Deception Is One Thing the CIA Does Well

August 17, 1994|By GARRY WILLS

CHICAGO — Chicago.--The CIA's stealth building in northern Virginia near Dulles Airport is a perfect example of what happens when an unconstitutional body is set up. It has to justify itself by declaring a permanent emergency of the kind that suspends the Constitution.

In war, admittedly, certain constitutional guarantees are whittled at. Compulsory military service, for instance, borders on involuntary servitude. That is why the Cold War was used to set up the CIA, in violation of the constitutional provision that all public money must be publicly accounted for.

The CIA and other intelligence agencies sneak their budgets through the congressional authorization process under various disguises that are meant precisely to evade public accounting.

The argument was that our enemies should not know how much we are spending on secret operations. From the mere scale indicated by such spending, our foes might guess at the types of activity.

But now, after the Cold War has ended, the CIA does not want to do either of two things: scale back its secret empire or open it up to public scrutiny. So every operation is treated as if it were still a wartime emergency measure.

That is why the big new building in Virginia, for running our space satellites, was hidden away in the budget, not letting Congress as a whole realize that it was funding this immense $310 million project.

Defendants of the agency claim that a few selected members of Congress were informed in classified hearings -- all that the CIA has ever felt obliged to do, and more than it has often done. This does not meet the constitutional requirements, but Congress, in its timidity, has never insisted on that.

Others, like the Moonie paper in the capital, the Washington Times, argue that a crossword puzzle addict, given enough time, could have figured out the scale of the building from bits and pieces of public knowledge assembled over the years.

But most members of Congress did not piece the matter out. It seems perverse for the CIA to say, in effect, ''We told you, because we could not hide all of the information, and you might have guessed at it if you worked hard.''

Yet what can we expect of an agency set up in a fit of lying? Clark Clifford, in an important interview with Carl Bernstein, admitted that the bill sent to Capitol Hill to establish the agency was framed to mislead Congress itself.

The culture of secrecy leads to two things, paranoia, and a compensatory laxness.

Aldrich Ames has made it clear that he was able to get away with incredible breaches of CIA discipline because the agency had been paralyzed by the Cold War craziness of James Jesus Angleton, who thought every event that happened in the world was staged by the Soviet Union.

People in the CIA were so frightened of being considered an Angleton that they pooh-poohed questions about the real counter-agent in their midst.

The cult of secrecy itself enabled Ames to cancel millions of dollars of operations and wipe out the lives of American spies by his acts of simple drunken greed.

No wonder the CIA did not have a clue about the real problems within the Soviet Union or of the impending end of the Cold War. Its spies, who might have told them something about this, were caught or killed or manipulated.

And the agency was so wrapped up in its internal puzzles as to leave little energy or intellect for solving the puzzles assigned to it.

The record of the CIA is of endless disasters. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's suggestion that it be dissolved is a sensible one.

That would not end our intelligence activity, carried on by various agencies. It would end the cloak-and-dagger antics that have caused more trouble for this country than they have averted.

Without the CIA trying to assassinate Fidel Castro in the early 1960s, there would have been no missiles in Cuba and no Cuban missile crisis. The worst danger of the Cold War was brought on us by the agency we set up to keep such crises from occurring.

How many more lessons do we need of ineptitude, immorality and waste?

Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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