Inside The CIA: Not Able To Say No To Torture?

Writing about Leon Panetta's selection as CIA Director, Ann Althouse quotes a misinformed (Brennan's statements in support of rendition and torture after leaving the CIA are what did him in, not his tenure at the CIA) NYTimes piece and draws and interesting conclusion - inside the CIA, they can not say no to torture:

[Quoting the NYTimes piece] "[Obama's] first choice for the job, John O. Brennan, had to withdraw his name amid criticism over his alleged role in the formation of the agency’s detention and interrogation program after the Sept. 11 attacks."

By contrast, Panetta wrote a piece in The Washington Monthly that said: "We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that." That's very nice, but . . . [i]f you aren't on the inside, dealing with the details and responsible for outcomes, it takes nothing to say that, and in fact, it's the most obvious opinion that anyone would take. . .

(Emphasis supplied.) Consider what Ms. Althouse is saying - that if you are "on the inside," saying no to torture is impossible. It seems to me that if that is true, then clearly the CIA could not have leadership come from inside its shop. More . . .

Of course, Panetta's saying no to torture was not his most important credential for becoming CIA Director, it was a bare minimum. The issue of experience in the CIA is what folks are hanging their hat on. It is funny to see the Right Wing now scrambling to find unmatchable virtues inside the CIA. They spent many years telling us just how incompetent and awful the CIA has been. My own view is that it is somewhere in the middle - the CIA is neither omniscient nor The Three Stooges. They are just another group of Beltway types who are not all they think they are.

Will Panetta do a good job? Who knows? He has done a good job in the government in the past. Maybe he won't this time. We'll see. But I do know one thing, it will be good to know that this won't be happening on Panetta's watch:

Mr. Iqbal was arrested early in 2002 in Jakarta, Indonesia, after boasting to members of an Islamic group that he knew how to make a shoe bomb, according to two senior American officials who were in Jakarta at the time.

Mr. Iqbal now denies ever having made the statement, but two days after his arrest, he said, the Central Intelligence Agency transferred him to Egypt. He was later shifted to the American prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and ultimately to Guantánamo Bay.

Much of Mr. Iqbal’s account could not be independently corroborated. Two senior American officials confirmed that Mr. Iqbal had been “rendered” from Indonesia, but could not comment on, or confirm details of, how he was treated in custody. The Pentagon and C.I.A. deny using torture, and American diplomatic, military and intelligence officials agreed to talk about the case only on the condition of anonymity because the files are classified.

After Mr. Iqbal was picked up in Jakarta and interrogated for two days, American officials generally concluded that he was a braggart, a “wannabe,” and should be released, one of the senior American officials in Jakarta said. “He was a talker,” the senior American official said. “He wanted to believe he was more important than he was.”

There was no evidence that he had ever met Osama bin Laden, or had been to Afghanistan, the two senior American officials said. But in the atmosphere of fear and confusion in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Iqbal was secretly moved to Egypt for further interrogation, said one of the senior American officials.

Mr. Iqbal said he had been beaten, tightly shackled, covered with a hood and given drugs, subjected to electric shocks and, because he denied knowing Mr. bin Laden, deprived of sleep for six months. “They make me blind and stand up for whole days,” he said in halting English, meaning that he had been covered with a hood or blindfolded.

John Brennan could not say no to that and not only does not say no to it now, says we must keep doing this. Apparently, this is the view from "the inside." If so, "the inside" needs to be out. And that is what the choice of Panetta means. The United States will not torture people during the Obama Administration. If that bothers Ann Althouse, Diane Feinstein, Jay Rockefeller and John Brennan, well, they were not elected President. Barack Obama was. And he promised the American People that the United States would not torture. He is keeping his word.

Speaking for me only

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    I'm not that confident. (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by Fabian on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 07:55:41 AM EST
    But I assume that if the CIA does torture people, it will be on a small scale and tightly managed to avoid unpleasant publicity.

    Torture and abuse goes hand in hand with authority and secrecy.  We can't keep police departments from abusing and torturing people.  We can't keep our military from doing it.  I doubt we can keep the CIA from doing it, but perhaps we can keep it from being an official practice.

    If Obama withdraws their torture memo (none / 0) (#4)
    by lilburro on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 08:16:29 AM EST
    and Panetta says torture is not going to happen, it is not going to happen.  

    And if and when it does, those that torture won't have a golden shield to protect them.


    Panetta has an interesting history (none / 0) (#6)
    by Molly Bloom on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 08:29:18 AM EST
    See Perlstein by way of Digby on Panetta.

    Two weeks later Leon Panetta picked up the Washington Daily News and read an article about himself: "Nixon Seeks To Fire HEW's Rights Chief for Liberal Views." He dutifully submitted his resignation that Tuesday. Then he delivered a speech to the National Education Association: "The cause of justice is being destroyed not by direct challenge but by indirection, by confusion, by disunity, and by a lack of leadership and commitment to a truly equal society." Six of Panetta's subordinates resigned in solidarity.

    I think Leon Panetta will do well.


    Well, whether or not they would have (none / 0) (#10)
    by dk on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 08:48:26 AM EST
    a golden shield to protect them would depend partly on the calculus of how politically damaging it would be to Obama.  Pols are pols.

    Bravo (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by lilburro on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 07:58:31 AM EST
    I think we are all pretty familiar with Bush's intelligence policies.  Exactly how familiar do you have to be?  You don't change extraordinary rendition - you eliminate it.

    Now it's up to Panetta to replace the people in Operations who have very dirty hands (Kappes).  He gets to appoint his Deputy Director.

    The choice of Panetta signals to me that Obama is serious about reforming intelligence contracting.  Hopefully the lower-level guys and gals in the CIA will not have to take out professional liability insurance all the time.  

    I wrote up Panetta on my blog here.  

    Paneta's "Lipstick on the Pig" (none / 0) (#13)
    by tokin librul on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 09:21:24 AM EST
    No "intel" experience? Just what the Doctors ordered. Men typically do not see what their jobs depend on their ignoring...

    He was named precisely so nobody already in place at CIA would have to step forward and take responsibility, or have to resign for prior 'errors of judgment.'


    Why does Bayh ... (none / 0) (#22)
    by ryanwc on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 01:23:24 PM EST
    ... in the Bloomberg article come out for Panetta and immediately say that he wants Kappes to stay on:
    "I hope we can convince both Mr. Panetta and Mr. Kappes to work together at CIA for the sake of our country."

    While I do think Obama could have handled (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Anne on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 08:25:17 AM EST
    the nomination better - I have to wonder why he seems to have such a good time wooing Republicans on a host of issues, but can't apparently spend the time to sell fellow Democrats on a potential nominee - it grates on me terribly that people like Feinstein and Rockefeller, who failed, over and over again, to stand up to the Republican machine on many fronts, who have had the power in the last two years to effect some changes and demand accountability, now want to draw themselves up in indignation and declare that only an intelligence professional has what it takes to run the CIA.

    Do I think the CIA has a culture that is unique among government agencies?  Yes, I think it probably does.  And I think the potential is there for an outsider to be pretty effectively neutralized and bamboozled by those on the inside who want to protect that culture from any significant change.  

    Knowing how resistant and fearful people are of change, and understanding the inherent tension that exists between the Congress and the agencies, I am hard-pressed to understand what Obama could possibly have been thinking in not running Panetta by those who have the power to quash the nomination.  Unless this is some kind of head-fake that will result in Panetta withdrawing from consideration, and Obama nominating someone who, in pleasing the Feinsteins and Rockefellers and their ilk, will likely be the equivalent of that FISA vote: a betrayal on so many levels.

    Something tells me the drama has finally found Obama, and will become a comfortable and constant presence.  

    And I am getting the queasy feeling that we are being played.  Again.

    Oh, joy.

    Actually I suspect (none / 0) (#17)
    by cenobite on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 11:36:43 AM EST
    That Brennan was Feinstein and Rockefeller's pick, and after that fiasco the administration cut them out of the process, and deservedly so.

    Even if they had been approached first, (none / 0) (#25)
    by Frank Burns on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 01:53:12 PM EST
    They would not have approved of the choice of Panetta. They most likely would have had their surrogates begin undermining it well before it could be announced, hoping to derail it. Doing it this way puts them on defense. They now have to publicly go against the very formidable political capital Obama has right now.

    This is my take, as well. (none / 0) (#30)
    by KeysDan on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 05:07:34 PM EST
    It is my guess that the Obama team knew that Feinstein favored a "professional"  (i.e., someone in the tank with her opinions  and interests) over Panetta, so it was better to make the nomination without consultation and send Biden out with an oops, so sorry, Diane.  Now, if Feinstein opposes Panetta, it will appear that she is just petty and piqued at a slight. If she still thinks that would be a good position for her, she can check with Newt Gingrich (re: I got a bad seat on AirForce One, so I will stop the government).

    The real problem is that we (none / 0) (#1)
    by inclusiveheart on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 07:50:10 AM EST
    are dealing with people like DiFi who are not clever enough to imagine and design better and more effective means than these blunt force policies through which we could achieve our security goals.  

    DiFi along with many others in Congress have been brainwashed over the past many years with scary "24" stories and are clearly now "pro torture".  

    Now they are going to either have to go along or voice their desire to continue the practice of institutionalized torture.  That puts them in an interesting political position to say the least.

    If the only solutions that a person can think of consistently involve violence, then I don't have a lot of respect for that person's intellect.  Personally, I see great irony in the fact that DiFi is now chairing the Senate "Intelligence" Committee.

    get people with experience to do interrogation (none / 0) (#8)
    by popsnorkle on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 08:39:03 AM EST
    While I think it was good to choose someone who says no to torture, the Panetta quote "If torture can stop the next terrorist attack..." concerns me too.  Does he really think it can stop attacks or does he realize that there are better interrogation techniques? People outside the CIA that have been using them for a long time.  The mistake was putting the CIA in charge of an area they had no experience with.

    Bears repeating (none / 0) (#15)
    by Salo on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 10:08:52 AM EST
    If an agent commits the crime of torture, and it turns out that there is a ticking nuke the jury will dismiss the charges and the torturor will be hero with fat book deal.

    That may be true (none / 0) (#16)
    by popsnorkle on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 10:20:00 AM EST
    but the point is its unlikely.  Aside from the moral issues, torture is more likely to get information that sends you off on a goose chase while the nuke ticks.

    I'm hoping that the CIA chief realizes there are better ways.


    if it's so obvioius... (none / 0) (#18)
    by diogenes on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 12:01:53 PM EST
    If it's so obvious that torture or the potential threat of torture can never be of any use to any intelligence agency, then don't you think that career CIA and Mossad people would say so?  After all, they must look pretty bad being sent on wild goose chases all the time.  The wiser, nontorturing sorts would probably have been promoted past them by now.  

    Career CIA people (none / 0) (#32)
    by sallywally on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 06:05:00 PM EST
    or G W. Bush - Blackwater, etc, "CIA" people?

    lots of them have said so (none / 0) (#33)
    by ryanwc on Wed Jan 07, 2009 at 08:31:29 AM EST
    One very prominent person was FBI director Mueller two weeks ago in a Vanity Fair on-line only interview.

    Q:  Have you gotten any actionable intelligence?

    A:  (Mueller pauses to look at counsel) Um, I don't believe that's the case.

    But many other CIA people have been quoted saying it's not useful, that it generates thousands of false leads, that the whole problem is too many false leads.

    I live in Chicago, where we have the distinction of having had 14 people released from Death Row.  While some of them merely had convictions overturned (a big deal, but ...) others were actually proven innocent when DNA evidence linked someone else to the crime.  Of those, several were people convicted on the basis of evidence that was elicited by torture.  John Conroy, formerly of the Chicago Reader, has a great book on torture, chronicling Jon Burge, the Chicago Police head of investigations who was responsible, and several others.

    While Burge's defenders say "but we put a couple guys in jail", the department's continuing problems with the black community relate in great part to this attitude -- to the idea that hey, maybe we put a few extra black people in jail who didn't deserve it, but it's worth it.

    That's the same thing that happened in Iraq.  While Mueller may not be privy to every single case, and we may have gotten some actionable intelligence, we pretended that torture was giving us a lot of good info, when actually it was mostly false, put a lot of people in prison for nothing, and fed the insurgency.


    but why did she equivocate? (none / 0) (#20)
    by ryanwc on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 01:20:02 PM EST
    I think it's because whatever she believes about torture, she's more scared of the politics.  When someone's lying to you, that's a sign of your strength.  Feinstein knows she can't win if she's seen as a torturer, which means if we play this right, she can't afford to vote against Panetta.  

    I think we should paint a vote against Panetta as a vote for torture pure and simple.  Let Feinstein stand on whatever side she wants, but this is a vote she can't duck.


    Feinstein and co. (none / 0) (#7)
    by lilburro on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 08:35:00 AM EST
    are just miffed as far as I can tell.  They wanted to know before it was leaked.  See Ambinder.

    Ambinder certainly (none / 0) (#11)
    by dk on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 08:53:31 AM EST
    seems to have a unique role as the journalistic mouthpiece of what the Obama administration wants the public to think it is doing.

    I am tempted to think that, in this case, what Obama's handlers are asking Ambinder to print is more truthful than not...it would fit DiFi's profile that she would me motivated on such things by petulance more than anything else...but with all of Ambinder's "reporting" it's just so hard to tell the truth from the propaganda.


    If the Obama folks (none / 0) (#23)
    by ryanwc on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 01:28:40 PM EST
    really believe she's miffed because she was snubbed, I can't think of a worse way to deal with it than by telling Ambinder to let the public know she's thin-skinned.  

    So my guess is that this either came from somewhere in the Senate who doesn't like Feinstein and wants to make her look petty, Ambinder dreamed it up, or it was an unauthorized chat with Ambinder from somebody at the Obama camp who isn't really keyed into strategy.  Another rare Samantha Power moment in a normally tight organization.


    The Experience Argument is Phony (none / 0) (#9)
    by msobel on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 08:41:32 AM EST
    GHW Bush became CIA director with no intelligence experience and nobody said a work in the confirmation about it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G_H_W_Bush#Director_of_Central_Intelligence

    Panetta has as much experience as Burnie had. (Nickname based on anything he says being gospel, i.e. burning bush)

    I'm okay with Panetta but there has always (none / 0) (#12)
    by tigercourse on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 08:59:11 AM EST
    been some suggestion that GHW Bush had CIA experience prior to becoming CIA Director..

    wait a minute! (none / 0) (#14)
    by cpinva on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 09:36:24 AM EST
    wasn't bush pere' a CIA agent, between the time he graduated from high school, and the time he enlisted in the navy? oh, wait, the CIA didn't exist yet!

    it's been my experience that old sayings tend to become old sayings because, at their core, there's at least a grain of truth. as a child, i was always told "you attract more flies with honey", when considering the best way to approach someone for a favor.

    granted, it isn't always successful (some people are just born-again aholes!), but it is often enough to make it worthwhile at least trying it.

    you would think that the CIA, with all its assets and smart people, would have figured this out by now. surely, some of their mothers graced them with this bit of folk wisdom in their youth as well?


    History? CIA forerunners existed, way back. (none / 0) (#21)
    by wurman on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 01:22:42 PM EST
    Office of Strategic Services (1942)
    Office of Naval Intelligence (1882)
    Division of Military Intelligence [Army] (1885)

    Predecessors of the Defense Intelligence Agency:

    ( . . . the Joint Army-Navy Board established in 1905 sought interservice cooperation in intelligence matters as U.S. involvement in World War I became imminent). The Committee consisted of the directors and representatives of the intelligence organs of the Army, the Navy, the State Department, the Board of Economic Warfare, and the Coordinator of Information (COI).

    There were a few different bureaus and/or agencies that folks could work for, covertly & anonymously, over the decades prior to the CIA charter of July 26, 1947.

    In absolutely hilarious reality, Mr. Panetta was a US Army officer in a military intelligence unit circa 1965.  It may be appropriate for people of the paranoid conspiracy theory persuasions to use their 4-square post hoc techniques to establish that Lt. Panetta has maintained his connections with spook-central since that time.  Perhaps his experience & expertise is actually beyond our imagining.  Total inexperience . . . pshaw!


    another good argument on "experience": (none / 0) (#24)
    by ryanwc on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 01:36:25 PM EST
    Lee Hamilton was long-time chair of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Vice Chair of the 9/11 commission and has continued to serve in an advisory role over intel under Pres. Bush.

    If he thinks Panetta is experienced, then it's a tough swim upriver for Rockefeller and Feinstein to make the case he's not.  Hamilton is a bigger gun than either of them.  Bipartisan cred, grey suit in the shadows, entry to every talk show.  Let Di argue it out with Hamilton.

    And not that I hold George Tenet in great esteem, but in the Bloomberg article, he laughed at Panetta's critics too.  Good, luck Diane.  Have fun Jay.  But once you're done whining, you're voting on our side or we're coming after you.

    Brennan supporter Spencer Ackerman (none / 0) (#26)
    by Alien Abductee on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 02:39:59 PM EST
    tries to argue that CIA insiders like Kappes, the "consummate intelligence professional" DiFi and Rockefeller wanted for CIA director, should not be considered tainted by torture since it would take a full congressional investigation to uncover who in the CIA actually did what and why re detention and torture if we're ever going to figure it all out.

    But since that's something that's not likely to happen soon (or ever), it just highlights the need to bring in someone clearly untainted, and in fact more than untainted - clearly and publicly opposed to those previous policies on torture and rendition in order to establish a clear break with them and set a new path for the culture in the CIA. Even DiFi seems on board with that sentiment, per her statement on the DNI at least:

    "Of critical importance to me is that the next DNI deliver on President-elect Barack Obama's pledges to end the CIA coercive interrogation program, ensure the rule of law is respected, and improve our intelligence collection and analysis capabilities in order to better assess all threats."

    oh for Goodness' sakes. (5.00 / 1) (#28)
    by lilburro on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 03:54:22 PM EST
    Ackerman took up this same line when it came to defending Brennan.  I think it's pretty simple.

    When something bad happens in a company, we hold the leaders of the company accountable.  Ideally we do so anyway.  (I realize our carmakers operate on a different plane, apparently).  

    Kappes was one of the highest-ranked, if not THE highest-ranked, person to sign off on that rendition.  The buck has got to stop somewhere.  

    In my diary The Broader CIA Critique, I laid out the lines of authority.  The chart in this WSJ article is golden.  

    Sorry but if you're able to advance professionally in a torture system, if your job is to have oversight on those that torture (as Brennan undoubtedly did), then you are complicit.  You need to go.  There is a little voice, called the conscience.  Apparently these CIA people stopped listening to it a lonnnng time ago.


    Also, (none / 0) (#27)
    by Alien Abductee on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 02:43:36 PM EST
    this was interesting - an  unnamed "career intel professional's" take on Panetta and the importance of an "intell guy or non-intell guy" heading the CIA.

    That wasn't really the point (none / 0) (#29)
    by dk on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 03:58:51 PM EST
    I was making.  I was saying that if Obama sees it in his political interest to cover up torture abuses within the CIA (even if it is not official policy anymore), he probably will.  Pols are pols.

    I guess you didn't see how directly (none / 0) (#31)
    by ryanwc on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 05:35:56 PM EST
    I was speaking to your point.

    We help create public opinion.  As BTD pointed out apropos of Israel policy, small numbers of people hold vast influence on some issues.

    I'd like to make Panetta a litmus test and defy Feinstein or Rockefeller to vote against him.  If they vote our way, that goes along way towards showing our power, and Obama is unlikely to feel much pressure to back off his stance.  If they vote the other way, I think that they both, and particularly Feinstein, have some vulnerability, and that too can show our strength and help determine the political calculus for Obama.