The CIA vs. Scarborough

On July 20, the CIA issued the most extraordinary press release. Director of Public Affairs Mike Mansfield wrote:  

We generally don’t comment on books, but we have departed from that on occasion, and have decided to do so in connection with Rowan Scarborough’s new book, "Sabotage: America’s Enemies Within the CIA."

CIA employees work very hard to protect their fellow citizens and to help keep America safe. They take great pride — and take great risks — in serving our country. They know that the intelligence they collect, analyze and deliver to policymakers, diplomats, law enforcement officers, and military commanders makes a difference, each and every day.

The premise of Mr. Scarborough’s book — that CIA employees are working to undermine our government — is both ridiculous and offensive.

Is Scarborough’s book over the top, or is the CIA protesting the truth?  And how does a journalist dissect a dispute between a longtime friend (I’ve known Rowan Scarborough for two decades) and a government agency spokesman he holds in high regard?  

Start with the fact that the CIA’s track record is nothing to brag about.  It was surprised when the Berlin Wall was built in 1961 and again when it was torn down in 1989.  It wasn’t able to protect American lives by detecting terrorist attacks before they happened, be it the 9-11 attack or those that preceded it (in 2000, against the USS Cole, in 1998 in the African embassy bombings, in 1996 in the Khobar Towers bombing and in the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993).  Then-CIA Director George Tenet told President Bush that the case against Iraq on weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk.”  

And the CIA’s record of keeping secrets isn’t enviable.  We don’t know who leaked the CIA secret terrorist prisons in Eastern Europe, the NSA terrorist surveillance program, or the cooperation of the Belgian “SWIFT” consortium in tracing and disrupting terrorist financing. But those leaks — as Cong. Pete Hoekstra (former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and now ranking Republican on one of its subcommittees) told me Thursday — have damaged our capabilities in the war against the terrorist groups and the nations that support them.  The damage is enormous, resulting in changed behavior of nations who — before the leaks — were cooperating secretly with us and can no longer because the cooperation was revealed.

The leaks have reduced effectiveness of the NSA eavesdropping operation, closing of some or all of the secret prisons and — in the case of the SWIFT program — a huge uproar in the European Union.  As Hoekstra said, some of these damaging leaks apparently come right out of the CIA.

Last week the European Union issued a report on the CIA secret terrorist prisons.   Hoekstra told me, “last week the EU came out with a report on the prisons…You ought to…read the report, because, not because the report’s interesting, but the report cites anonymous top US government officials and top CIA officials.”  More leaks, apparently directly from the CIA.  Hoekstra said of that leak and others, “Well, they’ve either come from the CIA or they came out of the [intelligence] community.”  He added that some of the damaging leaks may have come from Congress, and from other intelligence agencies.  But the CIA is leaking, badly.

Through the whole Valerie Plame name blame game investigation, former CIA employee Larry Johnson vocally condemned the Bush administration for the leak, claiming that he was in contact with a whole network of current and former CIA officers and agents.  Was Johnson spinning a yarn, or were CIA employees working hard to inflate the non-scandal into the single event that tied up the Bush administration for years?

I’ve been in Washington for more than three decades.  In that time I’ve been a deputy undersecretary of defense, and have made the career change to journalism.  And in both capacities, I’ve come to know one overriding fact:  no one in the government leaks by accident.  Whomever the leaker is, he or she is pushing an agenda.  And the leaks — if they are from the CIA — were meant to change the behavior of our government and other governments helping us combat terrorists.  The leakers’ agenda cannot be explained otherwise.  

If some or all of those leaks came from the CIA, then Scarborough’s book is neither “ridiculous” nor “offensive.”  If none came from the CIA, it the book is over the top. Given what we know now, the great preponderance of the evidence is on Scarborough’s side, not on Mansfield’s.

Which brings us down to Alberto Gonzales.  

The Democrats’ call for a special counsel to investigate Gonzales’ statements to Congress is, mostly, political puffery.  The real problem in the Justice Department is not the firings of US attorneys.  Ask yourself:  why haven’t the leakers of the CIA secret prisons, the SWIFT program’s cooperation, and the NSA terrorist surveillance program been discovered and prosecuted?

We are at war.  We cannot afford to have intelligence employees (or members of Congress) leaking our most closely-held secrets and benefiting the enemy.  Nor can we afford intelligence agencies that aren’t providing the president the information he needs to make life-or-death decisions.

These leaks need to be investigated with all possible skill, urgency and care.  If General Gonzales isn’t prepared to do that, the President should find someone who is.  And the CIA, as broken as it is, needs to be fixed.

Last fall, Cong. Hoekstra and the House Intelligence Committee’s Republican staff issued a report that said the intelligence community was still failing to provide sufficient information on Iran’s nuclear program and a host of other programs.  In that Thursday interview, Hoekstra confirmed that the CIA and other agencies still weren’t up to the job.  

How long can we go without fixing the intelligence agencies for real, creating the capabilities we need?  Not much longer, I suspect.