Panzerkrieg in Play

Pictures which show the post-Kursk alternate history scenario of the game being played

Pictures which show the post-Kursk alternate history scenario of the game being played

March 22, 2014–A session of the boardgame Panzerkrieg in progress, this general illustration shows the board overall. Once we master the posting problem there will be some close-ups that illustrate the Kharkov and Mius sectors as well. The picture appears, and the set will eventually be posted as a product in “Downloadable.” Enjoy!

Spy Scandals Update

March 20, 2014–Don’t think for a moment that the Spy Scandals involving the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) have gone away. Today there are several relevant items to report.

A week ago I argued in this space (“The Family Jewels Crisis,” March 12, 2014) that presidents circle their wagons when controversy that arises from the intelligence agencies rises to a certain level. In my book The Family Jewels I showed how that works. Now we have more evidence that that is happening. You’ll recall that the CIA filed a criminal notice to the Department of Justice alleging that investigators from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence broke the law in obtaining a document demonstrating the CIA’s response to the Senate torture report is disingenuous. Now Attorney General Eric Holder has commented. In his first public remarks on the matter Holder says that the Justice Department receives many criminal referrals and often declines to investigate or to prosecute.

That sounds suspiciously like an intention to cut the CIA loose and leave it flapping in the wind. You can be sure there will be more on this.

Meanwhile there’s also a fresh development in the NSA eavesdropping scandal. National Security Agency officials showed up yesterday to testify at PCLOB, the awkwardly named Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which continues to be quite alarmed at the agency’s dragnet eavesdropping (see “Funny Name, Serious Business,” January 23, 2014; “”Independent Agency Trashes NSA Claims,” January 24, 2014). Appearing at PCLOB’s latest hearing were the Director of National Intelligence’s top lawyer, Robert S. Litt, plus NSA general counsel Rajesh De. Their testimony ought to raise eyebrows.

Robert Litt here added to his growing reputation as an apparatchik. Referring to PCLOB’s recommendation in its January report that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) be required to approve each NSA use of its dragnet-gathered data, Mr. Litt did two things. First, he admitted that the number of NSA uses of the data was far greater than previously thought. Second, he asserted that “the operational burden” of requiring the FISC to make those judgments would be excessive. The judges, Litt declared, “would be extremely unhappy if they were required to approve every such query.”

Translation: the system should operate for the convenience of the judges (and of the NSA) rather than for the protection of the public’s civil and privacy rights, which, of course, was the purpose for which the Court was created.

The arrogance here is breathtaking.

As for Mr. De, he told PCLOB that an NSA rule previously touted as protecting Americans–that agency personnel must be at least 51 percent confident their target is a foreigner–is a myth. It does not exist. Rather, determinations are made based upon the “totality” of the circumstances. In effect this means that the NSA, which is dealing with anonymous phone numbers, is freed from employing any objective criteria whatever.

No doubt there will be more here too.

The Mission: Crimea, Dien Bien Phu

March 20, 2014–Sixty years ago today it was foggy in Long Island Sound—much like it was in Washington this morning–as the trans-Atlantic flight lined up on its approach to Idlewild Airport (today Kennedy). The plane bore a top French general on an emergency mission. He was General Paul Ely, the chairman of the French Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the mission was to beg for all kinds of U.S. military aid. In Indochina the French garrison in the mountain fortress of Dien Bien Phu had come under attack and suddenly all the old assumptions were in question. The Ely mission was a desperate gamble to secure U.S. help. General Ely went in thinking merely of planes, guns, and ships. But while he was in Washington the question of an American intervention was put on the table by U.S. officials.

You can read all about the Ely mission here. But my purpose today is more immediate. The Dien Bien Phu crisis of 1954 bears useful comparison with the maneuvering today over the Crimea. Russian president Vladimir Putin is using his military forces to annex the Crimea, which used to be Russian but became part of the Ukraine until this past weekend. Ukrainian forces are weak, no match for the military power Russia can bring to bear. Leaders in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, are as desperate for American help as the French at Dien Bien Phu.

The two crises are different in any number of ways. In the Crimean crisis we are talking regular troops, not a guerrilla army versus a Western one. The present crisis is a matter of state power, not revolution. But what is similar is the structure of the two situations from the point of view of the American president.

Indeed, there is a mission involved here too–Vice-President Joseph Biden’s sudden trip to Poland and Lithuania, lands abutting Russia (the former the Ukraine as well) who are alarmed at the events unfolding. Biden’s reassurances to concerned leaders mirror those American officials gave France in 1954.

Like Dwight D. Eisenhower then, Barack Obama would like to sustain the Ukraine and preserve its territorial integrity. (We’ll leave aside the question of the respective Russian and Ukrainian claims on the Crimea.) But from Washington’s perspective the question must be one of deployable military force. In 1954 President Eisenhower had plentiful naval and air power with which to intervene. Officials who opposed that course argued that those kinds of forces would prove insufficient and that ground troops would be necessary to make an intervention work. Eisenhower took measures to signal his intentions while his top advisers dickered over their course.

Obama is acting in the same fashion. The Biden mission is one signal, as is an invitation to the Ukrainian prime minister to visit Washington. Air Force F-15 and F-16 fighters have been sent to Poland and Lithuania to betoken U.S. capabilities to act. Just a week ago the main strength of the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, the task force built around the nuclear aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush, made a port visit to Turkey, at the entrance to the Black Sea, where lies the Crimea and the littoral nations of Russia and Ukraine. One warship from that force, the guided missile destroyer Truxton, went on into the Black Sea, where it visited a port in Rumania and conducted exercises with the Rumanian and Bulgarian navies. Authorities in Washington say the naval moves are all long-planned actions but their function as signals is still clear.

Washington’s problem today, just as in 1954, is the mismatch between U.S. capabilities and the measures that would be required to obtain the outcome it prefers. A guided missile destroyer and a few fighter-bombers are not going to stop the Russian army. The whole Sixth Fleet also lacks the necessary capacity. Boots on the ground would be required. Most American boots are in Afghanistan or in the process of returning to the United States and being reconstituted. The only nearby available U.S. ground force is the reinforced battalion combat group that is the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Mediterranean, which recently participated in maneuvers in Greece.

If anything, in 1954 Dwight Eisenhower possessed greater capacity to act in the local situation–but there it did not work either. In the current situation, if the signals are too many or too forceful there is a danger of inadvertent escalation. Mr. Obama will need considerable diplomatic dexterity to get out of this situation without harming relations with either the Ukraine or Russia (the latter being already bad enough).

Meanwhile Kiev is sending its own signal–instructing Ukrainian military forces to evacuate from the Crimea. Mr. Putin may have succeeded in his annexation. Let us hope that this crisis does not sharpen any further. But some attention to historical precedents like Dien Bien Phu might help officials to clarify their thinking.

Games: On to France ’40

March 17, 2014–Time to leap ahead a century and more. I just wanted to put in a word about the next project for you gamers out there. Some of you will know that Against the Odds Magazine is setting up to do one of its “Four Roads” projects in which four different designers present their alternative visions of the same subject, in this case Germany’s 1940 invasion of France and the Low Countries. I’m among that group. Here are my preliminary thoughts.

It seems to me that the challenge in this subject, from a design point of view, arises not so much from the events of the German invasion as from the time preceding it, an epoch the French know as “the Hollow Years.” So what I am going to try and accomplish is to meld a pre-war arms race and military buildup, which will include an intelligence element, with a simple but classical simulation of the war itself.

Players will have military budgets and be able to spend them on the forces they most desire to build. Certain capabilities will become available only with the passage of time. Budget levels will be based on the historical but influenced by events and intelligence developments. In addition to forces, players will accumulate “Command” and “Intelligence” points they will be able to use when the time comes. The timescale will shift as the sides draw closer to war, and as they enter the war force building will stop and the players will have to utilize what forces they have. In this fashion the players will do the best they can within their available resources to optimize forces for the coming conflict. These mechanics will also ensure that every game develops differently.

Unit representation will be at the Army and Corps level. The combat system will be simple and classical, somewhat akin to what I used in Bodyguard/Overlord but with some wonderful new elements. This system dispenses with the usual combat results table in favor of a dice-based mechanism.

The board will take in France down to Paris and west to the Channel Coast, the Low Countries, and the eastern part of Germany. As in Leipzig it will be an area map with terrain features.

Bear with me while I put this game through design testing.

Yesterday as Today: Comment on Hot Documents on CIA and the Church Committee

March 15, 2014–Today I’m posting a set of documents from 1975, the time of the first great congressional investigations of U.S. intelligence. In today’s swirling arguments over access to CIA records by Dianne Feinstein’s Senate committee the unseen issue is what were the CIA-Senate access arrangements and who approved them. In 1975 access to CIA records for the committee led by Senator Frank Church posed the same dangers during the presidency of Gerald R. Ford. The documents show that, far from keeping hands off the Senate-CIA dispute, the White House held center stage. The same circumstances applied during the Iran-Contra Affair, starting in 1986. Although we still do not know the truth it is a high order probability that the Obama White House has taken a similar approach.

The specific papers in this selection show that White House officials laid out the issues for President Ford, that they devised restrictions to limit what congressional investigators would be permitted to see, that they held meetings with agency officials to hammer out the details, that Senator Church tried to set out his own investigative terrain, and that the CIA prepared a final set of restrictions. These it sent to the White House, where they were sent for approval to the deputy assistant to the president, Richard Cheney.

The Hot Documents are available as an item in the “Downloadable” section of this website. Follow the instructions there. The item appears under several categories in Downloadable.

Reflections on Dien Bien Phu

March 13, 2014–Sixty years ago today the Viet Minh opened their siege of Dien Bien Phu. A revolutionary movement, mostly communists but with some nationalists too, the Viet Minh were fighting for their independence from France, which had held the three states of Indochina as a French colony since the nineteenth century. The siege of Dien Bien Phu, a French entrenched camp in the northern Vietnamese mountains would go on for nearly two months, the biggest battle of the Franco-Vietnamese war, and it would mark the end of the era of French dominance in Vietnam.

I was just a kid then and had no idea of these events, much less that they would impact my life. But fast forward a decade and more and America’s Vietnam war forced everyone of my generation to take a position, to deal with a conflict that had embroiled the United States. For me that meant trying to understand how and where the Vietnam war came from and that meant starting with the French. My first serious book project–never completed–was to fashion a history of the French war in Vietnam. I chose a college I knew would afford me access to new sources on French Indochina. I learned a lot about the epochal battle of Dien Bien Phu. One of my earliest boardgame projects similarly modeled the French war. A later game, also never published, specifically centered on the battle. America had a large and mostly hidden role in the events surrounding Dien Bien Phu and I made that the subject of my second book, which I have brought back and completely updated for this occasion.

As this anniversary unfolds I shall post occasional pieces on the events of that time and some of their consequences. One of the items in my “Downloadable” section, “The Working Class Hero,” concerns one of the French military heroes of Dien Bien Phu, Marcel Bigeard, who went on to controversy in the Algerian war and ultimately rose to become chief of staff of the French army. There may be more of these pieces as well. The French honor their fallen and mark the tragic end of their Indochina adventure. Americans largely ignore “Operation Vulture” and our almost-war of that time. The Vietnamese celebrate their independence and venerate their own heroes. At a certain level Dien Bien Phu represents a last stand of the imperial powers on the road to the end of colonialism. The lessons of that time still need to be appreciated.

CIA: On the Hook

March 13, 2014–“We want this behind us.” Thus said CIA director John O. Brennan during the question and answer session following his Council on Foreign Relations speech on Tuesday. He also said, “We are not in any way, shape, or form trying to thwart this report’s progression, release.” Which begs the question, why hasn’t the CIA declassified the document?

In 2010 the agency shifted blame to the White House, alleging that Obama’s staff had ordered it to remove documents from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) computers used in the investigation which produced this report (the president’s top lawyer denied that). This time White House cover is not available. The president’s spokesman has said the White House wants the report out too. The Senate intelligence committee certainly does also.

So where is the report?

Returning to the agency after that speech, Director Brennan issued a message to CIA employees. He told them that the agency “tried to work as collaboratively as possible with the committee,” and cited his extensive meetings (arguments–Brennan himself characterized the contacts as “spirited and even sporty”) with SSCI leaders as evidence of that.

Of course, we already know that the CIA had a monitoring team charged with going over every document made available to the investigators, multiple times. Several thousand documents were denied at that level. McClatchy News reports today that 9,400 documents were denied during the early period on executive privilege grounds. It is not clear whether this report refers to the same set of documents the CIA previously admitted removing. If it is, that’s not very good either–it would mean the agency was misrepresenting by two-thirds the amount of material actually extracted. If these are separate reports they indicate the withholding was even more extensive than previously represented. And note–this was separate and independent from the two actions in 2010 when over nine hundred additional documents (or pages) that had already been handed over were removed from the cache that was available to investigators. The CIA’s eventual response to the SSCI investigation would state, “We disagree with the Study’s contention that limiting access is tantamount to impeding oversight.”

The dispute over the 2009 Panetta review document (see “Senator Feinstein Comes Out of the Closet,” March 11, 2014) sheds more light: the CIA has denied this document to its own congressional overseers. Two arguments have ben used to justify that action. One, the pretention this paper was “pre-decisional” and therefore exempt, I dealt with yesterday (“The Family Jewels Crisis,” March 12, 2014). The other is that because the Panetta Review was compiled in 2009 it fell outside the scope of the SSCI inquiry, which was dealing with events up until 2006. This is disingenuous for two reasons. First, the congressional committees have an absolute right to review any CIA document for any reason to do with their oversight function. That Langley makes an issue of “scope” merely demonstrates it is relying upon precise literal interpretations of prior arrangements–which is the antithesis of Brennan’s claim to be working collaboratively. Second, the Panetta review was compiled as a summary of the same documents that were within the purview of the SSCI inquiry. Thus they are derivative of those materials and a legitimate argument can be made that the review should be accessible even within the agreed scope.

Contrast this denial with Brennan’s own actions. In a statement undoubtedly intended to shore up agency morale, the director told his employees “we also owe it to the women and men who faithfully did their duty in executing this program to try and make sure any historical account of it is balanced and accurate.” Director Brennan then proceeded to release to the entire CIA workforce the private letter he had written on January 27 to Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of the SSCI, disputing the Senate committee’s demand for the Panetta review, claiming “significant Executive branch confidentiality interests” in the document, and alleging a classification breach had occurred.

(Parenthetically, the security marking on this letter is “Unclassified/For Official Use Only,” a grading which in recent years has repeatedly been construed as conveying a degree of secrecy protection, but which Brennan ignored in his release of it, not to mention its status as a private communication. The release of this document had to be for the purpose of providing ammunition to critics of the SSCI inquiry.)

“Balanced and accurate” history? Sounds like Fox News. Let’s take up the matter of the notorious CIA refutation of the Senate’s investigative report, which is also at the center of this dispute. Former CIA general counsel Stephen W. Preston was grilled about this rebuttal in August 2013. These facts came to the surface in Preston’s questions for the record: The CIA response was commissioned by Michael J. Morrell, then the acting director, who had been the second in command of the operations directorate when the rendition and black prison project was initiated. It was Morrell, according to his chief lawyer, who “deemed it impractical to respond on a line-by-line basis.” So the twenty conclusions in the Senate report’s executive summary were farmed out among a response team for a “deep dive.” Each analyst took his subject, reviewed what the SSCI concluded about it, and may have consulted either or both the underlying detailed text and the documents on which the Senate committee had based their conclusions. In other words, in compiling its rebuttal no one at the CIA even read the entire SSCI report.  Preston admitted, “the agency’s response does not constitute an encyclopedic treatment of the SSCI study.”

The reasons the CIA is on the hook today is that it is losing White House support while still being unable to countenance the surfacing of an awesome body of evidence demonstrating its misbehavior–not in the abusive torture program alone but also in the details it furnished the Justice Department for those outrageous torture “opinions,” and in the information it provided to Congress. National security is not the reason Langley won’t release the Senate torture report or its response. This is about Family Jewels.

 

The Family Jewels Crisis

March 12, 2014–Senator Dianne Feinstein’s laying down of the gauntlet yesterday has already resulted in a flurry of developments. Like two trains racing toward each other down a single  track, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) seem headed for a collision. In this secret world the crisis may have begun weeks ago but now it becomes visible. If the latter is the case it is already too late to avert a Family Jewels crisis, though if the collision is only now beginning there may still be time.

Under John O. Brennan, the CIA has been all about business as usual. As noted previously here (“The CIA Bamboozles Congress–Again,” March 6; “Focus on Congressional Oversight of Intelligence,” January 25, 2014; and elsewhere) the agency has been treating the oversight committees as a stage on which to spin whatever message they want. Historically there has been a cycle of ascendancy in the exercise of the oversight power and since 9/11 the CIA has been in this mode of regarding Congress as a marginal irritant (“The Fire Behind CIA’s Smoke,” March 7). So it remains defiant right now.

Brennan no doubt expected the Senate intelligence committee to go public in some way. He arranged a speech of his own for yesterday, one he gave at the Council on Foreign Relations. The CIA director went out of his way to advert that, when taking his oath of office last year, “I had the privilege of placing my hand on the very first printed copy of the Constitution.” The allusion was obvious. Much later in an otherwise pedestrian speech Director Brennan came to the matter of his current imbroglio. He believes in congressional oversight, he says; the CIA is better for it, Brennan declared; “and as long as I am director of CIA I will do whatever I can to be responsive to the elected representatives of the American people.”

John Brennan went on to say that he did not always agree with the SSCI and its House counterpart, and that they “frequently” have “what I would call ‘spirited’ and even ‘sporty’ discussions.” So what does that mean? In the case of the SSCI torture investigation, the CIA has buried the Senate torture report for fifteen months, most of that time with Brennan at the helm, and filed a misleading rebuttal, which it is also withholding from the American people. Senate staff have had more than sixty hours of discussion with CIA officials without effect. An SSCI member asked the CIA to release a parallel document, the “Panetta review,” which differs from the CIA rebuttal. Silence. Senator Feinstein, the chairwoman, raises that request too. No answer at first, then denial on the grounds the Panetta review is a “pre-decisional” or “deliberative” document.

I did not want to open this particular acorn yesterday, but it is important in this crisis so now I will. The “pre-decisional” exemption is a new category of secrecy invented by George W. Bush. The supposed idea is to protect the advice given to presidents. I cannot say exactly where the motive lay but my suspicion is he wanted to shield the rationales for decisions made by his father, George Herbert Walker Bush, whose papers were just then coming into the system, and, of course, his own for when the time comes (presidential papers are supposed to open after twelve years). The Panetta review, according to the CIA, is untouchable because it is a deliberative document. But the substance of the Panetta review, we are told, is a summary of the CIA records which were going to be made available to Senate investigators. There was nothing “decisional” about it–unless the decision was about what evidence should be suppressed and kept away from legally authorized investigators.

If this were a criminal case, the withholding of the Panetta review would be obstruction of justice–as was the CIA’s destruction of videotapes in this very same matter–and the deliberative secrecy would be conspiracy. By the CIA’s lights, however, that privileged it to suppress the Panetta review. But there is still more: The CIA’s official rebuttal to the SSCI report, personally delivered to Senator Dianne Feinstein by Director Brennan on June 27, 2013, is also classified as a “deliberative” document. Right there this should dispose of the argument that deliberative documents cannot be accessed.

There are three points to be made here. First, the CIA is arrogating to itself a secrecy protection created for presidents. Second, the “deliberative” exemption, if it properly exists, is being stretched to cover materials that have nothing to do with decisions. By this standard anything can be a deliberative document. Third, CIA selectively applied the exemption depending upon its interests of the moment, and for its own purposes. This is not national security protection it is political cover.

Then agency officers conducted an unauthorized search of SSCI computers. Director Brennan at least informed the Senate committee when he discovered this had happened, but the CIA then refused to respond to SSCI inquiries about the intrusion, and a CIA lawyer–a principal character in the torture story–filed a criminal complaint against the Senate investigators. So this is responsiveness to legislative oversight? You decide.

This CIA story on the “RDI” (“Rendition, Detainment, Interrogation”) project–it has acquired a new name here–is on a par with the NSA eavesdropping program. On that front–also yesterday–the new NSA director testified at his nomination hearing that he favors continuing the dragnet coverage. And then there is the CIA drone war, on which information was also kept from the congressional committees. These are Family Jewels.

We are swiftly coming to a Family Jewels crisis. These kinds of eruptions follow a pattern which I have detailed at length elsewhere. A president starts by shielding the intelligence agencies. Barack Obama did that in 2009 when he turned aside public pressures for an inquiry into these excesses. But when presidents become politically threatened by their actions they circle the wagons and let the intelligence agencies flap in the wind. This happened in the “Year of Intelligence,” 1975, the time of the Church and Pike investigations; in the Iran-Contra affair, and again in the 1990s on Guatemala.

There are enough skeins in the current disputes to indicate Obama finds himself in a similar situation today and is beginning to do the same thing. He cooperated in the initial suppression of inquiry. He went along with withholding data on the drone killings and NSA eavesdropping–and then he defended the NSA dragnet. In the early days of the Senate committee investigation, McClatchy News has reported, the White House supported the CIA in withholding some 9,400 documents from SSCI investigators. Dianne Feinstein has now revealed that SSCI met with White House lawyers in 2010 when it first discovered CIA had been removing documents from its investigators’ cache. The CIA “search” of SSCI computers in January of this year represents a transgression against undertakings the White House made to the Senate intelligence committee then. White House press aides have told the public that Obama “favors” release of the SSCI report and expects it will emerge–but the president has not responded to repeated specific requests from SSCI member Mark Udall. He has told reporters that it would not be proper for him to become involved at this time.

The Justice Department recently said in a legal filing that the SSCI torture report is in the jurisdiction of the Senate intelligence committee (walking back the CIA’s claim that declassification power belongs only to it), and the White House has commented that the Senate should act. President Obama himself, in his first public remarks on the subject, said that the issue is “not something that is an appropriate role for me and the White House to wade into at this point.” Meanwhile, the president’s chief of staff and top lawyer visited with Senator Feinstein after her speech. Obama has become vulnerable.  It looks very much are if the wagons are being circled on Pennsylvania Avenue.

[This post has been revised based on news reporting of March 13, and subsequently again in order to include Mr. Obama’s direct quote.]

Senator Feinstein Comes Out of the Closet

March 11, 2014– The chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, is taking the gloves off. In a speech earlier today in the Senate chamber, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) chief hit back at the Central Intelligence Agency for its innuendo campaign painting black hats on the SSCI investigators by accusing them of absconding with classified documents.

Senator Feinstein (D-CA) says she has been reluctant to bring this out into the open, having attempted to solve the problem privately with CIA director John Brennan. On January 15 of this year, Feinstein reports, Brennan asked her for an emergency meeting and disclosed that agency personnel had carried out a “search”–his word–of the SSCI’s investigative computers. Two days later the SSCI sent Brennan a letter protesting the intrusion and citing constitutional separation of powers as precluding CIA actions of this sort. On January 23 Feinstein sent Brennan a further letter asking a dozen specific questions about the CIA intrusion, including a demand the agency reveal the full scope of its hacking. In Feinstein’s account, “the CIA has not provided answers to any of my questions.”

All of this, as related here previously (see my posts of March 6 and March 7) concerned the already-notorious “Panetta Review.” In her Senate speech Feinstein now provides details on just what went down. The story goes back three CIA directors–to when General Michael Hayden led the agency. Hayden explained away the CIA’s destruction of the torture tapes by saying that they were not destruction of evidence, they were meaningless because everything that had been done to CIA prisoners was recorded in cable traffic, which he offered to show the SSCI. Senate staffers spent many months going through these cables and came back with a chilling report– what had been done to prisoners was “far different and more harsh” than CIA had represented to Congress. It was at that point, in March 2009, when the SSCI initiated its CIA torture investigation. Then-agency director Leon Panetta held out for the alternative of SSCI using agency offices for its research. Feinstein accepted that arrangement.

In May 2010 SSCI investigators discovered that documents previously available on their computers had disappeared. This involved 870 pages or full documents in February 2010 plus another 50 that May. When asked, CIA liaison personnel first denied anything had been removed, then attributed this to agency IT people, then said the White House had ordered the action. The Obama White House denies issuing any such order.

After that the SSCI investigators found the Panetta review. The Senate committee deliberately decided to bring that document back to SSCI’s premises because of the precedent of CIA’s earlier destruction of the tapes, the fact that the review differed so substantially from agency claims that the document’s continued existence was endangered, and the fact that CIA had earlier infiltrated the SSCI computers and removed materials from them.

In late 2013 the Senate committee officially asked CIA to provide the Panetta review. Director Brennan has refused to do so, and on bogus grounds I shall not go into here. Equally ominous, CIA’s general counsel filed a crimes report with the Justice Department against the Senate staff. (This goes beyond the action of the Inspector General in simply referring the case to Justice.) That CIA lawyer was working with the agency’s Counterterrorism Center when the agency destroyed the torture videotapes in December 2005.

It should not be necessary to say this, and even less to do so again–the CIA is out of control. The cover-up is ongoing. It now threatens proper constitutional control over intelligence activities.

Remembering Roger Hilsman

March 9, 2014– Roger A. Hilsman has passed away. He passed at home, in Ithaca, two weeks ago. Hilsman was a controversial figure during the Kennedy administration. He is remembered mostly for his involvement in President John F. Kennedy’s Vietnam war decisions, but there was more to Hilsman than that. From World War II through the Johnson administration Roger Hilsman was in some interesting places at key moments. I haven’t much time today but I wanted to post at least a little bit on him.

Historians of the Vietnam war are divided over Hilsman’s role in the South Vietnamese military coup that, with United States support, overthrew the government of Ngo Dinh Diem on November 1, 1963. According to some, Hilsman and a “cabal” of other U.S. policymakers, actually engineered that American support. Others think differently, that the policy was Jack Kennedy’s and that Hilsman served merely as a loyal acolyte. (At the National Security Archive website last November, I posted an “electronic briefing book” which examines the evidence for Hilsman’s role much more closely than is possible here.) Whatever his role actually was, I can testify that Hilsman was certainly a Kennedy acolyte–I studied with him as an undergraduate student at Columbia, where he taught from 1964 to 1990, participated with him in various functions as a graduate, and we renewed our acquaintance assorted times, most recently I believe in 2005 when we were together at a Canadian forum on intelligence issues. In any case, the stories Hilsman told and the views he expressed left no doubt he was close to the Kennedy clan. It happens that Jack Kennedy’s brother Bobby numbered among those who insisted Hilsman was one of that Vietnam policy cabal. Bobby had a clear interest in moving responsibility for the Diem coup away from his brother, the president. Roger Hilsman was loyal enough to take the rap while preserving the friendship, though he squirmed under the charge. In 1967, when Bobby was positioning himself for a run for the presidency, Hilsman was among RFK’s foreign policy advisers.

Another Vietnam issue where Hilsman had a hand was in the strategic hamlet program, one of the counterinsurgency initiatives that repeatedly failed in that war. This reflected his own experiences. In the Big War, Hilsman had fought in Burma with Merrill’s Marauders, transferred to the OSS and worked to create partisan bands behind Japanese lines, the Kachin Rangers. He retained a lifelong interest in guerrilla warfare. When Kennedy came to the presidency and sought to spark U.S. government action on counterinsurgency, Hilsman edited a book excerpting writings  on the subject, one well-received at the Kennedy White House.

Hilsman’s proudest moment came in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. At that time he headed the State Department’s intelligence unit and helped interpret the evidence on Soviet missiles in Cuba for President Kennedy and Secretary of State Dean Rusk. He also served as an intermediary in the important backchannel contacts between KGB Colonel Alekandr Fomin and ABC TV correspondent John A. Scali, which began to show a path away from war. In class and in conversations Hilsman would regale his audiences with vignettes from that intense period. Asked about the Cold War for an epic television series that Turner Cable did back around the millennium, Hilsman reflected that “there’s no war that’s inevitable.” He’d be remembered more kindly, perhaps, if he had applied that same analysis to Vietnam.