A recent article in the New York Times about Russia’s “intelligence state,” authored by John Sipher, a former chief of station for the CIA, provides a valuable mirror for the American people. The problem is that American statists cannot see it as a mirror. While Sipher’s article clearly demonstrates that American statists, especially conservative ones, can see the wrongdoing of foreign totalitarian or authoritarian regimes with great clarity, they have a moral blindness when it comes to recognizing wrongdoing by their own government. Even worse, they defend wrongdoing by their own regime (which they can’t see as wrongdoing) as a way to combat foreign wrongdoing. In fact, they come to view their own wrongdoing as something good when it is being used to oppose wrongdoing by a foreign regime.
Sipher labels Russia’s (and, before that, the Soviet) governmental system an “intelligence state.” He’s critical of it, and rightly so. It is a type of governmental system that engages in such things as secret surveillance of the citizenry, assassination, torture, and interference in the affairs of other nations.
Referring to Russia’s system under Vladimir Putin, who Sipher reminds us is a former KGB officer, Sipher writes:
“The history of the brutal Soviet security services lays bare the roots of Russia’s current use of political arrests, subversion, disinformation, assassination, espionage and the weaponization of lies. None of those tactics is new to the Kremlin.
“In fact, those tactics made Soviet Russia the world’s first “intelligence state,” and they also distinguished it from authoritarian states run by militaries…. The result is a regime with the policies and philosophy of a supercharged secret police service, a regime that relies on intelligence operations to deal with foreign policy challenges and maintain control at home….
“Over the decades, the Soviet and Russian secret services developed tools and habits based on their Chekist experience that set them apart from their counterparts in the West. Rather than focusing on collecting and analyzing intelligence, they developed expertise in propaganda, agitation, subversion, repression, deception and murder.”
Sipher uses the label “intelligence state” to describe the Russian and Soviet system. There is another label that Sipher could have used, a much more common one: a “national security state.”
Why would Sipher avoid using the term “national-security state”? My hunch is that he instinctively knows that that would be holding the mirror to himself and the rest of the American people. That’s because the United States is a “national-security state” or an “intelligence state,” just like Russia is.
In fact, a supreme irony in Sipher’s article is that he worked for the CIA for 27 years. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, the CIA is an “intelligence agency,” one that not only engages in intelligence gathering but also has long wielded and exercised the powers of assassination, torture, indefinite detention, involuntary drug experimentation, and secret surveillance — that is, the same types of powers that Sipher decries in the Russia/Soviet “intelligence state.”
Sipher points out that one of the main features of an “intelligence state” is lying. He ought to know. Since its very beginning, the CIA has been an agency based on lies and lying. Deception has always been justified under the rubric of “national security.” Coming immediately to mind is CIA Director Richard Helms, who was convicted of lying to Congress regarding the CIA’s secret regime-change operation against Chile, to the praise and acclaim of his subordinate officers in the CIA. Let’s also not forget the lies that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. told Congress under oath regarding the NSA’s secret surveillance of Americans.
Consider all the nefarious things the CIA has done and continues to do in foreign countries, including assassination, coups, installation of foreign dictators, invasions, wars of aggression, torture, rendition, partnerships with dictatorial regimes, sanctions and embargoes targeting innocent people with death, impoverishment, and suffering.
Or consider MKULTRA, the CIA’s top-secret operation to subject innocent, unsuspecting people to drug experimentation, along with the subsequent intentional destruction of official records to prevent Americans from discovering the full extent of the operation.
Or the U.S. national-security state’s secret surveillance of American citizens, along with secret illegal operations to spy on and infiltrate peaceful and law-abiding organization with the intent to smear and destroy them and their members.
Of course, it wasn’t always that way. The United States was founded as a limited-government republic, which is the opposite of a national-security state. For more than a 150 years, our nation prospered without a Pentagon, a military-industrial complex, a national-security state, a CIA, and a NSA. Governmental procedures were transparent. There was no obsession over the nebulous and meaningless term “national security.”
Then came the aftermath of World War II, when U.S. officials told Americans that they were now facing a new official enemy, one that had been an official enemy of Nazi Germany and a friend and partner of the United States. That new official enemy was the Soviet Union and its system of communism. The communists were coming to get us, U.S. official maintained, as part of a worldwide communist conspiracy based in Moscow, Russia.
U.S. officials said that there was only one way to prevent a communist takeover of the United States. In order to prevail against the Soviet Union, the U.S. government would have to be converted into the same type of governmental system, U.S. officials said.
That meant moving to the dark side — toward torture, assassination, coups, regime-change operations, sanctions and embargoes, secret surveillance — i.e., the types of things the communists were doing. That’s how we got the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA, three principal components of the U.S. national-security state or intelligence state.
What about our limited-government republic? U.S. officials said that as soon as the Cold War was over, we could have it back. But when the Cold War suddenly and unexpectedly ended, we didn’t get our republic back. Instead, we got the continued existence of the national-security state, along with its forever wars and forever interventions all around the world, along with its never-ending plunge into the dark side.
Worst of all, we got a moral blindness, one in which all too many Americans are unable to recognize what all this has done to us.