Friday, November 04, 2005

CIA - Incompetent or Rogue?

Thursday, I had written a rather lengthy post about interesting things going on at the CIA. After I wrote most of the post, I cut it and went with another subject because I felt that my post may have sounded a bit too much like conspiracy theory. On principle, I like to leave the conspiracy theories to the "oil for blood" and "men in black" crowd at the DU, ANSWER and other such groups.

However, today I went to Powerline, a decent blog that does not traffic in conspiracy theories, and discovered that they had noted the same problems. They pulled together two other current editorials from Zell Miller and Victoria Toensig, both of which echo what I had written and saved as a word document, thinking I would revisit it, search for information to support more of my commentary and possibly tone it down a notch or two.

Now, having read Powerline and these two editorials, I feel, not only justified in making my original comment on the subject, but ashamed that I tossed away the obvious because I was afraid that even saying the obvious was too fantastical to contemplate or believe.

The CIA has gone rogue or at least too many of its agents and employees have gone rogue. Too many to ignore.

I do not say this lightly nor do I consider it hyperbole and I will explain.

First, let's look at how the CIA has lost the power to directly influence national security and foreign policy. This didn't start on September 12, when people were asking how so many terrorists could be in this country and we did not stop them. This has been a long slow slide starting with the Carter Administration that effectively reigned in the CIA, cut it's budget and put restraints on it's activities. Until then, the CIA had been very active in espionage and counter espionage through out the Cold War period leading up to Carter's administration. In an effort to counter the spread of Communism and effect governments around the world, it had supplied revolutionaries with weapons, money and information; it had actively participated in the assassination or toppling of leaders of foreign nations. It was able to do this through creative financing. There are rumors and proven facts regarding drug running and gun smuggling rings. Some undertaken in order to infiltrate other groups considered security risks and others in order to supplement their budget and provide cover for the exchange of money.

This is not the fantasy of a spy thriller, but is in fact the true story of the CIA.

For the most part, American citizens looked upon the CIA as doing and important job, keeping the US safe from external threats. The concept of spy craft was considered glamorous and beyond the general purview of a normal citizen. But the world was changing. US policy under Nixon had begun to focus on diplomacy and economic pressure or incentives to change the stance or condition of nations around the world. Still, the CIA was instrumental in activities, now publicly known, such as the Iran-Contra affair, the supplying of mujihadeen in Afghanistan against the USSR and similar activities in South America and Africa.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, which many analysts had failed to predict and had actively denied would occur for many more decades, the role of the CIA was no longer clear. The largest threat to national security no longer existed and the only two powers that even came close to posing a potential state on state threat were China and North Korea. Even those threats were less severe than the nuclear brinkmanship with the USSR since China had become a major trade partner and North Korea was a client state that could ill afford to anger its powerful neighbor. They remained a threat, however, and that is where many CIA resources were being used. At the same time, counter terrorism efforts were still a small part of the CIA efforts. They still saw some of the entities as potential proxies and not threats large enough to change the course of American politics, policy or economy. This inability to change gears and move beyond state on state spy craft was evident in the next decade and a half of mis-steps and outright intelligence failures.

It begins with Gulf War I. One of the major failures of the CIA intelligence community was the ability and effectiveness of the Shia uprising. This incident turned into President George H.W. Bush's own Bay of Pigs. In order for the Shia to have any confidence that they could rise up with their Kurdish brother in the north and topple Saddam on their own, they had to have more than a broadcast from the President to motivate them. They needed money and arms. They needed assurances of support. They needed leaders who would be motivated. The only way this was happening is if agents on the ground were able to meet and work with these leaders, give them assurances, material and financial support.

In conjunction with this, there must have been some expectation that the US would coordinate air support and supplies to the rebels; support that never came. Whether this was because the uprising began before it could be coordinated or if it started too late with the quick surrender of Iraqi forces or if this was actually the result of real politics may be a question that is never answered. Or, finally, it may never have been part of any real plan, but a diversion that did not take into account the value of the lives that would be wasted and the devastation of intelligence networks within Iraq. This devastation was felt all the way up to the current war, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Having abandoned the Shia and Kurds to be massacred by Saddam's security forces, members of this network were killed, imprisoned or simply decided that the US and its intelligence agents were no longer trustworthy, so they had to look out for themselves. For the CIA, this was not only a failure of intelligence, but had to feel like a betrayal of the CIA itself. On top of this, the quality of their agents in the field began to diminish as their budget was further slashed and real security and secrecy at CIA substations went with it. Through out the decade, leaks and poor security continued to see CIA contacts that were higher up in the government were purged, killed or forced to escape from Iraq.

During the Gulf War, another threat was emerging. Bin Laden had asked Saudi Arabia to use his mujihadeen as a force against Saddam instead of US and other western forces. This request was turned down and bin Laden began to actively preach against the Saudi government before being expelled. This appeared to be only a blip on the intelligence radar. If it had been more than a blip, the CIA was incapable of truly assessing the danger because, at the close of the Afghan/Russian war, they had basically abandoned their contacts and sources within these groups. They were a proxy organization that was no longer useful. With budgetary constraints it was a matter of choosing where to spend money effectively. With this group largely dispersing at the close of the war, it must have been deemed little or no threat to the US, regardless of some rhetoric from its members. It became a matter of monitoring bin Laden and a few of the other more virulent members without any effective counter terrorism strategy to diffuse or disrupt their activities.

In 1992, the agency finds that their information about Iraq's nuclear abilities was severely underestimated. It is discovered that Saddam is within five years or less of having a nuclear weapon, not ten as originally estimated by intelligence. His WMD program is so extensive that it can barely be catalogued and tracked.

In 1993, the World Trade Center was bombed. This might be deemed a failure of internal counter terrorism at the FBI, but the subsequent reports that it was the brain child of a "lone nut" in a Brooklyn mosque indicates that the CIA had no idea about foreign terrorist activities or its potential threat within the United States. It was still a low priority.

1996 Khobar Towers

1998 Bin Laden Declares War
1998 Kenyan and Tanzanian embassies bombed
1998 Clinton launches Tomahawk missiles at targets in Sudan and Afghanistan. It's later determined that the Sudanese target was a drug factory and the terrorist camp in Afghanistan was largely deserted. These both point to a serious failure in intelligence. The Afghan target was selected based on old information which indicates that the agency had still failed to re-organize its human intelligence and infiltrate any organizations or establish information networks.

Information concerning Saddam's weapons of mass destruction continues to be sketchy and over estimated based on information from exiles and UNSCOM inspections that are hindered, bugged and regularly expelled. Clinton continues to maintain that Saddam's regime is dangerous, routinely striking at Iraqi targets whenever obstruction of UN inspectors occurs or when US military craft is targeted.

2000 USS Cole is bombed
2001 September 11

Post September 11, the CIA is castigated for it's many failures. It is further humiliated when, in February 2005 by recommendation of the 911 Commission, the DNI (director of national intelligence) is created to coordinate all national intelligence agencies and is given a cabinet post. The DCI (Director of Central Intelligence), which was also the head of the CIA and had held the cabinet post was demoted to acting only as the head of the CIA. They no longer had a direct line to the President and they were no longer able to directly influence the President's foreign policy or security decisions.

In 2002, with the lead up to the war with Iraq, information was provided by the CIA and Defense Intelligence which supported claims that Saddam still had vast amounts of WMD materials and weapons which were unaccounted for through UNSCOM or it's own accounting process. Iraq provided a 10,000 page document which purported that it had destroyed these materials. The President believed that the report was another attempt at delay by Saddam. The CIA most likely had access to this report, but the war was coming quickly and there was little time to analyze the 10,000 pages and very little ability to verify its accuracy. Some unnamed officials and former officials began to leak information that the WMD claims were over stated, clearly putting the agency at war with itself over which claims were accurate. This war was being played out in public and began to take on a force of its own to try to shape public opinion on the nature of the war.

There were competing ideas and information about the status of Saddam's military, types of weapons and what a post Iraq might become. Some elements within the agency supported Ahmed Chalabi who had been instrumental in developing the WMD information through contacts and exiles. He also convinced the agency that his contacts within Iraq would be able to convince Iraqis to stand down when US forces arrived, that Iraq would remain calm and be easily rebuilt and re-organized into a democratic state.

Some of Chalabi's claims were true. He was able to keep certain elements from rising in defense and convince others to stand down. Contacts were made with Iraq officers who simply walked away from their commands. There were many who were ready to work towards a democratic state. The one thing that did not happen again, due to the 1991 Shia fiasco, was that the Shia did not rise up and waited to insure that this time they would not be abandoned before they gave overt assistance.

On the other hand, claims about WMD were over exaggerated along with information on the sectarian cooperation among Iraqis. The elements within the CIA that had rejected the WMD issue and felt that a post war Iraq would be seriously unstable felt justified in their claims.

The issue, of course, is that the CIA is at war with itself. Had both elements cooperated and presented a unified report, it is likely that the war would still have occurred, but WMD rhetoric may have been suborned to issues of violating ceasefire agreements and interaction with terrorists. Post war reconstruction and counter-insurgency plans would have been very different.

Prior to the Presidents September 2002 address to the UN, Joe Wilson, former ambassador under the Clinton administration and opponent to the Iraq war, was selected for a mission to Nigeria to ascertain information regarding Iraq attempts to purchase yellow cake. The question must be, "Why?" Why did the CIA have to send Joe Wilson who had been a low level State Department employee at the time of his residence in Nigeria and whose contacts must have been somewhat limited based on this position? The answer is clearly that the CIA did not have any agents in the field that were capable enough, senior enough or otherwise able to perform the task. The CIA had to hunt for someone that could perform the task of a fact finding mission and quickly.

Enter Valerie Plame, an employee of the agency who had once been a covert field agent for the CIA, but was now a desk bound analyst since 1996. Her field was WMD and she is now clearly identified as a member of the CIA cadre that opposed the war and attempted to suborn national politics through the agency as either a political ideologue for the Democrat party or simply as a member of the CIA cadre with its own foreign policy agenda.

The investigation was instigated by a request from Vice President Cheney. It's now clear that he did not select or advise on the selection of Joe Wilson, though Wilson claimed otherwise and then later claimed he was misrepresented. Wilson was selected based on a memo from his wife Valerie Plame, a CIA employee, to the head of the department. Wilson was not made to sign a confidentiality agreement. He was not asked to provide a written report, transcripts or tapes of his discussion with Nigerian officials. His report was given verbally. He was not asked to sign a written confirmation of this verbal report nor asked to provide an affidavit. The information, now infamously known as the "16 words" was filtered up to the President and used in a speech.

Now we know that Wilson opposed this information that was essentially provided by his own verbal report. Within days of the speech, leaks from "intelligence officials" were refuting the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase yellowcake from Nigeria. Was this a matter of Wilson's verbal report being contradictory or vague so that each element in the CIA could claim it supported it's thesis on Iraq's WMD? Was it because the lack of a written report allowed the information to be misconstrued by whoever so desired? Was the intelligence agent who leaked the information refuting the "16 words" an unknown entity or was it Valerie Plame herself? In 2003, Wilson writes an Op Ed piece that clearly claims the President lied about the intelligence from Nigeria and that he did not state any such thing to the CIA. He was ostensibly given "permission" to write the piece, but this was also clearly a formality since there was no confidentiality agreement that the CIA could use as a legal device to keep Wilson from writing anything. "Permission" is most likely a euphemism for "we can't stop you".

Was the lack of a confidentiality agreement and a written and signed report deliberate or a failure of the CIA to follow procedures that Victoria Toensig clearly indicates would apply to anyone? Once Wilson wrote his piece, the CIA went quiet and did not refute his op ed directly nor support it, though "leaks" from one official or another continued to come out, nothing was officially said. It was left to the administration to deny or validate. Why? Is it because the CIA did not want to be caught having provided bad information again? Is it because the CIA felt that its failure to follow procedures would further damage its reputation in the eyes of the public and the administration? Is it simply because other information in the report was too important for "national security" and release of the information would have necessitated releasing other important information?[update: according to Cass guest posting at Blackfive the CIA did refute the report saying it did not provide the information to the President because it did not produce any further information for analytical purposes]

How did the information get from the CIA to the President to be included in his speech? This is an important part of the equation. Many agents have claimed that they provided contradicting information and it was discarded in favor of information that supported the President's claims. Others have noted that the problem with the contradicting claims was that the CIA had spent a decade insisting that Iraq had WMD and was a threat, thus the contradicting information was considered less credible than the information that appeared to validate and coincide with previous claims. Was the President or Vice President actually briefed on Wilson's entire report? [update: according to Cass, they were not give the information from Wilson's trip..see next comment] Or, was any contradictory information filtered out or given a lesser emphasis or disputed at a lower level before being provided? Was there really any contradictory information provided by Wilson or is he lying to forward a political agenda? [update: the answer is "yes"] Since Wilson has twice been outed for lying or "misrepresenting facts" to reporters and much of the content of his book has been refuted or contradicted above and beyond this incident, is he simply delusional with ideas of martyrdom since he is now clearly untouchable and his career is effectively over as a high level government employee, much less an ambassador?

Is this really about the administration or is it about the internal political battle within the CIA for dominance of one cadre or the other? Since this internal war is clearly affecting US security and foreign policy, why hasn't the CIA been investigated? It clearly has enough leaks to sink the Titanic considering the most recent leak concerning secret prisons and prisoners in Eastern Europe held by the CIA. This leak by "officials and former officials" who were not named seems clearly meant to force the administration to do something the CIA has wanted it to do, mainly take the prisoners out of their hands and put them on trial or move them to military prisons. Although, one such "official" clearly indicates that the CIA has an issue with the administration not putting these prisoners on trial through the US system which it says was done before the war on terror. This is clearly false because Extraordinary Rendition was authored by President Clinton and apparently did not find any disfavor within the CIA until it was used by the Bush administration. In which case, many leaks concerning this program have come out of the CIA.

Now this has gone beyond an internal struggle within the CIA to deliberately seeking to undermine the efficacy, strategies and policies of this administration and further the foreign policy and counter terrorism strategy preferred by the CIA or elements within. This has become a political dog fight and its quite clear that these elements within the CIA have no compunction about putting their own agents at risk (who surely must be concerned if their assignments will be outed, their lives endangered or even the potential for being arrested as seen by the recent Spanish judge issuing an arrest warrant for three agents), national security at risk and subverting national politics for their own gain.

This is the reason that the CIA must be called out, an investigation must ensue and, if necessary, regardless of their position, certain elements must be purged from the agency. This is not a matter of whether these elements oppose this administration or its policies. This is about every administration that comes after. This is about the CIA charter and the laws that govern the jurisdiction and purpose of the CIA. This is about whether the CIA as a whole or certain elements within have decided to disregard these lines between their role and American politics. These lines were clearly created to avoid the ability of the CIA to do as agencies within many other countries have done: effect government, politics, people and even support bloody or bloodless coups within its own nation.

Again, this is no hyperbole, but stating the obvious that was obvious to those who first created the intelligence agency and set the boundaries. The CIA is not the KGB, but that's what it is turning into.

The CIA is either a rogue agency, contains rogue elements or is so incompetent that it can’t keep a secret, an important concept for an agency whose job is defined by secrecy.

This is not a matter of hiding information from the public. This is a matter of chain of command and the rules that govern what secret information is provided to whom. There are clear lines of communication that not only include the DNI, the Chief of the NSA, the Vice President and the President, but also the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. If there was any question of direction, information or problems, this is the line that information should take, not being leaked to the public as if the agency was a foreign entity attempting to change American politics. If an employee has a problem, taking their complaints to the public while working at what is purported to be a secret intelligence agency seems utterly contradictory, if not a down right breach of contract.

The CIA is not supposed to be at the forefront of American internal politics. The agency is supposed to be a quiet tool for gathering information, carrying out foreign policy and providing security from foreign entities. Do not say that a CIA agent is an American first and has obligations to protect the American population, even if that means toppling an administration. That is bogus and still begs the directive to give any such information to the FBI, DOJ and Senate, entities that have the power and responsibility to act on internal legal matters or address the administration. Any agent that ignores these directives is an ideologue. Such ideologues are dangerous to the security of the United States.

And so, let me second Ms. Toensig’s demand: Investigate the CIA. It’s gone off the reservation and needs be herded back to its proper place: outside the United States and behind closed doors.

WaPo: CIA holds terror suspects in secret prison
CIA Secret Jails
CIA Holding Terror Suspects
Unattributed Editorial: Rebellion Against Abuse


riceburner147 said...

Kat: I HATE to be picky BUT....(RB whispers) i think you need to change the date in your copyright thingy....(sorry).

I have a pretty good story I will share sometime about the 93 Twin Towers bombing!

Great post as usual, I have sent the URL to a couple friends of mine (they are still not quite as intelligent as you and I)

BTW: Do you know the true test of someones intelligence ?

a.) The degree to which their opinions match yours.

Kat said...

The copy right is for the entire blog which began in 2004, that's when it was registered. So anything from that date forward is considered copy righted.

however, feel free to print and distribute this post.

Kat said...

yes, I have frequently heard that only people that agree with your opinion think that you are brilliant...but I believe that also applies to people that have no idea how to fix something and you fix it. They are often amazed, regardless of whether it only took you a toothpick and some super glue. LOL

riceburner147 said...

Kat: I stand corrected, hope you know i was only concerned for you. Actually, my quote about intelligence was a little diff from your take. What I meant is that ONLY those people who agree with US (YOU) have any intelligence at all. Ahhhhh, it loses something in the explaining. I hope you realize it was tongue-in cheek :) Recently I had a (minor) disagreement with my mother (who lives in FL.) ONLY b/c of the inherent failings of e-mail/blogging etc. No tone of voice, no facial expressions (you know the drill). So I called Her on the telephone and it was hunky-dory !

Once again, I appreciate your hard work on your blog, it is a blessing to me.