Today’s release of the “Family Jewels”–a record of CIA misdeeds in the fifties, sixties, and seventies–provided a further reminder that most of the media, especially the electronic variety, are woefully ignorant. Breathless newcasters announced the release of the documents as if the Ark of the Covenant stashed by Indiana Jones had been discovered in a warehouse. Look folks, the CIA did some bad things back then that were first uncovered and reported as a result of an internal investigation. Congress subsequently was briefed and the CIA’s dirty laundry was aired before the public by Senator Frank Church.
The report highlighted the following major crimes and misdeeds:
1. The use of the mafia in a failed attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro.
2. The illegal wiretapping of American newsmen.
3. Analysis of domestic groups and political protestors.
4. Unauthorized opening of mail of U.S. Citizens.
5. Drug and behavior-alteration testing that probably resulted in the suicide of at least one U.S. citizen.
6. Imprisonment of a Soviet defector without due process for more than two years.
The records are historically important but there is no significant “news” in these documents in the sense of reporting something we did not previously know. These events were fully reported thirty years ago and the CIA’s shame exposed. I make no apologies nor excuses for the past CIA abuses. The records do help explode some myths, e.g. that the CIA successfully assassinated foreign leaders. They were authorized to do so and tried in several cases but never succeeded. Castro, in case you have been living in a cave, is still alive and giving the United States the finger.
The real news that the media is ignoring is the new “Family Jewels”. I am certain the CIA has a report somewhere detailing who was involved with extraordinary renditions and torture. I would not be surprised if we find CIA officers like Michael Scheuer, Cofer Black, Hank Crumpton, John McLaughlin, and George Tenet facing war crimes charges in the International Court at the Hague within the next four years. I am making no claims about the guilt of these individuals, but their role in extraordinary renditions almost certainly will be investigated by foreign governments (Italy, for example, is currently prosecuting other CIA officers and contractors for their role in kidnapping a muslim cleric) and charges could very well be filed. At a minimum these gents probably will not be traveling outside the United States for the foreseeable future.
But torture in the war on terror shares a pedigree with the misdeeds of the past. The CIA was not a rogue elephant acting on its own. It was an obedient dog carrying out the order of political masters. As the Washington Post has detailed in a series of excellent reports this week, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld were leading the charge in authorizing the use of torture proscribed under international law. It is the responsibility of intelligence officers to maintain their integrity when ordered to do illegal and immoral acts. The lessons of the Nuremburg trials of the Nazis is that the claim of, “I was only following orders”, is not a valid nor acceptable defense. Government officials, regardless of their place in a government bureaucracy, are expected to follow the law and do the right thing.