In almost every corner of the popular culture, there are people who assume incredible competence on the part of our intelligence agencies. We take it as a given that spooks can, in the immortal words of Elvis, take care of business in a flash. In the Jason Bourne movies, say the wrong word into your cell phone, and assassins will find you at the train station in minutes. In AMC’s Rubicon, if you pay too close attention to crossword puzzles, your train will be “accidentally” derailed. In Three Days of the Condor, if you ask your bosses the wrong question, a postman with an ice-bullet-shooting machine gun will pay you a visit.
Of course, that’s just Hollywood. But if you read left-wing accounts of the intelligence community, two versions dominate. The CIA and similar outfits are either evil and incompetent, or evil and super-competent. Sometimes the folks at The Nation will mock the CIA for trying to blow up Castro with an exploding cigar. Other times some Oliver Stone type will insist that the military, or the CIA, or the NSA, or rogue elements from those quarters, managed to assassinate JFK and pin it on a Marxist dupe named Lee Harvey Oswald.
Under either scenario, you’d think Assange, super-whistle-blower of the international Left, would be a greasy stain on the autobahn already.
Meanwhile, conservatives have something like a mirror-image view of the black-ops crowd. We tend to think they’re either well-intentioned bunglers or noble ninjas in London fog trench coats. Again, either way, Assange’s shrimp-on-the-barbie should have had Strontium-90 in it years before anyone heard his name.
Oh, and it’s not just nation-states that are threatened by WikiLeaks. These guys spend much of their time going after big corporations that, we’re often told — at least by Hollywood and the people who e-mail me in ALL CAPS — routinely rub out gadflies and whistle-blowers who try to let the world know the electric car was perfected in 1920, or that milk companies are making millions by poisoning their customers (that was the actual plot of I Love Trouble, by the way).
Now, I know there are many solid answers to my question. For starters…