I. F. Stone
I. F. Stone; drawing by David Levine

Stalin did establish one useful precedent. He made it a practice to bump off whoever served as head of his secret police. He never let anybody stay in the job too long. As a successful dictator, Stalin seems to have felt that anybody who had collected so many secrets would be a No. 1 menace to security if he ever went sour. Stalin thought it safer not to wait.

I think we ought to take Stalin’s example one step further. I think we ought to get rid of the CIA altogether, lock, stock, and burglar’s kit.

We know from recent revelations how J. Edgar Hoover in his lifetime tenure as FBI chief collected dossiers on the sexual and drinking habits of congressmen and high officials. The mere rumor that such secrets were in his files made Hoover the most feared man in the capital, the untouchable of US politics. A similar character could build up a similar empire of fear in and through the CIA.

Those who think it enough to establish new oversight committees should remember that there have been CIA committees in Congress since the agency’s formation and they have invariably overlooked the abuses they were supposed to oversee. As for forbidding the agency to engage in “dirty tricks,” how enforce such a restriction against an agency so secretive, so far-flung, and so habituated to doing-in political leaders of whom it disapproves? It is hard enough to keep a tight rein on public agencies right here in Washington. How to control, sometimes 10,000 miles away, the kind of adventurers, screwballs, and intriguers an agency like the CIA naturally attracts?

The US government is inundated daily by tidal waves of intelligence. We have a mysterious electronic NSA which taps and tapes all the communications systems of the world; its huge “ears” in Pakistan and Turkey record the slightest Kremlin sneeze. Even in remotest Siberia, no babushka can milk her cow without being caught on candid camera from US satellites on eternal patrol.

In the Pentagon are separate intelligence branches of the army, airforce, and navy, each with its own military attachés abroad, and over all of them is a defense intelligence agency, a DIA. The State Department has its own intelligence and research division; the Foreign Service is its eyes and ears abroad. The departments of Commerce, Labor, and Agriculture have attachés of their own in many US embassies. Businessmen and Washington correspondents who use their publicly available studies on countries and commodities know how much more reliable they are than the spooks.

The Treasury has its narcotics and other agents. Internal Revenue, Customs, and the Post Office have their own gumshoe men. There is the FBI and there is the Secret Service. Nobody seems to know how much all this costs or how many are employed. Congress does know that CIA expenditures hidden in certain crevices of the budget add up to several billions of dollars. The exact amount is unknown.

Originally we were told when the CIA was established by Truman in 1947 that it was necessary—as its name implied—to “centralize” all these intelligence activities and summarize for the White House the information flowing in the from them. We were not told, and perhaps Truman never intended, that the CIA would soon be engaged in James Bond melodrama around the world, making and unmaking governments not to our liking, and in the process sentencing other nations’ leaders like Mossaddeq of Iran and Allende of Chile to death. Watergate has already shown us that to practice such crime-as-politics abroad is to invite its application sooner or later to politics at home.

As an intelligence service the CIA has been a bust. The Bay of Pigs and the Vietnam war are only the most dramatic demonstrations that public officials would have been better informed—and adopted wiser policies—if they had simply read the newspapers and put all that “classified” information in the waste-basket. The CIA has made the US look like the world’s biggest Mafia while helping to trap it into one serious mistake after another. Never have so many billions been squandered on so much misinformation. In its twenty-seven years of existence—even at $2 billion a year—this giddy operation must have cost upward of $50 billion. Why not get rid of it before it can do more damage?

Even when, occasionally, the CIA analyses were accurate they have gone into the bureaucratic waste-baskets because they conflicted with what officials higher up wanted to hear. One example is the sour reports about the Vietnam war which turned up in the Pentagon Papers. Another example (see the exclusive in The Christian Science Monitor, January 23, 1975) was the studies showing there was “no evidence to suggest” that the anti-Vietnam war movement was instigated from abroad. The Nixon White House nonetheless ordered the agency to go ahead and compile a list of 10,000—no less—peaceniks suspected of being foreign agents.


A government, like an individual, hates to hear what it doesn’t want to believe. This is why no intelligence agency in any society ever really understands—or can afford to let itself understand—what is going on. The bigger the intelligence agency the more powerfully its sheer inertial weight reinforces the misconceptions of the ruling class it serves. Hence the paradox: the more “intelligence” a government ouys the less intelligently it operates. The CIA will go down in the books as a vain attempt to change history by institutionalizing assassination. It deserves a dose of its own favorite medicine.

This Issue

February 20, 1975