Human Rights

USA Theme A-2 - Page 21

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As Rep. Lee Hamilton, former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, notes:

In the final analysis, it's a question of balance. We must balance the harm that may result from the disclosure of a secret against the value of consultation and independent advice for the President prior to the initiation of a covert action. Have not the events of recent years shown us that the President needs that kind of advice in all circumstances? When covert actions are contemplated that will have profound effects on our security interests, the balance, in our democracy, must be struck in favor of prior consultation. In the long run it will serve us best.[53]
Congressional restraints are both necessary and desirable in the absence of an executive branch willingness to recognize Congress as a coequal partner in the formation and implementation of foreign policy. It should be remembered that the legal authority for the conduct of covert action is an act of Congress. The National Security Act of 1947 created the Central Intelligence Agency and authorized it "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." According to the testimony of Clark M. Clifford, who as special counsel to President Truman helped to draft the act,
The "other functions" that the CIA was to perform were not specified, but we did expect that they would include covert activities. These activities were intended to be separate and distinct from the normal activities of the CIA and they were intended to be restricted in scope and purpose.[54]

Clifford's testimony raises fundamental questions: When and under what circumstances should covert operations be used to implement policy? Given the CIA's uninspiring record, the need for certain reforms is obvious. First, before undertaking a covert operation, an administration should, at the very minimum, seek outside sources of judgment rather than rely solely on the advice of those who would be carrying out the operation. Consultations with Congress, using the mechanisms in the legislation described above, should always be considered mandatory.

Second, the role of covert operations in U.S. foreign policy must be addressed explicitly. Because of global and domestic constraints, covert operations can no longer be considered the low-cost alternative. The United States often finds it difficult to control the operations it supports and to set limits on that support. It also may not have much choice over who becomes its partners in secret operations.

Indeed, covert actions often can lead to results quite different from what U.S. policymakers had in mind. As Treverton pointed out, when South Africa intervened in Angola on behalf of such U.S.-supported factions as FNLA and UNITA, a covert action intended to counter the Soviet Union and Cuba signaled something else: an alliance with the South African apartheid regime.

At the very least, President Bush should strip the CIA of a capability for conducting covert paramilitary operations. All paramilitary responsibilities should be assigned to the military, perhaps to its newly created Special Operations Command. That way, perhaps, presidents would be disabused of the notion that wars can be conducted cheaply and would realize that in foreign policy, as in life, the TANSTAAFL (their ain't no such thing as a free lunch) principle applies. The term "covert war" is an oxymoron and should not be considered a viable instrument for implementing foreign policy.