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Posts Tagged ‘CIA’

There’s a word for this: bureaucracy.  The U.S. narrowly escaped a devastating airborne disaster on Christmas Day and today President Obama unveiled his plan to assure us that such things won’t happen again. Unfortunately, his plan is a plan “of bureaucrats for bureaucrats”.  It preserves the holy pecking order of the government civil service.  Information gleaned by operatives in the field is passed up the chain to be reviewed and analyzed by experts.  Judgments are made or not made.  Alerts are issued or not issued. Nothing has fundamentally changed.  The bureaucrats are happy. Order in the office has been preserved.

Consider a hypothetical case: you are in a public building and you see a fire in a corridor.  You look around for a fire alarm, but there are none.  You look for a fire extinguisher, but there are none. You run to a nearby office to tell someone about the fire, but you are told you have to stand in line if you want to make a report.  Fortunately, our real world isn’t like that.  Buildings have fire alarms and anyone can pull a fire alarm.  The first person who sees a fire can warn everyone and call the fire department at the same time. In the world of the CIA, DIA, DHS, and the unending list of government acronyms and abbreviations, there are no fire alarms. A CIA agent can’t pull one and warn the world about anything. It has to go through the system – a system that demonstrably does not work.

President Obama has issued a stern order: make the bureaucracy work better.  Right.  This isn’t going to work.

The President said the buck stops with him. That does not help.  It might sound good, like in the old Hollywood movies. But it doesn’t help.  No organization can be victorious with incompetent people manning critical positions.  Imagine that the New York Yankees lost the World Series last year and their manager said, “The buck stops with me. We are not planning to trade anyone. We’ll keep the same team, same positions for next year. I take full responsibility.” Right.  That’ll work.

Here is one simple piece of evidence: the father of the man who tried to blow up the plane told the CIA that his son had become radicalized and that he was a threat to the U.S. The CIA person who received this information should have been able to pull the fire alarm.  He should have been able to put this man on the Do Not Fly list in a heartbeat – maybe two heartbeats.  He should have been able to put this man on a bunch of other lists too, but he couldn’t.  That’s because our anti-terrorism system is a gigantic bureaucracy.  It can never be successful fighting an agile enemy like Al Qaeda. President Obama does not understand that. Neither does anyone else in the self-sustaining bureaucracy of the bloated U.S. government.

Meanwhile, it seems that the facts surrounding the whole underpants bomber incident are morphing as the government bureaucracy passes the papers back and forth from desk to desk.  Take a look at the official accounting of what happened on the plane. This was published today, just a few hours ago. It says that after the terrorist failed to set off the bomb that he was restrained by the flight crew until the plane landed.  Gee, that’s odd.  I thought I had heard that this Dutch guy had leaped over four seats and tackled the terrorist and put out the fire with his bare hands  and that everyone on the plane was cheering for him and calling him a hero. At least that’s what it said in the Washington Post a couple of days after the incident. So what ever happened to good old Jasper Schuringa, the guy who saved everyone? Why has President Obama studiously ignored him? No medals for heroism? No key to the city of Detroit from the Mayor? Nothing?  Not even a thank you?  Are we too embarrassed to admit that the plane was saved by a Dutch passenger and that if it wasn’t for him almost 300 people would have died?  So, officially, Jasper doesn’t exist anymore and it was the flight crew (the stewardesses?) who saved everyone?

The problem with the President’s approach is that it is the approach of a politician and a bureaucrat to a practical issue.  The bigger problem is that the President doesn’t realize that that is a problem.  The thing is this: the system in place is horribly flawed. It didn’t work. The system did not work and the people in the system who might have tried to override the system did not do so. These people are at fault. These people are the only ones who could have saved the day because the system, demonstrably, does not work. They failed. They should be replaced with people who are not afraid of taking decisive action. Instead the President has chosen to protect these failures in our system. He says the buck stops with him.  He doesn’t want to blame anyone.  Fair enough, President Obama, if that is the best you can do then maybe it is time for you to step down.  We don’t need a manager who can’t make the tough decisions, we don’t need Generals who deal in warmth and platitudes.  We need a hero who can cut the Gordian knot of our vast, and hamstrung, homeland security system and get the job done.  Many of us thought that you were that hero.  Now, I’m not so sure. My sword-wielding hero is looking more and more like an average politician. (Let’s not even get into the health thing.)

The answer to the murderous terrorism of Al Qaeda will never, ever be found in protecting incompetent civil servants or in papering over the byzantine workings of Washington bureaucrats. Don’t we all know that?  Mr. President, don’t you know that?

I know, Mr. President, that you are fond of quoting President Truman when you say: “The buck stops here”, but Mr. President, you need to make major structural changes in our homeland security system.   The system does not work well enough.  Surely, you can see that.  If you would just rather not get entangled in such a messy affair, perhaps you might also ponder another one of President Truman’s quotes: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”.

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The stories are everywhere.  Dick Cheney ordered the CIA not to tell Congress what they were doing with respect to a particular assignment they had been given by him. It seems that the Dark Lord felt he couldn’t trust the members of Congress to keep this darkest of secrets.  Maybe Dick felt that the Congressional people weren’t loyal enough Americans – at least not as loyal as he is.  Or maybe he felt that they couldn’t be entrusted with information so essential to the security of the country. After all, they were only the elected representatives of the people of the United States.  The problem is that there is a law that requires the President to disclose to the appropriate Congressional committees just what covert actions are being taken by the CIA or any other government agency.

The law also says that in extraordinary circumstances the reporting can be limited to just a few individuals in Congress, such as the Chairmen of the Intelligence committees, the Speaker of the House, and so forth.  There is no provision in this law for the President to just keep Congress completely in the dark about any covert action.

Here are a couple of things to consider: 1. What is the role of the Vice President regarding the CIA, according to the Constitution of the United States? That’s pretty simple – he has no role. The Vice-President, under the Constitution has virtually no authority to do anything.  He is the President-in-waiting in case something happens to the real President.  That doesn’t mean he can’t do things on behalf of the President – like carry messages and so forth. But the important thing is that when doing so, he is speaking on behalf of the President.  The Vice-President is not empowered to do anything – except be President of the Senate and vote when there is a tie.  He has no other legal authority.  So, did Dick Cheney authorize or order the CIA not to talk to Congress? He couldn’t authorize such a thing.  If he ordered it, he was ordering it on behalf of President Bush – he was just the messenger.

2. Does the President have the authority to tell the CIA not to divulge covert activities to Congress?  No, he doesn’t. The law is clear. If he thinks the situation warrants it, he can limit the number of people who are informed; however, he has to tell some stipulated members of Congress, otherwise he is in violation of the law.

3. What was the CIA doing that was such a dark secret that only the Dark Lord could know about it? Did they have a super secret plan to assassinate the leaders of Al Qaeda? Was that the darkest of dark secrets that no one could ever know about – especially Congress?  I don’t think so. Wasn’t it fairly obvious when we started carpet bombing Afghanistan with B-52 bombers after 9/11 that we wanted to kill someone? After all these years of taking potshots at suspected Al Qaeda types with Predator drones wouldn’t the Al Qaeda guys have figured out that we were out to kill them?  If we had made a public announcement that besides the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force who were gunning for Al Qaeda that we were also unleashing a couple of guys from the CIA, would that have made any difference to Al Qaeda?  Would they have then suddenly figured out that we were trying to kill them by any means possible?  I don’t buy it.

It does seem that the Dark Lord ordered the CIA not to talk to Congress about something they were doing.  It also seems to me that he had no right to do so, and that he violated the law – once again (I’m referring to the torture thing here, of course).  Of course, a lot of this would never have happened if Congress had any backbone and stood up to Bush and Cheney long ago, instead of just looking the other way. Perhaps now it is finally time for Congress to stand up and do its job.  It’s time for a real and thorough Congressional investigation into what the Dark Lord was doing all those years.  If our elected representatives can’t get up the gumption to do that then we would be forced to admit a terrible truth – we have a pretty sorry excuse for a government.

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Here’s what I’m wondering: When CIA Director Leon Panetta told Congress last month that he and the CIA had lied to Congress in the past, was he lying or telling the truth?  When an agency that is charged with providing information also gets into the disinformation business, how do you know which product is being provided to you, since they are expert at both? And if you know they have lied to you, how do you know you can trust them ever again?

The question to be asked is this: has the CIA, as a result of its complete loyalty to the regal Bush administration and thereby its participation in the cover-up of torture, as well as the providing of completely false information that was used to justify the Iraq War, become “beyond salvage”? Or can the CIA be fixed, and if so how do we fix it and even more, how do we confirm that it is fixed?

Things shouldn’t be like this.  The Central Intelligence Agency was created for a definite mission that is necessary for the defense of America.  For more than half a century the CIA has provided invaluable service to many Presidents and to the country.  It’s stated mission and goals are lofty and admirable. So what went wrong? How can it be that one of our most dedicated, pro-American, self-sacrificing organizations finds itself cross-threaded with the United States House of Representatives and maybe the Senate too?

The fundamental problem lies not with the CIA.  The CIA has tried to follow what it has been told is the chain of command, and it has done so to a fault.  They just followed orders, like good clandestine soldiers.  However, in this case, there was no other possible outcome because there is a fundamental flaw in the way our government is structured.  The CIA serves the President of the United States. They take orders from the President – not the House of Representatives and not the Senate.  However, the Congress does have oversight responsibility of the CIA, i.e, they have the authority to know what is going on in case some laws are being broken and so forth. But what happens if the President tells the CIA not to tell Congress what is going on? What if the President tells the CIA to lie to Congress?  Then whose orders do they follow, the President’s or those of Congress?  I believe we have excellent illustration here of the truth of the saying, “No man can serve two masters.”

It appears that the CIA Director Leon Panetta chose to follow the orders of the President.  Oh, wait.  Are you thinking that maybe George or Dick wasn’t involved? Could it be that good clandestine soldier Leon was just deceiving Congress for the Hell of it????  Was he just going rogue????  Right.

A Congressional investigation is almost sure to happen now.  Isn’t it? I mean how could Congress not try to find out exactly what went wrong? Surely they want to know.  Don’t they? They’re not afraid of what they’ll find are they?

The problem with the CIA trying to satisfy two masters is not unusual.  The same is true for the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force.  They all have a Commander in Chief, i.e. the President, and they all serve him too. This also includes all the civil servants who make up a good part of our government work force. In fact, not too many people report to Congress, do they? Which is probably why there is so much unhappiness among civil servants when a Congressman or Senator writes language in a Bill instructing money to be spent on some project that wasn’t in the “President’s budget”. It’s like the Civil Servants believe that the Congress has no right to participate in these decisions.  Except that it does. It’s in the Constitution.  It’s the way our government is structured. Checks and balances and so forth so we won’t have any more tyrants like King George.

Yes, although it makes a lot of government employees very unhappy, Congress does have a say.  It does have authority. Our President is not a monarch – something George Bush and Dick Cheney never quite realized.  It seems that these two characters happily manipulated the system, taking advantage of the delicate relationship between the powers of the Executive and the Congress…..  Actually, they just steamrolled Congress, let’s face it.  They got away with everything they wanted and they had people, like CIA Director Panetta, do the dirty work for them.  Like lying to Congress, I’m guessing. I know – it’s a wild and crazy guess.

Now, I suppose Panetta will pay the price for his loyalty to King George Bush.  On the other hand, if he didn’t lie to Congress, he probably would have lost his job a long time ago. (If my tenuous hypothesis is right, of course) Basically Leon was in a lose – lose situation from the beginning, he just didn’t know it.  He thought he was doing his job, being loyal to the King… uh..President.  The real problem was that the President and Vice President didn’t seem to be too loyal to the people or the Constitution, and so we were all in a lose – lose situation. And now, like Leon, we have to pay the price too.

But what about my original question? Can we trust the CIA? Yes, of course we can – just as much as we trust our President, no more and no less.

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