Monday, March 31, 2014

Let's Go To Church

I am not talking about that nice white building on the town square with a tall steeple. Going there or not going there is your choice. I admit that I have spent many pleasant hours in churches. I loved lifting my voice singing hymns learned in my child hood. 

But today I refer to another Church. Frank Church was a Democrat Senator from Idaho from 1957 to 1981. Church chaired the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1975. This committee was charged with investigating the activities of the CIA and the FBI.

It was suspected that the American spy community had overstepped the limits that were applied to them by law. Previous to this time humintel was the gold standard of spying, to learn the methods, means, and targets of the opposition. Basically, James Bond without the dinner jacket. It was about people on the ground, risking all to obtain information to advance our cause. 

Meetings in low places with money changing hands in trade for information, dead drops, mini cameras taking pictures of secret documents, basic spy stuff, was the heart of human intelligence. It is dirty and dangerous but it is remarkably effective. There are times, to get the job done, rules were stretched. Sometimes to the breaking point. 

There are two reasons that human intel was effective. Patriotism and money. Americans that worked the street were mostly patriots. But I suspect many that did that job would scoff at that description of it. But their strongest tool was, undoubtedly, money. They would find people with information access, that had a need or a character weakness, and buy them. Ugly, but it worked.

Senator Church hated the Viet Nam war. That was a popular opinion among many people of that era. It was a dirty corrupt war that was micro-managed by politicians. It was a failed effort from the beginning. Senator Church saw human intelligence as part and parcel of the corruption. He and his committee gutted the human side of intelligence in favor of the electronic side.

So while the human side of spying was trimmed back radically, the electronic capabilities were greatly expanded. The NSA got bigger. Money was spent on new technology. The National Reconnaissance Office put up more satellites with capabilities the were almost magical. Some of this electronic data went to the CIA and some went to the FBI.

But there was a major fly in the ointment. A young Deputy Attorney General by the name of Jamie Gorelick built a legal wall between the two agencies that did not allow them to share information. Since the responsibility of the CIA was foreign intelligence and the FBI's responsibility was domestic, this created a problem. If the CIA discovered something coming this way, they were not allowed to tell the FBI. I give you 9/11/2001.

The point is that intelligence gathering is a two sided coin. And at it's very heart it is astonishingly complex. But we need to get it right if we are to keep our nation safe. The meddling and grandstanding of tinker-toy politicians is intolerable. The Department of Homeland Security was formed to solve these problems, but that just increased the bureaucracy and provided jobs for more hack politicians.

Our government gets evermore bloated and slow. Someday I fear the price will be paid. Politicians take irresponsible actions without serious thought and planning. A business run like our government would not survive. We can do better and we must. 

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