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May 08, 2006

Only Good News?

Posted in: BushCo,Congress

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So, President 31% and counting (as of the latest USA Today/Gallup poll — down 3 percentage points in a single week, so heckuva job, Bushie) lost his CIA Director on Friday.  Porter Goss is leaving the Agency in even more disarray than when he took over the job, according to multiple news reports today.  (See here, here, here, and here, just as four examples.)

Let’s ask ourselves a question:  if George Bush lost faith in Porter Goss quite a while ago, which was a spin thread that was fronted over and over by journalists over the weekend, why did he remain in the job for so long?  If so much damage was being done to the CIA by Goss’ incompetent management, inept cronyism appointments and the like — all of which has driven out some of the most experienced counterintelligence operatives who have the boots on the ground humint knowledge that the Agency so desperately needs right now — why was he left there to continue to make a mess of things until last Friday? 

If the Administration is going to use Goss’ incompetence as its scapegoat reason to explain away his resignation (and I’m not saying there isn’t something to it, frankly), then the public has a right to know just how screwed up the CIA is because of his tenure there and just why this President left him in place for so long to continue to do damage to the Agency at a time when its human intel capabilities, especially, are so sorely needed for our national security.  And if it is not the case that this was a problem, then I’d like to know exactly why Goss did leave, and how much damage whatever that reason is has caused to the Agency.

William Arkin has a fantastic post up on his Early Warning blog today, that is sure to piss off the Kool-aid-iest of the Bushistas, but the truth of the matter is that he is saying things that I’ve been hearing from disaffected intel types for months.

…If we face an intelligence "crisis," it isn’t because Jimmy Carter fired all of the case officers or the Clinton administration hand cuffed human intelligence with legal restrictions. It is because we have built a voracious and expensive intelligence infrastructure to support the survival of American society against the Soviet Union, an infrastructure, a "community," a bureaucracy, an establishment, that not only doesn’t have its traditional enemy but is at the same time unable to stuff the threat of "terrorism" into the old ways and the old models of doing things.

I know government officials insist that they are working to change from those old ways to that they can address the new enemy and the new war. Beltway narcissism also depends on the daydream that all of the reorganization and those commissions and the inquiries and the directives are addressing and solving the problems.

The problem though is that American society is neither mobilized nor particularly motivated to seriously fight the enemy the government has designated.

This says to me that American society can see clearer than either the administration or the intelligence analysts. Since people intuitively know that a few thousand terrorists, even with endless rolling recruitment ranks, can’t destroy our society or the West, people go about their day-to-day business while at the same time being profoundly unhappy with government and unsatisfied by the characterization of the threat.

I’m not suggesting here that society is so decadent and clueless that they need the government, and particularly the secret services, to protect them from an ugly world they are just not willing to acknowledge. Instead, I’m saying people are right. They want an honest assessment from Washington, a sense of accountability and proportion, they want to see progress, and they want to stop feeling like they are being taxed and manipulated to sustain a Washington and New York power center.

Five years after 9/11, the Bush administration acts as if it is not responsible for the CIA not having enough case officers, that it is not responsible for Osama being out there still, that it is not responsible for botched analysis….

This is a very long term fight that we have on our hands — and it is one that pits moderation against extremism in a clash of philosophies and wills. And it is a battle that we have been losing, repeatedly, because our leadership has not had the strength of character and of purpose to even be honest with itself — let alone with the American public.

Take, for example, this window into the Bush Administration’s treatment of honest "call it like I see it" analysis:

Goss got off to a shaky start because he was seen as a man on a political mission. CIA officers regard themselves as professionals, doing a dangerous job for the country. They know they work for civilian bosses. But like military officers, they want to be treated with respect. Though Goss long ago served as a CIA case officer, he arrived from Capitol Hill with a phalanx of conservative aides, soon dubbed the "Gosslings," who viewed the agency as a liberal, leak-prone opponent of conservative causes. That image is mostly nonsense — many of the people forced out by the Gosslings were ex-military officers who would be tempted to shoot Democrats on sight, and most veterans cheered Goss’s effort to stop press leaks. Goss’s attacks on senior officers were reckless, and they peeled away a generation of senior CIA managers. Sadly, the Bush White House mostly applauded his jihad on what they viewed as CIA naysayers.

An example of the political frictions that harmed the agency involved CIA reporting from Iraq. From late 2003 on, the agency was warning about the rise of the Iraqi insurgency and the failings of the administration’s political strategy. In 2004 the CIA station chief in Baghdad was sending warnings every 60 days, in special messages known as "AARDWOLF" cables, about the deteriorating situation. This candid and largely correct reporting is said to have angered White House officials, who complained that the Baghdad chief was defeatist and not a team player. At the end of his tour, he was punished with a poor assignment.

Get that? The officer was given a crap assignment because he told the truth to the Administration about how badly things were going in Iraq – which is exactly what the CIA is paid to do. (And why David Ignatius is only reporting on this now, as opposed to when it happened, is a question I’d love to have answered. I’m hoping it’s because he only heard the story, and not because he’s been sitting on it, given its implications for national security concerns.)

This is by no means the sole example of the Bush Administration pushing aside any and all information that doesn’t fit how it wants to see the world.  There’s the whole hand-picked audience for public "town hall meetings" ruse.  There’s the ask people to resign or retire who don’t tell you what you want to hear (O’NeillShinseki, etc.)  There are a whole host of other examples — all of which add up to a big set of questions, even for typically loyal types like Peggy Noonan, who wrote in the WSJ Opinion Journal that: 

George W. Bush, on the other hand, does not tolerate dissent, argument, bitter internal battles. He is the decider. He decides, and the White House carries through. He is loyal to his aides, who carry out his wishes. (It is unclear whether this is a loyalty born of emotional connection or one born of calculation: Do it my way and the tong protects you.) His loyalty means they will most likely not be fired or leaked against, no matter what heat they take from the outside. And so his aides move forward with the sharpness and edge of those who know their livelihoods and status are secure. Bruce Bartlett has written of how, as a conservative economist, he was treated with courtesy by the Clinton White House, which occasionally sought out his views. But once he’d offered mild criticisms of the Bush White House he was shut out, and rudely, by Bush staffers. Why would they be like that? Because they believe that as a conservative, Mr. Bartlett owes his loyalty to the president. He thought his loyalty was to principles.

There are many stories like this, from many others. It leaves friends on the outside having to self-censor or accept designation as The Enemy. It leaves a distinguished former government official and prominent Republican saying, in conversation, "Those people aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid, they’re sucking it from a spigot!"

How far has the President crossed the line when he loses Peggy Noonan?

ABC News is working hard to portray Gen. Hayden, the nominee to fill Goss’ shoes as DCI, as a "fighter."   In a three-biscuit article from the ABC reporting lapdogs, we learn that defending the illegal domestic NSA surveillance without warrants is a brave, even noble, calling:

Hayden’s public defense of the warrantless surveillance program showed his aggressiveness and his ability to dispense with a general’s jargon….

"These are communications that we have reason to believe are al-Qaida communications, a judgment made by American intelligence professionals, not folks like me or political appointees," he said.

"So let me make this clear. When you’re talking to your daughter at state college, this program cannot intercept your conversations. And when she takes a semester abroad to complete her Arabic studies, this program will not intercept your communications," Hayden said.

Wow, I feel so much better. How about you? Especially given the pass on all things accountability and oversight by the Rubber Stamp Republican Congress over the last few years.

My big concern on the nomination of Gen. Hayden to the DCI post is that, as a man who continues to wear the uniform of his country while doing the job, will he have any measure of independence to tell things like they are when they need to be said that way?  Or will chain of command prevent him from calling the President on the carpet for a bad decision — or a piss poor interpretation — or a rose-colored glasses scenario? 

This Administration’s track record in refusing to listen to internal criticism and dissent (or external, for that matter) is substantial.  Can we afford to risk our national security and our intelligence capabilties by adding a man constrained by his oath in uniform to follow the orders of his Commander in Chief?  THAT is a question well worth asking by the Senators on the Intelligence Committee.


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