Christopher Hitchens says it’s time to abolish the CIA, because someone destroyed videotapes which could be used by the Agency’s adversaries to attack it.
He has the right idea, but he has the wrong reasons. The chap who destroyed those tapes did exactly the right thing.
Ex-Spook Charles McCarry identifies why the CIA needs to be abolished far more accurately in in his 1992 espionage thriller Second Sight.
A description of the Agency’s earlier days:
The Outfit had no headquarters. Its employees, whose numbers cost, and true identities were kept secret from everyone except the O.G. (“the Old Gentleman,” the head of the Outfit), were scattered around Washington in gimcrack temporary government buildings left over the First World War, or in offices with the names of fictitious organizations painted on the doors, or in private houses in discreet residential neighborhoods. This milieu, in which daring undertakings were planned and spacious ideas were discussed in mean little rooms by ardently ambitious men who were mostly very young, preserved a wartime atmosphere long after WWII was over. This was exactly what the O.G. wanted.
“Nooks and crannies, visibility zero — that’s the ticket,” he said. “The day we move into a big beautiful building with landscaped grounds and start hanging portraits of our founders is the day we begin to die.”
The sentence that Patchen murmured to the O.G. over their inedible dinner at the Club was this: “If (Patchen were captured and fully debriefed by the enemy), we could start all over again.”
But, more recently:
There was no need for him to explain his idea. The O.G. grasped its perfection and simplicity as soon as the words were spoken. If Patchen’s memory were emptied by the enemy like
those of the others who had been kidnapped, the Outfit could not continue to exist. There could be no going back to what had existed before; something new would have to be created to take the Outfit’s place — something that would recapture the energy, the patriotism, the audacity, the sheer fun of the Outfit in its youth.
Both Patchen and the O.G. had believed for a long time that a way must be found for American espionage to start over again. The Cold War was over. Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism (always, as the O.G. liked to say, “a lie wrapped in a sham surrounded by a delusion”) had collapsed under the weight of its own pathology. The old secret alliances against the Russian Communists, built up over half a century by the O.G. and Patchen and their operatives, had outlived their usefulness. A new world was in the making. A new intelligence service was required to study it, to discover America’s real enemies and to help her real friends.
The Outfit in its present form could not do the job. Its methods were outdated, its purposes irrelevant. Its best people, the brilliant, intrepid eccentrics recruited by the O.G. were gone, having grown old in the service or having been driven out of it by wave after wave of exposés in the press, investigations in Congress, reforms by the Executive Branch, and mutilating internal reorganizations imposed from above. The combined effect of all these assaults had been to render it almost incapable of operating as a secret intelligence service. Its agents in the field could no longer behave as spies must behave — with duplicity, ruthlessness, cold logic, and unquestioning devotion to their cause (that is to say, like idealists) — without fearing that they might be called home, frog-marched through the media, and indicted on felony charges.
This state of affairs was a triumph for the Outfit’s foes, foreign and domestic. Some of the Outfit’s own former officials had gone so far as to testify before Congress or talk to the press about “legalizing” the Outfit’s activities. This was an absurd notion on the face of it — the very purpose of a secret intelligence service is to carry out illegal actions with the unacknowledged blessing of its government — but it was eagerly taken up by good-hearted, patriotic people as well as by others,… who instinctively loved their country’s enemies better than they loved their country. Little by little, the Outfit had been robbed of its reputation and its élan, and of all but a few of the tools it needed to carry out its mission.