Monday, January 12, 2009

Listening to Cofer Black

Cofer Black, Men's Journal Interview Oct 2008:

After 9/11 the CIA was given unprecedented freedom to fight a clandestine war in Afghanistan. Was it enough?
"The contrast between my job at CTC before 9/11 and after was dramatic. Before, it was encumberment and bureaucracy; after, with the support of the president, we had the resources we needed to do the job, and we got the approvals we needed. We had plans, we had experience, we were highly motivated, and, frankly, we had been chained to the ground like a junkyard dog. Now the chain was cut."

Why wasn’t the CIA more accommodating with the Northern Alliance in their fight against the Taliban? Was it out of deference to Pakistan’s hegemony?
"The CIA executes. It can propose options, but other people make decisions. This has to do with the national command authority and the National Security Council. We were great proponents of advancing that relationship with the Northern Alliance..

So you think the renditions and interrogations of Al Qaeda suspects have been successful?
"I like to think we are brainy enough to know that if something isn’t working we stop it and try something else. We didn’t have the luxury of being inefficient. It is standard procedure in a combat zone to interrogate prisoners of war. I think at last count the CIA is accused of waterboarding three guys. The waterboarding was done legally, with the Department of Justice signing off on it. I’m an operations guy, and I’m not a big fan of interrogations, but you know, life’s tough and there are no easy answers. The American people have to decide if they want interrogations done or not. If not, the repercussions will have to be on someone else’s conscience."

Let’s talk in more general terms about how you do your work. What does the CIA do right?
"Intelligence involves the collection of information and analysis. Both functions are vital. Our newspapers are full of 'CIA did this…' and 'CIA did that.…' In reality the CIA executes instructions to collect, and on comparatively rare occasions takes 'covert action' at the direction of the National Security Council and the president. “Covert action” activities most often seem a stopgap, last-resort effort to right a difficult or even failed U.S. government policy. The odds against the operator in such situations are often stark, but in a surprisingly large number of occasions, CIA achieves the goals set for them — although success does not make much of a stir, whereas failure gets the full attention of the media as well as congressional and Senate oversight committees. Over a 28-year career at CIA, I was never invited to testify before a congressional committee regarding a 'success.'" [emphasis supplied]

Cofer Black, Frontline "Bush's War" March 7 2006:

Were you able to speak truth to power in the Oval Office? Were they listening to you?
"I was a public servant; you join the Central Intelligence Agency to serve in a special capacity." When asked, I have told every superior exactly what I think. I execute the legal orders given to me. If I don't agree with them, I go back, and I say, "Sir, I believe I have the sufficient authority, and it's legally acceptable under authorities." After that, you have to soldier on or quit; you have a choice. It's pretty straightforward.
And Tenet, could he do it?
"... I think you should ask Director Tenet. Everyone has their own view. Mine is very simplistic and very old school. My own personal view is that we're here to serve the American people, to protect. ..." [emphasis supplied]

Now Cofer Black is someone whose aggressiveness post-9/11 requires a serious critical look by Congress. His answers over these two interviews suggest totally different things about management culpability and leadership roles. The CIA proposes options, he claims - it is up to others to make decisions.

Let's take a look again at the Chicago Tribune article that makes up the core of my criticism of Stephen Kappes:

Under guidelines established after Sept. 11, each proposed rendition must be
approved at several levels within the CIA, but not by the White House itself.
The veteran senior CIA official said one of those who signed off on the Abu Omar
abduction was Stephen Kappes, at the time the agency's associate deputy director
for operations and currently its No. 2 official.

So the Bush administration set up a policy in which only CIA signatures were on the war crime paperwork? Well, what kind of idiot at the CIA agreed to that? This contradicts Cofer Black's sense of what the CIA does and how it interacts with the Executive Branch (btw, I do know that Tenet and others kept Rice and others on their end aware of the various renditions that went on).

Not investigating the CIA would be a disaster. If Congress punts on this, I would expect the Intelligence Committees to call the whole thing off and dissolve themselves. The concept of oversight was created for moments like this.

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