What's a CIA For?

The Central Intelligence Agency is a fundamentally lawless organization that secretly influences events around the globe on behalf of the U.S. It turns out Obama has deployed its agents to Libya, and for some reason liberals are up in arms about it.

Obama has ruled out American "boots on the ground" in Libya. But yesterday, Reuters' Mark Hosenball reported that, in fact, Obama has authorized "covert U.S. government support for rebel forces." And according to the New York Times, CIA teams have been operating for weeks in Libya as part of a "shadow force" tasked with making contact with the rebels and directing coalition airstrikes.

"Aha!" cried critics of the Libyan operation/action/assault/war/steady rain of death from above. Obama lied, people died! Andrew Sullivan said the CIA operations rendered Obama's "no boots on the ground" line "a Clintonian piece of bullshit that really needs to be called out" and "a betrayal of his candidacy and his supporters." Stephen Bainbridge says he is "making Bush 43 look like an honest man."

Technically, there is something to these claims. Obama did, on the one hand, pledge that no American boots would be placed on the ground in Libya. And, unless they are operating on hoverbikes, whatever CIA agents are operating there can safely be presumed to be walking on the ground. So there's a contradiction there.

However: As the Times story revealing the agents' presence notes, they were already there. The spy teams are composed in part of "an unknown number of Americans who had worked at the spy agency's station in Tripoli." Times reporter Mark Mazzetti told NPR that "several weeks ago, the CIA put small teams of operatives into Libya to supplement some of the CIA operatives who had been working in the CIA station in Tripoli before they shutdown the embassy." In other words, before the Libyan war-to-end-all-wars began—for years—we had American "boots on the ground" in Libya. Quick, President Sullivan: Bombing has begun. Should we evacuate the CIA station so as to render your metaphorical pledge about U.S. troops pedantically accurate, or deploy them to gather as much information as possible about what's happening in Libya?

Obama's intention when he pledged "no boots" was clearly that there would be no U.S. military personnel deployed on the ground in Libya. There will be no ground invasion. That's what he meant. If the CIA teams violate that pledge, than so did the F-15 pilot and crewmember whose boots touched the ground near Benghazi when their plane crashed. Not to mention the crews sent to rescue them.

The CIA is horrible and criminal and shouldn't exist. But to the extent that it does exist, and has been deployed around the globe for decades, you can hardly fault Obama for using it to shift things in the direction he wants things to go. He has announced his intention to depose Qaddafi. We shouldn't be surprised that the CIA is involved in accomplishing that goal. I think it's fair to say that, based on his previous statements and general outlook, Obama has made an implicit pledge to the nation not to invade Yemen, Somalia, or Pakistan. Would Sullivan be shocked and outraged to know that CIA assets—not to mention special forces personnel—have been deployed to all three for years, in violation of that implicit pledge? Under what circumstances does it make sense to have CIA agents running around Yemen killing people and gathering intelligence, but not Libya?

One of the jobs the CIA is tasked with is to "fill in gaps in understanding who [the rebel] leaders are and the allegiances of the groups opposed to Colonel Qaddafi." Oddly enough, that's a question Sullivan has been asking himself. How does he expect to get an answer?

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