Foreign Policy

Putting the "Oh?" in O.S.S.

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One of John McCain's many curious foreign policy initiatives is his desire to launch a new Office of Strategic Services (OSS), in order get more civilian shoulders on the wheel of the shadowy War Against Islamic Nutjobbers. The OSS was FDR's wartime intel & covert-ops shop; after the war it was disbanded, then basically re-formed as the CIA.

Why do we need a CIA and an OSS? Beats me. More importantly, what does the this-is-why-I-love-the-Internet site OSS Reborn say about it? "[N]ot without merit; but there are significant obstacles."

Whole thing worth a read for you Wild Bill Donovan fans out there.

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  1. Why do we need a CIA and an OSS?

    I might have left at Why do we need a CIA?

    Then again, I’m a crackpot. OTOH, the CIA doesn’t exactly have a stellar track record and they certainly cannot protect us against random cafe bombers. It isn’t possible.

  2. why do we need both a CIA and the dozen other “intelligence” agencies?

  3. Thanks to innovative and pro-American ideas like this, John McCain is going to run away with this election.

  4. Didn’t the LP platform at one time call for the abolishment of both the CIA and FBI?
    So the question for libertarians is, “Should the U.S. have an intelligence service?”

  5. The United States shouldn’t have an intelligence service. Nor should it have a large, permanent standing army.

    As for the FBI, I think there should be some kind of federal agency to prosecute federal and interstate crimes but the agency should be scaled down dramatically from what it is.

    The ATF should be deep sixed and never heard from again.

  6. “The United States shouldn’t have an intelligence service.”

    The US should absolutely have an effective intelligence service. Miscalculation and misunderstanding causes more wars than anything else. An effective intelligence service enables governments to make informed decisions about their advisaries.

    The problem with the US has is that it hasn’t had an effective intelligence service since World War II. The CIA was never dedicated to its primary mission of providing US officials reliable and useful intelligence. Instead, it concentraited on covert actions and the like which did nothing but cause the country embarassment and headache.

    I like the idea of reforming the OSS and closing down the CIA. I would everyone to read Legacy of Ashes, the recently published history of the CIA. The CIA is utterly broke and incompetent. I think it is probably beyond fixing. The better sollution is to form a new organiztion with a refocused mission on intelligence instead of covert operations.

  7. My dad told me about the problems in the Dillinger days with prosecuting or catching bad guys as they crossed state borders. But couldn’t there be a simple compact among the states to co-operate with things that right now seem to need to be handled by the feds?

    In the old days, each state was stuck enforcing traffic laws without co-operation and that meant if you were speeding through Georgia with California plates you were going to jail, or at leas to the courthouse because Georgia knew that once you crossed the border they were S-O-L.

    Today, that never happens because if a Georgia cop writes you a ticket, California will enforce collection of the fine for them.

    I know the FBI seemed like a good idea at the time, but I think the other FBI is more appropriate (Female Body Inspectors).

  8. The CIA is utterly broke and incompetent.

    Yes, and I think that whatever you replace the CIA with will be irrelevant because the same fate awaits it.

  9. John, sure an intelligence agency could do some good but it would also do a lot of harm that would probably outweigh the good it does. The history of the CIA seems to confirm this.

  10. I read a biography of Donovan once. He was one cool dude.

  11. “But couldn’t there be a simple compact among the states to co-operate with things that right now seem to need to be handled by the feds?”

    Of course there is. In this day and age there is no reason for federal law enforcement outside of border patrol issues. If I rob a bank in California, the police in the State of Georgia are going to know about it and know who they have when they pick me up. You could kill off every section of the FBI tommorow sans the counter terror and international sections and not miss it. In this day and age there needs to be a federal authority that works with DOS and foreign governments on international crime and terrorism. There needs to be a border patrol. Beyond that, the federal government ought to be no more than an information sharing and coordinating agency for state and local law enforcement.

  12. Don’t forget Moe Berg!

  13. “John, sure an intelligence agency could do some good but it would also do a lot of harm that would probably outweigh the good it does. The history of the CIA seems to confirm this.”

    Maybe I miss understand you. You don’t object to “intelligence collection” just to an agency dedicated to that. You could probably turn intelligence collection over to the military and get better intelligence and have less of a danger of doing dumb ass covert operations than you do with the CIA. I would support turning over all intelligence collection to the military and shutting the CIA down.

  14. Maybe I miss understand you. You don’t object to “intelligence collection” just to an agency dedicated to that.

    Thats pretty much it. I wouldn’t mind it being handled by the military, its just that a separate agency can get into a lot of mischief and end up making things worse for our position in the world.

  15. Will Bill Donovan

    Still waiting for the new proofreader intern to start, I see.

  16. “Thats pretty much it. I wouldn’t mind it being handled by the military, its just that a separate agency can get into a lot of mischief and end up making things worse for our position in the world.”

    I would agree. One of the lessons of the cold war is the law of unintended consiquences. Everytime we meddled in other governments trying to get the right outcome, we usually ended up with a worse outcome even if the operation was successful.

  17. Separating intelligence gathering from covert shenanigans is certainly a good idea, but we shouldn’t underestimate the factors that might make these things hard to separate. Anybody who’s in a position to gather information secretly is probably in a position to cause all sorts of mischief, or at least help those causing mischief. And so eventually somebody will look at this and say “Hey, I’ve got a great idea…”

    Besides, if your goal is to separate information gathering from covert shenanigans, is the military really the best organization to do it? Special operations forces are naturally respected for their prowess, but one of the things they are good at is coordinating with irregular forces in other countries. If an organization places the people capable of covert shenanigans on a pedestal, and then that organization is placed in charge of gathering information in secret, well, you know what will inevitably happen.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t gather information, I’m just saying that the temptations to branch out into shenanigans are real, and we shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking that any particular organization will naturally resist the temptation. Oversight is the only way to really control the problem.

  18. I would add to the list of needed federal law enforcement Immigration and Customs enforcement to handle immigration issues and the Secret Service to protect the President and the currency. If I were King, I would close down the BATF and DEA. I would then greatly reduce the size of the FBI and give it the missions of counter-intelligence (catching spies), government corruption (cases where the state and locals are compromised and can’t be trusted to honestly investigate), international terrorism, international crime and state and local information sharing. I would then take the FBI away from DOJ and put it under Homeland Security where ICE, USS and CBP currently reside. That way you would have one agency that handled all federal law enforcement. Making that agency DHS would emphasize the fact that federal law enforcement is limited to areas like international and border issues and defense issues and not general in its scope. It would also be completely humiliating to the FBI to have to leave DOJ and live with the lesser entities like CBP over in DHS land. It would be a greatly needed penis reduction for the FBI and DOJ who would no longer control any law enforcement arms outside of the US Marshalls, which they could keep since they run the jails.

  19. John-

    The idea of separating the people who do the investigation and arrest from the people who do the prosecution is an interesting one. I believe that most locales do that. Do you see downsides, or is this separation of responsibilities (and egos and reputations) a generally good thing?

  20. Its worth noting that after World War II we prohibited Germany from having a law enforcement agency at the federal level in their country–with good reason give their history with the Prussian Secret Police and the Gestapo–and they seem to do just fine with only state-level law enforcement.

  21. Check out Moe Berg at wikipedia. What a story!

  22. I think intelligence is a good idea, but, as noted above, separating intelligence from, well, evil stupidity is the real trick.

    Given the high costs of the Iraq occupation, why not just use the money to get the results we want? One billion dollars for Osama bin Laden! $100 billion to be spread equally among all Iraqis if they remain stable for one year!

  23. “Do you see downsides, or is this separation of responsibilities (and egos and reputations) a generally good thing?”

    The downside is that the cops don’t get to work as closly with prosecutors and without legal guidance are more likly to fuck up the case. I can live with that. Part of the reason that DOJ is so out of control is that they own the FBI. If I am an assistant US Attorney and the case is important enough, I can go to my boss who can go as high as necessary right up to the AG who will make the FBI jump as high as I want them. That doesn’t ever happen because everyone knows the score and the FBI and USA office are generally in bed together. Thus, there is almost no oversight or control of the the FBI or of DOJ. Think about it, DOJ owns the main entity in charge of investigating government corruption. Not a bad position to be in you know?

  24. Is McCain fucking serious? Really? To state the obvious, we already have a gagillion intelligence agencies, a director of intelligence, the DHS, the DOD … etc, ad nauseum. McCain is a nut-job bastard, plain and simple. That there are tens of millions of Americans that will hear this and still vote for him makes me feel very unpatriotic. What a goddamn loon! Will somebody please tell him that being a POW does not make him qualified to be president. Will somebody please tell the Right the same thing … and then beat their moronic, sheeple asses when they don’t listen.

  25. I suspect the underlying reason for a new OSS is because while laws have been passed that restricts what the CIA does domestically, a new OSS might well be able to do those things the CIA is prohibited from doing…. at least until they are caught doing them in an egregious manner and a new law is passed restricting the OSS as well…

    But that can wait until the torch passes to a different Admin.

    As for the CIA…. I have mixed feeling about it. As long as we are a global meddling Hegemon we probably need it to ferret out who has it in for us today. Were we to stay out of other peoples business we wouldn’t need it. That, of course, is the best answer.

  26. I think we need an Office for Reconnaissance, Logistics, and technologY. Call it ORLY.

  27. Knowledge Intaking Commission for Key American Secret Services.

    Yeah!

  28. Were we to stay out of other peoples business we wouldn’t need it.

    That’s not enough, of course, to do without any kind of organized intelligence agency. We also need people to stay out of our business. You know, the whole flying planes into our buildings thing?

  29. OK, I expected him to be mired in the past. But not his past! Seriously, they were disbanded before his tenth birthday.

  30. RC Dean: Had we stayed out of others’ business over the past few decades, those planes would not have been flown into the buildings in the first place. And I will remind you that the CIA did not prevent it from happening in any event.

    Can you not digest that the primary reason for 9-11 was our stationing troops in Saudi Arabia, followed by our one-sided support for Israel and then by a host of other actions in the region?

  31. John: The CIA is incompetent and broken, but not broke. The US are broke. 😉

    Cesar: I guess that’s why the FRG (and by extension now, Germany) had the BKA (BundesKriminalAmt = Federal Criminal Office, including internal intelligence) and the BND (BundesNachrichtenDienst = Federal Intelligence Service, foreign intelligence that sometimes seems to forget the foreign)

    The juicy thing about the BND is that it was formed to spy on the commies from the same people who did it for the Nazis, some of them who were white-washed from their SS service and similar things for the purpose; all with the blessing and help of the western allies, especially the US.

    Of course, the thanks for that was that the BND was quickly infiltrated by the KGB and the MfS (Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit, Ministry for State Security, the same Jolly folks who ran the StaSi) of the GDR.

    Otherwise it mostly busied itself by ineffectively spying on German dissidents and doing things against official German policy (such as with cooperating with the US in Iraq, against orders – another thing that seemed to turn out just great).

    I guess, all in all you could say that having secret services always works for totalitarians and against free societies, no matter to which side which service officially belongs. For a free society, spooks seem to be costly and ineffective wastes of time at best and dangerous at worst; the worst case being more common.

  32. Miscalculation and misunderstanding causes more wars than anything else.

    But I thought wars are caused by ENEMIES OF LIBERTY who HATE AMERICAN AFFLUENCE and want to STEAL OUR FREEDOMS.

    HAS THE TELEVISION BEEN LYING TO ME?????

  33. There’s a whole freakin’ list of alphabet-soup agencies that should be wiped off the map. CIA is just one of them. The military has its own intelligence arm (DIA), btw. I don’t know how well, if at all, they communicate with the other spooks, and I don’t really care.

    But yeah, deep-six the CIA. Maybe I’d feel differently if I knew what it was they did, but I can’t know that, because my government has to keep secrets in order to keep me safe. At least, that’s what its suits tell me.

  34. “But I thought wars are caused by ENEMIES OF LIBERTY who HATE AMERICAN AFFLUENCE and want to STEAL OUR FREEDOMS.”

    There are lots of people who want to take our freedoms and would if they could. They are generally deterred by our military. Where wars arise is when they start thinking they can get away with something when they can’t or when we think they are up to something they are not.

  35. Thoreau,

    “Besides, if your goal is to separate information gathering from covert shenanigans, is the military really the best organization to do it? Special operations forces are naturally respected for their prowess, but one of the things they are good at is coordinating with irregular forces in other countries. If an organization places the people capable of covert shenanigans on a pedestal, and then that organization is placed in charge of gathering information in secret, well, you know what will inevitably happen.”

    You make a valid point except that, within the military, special ops are most definitely placed on a pedestal already. However, an additional distinct advantage, aside from already doing many of the mission types that the CIA tried/failed to execute, is that they fall under military law and the UCMJ. And since the military has a far better track record of policing itself than the CIA, specops would be far less likely to succumb to “what will inevitably happen.”

  36. “Where liberty dwells, there lies my country.”

  37. ?

  38. “””The US should absolutely have an effective intelligence service. Miscalculation and misunderstanding causes more wars than anything else. An effective intelligence service enables governments to make informed decisions about their advisaries. “””

    That’s a great argument for a foreign intel service, which the CIA was until after 9/11. But they had to break down that wall!! so who know’s what they are doing domestically.

  39. McCain is hoping that if he reopens the OSS, Steve Austin will fight the terrorist.

  40. within the military, special ops are most definitely placed on a pedestal already

    Don’t confuse sizzle and steak. Special ops are glamorous and get disproportionate press attention — but the primary career path in the armed forces, as in most organizational hierarchies, continues to be command of large units with large resources.

  41. As a practical matter, folding all intelligence services into Defense wouldn’t help, for two reasons. First, it is a cardinal principle in intelligence to keep as much as space as possible between the people analysing the information, and the people making the decision. When they get too close, the desires of the latter inevitably influence the work of the former (just look at Wolfie’s OSP.) Second, intelligence organisations inevitably develop a particular culture and approach, which produces a set of biases in how information is gathered and assessed. Every individual service, no matter how well-run, will have a set of blind-spots that have to be compensated for.

    Now, the current system obviously blows. There is no way we need sixteen different national level organisations. I think foreign intelligence could probably be handled by three; one in Defense, focused on military subjects; one in State, for diplomatic subjects (INR is one of the few that actually works now); and an independent agency. You might add a fourth, also independent, to focus on sigint. You would probably also need a coordinating body, equivalent to the British JIC.

  42. TrickyVic,

    Wasn’t that the OSI?

  43. Good Idea! We need one agency in charge of all false-flag attacks. That way we will know who is responsible the next time the government kills a bunch of Americans and lies about it.

    Do some people here really believe that WTC7 fell down due to a fire?

  44. Perhaps I was too subtle:

    Knowledge
    Intaking
    Commission for
    Key
    American
    Secret
    Services

    It seems so apropos for a McCain agency, too.

  45. Yeah, that’s the problem, Sen. McCain. We clearly don’t have enough tax-sucking bureaucrats on the job already.

  46. Monte,

    Career path isn’t what I’m arguing and neither is press coverage. I’m talking about how the military (not the members of the military) view specops. Specops are on a pedestal: whatever equipment they want, whatever training facilities they want, whatever personnel they want, whatever MTOE they want, and on and on.

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