This past week the 70th anniversary of the CIA passed without much fanfare, strikingly in-line with the clandestine nature of the agency.
However at a time when our intelligence community is facing increasing public scrutiny, distrust, and even hostility, it is worth reflecting on the essential role the CIA has played and still is doing in safeguarding not just American democracy but human liberty across the entire world.
Sadly, lately the intelligence community has been increasingly scapegoated by some within our own country. While the CIA has undoubtedly always faced occasional public controversy throughout its history, it never reached a level where you have both some conservatives regularly raging against the “deep state” and liberals condemning the CIA’s domestic influence, such as with the counter-outrage over Chelsea Manning being removed from her pending fellowship at Harvard.
It seems like nowadays there are fewer and fewer friends of the intelligence community and CIA, which is a great disappointment, as there are few heroes that should be more highly recognized and respected.
The CIA was brought into being on September 18, 1947 as part of the National Security Act, along with the reorganization of our country’s military departments into what is now known as the Department of Defense.
The creation of a peacetime intelligence organization was heavily influenced by both the unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor and the needs to fight America’s opponents without overt military aggression, particularly in neutral, developing, or unstable nations in the Third World over the course of the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
While the Cold War is now longer over, our intelligence agencies have continued to serve a vital purpose in both successfully protecting our country since September 11th against another devastating attack, as well as providing us with the tools, information, and strategic position necessary to confront the 21st centuries new world security challenges.
The threats to American security nowadays are as numerous as ever. We have overtly hostile actors in North Korea, Russia, and Iran, and also increasingly oppositional actors as well in countries such as Pakistan and China. Non-state actors across the world continue to pose frequent and regularly occurring threats.
Furthermore, besides those major players, there are numerous other nations around the world with constantly changing governments and environments that at times may pose a threat to American interests and those of world peace as a whole.
One of the CIA’s signature slogans is “[w]e accomplish what others cannot accomplish and go where others cannot go.” This most concisely represents the necessary role the CIA and its intelligence brethren have played in American history and why they remain so important now.
The fact remains that warfare, geopolitics, and national defense are not just limited to overt military action or buildup. Rather, to prevent a war or new actor saves both resources and lives on a scale so grand that its rate of return, if calculated, would be astronomical.
The CIA’s annual budget varies year-by-year, but it’s cost of generally between $10 billion and $20 billion dollars seems almost astronomically small as compared to the Department of Defense’s annual budget of roughly $600 billion to the recently passed $700 billion dollars. The return on that investment for our country and world security is immeasurable.
Furthermore, it should be remembered that while overt military actions ebb and flow, the CIA is active and fighting every day of every year in countless fronts and countries across the world. Every day they risk their lives and make sacrifices, often times in anonymity as the CIA Memorial Wall reminds us, for the cause of our safety and freedom.
Our intelligence community needs no recognition to continue in their noble work for love of country and freedom, and that is what makes them even more admirable. However as Americans, I think we need to show greater respect and gratitude to these heroes who have done so much over the course of these past 70-years for not just our freedom, prosperity, and security, but those of countless millions across the world.