Government Secrecy Guru Reflects on Agee’s Death

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Steve Aftergood runs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). From that perch, he has documented the shrinking of government transparency and civil liberties, including just in recent months, Cheney’s office famously declaring itself exempt from both the executive and legislative branches for the purposes of refusing to submit itself to any form of oversight and security office procedures, as well as the National Archives secretly removing declassified documents from its shelves. He’s sued the CIA for years to ask for the disclosure of the intelligence budget, published taxpayer-funded non-secret Congressional Research Service reports which Congress otherwise won’t make available, and closely followed press coverage of well, the more secretive government agencies for years. As a long time close CIA watcher, I asked Aftergood to comment on controversial former CIA officer Philip Agee’s death, and he obliged:

He was a man of his time, and his time was the 1970s. His public persona was shaped by anger at the U.S. Government and the CIA in particular over what he saw as its immoral, imperialist tendencies. He chose to break the rules of non-disclosure, and he paid a price in terms of exile, public opprobrium, etc. I doubt that the “celebrity” he enjoyed was much of a compensation.

For the rest of us, his questionable legacy includes the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it a crime to disclose the names of “covert agents.” He also was a pivotal figure in shaping a generation’s antagonism towards the CIA and intelligence general.

(There is a hilarious scene in the movie “Barcelona” where an American is chatting up a Spanish girl in a bar and she goes off into a harangue about U.S. imperialism, etc., etc. Where does she get all of this stuff, he asks. It’s from “Philip Ah-zhee,” she explains as he rolls his eyes.)

Agee’s first book Inside the Company was a bit turgid, if I recall correctly. His second book, “On the Run,” was quite interesting and engaging.

You can check out archives of Aftergood’s work here.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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