Streetwise Professor

October 1, 2019

Bill Barr Attempts to Hold the Unaccountable to Account, and the Unaccountable Like It Not Even a Little Bit

Filed under: History,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 1:19 pm

On my flight back from Geneva, I watched Argo, the Ben Affleck film about the rescue of 6 Americans who escaped the embassy in Tehran when it was taken over by Iranian “students” in 1979, and who hid out in the Canadian embassy.

The hero of the movie is Tony Mendez, a CIA exfiltration expert. Yay! CIA! CIA!

The only problem is that the only reason that Mendez was needed to pull off the miracle escape was that the CIA failed utterly in its primary mission: intelligence. The agency was completely blindsided by the Iranian revolution, and had indeed specifically told President Carter that Iran was NOT in a pre-revolutionary situation. Right before the actual revolution toppled the Shah.

If the CIA had done its job, Tony Mendez wouldn’t have been needed to do his. The abject failure of his organization to perform its primary function competently was the predicate for his heroism.

This is only one of the CIA’s colossal failures. Off the top of my head, I can think of: the massive overestimate of the size of the Soviet economy, the (not unrelated) failure to foresee either Gorbachev or the collapse of the USSR, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, being gobsmacked by India’s atomic test, 911, the various Iraq War fiascos, and the failure to predict Saddam’s incursion into Kuwait.

Mendez was awarded the Intelligence Star, the highest honor that a US intelligence agency person can receive. And justly so.

But what about all of those whose failures paved the way for his medal? Did they pay any professional price at all for their failures?

I seriously doubt it. They all probably just worked their way down the belly of the bureaucratic snake, getting advancement on schedule before retiring with full benefits.

The primary source of bureaucratic dysfunction–and as the record shows, the CIA has been dysfunctional since its founding–is a lack of accountability. There is little price for failure, no matter how egregious that failure might be.

There is an even more sinister aspect to that lack of accountability, an aspect that is particularly important for intelligence agencies, and which has also been demonstrated time and again.

An intelligence service like the CIA must operate in secrecy, but that secrecy makes accountability almost impossible. That, in turn, allows agency personnel–especially at the highest levels, where secrecy is greatest, and who have powerful political connections–to engage in crimes, and political machinations, with little risk of being detected, and even less of being held to account.

But it gets worse. Access to vast amounts of very sensitive information gives intelligence agency personnel incredible power through blackmail, or the threat of blackmail. I am reminded of this story about German Chancellor Conrad Adenauer, from Paul Johnson’s Modern Times:

He had little affection beyond his own family circle and his closest associate was Hans Globke, co-author of the Nuremberg Laws, who ran the Chancellery and Adenauer’s private intelligence service. ‘And who knows’, Adenauer would smirk, ‘what Herr Globke may have in his safe?’

Before our eyes we are witnessing the consequences of the unaccountability of the CIA (and the FBI), and its vicious response to anyone who dares attempt to hold it accountable. Trump, and latterly his Attorney General, William Barr, are currently under relentless assault from leakers in the “intelligence community,” aided and abetted by their house organs, notably the Washington Post and New York Times, for their temerity in investigating the events that culminated in the Mueller probe. (I’m old enough to remember when the WaPo and NYT were in high dudgeon about the misdeeds of the CIA and FBI. Good times!)

Funny, isn’t it? I’m also old enough to remember being told that attempts to subvert American elections were a crime of the first order, and that no stone should go unturned and no lead unfollowed in the attempt to investigate and punish such actions.

But that apparently only applies to things that might implicate Trump.

I’m also old enough to remember that attacking an investigation was an admission of guilt, cuz “if you have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear from an investigation.”

That is so 2018! Now the “intelligence community” and its schooling pilot fish are utterly freaking out over Barr’s diligent efforts to delve into the machinations that surrounded the 2016 elections. Hey, if you have nothing to hide, dudes . . .

When someone screams: “DON’T DIG BEHIND THE GARAGE! WHY ARE YOU DIGGING BEHIND THE GARAGE?” it’s a good bet that there’s something buried behind the garage.

Barr currently has not just a shovel, but a power shovel behind the garage in Langley, and other places around the world, where the US intelligence agencies skulked in the shadows in 2016. And it has them completely freaking out, and fighting back with every weapon at their disposal.

So keep digging Bill. And the louder they scream, bring in more heavy equipment.

Maybe Barr’s attempt to bring the intelligence agencies to account is a Quixotic task. I hope not. It is impossible to exaggerate how much is at stake here.

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  1. Clausewitz has been inverted, Washington, the Versailles on the Potomac in Bill Lind’s view, is now engaged in politics as a continuation of war bu other means.

    Comment by The Pilot — October 1, 2019 @ 3:11 pm

  2. Professor,what do you think of signing of Steinmeier’s formula by Ukraine?What will be the consequences of it?In Ukraine many people consider this betrayal and Putin’s victory.What is your opinion?

    Comment by mmt — October 1, 2019 @ 3:29 pm

  3. Ask your self why is oligarchy Washington and the media hell bent on getting rid of President Trump?

    Probably because he is dismantling the global money laundering operation that has existed for decades!

    If the Dems and a bunch of sadsack Reps and the media did not feel threatened, they would just wait him out.

    I predict we are going to be stunned by what will come out.

    Comment by Joe Walker — October 1, 2019 @ 5:03 pm

  4. Given how hastily a particular Putin’s little bitch ( the one who pointedly went to Moscow to sign a pact exactly on the 80th anniversary of his predecessor von Ribbentrop doing the same ) has praised Scheissmeir’s formula, it can hardly be any good for anyone other than the Kremlin terrorists.

    Comment by Ivan — October 1, 2019 @ 8:21 pm

  5. I enjoyed that film. Made all the more interesting by Ben Affleck’s maintaining the same face throughout the whole flick.

    After its release, someone made a doco about the actual event. Can’t find a link but the footage of Tehran during the revolution is extraordinary.

    It really does seem that the intelligence agencies were up to no good before and just after the election and are both trying to cover up their deeds and continue to push to get rid of Trump (will add a comment to your previous post once I find a way to express myself succinctly).

    The question is, Prof: why were they so keen to frame Trump and remove him from office? What was in it for them? Why wouldn’t they be indifferent to who was elected President? Why have they involved themselves in this power game, rather than sticking to their knitting?

    My guess is, the answer to those questions would raise a whole other issue, of who is in power in Washington, what these people see as the purpose of elections, and who they see as acceptable candidates for high office.

    I suspect there’s more going on here than just shenanigans at the intelligence agencies.

    OK, that’s enough conspiracy theorising for one day 😉

    Comment by EX-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — October 2, 2019 @ 12:15 am

  6. Wow! Secret services become secretive and self serving.
    More breaking news: Bears fail to use the toilet facilities at municipal campgrounds.

    Comment by philip — October 2, 2019 @ 1:04 am

  7. The CIA did have advance warning of 9/11.
    They were told about some dubious arabs taking flying lessons but not being interested in learning how to land a plane.
    And several other red flags.
    Trouble was an overload of information which never got joined together, not absence of information.
    AG Barr will face the same difficulty. He’ll find so much dirt he’l end up unable to distinguish pay dirt from plain dirt.

    Comment by philip — October 2, 2019 @ 1:10 am

  8. You could write thousands of pages about the failures of the CIA, its amazing. The one that always comes to my mind is NATO bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 killing three Chinese, based on a CIA map which incorrectly identified it as a Yugoslav military target.

    Comment by Dan — October 2, 2019 @ 5:31 am

  9. Argof*ckyourself, Craig. A good, not a great film, saved from Affleck’s ‘acting’ (have you seen The Accountant yet? O.M.G.) by the Chandler/Cranston and evergreen Arkin/Goodman double-acts.

    As for your post, I wonder if you wished you’d waited a few days before publishing this? I mean, I do love a deep-state conspiracy, I really do, but its looking awfully like he-who-can-do-no-wrong may actually, well, you know.

    Comment by David Mercer — October 4, 2019 @ 9:03 am

  10. @David. No rewrite/reconsideration necessary.

    Comment by cpirrong — October 4, 2019 @ 12:52 pm

  11. Weird but I’d have thought most/everyone here would have hated Argo – a bunch of whiney, liberal public sector workers being saved by a brave, hard-nosed CIA operative. I’d have thought you’d all be yelling at the screen “You voted for Carter and are getting everything you deserve! Hang ’em from a crane already!!”

    Comment by David Mercer — October 7, 2019 @ 9:34 am

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