The USA has many dozens of intelligence agencies the majority of which employ or hire more people than most countries have in their combined armed forces. Similarly, these agencies have huge budgets. Normally you hear little of their achievements and successes: they prefer to act silently for obvious reasons. In fact you can tell when they are doing an excellent job because you never hear about them and that happens most of the time. But when they put one foot out of line and the media pick it up the consequential damage can be immense whether or not that is equitable.
Putting one foot out of line is acceptable every now and again: no one is perfect. However, to do it repeatedly and then have supporters stamp about afterwards like spoilt children can cause almost irreparable long term reputational damage and raises many questions. For example, does the USA get value for money from them?
Since 9/11 we have witnessed a war based on non-existent weapons of mass destruction and perhaps more importantly the consequences of that war in the growth of ISIS as the Arab Spring lurched away from democracy to Islamic extremism. That war and its aftermath have already directly or otherwise resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and en passant cost trillions of dollars. The reverberations of those events will no doubt cost much more in terms of lives and money over the ensuing decades. That could have been used for more productive purposes such as to save lives as oppose to wrecking them.
Also since 9/11 we have witnessed abject failure in Afghanistan and the Edward Snowden fiasco. Media around the world are now focusing on blatant breaches of the Geneva Convention and related international laws courtesy of torture and outright lies and disinformation from “CIA supporters” about the effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation techniques used.
Even before Guy Fawkes was tortured in 1605 many learned treatises had been written showing that torture was ineffective. Since then many more tractates, including the recent Senate Intelligence Committee report, have repeatedly corroborated that argument. The CIA must have known that. What’s more the CIA has never quantified the cost of investigating all the lies and disinformation obtained from torture but rest assured the sum is probably staggering in terms of ruined lives and dosh.
To top it all, Senator McCain said that the brutal interrogation techniques used stained the nation’s honour and even Brennan (the CIA Director) said that some of the interrogation techniques used by the CIA were “abhorrent and rightly should be repudiated by all”. Combine this with the now perpetual acrimonious bickering and squabbling that accompanies every US federal budget and the impact that has on global economics and it is not surprising that many see the USA as long past its sell by date.
The staining of the USA’s honour will inevitably cost the USA dearly. How much is hard to say. To put a value on the reputation and moral standing of the USA is impossible but “brand USA” has been arguably the most valuable brand in the world since the Second World War … until after 9/11. Sadly, “brand USA” looks as though it is in for another brutal battering.
There is little doubt given the increasing list of enemies of the USA that much legal action will be taken against those responsible for the torture acknowledged by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Indeed, even Italy (a member of NATO) wasn’t afraid to take the CIA to court for breaches of the law as evidenced by the prosecution of Robert Seldon Lady, the former CIA station chief in Milan, for going too far by kidnapping and torturing Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian imam.
For those who still look up to the USA as the world’s leading power, the land of the free and the world’s moral beacon, this century has been a sickening one so far. The importance of the next presidential elections cannot be underestimated: not only in terms of their outcome but also in terms of how the campaigns are conducted. Maybe the winner will be the one who puts overhauling the nation’s intelligence community at the top of his or her ticket.
This article was first published on 12th December 2014.