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Leon Panetta and the C.I.A.
June 14, 2009 10:20 PM   Subscribe

The Secret History: Can Leon Panetta move the C.I.A. forward without confronting its past?
posted by homunculus (42 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Panetta's piece from the Washington Monthly: No Torture. No Exceptions.
posted by homunculus at 10:21 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


WASHINGTON, June 14 (Reuters) - CIA director Leon Panetta says it's almost as if former vice president Dick Cheney would like to see another attack on the United States to prove he is right in criticizing President Barack Obama for abandoning the "harsh interrogation" of terrorism suspects...

"It's almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it's almost as if he's wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point."

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:29 PM on June 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


No.

There will never be war crimes trials. Many of these CIA agents are psychopaths who have joyfully killed innocents. No whitewash will ever fix this.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:34 PM on June 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


No, see, I hate this.

They post the articles online and the RSS feeds all update the midnight when Sunday ends and Monday begins. But my New Yorker doesn't get here until 2ish on Tuesday.

If I read the article now, so I can be part of the discussion on MetaFilter, then I won't have anything to read in the bathroom this week. But if I wait, and bide my time, and enjoy the article in my normal fashion, then I miss out on the discussion and have to read it later, when the thread is all dead and cold, and if I put it in the microwave it just gets rubbery but the toaster over dries it all out and ruins the texture.

So it's cold leftover thread, or finishing my New Yorker in too few sittings, which is what happened with that fiction double issue that I finished in 4 days and have to read the books people leave in the bathroom for 10 days thank you very much.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:47 PM on June 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


Many of these CIA agents are psychopaths who have joyfully killed innocents.

That seems like a pretty broad brush to paint "many CIA agents" with. While, I can't see the harm in actually, you know, upholding our laws and highest ideals, I simply can't believe that that most of the staff at the CIA are just bloodthirsty psychopaths.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:26 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


That seems like a pretty broad brush to paint "many CIA agents" with.

Ok, so we have:

A) the crazy psychopaths who ENJOYED torturing prisoners;

B) the *sane* Agents, Employees, and Contractors who didn't enjoy it, but did it anyway...

C) and all the pieces of shit who KNEW it was going on, but didn't do anything about it.

Fuck 'em all. NONE of them deserve the honor of being permitted to serve this nation -- and their continued presence is an insult to those who have died for Freedom and Liberty.
posted by mikelieman at 1:21 AM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


"it's almost as if he's wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point."

Fixed That.
posted by wendell at 2:38 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can Leon Panetta move the C.I.A. forward without confronting its past?

Should he? How would this be a good thing?
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:02 AM on June 15, 2009


Should he? How would this be a good thing?

Because the CIA will allow them to go about their other business without firing shots from grassy knolls or accidentally coming across bank transactions or phone calls that lead to hookers. For now.
posted by srboisvert at 4:39 AM on June 15, 2009


My brother got to meet Panetta a few months back when he was still being considered (this story has nothing to do with the man, really, though). It was at an event hosted at his house for class presidents from universities in the state of California. As my brother happened to be his senior class president at the time, he was in attendance.

Apparently it was a bunch of nerds like him on their best behavior, sitting around the Panetta house having cocktails or whatever, and my brother happened into the kitchen where a trio of female class presidents were sitting around a table, with a bowl in the middle.

Now, ever since I was a little kid, our mom's been collecting MA Hadley pottery, plates, bowls mugs, sugar / flour holders, salt / pepper shakers, you name it. If its used to eat and its not made out of metal or wood, in our house it was Hadley.

Hadley has a pretty unique look - quite recognizable even if you didn't grow up eating off of it every day - and it turns out that the bowl on the Panetta kitchen table was a Hadley. Mrs. Panetta is standing there and he remarks "Oh, I see you have some MA Hadley, Mrs. Panetta - that's nice."

"You know Hadley? She asks, astonished.

"Oh sure, I'd know Hadley anywhere I saw it."

"What's Hadley?" asks one of the girls at the table.

"Just turn that bowl upside down. There's an "MA Hadley painted on the bottom."

The girls think its a pretty neat trick but Mrs. P is just beside herself, she takes my brother by the arm and starts dragging him around the house, showing off all of her Hadley to the one person in the place who knew what it was. One Hadley piece after another, each with a story of when and where she came to acquire it. She clearly has a lot of Hadley.

But she has nothing on my mom. See, my grandmother on my mom's side used to run an upscale gift shop in downtown Santa Barbara, and for some reason way back in the day, Hadley was all the craze in SB, and grandmother's store was the only one selling it. So mom was hooked up with all this Hadley, at wholesale, and she went to town.

"Do you have the sugar and flour holders?" My brother asks?

"Hadley makes sugar and flour holders?"

"Hadley makes almost anything! What about the gravy server?"

Apparently at some point Mrs. P realized she was up against a true Hadley connoisseur, and after a very generous and rather complete tour of their estate, my brother returned to the main group.

So, I can't predict how astutely Panetta will execute his charge, but if you need to know what he eats off of when he's home - my brother is your man.

(this kind of shit happens to him all the time, for some stupid reason.)
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:04 AM on June 15, 2009 [16 favorites]


A) the crazy psychopaths who ENJOYED torturing prisoners;

B) the *sane* Agents, Employees, and Contractors who didn't enjoy it, but did it anyway...

C) and all the pieces of shit who KNEW it was going on, but didn't do anything about it.


you forgot:

D) The hundreds of people that worked in other departments and had nothing to do with anything remotely to do with torture.

You know there are all kinds of jobs at the CIA. The vast majority of those jobs are analyst positions not agent positions. There is a huge difference. Analysts do stuff like sit in a room and look at satellite photos of North Korea or read twitter feeds from Iran. Agents do stuff like waterboard prisoners and slip secret files out of China. For every agent there are dozens of analysts. Those folks no more KNEW anything was going on any more than you and me.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:38 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Leon Panetta is a political leg-breaker. Next to the entry for "Machiavellian" in the dictionary is Panetta's picture... because he convinced Webster's to fuck over Machiavelli.

Obama put him in this position because he needed someone who enjoyed dirty politics to tackle some really dirty players, especially after the politicization of the CIA that happened in the run-up to the Iraq war, but without gutting the United States' intelligence capabilities.

Cleaning house after Bush (and, indeed, after half a century of Cold War) is a tricky task that requires confidence, competence, charisma, patience and a savagely killer instinct. We got the right guy in place.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:29 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, my understanding is that a lot of the interrogations were done by contractors, not CIA employees. Although it could be that the "contractors" were just "Contracting" for the military and were actually undercover CIA people or something.

But a lot of the documentation we have about what happens refers to "Contractors" doing the actual interrogation.

--

As to the answer to the question: I don't think we can truly "move forward" without "looking back". That much should be obvious. What happens when Panetta leaves and the same people are still there, still holding high positions? If the next president (may be "let's double gitmo" Mitt Romney) who's to say what will happen next. The people who propose and execute insane policies know that they'll be protected as long as the president signs off and it's done "in good faith"
posted by delmoi at 6:32 AM on June 15, 2009


The phrase "brutal C.I.A. interrogations" in the first paragraph immediately put me on guard against this article. Et tu, Eustace? Are you also too cowardly to call torture "torture"?

So I skimmed ahead. Whereupon I found this gem:

irrefutable evidence has emerged that after 9/11 the agency lost its moral bearings

How can I put this? Anyone who can, with a straight face, write of the pre-9/11 CIA as having had "moral bearings" to lose is someone who - to riot in understatement - is not someone whose views I am inclined to take seriously.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:56 AM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Who can get a budget that’s so great?
Who will be the 51st state?
Who has got the secrets as service?
The one that makes the other service nervous?
Fucking-a man!
CIA man!

posted by permafrost at 7:03 AM on June 15, 2009


"Hadley makes sugar and flour holders?"

No self respecting Hadley collector would be without them, functional and attractive.

Hadley is heavy stuff. There is nothing like listening to someone empty the dishwasher early in the morning and put those one pound (perhaps more) plates away(CLUNK, CLUNK, CLUNK) while you are one floor above still trying to sleep.
posted by caddis at 7:11 AM on June 15, 2009


Those folks no more KNEW anything was going on any more than you and me.

The problem was that quite a large portion of us non-spooks did know that there was horrific shit going on, back when the C.I.A. and Repub admin was spending as much time as possible saying "Nope, we're not doing that. Definitely not. Much. Not much at all. And when we do it, it's not that bad. Mostly. And for a good cause. We think."
posted by FatherDagon at 8:20 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have nothing to offer at this point.
posted by Postroad at 8:24 AM on June 15, 2009


The Obama administration increased its defense Friday of secrecy surrounding an alleged CIA program of torture flights, asking a federal appeals court to set aside its ruling allowing foreign captives to sue a Bay Area company that reportedly helped plan the flights.
posted by homunculus at 8:28 AM on June 15, 2009


homunculus: "The Obama administration increased its defense Friday of secrecy... "

This is me not saying anything about the Obama administration.

Mods, please note.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:35 AM on June 15, 2009


Greenwald has a beef of his own with the Mayer article.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:59 AM on June 15, 2009


This is me not saying anything about the Obama administration.

Silence implies guilt.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:11 AM on June 15, 2009


Silence implies guilt.

I thought due process was what was being allegedly denied the detainees. Now it's apparently being denied of Obama as well.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:38 AM on June 15, 2009


"Hadley makes sugar and flour holders?"

"Oh, they make waterboards, too"

(silence)
posted by matteo at 1:23 PM on June 15, 2009


lupus_yonderboy: Many of these CIA agents are psychopaths who have joyfully killed innocents.

mikelieman: Fuck 'em all. NONE of them deserve the honor of being permitted to serve this nation -- and their continued presence is an insult to those who have died for Freedom and Liberty.

A tiny minority of CIA employees had anything whatsoever to do with detainee abuse, or even knew about it as it happened. Compartmentalization exists to keep information like this far removed from those with no "need to know." As for those who did participate, they acted according to the executive orders of the President of the United States, and there is no reason to suspect that they enjoyed it. For those who say, "Well, they should have done or said something," what exactly do you think they could realistically do? It was all expressly authorized by the highest elected offices in government! Contravention of these directives would lead to suspension or dismissal, and speaking about it to reporters would land you directly in prison. It's no simple task to rebuke the POTUS from within a secretive organization that serves at his pleasure. Torture is and always will be a disgrace, but it's the chickenhawks who demanded it and who justified it who are ultimately responsible.

Furthermore, it's unfair and almost cowardly to impugn the thousands of men and women who serve this nation with distinction, and who know that the secrecy of their work means they will never be publicly recognized for all the good things they do. That's the nature of the intelligence business - only the disasters and the bitter failures see the light of day. The acts of bravery and brilliance remain secret, as do the names of those who actually did "die for freedom and liberty." Their only memorial is a star on a stone wall.

So, to you ersatz patriots and phony Patrick Henrys, maybe it's time you step up and volunteer to defend the honor that you feel has been so tarnished by these "pieces of shit." Or perhaps you could blame the brainless, complacent husks who elected the draft-dodgers who led us into this swamp. Or you can continue to take your freedom to cast self-righteous aspersions for granted, and just sit at your computer offering your uninformed, shrill, armchair moralism on this topic and others.
posted by kurtroehl at 3:14 PM on June 15, 2009


Rachel Maddow-ACLU's Ben Wizner on CIA bogus Gitmo document release
posted by homunculus at 7:35 PM on June 15, 2009


Out of curiosity and laziness, I'll ask instead of research:

Has the CIA ever executed a plan outside of the USA that did not ultimately backfire and cause horrendous human suffering?

I have no doubt the CIA has done a lot of good intelligence work that has helped cause good things to happen. But everything else? Bay of Pigs, Shah of Iran, Al Queda, many Latin America governments, etcetera etcetera — just a nasty trail of destruction and suffering.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:03 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Has the CIA ever executed a plan outside of the USA that did not ultimately backfire and cause horrendous human suffering?

How would anyone know. If the clandestine plan works successfully wouldn't it remain clandestine?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:00 AM on June 16, 2009


I dunno. Maybe they'd want to publicize their successes so that everyone doesn't think they're evil, frightening fuckups?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:09 AM on June 16, 2009


Maybe they'd want to publicize their successes so that everyone doesn't think they're evil, frightening fuckups?

Seeing as how most people had never heard of them (or had heard of them but had no idea what they were really doing) before the 1975 Church Committee and 1974 Rockefeller Commission, I'd say publicity is pretty much the last thing they want. Disinformation on the other hand...
posted by Pollomacho at 11:36 AM on June 16, 2009


Cleaning house after Bush... is a tricky task that requires confidence, competence, charisma, patience and a savagely killer instinct. We got the right guy in place.

Is this going to turn into one of those 11-dimensional chess arguments?

Because, like, wake me when they do something.
posted by rokusan at 2:51 PM on June 16, 2009


Has the CIA ever executed a plan outside of the USA that did not ultimately backfire and cause horrendous human suffering?

Yes, of course. One example that happens to have been made public: Throughout the Cold War the KGB went to great lengths to acquire all manner of US technology, in an attempt to maintain some degree of parity between the two superpowers. (China does much the same today.) The CIA learned through one of its clandestine sources that the Soviets were keen on acquiring a certain computer system to help them operate their Trans-Siberian pipeline. Rather than arrest the agents before they could steal the technology, and potentially expose the original source of the information, the CIA chose to let them take it, albeit with some special modifications. Technicians altered the computer system so that it would make incorrect valve and pressure adjustments. So, after the Soviets spent all that time and money stealing the thing, and finally installed it onto their hugely expensive oil pipeline, its sabotaged circuitry caused a massive pressure overload and the pipeline exploded somewhere in the middle of Siberia. Not only did this cause a great deal of damage and cost the Soviets a vast amount of money, but it also called into question all of the other systems and technology that they had stolen, and made politicians in the Kremlin wary of using the KGB in that way again. (Paraphrased from the book Fair Play, by James M. Olson)

Maybe they'd want to publicize their successes

If you publicize the fact that, say, you've got people inside the Kremlin, or a guy on the board of OPEC, you risk their being discovered, imprisoned or even killed, and you not only lose access to valuable information but you make it known to other potential agents that they cannot trust their handlers to protect them and should not volunteer their services. Likewise, if you have the highly sophisticated and very expensive technology to monitor nuclear production, industrial output and all manner of military hardware you don't go around bragging about it, because then your target will change its behavior and make it harder for you to observe its movements and capabilities.

Even the information form these sources must be kept secret, and must be acted upon with great care, or you run the risk of revealing to your target the method by which you acquired it. For example, during WWII the Allies cracked numerous German and Japanese ciphers. They had an incredible volume of priceless intelligence at their fingertips, but had to be exceptionally careful in the ways that they acted upon it, because if the Axis powers had suspected that their communiques were being read en masse at Bletchley Park, they would obviously have altered their coding strategies. Therefore the Allies had to be rather circumspect and take care to see that there were other plausible explanations for the information they had and used.

It seems to me that most people's impression of CIA and the intelligence community in general is a synthesis of publicly known scandals and fictional representations in film and on television. James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Jack Bauer have more in common with one another than they do with reality. There is a paramilitary aspect to some of the work, but the majority of it is collection and analysis of raw data and classified information, all conducted in secrecy for very good reasons. Don't mistake the public reputation of a very private institution for anything close to the whole story.
posted by kurtroehl at 3:01 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Obviously they can't publicise things while they're being done, or even for years after. But it would sure be nice to hear that they've done good things.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:21 PM on June 16, 2009


As for those who did participate, they acted according to the executive orders of the President of the United States, and there is no reason to suspect that they enjoyed it.

You know who else was "Just following orders?"

I believe we hanged a bunch of them to prove the point that it wasn't an acceptable excuse.

We're not talking about the wholesale unlawful spying on your internet usage and phone calls -- we're talking about dragging prisoners out of their cells, and drowning them within an inch of their lives... Just like at the Hanoi Hilton.
posted by mikelieman at 12:31 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know who else was "Just following orders?"

You've got to be joking. What a disingenuous attempt to draw a moral equivalency that just isn't there. Invoking the Holocaust is a cliché for a reason - six million innocents murdered, including women, children, the old and infirm; vast amounts of wealth and centuries of history and culture completely annihilated, versus the torture of several hundred prisoners and the mistreatment of a few thousand more (some of whom would cheerily start up a second Holocaust if they could, and whose heroes include e.g. the true "piece of shit" who beheaded Daniel Pearl). Both repugnant circumstances, but not otherwise comparable, at all, ever. Period.

Evidently you'd like to see half the US government swinging from the gallows, but I'm confident that inflated online rhetoric will be as close as you get to actually doing anything about it. You're so very offended - Freedom! Liberty! and Fuck 'em all! - that you couldn't even parse my comment. As I said, there is very little these men and women could do when the order to torture comes with the weight of the office of the President of the United States! What would you have done, oh great one? Resigned in protest? (Some did, without effect.) Written a stern letter? (Hah!) Staged a coup d'état? (Good luck!) Perhaps an individual with your moral fortitude could have stopped it all from happening by the sheer power of their sanctimony? Alas, we'll never know...

I suggest you read up on the holier-than-thou effect: "What someone else did in that situation is a very strong warning about what you yourself would do."
posted by kurtroehl at 6:24 PM on June 17, 2009


While i agree with you , kurtroehl, the comparison between the terrible things the CIA's been up to recently and the extermination of millions in Nazi Germany was a stretch, I do think that this sort of behavior is pretty typical of the CIA over the last 60 years. Killing, "disappearing", ousting legitimate governments, this is what they do. Yes, they were on the front lines vs. the Soviets. Yes, they are on the front lines against Al Qaida now, but rule of law and protection of inalienable human rights should be America's calling card and global goal, not just part of our national mythology to be ignored when expedient.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:54 PM on June 17, 2009


rule of law and protection of inalienable human rights should be America's calling card and global goal

Sure, sounds nice. But ultimately that responsibility lies with the President and Congress. It's unfair to use the CIA as a scapegoat.

As far as a "global goal," I find it odd, to say the least, that you think that's wise, when that was exactly the reasoning behind all of our engineered coups - "ousting of legitimate governments" - and our worst attempts at nation-building from Iran to Congo to Chile to Palestine to Iraq. The CIA has been misused in pursuit of this ridiculous end for 60 years, you're correct.

The mythology, as you call it, is in fact just that: a mythology. What we have in the US is a good thing - maybe the best there ever was - but it's no Utopia. Look at the way we treat our poor, our immigrants, our prisoners, our addicts, our minorities, our soldiers, our environment... Corporations farm us for cash, only the rich get second chances, our children could be worse off than we are, and meanwhile people go 'round the world harking and hallooing about our virtue, our principle, our almost divine greatness - it's a superiority complex of the highest order and it makes for a pretty fucking unrealistic world view. America is not a superhero.

It really bothers me when I see people trumpeting the eminence of this country when they've done absolutely nothing themselves to keep those fires burning. It's so utterly phony to lecture about capital-F Freedom and capital-L Liberty from the comfort of an air-conditioned apartment, fingers clicking on the keyboard of a thousand dollar computer, firing off bits of self-satisfied rhetoric and calumny after calumny and a pox on this house and that house, and so on and so forth...

There's nothing wrong with being pissed off that we tortured prisoners - I certainly am - but the way to deal with it is not to keep repeating the catechism: We don't do this sort of thing. News flash: We did it. We need to understand why and how, and then we need to stand beside our fellow Americans (even Dick Cheney, god help me), not denounce them from the nearest soapbox. Everything that is good about this country is not eternal. It's not something that's just there, that we get to enjoy and be proud of - we have to make it ours and make it real. If you're shocked and appalled and so angry you could spit - good. Quit your job and move to Washington. It's time we took some ownership of our government and stopped being surprised by the things done in our name.
posted by kurtroehl at 8:11 PM on June 17, 2009


Quit your job and move to Washington. It's time we took some ownership of our government and stopped being surprised by the things done in our name.
I live in Washington. I work for the federal government protecting people's civil rights.

ultimately that responsibility lies with the President

It is very much true that a poor player should not blame his instrument, though I don't think Congress is aware of all the goings on within the Executive branch.

It's true, Nixon himself directly ordered the coup against Allende on September 15, 1970, though I don't agree that human rights were on Nixon, Kissenger, or CIA director Richard Helms's minds at the time that they decided to overthrow the elected government of Chile. Rather the US's financial interest, or more accurately, the financial interest of several large companies, specifically, to name a few, PepsiCo, Kennecott Copper, Bank of America, and International Telephone and Telegraph. In fact in meetings leading up to the order, the lone corporate dissenting voice came from Arthur Anderson. Why did AA disagree? Because they didn't feel that it was morally justified to overthrow a democratic government based on a suspicion that corporate interest would be damaged. AA was asked to withdraw any public statements to that effect.

But I digress, we don't need to pretend to follow freedom as our cause as administrations have done in the past, we need to actually do it. I agree that the "We don't do this" argument is hollow. We do torture and assasinate people, we even do it in the name of freedom. We need to stop doing that and start actually championing the cause of freedom for once. Let the CIA be an intelligence agency rather than an intelligence agency with a dark and secret underbelly.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:48 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I live in Washington. I work for the federal government protecting people's civil rights.

That put a smile on my face. Thanks.
posted by kurtroehl at 3:41 PM on June 18, 2009


New Yorker Magazine Buries Major Abu Ghraib Abuse On Page 6 Of CIA Story
posted by homunculus at 8:43 AM on June 30, 2009


Cheney Lays Down The Iraq Gauntlet
posted by homunculus at 8:45 AM on June 30, 2009


Cheney's Top Torture Lawyers Now Work for Obama
posted by homunculus at 9:01 AM on June 30, 2009


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