Official: CIA Must Fight Mean And Dirty

I do not know whether this is a Great Debate, but here it is, anyway.

The piece from The Times to which I refer is here and some of the content worries me no little.

Commenting on the current situation, Mr. Cheney says as follows:

To be able to penetrate these organisations, you need to have on the payroll some very unsavoury characters if you’re going to be able to learn all that needs to be learnt in order to forestall these kinds of activities.

This may be true. It may not be true.

If Mr. Cheney is correct in his assessment, I am wondering what is the degree of unsavouriness to which the CIA will be permitted to descend in order to combat the activities mentioned by Mr. Cheney.

Mr. Cheney continues:

…we will see a very thorough reassessment of how we operate and the kinds of people we deal with. If you are going to deal only with officially approved, certified good guys, you’re not going to find out what the bad guys are doing. We need to make sure that we have not tied the hands , if you will, of our intelligence communities.

Well, correct me if I am wrong, but one of the fundamental reasons for the existence of the CIA is to find out what the bad guys are doing. If Mr. Cheney is correct in this assessment, I am wondering if the CIA has been completely wasting vast amounts of time and money in recruiting, training and fielding guys who are considered good.

Furthermore I now question, in the light of Mr. Cheney’s remarks, whether a fight with Good in the red corner and Evil in the blue corner has ever been, is, or ever will be, a valid proposition.

I do not query the goodness of Mr. Cheney himself. I query whether Mr. Cheney can reasonably preside over an organisation such as the CIA which, in the future as he describes it, will have evil citizens coming out of its ears, so to speak.

In positing this argument, I am by no means naive in assuming that my own intelligence communities (not mine personally I hasten to add), specifically MI6, have not been alive, are not alive, and will not be alive, to the possibilities offered by characters with unsavoury qualities in their curriculum vitae.

And so, my questions are, with specific reference to recent terrorist activities, can Good fight Evil without employing strong elements of Evil in so doing, and if not, how Evil does Good need to become before becoming as Evil as Evil itself?.

Good does not have to become Evil, but rather to use Evil against itself. The president used the term “turn them against each other”, which is the same thing only on a larger scale.

I say dirty pool is OK.

Well, the irony is that this is the mentality that got the CIA in bed with Osama bin Laden in the first place. OTOH, “mean,” “dirty,” rhetoric aside, I still feel (as I’ve said in another thread), that multilateral police-style action is preferable to a wholesale “war” on terrorism (whatever that might mean).

Nostradamus: no offense here, but don’t these grave times call for a better source than the London Times which, as I understand it, is basically a tabloid newspaper masking as a broadsheet? I suspect you’ll get better analysis on this subject (and less eyecatching rhetoric) if you read the New York Times, the Guardian or the BBC world news, no?

I think of it as analogous to a bar room brawl – if one contestant is standing up with chest thrust forward and fists balled, ready to follow the rules of Hoondoodle’s Fine Rules of Fisticuffs, he’s gonna get clobbered by the drunken sailor in the corner holding a broken bottle and who thinks Hoondoodle is a critter from the Harry Potter books.

If the first guy wants to win, he’s going to have to break the rules – the questions is how much he should compromise his beliefs to get the job done, and that will be carefully scrutinized, IMO.

And to address Mandelstam’s point – I’m not entirely sure if this was what got the US/CIA in trouble with Osama Bin Laden in the first place. The Afghan war seems more to me like an attempt by the US to “war by proxy,” getting the benefits of repelling the communists without risking our own troops. If the US had stuck around after the war and helped Afghanistan rebuild, we probably would not be in our current mess now. As I’ve said before, any long-term solution to fundamentalist Islamic terrorism is going to require building bridges and making friends in the Middle East, which IMO we’ve been doing a crummy job of so far.

Apologies if this is a hijack, but this statement strikes me as the tidy solution wrapped in a little pink bow spouted by all the talking heads on TV. Hindsight is wonderful, isn’t it?

Is there really such a convenient answer?

If the US “had stick around” who is to say the Islamic Fundamentalists would not be just as upset about the US staying and infecting their culture with Western ideals? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If an Islamic Fundamentalist dislikes the US, I am sure they will find a way to blame us for something.

If the US succeeded in creating our vision of democracy in Afghanistan, maybe terrorists would have sprung up elsewhere in the region and struck anyway? Is the US now responsible for “fixing” all the impoverished non-democratic Third World nations?

Does any of us could know with such certainty what the right answers are? Without hindsight, could you make better foreign policy decisions that don’t backfire in other subtle ways?

It wouldn’t be anything new to get involved with unsavory caracters. Hell, the cia set osama up in the first place. I don’t know how they they could put this forward as a change while maintaining a straight face.

It is interesting that many in the inteligence field suggest that this sort of intelligence can be over rated. As we have seen over the past week there were abundant clues about the nature of this operation. The plan itself was set out in documents found with the original WTO bombers and numerous signs indicated that the plan was being activated. What was missing was proper analysis to put it all together.

What can the US offer an islamic fundamentalist that can’t be used against us later on?

Do you mean other than America getting down on its knees and kissing OBL’s backside?

If you are speaking of Osama bin Laden’s gang, I’d have to say a bullet in the head.

I have only a few minutes before I must depart, and I return later to look at this matter more closely, but I merely comment here that The Times seems to be quoting Mr. Cheney directly, and as such appears to be reliable in this case anyway, unless Mr. Cheney is misquoted, in which case the OP cannot stand as fact.

I exclude, for the purposes of this thread, any analysis made by The Times, and I am happy to comment on its tabloid or broadsheet qualities at another time.

You’ll have to excuse me for wondering if the CIA ever did hire “good guys”, considering some of the methods they’ve been reputed to employ. It seems to me that “bad guys” might be better suited to the work.


If the US had stuck around after the war and helped Afghanistan rebuild, we probably would not be in our current mess now.

Apologies if this is a hijack, but this statement strikes me as the tidy solution wrapped in a little pink bow spouted by all the talking heads on TV. Hindsight is wonderful, isn’t it?

Yes, this is hindsight, but when the US has stayed around to rebuild after conquering, have we not made allies out of enemies?

Many thanks for the replies so far, and I wish to amplify matters by offering a few examples.

Let us say that the CIA target, for recruitment, a certain Mr. X. This party is known to possess various skills which the CIA finds ideal for its purposes. He is well versed at covert operations, he has experience of life in the Middle East, knows something of the ways of Islam, maybe he can pass for an Arab, or an Afghan, or whatever.

On delving further into the background of Mr. X., it is discovered that he once blows up a building somewhere or other, during which operation many people are killed, but none of the victims are from the US, or indeed from a Western nation.

Or, Mr. X is found to have a conviction for rape, or he is a bank robber, or he once runs cocaine into the US from Colombia, or he is just generally psychotic in his outlook.

If Mr. X is employed by the CIA, along with others of his ilk, the integrity of the CIA is surely compromised, if it is not compromised already, as intimated by Ned and dunne u.wurrie.

I have read in several spots about the CIA and its methods, specifically the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, although this is a long time ago, and what I read does not impress, although I have no information regarding recent employment policy.

It seems to me that Mr. Cheney says that the CIA needs to become more evil, although if it does I am not optimistic that he says just how evil, and I also wonder who is to do the scrutinising referred to by rjung.

Surely we do not wish to find ourselves in a position whereby the CIA, or MI6, or any Western intelligence agency, is regarded as being as evil as the evil it tries to defeat.

Oh good lord, when will they learn?

The CIA has a history of training and using really unsavory characters-who later end up turning on us. All they would do is create more Bin Ladens. For once, they should think before they do this.

Of course, that’s never gonna happen.

Wait a minute. You guys have this backwards. The CIA doesn’t recruit tough guys and ignore the fact that they’ve done bad things.

No, in order to infiltrate drug dealers and terrorists you have to recruit drug dealers and terrorists. If you want information on how the Taliban works, you have to recruit Taliban members. These people aren’t going to be helping the CIA because they love America…they will have their own agenda. Perhaps they want to be head of the organization, or they want money, or they want to exploit their CIA contacts for information.

Whatever the reason, we can’t get information about these terrorists unless we recruit some of the terrorists. Or did you imagine these cells wouldn’t find a white recent Yale graduate who wants to be a terrorist a trifle suspicious?

The CIA finds guerillas or shady characters who can offer information. The only reason these people have the information is that they are guerillas/etc. If the CIA can’t talk to these people then we will be fighting blind.

But of course, the reason the CIA/NSA/NRO have concentrated so heavily on SIGINT is so that we don’t have to involve ourselves with these people. We can just sit back and look at our satelite photos or listen to our radio intercepts and phone taps. But this form of intelligence gathering is limited. We need informants on the ground. And those iinformants are typically going to be scum. But what is the alternative?

Manuel Noriega fits this description and the next.

The CIA has a long history of involvement in the drug trade. Try reading Whiteout by Alexander Cockburn* or (even better) Dark Alliance by Gary Webb. One of the most notorious drug runners of all time, Barry Seal, was on the CIA payroll. Pop his name into Google and you’ll get some interesting results (though I certainly can’t vouch for all, or even most of them).

Where to start here? Forget about psychotic individuals (the list would be too long), the CIA has supported numerous psychotic regimes such as Guatemala in the eighties.

This is just pabulum for the masses, pure and simple.

Ace_Face, I am aware of the unsavoury qualities of Mr. Noriega, but I never hear of Mr. Seal until now.

Thank you for your observations, which I suspect to be true, but do not like to propose myself.

And so, the CIA, and probably other intelligence communities in countries which are now allied to the US, employ the services of many bad guys, some of whom are Very Bad Indeed.

This employment policy is recognised by the good guys who preside over these agencies, which in the case of the CIA I assume is Mr. Cheney, and ultimately Mr. Bush.

If the CIA did a Bad Thing in supporting the corrupt regime in Guatemala, and received no slap on the wrist for so doing because the policy was approved in the higher echelons of the US government, where does the CIA go from here given that Mr. Cheney is effectively saying, No more Mr. Nice Guy.

How psychotic will the CIA be allowed to become?

Unfortunately, it is an analogy limited to a rather non-universal experience.

There is a card game (like Magic) called Vampire: The Eternal Struggle (previously known only as “Jyhad”). In it you play the roll of a Methuselah: a multi-millenia old vampire, quite possibly the one of the oldest active vampires left. The game plays out where you, as a Methuselah, being with a certain “pool,” or influencial power, with which to work and do your deeds (controlling unwitting younger vampires, awakening vampires older than you, etc etc). However, your pool is limited, and other players attack you by removing your pool (an action called “bleeding” but it shouldn’t be thought of as blood points).

Thus, the game is a struggle against time: you must act and expend your pool, but every action brings you that much closer to losing (having no pool).

So it goes (or so it would seem to go) with the CIA, for example. Ultimately, we want to be the good guys, and we want to take out the bad guys. Every step taken towards rooting out bad guys includes becoming bad guys in our own right. It isn’t necessarily paradoxical per se, I don’t think, because it isn’t necessary that we be as bad as the bad guys in order to take them out… in which case, the leftover bad guys (anyone of ours that could turn or was created by ours) wouldn’t necessarily be any worse or even as worse as the ones just removed, in which case we would see a sort of asymptotic measure (approaching zero) of “badness” in the bad guys as we struggle onward to get rid of them.


The above implies constant action toward the stated goal; because this isn’t the case, bad guys are left to fester and become worse than when we last knew them. They say consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, but in this case, consistency would have helped us more than it hurt us.

That make sense to anyone?

The CIA have case officers ( smart, ivy league, karate black belt types ) who move into an area and recruit ‘spys’ for money or blackmail etc.

The case officers ‘manage’ the spy.

Rarely the CIA use special force type units but most ‘spying’ is done by ‘paid spies’ because they are already in position and have good cover etc.

I think the problem is that the taliban are fanatics and not likely sell out for a big wad of cash.