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Are We Any Safer Now that the U.S. Intelligence Community Has Come Out of the Shadows?

A vast edifice of surveilling, storing, spying, and killing that gives us what we now call “security,” leaves us in terror of the world, never stops growing, and is ever freer to collect information on you.

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And then just this month the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, originally a place for analysis and coordination,  announced at a conference that his agency was going to expand into “humint” in a big way, filling embassies around the world with a new corps of clandestine operators who had diplomatic or other “cover.”  He was talking about fielding 1,600 “collectors” who would be “trained by the CIA and often work with the Joint Special Operations Command.”  Never, in other words, will a country have had so many “diplomats” who know absolutely nothing about diplomacy. 

Though the Senate has  balked at funding the expansion of the Defense Clandestine Service, all of this represents both a significant reshuffling of what is still called “intelligence” but is really a form of low-level war-making on a global stage and a continuing expansion of America’s secret world on a scale hitherto unimaginable, all in the name of “national security.”  Now at least, it’s easier to understand why, from  London to Baghdad to Islamabad, the U.S. has been building humongous embassies fortified like ancient castles and the size of imperial palaces for unparalleled staffs of “diplomats.”  These will now clearly include scads of CIA, DIA, and perhaps DCS agents, among others, under diplomatic “cover.”

Into this mix would have to go another outfit that would have been unknown to Wise and Ross, but -- given the publicity Seal Team Six has gotten over the bin Laden raid and other activities -- that most Americans will be at least somewhat aware of.  An ever-greater role in the secret world is now being played by a military organization that long ago headed into the shadows, the  Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).  In 2009,  New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh  termed it an “executive assassination ring” (especially in Iraq) that did not “report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days... directly to the Cheney office.”

In fact, JSOC only emerged into the public eye when one of its key operatives in Iraq,  General Stanley McChrystal, was appointed U.S. war commander in Afghanistan.  It has been in the spotlight ever since as it engages in what once might have been CIA-style paramilitary operations on steroids, increases its intelligence-gathering capacity, runs its  own drone wars, and has set up a  new headquarters in Washington, 15 convenient minutes from the White House.  

Big Screen Moments and “Covert” Wars

At their top levels, the leadership of the CIA, the DIA, and JSOC are now mixing and matching in a blur of ever more intertwined, militarized outfits, increasingly on a perpetual war footing.  They have, in this way, turned the ancient arts of intelligence, surveillance, spying, and assassination into a massively funded way of life and are now regularly conducting war on the sly and on the loose across the globe. At the lowest levels, the CIA, DIA, JSOC, and assumedly someday DCS train together, work in teams and in tandem, and cooperate, as well as poach on each other’s turf.  

Today, you would be hard-pressed to write a single volume called  The Invisible Government.  You would instead have to produce a multi-volume series.  And while you were at it -- this undoubtedly would have stunned Wise and Ross -- you might have had to retitle the project something like  The Visible Government.   

Don’t misunderstand me: Americans now possess (or more accurately are possessed by) a vast “intelligence” bureaucracy deeply in the shadows, whose activities are a mass of  known unknowns and unknown unknowns to those of us on the outside.  It is beyond enormous.  There is no way to assess its actual usefulness, or whether it is even faintly “intelligent” (though a case could certainly be made that the U.S. would be far better off with a non-paramilitarized intelligence service or two, rather than scads of them, that eschewed paranoia and relied largely on open sources).  But none of that matters.  It now represents an irreversible way of life, one that is increasingly visible and celebrated in this country.  It is also part of the seemingly endless growth of the imperial power of the White House and, in ways that Wise and Ross would in 1964 have found inconceivable, beyond all accountability or control when it comes to the American people.

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