Obama and the CIA

by

The political embarrassments for President Barack Obama from the intelligence community, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, continue to mount, but there is no sign whatsoever that the president is interested in reversing the pattern.  The German government’s unprecedented expulsion of the CIA station chief in Berlin because of the unnecessary recruitment of two German national security officials should have been the kind of shot across the bow that would lead to a response from the Obama administration.  The fact that the president had no early warning of these awkward recruitments from CIA director John Brennan and that Brennan’s initial forays with the Germans were so clumsy only added to the embarrassment.

Brennan never should have been appointed CIA director in the first place.  During his campaign for the presidency in 2007-2008, Obama spoke out against the militarization and politicization of the intelligence community, and promised more transparency in the community and an end to intelligence abuses.  Nevertheless, before his election, Obama appointed an intelligence advisory staff that was headed by former associates of George Tenet, whose failed stewardship of the CIA included the phony intelligence that was used to justify the use of force against Iraq.  Tenet’s deputy, John McLaughlin, who supported CIA programs of renditions and detentions and helped to draft the spurious speech of Secretary of State Colin Powell to the UN in the run-up to the war, was part of the advisory group.  It was McLaughlin who delivered the infamous “slam dunk” briefing to President George H.W. Bush in January 2003.

Now, Attorney General Eric Holder, doing the bidding of his president, has blocked any investigation of the CIA’s obvious criminal behavior in removing sensitive documents from a computer used by the Senate intelligence committee to conduct legitimate oversight of CIA’s detention and interrogations policies.  The report of the intelligence committee documents the torture and abuse conducted by CIA staffers and contractors.  President Obama opposed these practices as a presidential candidate and has stated that he wants to make the committee’s 6,200-page report available to the public, but once again he has done nothing to make the report available.

President Obama needs to be reminded that President Harry S. Truman, who created the CIA in 1947 and the NSA in 1952, wrote a memorandum to himself and an Op-Ed for the Washington Post in December 1963 expressing his opposition to the emergence of the CIA as a “Cloak & Dagger Outfit.”  Truman emphasized that he never intended for the CIA to “initiate policy or to act as a spy organization,” but wanted an intelligence community that would keep the “President informed on what was going on in the world at large.”  He was particularly appalled with the introduction of covert actions in the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.  The CIA, moreover, is failing to provide the preemptory intelligence that Truman was seeking, failing in recent years to anticipate the Arab Spring in 2010-2011, the Islamist invasion of Iraq, and the Russian seizure of the Crimea.

The German Finance Minister offered the most apt description of CIA clandestine behavior in Germany, calling it “stupid.”  After all, the CIA was paying to collect information that would be available to any good Foreign Service Officer serving in Berlin.  “With so much stupidity, you can only weep,” said the Finance Minister.  “And that is why the chancellor (Angela Merkel) is not amused.”

There is little that President Obama can do about the intransigence of Israel, the sectarian fighting in Iraq, or the backwardness of Afghanistan.  But with a stroke of a pen, he could force the resignation of CIA director Brennan, appoint better leaders throughout the intelligence community, and demand the release of the Senate intelligence committee’s executive summary that documents the brutality of CIA’s interrogation techniques and exposes CIA lies to the White House, the Congress, and the American people about the so-called benefits of its renditions and detentions policies.  If the president wanted to roll back the misdeeds of the Bush administration, restore the rule of law at the CIA, and create the change that is needed, he must stop relying on senior officials such as John Brennan who endorsed the shameful acts of the past.

Melvin A. Goodman (and Carolyn McGiffert Ekedahl) are the co-authors of “The Wars of Eduard Shevardnadze” (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997).  Goodman is also the author of National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (City Lights Publishers, 2013).

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA,” “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism,” and the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: A Whistleblower at CIA” (City Lights Publishers, 2015).  Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal