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Bernie Sanders’s call to shut down the CIA doesn’t make him an extremist.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty

Politico is highlighting a speech Bernie Sanders gave in 1974 arguing that the Central Intelligence Agency is “a dangerous institution that has got to go.” The Clinton camp is treating these remarks as proof that Sanders is too extreme to be president. “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,” argues Clinton advisor Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff to former CIA Director Leon Panetta. 

But this ignores the fact that Sanders’s position was held by prominent mainstream Democrats. In fact, the president who created the CIA, Harry Truman, had thoughts along this line. In 1963, Truman published an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing that the CIA’s operational wing should be closed down and that the organization should be reduced to an information-gathering organization. By operational wing, Truman meant all the “sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue” that Sanders criticized: overthrowing democratically elected governments in Guatemala, Iran, and Chile, as well as assassinating figures like Patrice Lumumba.

In 1991 and 1995, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, senator from New York and an impeccable centrist Democrat, introduced bills to abolish the CIA. The critique Sanders made of the CIA in 1974 was, therefore, well within the bounds of mainstream liberal foreign policy.