Government Secrecy Guru Reflects on Agee’s Death

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

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.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate