Thursday, October 27, 2005

Let Spies Be Spies


I'm baffled by one of today's headlines: "U.S. Spy Agencies Told to Bolster the Growth of Democracy." Apparently director of national intelligence John Negroponte has made this one of the three major missions that U.S. intelligence agencies should focus on, along with countering terrorism and weapons proliferation.

From a soft-power standpoint, I can't think of a worse or more distracting mission for U.S. intelligence agencies and their human agents and sources.

U.S. soft power is a function of its ideas, ideals and achievements, among them freedom, equality, opportunity, openness and technological prowess. The intelligence agencies have enormous tech savvy but aren't emblematic of any of the qualities commonly associated with soft power—nor should they be.

Intelligence agencies, from what I understand, are hierarchical, secretive and exist solely to give the U.S. hard-power advantages over both adversaries and allies. In addition, everyone in the world knows this, because their intelligence agencies are trying to do the same thing. This makes intelligence agencies poor messengers for democratic governments.

I don't think the CIA, NSA and their cousins should be tasked—saddled is a better term—with a mission like democracy promotion. Their mission should remain what it is: to sort out the good guys from the bad, find out what they want and intend, and counter the bad guys in a most undemocratic fashion. Everything else is a distraction.

1 comment:

mark said...

I agree that the CIA does not need additional missions per se but the USG does need a coherent and prioritized strategy for strategic influence.


This was a long time ago but U.S. intelligence basically prevented Italy from going Communist by financially shoring up the Christian Democratic Party in the aftermath of WWII. Italy was not the only country either.

USG agency and CIA assistance to Solidarity via the Catholic Church, the NED , international Labor organizations was also noteworthy ( and not entirely declassified).

Whether the CIA helped Aquino against Marcos is a good question for scholars.

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