The revelation that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had been misleading the US government for years, with regard to its interrogation and detention programmes, is noteworthy — particularly here in Pakistan.
The disclosure came recently in the form of a detailed US Congressional report that stated the CIA had not only lied to its own government about the severity of its interrogation (read: torture) methods but also justified its stated methods by lying about the sort of information it helped extract from detainees. Also mentioned in the report are instances of excessive abuse of detainees in Afghanistan and of the continued operation of detention programmes in areas known as “black sites” — which were supposed to be shut down on the orders of President Barack Obama as far back as 2009.
For starters, it should be mentioned that, for years, senior US officials had repeatedly been putting political and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan’s government — both in open and private forums — to “rein in” its intelligence services, and often rebuked it in public statements for not being able to do so.
The point here is not to state the irony that a government that had been after Pakistan’s intelligence services for human rights abuses and excesses for years and had even indirectly called Pakistan a “state sponsor of terrorism” is now told that its own premier spy agency had been guilty of similar crimes right underneath its nose. The point here is to highlight a basic fact: some things are easier said than done.
It is clear that no matter how powerful the state, it is not easy to simply “rein in” intelligence services given their inherent secrecy and their reliance on the “national interest” argument to veil and justify their actions. Nor do cases of excess by certain quarters of the intelligence services necessarily mean complicity on the part of the government, the state or even the entire security and military apparatus. While the buck does stop with certain high officials, one cannot just go out and say President Obama was directly complicit in the torture of detainees, can we?
Moreover, the revelations of torture and detention are a part of a fast-growing dossier of extrajudicial activities of American intelligence services — activities that the US was very keen on blaming weaker and developing states, such as Pakistan, for.
One example is the CIA’s monitoring programme of elected US representatives wherein information was extracted from their computers and cell phone conversations without their knowing or without the consent of the executive. In fact, even officials as high profile as the head of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, who was spearheading an effort to unveil the CIA’s detention activities, was also the target of illegal hacking and information theft by the intelligence outfit.
One must not, under any circumstances, condone, compare or justify such actions and excesses, but it would be fair to point out that such is the nature of intelligence operations and states need to show more empathy for governments that struggle with their agencies — particularly a state like Pakistan, which has for decades been under the yoke of authoritarianism and where democracy and its associated accountability is just beginning to take root and needs time to mature.
The problem of intelligence agencies going beyond their constitutional mandate is a universal one and requires a larger rethink of how much leeway is being given by governments to such entities for the sake of protecting the vague concept of “national interest”. A well-entrenched democracy with a history of accountability and transparency, such as the US, should lead the way and set the example to others to follow.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2014.
Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ
Kudos to US Congressional Report and to Senator Feinstein for coming up with the report, can we expect the same from our Intelligence Committee in the National Assembly, if there is any, for exposing the wrong doing of our intelligence outfits. The late Sentor Frank Church helped legislate decades ago to corral the CIA but it was under Bush administration specially under Chaney and Rumsfeld that everything was kosher in the name of security. By the way President Obama opposed the Iraq war, the torcher of prisoners, incarceration of prisoners indefinitely, abolishing Getmo, and curtailing Patriot Act, BUT nothing has changed, so what does that tell us about Obama and the CIA.
But its OK for Pakistan to talk about Kashmir?