Purge at the CIA

Like another empire founded on ideological hubris, and stained with the blood of countless victims, this one engages in periodic political purges: when one faction is vanquished, mass firings occur in the upper echelons of the bureaucracy. We don’t send them to the gulag – at least, not yet – instead we set them up for public pillorying, firings, and, in some cases, show trials. Such is the fate of the CIA in the post-election triumph of the Bushies.

The news that Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, is leaving the agency – forced out by an administration that confuses fealty to the imperial presidency with loyalty to the country – signals the systematic dismantling of the country’s last and best defense against a burgeoning threat to our national security. Last Tuesday, Scheuer, a 22-year veteran of the CIA – and, up until 1999 in charge of the task force assigned to track Osama bin Laden – was defiantly declaring:

“I’m proud to work [at the CIA], and they can say what they want about me, but I have no intention of leaving. They may force me to leave, they may fire me. But it’s the best place to work that I know of. I’m proud to be an intelligence officer, and I want to stay one.”

But by Friday Scheuer was already out, as was the news of a general purge of the CIA. ”There will be no more Imperial Hubris books,” said one intelligence official. “The word is out: The place is under lockdown.”

The views expressed in Imperial Hubris – that we aren’t hated for our vaunted “freedom” to show Viagra ads on television, but because of a foreign policy that is idiotic, Israeli-centric, and irredeemably evil to many millions of Muslims throughout the world – are shared by a significant number of intelligence professionals at the CIA. Scheuer and his co-thinkers are fierce critics of the Iraq war and occupation, and in the run-up to the invasion they “leaked” a considerable body of material that debunked the lies of the War Party – and accurately predicted the ensuing disaster. Now they are being blamed, excoriated, and purged by the likes of John “Boots on the ground” McCain, who smears them as a “rogue agency” and is among the loudest calling for “reform.” He is joined by the liberals’ favorite neocon, David Brooks, whose softly wonkish demeanor masks a characteristic tendency to go for the jugular:

“Now that he’s been returned to office, President Bush is going to have to differentiate between his opponents and his enemies. His opponents are found in the Democratic Party. His enemies are in certain offices of the Central Intelligence Agency.”

At least Brooks is consistent. In an empire, we are all the subjects of the Emperor, and loyalty to him as our ruler and leader is paramount. In a republic, however, we are all citizens, all equals, who pledge allegiance “to the flag and to the republic for which it stands” – not to the imperial presidency.

Intelligence “reform,” to Brooks, McCain, and the War Party, consists of getting rid of those people who said what the president and his neocon cronies didn’t want to hear, and accurately foretold the coming implosion of American policy on the battlefields of Iraq:

“At the height of the campaign, CIA officials, who are supposed to serve the president and stay out of politics and policy, served up leak after leak to discredit the president’s Iraq policy. There were leaks of prewar intelligence estimates, leaks of interagency memos. In mid-September, somebody leaked a C.I.A. report predicting a gloomy or apocalyptic future for the region. Later that month, a senior C.I.A. official, Paul Pillar, reportedly made comments saying he had long felt the decision to go to war would heighten anti-American animosity in the Arab world.”

Brooks neglects to mention that the CIA had been saying precisely the same things well before the campaign season began: during the long run-up to war, the CIA was “leaking” front and center, denying that the “evidence” of Iraqi WMD proffered by the administration was up to snuff, disdaining Saddam’s alleged links to al-Qaeda, descrying the regional consequences of a U.S. invasion to “liberate” the country, and making the argument – advanced by many Republican “realists” – that the “blowback” would not be worth it. Instead, the ideologues won out, and their flaky program of imposing “democracy” at gunpoint was given a trial run – with catastrophic results, both for the people of Iraq and the U.S.

The mass purge – as many as 90-plus “resignations” and firings – will decimate the experienced leadership cadre of the Agency, and wipe out the last vestiges of resistance to the supremacy of the neocons within the administration. Newly-installed CIA director Porter Goss is presiding over the virtual dismantling of our first line of defense against the very real danger of terrorism visited on American shores.

In the world of Washington politics, those intelligence analysts whose predictions turn out to have been correct are gotten rid of, while the neocons who deluded themselves into thinking the Iraqi people would greet us as “liberators” are not only kept on but are up for promotion. It all makes perfect sense – if you’re living in Bizarro World, where up is down, right is wrong, and Richard Perle is an honest man.

It’s typical of the neocons that they would try to blame the very people who warned against rushing to war for the consequences of their ideology-driven policy. McCain has the gall to smear the hardworking professionals over at Langley – the guardians of American security – as a “rogue agency” when it was precisely the establishment of several “rogue agencies” within the U.S. government, set up to bypass the CIA and the traditional intelligence community, that facilitated the stove-piping of “raw” and erroneous data to policymakers – including, in one case, an outright forgery. That’s another weird aspect of our Bizarro world politics: the War Party projects its own crimes onto its enemies.

The general line of attack taken by the “get the CIA” campaign is to blame them for not foreseeing, and stopping, the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But Scheuer, freed (in part) from the constraints of his employment, has gone public with a campaign to show how – if not why – the pre-9/11 effort to eliminate bin Laden was consistently subverted by prominent officials and other government agencies. For Brooks to try to portray the purge in partisan terms is pure disinformation: if you read Scheuer’s letter to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in his list of ten instances in which the campaign to get bin Laden was obstructed and otherwise sabotaged very effectively, nine occurred during the Clinton years.

To my leftist and libertarian readers, this talk of the CIA as the good guys – the guardians of our security, and our last and best line of defense – seems counterintuitive, and strange coming from a professed libertarian critic of foreign intervention. Yet the reality is that the CIA, as a body of professionals charged with understanding the world, has acted as a brake on the aggressive and expansionist instincts of the world-conquerors in the Pentagon. The evolution of the CIA ranks’ opposition to the neoconservatives’ dreams of empire is a function, to some degree, of their job description: they, after all, have to know what they are talking about. They deal in hard facts, not high-falutin’ theory: data, not dreams – which is why, like Scheuer, they see the worldwide Islamist insurgency as a response to American policies, not an attack on the right of American women to vote, drive, and walk about unveiled. It’s also why they knew the Iraq war was a major mistake, and fought it to the bitter end, allying themselves with high-ranking military leaders and the diplomatic community in a last ditch effort to keep us out of Iraq.

Speaking of Scheurer’s letter, it is a fascinating document, one that speaks volumes about the mysterious and challenging comment in the first paragraph of Imperial Hubris, in which he states that the U.S. is bin Laden’s “indispensable ally.” There are many aspects of his letter that thinking Americans will find extremely disturbing – even frightening – but this one stands out:

“February 1996-May 1998: The Bin Laden unit and several other senior CIA officers requested transcripts rather than summaries of electronic collection against al-Qaeda … [V]erbatim transcripts are operationally useful, summaries are much less so, and they are usually not timely. The answer to these requests in every case was no. At one point the senior operations officer for an Intelligence Community component said that the National Security Act of 1947 gave her agency control of “raw” signals intelligence, and that she would not pass such material to CIA.”

What possible reason could the NSA have in refusing to turn over such vital material to the CIA? To write this off as a simple case of turf-protection is not at all satisfactory. After all, this presumes that the purpose of our intelligence organizations – the protection of the country – has been completely dissolved in the acid of interagency rivalry, an assumption that wildly exaggerates the problem. There is a sinister pattern in the series of events described in Scheuer’s letter: it is as if a deliberate effort was made to obstruct and destroy the unit tasked to locating and killing bin Laden. Weeks before al-Qaeda hit our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, an attempt was made to abolish the Bin Laden task force. Scheuer and his co-workers were denied permission to look at verbatim transcripts of al-Qaeda intercepts, just as they were denied support from the military that could have resulted in bin Laden’s capture or elimination.

Scheuer concludes his letter on a chilling note:

“The deaths of three thousand Americans – and the many more destined to die at Bin Laden’s hands – may well be attributable to the type of decisions noted above…”

Destined to die? On reading those words, I immediately thought of a Time magazine story recently posted on Drudge: “Al Qaeda plan to smuggle nukes into Mexico, USA.

Remember what they told us as they ginned up the Iraq war:

“We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.”

Yeah, but they’re still over here ….

Are we fated to learn the strategic lesson of this war too late? No sooner was Fallujah “won,” than the insurgents popped up behind the U.S. lines, in Mosul. Diverted to the banks of the Euphrates, when they should have been standing guard on the Rio Grande, U.S. troops in Iraq will be forced to stand helplessly by as bin Laden sneaks nukes into Los Angeles.

Is this our future, then? Is it avoidable? I shudder just thinking about it.


I hate to leave my readers on such a down note, and I have the perfect out: the news that we’ve surpassed our fundraising goal and, by last count, reached over $52,000 in one week! I’ll give a more accurate account when all the numbers come in, but we know enough now to say: our readers are the greatest!

Your generosity is a constant wonder to me, a consistent confirmation of my faith in humanity and the benevolent sense of life that tells me all of us aren’t living in a Bizarro World of inverted moral and political values. The idea of a peaceful non-interventionist foreign policy is not a pipe dream but a living possibility in the hearts and minds of many thoughtful and committed individuals.

I’ll thank you in the only way that is meaningful: by seeking constantly to live up to your overwhelming vote of confidence. On behalf of the staff of Antiwar.com and the Randolph Bourne Institute, I want to say how gratified I am. This validates our work, and spurs us onward: thank you one and all.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].