Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The New York Times and the CIA

The New York Times published a pretty extraordinary article about the CIA and Obama's transition team today. You can read that article here.

My read is that those who think Obama can call the shots from the seat of a 60 Minutes interview are a little too trusting. Read on:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who will take over as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in January, led the fight this year to force the C.I.A. to follow military interrogation rules. Her bill was passed by Congress but vetoed by President Bush.

But in an interview on Tuesday, Mrs. Feinstein indicated that extreme cases might call for flexibility. “I think that you have to use the noncoercive standard to the greatest extent possible,” she said, raising the possibility that an imminent terrorist threat might require special measures.

Afterward, however, Mrs. Feinstein issued a statement saying: “The law must reflect a single clear standard across the government, and right now, the best choice appears to be the Army Field Manual. I recognize that there are other views, and I am willing to work with the new administration to consider them.”

Why is Senator Feinstein hedging on torture? Is she getting a signal from Obama for some unfathomable reason that maybe he doesn't want to do this? Is she anticipating a Republican sobfest? There are many reasons not to torture; among them, strategically, it does us no good to continue sending a message to the world in any way that we do not need to follow international rules or respect human dignity. This is the torture as bad foreign policy argument. That Feinstein is suggesting that we reserve the right to torture as we see either a reflection of an NYT staff with a mountain-sized agenda, or a completely idiotic move to continue embracing our now horrible international image while pretending to make minor changes. You really can't go incremental on torture and expect anything to change.

Nor do I know who Feinstein is gesturing at when she speaks of "other views." But I don't think it's political good news that Feinstein is out creating space for dissent when it comes to...torture.

I'm telling you, this kind of stuff comes back to bite you in the ass.

I think it is also worthwhile to examine the other sources in this NYT article. For example, A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard:

A. B. Krongard, the C.I.A.’s third-ranking official under Mr. Tenet when the detention and interrogation program was created, called Mr. Brennan a “casualty of war” and said he believed C.I.A. tactics were being second-guessed for
political purposes. The demise of Mr. Brennan’s candidacy, Mr. Krongard said, “is a huge loss to the country.”

But Mr. Krongard said he believed that ultimately, under a new director and a new set of policies, the agency would find common ground with Mr. Obama.

This is pretty remarkable. We are talking about Buzzy Blackwater Krongard here. In the interests of disclosure, it might've been wise of the NYT to tell us that Brennan from 2001-2003 was Krongard's deputy. Think that would've added anything to Krongard's emotional context? Plus, almost exactly a year ago Krongard drew attention for being a member of Blackwater's advisory board.

The upper level CIA people are happy to grow wealthy as private contractors. Of course they're not going to advocate change. The Columbia Journalism Review also makes mincemeat here of the NYT's presentation of the article and reliance on a few voices close to John Brennan.

The larger point is that the NYT and Mark Mazzetti of their intelligence beat are seemingly ill-dispositioned to explore the motivations of some of the players in their articles. If I ask Cheney, Addington, or Yoo about the Bush administration, they are probably going to be supportive.

It is up to others to do the reporting.

Edit: If you are interested in my writings thus far on the CIA and Brennan's role in the Obama camp, please check out this link. I post as lilburro on TL.

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