It‘s time for the CIA bashing to stop. It’s time for the hard working people of this federal agency to be allowed to go about their business of protecting the rest of us without enduring daily slamming in the press or wondering if they’re going to be criminally prosecuted. Yesterday’s newspapers across the country blared information on techniques the agency formerly used to get information from terrorists. Some of these techniques sound pretty nasty. The worst ones were jettisoned during the Bush administration.
This information wasn’t just “released” by the CIA, as the basic tenet of CIA 101 is that you protect sources and methods. CIA chief Leon Panetta battled mightily to prevent the release of these methods. Nor did a foreign enemy, eager to discredit us, pry this information out of the government. No, our own Attorney General Eric Holder released this information in a move that required President Obama’s authorization.
What is to be constructively gained at this point by releasing information about procedures that are no longer used, except to demoralize employees of the CIA and other intelligence agencies and to provide our enemies with ammunition to use against us? Terrorists around the world are undoubtedly updating the “How to Resist CIA Interrogations” chapter in their training manuals.
Nothing is to be constructively gained by the Justice Department releasing damaging information about the CIA. This move was clearly political.
Politically, going after civil servants and Bush administration appointees is a way for the Obama administration to appease the radical left. This element of the Democratic Party has been itching for a witch hunt, and now they’ve got one. A cynic would say the timing of the information’s release is also an attempt to divert attention from public outrage at the administration’s unpopular health care plan. What better way to reverse falling poll numbers, both for the president himself and for Democratic candidates for governor in Virginia and New Jersey than to tell voters bad things that happened during the administration of former President George W. Bush?
Using the CIA as a political football is simply wrong, for a number of reasons. The first reason is moral: It is not right to criminalize policy differences. If a U.S. government official carries out his or her job to the best of their abilities, following legal guidelines that they have been given, we cannot allow that person to be subject to criminal action simply because the political winds change. Even the political appointees who made some of these decisions were doing their best to defend America from an enemy unlike any we have ever fought. The notion that these public servants should have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish legal defense funds is ludicrous, but it’s happening.
Undermining the CIA also diminishes our national security. That seems like a no-brainer, but because the CIA is being used for political benefit it needs to be stated. America did not win the Cold War against the Soviet Union by making nice with them. We countered their actions step by step around the world, often having to deal with unsavory leaders and elements in other countries. But we persevered and we prevailed. Bad guys are out there in every corner of the world and we sometimes have to get in the dirt to fight them. We can all wish the world were different but it’s not. We may not like the concept of intelligence and spying, but it’s essential to our freedom.
As a former CIA employee, all of this criticism the agency is taking makes me sad for the people who work there. The CIA is the domain of thousands of secret successes and a handful of trumpeted failures. Why have there been no further terrorist attacks on American soil since 9-11? Largely because of the efforts of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
Although intelligence agencies have a glamorous image, the work is often dull. It’s not all running around Paris and London; most CIA employees travel to places like Libreville and Islamabad. The work and the postings take a tremendous toll on employees and their families; the divorce rate of CIA employees is notoriously high. In many parts of the world, CIA employees risk their very lives going to and from work each day.
I say it’s time to call off the dogs. Witch hunts are expensive, exhausting and demoralizing. Instead of tearing down the CIA and its employees, why don’t we instead give them credit where it’s due? We are all indebted to the CIA for playing a large role in keeping us safe and free in a very dangerous world. We won’t win the War on Terror by attacking ourselves for political purposes, but we sure could lose it that way.
Denise Dunbar was an Intelligence Analyst at the CIA from 1986 to 1992.