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Fat Steve's Archives

| Sunday, November 06, 2005

Article From The New Republic on the CIA

Originally here, registration required; interesting insights into the CIA's attitude towards the administration

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WHY THE CIA DOESN'T CARE ABOUT LIBBY.

Self Interest

by Spencer Ackerman

Only at TNR Online | Post date 11.03.05

        Valerie Plame hasn't had as many defenders as fervent as her old classmate from CIA case-officer training, Larry Johnson.  (Full disclosure: Johnson has written for TNR Online).  The leaking of Plame's identity by Bush administration apparatchiks so embittered Johnson--a former CIA and State Department counterterrorism official in Republican administrations--that he told a Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing in October 2003 that "the partisan assault on Joe Wilson and his wife ... sickens me."  These days, Johnson keeps leak obsessives updated through his blogging on Josh Marshall's online liberal conclave TPMCafe and his own blog, No Quarter, where no leak-related misdeed by the administration or the press is left untouched.  ("When Judith Miller went to jail in July I rejoiced because some justice, at least in my eyes, was being visited on a media whore who helped the Bush Administration mix the kool aid that took us to war," goes one typical post.) His acrimony is rooted in his CIA background--and the scorched-earth tactics with which the Bush administration has treated his former colleagues.  "It's not as if Valerie's the only example," Johnson says.  "Look at [former Latin America intelligence analyst] Fulton Armstrong.  [U.N. Ambassador John] Bolton tried to get Fulton fired." 

        As a result, if anyone is celebrating "Fitzmas"-- as liberals refer to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's indictment last week of Scooter Libby--it's Johnson.  But not many current and former CIA officials are even in an attentive mood, much less a joyous one.  "I hesitate to say it, but the only word I've heard is that they've lost interest in this a long time ago," says a former Langley official.  Current CIA officials are even more dismissive.  "No one is focused on the Libby thing," says one.

        Indeed, despite a fervent belief on the right that the CIA is determined to sabotage the Bush administration by any means necessary, Langley denizens are preoccupied with the more pressing matter of Bush's installation of loyalist Porter Goss as CIA director; his rearrangement of the intelligence community, which has left the CIA in a nebulous and insecure position; and America's unraveling fortunes in the Iraq war.  While Plame still has advocates among her colleagues, even allies like Johnson see that the CIA has much bigger fish to fry at the moment.  "I just had drinks with another classmate of mine and Valerie," he notes.  The leak investigation took a quick backseat in their conversation: "He says, 'You know, if we had set out as our purpose to create an Iraq possessed by an insurgency that won't stop, we couldn't have done a better job.'"  The administration might view Libby's indictment as a victory for Langley in an ongoing war with the intelligence community--a bunker mentality that, as Fitzgerald's indictment suggests, in no small measure triggered the Plame leak itself.  But rather than considering itself triumphant, the CIA is far more concerned with mitigating the damage from having lost far more battles with this White House than it has won.

        A potent mixture of contempt for, and fear of, the intelligence community has been characteristic of neoconservatives for decades before Plame ever joined the CIA.  When after September 11 the agency failed to come up with evidence of Iraqi complicity with Al Qaeda or an advanced Iraqi nuclear-weapons program, that hostility reached a fever pitch.  As a former colleague of Libby's told me and Franklin Foer in 2003, "They so believed that the CIA were wrong, they were like, 'We want to show these fuckers that they are wrong.'"  Furthermore, it's not as if the CIA didn't hit back: Both before and after the invasion, dubious official statements about Iraq were rebutted by anonymous CIA quotes in the press attempting to reacquaint President Bush with reality.  According to Fitzgerald's indictment, following publication of a TNR story about administration deception on Iraq in June 2003, Libby conferred with aide Eric Edelman to discuss a counterattack and bemoaned "selective leaks" by the CIA in a conversation with Judith Miller of The New York Times; shortly thereafter, columnist Robert Novak, citing two senior administration officials, revealed Plame's identity.

        For some on the right, the indictment of Libby demonstrates the awesome power of the CIA to cripple the White House.  In a piece this week suggesting that the administration is too fearful of Langley to release secret evidence vindicating its claims about Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, a former official contended to Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard, "We didn't want to have a pissing match with the [Central Intelligence] Agency on the front page of the New York Times every time we put something out."  That explanation may be convenient for diehard Bush loyalists and Iraq hawks, but it overlooks Bush's impressive ability to win the pissing match.  As a recently declassified internal CIA study on pre-war intelligence points out, the CIA's gloomy forecast of post-Saddam Iraq, "although largely accurate ... had little or no impact on policy deliberations."  Much to the disappointment of analysts, adds Johnson, "the Bush administration still ignores the intelligence analysis [on Iraq] in the community and insists things are going well." 

        The most potent symbol of the CIA's losing battle with the White House is the man who runs the agency: Porter Goss.  "Everyone is very focused on what's going on in our own building," according to a CIA official.  What's going on is an escalating bitterness between Bush loyalist Goss--who, in response to White House concerns, instructed his agency last year that its job was "to support the Administration and its policies"--and horrified CIA intelligence veterans.  Over the past year several highly respected agency officials have quit in disgust with Goss, especially in the clandestine service in which Plame was employed and which Goss has said is his top priority.  But Plame has been at most an afterthought in the Goss wars, which concern his dubious loyalty to the agency and his competence at rebuilding it.  "These people are mostly Republicans, you realize," says one former agency official.  "If anything, they'd naturally sort of like this president, but this Goss thing has been thermonuclear from day one and still is today." 

        But perhaps the biggest preoccupation--and cause of anxiety--in the CIA is its uncertain place in the intelligence community reorganization passed by Congress last year.  With the creation of a new director of national intelligence (DNI) as the quarterback of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, the CIA's spies and analysts are struggling to understand their new position in the intelligence bureaucracy.  "In the intelligence community, not just the CIA, there's a hope that this whole division of labor with the DNI settles out soon because many things hinge on it--resources and so forth," says a former senior CIA analyst.  "People just want clarity and are hoping they get clarity.  There are an awful lot of things that are not laid out in the creation of that position."  Indeed, the creation of the DNI has opened the question of whether the CIA should even exist--and some agency veterans argue that it shouldn't, as former CIA Director Stansfield Turner does in his new book Burn Before Reading.  As a result, the Libby contretemps is a burdensome distraction at precisely the wrong time.  Many at Langley are consumed with "how we keep this machine working, and make sure we get the mission done and don't get distracted," the ex-analyst says.

        If all that wasn't enough to distance Plame from her expected allies, there's a final factor: Joe Wilson's high profile in the scandal.  "The way Wilson has behaved, the natural sympathies that people in the agency would have for them has dissolved," says a former CIA official.  "The Vanity Fair article really pissed them off with that photograph [of Wilson and Plame].  The p.r. campaign by the Wilsons has undermined the sympathy for her.  I happen to know and like Joe Wilson a lot, but this rubs people the wrong way."  Wilson, for his part, is not impressed with this line of argument.  "The only reason I've been high profile is because of the attacks that have been launched about me and my family by Mr. Libby and company, and if anyone thought I was just going to roll over and play dead while these guys engaged in what was very clearly a cold and calculated effort to discredit, defame, and otherwise assassinate my character through leaking my wife's name, they were dead wrong," says Wilson.  "Because of what we've done, perhaps it won't happen to other families."  What the CIA wishes is that it weren't happening to anyone at all--and certainly not right now.
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        And always remember Steve's words of political wisdom:
THE HOUSE OF SAUD MUST BE DESTROYED!

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