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.
at 8:15 AM