Send in the CIA
excerpted from the book
The Secret Government
by Bill Moyers
Seven Locks Press, 1988
There are 58,000 names on the wall of the Vietnam memorial; 58,000
men died in Vietnam. Their deaths and all the deaths in Southeast
Asia-the names not on this wall-raise painful questions about
our secret government and our role in the world. Were we certain
what we asked people to die for?
The men who wrote our Constitution tried
to make it hard to go to war. Human life was at stake, they knew,
as well as the character of this republic. War should be soberly
decided, publicly debated, and mutually determined by the people's
representatives. It is the people, after all, who must fight,
pay, and die once the choice is made. The Constitution was to
protect them from dying for the wrong reasons. It was to protect
them from killing for the wrong reasons.
FIRST VIETNAM VETERAN:
"I don't know, the public still don't
want to understand what the hell really happened. But maybe one
day they will. As far as Central America, I see the same damn
thing happening there in Central America that happened in Vietnam."
SECOND VIETNAM VETERAN:
"Well, I think the country has learned
very graphically that we better be really assured that if we're
going to send our young men and women off to die like this, that
it better really be in the interests of every citizen of this
United States to sacrifice somebody like that, so that we don't
have more blood on this wall or other walls. And I think that
we ask a lot of questions now that we didn't used to ask. We want
to know why, and we'll hear Ollie North's analysis of what's happening
with the contras, and a lot of us say we want some more verification
of that. We want to know just what are we involving ourselves
in when we go do that."
I find it stunning, looking back, how
easily the cold war enticed us into surrendering popular control
of government to the national security state. We've never come
closer to bestowing absolute authority on the president. Setting
up White House operatives who secretly decide to fight dirty little
wars is a direct assumption of war powers expressly forbidden
by the Constitution.
Not since December 1941 has Congress declared
war. Yet we've had a "police action" in Korea, "advisers"
in Vietnam, "covert operations" in Central America,
"peacekeeping" in Lebanon, and "low-intensity conflicts"
... from Angola to Cambodia. We're never really sure who is exercising
the war powers of the United States, what they're doing, what
it costs, or who is paying for it. The one thing we are sure of
is that this largely secret global war, carried on with less and
less accountability to democratic institutions, has become a way
... we're faced with a question ... :
can we have a permanent warfare state and democracy, too?
In 1975, as the war in Vietnam came to
an end, Congress took its first public look at the secret government.
Sen. Frank Church chaired the Select Committee to Study Government
Operations. The hearings opened the books on a string of lethal
activities, from the use of electric pistols and poison pellets
to Mafia connections and drug experiments. They gave us a detailed
account of assassination plots against foreign leaders and of
the overthrow of sovereign governments. We learned, for example,
how the Nixon administration had waged a covert war against the
government of Chile's president, Salvador Allende, who was ultimately
overthrown by a military coup and assassinated.
SENATOR CHURCH (1976):
"Like Caesar peering into the colonies
from distant Rome, Nixon said the choice of government by the
Chileans was unacceptable to the president of the United States.
The attitude in the White House seemed to be, "If in the
wake of Vietnam I can no longer send in the Marines, then I will
send in the CIA."
But the secret government had also waged
war on the American people. The hearings examined a long train
of covert actions at home, from the bugging of Martin Luther King
by the FBI under Kennedy and Johnson to gross violations of the
law and of civil liberties in the 1970s. They went under code
names such as Chaos, Cable Splicer, Garden Plot, and Leprechaun.
According to the hearings, the secret government had been given
a license to reach, as journalist Theodore White wrote, all the
way to every mailbox, every college campus, every telephone, and
"You start out breaking foreign laws
since most countries have laws against secretly overthrowing their
governments, and then you end up breaking the law at home, and
coming to feel a contempt for the law, for your colleagues and
associates, for the Congress and the public, and for the Constitution."
Morton Halperin was a victim of the secret
government's paranoia. He worked for Henry Kissinger on the National
Security Council in 1969. Critical of policies in Cambodia and
Vietnam, he resigned. He later discovered his telephone had been
bugged for 21 months. He is now the director of the Washington
office of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"What you have is a growing gap between
the perceptions inside the executive branch about what the threats
are to our national security and the beliefs in the Congress and
the public about the threats to national security. And that leads
to secrecy. That is what drives the policy underground, that's
what leads the president to rely more on covert operations, what
leads the president and his officials to lie to the public, then
lie to the Congress about the operation. Precisely because they
cannot get their way in public debate, they are driven to seek
to circumvent the democratic process."
Oliver North obviously disagrees:
COLONEL NORTH (Iran-contra hearings):
"And the president ought not to be
in a position, in my humble opinion, of having to go out and explain
to the American people on a biweekly basis or any other kind,
that I, the president, am carrying out the following secret operations.
It just can't be done."
In my interview with Professor Firmage,
I cited a common rationale:
It is said that the constitutional system
of checks and balances has so prohibited the president, so hamstrung
him, that he cannot effectively lead foreign policy, that he has
to be resorting to clandestine, covert, secret -
Horsefeathers. He needs to do that only
when he wants to subvert Congress. If Congress says, "Don't
do that," and the president says, "But I want to, I
want to, I really want to," the conclusion from that isn't
that the president is right. It is that the president is considering
being an outlaw.
It's been said that the secret realm of
government is the deformed offspring of the modern presidency.
Presidents take an oath to uphold the Constitution, but then,
finding the cumbersome sharing of power with Congress an obstacle,
they start looking for shortcuts to silence their critics and
achieve their objectives.
And it goes back to the beginning. I mean,
there is a famous letter, which Madison wrote late in his life,
in which he said, "Perhaps it is a universal truth that the
loss of liberty at home will be charged to dangers, real or imagined
from abroad." And that is the lesson of history.
Government - Moyers