The CIA’s Website Has A Kids’ Zone

CIA Kids ZoneI was wondering aloud the other day, “What does the CIA actually do?”

We know what the NSA does. It spies on everybody! If this serves any purpose, well, I can’t even fathom how they could begin to process all the data they collect. They have a ginormous satellite dish in Africa used for catching signals bounced off the moon.

(Does that sound silly? It certainly does. It sounded silly to me when I read about it in James Bamford’s Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, first published in 2002. Would you like a heavily redacted NSA PDF about this satellite dish? You’re welcome.)

So we know what the NSA does. And we know what the FBI does, or used to do. The FBI was, for decades, America’s KGB. The internal security service, protecting us from one Jackie Robinson or Martin Luther King at a time. Thanks, J Edgar!

Now it seems the FBI is basically in charge of sting operations targeting Islamic terrorists. Except, they can’t apparently catch many terrorists. No worries; what you can’t discover, you can always make up. The FBI has a fantastic track record of entrapping poor miserable suckers into terror plots the FBI creates, goads the suckers into joining, then busts them and notches another Crime Solved on its belt. It’s a dirty job, but nobody has to do it.

(You could believe me on this. Or you could believe Arun Kundnani’s fine book, The Muslims Are Coming. Or Human Rights Watch and the Columbia University Law School. It’s up to you.)

What’s the CIA Up to These Days?

The last we heard from the CIA was a long while ago. CIA analysts (so not a Freudian term) were warning the Bush/Cheney administration “do not start the Iraq War; it’ll be a disaster for the human species” and being told in response, “go screw yourself, Frodo.”

It has a logo featuring something like the Soviet spy “Natasha” from Rocky & Bullwinkle. If you click on K-5, you get to meet “Aerial, the ace photography pigeon.” If you click on 6-12, you get this nugget of 100% not creepy-culty wisdom…

Clearly the CIA is still around. Although I’m not exactly sure why we spend money on an intelligence agency whose information we ignore when it’s inconvenient. The US could just give me a few billions dollars. I’m fully capable of saying “War dumb wrong stupid! No do wrong stupid war!” The government already ignores me, so there would be no learning curve. It’d be cheaper, and I’d get to fly around the world in jets. I like jets.

So. What’s the CIA doing these days?

I wondered, and then I realized — well, they probably have a website.

Indeed, they do have a website. Because, why not? Everyone loves websites. They’re so friendly.

It features a top story about the CIA’s diversity training, which makes me think of a Larry Wilmore bit. It has an appropriately evasive FAQ. Want to know how much money the CIA wastes on “go screw yourself, Frodo” every year? Alas, “neither the number of employees nor the size of the Agency’s budget can, at present, be publicly disclosed.” Gosh, that’s a shame. Yet you expected as much.

CIA Kids’ Zone

What you didn’t expect was the CIA Kids’ Zone.

Yes. This is on the CIA’s website. It exists. And it’s awesome.

It has a logo featuring something like the Soviet spy “Natasha” from Rocky & Bullwinkle. If you click on K-5, you get to meet “Aerial, the ace photography pigeon.” If you click on 6-12, you get this nugget of 100% not creepy-culty wisdom: “We figure you probably know a little something about the CIA or you wouldn’t be here. Right away, we like your curiosity and your ability to find information. In fact, our employees know how to access information.”

Do the Brits have a “Kids’ Zone” on their spook agency websites? Hell, no, they don’t! Because America rocks, folks.

One criticism of the CIA’s “Kids’ Zone.” Most of the games you can play are way too hard or way too easy. Cryptography is impossible (although if you think it’s not, feel free to try.) “Aerial Analysis” of drone photos, now that’s just easy. Duh, if there’s a ski lodge in the picture, the local economy is based on tourism. Anybody not planning to institute a neocon utopia by conquering a country they know nothing about could get this immediately.

The game I liked best was the “Photo Analysis Challenge.” Spot the differences between two pictures a guy snapped under his raincoat! Annoyingly, if you don’t get the differences right, you’re just forced to retake the test, and it doesn’t tell you where the ones you missed were. But I got all of them until the last test. That one was super-tricky.

I deeply loathe the American intelligence agencies. I wish they didn’t exist. I think we could spend far less money on them, catch the occasional crook, and avoid wars our experts told us we would be foolish to start.

Isn’t it quintessentially American, though, to have a military agency we spend gazillions on, which has a deep history of horrible actions, whose brightest minds we dismiss when powerful people want to dismiss these things. And it has a Kids’ Zone on their website?!

Sometimes it’s just impossible not to love this country.

Morning Music: Not Great Men by Gang of Four

Gang of Four - Not Great MenI think I should apologize. I’ve been so angry for the last day! All I’ve been writing about is that anger. I don’t even know what’s going on in the world. And I do want to get past it. But it’s hard when people think they can just yell at you and call you names. All I feel I can do is get through this as quickly as possible. There are awful people in the world. And those awful people are usually the people with the most power. It made me think of the great Gang of Four song “Not Great Men.”

It’s about how the books of history are filled with strong men, but not great men. Although I would take exception to even the idea that the history books are filled with strong men. Sure, there are strong men, but mostly history is made by the people who were born to it. But they are certainly “Not Great Men.”

If you looked at humans the way you look at an ant colony, you would see all the wars and such as cut off from what’s really going on. Ever since the Neolithic Revolution, the real action has been going on in the farms. The great men were the ones who inch by inch improved how agriculture was done. The people fighting wars or involved in “business” were just living off the efforts of the true heroes. So history is not made by great men. It is defined by men who had the power to define it as something that ought to be written down and revered.

“Not Great Men” is a great song. I love listening to it. But more than the song itself, it is just knowing that other people get it — they understand that all the hero worship is nonsense.

Anniversary Post: Tower Commission and Reagan’s Dementia

Ronald Reagan - Tower CommissionOn this day in 1987, the Tower Commission released its report on the Iran-Contra Affair. It “held Reagan accountable for a lax managerial style and aloofness from policy detail.” I think the only one who actually went to jail over the whole thing was Oliver North. Of course, he’s a great hero to conservatives. There is nothing that conservatives love so much is people who break the law in the name of overthrowing democratically elected governments.

I remember Reagan testifying before the Tower Commission. Basically, he just couldn’t remember anything. Not that it matters. It’s kind of like Chris Christie. Everyone knew what the big man wanted. And what he wanted was for his people to break a law that Congress passed specifically to stop the administration from doing what it was doing — and did.

The only reason the power elite put up with democracy in America, is because they know they control it. When democracy actually works in other places — when the government isn’t completely beholden to our government and corporations — well then, democracy is a bad thing. It’s a very Animal Farm kind of thing: democracy is something we completely believe in — as long as it results in what we want. What the people want doesn’t matter in the least.

So the Tower Commission found that Reagan was incompetent. But almost no one today knows what the Tower Commission was. And they think that Ronald Reagan was a super keen president. This is despite the fact that during the Tower Commission, Reagan was doubtless already suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. But what does that matter when he was so great in front of a television camera? The truth is, he seemed deeply confused in the first debate he had against Mondale in 1984. He probably wasn’t all there in 1980. But maybe a president doesn’t have to be — at least a Republican one.