William Colby and the CIA’s Moral and Intellectual Virtues
In his “maiden speech” as DCI for the CIA, William Colby had this to say: “in the intelligence profession we will be required to show moral and intellectual courage.” [Shadow Warrior, 370]
Would that be the moral and intellectual courage that was required in the Phoenix assassination and torture program in Vietnam, in Chile, in Indonesia, in Cuba, in Panama, in Iraq?
If so, then it is fair to ask what is moral and intellectual courage? Does it include murdering and torturing human beings? It does. So, murdering and torturing are transformed, magically as it were, into moral and intellectual virtues – and such acts are accepted, even praiseworthy aspects of “the intelligence profession.”
How does this happen? Via a belief in a “divinely decreed destiny,” which the CIA was serving. To believe in such a destiny it helps to believe, e.g., that God has blessed America. And where are people who believe in such a destiny most likely to be found, in prisons or at Harvard, Yale, and other elite institutions? Don’t those attending such elite institutions have a vested interest, so to speak, in believing in such destinies? “We are at elite institutions, so we are the elite; we are the chosen ones. That’s our destiny.”
Whether it’s called a divine or a natural destiny, these people take themselves to be superior beings, virtuous beings, serving humanity as its benefactors. And those Americans who believe that America is destined for greatness, either destined by God or by its exceptional virtues, share this belief in their own superiority, a superiority that justifies inhuman cruelties such as aggressive war, assassinations, and torture.
In any case, the actions of these elites, even if inhumanly cruel, are justified, even praiseworthy. They are especially praiseworthy when they are committed by those in “the intelligence profession,” apparently a profession like the medical profession, with one small difference: CIA professionals don’t take an oath to do no harm. In fact, for the CIA, doing harm becomes, magically, the profession’s virtue. Murder and torture, for intelligence professionals, are virtues and are guarantees of respectability.
So it goes.