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The Transformation Of The CIA

With Jane Clayson in for Tom Ashbrook.

From spymasters to killing machines, New York Times Reporter Mark Mazzetti on the CIA’s transformation, and its chilling impact on how we fight wars.

Protesters from CODEPINK, a group opposed to U.S. militarism, including co-founder Medea Benjamin, center, disrupt the start of the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing for John Brennan, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)

Protesters from CODEPINK, a group opposed to U.S. militarism, including co-founder Medea Benjamin, center, disrupt the start of the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing for John Brennan, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)

We have come a long way from Bunker Hill and ‘don’t shoot till you see the whites of their eyes.’ In the last decade, we’ve done a lot of shooting in a lot of places –in a lot of new ways.  Private contractor spies, drones, CIA paramilitaries.  Sometimes, they’ve worked with steely efficiency.

But we’ve also let a lot of genies out of the bottle, says our guest today.  In a groundbreaking new book, New York Times National Security correspondent  Mark Mazzetti tracks an astonishing cast of characters on the ground in the shadow wars.

This hour On Point: how we fight and kill now.

-Karen Shiffman 


Mark Mazzetti, national security correspondent for the New York Times. Author of “The Way of the Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth.” (@markmazzettinyt)

From The Reading List

The New York Times (Mark Mazzetti) ”More than two years later, the Raymond Davis episode has been largely forgotten in the United States. It was immediately overshadowed by the dramatic raid months later that killed Osama bin Laden — consigned to a footnote in the doleful narrative of America’s relationship with Pakistan. But dozens of interviews conducted over several months, with government officials and intelligence officers in Pakistan and in the United States, tell a different story: that the real unraveling of the relationship was set off by the flurry of bullets Davis unleashed on the afternoon of Jan. 27, 2011, and exacerbated by a series of misguided decisions in the days and weeks that followed.”

The Miami Herald “Even as its civilian leaders publicly decried U.S. drone attacks as breaches of sovereignty and international law, Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency secretly worked for years with the CIA on strikes that killed Pakistani insurgent leaders and scores of suspected lower-level fighters, according to classified U.S. intelligence reports.”

Frontline “The 1975-76 Church Committee congressional hearings probed widespread intelligence abuses by the FBI, CIA, IRS and NSA. Headed by Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho) in the wake of the Watergate scandal, the committee exposed how under the guise of national security agencies spied on American citizens for political purposes during the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations.”

Excerpt: ‘The Way of the Knife’ by Mark Mazzetti

Video: Raymond Davis 2011 Interrogation
Raymond Davis Interrogation By Punjab Police
In 2011, a Pakistani TV news crew aired  footage of US contractor Raymond Davis’ interrogation by Pakistani authorities. He was released from a prison in Pakistan in March, 2011.
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  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    If you can decrypt the following message within 48 hours of this On Point Broadcast, I will donate $ 100.00 to NPR.
    Crib: James Bond


    • Wahoo_wa

      “That is all we know”…LOL

    • Steve_the_Repoman

      Several weeks ago my son, age thirteen, asked me about computer languages.

      This past weekend I noticed that he had downloaded several manuals in order to teach himself programming.

      I am frightened.

    • brettearle

      I just called James Bamford, via my Dick Tracy watch.

      He’s on it.

    • Wm_James_from_Missouri

      Second Hint:
      It is a conversation between James Bond and someone else.


      I fear I may have said too much.

  • albert Sordi

    As opposed to the obedient FOX news and NPR audience, most intelligent people suspect 9-11 as a set-up and reject the govt story of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. 

    The CIA stands for lies, deceit and murder, slithering behind the noble facade of democracy and freedom.

    This monstrosity is a self-perpetuating cancer on the world.  It must be dismantled by decent people, and its employees forever restricted from working in govt and large corporations.

    • Al_Kidder

       Most people think that 9-11 was a spectacular terrorist attack that the USA intelligence agencies failed to see coming and prevent.
      Unfortunately, the reaction has bankrupted the USA

      • albert Sordi

        “most people”  that’s my point. 

        “most people” haven’t got a clue.  

        “most people” were made to believe that a bunch of young Saudies with boxcutters were directed by a guy in a cave to take down the three of the most important buildings in the world. 

      • jefe68

        That’s my take on it. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

      I’d like to see the evidence that “most intelligent people” suspect this. Show me the numbers so I can see for myself what percentage of the population you are talking about. Just because you believe something does not mean “most intelligent people” believe it. You are not the equivalent of “most intelligent people,” nor, I suspect, do you speak for “most intelligent people.”

      • albert Sordi

        So am I to assume you are speaking for intelligent people… and you do not hold suspect the glaring inconsistencies and outright impossibilities of  the events of 9-11 ??

        Are you as intelligent as the experts and engineers that have written volumes exposing this scam??

        Maybe your patriotism  inhibits your natural intelligence.

        • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

          I claim in my comment neither to represent intelligent people nor to be particularly patriotic (I am not an American citizen and why you assume I would be patriotic I cannot imagine). You said that “most intelligent people” believe that 9/11 was a set-up, and I asked you to provide us with the evidence for that statement. I neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement itself. I’m merely pointing out that, if you make a generalization such as that, surely you have the numbers to back it up. I’m just asking for those numbers. What is the percentage of intelligent people who believe what you believe?

          • jefe68

            Don’t hold your breath.

          • 1Brett1

            On Point did a show about a year ago on 9-11 conspiracy theorists, as it were. You would be nonplussed at the thousands of comments by conspiracy theorists.

            For example, I lived about an 1/8th of a mile from the Pentagon at the time of 9-11…many hundreds of people saw the plane that hit the Pentagon. When I mentioned this fact, I was bombarded with replies from these conspiracists who claimed it was a missile and not a plane, and that the people I knew who were witnesses to the plane (and myself) were either lying, deluded, working as operatives for the government, or trying to become famous…it was laughably astounding.  

          • jefe68

            It’s amazing how some people are still living in the 13th century in terms of what and how they believe in what is real and what is not.

  • MrNutso

    A must read is Tim Weiners “A Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.”  I just finished it on Saturday.  If this book had come out before 9/11, anyone suggesting that we needed to invade Iraq based on information provided by the CIA would have been run out of town on a rail.

    The CIA’s greatest success is covering up it’s 60+ year history of failure.

  • Al_Kidder

    I’ve just spent 45 min this evening watching a doco from the BBC via ABC Australia on how the CIA and its masters ignored intelligence about Iraq before the 2003 invasion. A war that has pretty much bankrupted the USA. I look forward to downloading this program tomorrow to listen to the triumphalist who will no doubt be busy telling the populace that you got it right in finally tracking down bin Laden, ignoring the fact that he could have been got in Tora Bora, and before that by negotiation with the Taliban

    • adks12020

      Maybe you should listen before commenting. I’m halfway through the book and the author is far from a “triumphalist”; he’s quite critical of both the Bush and Obama administrations. It’s a very interesting read.

  • madnomad554

    This country has a total of 17 intelligence gathering agencies and all 17 couldn’t stop jetliners from flying into buildings.


    • albert Sordi

      Your statement is the proof that 9-11 was a set-up.

      • 1Brett1

        Or incompetence, or arrogance, complacency, one agency being too self-involved to keep other agencies abreast of intelligence to genuinely work in concert as an ensemble of teams, etc…so many other possibilities that madnomad554′s comment could have meant for it to be “proof” of anything you suggest. 

    • jefe68

      Actually they could have if the agencies had been in communication with each other. The FBI was on alert about some of the hijackers and nothing was done about it. At one point one of them was stopped by a State Police, I forget which state, but the thing is due the information not being shared he was let go. 

      • 1Brett1

        Excellent comment!

    • MrNutso

      It’s actually less about the intelligence than those at the top, and those (the executive branch) giving the orders. Every head of the CIA has run up against a President who had did not want to hear bad news or had a pre-determined outcome they wanted to achieve.  The result has been that the Director’s of Central Intelligence eventually just tell the President what they want to hear.

      • Wahoo_wa

        So is the CIA covering 60+ years of failure or is it the Executive’s failures?  Not contradicting your statements just curious to read how you resolve those two seemingly conflicting observations.  Or maybe the CIA is covering up the failures in the Executives from the past 60+ years?

        • MrNutso

          It’s both.  Presidents have come up with bad policy they want the CIA to execute.  The CIA has bungled the requested policy and hides the truth from the President.

          On the flip side the CIA has bungled their own initiatives and Presidents have buried the truth.

          • Wahoo_wa

            Seems like a much more reasonable perspective.  The failures of government are much more nuanced than you originally implied in either of your posts.

    • http://www.CayerComputing.com/ Melissa A. Cayer

      What are the agencies? I looked here: http://www.usa.gov/directory/federal/. I could not tell which ones were involved in intelligence gathering.

    • SpokeUmbra

      Good luck getting an answer to asking “Why not?” after your statement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

    These men in the CIA & in collaborative, private death industries have a blood-lust that will never be satisfied. I have come to see that they will not stop killing whomever they please until all life on Earth ceases to exist. Yes, it’s that grim.

  • creaker

    Defense spending isn’t enough – we have billions and billions funneled into programs that can’t be analyzed or tracked due to “state secrets”. Granted the CIA and other agencies take what they do as serious and important – but the primary driver as always is just pushing a lot of government dollars into a select few hands.

  • Wahoo_wa

    I think there are many, many things that the government, through the CIA, does in our nation’s best interest that we as citizens are not aware of.  As such the premise of the question “How do you want the CIA to work?” is a fundamentally flawed question.

    • SpokeUmbra

      A common perception. But secrecy also hides much that it shouldn’t, not for “our best interests,” but to protect the interests of those in power.

      Secrecy, especially the type that is protected for decades, is the antithesis and fundamental enemy of true democracy. Privatizing makes it truly evil.

      • Wahoo_wa

        If one does not have all the information how can one reasonably answer the question noted without an embarrassingly high level of speculation?

        • SpokeUmbra

          That is the problem, indeed .

      • brettearle

        How do you think the OSS would have done, during WWII, had they operated in transparency?

        If you think that many in the Government don’t think we’re at war now–albeit an asymmetric one–then you would be fooling yourself.

        • SpokeUmbra

          Actually, I do believe we are, and have been, in an asymmetric war. The issue to me is that an informed debate about any war is off the table.

          So, how would the OSS and the war fared in 1947 if their activities became transparent? You’ve asked a strawman style question, and transparency is your word, not mine.  
          This was also a declared war that we as a nation were universally committed, a significant variable. Nevertheless, Democracy gets suspended during war. 

          I also specifically sited long-term secrecy as the problem. What do you think may be the problem with long term asymmetrical war? Will peace & justice be a guaranteed outcome? How will you know?

          With secrecy, there is little or no accountability. When accountability comes, it is usually scapegoated (outsourced) to the lowest politically feasible level possible that will quiet the outcry.

          • brettearle

            Look, you may think that I’m a, “Let’s hire the plumbers and penetrate the  Watergate” kind of guy and that I believe that Ellsberg should be executed.

            I’m not.

            Every foreign imbroglio, I think, is different.

            The CIA in Congo, in Chile, in Iran, central Asia, etc. needs to operate differently, according each specific situation.

            But I think you’d be fooling yourself if you believed that Democracy always means transparency.

            Maybe you think that everyone in DC believes in secrecy and shouldn’t.

            Do you actually believe that Democrats and political thinkers who are Democratic–such as Carl Levin, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Robert Reich, Hillary Clinton, Mario Cuomo, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, Leon Panetta, Al Franken, et al.–think that Transparency should always be the rule, in the interests of national security? 

            I don’t think so.

            You say Democracy gets suspended during war.

            Well, as you agreed, many in DC believe that we ARE at war.

            Transparency or not, there is never a guarantee for Peace and Justice.

            If you think that any US government is ever forthcoming, then I’ve got an abandoned Theme Park to sell you, on the Hurricane Sandy-torn shores of New Jersey. 

    • SpokeUmbra

      You can’t really speak of the CIA without including the NSA and each of the their respective branches of the service. The CIA is also a mere minion in the secrecy game.

  • SpokeUmbra

    This was shot recently in Syria. Look carefully at the hatred from the victims. Just how could anyone expect that reactions to drone attacks will be any different?


  • creaker

    The CIA and other agencies appear to use private contractors for the same reason big business does. Outsourcing accountability. What would be a thorny, revealing internal investigation turns into just passing the blame.

    • brettearle

      Do you think the World is safe enough, for the US–for it not to act, with covert measures that might otherwise be considered unethical?

      • creaker

        I think much of what the CIA does has nothing to do with making the world “safer” for the US.

        • brettearle

          You believe in too many of your own conspiracy theories–even though it isn’t as if I wouldn’t agree with some of your criticisms of the CIA.

          But for you to be so subjective and jaded about it, is simply to do a disservice to your own critical analysis, much less to disseminate misinformation, to those within earshot.

          Especially since you aren’t privy to classified information.

          • creaker

            The only “conspiracy” theory I believe in is that private economic interests drive much of what happens in government.

          • Wahoo_wa

            The economic health of our nation is a matter of national security I should think.

          • creaker

            It should be – you’d never know that, though, based on how much we overspend on defense.

          • brettearle

            Of course, all Federal Intelligence and Security agencies never operate–for any reason, whatsoever–in the interests of, and for the security of, the American Public?

            If you believe that, then your  cynicism is beyond repair.

          • creaker

            That’s not what I said, but if you need to build strawmen to knock down, feel free.

          • brettearle

            Maybe I did misunderstand–but if you say that private economic interests drive much of what happens in government, then I would argue that your cynicism eliminates the possibility of any strawmen that you think I’ve built, in order to knock down.

          • creaker

            I said it drove much of what happens.I did not say all – which is what “never operate–for any reason, whatsoever” would imply.

          • brettearle



          • Ray in VT

            Well, one could certainly argue that many actions that the CIA has taken over the years have not turned out to have been ultimately beneficial to long term American interests without getting into any sort of conspiracy theories.

          • brettearle

            Ray, I agree.

            But I would argue that CIA doesn’t always have its own interests in mind–nor does it always work in service to the Elite.

            While you and I may have strongly disagreed with the premise of the VietNam war, CIA’s presence in the region–before we took the `skirmish’ over from the French–was not simply to protect financial interests.

            The Korean War and, generally, the Cold War were too fresh as global threats.

            But that doesn’t mean, of course, that if you and I were making the decisions, we would have agreed with Acheson, Dulles or Rusk.

          • Ray in VT

            Have we disagreed about Vietnam?  I don’t recall.  I think that our actions in Vietnam certainly have to be viewed through the prism of the Cold War and the idea of the domino theory.  You cited Korea, but there was also the relatively recent “loss” of China.

            I guess that if I had to say in whose interests the CIA acts, then I guess that I would say that it would be in the interests, or the perceived interests, of the Executive Branch.  Whether those choices turn out for the best and whether those actions are in the interests of America or the American people would be an entirely different matter.

          • brettearle

            I was using VietNam as an example.

            Typically, the Executive Branch, like many Executive Branch`es’, often–if not always–believe that their own interests coincide with the interest of the public.

            Sometimes, they’re right.

            Other times, they’re wrong.

            In Southeast Asia–before, during and after LBJ–our foreign policy seemed to be dedicated to the prevention of Communist expansion.

            You could argue–and I believe that you and I would agree (but maybe I’m wrong)–that US involvement in southeast Asia was a gross mistake.

            On the other hand, how easy is to assess Chinese jingoism and hegemony–now and in retrospect?

            Because that’s what Tricky Dick, Henry, and Mac were  thinking of, primarily…..economic interests and otherwise.

          • Ray in VT

            I do think that our involvement in Vietnam was a mistake.  I can see the rationale behind it historically, especially in light of events of the late 1940s and early 1950s, but I think that we did not understand the country or the nature of the conflict.  Perhaps we thought that we could keep a line in the sand and hold back communism as we had done in Korea, although the geography of Vietnam would not allow for such a situation to play out, I think.  Ultimately I think that we did just about everything wrong that we could.  We took up old French bases, we supported bad people, we abused the native population, and we didn’t really understand that it was in many ways more of a civil war instead of a foreign invasion.  I think that we also, rather arrogantly, thought that we could subdue the Vietnamese where the Chinese, Japanese and the French had, historically, been unable to do so.

            Having said all of that, it was I think very firmly believed by many officials, at least for a while, that our involvement there was very much in our global interests.  It was a front line in the war against the spread of communism.  I don’t think that we had much in the way of direct commercial interests there, but I may be wrong, but we did have some sort of greater interest in having a regime that was non-communist, pretty much no matter how much of a brutal dictatorship it might be.

          • brettearle



  • olderworker2

    I have two questions; why is Mark Mazzetti stammering so much? The stammering seemed to increase when the woman called asking how the U.S. would feel if some other country came to the U.S. and killed their citizens here, on our soil. 

    Secondly, why did that guy who shot two Pakistani citizens NOT KNOW HOW TO SPEAK ARABIC? In the clip, he is speaking English and the Pakistani authorities seem to be able to understand and answer him, but what kind of shoddy operation does the CIA run? Why don’t they train their operatives to speak other languages? 

    • Ray in VT

      Arabic isn’t one of the official languages of Pakistan.  Urdu and English are, so one could probably get by just with English, although Punjabi is more widely spoken than Urdu, but Arabic does not appear to be widely used, although one could assume that many Pakistanis read the Koran in Arabic.

      • olderworker2

        Okay, sorry – Urdu, then, or Punjabi. Why didn’t the CIA dude speak one of those? 

        • Ray in VT

          I don’t know, but Brettearle’s suggestions seem fairly valid.

    • brettearle

      CIA wants to have the Enemy underestimate it.  So they maybe tell their officers not to reveal such ‘trade secrets’.

      But, especially: CIA wants to conceal operatives, who would otherwise be outed.

      Also, I think that guy was `contracted out’ so to speak.  He wasn’t officially on staff.  Under those circumstances there might be less of a chance that he’d speak the language.

      What’s more, there might be situations where CIA wants sensitive information especially protected:

      The less someone speaks the native tongue, in certain situations, the less chance there is of having loose lips.

    • Roy-in-Boise

      Q:”Secondly, why did that guy who shot two Pakistani citizens NOT KNOW HOW TO SPEAK ARABIC?”

      A:Because Pakistanis are not Arabs.

  • valerie kacprzak

    Is it really a bad thing that we refine our style of war? 

    How many lives can we save by strategically taking out our enemies. Yes, there may be some collateral damage. But, the death of innocent citizens and troops is greatly reduced by the use of drone strikes and secret operations that take out the big dogs, such as Osama Bin Laden. The truth is, the citizens of this country cannot, and should not  know everything that our government agencies do keep us free. The C.I.A. is an agency that has very secret operations that cannot be known. Even The President is not privy to many operations, until he is sworn in. Also, when we get info from the media, or the President himself makes public statements, we are only getting part of the story. The part that is not secret. This should be obvious. If there was an announcement that we were about to take out Bin Laden, the raid would have failed, since it would be known.Having said all that. This is the land of the free, and free speech. Obviously this guy (Mark Manzetti, would like to sell some books. But really, he is just stirring up some s#%!) and trying to get attention. He is not actually helping the country, or really coming out with a new perspective. I say, less death is best. More spys, less war!

    • Trond33

      Imagine how many lives would be spared and how much money the US would save if it pursued a policy of peace instead of supporting an overgrown military industrial complex.  Even hawkish government and military officials now admit that Iraq and Afghanistan created more terrorists than they were able to kill – surgically or via the conventional war machine.  

      “Land of the free” and “free speech” – all hyperbolic propaganda geared toward getting the US population not to question their masters.  The basic fact is that the USA is a warrior nation, it has a long list of engagement in warfare, and GW Bush upped the game by deviating from history to invade a sovereign nation.  

      A large share of the problem is rooted right here in US culture and The People buying into the propaganda machine. 

Apr 23, 2014
In this Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, file photo, Chet Kanojia, founder and CEO of Aereo, Inc., shows a tablet displaying his company's technology, in New York. Aereo is one of several startups created to deliver traditional media over the Internet without licensing agreements. (AP)

The Supreme Court looks at Aereo, the little startup that could cut your cable cord and up-end TV as we’ve known it. We look at the battle. Plus: a state ban on affirmative action in college admissions is upheld. We’ll examine the implications.

Apr 23, 2014
Attendees of the 2013 Argentina International Coaching Federation meet for networking and coaching training. (ICF)

The booming business of life coaches. Everybody seems to have one these days. Therapists are feeling the pinch. We look at the life coach craze.

Apr 22, 2014
This undated handout photo, taken in 2001, provided by the Museum of the Rockies shows a bronze cast of the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton known as the Wankel T.rex, in front of the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont. (AP)

As a new Tyrannosaurus Rex arrives at the Smithsonian, we’ll look at its home – pre-historic Montana – and the age when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

Apr 22, 2014
Security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in the town of Suwayrah, 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, April 21, 2014. Suicide bombings and other attacks across Iraq killed and wounded dozens on Monday, officials said, the latest in an uptick in violence as the country counts down to crucial parliament elections later this month. (AP)

We look at Iraq now, two years after Americans boots marched out. New elections next week, and the country on the verge of all-out civil war.

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