Risen writes what he calls “a secret history of the CIA and the Bush administration, both before and after 9/11” (p 10)
The absence of effective management has been the defining characteristic of the Bush administration’s foreign policy and has allowed radical decisions to take effect rapidly with minimal review
Risen’s obvious sympathies cloud his judgment on occasion. In talking about Louis Freeh and his hostility towards Bill Clinton he takes Freeh’s self-justifying word for it that what he (Freeh) saw as Clinton playing down the role of Iran in the felling of the Khobar Towers was “at the heart of his long-running dispute with the White House.” This is blindness of a high order. Freeh was an incompetent and an ideologue, who was after Clinton from the moment he took office. Khobar may have played a role in that antipathy but partisan politics played a much larger role.
On page 3 Risen claims that Clinton showed almost no interest in intelligence matters. “His first CIA director, James Woolsey, felt so isolated from the president and the rest of the administration that he lasted barely two years.” Let’s just say I am a bit skeptical of this and would be very interested to hear from others with an inside view. Risen also seems eager to lay at Clinton’s feet the demise of the CIA, when it was Bush-1 and a very eager Congress who were the primary forces involved in slashing those budgets.
Another shows up on page 17. “Bush decided to resume the daily intelligence briefings that Clinton had abandoned.” He makes no mention here of the likelihood that Bush was not up to reading the PDB’s that Clinton consumed every morning, but instead wanted to have it spoon fed to him by a willing lackey.
Another on page 24, where he writes about the Abu Ghraib revelations. “The Abu Ghraib scandal eventually ebbed, in part because of the lack of proof that the president had ordered the mistreatment of prisoners.” Yet he can find no ink available to point out that a Republican controlled congress was unwilling to pursue the matter and that the White House willfully refused to provide all the materials they should have presented to the weak investigations that did take place.
…the technical wizards of the National Security Agency have been engaged in a program of domestic data mining that is so vast, and so unprecedented, that it makes a mockery of long-standing privacy rules.
Risen details the expansion of NSA domestic intelligence activities. He claims that the Bushies deliberately did not seek increased rights for the NSA in Congress because they knew they would be rejected. Instead they ignored Congress and simply did whatever they wanted to do, using the ever-helpful folks in the Attorney General’s office to sculpt legal rationalizations for this assault on the fourth amendment. (p 47) “The Patriot Act has given no new powers to the NSA.”
An interesting observation concerns a shift in CIA focus. P7 –‘”If I had to point to one specific problem that explains why we are doing such a bad job on intelligence, it is this almost single-minded focus on current reporting,” observes Carl Ford, a former CIA analyst and former chief of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department. In the 1970s, Ford adds, “70 percent to 80 percent of CIA analysts spent their time doing basic research on key topics; today, about 90 percent of analysts do nothing but current reporting. Analysts today are looking at intelligence coming in and then writing what they think about it, but they have no depth of knowledge to determine whether the current intelligence is correct. There are very few people left in the intelligence community who even remember how to do basic research.”’
The Final chapter is quite enlightening. Risen describes an intel operation in which a Soviet nuclear scientist defector was used to deliver to the Iranians a flawed blueprint for making an atomic bomb. But the guy was strictly an amateur and in attempting to cover his own ass, he revealed far too much to the Iranians in a note he inserted with the plans. We may never know if the blueprints helped the Iranians or not.
There was an opportunity to cut a deal with Iran in May 2003. Iran had captured many al-Qaeda members who had fled Afghanistan. Iran wanted in return members of the Iraqi based, anti-Iranian MEK terrorist group. Dubya was up for it, reasoning that MEK was a terrorist organization anyway, so what the hell. Rummy and Wolfie killed the deal, looking to use these guys in the future. The result was the loss of some hefty Al-Qaeda personnel, included One of Osama’s kids. Way to go Rummy!
By the time the CIA leadership grew the stones to tell the president the truth, it was too late.
The CIA was finally speaking up. Yet, no one was listening to the agency or its analysts any more. The CIA had suffered so many spectacular failures in such rapid succession that by late 2005, it had lost its place and standing in Washington. The CIA had been so deeply politicized by the Bush administration that its credibility had vanished.
The CIA had been the dominant force in the US intelligence community, and that had been by design. When President Harry Truman and Congress crafted the National Security Act of 1947, which established the CIA, one of their goals was to foster a system in which the nation’s intelligence service was independent of the military. That was seen as a crucial check on military power. Otherwise, intelligence would be slanted to support the wishes of the general staff. Rumsfeld’s power grab is in direct opposition to these goals. It creates one of the most lasting and damaging legacies of the Bush administration: the militarization of American intelligence.
I expect Risen is being overoptimistic when he says (p 222) …by late 2005, the neoconservative moment was ending. Wolfowitz and fellow neoconservative Doug Feith, who had served as undersecretary for policy, had both left the Pentagon. John Bolton, a neoconservative at the State Department, was moved out to the United Nations. With polls showing that the majority of Americans were turning against the war in Iraq, the neoconservatives and the right-wing pundits who supported them became more defensive, re-fighting old battles over the war’s rationale.
So long as Cheney remains in the White House and Rummy or equivalent at the head of Defense, their moment is very much alive. What Risen ignores is the fact that bonafide neocons are now filtering out into responsible positions beyond defense. It is not a loss, in my view, but an expansion. Bolton was certainly not less influential at the UN than he was as an undersecretary in DC. Wolfie, as head of the World Bank, although now out of there in disgrace, was in a unique position from which to inflict economic harm on the world to match the military damage.