The Threat to the Republic

Foreign and Military Intelligence Book I, Final Report, Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities

US Government Printing Office, 651 pp., $5.35

Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans Book II, Final Report, Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities

US Government Printing Office, 396 pp., $3.60

It can be said—but it would be unwise to dwell on it—that the Church and Pike committee reports represent the first time in history any country’s legislature has ever investigated, exposed, and shamed its intelligence agencies and their “dirty tricks.” Long before electronics, as far back as the Rome of the Caesars, a spy-haunted society feared, as Tacitus tells us, that somehow walls might have ears.1 But a degenerate Senate, though constitutionally and nominally still all-powerful, lacked the will to do anything about it.

Unfortunately there is little prospect that our Senate, and our Congress, will behave any better. Between the time this is being written and the time it will be read, the Senate is expected to vote on a first timid effort at reform, an intelligence oversight committee. But its prospects are dim, and some of its provisions dubious.

The Republican White House and the Democratic Old Guard in the Senate are in a bipartisan alliance against any real reform. A similar coalition in the House—led by the Republican McClory of Illinois and the Democrat Stratton of New York—is blocking bills to revive and clear the way for publication of the suppressed Pike report. The secret agencies are smugly confident that they have not only weathered the storm but entrenched themselves.

Their strength has deep roots. The great masters of property in our society are unwilling to give up “dirty tricks” in defense of their investments and privileges at home and abroad. For them, the end justifies the means, just as surely as for their adversaries in Moscow and Peking. Radicals, opponents of the existing order, critics who go too far, are fair game, outside the law, on both sides. It is not an accident that—as the Church committee found—the FBI has twice as many informers in radical or liberal organizations as in organized crime.

The main job of a political secret police in any society is to keep in power those who have it. When the Roman Senate, after one particularly terrible scandal, tried to put some limit on informers, the Emperor Tiberius interposed his veto, saying, “Better to subvert the constitution than to remove its guardians.”2 Though no one today speaks so frankly, that is still the answer of those who cannot bring themselves altogether to prohibit “dirty tricks.”

To understand the intelligence miasma, one must look at the family tree of the CIA. The CIA is only the institutionalization, though on a vast and unprecedented scale, of what we have done for more than a century and a half in Latin America and an earlier China under the rubric of defending “American lives and property.”

Then we used State Department agents and the US Marines. The Marines were bill collectors for National City Bank and enforcers for the banana, oil, and sugar companies. What the CIA has done in Indochina, Iran, and Chile is no different in kind from the crass way Marines turned patriots into bandits and puppets into presidents…

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