The recent revelations of abuses by all our intelligence agencies and the multitudinous investigations of the CIA in particular have raised serious questions as to whether the United States can and should continue to maintain a capability to conduct any clandestine operations. Most of the horror stories have related to what is known as covert action-i.e., operations to secretly influence foreign governments, groups or individuals, often by illegal means. The Chile case is the most highly publicized. Almost none have involved the collection of intelligence abroad, but many of the techniques used in foreign countries have been occasionally practiced at home where the CIA cannot legally carry out such operations and where the responsibility rests with the FBI. As a consequence of these activities, there is widespread belief that the CIA should halt all covert operations and disband that part of the organization which has been responsible for carrying them out.
Before making a decision on this score, the importance of covert operations to our security should be evaluated and balanced against their risks. Although covert actions have had some measure of success in some localities, particularly at the height of the cold war, the recent disclosures raise serious questions as to whether they have really been to the benefit of the United States. Almost inevitably, even during periods when secrecy could be relatively easily maintained, their existence has leaked out, and they have now seriously undermined the reputation of the U.S. government. In the current climate, it seems unlikely that they could be kept secret for any period of time; thus, covert operations by a democratic American government may simply not be feasible any longer.
But even if they could be kept secret, they are not the proper way for the United States to conduct its foreign policies. We must combat hostile influences by using the good qualities of our democratic society, not by copying the reprehensible tactics of those we are opposing. In the long run, this
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