- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

It is a sign of the times. CIA Director George J. Tenet felt compelled to make a vigorous defense of his agency in a speech at Georgetown University on Feb. 5.

Of course, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence organizations provided less than perfect information on the September 11, 2001, attack and on Saddam Hussein’s prewar military capabilities. We live in an increasingly complex and conflicted world and at best clandestine operations resemble what T.S. Eliot aptly called “a wilderness of mirrors.”

Mr. Tenet acknowledged the CIA’s flaws, pointing out no foreign intelligence agency anticipated September 11 or came up with a substantially different assessment of Iraq’s threat to its neighbors and U.S. interests in the region.

Well before Mr. Tenant’s speech, Congress had mounted a bipartisan effort to find what went wrong, and President George Bush has agreed to support a two-month extension of the deadline for completing the congressionally mandated investigation of the September 11 attack.

Thus, the report will be released a month before the Republicans National Convention. Further, on Feb. 6, Mr. Bush named an independent nine-member panel to investigate intelligence failures prior to the war in Iraq. Their report is expected on March 31, 2005.

Despite these remedial efforts, the more strident critics of Mr. Bush’s foreign policy will seize on the “intelligence failure” to discredit the CIA and other necessary covert activities abroad. This is what happened in the mid-Cold War years when politicians like Idaho Sen. Frank Church and organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union saw the CIA as a “rogue elephant,” and sought to severely restrict its operations abroad.

Today, some Americans find in the CIA a convenient scapegoat, failing to recognize that throughout history espionage has been used to protect peoples from their enemies. Ancient Israel had spies: “Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan [to see] whether the cities they dwell in are camps or strongholds.” (Numbers: 13:17-19)

In 1776, George Washington admonished his generals to “leave no stone unturned” in collecting intelligence against the British.

Can covert activities abroad that involve deception be justified by a democracy that cherishes freedom and truth-telling? Winston Churchill had an answer: “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Who doubts the massive U.S. and British deception employed during World War II hastened the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan?

Spying and covert action are necessary and good in a just struggle.

Properly conducted, they meet the three principle criteria of the just war doctrine developed by Christian theologians over the centuries — just intention, just and proportionate means, and the probability of a just outcome.

(1) Just intention: Any state has a legitimate right of self-defense to protect its own people from aggression, occupation, or subversion. In recent decades, the problem of national defense has been complicated by the rise of international terrorism. Consequently, states are even more dependent on covert instruments to protect their citizens.

(2) Just and proportional means: Military force and covert means used by the United States must be proportional to the external danger. The U.S. military code prohibits the deliberate killing of civilians, surrendering troops and prisoners of war, and requires these groups be protected and cared for. These criteria have been observed by U.S. forces and intelligence agencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(3) Will the cause of justice be enhanced if our action succeeds? The ultimate practical and moral test of our policy are the consequences that result from our behavior. The results of war or espionage are difficult to predict. And even after the conflict, consequences are subject to debate. Yet, assessing the probable consequences is a moral imperative. A parable of Jesus makes the point: “What king will march to battle against another king, without first sitting down to consider whether with ten thousand men he can face an enemy coming to meet him with twenty thousand?” (Luke 14:31-32)

Over the years the CIA, though far from perfect, has performed an essential service in protecting the security of the United States and its citizens.

Like most Americans, I accept the necessity for foreign intelligence, including spying and covert action. These vial activities are compatible with democracy and the American ethic.

Ernest W. Lefever is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Center and co-author of “The CIA and the American Ethic.”

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