Rave On: Who Watches the Watchmen?
The current flap over Nancy Pelosi and the CIA "briefings" of Congress raises once again the cognitive dissonance of maintaining a "Secret Police" apparatus in a 'free and democratic society."
So now we have a "She said; They said" argument, where on the one hand we have our Speaker of the House, Nancy P, and on the other, the professional prevaricators of the CIA. How can we discover who is telling the truth?
On the one hand, Pelosi is a politician, part of a group not renowned for their scrupulous honesty. On the other, the CIA are, after all, consummate liars.
They are pledged to "secrecy" - which means concealing the truth - a form of lying - and when they tell us, however convincingly, that they are "telling the truth" - well, of course, that's what liars always claim - they wouldn't be convincing or effective liars if they admitted they were lying!
And when they produce documentation that supports their story, well, producing false documentation and "dis-information" is one of their specialties, isn't it?
It's a trap we've set for our imaginary boogeymen into which we ourselves have stumbled (Pooh and the Heffalump Trap comes to mind) and illustrates the insanity in a "free country" of maintaining a "secret police" apparatus.
Such an organization is uncontrollable by its very nature and is as easy to manipulate into undermining democratic government as into supporting and protecting it. Witness the use of the Stazi, the KGB and the Savak - to name just a few.
It's a little like keeping a cocked and loaded pistol on the kitchen counter "in case" of a home invasion! The "Secret Police" historically pose a far greater danger to the citizens of the countries in which they operate than they do to any putative "enemies."
Such Secret Police organizations have been instruments of repression and political terror since at least the time of the French Revolution. Their rare usefulness as instruments of information is historically vastly outweighed by their effective employment as instruments of State-sponsored oppression.
The argument that free states can't survive without such organizations is tantamount to arguing that it's impossible to actually have a "free country."
The objective of free governments that wish to survive is to first of all determine how much (if any) of the "clandestine intelligence gathering" function of such agencies really serves any useful interest (given monumental failures, like the failure to discover and avert both the unsuccessful and successful attacks on the Twin Towers, the Oklahoma City Bombing, and such political events at the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, the Iranian hostage situation, and many others).
The historical record pretty clearly demonstrates that they don't offer much protection, that even when they've been successful, the price paid for their success has been too high, and it is possible that other, less costly and more ethical means - more in keeping with the ideals of a nation like the US of A - may have been available that would have yielded at least as good results.
Then, if we wish to remain "free," we must create alternative mechanisms and organizations that can fulfill whatever functions of the Secret Police we deem to be truly necessary and useful without violating the basic tenets of our Constitution, sacrificing our civil rights to some sort of imaginary "expediency," and subjecting citizens to the oppression of multi-leveled surveillance arbitrarily on even the flimsiest of pretexts - or no pretext at all.
How can citizens be "free" when they know that their private actions, communications and conversations may be being monitored and recorded, evaluated under arbitrary and secret standards (not subject to review or appeal) and used to create a "secret file" about them that may be used to damage them in any number of ways - from the inconvenience of being on a "no fly" list; to the intimidation of employers and acquaintances being made aware that the person is the subject of nebulous "inquiries" by Federal agencies; to the illegal act of being arrested as a "material witness" and held incommunicado for weeks based on mistaken identification (as US citizen Brian Mayfield was - which cost US taxpayers $2M in settlement money); or of being kidnapped and "rendered" for torture in a secret foreign prison (as Syrian-born Canadian citizen Maher Arar was). And these are just a few of the abuses that have come to light.
The clandestine agencies then always argue that they have had many many successes but they can't tell us about them because that would jeopardize their organization and reveal their methods to 'enemies" but of course, that would be an easy argument for inveterate liars to make.
They have secret powers, and the only brake on those powers is secret oversight by a handful of politicians - who can't help but be aware of the instances where information gathered by Secret Police forces has been used to end political careers. Those politicians, in their defense, have no basis on which to judge the actions and effectiveness of the Secret Police except secret reports prepared by the Secret Police themselves!!
Then there's the Secret Police budget - unspecified, but certainly in the hundreds of millions of dollars (and probably the billions) - which can - since it is secret and unverifiable - be used as the carrot in contrast to the intimidating "investigative" stick. How many (millions) of those taxpayer dollars end up being used to "lobby" elected leaders - openly or "secretly" though "cover groups" - to further the Secret Police Agencies' private agendae? We're not allowed to know. It's a matter of "National Security!
Such a dangerous situation should not have been allowed to develop in the US of A - not if we wish to proceed as a "free country." In my opinion, Secret Police organizations have no legitimate place in a free society., Every useful service they perform can be better, more safely and more effectively performed by well-trained regular law-enforcement agencies.
They've grown to a size and a level of influence in our government that threatens the very principles on which our country is based. They've failed us in many key situations, giving us a false sense of security that has helped enable some of the greatest tragedies in our national history.
Although an argument can be made for a limited, carefully-overseen and heavily regulated clandestine intelligence-gathering operations in emergency situations, the existence and proliferation of multiple, permanent Secret Police Agency bureaucracies within the American government may well be the Achilles' heel of our Democratic system - as it has historically been of many other Democracies. We concur in maintaining such a system at our own very real peril.
In the immortal words of Denis Miller,"But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong."
Am I? Why? What's yours?