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November 14, 2004

Comments

SomeCallMeTim

"I'm a bit hazy on the principle being defended here. Is it, 'If my people can't leak, I quit'?"

Alternate reading: "If you demand my people do the impossible (i.e., guaratee no leakage - it isn't clear from that story whether (a) that's possible, or (b) within her perview), and threaten harsh consequences if they don't, I quit."

I mean, if you know that your new boss is (a) a f**kup, and (b) inclined to blame others, then you can probably predict (c) there will be a screwup, and you will be blamed. Why stay in a situation that is guaranteed to tarnish your career, through no fault of your own?

Anyway, that's another possible reading.

Thomas J. Jackson

When the liberal media starts howling one can assume that a long needed reform is being carried out. The CIA like all other federal agencies long ago was filled with political appointees and hacks rather than professionals. These people put personal agenda's ahead of the nation's needs. The more hacks that go the more we can expect the MSM to howl, after all where will they get their leaks and juicy stories.

The CIA like State has been a joke for the past 30 years.

TM

As to the "no leakage" request, I put in a link to this from CNN:

An undercover officer known as "Dusty" has been appointed executive director of the CIA, making him the agency's third highest-ranking official, a U.S. intelligence official said Friday.

Dusty's full name will be made public after the agency has established that revealing his identity won't compromise any classified or ongoing activities, the official said.

Presumably, Murray is anticipating some "Get Dusty" rumors to spring forth from the personnel file - the ghastly divorce, the stint in rehab, the bribery allegations, whatever.

Strangely, asking CIA people to keep secrets does not strike me as utterly out of bounds.

SomeCallMeTim

I don't think "asking CIA people" to keep secrets is a problem either. The problem arises when you single out one person (or one person and the 10 people under her), among a larger set of (let's say) 15 people who will all have equal access to the secret, and tell her, "If it leaks, I know it will be because of you, and I'll punish you." That kind of pressure yields bad, bad results. And it means your boss either (a) hates you, or (b) is a crazy paranoiac. In either case, you should see if you can move on, because nothing good that way comes.

Again, that's the way I read it, FWIW.

Alene

Well, SCMTim, I will travel down your suggested path a ways, and suggest a counterleak (ignore the images that term provokes). If the guy the new boss wanted is now out of consideration because someone leaked a 20+year-old tale about a pound of bacon, one might infer that the objectors to that person's promotion are not unknown. One might make at least two additional inferences: 1)the same people will object to the new guy; these folks are loyal to the DO. One assumes that there is something negative in the personnel file, again (maybe nobody in the agency is more than 99 and 44 one-hundredth's percent pure), and could be similarly disqualified by leaking the .56%. How do we keep the leakers from controlling the appointment process? Let him/her/them know that the person who has their loyalty will be held responsible for any leak.

Works for me!

ed

Hmmm.

I think that were I in charge of the CIA I'd be walking around with an aluminium "You're Fired" baseball bat and using it liberally. Or maybe hire Sammy Sosa to swing that bastard for me.

Any agency that seeks to set policy, individually or collectively, by manipulating the press is irresponsible. That this is the CIA only makes it worse. If the CIA had been doing it's damn job then quite a few problems wouldn't have happened. All the various multitude of intelligence failures for the past 40+ f-ing years might not have happened. Even during the height of the Cold War the CIA couldn't frigging determine the actual economic activity of the USSR. According to the CIA the Soviet economy was in great shape, when it was a complete shambles.

Then there's 9/11 and Iraq's WMDs.

The CIA gets absolutely no wiggle room from me. If this organization were superlatively effective and had done a wonderful job, then I'd consider siding with it against the f-ing President of the United States of America. But it's been one long frigging road towards complete f-ing failure for the CIA.

As far as I'm concerned they could shoot the whole damn crowd, raze the buildings, sow the land with salt and then announce in the next Senate session.

"CIA Delenda Est"

For all I care.

Frankly I think the only solution is to drastically cut the CIA's budget and then relocate the whole sorry mess to a new CIA station above the Artic Circle. Let's call it Ice Station Zebra, since I liked that movie. Then we get to start over with maybe something that works.

And if that new agency starts getting ideas, then we can point to the CIA and say "Remember the CIA? Don't want that to happen to you do you?". They'll reply "What's the CIA?".

Then we'll say "That is exactly the point.".

Jesus Christ! We're talking about an intelligence agency that hasn't even bothered to train a pool of reliable Arabic translators. Even after 50+ years of Islamic terrorists! WTF?? They don't have enough frigging Arabic and Farsi translators? What kind of frigging clue do these people need?

Slartibartfast

After the whole John Deutch affair, it's almost a relief to see some clamping down. Tenet ought to have been out of the CIA during Clinton's latter term. Ditto for Nora Slatkin and some others, because of their involvement and impediment to investigation in that case.

Cecil Turner

The lack of outrage over Wilson's original editorial(s) is still a head-scratcher to me. Whatever his relationship to the CIA, surely after-action editorials are improper. The later revelation that his wife (whose expertise is directly related to his story) was involved in his assignment, conveniently without signing a non-disclosure agreement, makes a fairly obvious case for her dismissal.

Add in the recent spate of intelligence failures (counterbalanced somewhat with the superbly played AQ Khan/Libya/DPRK connection)--and the never-ending sieve of leak-and-counterleak--and the agency fairly cries out for reform. I'm not sure if Ed's bat is the answer, but neither would I get too upset if a chief whose department leaks (or his whole department, for that matter) got fired for it.

Kevin Murphy

Let's not forget how right after 9/11 we heard how hard it is to infiltrate al Qaida, only to have a kid from Marin county (AKA Johnny Walker) meet with the head bad guy himself without any difficulty. I'd be a lot more sympathetic to the complaints if I thought the agency was doing a good job.

Appalled Moderate

Look, I'm just so pleasently surprised that anyone who has clearly fouled up can get fired in this administration, that I am content to watch the carnage happen.

AML

Why can't we expect the freaking CIA not to leak. Is it impossible for our intelligence organs to keep their yaps shut? Are they running covert ops against AQ or against GWB over there?

Rick Ballard

Wouldn't it be wonderful if this "I quit" idea spread like wildfire? How many hundreds of these drones marching off the cliff would it take to make a noticeable improvement in the overall output?

Greg D

SCMTim,

Here's the question you have to ask yourself: do we believe it is (and should be) impossible for the CIA to keep from leaking to the press?

I believe that it is possible.

So, whose job is it to prevent leaks?

Counter-intelligence.

Further, do we believe that "higher ups" in the CIA have been "looking the other way", if not outright encouraging, leaks?

I do.

Therefore the place to start is at the top:
"It is your job to prevent leaks, be they to our foreign adversaries, or to the US Press. Do your job, or you're fired."

Sounds like the right plan to me. And when he gets fired for people leaking, replace him with someone who's more interested in stoping leaks than in playing political games.

Bloghorn Bleghorn

I hope Condi Rice makes just as many heads roll at State. If not more.

anonymous

Forgive me, but perhaps if Congress, the White House, the FBI, Homeland Security, the Pentagon and a host of other groups in the District of Columbia weren't leaking like the Lusitania, I'd find similar criticisms of the CIA to be more clever and insightful. Unfortunately, "leakage" is an activity in Washington that borders on instinctual; telling a government agency not to leak is like telling a dog not to pee on the fire hydrant. Live in the real world.

TM

That is the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Brendan

I find the existance of the DIA and NSA and to an extent the FBI, and their growth, a back door way of working around the CIA. As to why the CIA needed to be worked around, draw your own conclusions.

Professionals in the spy business should not be held accountable for leaks because other bueracrats aren't. No that doesn't work for me, sorry, move on.

Lloyd

I'll second Kevin's comment re Johnny Walker. Though I don't think it was "easy" for an 18 year old kid to immerse himself in Islamisism, live in Yemen, then Afghanistan, learn Arabic, immerse himself in the Koran and without nice soft toilet paper for 2 years. Presumably though, an agency with a ten billion dollar budget or whatever the hell it is could find a few dedicated risk takers to put on the payroll. Apparently under Tenet, this type of thinking wasn't encouraged. Let the purge continue!

pilsener

Definitely an agency in need of an enema.

Unless there are a number of non-disclosed attacks that were prevented, the CIA has failed every major test for the last 20 years under several directors.

The "Anonymous" book was the breaking point for me. How could a clandestine agency allow an analyst to appear on 60 minutes to attack a sitting President?

Cecil Turner

I'm not sure Johnny Walker makes a very convincing case about penetrating Al Qaeda. In the first place, he was never well-placed enough to get useful information about upcoming plans. In the second, it's obvious that Walker/Lind was unthreatening to terrorists precisely because he was such a dim bulb (and I doubt any intelligence agent could keep up as good a facade for the years required for successful infiltration).

Speaking of which, I still think Walker could have gotten off if he'd been smart enough to hire Johnny Cochrane--especially since the crime required intent. (I can even hear the mantra: "If he's a dumbsh** . . . you must acquit!") Of course, if he'd been smart enough to hire Johnny Cochrane, he'd have been guilty.

Mom's Smile

The later revelation that [Wilson's] wife [Valerie Plame](whose expertise is directly related to his story) was involved in his assignment, conveniently without signing a non-disclosure agreement, makes a fairly obvious case for her dismissal.

Or it would, but for your weasely 'involved'.

The evidence that Plame had influence and impact in the decision to use Wilson is, well, yet-to-be-produced (to put it generously. It wasn't her call.

What's enlightning about this blog: No one here thinks that a spook ("Anonymous", well-identified by now) who leaked information showing the admin was pressuring the agency to spin its output was a good thing.

What else is enlightening: That no one seems to think that the current overt moves to futher politicize the intelligence systems are idiotic in light of the 911 and Senate commission reports that point out the horrifying impact that politicization has had.

You're all worried about 'leakers' -- what a bunch of played intellects you are!

Jim Rockford

Seems like re-arranging the deck chairs to me. The whole agency needs to be abolished. We had not ONE agent inside Al Queda; North Korea, Iran, or Saddam's regime. Not one.

Why? Cause after Reagan's Secret Wars in Central America, it was revealed the CIA had a lot of nasty human rights abusers on the payroll, including some who killed innocent Americans (after torturing them); and were complicit in Archbishop Romero's assasination; the rape and murder of nuns, etc.

Nasty business all the way round. Cover Your Ass was the mantra and it stuck. It even had some benefit, to a degree, in reining in the aftermath of Casey's inept Iran/Contra antics that arguably hurt the US (by making us look like fools and depending on the Ayatollah's goodwill to keep our secrets).

However, you pays your money and takes your choices. Want a "clean" CIA ... then you'll get CYA and ZERO human intelligence cause the human intelligence guys are ALWAYS dirty individuals (quick, find the "nice" guy in Al Queda). This ultimately leads to a 9/11 CATASTROPHIC failure ... signals/electronic intelligence isn't enough.

We had no one in Al Queda (and still don't) because NO ONE WANTS AN AGENT THERE. Too much cost politically if it's revealed we are paying off a terrorist to get info on other terrorists.

Congress, the White House, and yes the Democrats and Media too either make a very public policy choice to do business including paying awful human rights abusers in return for getting intelligence, or pay the price for being completely ignorant about what terrorists and profoundly hostile regimes are doing against us and accepting the trade off of another 9/11, perhaps order of magnitude (nuclear) worse.

It's either/or; but time to grow up and make the adult choice whatever it is and live with it.

The leak stuff is just stupid ... inside baseball to avoid the big policy question above.

Bolo

Why would we want to get rid of leaks? I mean, sometimes they're really bad and have terrible consequences, but most times they actually reveal important information that the people in power have been keeping a lid on.

That being said, I think Jim Rockford (above) has made the best point. Its time to either start doing the job right or step aside.

Let's just hope they don't replace all the newly vacant posts with hacks and yes-men...

John Gillnitz

This "blame the CIA" business is ridiculous. Getting rid of anyone who hasn't drank the neocon koolaid will not make us any safer. Those who have been the most wrong and incompetent are the very ones who are being promoted. These defections are more proof that GWB is a pathetic leader.

Cecil Turner

"What's enlightning about this blog: No one here thinks that a spook ("Anonymous", well-identified by now) who leaked information showing the admin was pressuring the agency to spin its output was a good thing."

Riiight. Which is why we have all those congressional oversight committees (to which the disgruntled can leak all they like . . . legally). And why several investigations turned up exactly zero evidence of "pressure[] to spin its output."

The most expensive spy agency in the world can't keep a secret. Yeah, "good thing."

Anonymous

I'm trying to remember who Bush held personally responsible for any revealing of undercover agent identities. Can someone provide me a link? Or was it Powell?

Jim

SomeCallMeTim

Greg D:

In the end, it seems to me, all arguments come down to a laugh test. Perhaps we've reached it: "Do your job, or you're fired."

Does this strike you, in any way, as descriptive of the SOP of this Administration? Seriously - you can argue that things are harder to accomplish than those ba****d liberals are willing to admit, but surely there have been a few people who have made mistakes? Wouldn't Rumsfeld (# of troops, after-plan) and Gonzales (torture memo) and Rice (everthing) be near the top of that list? If you were firing people for being screw-ups, no matter how good their intentions, wouldn't you need to fire them? Or at least not promote them?

And if we can't agree on what basic competence looks like, isn't federalism the solution to which we should all be looking?

Alec Rawls

A big part of the problem of how to deal with a rogue CIA (and State Dept.) is the civil service laws, which contravene the fundamental principle of voter sovereignty: that the voters are supposed to be able to throw the bums out. Civil service laws only allow us (through our elected executive office holders) to throw out a tiny fraction of the bums. The principle of voter sovereignty is actually ensconsed in the Constitution, in the guarantee to the states that they shall have a republican form of govt. For a discussion of this guarantee, and how it might be brought into play, click on my link.

Mark

Anon,
You ask who Bush held to blame for release of Plame name ?

I don't know since this an on going investigation. While your waiting . Why don't you ask the person in the CIA that Novak talk too before printing the story ? Now that Kerry's lost , and the Dept heads resigning or on the brink of Promotion to Iceland*, I'm sure you find that person will be sweating alot, with frequent trips to the nearest restroom. The last few months has shown the CIA isn't above trying to throw steamers at Bush when they can.

* Will the first listening post designated to ease drop on Jihadis Polar Bears.

Mark

Anon,
You ask who Bush held to blame for release of Plame name ?

I don't know since this an on going investigation. While your waiting . Why don't you ask the person in the CIA that Novak talk too before printing the story ? Now that Kerry's lost , and the Dept heads resigning or on the brink of Promotion to Iceland*, I'm sure you find that person will be sweating alot, with frequent trips to the nearest restroom. The last few months has shown the CIA isn't above trying to throw steamers at Bush when they can.

* Will the first listening post designated to ease drop on Jihadis Polar Bears.

Cecil Turner

"Wouldn't Rumsfeld (# of troops, after-plan) and Gonzales (torture memo) and Rice (everthing) be near the top of that list?"

If you could lay out an alternate plan for OIF (using however many troops you think you can supply through a single main supply route running from Kuwait to Baghdad) with a greater chance of success, explain what exactly was incorrect about Gonzales's "torture" memo, or what Rice's "everything" means, you'd have a point. But I suspect you can't.

And speaking of laugh tests, it's frankly hilarious to see liberals insisting the Administration follow the letter of the law--or a ridiculous interpretation of a treaty--whilst simultaneously holding that illegal (politically motivated) leaks from a spy agency are necessary and virtuous.

Another Lover

what exactly was incorrect about Gonzales's "torture" memo

Gonzales: Not 'incorrect.' 'Evil.'

Cecil, it is doubtful it could be 'explained' to you, on the evidence of what you've written so far.

How you know someone's a 'liberal' on the basis of what you call insistence on 'the letter of the law' is somewhat mysterious, but nevertheless revealing -- you think the word's a perjorative. How endearing.

You also think a demonstration of a better 'alternative' plan than Rumsfeld's is necessary before we accept that someone suggesting his incompetence may have 'a point.' You need to get your head out of there a little more and just take a look around.

While Rummy's moral,/i> incompetence is plain, there is no lack of discussion of his technocratic failings too. Generals have been told by this admin to shut the hell up for offering better (surely, with hindsight even you can see it's so) plans.

And you'd like to hear why Ms. Rice might also be presumed incompetent for her current and proposed posts, but you 'suspect' that can't be demonstrated.

I'd like to recommend that you review the details of her laziness ('I didn't read that', repeated as necessary) and lying (Q: 'And I am asking you whether it is not the case that you learned in the PDB memo of August 6th that the FBI was saying that it had information suggesting that preparations —- not historically, but ongoing, along with these numerous full-field investigations against al Qaeda cells -— that preparations were being made consistent with hijackings within the United States.' A: '...this was not a warning. This was a historic memo.') The full truth and nothing but?

Slartibartfast

Out, damned italics!

Cecil Turner

"Gonzales: Not 'incorrect.' 'Evil.'"

AFAICT, Gonzales wrote only one memo, here, that makes an arguable but sensible case that Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters do not qualify for POW status. Personally, I think he's right (though I prefer the argument that they don't meet the GC combatant requirements rather than the "failed state" one). Calling it "evil" is unpersuasive.

"How you know someone's a 'liberal' on the basis of what you call insistence on 'the letter of the law' is somewhat mysterious, but nevertheless revealing -- you think the word's a perjorative. How endearing."

Actually, I used "liberal" as shorthand for the group opposed to current Administration policies. The term is admittedly imprecise--but hardly a pejorative. It's funny that "conservative" is an accepted descriptor for any Administrative supporter, but "liberal" is un-PC.

"Generals have been told by this admin to shut the hell up for offering better (surely, with hindsight even you can see it's so) plans."

What "better plans"? Shinseki's "several hundred thousand" occupation troops? The General in charge was Franks--and there's little evidence he (or any other general in the chain of command) was ever told to "shut up."

"The full truth and nothing but?"

The August 6 PDB memo was a direct result of an earlier brief (which suggested Bin Laden would like to launch attacks in the US), wherein the President requested amplification. And yes, it is historical. Trying to paint this as an unheeded "warning" submitted by alarmed members of the anti-terror community is revisionist.

Cecil's Tailor

That's right Cecil -- the 8/6/2001 PDB -- you ID'd it with the context given, so you've got something on the ball.

But not everything.

Ben-Veniste's Q was taken directly from the language of the memo. The memo did indeed say that the FBI had become aware of ongoing preparations consistent with a hijacking attempt in the US. That the memo was prepared at a Presidential request is hardly the point. Rice was trying hard to paint the conclusion as 'historical' in the sense of 'not immediately relevant', or even 'dated,' 'stale.' Which was not the case, of course.

That PDB, titled 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,' said, in part: "(10) Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York."

That would make, for those paying attention, the answer to Ben-Veniste's question, "Yes."

Whether it constitutes (as only you have mentioned here) 'an unheeded "warning" submitted by alarmed members of the anti-terror community' is not the question. Rice knew the memo said exactly what Ben-Veniste asked her. She knew that (at that time) the memo was secret. She stonewalled. Just like you, Cecil, she misdirected by saying 'this is not a warning.'

Recap:

Ben-Veniste asked Rice if a (then-secret) memo, saying X, said X.

Rice evaded, misdirected and ultimately answered a question she preferred.

Not much later, the memo was public. For anyone to see, there it was -- X marks the spot. Another spot on Rice's record.

TM

Folks can look at the transcript and judge the tone of Ben-Veniste's questions for themselves. To my tired partisan eyes, he was trying to score points, rather than learn the truth.

And here is a link to the PDB.

Cecil Turner

"Ben-Veniste's Q was taken directly from the language of the memo."

Well, not quite. Here's the question:

And I am asking you whether . . . the FBI was saying that it had information suggesting that [ongoing] preparations . . . were being made consistent with hijackings within the United States.
And here's the pertinent memo section:
We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [-] service in 1998 saying that Bin Ladin wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Shaykh" 'Umar 'Abd al-Rahman and other US-held extremists.
Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.
You can characterize that as you like, but the "not been able to corroborate" stands out to me. And if you want to nitpick, "since 1998" does not equal "ongoing," and "patterns of suspicious activity" does not equal "suggesting." Also, it's all historical, and the most recent activity was consistent with an Oklahoma City-style attack, not a hijacking.

"That would make, for those paying attention, the answer to Ben-Veniste's question, "Yes.""

Not quite. If Rice's answer is evasive, then Ben-Veniste's question is also misleading. The only specific hijacking threat was downplayed as uncorroborated--the sub-bullets talk about a generic threat and current investigations--suggesting the FBI is "on the case." And I think any fair reading of the entire transcript makes it abundantly clear that Mr Ben-Veniste is playing "gotcha," and Ms Rice is trying to avoid falling into a trap. If that's the sum of your evidence of her "laziness and lying," it isn't very persuasive.

Three's Company

"If Rice's answer is evasive.."
Sounds like you're almost ready to embrace the obvious.
Oh, but "then Ben-Veniste's question is also misleading."

Oh so now the question is misleading!!!
[The PDB says] the only specific hijacking threat was downplayed as uncorroborated.

Always changing the question...

Ben-Veniste did not ask "did you have information of a specific threat of hijacking."

He asked if "the FBI was saying that it had information suggesting that [ongoing] preparations . . . were being made consistent with hijackings within the United States."

The PDB says "Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings"

So you're right Cecil, it would be nitpicking for you to quibble over 'ongoing'. It would also be misleading. The clear meaning of the of the 'nevertheless' reference is to the abscence of specific 'sensational' threats mentioned in the prior para. As in, 'Even though we do not have corroboration of those specific threats, we do have FBI information since that time that indicates..."

And you're also right, that when Rice evaded, Ben-Veniste tried to 'gotcha' her -- since she was evading a very important point, it was the right thing for him to do, imo.

As TM notes, we can read the transcript to judge Mr. Ben-Veniste's 'tone.' Whether Rice's 'tone' also merits evaluation is perhaps less important, apparently.

TM has concluded Ben-Veniste was not trying to "learn the truth." An interesting conclusion.

The transcript does make quite clear that at least as regards the very specific question that was asked, Ms. Rice had no intention of helping any of us learn the truth.

Cecil Turner

"Oh so now the question is misleading!!!"

Well, it wasn't really a question. It was a statement, prefaced by: "I am asking you whether it is not the case that . . . " And since he misstated the FBI memo, the answer, properly, was "no."

"And you're also right, that when Rice evaded, Ben-Veniste tried to 'gotcha' her -- since she was evading a very important point, it was the right thing for him to do, imo."

Evading a very important point? Obviously you see some actionable intelligence in that memo that I missed. Reading it in its entirety, it's exactly as Ms Rice characterized: a historical document that mentions recent suspicious behavior in passing (and again, the only specific was inconsistent with hijackings), and then saying the FBI was blanketing it with ongoing investigations. Ben-Veniste's characterization--essentially: "WARNING, HIJACKINGS AHEAD"--is laughable nonsense.

"The transcript does make quite clear that at least as regards the very specific question that was asked, Ms. Rice had no intention of helping any of us learn the truth."

Ben-Veniste was trying to score a political point, and she wasn't helping him. Harp on it all you like, it's a loser.

iiiiiiiiiiii

Plame didn't work.
Pigs didn't work.
Pragmatism didn't work.
Leaks work!
It's why we need plumbers
And electricians!

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Wilson/Plame