Sunday, December 14, 2008

A 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.

So in Dec 13's NYT, you 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 them, 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 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 exactly 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 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.

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!" "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.

This was all supposed to be settled weeks ago, when Brenann 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.

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