Students of intelligence-gathering will tell you that deception and outright lying are essential to the art. Having now reviewed the controversy over who in Congress knew what about the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques, I have concluded that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi might make a superb intelligence officer. She claims that she was utterly unaware of the CIA’s rough treatment of terrorists detained after 9/11. She says this without betraying a hint of deception or uncertainty. Well done, well done.
Yet a really good liar does not lie about something easily refuted. In the case of the Hon. Pelosi’s protests of ignorance, there are no fewer than three public sources out there refuting her. One is a 2007 Washington Post report that she was included in a "bipartisan group" from the Hill that was fully apprised of these interrogation techniques in September 2002. Another refutation comes from former CIA Director George Tenet’s memoirs, At the Center of the Storm, in which Tenet is pretty open about how rough treatment cracked 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who boasts of beheading journalist Danny Pearl. Tenet also adds that he briefed "senior congressional leaders," presumably among them the Hon. Pelosi, about another of her present concerns, namely, warrantless wiretaps. Then there is this revelation by former CIA Director and former Rep. Porter Goss in The Washington Post this past weekend: "Today, I am slack-jawed to read that members (of Congress) claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed; or that specific techniques such as ‘waterboarding’ were never mentioned." So maybe the speaker of the House would not be a very good spy.
If there is any good news to come from the Obama administration’s release of CIA documents relating to the detention and interrogation of post-9/11 detainees, it is that Washington’s post-9/11 fears of further terrorist attacks against America have abated. It is official that the Obama administration no longer uses the term "global war on terror." So maybe the war is over and we all can relax.
Yet there is no question that the release of these documents and the ongoing debate over whether to prosecute government functionaries involved in the Bush administration’s treatment of terrorists has hurt our intelligence community, both at home and abroad. Intelligence officers within our service have been intimidated by our own government. Foreign intelligence officers who have been sharing intelligence with us abroad are going to be much less forthcoming. It is a good thing that the administration has determined that America is now secure from terrorist threats.
This is not the first time liberal politicians have put the clamps on our intelligence services’ ability to protect the country. In 1975, the Church Committee investigated both the CIA and the FBI, with the consequence that congressional oversight committees were set up, which, in the aftermath of 9/11, were accused of inhibiting our intelligence services from pursuing al-Qaida aggressively in the 1990s. Now, apparently, with the war on terror won, we can go back to those blissful days.
Yet frankly, I am uneasy about this new climate here in Washington. Historically, intelligence documents have been kept from the public eye, not only here but also throughout the Western world. The idea is that we do not want our enemies to be informed of what we know. In David Reynolds’ stupendous book (In Command of History) on how Winston Churchill wrote his World War II memoirs, Reynolds shows over and again Churchill and his opponents in the Labour government cooperating to keep British secrets from the public. British intelligence techniques, in particular, were not divulged. That President Obama’s administration, in the first 100 days of its existence, would expose the intelligence techniques used by his predecessor strikes me as reckless. Yet, on the other hand, the global war on terror is over, so maybe everything is going to be OK. I do, however, wonder how President Barack Obama managed to win the war so quickly. Was it just a matter of retiring the hellish Bush from the White House, or is there more to it?