The Broader CIA Critique

In Glenn Greenwald's recent Salon article, "Some observations after being involved in a Fox News report," he discusses his attempt to set the record straight when it comes to the left blogs' John Brennan critique. I believe he is mostly right when he says:

"Specifically, the case against John Brennan as CIA Director - from the beginning - was based almost exclusively on comments he made on television, after he left the CIA, in which he supported rendition and what he called 'enhanced interrogation tactics.'" [bolding Greenwald's]

That was indeed the basis for the Brennan critique. John Brennan, basically, did this to himself - he was the one who stood up and acted as a mouthpiece for the Bush administration's tactics. The mass media doesn't understand this for some reason. Despite the fact that Brennan's statements are out there for the world to see, the MSM did little to present them to their viewers/readers.  But even if Brennan hadn't put his foot in his mouth, I believe he would've been, by virtue of his former place in the chain of command, disqualifed for the CIA Director position.

No blogger I've read is demanding a massive purge of CIA staff.  But I personally think it is important to both make and accept as legitimate a broader critique of Obama's CIA candidates based on chain of command.  

Mel Goodman did this a little bit regarding John Brennan in his Democracy Now! appearance. From the transcript:

"MEL GOODMAN: OK. John Brennan was deputy executive secretary to George Tenet during the worst violations during the CIA period in the run-up to the Iraq war, so he sat there at Tenet's knee when they passed judgment on torture and abuse, on extraordinary renditions, on black sites, on secret prisons. He was part of all of that decision making."

Goodman is right to hold Brennan accountable for decisions made in and by the CIA. Brennan was one of the leaders - as were Steve Kappes and John McLaughlin, both of whom have been floated for the CIA Director position. I don't think we should punish the lower-level officers in the CIA who carried out specific operations - the Kirakous of the intelligence world.  But we do need to ensure that the honchos of the Bush administration's CIA are held accountable for the decisions they made and that they will not now lead Obama's CIA.

To construct this critique, we need to understand the chain of command in the CIA (esp. before the 9/11 commission report and the establishment of the DNI position).  According to espionageinfo.com :

The "director of Central Intelligence (DCI) oversees the four directorates (Administration, Intelligence, Science and Technology, and Operations), as well as numerous other offices."

"Under DCI is the deputy director of Central Intelligence (DDCI), who assists DCI as head of the CIA and of the Intelligence Community. DDCI also exercises the powers of the DCI when the holder of that position is absent or disabled. Within the CIA and the Intelligence Community as a whole, the offices of the DCI and the DDCI are intended to function virtually as a single unit."

The very top. The buck stops with the DCI and the DDCI. In other words, these two guys, both floated as Obama administration CIA Directors, DCI Hayden and DDCI Steve Kappes, are literally in this together.

Continuing from espionageinfo.com:

"By far the largest chain of command within the CIA, however is the one that runs through the offices of the Executive Director (EXDIR) and Deputy Executive Director (D/EXDIR).

The EXDIR oversees five centers that collectively enable the CIA to carry out its mission: the Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer, Global Support, Human Resources, and Security, each of which have numerous subordinate offices and bureaus. Also under the EXDIR aegis are several independent functions, including the Center for the Study of Intelligence, Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, Ombudsman/Alternative Dispute Resolution, and the Executive Secretary. Finally, the Executive Director's office is in the line of authority between DCI/DDCI and the four directorates."

The Wall Street Journal also has a chart that lays out these relationships nicely.  Note this chart is not the same as the current CIA chart which takes into account the various reforms made in 2004 and onward.

The EXDIR's office has authority over Operations. You know, that directorate where particular rendition and interrogation plans are hatched and carried out. And those in charge of Operations are the Deputy Director of Operations and the Associate Deputy Director of Operations. Pertinently, from June 2002 on Kappes was the Associate Deputy Director of Operations (for more on Kappes, please see here).

Considering that John Brennan served as the Deputy Executive Director, his line about not being "involved in the decisionmaking process for any of these controversial policies and actions" is a little weak. Until March 2003 (when he left) he had authority and oversight over Operations. Based on the job description alone he was involved in the implementation of these controversial policies. And I think that is fair game.

Why is it fair game? Because we hold our leaders accountable for their actions. If people are kidnapped, if people are held in black site cells without a clue as to why, if someone is tortured, we look to those leaders for an explanation as to why - and why these things continued.

Based on their positions of authority alone, I find Kappes and McLaughlin unfit to serve in the CIA - and Brennan too. I would find Jim Pavitt, former Deputy Director of Operations until June 2004, unfit as well.

Why is all this important? How about this - a point of Tim Shorrock's and Frank Naif's. Their point is in response to the bundles of international legal trouble the CIA's rendition and interrogation policies have gotten the agency into. To quote Shorrock and Naif:

"Ignoring allied complaints about heavy-handed renditions is not an option--senior career and appointed officials who greenlighted these operations should step forward for the inevitable reckoning on behalf of their country, and on behalf of the brave men and women whose intelligence careers and personal lives have been turned inside out by foreign indictments."

By virtue of their place in the chain of command, the Brennans and Kappes of the intelligence world need to offer an explanation for how these renditions happened, how they went so wrong, and why they were allowed to happen at all. They will be able to offer either useful testimony or they will themselves be targets of these international investigations. Because whether we think it's legal or not, other countries have discovered our operations in their territory, and have found them illegal.

In the domestic arena, the logic is similar. As Senator Levin said on the Rachel Maddow Show on Dec 17, 2008:

LEVIN: "What I think is our role to do is to bring out the facts which we have to state our conclusions, which we have, which is where the origin of these techniques began. And then to turn over to the Justice Department of the next administration - because clearly this Justice Department is not willing to take an objective look - to turn over to the next Justice Department all the facts that we can, and we have put together, and get our report, the rest of it declassified.

But then it seems to me it is appropriate that there be an outside commission appointed to take this out of politics, that it would have the clear subpoena authority to get to the parts of this which are not yet clear, and that is the role of the CIA.

We looked at the role of the Department of Defense, but the role of the CIA has not yet been looked at, and let an outside commission reach the kind of conclusions which then may or may not lead to indictments or to civil action. But it is not our role, it's not appropriate for us to make those kinds of - reach those kinds of conclusions." [bolding my own]

By virture of their positions alone, we know who had responsibility. Now is the time to find out what happened, from them. Keeping these officials in the CIA is not an option. We need them to take responsibility for the decisions they made, and the policies that we as a nation need to leave behind.

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    More on Kappes (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by lilburro on Wed Dec 24, 2008 at 10:57:50 PM EST
    Just read this article in Newsweek from Fri Dec 19.  Mark Hosenball writes:

    Meanwhile, Obama and his advisors are still fretting about a new CIA director. Intel transition team leader Brennan was the leading candidate to assume command of his former agency until liberal bloggers complained that he had publicly defended controversial Bush Administration policies on the imprisonment and interrogation of top Al-Qaeda operatives held and roughly questioned by the CIA. Brennan then removed himself from consideration (though he stayed in charge of the transition effort). But his withdrawal raised questions as to whether anyone from CIA associated with Bush Administration policies could pass muster with Obama's political base. Democratic sources have indicated nonetheless that a leading candidate still being considered by Obama for CIA chief is the agency's current deputy director, Stephen Kappes--a veteran but media-shy spy who almost certainly was involved in the agency's handling of terrorist suspects while serving as Number Two in the Operations Directorate between 2002 and 2004. Kappes was driven out of the agency when Republican Congressman Porter Goss and a coterie of hyper-partisan Capitol Hill aides took control at Langley in 2004; he was invited back after Goss and his team were forced out by John Negroponte, then serving as Intelligence Czar. Kappes' willingness to stand up to the Republicans may well have endeared him to Democrats who follow intelligence issues closely, and may be why Kappes' candidacy for CIA chief hasn't yet foundered on the same shoals that damaged Brennan's prospects. One person close to the transition said that Kappes' overall qualifications for CIA chief were so formidable that confronting left-wing critics over him was a fight that Obama not only ought to join but that the new president would have little difficulty winning.

    This is digby territory - she excels at describing the popular Democratic battle against the... left.  We shall be defeated!  Hooray!  Maybe Rahm will personally try to shove Kappes through.

    Prepare to be triangulated.  This is why the broader left critique of the CIA leadership is so important.  We need to demonstrate that those who were in charge need to be held accountable.

    If the voice close to the transition is accurate, it goes to show what kind of "voices" are advising the President-Elect.

    And another additional tidbit about Kappes, from the Chicago Tribune:

    D'Ambrosio told the prosecutors that when he agreed with Lady that the Abu Omar rendition made no sense, Lady spread his arms in despair, explaining that the operation had support at the highest CIA levels.

    Under guidelines established after Sept. 11, each proposed rendition must be approved at several levels within the CIA, but not by the White House itself. The veteran senior CIA official said one of those who signed off on the Abu Omar abduction was Stephen Kappes, at the time the agency's associate deputy director for operations and currently its No. 2 official.

    I guess if signing off on renditions - and completely disasterous ones to boot - that get you into internatinonal legal trouble is a "qualification" for office, then Kappes is extremely qualified.

    Cleaning House (none / 0) (#1)
    by Jacob Freeze on Wed Dec 24, 2008 at 10:31:02 PM EST
    I completely agree that a general purge of the upper echelons of the CIA is the first step to restoring some credibility to US intelligence, and the same consideration applies to the FBI. Both those agencies failed miserably in the run-up to 9/11, and their subsequent performance is even more shameful, with just a few pitiful, so-called conspirators like Jose Padilla to show for so many broken laws.

    Career operatives from less compromised agencies like the DIA could be brought in to clean up the mess at the CIA, and likewise administrators from the Secret Service or large metropolitan police departments could fill the top spots at the FBI until a little clarity  can be established.

    So far, nobody outside those agencies even knows the extent of mismanagement and outright law-breaking that has occurred under the current administrators.