What we learned from Seymour Hersh 3.

Between the end of the Cold War and 9/11, the C.I.A. had declined in some areas while growing stronger in other areas. The areas of its strength did not match well with the immediate needs of counter-terrorism. The areas of its weakness were just those areas where competence was in high demand. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld[1] knew very well the weaknesses of the C.I.A. because he had served on several task forces on intelligence during the previous Bush and Clinton administrations. It would take several years to bring the C.I.A. back to full strength. The terrorists were not going to wait in a neutral corner until the Americans got back on their feet and the referee allowed the fight to continue. If the C.I.A. could not fill the leadership role, then some other organization would have to lead.

Very soon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld began to press for “the civilian leadership in the Pentagon, and not the C.I.A., [to get] the lead in fighting terrorism.” (p. 17.) What Rumsfeld wanted was “to get the U.S. Special Forces community into the business of what he called…”manhunts,”…” (p. 16.)

Immediately following 9/11, Rumsfeld ordered General Charles Holland[2], commander of Special Operations, to come up with a list of known terrorist targets for immediate attack. (p. 265.) In October 2001, numerous cases occurred where either Air Force pilots or Special Forces teams were prevented from striking at suspected Al Qaeda targets by various bureaucratic and/or legalistic restrictions. (pp. 48-49.) At about the same time, Holland provided a list, but warned that there was a dearth of “actionable intelligence” to support any rapid attack. (p. 266.) Rumsfeld suggested that Special Operations be made a “global command” directly under the command of the Secretary of Defense, with responsibility for all military operations against terrorists. (p. 271.)

In late 2001 or early 2002, President George W. Bush signed a legally required “finding” that authorized the Department of Defense to create a special unit to attack Al Qaeda. Henceforth, Hersh identifies this program as the SAP (for “special access program”).[3] (p. 16.) This “highly secret program….was given blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate high-value targets…..The program would recruit operatives and acquire the necessary equipment, including aircraft, and would keep its activities under wraps.” (p. 49.) “In theory, the operation enabled the Bush Administration to respond immediately to time-sensitive intelligence: commandos crossed borders without visas and could interrogate terrorism suspects deemed too important to for transfer to the military’s facilities at Guantanamo. They carried out instant interrogations, often with the help of foreign intelligence services—using force if necessary—at secret C.I.A. detention centers scattered around the world. [4] The intelligence would be relayed to the SAP command center in the Pentagon in real time, and sifted for those pieces of information critical to the “white,” or overt world.” (p. 50.) In July 2002 Rumsfeld ordered General Holland, commander of Special Operations, “to develop a plan to find and deal with members of terrorist organizations…The objective is to capture terrorists for interrogations or, if necessary, to kill them, not simply to arrest them in a law-enforcement exercise.” (p. 265.)

The Defense Department was going to collect and analyze intelligence on terrorism.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Rumsfeld

[2] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_R._Holland

[3] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_access_program The Wikipedia entry illustrates some of Hersh’s problems. There are a host of “Special Access Programs.”

[4] On the “black sites,” see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_site

What we learned from Seymour Hersh 1.

Seymour Hersh (1937- ) is an investigative journalist and—on occasion—a Holland Tunnel of an ass-hole in the eyes of American government officials. His parents were Lithuanian Jews who got to the United States before the Holocaust. He got a BA in History at the University of Chicago, then drifted into reporting. His politics leaned left and he was hard to corral.[1] His first big break came when he broke the story of My Lai (1969). Then he worked in the Washington bureau of the New York Times during the Watergate events (after which he wrote a highly critical book about Henry Kissinger). More books critical of American foreign policy followed. Hersh became controversial not only for his sharp stabs at alleged government wrong-doing, but for his use of anonymous sources. Richard Perle called Hersh the “closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist.” Hersh has won five George Polk Awards for investigative journalism and a Pulitzer Prize. In 2004, Hersh published a book on the enormities arising from the intersection of intelligence and policy-making in the run-up to the Second Gulf War.[2] What did we learn?

After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the CIA had gone into a steep decline. One factor in this decline had been the change in the nature of the target. CIA case officers were overwhelmingly European-language speakers used to suborning treason on the part of Soviet bloc officials while operating under diplomatic cover. The implosion of the Soviet target and the liberation of the eastern European satellites had rendered most of these men redundant. Emerging dangers in the post-Cold War scene were difficult to identify with certainty; it was even more difficult to create new cadres of officers to deal with these dangers. These factors led to a considerable decline in the over-all number of Operations Directorate officers, rather than a shift of human resources to new targets. Instead, there took place a shift of resources from gathering human intelligence to gathering signals intelligence and remote observation. To compensate for the loss of case officers, the Directorate of Operations shifted to relying upon liaison relationships with foreign intelligence services. (pp. 76-77.)

Later, in 1995, the public revelation that the CIA had employed a Guatemalan involved with the death squads as an informant led to an order that “assets” who might be considered to have criminal or humans rights problems in their records could only be recruited with prior approval of CIA headquarters in Langley. Hundreds of existing agents all around the globe were simply dumped and new ones rarely recruited. (pp. 79-81.) One case officer of the time fumed to Seymour Hersch that “Look, we recruited assholes. I handled bad guys. But we don’t recruit people from the Little Sisters of the Poor—they don’t know anything.” Bob Baer recalled that “It did make the workday a lot easier. I just watched CNN.” (Hersh, p. 81.)

By 9/11 the C.I.A. lacked the personnel to respond effectively. In summer 2001–before the 9/11 attacks–former Middle Eastern case officer Reuel Marc Gerecht warned of the dangers in an article in The Atlantic Monthly. He quoted officers saying things like “For Christ’s sake, most case officers live in the suburbs of Virginia….Operations that include diarrhea as a way of life don’t happen.” (Quoted, p. 77.) As one now-retired clandestine service officer put it to Hersh, the decision-making was dominated by people who “wouldn’t drive to a D.C. restaurant at night because they were afraid of the crime problem.” (Quoted, p. 81.) So, that’s concerning.

[1] D’un: the highly-educated child of Jewish immigrant parents living in Chicago. Gene McCarthy’s press secretary in 1968.

[2] Seymour Hersh, Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib (HarperCollins, 2004) based on a series of New Yorker pieces.