Thursday, January 8, 2009

Culture Shock?

Jeff Stein writes:

Am I the only person who sees some irony in the demands of some key
Democrats that Steve Kappes be kept at the CIA as the price of their support for
Leon Panetta to run the spy agency?

To be sure, Kappes, now the CIA's No. 2, is "highly regarded," as
everyone keeps saying, inside and outside the CIA. He has been a station chief
in Moscow and Kuwait and in recent years pulled off a Hollywood-like secret
operation to get Libya's Muammar Qadaffi to ditch his nuclear weapons program.
His subordinates virtually gush over him.


But if the choice of Panetta is meant to signal a complete break with the
Bush administration's CIA, why would Democrats like Sen. Diane Feinstein,
D-Calif., the incoming chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, intimate
that her price for supporting Obama's pick of Panetta' was to keep Kappes as his

One reason is obvious: Outside of listening in on intelligence
briefings as Bill Clinton's chief of staff, and reviewing CIA spreadsheets as
OMB director, Panetta can't seriously be said to have "intelligence experience,"
no matter how furious the Obama team's spinning.


Many close observers of the agency have cautioned that Panetta should avoid
bringing along an outside retinue to staff his executive offices at Langley,
like Goss did when he imported his staff from the House Intelligence Committee,
where he was chairman.

For that reason alone, Feinstein and others say Panetta needs
"experienced intelligence professionals" to show him the ropes.


When Goss came in, "Talented officers refused to take on leadership roles
simply because they were annoyed that their choice for DCI, John McLaughlin, was
not chosen by the President," he said.

Which all means Panetta is going to get a quick education in the CIA's
culture even before he turns to the Global War on Terror.

Panetta, said another official from the Goss era, "is doomed with this
arrangement, one way or the other. He should be insisting, if "change" is
really what the Obama administration wants at CIA, that he gets to clean house.
Otherwise, he will be managing and working against cross purposes with
those who carried out the very policies they believe to be inhumane and

Now, Goss was notoriously terrible. And the perspective of the last quoted source sounds extremely sympathetic to Goss. The source may just be trying to push an anti-Kappes line. But it's worth considering how the people from the torture, pre-torture, and post-torture eras (presuming we get a post-torture era) will get along.

There must be some opportunities for Obama to win over the CIA to his side. After all, how many CIA operatives are really wishing they could have 8 more years of taking out professional liability insurance? 8 more years of being undercut and manipulated by the Executive Branch? Do operatives really want to engage in renditions that could leave them at the mercies of international justice systems? Does the CIA want to persist in its newfounded jailer role? Obama should really be able to offer a lot to an agency that has been stretched thin and on top of all this, devalued - almost every report I've read suggests the CIA is not happy to be under the ODNI.

So why are the press reports tending to be so negative? That might be a question that has more to do with the media than anything else. Regardless, there are criticisms that are good and criticisms that need to be totally set aside - boxed away as irrelevant, aggressive neo-con holdover speak. For instance, from The Washington Post:

"But one former senior intelligence official noted that many of the people
Panetta will be expected to lead would have participated in implementing the
interrogation policy. Obama and Panetta 'should think twice about pledges they
make now' about the handling of terrorism detainees, another former senior
official said, 'because they may come back to haunt them in the future if some
dire circumstances occur.'"

This isn't a torture apologist. This is a torture advocate. Obama doesn't need to concede anything to these people. Nor should he.

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