SPY WATCHING by Loch K.  Johnson


Intelligence Accountability in the United States
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An expert on American intelligence organizations examines the history and "engages in the ongoing debate about how best to control America’s sprawling intelligence bureaucracy."

As most citizens understand, American intelligence services spy, lie, and commit crimes overseas to protect our liberties. They sometimes do the same inside of the U.S., also (in their minds) to protect our liberties. In this insightful examination of America’s struggle to balance liberty and security, Johnson (Public and International Affairs/Univ. of Georgia; A Season of Inquiry Revisited: The Church Committee Confronts America's Spy Agencies, 2015, etc.), a former staff director of the Senate Committee on Intelligence, writes from personal experience and extensive scholarship, so readers will encounter a great deal of information, much of it unsettling. After World War II, almost everyone agreed that communists—like Nazis earlier and terrorists later—lacked all scruples. Since America’s defenders had to fight “in the back alleys of the world,” they needed to do so with a free hand. Fortunately, being honorable men, they would do the right thing. This fantasy vanished in 1974 when journalists revealed the CIA and FBI spying on civil rights and anti-war activists. Both agencies burglarized offices, tapped phones, and opened mail, with targets including congressmen and Martin Luther King Jr. Both houses set up intelligence oversight committees where “cheerleaders” generally outnumbered reformers. Outrages continued in the mid-1980s when a leak revealed the Iran-Contra scandal and occurred regularly after 9/11 when intelligence services seemed to revert to their pre-1974 carte blanche. Johnson’s sensible how-to-fix-it conclusion—strengthen congressional oversight, protect whistleblowers, encourage civilian input—has little political support. For the foreseeable future, elected representatives will continue to handle secret operations with kid gloves, leaving detection of scandals to leakers and investigative journalists.

A dense, thoughtful, not terribly optimistic analysis of the perpetual tension between secret services and liberal democracy.

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-19-068271-2
Page count: 604pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2017


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