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October 07, 2003

Exposing CIA Agents Not Murder

Counterspin, LeanLeft, The Hamster, and The Poor Man think I'm advocating having CIA agents offed for political disagreements in my anti-CIA post.

Few CIA Deaths: One of the things I'm objecting to in the whole progressive Plame debate is that progressives have been watching too many spy movies-- and turning respect for the CIA and its supposed perils into a fetish excusing secrecy for its sordid actions. The average CIA agent lives a life of less danger than a postman (fewer dogs). In fifty years of the CIA's existence, just 70 agents have died in service to the CIA. Miners suffer more deaths than that each year. A little bit more concern about lack of OSHA safety enforcement and a bit less concern about CIA agent safety might be appropriate.

I'm not arguing for randomly exposing CIA agents. The Plame revelation looks to be a vindictive political hit that the voters should punish the Bush administration for at the polls next year. I'm just arguing that it shouldn't be a crime. This is hardly a bizarre position on the left. See Sam Smith back in 1999 who noted that the Congress quietly made it a crime to reveal the identity of present and retired CIA agents-- thereby helping to cover up CIA crimes even from history.

Exposure Not Death Sentence: "Blowing the cover" of most CIA agents amounts to exposing some supposed deputy ambassador as a CIA plant. It's not a death sentence-- it just let's the American people know what a lot of folks in that country already know. The reality is that most decent CIA work will stay secret because the people who know the secret won't reveal it, unless there is compelling reasons to do so. For all the denunciation of Philip Agee (the ex-CIA agent who led a campaign in the 1970s to expose CIA agents), his critics can only point to one death, the CIA station chief in Athens, Greece who was supposedly killed due to Agee's revelations-- and even that is disputed. (And note the involvement of the CIA in undermining democratic elections in Greece in the 1960s and close contact with those who led the military coup in 1967. Given the murders of Greek citizens due to the dictatorship, that one example (disputed) is hardly a compelling documented example of the loss for global progressive values from revealing CIA names).

Secrecy Fools American People, Not Foreign Victims: I remember meeting in Turkey with a labor leader-- who had been tortured in prison by the military coup leaders the US had supported in the early 1980s. He told me everyone knew who the local CIA operative was in town (in that case an agent posing as a US labor leader). Except that the folks at home don't know, because we pretend that our agents don't support the torture and murder of dissidents who oppose US policies.

And the CIA uses the cloak of secrecy not to hide their activities from such victims -- who are all too aware of US involvement in such atrocities -- but from the American people.

Just to throw out a few less violent examples of CIA actions where I find it hard to believe that progressives would object to "outing" the role of agents:
* Planting CIA agents in network news
* Buying the rights to Orwell's Animal Farm to make sure its anti-capitalist message was removed in the film version.

More serious is the issue of CIA collaboration with latin american death squads and drug smugglers. By the logic of those who think the identity of CIA agents should be sacred, every article written about CIA involvement in the dirty wars of Latin America should have led to indictments. When the US denys involvement, what is the alternative?

Castillo was the central figure in an ABC-TV special on the 1990 murder in Guatemala of U.S. innkeeper Michael Devine and the killing of Efrain Bamaca, a guerrilla commander married to Jennifer Harbury, a Harvard educated U.S. lawyer. Contrary to claims from DEA Administrator Thomas Constantine that the agency "has never engaged in any joint narcotics programs with the Guatemalan military," Castillo says he personally "participated in several missions in which the Guatemalan military intelligence (D-2) killed civilians with the knowledge of DEA and CIA agents."
Again, to repeat, the Plame revelations deserve condemnation politically and there are no doubt many CIA actions that deserve secrecy and will remain secret because no one with knowledge will have any compelling reason to reveal it. But I would rather trust the moral sense of those involved to preserve good secrets, then allow a criminal law to preserve the secrecy of evil deeds by the agency.

Posted by Nathan at October 7, 2003 10:32 AM