As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Wherein I Defend Leon Panetta

It's more than a little surprising to me that the choice for CIA Director of Leon Panetta, who I considered a card-carrying Villager if there ever was one, is ruffling such feathers inside official Washington, particularly official Democratic Washington. At first blush this looked like whining about not being informed, but it seems like there's more there. Here's the relevant section from the LA Times:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who this week begins her tenure as the first female chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said today that she was not consulted on the choice and indicated she might oppose it.

"I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA director," Feinstein said. "My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time." [...]

A senior aide to Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), outgoing chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the senator "would have concerns" about a Panetta nomination.

Rockefeller "thinks very highly of Panetta," the aide said. "But he's puzzled by the selection. He has concerns because he has always believed that the director of CIA needs to be someone with significant operational intelligence experience, and someone outside the political realm."

Most of the intelligence professionals at the top over the past eight years had plenty of "experience" and that didn't work out too well. The one who came from the political arena, Porter Goss (who was a former spy), wasn't so objectionable to Dianne Feinstein - I mean she voted to confirm him, after all. Of course, he was a Republican, which makes everything OK.

But I don't think this is about Panetta's lack of experience; it's his wealth of it, which presages a change in culture inside the agency.

Panetta's selection suggests that Obama intends to shake up the agency, which has had little public accounting of its role in detaining top terror suspects and transferring others to regimes known to use torture, a procedure known as extraordinary rendition.

The CIA, which denies subjecting detainees to torture, is part of a 16-agency intelligence community whose annual budget now exceeds $47.5 billion. The agency keeps its own budget and number of employees secret. Its successes, too, are mostly kept secret while some of its failures reach front pages.

Panetta has suggested that Obama could do much to signal a break with Bush administration policies by signing executive orders during his first 100 days that ban the use of torture in interrogations and close the Guantanamo Bay prison.

"Issuing executive orders on issues such as prohibiting torture or closing Guantanamo Bay would make clear that his administration will do things differently," Panetta wrote Nov. 9 in a regular column he published in his local newspaper, the Monterey (Calif.) County Herald [...]

"He will be an outsider and I think the president wants an outsider's perspective on the CIA," said Lee Hamilton, a former Indiana congressman and a former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who heads the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. "The intelligence community has lost a lot of confidence with the American people and the Congress. I'm talking about 9/11, the Iraq war."

It's that he's an outsider with enough institutional power to actually make changes, and the moral compass to make those decisions based not on burying the past but rooting it out. THAT'S what has DiFi and Jello Jay spooked. In fact, they wanted Michael Hayden's right-hand man to take over.

NBC News has learned that Senate Democrats -- including Dianne Feinstein and Jay Rockefeller, who are the incoming and outgoing Intelligence chairmen -- have privately recommended a career CIA officer to head the agency.

Democratic sources indicate that both have recommended deputy CIA Director Steve Kappes, a veteran CIA intelligence officer who is widely credited with getting the Libyans to give up their nuclear program. Kappes also was former Moscow station chief [...]

One potential downside for Kappes: Like former counter-terror chief John Brennan, some critics says he had line authority over controversial decisions involving interrogation and detention. Brennan was taken out of contention for the CIA job after criticism on the Web on that issue, even though he says he privately objected to the policies and was not in the chain of command at the time.

Panetta isn't going to be sneaking through the Middle East collecting human intelligence; he's going to be managing a large bureaucracy. But moral lepers like DiFi value "experience" that will lock in the status quo over experience that will reveal the agency's sins, and by extension her own. They don't want to risk any culpability on their part from becoming public, so they'd rather "keep it in the family." By the way, the resultant fight suggests that "liberal bloggers" were only the excuse for the Obama transition to disqualify John Brennan; in fact, they wanted a strong manager with a spine who would follow the rules. That is distasteful to those Senate Dems who don't want the family secrets spilling out.

And lest this become abstract, read today's New York Times:

When Muhammad Saad Iqbal arrived home here in August after more than six years in American custody, including five at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, he had difficulty walking, his left ear was severely infected, and he was dependent on a cocktail of antibiotics and antidepressants.

In November, a Pakistani surgeon operated on his ear, physical therapists were working on lower back problems and a psychiatrist was trying to wean him off the drugs he carried around in a white, plastic shopping bag.

The maladies, said Mr. Iqbal, 31, a professional reader of the Koran, are the result of a gantlet of torture, imprisonment and interrogation for which his Washington lawyer plans to sue the United States government [...]

Mr. Iqbal was never convicted of any crime, or even charged with one. He was quietly released from Guantánamo with a routine explanation that he was no longer considered an enemy combatant, part of an effort by the Bush administration to reduce the prison’s population.

“I feel ashamed what the Americans did to me in this period,” Mr. Iqbal said, speaking for the first time at length about his ordeal during several hours of interviews with The New York Times, including one from his hospital bed in Lahore.

Mr. Iqbal was arrested early in 2002 in Jakarta, Indonesia, after boasting to members of an Islamic group that he knew how to make a shoe bomb, according to two senior American officials who were in Jakarta at the time.

Mr. Iqbal now denies ever having made the statement, but two days after his arrest, he said, the Central Intelligence Agency transferred him to Egypt. He was later shifted to the American prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and ultimately to Guantánamo Bay.

Much of Mr. Iqbal’s account could not be independently corroborated. Two senior American officials confirmed that Mr. Iqbal had been “rendered” from Indonesia, but could not comment on, or confirm details of, how he was treated in custody. The Pentagon and C.I.A. deny using torture, and American diplomatic, military and intelligence officials agreed to talk about the case only on the condition of anonymity because the files are classified.

There are hundreds of human beings like this - at least the ones who are alive - who really don't care if Dianne Feinstein or Jay Rockefeller will be "embarrassed". They were flown around the world, interrogated and tortured, and in the process, America not only created thousands of new terrorists while received no actionable intelligence, but lost its soul. The road to restoration has nothing to do with the delicate sensibilities of Senate Democrats.

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