The Ethical Spectacle, May 1995,

Dissolve the CIA

A contract employee of the CIA, a colonel in vicious Guatemala, was involved in at least two murders with his employer's knowledge: the torture and killing of a guerilla leader (who happened to be married to an American lawyer and Harvard graduate, Jennifer Harbury), and the casual murder of an American innkeeper in the rainforest, who stumbled on an army smuggling operation.

Jennifer Harbury has engaged in fasts and other public manifestations, in Guatemala and in Washington, to discover her husband's fate. The CIA always knew, then the State Department, but no-one had the mercy to tell her until Congressman Robert Torricelli found out recently and gave her the news.

This raises the question--for the hundredth time since 1970-- why do we need the CIA? And if we don't, why do we tolerate it? Public information about the CIA only represents a tiny fraction of what goes on there, but think about what we know.

  1. A talented woman station head, one of the few in a sexist organization, was driven from her job by subordinates who accused her of sexual license to cover up their own alcoholism and spouse abuse. She sued and won a settlement against the agency this year.

  2. The CIA was completely blind to a mole, Aldrich Ames, who lived beyond his means for years while betraying numerous U.S. agents to the KGB. The morality of the CIA bureaucracy was to excuse and defend the peculiarities of this man, allowing him to continue betraying agents who were then killed by the KGB.

  3. The CIA's covert activities, when they come to light, always seem to be on the side of chaos and murder--at best, on the same level as the forces it is trying to combat, and sometimes worse.

  4. The CIA always seems to tolerate or even promote crime such as narcotics trafficking and smuggling in support of its mysterious goals.

  5. The CIA's intelligence-gathering experts always seem to be blindsided by developments such as the fall of the Shah or of the Soviet Union.

The House Republicans are big on doing cost-benefit analyses to review the impact of government. As long as we're doing zero-based budgeting on activities such as welfare and environmental regulation, let's also ask what the CIA actually accomplishes. The public information available seems to support the inference that the agency is a club of untouchable amoral or actually vicious men, promoting torture, murder and social destabilization in already tormented Third World countries when we no longer even have a Soviet opponent as an excuse.

When we did have the Soviet threat as our justification, we still disregarded the moral implication of our means of self-defense. As I have said in another context (about the Israelis), when self-defense involves the abandonment of human rights and all other values, and gives free reign to hatred and sadism, there is nothing left to defend.

Even if we actually get any benefit from the agency, what kind of a benefit justifies torture and murder? Imagine if you visited an eccentric millionaire who had just moved in to your neighborhood. He walks you through his fifty room mansion, showing you the room where new ideas are freely debated, the room where children are fed and taught, the room where important decisions are made affecting the public interest, and then you pass by a closed door which he casually describes as "the room where people are chopped up." Would you go back again?

There is no moral calculus that says that if you have fed and clothed one thousand needy people you are entitled to commit one murder. It logically follows that we are judged by the sum of all our acts, not merely our best ones; and the worst must be assigned more significance than the best, lest we fall into the trap of thinking that the moral calculus exists. The CIA's support of torture and murder in foreign countries sets the level for the rest of American democracy. We have set a serial killer in the basement of government, and unless we root him out he will drag us all down.

On April 25, 1995, the New York Times reported that since 1987, six CIA station chiefs have been removed from their posts in Latin American countries, for acts such as sexual harassment, threatening underlings at gunpoint, allowing a ton of cocaine to be "accidentally" shipped into the U.S., and "sloppy bookkeeping" involving $1 million U.S. Additionally, the Guatemala station chief was relieved of his post this spring, not only for fouling up the Harbury/Devine cases but because he kept silent about a Guatemalan military plot to humiliate and discredit the U.S. ambassador with false accusations about her private life--"showing a stronger affinity for his contacts in the Guatemalan military than he had for the Ambassador."