Belaboring the Obvious

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Endangering national security...

... is a phrase that's getting very, very tiresome:

In an affidavit, CIA Director Leon E. Panetta defended the classification of records describing the contents of the 92 videotapes, their destruction by the CIA in 2005 and what he called "sensitive operational information" about the interrogations.

The forced disclosure of such material to the American Civil Liberties Union "could be expected to result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security by informing our enemies of what we knew about them, and when, and in some instances, how we obtained the intelligence we possessed," Panetta argued.

Call me crazy, but, destruction of evidence is a crime. Torture is a crime. The "intelligence" obtained is mostly worthless, because of torture. This is not about protecting "sources and methods," another wonderful catchphrase the CIA employs mostly when they actually mean "cover our asses." It's about hiding criminality, which the CIA is most expert at doing, through the contortional exercise of secrecy.

One of the great conundrums about the CIA is that almost immediately after setting up shop post-WWII, they decided that the best way to go about business was to behave in exactly the same way as their totalitarian counterparts. They were given the mandate to break the law anywhere in the world (except in the United States), and to behave badly wherever they found themselves. And, whenever they get caught behaving badly, the whining begins. "You're not letting us keep you safe! It's your fault if you all die! We can't tell you a single thing about what we're doing because it's all part of a mosaic of information!"

In fact, because the people running the CIA over the years have cared not a whit for the principle of unanticipated consequences, they've succeeded in making us less safe, and because they've been wholly preoccupied with fucking around with other governments trying to install right-wing dictators that will do the bidding of America multinationals and running proxy wars, instead of gathering and analyzing intelligence, they've completely missed the seminal events of our times.

Here's a really simple, true fact. Torture has never been successful in extracting useful information. Many, many people--in and out of the CIA--know this to be true. The actual purpose of systematic torture, since the days of the Inquisition, has been to create false confessions and to get people to recant their beliefs. So, pretty much, if you torture someone, you get bullshit and lies and whatever the torturer wants to hear, because all the tortured person wants is for the torture to stop. They'll do and say anything for it to stop, and the longer the torture goes on, the more unreliable the information becomes. The person being tortured is desperate and will pick up cues about what to say from the questions being asked, and they'll lie, fabricate and ingratiate themselves with the torturer to stop the pain and the insanity.

Now, if all this is known--in and out of the CIA--and the primary purpose of the CIA is to gain useful intelligence, why is it that they've engaged in a sixty-year-long process of refining and honing a psychologically precise and brutal program of torture, beginning with efforts such as Project Artichoke and culminating in the reverse-engineering of the SERE program, if the results of torture are antithetical to their stated mission?

Maybe it's because, from the start, they adopted the methods of their adversaries as the most efficacious means of combatting their adversaries, and didn't care that those methods didn't work as planned. The Chinese Communists of the Korean War used psychological terror and torture to pry false confessions out of captured U.S. soldiers. The SERE program was intended to acquaint U.S. soldiers with those techniques. Reverse-engineering the SERE program duplicated and enhanced what the Chinese Communists had devised. Therefore, by definition, the CIA sought false confessions and useless intelligence, the exact opposite of the CIA's stated mission.

So, when Mr. Panetta starts dribbling into the microphones about "sources and methods," one would be wise to remember that he's defending people who torture and methods that don't work as advertised, and that the whole object of hiding bad practices and incompetent people is to a) prevent the American people, rather than our adversaries, from knowing what a bunch of loony, sadistic fuck-ups are running the CIA today, and b) to ensure that those same loony, sadistic fuck-ups get to keep on doing what they're doing.

Because they will, law or no law. It's their nature. All they needed were Bush and Cheney to give them free rein, and they singlehandedly screwed everything up in almost no time at all. And now, they're trying to convince us all that they're doing a good job and that they're keeping us safe, and that we should just trust them.

No, we shouldn't. Even on days when they're on their best behavior, no agency which depends upon stealth, subterfuge, totalitarian methods and a system of secrecy that in any normal democratic society would be considered completely insane should be trusted.

At this moment, the secret government is more a danger to our safety and liberty than any other force in the world. It has consistently used the power of secrecy to hide its mistakes--and its crimes--from its own citizens, and that situation, if experience is any guide, will only get worse with time.

And, Mr. Panetta, that's exactly what you're doing, make no mistake about it.


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