Four years of the condor

In the cover story of the new issue of the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes adds a chapter to the story of the war in which the CIA wholeheartedly believes — the war the CIA may win in some sense — the war against the Bush administration: “CIA 1 — Bush administration 0.” Steve’s article covers the departure of Porter Goss as head of the agency. Steve summarizes the background of Goss’s appointment to agency director:

ELEMENTS OF THE CIA have been in near-open revolt against the Bush administration since shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, despite the fact that Bush retained CIA director George Tenet, a Clinton appointee and former Democratic Hill staffer. The CIA staff is huge–by some estimates nearly 25,000–so attempts to ascribe views to “the Agency” are imprecise. Many CIA officials simply do their jobs, sometimes at great personal risk, and deserve the gratitude of their country.

But the notion that the CIA was apolitical until Porter Goss and his staff arrived is silly. It wasn’t.

Examples of political meddling at the CIAare plentiful. Here are a few:

* In July 2003, Joseph Wilson went public about his trip to Niger to explore claims that Iraqi officials had sought uranium from the African nation. Wilson had been sent despite (or because of) the fact that he was a fervent critic of Bush’s Middle East policy. Although the details of the trip were classified, Wilson never signed a nondisclosure agreement and was thus free to discuss his trip and misreport its findings. So he did.

* After the identity of Wilson’s wife was allegedly leaked, then published in a Robert Novak column, the CIA formally referred the leak, a potential crime, to the Justice Department. A leak of the existence of the classified referral–a leak that almost certainly came from the CIA–led directly to the appointment of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. The CIA, perhaps fearful of where an investigation of the second leak might lead, did not refer that potential crime to the Justice Department.

* On July 15, 2004, an anonymous CIA official published a blistering attack on the Bush administration and, to a lesser extent, the CIA. The text had been through the CIA’s pre-publication review and the author–subsequently identified as Michael Scheuer, the longtime head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit–was granted permission to talk to the media. But when Scheuer used these interviews to criticize the CIA as well as the administration, the Agency quickly shut him up. “As long as the book was being used to bash the president,” he later told Dana Priest of the Washington Post, “they gave me carte blanche to talk to the media.”

* On September 16, 2004, the New York Times had a story about a leaked classified CIA analysis of Iraq. “A classified National Intelligence Estimate prepared for President Bush in late July spells out a dark assessment of prospects for Iraq, government officials said Wednesday. The estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war, the officials said. The most favorable outcome described is an Iraq whose stability would remain tenuous in political, economic and security terms.” Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry immediately used the report to question Bush administration claims that elections could be held in January 2005 and to accuse the Bush administration of living in a “fantasy world of spin.”

* In a column published September 27, 2004, Robert Novak reported that a senior CIA official had briefed a group of business executives in northern California with the approval of his “management team” at the Agency. The official, Paul Pillar, harshly criticized the Bush administration and the Iraq war. His attack, which came less than two months before the 2004 presidential election, was not off the record. Although the ground rules stipulated that the official was to remain anonymous, the substance of his remarks could be reported.

If there were any doubt that these leaks–and many others–were designed to undermine President Bush’s reelection effort, those doubts were put to rest a short time later. “The fact that the agency was leaking isn’t denied by some,” according to a November 2005 account in the American Prospect. W. Patrick Lang, former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Middle East division, spoke openly about the effort in an interview with the magazine. “Of course they were leaking. They told me about it at the time. They thought it was funny. They’d say things like, ‘This last thing that came out, surely people will pay attention to that. They won’t reelect this man.'”

John and I have been writing on matters related to Steve’s article for a while. I devoted a Standard column to the subject in “Three years of the Condor.” John took it up in his Standard column “Leaking at all costs.” The CIA’s war against the Bush administration continues, though it has somehow escaped the attention of the mainstream media over the past four years. Steve’s article makes an important contribution to the story.

JOHN adds: The criminals in Milwaukee who slashed tires to try to get John Kerry elected were sent to jail. Why isn’t the same thing happening to the criminal leakers at the CIA?

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