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Ear to the Ground

A Former CIA Operative Against Excessive Secrecy

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Posted on Jul 5, 2012
The Penguin Press

Human rights lawyer Scott Horton, on the Harper’s Magazine website, asks career CIA counterterrorism agent Henry Crumpton what America can do to balance the need for secrecy with the people’s right to know what their government is doing. Horton is a Harper’s Magazine contributing editor, and Crumpton is author of the new book “The Art of Intelligence.”

Crumpton spent 24 years in the Central Intelligence Agency and some of the last decade opposing al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. According to Horton, “The Art of Intelligence” “offer[s] an exceptionally deep glimpse into the CIA’s counterterrorism operations in the last decade of the twentieth century.” See excerpts of Crumpton’s replies to Horton’s questions below.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

Harper’s Magazine:

First, the government needs to set a higher bar for what is secret. There is a bureaucracy and, in some cases, a private-sector industry made up of vested interests who promote classification. Information is power, and that plays into these vested interests. Not only would requiring a higher standard for classifying information allow greater citizen access and understanding to a broader and deeper range of issues, it would save money and promote effective governance, including greater collaboration with foreign allies.

… Second, the government needs to clamp down on what is truly secret via better accountability. Secrecy provides us a huge advantage. When our real secrets are lost, the enemy is empowered. The latest example of leaks related to Iran is a travesty, providing a very sophisticated counterintelligence enemy with apparent confirmation of game-changing sources and methods. Those in the government who are responsible for these leaks should face the full force of law.

Third, we need greater discourse between the intelligence/special-ops community, which is isolated by mission and culture, and U.S. society at large. The nature of war is changing. America needs to understand that, and especially to understand the growing roles and responsibilities of our spies and warriors. In turn, these professionals need to understand our great, dynamic, and diverse country. It is a long way from the battlefields of Asia and Africa to Wall Street and Main Street.

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