Vital Signs

The Next Intelligence Crisis

In the months since the attacks of September 11, 2001, we have heard a great deal about the need to repair the intelligence walls that should have been defending America.  There is no question that the United States needs a much stronger and more proactive intelligence apparatus, both foreign and domestic, and I, for one, am not too troubled by the prospect of American agents bugging, burgling, and even killing our enemies, should those acts be necessary to save the lives of our own people.  It has been fascinating over recent months to read media accounts of liberal and leftist young people, inflamed by the new patriotism, announce that they are seriously considering careers in intelligence.

Yet even as we pour new resources into the CIA, FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security and enhance their powers, it would be a good idea to pay a little attention to history and to recall just how we got ourselves into this fix in the first place.  Briefly, in the 1940’s and 50’s, federal agencies acquired vast powers, at a time when it seemed unpatriotic to inquire exactly how they were using them.  When it was revealed that these agencies were engaging in many questionable activities—some of them criminal—public opinion turned decisively against them, resulting in the crippling of U.S. intelligence in the 80’s and 90’s.  As we enter a new phase of seemingly uncritical support...

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