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Spooks, Scoops and Pols

JJA: “Exactly.  And if the politicians keep on throwing intelligence professionals to the wolves, we’re going to have failure upon failure.  It’s often a very good thing to change the rules, but if we punish those who broke the new rules before they even existed, prudent professionals are going to do nothing that’s even remotely aggressive.  And then we won’t penetrate terrorist groups and we’ll be right back in that nightmare position of having to choose between following the narrowest possible interpretation of the rules and possibly failing to prevent a massive disaster.”

ML: “Indeed, the failure to get on top of al Qaeda, and Hezbollah, for example, came from precisely that sort of rule change, didn’t it?”

JJA: “In part, it did.  When President Carter signed his executive order forbidding anyone to have anything to do with ‘assassination,’ the lawyers at the Agency said that meant we couldn’t recruit terrorists, because they either were, or might very well become, assassins.  And so we had to depend on second- and third-hand information about terrorists.”

ML: “But still, I have a lot of sympathy for the people after 9/11 who had to deal with a real Hobson’s Choice: we could either do nasty things that we didn’t much like, or we could work more slowly and hope we weren’t blown up in the meantime.”

JJA: “Sure, one understands those things, and Obama’s total lack of comprehension of the existential dilemmas faced by the intel people is very discouraging.  He was right when he said that all these things were behind us, and we should concentrate on the future.  But he didn’t do that.  He humiliated the people who were, after all, assured that waterboarding and so forth were perfectly legal, and then he even hinted that those people might be prosecuted.  There’s really no excuse for that.  It shows you don’t value your intelligence agency.”

ML: “I think it’s worse than that.  Obama wanted to portray his predecessors as totally evil, and so he edited a memo on the subject from Admiral Blair.  The memo noted that the harsh methods had ‘worked,’ and had probably saved American lives.  But those words were censored.  So there was a deliberate attempt to deceive the public, by portraying the Agency’s behavior as unadulterated evil.”

JJA: “Quite.  It’s Carter all over again.  I wonder if Obama’s going to have Panetta do the same thing Carter had Stansfield Turner do: purge the most experienced people from CIA, and promote the newbies, who don’t know enough to protect us effectively.”

ML: “Well, time will tell.”

JJA: “That’s just what worries me.”

And he was gone.  For once, the ouija board wasn’t damaged, so I’m going to pursue this in a few days.