Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The CIA - Best in Civilian Hands

Troubling: one of many fitting descriptive terms concerning the Bush nomination of Gen. Michael V. Hayden as the next director of the CIA. The bipartisan congressional outcry - Republicans as well as Democrats hate the idea - especially in our current antagonistic political environment, speaks volumes. Hayden has, as our president states, "vast experience," in intelligence-gathering; however, because he is, first, career military, and second, active career military, he does not belong at the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The history of espionage in the United States is scattered: although we have always used spies, it wasn't until 1946 that we employed them full-time. When crafting the National Security Act in 1947, which created our full-time intelligence system, Congress made a conscious decision to place intelligence-gathering fully in civilian, rather than military control. There are several reasons, foremost among which is that in the U.S., the military has always been under civilian control: our founders, while realizing that an effective military was necessary, realized that if a military is not adequately controlled, it can be used to take control of the government. This is an intelligent maneuver: recent world history alone holds countless examples of too-strong executives using the military to turn democracy into dictatorships. Thus the civilian "commander in chief," who is limited by our constitutional system of checks and balances.

"It hasn't happened here" is a foolhardy, illogical excuse. If it hasn't happened here, that doesn't mean it can't. It only means that we haven't yet had the proper convergence of situations in which "it" could, and did, happen. Four-star generals are exemplary military figures; however, career military officers are insulated from the realities of civil liberties, including due process, by nature of their chosen professions: the military, for a very good reason, is not democratic. Military officers exercise absolute authority under the rules of the Uniform Code of Military Justice: soldiers follow orders; they have no room for debate. Citizens do not follow orders, again for good reason: they must debate in order for our republic to operate properly.

We need a civilian head of the CIA. We need someone who understands accountability to the people, not just the President. Our intelligence operations, military and otherwise, must be centralized - just as the rest of our governmental operations are - under civilian authority.

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