Reviews

'Whistleblower at the CIA' review: Flawed operations

Whistleblower at the CIA
Melvin A. Goodman
City Lights Books
₹1,064

Whistleblower at the CIA Melvin A. Goodman City Lights Books ₹1,064  

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An insider on how the CIA became a covert espionage agency

The CIA has been gradually submerged in the murky world of self-serving politics, particularly in the last couple of decades. It’s a development that is fundamentally corrosive to the very nature of an investigating agency. It was President Truman who set up the CIA for correction of the analysis of military deployment and prowess that was often inflated by the Soviet Union’s defense machinery. He would be turning in his grave to see how his brainchild has so palpably swerved from its original task to morph into a covert espionage agency buttressing the ideological leanings of the President and his foreign policy. From a civil agency it gradually moved to an institution under the Defence Department, a far cry from its envisioned character. As a research institution it could have become a valuable source of Intelligence gathering, having a direct bearing on appropriate and well-considered policy in the execution of international affairs.

Fly-on-the-wall view

One would be hard-pressed to find someone more suitable to the task of exposing the rot festering within this agency than Melvin Goodman, who having worked for it for 25 years has brought to bear the depth of his experience and fully exposed the corrupt entrails and its troubled nature. He offers the fly-on-the-wall perspective on the misdeeds of directors of the CIA ever since he joined the service in the 1960s. His book Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA, 2008 and the recent Whistleblower at the CIA continues with the theme of the criticism of the goals and operations of the CIA.

Though Goodman has favourable things to say about the directors of the CIA during the early years of his service with the agency, he is categorically critical of all the others, especially his friend of long standing, Robert Gates, who through sheer manipulation and outright fabrications and misrepresentation succeeded in rising up the ranks, subverting “the process of ethics and of intelligence” by deliberately misinforming the President on major world events and secret operations. This was Goodman’s argument in leading a frontal attack on Gates’ appointment as Director of CIA. Goodman’s chief target is George Bush who manipulated the ‘truth’ about the enemy through false intelligence reports, corruption and intimidation thereby succeeding in getting the approval of the American public for the Iraq War and his supposed fight against terrorism, leading to a disastrous series of foreign interventions with the aid of the CIA, which continue to this day.

Vigilant checks needed

Indeed, the version we get of the quality of the CIA’s activities is a far cry from Henry Truman’s vision for the future of the CIA. Goodman argues in favour of a whistleblower to keep a vigilant check on the workings of the CIA: “As long as Congress defers to the President on the conduct of national security; the courts intervene to prevent any challenge to the power of the president in national security policy making; and the media defer to its official and authorized sources, the nation will need courageous whistleblowers to make sure that CIA actions are legal, ethical, and moral.”

Strangely enough, the President remains untarnished in spite of being instrumental in the larger control of the two spheres of the CIA’s functioning: Operations and Analysis. Operations involve spying and data collection, whereas the Analysis wing meticulously studies the data to arrive at judicious conclusions about the nature and significance of the task at hand. The President often turns the blame on the CIA if a policy goes amok while the CIA has no escape route due to the “plausible deniability” of the orders ensuing from the President. As Goodman argues, it is up to an upright officer in the Analysis wing to come up with intelligent and objective findings without bowing to the pressure of the ideological slant of the White House.

The case of the historic humiliation in Vietnam is noteworthy, keeping in view the sane advice given by CIA analysts to the Defence Department arguing for an anti-war policy. However, the Secretary of Defence, McNamara, misrepresented the information given to him by the CIA that the war in Vietnam was a foolhardy move, bound to fail. When the Americans finally did suffer a humbling defeat, who but the CIA analysts were made the scapegoats. Similarly, Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, endorsing Goodman’s honest and objective appraisal of the CIA’s failure, confirms his own views on the U.S.’s disaster in disarming Iraq.

The jewels and the warts, the achievements and fiascos of American intelligence in the age of demonising the whistleblowers by the state machinery are adequately and candidly exposed in a book that becomes relevant to students of political and military ethics, a subject of immense value to world peace, foreign policy and international relations. The enemy, as is often seen, motivated by reprehensible political ends, arises from within and is often more formidable than the external adversary. This deleterious politicisation and the implicit motives of corruption have indeed damaged not only the intelligence agency, but the upright global standing of the U.S.

The world is becoming increasingly volatile and unstable, authoritarianism is raising its ugly head across the globe, making the need for whistleblowers ever greater. This book is a wake-up call, particularly in light of the dictatorial onslaught, for world-wide investigation agencies to examine their practices and decide either to follow the course of exploitation, bullying and untruths, dictated by the ideological biases of the leaders or be emboldened to observe neutrality, fairness and principles of ethics so as to ensure a more meaningful and productive intervention in global affairs.

Whistleblower at the CIA; Melvin A. Goodman, City Lights Books, ₹1,064.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 9:09:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/whistleblower-at-the-cia-review-flawed-operations/article23699236.ece

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