The thing that makes the CIA such a threat to the world is how the agency gets off scot-free time and again no matter how egregious its activities.
From training the Contras to testing LSD on humans to assassinating presidents, the CIA does as it pleases. How did it come to this and when will it end?
The Central Intelligence Agency has become somewhat of a household name in the US and in other countries unfortunate enough to be a stage for its meddling. Practically since it was founded to this very day, it has gone well beyond simply collecting intelligence and assisting the President, which are the limited tasks the CIA states as its mission.
Whatever your stance on the present-day CIA may be, it’s hard to object to the notion that every state must have an intelligence agency. It is like the balance of terror: in the world where everyone has their own intel-gathering agencies, you should have one, too.
However, the power of the CIA started to exceed merely collecting intel very soon after its creation. Just one year after the National Security Act had established the Agency in 1947, another piece of legislation bestowed a bunch of extra powers on it.
This new act, NC 10/2, placed the authority over covert espionage and counter-espionage operations abroad during the time of peace under the control of the Director of Central Intelligence. Such operations were to be conducted by the Office of Special Projects nominally independent of the other CIA units; the Chief of this office, however, was to report to the Director of the CIA only. Moreover, the Director also held the power to approve the candidate for the position of the Chief of the OSP.
The next time the CIA was granted additional privileges was not long in coming. Per Section 6 of the 1949 Central Intelligence Agency Act, it was exempted from the obligation to disclose any information regarding its funding. Of course, it went against the Constitution’s demands to publish regular reports on how any money withdrawn from the Treasury was spent but why would anyone care? The Supreme Court definitely did not, essentially telling the public that how much money the Agency spends and how should not concern the citizens.
That case, United States v. Richardson, is extremely indicative of the relationship between the CIA and the general public. It showed that some entities in the nation are free from all scrutiny and the less the population knows about their doings, the better for it.
And indeed, the Agency doesn’t want anyone looking into its activities not only because of the oh-so-secret intelligence but also because they are oftentimes illegal.
The most famous example of the CIA treating American citizens as guinea pigs is, of course, the MK-Ultra program. That project, carried out in the middle of the twentieth century at eighty-six institutions, involved conducting unethical experiments on humans.
“Unethical” doesn’t even begin to describe it, really. Here’s what Ted Kennedy told to the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Committee on Human Resource during the joint hearing in 1977: “The Central Intelligence Agency drugged American citizens without their knowledge or consent. […] The Agency itself acknowledged that these tests made little scientific sense. The agents doing the monitoring were not qualified scientific observers. […] Other experiments were equally offensive. For example, heroin addicts were enticed into participating in LSD testing in order to get a reward — heroin.”
There is something other than the shocking cruelty and indifference to human life and well-being that Senator Kennedy’s words tell us about the CIA. To give heroin as a reward, it would need to have obtained heroin somewhere in the first place. Surely, the drug trade is not something that the CIA would do, is it?
Well, we don’t necessarily have the proof that it did participate in drug trafficking back when MK-Ultra was still undiscovered by the Senate. What we do know, though, is that the Agency was involved in it a few decades later, using drug money to help finance the Contras.
Pilots who delivered arms from the US to Nicaragua could “bring back [their] own cargo”, that cargo being marijuana and cocaine to earn a little extra. The CIA made sure that they were not searched on arrival. Moreover, the drugs those pilots were flying back to America were also provided by the CIA and a “friend” it had brought into this scheme, drug trafficker George Morales whom it had pressured into providing planes and money to the Contras in exchange for some benefits during his jail time.
With its nearly limitless financing that it doesn’t have to give an account of, you’d think that the Agency should be hyper-competent in fulfilling its primary task, namely gathering and analyzing intel, especially such that concerns the safety of the American citizens. If the CIA has time and funds to see coup d’états through in half a dozen foreign states, it surely must manage to keep the American soil safe from inside and outside dangers.
But as we all know, it is as far from the truth as it can possibly be. What was the taxpayers’ money that went to finance the CIA wasted on if it couldn’t prevent 9/11 despite having advance knowledge of the planned attack and having been tracking some of the hijackers?
The eyes of the CIA were more drawn to other countries than to the USA from the get-go. Back in 1953, the CIA planned and saw through the TPAJAX project which resulted in Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh being deposed and the authority of the Shah being consolidated.
Because of this overthrow of a democratically elected official, the rule of the Iranian monarch that was perceived as pro-American was also widely hated by the Iranians. While it can be argued that it was facilitated by the Shah himself and his West-oriented policies that angered the traditionalists much more than by the circumstances of his installation as the ruler, the result was the same. After 26 years, the CIA’s efforts to secure Iran as a secular and US-friendly state went bust when the Iranian Revolution happened in 1979.
Despite the fact that Iran today is anything but a friend to the USA, opinions that it was the US that staged the revolution have been voiced. If it is so, it’s safe to assume that the CIA was involved in such an operation. It would be quite fitting, actually, if the Shah’s regime rose and fell with the help of the Agency.
And let us not forget, of course, the funding that the CIA gave to the Mujahideen of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, trying to reestablish their foothold in the region after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. This so-called Operation Cyclone flooded the region with guns and ammunition that were later used by al-Qaeda.
The question all these considerations bring us to is this: Have the American people seen more good or bad from the CIA?
It can be argued that our view of this problem is going to be one-sided because we are less likely to find out about their successes than blunders. While it is true, the number and the magnitude of these blunders are so off the charts that no amount of good work that the CIA does can possibly outweigh it.
One thing makes the CIA as threatening to the world as it is. This thing is how the Agency gets off scot-free no matter what it does time and again. Nobody was punished for the awful events that transpired under the MK-Ultra project as the researchers were decided to be “protected intelligence sources” by the court and could not, therefore, be prosecuted.
Today, there’s little that we can do to change this situation. But to be aware of it, to be aware of every operation Central Intelligence wants to sweep under the rug, of every country that has suffered because of the Agency’s machinations is the step we all should take. It is the least we can do, but hopefully not the last.