In an excerpt from her memoir (Vanishing Act by Amaryllis Fox, Vogue, Sept. 2019), Amaryllis Fox describes the training she had to undergo to become a CIA field operative. According to Ms. Fox, CIA field operatives are trained to aid any adversaries they may have wounded. “Training in urban combat scenarios, peppered with dummies — some legitimate targets, most dressed as local men, women and children. Hit a civilian and we’re out. Even the actual targets have to be given first aid … It’s not clear if the point of that policy is compassion or to keep the adversary alive for interrogation …”. This is good news indeed for innocent civilians but perhaps not such good news for the adversaries who are kept alive to be interrogated. Whatever the present policies may be, the past has not been good to non-combatants, “Over 100,000 civilians have been killed or injured by the war in Afghanistan in the past decade, the United Nations said in a report released Saturday.” (Military.com, 23 Feb 2020). Most of the deaths and injuries are attributed to the Taliban, but the CIA has a long history in Afghanistan. Operation Cyclone was a CIA program to arm and finance the mujahideen in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 (Wikipedia). Osama Bin Laden being one of them.

We all know the result; the Taliban took over the government. The CIA was instrumental in the success of the Taliban so you could say the CIA was either directly, or indirectly, responsible for many of those 100,000 civilians killed or injured. I hope someone from the Agency was there to aid the injured and help bury the dead. In truth, if Ms. Fox loves America and wants to protect us, she should advocate for de-funding the CIA and abolishing it. The world, and America, would be a safer more peaceful place.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, the US, “…fiscal Year 2020 budget request included $62.8 billion for the National Intelligence Program, and $22.95 billion for the Military Intelligence Program.” What does this almost $90 billion annual expenditure buy us? Details of the overall United States intelligence budget are classified, so we can never really know what the money is spent on. “Although the government has annually released its overall level of intelligence spending since 2007, it has not divulged how it uses the money or how it performs against the goals set by the president and Congress.” (The Washington Post.)

We do know the CIA has its own air force, secret bases, and landing strips all over the world. CIA predator drones have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Pakistan, to name just a few of the nations that have been subject to these attacks. Extra-judicial renditions (in other words, kidnapping) and black sites where suspects are tortured have featured in the CIA’s recent history. If we look at it squarely, the CIA and American democracy are simply incompatible; you can’t have an unaccountable government agency starting wars, funding terrorists and enacting it’s own agenda. Democracy demands transparency and public accountability. Secrecy is understandable, and warranted, for agents to cultivate sources and do their spying, but you can’t have a covert foreign policy and no elected representatives know about it until after the fact. When did assassination become acceptable in our relations with other countries? Perhaps it started with the CIA colluding with the Mafia to kill Fidel Castro with, among other devices, an exploding cigar. Would we like foreign governments to target our leaders for assassination?

That the CIA engages in clandestine activities to subvert democratically-elected governments in other countries is well documented; the overthrow of Allende in Chile is just one of the more striking examples. This is something we would not countenance as public policy but, no matter, the CIA goes its own way. The worst of it is, the CIA is an abysmal failure. Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a covert foreign policy, the CIA has not made us, or the world, a safer place. The CIA was in Vietnam before the military was sent there. The Phoenix program created and run by the CIA, “was designed to identify and destroy the Viet Cong via infiltration, torture, capture, counter-terrorism, interrogation, and assassination. The CIA participated in every aspect of the wars in Indochina, political and military” (Wikipedia). Does anyone think the invasion of Vietnam made America safer? Are we safer and more secure now that we’ve invaded Afghanistan and Iraq?

The list of continuing failures is staggering and the costs of invading Iraq and Afghanistan incalculable. Where was the CIA when decisions were being made to engage in actions that created more terrorists and destroyed innocent lives? The disastrous results are going on to this day. Osama bin Laden was a CIA asset when the CIA was supporting the Taliban in a proxy war against Russian troops in Afghanistan. Does anyone think that was a good idea? And the greatest failure of all was 9/11. A small group of inexperienced, mostly 20-something Saudis is able to come to this country, live here for months, go to flight school, and utterly defeat the greatest military and intelligence apparatus the world has ever seen; the finding of the 9/11 Commission, “a failure of communication.” No one lost their job; no one was even demoted. And the CIA is still with us.

The CIA may be guilty of more than just incompetence and negligence. An article in the New York Times (from July 2004) that reviewed the conclusions of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9–11 Commission), stated “… in its final report, the commission found that as many as 13 of the hijackers had entered the United States with passports that had been fraudulently altered, using criminal methods previously associated with al Queda.” In The Terror Timeline by Paul Thompsom, “September 1987 -March 1989: head U.S. consular official claims he’s told to issue visas to unqualified applicants, Thompson writes, “According to Springmann (Michael Springmann, former head U.S. consular official in Jeddah Saudi Arabia) the Jeddah consulate was run by the CIA and staffed almost entirely by intelligence agents. … and 15 of the 19, 9/11 hijackers received their visas through Jeddah.”

Something went very wrong in the interpretation of intelligence, and the associated decision-making, or we would never have invaded Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq in the first place. I’m still trying to figure out why we needed to invade Iraq. Admittedly, there is the need to gather intelligence from which someone in our government might glean some useful information. After we de-fund the CIA, how can we find out what our friends and enemies are doing? Let’s see: we have embassies and consulates all over the world where many of the staff speak the language and have local contacts; could be useful for gathering information that could be passed on to one of the 16 other security agencies we have aside from the CIA. We have the US Border Patrol and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, each with thousands of agents dedicated to protecting our borders and finding out any plot against America. We have the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and every branch of the armed forces has its own intelligence gathering operations. The US has over 500 large military bases in foreign countries. It appears there are plenty of resources available that could be brought to bear for intelligence gathering and even covert operations.

CIA analysts may be brilliant and knowledgeable but, if that’s the case, why are so many bad decisions made? Is their advice not being taken? Perhaps it wasn’t the CIA but the Pentagon or Geo. W. Bush that was making the bad decisions and ignoring the good advice of the CIA. Paul Bremer, appointed by Bush to be Administrator of Iraq decided to disband the Iraq army, which paved the way for the formation of ISIS. Where was the CIA when Bremer needed some good advice about the possible consequences of his ignorant and thoughtless actions?

A larger question is, whatever happened to the “peace dividend” that was to follow on the demise of the Soviet Union? We looked forward to less spending on defense and more on people. Of course, peace would not have been good for arms sales and the US is the largest arms merchant in the world. The CIA has been involved in fomenting unrest in many countries and that’s got to be good for the armaments business. Perhaps the CIA is secretly on a mission to increase international arms sales? In any case, we soon had the “War on Terror” to take the place of the threat of the Russian bear and arms sales and military spending have continued apace. To give one example; “According to data from the Security Assistance Monitor, the United States delivered over $34 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia since 2002 and the two countries have agreed to sales worth $5.08 billion in 2019 alone.” Explaining U.S. Arms Sales by A. Trevor Thrall and Jordan Cohen (Cato Institute). Is selling arms to Saudi Arabia a good idea?

Within the past week, there was a report from the Associated Press, by Vladimir Isachenkov; “Russia will perceive any ballistic missile launched at its territory as a nuclear attack that warrants a nuclear retaliation, the military warned in an article published Friday. The harsh warning in the official military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) is directed at the United States, which has worked to develop long-range non-nuclear weapons. The article follows the publication in June of Russia’s nuclear deterrent policy that envisages the use of atomic weapons in response to what could be a conventional strike targeting the nation’s critical government and military infrastructure.”

If this is the current state of affairs, something is not working, and we are not getting much safety and security for all the time and money spent since the end of the cold war. Maybe we need a new approach.

Lives in San Francisco; graduate of SFSU.