedings, entire nations collapse in flames. Economies deflate like whoopee cushions. Powerful men are found dead in alleys with their heads encased in cheese wax. It might be said that the CIA has an extremely low hubris threshold. As it now stands, the president (after only a few months of doing nothing) has ordered his people to cooperate with his other people in finding the source of this leak in the scandal now known rather lamely as ‘Intimigate’ (I prefer ‘What, her?-gate’ myself). This erstwhile investigation will not satisfy the CIA, methinks. Even Bush’s own man at the CIA won’t be satisfied with this, especially seeing as he’s the one who took the fall last time. Whether or not a special prosecutor is appointed to oversee the investigation, there’s a pissed-off CIA stomping around town at the moment with a 55-gallon drum (that’s 208.45 liters) of whupass. Let us recap:
Bush’s people, and I use the word ‘people’ loosely, decided to make the CIA take the fall for the one canard out of several thousand that a slumbering nation happened to catch on its way into the swamps of the Mesopotamian desert in the name of anti-terrorism. This canard also happened to be one of the few that the CIA specifically suggested Bush not espouse as an excuse for his little camping trip to hell, so we have a painful insult/injury compound already, vis-à-vis the CIA. Shortly thereafter, same Bush people, in a moment of good-natured backstabbing retribution, exposed one of the CIA’s own assets, and by extension all the other assets to which she can be connected by a reasonably bright foreign intelligence agency with access to a telephone. I’m just guessing here, but it seems to me that an agency willing to overthrow the government of Guatemala in the name of banana imports ought to have no problem saying “screw you right back” to a bunch of venal, inbred frat boys blundering their way through their last terms in public office.
You don’t play dirty tricks on the folks who invented them. Expect events in the next few months to get very interesting as political revelations start to occur at the most embarrassing moments, policy notions don’t get properly cooked intelligence to back them up, and personal secrets float into public view for no apparent reason, drifting down the cloaca publicum to the delight of scandal-mongers everywhere. The CIA has officially been dicked with. They might even start parting people’s brains again, although probably not the president’s. They don’t make spatulas that small.
BEN TRIPP is a screenwriter and cartoonist. Ben also has a lot of outrageously priced crap for sale here. If his writing starts to grate on your nerves, buy some and maybe he’ll flee to Mexico. If all else fails, he can be reached at: email@example.com