NOTES FOR CLASS ON

TERRORISM AND THE CRISIS OF INTELLIGENCE

Philip Jenkins

 

To a greater or lesser extent, issues of intelligence and internal security have played a critical role through US politics over the past three decades, and they remain enormously controversial, ever more acutely since 9-11. We have witnessed a kind of roller-coaster phenomenon, in which Americans seem to vary between wanting more effective security, and being horrified at violations of democratic rights. There is also huge debate about the chief source of danger – from the Right or Left? Domestic or foreign enemies? Are they tightly organized by some James Bond-type villain, a spider in the web, or are they decentralized and spontaneous? Ultimately, modern debates can be traced back to the intelligence crises of the mid-1970s. In this class, we will explore questions such as:

 

What do Americans want from their intelligence agencies? Is there a fundamental contradiction between the quest for security and for legality? Is there a proper place for agencies of national security?

 

What were the policy implications of the Terror Network debate, with everything it suggested about state sponsorship?

 

What is the impact of the Church Committee? What is the legacy for the CIA? For the FBI?

 

How are these concerns this reflected in popular culture? How do these revelations affect popular views of government?

 

To return to a familiar question: If we’d known then what we know now, would we have done things differently?

 

How does Jimmy Carter try to reconcile human rights with effective intelligence gathering?

 

Note how “assassinations” become a symbol for everything wrong with the intelligence and national security apparatus.

 

In this ultra-critical environment, how can national security agencies be brought back after the 1970s?

 

How serious a problem are terrorist groups in the post-1975 decade? Why does America NOT construct a terrorist crisis in the mid-1970s, despite all the undoubted terrorist activity that is in progress?

 

Why did the Terror Network debate develop when and how it did? How did splits within the intelligence agencies produce such an unprecedented airing of criticisms over intelligence policy? Looking back, can we tell who was right in this debate?

 

Is the evidence that the US resumed its policy of assassinations in the 1980s, sometimes through proxies?

 

How have these debates over intelligence and internal security played out since the late 1970s? Have the issues and controversies been reconciled? Where do we stand today? Does a film like Fahrenheit 911 revive the “Spirit of (19)76”?

 

What are the practical dangers of a “terror network” or “war on terror” model?