Crime and CIA Embarrassments

I confess to being naïve. From what I had read about “Operation Merlin,” a harebrained scheme to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, I was convinced that the CIA would be determined to avoid calling more attention to it. Or, by extension, to author James Risen’s continuing revelations – in his new book Pay Any Price – of unconscionable incompetence by our intrepid spies. “Merlin” was exposed in an earlier Risen book, State of War.

How wrong I was! The decision by the CIA and hired hands at the Justice Department to prosecute former CIA official Jeffrey Sterling reflects, rather, a clear determination to give priority to deterring potential whistleblowers privy to information extremely embarrassing to the government. I repeat, embarrassing to the government, not detrimental to the national security.

As for risk of extreme embarrassment once U.S. citizens got additional insight into the dumb schemes of amateur intelligence operators, the government presumably thinks it can depend on mainstream media to treat bungling by our sophomore spies “with discretion.”

In short, the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling seems to have little to do with exposing secrets, but everything to do with hiding the kind of gross misfeasance that – truth be told – does constitute a real and present danger to our national security.

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Ray McGovern: Clashing Face-to-Face on Torture

When you get an opportunity like this, don’t fall back – I heard my Irish grandmother telling me last Thursday as I took my place at the table to discuss torture with a former congressional committee chairman whose job it was to prevent such abuse.

Almost rubbing shoulders with me on my right was former House Intelligence Committee chair (2004-2007) Pete Hoekstra, a Republican from Michigan. Central China TV had asked both of us to address the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture. I said yes, of course, since I was highly interested in how Hoekstra, with his front seat for the saga of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” would try to ‘splain it all.

Here was a unique chance to publicly confront a malleable, moral dwarf who had been in a uniquely powerful position to end the torture. The moment was also an odd one, for Hoekstra – not the brightest star in the constellation – seemed oblivious to his gross misfeasance and dereliction of duty. Or how his behavior might look to non-torture aficionados.

Hoekstra took over the House intelligence “oversight” committee in 2004 when former chair, Porter Goss, a Republican from Florida, was picked as the perfect – as in fully-briefed-and-complicit – functionary to become director of the CIA, replacing “slam-dunk” George Tenet. Tenet left in disgrace in July 2004, still seeking those notional Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” in vain.

Last week, amid the unfolding torture scandal, Hoekstra went on CCTV America’s daily talk show, “The Heat,” to offer a heated defense of what he insisted on still calling “enhanced interrogation techniques.” My opportunity for a blunt exchange with him over exactly what the House Intelligence Committee knew came near the end of the show.

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How Many ISIS Fighters Are There?

Why was I reminded of Vietnam on Saturday when Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Iraq to “get a firsthand look at the situation in Iraq, receive briefings, and get better sense of how the campaign is progressing” against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL?

For years as the Vietnam quagmire deepened, U.S. political and military leaders flew off to Vietnam and were treated to a snow job by Gen. William Westmoreland, the commander there. Many would come back glowing about how the war was “progressing.”

Dempsey might have been better served if someone had shown him Patrick Cockburn’s article in the Independent entitled “War with Isis: Islamic militants have an army of 200,000, claims senior Kurdish leader.”

Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, told Cockburn that “I am talking about hundreds of thousands of fighters because they are able to mobilize Arab young men in the territory they have taken.”

Hussein estimated that Isis rules about one-third of Iraq and one-third of Syria with a population from 10 million to 12 million over an area of 250,000 square kilometers, roughly the size Great Britain, giving the jihadists a large pool of potential fighters to recruit.

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The Mystery of Ray McGovern’s Arrest

Why, I asked myself, would the New York City police arrest me and put me in The Tombs overnight, simply because a security officer at the 92nd Street Y told them I was “not welcome” and should be denied entry to a talk by retired General David Petraeus? In my hand was a ticket for which I had reluctantly shelled out $50.

I had hoped to hear the photogenic but inept Petraeus explain why the Iraqi troops, which he claimed to have trained so well, had fled northern Iraq leaving their weapons behind at the first whiff of Islamic State militants earlier this year. I even harbored some slight hope that the advertised Q & A might afford hoi polloi like me the chance to ask him a real question.

However rare the opportunity to ask real questions has become, it can happen. Witness my extended (four-minute) questioning of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Atlanta on May 4, 2006. The exchange wasn’t exactly the oh-so-polite give-and-take of the Sunday talk shows but it represented what Americans should expect of democracy, a chance to confront senior government officials when they engage in deception or demonstrate incompetence – especially on issues of war or peace.

It seems a safe guess that somebody wanted to protect Petraeus from even the possibility of such accountability on Oct. 30. Also, let me make clear that I had no intention of embarrassing the retired four-star general and ex-CIA director with a question about his extramarital affair with his admiring biographer Paula Broadwell, which precipitated his CIA resignation in November 2012.

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A Murder Mystery at Guantanamo Bay

There’s more of a mystery to how three Guantanamo detainees died on June 10, 2006, than I realized when I described their deaths as suicides in a
recent article
about force-feeding methods at the notorious U.S. prison. Some very experienced investigators who have examined the evidence suspect the three were victims of homicides amid the torture regime employed by President George W. Bush’s underlings.

Scott Horton, whose upcoming book Lords of Secrecy contains new insights into the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Tenet go-ahead on torture and other abuses, has supplied me with additional detail highly suggestive of foul play by CIA interrogators.

Horton noted that the three prisoners were scheduled to be released and repatriated and that key details about the U.S. government’s suicide claims have been disproved. For instance, the first reports said the inmates had hanged themselves with linens in their jail cells, but medical records, which the government sought to suppress, indicate otherwise.

The records “reveal that the three died not from strangulation (as would be the case in a hanging) but from asphyxiation resulting from having cloth stuffed down their throats – precisely the same kind of cloth, it turns out, that was used by a similar interrogation team around the same time at the Charleston Brig, and which has been labeled by a University of California study as ‘dryboarding,’” Horton wrote in an email.

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Cheney’s Legacy: Honesty Still in Short Supply

As the world marks the centennial of World War I, the guns of August are again being oiled by comfortable politicians and the fawning corporate media, both bereft of any sense of history. And that includes much more recent history, namely the deceitful campaign that ended up bringing destruction to Iraq and widened conflict throughout the Middle East. That campaign went into high gear 12 years ago today.

On August 26, 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney – who remains something of a folk hero on Fox News – formally launched the lies leading to the U.S.-UK attack on Iraq seven months later. And on August 30, 2013, Syria was 20 hours away from a similar fate after Secretary of State John Kerry claimed falsely – no fewer than 35 times – to "know" that the government of Syria was responsible for using sarin nerve gas in an attack outside Damascus on August 21, 2013.

Unlike twelve years ago, when the Pentagon was run by Field Marshal Donald Rumsfeld and the military martinets who called themselves generals but danced to his tune, war with Syria was averted last year when Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey talked sense into a young President who was on the verge of making a terrible mistake by bending to the Cheneyesque hawks now perched atop the State Department.

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