Zachary Karabell is a Vice President at Fred Alger Management. He is the author of Architects of Intervention: The United States, the Third World, and the Cold War and, most recently, Parting the Desert: The Creation of the Suez Canal.
Day by day, the visceral memory of September 11 is fading, but the tectonic reorganization of the federal government continues. In April, the Bush administration asked Congress to expand the powers of the Central Intelligence Agency. Specifically, the administration wants the CIA to have the authority to issue "national security letters" demanding access to a wide range of personal records held in the United States, including those kept by banks and on-line service providers. These de facto subpoenas would not require court approval.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the administration's proposal was how little controversy it generated. True, Democrats in a closed-door session of the Senate Intelligence Committee succeeded in temporarily delaying a vote on the measure. But its very introduction shows how significantly the parameters of government have altered in the past year and a half. During the 1990s, the national security state appeared to be slowly eroding. Now, with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the expanding powers of the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Pentagon, that trend has reversed.
If you had said 25 years ago that one day the CIA would be authorized to undertake operations inside the United States, you would have been laughed at or savaged. The Watergate scandal led to allegations that the CIA had become an unaccountable and thuggish arm of government. After the revelations of the Rockefeller Commission and of the 1975 congressional committees led by Senator Frank Church and Representative Otis Pike, the CIA was widely thought of as "a rogue elephant" that had engaged in illegal and immoral activities throughout the world and had helped create the ugly morass of Vietnam.
As director of central intelligence (DCI), William Colby admitted to Congress that the CIA had planned assassinations of foreign leaders and, contrary to its charter and the law, had spied on U.S. citizens within the United States. Another of the agency's former directors, Richard Helms (who served as DCI from 1966 till 1973), was charged with
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