United States Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders reportedly called for the abolition of the CIA during his younger, more radical days.
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The CIA is “a dangerous institution that has got to go,” Sanders told an audience in Vermont in October 1974, according to a Politico report.
He described America's foreign intelligence service as a tool of American corporate interests that had repeatedly toppled democratically elected leaders. The agency, he added, was accountable to no one, "except right-wing lunatics who use it to prop up fascist dictatorships.”
Sanders, who was aged 33 at the time, was running for the U.S. Senate on the Liberty Union Party ticket – an anti-war group that likened the draft to “a modern form of slavery.”
A Sanders campaign spokesman did not respond to a request for comment, though Politico writes that the candidate's allies "bristle at questions about his views from four decades ago," saying they have little to do with his current candidacy.
“I think people should look at his 25-year congressional career,” a former Sanders assistant in the House of Representatives was quoted as saying. “You don’t have to look at some speech from the early 1970s to know where he is on issues. There’s a very clear congressional record. I think he should be measured and judged on that.”
But that didn't stop supporters of Sanders' Democratic rival Hilary Clinton from putting in the knife.
“Abolishing the CIA in the 1970s would have unilaterally disarmed America during the height of the Cold War and at a time when terrorist networks across the Middle East were gaining strength," said Jeremy Bash, who served as chief of staff to CIA director Leon Panetta and now advises Clinton’s campaign.
“If this is a window into Sanders’ thinking, it reinforces the conclusion that he’s not qualified to be commander in chief.”
Sanders’ unexpectedly strong performance in the presidential race has Democratic Party leaders concerned that his early radicalism would be rich fodder for the Republicans, should he win the Democratic nomination.
His CIA statement in 1974, though extreme, was not entirely at odds with the tenor of the time. Shortly after he made his comment, a congressional panel known as the Church Committee published a series of damning reports on agency abuses, like assassination attempts against foreign leaders and illegal domestic spying on Vietnam War protesters.
After his election to Congress in 1990, Sanders toned down his anti-CIA rhetoric and shifted his focus from the morality of the agency to the size and lack of transparency of U.S. intelligence budgets.
In 1996, he proposed an amendment to cut the intelligence budget by 10 percent and has been a vehement opponent of the expanded powers of U.S. intelligence agencies since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
He was among the 66 House members who voted against the 2001 Patriot Act and he also opposed last year’s USA Freedom Act — which undid parts of the Patriot Act — on the grounds that it didn’t go far enough.
When Edward Snowden’s leaked National Security Agency secrets in 2013, Sanders described his action as “extremely important” for revealing “the degree to which the NSA has abused its authority and violated our constitutional rights.”