Belmont Club

The Secret Life of Nations

Documents found in Libya suggest that the UK had been assisting in moving terror suspects there for interrogation. “A secret letter found in an abandoned Libyan government building appears to show that MI6 provided intelligence which led to the ‘rendition’ of a Libyan dissident who was then tortured horrifically.”


Astonishingly, the letter’s author appears desperate to take credit for Britain’s role, and fawning in his attitude to Musa Kusa, Gaddafi’s intelligence chief who was known as the regime’s ‘envoy of death’.

He writes: ‘This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over recent years.’ The letter lays bare the startlingly close relationship between British spies and senior figures in the Gaddafi regime, and raises serious questions about whether the UK helped in one of the most controversial elements of the U.S. ‘war on terror’ – the illegal movement of prisoners around the world.

If true then official Britain led a secret life. At one level it was the epitome of political correctness. At another it was the picture of cynicism. The documents highlight one of the difficulties facing Western governments dating from at least the era of Bill Clinton. No, not the problem of how to get information from terrorists in order to pro-actively forestall attacks. The problem was they wanted to solve was how to get terrorists “off the street” while keeping their hands clean.

Michael Scheuer explained how Bill Clinton did this to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe in 2007. He began by saying, “The CIA’s Rendition Program began in late summer, 1995. I authored it, and then ran and managed it against al-Qaeda leaders and other Sunni Islamists from August, 1995, until June, 1999.”

Scheuer said that the Clinton administration decided the threats should simply go away, with the proviso that none of the blame ever get back to Washington. Getting information from from the terror suspects was never a goal. Scheuer testified:

A.) There were only two goals for the program:
1.) Take men off the street who were planning or had been involved in attacks on U.S. or its allies.
2.) Seize hard-copy or electronic documents in their possession when arrested; Americans were never expected to read them.
3.) Interrogation was never a goal under President Clinton. Why?
–Because it would be a foreign intelligence or security service without CIA present or in control.
–Because the take from the interrogation would be filtered by the service holding the individual, and we would never know if it was complete or distorted.
–Because torture might be used and the information might be simply what an individual thought we wanted to hear.


If the price of information was responsibility, then Clinton was having none of the information as long as it could deny everything. Instead he instructed that these men be delivered to foreign countries where the disposal problem would be taken care of and they would pretend not to know how that was handled. Scheur said, “I have read and been told that Mr. Clinton, Mr. Burger, and Mr. Clarke have said since 9/11 that they insisted that each receiving country treat the rendered person it received according to U.S. legal standards. To the best of my memory that is a lie.”  He testified:

B.) The Rendition Program was initiated because President Clinton, and Messrs. Lake, Berger, and Clarke requested that the CIA begin to attack and dismantle AQ. These men made it clear that they did not want to bring those captured to the U.S. and hold them in U.S. custody.
1.) President Clinton and his national security team directed the CIA to take each captured al-Qaeda leader to the country which had an outstanding legal process for him. This was a hard-and-fast rule which greatly restricted CIA’s ability to confront al-Qaeda because we could only focus on al-Qaeda leaders who were wanted somewhere. As a result many al-Qaeda fighters we knew were dangerous to America could not be captured.
2.) CIA warned the president and the National Security Council that the U.S. State Department had and would identify the countries to which the captured fighters were being delivered as human rights abusers.
3.) In response, President Clinton et. al asked if CIA could get each receiving country to guarantee that it would treat the person according to its own laws. This was no problem and we did so.
–I have read and been told that Mr. Clinton, Mr. Burger, and Mr. Clarke have said since 9/11 that they insisted that each receiving country treat the rendered person it received according to U.S. legal standards. To the best of my memory that is a lie.

That lack of information may or may not have contributed to the attacks on September 11, but that event made it clear that the policy of ignoring potential intelligence should not continue.  So GW Bush changed policy to allow US detention of prisoners. Scheuer testified that:

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. … Under President Bush, the rendered al-Qaeda fighters held in U.S. custody have been treated according to guidelines that were crafted by U.S. government lawyers, approved by the Executive Branch, and briefed to and permitted by at least the four senior members of the two congressional intelligence oversight committees.


With prisoners in US custody they might be questioned harshly, but in comparison to their previous fate it would be the very model of humane treatment. And US intelligence would get information. Wasn’t that win-win all around? What could be wrong with that?

Everything. President Bush failed to grasp what Bill Clinton intuitively knew: the political system had to keep the sight of its handiwork from the voters. Never let the voters know how sausage is made.  And none desired it more than the Left. The more they clamored to see, the more they really wanted not to see. They wanted the fairy-tale not the facts. It had ever been thus since the Leftist faithful believed that Lenin knew nothing of the Cheka dungeons even though they were the foundation of his power.

From 2011 the US custody of prisoners came under ceaseless political attack from European countries, left-wing “human rights” organizations and Democratic Party politicians like Barack Obama. Guantanamo Bay, arguably the place where prisoners had the most decent treatment ironically came under special fire, not because it was a place of special brutality but because it was out in the open.

Now it’s back in the dark so everybody can breathe easy again. It’s 2011 and Dana Priest and William Arkin write that the art of “taking people off the street” has risen to a whole new level. Today, the CIA kills thousands of people all over the world and nobody much cares because it never makes the headlines.

The CIA’s armed drones and paramilitary forces have killed dozens of al-Qaeda leaders and thousands of its foot soldiers. But there is another mysterious organization that has killed even more of America’s enemies in the decade since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

CIA operatives have imprisoned and interrogated nearly 100 suspected terrorists in their former secret prisons around the world, but troops from this other secret organization have imprisoned and interrogated 10 times as many, holding them in jails that it alone controls in Iraq and Afghanistan. …

The Defense Department has given JSOC a bigger role in nonmilitary assignments as well, including tracing the flow of money from international banks to finance terrorist networks. It also has become deeply involved in “psychological operations,” which it renamed “military information operations” to sound less intimidating. JSOC routinely sends small teams in civilian clothes to U.S. embassies to help with what it calls media and messaging campaigns.

When Obama came into office, he cottoned to the organization immediately. (It didn’t hurt that his CIA director, Leon E. Panetta, has a son who, as a naval reservist, had deployed with JSOC.) Soon Obama was using JSOC even more than his predecessor. In 2010, for example, he secretly directed JSOC troops to Yemen to kill the leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Arab Spring forced the White House to delay some JSOC missions. In the meantime, the organization is busy with its new 30,000-square-foot office building turned command center. Unlike previous offices, it is not in some obscure part of the world. It sits across the highway from the Pentagon in pristine suburban splendor, just a five-minute drive from McChrystal’s civilian office and the former general’s favorite beer-call restaurants.

As its name implies, the focus of Joint Special Operations Task Force-National Capital Region is not the next terrorist network but another of its lifelong enemies: the Washington bureaucracy. Some 50 battle-hardened JSOC warriors and a handful of other federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies work there.

Mexico is at the top of its wish list. So far the Mexican government, whose constitution limits contact with the U.S. military, is relying on the other federal agencies — the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — for intelligence collection and other help.


The Left pretends to crave morality. But what it really wants is hypocrisy. What Michael Scheuer didn’t comprehend when he objected to Clinton’s lies was the necessity to talk out of both sides of one’s mouth at once. He should have known that while it was factual to say “the Rendition Program has been the single most effective counterterrorism operation ever conducted by the United States government”  it was terribly politically incorrect. Rightness is wrongness in politics when it looks bad. Optics, Michael, optics. Scheuer could not comprehend what Bill Clinton intuitively knew — that people preferred to be lied to. Scheuer expressed puzzlement at European attitudes.

it is passing strange that European leaders are here today to complain about very successful and security enhancing U.S. Government counterterrorism operations, when their European Union (EU) presides over the earth’s single largest terrorist safe haven, and has done so for a quarter century. The EU’s policy of easily attainable political asylum and its prohibition against deporting wanted or convicted terrorists to country’s with the death penalty have made Europe a major, consistent, and invulnerable source of terrorist threat to the United States.

It was not strange, just calculatingly, cynically clever. The Europeans were free riders. They could enjoy safety and a good reputation too. By contrast, the CIA had to risk danger and were vilified into the bargain. The Europeans were smart. Clinton was smart. It was Scheuer who was stupid. It is still more evidence of his lack of media savvy that he should attack Dana Priest, who he described as ‘behaving disgracefully’ for attacking CIA personnel for carrying out instructions approved from the very top.

Dana Priest isn’t scurrilous. He just understands things better than Scheuer. You pretend to be outraged because it sells books, and you choose which side to spin to keep your access lines open. Scheuer wrote:

Let me be very explicit and precise on this point. Not one single al-Qaeda leader has ever been rendered on the basis of any CIA officer’s “hunch” or “guess” or “caprice.” These are scurrilous accusations that became fashionable after the Washington Post’s correspondent Dana Priest revealed information that damaged U.S. national security and, as result, won a journalism prize for abetting America’s enemies, and when such lamentable politicians as Senators McCain, Rockefeller, Graham, and Levin followed Ms. Priest’s lead and began to attack the men and women of CIA who had risked their lives to protect America under the direct orders of two U.S. presidents and with the full knowledge of the intelligence committees of the United States Congress. Both Ms. Priest and the gentlemen just mentioned have behaved disgracefully, and ought to publicly apologize to the CIA’s men and women who have executed the Rendition Program.


It will be a cold day in hell before anyone apologizes. What’s the difference between Bush and Obama? Obama is willing to lie to a grateful public — at least a sector of it — and many will fall at his feet for lying to them. It’s just like those girls who crave  bad boys who proclaim, as Blake Fielder-Civil once said of the deceased Amy Winehouse that “I’m only sad that love wasn’t enough”.

With someone saying those comforting words no one has to stay up nights wondering if this is the same guy who introduced you to drugs and may be leading you down the path to doom. Lies are useful things. Even the human rights activists can feel smug while subconsciously knowing they can sleep safe in their beds while the problem is taken ‘taken care of’.

It may be true that the current President is ordering more hits in foreign countries than any administration since World War 2 but its not in the papers, is it? At least not on the front pages. So nobody gives a damn. Should anybody care? After all, as Scheuer said, killing suspects in far away is way the best way of keeping everyone safe. His beef was that the politicians were never man enough to own up in daylight to what they ordered in the dark. But they’re politicians. They’re paid to lie. People like Scheuer on the other hand, are paid to take the rap.

Colonel Jessep in the movie a Few Good Men understood the problem perfectly, but not as perfectly as LTJG Daniel Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise. Jessep believed it was his job to keep everyone safe.  But Kaffee knew that that you had to do this under the cover of a lie. “You can’t handle the truth,” said Jessep. “Of course not,”  Kaffee should have said, “and for telling the truth, you’re going to go to jail.”

Daniel Kaffee: Jessep, did you order the Code Red?

Judge: You don’t have to answer that.

Col. Jessep: You want answers?

Kaffee: I want the truth!

Col. Jessep: You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world with walls that must be guarded.  Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have more responsibility than you can fathom.

You weep for Santiago and curse the Marines. You don’t know what I know. Santiago’s death, while tragic, saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque to you, saves lives!

But deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you need me on that wall, where we use words like honour, code, loyalty as the backbone of our lives. You use them as a punchline.

I haven’t the time or inclination to explain myself to a man who needs my protection ut questions the way I do it. Better just to thank me. Or pick up a gun and stand a post. But I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!

Kaffee: Did you order the Code Red?

Jessep: You’re goddamn right I did!

Kaffee (triumphantly): I suggest the jury be dismissed, and we move to an article a session.

Judge: MP’s, guard the colonel! You’ve the right to remain silent.

Jessep: I’m being charged with a crime?


Yes of course Jessep would be charged with a crime. And of course the Tom Cruise character rides off into the sunset to higher and better things. Maybe Bill Clinton was right; some voters want to be lied to. Is that the truth? Or can’t we handle it?

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