With all the stories and commentary about the Obama/Holder “attack” on the CIA, I thought it was time to resume my conversation with the late James Jesus Angleton, the former chief of CIA counterintelligence. The untrusty ouija board needed a recharge, and that takes several hours, so it wasn’t until late Sunday afternoon that I finally made contact. The familiar high-pitched but gravelly voice came through loud and clear.
JJA: There you are! I thought something bad had happened to you.
ML: Well I was in the hospital for a while, and then the rehab wing, and they don’t permit ouija boards…
JJA: What about cigars? That must have been a bit of a strain (coughs and chuckles, simultaneously).
ML: Well, there were signs up all over the place, “smoke free campus,” but I found a little garden between two wings where I could smoke.
JJA: Good for you! It’s getting harder and harder to find a suitable place here (NB: I have never been able to figure out precisely where “here” is; and I don’t want to ask him whether it’s “up here” or “down here” if you see what I mean…). But so far I manage.
ML: Have you been following the big CIA story? Holder appointed a special prosecutor to decide if anyone should be prosecuted for torture.
JJA: Yes, I’ve seen them (cough, no chuckle).
ML: And so?
JJA: And I’ve seen lots of commentary about how “nobody at Langley will risk doing anything the slightest bit out of line,” and how morale is awful. That sort of thing.
ML: Seems logical doesn’t it? I thought you’d be sympathetic to them.
JJA: Well obviously I’m sympathetic to the poor bastards who are going to be dragged in front of the usual grand jury. That really stinks. Especially because, as usual in Langley, everything is always in the hands of the effing lawyers, one way or the other.
ML: Right you are. First they get told by the lawyers that they can do it–from blowing cigar smoke at the terrorists to waterboarding them–and then a new batch of lawyers comes along and prosecutes them.
JJA: You don’t know the half of it.
ML: Do tell…
JJA: For decades now–DECADES–you had to get approval from some lawyer before you could do anything. Lawyers signed off on wartime targets (really! you couldn’t drop a bomb with a lawyer’s approval). And during the war in Iraq, if somebody shot at the Marines, they had to call their base and get an ok to shoot back, unless it was really hot and heavy. The rules can change any time. I mean, I know a lot about that. We’d been opening the mail for a very long time…
ML: But you weren’t prosecuted.
JJA: No, I was purged. That’s probably better, it saves you the grand jury and maybe your own trial later on. But it’s the same concept, isn’t it? You do what everybody thought was normal, ok, and routine, and then somebody comes along and decides it was wrong, and you get your head chopped off (he actually referred to a different part of the anatomy, or better different PARTS of the male anatomy, but this is a family publication).
ML: Don’t you think it’s legitimate to go after malefactors?
JJA: Of course I do. And I even think it’s fine to change the rules. You know, Hegel and all that…ideas change and we have to change too. But what is NOT fine is to change the rules, and then go after your predecessors, who were playing by an entirely different set of rules. That’s immoral. But…
ML: But what? That seems pretty clear.
JJA: Well nothing in this game is clear, you know, it’s different shades of gray, not sharp lines and colors.
ML: Ok, but what?
JJA: But everybody knows that it’s all political now. And CIA has been all about politics for, uh, decades. Since they’ve shown themselves to be utterly pathetic about doing intel, they do the political thing, they leak stuff (sometimes accurate, sometimes not), they sabotage folks they don’t like…you know all this. It’s really hilarious to see Cheney, of all people, out front defending them. He was their favorite target for eight years, after all.