Saturday, November 13, 2004

Formerly Nameless. Currently Jobless 

As the CIA erupts into chaos --
Deep, unresolved tensions between new leaders and senior career officers at the Central Intelligence Agency threaten to set off a rebellion within the agency's clandestine service, according to current and former intelligence officials.

The tensions pit the new intelligence chief, Porter J. Goss, against the C.I.A.'s directorate of operations, the most powerful and secretive part of the agency. Winning allegiance from the career spies within the clandestine service is widely regarded as essential to the success of any intelligence chief.

For now, former intelligence officials say, many career C.I.A. officers do not know whether to regard Mr. Goss as someone dispatched by the White House to punish the agency for past failures, or to rebuild its capabilities to make it stronger.

The officials said discontent had reached a point not seen at the C.I.A. for more than 25 years, and they expressed concern that an atmosphere of ill will and apprehension could distract the agency from its work in the fight against terrorism.
-- Zemblan patriot K.Z. sends along a reminder that Michael Scheuer, the spook formerly known as "Anonymous," will be appearing on 60 Minutes Sunday night to gift the Bush administration with a brand-new orifice for its prosecution of the war on Terra. Mr. Scheuer, who headed the CIA's bin Laden unit from 1996-99, quit his job on Friday so that he could speak his mind without agency approval:
"I have concluded that there has not been adequate national debate over the nature of the threat posed by Osama bin Laden and the forces he leads and inspires, and the nature and dimensions of the intelligence reform needed to address that threat," Scheuer said yesterday. He hopes to produce "a more substantive debate."

In many respects, his mini-revolt is just the most visible sign of a tension that has existed between the White House and the CIA almost since 9/11. As the agency has been censured for its failures leading up to the Sept. 11, and for incorrect estimates about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, agency members have circulated information defending their intelligence reporting and criticizing the Bush administration for going to war in Iraq and diverting attention from Osama bin Laden. Most of the missives have been anonymous leaks.

Never before, say government officials and outside experts, have relations between the CIA and the administration been so contentious. And never, they say, has the agency so publicly crossed the line to involve itself in policy debate. A Wall Street Journal editorial went so far as to call the agency's leaks and criticisms an "insurgency" . . . .

[Scheuer's] first book was an in-depth look at Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network, and was very well received by experts on terrorism as well as policymakers . But his second, best-selling book released this past July, Imperial Hubris, was nothing less than an indictment of the administration's war on terror. He criticized the administration for not immediately responding against bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks.

And he further wrote that the war in Iraq was "an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantages" . . . .

"I've presented this information to two Investigator General studies before 9/11 and to two IG [Inspector General] studies inside our building after 9/11," Scheuer said in a telephone interview. "I've testified before the 9/11 commission and the Shelby-Goss [congressional] commissions. So I've exhausted all the internal mechanisms available to an agency officer ... but I think to the average American, this is important."
During the Goss confirmation hearings, Sen. Dianne Feinstein quoted portions of a scathing letter Scheuer wrote to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, summarizing "ten instances since 1996, picked from dozens of others to protect classified data, in which the decisions of senior Intelligence Community bureaucrats—not legal 'walls,' organizational structure, or inadequate budgets—have been at the core of our failure against Bin Laden." The Atlantic has just published the bulk of the letter under the title "How Not to Catch a Terrorist," and although the full online version, alas, is available to subscribers only, we reproduce a few highlights here:
4. February 1996-May 1998: The Bin Laden unit and several other senior CIA officers requested transcripts rather than summaries of electronic collection against al-Qaeda ... [V]erbatim transcripts are operationally useful, summaries are much less so, and they are usually not timely. The answer to these requests in every case was no. At one point the senior operations officer for an Intelligence Community component said that the National Security Act of 1947 gave her agency control of "raw" signals intelligence, and that she would not pass such material to CIA.

7. May 1998-May 1999: The CIA officers working Bin Laden at Headquarters and in the field gave the U.S. government about ten chances to capture Bin Laden or kill him with military means. In all instances, the decision was made that the "intelligence was not good enough." This assertion cannot be debated publicly without compromising sources and methods. What can be said, however, is that in all these cases there was more concern expressed by senior bureaucrats and policymakers about how international opinion would react to a U.S. action than there was concern about what might happen to Americans if they failed to act. Indeed, on one occasion these senior leaders decided it was more important to avoid hitting a structure near Bin Laden's location with shrapnel, than it was to protect Americans. Two other points: the truth has not been fully told about the chance to militarily attack Bin Laden at a desert hunting camp being used by wealthy Gulf royals; and our best chance to capture Bin Laden—an operation which showed no U.S. hand, risked no U.S. lives, and was endorsed by senior commanders of the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg—was cancelled because senior officials from the Agency, the Executive Branch, and other Intelligence Community components decided to accept assurances from an Islamic country that it could acquire Bin Laden from the Taleban. U.S. officials accepted these assurances despite the well-documented record of that country withholding help—indeed, it was a record of deceit and obstruction—regarding all issues pertaining to Bin Laden between December 1996 and May 1998. The makers of this decision ignored the extensive documentary record that showed nothing but uncooperativeness from this Islamic country.

10. September 2004: In the CIA's core, U.S.-based Bin Laden operational unit today there are fewer Directorate of Operations officers with substantive expertise on al-Qaeda than there were on 11 September 2001. There has been no systematic effort to groom al-Qaeda expertise among Directorate of Operations officers since 11 September ... The excellent management team now running operations against al-Qaeda has made repeated, detailed, and on-paper pleas for more officers to work against the al-Qaeda—and have done so for years, not weeks or months—but have been ignored ...

The deaths of three thousand Americans—and the many more destined to die at Bin Laden's hands—may well be attributable to the type of decisions noted above, the refusal of senior bureaucrats to listen to their subordinates, and, most of all, the unwillingness of senior leaders across the Intelligence Community to remedy fixable problems if it meant making decisions that disturbed the bureaucratic status quo, telling the truth about organizational and operational problems to the congressional oversight committees, or alarming political leaders who might ask the Community to take risks in defense of America.

| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us