December 02, 2011
A Hard Candy Christmas

I don’t know much about CIA Christmas parties. Never have. They just don’t cross my mind. There are many things in this world I simply don’t pay attention to, like NASCAR, Broadway musicals, the mating habits of the leopard slug or Bono’s opinions about anything, and I freely confess the CIA’s holiday festivities are also on that list. So sue me.

Then again, that’s probably how they want it, right? The CIA is duty bound to maintain a high level of secrecy, and hiding things about themselves is something they do very well. They won’t divulge how many employees they have, how big their budget is or they spend the money. Nor do we know, and probably never will, why the collapse of the Soviet Union and the attacks of 9/11 seemingly took them by surprise (or did they?).

We don’t really even know precisely what they do. We just assume they perform some function that is absolutely vital to our security and leave it at that. Without them, it seems to go, we’d become helpless prey to the ruthless hordes of evildoers who are constantly plotting our destruction — Russians, Chinese, Muslim terrorists, Somali pirates, mad dictators, shoe bombers, underwear bombers or any combination of the above, depending on the political needs of the moment. We’d fall into a period of terrible insecurity, such as that which existed between 1776 and 1947 when the CIA didn’t exist at all. Perish the thought. God only knows how we survived those precarious times.

But let’s not revisit bad memories. This is a post about Christmas parties, and apparently our last two CIA directors threw some doozies:

Under then-director Leon E. Panetta last year, the CIA brought in shipments of California wine, and served fried oysters, grilled shrimp and quesadillas. His predecessor, Michael V. Hayden, made sure there were musicians playing Irish music while stations set up inside the agency’s cavernous headquarters hallway served drinks and hors d’oeuvres.
And everybody who’s anybody was there. Cool kids only:
At the CIA and DNI, hundreds of guests filed through receiving lines to meet the agencies’ directors. Senior White House officials, lawmakers and journalists all mingled with officials from Washington’s clandestine world.

I could think of many colorful terms to describe Leon Panetta, but party animal wouldn’t be one of them. I figured he was just another revolving door ‘public servant,’ the kind who drifts from one prestigious government job to another as easily and naturally as an octopus gliding through a kelp bed. Turns out he’s something of an epicurean as well. Isn’t that nice? Stuff this one in the file labeled “Austerity for thee, but not for me,” or, for fiscal conservatives, “Wasteful government spending is evil, but some forms of wasteful government spending are less evil than others.”

If it was up to me, the CIA’s party favors would consist of fried SPAM and a keg of Old Milwaukee that’s been sitting in the sun all day, as well as a few boxes of chardonnay for those with more sophisticated palates. Maybe several hundred gift wrapped pink slips? An audit, perhaps? Then again, if it was up to me there wouldn’t be any such thing as the CIA, but I’m an idealist.

That that was then. This year they’re planning to scale it back:

But the CIA and DNI both acknowledged this week that the events this time around will be smaller, cheaper and off-limits to the press.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the holiday austerity reflects the nation’s financial condition. “Scaling back our holiday celebrations is just another small example of our commitment to making sure that we continue to make wise fiscal decisions across the board,” Clapper said in a prepared statement.

Another admission: I didn’t know what the hell the DNI was until after reading this article [Office of the Director of National Intelligence]. I guess I’ve been too busy living life to notice that there was yet another superfluous intelligence agency protecting us from evil. What a bad citizen I am. It’s one more post-9/11 national security contraption that will be probably be with us until the sun explodes, like the U.S.A. Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security. At any rate, they typically blow about fifty grand on their annual Christmas bash, or “roughly the cost of a Hellfire missile,” we’re informed. Thankfully, in the spirit of fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice, they’re going to spend less than the cost of a Hellfire missile on this year’s office party. That’s mighty big of them, don’t you think?

Posted by OHollern at December 02, 2011 03:19 PM
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The scaling back is only insofar as the guest list -- they're going to cut that back by not inviting the press. Otherwise they will carry on with the same delightful hors d'oeuvres and tasty beverages, without the risk of any of those tattle-tale journalists ratting them out. In the name of austerity, of course.

Posted by: karen marie on December 3, 2011 6:23 PM

What's the CIA doing talking about the price of hellfire missiles, anyway? That's supposed to be the job of the department of defense.

It's like a school principal talking about their budget in terms of how many diced puppies it represents.

An audit of the CIA kitchen is warranted.

Posted by: John Anthony Curran on December 4, 2011 9:42 PM
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