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Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Invisible States of America

On July 27 1947, Truman signed into law the National Security Act of 1947, which created both the CIA and the National Security Council (NSC). In Section 102, Congress authorized the CIA to (1) advise the President and the NSC, (2) recommend intelligence gathering and coordination methods to the President and the NSC, (3) evaluate intelligence, (4) perform additional services for the other spy services, as deemed necessary, and (5), “. . . to perform such other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the National Security Council may from time to time direct.” The real devil in those details lay in that rather nebulously worded fifth provision, the clause that former OSS people lobbied so hard to sneak in. According to future-DCI Richard Helms, the vagueness granted them the legal means for conducting clandestine operations abroad:

"This latter language was designed to enable us to conduct such foreign activities as the national government may find it convenient to assign to a ‘secret service’. Those activities have always been secondary to the production of intelligence and under direct control by the Executive Branch . Obviously, I cannot go into any detail with you on such matters, and I don’t intend to." (Richard Helms, a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors; April 4, 1971)

Other sanctions in the National Security Act of 1947 prohibited the CIA from performing domestic intelligence and operations, and required both it and the NSC to obey all US laws. By giving the NSC titular control over the CIA, Congress hoped that they had established a sufficient safeguard to prevent the new spy agency from becoming a “secret police force” – or so they thought. As the Rockefeller, Pike and Church Commissions would find out years later, the CIA routinely committed acts of domestic operations. But did they necessarily break the law? Unfortunately, the answer to that is not clear. Under pressure from spies everywhere, Congress passed the CIA Act of 1949, which allowed the agency to re-draft parts of its charter. Furthermore, some of the new rules governing the Agency were classified Top Secret. As a result, there could be thousands of unknown loopholes that would pretty much negate the 1947 law.

The National Security Council, consisting of cabinet officials, military officers and intelligence attaches, reported directly to the President. The CIA was initially (or I should say, is supposed) to report to the NSC, of which the DCI is a member. Congress assumed that the NSC would keep the CIA in check. Little did they realize, however, that two other groups would share in the NSC’s responsibilities. Both of them are comprised of unelected civilians – academics, industrialists, journalists, celebs, etc.

The first, mentioned by Christopher Hitches in his book The Trials of Henry Kissinger, has called itself by a number of different names, among them the 54/12 Group, and the 303 Committee. Later, they became known as the 40 Group. Former CIA executive officer Victor Marchetti, and former State Department spy John Marks, in their book The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence wrote that the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a group formed decades before the CIA, were likewise privy to the Company’s deepest, darkest secrets, and, like the 40, they exercised considerably more oversight than the Senate and Congressional committees assigned to watch them.

The CIA, as a government institution with sufficient oversight, is one thing. The CIA as the possible tool of a civilian, non-government organization is quite another. The control of the CIA, and possibly other intelligence services by a secretive group of unelected bigwigs who are not beholden directly or indirectly to the American voters comprises the essence of what David Wise and Thomas Ross deemed ‘the invisible government’ four decades ago (Wise, David, and Thomas B. Ross. The Invisible Government. Paperback ed. New York: Bantam, 1964).

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