“Early on, there was an admiral at the head of the CIA, and he was widely regarded as a buffoon. It was pretty much an article of faith in the old days that you shouldn’t have a seaman running the Agency. Army was ok (General Smith was great), but no Navy.”
I was chatting with my old friend, the late James Jesus Angleton, via the ouija board, and it was working very well. The blossoms are out in Washington, and I was a bit worried about interference, but I needn’t have. Anyway, for once JJA was a bit imprecise. He was talking about Admiral Raborn, who was indeed badmouthed by Agency old hands for many years. But he’d apparently forgotten Roscoe Henry Hillenkoetter, another admiral, who had headed up the Central Intelligence Group until the CIA was created by the National Security Act in 1947. This largely unknown man served honorably and seemingly effectively for nearly three and a half years, and was succeeded by General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s wartime chief of staff. They were all military guys until Allen Dulles succeeded Smith.
ML: “We’re kind of reverting to our earlier form, aren’t we? It’s all military guys nowadays, and plenty of admirals…both in the Intelligence Community and at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where Admiral Mullen is firmly in charge, headed for a second term. And of course we’ve got Admiral Dennis Blair at the top of the pyramid, he’s the Director of National Intelligence.”
JJA: “Yeah. And he succeeds another admiral, Mike McConnell. And let’s not forget Admiral Stansfield Turner, Jimmy Carter’s DCI. What a disaster he was! He tore up the clandestine service, bragged about hiring women and minorities, and was so nutsy that some of the guys put out a phony memo over his signature, modeled on Captain Queeg’s obsession with a bowl of strawberries.”
ML: “So you’re probably skeptical about Admiral Blair, huh?”
JJA: “You bet. And he hasn’t done much to reassure me. There was that silly attempt to make Chas Freeman the head of the National Intelligence Council, for example.”
ML: “Yes, it doesn’t look good when one of your first big appointments gets blown up in the Congress. And then the guy goes ballistic, accusing ‘agents of a foreign power’ of having brought him down.”
JJA: “Ah, yes, that would be the Jewish lobby, I mean the Israel lobby, wouldn’t it? But the person who pulled the plug on Freeman was a Catholic woman from San Francisco, Speaker Pelosi. And I don’t think her decision had much to do with Israel policy, it had to do with China. Freeman had been ambassador there, and couldn’t bring himself to criticize the repression of the democratic dissidents. On the contrary, he blamed Beijing for being insufficiently vicious.”
ML: “You agree?”
JJA: “Well I have a different sort of objection altogether. I don’t want intelligence officers to make policy. That’s not their job. And Freeman was a policy person, not an intelligence expert. And he said lots of things that led me to think he would have been a terrible intelligence officer.”
ML: “For example…”
JJA: “For example, he bragged
I’m a very practical man, and my concern is simply this: that there are movements, like Hamas, like Hezbollah, that in recent decades have not done anything against the United States or Americans, even though the United States supports their enemy, Israel.
That betrays a colossal ignorance of Hezbollah’s role in Iraq.”
ML: “And how! We’ve captured many Hezbollah terrorists in Iraq. And if I remember rightly, an American court recently ordered Iran to pay $25 million to an American family whose son was kidnaped and murdered by Hamas.”
JJA: “True enough, although their son was in the Israeli Defense Forces at the time, so there are at least some grounds for saying he was ‘really’ an Israeli.”
ML: “Fair enough. But he’s certainly wrong about Hezbollah.”
JJA: “You bet. And his departure rant suggests that he really doesn’t have the temperament you want in your top analyst.”
ML: “And that raises questions about Blair’s judgment, too, doesn’t it?”
JJA: “The same questions arise. Is Blair going to be just another participant in the policy debates, or will he stick to his job, and just do intelligence? He just had a “round table” with some journalists, for example. I don’t like that.”
ML: “It seems to be all the rage. Even the Brits do it, nowadays.”
JJA: “Yeah, I’m years out of style, I know.”
ML: “Out of style, nothing, you’re dead as a doornail.”
JJA: “haha, yes. So I’m really like the dinosaurs. Truly. But I still think the head of a secret intelligence service should save his words for his president, and for those endless oversight committees.”
ML: “And did he stick to intelligence?”
JJA: “Not hardly. When he was asked about Iran, he unburdened himself of this:
…the important thing that we’re doing with Iran is trying to figure out the overall relationship, and to try to work for a future in which Iran sees that it can have its security without nuclear weapons. And that it can advance both its economic prospects and its own view of where it is in the region, and in the world, without the use of the backing of extremist groups and possessing nuclear weapons.
ML: “And your point is?”
JJA: “THAT IT IS NOT HIS JOB TO TALK ABOUT ‘WHAT WE’RE DOING.’ HIS JOB IS TO TELL US WHAT THEY ARE DOING.”
ML: “You don’t have to yell.”
JJA: “Sorry.” He started to cough.
ML: “You still smoking cigarettes? I thought they’d cracked down on that.”
JJA: “Maybe when Bloomberg gets here. Anyway, you’re a fine one to talk about smoking…”
ML: “Cigars are different.”
JJA: “That’s what Freud thought, and look how he ended up.”
ML: “You giving lectures on smoking? Good grief.”
JJA: “Obama is supposed to ask Blair how the Iranians see the world, and Blair is supposed to answer THAT question. Then Obama is supposed to ask Blair what the Iranians are up to, and Blair tells him. If Obama asks him what he thinks we should do about Iran, Blair is supposed to say, ‘that’s not my job, Mr. President. It’s hard enough to understand these guys, believe me’.”
ML: “Got it. Anything else catch your attention?”
JJA: “Damn right there was. That incredible line about the Guantanamo terrorists.”
All of a sudden there was a bit of static, and it sounded like the wires were frying.
ML: “Oh, yes, that bit about welfare for terrorists?”
JJA: “IT’S EFFING INCREDIBLE.”
More sparks, and an acrid smell, kind of a mixture of burning insulation and Camels.
JJA: “HE JUST TOSSES IT OFF: ‘If we are to release them in the United States, we need some sort of assistance for them to start a new life.’ CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT? NOW HE’S THE ATTORNEY GENERAL AND THE SECRETARY OF HHS!!!
And he was gone. There are limits to his patience, after all. Even there.