Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Professional Liars

What group of people's whole job is lying - hiding their own activities, figuring out other's lies, keeping things concealed? There are a lot of plausible answers - you get a credit for `politicians' - but certainly one reasonable response is `intelligence staff'. Is it really credible to believe that people whose professional lives required them to dissemble and flex the truth will always be honest when dealing with their bosses or overseers? I doubt it, which is why I think that strong, independent oversight of the intelligence agencies is vital. It's too easy for them to play the national security trump card when faced with a difficult question. You need people who can cut through that kind of obfuscation and impose a reasonable level of accountability.

I therefore particularly welcome Barrack Obama's decision to nominate an intelligence outsider, Leon Panetta, to head the CIA. (NYT story here.) We tried that kind of idea once in the UK with Robin Cook: remember `ethical foreign policy'? He was a sad loss to British politics: I hope Mr. Panetta lasts longer.

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