CIA REVOLT AGAINST THE WHITEHOUSESun May 14, 2006 18:17
CIA REVOLT AGAINST THE WHITEHOUSE
Former intelligence official Larry C. Johnson blasts the
Bush administration's "outright pattern of bullying."
Larry C. Johnson - firstname.lastname@example.org
By Mark Follman
Jan. 23, 2004 (Salon.com) In President Bush's State of the Union address,
national security was a core theme, and with good reason: Recent polls show Bush
enjoys far more popular support for his aggressive foreign policy and
terror-fighting tactics than on domestic issues. Undoubtedly, the president's
reelection campaign will tout two swift, decisive military victories in Afghanistan
and Iraq, and argue the homeland is more secure since the attacks of Sept. 11,
2001. But for almost a year, the White House has been quietly fighting a
contentious battle at home on the national security front -- against the U.S.
intelligence community itself.
Vocal retired intelligence officials, and anonymous active ones, have
protested repeatedly that the White House has coerced intelligence agencies to rig
findings and analysis to suit administration aims.
An egregious example: The long-held goal of removing Saddam Hussein from
power, by unilateral war if necessary. The consequences of such White House
intimidation could be disastrous, the intelligence veterans say, with the
integrity of their work -- and national security -- put at grave risk. The latest
salvo was launched this week when a group of respected former CIA officials,
led by decorated analyst Larry C. Johnson, sent a letter to Republican Speaker
of the House Dennis Hastert demanding that Congress hold the White House
accountable for deliberately revealing the identity of undercover CIA operative
Valerie Plame. Johnson, who also served as deputy director for the State
Department's Office of Counter Terrorism, says the administration's political tactics
"With this White House, I see an outright pattern of bullying," he told Salon
in an interview Thursday. "We've seen it across different agencies, a pattern
of going after anybody who's a critic. When people raise legitimate issues
that may not be consistent with existing administration policy, those people are
attacked and their character is impugned."
Indeed, the clash between an increasingly vocal faction of veteran spooks and
a heavy-handed Bush administration exploded into unprecedented open revolt in
July of last year, after former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson exposed the
administration's flagrant misuse of intelligence to promote the invasion of Iraq.
In a seemingly vindictive reprisal, the administration leaked the identity of
Plame, Wilson's wife, to conservative columnist Robert Novak and other
Perhaps indicative of just how deep the conflict runs, Johnson has
particularly harsh words for a normally tough-talking president who stands by while "the
most sensitive security assets of the United States" are compromised. Such
behavior, he says, ultimately amounts to treason. "When you expose clandestine
human intelligence sources," he fumes, "you aid and abet terrorists." Johnson
speaks out not as a partisan opponent to the president, but as a registered
Republican who has given money to Bush in the past. Salon reached Johnson, who
now runs a private consulting firm, by phone at his office in Washington.
Salon: The investigation into the Valerie Plame case has been ongoing since
late July. Why are you sending this letter to the Congress now, and what's your
Johnson: Our central concern is this: If the attention is left focused
exclusively on the Department of Justice investigation, the White House and everyone
else is missing the point. I think the FBI is doing a good job, but they're
looking for evidence of a criminal activity. What we know happened is that
there was a deliberate compromise of a clandestine officer's identity. What needs
to happen, and what we've asked for to happen in the letter, is that there be
a bipartisan investigation into this matter, and a bipartisan call for
appropriate action to be taken.
We don't say this in the letter, but what would be ideal is for President
Bush to call his senior staff in and ask for the resignation of the person who
did this, and have that person apologize.
At the end of the day I think it's going to be very difficult to get a
conviction, or even an indictment, because the nature of the law is such that
you have to demonstrate knowledge and intent [to willfully expose an undercover
CIA operative]. That's going to be difficult to do. Instead of getting people
bent around arcane legal arguments, we need to focus on the actual act --
exactly what happened and how. So far we've only seen inaction at the White House
Salon: How are congressional leaders responding to your letter, and how will
it affect the ongoing struggle between the intelligence community and the Bush
Johnson: I've been told that even a number of Republican members want to
sign on to the efforts launched by Rep. Russ Holt [D-N.J.], who's a former
intelligence analyst at the State Department -- but they're saying "If we do, Dennis
Hastert is going to have our ass." So, clearly the intimidation and the fear
factor continues. I believe there are some Republicans out there who recognize
that this is wrong, who recognize they need to take a stand against it.
To allow the partisanship to go on ... you know, sometimes it's like dealing
with a bunch of 3-year-old kids: Everyone's arguing over who hit who last.
This investigation gives the Democrats a great chance to take the high road --
though they've played the partisan card in the past, too. But both parties
should get over it and do the right thing. They should stop worrying about whether
they're Republican or Democrat, and start worrying about what's best for
Salon: What does the Valerie Plame leak say about the Bush administration's
paradigm for national security policy?
Johnson: You know, President Bush has often emphasized security his most
important issue. But when you have people in your administration who compromise
the most sensitive security assets of the United States, that makes the
administration's agenda look pretty ridiculous in my view. And I say that as a
registered Republican, and as someone who's given Bush money in the past. Secondly,
the Bush administration puts a lot of emphasis on fighting terrorism as a war,
not as a criminal act, therefore the idea is you fight the war on terrorism
without having to worry about criminal statutes.
Well, that seems to apply as long as it doesn't affect someone in their own
administration. In my view, this administration is actually involved with
aiding and abetting terrorists -- because when you expose clandestine human
intelligence sources, you aid and abet terrorists.
Salon: Since Attorney General John Ashcroft has recused himself from the
Plame investigation, are you comfortable that the Department of Justice is doing
an adequate job with the case?
Johnson: It's only one part of the puzzle. I think that for its part the
Department of Justice is probably on target, particularly with Ashcroft stepping
aside. But what I fear here is that they'll come back and say, "We couldn't
find evidence of a crime, and therefore no crime was committed." But it's not the
legal statute that should be the standard here -- it's the moral statute that
should be the standard, because it's U.S. national security and the lives of
intelligence personnel that are at risk.
Congresswoman Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House
Intelligence Committee, recently called the U.S. intelligence system under the
Bush administration "a mess." Do you agree with that, and with her call for a
There are some real deep-seated problems throughout the intelligence
community. They're not caused by any one thing, but one thing I'm certain of is that
it's not a matter of not having enough resources, or not being large enough. In
fact, in some aspects the intelligence community is too large and has too
many agencies which are duplicating functions. So there is clearly a need for
reorganization and refocusing.
Accountability is also a problem within these huge bureaucracies. Here's one
quick example: The individual at CIA who was blamed for the wrong targeting
information that led to the attack on the Chinese embassy in the former Yugoslav
Republic several years back [NATO air strikes mistakenly hit the Chinese
embassy in Belgrade on May 7, 1999], was actually the same person who raised
concerns that the targeting information was wrong. But that analyst's senior
managers ignored him.
Salon: How much of that kind of problem is due to political pressure, either
back then or now?
Johnson: Political pressures have always been there and will always be
there. The key is for the intelligence agencies to maintain a focus on what their
mission is, which is not to be politically popular downtown, but to be an
honest broker. Being an honest broker means you have to bring bad news to the
Salon : Has the Bush White House created a political environment where
intelligence officers can no longer do that at all?
Johnson: Well, they're doing what others have done. But it's as bad in this
administration as it was probably during the Johnson administration, where you
had pressures to shade intelligence, to misrepresent intelligence. An overall
politicization of it, with an agenda for going to war. In addition, you have
now what appear on the surface to be some huge, huge intelligence failures,
and it's not clear where those failures originated.
What are you hearing from your colleagues still active in the intelligence
community now in terms of morale and their ability to do their jobs? The morale
is not good. There are a lot of people expressing a lot of dissatisfaction
and unhappiness. But meanwhile, when you've got kids who are about to go to
college ... who wants to put their job at risk by confronting the situation?
There has to be better accountability. You have to have an agency that has enough
independence, and yet enough internal self-control, where they reward
excellence and punish mediocrity.
The CIA has tended to reward mediocrity, and at the same time bow to White
House pressure and not take a strong enough stand. But look, this is nothing
new. There's always going to be political pressure on the intelligence system;
it's happened under Republican and Democratic administrations alike.
Salon: But why does the intelligence community appear increasingly to be in
open revolt against the White House? If the political pressures are nothing
new, why the unprecedented degree of protest?
Johnson: Put it this way, with this White House, I see an outright pattern of
bullying: Gen. Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, warned that the
U.S. was going to need several hundred thousand troops in Iraq, and he's
attacked for that, and basically told that he doesn't know what he's talking about
-- and he's fired essentially a year before he's out of that job. When it's
time for him to retire, not a single senior representative of the Department
of Defense or White House leadership is there for his retirement.
Then there was Thomas White, the secretary of the Army who was forced out.
There was a senior CIA analyst by the name of Fulton Armstrong who was attacked,
using leaks to the press, which alleged that he was disloyal and somehow
under the influence of the Cuban government.
There was a prosecutor [ousted from] the Department of Justice who had
warned that John Walker Lindh's father had hired a lawyer and that [the DOJ]
needed to consider the Miranda rights. So what we've seen is a repeated pattern
across different agencies, all with the apparent sanction of the White House,
of going after anybody who's a critic, or who's seen as not being in tune with
the administration's message. When people raise legitimate issues that may not
be consistent with existing policy, instead of conducting a fair intellectual
assessment of those issues, those people are attacked and their character is
Salon: Recent polls show that Bush has strong public support on the issue of
national security; it will undoubtedly be a major theme of his reelection
campaign. How do you currently rate the president's national security policy?
Johnson : They talk it up well, but their actions are very inconsistent. In
spite of that, I do think that overall we're in a better security situation
now than before 9/11. But look, they've allowed the outing of a clandestine CIA
operative to go unpunished. That affects the ability to collect human
intelligence, which is crucial. And they still haven't solved the problem
of who's in charge of security. You have the FBI doing its thing, and the
CIA, and now we've got this huge Department of Homeland Security.
But one question we ought to be asking is, who's in charge of finding Osama
bin Laden? If everybody's in charge, that means nobody's in charge. I think
there's still a big problem with a lack of coordination and sharing of
information. Failures to effectively use our existing intelligence resources
-- failures which evidently existed before 9/11 -- have reemerged. And now
decisions are being made with an eye toward the politics of the election,
and not on what actually needs to be done.
Moreover, the war on Iraq was a complete diversion from the war on terrorism.
The Bush administration continues to tout that it was central to the war on
terrorism, but that's just flat out wrong. They can keep saying that, they can
keep claiming every day that the moon is made of green cheese, but just saying
it doesn't make it true.
The fact of the matter is, the terrorist threat we face, the one that causes
the greatest danger to U.S. citizens, is from Muslim extremists. Up until we
invaded, Iraq remained one of the most secular countries in the Middle East.
We've now managed to take that country and set it on a road that could easily
lead toward Muslim extremism.
If that's a success in the war on terrorism, I don't get it.
Larry C. Johnson - email@example.com
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- CIA REVOLT AGAINST THE WHITEHOUSE Larry C. Johnson, Sun May 14 18:17
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