Crime and CIA Embarrassments

Exclusive: Ex-CIA official Jeffrey Sterling is going on trial for espionage because he allegedly told a reporter about a botched covert op that sent flawed nuclear designs to Iran, but powerful people want to spare ex-CIA Director David Petraeus indictment for leaking secrets to a mistress, notes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

I confess to being naive. From what I had read about “Operation Merlin,” a harebrained scheme to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, I was convinced that the CIA would be determined to avoid calling more attention to it. Or, by extension, to author James Risen’s continuing revelations in his new book Pay Any Price”  of unconscionable incompetence by our intrepid spies. “Merlin” was exposed in an earlier Risen book, State of War.

How wrong I was! The decision by the CIA and hired hands at the Justice Department to prosecute former CIA official Jeffrey Sterling reflects, rather, a clear determination to give priority to deterring potential whistleblowers privy to information extremely embarrassing to the government. I repeat, embarrassing to the government, not detrimental to the national security. 

As for risk of extreme embarrassment once U.S. citizens got additional insight into the dumb schemes of amateur intelligence operators, the government presumably thinks it can depend on mainstream media to treat bungling by our sophomore spies “with discretion.”

In short, the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling seems to have little to do with exposing secrets, but everything to do with hiding the kind of gross misfeasance that truth be told does constitute a real and present danger to our national security.

Similarly, one might think the government would be embarrassed when it became more widely known that Jeffrey Sterling did go to Senate Intelligence Committee staffers to tell them of this unconscionably stupid covert action (which involved delivering flawed nuclear weapons blueprints to Iran in 2000 with the goal of sabotaging any bomb-building plans, but the flaws were apparently detected and the real data inadvertently exposed genuine nuclear-weapons secrets).

Sterling’s efforts to go through channels had zero results. One need not be a cynic to conclude that the government apparently sees an overweening, countervailing positive in demonstrating to potential whistleblowers (if further evidence were needed) that going to congressional “overseers” is a feckless exercise and only serves to get you in a peck of trouble. When Risen included a section about Operation Merlin in State of War, Sterling became the chief suspect and now faces 10 felony counts, including seven under the Espionage Act.

In this light, is there not supreme irony in former Senate Intelligence Committee chair Diane Feinstein’s plea that former CIA Director David Petraeus not be prosecuted for sharing classified information with his biographer/mistress because he has “suffered enough?” Does one have to be an intelligence officer to appreciate the gravity of that crime, especially since Petraeus served as the agency’s top official? Do the big shots with lots of important friends get one standard of justice and the lower ranks get another?

Apparently, there are some old-timers at the FBI and Justice who deem Petraeus’s alleged indiscretions with classified material eminently worthy to pursue. And they presumably know the sensitivity of what Petraeus shared.

There is sad precedent here. After former CIA Director John Deutch stepped down in December 1996, CIA security discovered that several of his “unclassified” laptop computers at his home contained highly classified intelligence information, spurring a formal security investigation. Deutch got a pardon from President Bill Clinton on his last day in office.

With the arrogant Deutch it was above-the-law hubris, pure and simple; there was no sign of any effort to curry the favors of a paramour-cum-biographer. Sadly for Petraeus, L’Affaire Paula Broadwell seems to be over. Perhaps that is part of what Sen. Feinstein has in mind in suggesting he has already “suffered enough”? And he went through all that embarrassment! Poor boy!

A cruelly different standard applies to Jeffrey Sterling, who is alleged to have let the American people in on the secret of a reckless covert action.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was a CIA analyst for 27 years, and now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Will France Repeat US Mistakes after 9/11?

Exclusive: As three suspects in the Charlie Hebdo massacre die in a shootout with French police, the cycle of violence that has engulfed the Mideast again reaches into the West, but the challenge is to learn from U.S. mistakes after 9/11 and address root causes, not react with another round of mindless violence, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

First, a hat tip to Elias Groll, assistant editor at Foreign Policy, whose report just a few hours after the killings on Wednesday at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, included this key piece of background on the younger of the two brother suspects:

“Carif Kouachi was previously known to the authorities, as he was convicted by a French court in 2008 of trying to travel to Iraq to fight in that country’s insurgent movement. Kouachi told the court that he wished to fight the American occupation after viewing images of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.”

The next morning, Amy Goodman of and Juan Cole (in his blog) also carried this highly instructive aspect of the story of the unconscionable terrorist attack, noting that the brothers were well known to French intelligence; that the younger brother, Cherif, had been sentenced to three years in prison for his role in a network involved in sending volunteer fighters to Iraq to fight alongside al-Qaeda; and that he said he had been motivated by seeing the images of atrocities by U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib.

An article in the Christian Science Monitor added:  “During Cherif Kouachi’s 2008 trial, he told the court, ‘I really believed in the idea’ of fighting the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.”  But one would look in vain for any allusion to Abu Ghraib or U.S. torture in coverage by the Wall Street Journal or Washington Post. If you read to the end of a New York Times article, you would find in paragraph 10 of 10 a brief (CYA?) reference to Abu Ghraib.

So I guess we’ll have to try to do their work for them. Would it be unpatriotic to suggest that a war of aggression and part of its “accumulated evil” torture as well as other kinds of state terrorism like drone killings are principal catalysts for this kind of non-state terrorism? Do any Parisians yet see blowback from France’s Siamese-twin relationship with the U.S. on war in the Middle East and the Mahgreb, together with their government’s failure to speak out against torture by Americans? Might this fit some sort of pattern?

Well, duh. Not that this realization should be anything new. In an interview on Dec. 3, 2008, Amy Goodman posed some highly relevant questions to a former U.S. Air Force Major who uses the pseudonym Matthew Alexander, who personally conducted more than 300 interrogations in Iraq and supervised more than a thousand.

AMY GOODMAN: “I want to go to some larger issues, this very important point that you make that you believe that more than 3,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq, I mean, this is a huge number, because of torture, because of U.S. practices of torture. Explain what you mean.”

MATTHEW ALEXANDER: “Well, you know, when I was in Iraq, we routinely handled foreign fighters, who we would capture. Many of, several of them had been scheduled to be suicide bombers, and we had captured them before they carried out their missions.

“They came from all over the area. They came from Yemen. They came from northern Africa. They came from Saudi. All over the place. And the number one reason these foreign fighters gave for coming to Iraq was routinely because of Abu Ghraib, because of Guantanamo Bay, because of torture practices.

“In their eyes, they see us as not living up to the ideals that we have subscribed to. You know, we say that we represent freedom, liberty and justice. But when we torture people, we’re not living up to those ideals. And it’s a huge incentive for them to join al-Qaeda.

“You also have to kind of put this in the context of Arab culture and Muslim culture and how important shame, the role of shame in that culture. And when we torture people, we bring a tremendous amount of shame on them. And so, it is a huge motivator for these people to join al-Qaeda and come to Iraq.”

However, if you listen to the corporate media, there is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks. The average consumer of this thin gruel of “information” might come away thinking that Muslims are hard-wired to despise Westerners or they might recall President George W. Bush’s favorite explanation, “they hate our freedoms.”

One has to go back five years to find a White House correspondent worth his or her salt who bluntly raised this central question. In early January 2010, after President Barack Obama gave a flaccid account of the intelligence screw-up that almost downed an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, the late Helen Thomas asked why the culprit, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, did what he did.

Like Carif Kouachi, he had trained in Yemen; like Carif Kouachi, he had slipped through the U.S. counter-terrorist security sieve despite intelligence that should have nailed him and despite the billions of dollars frivolously spent on eavesdropping on virtually everyone in the world. (The eavesdropping had created such a giant haystack of data that intelligence analysts couldn’t locate the crucial needle even when Abdulmutallab’s father called to warn U.S. officials about his son’s dangerous radicalization.)

Here’s the revealing exchange between Thomas and John Brennan, who was then White House counterterrorism adviser and is now CIA director:

Thomas: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”

Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”

Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”

Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”

Thomas: “Why?”

Brennan: “I think this is a, long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

Neither did President Obama, nor anyone else in the U.S. political/media hierarchy. All the American public gets is the boilerplate about how al-Qaeda evildoers are perverting a religion and exploiting impressionable young men.

Palace Pundits Make It Worse

The intelligence tradecraft term of art for a “cooperating” journalist, businessperson or academic is “agent of influence.” Some housebroken journalists take such scrupulous notes that they end up sounding dangerously close to their confidential government sources. Some have gone even further and actually worked for the CIA.

For a recent example of the housebroken variety, count the number of cooperating journalists who repeated the CIA and Republican line that the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture released last month was “flawed and partisan,” even though it was based on CIA cables and other original documents.

Or think further back to those vengeful days in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the macho pose taken by President George W. Bush, who won oohs and aahs for posturing with a bullhorn and throwing an opening pitch at a Yankees game (and later for dressing up in a flight suit as he arrived to deliver his “Mission Accomplished” speech).

CIA operative Gary Schroen told National Public Radio that, just days after 9/11, Counterterrorist chief Cofer Black sent him to Afghanistan with orders to “Capture bin Laden, kill him, and bring his head back in a box on dry ice.” As for other al-Qaeda leaders, Black reportedly said, “I want their heads up on pikes.”

This bloodthirsty tone reverberated among Bush-friendly pundits who sought to out-macho each other. One consummate insider, Washington Post veteran Jim Hoagland went so far as to publish a letter to President Bush on Oct. 31, 2001, that was no Halloween prank. Rather, Hoagland strongly endorsed what he termed the “wish” for “Osama bin Laden’s head on a pike,” which he claimed was the objective of Bush’s “generals and diplomats.”

In his open letter to Bush, Hoagland also lifted the curtain on the actual neoconservative game plan by giving Bush the following ordering of priorities: “The need to deal with Iraq’s continuing accumulation of biological and chemical weapons and the technology to build a nuclear bomb can in no way be lessened by the demands of the Afghan campaign. You must conduct that campaign so that you can pivot quickly from it to end the threat Saddam Hussein’s regime poses.”

Thus, Hoagland had the “pivot” idea three weeks before Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Gen. Tommy Franks to tell him the President wanted the military to shift focus to Iraq. Franks and his senior aides had been working on plans for attacks on Tora Bora where bin Laden was believed hiding but attention, planning and resources were abruptly diverted toward Iraq. And Osama bin Laden, of course, walked out of Tora Bora through the mountain passes to Pakistan.

The point here is that some media favorites are extremely well briefed partly because they are willing to promote what the powerful want to do and because they are careful not to bite the hands that feed them by criticizing the CIA or other national security agencies. Still fewer are inclined to point out basic structural faults, not to mention the crimes of recent years.

So it is up to those of us who know something of intelligence and how structural faults, above-the-law mentality and flexible consciences can spell disaster — how reckless reactions to terrorist provocations can make matters worse by accelerating a truly vicious cycle and doing nothing to address the underlying causes that prompted the violence in the first place.

Because of the refusal to seriously address the question of why that Helen Thomas posed to John Brennan or to do more than compete like bodybuilders adopting the most muscular poses disaster after disaster is what the West is in for, if it does not come to its senses.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was a CIA analyst for 27 years, and now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Rebuilding the Obama-Putin Trust

Exclusive: Heading into the last quarter of his presidency, Barack Obama must decide whether he will let the neocons keep pulling his strings or finally break loose and pursue a realistic foreign policy seeking practical solutions to world problems, including the crisis with Russia over Ukraine, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

The year 2015 will surely mark a watershed in relations between the United States and Russia, one way or the other. However, whether tensions increase to war-by-proxy in Ukraine or an even wider war or whether they subside depends mostly on President Barack Obama.

Key to answering this question is a second one: Is Obama smart enough and strong enough to rein in Secretary of State John Kerry, the neocons and “liberal interventionists” running the State Department and to stand up to the chicken hawks in Congress, most of whom feel free to flirt with war because they know nothing of it.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, by contrast, experienced the effects of war at an early age. He was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) eight years after the vicious siege by the German army ended. Michael Walzer, in his War Against Civilians, notes, “More people died in the 900-day siege of Leningrad than in the infernos of Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki taken together.”

Putin’s elder brother Viktor died during the siege. The experience of Putin’s youth is, of course, embedded in his consciousness. This may help to account for why he tends to be short on the kind of daredevil bluster regularly heard from senior Western officials these days many of whom are ignorant both of suffering from war and the complicated history of Ukraine.

This time last year, few Americans could point out Ukraine on a map. And malnourished as they are on “mainstream media,” most have little idea of its internal political tensions, a schism between a western Ukraine oriented toward Europe and an eastern Ukraine with strong ties to Russia.

Let’s start with a brief mention of the most salient points of this history before addressing its recent detritus — and making a few recommendations as the New Year begins. Less than three weeks after the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9. 1989, President George H.W. Bush invited Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev to a summit in Malta where they cut an historic deal: Moscow would refrain from using force to re-impose control over Eastern Europe; Washington would not “take advantage” of the upheaval and uncertainty there.

That deal was fleshed out just two months later, when Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker persuaded Gorbachev to swallow the bitter pill of a reunited Germany in NATO in return for a promise that NATO would not “leapfrog” eastward over Germany. Former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Jack Matlock, who was witness to all this, told me in an email, “I don’t see how anybody could view the subsequent expansion of NATO as anything but ‘taking advantage.’”

This consummate diplomat, who took part in the critical bilateral talks in early 1990, added that the mutual pledge was not set down in writing. Nonetheless, reneging on a promise written or not can put a significant dent in trust.

Why No Written Deal

Last year I asked Matlock and also Viktor Borisovich Kuvaldin, one of Gorbachev’s advisers from 1989 to 1991, why the Baker-Gorbachev understanding was not committed to paper. Matlock replied:

“There was no agreement then. Both Baker and West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher were putting forth ideas for Gorbachev to consider. He did not give an answer but just said he would think about them. … The formal agreements had to involve others, and they did, in the two-plus-four agreement, which was concluded only in late 1990.”

Fair enough.

In an email to me last fall, Kuvaldin corroborated what Matlock told me. But he led off by pointing out “the pledge of no eastward expansion of NATO was made to Gorbachev on consecutive days when he met first with Baker and then with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl [on Feb. 9 and 10, 1990].” As to why this pledge was not written down, Kuvaldin explained:

“Such a request would have sounded a little bit strange at that time. The Warsaw Pact was alive; Soviet military personnel were stationed all over central Europe; and NATO had nowhere to go. At the beginning of February 1990 hardly anybody could foresee the turn of events in the 1990s.”

Again, fair enough. But when I met Kuvaldin a few months earlier in Moscow and asked him out of the blue why there is no record of the promises given to his boss Gorbachev, his reply was more spontaneous and visceral. He tilted his head, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “We trusted you.”

Written down or not, it was a matter of trust and of not “taking advantage.” Kuvaldin’s boss Gorbachev opted to trust not only the U.S. Secretary of State, but also the West German government in Bonn. According to a report in Der Spiegel quoting West German foreign ministry documents released just five years ago:

“On Feb. 10, 1990, between 4 and 6:30 p.m., Genscher spoke with [Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard] Shevardnadze. And, according to the German record of the conversation, Genscher said: ‘We are aware that NATO membership for a unified Germany raises complicated questions. For us, however, one thing is certain: NATO will not expand to the east.’ And because the conversation revolved mainly around East Germany, Genscher added explicitly: ‘As far as the non-expansion of NATO is concerned, this also applies in general.’”

NATO’s Growth Spurt

Some of us though a distinct minority know the rest of the story. Generally overlooked in Western media, it nevertheless sets the historical stage as background for the upheaval in Ukraine last year. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the break-up of the Warsaw Pact Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2004. Albania and Croatia joined in 2009. And the Kremlin’s leaders could do little more than look on impotently and seethe.

One can hardly fault those countries, most of which had lots of painful experience at Soviet hands. It is no mystery why they would want to crowd under the NATO umbrella against any foul weather coming from the East. But, as George Kennan and others noted at the time, it was a regrettable lack of imagination and statesmanship that no serious alternatives were devised to address the concerns of countries to the east of Germany other than membership in NATO.

The more so, inasmuch as there were so few teeth left, at the time, in the mouth of the Russian bear. And not least of all a promise is a promise.

As NATO expansion drew in countries closer to Russia’s borders, the Kremlin drew a red line when, despite very strong warnings from Moscow, an April 3, 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest declared: “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.” Both countries, former Soviet states, press up upon Russia’s soft southern underbelly.

Often forgotten in the West, but not in Russia is the impulsive reaction this NATO statement gave rise to on the part of Georgia’s then-President Mikheil Saakashvili, who felt his oats even before the NATO umbrella could be opened. Less than five months after Georgia was put in queue for NATO membership, Saakashvili ordered Georgian forces to attack the city of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. No one should have been surprised when Russia retaliated sharply, giving Georgian forces a very bloody nose in battles that lasted just five days.

Ultimately, Saakashvili’s cheerleaders of the George W. Bush administration and then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who had been egging Saakashvili on, were powerless to protect him. Instead of drawing appropriate lessons from this failed experiment, however, the neocons running the foreign policy of Bush and remaining inside the Obama administration set their sights on Ukraine.

One Regime Change Too Many

It is becoming harder to hide the truth that Washington’s ultimate objective to satisfy Ukraine’s “Western aspirations” and incorporate it, ultimately, into NATO was what led the U.S. to mount the coup of Feb. 22, 2014, in Kiev. While it may be true that, as is said, revolutions “will not be televised,” coups d’état can be YouTubed.

And three weeks before the putsch in Kiev, U.S. State Department planning to orchestrate the removal of the Ukraine’s duly elected President Viktor Yanukovych and select new leaders for Ukraine was placed chapter and verse on YouTube in the form of a four-minute intercepted telephone conversation between Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and the yes-ma’am U.S. Ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt.

Hearing is believing. And for those in a hurry, here is a very short transcribed excerpt:

Nuland: What do you think?

Pyatt: I think we’re in play. The Klitschko [Vitaly Klitschko, one of three main opposition leaders] piece is obviously the complicated electron here. … I think that’s the next phone call you want to set up, is exactly the one you made to Yats [Arseniy Yatseniuk, another opposition leader]. And I’m glad you sort of put him on the spot on where he fits in this scenario. And I’m very glad that he said what he said in response.

Nuland: Good. I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary, I don’t think it’s a good idea.

Pyatt: Yeah. I guess … just let him stay out and do his political homework and stuff. … We want to keep the moderate democrats together. The problem is going to be Tyahnybok [Oleh Tyahnybok, the other main opposition leader, head of the far-right Svoboda party] and his guys …

Nuland: [Breaks in] I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the … what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week, you know. …

And so, surprise, surprise: “Yats” turned out to be Nuland’s guy just three weeks later, being named prime minister right after the putsch on Feb. 22. And he still is. Talk about luck!

However transparent the dark arts of the “Maidan Marionettes” (the title Russian translators gave the images accompanying their version of the conversation on YouTube), these particular heroics are rarely mentioned in “mainstream” U.S. media (MSM). Instead, pride of place is given to Moscow’s “aggression” in annexing Crimea, a move that followed Crimea’s voters overwhelmingly choosing to bail out on the coup-imposed regime in Kiev and seek to rejoin Russia.

Seeing No Nazis

In the major U.S. media, the violent coup on Feb. 22 spearheaded by well-organized neo-Nazi militias who killed police and seized government buildings was whitewashed from what the American people got to see and hear. In the preferred U.S. narrative, Yanukovych and his officials simply decided to leave town because of the moral force from the white-hatted peaceful protesters in the Maidan.

So it came as a welcome surprise when an Establishment notable like George Friedman, during a Dec. 19 interview with the Russian magazine Kommersant, described the February overthrow of the Ukrainian government as “the most blatant coup in history.” Friedman is head of STRATFOR, a think tank often described as a “shadow CIA.”

However, in the mainstream U.S. media’s narrative as well as others like the BBC where I have had personal experience with the ticklish issue of Ukraine the story of the Ukraine crisis starts with the annexation of Crimea, which is sometimes termed a Russian “invasion” although Russian troops were already stationed inside Crimea at the Russian naval base at Sevastopol. In the MSM, there is “just not enough time, regrettably” to mention NATO’s eastward expansion or even the coup in Kiev.

The other favored part of the MSM’s narrative is that Putin instigated the Ukraine crisis because he was eager to seize back land lost in the break-up of the Soviet Union. But there is not one scintilla of evidence that the Russians would have taken back Crimea, were it not for the coup engineered by Nuland and implemented by various thugs including openly fascist groups waving banners with Nazi symbols.

Years ago, Nuland fell in with some very seedy companions. The list is long; suffice it to mention here that she served as Principal Deputy National Security Advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney’s in his shadow national security council during the “dark-side” years from 2003 to 2005.

There Nuland reportedly worked on “democracy promotion” in Iraq and did such a terrific job at it that she was promoted, under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to State Department spokesperson and then to Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, giving her the Ukraine account. Nuland is also married to neocon theorist Robert Kagan, whose Project for the New American Century pushed for the invasion of Iraq as early as 1998. [See’s “Obama’s True Foreign Policy ‘Weakness.’”]

By December 2013, Nuland was so confident of her control over U.S. policy toward Ukraine that she publicly reminded Ukrainian business leaders that, to help Ukraine achieve “its European aspirations, we have invested more than $5 billion.” She even waded into the Maidan protests to pass out cookies and urge the demonstrators on.

In keeping her in the State Department and promoting her, Obama and his two secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry created a human bridge to the neocons’ dark-side years. Nuland also seems to have infected impressionable Obama administration officials with the kind approach to reality attributed by author Ron Suskind to one senior Bush administration official: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

This may be the nostrum used by Nuland and Kerry to whom Obama has mostly deferred to run U.S. policy vis-à-vis Russia. Ambassador Matlock will find it small solace, but it may help him understand what seems to be going on in policy toward Ukraine.

Writing early last year on the burgeoning crisis there, Matlock said: “I cannot understand how he [Obama] could fail to recognize that confronting President Putin publicly on an issue that is so central to Russian national pride and honor, not only tends to have the opposite effect on the issue at hand, but actually strengthens tendencies in Russia that we should wish to discourage. It is as if he, along with his advisers, is living in some alternate ideological and psychological universe.”

Putin: Little Tolerance for Other Reality

Before finishing with a few recommendations, let’s apply the proven tools of media analysis to see if we can discern how Russian President Putin is reacting to all this. (Hint: He is not going to yield to pressure on the issue of Ukraine.)

At a press conference ten days after the coup in Kiev, Putin complained about “our Western partners” continuing to interfere in Ukraine. “I sometimes get the feeling,” he said, “that somewhere across that huge puddle, in America, people sit in a lab and conduct experiments, as if with rats, without actually understanding the consequences of what they are doing. Why do they need to do this?”

And in a speech two weeks later, Putin said:

“Our colleagues in the West have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed before us an accomplished fact. This happened with NATO’s expansion to the east, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. It happened with the deployment of a missile defense system.

“They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner. But there is a limit to everything. And with Ukraine, our Western partners have crossed the line. If you compress the spring all the way to its limit, it will snap back hard. Today, it is imperative to end this hysteria and refute the rhetoric of the cold war. Russia has its own national interests that need to be taken into account and respected.”

On Sept. 8, 2013, when Secretary Kerry swore Nuland in as Assistant Secretary of State, he gushed over “Toria’s” accomplishments, with a panegyric fully deserving of the adjective fulsome. It was a huge hint that Kerry would give her free rein in crafting policy toward Russia, Ukraine, et al.

Fortunately, Nuland was not able to sabotage the behind-the-scenes dialogue between Obama and Putin that enabled Putin to dissuade Obama from attacking Syria in September 2013 by convincing him the Syrians were about to agree to destroy all their chemical weapons. Obama had cut Kerry out of those sensitive talks, but left on his own Kerry continued to try to drum up international support for military action against Syria.

That Kerry was blindsided by the extraordinary agreement worked out by Obama and Putin with Syria, became embarrassingly obvious when Kerry, at a press conference in London on Sept. 9, 2013, dismissed any likelihood that Syria would ever agree to let its chemical arsenal be destroyed. Later that same day the agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons was announced.

Sadly, to some significant degree, the U.S. mischief in Ukraine can be regarded as payback from Kerry, his Senate buddy John McCain, and of course Nuland for Russia’s dashing their hopes for a major U.S. military bombing campaign against the Syrian government.

Putin: Kerry “Knows He Is Lying”

It is rare that a head of state will call the head diplomat of a rival state a “liar.” But that’s what Putin did six days after Obama overruled Kerry and stopped the attack on Syria. On Sept. 5, 2013, as Obama arrived in St. Petersburg for the G-20 summit, Putin referred openly to Kerry’s congressional testimony on Syria a few days earlier in which Kerry greatly exaggerated the strength of the “moderate” rebels in Syria.

Kerry had also repeated highly dubious claim (made 35 times at an Aug. 30 State Department press conference) that the Assad government was behind the chemical attacks near Damascus on Aug. 21, that he had thus had crossed the “red line” Obama had set, and that Syria needed to be admonished by military attack.

About Kerry, Putin took the gloves off: “This was very unpleasant and surprising for me. We talk to them [the Americans], and we assume they are decent people, but he is lying and he knows that he is lying. This is sad.”

Putin’s stern words about Kerry and the behind-the-scenes Obama-Putin collaboration that defused the Syrian crisis of 2013 appear to have awakened the neocons to the need to shatter that cooperation and the Ukraine coup became the perfect device to do so.

New Year’s Resolutions

Five things for Obama to do for a fresh start to the New Year:

1 Fire Kerry and Nuland.

2 Read the New York Times op-ed by Putin on Sept. 11, 2013, just after cooperation with Obama had yielded the extraordinary result of the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.

3 Stop the foolish talk about the U.S. being “the one indispensable nation.” (The President said this so many times last year that some suspect he is beginning to believe his own rhetoric. This is how Putin chose to address this feel-good, but noxious, triumphalism in ending his op-ed:

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

4 Lean on the Quislings in Kiev to stop their foolishness. One golden opportunity to do that would be to participate in the international summit called for by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Jan. 15 in Kazakhstan, where Putin and the leaders of Germany and France are also expected to take part.

5 Finally, pick a different ending this year for your speeches. How about: “God bless the United States of America and the rest of the world, too.”

Ray McGovern now works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his 27 years as a CIA analyst, he served as chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch, chair of several National Intelligence Estimates, and preparer and White House briefer of the President’s Daily Brief.  He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Torture’s Time for Accountability

Exclusive: America’s reputation for cognitive dissonance is being tested by the Senate report documenting the U.S. government’s torture of detainees and the fact that nothing is happening to those responsible. Ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern says the nation must choose between crossing the Delaware or the Rubicon.

By Ray McGovern

I trust I was not alone in seeing irony in President Barack Obama’s public chiding of Sony on Friday for caving in to hacker demands to cancel distribution of its comedy “The Interview” about a fictional CIA plot to assassinate North Korea’s real-life leader Kim Jong-Un after a retaliatory cyber attack blamed on North Korea.

Rather than questioning Sony’s wisdom in producing a film that jokes about something as serious as assassinating a nation’s leader, Obama upbraided Sony’s producers for the decision to pull the movie from theaters. “I wish they had spoken to me first,” said Obama, warning them not to ”get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated.”

The irony that I saw was in Obama’s “tough-guy” advice just after he had been so intimidated by the real-life CIA that he could not muster the courage to fire those who managed and carried out a quite-unfunny policy of torture on an industrial scale much less try to find some way to hold senior officials of the Bush/Cheney administration accountable. However great the financial loss to Sony’s bottom line, the costs attributable to Obama’s timidity are incalculably more damaging to the United States.

Of course, the common thread between assassinations and torture is Official Washington’s disdain for international law at least as it pertains to the “exceptional” U.S. government. I suppose it might have been even more ironic if President Obama, who has overseen an actual targeted assassination program for six years, would have voiced concern about a movie making light of a made-up assassination plot.

(There was a time, especially after the 1960s, when Americans didn’t find the notion of murdering political leaders very amusing.)

Anyway, veteran UPI editor Arnaud de Borchgrave had it right on Friday when he noted that the CIA torture abuses revealed in the report released by Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein on Dec. 9 have “given the U.S. a geopolitical black eye of worldwide dimensions. For the average Russian, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, African, Arab, Iranian, or any other race or nationality, America is now no better or worse than any other global scoundrel.”

Not amused by the U.S. government’s we’re-above-the-law arrogance, North Korea’s U.N. ambassador has called on the world body to investigate the CIA for subjecting captured al-Qaeda operatives to “brutal, medieval” forms of torture. (No, that is not a joke. North Korea is lecturing Washington on barbaric behavior.) It seems clear that the damage done by the CIA’s officially sanctioned torture and equally important Obama’s decision to hold the torturers harmless, leave an incalculably large, indelible stain on the U.S. reputation for defending human rights.

Crossing Our Delaware

So what happens next, after America now acknowledges having crossed the Rubicon into the practice of torture a decade ago? What to do after these abhorrent “techniques,” such as waterboarding and “rectal rehydration,” have been exposed in a redacted Senate Intelligence Committee report based on CIA cables, emails and other original documents?  (I find myself wondering whether even more sadistic outrages would be detailed in the un-redacted text of the Senate report.)

The question remains: Will the top torture criminals and their obedient lackeys from George W. Bush and Dick Cheney down to those CIA personnel and contractors “just following orders” in the CIA’s secret prisons continue to escape accountability? As things now stand, the sad answer seems to be, “Yes, unless.”

At this point, those responsible will continue to enjoy de facto immunity unless (1) they travel abroad and are apprehended and brought to justice under the principle of “universal jurisdiction” by governments more committed to enforcing international law than our own; or (2) unless we citizens summon the kind of courage shown by the “winter soldiers” of George Washington’s army who crossed the Delaware and turned the tide of battle at Christmastime 1776, leading four cold Christmases later to American freedom from British rule.

Worth noting in this connection is that Gen. George Washington imposed strong strictures against abuse of captured British and Hessian prisoners, strictures not observed by the English forces who deemed the American soldiers “traitors” and often confined them to appalling conditions aboard prison ships and in other unsanitary locations where more than 10,000 died of neglect.

Thomas Paine, one of the stalwart soldiers in Washington’s army, famously wrote during that difficult winter of 1776-77: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of all men and women.”

It might well be said of us that “Now is the winter of our discontent,” a time when rock-ribbed American ideals have been trampled beneath the boot of thuggish behavior and all that seems left is a swaggering haughtiness more fitting the British officer corps than our courageous “rabble in arms.”

Today’s question is whether we will be discontented enough to expose ourselves to the elements, as those “winter soldiers” were exposed, albeit “elements” of a different kind, risks to our reputations, impositions on our time, commitment of our talents and resources. But it may be our turn to repay the debt to those soldiers who overcame great odds and great hardships to create a nation based on the rule of law, not the whim of men.

Though the Founders were flawed individuals themselves and the early United States should not be idealized as a place without grave injustices there was wisdom in many of their principles, including a prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments” in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

They also made wise observations about America’s proper place in the world as a beacon of liberty, not as the world’s policeman. Recognizing the dangers and corruption that could come from excessive involvement in foreign conflicts, the first three presidents George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson all warned against “entangling alliances.” And years later, President John Quincy Adams, who had watched the new nation from its birth, warned that America “goes not abroad seeking monsters to destroy.”

In my view, we dishonor the memory of those courageous patriots if we leave it to other countries to do our justice for us regarding the torturers so vividly depicted in the CIA cables revealed by the Senate report. Rather, our generation is being called on to rise up against the practice of torture and other abuses drone killings, for example in such a way as to force a timid President to stop calling felons “patriots” and, instead, do his duty in holding them accountable. Stern enforcement of both U.S. and international law is the only deterrent against this kind of unconscionable abuse happening again.

During the Watergate scandal, senior officials went to jail for lying and obstructing justice. Many other politicians have faced stiff prison time for relatively petty corruption. So why should government leaders and their subordinates get a walk on such a severe crime of state as torture?

Presidential Timidity

Left to his own devices, President Obama is likely to keep putting the White House stamp on the stay-out-of-jail-free cards that he issued to the torturers when he came into office six years ago, wanting to “look forward, not backward.”

I believed then as I do now that it was because he feared for his own hide (physically as well as politically) that he carved out an exemption for the torturers. So much for discharging his Constitutional duty to “take care that the laws are faithfully executed.”

Righting this wrong will require the kind of moral courage Obama seems to lack. True, his politically risky rapprochement with Cuba announced earlier this week provided a glimmer of hope that he can finally be his own man. But let’s take him at his word that his brand of leadership comes into play only when we citizens light a fire under him. Let us gather the kindling, start the fire, and respond to his challenge to make him do the right thing.

As is painfully obvious by this stage, the battle will be uphill, largely because our supine media provide such thin gruel that, as a result, most Americans are malnourished on the truth. I suppose one can get used to virtually any indignity. Nonetheless, for me it remains highly disturbing to watch “mainstream media” give the lion’s share of air time to charlatans like Dick Cheney who, 13 years after 9/11, continue to play on the trauma of that fateful day to elicit the kind of vengeful spirit that can in far too many minds justify the unspeakable.

No matter that ethicists have traditionally placed torture, like rape or slavery, in the moral category of intrinsic evil always wrong a premise embedded in the UN Convention Against Torture to which the United States is a signatory. No matter that torture does not yield reliable intelligence. No matter that CIA documents show how CIA directors Michael Hayden and Leon Panetta lied when they told us that information from “enhanced interrogation techniques” led to the finding and killing of Osama bin Laden. [See Gareth Porter’s “How the CIA Covered Up Its Lie on Torture and bin Laden.”]

The first (and, so far as I know, the last) time Obama showed any spine dealing with the CIA was just before he became president in January 2009, when he demonstrably dissed then-CIA Director Michael Hayden. Hayden had been going around town telling folks that he warned the president-elect “personally and forcefully” that if Obama authorized an investigation into controversial activities like waterboarding, “no one in Langley will ever take a risk again.” (My source for this is what we former intelligence officers used to call an “A-1 source” completely reliable with excellent access to the information).

Consequently, Hayden did not merit a mention on Jan. 9, 2009, when President-elect Obama formally introduced Leon Panetta as his choice to replace Hayden as CIA director and Dennis Blair as director of national intelligence. Obama did announce that Mike McConnell, whom Blair replaced, had been given a sinecure/consolation prize, a seat on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. McConnell got the obligatory thank you; but not Hayden.

It was not only cheeky, but more than a little disingenuous that Hayden should think to advise Obama “personally and forcefully” against investigating the illegal activities authorized by President George W. Bush, since Hayden’s role in torture was already clear from publicly available information.

Hayden had loudly defended what he liked to call “high-end” interrogation techniques like waterboarding. (And last week, just three days after the Senate report was released, Georgetown law professor David Cole drew from it to recount “just three examples” of false and unsupported testimony” by Hayden.)

It was for services rendered that Bush and Cheney picked Hayden to head the CIA. As Director of NSA (1999 to 2005) he saluted sharply when Cheney told him to redact the words “probable cause” from the Fourth Amendment.

In sum, Hayden’s transgressions are book-length, but as with Professor Cole’s article space limitations prevent anything close to a complete rendering, so to speak. Apparently fearful of going beyond sending Hayden to the showers, Obama hired Leon Panetta to replace Hayden to be nominally CIA director but, in actuality, its well-connected protector.

Initially, with Panetta there seemed to be reason to expect hope and change; that expectation was short-lived. A year before Obama picked him, Panetta had written:

“We cannot simply suspend [American ideals of human rights] in the name of national security. Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise.

“We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground. We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.”

Sadly, it turns out we were not, in fact, “better than that” and neither was Panetta. For his part, Panetta discharged his assigned role to defend CIA torturers with enthusiasm even overreaching in making false claims about the efficacy of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

On that key issue, CIA Director John Brennan, speaking on Dec. 11, 2014, was more cautious, claiming the effectiveness of “enhanced interrogation techniques” was “unknowable.” At which point Sen. Feinstein moved immediately to set the record straight, tweeting that, on the contrary, it was well known that the useful intelligence from interrogation was gained from traditional interrogation approaches, well BEFORE “enhancements” were applied.

On the day after the Senate Intelligence Community report was released, lame-duck committee member Mark Udall sharply criticized Brennan for “lying” about the efficacy of torture. Udall’s parting shot was to decry the President for his permissive attitude toward Brennan and the CIA and for “making no effort at all to rein it in.”

This appraisal has been seconded by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, who openly complained last Saturday that “Brennan has gotten away with frustrating congressional oversight. He shouldn’t have gotten away with it, but so far he has.”

Obama Agonistes

Will the President continue to do his best to hold harmless those involved in torture? I expect he will out of the fear for the consequences if he tried to “rein in” the CIA. In other words, although Obama came into office determined not to allow himself to be intimidated by Hayden, he nonetheless seem to have taken Hayden’s threat seriously.

Whether Obama’s fateful decision only to “look forward” on the issue of torture was the result of simple cowardice or a naive calculation that shoving torture under the rug would help him work out a modus vivendi with Republican leaders is, at this point, academic.

The reality is that Obama blew his chance to deal with this profoundly moral, as well as legal, issue of torture at a time when this was widely expected of him. As for the Republicans whose cooperation he so patently craved, they appear to have seen in his unmistakable reluctance to expose and pursue the major crimes of Bush and Cheney a welcome sign of weakness.

Now, despite his transparent attempts to keep his distance from the horrid disclosures in the Senate committee report, Obama is enmeshed in a wide web of consequential lies. He is, ipso facto, part of a cover-up that is poisoning the minds of too-trusting Americans, while putting a big hole in what’s left of America’s reputation as a force for good in the world. He could not do this without the help of an enabling media.

What are we to make of the media? Decades ago, in an unusual moment of candor, former CIA Director William Colby was quoted as saying the CIA “owns everyone of any significance in the major media.” How much truth continues to lie beneath Colby’s hyperbole? Why is it so easy to simply mention 9/11 to evoke an attitude of vengeance? Why does that include acquiescence in horrid torture techniques, and a predisposition to believe Cheney’s lies, rather than accept the reality that our leaders ordered and conducted heinous crimes?

In my view, the polls show an acceptance on the part of most Americans for torture mostly because so many Americans simply do not read. And this is precisely why Sen. Feinstein and Sen. John McCain both appealed plaintively for us to “just read the report.”

In her trademark perceptive way, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer laments that, when the awful facts about CIA torture came out last week, President Obama shied away from the chance given him to set the record straight. She explained it this way:

“It appeared that Obama and Brennan had a single purpose, which was to not ‘lose Langley,’ … meaning that they didn’t want to alienate those still working at the C.I.A. This calculation that C.I.A. officers … are too fragile for criticism, too valuable to fire, and too patriotic to prosecute somehow tied the Obama Administration in knots.” Mayer might have added that CIA operatives seem to be, in Obama’s ken, “too dangerous to get crosswise with.”

Similar insights jump out of a Dec. 15 article by Peter Baker and Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times. They write that when Brennan was working at the White House, neither Obama nor Brennan was eager to take on the C.I.A. very often. “The C.I.A. gets what it needs,” Obama declared at one early meeting, according to people there. “He didn’t want them to feel like he was an enemy,” said a former aide.

Brennan, for his part, was protective of CIA interests. When Panetta negotiated an agreement with the Senate Intelligence Committee for an inquiry into torture, Brennan erupted. “It did not take long to get ugly,” Panetta recalled in his memoir. “Brennan and I even exchanged sharp words.”

Brennan recognized at once that such an inquiry could well become a very large fly in the ointment. He was right about that, but he was unable to renege on the deal. After becoming CIA director last year, though, Brennan fought constantly with Democrats on the committee over the torture report and attempted to redact it to a fare-thee-well.

Relations worsened when senators accused the CIA of penetrating a computer network designated for the committee’s use, a charge that Brennan initially denied. In the end, though, the CIA inspector general admonished five agency officers and Brennan apologized. Relations remained raw; Obama stayed above the fray.

On Saturday, the New York Times reported that the panel appointed by Brennan to investigate the CIA’s search of a computer network used by the Senate staffers investigating CIA’s use of torture will (surprise, surprise) return a verdict of not guilty. Brennan’s panel reportedly has decided to defend the CIA searchers’ actions as lawful and, in some cases, done at Brennan’s behest, in effect reversing the most significant conclusions of an earlier investigation by CIA’s own inspector general.

On the issue of torture’s effectiveness, according to Baker and Mazzetti, the President’s advisers doubt that he believes the interrogation program yielded useful intelligence, but that he was unwilling to contradict Brennan.

A Natural Ally in McCain

Does the fact that Sen. John McCain was tortured as a POW, after his aircraft was downed over North Vietnam, give him unusual credibility on the issue of torture? You bet it does. Breaking ranks with fellow Republicans, defensive CIA directors and a media (including Hollywood) enamored of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” McCain followed Sen. Feinstein to the Senate floor after she introduced and distributed the report on CIA torture. He was very supportive.

More in sorrow than in anger, he conceded, “The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. … But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless. …

“There was considerable misinformation … about what was and wasn’t achieved using these [enhanced interrogation] methods … There was a good amount of misinformation used in 2011 to credit the use of these methods with the death of Osama bin Laden. And there is, I fear, misinformation being used today to prevent the release of this report, disputing its findings and warning about the security consequences of their public disclosure. …

“What might come as a surprise … is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent terrorist attacks today and tomorrow. That could be a real surprise, since it contradicts the many assurances provided by intelligence officials on the record and in private that enhanced interrogation techniques were indispensable in the war against terrorism. And I suspect the objection of those same officials to the release of this report is really focused on that disclosure torture’s ineffectiveness because we gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer. Too much.

“Obviously, we need intelligence to defeat our enemies, but we need reliable intelligence. Torture produces more misleading information than actionable intelligence. And what the advocates of harsh and cruel interrogation methods have never established is that we couldn’t have gathered as good or more reliable intelligence from using humane methods.

“The most important lead we got in the search for bin Laden came from using conventional interrogation methods. I think it is an insult to the many intelligence officers who have acquired good intelligence without hurting or degrading prisoners to assert we can’t win this war without such methods. Yes, we can and we will.”

Thus, Obama would not be without powerful allies were he to summon the courage to bring CIA torturers to account. It appears, however, that the President still lives in fear of the shady characters at Langley.

Hence, it is up to us to mobilize the kind of action needed to change Obama’s mind. Op-eds, speeches, interviews are fine, but without action, nothing is going to happen. We need to figure out how best to confront this issue and what action(s) seem appropriate. And then we must act like winter soldiers.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His experience, both as an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer and as a CIA analyst spanned 27 years. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories in November focused on the Right’s successful political deceptions, America’s refusal to address its grim history, Israel’s drift toward greater repression, Ray McGovern’s mysterious arrest, and developments in Syria and Ukraine.

Will the Right’s Fake History Prevail” by Robert Parry, Nov. 1, 2014

Gary Webb and Media Manipulation” by Beverly Bandler, Nov. 2, 2014

Saudi Arabia’s Oil Politics on Syria” by Andres Cala, Nov. 3, 2014

The Right’s Tenth Amendment Myth” by Robert Parry, Nov. 4, 2014

The Silence of Israel on ISIS” by Stephen J. Sniegoski, Nov. 5, 2014

Israel’s Annexation Plan for Palestine” by John V. Whitbeck, Nov. 6, 2014

Obama’s Last Chance” by Robert Parry, Nov. 6, 2014

Christians Who Ignore the Real Jesus” by Rev. Howard Bess, Nov. 8, 2014

Is Arlington County, VA, Racist?” by Robert Parry, Nov. 8, 2014

The Mystery of Ray McGovern’s Arrest” by Ray McGovern, Nov. 8, 2014

Standing in an Adversary’s Shoes” by William R. Polk, Nov. 10, 2014

The Neocon Plan for War and More War” by Robert Parry, Nov. 11, 2014

Behind the USS Liberty Cover-up” by Maidhc Ó Cathail, Nov. 12, 2014

When Henry Kissinger Makes Sense” by Robert Parry, Nov. 12, 2014

Can the World Avert a New Cold War?” by Annie Machon, Nov. 14, 2014

The Iraq War’s Pricy Ticket” by William R. Polk, Nov. 14, 2014

Behind the War with Boko Haram” by Don North, Nov. 16, 2014

How Many Islamic Fighters Are There?” by Ray McGovern, Nov. 16, 2014

Letting the Neocons Lead” by Robert Parry, Nov. 17, 2014

Should Christians Embrace Gay Marriage?” by Rev. Howard Bess, Nov. 18, 2014

The Double Standards on Bank Crimes” by William R. Polk, Nov. 18, 2014

The EU Wobbles Amid Conflicting Priorities” by Andres Cala, Nov. 20, 2014

Delusional US Group Think on Syria, Ukraine” by Robert Parry, Nov. 20, 2014

Why US Balks on Children’s Rights” by Joe Lauria, Nov. 21, 2014

CIA’s Torturous Maneuvers on Torture” by Ray McGovern, Nov. 21, 2014

Why JFK Still Matters” by Beverly Bandler, Nov. 22, 2014

Filling the Blanks in Snowden’s Citizenfour” by James DiEugenio, Nov. 23, 2014

Possible Motives for Ousting Hagel” by Robert Parry, Nov. 24, 2014

Neocons Claim to Fight Russian ‘Unreality’” by Maidhc Ó Cathail, Nov. 26, 2014

The Politics of Thanksgiving Day” by William Loren Katz, Nov. 26, 2014

Der Spiegel Tones Down Anti-Putin Hysteria” by Robert Parry, Nov. 28, 2014

To produce and publish these stories and many more costs money. And except for some book sales, we depend on the generous support of our readers.

So, please consider a tax-deductible donation either by credit card online or by mailing a check. (For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our account, which is named “”).

Clashing Face-to-Face on Torture

Exclusive: It’s rare on TV when you see two former senior U.S. officials clashing angrily over something as significant as torture. Usually decorum prevails. But ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern wasn’t going to let the ex-House intelligence oversight chief get away with a bland defense of torture, as McGovern recounts.

By Ray McGovern

When you get an opportunity like this, don’t fall back I heard my Irish grandmother telling me last Thursday as I took my place at the table to discuss torture with a former congressional committee chairman whose job it was to prevent such abuse.

Almost rubbing shoulders with me on my right was former House Intelligence Committee chair (2004-2007) Pete Hoekstra, a Republican from Michigan. Central China TV had asked both of us to address the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture. I said yes, of course, since I was highly interested in how Hoekstra, with his front seat for the saga of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” would try to ‘splain it all.

Here was a unique chance to publicly confront a malleable, moral dwarf who had been in a uniquely powerful position to end the torture. The moment was also an odd one, for Hoekstra not the brightest star in the constellation seemed oblivious to his gross misfeasance and dereliction of duty. Or how his behavior might look to non-torture aficionados.

Hoekstra took over the House intelligence “oversight” committee in 2004 when former chair, Porter Goss, a Republican from Florida, was picked as the perfect as in fully-briefed-and-complicit functionary to become director of the CIA, replacing “slam-dunk” George Tenet. Tenet left in disgrace in July 2004, still seeking those notional Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” in vain.

Last week, amid the unfolding torture scandal, Hoekstra went on CCTV America’s daily talk show, “The Heat,” to offer a heated defense of what he insisted on still calling “enhanced interrogation techniques.” My opportunity for a blunt exchange with him over exactly what the House Intelligence Committee knew came near the end of the show.

I had already been trying hard to decode for the TV audience the bull-excrement coming from Hoekstra and others quoted on the program. At one point, as luck would have it, the moderator asked me about the CIA’s fear-driven argument that the “urgency” of preventing additional terrorist attacks justified short-cuts like torture.

A hat tip here to my VIPS colleague Larry Johnson, who had called my attention earlier that day to the actual time sequence involving the capture and interrogation of detainee Abu Zubaydah, noting that if that scenario reflected “time-urgency,” we are all in serious trouble.

After FBI interrogators, using the traditional rapport-building approach to Abu Zubaydah, extracted a good deal of useful information from him in April 2002, Washington (for reasons not yet fully clear) ordered the FBI to give him over to CIA officials. They kept him in solitary confinement, asking him no questions, from mid-June 2002 until Aug. 4, giving time for torture-friendly lawyers in Washington to come up with some tortured legal justifications to “authorize” waterboarding and other abusive techniques. Zubaydah was then waterboarded 83 times, yielding no useful intelligence.

Clashing with Hoekstra

As the program neared its end, the host turned back to me and asked me to respond to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s ardent defense of the torture program. I focused my criticism on Cheney as the “eminence grise” behind the Bush administration plunge into the “dark side.”

But I also saw an opportunity to press Hoekstra on his knowledge and complicity, though I framed my question to give him an out on direct knowledge about the grisly torture techniques, from waterboarding and hanging people from ceilings to forced nudity and “rectal rehydration.”

“I don’t know if he [Cheney] checked with you, Congressman Hoekstra, he really should have, but I’m amazed if you were either unaware of these things or whether you condoned them,” I said, addressing Hoekstra only inches away.

“I think I’ve been very open,” Hoekstra responded, indicating that he did know and did approve.

McGovern: “You condoned them. My God!”

Hoekstra: “I explained this to you. Members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, leadership on both sides, Gang of Eight ”.

McGovern: “Thought that torture was okay?”

Hoekstra: “Thought that the enhanced interrogation techniques

McGovern: “That’s torture.”

Hoekstra: “ were appropriate.”

McGovern: “Let’s not use these sobriquets. This was torture.”

Hoekstra: “No, the Justice Department characterized them as legal. To say that you were aghast that we heard, no.”

McGovern: “I’m aghast that you were briefed on it. You’re supposed to be overseeing these things, you should stop these things. You were co-opted.”

Hoekstra: “No, we weren’t. Republicans and Democrats were fully briefed on these programs and we agreed with them.”

I still thought I’d give the former congressman a path out of the pro-torture corner that he was painting himself into, by suggesting that he might be simply embarrassed that he had been misled by the CIA and the Bush administration, that he had been kept in the dark about the darkest of the dark side, but Hoekstra just kept painting.

McGovern: “You were lied to and you’re ashamed to admit that you were lied to.”

Hoekstra: “I’m not ashamed that I was lied to. I’m admitting that these programs were briefed to us. I’ve talked to my staff going back and said after this ‘revelation’ came out how much of what is in this Dianne Feinstein report, this partisan report, this Democrat report, how much did we know? Ninety to 95 percent.”

McGovern: “Oh, my God! What a terrible admission! Aren’t you ashamed?”

Hoekstra: “No, I’m not ashamed.”

McGovern: “My God!”

Then, Hoekstra tried to suggest that I was being disloyal to my former colleagues at the CIA as if the few senior officials who pushed for the torture and the few mostly contractors who carried it out were representative of most CIA personnel among whom I had served for 27 years. Hoekstra was waving a red flag, so I played the bull, forsaking the usually obligatory deference and politeness. I let him have it. (Sometimes it doesn’t help to be Irish.)

Hoekstra: “I reached a different conclusion as did many of your colleagues at the CIA ”

McGovern: “These are not my colleagues! These are thugs hired by Dick Cheney!”

Hoekstra: “These are people you walked away from. These are heroes for America”

McGovern: “These are thugs headed by Dick Cheney!”

Hoekstra: “who are protecting America.”

That was when the host politely brought the program to a conclusion. [For this exchange, see minutes 8:23 to 10:41 of  Part Three, though I think the entire program is worth watching. Part One, Part Two and Part Three.]

Limited US Viewing

Few Americans are likely to be among those who saw “The Heat” on Dec. 11 or will see it on YouTube. But there is some consolation in the claim that, according to CCTV, a billion Chinese-speakers normally watch the dubbed-into-Mandarin version of this program, and not only in China. Even if the actual number is only half that, well, that will amount to about 500,000 viewers more than the audience in the United States. Some solace.

Since Dec. 9, when the Senate report was released, I also have been interviewed on Canadian TV, Aljazeera, Russian TV, Sky News (UK), two taped Russian prime-time Sunday evening TV programs, Radio Scotland (BBC), Radio New Zealand, and three Radio Pacifica programs.  Some of the above hosted me as many as four times, and I have had to turn down, or refer to others, additional invitations (yes, all of these from abroad, as well).

For some reason, despite a prompt press release issued on Tuesday morning, U.S. media remain uninterested in my blunt commentary on the subject of torture. As the CCTV interview indicated, I cannot be counted on to be pleasant when discussing torture, particularly with those who could have, and should have, prevented it.

Which reminds me that after my four-minute impromptu debate with Donald Rumsfeld in Atlanta on May 4, 2006, I was asked by CNN’s Paula Zahn, “How long have you had this personal animus toward the Secretary of Defense? And why did you follow him all the way down to Atlanta?”

No personal animus, I could honestly explain to Paula; I just have this thing about folks who start wars of aggression and enable torture (the sobriquet “enhanced interrogation techniques” was not put into the public lexicon until four months later).

As for following Rumsfeld “all the way down to Atlanta,” I explained that I had gotten to Atlanta the day before very pleased to have been honored with the ACLU’s National Civil Liberties Award (won the previous year by Coretta Scott King). The chance to attend Rumsfeld’s speech was just a bonus.

But I must confess. I do have a personal beef with Hoekstra, who, in 2006, pulled one of the dirtiest tricks I ever encountered personally. Without telling other members of the House Intelligence Committee, he added to the draft Intelligence Authorization Act for FY’07 (HR5020) a provision enabling the government to strip intelligence veterans of their government pensions. HR5020 passed the full House, but Congress opted instead for a continuing resolution.

So maybe it is more a case of Hoekstra having some animus toward my veteran intelligence colleagues and me, who had been exposing the torture overlooked (if not blessed) by his committee. His attempt to make revoking our pensions legal came shortly after March 2, 2006, when as a matter of conscience in protest against torture I went to his House office and returned the Intelligence Commendation Medallion given me at retirement for “especially meritorious service,” explaining “I do not want to be associated, however remotely, with an agency engaged in torture.”

On Dec. 11, after time ran out for “The Heat,” I took the opportunity to let Hoekstra know very directly that we were very much aware of his low-life move against us.

Earlier, when the CCTV moderator, in introducing me, had noted that I had returned my Intelligence Commendation Medallion over the issue of CIA torture, I was sorely tempted to ask Hoekstra why he sent me neither acknowledgment nor reply to my letter. But I quickly decided that it would likely be easier and far more important to call him to task on his unconscionable misfeasance in condoning torture itself, than on the dirty trick he almost succeeded in pulling on my former intelligence officers and me.

So I waited until we ran out of time to tell him we are aware of what he had tried to do and what we thought of it, and suggested that the sooner he went back to Michigan the better it would be for honest people in Washington.

Below is the letter I gave Hoekstra in April 2006. Actually, I had to give it to his aides; there were indications that he was hiding in his inner office, but they said he was not.  Perhaps he was at CIA being briefed on “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.”

March 2, 2006

Dear Congressman Hoekstra:

As a matter of conscience I am returning the Intelligence Commendation Award medallion given me for “especially commendable service” during my 27-year career in CIA.  The issue is torture, which inhabits the same category as rape and slavery, intrinsically evil.  I do not wish to be associated, however remotely, with an agency engaged in torture.

Reports in recent years that CIA personnel were torturing detainees were highly disturbing.  Confirmation of a sort came last fall, when CIA Director Porter Goss and Dick Cheney,dubbed by the Washington Post “Vice President for Torture”,descended on Sen. John McCain to demand that the CIA be exempted from his amendment’s ban on torture.  Subsequent reports implicated agency personnel in several cases of prisoner abuse in Iraq, including a few in which detainees died during interrogation.

The obeisance of CIA directors George Tenet and Porter Goss in heeding illegal White House directives has done irreparable harm to the CIA and the country,not to mention those tortured and killed.  That you, as Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, show more deference to the White House than dedication to your oversight responsibilities under the Constitution is another profound disappointment.  How can you and your counterpart, Sen. Pat Roberts, turn a blind eye to torture,letting some people get away, literally, with murder,and square that with your conscience?

If German officials who were ordered to do such things in the 1930s had spoken out early and loudly enough, the German people might have been alerted to the atrocities being perpetrated in their name and tried harder to stop them.  When my grandchildren ask, “What did you do, Grandpa, to stop the torture,” I want to be able to tell them that I tried to honor my oath, taken both as an Army officer and an intelligence officer, to defend the Constitution of the United States,and that I not only spoke out strongly against the torture, but also sought a symbolic way to dissociate myself from it.

We Americans have become accustomed to letting our institutions do our sinning for us.  I abhor the corruption of the CIA in the past several years, believe it to be beyond repair, and do not want my name on any medallion associated with it.  Please destroy this one.

Yours truly, Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer and then as a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years, and is now a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

What’s the Next Step to Stop Torture?

Exclusive: The grim details about the CIA’s torture techniques from waterboarding to “rectal rehydration” have overwhelmed the final defenses of the torture apologists. Now the question is what to do with this evidence and how to make sure this behavior doesn’t happen again, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

“I want you to listen to me,” said George Tenet lunging forward from his chair, his index finger outstretched and pointed menacingly at CBS’ Scott Pelley, “We don’t torture people; we don’t torture people; we don’t torture people; we don’t torture people; we don’t torture people!”

Appearing on “60 Minutes” on April 29, 2007, to hawk his memoir At the Center of the Storm, former CIA Director Tenet was imperiously definitive on the issue of CIA and torture. Could he have thought that repeating his denial five times, with the appropriate theatrics, would compel credulity? Is this the kind of assertion over reality that worked at CIA Headquarters during his disastrous tenure?

The frequently pliant Pelley seemed unmoved this time since the basic facts about the CIA’s waterboarding and other torture of “war on terror” detainees were well known by then. You would have had to be deaf and dumb to be unaware that Tenet had eagerly embraced the role of overseer in the Bush/Cheney “dark side” torture centers after 9/11.

In the memoir a kind of apologia sans apology Tenet was less self-confident and pugnacious than on “60 Minutes.” While emphasizing the importance of detaining and interrogating al-Qaeda operatives around the world, he betrayed some worry that the chickens might some day come home to roost. Enter the feathered fowl this week with the release of the Senate report on CIA torture and all the mind-numbing details about lengthy sleep deprivations, painful stress positions, waterboarding and “rectal rehydration.”

One remaining question now is whether egg on Tenet’s face will be allowed to suffice as his only punishment, or whether he and his deputy-in-crime John McLaughlin will end up in prison where they, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and several other senior officials properly belong.

The usual suspects are already crying foul over an extraordinarily professional investigation by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers and committee chair, Dianne Feinstein, who refused to chicken out and abandon her investigators despite political pressure to do so.

Possibly dreading this day, Tenet wrote in his memoir: “We raised the importance of being able to detain unilaterally al-Qa’ida operatives around the world. … We were going to pursue al-Qa’ida terrorists in ninety-two countries. … With the right authorities, policy determination, and great officers, we were confident we could get it done. …

“Sure, it was a risky proposition when you looked at it from a policy maker’s point of view. We were asking for and we would be given as many authorities as CIA ever had. Things could blow up. People, me among them, could end up spending some of the worst days of our lives justifying before congressional overseers our new freedom to act.” (At the Center of the Storm, p. 177-178.)

Note, however, that Tenet didn’t anticipate “spending some of the worst days of our lives” in a federal prison.

Now Squirming

Former CIA leaders are now squirming. And while they still enjoy the dubious services of a gruff and aging PR specialist named Dick Cheney, cries are again mounting that the lot of them, together with other former senior officials, be finally held to account in some palpable way.

Many will recall that Cheney champion of the “dark side” techniques was the first senior official to express public approval for waterboarding. On Oct. 24, 2006, he was asked by a friendly interviewer, “Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?”

“It’s a no brainer for me,” answered Cheney, “but for a while there I was criticized as being the Vice President for Torture. We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in.”

Cheney followed up in January 2009, telling AP that he had no qualms about the reliability of intelligence obtained through waterboarding: “It’s been used with great discrimination by people who know what they’re doing and has produced a lot of valuable information and intelligence,” he said.

Thus, it was very much in character for Cheney, on Monday, to protest press reports about torture being a “rogue operation” by the CIA, calling that “all a bunch of hooey” and saying: “The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program.”

Yet, the trouble with Cheney’s defense is that one can no more “authorize” torture than rape or slavery. Torture inhabits that same moral category, which ethicists label intrinsic evil, always wrong whether it “works” or not.

In other words, torture is not wrong because there are U.S. laws and a UN Convention prohibiting it. It’s the other way around. The legal prohibitions were put in place because it is or used to be, at least widely recognized that humans simply must not do such things to other humans. For instance, after World War II, Japanese commanders were tried for war crimes because they used waterboarding on captured U.S. soldiers.

Sadly though, virtually all of the public discussion on torture focuses on its possible efficacy, even though all but the most sadistic of people have long recognized that torture would be wrong even if it “works”  and it often doesn’t “work” because it induces those being tortured to fabricate answers that they think the torturers want to hear.

The Senate report is simply the latest study showing torture does not produce reliable information. It is, after all, common sense. One need only be aware that almost anyone will say anything true or false to stop being tortured.

It would, I think, be difficult to come up with anyone more authoritative on this issue than Gen. John Kimmons, the head of Army intelligence in 2006, whose long career dealt largely with interrogation. After the cat was out of the bag on CIA torture and the Bush administration’s wordsmiths were working on innocent-sounding euphemisms such as an “alternative set of procedures” or “enhanced interrogation techniques” Kimmons seized the “bull” by the horns by arranging his own press conference.

Sounding the death knell for utilitarian arguments, Kimmons warned: “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.”

Then Why Torture?

Kimmons stated definitively that abusive techniques do not yield “good intelligence.” But if it’s bad intelligence you’re after, torture works like a charm. If, for example, you wish to “prove,” post 9/11, that “evil dictator” Saddam Hussein was in league with al-Qaeda and might arm the terrorists with WMD, bring on the torturers.

It is a highly cynical and extremely sad story, but many Bush administration policymakers wanted to invade Iraq before 9/11 and thus were determined to connect Saddam Hussein to those attacks. The PR push began in September 2002 or as Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card put it, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”

By March 2003 after months of relentless “marketing” almost 70 percent of Americans had been persuaded that Saddam Hussein was involved in some way with the attacks of 9/11.

The case of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, a low-level al-Qaeda operative, is illustrative of how this process worked. Born in Libya in 1963, al-Libi ran an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan from 1995 to 2000. He was detained in Pakistan on Nov. 11, 2001, and then sent to a U.S. detention facility in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was deemed a prize catch, since it was thought he would know of any Iraqi training of al-Qaeda.

The CIA successfully fought off the FBI for first rights to interrogate al-Libi. FBI’s Dan Coleman, who “lost” al-Libi to the CIA (at whose orders, I wonder?), said, “Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links” between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

CIA interrogators elicited some “cooperation” from al-Libi through a combination of rough treatment and threats that he would be turned over to Egyptian intelligence with even greater experience in the torture business.

By June 2002, al-Libi had told the CIA that Iraq had “provided” unspecified chemical and biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda operatives, an allegation that soon found its way into other U.S. intelligence reports. Al-Libi’s treatment improved as he expanded on his tales about collaboration between al-Qaeda and Iraq, adding that three al-Qaeda operatives had gone to Iraq “to learn about nuclear weapons.”

Al-Libi’s claim was well received at the White House even though the Defense Intelligence Agency was suspicious.

“He lacks specific details” about the supposed training, the DIA observed. “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.”

Meanwhile, at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, Maj. Paul Burney, a psychiatrist sent there in summer 2002, told the Senate, “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”

Just What the Doctor Ordered

President Bush relied on al-Libi’s false Iraq allegation for a major speech in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, just a few days before Congress voted on the Iraq War resolution. Bush declared, “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases.”

And Colin Powell relied on it for his famous speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, declaring: “I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al-Qaeda. Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.”

Al-Libi’s “evidence” helped Powell as he sought support for what he ended up calling a “sinister nexus” between Iraq and al-Qaeda, in the general effort to justify invading Iraq.

For a while, al-Libi was practically the poster boy for the success of the Cheney/Bush torture regime; that is, until he publicly recanted and explained that he only told his interrogators what he thought would stop the torture.

You see, despite his cooperation, al-Libi was still shipped to Egypt where he underwent more abuse, according to a declassified CIA cable from early 2004 when al-Libi recanted his earlier statements. The cable reported that al-Libi said Egyptian interrogators wanted information about al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq, a subject “about which [al-Libi] said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.”

According to the CIA cable, al-Libi said his interrogators did not like his responses and “placed him in a small box” for about 17 hours. After he was let out of the box, al-Libi was given a last chance to “tell the truth.” When his answers still did not satisfy, al-Libi says he “was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and fell on his back” and then was “punched for 15 minutes.”

After Al-Libi recanted, the CIA recalled all intelligence reports based on his statements, a fact recorded in a footnote to the report issued by the 9/11 Commission. By then, however, the Bush administration had gotten its way regarding the invasion of Iraq and the disastrous U.S. occupation was well underway.

In At the Center of the Storm, Tenet sought to defend the CIA’s use of al-Libi’s claims in the run-up to the Iraq war, suggesting that al-Libi’s later recantation may not have been genuine.

“He clearly lied,” Tenet writes in his book. “We just don’t know when. Did he lie when he first said that Al Qaeda members received training in Iraq or did he lie when he said they did not? In my mind, either case might still be true.”

Really, that’s what Tenet writes despite the fact that intensive investigations into these allegations after the U.S. military had conquered Iraq failed to turn up any credible evidence to corroborate these allegations. What we do know is that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were bitter enemies, with al-Qaeda considering the secular Hussein an apostate to Islam.

Al-Libi, who ended up in prison in Libya, reportedly committed suicide shortly after he was discovered there by a human rights organization. Thus, the world never got to hear his own account of the torture that he experienced and the story that he presented and then recanted.

Hafed al-Ghwell, a Libyan-American and a prominent critic of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime at the time of al-Libi’s death, explained to Newsweek, “This idea of committing suicide in your prison cell is an old story in Libya.”

He added that, throughout Gaddafi’s 40-year rule, there had been several instances in which political prisoners were reported to have committed suicide, but that “then the families get the bodies back and discover the prisoners had been shot in the back or tortured to death.”

As Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, once put it during a Senate hearing on torture, with an apparently unintentional hat-tip to the Inquisition, “One of the reasons these techniques have been used for about 500 years is that they work.” Well, they work if what you want is a false confirmation of your false assumption.

The question now is what does the United States do next.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer and then as a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years, and is now a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Stifling Dissent on the Upper East Side

Exclusive: Modern U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine doesn’t just target people in faraway lands where the U.S. military is battling some uprising. It also takes aim at Americans whose dissent might undermine those wars, possibly explaining the strange arrest of Ray McGovern, writes retired JAG Major Todd E. Pierce.

By Todd E. Pierce

Did COIN or counterinsurgency doctrine come to New York’s Upper East Side in late October? One might think so when a critic of retired Gen. David Petraeus was denied entry to a public event and then roughly arrested by New York police.

On Oct. 30, this generation’s COIN deity David Petraeus and acolytes John Nagl and Max Boot were to discuss “national security” at an event open to the public at the Upper East Side Y. However, when former CIA analyst and war critic Ray McGovern arrived with ticket in hand, he was “neutralized,” as the COIN practitioners might put it.

McGovern was greeted by a security official who addressed McGovern by name and seemed to be expecting him. The security official told McGovern he was “not welcome” and denied him entry, ticket or no ticket. Not only did the security officer seem to expect McGovern, but NYPD reinforcements were on hand to arrest McGovern on charges of trespassing, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

The 75-year-old ex-CIA analyst, who was suffering from a shoulder injury, had his arms pulled painfully behind him as he was handcuffed, causing him to scream in pain. He was then transported to jail where he spent the night on a metal cot.

McGovern wrote afterward: “But one mystery lingers. The ‘organs of state security’ (the words used by the Soviets to refer to their intelligence/security services) were lying in wait for me when I walked into the Y? Why? How on earth did they know I was coming?”

McGovern’s answer to his own question was that it would seem the group that he was staying with was the target of an intelligence collection operation. That is what one would expect the authorities to do to “counter insurgents” in a foreign nation where U.S. forces operate, as Petraeus’s Counterinsurgency Manual explains. Or, you might see it in a nation under an authoritarian political system, what we used to call a Police State before we Americans adopted those same methods.

But the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is supposed to prevent the suppression of public speech by government or quasi-government officials. That was the principle at least, until the 9/11 attacks “changed everything.”

Unlimited Powers

On Oct. 23, 2001, six weeks after those attacks, Justice Department officials Robert Delahunty and John Yoo signed an Office of Legal Counsel Opinion entitled “Authority for Use of Military Force To Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States,” essentially giving President George W. Bush, as the “Commander in Chief,” the power to impose martial law.

Yoo/Delahunty wrote in that opinion that the Fourth Amendment did not apply to military operations within the United States, which would logically include operations by the National Security Agency, an intelligence agency within the Department of Defense, i.e., surveillance operations against the U.S. population.

Yoo/Delahunty also claimed: “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully. ‘When a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.’”

This assertion that the Constitution’s safeguards of a citizen’s rights must be set aside at a time of war even one as vague as the “war on terror” and must be replaced by the prerogative power of the military authorities, with the “Commander in Chief” at the top,  acting under a theory of unlimited presidential powers, is descriptive of martial law.

Or as the Supreme Court once said, “what is termed martial law, but which would be better called martial rule, for it is little else than the will of the commanding general sometimes advanced by men, with more zeal than wisdom and is at variance with every just notion of a free government.”

All the available evidence, principally the DOD/NSA’s spying-on-citizens program, would indicate that martial law was instituted under the Bush regime and remains in place with continued domestic DOD/NSA spying under the Obama regime. That authority for domestic military operations would logically include COIN, a menu of tactics so extensive that it covers everything from full-scale army operations to the control of undesired political speech.

This is what Ray McGovern can be said to have encountered at the Upper East Side Y. It is irrelevant that no military personnel were on hand, other than retired military officers. Martial law is not limited to only the military exercising the prerogative power of the Commander in Chief; it is most successful when citizens themselves take on the task of enforcing the “Commander’s intent,” in whole or in part.

Nor is it necessary that martial law be publicly declared. For example, the removal of the Japanese-Americans from the West Coast during World War II at the instigation of General John L. DeWitt was an example of martial law. It wasn’t called that for political purposes, just as it is not called that now, even though the military, via the DOD’s NSA, continues to conduct a military operation against U.S. citizens.

The McGovern Case

So here is the logic of a COIN operation and how that can hypothetically be seen as having been executed against Ray McGovern: Part of COIN theory deals with control of information, sometimes called “information warfare,” in which the enemy’s propaganda and other communications are blocked or undermined and your own messaging is left unchallenged.

From the 2014 version of the COIN Manual, or FM 3-24, “Information Operations” are defined as information-related capabilities “to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decisionmaking of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own.” Part of the strategy is for “our own” side to influence a “target audience” while making sure the enemy is frustrated in similar attempts.

At the Oct. 30 event, Petraeus, Nagl and Boot given the role they’ve played promoting COIN might very easily see their public speaking through a COIN lens. Thus, their listeners that evening would constitute a “target audience” whom the speakers clearly intended to influence. And, Ray McGovern by planning to challenge Petraeus during the Q-and-A could be viewed as the “enemy” or at least someone aiding the “enemy” cause.

McGovern, though a longtime intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army and the CIA, has emerged as an internationally known antiwar political activist who, in 2006, publicly challenged Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about his false statements regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, a confrontation that led evening news shows, energized domestic critics of the Iraq War and arguably in Petraeus’s view undermined public support for the war.

FM 3-24 explains, “Threat characteristics involve the activities, and tactics of an insurgency. Tactics for an insurgency include political activities. The use of political activities to influence a society is another political activity of an insurgency.”

These activities include “Demonstrations, propaganda, strikes, and civil disobedience. Propaganda is one of the most important political tools an insurgency has” by providing the means for an insurgency “to communicate a message, often political, to the population.” This allows an “insurgency to create a narrative of why the government’s actions are not legitimate.”

In other words, McGovern might have asked a pointed question that would counter the message that Petraeus was seeking to convey to the audience, particularly that his COIN policies have protected America from its “enemies” and thus must be continued.

McGovern said his hope was to ask Petraeus, who had been responsible for training the Iraqi army, why that training had failed to prevent the Iraqi army from fleeing the battlefield when confronted by militants from the Islamic State. “Will you come out of retirement and try to do it better this time to train the Iraqi forces?” McGovern said, describing his intended question.

In other words, McGovern’s question might have popped the inflated bubble around Petraeus’s reputation and raised doubts about whether the general’s counterinsurgency warfare had actually done much to protect Americans.

Repression Coming Home

But one may ask, this was at the 92nd St. Y in New York City, not an overseas country where the U.S. is currently applying COIN? FM 3-24 explains, however: “A center of gravity (emphasis in original) is the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act. Counterinsurgents must understand their own center of gravity and that of the host nation. In many cases, political support is the strategic center of gravity for the U.S.”

That is, if political support among the American people for the U.S. military’s counterinsurgent policies is lost, then the insurgents win, according to this COIN theory. Much of this thinking stems from the supposed “lessons” of Vietnam where many generals blamed the U.S. defeat not on their own failings but on the success of “enemy propaganda.”

The Joint Chiefs of Staff believed that the Vietcong targeted the U.S. media and American antiwar activists, causing the public to lose faith in and patience with the war. After the war finally ended, Gen. William Westmoreland and other generals complained that the U.S. news media gave moral support to the enemy through critical reporting about the war and helped turn the American people against the conflict.

But the American people didn’t need the media to tell them about this failed war; they had evidence from the many funerals of dead servicemen and anecdotal stories from returning soldiers. Subsequent studies, including by U.S. military historians, have further debunked the military’s “stabbed-in-the-back” complaint, blaming the defeat instead on an unwinnable strategy and the staggering loss of life.

But the “enemy within” myth continued to dominate much of U.S. military’s thinking about the Vietnam War, including Petraeus’s updated counterinsurgency manuals and subsequent ones. “In a counterinsurgency, the insurgent often targets the U.S. population with themes and messages concerning the insurgency,” FM 3-24 asserts. In other words, American anti-war activists, who question the U.S. government’s own propaganda themes or who give credence to the arguments from the other side, are still being viewed as “enemies within” who must be neutralized.

Of course, this outlook overlooks what has been a central tenet of al-Qaeda’s strategy to draw the United States deeper into the Middle East in order to exhaust America financially and militarily, to keep the U.S. locked in this conflict until it suffers a devastating strategic defeat much as was done to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. But to military COIN theorists, like Petraeus and Boot, al-Qaeda’s scheme is outside the scope of their analytical ability.

The Information Battlefield    

So, in the minds of the totalitarian-oriented COIN theorists, the war is really about information and the battlefield is everywhere. According to this doctrine, “Insurgent support activities include communications. These support activities sustain insurgencies and allow for both military and political actions. They are enabled by an insurgency’s ability to generate popular support. These networks can include support from other nations or from population groups outside the country.”

This paranoid viewpoint is, of course, not unprecedented. Indeed, it has been common for authoritarian systems to label dissent against their war policies as support for insurgents or other “subversives.” This attitude has been a common denominator of nearly all despotic military regimes from Hitler’s Germany to Pinochet’s Chile to modern Egypt under a variety of military rulers: dissent equals treason.

In fact, the COIN Manual cites as an example the case of the Tamil Tigers and the alleged support these insurgents received from civilians of the Tamil diaspora following ethnic riots against the Tamil people that drove many to flee Sri Lanka. According to the manual, this global diaspora then became a major part of the Tamil Tigers’ “propaganda network,” a statement that would be a bit like charging German Jewish émigrés pre-World War II of being part of an American “propaganda network” for telling the truth about conditions in Germany.

FM 3-24 does acknowledge that a prerequisite for an insurgency is “Motive” but adds that grievances alone are not sufficient to spur an insurgency. It takes leaders “to build a compelling narrative that links grievances to a political agenda and mobilizes the population to support a violent social movement. When grievances mobilize a population, they are a root cause of an insurgency. The presence of a foreign force can be the root cause of an insurgency.”

While all that is well and good and would apply to almost all political uprisings including the American Revolution the lessons drawn from this current obsession with “counterinsurgency” veers off into some dangerous directions. Behind it is the assumption that virtually all insurgencies at least those not initiated by Washington deserve countering.

Yet, sometimes, indeed often, insurgencies reflect the urgent desires of an oppressed people for justice, meaning that modern counterinsurgency warfare, as practiced by Gen. Petraeus and other U.S. strategists, can become just one more boot on the people’s neck.

It also follows that the COIN’s obsessive practitioners will begin to detect the enemy within the United States, since the information war is global and the counterinsurgency operation must protect itself against a loss of political will among the American people. Thus, a citizen who asserts that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was to blame for the Iraqi insurgency could be accused of enabling the insurgency, being part of the enemy’s “propaganda network.”

In counterinsurgency thinking, “external support” for an insurgency can be something as vague as “moral support.”

The Insurgent ‘Network’    

Another pertinent dynamic identified in the COIN Manual is “Organizational and Operational Patterns,” which can be almost as ambiguous as “moral support.” It is explained that “Insurgents may be organized into networks,” a series of “direct and indirect ties from one entity to a collection of entities. Insurgent networking extends the range and variety of both insurgent military and political actions. Networks of communications, people, and activities exist in all populations and have a measurable impact on the organized governance of a population and, consequently, military operations.”

So “networks” are not limited to insurgents inside the foreign nation where the insurgency is active; these “direct and indirect ties” can extend to all populations and include a variety of friendly, neutral and threat networks, each meriting its own treatment.

Individuals in a network are called “actors or nodes.” Connections between nodes are links, and a link between two people is a “dyad.” Understanding dyads is essential to understand the nature of an insurgency, per the FM 3-24’s doctrine.

This is accomplished through “network mapping, charting, and social network analysis,” which are “intelligence products that can aid in refined analysis and course of action developments.” Intelligence collection for this purpose would be in the manner of total surveillance, electronically and digitally, as the NSA is alleged to be engaged in globally, including inside the United States.

So what does a counterinsurgent do when encountering a “network?” FM 3-24 prescribes the solution: attack the network.

“Attack the network operations consist of activities that employ lethal and nonlethal means to support friendly networks, influence neutral networks, and neutralize threat networks.” Thus, an individual node, a dyad or a larger group providing external moral support to an insurgency whose root cause is the presence of U.S. forces in that country or region would be defined as a “threat network” which would need to be “neutralized.”

At least one type of network as described in the COIN Manual, “friendly,” and maybe the second sort, “neutral,” were present at the 92nd Street Y when Ray McGovern approached with a ticket in hand. As an antiwar activist who has called for U.S. troop withdrawals from countries where U.S. forces have been engaged in counterinsurgency, Petraeus’s COIN doctrine and its totalitarian view of the world would put McGovern into the “threat network” as perhaps a “peripheral node,” even though he does not support any of the insurgents in those conflicts.

But actual support is not required to become part of a “threat network,” just behavior that causes trouble for the counterinsurgency strategy or that could be interpreted as undermining the information warfare campaign against the enemy or that could be seen as lending “moral support.” And, according to the COIN Manual, these “threat networks” must be neutralized to protect friendly forces and populations while creating time and space for other counterinsurgency operations to succeed.

While the talks by Petraeus, Nagl and Boot could be expected to bolster “friendly networks,” McGovern threatened to undermine that effort by posing a critical or embarrassing question to Petraeus. Thus, the doctrine called for taking “direct actions against threats, reducing their functionality and impact, in order to set conditions for supporting friendly networks and influencing neutral networks. The goal is to change the perceptions and behaviors of neutral audiences to support the achievement of U.S., multinational, and host nation objectives.”

Getting in the Way

According to the doctrine, it is not necessary that the forces neutralizing a node in a network be military; in fact, “If the police have a reasonable reputation for competence and impartiality, it may be better for them to execute urban raids than military forces because the population is more likely to view their application of force as legitimate.”

Of course, we can’t say for sure at this time what prompted the preemptive strike against McGovern and his troublesome question. The precise scenario of who instigated the arrest might emerge from future court proceedings or the details might always remain a mystery.

Perhaps the incident was not organized by senior practitioners of counterinsurgency strategy, even though the speakers that night were well versed in these theories. Another possible interpretation is that some individuals who simply despise dissent a right-wing goon squad in the mold of old-time fascist storm troopers took it upon themselves to squelch McGovern’s attempt to exercise his First Amendment rights.

Either analysis could be correct and might not represent much of a distinction because COIN doctrine has become something of a secular religion in many political circles in the United States, a disdain for people who challenge the government’s assertion of “national security.” That anger at anti-war dissent has percolated from the top down and gained an official imprimatur through the “war on terror.”

After all, COIN amounts to the exercise of military rule over a given area while all forms of force from full-scale army operations to paramilitary killings to dissemination of propaganda to political activity are used to crush the resistance.

In the case of neutralizing Ray McGovern at the 92nd Street Y on Oct. 30 a mission carried out by the NYPD and private security operatives the tactics of COIN doctrine were on display. So was the possible motive: the need to suppress McGovern’s question that might have undercut the U.S. government’s counterinsurgency goals.

Todd E. Pierce retired as a Major in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps in November 2012. His most recent assignment was defense counsel in the Office of Chief Defense Counsel, Office of Military Commissions. 

In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories in October set the record straight in defense of Gary Webb’s Contra-cocaine reporting, explained the continued crises in Syria and Ukraine, and noted the decline of American democratic institutions.

Standing Up for Lessons of Dissent” by Peter Dreier, Oct. 1, 2014

Official Washington’s Syrian ‘Fantasy’” by Robert Parry, Oct. 1, 2014

The Why of Obama’s Failed Hope” by Greg Maybury, Oct. 3, 2014

Eyes Finally Open to Syrian Reality” by Robert Parry, Oct. 3, 2014

NYT’s Belated Admission on Contra-Cocaine” by Robert Parry, Oct. 4, 2014

Eroding Principles of Human Rights” by Lawrence Davidson, Oct. 6, 2014

Guantanamo’s Force-Feeding Challenged” by Ray McGovern, Oct. 8, 2014

The Sordid Contra-Cocaine Saga” by Robert Parry, Oct. 9, 2014

The Lost Hope of Democracy” by John Chuckman, Oct. 10, 2014

A Murder Mystery at Guantanamo Bay” by Ray McGovern, Oct. 10, 2014

Can MSM Handle the Contra-Cocaine Truth?” by Robert Parry, Oct. 11, 2014

An Imperial Death Grip on Democracy” by Greg Maybury, Oct. 12, 2014

A Shift Toward Recognizing Palestine” by John V. Whitbeck, Oct. 14, 2014

Ukraine’s Neo-Nazis Demand Respect” by Robert Parry, Oct. 15, 2014

‘Kill the Messenger’: Rare Truth-telling” by James DiEugenio, Oct. 16, 2014

The Neocons — Masters of Chaos”  by Robert Parry, Oct. 17, 2014

WPost’s Slimy Assault on Gary Webb” by Robert Parry, Oct. 18, 2014

Germans Clear Russia in MH-17 Case” by Robert Parry, Oct. 20, 2014

Citizenfour’s Escape to Freedom in Russia” by Ray McGovern, Oct. 23, 2014

“The Battle for Palestine” Parts One, Two and Three by William R. Polk, Oct. 23-24, 2014

Using the Holocaust to Justify War” by Maidhc Ó Cathail, Oct. 25, 2014

Treating Putin Like a Lunatic” by Robert Parry, Oct. 25, 2014

Is Latin America’s ‘Pink Tide’ Ebbing?” by Andres Cala, Oct. 27, 2014

How the Washington Press Turned Bad” by Robert Parry, Oct. 28, 2014

Big Media Has Betrayed the People” by Greg Maybury, Oct. 31, 2014

Petraeus Spared Ray McGovern’s Question” by Robert Parry, Oct. 31, 2014

To produce and publish these stories and many more costs money. And except for some book sales, we depend on the generous support of our readers.

So, please consider a tax-deductible donation either by credit card online or by mailing a check. (For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our account, which is named “”).

CIA’s Torturous Maneuvers on Torture

Exclusive: The CIA is fighting congressional demands to release a report on its covert program for torturing “war on terror” suspects, even as the spy agency contemplates a reorganization that could give the covert-action side more ways to bend the truth, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

“CIA may revamp how it is organized” announced a front-page Washington Post headline leading into an article based on remarks by unnamed “U.S intelligence officials” to the Post’s Greg Miller. The anonymous officials were authorized to share some of the contents of a Sept. 24 letter from CIA Director John Brennan to CIA staff, in which Brennan says, “The time has come to take a fresh look at how we are organized as an agency.”

On Brennan’s orders, senior agency officials were put to work on what Miller reported would be “among the most ambitious [reorganizations] in CIA history.” But Miller’s sources emphasized that the activity was in its preliminary stages and that no final decisions had been made; the proposed changes might be scaled back or even discarded.

But the reorganization story on Thursday with its suggestion of CIA “reform” came at an opportune time to possibly distract attention from another behind-the-scenes battle that is raging over how and indeed whether to release the findings of a five-year Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the CIA’s use of torture during George W. Bush’s administration and how the agency lied to Congress about the efficacy of torture techniques and their humaneness.

A New York Times article on Friday by Mark Mazzetti and Carl Hulse described a Donnybrook at the White House on Thursday, with Senate Democrats accusing White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough of acquiescing in CIA attempts to redact the report so thoroughly that its conclusions would be undermined.

The Democratic members of the Senate intelligence Committee are said to be in high dudgeon. But some may have mixed feelings about release of the report because it would surely reflect poorly on their own failures as congressional “overseers” of the CIA.

Recent press reporting would have us believe that the main bone of contention revolves around if and how to use pseudonyms of CIA officers involved in torture, though that seems implausible since there are obvious workarounds to that concern. In past cases, for instance the Iran-Contra report, numbers were used to conceal actual identities of entities that were deemed to need protection.

Ex-CIA General Counsel Spilled the Beans

Hat tip to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, who took the trouble to read the play-by-play of testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee by former CIA General Counsel (2009-2013) Stephen W. Preston, nominated (and now confirmed) to be general counsel at the Department of Defense.

Under questioning by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, Preston admitted outright that, contrary to the CIA’s insistence that it did not actively impede congressional oversight of its detention and interrogation program, “briefings to the committee included inaccurate information related to aspects of the program of express interest to Members.”

That “inaccurate information” apparently is thoroughly documented in the Senate Intelligence Committee report, which, largely because of the CIA’s imaginative foot-dragging, cost taxpayers $40 million. Udall has revealed that the report (which includes 35,000 footnotes) contains a very long section titled “C.I.A. Representations on the C.I.A. Interrogation Program and the Effectiveness of the C.I.A.’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques to Congress.”

Preston also acknowledged that the CIA inadequately informed the Justice Department on interrogation and detention. He said, “CIA’s efforts fell well short of our current practices when it comes to providing information relevant to [the Office of Legal Counsel]’s legal analysis.”

As Katherine Hawkins, the senior investigator for last April’s bipartisan, independent report by the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, noted in an Oct. 18, 2013 posting, the memos from acting OLC chief, Steven Bradbury, relied very heavily on now-discredited CIA claims that “enhanced interrogation” saved lives, and that the sessions were carefully monitored by medical and psychological personnel to ensure that detainees’ suffering would not rise to the level of torture.

There’s more. According to the Constitution Project’s Hawkins, Udall complained and Preston admitted that, in providing the materials requested by the committee, “the CIA removed several thousand CIA documents that the agency thought could be subjected to executive privilege claims by the President, without any decision by [Barack] Obama to invoke the privilege.”

Worse still for the CIA, the Senate Intelligence Committee report apparently destroys the agency’s argument justifying torture on the grounds that there was no other way to acquire the needed information save through brutalization. In his answers to Udall, Preston concedes that, contrary to what the agency has argued, it can and has been established that legal methods of
interrogation would have yielded the same intelligence.

Sen. Udall has been persistent in trying to elicit the truth about CIA torture, but has failed. Now that he has lost his Senate seat in the November elections, he has the opportunity to do what Sen. Feinstein is too afraid to do invoke a senator’s Constitutional right to immunity by taking advantage of the “speech or debate clause” to read the torture report findings into the record, a tactic used most famously by Sen. Mike Gravel in 1971 when he publicly read portions of the Pentagon Papers.

Sen. Udall has said he would consider doing something along those lines with the torture report, and that is precisely what is needed at this point. It remains to be seen whether Udall will rise to the occasion or yield to the fear of ostracism from the Establishment.

A Terrible Idea

One of the issues to be addressed by the reorganization group that Brennan has set up reportedly is whether or not the agency should be restructured into subject matter divisions in which analysts and clandestine operators work together.

There are far more minuses than plusses in that kind of structure. Greg Miller cites the concerns expressed by his sources over the potential for analysts’ judgments to be clouded by working too closely with the operators. Miller quotes one officer who worked in the Counter-Terrorism Center, which is being cited as the template for reorganizing the rest of the CIA.

The former CTC officer speaking from personal experience said, “The potential for corruption is much greater if you have analysts directly involved in helping to guide operations. There is the possibility for them to get too close to the issue and to be too focused on trying to achieve a certain outcome.” Like targeting/killing suspected “militants” by Hellfire missiles from drones, rather than pausing long enough to try to discern what has made them “militants” in the first place and whether killing them is a major fillip to recruitment of more and more “militants.”

Or take Iran, for example. If the leaders of a new Iran “issues center” are focused on sabotaging Tehran’s nuclear development program, how much visibility will be given to analysts who are trying to discern whether there is enough evidence to conclude that Iran is actually working toward a nuclear weapon.

As some may recall, in November 2007 an honest National Intelligence Estimate concluded unanimously and “with high confidence” that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon four years earlier in the fall of 2003 and had not resumed work on a nuclear warhead.

The importance of such independent analysis cannot be overestimated. In that particular case, the Estimate played a huge role in preventing the war with Iran planned by Bush and Cheney for their last year in office. Read what Bush himself writes in his Decision Points about how that “eye-popping” NIE deprived him of the military option:

“But after the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?” (Decision Points, p. 419)

Split the CIA in Two

There are examples galore of the important value of keeping analysts free from leaders and pressures more in favor of operations than cogent intelligence analysis. Indeed, there is a strong argument to split the CIA in half and let the covert operations part, which President Harry Truman said he never intended to be joined with the analysis part of the agency, go its own way

The Defense Department and Air Force can surely find extra chairs for those CIA killing-by-drone aficionados not already at the Pentagon. And “regime change” specialists could likely find space with others engaged in similar work at the National Endowment for Democracy or the State Department.

It is of transcendent importance to insulate the serious analysts from politically motivated managers and directors or other easy-to-manipulate bureaucrats who are enmeshed in covert operations. Harry Truman, who established the CIA, had very strong thoughts about this for very good reason.

Truman’s Edict

On Dec. 22, 1963, exactly one month after President John Kennedy was assassinated, former President Truman published an op-ed in the Washington Post titled “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence.” The timing was no coincidence. Documents in the Truman library show that nine days after Kennedy was murdered, Truman sketched out in handwritten notes what he wanted to say.

The op-ed itself reflected Truman’s concern that he had inadvertently helped create a Frankenstein monster, lamenting that the agency had “become removed from its intended role. … It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government.” Truman complained that the CIA was shaping policy through its control of intelligence and “cloak and dagger” operations.

Truman appealed for the agency to be “restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President … and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere.”

Five days after Truman’s op-ed appeared, retired Admiral Sidney Souers, whom Truman has appointed to lead his first central intelligence group, sent a “Dear Boss” letter blaming former CIA Director Allen Dulles for making the CIA “a different animal than the one I tried to set up for you.”

Souers was particularly sour on Dulles’s attempt “to conduct a ‘war’ by invading Cuba with a handful of men and no air cover.” He also lamented the fact that the agency’s “principal effort” had evolved into arranging “revolutions in smaller countries around the globe,” adding, “With so much emphasis on operations, it would not surprise me to find that the matter of collecting and processing intelligence has suffered some.”

Souers and Truman both felt that the CIA’s operational tail had been wagging the analytical dog a serious problem that persists today.

Five years ago, on the anniversary of Truman’s Washington Post op-ed, I posted a piece titled “Break the CIA in Two,” demonstrating that it is indeed time that the agency’s operational duties be, as Truman had suggested, “terminated or properly used elsewhere.” In another piece, posted on the 50th anniversary of Truman’s prescient op-ed, I went into more detail not only on Truman’s article, but also on fresh signs of corruption and lying to Congress on the part of senior CIA officials.

The coin of the realm in intelligence analysis is truth and the trust that comes of consistently speaking truth to power. For intelligence analysts to have a decent chance at being taken seriously, there has to be some space between them and the self-licking ice cream cone of covert action.

Surely, there is no better way to create a steadily increasing supply of jihadists than by ignoring clear-headed analysis about why young Muslims are angry enough to strap bombs to themselves and instead dreaming up new covert operations that will have that inevitable effect of creating more jihadists.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He is a 30-year veteran of the CIA and Army intelligence and co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). McGovern served for considerable periods in all four of CIA’s main directorates.