Agents of Intelligence

Don’t worry!  It’s not Monday!!!!

We had some delay with Stephen’s Monday post, so without further adieu…….

With the hullabaloo surrounding recent revelations involving rather nefarious actions by the FBI in collusion with the Democrats, the news media outlets, and FusionGPS it seems an appropriate time to inquire into the nature of intelligence agencies and services in a more abstract manner and objectively evaluate the value thereof.

When we think of intelligence agencies the first which usually comes to mind is the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, but it has been the FBI which has been more in the news of late, as well as the NSA from time to time.

As you know, the CIA grew out of the OSS, military intelligence during World War II, and continued to grow through the Korean and Vietnam conflicts even unto the present day.

However, immediately after the war there was a considerable discussion of simply disbanding the OSS altogether.  The war was over and there did not appear to be any real need to continue the organization in peace time at a considerable expense to the taxpayer, after all government agencies are expensive and cutting back on federal spending has always been considered the “peace dividend” when the nation can pay down its war debt.

This is exactly what had happened after the first World War when President Calvin Coolidge maintained a quite strict, some would say parsimonious constraint of federal spending helping the economy to thrive in the roaring twenties.

After all, there is no real need to maintain a wartime footing in a time of peace, as the general purpose of the military in time of peace is not to win a war by overwhelming force, but simply to repel an evasion until greater forces can be mobilized and brought to bear.  America had always until that time assumed a generally defensive posture in foreign affairs in preference to an aggressive one.

However, the intelligence agency was continued, as well as a number of others added to the growing alphabet soup of Washington, DC.  Thus, it behooves us to look into the nature of the intelligence services itself, rather than blithely presuming that it is all the same and all naturally beneficial to the state or else we would not be doing it.  (See

Intelligence of a non-military, peacetime nature can readily be broken down into three separate categories of information gathering, foreign operations, and counter espionage.  (In times of war the focus of such intelligence is naturally and substantively different.)

While I understand that it is easy to see a natural overlap of intelligence gathering with the other two categories, I am specifically referring to that information not directly tied to such operations and functions.

One of the most beneficial and at the same time non-controversial employment of intelligence is not actually what most people would even consider espionage, but a more general collection and analyzing of common data and often public information.

It is beneficial to know the social and political mood of other nations and cultures, if the people are poor and desperate, whether such nation is stable or riddled with strife and discontent, how developed and efficient their industry, infrastructure, and institutions simply are.

Much of this data is readily available simply by having people live amongst the local populace with an ear to the news, the culture, the religion, and the local politics.  In the early days of the cold war, the Soviets garnered a lot of information about the United States and our technology simply by having their agents visit the public libraries and read the news papers.

One hesitates to even classify this as actual espionage as the information gathered is not really any type of state secret, yet we often do classify it as such.  In the days of the Roman empire, Rome would often exchange young men from important families with the sons of neighboring tribal leaders in an effort to both foster a greater cultural understanding and to gather intelligence on the personalities and attitudes of those leaders.

Then we come to dealing with those more nefarious attempts by foreign states to conduct clandestine operation within and against the United States which naturally require some form of counter intelligence operations to ferret out such sinister plots, as the Walker spy ring, Julius & Ethel Rosenberg, Jason Pollard, Wen Ho Lee, and many others.

The difference being the employment of illegal activities to acquire information or to influence events withing the United States, to foment unrest or encourage division.  That is what Democrats currently suppose that Russia colluded with Pres. Trump to do, and what we know George Soros does in funding various antifa groups.

It is thus compelling that our nation have agencies established to try to catch such criminal activities to hopefully prevent or at least mitigate such damage to our national interests.

There is no real controversy in having an agency established to catch spies who are engaged in illegal covert activities against the US, and to prosecute the bad actors who so undertake this criminality.

It gets more murky when such an agency seeks to catch would be nefarious actors by pretending to be their fellow conspirators and accomplices in order to catch them.

In law, it is recognized that entrapment is itself illegal, so that the police may not suggest and encourage a crime just to catch the person who merely goes along with the criminal plot of the police.  This is based in the real possibility that such person may never have thought to engage in such criminal conduct but for the law enforcement officer encouraging them to so act.

It is not the job of the police to create crime in order to catch criminals.

Likewise, one is left to wonder about the effect of certain FBI counter spy operation where the agents pose as conspirators with one or more would be terrorists, in particular where the FBI agents are the ones supplying the bombs or bomb making equipment.

It is not exactly like bombs are so readily available that it is like going to the local hardware store and purchasing a bomb off of the shelf.  Hint: if someone is offering to supply the bombs for your terrorist plot, that is the FBI agent, because no one else has the bombs available to offer.

One is left to wonder if such a person would find themselves frustrated and give up their ambitions but for the encouragement of the counter terrorist agents.  One conspiracy theory postulates that the mass shooting in Las Vegas was just such a sting operation which went awry, with the FBI actually supplying the guns which were used.

How far should domestic counter espionage agencies be permitted to go in their efforts to discover and foil such plots?  We are discovering that such means as the FISA courts can easily be manipulated and turned against private citizens.  The price of such a free hand for such agencies may end up being a far less free hand for everyone else.

Finally, one has to look at the nature of such foreign operation from the viewpoint of that nation conducting them.  In addition to merely gathering information about other nations, and preventing criminal operations of other nations, our own nation has engaged in such operations against others.

The CIA has variously been accused of planning the overthrow of foreign nations; spying upon foreign leaders, militaries, and even industries; even accused of running or protecting foreign drug dealing operations.  Some of which have been proven to be true, while other remain speculation.

Diplomatically, such operations very often do not appear to be worth the price, and may very often be detrimental to the actual interests of the United States.  It is difficult to complain about Russians, Israelis, Chinese, and others when they have been caught red handed spying upon America when America has been caught red handed spying on the German Chancellor.

It is not a point of honor to publicly proclaim that yeah, we are spying on you, but someone else was spying on us, so it’s fair.  The “everybody does it” claim is never the moral high ground and weakens our efforts to try to persuade foreign nations to adopt concepts like the rule of law.

We are still telling these other nations to be just like us, but the us we are telling them to emulate is not looking that great.

It is the nature of such foreign operations to be in those nations criminal actions against their state.  There was once a golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  If your nation is acting like a criminal towards other nations, you cannot then expect them to behave any differently towards you.  It then merely becomes a question of who has the better criminals, and who has more to lose.  Naturally, any nation on top with a thriving economy and military power, has more to lose; it is not a game we can ever really win.

“Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.” – Yoda

One other thought, with respect to the notion expressed in the movie Air America and other movies, that the CIA has oft been said to have engaged in criminal enterprises such as running drugs or getting a cut to protects such drug operations, and that is relative to the financing of a perpetual espionage agency.

Any such agency engaged in foreign operations is, for all intents and purposes, operating, at least in those nations, a criminal enterprise.  While it is one thing for a state to engage in crime against its neighbors, if in the course of such criminal engagement such an agency develops its own independent stream of revenue, then it becomes essentially independent of that state for which it ostensibly works.

How would that be any different than any other mob if such an agency is self funding?

Sun Tzu had a whole chapter devoted to espionage and spying, and that such spies needed to be rewarded handsomely for their rather dangerous and unique efforts, but that such a spies must be kept loyal to the general so employing them.

On a final thought, the recent FISA memo illustrates that it is not difficult for an intelligence agency to hide its actions behind a smokescreen that secrecy if so vital to their job and to the national security that their actions must be secret even to the very leaders of that nation which they serve.

The idea being that even an agent engaged in behavior which might be out of bounds, beyond that permissible to the agency, should be protected in their identity because their very life could be at stake.  (There was no such real threat in the memo in question and it was purely a scare tactic to keep their misbehavior secret.)

However, imagine that there was.  It is an overused trope that “with great power comes great responsibility”, however I think it applicable in this case.  Any agent of the state bears a greater responsibility then the average citizen, and if engaged in wrongdoing deserves less protection and anonymity because of their position, not more.

If a actor’s position involves secrecy but their actions are bad, they deserve greater exposure precisely because there is a much higher standard to which they must be held.  The idea that with greater power come greater responsibility becomes meaningless if they are not actually held responsible at all solely because of their position of power.

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