Why Defend the CIA?

The Telegraph reports on the increasingly weird foreign policy crisis in which the White House finds itself. The CIA set up a system of rendition, whereby terrorist suspects are turned over to certain foreign governments. The CIA also established a network of secret detention centers in several countries, including some in Europe.

Having taken these prudent anti-terrorist measures, the CIA–or some within the agency, apparently including most of its leadership–then attempted to damage the Bush administration, while also destroying the effectiveness of their agency’s own programs, by leaking the existence of the secret European prisons to the Washington Post. (I wrote about this aspect of the CIA’s war against President Bush here.) This has caused a foreign policy crisis for the administration, which is now in the position of trying to defend the very agency that stabbed it in the back. The Telegraph reports:

Intelligence gleaned by the CIA had saved European as well as American lives, Condoleezza Rice said yesterday in a riposte to critics of America’s approach to the fight against terrorism.

Speaking before her departure for a tricky four-day visit to Europe, the secretary of state gave Washington’s first detailed defence of the CIA since a transatlantic row broke out last month over its alleged use of secret prisons in eastern Europe.

[L]ast month’s report in the Washington Post that the CIA had held detainees in a network of Soviet-era prisons rekindled many of the old animosities. A flood of new information has followed, disclosing the extent of the CIA’s use of European airspace and airports for unmarked flights in recent years.

Washington has been on the defensive over the issue for several weeks.

So the CIA established policies that it knew would be controversial and would damage American interests if revealed, and then leaked the existence of those policies to the Washington Post for the purpose of damaging the Bush administration. And now the administration is trying to defend the CIA. Why, I wonder?

Presumably the administration thinks there are good people within the CIA who are trying to serve the nation’s interests. No doubt there are some. But, given the torrent of anti-administration leaks that the agency has generated for the past three years, without a single CIA employee being punished for leaking anti-Bush classified information to the Washington Post or the New York Times, isn’t it obvious that pretty much the entire leadership of the CIA is behind the agency’s war against President Bush? And if that’s the case, why does the administration believe that it can successfully defend an agency that would rather expose its own secrets to embarrass the administration, than defend itself?

As I’ve said before, the CIA is an agency in deep crisis. It is not at all clear that its survival is in the national interest.

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