Michael Hayden’s Faustian Bargain

April 29, 2014–This journey into Alice’s wonderland on the CIA torture program and the now-notorious Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) investigation of it continues. I’ve avoided comment for several weeks. I suppose I thought the issue might go away, what with the SSCI voting to release the report, thus putting its declassification into the hands of the Obama White House. But little seems to have happened there, and the president appears to have taken the course predicted here previously–giving the CIA the job of going up or down on the declassification. This incredible conflict of interest goes forward despite SSCI chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein’s request to President Obama not to permit that big bit of chicanery.

What has happened is that principal culprits in the CIA’s misdeeds are stepping forward to pre-empt the SSCI report. In the vacuum left by the absence of the investigative findings they assert–like former CIA clandestine service chief Jose Rodriguez– that no matter what the report says they know torture worked. The psychologist James Mitchell, whose schemes for manipulating individuals lie behind the whole CIA program, has had the audacity–drawing on the image of the principal character of the TV show 24–  to attack critics of torture as “people who have this Jack Bauer mentality.” Of course, it was the perpetrators of the torture, not its critics, who acted in character with agent Bauer. It is of a piece with this whole controversy that “intelligence” is fast disappearing into the maws of poseurs who apparently believe they can convince us that black is white if they say so enough times.

All of which brings us to former CIA director (and NSA director, and ODNI deputy director as well) Michael V. Hayden. A chief, no mere indian, Hayden once had charge of these people. In a sally several weeks ago the former spy chieftain inserted himself yet again into the debate. He suggested that the SSCI took the dim view it does of CIA’s torture because its chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein was too emotional. There’s audacity for you! If you’re manly you’re for torture.

I’ve written here before about how Mr. Hayden should recuse himself from this debate–on both the NSA dragnet eavesdropping and the CIA torture the general was a player, his hands not clean and his “legacy,” if we can call it that, threatened by the outcome. But the general shows no inclination to desist. So let’s unpack Michael Hayden’s role in CIA torture and its cover-up.

Michael V. Hayden ascended to the top floor at Langley in May 2006. He moved over from the house of the Director of National Intelligence, for whom he’d been deputy. At the time the black prisons had already been revealed, Jose Rodriguez had already destroyed tapes (and obstructed justice), and the CIA had told a federal court in the Moussaoui terrorism trial that no tapes of interrogations existed (the obstruction). President George W. Bush had signed the Detainee Treatment Act. General Hayden could easily have taken the high road. His incentive to do so grew within the month, when the Supreme Court decided the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case in a way that recognized and widened detainee rights. That triggered a new round of CIA-Justice Department exchanges over its “enhanced interrogation” methods.

Director Hayden took a different path. Until that summer Hayden held the lid on the torture, confining CIA information to Congress to the top leadership. At the agency Hayden pressed for a revitalization that would greatly increase “operational tempo.” Even CIA historians were pressed into service as glorified reports officers, chronicling operational activity, no longer writing agency histories. In September 2006 Mr. Bush closed the CIA prisons and sent the last fourteen detainees to Guantanamo in the care of the U.S. military. But Director Hayden tried to preserve black prisons as a contingency option. CIA issued new guidelines for detention a month later, and in November Hayden participated personally in a round of comprehensive briefings on CIA rendition for the SSCI and Senate Judiciary Committee. Then–and again in February and March 2007–Hayden’s line with the SSCI and its House counterpart was that torture had not been used in years, but that it should be available as a method to exploit. That was the position Mr. Hayden continued to press through the remainder of his tenure. When Barack Obama came to office–and issued an executive order on his very first day that outlawed torture and detention–Hayden’s lawyers made an eleventh-hour intervention to insert language into the order that would preserve a CIA rendition capability.

President Obama got his own CIA directors, starting with Leon Panetta. That put General Hayden on the outside defending the agency’s record. He opposed Obama when the president overrode protests to declassify the original John Yoo legal “opinions” contrived to justify torture. In the fall of 2009 Hayden helped organize and sign a letter from seven former CIA chiefs begging the president to drop all criminal investigations of U.S. intelligence personnel for torture and related offenses. The general commented favorably when Attorney General Eric Holder moved in that direction, and he could be depended upon for negative soundbites when the SSCI investigation got underway, as it progressed, and in the controversy surrounding its release.

The trajectory of Michael Hayden’s participation in these events is quite clear. It’s not likely that the general will, in fact, stand down. But everyone ought to be aware of exactly where Michael V. Hayden is coming from and what he stands for. This is not a matter of a historical debate over CIA achievements, it is about preserving a role for a certain operational capability. The tragedy in all this is that America is better than what General Hayden stood for–and even had laws on the books to prohibit it.

American Spooks Terrified

April 25, 2014–The spy chieftains who run U.S. intelligence are terrified. Not of the North Koreans, or Syrians, or Chinese. Not at the old “Axis of Evil.” Not even with Vladimir Putin’s suddenly muscular diplomacy in the Ukraine. No, the spy mavens are terrified of their own spooks–and of what they might say. I commented here earlier (“U.S. Intelligence Turned Inside Out,” February 5, 2014) at how scary it is that General James Clapper and other American spy chiefs seemingly regard whistleblowers, more than foreign enemies, as principal threats to United States national security. Their concern has now assumed concrete form, far beyond simply asserting before Congress that there may be a problem with leaks.

On March 20 Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, promulgated an order to affect everyone who works for any of our spy agencies. Called Intelligence Community Directive 119, the order says its purpose is “to ensure a consistent approach for addressing media engagement . . . and to mitigate the risks of unauthorized disclosures of intelligence related matters.” To achieve these goals Directive 119 orders that no one who works for U.S. intelligence is to have any contact with the media other than designated officials.

Before we go any farther I want to make a point that deserves to be repeated from every rooftop: General Clapper and his minions are substituting their own interests, narrow and parochial, for the national interest. They are either confused about what endangers national security, or they seek to use the public’s deference to that concept to avoid the very conversation America needs to be having right now.

To wit, Directive 119 designates agency directors, their deputies, their PR spin doctors, and those individuals asked by a director to do so as the only persons who can be in contact with the media. In other words, all information is to be authorized information–all vanilla, nothing controversial. Even better, not only will intelligence officers have to obtain advance permission to be in touch with media, they are also required to report casual contacts. And approval of a contact by the higher-ups, under Directive 119 does not imply the inclusion of any follow-up conversation.

This is a formula that affords spy chieftains complete ability to manipulate: they approve the medium, they approve the message, and if later on they decide a mistake was made they can retroactively construe a contact as unauthorized. Those ruled guilty of infractions under the directive can be fired or have their security clearances revoked, which pretty much amounts to the same thing, and then be referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

Moreover Directive 119 defines “media” so widely that the spooks can construe almost anyone as the enemy– “media is any person, organization or entity” that engages in informing the public “in any form,” and–I love this one–is “otherwise engaged in the collection, production, or dissemination to the public of information in any form related to topics of national security.” If you and I discuss on our I-phones U.S. trade policy in certain areas (which are now considered matters of national security) we are “media.”

This is as chilling as imaginable. Intelligence officers abandon their First Amendment rights as a condition of employment–illegal on the face of it. And the aim at whistleblowers is plainly revealed in Paragraph 8 of the directive, which goes out of its way to specify that employees have avenues (other than going to the media) to report unlawful, abusive, fraudulent, or wasteful activities. To add to the message DNI Clapper devotes an entire order, Directive 120 (which has not been made public), to layering on details of those avenues. Of course, the current situation is that action through channels is often sterile because agency officials have vested interests in their programs. A number of CIA and NSA whistleblowers have been prosecuted for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse; the very reason Edward Snowden chose to go to the media. I predict that Directive 119 will have a disastrous effect on intelligence agency morale.

Director Clapper has a tin ear. When Congress asked about NSA dragnet eavesdropping he lied about it. (Congress, by the way, is an “entity” that engages in the collection and dissemination of information on national security.) Later he reflected that if he’d just come clean there wouldn’t have been a problem. President Obama had to order Clapper to declassify and make public legal documents in support of the NSA’s version of the reality. Now, with public confidence in U.S. intelligence at a nadir–because of agencies’ actions, not the media’s reporting of them–Clapper goes after his own employees. The spooks cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that national security–the very existence of their agencies–is threatened by their actions and not by the media’s reporting. They prefer to think that shooting the messenger eliminates the problem. What they should be doing is building public confidence with openness and transparency. Instead we get Directive 119. I have the paperback edition of The Family Jewels  coming out shortly. In it I propose a solution for this mess. Take a look at it.

The Putin Doctrine

April 24, 2014–The news today is that Russian troops on the eastern border of the Ukraine are going to conduct military exercises, while Moscow warns the Ukraine not to rock the boat by using force against pro-Russia activists in the eastern Ukraine. This follows reports earlier this week that specific Russian special operations troopers had been identified in mufti among the Ukrainian “protesters.” (Today the New York Times, which reported this story, went back on the original claim after doubts emerged regarding the photographic evidence. The claim nevertheless has a certain plausibility.) Vladimir Putin’s earlier statements affirming his dedication to “New Russia,” in effect all the lands that formed parts of the historical Soviet Union, smack of irredentism– as was discussed here not very long ago (see “What Do You Say to a Country Called Ruthenia?” from March 24th).

Speaking of the old Soviet Union, it was an article of faith in Soviet military doctrine that “maneuvers” furnished great opportunities for disguising the unleashing of force. These various elements lead to a suspicion that Mr. Putin may indeed be laying the groundwork for a military operation.

It’s been a long time–decades now–since leaders of the former Soviet Union renounced the “Brezhnev Doctrine,” and much longer than that since Russian leader Leonid Brezhnev articulated that excuse for military intervention. Remember the “Prague Spring” of 1968? For me the tears still come when I reflect– on how it seemed a people were insisting on forging their own path into the future, and how the Soviet leadership insisted on their right to prevent any Eastern European nation from leaving Moscow’s camp.

President Putin is making a similar claim today, first to Crimea, now it seems, to the eastern Ukraine. It is the latest evolution of a policy that has included armed action in Chechnya and Georgia. Putin would apparently like to reunite the parts of the historic nation under the Russian flag. Thus the “Putin Doctrine.”

Mr. Putin should be careful what he wishes for. In Soviet times the need to enforce the Brezhnev doctrine helped drive unrealistic levels of military spending, and led to aid and trade commitments to Eastern Europe, both of which helped bankrupt the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The situation for Russia is not all that different today. The Russian economy, while stronger by far than Ukraine, remains weak on the international stage, and economic sanctions can wreak real damage to it. Equally to the point the imposition of Russian political, legal, and economic systems on what has become a foreign entity (whether Crimea alone or Ukraine as a whole) is going to involve real costs. Whether the Old Russia can bear those costs remains an open question. So far, reports out of Crimea indicate Putin’s minions are having difficulties creating the administrative mechanisms necessary simply to run the place.

As is so often the case in international relations, the resort to force or to coercive diplomacy is so much easier to initiate than is the follow-through required to make actions stick. With the Putin Doctrine I fear the future will bring continued chaos in the areas Russia has annexed; charges the problems are due to meddling from Kiev and, perhaps, Washington; and force used against Ukraine itself. Putin’s problem is that the further he expands his writ the more deeply he will become entrapped in a bed of quicksand. This would be a good time to reconsider. But it is likely already too late.

[This post was revised on April 25 after I saw reports disputing the accuracy of claimed photographic evidence of Russian special operations troops in the Ukraine.]

Deepening Shadows at Dien Bien Phu

April 24, 2014–Today is the sixtieth anniversary of what is possibly the most controversial episode of the siege of Dien Bien Phu. That 1954 battle, which brought an end to the French colony of Indochina, had already been sputtering on for more than a month. The French had lost key positions and many soldiers. Some of the men were replaced by parachuted reinforcements but the lost strongpoints were gone–and with them much of the area within which the French air force needed to drop in paratroopers and supplies. Only yesterday in that history, April 23, 1954, one more disastrous counterattack showed just how dire the situation had become.

The episode concerned a strongpoint known as Huguette-1, which the Viet Minh army of General Vo Nguyen Giap had first pinched off, then basically starved out. Against the advice of his senior officers the French commander, Colonel Christian de Castries, decided to use his last constituted reserve in an attempt to regain Huguette-1. That unit, the 2nd Foreign Legion Parachute Battalion, was in relatively good shape because it had arrived only recently, though in just two weeks at Dien Bien Phu the unit had lost nearly half its strength. The H-1 counterattack would be the first time the battalion had fought together in the battle. Major Hubert Liesenfeldt found his units late to reach their attack positions, making the preparatory air strike premature. An artillery bombardment was truncated due to the confusion. Then the redoubtable Lieutenant Colonel Marcel Bigeard, coordinator of all counterattacks at the entrenched camp, discovered Liesenfeldt out of touch with some of his embattled assault companies because his radios were tuned to the wrong frequency. The venture collapsed.

All that is subtext to the controversy of April 24. By that day the American secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, was in Paris and closeted with top French officials, who were in shock at the crisis of Dien Bien Phu. We have seen Dulles, just the other day in this space (“Dawn of the Vietnam Conflict,” April 19, 2014), trying to stiffen President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s resolve to intervene in this desperate French battle. Now, in company with French foreign minister Georges Bidault, Secretary Dulles supposedly asked, as they descended the stairs in between formal working sessions, “And if I gave you two atomic bombs for Dien Bien Phu?”

Needless to say the question of using nuclear weapons in this Vietnam battle has been disputed ever since. I don’t want to write too much at this sitting because I’d like to come back later today and post something about Putin and the Ukraine, but I’ll say here that the most thorough analysis you’ll find anywhere on the question of nuclear weapons and Dien Bien Phu is in my book Operation Vulture. Take a look at it.

Medal on the Jacket

April 19, 2014–Friends who saw the panel discussion from the San Antonio Book Festival that aired on C-SPAN 2 “Book News” this afternoon have asked just what medal I was wearing on my jacket that day. Here’s the answer.

In San Antonio the Book Festival kicks off a bigger celebration of community activism and social achievement. There are many medals, pins, and tokens–for  a whole range of different municipal activities apparently– that are worn at civic events during the celebration. The medal I’m wearing is from the San Antonio Public Library Foundation and it marks “Uniting and Inspiring Readers and Writers.” It was given to me before the event and I was pleased to support the San Antonio organizers.

Dawn of the Vietnam Conflict: War Powers and Dien Bien Phu

April 19, 2014–President Dwight D. Eisenhower was not an expert golfer but he was a dedicated one. Eisenhower had an area at the White House to practice his putt, regularly took time off to golf at the Burning Tree course, and he even took golfing vacations. Sixty years ago today, at the height of the Dien Bien Phu crisis, Ike was on one of those trips. He’d gone to Georgia, to the National Golf Club in Augusta, site of the PGA tournament. The president’s cottage at Augusta was called the “Little White House.” There Ike would experience one of the key moments of the Vietnam crisis.

President Eisenhower could hardly escape the action. A couple of days earlier his vice-president, Richard M. Nixon, had told an audience of media moguls that U.S. troops might well have to go fight in Vietnam. Ike wanted to help France, whose army was trapped at Dien Bien Phu, with its best units steadily losing strength. The situation was so dismal that men considered it good news when the New York Times could headline, “INCREASED RAINS SEEN SLOWING THE FIGHTING.” Nixon’s remarks were being interpreted as a trial balloon for U.S. intervention. Press inquiries flooded the Little White House. Soon after breakfast on April 19, 1954, Eisenhower telephoned Nixon, who worried the president would be furious at him for letting the cat out of the bag–officials had been trying to avoid mentioning that U.S. troops figured in the plans. But Ike was relaxed and told Mr. Nixon not to worry.

Eisenhower’s schemes to intervene at Dien Bien Phu might indeed involve American soldiers. At a minimum they included sailors and airmen. For nearly a month Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, had been trying to create the conditions necessary for that intervention to go ahead. So far they had failed–British allies were opposed to a Vietnam intervention, while the French, despite their desperation, were leery of permitting the United States to have a big role in their war.

But Secretary Dulles had a formula to evade all obstacles. The Justice Department had worked up an extensive paper on presidential war powers as part of a government-wide study of Indochina intervention. Foster took that paper with him to visit the president on April 19. The two men would lunch at Augusta and mull over the Dien Bien Phu crisis.

The paper–like George W. Bush era Justice Department legal opinions on torture–was one of those documents that cobbled together lawyer language suitable to permit officials to do whatever they wanted. In this case the Justice paper relied on the “commander-in-chief clause” in Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution to assert that the president could order U.S. troops into battle without a congressional declaration of war. At their lunch Secretary Dulles scoffed at the paper’s legalisms but took its argument–the heart of the matter, Foster told Ike, was that the U.S. government “must have the power of self-preservation . . . . If the danger was great and imminent and Congress unable to act quickly enough to avert the danger, the president would have to act alone.” Why anything about a crisis threatening a French army in Vietnam was a matter of self-preservation to the United States Dulles did not attempt to explain. He was a preacher-man and capable of sallies like this.

On April 19, 1954, it was Dwight D. Eisenhower who saved the nation from war. For months Ike had been telling Congress he would not go into Indochina without getting its approval. Not only did Eisenhower feel bound by those political promises, he had just survived a congressional test of his foreign policy powers by a handful of votes–and would have lost if the Democratic Party, his opponents, had not rallied to his side. On April 19 Ike patted John Foster Dulles’s hand and told the secretary of state that as president he needed to carry out “the will of the people.” If not, the president warned, he could be impeached. As far as U.S. intervention to save Dien Bien Phu was concerned, the two men were still in the position of having to build a public consensus for war in Vietnam.

So passed another moment when the international crisis surrounding Dien Bien Phu could have pulled the United States into active fighting in Indochina a whole decade before this actually occurred. But Eisenhower and Dulles were not stymied by these developments. A few days later President Eisenhower made a political trip, swinging through New York and Kentucky in an effort to drum up support for intervention. There is much more to the story of America’s Dien Bien Phu. Read all about it in Operation Vulture.

Farewell to Jonathan Schell

April 17, 2014–Back in the bad old days of Vietnam, when General William C. Westmoreland was running the war, he was intensely focused on what people were saying and writing about the conflict. If you looked at Westy’s personal papers–this was a general who every day was flitting all over South Vietnam and rarely got up and went to bed in the same place–you’d see so many press clippings that the only logical conclusion would be that the general had a platoon of privates clipping the newspapers and magazines for him at headquarters.

Some war correspondents irked Westmoreland tremendously. Jonathan Schell became one such burr under Westy’s saddle. Schell’s work, first in The New Yorker and then in books, proved quite influential. The reporter travelled Vietnam as did Westy, but he spent more time in the places he visited and stopped to smell the napalm. Quite literally. One of Schell’s pieces, expanded into the 1968 book The Military Half, discussed how the armed services, bloated with bureaucracy, wedded to formulas, and with narrow concepts of their methods, were mindlessly blowing up the land. A passage that sticks in mind is where Schell described riding in the back seat of a spotter plane while the pilot glibly called in air strikes on targets that, going at a few hundreds of miles an hour, he could hardly see. If memory serves right, General Westmoreland demanded to know who had let the journalist onto a forward observer plane, and set a posse of spin doctors to work countering Schell’s observations.

Schell’s first book–also an article originally–gave the lie to “population resettlement” as a pacification technique that aimed to win the hearts and minds of South Vietnamese. On an operation north of Saigon Schell described in graphic detail how a U.S. infantry battalion–one commanded by then-Lieutenant Colonel Alexander M. Haig, Jr.–had gone into the village, plowed everything up, destroyed the place, and carried off the villagers so quickly they hardly had time to pack belongings and gather their livestock. The Village of Ben Suc (1967) was powerful, strong enough that there were attempts to counter it too. The main objection was that Ben Suc lay in a National Liberation Front stronghold area, with the implication the villagers were all enemy anyway. The Colonel Tinyminds of Westy’s PR machine apparently did not stop to think through the issue. If pacification meant anything, it was that the counterinsurgency mavens ought to be making extra efforts to win the loyalties of peasants in the enemy zone, and the way to do that was hardly by destroying their homes. Schell had fingered a key weakness, since military methods hardly differed between this village in enemy territory and others in contested zones.

By the 1980s Jonathan Schell had moved on to grapple with the horror of impending nuclear war, and his book The Fate of the Earth (1982), nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, became a mainstay of the nuclear freeze movement. It served as a searing indictment of the insanity of the nuclear arms race. Schell’s contribution was probably responsible singlehandedly–with its treatment of the dangers of automaticity in nuclear attack plans and its invocation of the dangers of nuclear winter–for thousands of people changing their minds on this critical issue.

When George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, Jonathan Schell stood among those who opposed a war that turned out to be every bit as stupid as they feared. The blood and treasure squandered in Iraq are monumental, and opponents of that intervention deserve honor.

We lose good people every day. Jonathan Schell was a great one. We’re sorry to see him go.

Books in San Antonio

April 16, 2014–A quick comment on the San Antonio Book Festival, from which I’ve just returned. It was a great show, held at the central branch of the San Antonio Public Library. There seems to be a developing trend for these kinds of events for books–I know there’s a national one, ones in the northeast–and the one in San Antonio forms part of a larger Texas movement, with the major festival held in Austin annually. This was the second year for the San Antonio daughter event. By every account the festival marked a considerable advance over what had been judged a very successful event last year.

Anyway the San Antonio Book Festival was very well done, with event venues both inside and outside the library building, and everything from cooking to romance fiction to poetry and literary criticism. Ninety-two authors turned out for sixty-six events through a packed day. I spoke as part of a panel on domestic spying, “Spies Like Us: The NSA, Big Brother and Democracy.” It was chaired by Callie Enlow, editor of the San Antonio Current newspaper, and also featured Heidi Boghosian, director of the National Lawyers Guild. The audience was great and had some very good questions. C-Span 2 taped this panel session. The tape will air on the C-Span 2 show “Book News” at 4:15 PM on Saturday, April 19; and again at 3:15 AM on the Sunday morning.

A fine time was had by all. I salute San Antonio Public Library Foundation for its support of this very worthy event.

Boss Spook from The Nam

April 8, 2014–Tom Polgar is not a household name. He’s probably not as well known as his daughter Susan, an international Chess grandmaster whose involvement a few years back in maneuverings among the pooh bahs of the United States Chess Federation became somewhat controversial. But the father’s role was far more consequential. Polgar, a senior official of the CIA, passed away two weeks ago. To the extent people remember him at all, it will be because of Frank Snepp, a subordinate when Polgar served as the agency’s last station chief in Saigon, whose searing account of the collapse of South Vietnam and the U.S. withdrawal, Decent Interval, was not very kind to Mr. Polgar.

Born in southern Hungary, Tom Polgar’s family moved to the U.S. when he was sixteen. As Hungarian Jews they fled the anti-Semitism taking root there as well as in Germany. There were claims later that he had helped others fell as well. Polgar always retained his Hungarian accent. Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942, his languages (German, Spanish, Greek and some French) made him exceptional and Polgar was recruited into the OSS. Dropped behind German lines near the end of World War II, Polgar made his way to Berlin and ended up working in Germany for the OSS and its successors right through CIA, spending nearly a decade on this frontline of the Cold War. After that it was Vienna, another Cold War cockpit. Polgar’s detractors–Frank Snepp was never the only one–dubbed him “Rasputin.”

In the mid-60s he went into CIA’s Latin America Division, first at headquarters and then as station chief in Argentina. It was from there, in 1972, that Polgar was sent to Vietnam. He had no experience in Southeast Asia–but he was fluent in Hungarian and Hungary was among the member nations of the international commission that was supposed to supervise implementation of the Paris accords under which a ceasefire was instituted and the U.S. withdrew from South Vietnam. Polgar kept up his liaison with the Hungarians, and there are conflicting accounts of its impact once Saigon stood on the point of collapse in early 1975. Some maintain that myopic Hungarian optimism induced Polgar to delay the withdrawal of CIA agents and destruction of its files at Saigon station. Others argue Polgar was too close to Henry Kissinger at the White House. In any case the collapse of South Vietnam was a disaster for the agency.

Tom Polgar next went to Mexico City as station chief there, and eventually returned to CIA headquarters where he led the human resources office. He retired in 1981. When the Iran-Contra Affair began with the shootdown of a plane transporting supplies to Nicaraguan contra rebels on behalf of “private benefactors” working for the Reagan National Security Council (NSC), Tom Polgar came out of the shadows to comment in the Miami Herald, saying “I think the CIA is telling the truth that it was not involved in the flight.” Of course William J. Casey, the CIA director of that time, was involved–up to his ears–in what became the next great agency embarrassment, with some elements working directly to the Casey-NSC network, and others kept in the dark. Senator Warren Rudman of the joint committee of Congress that investigated Iran-Contra, believing they needed an insider to understand the agency, hired Tom Polgar as an investigator. Polgar was deeply troubled by the agency’s work in that affair, Rudman believed, and his work led directly to the discovery of irregularities and of a critical missing CIA cable.

The jury remains out on Tom Polgar’s exploits, but perhaps now we will hear more about them.

Senate Torture Report Update

April 5, 2014–Predictably the Senate intelligence committee has voted to release its report–or at least the executive summary thereof. But Congress is still doing the administration favors. Rather than simply put out the document, the legislators are referring it to the White House, where President Obama’s minions can delay the report even more and John Brennan’s CIA will have yet another shot at spiking it, making their case to the president that it should not see the light of day. The Senate should simply release the investigative report of its intelligence committee on its own authority.

I want to comment on the executive’s use of secrecy rules in connection with this scandal. In his March 21 message to CIA employees, Director John Brennan wrote, “I expect the Committee will submit at least some portion of the report to the CIA for classification review,” and adverted the agency would conduct that review “expeditiously.”

Where I work that promise would be taken as a joke. The National Security Archive deals with the CIA on the release of secret documents on a regular basis–and we almost never get a decision on a document in less than two years. Most CIA declassification decisions take longer than that. The notorious Family Jewels, the document at the heart of the 1975 controversy that you’ve read a lot about in this space, was released after a seventeen year fight–and then agency PR flaks took credit for the opening as if it had been their idea and not the result of a Freedom of Information Act request.

Moreover, it’s also necessary to ask what the CIA has been doing with the Senate torture report all along. The intelligence committee handed over that report in December 2012, not just for the CIA’s comments but for its declassification review. The CIA’s comments–significantly delayed beyond the sixty days in which they were to be rendered–went to the Senate intelligence committee last June. There followed a process during which the investigators and the CIA reviewed the report and revisions were made, and that process should have proceeded in tandem with the declassification. Instead Mr. Brennan’s message puts that work in the future–“the entire CIA leadership team is committed to addressing any outstanding questions or requests from SSCI members so that the Committee can complete its work and finalize the report.” Thus for the best part of a year the CIA has done nothing about declassifying the Senate report, hiding behind the excuse that the investigators’ work is not yet “final.”

How to account for this immobilisme? In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations on March 11 Director Brennan declared, “We also owe it to the women and men who basically did their duty in executing this program to try and make sure that any historical record of it is a balanced and accurate one.” In other words the CIA is holding hostage the Senate report until the investigators agree with the agency’s spin on the events.

The CIA is welcome to put out whatever study it wants on the black prisons and torture to accommodate its faithful officers. Or it can declassify–and release– its response document to the Senate report. But the Senate investigative report is not CIA paper and the investigators’ narrative and conclusions are not properly subject to CIA control.

As has been said in this space before, this is not about national security. Nowhere in the regulations that govern secrecy and declassification does it say that documents can be kept secret to ensure that an account is “balanced and accurate.” In fact, Section 1.7 of Executive Order 13562–the secrecy regulation that is in force today–explicitly provides that no information can be kept classified to “conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error,” or to “prevent embarrassment to any person, organization, or agency.”

That is precisely what we have here. I have said before, and I repeat here, that the Senate torture report–in its entirety– should be immediately declassified and made available to the public.