Rendering The CIA Useless
February 16, 2007
This week the European Parliament finished its investigation into the
CIA's use of "extraordinary renditions" to kidnap European citizens
and residents and subject them to torture and imprisonment without
trial. The EU condemned both the practice and 14 member nations for
complying with it, frequently under the direction of non-elected
intelligence officials without knowledge or consent from government
representatives, let alone the public.
Today an Italian court has decided to grant warrants to arrest 26 CIA
personnel allegedly involved in the February 2003 kidnapping in Milan
of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. The chief of the Italian military
intelligence service and his deputy are defending themselves before
courts in the case. German courts in Munich recently issued arrest
warrants against 13 alleged CIA officers and contract employees in the
January 2004 rendition of German citizen Khaled al-Masri. The German
parliament is reviewing its intelligence service's collaboration with
the CIA. There is widespread outrage in both Europe and the Muslim
world over these practices.
What is the Bush administration response? Shoot the messengers.
General Michael V. Hayden, the current CIA director, was asked a few
months ago about the agency's foreign intelligence partnerships, given
the mounting investigations of CIA activities. Without touching the
controversial U.S. operations at all, his response was, "If an ally
believesfearsthat we can't keep such activities private, then that
ally is going to be much more reluctant to deal with us."
Much as in the bad old days, the CIA persists in the delusion that
what people saynot what it doesis the issue. The agency is riding
for a fall. Ham-handed American spookswho depend, by their own
admission, on foreign intelligence services in up to 90 percent of
their operationshave muddied the waters even with our best friends.
The controversial "rendition" program that is at the centerpiece of
Bush counterterrorism efforts has swept up many innocents along with
known terrorists and has sparked trouble for our allies.
In Canada, citizen Maher Arar was apprehended in October 2002 while
making an airline connection in the U.S.but then rendered to Syria by
the CIA. The chief of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was forced to
resign as a result of Canadian security's contribution to this
travesty. And the Swedish intelligence service was appalled at
high-handed CIA behavior in snatching two Egyptian nationals in that
country in December 2001.
Aside from the U.S. denials and wholesale evasions of
responsibilitythe Bush people have refused to take Maher Arar off the
U.S. terrorist watch list (or even apologize), even though the man has
been cleared by a massive royal commission investigation. The effect
of these operations can only sour foreign cooperation with the CIA.
A response in the form of a new long-term development plan at the CIA
is in progress. The plan has two elements relevant here: First, the
agency intends to increase its capability to act unilaterally; second,
the procedure for approving covert operations is to be modified.
Although it is also true the CIA's dependence on foreign services is
excessive and should be reduced, unilateral efforts bear their own
burdens (the Bay of Pigs was such an operation). More important is the
Covert Action Review Group, the unit responsible for approving
proposed activities, which in the new order would not be answerable to
the chief, but to the CIA's deputy director. Today that person would
be Stephen R. Kappes, who, while he is not the top boss and is not
invested with the chief's private vision and knowledge, has experience
picking up the pieces after covert disastersunlike General Hayden,
with no covert ops background whatever. Moreover, both Kappes and
Hayden are heavily committed to a welter of review boards and progress
management committees required by the new strategic development plan.
Above the level of the CIA, covert operations proposals are supposed
to be approved by higher authorities, reviews that seem to be cursory
in the Bush administration. Tyler Drumheller, former chief of the
CIA's European Division, recounts how he once had to brief Condoleezza
Rice on a rendition operation. "Her chief concern," Drumheller told
Der Spiegel earlier this month , "was not whether it was the right
thing to do, but what the president would think about it." There were
no deliberations on the value of the target or the potential flap that
could be caused by such an intervention.
In addition, the head of the National Clandestine Servicethe former
CIA Directorate of Operationswhich produces the proposals for covert
operations, is the same cowboy who presided over the agency's
Counterterrorism Center at the height of the renditions program. It
was on his watch that the Masri, Arar and Nasr affairs began. As for
the action teams, Drumheller says they "are drawn from paramilitary
officers who are brave and colorful ... If they didn't do paramilitary
actions for a living, they would probably be robbing banks." These
officers did courageous things in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they
should not be expected to take a broad view of the missions being
proposed. When these officers see themselves in danger of arrest in
foreign lands, that, too, must have an impact.
The broad international support for the United States after 9/11 has
evaporated, and the old Cold War attitudes in America that accepted
the use of these techniques are long gone. The Bush administration's
covert operations have been as catastrophic as its conventional
military campaign in Iraq, yet it is now posturing itself for
unilateral action. This is a disaster waiting to happen. America needs
a rational foreign policy. The country cannot be saved by a new posse
of covert cowboys.
John Prados is a senior fellow with the National Security Archive in
Washington, D.C. His current book is Safe for Democracy: The Secret
Wars of the CIA.
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