Monday, July 07, 2008

Spy vs. Congress

I have known and served with many military intelligence officers. A handful of them were brilliant. The preponderance of them validated the adage that says military intelligence is to intelligence what military music is to music.

I have also known and worked with many Air Force officers, and every one of those bug lovers is dedicated to the Air Force's primary mission, which is to prevaricate its way into possession of the entire defense budget.

Since CIA director Michael V. Hayden is an Air Force intelligence officer and a Bush appointee to boot, anything he says tends to be standard issue effluvium, and what he's saying now about his agency's right to privacy stinks to high heaven.

They'd Tell You But…

In a June ceremony in which he hung up his general's stars but kept the helm of the CIA, Hayden stressed the need for the country's top spy agency to "stay in the shadows," and to ignore the "sometimes shrill and uninformed voices of criticism."

Gee, Mikey, you know, criticism always sounds shrill to the person or thing being criticized, and it can be hard for those who criticize you to be informed when you don't inform them of anything.

The House and Senate intelligence committees want to know if the CIA influenced the military's decision to use harsh interrogation techniques in Guantanamo Bay, and whether senior CIA officers broke the law when they ordered the destruction of videotapes of al Qaeda prisoners being waterboarded. Legislators also want to put new restrictions on CIA practices; including banning the use of contractors to interrogate prisoners, requiring the CIA to notify the International Red Cross when they take a prisoner in custody, and limiting CIA interrogators to using only those techniques approved in the Army Field Manual. Congress is also curious to know whether the CIA has fixed any of the problems that caused it to produce so much bad intelligence during the Bush term and to produce so few tangible results in the war on terrorism.

Hayden isn't all hats and hooters about the legislature's scrutiny. "We exist in a political context," Hayden told the Washington Post. That's neocon Newspeak for "The GOP lost control of the congressional committees and the jig's up."

"We cannot have an approach to terrorism that only uses the hated words 'renditions' and 'detentions' and 'interrogations' [and] that has an on-off switch every other November," Hayden said. "It has to have stability." That, fellow citizens, is CIA Director-speak for "I want to be able to do whatever I want whenever I want to do it without restriction or oversight regardless of who's in charge of the country, and I don't want anybody to know about it when I screw up.

In short, Hayden and his CIA are the Bush administration in microcosm.

…They'd Have to Kill You Or…

Hayden uses a decades old argument to justify the need for the kind of autonomy he wants: restrictions on the CIA hamper its ability to "protect the country." One has to question, though, just how much protection the CIA has provided America during most of the Bush administration. The few post 9-11 terrorist plots we've been told about were foiled domestically by the F.B.I. or overseas by foreign intelligence and police agencies, and there's no reason to suspect that there have been foiled terrorist plots we don't know about. If there had been Hayden would have been the first to take credit for them.

Hayden, in fact, has a Cheney-esque penchant for claiming "victories" that haven't actually occurred. In a May 30, 2008 Washington Post exclusive, Hayden boasted of a "near strategic defeat" of al Qaeda in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and of causing "significant setbacks for al Qaeda globally."

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, immediately responded with a letter that said, "If today’s article describing an interview you gave to the Washington Post is accurate, I am surprised and troubled by your comments."

Of Hayden's claim that al Qaeda was "…on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border,” Rockefeller wrote, "I have seen nothing, including classified intelligence reporting, that would lead me to this conclusion."

Rockefeller noted that the July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism stated, “Al Qaeda is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland." Rockefeller also noted that in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in February 2008, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell said, “…al Qaeda remains the preeminent terror threat against the United States, both here at home and abroad." Rockefeller mentioned as well that the State Department's April 2008 report on terrorism stated that, “Al Qaeda and associated networks remained the greatest terrorist threat to the United States and its partners." Rockefeller's letter also included the May 6, 2008 confirmation hearing statement by National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter that, “…we have clearly not succeeded in stopping core al Qaeda plotting."

Rockefeller questioned why Hayden would "make statements to the press leaving the misimpression that al Qaeda is on the run?" Rockefeller further wondered why Hayden gave the interview in the first place, when at his 2006 confirmation hearing he'd said that the “CIA needs to get out of the news as source and subject."

I'm confident that Rockefeller actually knew the reason Hayden gave the interview: the most political factor in the CIA vs. Congress equation is Michael V. Hayden.

…At Least Rough You Up a Bit

Under the stewardship of young Mr. Bush and Lord Cheney, the CIA has become the ultimate political tool: it's at fault when things go wrong but its intelligence is "darn good" enough when the administration needs it to validate actions it couldn't otherwise justify. Many long time agency officials left under the tenure of Hayden's predecessor Porter Goss, complaining that Goss's focus had been overly political. Hayden hasn't managed to lure any of those disaffected professionals back.

The CIA has always been the loose cannon of American foreign policy, running silent around the Defense and State Departments and out of sight most of the legislature. Today's Central Intelligence Agency is becoming the kind of secret intelligence and paramilitary tool of the executive branch we saw in the worst totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.

The way things work now, see, if a president wants have him a little war and he's afraid Congress won't let him use the military for it, he just signs himself a finding and has the CIA agitate it for him.

That's licker than snot on a doorknob, huh? You just got to make sure you got yourself a CIA Director who can keep a secret (heh).

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Russ Wellen's interview with Jeff at The Huffington Post and Scholars and Rogues.


  1. Nobody wants to comment on the CIA.


    Is that because, as former director Mr. Gates, reminded my grandson's graduating class at A&M -- "stay until everybody gets their diploma. Remember, I was the director at the CIA -- I know where you live?"

    Presidential findings. You gotta love them ---- and the members ... Chairs.... actually, of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, that are let in on these dirty little secrets, and give him the money, to conduct his dirty little wars.

    What the heck? Blackwater is always available. Now that they have planes. I guess the next item on the procurement list is tanks.

    Regardless, the CIA knows where I live. They read my e-mail. Know all the websites I visit. All the books I read. I ordered Craig Unger's book "The Fall of the House of Bush" --- months ago. And what with other reading, it kinda got shoved to the back burner, as it were. So, that's the latest. They know all the nutty comments I leave on blogs.

    What makes me cross-eyed, is that the Democratic Congress, a lot of us thought would make a difference, just keeps confirming these people, who do so damned much damage. Hayden and Petreus. What a combo. Super-sized.

  2. EL,

    We're growing a separate service that looks like a giant version of the IMF (Impossible Mission Force). If any of them are captured or killed, the secretary will disavow...

  3. The CIA is the Enemy. Ever since it's inception it has been used as a Domestic Political tool. E. Howard Hunt's death bed confession that the Assasination of President Kennedy was a Comopany job confirms this. There were 2 CIA Agents at the Ambassador Hotel when Sen. Kennedy was slaughtered. Both were avowed Kennedy Enemies.


  4. EdNSted2:54 PM

    On a somewhat smaller, but nonetheless poignant note, I assume you've seen this:

    Medic in famous photo dies after PTSD struggle

    Real life never quite seems to measure up to the spin. I don't know the details but I have to wonder about the level of care he received after he left the service.

  5. Human,

    I neither subscribe to or deny those kinds of allegation, but I put NOTHING past those bastards.


    I saw that. Really sad. I'll be bummed out about that for some time.

  6. "It has to have stability." Tough to achieve that, if only because of the turnover in the director's position. Wonder who will succeed Hayden?

    Wonder if the next director can separate the agency from being, as you say, the president's personal paramilitary force?

    Some call for the agency to be disbanded. Do you favor that, Commander?

  7. I do favor that, Russ. Keeping the CIA around meets the "keep doing the same thing" insanity criterion.

  8. Eight years have really crapped-out the Company. However, there's also an inherent problem that will prevent the CIA from ever being a top-flight intelligence agency (quite apart from the spine-less loony tuners appointed to run the show). The continued reliance on "National Assets" (satellites, signal intelligence, and the occasional aerial recon) means that the South Koreans have better intelligence on our intentions than we will ever have over even a friendly Middle Eastern country like Israel. We need to come to grips with the reality that we are a lower-ranking second tier power when it comes to HUMINT.

    In the bad old days when we could just assume that the Soviets loathed us, that might have been O.K. However, in this "war on terror," I submit it is far more critical to know Al Qaeda's specific intent than it is to have a middling inventory of their assets. Primarily, the whole discussion so far over the "war on terror" is concerned with "assets" more because we can count them (or cook the numbers) than because it signifies anything meaningful.

    The build-up to war with Iran is a perfect example. We're busy county centrifuges, reactors, and engineers, but the really critical info (which we are all but clueless about) is the intent of Iran now, and in the future.

    So, the next president needs to appoint a CIA Director who will both instill confidence inside the Company and be willing to quickly fall on a bayonet if he/she is asked to deviate very far from what the analysts say. However, the decades-long weakness in HUMINT needs to be cured too or there will be no data for the analysts to answer the critical intent questions with (which quickly leads to the temptation to "fudge" to compensate).

    If the CIA is to be dissolved, that will require something no one has ever successfully accomplished--the unification of the branch military intelligence services along with the removal of counter-intelligence from the FBI (who have always done a very, very bad job of it). There's no snowball insulated enough to fly that mission while the Joint Chiefs system continues, but that's another day . . .

  9. Great stuff, John. You bring up a god point about gathering intel on a dispersed enemy like AQ. They don't have a lot of stuff that satellites can find. They also don't have a traditional command structure, though, so humint can have similar challenges.


  10. I think experience gained in penetrating street gangs would directly transfer. Admittedly, this is a cell-by-cell approach and would take years to successfully implement, but if nobody starts the work never gets finished.

  11. Good call on the street gang experience. AQ is a mighty big street gang, though.

  12. John, humint was crap from inception-probably because the heart of the organization from the word go was completely focused on the needs of the elite.

    Ain't never had no fucking street cred--DUH.


    'In a June ceremony in which he hung up his general's stars but kept the helm of the CIA, Hayden stressed the need for the country's top spy agency to "stay in the shadows," and to ignore the "sometimes shrill and uninformed voices of criticism." '

    Bwaaa haa ha ha ha ha.

    Guy's a dinosaur.

    Technology, Hellloooooo?

    (I want my book damnit! :)

  13. PeterVE5:21 PM

    To quote Raymond Chandler: "Military intelligence is a phrase which contains an internal contradiction"

  14. Nunya,

    Amazon hasn't sent you a copy yet? ;-)


    Yes, perhaps my all time favorite Chandler line. Do you happen to recall which novel it's in?

  15. PeterVE9:40 PM

    I think it was "Playback"

  16. Dang it Jeff, I got the book and the hubby snatched it to read first. He did, however, leave it here when he went to work. :)

  17. Anonymous8:57 PM


    now that Hayden has retired, does he get to double dip on that retired O-10 pay ALONG WITH a regular salary as Director of CIA?

    Man, that guy must be starting to scare John McSame in the amount of income! Beofre long, he'll be able to be a multi-millionaire!

    Then again, he only has to wait a few months and SAIC or BoozAllen will snap him up for his vast "experience" or is it his rollodex?

    Speaking of double dippers, I wonder how much $$ VADM(ret) McConnell is making these days?


  18. SP,

    Yes, I believe his retirement involved a pay raise. He was just getting paid as an O-10. Now he gets 100 percent O-10 base pay in retirement and pay as CIA director.

    Sweet, huh?

  19. Jeff, does the irony of these guys making millions running busineses that would never survive if it weren't for no-bid govt contracts (that's corruption, right?) sucking tons of $ from taxes, yet being anti-tax, and sucking huge, triple-dipping government retirement packages, and being anti-socialist ever send you into hysterical laughter?

    It does me.

  20. Yeah, Nunya, it's a regular laugh riot. I giggle about it whenever I pay my taxes.


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