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December 05, 2005

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Gabriel Sutherland

C-SPAN's BookTV site appears to be down at the moment. At least it is for me. But this Google cache provides a link to a Real Video version of the same appearance.

We already pay for C-SPAN programming when we pay our cable bill.

Something that stands out in Mahle's commentary is this.

In light of these accusations, people like me who support a strong and capable CIA worry about a public backlash that might significantly undermine the CIA’s ability to meet its counterterrorism mission and keep Americans safe.

Does she mean that the CIA must come first ahead of the goals of the White House Foreign Policy? If the mission is to counter terrorism, then why would one insist on making the CIA your first priority ahead of that of the overall requirements of the US Government.

It seems clear that she wants the CIA to remain the same agency after 9/11 that it was before 9/11 when the reality on the ground is that just isn't going to happen. Particularly in the case of creating an intelligence czar now occupied by John Negroponte.

Gabriel Sutherland

Here's an interesting exchange between Mahle and Reuel Marc Gerecht[What's with the three named CIA officers?] on the issue of torture.

BLITZER: You were a spy for the CIA out in the field for many years before you left the CIA.

In your experience, the issue of torture, does it work?

MAHLE: No. Absolutely not.

If you torture, what you get is a mixed bag of intelligence. And when you don't know what's real and what's false, how do you use it? How are you going to deploy your resources? How are you going to make that bet that this is the issue that's worth following and it's not really denial and deception?

No, I don't think that torture -- torture is the quick and easy and the poor man's way out. You run a good debriefing, you get good intelligence. It takes qualified officers with knowledge of culture, language and history, and you give them the time and the resources to do a good debriefing, then you'll get valuable intelligence.

BLITZER: You agree?

GERECHT: Well, let's just say I think agency officers aren't in a position to tell you whether torture works or not since agency officers have not until recently probably engaged in any rough tactics.

Historically, there is -- one has to be cautious in saying that torture has not at times been effective. I'm not sure one can say with such certainty that torture cannot provide you with valuable information at times. History might tell you otherwise.

I would suggest that the agency certainly has been of the opinion that rendition, the practice of sending foreigners to other countries for rough interrogation that has been of some value -- I think the policy of rendition is a bad one.

But the agency practice which goes back to the Clinton administration in favor of rendition certainly suggests that the institution has seen some value in it.


This is from the November 20th broadcasting of "The Situation Room", aka "guy with a satellite dish show"[tip to the Daily Show]. Later in the transcript Mahle and Gerecht discuss Valerie.

nikita demosthenes

When will someone be indicted - like Scooter Libby - for this real leak detrimental to national security? The leak of information on our military bases in Europe dwarfs the silly Plame "leak." See Mona Charen's article:

http://www.townhall.com/opinion/columns/monacharen/2005/12/02/177488.html

TM

Good find on CNN. This is kind of interesting:

BLITZER: Before we go, I want both of your thoughts on the CIA leak investigation under way right now in the United States. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald continuing the investigation, even though one top U.S. official, Scooter Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff, has been indicted on perjury, obstruction of justice, making false statements counts.

Do you believe there was any serious damage to U.S. national security when Bob Novak wrote a column identifying Valerie Plame Wilson as the wife of Joe Wilson? Was there any damage to the U.S. as a result of that disclosure?

MAHLE: Well, I think in order to have an honest answer to that, you would have to read the damage assessment done by the CIA of the exposure.

The CIA has not done a formal damage assessment and there's a reason for that -- because they don't want to have that damage assessment then become declassified and entered into the court system. So what they've done is an informal assessment.

BLITZER: But you were almost in exactly the same position as Valerie Plame Wilson. You were an undercover -- you were a CIA officer, running spies. Had your true work been made public, while you were in the West Bank or wherever else you were operating, how much damage would there have been to you, your family and to the people you were running, the people you were working with?

MAHLE: I treated my cover extremely seriously, because I was working against terrorists. And since I had a vested interest in staying alive and doing my job and keeping my family life, I treated my cover seriously.

And I think that you can't take covers lightly.

In this case, I think that's exactly what we're doing with Valerie Plame. People are saying it's not important because, you know, people, you know, don't treat it seriously or they're not -- you know, it's not foolproof, all that.

I think that just denies the whole purpose why we have cover -- so we can do our job, so we can protect our agents and so we can gather the intelligence that we need.

BLITZER: We're out of time, and I'll give you the last word.

Reuel?

GERECHT: I think the Central Intelligence Agency treats coverage as a joke overseas. And most assets are run by officers who have their cover blown.

And the discussion of Valerie Plame I think...

BLITZER: Would those be non-official cover or official cover?

GERECHT: Official cover.

BLITZER: It's one thing if you're a defense -- a scientific attache...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... she was working as some sort of a private citizen.

GERECHT: No, she was not. Valerie Plame's case was at best what you would call a NOC of convenience, and I think her cover status overseas was paper thin, was paper thin back here.

BLITZER: But she was working for some fake energy company. She wasn't part of the U.S. Embassy.

GERECHT: No.

But she was part -- she was back at headquarters. Real NOCs never serve in headquarters. Real NOCs do not have desk outside of the chief of...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: There are people who deny that. Larry Johnson, for example...

(CROSSTALK)

GERECHT: All due respect to Larry, he is wrong.

BLITZER: Is he right -- are real NOCs ever allowed to go into the CIA?

MAHLE: Yes, real NOCs do go into the CIA.

BLITZER: NOCs are non-official cover. MAHLE: Non-official cover officers.

BLITZER: So he's wrong?

MAHLE: Yes, he's wrong.

GERECHT: No.

If you have a NOC who comes in, they come under false name for a limited amount of time, they do not work on the desk. Once a NOC comes into headquarters and starts working there -- she was never in that category -- their career as a NOC is over.

And the discussion of Valerie Plame's case has been surreal. The agency has allowed -- has run with this because they'd much prefer to talk about this issue than its vast cases of operational incompetence.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right. We're out of time. But go ahead, just respond and I'll end it.

MAHLE: I think that what that does is deny all the work that Valerie Plame had done in the past. And by saying that she's on the desk and she's not doing real work, I think that's a very false characterization.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there.

Thank you very much, Melissa Boyle Mahle, Reuel Gerecht.

Both Andrea Mitchell and Bob Woodward say that their sources tell them the damage assessment was pretty benign.

And the basic fact of the Mahle story is interesting - she was clandestine, and now is not. Why couldn't thatg have happened with Valerie?

In fact, per Vanity Fair, she was going to be moved from NOC to official cover (e.g., State Dept. liason). My guess - the CIA really didn't mind seeing her move all the way to "disclosed".

Rick Ballard

"My guess - the CIA really didn't mind seeing her move all the way to "disclosed"."

Or California, either.

Sue

The CIA has not done a formal damage assessment and there's a reason for that -- because they don't want to have that damage assessment then become declassified and entered into the court system. So what they've done is an informal assessment.

That is interesting.

Sue

close tag

Sue

cathyf

So did everybody else see the tags close? (I have safari, and don't know any way to close tags so that safari would notice.)

cathy :-)

Sue

I give up.

Sue

I saw them close with my last post. :grin:

DougJ

If they're talking about rendition and torture for Joe Wilson, then I'm for both.

kim

Even when not tortured his information is useless.
=================================================

cathyf

Is being married to Joe torture?

cathy :-)

Gabriel Sutherland

BTW, Dana Priest did provide some original reporting regarding the rendition of German national Khaled Masri. However, they were scooped on the story by "60 Minutes" which covered the story in March 2005.

maryrose

Rick,
Hope the wilsons enjoy sunny california.Loved the double secret probation reference earlier.

cathyf

If you read the executive orders that establish the classification system, they are pretty aggressive about asserting that bureaucrats are not allowed to use the classification system to hide things.

Sec. 1.7. Classification Prohibitions and Limitations. (a) In no case shall information be classified in order to:

  1. conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error;
  2. prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency;
  3. restrain competition; or
  4. prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of the national security.
From the information that we have, Plame's NOC was not classified because the CIA was violating 1, 2 and 4 in setting it up.

Look at all the things that they were doing:

  • Concealing the administrative error of sending her identity to the Swiss embassy in Havanna and forgetting to put it in the diplomatic pouch
  • Concealing the inefficiency of sending an agent of african uranium marketers to Niger, without, at bare minimum, paying him for his services so that he would owe agency to the US rather than to the uranium marketers. Because the US government did not pay him for his trip, and it was undertaken as part of his consulting company's "business," he owed a fiduciary responsibility to his business to advance the business interests of his actual/potential clients (the african uranium merchants). Which means that he had a fiduciary duty to, at the very least, minimize security problems with the clients' business practices, and probably meant that if he came across any evidence that the clients were making or attempting illicit uranium sales then he had a duty to conceal it.
  • Concealing the administrative incompetence of sending someone on an intelligence-gathering mission without getting a confidentiality agreement
  • Concealing evidence that a CIA employee disclosed classified information (the forged memos) to her husband.

I gotta say this Gerecht character sounds like a fairly reasonable guy, but Mahle sounds pretty scary -- how dare anyone tell the CIA people to act like they are fighting for the US against its enemies, as opposed to fighting against their intra- and inter- agency rivals.

cathy :-)

topsecretk9

OT, but Birds of a feather!

Our favorite "teller of the CIA people to act like they are fighting for the US against its enemies, as opposed to fighting against their intra- and inter- agency rivals" aka VIPs member is a class act. He appears to be obsessed with getting a war out on Vallely aka smear, meanwhile his buddy Wilson has still not filed his slander suit yet.

topsecretk9

Cathy F

Yes He does!

Reactions to leak vary among ex-CIA insiders

San Francisco Chronicle
Published Monday, October 31, 2005

"Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former case officer in the CIA’s clandestine service who is now a resident fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, had a different reaction. "I don’t think the relay of just that name, given the circumstances, is such a serious thing," he said. "That kind of thing has happened innumerable times with journalists. This has really been blown egregiously out of proportion."

Also, I need to apologize. I think I have been using a K and not a C, unless I'm coo coo and their is a KathyF commenter too.

Patrick R. Sullivan

Okay, supposedly the damage to indentifying Valerie as CIA is because anyone she worked with back in the 1990s would be endangered.

From Mahle's own promotional site:

'Melissa Boyle Mahle risked her life as a CIA field officer in the Middle East until her departure from the Agency in 2002.'

Can't anyone here play this game?

kim

In the midst of all the ad hominems you were not supposed to notice that there was not one challenge of Vallely's miitary expertise. Surely, if Johnson were wishing to denigrate Vallely's expertise, he would have mentioned an error? And Johnson thinks that writing is convincing?
===============================================

Lew Clark

topsecretk9,
CathyF is her regular going out dining and dancing name. KathyF is her double super ultra top secret way way under cover code name. That little outing is going to get you in some real trouble.

topsecretk9

Lew
I wondered about that, but I'll demand a damage assessment first.

Kim-
Yes, was there a substantive error? But he did manage to drag Vallaly deceased son in a sorta lame effort to appear even handed. Swine.

cathyf

Lew, LOL! And tsK9, if you called me Kathy rather than Cathy I must have totally missed it... I hope you were saying nice things about me. ;-) Or wait a minute, maybe it's better if you reserve any nasty things for that KathyF person!

cathy :-)

Tom Maguire

Can't anyone here play this game?

One does wonder how this woman can go from covertly chasing Mid East terrorists to appearing on television as a former spy, yet Val, who came back lo these long years, has to disguise herself for Vanity Fair.

Our friend Dana Priest had an article on this very point back in Nov 2003 - it's main theme was the transition of CIA officers from covert to public.

Valerie gets mentioned (and her outing by Aldrich Ames, first noted by Kristof, is mentioned).

One might wonder whether this article was a coded message that Valerie's future was as non-covert.

In either case, an operative's cover is created — and rolled back — by the CIA's cover staff.

Most undercover operatives use their real names. The cover staff creates fictitious paychecks and bank accounts, driver's licenses, parking permits and building passes — "proof" that the person works somewhere other than the CIA.

For NOCs working in front companies, the CIA creates fake payroll checks, tax forms, incorporation papers, business cards, suppliers, phone lines, employees and whatever else it takes to thwart discovery, including bankruptcy papers or closing notices when it is time to fold up an operation.

In recent years, the agency has rolled back most employees' cover when they leave the agency. How many join the regular world each year is unknown.

During the Cold War, the CIA kept most retired employees undercover out of fear they would be prey for Soviet and East Bloc counterintelligence services. It was an expensive practice. Maintaining a cover means the false phone line has to work and someone has to be there to answer it. If the cover involved a front company, business records and fake employees might have to be kept on board to thwart detection.

After the Cold War ended, some retired NOCs were required to live undercover until they died. At the same time, during the 1990s, the budget for the Directorate of Operations shrank by 20 percent, according to officials familiar with the CIA's classified budget. Partly with the budget in mind and partly because many former "target" countries were no longer hostile to the United States, CIA officials decided to roll back nearly all retiring operatives' cover. Even some NOCs have their cover rolled back these days.

...Plame's case is different in that she was burned — not once, but twice. The first time was by Aldrich Ames, the CIA turncoat who is believed to have given the Russians the name of every covert operative in the Soviet/East European Division over 10 years beginning in about 1985.

Not knowing exactly whom he had outed, the CIA recalled hundreds of operatives, including Plame, for their safety. Still, her undercover status remained intact until July, when syndicated columnist Robert Novak identified her by name as a CIA "operative" in a column about her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, whom the CIA had sent to Niger to check on allegations that Iraq was seeking to purchase uranium oxide there.

It is difficult to assess the damage to national security from the Plame case without knowing her specific assignments. Between July and October, when the story of Plame's outing took on a much higher profile, the CIA was not officially assessing the damage from Novak's column. Nor was the agency taking, or recommending that Plame take, any particular security precautions.

The CIA has not launched a damage assessment, but in matters that involve law enforcement, such as the Justice Department's investigation into who leaked Plame's name and occupation to Novak, the CIA typically waits until the case is wrapped up so that nothing it unearths is subject to discovery in court.

For officers posted in the Washington area, "cover becomes quite fragile," one retired senior CIA officer said. There are social circles — neighborhoods, soccer leagues, cocktail parties — filled with overt and covert CIA employees and Defense and State department officials.

kim

Cover becomes quite fragile when Joe Bull is let loose in the china shop.
===============================================

kim

Come to think of it, Joe Wilson is a little like one of those college pranks when you leave a dead animal in someone's room over the Christmas vacation. Now who shot Joe Bull?
=============================================

kim

Something's rotten in California and I can smell it all the way over here.

Oh, no, here comes the inevitable joke about hoof in mouth disease.
===========================================

Gabriel Sutherland

You know, perhaps keeping the identity of "retired" CIA officers was better than what we now have.

Take Mahle for instance. She "retires" from the Agency. So she isn't running agents around the globe anymore. Or is she running agents around the globe, just not on behalf of the US government?

Since she works for another Washington consulting firm for businesses looking to do business in the Arab world, what exactly is different about that line of work from her CIA line of work?

kim

Loyalty oath in the CIA.
========================

narciso

The answer is yes; she is running agents, probably for the other side. What was Mrs. Mahle's great triumph in Hebron and Jerusalem anyways.

cathyf

I find the whole idea of it being too expensive to keep retired NOCs undercover to be outrageous. As if the US government isn't chock full of goldbrickers and unfireable incompetents in jobs which are (fortunately) unnecessary. Here's a case where there is some actual national security reason to be passing over an unearned paycheck, and the number of people involved is pretty small. This should just be a cost of doing business.

...during the 1990s, the budget for the Directorate of Operations shrank by 20 percent, according to officials familiar with the CIA's classified budget. Partly with the budget in mind..., CIA officials decided to roll back nearly all retiring operatives' cover. Even some NOCs have their cover rolled back these days.
Oh, yes, the Clinton legacy. Not only did interns prostitute themselves to the boss, but ex-spooks were forced to prostitute themselves to put food on the table...

cathy :-)

clarice

Powerline notes the irony of the Administration's defense of the CIA on the prison and transport programs necessitated by the Agency's leaks of those very programs designed to end them and adds to the chorus of those who say it's time to dismantle the CYA.

kim

Cover Its Ass.
===============

maryrose

CIA leaks- Isn't that an oxymoron?

DougJ

What the liberals fail to realize is that trials have outlived their usefulness. The way things work today, we can gather enough information on suspected terrorists and other miscreants that we can ascertain their guilt or innocent without any input from a court. Better just to grab them rather than waste thousands battling some crackpot ACLU lawyer and risk the possibility that the people on the jury fall for the lawyer’s weepy story about mistaken identity.

Trials, courts, “due process”...that was all fine, or so it seemed, before 9/11. But we’re living in a post 9/11 world now.

Robin Roberts

A redundancy, Mary, a redundancy.

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Wilson/Plame