FOUR years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Central
Intelligence Agency is still looking for something to do - and it
is still nibbling around a couple of areas that it generally ought
to avoid. These are law enforcement and economics. Both areas are
murky, but both have lines that the CIA ought not to cross.
The basic law creating the CIA is clear. The National Security Act
of 1947 provides: "The Agency shall have no police, subpoena, or
law enforcement powers or internal security functions." In almost
half a century, this law has been amended many times, but the
language remains an expression of the historic American antipathy
to a national police force, especially one that operates in secret.
(J. Edgar Hoover created such a force in the FBI while Congress
wasn't looking, but that's another story.)
The intelligence community has operated on the basis that the FBI
chases foreign spies in the United States and the CIA goes after
them abroad. This distinction was never as clear in practice as it
was on paper, and now it is even fuzzier.
We are worried less about foreign spies and more about terrorists,
drug traffickers, and a general category that CIA director John
Deutch calls "international criminals." These people, of whatever
nationality, move themselves, their money, and sometimes their
bombs from country to country in blithe disregard of national
Of them all, terrorists are the only new threat. Drug traffickers
are not much different from the rum-runners of the Prohibition era.
There have always been international criminals, people who operate
across international borders or who flee from one country to
another to escape arrest or prosecution or to dispose of stolen
One prominent example is Robert Vesco, who is charged with massive
securities fraud and is currently in Cuba. We don't need an
intelligence agency to tell us where these people are; we just need
diplomacy to get them extradited. Let us hope that nobody is
thinking about a covert action to kidnap them.
Both the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Agency provided significant
assistance to Colombian police in the operation that broke up the
Cali drug cartel. That was a good thing to do. It suggests that
perhaps the law ought to be amended to allow the CIA to give
limited assistance to foreign law-enforcement agencies.
But this ought to be tightly controlled. …