Best Defense

U.S. intelligence community poses threat to American way of life, report finds

The CIA and the NSA have undermined the laws -- and the values -- of the United States.


Two large but shadowy organizations headquartered near Washington, D.C. have undermined key aspects of the American way of life over the last 13 years, according to a “threat assessment” written for Best Defense.

One, which calls itself “the CIA,” did so in two ways, through operating incompetently and with reckless disregard for American law and for human rights, the report alleged. The second group, reportedly far larger, is dubbed “the NSA,” similarly has infringed on the U.S. Constitution, the report’s author stated. Even though they have done lasting damage to the image of the United States, both organizations also have resisted legal oversight by the U.S. Congress, he added.

“They stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good,” said Sen. John McCain, who hadn’t seen the Best Defense report but who appeared to have independently arrived at the same conclusions regarding torture.

The two organizations are part of a larger, loose affiliation of agencies and contractors believed to control tens of billions of dollars to fund their activities. The CIA and NSA are said to be uneasy allies, ideologically similar, and sometimes cooperating with each other, but not always. Like some other extremist groups, both subscribe to the radical belief that they work for a higher god, or “mission,” and so do not need to obey laws as most people do.

Especially since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, its members have conducted operations that appear to have been designed to challenge fundamental American ideals. Indeed, the report concluded that the actions of the two organizations are in some ways anti-American in effect, if not intent.

The report recommended that the Obama administration issue a broad amnesty to all who come forward to report their crimes and misdeeds, while prosecuting those who continue to resist. It said that some “intelligence officers” who believe they were compelled by circumstance to act as they did should take that argument before juries.

Failure to take such concrete steps could encourage further misdeeds by the NSA and CIA, the report stated.

The report also said that the national security establishment appears to have gotten too big for its britches and needs to be brought to heel by the Congress. But it held out little hope for that outcome.

In a final aside, the report waded into partisan politics, alleging that conservatives who usually associate themselves with “law and order” positions were acting mighty permissive when it came to instances of wrongdoing by intelligence officials.


Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at

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