Attacking Intelligence

President Kennedy famously threatened to break the CIA into a thousand pieces. He was quoted by the New York Times. There is some dispute about the quote. The late Vincent Bugliosi, by then a famed former prosecutor, researched, but was unable to find any witness who heard those words.

It was no secret that the President was angry at being deliberately misled by his intelligence team. They had been committed to the overthrow of the Castro regime in Cuba. Their reports were a major factor in convincing him to secretly support a group of Cuban exiles who landed at the Bay of Pigs on the shore of Cuba.

Kennedy had, from the first, insisted that overtly assisting the exiled dissidents would endanger US interests and increase the possibility of war. He completely ruled it out and made sure his top planners knew it. He made especially certain the CIA knew it.

No US forces. Period.

As the plan to overthrow Castro unraveled, it became evident to Kennedy that the head of the CIA had his team manufacture false information calculated to force the administration to commit US forces. Operatives had even promised the exiles that Kennedy would do exactly that.

When he didn’t commit US troops or air power, Cuban lives were lost.

The relationship between Washington officials and the intelligence service has often been contentious.

In 1949, State Department intelligence experts predicted the fall of Nationalist China to communist forces led by Mao Zedong. Conservatives didn’t want to hear it.

When Mao actually did take over the largest country on earth, with 20% of the world’s population, conservatives went after the State Department’s “China hands.” Specialists on China were soon purged from the State Department.

Experts in the CIA were lucky, by comparison. The head of the CIA was Allen Dulles, whose anti-communist credentials were unchallenged. He was able to protect his employees from the conservative purges that focused on other parts of government.

But Dulles misled John Kennedy. Breaking up the CIA never happened. But Dulles deserved breaking and he soon lost his position.

Four decades later, the Bush/Cheney administration pushed the CIA to get evidence, by torture if necessary, that might show that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was in league with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda. Vice President Cheney was especially determined to show that Iraq has sponsored the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

On the surface, the charge was an absurdity. Hussein was Sunni, as was bin Laden. al Qaeda was dedicated to killing off as many Shiite Muslims as they could. And Hussein treated the Shia in Iraq with remarkable brutality. But the parallels ended there. It would be hard to be more secular than Hussein. The mutual disdain between the Iraqi dictator and the terrorist religious group was intense.

Torture is not a good method at finding truth. Too many false leads come from desperate pain. But torture can be remarkably effective in producing confessions. A thousand years of the use of torture has convicted the innocent of everything from witchcraft to war crimes.

In this case, even torture could not produce the evidence conservatives wanted. At least not evidence of Iraq’s involvement in using aircraft filled with innocent passengers to bring down buildings filled with innocent occupants.

But the head of the CIA at the time, George Tenet, promised that he could make the case that Iraq was about to get nuclear weapons. He called it a “slam dunk.” Connecting the image of falling towers in New York City with Saddam Hussein in Iraq turned out not to be convincing. But the image of a possible mushroom cloud over New York could be compelling.

The administration scattered misinformation like pixie dust throughout American media sources. The illusion of corroboration was effective. Mushroom clouds were on everyone’s mind.

When a former Ambassador did his own research and found the mushroom cloud theory to be full of falsehoods, the Bush/Cheney administration went on the attack. His wife was a vulnerable secret operative working for the CIA in other countries without the protection of any diplomatic cover. The administration blew the secret cover of Valerie Plame, exposing everyone in other countries who had ever helped her. The warning to other CIA personnel was clear. Cooperate or be exposed.

But contentious as the relationship has sometimes been, the role of intelligence has been essential. How often CIA intelligence has helped American Presidents avoid nuclear war is not knowable.

…presidents from Harry Truman to George H. W. Bush have been advised by military commanders to use nuclear weapons, but presidents have refused.

Joseph Cirincione, Ploughshares Fund

During the 1962 missile crisis, President Kennedy found the CIA to be an invaluable resource, determining how much time he had to pressure the Soviet Union into getting nuclear weapons out of Cuba.

When Presidents refuse to hear the information gathered by intelligence services, the results can be tragic.

In early August 2001, the daily intelligence briefing provided to George W. Bush was dismissed by the President. The item on terrorism was entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The reaction of President Bush was derisive. “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” The next month America was under attack.

Current events continue the pattern. Officials in the Trump campaign team have attacked the CIA for revealing how Russia had assisted his Presidential campaign with a program of computer hacks and disinformation.

These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Statement from the Transition Team, December 9, 2016

Separately, he has refused to sit through most of the daily intelligence briefings that have been compiled and summarized for him.

I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.

Donald Trump, December 11, 2016

We begin the administration with a President who believes an intelligence briefing is intended to make him intelligent.

The CIA has been assailed by liberals and denounced by conservatives. But the equivalence ends there. Liberals have criticized intelligence operations for their failures, and for allowing themselves to be used to misinform the American public. Kennedy’s anger in 1961 at being misled parallels liberal reaction after the invasion of Iraq.

Conservative attacks have been ideological. From the anti-China purges of 1949 through the Valerie Plame affair to the Trump campaign, they have disparaged intelligence operations for revealing what conservatives deeply feel ought not to be true.

Liberals have attacked US intelligence for being wrong, and for doing wrong.

Conservatives attack US intelligence for being right.

Mr. Trump attacks US intelligence as unneeded, because he is intelligent enough already.

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3 thoughts on “Attacking Intelligence”

  1. I agree with you that Trump is irresponsible and a fool for not partaking in daily intelligence briefings. That does not bode well for his presidency.

    Regarding the Valerie Plame nonsense, well I addressed this four years ago on my site.

    The relevant part follows below:

    In July of 2003 Robert Novak had an article published in the New York Times that created quite an uproar because it supposedly outed a CIA operative by the name of Valerie Plame. This was done, so the left theorized, in retaliation by the White House for Plame’s husband, Joe Wilson, having had the temerity to tell about the administration’s attempt to “manufacture evidence to gin up support for going to war in Iraq”.

    The fact was that Wilson’s “fact-finding mission” to Niger to determine whether Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was trying to acquire yellowcake uranium from them had enormous holes and contradictory statements in his report on the trip. Indeed, The Iraq Intelligence Commission and the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that many of Wilson’s claims were incorrect. Further, the Senate report stated that Wilson’s report actually bolstered rather than detracted from intelligence about the purported sale of uranium to Iraq. To this day, British Intelligence stands by the claim that Saddam Hussein did indeed attempt to acquire such material from Niger.

    With all of that said and done, the progressive mainstream media nonetheless had a field day regarding the supposedly “politically-motivated” security leaks regarding the outing of a CIA agent. Indeed the New York Times ran no less than 521 articles suggesting it was wrong of the White House, and presidential advisor Karl Rove in particular, to divulge such information. So vexed were the Democrats that Bush’s Attorney General John Ashcroft saw to it that a special counsel by the name of Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate the case in depth. Mr. Fitzgerald though seemed more bent on finding Republicans in the administration to skewer rather than any real interest in finding out who was the actual source of the leak. Indeed he was told at the very beginning of his investigation that a high ranking State Department official who was critical of the Bush administration’s foreign policy by the name of Richard Armitage was the source of the leak that outed Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA agent. Fitzgerald proceeded with the investigation anyway in the hope of trying to find any sort of malfeasance on behalf of such possible trophies as Karl Rove or possibly even Vice President Dick Cheney himself. What he ended up with was a perjury conviction of Cheney’s assistant Scooter Libby for statements that really weren’t even particularly pertinent to the leaking of Plame’s identity from Armitage.

    In September of that year, Novak stated, “Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. There is no great crime here,” adding that while he learned from two administration officials that Plame was a CIA employee, “[The CIA] asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else. According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative and not in charge of undercover operators.”

    The case was closed. The left was disappointed that they were unable to catch a bigger fish in the “scandal” than Scooter Libby, and they decried that national security was weakened because an agent who was not working undercover and who was widely known in the DC cocktail circuit had her identity proclaimed to the world for purely crass political reasons.

  2. So why, apart from “purely crass political reasons” was Plame’s name revealed, pray tell?

    Seymour Hersch reported:

    Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna, told the U.N. Security Council that the documents involving the Niger-Iraq uranium sale were fakes. “The I.A.E.A. has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents . . . are in fact not authentic,” ElBaradei said.

    One senior I.A.E.A. official went further. He told me, “These documents are so bad that I cannot imagine that they came from a serious intelligence agency. It depresses me, given the low quality of the documents, that it was not stopped. At the level it reached, I would have expected more checking.”

    Fake. Fake documents. Just like the lie about “nukular aluminum tubes”… which were not. Like the lies about “biological labs”..which were not. Like the lies about Saddam in cahoots with al-Qaeda, which never happened.

    “an agent who was not working undercover and who was widely known in the DC cocktail circuit” according to whom? False. Entirely unsupported by evidence.

    “[The CIA] asked me not to use her name” But he went ahead anyway to teach them a lesson on dissent against the war monger liars. Exactly how “purely crass political reasons” are employed.

    “adding that while he learned from two administration officials” Rove for certain, and likely Dick “Fair Game” Cheney. Toadie Libby lied to protect Dick.

    July 8, 2003: White House Admits Error over Iraq-Niger Uranium Claim
    The White House, after much discussion and argument among senior advisers , issues a vaguely worded admission that President Bush and his top officials erred in claiming that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger. A senior, unnamed White House official says that Bush should not have made the claim by saying: “Knowing all that we know now, the reference to Iraq’s attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech.… There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa. However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made.” The statement is authorized by the White House.

    “Ms. Plame’s relationship with this Agency, as a covert CIA officer, was a classified piece of information.” CIA Director Michael Hayden

    But what does he know? He’s not FOX/Limbaugh/TP.

    This is small beans compared to the looming treasonous rule of the Trump Cartel.

  3. As always, you presented an insightful piece.

    The one thing I take issue with is this:

    “In 1949, State Department intelligence experts predicted the fall of Nationalist China to communist forces led by Mao Zedong. Conservatives didn’t want to hear it.”

    I think Truman (and his state department) didn’t want to hear it. He would not commit military support of the Nationalist Party. Additionally, he went so far as to refuse to allow the Nationalists to help when China invaded Korea on behalf of the North, because he did not want to appear to be allying with Chiang kai shek (sp?), lest the Soviet Union union ally with Mao.

    Many conservatives of that era condemned Truman as “turning China over to the communists.”

    I will say, that in all likelihood, Truman averted World War III. I am not criticizing his foreign policy. I am merely stating that if anyone could be perceived as “not wanting to hear it,” it was the Truman state department, and general George Marshall specifically. He wanted to “settle” the China conflict, but did not want any semblance of intervention.

    Conservatives used this against Truman. I would never say, they didn’t want to hear it.” I think they loved hearing it.

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