Former CIA official responds to attack by Senate Dems

I wrote here about the report by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence which, according to leaks, accuses the CIA of all manner of misconduct during the perilous post-9/11 period. I concluded that there is no basis for evaluating the truth of the report’s findings and that, considering the source, little reason to credit its conclusions or to take it very seriously. The same would be true, I added, if the CIA had written a report on the same matters.

I understand that the CIA is, in fact, considering writing a report in response to the attack by its partisan critics on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This, of course, would be a problematic exercise given (1) the power that Senate Dems currently hold over the CIA and (2) the fact that the CIA reports to a leftwing Democrat in the Oval Office.

These constraints do not apply, though, to Jose Rodriguez, who headed the CIA’s National Clandestine Service during the time period in question and who retired in 2007. Accordingly, Rodriguez takes to the pages of the Washington Post to attack the report that, in effect, attacks him.

There is no more, but also no less, reason to credit Rodriguez’s claims about the efficacy of the program he ran than there is to credit the claims of the Senate Dems, which were developed in part by a rival agency, the FBI. To be sure, the U.S. was not attacked after the CIA ramped up its counterintelligence program and many leading terrorists were killed or captured during that period. But this is a crude way of evaluating Rodriguez’s program, especially given the Senate Dems’ claim that the CIA gained little important intelligence through harsh interrogation measures that wasn’t otherwise available.

Still, Rodriguez makes several worthwhile points. First, he says that the committee’s staff members never spoke to him or to other top CIA leaders involved in the program. If true, I think this tends to confirm that, as Rodriguez puts it, the committee started with a conclusion and chased only evidence that would support that conclusion.

Second, Rodriguez reminds us that “intelligence work is like doing a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box top and with millions of extra pieces.” The committee staff, he adds, “started with the box top, the pieces in place, and pronounced the puzzle a snap.”

In other words, it is easy in hindsight for partisans to claim that the picture the CIA pieced together and then used to help thwart terrorists and keep the homeland safe would have become visible without this or that piece of intelligence obtained through an interrogation technique the partisans don’t like. But such claims should be viewed with considerable skepticism by those who don’t share the same biases or the same personal/political interest that the partisans have in running down the Bush-era CIA.

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