In the article, The Cognitive Dissonance of Spying, subtitled It’s Always Illegal and Often Immoral, Philip Giraldi, who has served as an officer of the CIA and also of the DIA (military intelligence), tells us:
It is being reported that the attempt by Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan to steer the CIA away from paramilitary action and back towards conventional spying and analysis is not going well. Media coverage of the problem is depicting it as being partly driven by bureaucratic obstacles associated with budgeting and allocation of personnel, but the truth is that cultural change that has taken place over the past thirteen years is the real culprit and one must conclude that it will be even harder to shift than if it were simply a question of who gets the money and the promotions.
Giraldi then provides a short and interesting description of the process of recruiting foreign agents and the old-fashioned emotional ties between an intelligence officer and the agents he recruits, He has written of this before and of his own experiences of feeling true sorrow when something bad happens to one of the agents he recruited and managed, even if the agent was a scoundrel who was purely and simply selling his country’s secrets for money.
Giraldi goes on to speak of the changes in the CIA since 2001/11/9:
Then there arrived the drones. Killing machines pure and simple with everyone inside the process knowing that lots of civilians were paying the price for poor intelligence. And the world learned about renditions, targeted assassinations and torture, all endorsed at the highest levels of CIA, which is still attempting to justify what it did. To continue to work in such an environment required a complete suspension of conventional morality. The whole world became a gaggle of enemies clustered in a free fire zone. Spot, assess, develop, recruit? Become a friend. No time. No way.
So Brennan is confronted by a problem more pervasive than resource allocation in his effort to revive the old intelligence skills. No one any longer thinks the way they did pre-9/11. Apart from regular nervous assertions of “we are the good guys,” there is not a whole lot of soul searching about what is happening and why and you either have to accept the reality or move on. Which makes it hard to go back to what was, as John Brennan is discovering.
This is a sad situation. The American `skill’ of committing the same evils as other powerful imperialistic peoples and then walking away, oblivious to our own evil and forgetting even the basic facts of what we had done, is the reason behind Solzhenitsyn’s claim that we are a “uniquely evil people.” Giraldi is different just because he can remember his actions as a CIA operative as being illegal, possibly immoral, and justified only if the Cold War was so serious a situation as the mainstream in the United States was preaching.
The problem is deeper and goes to the nature of a country which was a melting pot of individuals from various cultures and different understandings of reality from mostly the British Isles. There was no true community even during the excitement of fighting for and gaining independence from the English government. The United States had no communal moral character and still has none to brag about. Many of us are proud of being ignorant adolescents and the entire country is such: an ignorant adolescent composed of individuals with active intelligence but possessing no communal intelligence, no intellect. (See Intelligence vs. Intellect.)
Though our evil was far less at the time, Tocqueville saw the same fluid memories in our national ancestors in the 1820s, the same ability to ignore the most obvious fact if it conflicted with the mainstream understanding. It has something to do with the horrible possibility that Adam Smith foresaw: that men in the commercialized, prosperous societies he was foreseeing might be genial with no real moral character, no moral courage. It also has something to do with our immaturity as a people, and we are a people—however ill-formed, however little intelligence we have as the American national community. That is to say, being a Christian true to Biblical and other historical traditions, I recognize the reality of human communal being which reaches its perfection and completeness in the true Body of Christ in the world of the resurrected.
I’ve written a number of times about the weak moral character and poor moral order to be found in Americans, as individuals and as a community. As recent examples, see Quietly Charitable or Quietly Murderous But Always Quietly American, Creating Our Own Realities, and Enriching Our Moral World: Simple Is Digested Complexity. Another important essay is one where I discuss the ways in which weak-minded modern men, most especially Americans, have allowed their understanding of reality to be controlled by those who show signs of being enemies of God: Unreliable Memories, Minds Like Silly Putty.
I was once criticized, lightly, by a man I respect—he said my (longer?) writings were repetitious. He made it light by noting it was a valid strategy for someone trying to teach something truly new, but there’s more going on. I’m trying to bend language and human thoughts to better shape them to reality. I’m digging deeper into reality, a small distance at a time. I’m refining my efforts to better shape human thoughts and language to reality one phrase at a time, one unspeakable and unthinkable insight at a time.
I’m trying to properly expand my critique of the weak moral character and self-delusions of modern men of the West, men who have been labeled “genial without true moral character,” “hollow-chested,” or simply “nice in the way of Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust logistics.” (Respectively, and not exact quotes: Adam Smith, C S Lewis, and Hannah Arendt.) But Giraldi in his article, The Cognitive Dissonance of Spying, as well as Pablo Escobar in the article, Breaking American exceptionalism, which I discussed in Quietly Charitable or Quietly Murderous But Always Quietly American, have presented evidence and analyses that we have gone beyond willful ignorance and self-righteousness to a state that can be described as an actual celebration of crimes when committed by Americans against the others in order to advance some American goal whether seemingly well-defined or clearly vague—so to speak. Escobar quotes D H Lawrence’s description of Deerslayer (the main character of a number of novels by James Fenimore Cooper):
A man who turns his back on white society. A man who keeps his moral integrity hard and intact. An isolate, almost selfless, stoic, enduring man, who lives by death, by killing, but who is pure white.
This is the very intrinsic – most American. He is at the core of all the other flux and fluff. And when this man breaks from his static isolation, and makes a new move, then look out, something will be happening.
Those Americans, formerly found in the imaginations of many including too many morally ill-formed young men, can now be found all around us. In his book, On Killing, Lt Col Dave Grossman (ret) wrote of the very small percentage of men who truly enjoy killing other human beings and the larger but still small percentage of those who can kill with detachment when they think it morally right. When the rest of us kill, we pay a price. Some in that largest group, those with strong body-based instincts against killing other members of the human race, have been war heroes but suffered decades of nightmares (lessening over time to be sure) in which they might see the face or at least form of the enemy soldier they killed.
Unfortunately, there seem to be many in the United States who are developing bad attitudes in response to all sorts of twisted words and images in the public speech of politicians and others, in entertainment products, and—as time goes on—in the reinforcing speech and acts of peers. Many are literally twisting themselves into sociopaths of one variety or another; with some it might be largely a show, but…
In the book I referenced above, On Killing, Grossman said the part of the My Lai massacre story which most disturbed him was the way in which some soldiers knew it was wrong and were trying to stop the cold-blooded murder of unarmed and innocent civilians until the blood-lust caught them and they joined in as well. Do you think there will be so much as hesitation on the part of those who have been worked, with their own cooperation, into the state of sociopathic attitudes? It won’t matter how superficial the attitudes might be in some. The self-disgust will come later but mostly if those who are neither psychopathic nor capable of detachment when killing see the results of their particular actions. (Those capable of detachment will usually not succumb to those sorts of rages which overwhelm moral inhibitions—according to Grossman and also to Col Pat Lang, retired Green Beret and military intelligence officer.) There are stories suggesting some drone-operators are feeling remorse for their actions as they can see the person disintegrating as the missile hits and, even if they are willing to kill `bad guys’ however defined, they occasionally see the stray child or other innocent or even a Good Samaritan get a piece of the murderous pseudo-justice intended for one of those `bad guys’.
I have somewhat mixed feelings about the question of individual moral order in American history. We have our strengths in moral order, largely in the context of our domestic lives; we have little knowledge or experience of the sort which might prepare us for even the friendliest of meetings with those from radically different cultures or those who feel they have a legitimate gripe against the United States. We are soft and don’t know how to respond properly under the stress of battle, as I noted above in the case of the massacre at My Lai. I strongly feel that we have been almost entirely unordered as a people, but we have the same instincts as others to act as a community. So it is that we usually behave well for practical reasons and also behave well toward our friends and relatives and those we recognize as neighbors but we are frighteningly willing to commit horrible crimes as a people, at least when we could get away with it. Free and unordered though we might be in some ways, we remain tied to each other so that we move up or down in moral order as members of various communities—a complex movement often involving churches or synagogues, neighborhoods or social clubs of seemingly decent and even gentle human beings, as well as involving national or military communities. Or peer-groups of young men trying to adjust to the blood-lust so often glorified in our political speech and in our movies and thriller novels; few young men are willing to be the advocates of peace and justice in a group cheering on the Hellfire missiles as they strike deep into the heart of a city so far away.
Philip Giraldi has written before of the horrible weaponry our corporations have developed, of men who tortured and later showed no moral regret no matter how horrible the torture, of public officials who misuse intelligence information or the powers they hold in trust to start wars of less than questionable legality and morality. At least one military intelligence officer not impressed by CIA personnel in general, Col Pat Lang (ret), holds Giraldi in high regard. I say this to emphasize the message he brings us from one who was inside, who has risked his life for his country, who has spoken boldly and bravely of crimes and self-serving acts on the parts of American politicians, intelligence officers, and military personnel. We should take his message seriously: spying is almost always a criminal operation, though arguably moral if we were trying to find out the Nazi plans for defending Europe against allied invasion. There are probably some lesser justifications for many types of spying, though I see little good as having come from non-military spying—it seems to me we would be better informed if we had a think-tank group of highly educated and eccentric men and women studying other countries or specific situations based mostly on publicly available information. Torturing and killing from the air without a hint of judicial process are evil. We have become a people capable of doing or at least accepting acts we once damned without qualification when done by Soviets or Red Chinese or North Koreans or others.
As a Christian, it frightens me that many ruthless and disordered men, at least in the military and apparently in the CIA, are practicing Christians, seemingly devout. Yet, they commit, without a quibble, acts which are gross violations of the Fifth Commandment, mortal sins, damning, sins, even if you’ve gone down on your knees to accept Jesus as your Lord before leaving for combat in some country your friends and parents can’t even locate on a map. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of butchering those who hate us for our freedom and our purity.”
Even when spying and engaging in some other covert operations might be justifiable, we Americans take to glorifying James Bond with an unseemly relish which indicates to me that we had found a focus for our immoral desires that appealed even more than the frontier legends, from Deerslayer to the Earp brothers—men who could kill other human beings and walk away without suffering the psychiatric problems which tortured the heroes studied by Col Grossman. As I said, there are men who are well-ordered and capable of killing with detachment when they think it morally proper. Those aren’t the ones we Americans desire to emulate nor is there any reason for such a desire—they are different from us and, probably, we have enough “rough boys” (a term used by Col Lang for himself and other born warriors) to protect the rest of us under ordinary circumstances and to form the core of an army fleshed out with citizen-soldiers when we need to fight a major war. Why long for warrior virtues rather than developing the virtues God gave you?
We admire not the rough boys because they kill only when they think it proper and keep themselves under control even when provoked greatly. We admire the ones who seek opportunities to kill, the ones who can make killing their lives, the ones with itchy trigger fingers. Nor do we honor those not made so they can kill with detachment, even under just conditions. I get the impression from Grossman’s book, On Killing, as well as my own acquaintance with men who served in Korea or Vietnam or Iraq, that Americans are quite uncomfortable with those men who damaged their own insides so badly for the sake of their country or for the sake of the other men in their units. It’s as if we think it shameful to feel guilty for having killed other human beings—morally or otherwise, to be incapable of killing at will, to be under partial control of a communal moral character of the sort we Americans have failed to develop very well, though it be built into us by Darwinian processes and is very strong in some.
We want to will as we would. We would be total masters of our own human selves. We are upset by, even ashamed of, the moral instincts which are part of something greater than our individual selves. We think it noble to be able to kill at random, or according to random needs and desires we generate in response to opportunities. We would choose not to kill only if doing so in some state we imagine to be absolute freedom. We think it degrading and enslaving to be bound by moral instincts or even by rules given by others.
We Americans, like all human beings, are products of evolutionary processes and we are, like it or not, creatures of moral traits rather than creatures of free-will who can `freely’ choose to kill or not, to steal or not, to conquer other countries or not. We nurture the moral qualities we possess or we become immoral wretches. What a sad state to be in: to be morally ordered creatures, however imperfect our order, and to be constantly nurturing our desires to trade in our moral characters for free-wills which would allow us to kill or steal or conquer other individuals or countries when we would, doing all of this ruthlessly and with a grin, partying on the way—each arm around the slender waist of a pretty young thing, a daughter of another man.
Now, women are also joining in the fun and an inclusive essay would have to allow for whatever perverse dreams they have when joining the army to kill people or the CIA to engage in adventures where they kill ruthlessly while risking civilization’s existence in order to save the world. Or something like that.