Posts Tagged ‘CIA’
America has been ill-served by the CIA, with its long support for oppressive right-wing dictatorships and its enthusiasm for teaching torture techniques when not actually engaged directly in torture. The NY Times has a pointed editorial:
A few months after a military junta overthrew President Isabel Perón of Argentina in 1976, the country’s new foreign minister, Adm. Cesar Guzzetti, told Henry Kissinger, America’s secretary of state, that the military was aggressively cracking down on “the terrorists.”
Mr. Kissinger responded, “If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly,” an apparent warning that a new American Congress might cut off aid if it thought the Argentine government was engaging in systemic human rights abuses.
The American ambassador in Buenos Aires soon reported to Washington that the Argentine government had interpreted Mr. Kissinger’s words as a “green light” to continue its brutal tactics against leftist guerrillas, political dissidents and suspected socialists.
Just how much the American government knew about Argentina’s repressive “Dirty War,” which lasted from 1976 to 1983 — and the extent to which it condoned the abuses — has remained shrouded in secrecy.
When President Obama visits Argentina next week during the 40th anniversary of the coup, he should make a pledge that Washington will more fully reveal its role in a dark chapter of Argentine history. Military officials abducted thousands of civilians during this period. Hundreds of babies, stolen from Argentines who were arbitrarily detained, were raised by military families.
Human rights groups in Argentinahave long sought access to classified American intelligence and diplomatic records, hoping that they will shed new light on the abuses and the fate of missing Argentines. The Argentine government itself has formally asked for declassification. “There is absolutely no doubt that the release of these records on repression in Argentina would reveal substantive information on the years of repression and advance the cause of truth and justice in that country,” said Peter Kornbluh, an analyst at the National Security Archive who specializes in Latin America.
In 2002, Washington partly declassified roughly 4,700 State Department records from the Dirty War period. Those documents have aided judicial proceedings and added to a historical record. But much of that record remains obscured.
Declassifying a more extensive set of documents would also bring into sharper focus a shameful period of American foreign policy, during which Washington condoned and in some instances supported the brutal tactics of right-wing governments in the region. It is time for the American government to do what it still can to help bring the guilty to justice and give the victims’ families some of the answers they seek.
How the CIA botched Iraq post-9/11: Bob Gates, careerist sycophancy, and the real history of the Deep State
In a lengthy exchange with Ray McGovern, or when you listen to him speak, a lot comes at you. This is a former C.I.A. officer who, as branch chief in the analysis section, counted daily White House briefings among his tasks. Given his years out in Langley, Virginia—from the early Kennedy days until he retired in 1990—he was witness to the agency’s collapse into a factory producing politically and ideologically motivated “intelligence.” Long before the end, Langley had turned into a building full of “prostitutes”—McGovern’s word “not too strong.”
McGovern can get very granular as he describes what he saw. Elsewhere in the News, a discriminating new website that searches out material you ought to see but may miss, just posted this remarkable radio interview, in which McGovern analyzes the fate of the 2002 intelligence report advising the Bush II administration there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. More than a million deaths and one Islamic State later, McGovern tells us what this kind of corruption looks like from the inside and how it felt to watch it.
We explore such things in this, Part 2 of the lengthy interview I conducted with McGovern when we found ourselves at a conference in Moscow last December. But two other things struck me as I prepared the transcript.
One, I tipped my later questions toward the personal, and McGovern did not flinch. Along with the story of an institution’s decay, he here describes his inner turmoil as his conscience—which is formidable—started sending distress signals. Maybe readers will be as moved as I was. Maybe they will draw from it as much as I did.
Two, McGovern’s true offering now, beyond the inner-circle accounts of how things were, is a posture—a way of standing in relation to the world of crisis we find ourselves living in. McGovern never declares his courage—he is, indeed, highly self-critical of some of his judgments—but his guts and commitment ought to be evident, and they are two other things the rest of us might learn from.
He likes to quote Camus. “We have nothing to lose but everything. So let’s go ahead,” the French writer said when he won the Nobel in literature in 1957. “This is the wager of a generation. If we are to fail it is better, in any case, to have stood on the side of those who refuse to be dogs and are resolved to pay the price that must be paid so that man can be something more than a dog.”
McGovern had this in the speech that got me to pick up the telephone and call him a long while back. “I think it has relevance today,” he added quietly before moving on.
You began your analysis work [in the C.I.A.] with the goal of developing rational policies that might be of use in enacting legitimate change in the United States’ government and its foreign policy. When did you become disillusioned with this endeavor? Did you fall off your horse on the way to Damascus?
This makes for a less interesting story, but the answer is no.
It was gradual?
When I joined the agency, the headquarters had just been constructed. John Kennedy was president. Chiseled into the marble foyer: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” So I’m looking at that and I’m hearing my Irish grandmother saying [slips into a thick brogue], “Be truthful and honest, Raymond, and you won’t give a damn what anyone says about you.” [Laughs]
I thought, “This is going to be a good place to work.” And it was. My portfolio was Soviet foreign policy toward China, the international communist movement, Vietnam. Then it broadened out into other things when I became branch chief. I could tell it like it was. Since the Soviet Union was high in priority, every month or so something I wrote or something my branch people wrote would get before the president the next morning. That’s as good as it gets! Would they change it up the line? Well, they’d fix the spelling and the grammar, but no, they wouldn’t change it.
Was that always the case? No, it wasn’t. There were some big things—when, for example, Dick Helms [Richard Helms, C.I.A. director, 1966-73], bowed before [General William] Westmoreland on Vietnam and missed a chance to stop the war halfway through. And we have great regrets about that. I could have spoken out then and didn’t. That’s why we give a Sam Adams Award every year.
It wasn’t formally so, but generally speaking, if LBJ came to us, which he did, and said [begins an impression of Johnson’s Texas drawl], “We have these blue-suit guys with all the stars, and they say we’ve got a B-52, these big, big, big, big planes. They’re going to drop bombs and we’re going to seal off the Ho Chi Minh trail. What do y’all think about that?”
Now, we suppress the laugh and say, “We’ll get back to you.” Two days later, after a decent interval, we say, “Mr. President, we have to tell you, with all respect to your blue-suited generals, the Ho Chi Minh trail doesn’t look anything like I-66 or I-95. You can’t see most of it from the air, with the [jungle] canopy and stuff, and besides it’s not one, it’s about 161 trails. No matter how many big bombs, you’re not going to be able to interdict the flow of men and supplies. And No. 2, we know Ho Chi Minh. Sam here literally took him into Hanoi after the war [World War II] on his shoulders. He’s a nationalist before he’s a communist. He’s not going to give up. As a matter of fact, Mr. President, No. 3, nobody ever gives up just on the bombing.”
So what’s the lesson from that? The lesson from that is, man, we did our job! But the president? Well, the president had other considerations. He didn’t want to be the first president to lose a war. So he disregarded our advice and became the first president to lose a war.
Is that one source of your disillusionment? Agency analysis conducted with integrity being either ignored or doctored?
No, ignored is O.K. That’s the system. We elected LBJ.
Doctored? No. I’ll tell you how the “doctored” happened. A fellow worked for me, his name is Robert Gates [later C.I.A. director, 1991-93, and defense secretary under George W. Bush and Barack Obama]. He was a young analyst and pretty bright, not as bright as some of the other people in my Soviet foreign policy branch, but he was so ambitious that you’d see him floating around two levels above me and he was a very disruptive influence in the branch. Here I am, first branch, first managerial position, and I figure at efficiency report time, this is the process where you adjust that. So, I didn’t check with my fellow branch chiefs, who were giving everybody outstanding appraisals, and I wrote what I thought about Bobby Gates. I said, “Reasonably bright, good future, but he needs to stop being so transparent in his ambition because he’s a disruptive influence in the branch.”
He objected to that, and 10 years later he becomes chief of all analysis. What happens then? Bill Casey [William Casey, C.I.A. director 1981-87] is in; Ronald Reagan is in. Bill Casey sees a communist under every rock in Nicaragua. Bobby Gates turns over the rocks and says, “I see two of them, Mr. Casey. There are two of them there.” Everyone who saw Russians under rocks in Nicaragua got promoted.
I say this for an important reason. We’re talking 1981, right? It takes a generation to corrupt an institution. Fast forward to 2002, when people who Bobby Gates promoted because they saluted smartly and saw a Soviet under every rock—not because they cared much about the substance of things—they’re around a table when George Tenet [C.I.A. director, 1996-2004] finally comes back from the White House and says, “Damn, we have to do an estimate on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”
Senator Graham [Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, 1987-2005, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee] says that he’s not going to let a vote happen before a war in Iraq without an estimate.
I don’t know this to be literally true, but I used to sit around that table. He [Tenet] just got back from the White House and can’t avoid the estimate anymore. Of course, they were avoiding the estimate, because an honest estimate [on WMD] would have said, “There ain’t none!”
So [Tenet says], “We can’t avoid that anymore. And just two things: We have to do it in 10 days and it has to come out the way Dick Cheney said it was on the 26th of August.”
Now we’re talking mid-September in 2002. [The Bush II White House authorized the invasion of Iraq the following March.] If any director had said that to us in my day, we would have said, “Ha! George, that’s a good one! But you’re not serious, right?” And if he said he was serious we would have been the hell out of there. Maybe there’d be one or two sycophants hanging around, but he’d know he had an insurrection on his hands. These careerists in managerial positions said, “O.K., we can do that. Ten days? No problem.” Why 10 days? Because they wanted to force a vote in Congress before the midterms [of November 2002]. It was very, very clear. Somewhere I read that Rumsfeld actually acknowledged that.
What I’m saying here is that’s how it happened, and I was very lucky because I was briefing Vice President [George H.W.] Bush and all of Reagan’s chief advisers—[Defense Secretary Caspar] Weinberger, [Secretary of State George] Shultz and the rest of them. It was one-on-one and I could tell them the truth. This was when Bobby Gates was chief of analysis. There were occasions years later when I finally realized that Bush, for example, was well in on the Iran-Contra stuff, but by and large I could tell the truth on substantive matters—including on Nicaragua—and I did.
I remember one morning when I carried in to Shultz a piece just pulled off the TASS ticker indicating he had just been invited to visit Moscow. How to R.S.V.P. would be a delicate decision; he and I both knew that my bosses Casey and Gates, as well as Weinberger and other hardliners, were telling President Reagan that Gorbachev was just a clever Commie trying to take us in. At the same time, Shultz knew of my experience in Soviet affairs and that I remained in constant dialogue with analysts I could trust—those still putting truth-telling above career advancement and saying Gorbachev seemed to be the real deal. When Shultz probed my personal views, I was not about to join the malleable managers Casey and Gates had put in place to take the agency “party line”—Caution: clever Commie ahead.
Surely not just because of me, but he [Schulz] goes to Moscow and finds out Gorbachev is the real deal. There are summits between Reagan and Gorbachev, largely because Shultz prevailed over Casey, Gates, Weinberger and the clowns who were the national security advisers at the time.
I was lucky from ’81 to ’85, but when I could retire in 1990 I did, primarily because the politicization had already eroded not only the operational part but the analysis part of the agency, and that was really sad to see. I had completed enough time overseas to qualify for early retirement, reduced annuity, but I knew I had to get out of there. So that’s when I left.
With information handled in this way, the implication would seem to be that a great many decisions having to do with our conduct abroad are made in a condition of blindness or detachment from reality. Is this so? . . .
Carl Hulse reports in the NY Times:
To Senator Mark Udall, the Central Intelligence Agency’s effort to mislead the public about its brutal interrogation program is not a thing of the past.
Mr. Udall, a Colorado Democrat who pressed his case against the agency even as he packed up his office after his re-election defeat last month, sees the agency’s strong effort to rebut the findings of the Senate’s report on the torture of terrorism suspects as proof the intelligence community has not learned from its mistakes.
“We did all these things and had the opportunity over the last six years to come clean, and the C.I.A. just fought tooth and nail to prevent that from happening,” Mr. Udall said in an interview after the stinging attack he delivered on the Senate floor against the intelligence community and the White House. “Now we are doing the same thing today that we did six or eight or 10 years ago by denying this happened.”
Mr. Udall, 64, an avid outdoorsman more often associated with environmental, energy and fiscal issues during his congressional career, has become a fierce critic of the nation’s spy and antiterror apparatus, from the mass collection of telecommunications data to the expansion of drone strikes under the Obama administration. He said he was exploring ways to continue in that role after leaving Congress — to keep public attention fixed on intelligence operations he sees as in conflict with the nation’s character.
“There has to be accountability,” Mr. Udall said. “The longer you wait to address the question of accountability, the more it festers and there is more potential that people lose interest and we repeat these very acts at some point in the future.”
After one term in the Senate and five in the House, Mr. Udall had one of his biggest moments in the final days of his tenure. He took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to not only condemn the torture documented in the Senate Intelligence Committee report, but to denounce the response from John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director.
Mr. Brennan, like other intelligence community leaders from 2001 to 2009, conceded that some abuses occurred but argued that useful intelligence was obtained. He and others also dispute the findings that C.I.A. officials misled both the Bush administration and the public about the interrogation program, a key element of the Senate report.
Skirting close to disclosing classified information on the floor, Mr. Udall pointed to a still-secret internal review done by the C.I.A. under the former director Leon E. Panetta that was obtained by the Senate. He said the Panetta review showed the agency had determined for itself that much of the Senate report was true.
“Director Brennan and the C.I.A. today are continuing to willfully provide inaccurate information and misrepresent the efficacy of torture,” he said on the floor. “In other words, the C.I.A. is lying.”
Mr. Udall didn’t stop at the agency. He strongly criticized President Obama for failing to “rein in” the agency and its leadership and for not embracing the report’s findings. Instead, the White House has focused on the president’s decision to end the interrogation program instead of the issues of whether it provided valuable intelligence or whether those who conducted it should be prosecuted.
Mr. Udall also faulted the administration for keeping some of those responsible for the program in leadership positions.
“The president needs to purge his administration of high-level officials who were instrumental to the development and running of this program,” he said. “He needs to force a cultural change at the C.I.A.” . . .
And note this article: Does Torture Work? The C.I.A.’s Claims and What the Committee Found
Is the CIA capable of telling the truth? Or do they consider all true statements as classified, so that they can only tell lies?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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, …
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.
"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 …