Secret Courts Guarantee Abuse
And boy, do we have abuse.
Michael Ledeen is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
I testified against the Patriot Act because I feared the abuse of secret tribunals. I’m usually far off in my predictions, but it was obvious from the get-go that the FISA courts would be abused by the Intelligence Community, and indeed those secret courts have almost always done what the FBI and CIA asked, even when—as in the case of General Michael Flynn—the IC had to ask several times, and even when the “evidence” consisted of an unverified “dossier” produced by a political campaign.
The Intelligence Community has long considered itself a state within the American state, dating from its creation just after World War II. Most of the time, the IC has used its power to support presidential policies—the CIA snooped on the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2014, and on the McGovern campaign, and the FBI spied on the Goldwater campaign– but when a president acted against the IC’s convictions, the spooks advanced their own interests and beliefs.
No sooner had President Truman recognized the state of Israel, than the CIA swung into (illegal) action, secretly creating the American Friends of the Middle East, which brought Middle Easterners to America, published their views, and lobbied Congress, all against Israel. In the words of Hudson’s Michael Doran,
AFME was a remarkable instance of a CIA-confected front organization designed to counter official government policy, in this case by seeking to delegitimize Zionism in domestic American politics.
Truman quickly understood what was at stake. “It’s become a government all of its own and all secret. They don’t have to account to anybody.”.
It was, Truman recognized, part of a broader problem: bureaucrats who saw themselves, not mere elected officials, as the only legitimate policy makers. “The civil servant, the general or admiral, the foreign service officer,” Truman insisted, “has no authority to make policy. They act only as servants of the government, and therefore they must remain in line with the government policy that is established by those who have been chosen by the people to set that policy.”
This enraged the president, who was also furious at the State Department’s opposition to his Middle East policies. Yet bureaucratic action against presidential policies remained common. As Truman discovered, the IC used “intelligence” to undermine presidential policies and advance its own. This was demonstrated in the 1970s, when a private-sector group of analysts known as “Team B”—led by the recently-departed Professor Richard Pipes of Harvard–successfully challenged the CIA’s view of Soviet military strength, and the CIA’s conviction that we had very little to fear from the Kremlin.
Back in the Truman years, the president was able to appreciate Soviet intentions better than the IC, ironically thanks in no small part to his own intelligence operation in cahoots with Israel. Ironically, Truman opened a secret back channel to Tel Aviv at the same time the CIA was sabotaging American cooperation with the Jewish state, via the legendary spook James Jesus Angleton, whose point of contact in Israel was Ben-Gurion’s personal secretary, Teddy Kolleck. The two worked closely with Israel’s domestic security service, the Shin Bet, debriefing Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Empire. Angleton, like most CIA officials, suspected the Israelis of collusion with the Soviet Union, but in time he realized this was not true. Angleton subsequently received the text of Khrushchev’s speech about Stalin’s crimes…from the Israelis. He was subsequently outed by CIA chief William Colby, with whom he had had many disagreements.
Bureaucratic arrogance is an ongoing problem, nowhere more than the Intelligence Community. The problem is more grave today, with the advances in electronic snooping, the courts’ willingness to let the intelligence agencies pry into all manner of communications, and the zeal with which the media report improper leaks. As Lee Smith recently tweeted:
They (the IC) ran a counterintelligence investigation of a former rival spy chief, Mike Flynn, a retired 3-star General. Abuse. Then they leaked intercept of his conversation with Russian ambassador. Crime. Now our 3d world press hires our 3d world spy chiefs.
Secret tribunals guarantee this sort of corruption. Yes, there are cases where decisions on spying on Americans must be secret, but we pay a terrible price for them. And as things stand, the snoopers have all the cards. The game is totally rigged.