Monday, June 15, 2009

Panetta and Cheney on the spin cycle

by Smitty (h/t Memeorandum)

Stacy suggested a glance at the farce du jour flap between the CIA director, Leon Panetta, and (in)famous former VP, Dick Cheney. Jane Mayer in the New Yorker gives us The Secret History. We are instructed that
Dick Cheney delivered an extraordinary attack on the Obama Administration’s emerging national-security policies. Cheney, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, accused the new Administration of making “the American people less safe” by banning brutal C.I.A. interrogations of terrorism suspects that had been sanctioned by the Bush Administration. Ruling out such interrogations “is unwise in the extreme,” Cheney charged. “It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness.”
Cut to Panetta's office:
Panetta, pouring a cup of coffee, responded to Cheney’s speech with surprising candor. “I think he smells some blood in the water on the national-security issue,” he told me. “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. I think that’s dangerous politics.”

Let's put down a few recent historical markers, and then explore the rest of the New Yorker article:
  1. Princess Pelosi famously questioned the veracity of the CIA on 14May.
  2. Cheney's "extraordinary attack" was delivered on 21May.
  3. Frank Rich stirred the pot in the New York Times on 30May: "Who Is to Blame for the Next Attack?"
    (Um, Mr. Rich, the people who carry out the attack will be the responsible ones. Modern liberals are challenged by the concept of causality.
  4. Mayer's piece is dated 22June.

Mayer's article serves as an overview of both the CIA and Panetta's career, from a modern liberal perspective, and affords a few chuckles.
The strain must be substantial for Panetta:
Since January, the C.I.A. has become the focus of almost daily struggle, as Obama attempts to restore the rule of law in America’s fight against terrorism without sacrificing safety or losing the support of conservative Democratic and independent voters.

Tip for Mr. Panetta: do not confuse leadership with running a popularity contest. If you sacrifice doing what is legal and necessary to do your job in order to curry favor with Jane Mayer, conservative Democratic, or independent voters, then you are a sorry piece of work. For example, consider the non-display of vertebrae in the case of the preceding nominee for CIA director, John Brennan:
...was pressured to withdraw. Critics accused Brennan, who had been a top agency official during the Bush years, of complicity with the torture program. (A friend of Brennan’s from his C.I.A. days complained to me, “After a few Cheeto-eating people in the basement working in their underwear who write blogs voiced objections to Brennan, the Obama Administration pulled his name at the first sign of smoke, and then ruled out a whole class of people: anyone who had been at the agency during the past ten years couldn’t pass the blogger test.”)

One is tempted to speculate on the half-life of a Jane Hamsher confronted with the responsibility of being CIA Director. (A mildly crazy speculation, until you consider occupants of other offices.)

The record of outsiders taking over the C.I.A. is mixed. John McCone, a California shipping magnate who ran the agency in the Kennedy and Johnson years, is often cited as being among the most successful directors; having been trained as a mechanical engineer, he was skilled at assessing threats posed by both conventional and nuclear weapons. But other outsiders have been met with intense hostility. James Schlesinger was named C.I.A. director by President Richard Nixon after heading the Atomic Energy Commission. Given instructions to “get rid of the clowns,” Schlesinger dismissed or forced into retirement more than five hundred analysts and a thousand clandestine officers. He faced death threats, and his tenure lasted six months. In 1995, President Clinton appointed John Deutch, who had previously served at the Pentagon. Deutch tried to improve the oversight of clandestine operatives after evidence surfaced that an agent in Guatemala had covered up two murders. Deutch was reviled by many operatives, and he left the agency after eighteen months.
I honestly don't know, but I wonder if this corresponds to reductions in HUMINT capabilities that are alluded to in recommendation #31 of the 9/11 Commission. But I don't wonder too much, as such speculations, they say, lead to ulcers.
Mayer relates a series of accusations of criminal activity (torture, misleading intelligence) as fact. If Mayer's facts are correct, then the CIA and both the Bush and Obama Administrations stand guilty of felonies and violations of international law for various degrees of complicity. Note to Mayer: confine all negative statements to the Bush Administration--no blue on blue!
Mayer does neglect to mention rendition, which the Obama Administration will employ, just so long as everyone gets cupcakes and stuff. In other words, as with all post-modern conversations, whoever owns the definitions owns the narrative.
The article briefly profiles other senior CIA officials, and delves into the torture memo controversy. Then, details of extraordinary rendition, and psychological torture based upon "learned helplessness". We are told that
Lawsuits against abusive contractors remain a possibility, and any one of them could expose a line of authorizations leading directly up the chain of command at the C.I.A., and into the Bush White House.

The article is well-written, if skinny on references to heavy accusations. Cheney figures lightly in the introduction to the New Yorker article. CNN nevertheless picked up the ball, and got Panetta to opine through a spokesman that he "does not believe the former Vice President wants an attack," but rather that Cheney was "expressing his profound disagreement with the assertion that President Obama's security policies have made our country less safe. Nor did he question anyone's motives."
Fox News worked to defuse the situation:
After the CIA director apparently told The New Yorker that he thinks the former vice president is crossing his fingers for another attack on America, Cheney said Monday he hopes his "old friend" didn't really say those words.
So, what can we learn from this?
  1. Between Jane Mayer and Leon Panetta there has been a communication malfunction.
  2. Communication malfunctions sure do drive news cycles.
  3. Jane Mayer can:
    • Use the word "torture" 33 times in a 7,500 word piece
    • Call the CIA everything but an organization dedicated to defending the country, and
    • Avoid mentioning Princess Pelosi and her accusations of CIA duplicity a single time.
What a piece of work. One is reminded of something Dan Akroyd used to say to another Jane some decades ago.


  1. "as Obama attempts to restore the rule of law"

    Rule of law? Like with Chrsyler? Like with IG Gerald Walpin? Like with all those piddly campaign rules and regulations?

    I don't think the phrase means what he thinks it means.

  2. Let's say for sake of argument that Cheney really wishes for America to be attacked like Panetta originally said.

    Would this somehow make him at fault if such an attack occurs? Would "wishing" for there to be an attack actually make us MORE vulnerable to attack than Obama ACTIVELY MAKING US more vulnerable to attack?