My graduate history professor and old friend, Art Ekirch, once said to us, “Believe ANYTHING is possible. The worst things for an historian to say are, ‘That just couldn’t be true’ or ‘I refuse to believe that’.”
Our discussion – many decades ago – was whether there could have been a political conspiracy behind the assassination of President James Garfield as opposed to just a “disappointed office seeker” or, as Murray used to say, “another lone nut.” As a result, I’ve always believed that virtually anything is possible and, indeed, I have long prided myself on my Menckenesque level of outright cynicism.
But I admit that I, a grizzled veteran, have actually been shocked this last week while reading Tim Weiner’s book “Legacy of Ashes.” His six-decade history of the CIA, from its beginnings as a cancerous remnant of WWII intelligence to this post-9/11 era, presents a crystal-clear picture of a federal government run amok. I have read books that have described the devastating effects of U.S. ‘covert action’ from Endless Enemies by Jonathan Kwitny to Blowback by Chalmers Johnson, but Weiner’s book deals not with the policies and their consequences as much as with the agency itself, the decisionmakers, and the approaches it took. It’s impossible to estimate how many millionaires in the world – both U.S. citizens who worked for or contracted with the CIA, and also foreign crooks, thieves and degenerates around the world – were created with billions of unaccounted-for American dollars. The critics of the Weiner book have mostly centered on a) a defense of the CIA officers and directors on the grounds that – even if they were inept – they were also patriotic and well-meaning, or b) a criticism of his failure to blame other influences, such as corporate interests and the Pentagon, for the directions and policies of the agency. No one says Weiner exaggerated.
The arrogance, the scope, the secrecy, the devastation – breathtakingly evil!