March 10th, 2009

Privatized so-called Intelligence: Legacy of Ashes as
Prelude to Terror

Came across this Times magazine piece by Tim Weiner while musing about Petraeus and Lansdale in Pakghanistan and Vietnam. It’s adapted from Weiner’s excellent CIA book of 1995, Legacy of Ashes, and touches on Lansdale among other interesting things.

And it takes one back to that fled world, post Soviet Union before 9/11, when dreams of Peace Dividends and calls for the dissolution of the CIA were in the air, the latter from the likes of New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan:  The CIA is impossibly inpenetrable and corrupted — ungovernable.  Better to start over from scratch

Fled is that music.

But even way back in 1995 all that was something of a cover story, or, rather, an effect of a cover story — an approach to policy distorted and frustrated by the privatization of America’s covert ops capacity, so to speak.

Journalist Joseph Trento (with whom on points I disagree) touches on this firmly in his book Prelude to Terror – The Rogue CIA and America’s Private Intelligence Network (2005).

The privatization of what had been since the CIA’s founding in’ 47 its bread and butter work (intelligence collection being merely its cover, its day job) was touched off by:

(i) the cashiering by Nixon in 1973 of CIA director Richard Helms, a career spook back to the OSS — the Man with dirty hands Who Kept the Secrets — and

(ii) attempts thereafter to clean the Augean stables, both by presidents — appointing a string of clean-hands DCIs: James Schlesinger, William Colby (who died soon enough in a boating accident) and Stansfield Turner — and by Congress — with the Rockefeller and Church hearings in the Senate, culminating with the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

But when one cleans the stables, what happens to the manure?

( Side Show: An illuminating unintended consequence of the attempted purgation:  George HW Bush’s prez campaign in 1980 was staffed by a lot of retired guys in trenchcoats.

And his victory in 1988 was the first signal failure of US presidential exit polls.  A problem that then slept until … 2000.  And 2004.  Dem Bush boys just don’t poll properly … )

Here’s a recent interview with Trento — worth reading and listening.

To return to Weiner:  The ongoing privatization of the black bag work the CIA did for corporate and other chums in the good old days leaves somewhat moot, even in 1995, the isolated “What to do about the CIA” question. For the problem is now larger and more insinuated throughout the military-industrial complex (Eisenhower’s term now ringing somewhat quaint) than during the days of Gentleman Spy Allen Dulles. 

Post 9/11, instead of following Moynihan’s lead by simplifying (in order to clarify) the National Security Apparat, a stampeded Congress slapped on several more layers of bureaucracy.  And meanwhile the private sector in this growth industry expanded as never before, under Cheney’s guiding hand in particular.

Today’s rather cleansed CIA, then, is something of a front, more akin to the straight-shooting Pentagon than the dirty-tricks outfit of the golden age.

The dirtiest business — the most unpatriotic business — has been outsourced. To small and mid-sized firms owned and operated by ex-CIA, DIA, FBI, ATF and SS agents, ex-Army Rangers and ex-Navy Seals …

Prouty’s Secret Team in teeming blasted bloom.


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  1. ed says:

    The SECRET TEAM link in the final sentence above will take one to an online copy of Prouty’s landmark, must-read book of 1973.

    Here is Prouty’s preface to the online edition, written in 1997. A piquant, charming teaser.

    The book must be read, if one hopes to get a grip on the careering course of American foreign affairs since 1914. It’s not the Rosetta Stone, not sufficient, but necessary.

    August 12th, 2009 at 9:25 pm

  2. ed says:

    blackwater …

    soon coming to a street near you.

    December 12th, 2009 at 12:21 am

  3. ed says:

    An update on CIA going private

    February 9th, 2010 at 11:25 am

  4. ed says:


    Feature above-fold piece by the Times on Dewey Clarridge, ex-con career CIAist who’s been running a privatized intel network since getting convicted for Iran-Contra hijinks and bounced in the 80s.

    This is precisely what Trento talks about in PRELUDE TO TERROR.

    January 22nd, 2011 at 3:40 pm

  5. ed says:

    Some Post Lapsarian history as well:

    The 2007 60 Minutes interview with George Tenet, who rose from public school in Queens to sit in the big chair at CIA longer than beside Dulles:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 3:53 pm

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