The Pharaohs of the Current Dynasty


The thing that interests me most about the intelligence scandals is the revelation of how amateurish the people who run our Great National Institutions seem to be.

I had assumed that the government was doing exactly what it has been revealed to be doing — getting everyone’s telephone records. I had assumed that any serious terrorist would assume the same. But if Edward Snowden was able to “reveal” the taking of this super-secret information, how many other people could reveal the same, or more?

Snowden is a badly educated young man who in his early twenties began a meteoric ascent through various spy agencies. Either the government’s secrets are so massive and take so many hands to manage, or the government is so ridiculously bad at contracting with people to take care of them, that the mighty inwards of the government’s self-knowledge end up in the grasp of Edward Snowden and the like. The same could be said, and more, about Bradley (Bradass87) Manning, who appears to have been put in a job where he dealt with military secrets because he was so outrageously unqualified for any other job.

Should I now mention some dramatis personae of other current scandals — Lois Lerner, Susan Rice, Kathleen Sebelius, Eric Holder? Qualified to handle secrets? They’re not even qualified to handle the secret of their own incompetence.

Now we have FBI Director Robert Swan Mueller, a 12-year veteran in his job, who received, a week in advance, a list of questions that he would be asked by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, but who on June 13 repeatedly assured Chaffetz’s congressional committee that he didn’t know anything about anything, finally apologizing, not very contritely, for failing to do his “homework.” Tell me, what else does the guy have to do?

If you’re like me, you grew up thinking of the FBI, the CIA, the NSA — anything with three initials — as a monument to strong organization. They were cunning; they were tricky; they might be malevolent; but they were tightly and cleverly administered. They were places where people who looked like David Niven, men who knew the world, subtly schemed to outwit their enemies. As for the US military, they were so hard-assed that they would never even consider hiring a person like me. And they still wouldn’t. But they trained Bradass87 as an intelligence analyst.

The image that now comes to mind is about as far from David Niven as you could get. It’s General James Clapper (USAF, rtd.), current director of national intelligence — the stereotyped representation of a befuddled, forehead-rubbing, double-talking academic bureaucrat, a man who doesn’t seem to understand what he himself is saying, much less understand the world. With people like this posing as pharaohs, what must the rest of the human pyramid be like?

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Richard Parker

I thank Mr. Snowden for his service to my country, the United States of America, and to his defense of our Constitution.

Fred Mangels

You wrote, "I had assumed that the government was doing exactly what it has been revealed to be doing — getting everyone’s telephone records. I had assumed that any serious terrorist would assume the same."

So had I and was rather surprised at all the supposed outrage over this.

Jon Harrison

The FBI has failed as a counterintelligence organization again and again and again: Pearl Harbor, Dallas, 9/11. During the Cold War it graded KGB plants as snow white. Hoover was a skilled bureaucrat, nothing more, and his successors have hardly been better. Hoover and his organization refused to recognize the existence of organized crime until forced to do so in the 1960s (the delay was probably caused by Meyer Lansky's possession of photos showing Hoover and his deputy, Clyde Tolson, engaged in homosexual acts). At the same time the FBI has violated the law over and over: Cointelpro, falsification of lab results, collaborating with murderers (on the latter see the ongoing Whitey Bulger trial).

The CIA violated its charter from day one by engaging in domestic spying. It overthrew democratic governments in Iran, Guatemala, Chile, and elsewhere. It conducted drug experiments on unsuspecting subjects, leading to at least one death. It used the Mafia to try to kill Castro. Rogue elements in the Agency may have helped the Mafia and anti-Castro Cubans kill JFK. Indeed, one of the tragic aspects of Dallas is that it prevented JFK from "breaking the CIA into a thousand pieces and scattering it to the winds."

The analytical side of the Agency failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union even as it was happening. The CIA trained the man (Ali Mohamed) who trained the men who hijacked the 9/11 airliners. Its refusal to share info with the FBI prevented the 9/11 plot from being exposed. It has abetted (and sometimes participated in directly) the international narcotics traffic, using the proceeds to pay mercenary armies (in Burma in the 1950s, in Indochina in the 1960s) or pay off foreign politicians (Afghanistan today). This longstanding CIA practice has been ably documented by Alfred McCoy.

The NSA at least is a relatively competent organization -- or was, I should perhaps say. But it has crossed the legal line many times. See the works of James Bamford.

Much of the incompetence and criminality outlined above has been public knowledge for years, in many cases as far back as the 1970s. One would have to have one's head stuck up one's ass not to know that the Intelligence Services are pools of illegality and corruption. This is not to say that they have never performed services useful to the nation. That these truths exist side by side says something very disturbing about America.

I'll add a nonpartisan note as we call the roll of incompetent government functionaries. Remember Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Wendy Lee Gramm, Scooter Libby? Not to mention Dubya himself, who presided over the most disastrous administration since LBJ. The best people rarely go into politics; the march of mediocrity has overwhelmed both of the major parties.

I don't yet know (and may never) whether this fellow Snowden is a patriotic whistleblower, a Chinese agent, or a misguided youth in over his head. But how badly educated he may be is a different question. Given how absurdly bad public education is at both the secondary and college level (and I'm not sure that private colleges and universities are much better these days), his dropout status may actually say something favorable about him. Education in our day is all about credentialing, which is not the same as gaining knowledge or wisdom. Lincoln was a dropout. Paul Wolfowitz, who had no doubt that Iraq would be a seamless triumph, is a PhD.

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