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Department of Dirty Tricks

March 26, 1997

On March 17, Anthony Lake withdrew his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, explaining that he was tired of being "a dancing bear in a political circus." His confirmation hearings, originally scheduled to last for six days, had instead threatened to drag far into the spring as opponents to his nomination in the Senate caused delays and searched for damning evidence with which to undermine his candidacy. The new nominee to fill the post is current CIA deputy director George Tenet.

explanation Directing the CIA is quite a job. In "Inside the Department of Dirty Tricks," (The Atlantic, August, 1979) Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Powers tells the story of former CIA director Richard Helms, who ended up being sanctioned by the Senate in 1977 for allowing the CIA to function under his direction as though it had "a license to operate freely outside the dictates of the law." Under Helms, Powers wrote, the CIA engaged in such schemes as "the manufacture of poison dart guns, the stockpiling of lethal toxins, medical experiments on unsuspecting victims, attempts to infect Castro and Lumumba with disease, the funding and technical guidance of police organizations that tortured and killed local opponents ... [and] the injection of corrupting sums of money into the political systems of other nations."

"The business of intelligence has its ugly side," Powers noted. Perhaps that was as much of a deterrent to Anthony Lake as the nomination process.

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