Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On Dealing With the C.I.A.

Is anyone else concerned about the apparently necessary way the C.I.A. has to be dealt with? As though if the organization is offended in any way they will just take their ball and go home and leave the rest of the country to figure out “intelligence” on our own, or at least one of the other members of the Intelligence Community will have to figure it out without them.

This is from the New York Times yesterday in an article entitled “Obama Reluctant to Look Into Bush Programs”:

“At the Central Intelligence Agency, in particular, many officers flatly oppose any further review and may protest the prospect of a broad inquiry into their past conduct.”

Of course they do and of course they would. For the last eight years they’ve been taking directions from an administration that arrogantly changed the definition of torture, so that when its members said they did not torture, they would have a definition that made that statement true. Using the old definitions and agreements between nations simply would not do, so they made their own rules. It’s no wonder that those involved with this redefining would “oppose any further review.” But who cares?

Obama says that “at the C.I.A. you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got [to] spend all their time looking over their shoulders,” and the Times article says, “Mark Lowenthal, who was the assistant director for analysis and production at the C.I.A. from 2002 to 2005, said if agents were criminally investigated for doing something that top Bush administration officials asked them to do and that they were assured was legal, intelligence officers would be less willing to take risks to protect the country.”

I realize that clandestinity is inherent in an organization like the C.I.A., but the law is the law, or should be. The Bush administration didn’t necessarily think so, and the C.I.A. was presumably willing to go along with that administration and its new definitions.

If wrongdoing occurred, then we can get into the discussion of whether the C.I.A. was only acting on orders and therefore if its members should or should not be the ones held accountable. But that is a different discussion (See: Donald Rumsfeld, the Army, and Abu Ghraib). To simply not examine the C.I.A.’s past actions because “any effort to conduct a wider re-examination would almost certainly provoke a backlash at the country’s intelligence agencies” is not a good enough reason. To not move forward on a re-examination because it might offend some people and make them less willing to do their job in the future should not be the basis upon which we decide whether or not to take a look at the last eight years.

Crossposted at Guernica Magazine


Jason said...

If there needs to be a review of past actions, how about looking at the laws that Congress approved and the White House endorsed? I have a huge problem with laying this on C.I.A. They should be doing what they're doing (clandestine work), not have to worry about being hauled before Congressional committees, unless they did something outside the scope of their jurisdiction or blatantly unlawful. My point is, they (CIA) were following the legal framework set forth by lawmakers, if we're going to second guess the actions that resulted from those laws, we should first review those laws. The fact is many of the laws Congress and the White House passed were meant to assist in taking the gloves off of C.I.A. following 9-11. Could go on forever on this subject. Let's move forward with the right policy in this regard, I have faith in Obama to get it right on the front end.

David Luke Doody said...

Very well said, Jason (Doyle?). And that's exactly what I was trying to get at when I wrote "If wrongdoing occurred, then we can get into the discussion of whether the C.I.A. was only acting on orders and therefore if its members should or should not be the ones held accountable. But that is a different discussion (See: Donald Rumsfeld, the Army, and Abu Ghraib)." I have no doubt that these people were acting on orders from an administration that repeatedly changed or obstructed laws in order to do the things it wanted to. Treaties and International (and National) law be damned!

And, as long as you brought up 9-11, that is what sparked this whole frustration with the Intelligence Community in me in the first place. There was all that talk about how each division is it's own clique that refuses to share information with any others. All of that was infuriating (you'll know better than I do on this). But it seemed like nothing was ever done about it. It's like everyone is afraid to really tell these departments what they have to do.

I'd love to hear more from you on it.

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About Me

David Luke Doody is a freelance writer and editor. He is a founding editor of InDigest Magazine (, an online literary magazine and the blog editor for Guernica Magazine ( His writing and interviews have appeared in those magazines as well as in The Huffington Post,, The Minnesota Twins Yearbook, and Intentionally Urban Magazine, among others.

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