Are CIA operations comparable to terrorism?


Fact Box

  • The FBI defines two types of terrorism. First, international terrorism, which is “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups who are inspired by, or associated with, designated foreign terrorist organizations or nations (state-sponsored).” Domestic terrorism is “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”
  • The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) defines itself as “a US government agency that provides objective intelligence on foreign countries and global issues” to policymakers to help inform national security decisions. 
  • The CIA was officially established in 1947 under the National Security Act as an “​​independent, civilian intelligence agency within the executive branch.” The CIA primarily functions to collect and analyze data from other nations; the FBI has law enforcement jurisdiction and handles internal crimes and threats.  
  • The US State Department categorizes recognized Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). These include, but are not limited to HAMAS, Hezbollah, Palestine Liberation Front, Palestine Islamic Jihad, al-Qa’ida, Real Irish Republic Army, Communist Party of the Philippines, Army of Islam, Boko Haram, and many others.

Ryder (Yes)

The CIA has committed many actions that are easily comparable to terrorism on both an individual and national scale. Individually, the CIA has tortured innocent civilians in their black sites. According to the Washington Post, the CIA has tortured terrorist suspects while also denying that this torture occurred. Furthermore, a Senate committee detailed a report in 2012 proving that these black sites did not help the fight against al-Qaeda. 

Additionally, the CIA has assassinated high-level officials in the past. The Guardian reports assassinations from the 70s that were so damming that President Ford signed an executive order banning them. However, this ban didn't last long. In 2014, a WikiLeaks document exposed the CIA for examining the hacking of car control systems to potentially stage car crashes. 

Furthermore, the CIA has gone so far as to stage coups against democratically elected leaders in foreign countries. According to the AP, the CIA overthrew Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and Brazilian President Joao Goulart in 1964. These power vacuums are often filled by military governments or figureheads who don't care about the country's residents.

What makes the CIA more dangerous than traditional terrorists is its ability to cover up inhumane acts and intimidate US congress members. According to The Atlantic in 2014, California Senator Dianne Feinstein criticized the CIA for destroying interrogation tapes and interfering with a Senate committee's ability to review the torture tactics used since 2002. It’s clear the CIA engages in human rights abuses while skirting the due process of law to take down their foreign “enemies” and accomplish sometimes illegal activities

Antonio (No)

According to Oxford, the definition of terrorism is 'the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.' To compare special operations executed by the CIA to terrorism is ludicrous and completely unequivocal. What happened on 9/11 is terrorism. A mass shooting done in the name of some political ideology is terrorism. When the CIA executes an operation overseas, the purpose is not to terrorize the civilians in those areas for political gain but to prevent further bloodshed by eliminating threats before they reach US shores or retaliate for some past attack.

With the help of the CIA, when Navy SEALs swopped into Abbottabad, Pakistan, to kill Osama bin Laden, the purpose was two-fold: first, justice for those killed on 9/11. And second, it sent a message to our enemies who might be planning something similar. Of course, an added benefit to this mission was also the prevention of future attacks. The mission statement of the CIA simply says, 'our mission is to preempt threats and further US national security objectives.' However, the goals of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and the IRGC are nothing like that. 

The CIA, on occasion, does have to use unconventional methods to achieve its stated goal. These may include drone strikes, targeted killings, or sabotage. But this is because our enemies overseas are not open to diplomatic negotiations and are not structured organizations. 

Both the Left and the Right often malign the CIA—sometimes for good reasons—but the purpose of the CIA and the reason many join its ranks is to ultimately keep the United States safe and free.

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