Jessica SieffA special report compiled by U.S. News and World Report in 2003 described it as "an ancient art" and "the world's second oldest profession."

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Jessica Sieff: World of the underground intelligence should remain ‘need to know’

Published 12:30pm Thursday, September 3, 2009

The practice of it has shaped the world’s history and changed the courses of wars, the practices of governments and entire empires.

And now, America is poised to single handedly disgrace it.

Argue if you will, but as much as war is a fact of life, as destined to nations as the occasional disagreement among friends – so is espionage.

It is an arm of government, one shared by each and every nation across the globe – that has two very distinct sides that of an organization with an extensive compilation of facts pertaining to each and every corner of the world and that of a very unique group of foot soldiers who live in a deep, dark place only others of their profession could truly understand that protects countries by means no others desire to acknowledge.

Out of what is a great respect for the Central Intelligence Agency and intelligence agencies like it across the country, I found news this week that the Obama administration is allowing an investigation into practices of intelligence agents an absolute American tragedy. That our government finds any rationale in turning its back on the men and women who have served them under the C.I.A. seal, is as disheartening as if they began prosecuting soldiers for their actions in wartime.

The act of espionage can be traced back to Roman times. Possibly more recognizable is the part intelligence played in the safety of the throne of Queen Elizabeth who faced a rule over England with tireless threats upon her life. Under the watchful, if somewhat paranoid eye of Sir Francis Walshingham, those plots were discovered and thwarted and the impact of Elizabeth’s reign over England is, even today, undeniable. One can only imagine how different that country’s world would be had Elizabeth been completely unaware of any desire to remove her from her throne.

As could America look quite different today, had one of America’s most revered leaders, George Washington, not relied on spies during his time as general. Doing so led Washington across the Delaware.

The issue of the government’s sudden interest in the inner workings of the C.I.A. is not about torture. It seems, rather about a constant need to shackle itself to the past administration rather than moving forward. Torture within all worlds of underground intelligence, counter intelligence, special operations, etc. is a reality no United States presidential administration, even one with a glitzy, glamoury start to its term is going to eradicate.

There is no nation who does not wish to protect itself, no nation that lives without threat by others. This is not to say ‘yay’ to torture any more than one might say ‘yay’ to war. But it would be foolish for anyone to deny its existence. To do so would open up American lives to a dangerous vulnerability.

Should the government choose to alter the practices of the C.I.A. – so be it. It is the administration’s prerogative – but to discredit the work of American men and women who have lived lives in secrecy and fear, who on a day to day basis for some of them, must always keep one eye on the review mirror is simply shameful.

The heart of espionage continues throughout history. It is one of those realities that for the most part, people would be better not knowing about.

So here’s a suggestion for the White House suggestion box – quit dragging out all of our secrets to the public so the entire world can utilize their un-persecuted intelligence agencies to determine our weaknesses of government and develop opportunities with disastrous consequences.

Why is the public and worse -the government so surprised at a cloak of secrecy coming from C.I.A. reports? It’s the C.I.A. for crying out loud. It’s cloak and dagger, it’s cameras hidden in writing instruments and deceit and weapons masked as watches and cufflinks.
The rationale of this latest move is not just irrational it is appalling.

The work of such operatives stretches from as far back as women who transported messages across party lines during the Civil War to its absolutely defining era – from the second world war into the cold one.

The work of the C.I.A., torture or no is and always has been “need to know” only. And it should remain that way. Something tells me that there are plenty of other issues that the Obama administration could be trying to focus on despite disgracing its own people.
There are times when we feel a self-conscious morality upon the realization of such realities as the brutality of war and the evil of others.

Morality can survive because the burden of balancing it with the duties of espionage rest on the shoulders of clandestine operatives who live a life so many could never handle.
Before jumping on the interrogation bandwagon, consider that many Americans serving the C.I.A. have endured their own, seemingly endless, bouts of torture at the hands of other nations, countless hours of interrogation by enemies … they have endured beatings and torture and to keep America’s secrets safe, they have gone so far as to risk their lives to destroy anything that could fall into enemy hands. They’ve even eaten documents piece by piece.

We’re all okay when it’s on television or in the movies and the spies are glammed up celebrities who beat the bad guys despite what courses of action they’re forced to take.
That dark and seedy world that the good guys are fighting? It’s no movie.

Jessica Sieff is a reporter for the Niles Daily Star. Reach her at

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