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Belmont Club

The Race for the Keys

January 30th, 2011 - 11:32 am

C.) After 9/11, and under President Bush, rendered al-Qaeda operatives have most often been kept in U.S. custody. The goals of the program remained the same, although the Mr. Bush’s national security team wanted to use U.S. officers to interrogate captured al-Qaeda fighters

1.) This decision by the Bush administration allowed CIA to capture al-Qaeda fighters we knew were a threat to the United States without on all occasions being dependent on the availability of another country’s outstanding legal process. This decision made the already successful Rendition Program even more effective.

Those days, of course, are over. Guantanamo was not bad as an operational concept. But as a political concept it would never fly. Although rendition had many shortcomings, not in the least the fact that the contractor — like Egypt — could give the U.S. what they want distorted and cherry-picked; and despite the fact that anyone interrogated under rendition would fare far worse than the waterboarding that KSM was subjected to, it had the supreme virtue of keeping all the rough stuff at legal arm’s length from Western politicians.  And that, of course, was the most important thing of all.

Like the more prosaic forms of outsourcing, rendition was aimed in part at finding people to do the jobs that “Americans won’t do.” Now, with the imminent transfer of the outsourcing firm to new management, there is the real prospect that the agents, contacts, files, sources and databases which made Egypt so useful will soon be in the hands of those against whom it was directed in the first place. They not only get the sausage, they get the sausage factory.

To imagine the scale of the calamity, here is Scheuer again on the intelligence consequences of trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York City: “In terms of U.S. national security, the New York trials will yield a wealth of intelligence information — both substantive data and details about CIA and FBI sources and methods — to our Islamist enemies. This is an unnecessary and self-inflicted wound on America by the Obama administration.”

If Egypt’s intelligence assets — and the insight they give into standing methods for fighting terrorists — fall into Iran’s hands it would put anything that could have been lost in the KSM New York trial in the shade. And that would only be the beginning. Scheuer also believed that any look into the guts of operations would show just how brutal the war against the jihad has been and create a wave of hatred against American foreign policy and Israel. That is not an unlikely prospect given that Egyptian oppositionists are calling for an inquiry into human rights violations during the Mubarak years. About the only thing you can be sure of is that if the MB comes out on top, the MB is not likely to be portrayed in an unflattering light.

As this site has often argued, morality always has a price. You either pay it — like the saints and the heroes — and endure the danger from upholding your principles. Or you eat the sausage and don’t ask where it comes from.

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The Obama administration, and perhaps a whole political generation, is about to face the question of whether there’s a free lunch. Having said that, it is quite likely that the Iranian secret service, the Syrians, and al-Qaeda are probably running as had as they can to get their hooks on the keys.  Those intelligence assets represent, depending on how you look at it, a record of brutality or incalculable value. Maybe they represent both. How hard will the administration fight to protect them, to snatch them up before the enemy does, is an interesting question. Or is that also beneath them?

Update:

Jimmy Carter, reacting to events in Egypt, said recent developments were an “earth-shaking event” and that Hosni Mubarak “will have to leave.” He also claimed the Muslim Brotherhood “has stayed out of it”.

Carter’s remarks came at Maranatha Baptist Church, where he regularly teaches a Sunday School class to visitors from across the country and globe. …

“This is the most profound situation in the Middle East since I left office,” Carter said Sunday to the nearly 300 people packed into the small sanctuary about a half mile from downtown Plains. …

Carter described his relationship with Mubarak, whom protesters want ousted from power.

“I know Mubarak quite well,” Carter said. “If Sadat had a message, he would send Mubarak.” …

As the unrest raged and escalated, Mubarak appointed Omar Suleiman, the country’s intelligence chief, as vice president.

“He’s an intelligent man whom I like very much,” Carter said.

Carter has maintained a relationship with Suleiman over the years.

“In the last four or five years when I go to Egypt, I don’t go to talk to Mubarak, who talks like a politician,” Carter said. “If I want to know what is going on in the Middle East, I talk to Suleiman. And as far as I know, he has always told me the truth.”

The former president, who performs work throughout the world for fair elections through The Carter Center in Atlanta, said this was not a revolution “orchestrated by extremists Muslims.

“The Muslim brotherhood has stayed out it,” Carter said.

Well that’s good to know. Things were worrying for a time. It’s interesting to speculate how much of Carter’s thinking reflects the appreciation within the Obama Administration. But although Carter may prove right about the non-involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood in the biggest political opportunity since Jimmy left office, would it be wise to bet the farm on it? Does this mean that it’s time to stop racing for the keys or is it wiser to start building relationships with whoever comes after?


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