Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Posts Tagged ‘CIA

The CIA: trustworthy or not?

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And if not, why do we fund the agency. Take a look at this:

And then note this by Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:

Via Andrew Sullivan, Marc Ambinder gives the Obama administration’s rationale for opposing a truth commission on torture:

In the [Obama administration’s] view, a commission would expose secrets without any means of determining whether they’re properly protected or not, and they’ve been warned that the nation’s spy services would simply cease to function effectively if they’re forced to surrender exacting details about their immediate past conduct. The administration further worries that the Commission would be carried out in the context of vengeance and would not focus the rage on lessons learned for the future. This, again, is the point of view senior administration officials; it may or may not be my own.

My emphasis. On the effectiveness point, the history of the CIA is a history of telling Congress that looking at its operations too deeply will cause the entire apparatus to shatter. If it’s true, then the nation isn’t getting what it should be getting for its $50 billion annual intelligence budget anyway. But it’s a dubious point. The CIA did not cease to function “effectively” after the Church/Pike commissions in the 70s; after the 9/11 Commission and the Silberman/Robb Commission and the Intelligence Reform Act of the 2000s. It entered periods of adjustment after its excesses were exposed. Many if not most of those excesses resulted from the magical thinking of policymakers, a point often lost in the rush to blame CIA for assorted failings.

But speaking of those commissions. The recent history of the United States proves that it’s possible to have a thoroughgoing inquiry about the most politically explosive and potentially toxic events in American history and emerge with a consensus. The 9/11 Commission was not without its flaws, but it demonstrated that a group of wise men can avoid rancor, maintain the good faith of both political parties, display independence, yield an authoritative history of an American trauma and do this all in an election year.

That commission didn’t recommend prosecutions. Indeed, it labored to avoid placing guilt, to the point of copping out. That may or may not be appropriate in this case — let an investigation determine that conclusion — and I’m don’t mean to suggest that a truth commission on torture needs to follow the 9/11 Commission to the “T.” But its example refutes the idea that a commission into torture is necessarily an instrument of persecution and vindictiveness. That’s probably why its executive director favors repeating the experience.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2009 at 10:54 am

Posted in Congress, Government, Law, Obama administration

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The CIA plot thickens

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James Fallows:

The CIA vs. Sen. Bob Graham: how to keep score at home

It’s easy! If the CIA says one thing and former Sen. Graham says another, then the CIA is lying. Or, "in error," if you prefer.

(Background here and here, in which Graham says that some of the briefings in which he was allegedly filled in about waterboarding and related techniques never occurred. This matters, because the CIA’s claims are part of the same argument that Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats in Congress had known about and acquiesced to waterboarding all the way along.)

Part of the payoff of reaching age 72 and having spent 38 years in public office, as Graham has, is that people have had a chance to judge your reputation. Graham has a general reputation for honesty. In my eyes he has a specific reputation for very good judgment: he was one of a handful of Senators actually to read the full classified intelligence report about the "threats" posed by Saddam Hussein. On the basis of reading it, despite a career as a conservative/centrist Democrat, he voted against the war and fervently urged his colleagues to do the same. "Blood is going to be on your hands," he warned those who voted yes.

More relevant in this case, Graham also has a specific reputation for keeping detailed daily records of people he met and things they said. He’s sometimes been mocked for this compulsive practice, but he’s never been doubted about the completeness or accuracy of what he compiles. (In the fine print of those records would be an indication that I had interviewed him about Iraq war policy while he was in the Senate and recently spent time with him when he was on this side of the world.)

So if he says he never got the briefing, he didn’t. And if the CIA or anyone acting on its behalf challenges him, they are stupid and incompetent as well as being untrustworthy. This doesn’t prove that the accounts of briefing Pelosi are also inaccurate. But it shifts the burden of proof.

Spencer Ackerman:

As first noticed by Marcy Wheeler this morning, former Senate intelligence committee chairman Bob Graham (D-Fla.) went on the Brian Lehrer radio show and said the CIA has conceded to him that it made some errors in its account of which members of Congress were briefed and when about “enhanced interrogation techniques.” (You can hear what Graham said around the 4:30-4:55 minute mark.) That’s the briefings timeline that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said was “misleading” today. Graham:

When I asked the CIA when was I briefed, they gave me four dates, two in April and two in September of ‘02. On three of the four occasions, when I consulted my schedule and my notes, it was clear that no briefing had taken place, and the CIA eventually concurred in that. So their record keeping is a little bit suspect.

If Graham is telling the truth, then the CIA is aware of at least some errors in its timeline of congressional briefings, which gives an additional layer of meaning to CIA Director Leon Panetta’s statement that “in the end, you and the Committee will have to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened.” And if Graham is right about identifying three errors, it raises the question about whether there are other errors, and if CIA will update its account of the congressional briefings.

The question might be raised, but it’s not answered. I asked CIA spokesman George Little whether Graham is telling the truth and he declined comment.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2009 at 5:48 pm

Is the CIA still functional?

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Jeff Stein has a very good column that makes me wonder if the best course might not be to disperse the CIA and start up a new agency. His column begins:

Nancy Pelosi and Ted Sorensen should have lunch next week and trade stories about the CIA.

Sorensen, of course, is the best known presidential speechwriter of the 20th century, if only on the strength of “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

But I was reminded by reading Sorensen’s engaging new autobiography this week that the speechwriter also became one of President John F. Kennedy’s closest national security advisers in the wake of the CIA’s disastrous invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961.

“Long after the operation’s failure,” Sorensen writes, “secret minutes emerged of a November 15, 1960, CIA meeting — prior to briefing the new president-elect — in which the CIA’s own reviewers concluded that the invasion was ‘unachievable — [with no] internal unrest earlier believed possible — nor will [Castro’s] defense permit the type [of] strike planned,’ the minutes said.”

Of course, CIA bosses were telling Kennedy the invasion was a slam-dunk.

“To me,” Sorensen writes, “that fiasco earned for the CIA the motto frequently ascribed to it: ‘Often wrong, but never in doubt.’”

Such parts of Sorensen’s memoir, “Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History,” proved timely in light of the CIA ambush sprung on Speaker Pelosi a few days ago. A report it gave the “Senate Intelligence Committee and other Capitol Hill officials,” according to news reports, evidently showed that the California congresswoman knew a lot more about CIA enhanced interrogation techniques than she’s been saying.

Of course, if it turns out that Pelosi, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee in 2002, has been lying about what she knew and when about the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, i.e., water boarding and other favorites of Middle Age dungeons, then she can’t complain too much about dirty tricks.

So on Friday I imagined Sorensen inviting Pelosi out for a commiserating drink.

“I know, I know,” Sorensen could murmur, patting the stylish Speaker’s hand over a drink at The Palm.

“Let me tell you what happened to me.”

In 1976, he recalls in his memoir, …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2009 at 8:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

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Murder of a CIA targeter

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Interesting report from Jeff Stein in Congressional Quarterly:

The case of former CIA contractor William Bennett, slain while out on a walk with his wife in rural Loudoun County, Va., gets interestinger and interestinger. 

Bennett, it turns out, was involved in the disastrously mistaken, May 1999 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by NATO warplanes.

That, and other curious facets of the case, has prompted the attention of influential national security bloggers Laura Rozen, who writes The Cable for Foreign Policy.com, and Pat Lang, the former top Middle East analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Drawing on the reporting of the local Loudoun Independent’s John L. Geddie and Jim Plowman, Lang tidily summed up the story so far in his eclectic "Sic Semper Tyrannis" blog.

"He and his wife were having a morning walk for exercise on a well known path when they apparently were set upon by several assailants reportedly armed with clubs.  Bennett was beaten to death and his wife left nearby in such a condition that the attackers must have anticipated her death.  As is recounted in this story, the sheriff of Loudon County is inclined to think this is the handiwork of gang members, perhaps in some bizarre initiation ritual," Lang wrote.  

"There are a lot of Central American immigrants in Virginia now and there have been incidents of violent criminality, usually among rival gang members.  Incidents against ‘gringos’ have been few.  To be fair, most Latino immigrants in Northern Virginia are hard working family people who contribute to the community.  To assume that immigrants are the killers seems a bit ‘hasty’ in the absence of evidence."

Bennett’s widow Cynthia has recovered enough to begin talking with investigators, the Loudoun Independent reported last week. The FBI has also been called into the case.

Geddie said Wednesday investigators have confided to him that …

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 April 2009 at 10:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

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Leon Panetta named CIA Director

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You can see his views on torture in this article, which begins:

According to the latest polls, two-thirds of the American public believes that torturing suspected terrorists to gain important information is justified in some circumstances. How did we transform from champions of human dignity and individual rights into a nation of armchair torturers? One word: fear.

Fear is blinding, hateful, and vengeful. It makes the end justify the means. And why not? If torture can stop the next terrorist attack, the next suicide bomber, then what’s wrong with a little waterboarding or electric shock?

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The simple answer is the rule of law. Our Constitution defines the rules that guide our nation. It was drafted by those who looked around the world of the eighteenth century and saw persecution, torture, and other crimes against humanity and believed that America could be better than that. This new nation would recognize that every individual has an inherent right to personal dignity, to justice, to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

We have preached these values to the world. We have made clear that there are certain lines Americans will not cross because we respect the dignity of every human being. That pledge was written into the oath of office given to every president, “to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” It’s what is supposed to make our leaders different from every tyrant, dictator, or despot. We are sworn to govern by the rule of law, not by brute force.

We cannot simply suspend these beliefs in the name of national security. Those who support torture may believe …

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 January 2009 at 2:36 pm

The CIA does what it wants

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The CIA has a great network in the media that will leap to do its bidding. Glenn Greenwald looks at the result in a column well worth reading. It includes:

… In all of these accounts [listed above], Brennan’s false claims of unfair persecution — that he was attacked simply because he happened to be at the CIA — are fully amplified in detail through his CIA allies, most of whom are quoted at length (though typically behind a generous wall of anonymity).  But Brennan’s critics are almost never quoted or named (of all of the above-cited reports, only the National Journal article includes a quote from a named Brennan critic:  a couple vague snippets from one of the pieces I wrote about Brennan).  The “reporting” is all from the perspective of Brennan and his CIA supporters.  None of these journalists even entertain the idea of disputing or challenging the pro-Brennan version.

(2) None of this reporting even alludes to, let alone conveys, the central arguments against Brennan and the evidence for those arguments.  Unmentioned are his emphatic advocacy for rendition and “enhanced interrogation tactics.” None of the lengthy Brennan quotes defending these programs are acknowledged, despite the fact that not only bloggers, but also the much-cited psychologists’ letter, emphasized those defenses (that letter complained that Brennan “supported Tenet’s policies, including ‘enhanced interrogations’ as well as ‘renditions’ to torturing countries”).  The seminal article on these CIA programs by The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer — who interviewed Brennan and identified him as a “supporter” of these programs despite “the moral, ethical, and legal issues” — does not exist in the journalists’ world.

What instead pervades these stories is the patently deceitful claim typified by Newsweek‘s Michael Hirsh, who asserted that the case against Brennan was made “with no direct evidence” and then chuckled that this is “common for the blogging world” — an ironic observations given that Hirsh himself is either completely ignorant of the ample evidence that was offered or is purposely pretending it doesn’t exist in order to defend the CIA official Hirsh lauded as “the first-class professional.”  That’s how the persecution tale against Brennan is built — by relying on mindless reporters to distort (when they weren’t actively suppressing) the evidence against him.

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2008 at 10:50 am

The CIA and torture

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Milt Bearden, who formerly worked for the CIA, writes a compelling report in the Washington Independent today. It begins:

Over the last several months, there has been a gradual, but unrelenting, outing of the highest level U.S. government involvement in the sordid business of torture. CIA Director Michael V. Hayden admitted, in his February testimony before Congress, that the Central Intelligence Agency used a technique known as waterboarding on three high-profile Al Qaeda detainees. He also said the CIA had not used the technique in five years — though the administration seems to be asserting that the agency can use it, when necessary.

President George W. Bush told ABC News in April, “I’m aware our national-security team met on this issue. And I approved.” The president was referring to reports that the National Security Council’s “principals committee” — the vice president, the secretaries of state and defense, the head of the NSC and the CIA director — discussed and approved the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking with Google employees in Mountain View, Calif., in May, said, “after Sept. 11, whatever was legal in the face of not just the attacks of Sept. 11, but the anthrax attacks that happened, we were in an environment in which saving America from the next attack was paramount.” She added, “there has been a long evolution in American policy about detainees and about interrogations…we now have in place a law that was not there in 2002 and 2003.”

In just the last few weeks, a parade of White House, Defense Dept. and CIA lawyers have squirmed before hostile Congressional committees, giving testimony eerie in its clinical treatment of what most of the world thinks is torture. The hearings produced countless stunning quotes, but one attributed to a CIA lawyer stands out: “If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 10:58 am

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP

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