The New York Times has been amusing itself — for the second time in as many years — at the expense of Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, a retired CIA Operations Officer who has organized a team of investigators to provide up-to-date intel on Afghanistan and Pakistan. So far there’s been a very very long article by a Mr. Mazzetti and an editorial by the usual suspects at Slimes Central.
I know Dewey pretty well, and although I haven’t seen him for a couple of years, I like him fine. He’s great company, and the sort you want on your side in a fight. But since I wanted to explore some of the themes in the Times’ campaign against him, I dragged out my battered Ouija board and after a couple of failed attempts I reached my old pal, the late head of CIA counterintelligence, James Jesus Angleton. I figured he was the smartest spirit I could talk to.
JJA: Ah there you are. What’s up?
ML: It’s snowing again so I’m engaged in indoor sports.
JJA: Ha! Talking to the dead is now an athletic event?
ML: Absolutely. Washingtonian Olympics, even.
JJA: Great. So what’s the main event this evening?
ML: It’s midday actually.
JJA: Not here; here it’s evening.
ML: (I never had the nerve to ask him where “here” was, so you’ll just have to move on). Well, it’s this campaign against Dewey Clarridge. Did you know him at the Agency?
JJA: Nope. He’s a lot younger than I, and he wasn’t in counterintelligence, and by the time I left he was still a junior officer.
ML: Good to know. You’d have liked him I think.
JJA: Irrelevant and immaterial! So what’s the problem?
ML: Both Mazzetti and the editorialist strongly suggest that Dewey is engaged in illegal activity. They call it “legally murky” or a violation of the Neutrality Act.
JJA: I don’t believe anyone has ever been prosecuted for the Neutrality Act. It’s supposed to stop non-government people from acting against foreign governments, but in practice it’s hard to stop Americans from supporting internal opposition to foreign regimes. The First Amendment comes into play, for example.
ML: I’m with you. I guess people like me, who advocate regime change in places like Iran and the Soviet Union, could theoretically be prosecuted, even.
JJA: Yeah, and that’s not going to happen. As I recall, Mazzetti actually lets that particular cat out of his bag about midway through, doesn’t he? He says:
American law prohibits private citizens from actively undermining a foreign government, but prosecutions under the so-called Neutrality Act have historically been limited to people raising private armies against foreign powers. Legal experts said Mr. Clarridge’s plans against the Afghan president fell in a gray area, but would probably not violate the law.
ML: In simple English, that means the Times couldn’t find an attorney willing to say that Dewey should be prosecuted. So the Times’ call for a Justice Department investigation is just meanness.
JJA: Very uncivil, too, to use the current code. But I don’t think Mr. Clarridge should lose much sleep over it; if Justice won’t go after the New Black Panthers, they’re not bloody likely to go after this senior citizen in San Diego.
ML: Ok, we agree. But what do you think about the issue of “outsourcing” intelligence? The editorialists at the Times say that “outsourcing functions in a war zone to private gunslingers is dangerous and invites abuse.”
JJA: GUNSLINGERS? Why not call them researchers? These are people gathering information, right? And then they sell it. What’s the Times so angry about?
ML: They think that the government should gather its own intelligence and not get private citizens to do it for them.
JJA: Oh, really! Shall we talk about all the private citizens the CIA regularly debriefs? They do it because the citizens have better access than the Agency in certain quarters. I’m talking about scholars, medical doctors, businessmen and women, actors and actresses, athletes, a wide range. And sometimes the Agency pays them, or covers expenses. This seems quite similar to me. The main difference is that some report to the CIA, while Dewey and his buddies reported to the Pentagon. Is that a meaningful difference? Big enough to warrant a two-year campaign from the Times?
By the way, does Mazzetti say anything about why the military felt it needed help from these guys?
ML: He says that the military was “desperate for information about its enemies and frustrated with the quality of intelligence from the CIA, an agency that colleagues say Mr. Clarridge now views largely with contempt. The effort was among a number of secret activities undertaken by the American government in a shadow war around the globe to combat militants and root out terrorists.”
JJA: Wow. That explains a lot.
ML: You think?
JJA: Sure. It tells us that hiring Dewey’s group was only one of many things the military felt compelled to do, because CIA was doing a lousy job providing the information needed to win the war. How did they do — Dewey’s guys — by the way?
ML: Hard to say. I’ve looked at the website they run, and if the information is accurate — which of course I can’t judge —it’s invaluable. And if you consider Mazzetti’s main gripe — or maybe it’s his sources’ main gripe — namely Dewey’s effort to embarrass President Karzai of Afghanistan by exposing his drug habit, and his ties to Iran, well, lots of people believe Karzai takes drugs and Karzai himself has confirmed that he (very happily) takes money from Tehran. Dewey apparently got CIA very angry at him because he wrote that the Agency “is the only member of the country team in Kabul not to advocate taking a more active stance against (Karzai).”
JJA: So CIA has a big policy disagreement with him! From which an old-timer like me would draw the conclusion that CIA is behind the Times’ campaign. To the Times’ great shame.
ML: Why? CIA is an invaluable source for them. Just ask Bush and Cheney…
JJA: Indeed, indeed. But at the end of the day, Dewey’s gang was acting just like a newspaper, you know what I mean?
ML: How so?
JJA: They developed sources, gathered information, and sold it. Newspapers sell it every day in public, while Dewey et al decided when and if they would make the information public and to what end. But it’s the same business, if you get my drift.
ML: So maybe there’s an element of professional jealousy in the Times’ campaign against Dewey?
At which point I heard sounds of coughing, and then a loud blast. It wasn’t my Ouija board for once. I really don’t know what caused the racket. Next time I’ll try to remember to ask. It shouldn’t be long; I want to talk to Angleton about Stuxnet and related matters…