I've been thinking about E's question since last week.
The CIA presents the same problem as does other government organizations. Is eavesdropping on conversations any more intrusive than payroll deduction? The question is whether our country is better or worse having intelligence gathering considering the methods they take.
Considering 9-11 was a lack of imagination, I think that a weak CIA left gaps in our protection. And the disasters resulting from those gaps create a much more radical response than simply beefing up intelligence. Now we have a department of Homeland Security and more federal employees harassing us at airports. I would much rather had those furtive CIA agents from the 1950s all along, the guys overthrowing governments and engaging in covert activities.
I think the reaction of the CIA, FBI etc. in the 1960s is supposed to shock us, but protesting a war at home with troops in the field is possibly treasonous. This is especially true of organizations that were socialist in nature that were taking funds from our communist rivals. The Soviet Union had been funding the American Communist Party since the 1920s, so some of these organizations weren’t just an outlet for free speech, but paid propaganda by the enemy.
The independent hippies had every right to protest, but when they’re on the same side as paid agents, there is a responsibility to watch them. In the case of the newspapers printing the Pentagon Papers in a time of war, well I think the response to that was much less draconian than what would have happened during the Civil War or even World War II. Lincoln would have jailed those editors. Nixon showed restraint in contrast.
In the case of John Lennon, the guy wasn’t even a citizen. Anytime a foreign national comes into your country and protests your war, you have every right to watch his activities and make him feel less wanted.
Can the power of the CIA cause damage to our freedom? Sure. But enemies can cause damage too as recently witnessed. The CIA is one of the few organizations trying to defend the American way of life, while most others are simply trying to “fix” the perceived unfairness of our economy.
The question as to whether the CIA is engaged in grand conspiracies through history is debatable. I can buy that small groups within the agency know more about certain mysteries than they divulge. But it’s hard to believe that any bureaucracy with people competing for prestige and power would really put all that away to band together to pull off some big hoax on the citizenry. In my experience with bureaucracy, no issue is ever settled. The prevailing winds change back and forth and the rivals each get what they want for a while. Every kept secret is a potential power play from some ambitious minion. How do you keep big internal shenanigans secret within such a system like that?
And for the government conspiracies to work, you have to believe that those agencies are efficient. I’ve never witnessed it. It’s not hard to ascribe any number of nefarious things to the CIA, but can they really keep a lid on what they do? Howard Hunt couldn’t manage a 3rd rate burglary.
I think a better CIA means not only fewer 9-11 incidents, but many fewer agencies like the Department of Homeland Security. I will take my chances with the CIA not because they are perfect, but that they are an overall benefit despite their shortcomings and the alternative.