The CIA has a long history of torture, assassination, botched regime change, extrajudicial executions, opaque drone slaughter, and general disdain for democracy. Bernie Sanders apparently wanted to dissolve it in the 1970s, and that’s a great reason to vote for Bernie Sanders.
The incredulous tone Politico’s Michael Crowley uses to describe Sanders’ decades-old views makes it sound like Bernie the raving left-wing radical had called for abolishing church bake sales, elementary school plays, and the World Series, instead of an unaccountable spy organization with a long history of violent fuck-ups:
The CIA is “a dangerous institution that has got to go,” Sanders told an audience in Vermont in October 1974. He described the agency as a tool of American corporate interests that repeatedly toppled democratically elected leaders — including, he said, Iran’s Mosaddegh. The agency was accountable to no one, he fumed, “except right-wing lunatics who us it to prop up fascist dictatorships.”
While Sanders’ extreme leftist past is well known, many of his specific views from the 1970s and ’80s remain unfamiliar even to Democratic insiders. And while those views have mellowed considerably over time, Sanders’ unexpectedly strong performance in the presidential race has party leaders increasingly alarmed that Republicans would make devastating use of his early career should he win the Democratic nomination.
Crowley also describes recent remarks by Sanders about the 1953 CIA-backed Iranian coup as “arcane,” as if that disastrous foreign policy decision had no further consequences for the United States in the Middle East. It would be great if that were true!
But Bernie’s ultra-radical 1974 remarks, that the CIA is “a dangerous institution that has got to go” because it’s run by “right-wing lunatics who use it to prop up fascist dictatorships,” only sounds radical because so few people in mainstream American politics are willing to state the obvious. Of course a branch of the U.S. government that has virtually zero oversight or accountability to Congress and a license to kill almost anywhere in the world is a bad and reckless thing. Of course the CIA has been an apparatus of the American right wing, installing dictatorships in the wreckage of democratic governments. And of course the CIA has harmed the security and reputation of the United States, between its botched coups, black site “rendition” prisons, indiscriminate Hellfire missile strikes, hacking of Congressional computers, mujahideen bankrolling, and so forth. How much would we really need a CIA were it not for the threats created by the CIA?
None of this should really matter, anyway: Sanders has significantly dialed back of his criticism of the U.S. intelligence community, from demanding the abolition of the CIA to pressing for increased spending oversight and transparency. This is a 42-year-old position. But that won’t stop GOP detractors—or the Clinton campaign, Crowley reports:
“Abolishing the CIA in the 1970s would have unilaterally disarmed America during the height of the Cold War and at a time when terrorist networks across the Middle East were gaining strength,” said Jeremy Bash, who served as chief of staff to CIA director Leon Panetta and now advises Clinton’s campaign. “If this is a window into Sanders’ thinking, it reinforces the conclusion that he’s not qualified to be commander in chief.”
To that I will reply with two paragraphs from a 2004 review of “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001,” published in the New York Review of Books:
During the 1980s, the CIA paid hundreds of millions of dollars in covert aid to the Afghan Mujahideen, an Islamist force that opposed the Soviet domination of Afghanistan and was also backed by Saudi Arabia and the Pakistani Interservices Intelligence (ISI). Following the initial success of the anti-Soviet campaign, CIA director William Casey persuaded the Reagan administration in 1985 to increase this support dramatically. The CIA particularly encouraged the recruitment of radical Islamist fighters—many of whom were linked to the Muslim Brotherhood—believing them to be more dedicated to the defeat of the Soviet occupying forces than secular or royalist Afghani groups.
When the US walked away from Afghanistan in 1989, it left behind a seasoned group of jihadists, whose brand of radical Islam had found an enormously rich supporter in Osama bin Laden.