Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Valuable Tidbit

Digby quotes an exchange on CNN that is pretty interesting

TODD: Analyst says, if Brennan didn't support harsh interrogation, his
overall ties to the post-9/11 era at the CIA, with the prewar intelligence flap
and all the controversial tactics in the war on terror, would have made him
tough to confirm.Human rights officials are throwing down their gauntlet.
ELISA MASSIMINO, CEO AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST: It really is incumbent on the incoming administration to choose people for those slots who don't have any baggage from the previous policies and can demonstrate a clear break from those policies.
TODD: Elisa Massimino says that doesn't mean everyone who served in the CIA then should be automatically disqualified. But analysts say it will be hard to find a really qualified spy chief who doesn't have some tie-in to that period.A former CIA officer says, if the Obama team can find someone like that:
: They have a unique opportunity to make changes now in the agency, the way the agency fits in to the intelligence community, get back to the real core mission of the service, to recruit agents and have -- collect
intelligence through classic espionage.(END VIDEOTAPE)
TODD: Tyler Drumheller says the ideal person for that would be, not a former analyst, but someone from the operations side of the CIA, the division that actually carries out missions in the field. So, the challenge right now for Obama's team, find someone like that who is not associated with the controversies of the past eight years. Suzanne, it's going to be a very tall order. That really narrows the
MALVEAUX: OK, Brian Todd, thank you so much.

As I wrote in the comments of digby's post, this is actually kind of a good sign - a veteran CIA operative like Drumheller backing up a liberal group like Human Rights First.

I wonder how widespread Drumheller's thinking is. After all, the CIA was not always a jailer & principal interrogator - and Drumheller has made this point before (from Jane Mayer's article The Black Sites):

The C.I.A. knew even less about running prisons than it did about hostile
interrogations. Tyler Drumheller, a former chief of European operations at the
C.I.A., and the author of a recent book, “On the Brink: How the White House
Compromised U.S. Intelligence,” said, “The agency had no experience in
detention. Never. But they insisted on arresting and detaining people in this
program. It was a mistake, in my opinion. You can’t mix intelligence and police
work. But the White House was really pushing. They wanted someone to do it. So
the C.I.A. said, ‘We’ll try.’ George Tenet came out of politics, not
intelligence. His whole modus operandi was to please the principal. We got stuck
with all sorts of things. This is really the legacy of a director who never said
no to anybody.”

Having someone as CIA Director who really believes the CIA needs to redefine its mission and get out of the business of breaking the Geneva Conventions would certainly be positive. Drumheller's criticism is a substantial one - let's remake this place. It synchs up nicely with the stated aims of Obama's administration (end torture, shut down Guantánamo) and the general tendency of his thinking. I would imagine that getting away from his crap would be a relief to a lot of people in the CIA.

Maybe Drumheller is auditioning for the positon. I hope not - like Brennan, he believes renditions have their purpose - they are a "vital tool." This is an interesting interview with Drumheller from Spiegel Online:

SPIEGEL: The renditions program saw the kidnapping of suspected Islamist
extremists to third countries. Were you involved in the program?
Drumheller: I would be lying if I said no. I have very complicated feelings about the whole issue. I do see the purpose of renditions, if they are carried out properly.
Guys sitting around talking about carrying out attacks as they smoke their pipes
in the comfort of a European capital tend to get put off the idea if they learn
that a like-minded individual has been plucked out of safety and sent elsewhere
to pay for his crimes.

SPIEGEL: We disagree. At the very least, you need to be certain that the
targets of those renditions aren't innocent people.
Drumheller: It was Vice President Dick Cheney who talked about the "dark side" we have to turn on. When he spoke those words, he was articulating a policy that amounted to "go out and get them." His remarks were evidence of the underlying approach of the administration, which was basically to turn the military and the agency loose and let them pay for the consequences of any unfortunate -- or illegal -- occurences.

SPIEGEL: So there was no clear guidance of what is allowed in the so called
"war on terrorism"?
Drumheller: Every responsible chief in the CIA knows that the more covert
the action, the greater the need for a clear policy and a defined target. I once
had to brief Condoleezza Rice on a rendition operation, and her chief concern
was not whether it was the right thing to do, but what the president would think
about it. I would have expected a big meeting, a debate about whether to proceed
with the plan, a couple of hours of consideration of the pros and cons. We
should have been talking about the value of the target, whether the threat he
presented warranted such a potentially controversial intervention. This is no
way to run a covert policy. If the White House wants to take extraordinary
measures to win, it can't just let things go through without any discussion
about their value and morality.

It is unfortunate that Drumheller believes this, especially in light of his comments elsewhere regarding the countries we rend suspects to - "You can say we asked them not to do it, and they do say that, but you have to be honest with yourself and say there's no way we can guarantee they are not going to do that."

Um, at least his eyes are wide open, I guess.

Ideally the CIA Director will not be trying to incorporate the failures of the Bush administration into the Obama administration. If we insist upon playing by our own rules, it becomes much harder to play with others. Drumheller references this issue in his Spiegel interview - "The guys who attacked the World Trade Center didn't fly from Kabul to New York. They came from Hamburg. So the value in befriending the local intelligence services in Europe instead of alienating them is clear: We need to ensure that they are telling us everything they know."

Again, this is why we need fresh leadership that American citizens and our many allies can trust. If we continue to jeopardize our allies by carrying out illegal renditions on their soil, we are not going to have that trust. As I wrote in yesterday's article, important intelligence leaders in Italy were arrested for kidnapping Abu Omar. Do you think if our guys are never punished, and our "host country" is, that we will continue receiving their help?

The answer - from Michael Hayden of all people - is NO.

From John Prados at

General Michael V. Hayden, the current CIA director, was asked a few months ago
about the agency’s foreign intelligence partnerships, given the mounting
investigations of CIA activities. Without touching the controversial U.S.
operations at all, his response was, “If an ally believes—fears—that we can’t
keep such activities private, then that ally is going to be much more reluctant
to deal with us.”

The EU has condemned rendition. It is evidently important to our interests that we condemn it as well.

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