Richmond Times-Dispatch: Covert Action Museum Is Not So Smart

Last month I reported that the planned Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations had received $10 million grant for a showcase building in northern Virginia. Given the CIA”s lengthy record of unsuccessful operations that harmed U.S. interests and values, I questioned whether the museum was a good idea.

Now Richmond Times Dispatch is asking the same question. In a January 6 editorial, the newspaper’s editors ask, Is a Special Intelligence museum really a smart idea? 

The editors cheekily illustrated the editorial with a photo of Maxwell Smart, the bumbling operative of the 1960s TV sitcom “Get Smart,” starring Don Adams. The implication was: maybe our intelligence operatives are not that smart, especially given our recent national experience as target of Russian intervention in the 2016 election.

Whether Russia’s actions elected Trump or were inconsequential cannot be known. What is certain is that Russian intelligence operatives acted as if their covert actions might be decisive. Whether it succeeded or not, the American electorate was the target of a “special operation. The experience was–and is–disturbing.

Thanks to the CIA, people in Iran, Guatemala, Chile, and Cuba and dozens of other countries have had the same experience: a foreign intelligence agency seeking to wrest control of their political future.

National Museum of Intelligence
Artist’s rendition of the proposed National Museum of Intelligence in norther Virginia (Credit; OSS Society)

What’s a Museum For?

Will the museum celebrate well-documented U.S. interference in dozens of elections since 1947? Will it honor the CIA-sponsored coup in Iran that still figures in anti-American propaganda? Will it highlight the agency’s “slam dunk” confirmation of Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction in 2002 that led to a disastrous war, the dismemberment of Iraq, and the rise of ISIS?

And if the museum shields the tourists from these debacles–or whitewashes them–is it really serving the public?

The Richmond Times Dispatch editors:

The museum, according to an Office of Strategic Services Society press release, intends to “educate the American public about the importance of strategic intelligence and special operations to the preservation of freedom, honor Americans who have served at the ‘tip of the spear,’ and inspire future generations to serve their country.” These are laudable ambitions, as far as it goes. There is little doubt that espionage in its many forms has contributed mightily to winning wars, cold as well as hot. But what goes under the general rubric of “intelligence” can also be a dirty business, far less glamorous than James Bond movies would have us believe. It is, unfortunately, built on systematic deceit, the deliberate dissemination elsewhere of “fake news,” coups of foreign governments, and attempted, if not always successful, assassinations.

The editors, citing my piece, close with these words

It is asking way too much for any museum to provide a forthright and historically comprehensive accounting of our government’s espionage activities, many of which — for obvious and understandable reasons — remain cloaked in obscurity. But unless this new institution offers something more in the way of objectivity than we expect, it will be, in Morley’s words, little more than a “temple of propaganda.

For comic relief, see:

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