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The CIA: Patriotic Guardian or Constitutional Nightmare?

April 3, 2014

Michael Simonson ’16  Inside Politics

The atrocities committed by international terrorists against the United States on September 11th, 2001 forever changed the nature of American domestic security. As a result, defense policy became the priority, and public support for it skyrocketed. Things like privacy concerns and constitutionality had to take a back seat in order for the intelligence community, specifically the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA, The Agency), to meet the needs of America and its people, and with a great deal of success. However, part of the reason why the CIA was so successful is because The Patriot Act gave it the authority to effectively break established law. Yes, national security is extremely important, but at what cost?

The clandestine ethos of The Agency is controversial by nature, but questions about the constitutionality of CIA operations seemed to not matter given the implications of the 9/11 attacks. However, America has adopted a new mentality towards the CIA. Given the dramatic decrease in terrorist activity, public support for the boundless power of the The Agency has decreased, and as a result the intelligence community can no longer operate with impunity. The recent accusations against the CIA for spying on congress speak to the growing concern of the legal boundaries of the Agency.

On Tuesday March 11th, Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein publically accused the CIA of illegally monitoring the activity of the committee. In a quote from an article on The Guardian website, Feinstein said, “…the CIA had transgressed its constitutional boundaries and prompted a crisis.” Later in the article, it is stated: “The Senate committee holds that the CIA crossed over a digital border established to protect the legislative body’s independent review of the interrogation-related documents.”

In another article, published by The Intercept, Feinstein strengthens her case by specifically referencing the laws that she claims the CIA broke, “Besides the constitutional implications, the CIA search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.” Feinstein is clearly angry with the CIA, and she has the right to be. But there is another side to the story. While the actions of the CIA are clearly questionable, what kind of implications could the investigation into the CIA have on national security?

A former member of the CIA once told me that good intelligence is when you don’t hear about terrorist attacks because they never happened, and that by its nature good intelligence goes unnoticed. With this in mind, maybe it would be a good idea to allow the CIA to continue its work. Just because we feel safe now doesn’t mean that we should start to limit the CIA’s power. Maybe the act of the CIA spying on congress could lead to better national security. The tricky part is that we may never know. On the other hand, the United States was founded on principles like freedom, independence, and limited government control. How can Americans allow the CIA to contradict fundamental American values by spying on its own government? Has the CIA gone too far, and if so do the ends justify the means?

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