The program was outsourced to contractors to “put some distance” between the effort and the U.S. government.
I know al Qaeda isn’t going to win a lot of popularity contests—but isn’t it extremely creepy that we seem to have contracted out some assassin work? I like to tell myself that whatever weird and nefarious stuff the CIA used to be involved in, it’s probably exaggerated and mostly over now. I worry I’m wrong on both accounts.
The CIA has long hired contractors for this express purpose. I believe those contractors have generally been individuals. Hiring a company like Blackwater just seems wrong, although I generally have no problem with the CIA hiring outsiders to do “bad things”.
Back in the day we had a program called the American Black Chamber. It was housed in a brownstone in New York City, and the people in the Black Chamber basically surveilled all the international communications of foreign governments in the US. This was a very Good Thing. It saved many lives and assisted the disarmament talks after World War I. Unfortunately the program was shut down when Secretary of State Henry Stimson said “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”
Of course they do. Stimson later became Secretary of War. He read everyone’s mail. Because that’s how you win.
So the modern analogy (since SIGINT is now a settled issue): is it better to send an entire division into Tora Bora to fight, die and ultimately let Bin Laden get away, or is it better to send in two guys to shoot him in the forehead while he’s transiting between caves?
But that’s not really the question here. Engaging in that sort of behavior is almost certainly not illegal under US law. The question is whether the government should be able to outsource essential functions, and covert ops are certainly one of the most essential, at least in terms of “things it’s only OK for the government to do.” In military contexts, civilian contractors are now apparently allowed to do basically anything soldiers do, and while I’m not really comfortable with that, they are at least subject to the UCMJ as of a few years ago. But that’s not the case with the CIA, at least not as far as I can tell. The CIA here was essentially telling private citizens that it’s OK to go into other countries and kill people. That’s not really acceptable.
We tend to think of the government like a business nowadays, and while that’s good in a lot of ways, it does obscure the basic fact that the government isn’t a business, and there are divisions between government and corporations for very good reasons. Government is, at least in theory, transparent, accountable, and concerned with the general welfare. Companies are private and primarily concerned with making money. While that’s a good thing in general, it means that we have no real reason to expect private companies tasked with providing governmental services to serve our interests or to tell us what went wrong and why. I would rather not have the people enacting US foreign policy be mercenaries if at all possible. Why couldn’t the CIA just do this themselves? That’s what they’re supposed to do, after all. The fact that they hired Blackwater indicates either that a) they wanted the contractors to do something that, as a governmental agency, it was illegal for them to do, or b) the CIA was too incompetent to get the job done themselves. Either reason is well worth investigating.
Exactly, I am troubled by the extreme level of outsourcing of inherently government functions has happened over the last decade. Outsourcing and the implementation of the idea that government should be run like a business (i.e. efficiency being the highest priority) started during the Clinton Administration, and were greatly expanded under the Bush administration. We entrust the government with a great level of power that we do not give to private citizens or businesses. Even after taking classes in this matter, I still dont understand how it is legal to use private mercenary armies. If a private citizen kills someone, it is a crime (murder, manslaughter, whatever other legal terms there are for killing someone). But a soldier in a battlefield (or whatever the modern equivalent to a battlefeild is) is performing the government function of soldier and is therefore not committing a crime. He is not acting as a citizen, he is acting as a soldier and a soldier is legally allowed to kill people in battle. You can discuss the ethics and morality of all of this, but I am just interested in the legal issues.
I am very creeped out by the privately run prisons in this country. I dont care if a privatly run prison is more efficient than a government run prison. I do care that private citizens are not allowed to imprison people. A private citizen or company that hold someone against their will, is commiting the crime of unlawful imprisonment. Which, like slavery is a big no no. The Government does have the right to jail criminals, but private companies dont.
Legally, the government is not allowed to outsource inherently government functions, but the definition of inherent government function has been minimized to such a degree that it has become useless. For example the government cant outsource a court of law to a private firm, but they can hire a private cleaning firm to clean a court house. The cleaning of the building is not a fundamental government function, while ensuring justice is.
At this point the term “inherent government function” seems to only cover our court system, and our policy making institutions. Fortunatly, these ideas are begining to fall out of favor among public policy experts, and I think we are begining to see a pull back from contratcing out government work at such high levels.