I 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.”
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.”
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.