Why Reform the CIA?

by | Aug 11, 2014

CIA Worldwide

Just as I predicted in my article “Why Not Simply Abolish the CIA?” critics of the CIA’s illegally hacking into the computers of U.S. senators who were investigating CIA torture are calling for reform, rather than abolition, of the CIA. Stuck in the mindset of the national-security state, they simply cannot raise their vision to a higher level—to one that restores a constitutionally limited government republic to our land.

Here’s one example: an op-ed today entitled “The CIA vs. the Senate: The Constitution Demands Action” by constitutional scholar Bruce Ackerman in the Los Angeles Times, in which the author states: “CIA spying on the Senate is the constitutional equivalent of the Watergate break-in. In both cases, the executive branch attacked the very foundations of checks and balances.”

After criticizing some of the reform proposals being circulated, Ackerman does the predicable: He himself calls for reform.

Or consider this one: “Obama and the CIA” by Melvin A. Goodman, which is posted at Counterpunch. Detailing some of the CIA’s transgressions, Goodman wants to “restore the rule of law at the CIA.” How does he propose that that be done? Through reform, primarily by getting better people into public office.

This is ridiculous. Why is it that so many people cannot think at a higher level? My answer: It’s a testament to the power of the national-security state to convince people, through propaganda, indoctrination, and government-manufactured crises, that the CIA and the rest of the national-security state apparatus are absolutely essential to the existence of the United States. Without this apparatus, which the United States lived without for the first 150 years of American history, the United States would cease to exist as a nation, is that what national-security statists say and what they have convinced so many Americans to believe.

It’s false.

For one thing, let’s not forget why the ostensible reason the CIA was brought into existence: to wage a “Cold War” against America’s World War II partner and ally, the Soviet Union. The argument was that the Soviets, as communists, were employing dark-side tactics to bring the United States under the communist yoke. Therefore, the argument went, it was necessary for the United States to do the same sorts of things that the communists were doing.

In other words, to defeat communism, they implied, it’s necessary for America to become like the communists. And the implicit deal was that in return for full and complete power, the CIA would keep secret from the American people what it was doing, so that people’s consciences wouldn’t be troubled.

And so began the long, sordid history of things like torture, assassination, wars of aggression, regime-change operations, medical experiments on unsuspecting Americans and foreigners, spying on Americans, and on and on.

Lots of people like to think that the CIA began its torture and assassination program after 9/11. That’s because facing the truth is too painful for them. The truth is that the CIA has been torturing and assassination practically since its inception. Torture and assassination are essentially part of its bureaucratic DNA.

There were the many Cold War assassination and assassination attempts. Fidel Castro and Patrice Lumumba come to mind.

There were the partnerships with dictatorial regimes that were actively engaged in torture and assassination. Chile and Pinochet come to mind. So does Iran under the Shah. Or Egypt today.

Vietnam comes to mind, with its Operation Phoenix, the organized torture and assassination program in that country.

Operation MKULTRA, where the CIA engaged in medical experimentation on unsuspecting Americans.

Plus, of course, much more, with much of it still being kept secret from the American people.

Several important questions arise:

  • Was it necessary for the United States to adopt dark-side, communist like methods to combat communism?
  • What did this to us a society and a nation?
  • Given that the Cold War was the justification cited for bringing this agency into existence, why is still with us, given that the Cold War is over?
  • Is a secret intelligence force consistent with the principles of a free society, especially one with the power to assassinate, kidnap, detain, and torture with impunity?
  • To what extent did the CIA fundamentally alter America’s governmental structure?
  • What would be the effect on the United States and the world if the CIA were abolished?
  • What good does it do to impose reforms on what is the most powerful government agency in U.S. history, one that wields the power to do anything it wants in the name of “national security”?
  • To what extent has the CIA contributed to the deep anger and hatred that foreigners have for the United States?
  • What has been the extent of the “blow-back” to the United States from CIA operations abroad?
  • Why should any agency be above the criminal and civil laws of both the United States and and other countries?

When President Eisenhower delivered his famous warning about how the military-industrial complex is a grave threat to America’s democratic processes, he undoubtedly was including the CIA within that warning. Also, don’t forget former President Truman’s pointing out in aWashington Post op-ed, thirty days after the John Kennedy assassination, how the CIA had become a dark and sinister force within America’s governmental structure.

Americans need to take the debate and discussion regarding the CIA to a higher level, one that focuses on abolition, not reform. They’ve done that with the drug war, where the American people are now recognizing why the drug war should be ended, not reformed. It’s time to do the same with 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.

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