The CIA Reminds Us Who's Boss

Why do the people in charge of our security apparatus behave as though they can do whatever they want? Because no one has stopped them.

CIACIASen. Dianne Feinstein, a stalwart ally of the nation's intelligence agencies, says she is appalled to learn they have been spying on her committee, ignoring federal law and possibly trampling on the Constitution in a heavy-handed targeting of innocent people. Hey! Maybe now she knows how the rest of us feel.

Getting Feinstein to denounce the CIA is like trying to get Texas Republicans to disown Ted Nugent. As head of the Intelligence Committee, the California Democrat normally defends the spymasters no matter what. But even the longest rope is finite in length, and Feinstein has hit the end of hers.

That's the good news. The bad news is that, as with everything connected to intelligence and national security, it probably doesn't matter. Charges will fly, revelations will emerge, people will be outraged, and things will go on as they did before.

Feinstein's shock stems from her assumption that elected officials exercise the ultimate authority over what our intelligence agencies may do. But that's an illusion, as Tufts University international law professor Michael Glennon writes in the Harvard National Security Journal.

"Judicial review is negligible; congressional oversight is dysfunctional; and presidential control is nominal," he argues. We have, he says, a "double government"—the public one that citizens naively believe is in charge, and the hidden one that almost always prevails on anything it cares about.

Bradford Berenson, a lawyer in George W. Bush's White House, put it more delicately: "The dirty little secret here is that the United States government has enduring institutional interests that carry over from administration to administration and almost always dictate the position the government takes."

Barack Obama's presidency will be remembered for confirming this view beyond doubt. He ran on the promise of new protections for privacy, new limits on government snooping and new transparency about the government's activities. But he has governed as a champion of secrecy and untrammeled government power.

Obama continued the secret mass surveillance of Americans' phone records begun under Bush, sat mute as his national intelligence director misled Congress about the program, and declined to punish anyone for the use of torture.

He signed a bill authorizing indefinite imprisonment of Americans without charges or trial. He refused to publish the legal rationale for using a drone missile to vaporize a U.S. citizen in Yemen.

"The president will go down in history for having retained and defended George W. Bush's surveillance programs rather than reformed them," Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in January. Over and over, Obama has been Bush lite—except for the lite part.

Why? Because he either won't or can't corral the mammoth national security and intelligence apparatus built into the federal government. Presidents come and go, but the bureaucracy is eternal, and Obama is no match for it.

Neither is Congress. As Feinstein has learned, the security state is ferocious in defending against any threat posed by its purported overseers. She noted Tuesday that the CIA ran its overseas detention and interrogation program for four years before it let Congress know of its existence. It destroyed videotapes of interrogations using waterboarding and other savage techniques so Congress could never see them.

When the Senate Intelligence Committee found damning information among the 6.2 million pages of material it extracted from the CIA, Feinstein said, the agency searched the computers used by committee staffers and blocked access to crucial documents. In short, the CIA behaved like a rogue elephant.

How much power does even the Intelligence Committee have? It compiled a 6,300-page report that says the CIA misled Bush and others about the value of its harsh interrogation methods—which, the committee determined, were virtually worthless. But the administration has refused to declassify a summary of the committee report so the public can see for itself.

And where is Obama, the law school instructor who railed against Bush for "violating our fundamental notions of privacy"? He might as well still be teaching law.

Our mistake is trusting that what is visible in our system of government—elections that transfer power from one person and one party to another, wrangling between the president and Congress—is what matters. That no longer appears to be the case.

Why do the people in charge of our security apparatus behave as though they can do whatever they want? Because no one has stopped them. What's worse, maybe no one can.

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  • ||

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a stalwart ally of the nation's intelligence agencies, says she is appalled to learn the CIA has been spying on her committee

    Hey, they can't do that to the important people! They're important!

  • anon||

    Hey, they can't do that to the important connected people!

    Dianne Fuckface could die today and the world would be a better place.

  • UnCivilServant||

    It's easier to be important by being a destroyer than a creator.

  • Flowingwords213||

    Exactly. I mean seriously, does she really need to experience being spied on directly to be against it?

    Californians need to elect someone else for Senator next go around.

  • SIV||

    #TrollFreeThursday

  • UnCivilServant||

    No. Trolling is in my blood - and it won't pass out of my system for another 36-48 hours.

  • Unable2Reason||

    Obamacare covers vaccinations for this but when I found out where they wanted to put the needle I said forget it.

  • Jordan||

    Yeah, posting this on every thread isn't annoying at all.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    "Charges will fly, revelations will emerge, people will be outraged, and things will go on as they did before."

    Wow, you just summed up the vast majority of news stories. All that's left is celebrity gossip and reality TV.

  • Tommy_Grand||

    no, those are included in teh summary

  • ||

    "...and things will go on as they did before."

    No, they continue to escalate.

  • ||

    There is spying done be the CIA? I'm shocked, I tell you. Round up all the usual suspects.

  • anon||

    Why do the people in charge of our security apparatus behave as though they can do whatever they want?

    Great question, but we all know your answer wasn't correct. The correct answer is "Fuck you, that's why."

  • Pro Libertate||

    tyr·an·ny
    [tir-uh-nee]
    noun, plural tyr·an·nies.
    1. arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power; despotic abuse of authority. Synonyms: despotism, absolutism, dictatorship.

  • Aloysious||

    Obama continued the secret mass surveillance of Americans' phone records begun under Bush, sat mute as his national intelligence director misled Congress about the program, and declined to punish anyone for the use of torture.

    Rage.

    I know the administration is just a useless bunch of fuckheads; but still.

    More Rage.

  • Pro Libertate||

    You know, instead of each administration giving the past one a pass, how 'bout we do some prosecutin'?

  • anon||

    Come on, ProL, that might make people accountable. When the other TEAM is in power it might prevent them from doing things for the Greater Good.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Ain't gonna stop until we apply a big helping of consequences.

  • anon||

    More seriously, I'm already fucking fed up with dealing with the consequences of politicians' actions.

  • Aloysious||

    Pro L:

    As long as the punishment includes gibbeting.

  • Dances-with-Trolls||

    +1 greatest swordsman who ever lived.

  • Brett L||

    I think this is a bad idea. In countries where change of government means being prosecuted by one's enemies, change of government happens less. Unless we're going to round up all the bad actors from all administrations at the same time -- in which case this is a great idea.

  • anon||

    I vote we just round them all up and execute them. You know, just to be safe.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I don't mean as a matter of course. I only mean that there shouldn't be some magical pardon of every outgoing administration. Which there most definitely is.

  • Brett L||

    Fair enough. I just wanted to point out that the Iron Laws apply to our well-intentioned plans the same as everyone else's.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Yes, it used to be that employees of the past administrations were summarily fired when a new administration won office. And we changed the law so that people got to keep their jobs - and that was viewed as an improvement. Now of course we know what it actually leads to.

    Expanding power doesn't help, consolidation of power doesn't help. True liberty isn't granted, it's taken.

  • Will4Freedom||

    I can imagine hundreds of folks accused of wearing tin foil hats grinning from ear to ear right now.

    I've kinda got a little smirk myself.

  • rabid penguin||

    Schadenfreude is a hell of a drug!.

  • GILMORE||

    "because this is totally like proof that 9/11 was an inside job and bin laden is still alive and the financial crisis was rigged by mossad..."

    sorry, I don't watch alex jones so that's as much as I could come up with off the cuff.

  • Will4Freedom||

    huh?

    I was thinking more of the people who have been saying for years that our Liberties are being violated, and being told we were crazy.

    A little vindication... a little 'it couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch of hypocrites'.

  • ||

    And the TSA will be riding on public transit in Pittsburgh doing "exercises". What a nut job Alex is!

    Next they'll be requiring "internal passports" to explain why you need to drive beyond your local town, using license place readers and transponders to identify "runners"

  • ||

    Jerry Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy in full effect.

  • David Wall||

    Wasn't Snowden's main reason for going rogue and taking off with the stolen data was because he lost hope that Obama would live up to his promises of stopping the abuses?

    Really don't understand why the left can't hold this guy accountable on this issue. Can you help me with this Tony? ...Tony?

  • Remnant Psyche||

    "Wasn't Snowden's main reason for going rogue and taking off with the stolen data was because he lost hope that Obama would live up to his promises of stopping the abuses?"

    Why did anyone believe anything Obama promised in the first place? There was never a rational reason to do so.

    "Really don't understand why the left can't hold this guy accountable on this issue."

    Don't you mean ANY issue?

  • LimeyJack||

    We have, he says, a "double government"—the public one that citizens naively believe is in charge, and the hidden one that almost always prevails on anything it cares about.

    No, there's no "double government", one is the government (the one we elect) and the other is the STATE. There was a distinct difference in popular perception before the Progressive Era, but the Progs needs for the State the vial of legitimacy government provides.

    After all, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist...

  • Don'tTreadOnMe||

    ^^THIS!^^^

  • McStinklebuns||

    The National Security State has been firmly in control since WWII, as Gore Vidal noted long ago. We have seen glimpses of it in the Iran-Contra and Church Committee hearings, and of course Eisenhower's farewell address -- to say nothing of certain high profile assassinations.

  • judeoconnor@mac.com||

    If there is a secret government it does not matter who the currant resident of the White House is and all the BS of the media is just that.

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