Strakon Lights Up, No. 83

The world police


The bomb threat against FBI agents and technicians in Aden, Yemen, prompts me to ask what business they could possibly have mucking about in a foreign country — and by virtue of what authority they think they are performing said mucking. The American sailors aboard the Cole  had no honest business there, either, but at least they were members of an organization traditionally authorized — for better or worse — to fool around overseas, provoking animosity wherever they went.

My question, as I've framed it, is flagrantly, defiantly anachronistic — "by what authority"! I love asking anachronistic questions. Oftentimes, the answers help illustrate our plight in the face of the American leviathan. In this case, the answer to my question may help illustrate the rest of humanity's plight, too.


If you grew up as I did in the time between Korea and Vietnam, you'll remember being taught that the FBI, as a law-enforcement organization, was restricted to domestic operations and that the CIA, as a foreign-intelligence organization, was restricted to overseas operations. It was one of those curriculum chunks from civics class that most of us probably filed a few mental pages away from How a Bill Becomes Law or the Powers and Duties of County Commissioners or How the Electoral College Votes. It was, I'm sure, simpler and easier for us to remember than those other things. If the rule setting out the respective spheres of the FBI and CIA was violated — and it certainly was, at least by the CIA — it was violated secretly, and almost no member of the political class was willing to come within a mile of the subject at all.

Those were the days when the shattered ruins of the late Republic were still just visible above the imperial muck into which they were subsiding. It was Henry Luce's short-lived American Century — when the United State was almost as powerful on the world scene as it is today (despite various fraudulent "missile gaps") but not yet reviled and abominated by most of the world's population. State schools in America still considered it important for us pupils to believe in the Constitution as something that effectively implemented the rule of law and limited the power of government. Consequently, it was necessary that we believe in the constitutionality of both the FBI and the CIA, and that we believe, too, that they were strictly subject to legal limitations. But if today's state schools are feeding kids something similar to what the established media are feeding me today, I have to conclude that those old lessons have been adjusted to better comport with the realities of mature Empire.


Gradually the CIA began to stink in the nostrils of the political class — from which state of affairs we may comfortably assume that it began to fall into pretty bad odor with the ruling class, too. The CIA was too aggressively anti-Communist for the developing Red Guard wing and too inept for the senior Dark Suit wing, implicated as the spy circus was in the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam, as well as the messy and dangerous de-election of John Kennedy in Dallas. Although I'm trying to keep my skeptical antennae quivering, I'm forced to concede that in the mid '70s the CIA really was forced to pull in its horns and retract its tentacles. In the '90s, with the collapse of the Main Enemy, even some established members of the political class started referring to the CIA as an anachronism. Whether or not they were sincere, or even knew what they were talking about, that's just not something an Establishment type could have said in, say, 1960.

But lest the lowered profile of the CIA seem too remarkable, or even heartening, to those with no gray in their beard, I have to point out that a true world empire wouldn't really need a traditional "foreign" intelligence agency so much as it would need a worldwide secret police that could carry out both criminal and intelligence investigations unrestricted by anachronistic concepts such as borders — geographic or jurisdictional. To a world empire, nothing is really foreign: everything is domestic. A world empire has no true borders. Every square inch of the world's surface falls under its de facto authority — or, as George Bush the Greater put it ten years ago, "What we say goes."

If Germany had won World War II in the same big way the Allies won it, and hadn't eventually imploded in the good old Soviet style, there would probably be Gestapo offices today in Paris, Oslo, and Moscow; Budapest, Belgrade, and Bucharest; and maybe Cairo, Baghdad, and Jerusalem, too. And if the Kriegsmarine destroyer Kohl  were blown up by Jewish terrorists in Yemen, Gestapo agents would probably feel free to go there and publicly snoop away to their heart's content, knowing the host country was too intimidated to object.

When a superpower sends spies of the traditional type to lurk in another country — or even when it orbits spy satellites overhead — it doesn't spit on that country's sovereignty the way it does when it sends political police to strut around in public. Spies — even spies who engineer coups — don't pretend to have any authority.  The fact that the FBI has offices now in any number of foreign cities, and that it is able to send 100 agents and technicians to conduct a criminal investigation in Yemen — and not have them thrown out on their ear — while at home almost no one questions the constitutionality or legality of the political police's operating overseas ... Well, if that's not the look and the substance of empire, my friends, I don't know what is.

October 26, 2000

© 2000 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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