Every so often, the front page trumpets ethical and legal lapses committed by US intelligence agencies. In Iraq, they have run the gamut from pre war falsification of weapons data to surveillance of American citizens to kidnapping to torture of prisoners. During the Cold War, it was "black operations" that included staging coups, assassinating foreign leaders, infiltrating American organizations, conspiring with Mafia groups, spying on journalists -- perhaps even murder.
Last week, the latest paroxysm of revelation announced, as a New York Times headline put it, "CIA Skeleton . . . [A] Catalogue of Wiretaps, Assassination Plots, and Mind Control." But the so called "family jewels" of the CIA's hidden abuses may not enshrine the deepest and darkest secret.
The nefarious activities of the national security apparatus have long been justified by their "realist" defenders as necessary to protect America from her enemies, but what if, instead of protecting the nation, this structure of criminality exists mostly to protect itself? What if this cryptic system's true enemies are not hostile forces from abroad, but America's own fancied traditions of decency and honor? What if the CIA, that is, has not been protecting us, but has been protecting itself from us?
Return to the beginning, which was not 1947, when the CIA was established, but 1953, when it was set loose. Its then-director, Allen Dulles, was the brother of President Eisenhower's secretary of state, John Foster Dulles. Their peculiar ethos -- a combination of personal moralism and public amorality -- stamped the agency. Eisenhower was a calm and lucid man, but his administration was launched in a period of hysteria -- a stalemated army in Korea, an Air Force itching to use nuclear weapons in support of the French in Vietnam or the Chinese in Formosa, a red-scare witch hunt in Washington, communists everywhere.
Ike appointed a secret commission to define the role of intelligence. Its chair, Jimmy Doolittle, the hero who had bombed Tokyo, issued his report in 1954:
"It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and whatever cost. There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the United States is to survive, longstanding concepts of 'fair play' must be reconsidered. We must develop effective espionage, and counter espionage services, and must learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, and more effective methods than those used against us. It may be necessary that the American people be made acquainted with, understand, and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy."
This vision was immediately embodied in covert initiatives in the Middle East (Iran), Southeast Asia (Vietnam), and Latin America (Guatemala) that haunt the United States to this day. A vast, hidden apparatus was put in place, and a most effective alliance was quickly established with its exact equivalent behind the Iron Curtain. The world of Cold War espionage was commonly called a house of mirrors, but the real mirror imaging was of one side's secret establishment by the other's. The CIA and the KGB, precisely in their "clever . . . sophisticated" combat, sustained the conditions in which both could thrive. Each acted as the avant-garde of a burgeoning military establishment.
But that last Doolittle recommendation was never implemented -- getting the American people to understand and support "this fundamentally repugnant philosophy." Instead, the CIA's culture of secrecy was programmed to hide as much from the US public as from any foreign entity, on the theory that the public would not tolerate unethical and illegal activity. That is why one of the Cold War era abuses revealed last week involved assaults on American journalism -- the absurdly dubbed Operation Mockingbird. (The Times cited a document naming my father, General Joseph Carroll, as one of its perpetrators, but that is another story.)
The irony, of course, is that the CIA, which has almost always been wrong about America's enemies, has been proven wrong, in the end, about the American public. When the national security establishment's most heinous acts are laid bare -- whether through the Church Committee Hearings in the 1970s or in the release of the "family jewels" last week -- the revelations are greeted with a national yawn. The monstrous military establishment, which intelligence crimes protect, is not questioned.
Why are the congressional switchboards not jammed with angry phone calls of dishonored Americans? Except for an ineffectual, if passionate, minority of objectors, the people of the United States handle the knowledge of past and present crimes committed in their name quite nicely, thank you. Ah, but there's the darkest secret of all.