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This Week In Tyranny

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post


It was all about the IG report this week. Greg Sargent got into an epic pissing match with Stephen Hayes over it, and while I recommend browsing his whole Plum Line blog for details, I would like to highlight this line in particular:

Indefatigable Dick Cheney hagiographer Stephen Hayes, nervously typing away while Cheney glowers over his shoulder, has yet another post up attacking yours truly for suggesting that the newly-released CIA docs don’t prove Cheney’s claim that torture worked.
If conservatives could lose credibility for being wrong, Hayes would be completely discredited right now.


If you think it’s not right to say conservatives don’t lose credibility for being wrong please note that Steve Benen has highlighted that very fact over and over and over and over again. That’s just this month, too. He also deserves immortality for this line: “Any sentence that starts, ‘Officials must of course live within the law but…’ isn’t going to end well.”


One leftover item from last week’s takedown of Marc Ambinder - this from Spencer Ackerman:

Intelligence is rarely, if ever, definitive. It’s fragmentary and subject to interpretation. Talk to anyone who’s handled raw intelligence and s/he will tell you something on the order of this: “I thought it would be like a secret newspaper, but instead what’s already available in open-source materials is often more useful.” Rarely is there ever a clear policy option “implied” by intelligence — that’s a category error. Policymakers read intelligence, use it or discount it in whole or in part, and then make decisions. Intelligence is a text to be interpreted, not a compass pointing to true north. What’s more, those who acquire and analyze intelligence on a discrete subject use the same body of open-source information to shape their judgments as the rest of us do.
He also offered up the following title to one of his posts: “Rabbi Huckabee Says Those Dumb American Yids Can’t Be Trusted To Protect Israel.” His writing alternates between subtle analysis based on careful research and hilarious short takes bristling with righteous indignation. That, my friends, is a quality blogger.


In that same vein Spencer pointed me to Christopher Hayes blockbuster review of the Church commission, which can’t be done justice to in a short take like this. This is great though:

Public debates over intelligence are qualitatively different from other policy discussions. In a debate over whether, say, the economic stimulus has been effective, there is a presumption that all participants are working from a common set of data—GDP growth, unemployment, government spending, etc.—but with different interpretations and emphases. Such is not the case when the issue is the effectiveness of intelligence programs or the scope of covert activities. Those debates are conducted on fundamentally unequal footing. Critics may charge that torture is counterproductive and produces bad intelligence, but defenders of the secret government can wave away such concerns by saying, more or less, You don’t know what we know.


Ackerman’s colleague Daphne Eviatar was burning the midnight oil this week, and I particularly liked this:

Of course, vagueness isn’t a crime. It may be just bad lawyering. But if Justice Department lawyers deliberately wrote or approved the CIA’s guidelines in a way that was vague and left “substantial room for misinterpretation” so as to encourage their violation, then they were not acting in good faith. And if they knew that the guidelines, as written, were likely to lead to illegal conduct, then they could be liable for conspiracy to commit torture.
The Washington Independent has been around for a while now, but it blew away its larger competitors in the capitol with its coverage on this. I hope it puts them on the radar for a wider audience.


I like Jerry Nadler and all, but it really grates on my nerves to hear politicians calling for hearings. You’re a representative - you can do something about that! If you can’t grab the gavel yourself then talk to whoever does! And if that doesn’t work then publicly pressure the individual! It’s the rabble’s job to call for hearings - it’s yours to hold them.


Stars and Stripes reported “revelations of the Pentagon’s attempts to shape war coverage.” David Axe at Wired added some background and quoted an expert who said large outlets would be less likely to be subject to manipulation (ahem). NPR had a nearly identical original report as well, which is one of those things that makes me go “hmm.” That seems to suggest someone leaking to multiple outlets, doesn’t it? Prairie Weather advanced the story by pointing out the reports are compiled by the Rendon Group, then detailing some of that company’s unsavory history. A commenter on a right wing blog (didn’t think to save the link, sorry) wrote that aside from the propriety - or perhaps legality - of such a program, it is something that could have been assigned to a private or corporal for free and not contracted out for God knows how many taxpayer dollars.


I briefly dated a girl who worked at Stars and Stripes and she told me that the paper wasn’t eligible for Pulitzer or other journalism prizes because it was partially government funded. I don’t know if that’s true or not (I googled a little bit and couldn’t find anything one way or the other) but if it is, it speaks to an unbelievable lack of self-awareness by the press. Apparently the taint of receiving money from the government renders an organization unable to objectively report, but receiving money from large corporations (and being a line item in the budget for another one) allows one to practice journalism with pristine freedom. Seriously, this is a big story and a substantial scoop for Stars and Stripes. They should be eligible for recognition for their work on it.


Some people with actual expertise on the CIA do not believe it will cripple the agency to investigate torture. That didn’t prevent Republicans from (stop me if you’ve heard this before) misrepresenting the facts. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell: “Several years ago, career professionals at the Department decided the facts did not support prosecuting America’s intelligence professionals based on the practices at issue today. Now, the administration risks chilling our defense and intelligence community’s ability to protect us from future terrorist attacks by reopening this matter.” Rep. Pete Hoekstra: “The attorney general needs to stop his zealous attempt to make this out to be a systemic problem.” Senator Kit Bond: “With a criminal investigation hanging over the agency’s head, every CIA terror fighter will be in [cover your ass] mode.” Note they all try to characterize it as an attack on the entire agency. The investigation is limited in scope and by all indications it was a tight-knit circle of politicians, DOJ/OLC lawyers, contractors and maybe a handful of CIA operatives. It is emphatically not wide in scope.


Larisa Alexandrovna has a nice roundup of reactions to/analysis of the IG report. She also links back to a previous report where she anonymously quotes a CIA officer:

“Certain officials of the Bush administration would have had no qualms about exposing any of our officers, operational methods and sources of information if it meant scoring political points,” said one CIA covert officer, whose focus is the Middle-East, referring to the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. “The fact that [the Bush administration officials] continue to use the protection of sources and methods as a reason for why they can produce no evidence of a serious plot is not believable given what they have already made public.”
Don’t hold your breath waiting for the GOP to address that.


Wingnut reaction, because it is important to document when the persona of civility is dropped. Curt:

Obama and friends are dooming us to intelligence failures that make 9/11 seem like a woopsie. Who in the intelligence community will EVER believe they are safe because our elected leaders said they were? The next one in power will just hang you out to dry as Obama as so thoroughly proved.
MacRanger:
The average American could care less if the mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole and 9/11 were waterboarded, had their kids - who are most likely terrorists too- threatened.
(It’s couldn’t care less, by the way.) Michelle Malkin:
Can’t say I’m getting all wee-weed up about the DOJ disclosure today that Bush/CIA interrogators threatened 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s family
Gateway Pundit:
Team Obama will go ahead with their investigation of the CIA. After all, three psycho Al-Qaeda terrorists were waterboarded by intelligence officers. And, because they were waterboarded the evil Bush regime was able to prevent another 9-11 style attack on Los Angeles that saved thousands of US lives.
And what’s the best way to handle it?
the best way to do so would be an internal CIA IG investigation rather than yet another special prosecutor
As the saying goes, self-regulation is to regulation as self-importance is to importance.


And just imagine what the unredacted parts say. Or the documents they still refuse to release.


During the FISA fight Jay Rockefeller proved he’s among the worst Senators on civil liberties. He’s been making some good noises on health care and that’s causing some liberals to think twice about his reputation. He must have been troubled by that.


We really need to stop caring what Dick Cheney has to say. He’s a shameless liar with an enormous, immediate conflict of interest. Stop inviting him or his daughter on shows, stop reporting what they say in other outlets, just stop. The only time I want to hear Dick Cheney’s voice in public is under oath in a court of law. Of course, the papers reporting on him don’t seem very interested in the truth either so maybe I’m just being silly.


UNPACKING JANE: Since we’re deep into “we already knew all of this” territory let’s review what Mayer published about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed last year (page 277).

Concern about cruelty was not the only worry beginning to roil some at the CIA during this period. While Tenet continued to assure the White House that Mohammed’s interrogation in particular had been a gold mine of invaluable intelligence, a few officers began to question the reliability of his coerced confessions. Some also feared that the torturous methods used by the Agency would undermine eventual efforts to convict him in any legitimate court. Mohammed claimed responsibility for so many crimes that his testimony began to seem inherently dubious. In addition to confessing to the Pearl murder, he said that he had hatched plans to assassinate President Clinton, President Carter, and Pope John Paul II. CIA cables carrying Mohammed’s interrogation transcripts back to Washington were prefaced with the warning that “the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead.”
In a world of finite resources how much effort do you spend on the plot to assassinate Bill Clinton? Or the Pope? Or do you just assume it’s all true, do nothing about it and trumpet them as disrupted plots for propaganda purposes?

Reader Comments (1)

Your point about "the CIA" being in trouble is well-taken and one I've made myself. Media simplification -- "The CIA," "The Justice Department," "The White House," and even "Congress" as non-complex entities misses the point.

Gosh, I was going to say "nuance" but -- like empathy -- that concept is still on the outs. I want to know more about individual influences in that huge "White House" team for starters. I don't think Obama is any more free of some kinds of influence than Bush was (and don't even mention Rahm's name in my presence, please). After all, Jane Mayer poked into the Pentagon and -- even there!! -- found some good guys. So yeah, it would take hundreds of baseball bats in just one hand to "cripple the CIA."

How little we [are allowed to, wish to, take the time to] know.

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPW

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