Washington power struggles are off and squirming. We note that H. E. W. and Agriculture are vying for control of the programs with which to feed, and also co-opt, the hottest current item among political constituencies, hungry Americans. We hear that the Army, sensing a danger that the endless ground war in Vietnam might not be endless after all and certainly can’t be victorious anyway, is looking for new frontiers on which to place its guidons and that chemical-bacteriological warfare may be just the ticket. (A ticket which, incidentally, may also gain it a better seat than ever at the game of riot control.) All the other services, of course, want their own bug battalions.
We sense, also, that the jet setters of the aero-space conglomerates are pitted in some sort of dinosaurian battle against the graying herd-elders of the industrial establishment for control of not only the available soul of the Administration itself but for the control of the more wordly [sic] goodies to be found in taking over government programs (at cost-plus) as we move from the vilified practice of a welfare state run from the White House to the now panegyrized practice of a welfare state, run for fun and profit, from corporate board rooms with the White House just signing the checks and setting the goals. There is little change in who pays the bills, of course.
Libertarians have every reason to view all of these matters with knowledgeable horror. They could predict any enormity of the state simply because they know that enormities are the nature of the state, enormities and crimes against liberty.
There is one area of struggle in Washington, however, that may be viewed with special horror. It is the struggle between the CIA and the FBI for covert control of the government, the world, the galaxy or whatever else comes along.
Talk of the rivalry between these two agencies, or baronies, is a Washington commonplace. Most comments on the struggle, however, reflect mainly from the exotic persons and bureaucratic principalities involved, with endless speculation, for instance, upon whether there were more FBI or CIA informers and paid provocateurs involved in our recent spate of political assassinations. Actually these arguments are rather like parsing scaldic verse, almost entirely academic, in that they concentrate on bureaucratic commas and semi-colons without attending much at all to content.
The content of the struggle mainly involves the weapons with which it is being fought, and the styles of the wielders of the weapons. There is no basic difference beyond that inasmuch as both factions are merely symptoms of an inevitable sickness of the State itself.
The CIA has far and away the greater edge in economic power and in freedom of violent movement. Assassination has been its business overseas all along. There are obvious restraints on its use at home. There also are obvious opportunities for its selective and discreet employment; particularly against the more obscure obstructionists in any situation, persons who mightn’t be widely missed but who might be the crucial difference between one policy or another in its early, intimate stages. The political murder of private citizens has never really caught on here but that is not to say that an imaginative man might not have a go at it anyway—particularly with the vast conspiratorial depths of the CIA upon which to draw.
When it comes to money the CIA has no equal. Although the FBI does have some special and very confidential funds to spend on informers and other covert employees, and even though some cynics might suspect that it could even keep for its own uses some of the vast criminal funds which it regularly, and pridefully, “recovers” when busting bandits, the Bureau has got to come in second. The Agency is not audited at all. There is a Congressional group that is supposed to supervise it but no one really imagines that they can do anything like a thorough job. For one thing, the personnel of the CIA is carried on the payrolls of other agencies and its continual involvement with “national security” means that official secrecy cloaks its daggers and its doings quite effectively.
It is from the CIA’s money-power that much of its realpolitik powers derive. Its subsidy of everything from publishing houses to labor organizations is now well known. No newsman to whom I have recently spoken doubts for a moment that this subsidized estate within a subsidized state is not still thriving. Even if the excuse for the subsidy is, as it always is claimed, exclusively for activities of the person or group outside of the country, these CIA subsidies provide a selective means of encouraging persons or groups who, despite international activities, almost invariably must have some domestic clout as well. This clout, do not misunderstand, is not used on direct behalf of the CIA. But it can be used on behalf of those policies of which the CIA approves and which ultimately will enhance its power.
Where the CIA uses dough, the FBI uses data. Its chief influence, as opposed to outright pressure, derives from the selective use of its files. It is not imaginable, for instance, that even a President could get an item from the FBI’s files if the Director specifically did not want him to have it. After all, it is employees of the Director, not of the President, who tend those files and everyone knows how easy it is for a piece of paper to either appear or disappear in a bureaucracy.
Thus, from President to legislator to syndicated columnist, the FBI can offer data not as something that may be demanded but as a boon which may be conferred—upon the helpful. President Johnson’s
notorious use of FBI data to persecute political foes is another Washington press corps conversational commonplace as is the mock dismay at the fact that J. Edgar Hoover should have found in or made of Lyndon Johnson one of his most eloquent supporters despite the fact that, at the outset of The Great Society, it was assumed that the President and the Director followed somewhat different muses.
Thus, in this modern Machiavellian melodrama, we see directly pitted against one another the old-fashioned money and muscle. Florentine intrigue, cloak-and-daggerism of the CIA and the more American, corporate-organizational, file-case, computer-card snoop-and-snitchism of the FBI.
Libertarians, for what small comfort it may bring to a group which probably occupies a special place in files of both the Agency and the Bureau, happen to have the only sure solution to the disease of secret-policism which is what both CIA and FBI represent in a germicidal sense: cure the disease by curing the cause, the State. Every State, sooner or later, has had an urge to defend itself against foes real or imagined, foreign or domestic. This has always resulted in some form of secret or political police organization. There are no exceptions to this iron law of the dungeon.
So long as nation states exist, so long will political police prowl amongst us.
All of which brings us to the remarkable story, recently revealed in the press, of how, according to Nikita Krushchev, the top cop of the Soviet Union, Lavrenti Beria, was done in.
Director Beria, it is now said, made the mistake of entering a Kremlin meeting without his bodyguard whereupon Krushchev, a genuine genius at getting to the nitty gritty of any situation, shot him.
It is predictable that conservatives, particularly, are still clucking and tushing about this latest revelation of the brutality of politics in a totalitarian state. It could not happen, they may exult, in a safe and civilized land such as ours.
And that is precisely the point.
In democratic America there has appeared no way to relieve the head of the political or secret police of his command. In short, what this great Republic lacks in vivid personnel relations, it more than makes up for in tenure.
Originally appeared in The Libertarian, Vol. 1, No. 1, April 1, 1969.