Bad Choices for the CIA

Decisions, decisions, decisions.  Right now, there is a really ridiculous op-ed in the NYT about rendition that promotes the deepest Bushisms we are fighting against - and the ones that make Rand Beers and other cosigners of the Campaign to Ban Torture such great choices.  

It is a demonstration of how difficult it can be to dominate the narrative.  Never expect the MSM to agree with you.

And watch when they forward something you hate - Newsweek has Mark Hosenball publishing an article that I considered completely improbable - on Obama keeping Steve Kappes.  I thought this was some AP joke.

It may still be - apparently complete unpredictability regarding intelligence issues is a merit, even though we want our President-Elect to send a strong message to the rest of the world that we do not torture.  I would love to hear some reassurances from him right now that we are going to have someone at the wheel who agrees that torture is morally wrong and ineffective, no matter what country we do it in.  I would love to hear him say I will veto any bill or appointment that says otherwise.

Instead, I read this, from Hosenball:

Several people close to the Obama transition, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive deliberations, say the leading candidate to replace Hayden is his deputy, Stephen Kappes, who was No. 2 in the CIA's covert-ops division from 2002 to 2004, which means he was almost surely involved in interrogation policy. But Kappes's backers say he was working on counterintel issues--uncovering moles--when the CIA set up its "secret prison" network. If Kappes's star falls, other CIA candidates are said to include another former senior spy, Mary Margaret Graham, and former congressman Tim Roemer, an intel-reform advocate.

OK...this is completely childish.  Apparently the Brennan people learned something from their vetting - if someone says torture happened, and you were the top brass, give an at least plausible explanation for where you were.  "I wasn't at the torture conference!  I was..."  Kappes' "backers" provide him a vague excuse here that apparently kept his eyes shut for more than 40 hours a week for...YEARS.  Gosh, even though he was Pavitt's no.2!  

Let's take a peek into Kappes' resume -

"currently Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (DDCIA), having assumed this position on July 24, 2006.

...He has held a variety of operational and managerial assignments at CIA Headquarters and overseas, serving as assistant deputy director to former Deputy Director for Operations (DDO) James Pavitt, and later as DDO after Pavitt stepped down in August 2004. At the time of the September 11 attacks, Kappes was the associate deputy director for operations for counterintelligence.

Kappes was named Deputy Director for Operations (DDO) for the CIA in June 2004 and took office in August 2004 while the appointment of Porter Goss as the next Director of Central Intelligence was

still pending in the Senate. Kappes succeeded James Pavitt, who resigned in June 2004..."

Democratic Underground gives us more specific dates:

"March 2002-Abu Zubaydah is captured in Pakistan. George Bush is briefed regularly by George Tenet on the details of Zubaydah's interrogation (see p. 22, State of War by James Risen). Cofer Black is in charge of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center and oversees the CIA's hunt for the terrorists. Zubaydah is interrogated in Thailand, where the sessions were filmed. He was waterboarded sometime in the May-June 2002 time frame. Enhanced interrogation methods were used and approval for them came from Jim Pavitt (see p. 21 of ABC News interview of former CIA case officer, John Kiriakou). Pavitt was the DDO (i.e., Deputy Director of Operations). Stephen Kappes, who currently serves as the Deputy Director of the CIA, was named Assistant Deputy Director of Operations in June 2002. Ron Suskind confirms Risen's report that the President and his National Security team were regularly briefed on the results of Zubaydah's torture sessions (see The One Percent Doctrine, pp. 111-115)."

Considering KSM was captured in 2003, and waterboarded, Kappes was obviously intimately involved with that.

Ron Suskind in the "One Percent Doctrine" introduces us to Kappes thusly:

"He was, at that point, associate deputy director for operations - number two in the DO - and being groomed to take Jim Pavitt's job." [p.223]

(You will note the discrepancy in the exact description of Kappes' job - "associate" versus "assistant" deputy. Based on other [1] sources [2] compared to Suskind, I can say they are describing the same position over the same period - Kappes was no.2 to Pavitt from June 2002 onward.)

Now Pavitt is pretty much bottom of the barrel as far as the CIA goes. This is a guy whose job duties literally included approving every single coercive technique used against detainees, as they happened -

"Kirakou made the interrogations sound almost like a game of 'Mother, May I?' He said, 'It was not up to the individual interrogator to decide 'I'm going to slap him' or 'I'm going to shake him.' Each one of these, though they're minor, had to have the approval of the Deputy Director for Operations, who during most of this period was James Pavitt. 'Before you could lay a hand on him, you had to send a cable saying, 'He's uncooperative. Request permission to do X.'...There was, however, no known instance of the supervisors denying a request to use more
force." ["The Dark Side," Jane Mayer, p.167].

It is pretty astonishing that the No.2 to all this is in any way in contention for the top CIA job.

Now, these rumors are not quite as intense as those surrounding John Brennan, and Kappes does not AFAIK have any official role in the Obama transition process as he is currently at the CIA. But Kappes does earn a mention in the Dec 2 Post-Brennan NYT Article by Mazzetti & Shane:

"It is widely expected that Mr. Obama will replace Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director. Among those mentioned as possible candidates for the job are Stephen R. Kappes, a C.I.A. veteran who is the deputy director; Tim Roemer, a former congressman from Indiana who was a member of the Sept. 11 commission; Senator Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican who is retiring from the Senate in January; and Jack Devine, a former head of the agency's clandestine service who left the C.I.A. before the Sept. 11 attacks."

Kappes appears not to have left a bloody trail of quotes like Brennan did. Good for him, but his record speaks for itself.

As far as the CIA in general goes, this is the issue that keeps coming up and still hasn't been resolved (duh - we haven't had an official investigation).  You can get legal clearance from somebody else...but how do you successfully implement a new torture policy? Can you do it if your brass hates it? Something about two to tango, I think?

As Pavitt himself said:

"Pavitt, who declined to talk about specific CIA authorities or legal memos, said the activities recently in the news were 'done in consultation with the executive at all levels, the National Security Council and such. . . . Any impression that we were operating high, wide and handsome, without appropriate congressional oversight, I think would also be, incorrect.'"

I doubt this will surprise anyone, but John Yoo thinks it's all the CIA's fault:

"In early January 2002, soon after the CIA took custody of Al-Libi, a handful of CIA officers at a high-level legal meeting in the Situation Room voiced a problem they were facing. 'The CIA guys said, "We're going to have some real difficulties getting actionable intelligence from detainees" if the Agency's interrogators were required to respect the limits for treatment demanded by the Geneva Conventions," John Yoo told the Washington
Post. In Yoo's version of events, the impetus to break out of Geneva's strictures thus came from the CIA." ["The Dark Side," Jane Mayer,


I have little doubt that Yoo's account is a crock of crap. But still, what about this?

"The Pentagon and CIA needed Uzbekistan as a forward base. If that meant joining forces with a torture regime, known on ocassion to literally boil political prisoners alive, he [Cheney] was ready...Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, complained that he tried to warn the CIA station chief in Tashkent that much of the intelligence out of Uzbekistan was derived from torture, most of which he said was 'rubbish.'...But he said that while the station chief did not dispute that intelligence was being obtained under torture, the CIA did not consider this a problem. 'There was no reason to think they were perturbed,' Murray said."

"The new way of thinking was reflected by Tenet at a closed-door meeting of top intelligence officials of the English-speaking world, gathered on March 10, 2002, in Queenstown, New Zealand. 'Gentlemen,' Tenet had reportedly said

with a dramatic pause, 'we are at war.' What this meant, he had gone on to explain was "As for the CIA, I can tell you this. There's nothing we won't

do, nothing we won't try, and no country we won't deal with to achieve our goals-to stop the enemy. The shackles, my friends, have to be taken off.'


"Other top American officials in attendance included Lieutenant General Michael Hayden, then head of the NSA; Mueller, the Director of the FBI; and the CIA's head of covert operations, James Pavitt. Pavitt evidently amplified the tough talk, noting, 'We're going to be working with intelligence agencies that are utterly unhesitant in what they will do to get people to talk.'"

["The Dark Side," Jane Mayer, p.131-132].

Check out the timeline at Torturing Democracy. Though this meeting is after Bush issues his first executive order authorizing denials of Geneva Convention protections, [Feb 7 2002] it is before they capture Abu Zubaydah, the first torture experiment [March 28 2002].

Who started this thing? And why didn't anyone stop it? Clearly some of the top brass in the CIA were willing to go along and to effectively lead. I have issues with any of those people working in an Obama CIA which would simultaneously mean an acceptance of ills past and the ability to haggle your way out of a serious investigation into government-wide torture related wrongdoing ("Who, me? Your CIA head? Look, it's not our fault, let's not make this embarrassing...").

And that's not even addressing the existential, if you will, question of why Kappes' name is even getting thrown around. And what is a "centrist" intelligence policy after Bush?

This brings us back to the article I highlighted at the top of my diary - the "One Percent Doctrine" type of thinking conservatives pull out of a hat to scare us.  Even though the torture of Zubayda, for instance, gave us none of the things promised by Bush - new info re: terrorists on their way to attack the United States (aka Padilla)?  He told us that before we tortured.  KSM the mastermind of 9/11?  Told us that before we tortured, and we knew anyway.  ["The Dark Side," Jane Mayer, 176]

There are a ton of experts who say torture doesn't work, it discredits us, and it's impossible to tell the BS from what is real.

Gerecht wants better, faster, harder to track rendition aka torture (as they do).  He doesn't tell you how we get them to "tortureland" - he doesn't tell you how we capture the enemy.  He gives us this:

So, let us suppose that he increases the number of Special Forces raids into Pakistan, and those soldiers capture members of Al Qaeda and their computers, and learn that the group has advanced plans for striking American and European targets, but we don't know specifically where or when.

What would Mr. Obama do? After all, if we'd gotten our hands on a senior member of Al Qaeda before 9/11, and knew that an attack likely to kill thousands of Americans was imminent, wouldn't waterboarding, or taking advantage of the skills of our Jordanian friends, have been the sensible, moral thing to do with a holy warrior who didn't fear death but might have feared pain?

Unfortunately, history shows us that it doesn't work out that way.  Before 9/11, Tenet was sweating over the possibility of attack - and he feared it without having beaten the sh*t out of somebody.  We thought Qahtani knew more than he did, and so we tortured him, only to find KSM gleefully corroborate his stated ignorance.  Meanwhile, our open endorsement of torture via rendition promises to undermine our international reputation, and create more recruitment materials for Al-Qaeda.  Matthew Alexander says the "number one reason these foreign fighters gave for coming to Iraq was routinely because of Abu Ghraib, because of Guantanamo Bay, because of torture practices."

The real ticking time bomb is the one the CIA brass are hearing, set to burst their fantasies and reputations, as the day Obama assumes the Presidency approaches (don't believe me?  Then where are the memos?).  It seems like they are launching a media offensive to protect their friends at the top from investigation and prosecution.  Because when you read the description of Pavitt's torture approvals, you no longer think it's the interrogators' fault - not when they were trained by brass above, and approved by brass above.  To have someone from the outside, someone not intimately associated with these war crimes, head the CIA would be too threatening for this crew.  It might mean they wouldn't receive the protection they would like.  A media offensive is called for.  

Who is really on the top of Obama's list?  I don't know.  But sugarcoating rendition (as Gerecht cleverly does - Clinton and Bush! bipartisan baby!) is not the direction we need to be going in.  We need to make it clear to Obama that we see through the crap and that those who don't don't deserve to run our intelligence agencies.  

We need to have our intelligence agencies run by people who can assure our interrogators that they will not be the fall guys - who can assure our interrogators that they won't sign onto soul-crushing, unethical interrogation tactics deployed by others.  Leaders who will make sure the administration doesn't blame the little guy, but instead takes a hard look at the high-level CIA signatures on the official documents, a hard look at the Bush administration.  Leaders who will be in meetings not shouting in favor of rendition, but shouting against it - as Rand Beers does here.  Please, Mr. President-Elect, pick someone who doesn't have people to pay back at the top - and someone who isn't so scummy that they'll place the blame on someone far below them.  This is the kind of person who can clean up the CIA.

As we enter another week of CIA/DNI speculation...

(Much of the body of this diary is crossposted at my tiny new anti-torture project, "Back to Our Senses.")

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    Not yet convinced on Beers ... (none / 0) (#1)
    by Robot Porter on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 08:59:09 AM EST
    but I do think if Obama picks from the ranks of the CIA, he should pick someone from the analyst side and not the covert ops side.

    Most CIA insanity occurred when someone from the covert ops side of the agency was in charge.