Category Archives: Intelligence

Is the CIA addicted to torture?

The Guardian reported the day before yesterday that the Central Intelligence Agency is “working closely” Palestinian security forces who are known to torture Hamas members.

Of course, this isn’t shocking. CIA has a long tradition of supporting regimes that torture, murder, and violate human rights in any number of ways. This is in Latin America, in the Middle East, around the world. In pursuit of American interests overseas, Washington is almost always willing to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses. American support for Egypt is, naturally, the first example that comes to my mind.

This isn’t to say that CIA support for Fatah torturers shouldn’t be condemned. This is important because this fits in with a pattern of torturing Islamist militants that has developed over the last eight years.

Barack Obama has said he wants to end torture and secret imprisonment. So far his movement in this direction has been slow. Despite a brief flutter of excitement over the summer when Attorney General Eric Holder said there would be an investigation, it seems clear that those who condoned and practiced torture during the Bush Administration will not be held accountable. Meanwhile, the Guantanamo prison remains open eleven months after Barack Obama took office. Just now are American policymakers seriously talking about what to do with the prisoners.

There has been no new evidence of CIA or American military torturing people in the last year (correct me on this if I’m wrong), but it could happen again. I think that during the Bush Administration, the CIA was let off the chain when it comes to torture and now they’re hooked.

Something comparable happened during the early years of the Cold War when CIA got very comfortable using covert operations to take out regimes in the Third World. Once they started they couldn’t stop, even after it became clear that the tactic didn’t always work out. See Bay of Pigs after the 1957 Syrian Crisis, for example.

The Central Intelligence Agency is prone to going rogue. I think it’s in the organization’s nature. Because much of what they do is clandestine, they are able to resist scrutiny from outside. In the 1950s and 1960s this meant that they could plot assassinations and coups with impunity. Now it means that they can torture prisoners and assist others in torture.

The exposure of CIA complicity in the torture of Hamas members in Palestine is not surprising. It is, however, yet another indication that the organization needs to be reigned in.


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Was Obama right to drop Charles Freeman?

Fred Kaplan at Slate has another perspective on the Chas Freeman withdrawal: He thinks that Obama made the right decision in letting Freeman go, not because Freeman was unqualified to be the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, but because his status as a contentious figure would have made him a lightning rod for any of Obama’s foreign policy that the pro-Israel lobby (and possibly the anti-China lobby, I guess) didn’t like.

On Tuesday, Adm. [Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence] testified that the Iranians have neither enriched their uranium to the point where it can be used as a weapon nor decided whether to enrich it any further—that is, whether to build nuclear weapons at all. Blair is respected in all quarters. Some senators may not have liked this assessment—it implies that the Iranian threat isn’t so clear, much less urgent—but they had to treat it seriously, given the source. However, if Freeman were NIC director, Blair’s words would have been received with cocked eyebrows and howls of protest over “the politicization of intelligence.”


If Obama wants to change foreign policy in controversial ways, intelligence will play a supporting role—and that means it will have to be, and appear to be, purer than usual. Can anyone name the last two or three NIC chairmen? (I can’t.) They aren’t high-profile figures, and there’s a reason for that.

Fred Kaplan is a great journalist.  I always read his columns in Slate and trust him.  But he sometimes sound as though he thinks Obama can do no wrong.  (Frank Rich is the same way.)  It’s possible that he’s right about the President dropping Freeman because he wants as much political capital as he can have as he tries to restore the role of diplomacy in the Middle East.  It’s also possible that the White House just didn’t want to deal with controversy.

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Filed under American Politics, Democracy, Diplomacy, Intelligence, Israel-Palestine, Jews

History lessons

Assistant Secretsary of State Philander Claxton Jr. (L) w. Chief of ICA John Hollister (C) and Special Assistant to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (R) at Senate Foreign Relation Committee hearings.

Assistant Secretsary of State Philander Claxton Jr. (L) w. Chief of ICA John Hollister (C) and Special Assistant to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (R) at Senate Foreign Relation Committee hearings.

I’m writing the second chapter of my thesis and just rediscovered this quote:

“It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and at whatever cost.  There are no rules in such a game.  Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply.  If the United States is to survive, long-standing American concepts of ‘fair play’ must be reconsidered.  We must develop effective espionage and counterespionage services and must learn to subvert, sabotage and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated and more effective methods than those used against us.  It may become necessary that the American people be made acquainted with, understand and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy”

Believe it or not, that’s not David Addington or Dick Cheney.  It’s from a paper called the Doolittle Report, the findings of an “independent” commission assigned to investigate the role of the CIA and report directly to the President.  Doesn’t that sound like something Cheney would have thought of?

Totally sinister photo of John Foster Dulles  from Life Magazine image databse hosted by Google (check it out if you haven’t yet.  There are tons of awesome pictures there.

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They call this intelligence?

So I’m about to go back to work on my thesis (something of a perpetual state for me these days) but I figure I’ll check Drudge before I get back to work (also something of a perpetual state).  And what’s the headline in blazing red?


Apparently, the station cheif in Algiers is accused of raping two Muslim Algerian women.  Winning hearts and minds, indeed.  I just can’t figure out why the Agency is so completely and utterly fucked up.  How does this happen?  And why didn’t someone inside get to this earlier?  I think that ABC sort of buries one of the most important quotes in the story:

“This will be seen as the typical ugly American,” said former CIA officer Bob Baer, reacting to the ABC News report. “My question is how the CIA would not have picked up on this in their own regular reviews of CIA officers overseas,” Baer said.

“From a national security standpoint,” said Baer, the alleged rapes would be “not only wrong but could open him up to potential blackmail and that’s something the CIA should have picked up on,” said Baer. “This is indicative of personnel problems of all sorts that run through the agency,” he said.

The agency seems to be full of problems, personnel and otherwise.  This newest, exceedingly disgusting debacle just reminds us.

Update: Abu Muqawama sums it up better than anyone:

Do you think “CIA Agent Drugs, Rapes Arab Women” is a story that will get much play in the Arabic-speakng world and further harm our image in the Middle East? Nah, me neither. We can probably let this one slide as I don’t see any way in which this will be reported on Arabic-language satellite networks or in the newspapers tomorrow.


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