Today, on the other hand, the Agency runs what are called “covert” drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia in which most strikes are promptly reported in the press and about which the administration clearly leaked information it wanted in the New York Times on thepresident’s role in picking those to die.
In the past, American presidents pursued “plausible deniability” when it came to assassination plots like those against Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, and Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem. Now, assassination is clearly considered a semi-public part of the presidential job, codified, bureaucratized, and regulated (though only within the White House), and remarkably public. All of this has become part of the visible world (or at least a giant publicity operation in it). No need today for a Wise or Ross to tell us this. Ever since President Ronald Reagan’s CIA-run Central American Contra wars of the 1980s, the definition of “covert” has changed. It no longer means hidden from sight, but beyond accountability.
It is now a polite way of saying to the American people: not yours. Yes, you can know about it; you can feel free to praise it; but you have nothing to do with it, no say over it.