The Shadow War
Parrini, Michelle, Williams, Charles F., Social Education
"There is always a possibility that a secret police may become a menace to flee government and free institutions because it carries with it the possibility of abuses of power which are not always quickly apprehended or understood."
--The Church Committee Report, 19767 (1)
The recent London subway bombings drew renewed attention to the difficulties facing government attempts to uncover and intercept terror plots; though there may now be more awareness of the issue, nations have been trying to learn their enemy's secrets since the beginning of recorded history. Spies appear in Homer's Greek epic, the Iliad. Ancient Roman writings are filled with accounts of intrigue and assassination plots. Caesar's secret agents looked out for his interests in Rome. Sun Tzu's The Art of War (500 BC) describes espionage and the use of human intelligence as key to successful warfare. An extensive political intelligence system served Elizabeth I. And both British and American forces employed secret agents, ciphers, and codes, during the Revolutionary War. George Washington's coordination of spies and evaluation of their intelligence information is credited with giving the Americans the strategic advantage to overcome the superior military power of the British.
However, it wasn't until the twentieth century that the United States established a single independent government agency devoted to gathering human intelligence. American support for both intelligence and counterintelligence efforts has waxed and waned, depending on the perceived national-security threats. A poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the German Marshall Fund of the United States found that public support for increased spending to gather intelligence on other countries increased 39 percent between 1998-2002. (2) Public and congressional opinion about the appropriate scope of covert government activities, and perceptions that intelligence practices have at times been excessive, have also influenced voters' support for intelligence methods. For instance, in the mid-seventies, congressional inquiries uncovered the FBI's COINTELPRO (an acronym for "COunter INTELligence PROgram") and the CIA's "Operation CHAOS" domestic intelligence practices, marring the reputation of both agencies. According to the congressional report known as the Church Report:
COINTELPRO began in 1956, in part because of frustration with Supreme Court rulings limiting the Government's power to proceed overtly against dissident groups; it ended in 1971 with the threat of public exposure. In the intervening 15 years, the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence ... Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that. The unexpressed major premise of the programs was that a law enforcement agency has the duty to do whatever is necessary to combat perceived threats to the existing social and political order. (3)
Congressional investigations also revealed CIA covert operations to help overthrow elected left-wing governments in Guatemala (1954) and Chile (1973). U.S. intelligence agencies were allegedly involved in attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, including Patrice Lumumba (Congo), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republic), and Ngo Dinh Diem (Vietnam). According to the Church Report:
* The CIA illegally opened and photographed mail to or from American citizens for 20 years (1953-1973), generating a computer database of 1. …