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Sunday, 27 January 2008

Legacy of Ashes - questions about the value of intelligence


Tim Weiner's history of the CIA as an almost unrelieved saga of failure raised a number of questions for me, around issues of assessment.

On a purely pragmatic level Weiner's history suggests that a rational cost-benefit calculation of the impact of CIA activity on the national interest of the United States could end up heavily in the red. Put bluntly what has the United States gained from the investment of billions of dollars?

The calculation can't be done of course without making a range of normative assessments about how to assess and weigh up impact of CIA activity on those who have been subject to violence, torture, the support of the militarisation of societies and the corruption of the machinery of government in the cause of making the world safe for the United States.

How do we assess the claims of the victims against the claims of those who supposedly have benefited from CIA covert action?

It at least partly depends upon who the "we" in question is.

Christians may find themselves framing the "we" at several levels. At one level as members of a particular nation state - as resident aliens, seeking the good of the city in which we find ourselves and willing to join in the public debate over what forms of intelligence activity can be justified and on what grounds.

Christians have another "we" that should act as a frame of reference - our membership in the church, as followers of Jesus, the multi-ethnic body of Christ spread across the world.
This would change the moral calculus substantially. giving priority to the claims of the poor and the vulnerable.

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