Monday, March 30, 2015

Ramparts in the News

I recently attended an event at UC Berkeley with Karen Paget, author of Patriotic Betrayal. I plan to read that book next, and I've already seen the coverage (in The New Yorker and elsewhere). I'm following this discussion with interest, mostly because Ramparts magazine figures heavily in the story. Paget's story concerns the CIA's involvement with the National Students Association during the Cold War. Following a lead furnished by a whistle blower, Ramparts revealed that involvement and was subsequently targeted by the CIA. Such stories eventually led to Congressional hearings and more oversight of the U.S. intelligence community.

One review that caught my eye appeared in The Weekly Standard. It's by Gabriel Schoenfeld, who has argued elsewhere that New York Times editors and writers should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act for their stories on massive U.S. surveillance programs. He also wrote a book called Necessary Secrets, which "offers a gripping account of how our national security ... has been compromised by disclosure of classified information."

Schoenfeld's review performs a kind of ideological minuet. Much of that performance hinges on its diction, misdirection, and suggestion. The organizing logic is melodrama. The violence of the Second World War, which Schoenfeld mentions in the first sentence, justifies the CIA's overreach during the Cold War that followed. He also refers to the CIA's "Cold War liberals," suggesting that they dominated the agency during the 1950s. This would come as a surprise to Allen Dulles, the lifelong Republican whom President Eisenhower appointed director of the CIA in 1952. After Dulles choreographed coups in Iran and Guatemala as well as the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, President Kennedy pressured him to resign in 1961.

Schoenfeld concedes that "the CIA link to the NSA—and a number of other domestic and foreign organizations—continued well past the point of usefulness." He also notes that "CIA astigmatism should be condemned." Note the passive voice--who, exactly, would do that work, especially if journalists are prosecuted for stories on classified programs? The review says nothing about the CIA's illicit investigations of those journalists or its plans to target them. The diction, too, is designed to minimize the agency's culpability. The agency suffered from astigmatism, or slightly faulty vision. If it had the correct prescription, perhaps it wouldn't have tried to assassinate Fidel Castro eight times between 1960 and 1965. Or maybe it would have succeeded.

That's as far as Dr. Schoenfeld can go toward criticizing the agency during this period. He saves his real criticisms for Paget's "preposterous judgments" about the agency and its efforts. He cites exactly one but assures us that they are scattered throughout the book. I will withhold judgment on that, but the review's selection and emphasis suggest that Dr. Schoenfeld might not be a reliable guide on these points.

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