Victor Davis Hanson, as he so often does, gives us an excellent and concise bird’s-eye view of where we stand with the intelligence community:
[T]hose who are warning of Russian collusion efforts to warp an election now work for agencies that in the recent past were doing precisely what they now rightly accuse the Russians of doing. The damage that Brennan, Clapper, Comey, and others have done to the reputations of the agencies they ran will live on well after their tenures are over.
For once, I think he underestimates the duration and intensity of the rottenness. It isn’t just Brennan, Clapper and Comey. It isn’t just the Obama years. It’s an integral part of the IC’s DNA. Don’t forget that Alexis de Tocqueville proclaimed that foreign policy was a perennial weakness of democracies, in no small part because democracies have real trouble keeping secrets.
The IC has performed poorly for decades. In the early 1980s, when Bill Casey was the last outstanding director of central intelligence, he was approached by the heroic Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky with a scheme to damage the Soviets. Casey liked it a lot, and urged Bukovsky to carry it out. But he had some advice: “Don’t tell CIA. They’ll screw it up.”
He knew what he was dealing with. And we’re talking early eighties. Reagan was president. In those years, the CIA grossly overestimated the economic strength and durability of the Soviet empire (East Germany was long described as one of the world’s leading economic powers) and underestimated Soviet military power (as the “Team B” exercise demonstrated). CIA “experts” believed Romania’s Communist dictator Ceausescu was truly independent of the Kremlin, and when Mike Pacepa, the head of the country’s intelligence service and a PJ Media contributor, defected to Washington in the late seventies and insisted that the KGB ran the whole enterprise, CIA officers were so annoyed, they threatened to send him back.
The CIA was the Washington establishment version of Ivy League intellectual fashion, and actually served as a refuge for many soft-liners driven out of the State Department by the McCarthy frenzy. For quite a while, the CIA was much more open-minded about Communism than the foreign service.
The FBI was different: tougher on Communism, much less pretentious in their analyses and assessments. They were basically high-tech cops, and I think—although I’m not sure about this—their corruption was accelerated when they dispatched significant numbers of agents overseas.
Paradoxically, as congressional oversight increased in the wake of the Church Committee’s exposes, so did corruption. The CIA acted to manipulate Congress, by attaching one of their own to the staff of every member of the intelligence committees. There is really no excuse this side of ignorance to explain the shock at the collusion between congressmen and intelligence officers. The congressmen were either manipulated by their CIA-appointed staffers, or kept at a safe distance from the real secrets.
It was inevitable that money would play a significant role. Congress’ main activities are raising and spending money, and as time passed, members of the IC joined the party. Intelligence tasks were “privatized,” largely to companies that hired IC officials to keep on doing their jobs at significantly higher pay levels. And in return, these companies were happy to do favors for the congressional funders. And for intel officials, as we see in the case of the payments from the Hillary campaign to Mrs. Andrew McCabe.
That is a thumbnail sketch of how the intelligence community reached the corrupt depths so well described by Victor Davis Hanson.
Is there a way to clean it up?
The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan concluded that the only way to get a good intelligence community was to shut down the current CIA and start all over again with entirely (and fewer) new people. A lot of the current analysis can be done by properly vetted professors and think tankers. As for clandestine operations, much can be done by the military as General Flynn wished, and for which he earned the enmity of the IC. As these things are done, we would need greatly improved counterintelligence, as you can see from horror stories about the likes of Senator Dianne Feinstein. I would expect to find a spectacular number of penetrations by hostile foreign agents.
Secret intermediaries can be recruited on a case by case basis.
It’s a big task, and requires far better leadership throughout the vast corrupt system. Anyone tackling it would require strong political support from the executive branch, a new generation of congressional leaders, better judges than we seem to have at the moment, and true secrecy with regard to the media. IC institutions like the CIA should not have press offices, or feel obliged to brief journalists about secret activities.
It’s a big task, but we’re a big country. Time to get started.