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Shuffle Subtext at the CIA: Connecting the Points of Scandals and Agenda

Is Obama moving a loyalist next to Brennan to mold the agency back to pre-9/11 policy or is he trying to wipe his slate of scandals?

Bridget Johnson


June 14, 2013 - 12:03 am

“Whenever someone involved in the rough and tumble of Washington decides to move on, there is speculation in various quarters about the ‘real reason,’” departing CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell wrote in a memo to employees Wednesday. ”But when I say that it is time for my family, nothing could be more real than that.”

That unsolicited disclaimer in and of itself piques the curiosity of Beltway reporters who know that there’s usually layers of subtext behind a personnel shuffle in this administration.

Many resignations and appointments have been about President Obama finding a thank-you spot for those who have done campaign time or otherwise helped propel his terms in office. This is especially evident over at the State Department, where Obama’s traveling press secretary during the 2012 campaign, Jen Psaki, is now the department’s spokeswoman despite no foreign policy experience; where Obama’s Jewish outreach director in 2008 and fundraiser Daniel B. Shapiro was named ambassador to Israel in 2011;  where Ira Forman, a longtime Dem operative and Obama’s Jewish outreach director for his 2012 campaign, just received a special envoy post; and where Democratic political player Joe Torsella received an ambassador title and the task of managing the U.S. pocketbook at the United Nations despite no State Department experience.

Other personnel shifts have been about drawing loyalists closer to his side. When UN Ambassador Susan Rice faced a rocky road with the Senate after her nomination to be secretary of State, speculation began that her withdrawal from the nod would be rewarded with an appointment as national security advisor.

Indeed, current NSA Tom Donilon told reporters at the China summit in Palm Springs last weekend that the conversation with Obama “with respect to my retiring from this current job began really at the end of last year.” Rice withdrew her secretary of State nomination in December.

“This has been carefully considered,” Donilon added. “It has been the subject of multiple conversations between me and the President and me and Ambassador Rice, and it was the right time.”

But the Obama shuffles aren’t necessarily all about loyalty as they are about moving the chess pieces into place — whether to give cover to past administration actions or chart a new, likely controversial course in policy.

Morell’s departure from the CIA came as a surprise to many — he and new CIA Director John Brennan are friends from years of service together at Langley — but the news quickly got pulled by the undertow of the news cycle, including scandals and Thursday’s announcement on the Syria red line.

Brennan, like Morell, has a lengthy history at the CIA, where he was once station chief in Riyadh and became deputy director in March 2001. He was the first director at the National Counterterrorism Center in the office created by George W. Bush but left a year later for the private sector. As soon as Obama was elected, the new president tried to move Brennan into the director’s office at the CIA, but when his nomination ran into headwinds Obama instead appointed him counterterrorism adviser to avert a Senate confirmation fight.

Brennan donated to Obama’s first campaign, but his connection to the then-senator goes beyond money.

In March 2008, Brennan was president and CEO of The Analysis Corp., which was accused of snooping into the passport files of Hillary Clinton and John McCain while under contract with the State Department; lower-level employees were fired or disciplined. At the time Brennan was already an adviser on Obama’s campaign, and the candidate reacted with public indignation to his passport file reportedly being accessed as well. “And when you have not just one but a series of attempts to tap into people’s personal records, that’s a problem not just for me but for how our government is functioning,” Obama said.

As an administration adviser Brennan was still campaigning, delivering an April 30, 2012, address on Obama’s counterterrorism strategy that laid out the groundwork for the campaign’s foreign policy narrative: “…If the decade before 9/11 was the time of al-Qaeda’s rise, and the decade after 9/11 was the time of its decline, then I believe this decade will be the one that sees its demise,” he said, crediting in large part “the comprehensive counterterrorism strategy being directed by President Obama.”

In May 2012, CIA officials signed off on the Associated Press’ now-infamous scoop about the agency’s thwarting of an al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot to use a second-generation underwear bomb to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner around the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death. That undermined the campaign narrative that al-Qaeda was “on the run” and ultimately led to the Justice Department seizing scores of AP phone records. The CIA director in charge at the time of the approval of the AP story, David Petraeus, was forced to resign two days after Obama’s re-election when his extramarital affair was revealed.

With the Senate successfully pushing Rice to the side and lawmakers torn for a while over controversy surrounding the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, Brennan’s nomination slipped through the Senate 63-34.

Morell, on the other hand, has been a career CIA officer dedicated to the agency mission, not any one political leader.

He was, though, integral to George W. Bush’s anti-terrorism mission, delivering the daily intelligence briefing to the president and assisting CIA Director George Tenet before continuing to move up the ranks: deputy director at the National Counterterrorism Center, associate deputy director of the CIA from 2006 until 2008, head of the Directorate of Intelligence, then deputy director in May 2010. When Leon Panetta was pulled over to the Pentagon in July 2011, Morell filled in as acting director for almost two months. When Petraeus got the boot, Morell took the reins again until Obama was able to move Brennan through.

“When I was confirmed as CIA Director, one of the things that I was most looking forward to upon my return to the Agency was the opportunity to work side-by-side once again with Michael Morell,” Brennan said in the Wednesday note to employees. “…As much as I would selfishly like to keep Michael right where he is for as long as possible, he has decided to retire to spend more time with his family and to pursue other professional opportunities.”

“In many respects, Michael has come to personify the strengths and qualities of this great organization, and it is difficult for me to imagine CIA without Michael’s exceptionally sharp mind, tremendous energy, and absolute dedication to mission,” Brennan continued. “But I am comforted by the fact that Michael will be able to spend more time with his wonderful family.”

In his statement tacked onto the end of Brennan’s announcement, Morell said he’s “passionate about two things in this world—the Agency and my family.”

“And while I have given everything I have to the Central Intelligence Agency and its vital mission for a third of a century, it is now time for me to give everything I have to my family,” he said. Morell has three college-aged children.

“I will miss the people—the talented and dedicated officers on the senior leadership team, my colleagues on the Deputies Committee with whom I have spent countless hours in the Situation Room, and, most of all, the CIA workforce—the heroes of this place, the people at the pointy end of the spear, the patriots who do the work of keeping the country safe every day,” he added.

Morell’s note highlighted how he was “at the side of President Bush on that horrific day in September 2001″ and “at President Obama’s side as the United States brought Bin Ladin to justice in May 2011—and all the ups and downs in between.”

Does his departure have to do with one of those in-between days?

On the chess-board angle, Obama would be moving an ally without a day of CIA experience into the deputy director role at a time when he wants Brennan to be reshaping the war on terror strategy to a pre-9/11 mindset — something that may not sit well with the rank and file who live the threats day in and day out, such as the reported CIA employees who have wanted to come forward in the Benghazi scandal but have been prevented from doing so.

Obama first nominated Avril Haines, who worked for John Kerry at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before becoming a deputy legal adviser at the State Department and joining the White House counsel’s office in 2010, to the post of legal adviser at the State Department. On Thursday, he withdrew the April 18 nomination and resubmitted her name for the CIA.

Haines, working with Brennan, helped craft those new talking points that Obama laid out in his May speech on counterterrorism strategy and drone use.

Days before that address, the White House dumped more than 100 pages of Benghazi talking points emails — pointing blame at the CIA, not the State Department, for the controversial edits.

“I think there has been ample demonstration by the facts of the evolution of the talking points, the role that Ambassador Rice played in conveying the information that Director Clapper, that Mike Morell, that senior members of the intelligence community have made very clear were the assessments of the intelligence community,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters last week.

But Morell had also been talking to Congress.

On May 20, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said he had talked “somewhat confidentially” with Morell about the emails.

“His reports were that the analysts gave these talking points. He did edit them and then they went up the chain,” McCaul said. “I find it hard to believe, just based upon common sense, that there wasn’t some machinations going on in the State Department to change the theme of this to be not one of an act of terrorism, but rather a video.”

“And so I think that’s our ongoing examination in the Congress about Benghazi. This is — these are going to be tough questions. Now, I think he’s testifying before the Intelligence Committee. Always in secret. But I’m on Foreign Affairs; they will be out and open,” McCaul added.

Morell testimony is not on the House Foreign Affairs Committee schedule. He leaves office Aug. 9.

“When you look at this train, you still have to ask the question, how did they go from the correct information to the incorrect information?” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said after the emails were released. “And isn’t 100 pages or more a pushback on the CIA — effectively telling the CIA, you’ve got to change your story?”

In late October, Petraeus quietly slipped away to Tripoli to conduct his own investigation into the Benghazi attacks. In the first week of November, his affair had been laid bare and he was out at the CIA.

A resigned official can still be asked to come voluntarily or subpoenaed before a congressional committee. But a resigned official, as seen with the Benghazi whistleblowers, carries the stigma of sour grapes if they don’t carry their administration’s water at a hearing: after former deputy chief of mission in Libya Gregory Hicks testified before the House Oversight panel in May, critics dismissed his retaliation claims as bitterness over not getting the promotion he wanted.

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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All Comments   (11)
All Comments   (11)
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The Amateur's appointment of that East Wing bimbo is a disgrace, to the CIA, to American intelligence community, to the nation. It's difficult to calculate how much more thoughtless, mistaken, dishonest, and dangerous this bunch of cretins in the WH can get. But there are 3 more years to find out!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Brennan is murderous vermin scum...Lt Quarles Harris, Jr. (not a rank-real name: google it) was murdered after obtaining passport information of Dear Leader, but his female accomplice (also a Brennan employee) has never been identified. "Fired or disciplined", huh? Yep, Harris was "disciplined" alright! Harris was killed in broad daylight, in his car in front of a church...but just like every other crime this administration has committed "nobody knows nothing."

Morrell was reassigned to keep him close to Dear Leader and keep his mouth shut about Benghazi. Every one of these bastards deserves federal prison at the least.

Remember Benghazi!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A driven high-level govt. career man with 3 college-age kids wants more family time? Is he going to drop into their dorm or frat house and play beer pong? Maybe he looks forward to settling in all comfy with his team blanket and cap at the big homecoming game? Okay, if you say this is quite believable, please contact me about a piece of land near Colorado Springs that I would like to unload in the next 3 hours.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Interesting, but written in an unnecessarily complex and obtuse manner so as to detract from full understanding. I usually share such info with friends, but could not, in good conscience, subject them the heavy lifting of connecting all the dots. Perhaps the Byzantine and unethical machinations of the O administrations cannot be described in a straightforward manner.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
" “And when you have not just one but a series of attempts to tap into people’s personal records, that’s a problem not just for me but for how our government is functioning,” Obama said."

coff, NSA, coff, coff.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It doesn’t matter how much cover-up O engages in the truth will come out eventually. One scandal you might be able to cover-up, but not three plus and counting.

It’s unlikely O will be impeached. But scandalmania is going to drag on into next year’s midterms and even low-information voters will pick-up on it. The dems will sustain such horrendous loses some of them (those former members of Congress) might even turn on the Chosen One. In any case, O’s megalomaniacal dream of remaking this country into a socialist paradise will be a bust as the new Congress starts undoing his radical agenda. It’s even possible a majority of Americans might start looking at O as trouble personified for even trying.

The bottom line is that O’s criminal cover-up and opposition research efforts will leave him intact, but it will irradiate his administration into a toxic slag heap.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well, here's another subtext amid the blah blah: chickenshit 'loyal opposition' drops ball again, waffles in general direction of kicked can -- without being specific, naturally.

Really, there are only two dots: this will continue; until it stops or is stopped.

Meanwhile, almost half of congress is grandstanding on one of the fifteen subcommittees investigating Benghazi et al., all waiting for the next photo op. But nothing happens, except bwana's going on safari and M'belle will soon be off to Martha's Vineyard, or Vail if the weather's iffy.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Some where on this computer I still have a boilerplate State of Alaska Memorandum the body of which says, "For personal reasons I am compelled to submit my resignation from State service effective mm/dd/yy.

You print one of those up with the appropriate to and from, walk into somebody's office, and say, "you do it or we will." This is a courtesy you offer the high-ranking so they can go home and tell their family and friends anything but the truth. I know if I'd seen an appointee's name on an opponent or the other party's contributer list, they'd have gotten that visit and that memo. Unfortunately, GWB didn't work that way.

I gotta think it really isn't smart to mess with the spooks, but Democrats did it in the '70s and seemingly got away with it. I've often recounted here the sign I once had over my desk that said, "Remember, when the enemy is in range, so are you." The Soros Junta/OFA has had a good run with all that NSA data, but they might remember that other people can get it and use it too, and they've got to be making one Helluva lot of enemies inside these organizations. I know the majority of the 'crats are Democrats and even those that aren't are afraid of Democrats, but career 'crats get really, really resentful of being told what to do and expecially of being over-ridden by political appointees with no subject mater skills.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Obama is quietly building an organization of loyalists ... he has the money (ours); the power (in the executive) and the bodies to accomplish all the dreams of Ayers' ilk .... ... and OFA is getting bigger and more powerful and intimidating every day.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It seems likely that Morell confirmed to the House Intelligence Panel the supposition that Hillary wanted the story on Benghazi changed. Petreaus did as he was ordered, and then fired and humiliated to prevent further complications for 0. Morell is, apparently, being given the opportunity to get out of Dodge more or less whole, and, as the saying goes, move on in his professional life. It will be interesting to see whether he goes to academia, a think tank, or founds his own mercenary operation.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yeah, I don't expect that Morell's sudden overwhelming need for more family time will last much past the end of the month.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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