Friday, December 09, 2005

The Uncomfortable Truth

Early Warning by William M. Arkin - "The uncomfortable truth for Americans should be that our own secret services, including military special operations, equally operate outside of a reasonable level of control and oversight. The President and high government officials direct the activities of the secret services, but when it comes to any potentially controversial or illegal calls in the war on terrorism, more often than not the secret organizations make their own calls, after obsessively writing memos and legal rulings and internally discussing 'sensitive' practices and policies. They then dutifully inform each other and like-minded affiliates, but no one else, of their goings on.

Since 9/11, the aperture between the secret agencies and Congressional and public oversight has gotten smaller and smaller. The secret agencies hide behind hyper routine secrecy, where even their overall budget is kept from the public. The secret agencies practice "plausible deniability," where political leaders are intentionally shielded from the dirty or illegal work.

Even internally, the secret agencies increasingly employ promiscuous compartmentalization to avoid discussion and oversight. Here "special access" labels proliferate to hide questionable activities from either potentially questioning or dissenting officials and bureaucrats as much as from Congressional overseers.

The good news here is that there seems to be little that the secret agencies can actually do that the news media and thus the public doesn't find out about. I know that many supporters of the Bush administration and the war on terrorism think this is the media's fault, but the truth is that revelations about questionable practices and standards are being leaked, and "secrets" are being compromised by dozens of intelligence and special operations officers and officials who are motivated by their concern for the growing incompatibilities between the war on terrorism and American values.

Can we continue to fight the war on terrorism this way? My guess is that the secret agencies themselves would frustratingly answer this question by saying no.

The problem for America is that we seem stuck in habits and practices in which we only find out about all of this after the damage is already done."

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