CIA at the crossroads

As I continue my research into Obama's reported CIA and DNI candidate fields, I am finding it remarkable that among the candidates there is such dissent when it comes to what they believe is right/acceptable in interrogation policy and information collection. It's really quite amazing.

For example, in Dec 13's NYT, we have Reuel Marc Gerecht (admittedly not a candidate for either the DNI or CIA Director position) giving us the many advantages of extraordinary rendition and establishing a completely hypothetical "ticking time bomb" scenario:

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?

This is the type of Bushism that gives us the "it's okay to beat it out of 'em!" mentality of John Brennan, Michael Hayden, and all other high-level CIA brass who knew the details of the implementation of the CIA's detention programs and interrogation policies. As I documented in another diary, candidate Steve Kappes no doubt had some connection to these controversial programs. Hayden, who rumor has it may maintain his position at the CIA, of course has been in charge of defending these programs, as digby documents here.

This is a distinct group that occupies the toilet bowl of implementation, authorization, and rationalization of some of the worst of Bush's abuses of detainees.

Let's check out the candidate list provided by the AP:

John Gannon, former deputy director for intelligence at the CIA during the Clinton administration

Jami Miscik, former head of CIA's analytical operations

Steve Kappes, CIA's current No. 2

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., who now heads House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence.

John McLaughlin, former interim CIA chief

So three of these people are from the dark side era of the Bush administration. Miscik (current member of the Obama transition team), according to former CIA Melvin Goodman on Democracy Now, "went along with the phony intelligence estimate of October 2002, the phony white paper that was prepared by Paul Pillar in October 2002. She helped with the drafting of the speech that Colin Powell gave to the United Nations--[inaudible] 2003, which made the phony case for war to the international community."

McLaughlin, as the former no.2 to George Tenet from 2000-2004, is an almost improbable candidate for Obama's CIA director position.

Including those two, along with Brennan, Hayden and Kappes, you end up with 5 reported candidates for the position that were involved in utterly immoral intelligence wrong-doing and incompetence.

Other candidates for the CIA Director position are coming from the complete opposite perspective on torture and renditon. Take former Congressman Tim Roemer, floated various times, here at the NYT. He contributed to the Washington Monthly an article that is almost the exact opposite of that of Gerecht's quoted above:

Those who argue in favor of torture usually do so in the scenario of a single suspect with knowledge of a "ticking time bomb." This hypothetical never addresses how torture would have to work in the real world, or how we would defuse the next bomb after America is revealed as a practitioner of torture.


Ultimately, we cannot torture our way out of terrorism, but we certainly can torture our way into more of it. Torture trades the illusory promise of short-term gain for the near certainty of eventual loss. It tries to convince us that we can defeat terrorists on the cheap by avoiding the long, hard work that counterterrorism entails. The Army's Field Manual on counterinsurgency tells us that this work comprises building a government's legitimacy and denying terrorist and insurgent groups like al-Qaeda the political oxygen they need to survive. Very few things could be more toxic to our legitimacy than the image of the world's greatest democracy practicing one of the world's oldest evils.

Current Congresswoman Jane Harman has also been floated. Harman opposed the destruction of the CIA torture tapes that Hayden defended; she officially protested the CIA's interrogation program in 2003. Though Harman (via Greenwald) supported the NSA wiretapping program...

Retiring Senator and friend of Obama's Chuck Hagel has also been floated for CIA. He has registered his opposition to torture, and his support of the government-wide use of the Army Field Manual, in the Washington Monthly like fellow candidate Roemer. John Gannon and Jack Devine, both floated for the position, can be included in this second group as well, as they have no ties to the Bush administration.

So that's 5 other potential candidates for the CIA Director position that are in varying degrees of active opposition to the other 5.  Is no one else troubled by the numbers of this breakdown?

What is going on here? Could there be a more stark demonstration of an agency, and a future administration, at a crossroads?

The Obama transition team has been remarkably quiet, although Isikoff and Hosenball were able to quote a "top Obama adviser" source who said of Brennan: "He was our guy on intelligence." Other than this adviser, what Obama is actually thinking right now is pretty murky.

But make no mistake, there are many around Obama, especially those connected to the 5 Bush-era candidates, who are aggressively lobbying for their friends. The Washington Times finds Hayden's supporters actively working to protect him and help him hang onto his job:

In the meantime, Hayden supporters have tried to disassociate the CIA director from the Bush administration counterrorism detention and interrogation programs that Mr. Obama routinely railed against during his campaign.

"Waterboarding, which was used on three hardened terrorists, hasn't been used since 2003. That is more than three years before Mike Hayden became the director of CIA," said an intelligence source with knowledge of the subject.

The source added that current administration policies and U.S. laws directed the CIA's actions.

"If the president says he doesn't want something done, that's it," the source said. "These are his programs."

Funny how that is remarkably similar to the line taken up by some Obama supporters who believe his appointments are almost immaterial to policy-making during his administration. I actually don't find that vision very reassuring; it ignores the basic fact that Obama will no doubt be in consultation with the heads of all of his agencies pretty frequently. Who you choose for the head of an agency like the CIA is important; it gives you some idea of what they will advise ("extraordinary rendition is necessary!" vs. "no we can't do that!") and what they will prevent ("torture was the result of Cheney, Addington, & Yoo! - don't look at me!" or "yes, you should investigate & charge former CIA officials"). The world will be watching to see who we put in charge of the CIA, as will the CIA interrogators and case workers who rely upon the higher levels of the CIA for legal and moral leadership around the world.

This was all supposed to be settled weeks ago, when Brennan was the clear favorite for CIA Director. Since then, we've been in pretty confusing territory. Who will Obama choose? Why is he being guided by so many Bush-era knuckleheads? Is that an indicator of his wide-ranging mind, or an indicator of the power of the status quo intelligence community, curious as to whether they'll lose influence as members of the intelligence private-sector industry or be put under the microscope when it comes to their involvement and complicity in war crimes?

I trust that Obama will not back down from his stated intentions to close Guantanamo and to not use torture. But I would like the leaders of his intelligence agencies to be able to successfully impart that vision and demonstrate an unshakeable committment to it. Further, I think the investigation of Bush-era CIA officials who participated in and authorized the implementation of Bush law-breaking is warranted. Putting apologists for Bush at the top is not change, and it is not an occassion for necessary revitalizing leadership.  Bringing accountability to the CIA involves in some way eschewing the leadership of the CIA of our recent past.  I hope Obama will do this.

At this point, Obama may be grappling with how to send the large internationally stationed staff of the CIA a message.  In my mind, the message will be one of two options.  Either the message is:  "Don't worry, I won't prosecute you or your highest of superiors because I don't care about the arrogance of our national profile or our war crimes - go about your business, you're clean" or "Don't worry, I won't prosecute you because I understand it was our leadership in the Bush admin. and at the top of the CIA who set your goals off-course, leading you into war crimes and otherwise immoral intelligence gathering tactics - we are going to make some changes, but you are clean."  I believe Obama can lead the CIA effectively while investigating Bush's torture policy and I hope that he does.  Here's to him sending the right message and picking the right person.

< Bad Choices for the CIA | Net Neutrality vs. Torture Policy >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    To clarify (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by lilburro on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 12:48:34 AM EST
    my last pargraph:  I think Obama can hold the CIA accountable while reassuring most of the employees of the CIA that they are not going to be thrown behind bars.  When CIA staffers and interrogators ask for leadership, and the CIA leaders don't provide it, who is at fault?  Doesn't the buck stop more so at Pavitt than Kirakou?

    In other words, I think Obama can reassure the lower level CIA employees that they will not be left holding the bag for CIA wrongdoing while simulataneously investigating the higher level CIA employees who assented to and planned the wrong-doing.  It's more or less the opposite of the "few bad apples at Abu Ghraib" approach.

    Obama's votes and speeches (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jacob Freeze on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 12:39:51 AM EST
    Obama's promises about torture are exactly on a par with Bush's contention that the US doesn't torture prisoners. Presidents can claim anything about torturing prisoners, or not, and unless there's some freakish news-break like the cellphone photos from Abu Ghraib, none of us will ever know the truth about it.

    Obama's votes are a different story, and he voted to fund Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo again and again and again.

    That's all we really know about Obama's commitment to decent treatment of prisoners, and all the rest of it is just a noise that Bush can make as easily as Obama.    

    Well you have Obama saying (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by lilburro on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 01:17:00 AM EST
    on 60 minutes that we will not torture.  And that is definitely good.  But considering the word games the government has played with "torture" in past years, it is not enough to say something like that and have it cover all the bases.

    For ex. Adam Serwer quotes John Brennan describing Obama's policy:

    "Obama '[believes] torture [should] not be allowed in any form or fashion in any part of the federal government, and he would make sure that was the case. ... Whether the Army field manual is comprehensive enough to cover all those tactics and techniques, that's something I think he'd look to his national security advisers for.'"

    What does that actually mean?  Maybe torture won't be allowed in the CIA, but that statement leaves the door open wide for renditions as far as I can tell.  And the wording is definitely a problem especially coming from Brennan.


    Whichever way the wind blows (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jacob Freeze on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 06:25:47 PM EST
    I think Obama's policy about torture will follow his usual pattern, one step behind public opinion, and if there's a major terrorist attack on the US or overseas assets, and the public howls for blood, no matter who sheds it, I'm afraid Mr. Obama doesn't have enough conviction to say, "No."

    But about John E. McLaughlin... (none / 0) (#5)
    by Jacob Freeze on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 06:58:29 PM EST
    I can't exactly agree with including John E. McLaughlin in the same group with Hayden, for example. Nothing has really stuck to McLaughlin, neither phony intelligence or torture, as far as I know. Likewise Jami Miscik doesn't belong in the same box with Brennan, who supported every kind of torture except waterboarding.

    IMHO Miscik is a relatively forward-thinking upper-middle bureaucrat who won't get the job, and McLaughlin wouldn't be a bad choice, unless they go completely outside the agency, and pick someone with deep experience at DIA, for example.

    Hagel probably has a few principles hidden away somewhere, but he isn't even close to being smart enough to figure out the CIA, not as an outsider falling into the middle of a very complicated and opaque set of relationships. At the most, he would be a sort of ceremonial "head of state" while his deputy director ran the show, and that's just substituting one question for another:

    We end up asking who's the deputy? instead of who's the director?

    But just because McLaughlin isn't terrible... (none / 0) (#6)
    by Jacob Freeze on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 07:17:05 PM EST
    But even if McLaughlin isn't a terrible choice, like Brennan or worse yet, Harman, who had very early notice about torture and did not much, and worse even yet, she's as dumb as a post and thinks she knows all about the intelligence biz just because she sat in a committee room and listened to output from the top...

    Even if McLaughlin isn't a terrible choice, his self-exonerating report about "Curveball" makes him look stupid.

    A source you can't verify first-hand is no source at all, and for McLaughlin to allow Secretary Powell to incorporate material from "Curveball" in his speech to the UN was absurdly unprofessional. All we really knew about "Curveball" was that the foreign agency which had him would let us talk to him directly, and that was already enough to make "Curveball" worthless as a source for us.

    McLaughlin's claim that nobody brought doubts about "Curveball" directly to him is pathetic. He should have known better himself without waiting for somebody to hit him in the face with a two-by-four!


    Correction (none / 0) (#7)
    by Jacob Freeze on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 07:19:45 PM EST
    "...the foreign agency which had him would not let us talk to him directly..."

    re: McLaughlin (none / 0) (#8)
    by lilburro on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 08:37:01 PM EST
    I think he is absolutely a terrible choice.  As Tenet's deputy his involvement in torture and rendition programs is beyond doubt.  No. 2 in the CIA.  And Acting Director in 2004!  I think this Fox News interview also demonstrates that he's a moron.  

    WALLACE: But, Director McLaughlin, forgive me, I wonder if shortcomings does it, in terms of describing what the national intelligence estimate said. Let's put up some of the central conclusions -- these were the conclusions of the NIE that your agency prepared for Congress and the president: Iraq has chemical and biological weapons; Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear program.

    I know intelligence agencies all around the world were saying the same thing, and you can talk about caveats in the body of the report, but when you're saying they have these things, they're reconstituting, how do you expect elected officials to ignore that? In the end, after looking at all the caveats, that's what the CIA was saying was the conclusion.

    MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you're correct, and I wouldn't deny that.

    WALLACE: That's more than a shortcoming.

    MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you're correct, and I wouldn't deny that. But I would try and put that in a little perspective by saying that, among other things, I think we allowed collectively the image to grow that there would be discovered immediately upon entry into Iraq large stocks of weapons, chemical and biological. You've heard me say before, I think, that those weapons could be hidden in something the size of a backyard swimming pool, or, in the case of anthrax, sizable amounts in the trunk of a car.

    Now, to be sure, we haven't encountered those weapons yet. And there will always be some ambiguity about whether they exist. But the longer we look, the more skeptical we have to be.

    Here's a HuffPo article that takes a few more hits at McLaughlin and Miscik:

    "Both Brennan and Miscik have horrible baggage. Jami Miscik was running the analytic side when the Curveball analysis was forwarded. I was told by her then-deputy that they never realized there were ever any problems with Curveball, which is completly damning. He ran [the National Counterterrorism Center] for not very long. I'm not sure that two people brought through the ranks by George Tenet have the credibility, knowledge in the business, or the objectivity to put the agency in a good place."

    According to reports, Miscik admitted to Senate investigators that she prodded some of her analysts to "stretch to the maximum the evidence you had" when trying to link al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein back in 2002.

    Miscik is at best a hack, though slightly more  palatable.

    My problem with all of them is that the CIA has shown it is very good at covering its @ss.  We go to war with bad intelligence; we have the CIA commit war crimes for a good deal of time; we use torture even when we get burned by torture (al-Libi).  Admittedly the CIA and the Bush administration, after an initial cozy period together when Bush said he wouldn't blame the CIA for 9/11, are currently waging an accountability war against one another.  But I think it is ridiculous to imagine that the CIA is not accountable in some way.  Thus their upper management needs to be put out of the picture so Obama can investigate and prosecute.  To appoint someone who has a deeply intimate relationship with the decisions made by the CIA - who comes from the ranks of those who gave us their crappy record - is to throw up a huge roadblock to finding out what actually happened.  

    You make a good point about deputies.  Now that's a scary prospect!  

    I still think it's odd and unfortunate that names like Richard Clarke and Rand Beers are not being thrown around.


    Clarke and Beers (none / 0) (#9)
    by Jacob Freeze on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 09:38:22 PM EST
    I can't agree with you about Richard Clarke, and the real professionals at CIA don't respect him, especially the best and most honest of them, like Michael Scheuer:


    Scheuer thinks Clarke is a risk-averse poseur who didn't do enough to fight bin Laden prior to September 11, 2001. At his breakfast with reporters, Scheuer said that on 10 separate occasions his unit, codename "Alec," provided key policymakers with information that could've lead to the killing or capture of Osama bin Laden. "In each of those 10 instances," Scheuer said, "the senior policymaker in charge, whether it was Sandy Berger, Richard Clarke, or George Tenet," resisted taking action, afraid it would result in collateral damage or a backlash on the Arab street.

    I think Beers would be a significantly better choice than Clarke, but the best place for Rand Beers IMHO was National Security Advisor, and when Obama gave that job to Gen. James Jones, it probably meant that nobody either you or I would like will figure anywhere near the top of Defense or Intel.