Reform the CIA? What Good Would That Do?

by | Nov 24, 2014


People who are trying to reform the NSA and the CIA are just wasting their time.

After all, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, these two agencies operate in secret. Moreover, they know that they can do anything they want, including breaking the law, and that nothing will ever happen to them.

Suppose, for example, that Congress were to enact a law that prohibits the NSA from monitoring everyone’s email. Let’s assume that the NSA decides that monitoring people’s email is necessary for national security. Does anyone really think that the NSA is going to fail to protect national security, even if that means violating the law? In the minds of NSA officials, that’s their job — to protect national security, including when Congress takes actions that jeopardize national security.

It’s no different with the CIA. It’s going to do whatever is necessary to protect national security, even if that means breaking the law.

In the minds of NSA officials and CIA officials, national security is everything. Their attitude is: What good are the laws if the nation goes down? Their adage is: The Constitution is not a suicide pact.

Let’s assume that the NSA and the CIA violate duly enacted laws that reform these two agencies. What will happen to the officials who knowingly break the laws?

We all know the answer: Nothing will happen to them! They will not be criminally prosecuted. If anyone sues, the federal courts will dismiss their cases without permitting even one deposition to be taken. In a national security state, national security is everything. No official is going to be punished or penalized for doing what he thinks is necessary for national security.

Look at DNI head James Clapper. He lied under oath to Congress about the existence of the NSA’s massive, secret surveillance scheme, never dreaming that he would be busted. He did it to protect national security. Nothing happened to him. He was never charged with perjury.

CIA agents were convicted in Italy of unlawfully kidnapping a man. Nothing happened to them. That’s because they were breaking the law as part of an operation to protect national security.

CIA agents also violated laws against torture. Nothing is happening to them. In fact, they even intentionally destroyed the videotapes that they were taking of their torture sessions. Again, nothing happened to them. National security!

Recall those illegal actions by U.S. telecoms, whereby U.S. officials and telecom officials conspired to violate the privacy rights of the telecoms’ customers. Everyone got immunity. National security!

So, no matter what reform is enacted for these two agencies, as a practical matter it won’t make any difference anyway. They are going to do whatever they want to do and cite national security. No one will know anyway what they’re doing because they’ll keep it secret. And if people do find out about it, everyone knows that nothing bad is going to happen to officials who are doing what they think is necessary to protect national security.

Equally important, even if the NSA and the CIA decided to comply with some reform law, what difference would it make insofar as freedom and privacy are concerned? Wouldn’t people still have to adjust their conduct with the assumption that their Internet activity and emails are being monitored and telephone calls being recorded? How can a society in which people are worried about those things truly be considered to be a free society?

For anyone who wants to know what it’s like to live in a free society, there is but one solution: Abolish both of these Cold War-era relics. If the NSA and the CIA are abolished, the possibility that these two agencies are monitoring emails and Internet activity and listening to people’s telephone conversations drops to zero. Now we’re talking about a genuinely free society, one in which people are no longer concerned about the possibility that the government is keeping track of their peaceful activities.

Obviously, in order for Americans to go in this direction — the direction of liberty and privacy — they have to lose their fear of what happens when these two agencies go out of existence. No, America will not drop into the ocean, and the IRS and the rest of the federal government will not be taken over by the terrorists, Muslims, communists, drug dealers, Russians, ISIS, Chinese, Cubans, North Koreans, or illegal aliens.

The notion that the NSA and the CIA are the only things standing between America and the barbarians at the gates is ridiculous. Actually, America would be much safe and more secure if these two agencies (and the rest of the welfare-warfare state) were to go the way of the dodo bird.

It’s time for Americans to think at a higher level — one that goes beyond reform, one that abolishes both the NSA and the CIA.

Reprinted with permission from the Future of Freedom Foundation.


  • Jacob G. Hornberger

    Jacob George Hornberger is an American attorney, author, and politician who was a Libertarian candidate for president in 2000 and 2020. He is the founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

    View all posts