The Washington Post’s David Ignatius has become the mainstream media’s apologist for the Central Intelligence Agency.
In Thursday’s column, he has lambasted Attorney General Eric Holder for even considering the appointment of a prosecutor to investigate possible war crimes by CIA officers; congressional Democrats who want to conduct genuine oversight of the CIA; and President Obama who perhaps now understands that an investigation of the CIA is not merely about “petty grievances.”
Ignatius disingenuously argues that the Justice Department learned about CIA’s criminal actions five years ago and decided that no prosecution was warranted. But Ignatius knows the the politicized Justice Department was always part of the problem and never a part of the solution to the torture and abuse, the secret prisons, and the extraordinary renditions that have hurt U.S. credibility around the world.
Ignatius presumably also knows that Obama and Holder were never willing to investigate, let alone prosecute, CIA actions that followed the dubious legal authority to torture al Qaeda captives. We now know, however, in gruesome detail that sadistic CIA operatives went far beyond the so-called legal authority in their interrogation of these captives, and that there was the conduct of torture and abuse against captives who were never interrogated at all.
Obama never made a “grand bargain” with the CIA, as Ignatius alleges, and he certainly never intended to ignore criminal behavior. But just as CIA director Leon Panetta never learned about a CIA assassination scheme until three weeks ago, five months after he was confirmed as director, President Obama was presumably late to learn the ugly details of CIA abuses under three CIA directors, George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden.
Both Obama and Holder now know that there has been a cover-up of these activities by the senior CIA leaders who never should have been retained by Panetta.
Ignatius’ apology for the CIA includes the typical handwringing of CIA clandestine officers whenever there have been CIA abuses. We heard these arguments in the wake of the Vietnam War and we heard them again after the discovery of Iran-contra.
Ignatius tells us that an investigation would “damage careers and morale at the CIA.” Nonsense! He cites the views of clandestine officers who state that the investigation will “leave a train of destroyed officers.” More nonsense! And he argues that “CIA employees will steer away from areas such as counterterrorism.” And even more nonsense!
The fact is that the CIA is staffed by professional officers who want to follow the law and a moral compass in order to strengthen the national security of the United States. Their morale is strengthened when they have the support and respect of the American people, and the majority of CIA intelligence analysts and clandestine operatives know that the abuses and transgressions of the Vietnam War, Iran-contra, and the Iraq War were damaging to their mission and to their charter.
Ignatius’s unnamed sources over the past 30 years have been from the CIA’s clandestine community. He had a strong source in the early 1980s, a senior clandestine officer–the late Robert Ames–who was the most impressive clandestine officer I met during my 24 years at the CIA.
Ignatius’s novel on CIA tradecraft, “Agents of Influence,” was based on material obtained from Ames. But Ames was killed in the attack on the U.S. embassy in Lebanon in 1983 and, since then, Ignatius has relied on a group of clandestine apparatchiks who have fed him stories that tell only one small side of the CIA picture.
Unfortunately, most of the news articles in the Post on the CIA use some of the same sources and provide only partial pictures from a small and self-serving segment of the intelligence community. The current CIA deputy director, Stephen Kappes, and the head of clandestine operations, Michael Sulick, are part of this community.
Ignatius concludes that the CIA must be depoliticized and that the only way to do that is for the Obama administration to drop any investigation of possible criminal activities. He even unconscionably states that the “unauthorized practices” merely involved “kicks, threats and other abuse.”
The fact is that the politicization of the CIA was a self-inflicted wound that began in the 1980s when CIA director William Casey and his deputy Robert Gates politicized intelligence on the Soviet Union, Central American, and Afghanistan. This politicization continued under director Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin who provided phony intelligence to the Bush administration and Secretary of State Colin Powell to make the case for an unnecessary war against Iraq.
A phony intelligence White Paper was circulate on Capitol Hill only days before the vote to authorize force against Iraq, and phony intelligence was prepared to form Powell’s speech to the United Nations in February 2003 only several weeks before the start of the war. And now the cover-up is designed to include not only torture and abuse and secret prisons, but assassination teams that remind us of the Phoenix program from the Vietnam War.
It is long past time for President Obama to push a reset button at the CIA to stop the pattern of abuse, and perhaps the Washington Post should push a reset button to make sure that it will provide objective and balanced information on the intelligence community.
Melvin A. Goodman, a regular contributor to The Public Record, is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. He spent 42 years with the CIA, the National War College, and the U.S. Army. His latest book is Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA.