CIA Director John Brennan. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster.)
Settling in at the Central Intelligence Agency, Director John Brennan has some tough choices to make. An immediate one, according to an important article in The Washington Post, will be the fate of the agency’s clandestine services director (i.e., covert operations chief), who is tangled in the CIA’s past role as brutal interrogator and torturer.
But a more important, and longer range decision, is what Brennan will choose to do about the agency’s preoccupation, or obsession, with drones and with pursuing kinetic, counterterrorism actions as part of what is no longer called the “Global War on Terror.” The CIA’s too-heavy focus on military-type operations, drones and covert wars that have long since reached their sell-by dates has weakened, perhaps fatally, the CIA’s ability to actually find out stuff, and therefore inform the president of what’s happening around the world.
That’s the conclusion of an important new (classified) report prepared for the CIA by a panel of experts that included, significantly, Chuck Hagel, before he was named secretary of defense.
Let’s start with the unnamed woman who runs covert ops.
According to the Post:
[Earlier] a woman had been placed in charge of the CIA’s clandestine service for the first time in the agency’s history. She is a veteran officer with broad support inside the agency. But she also helped run the CIA’s detention and interrogation program after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and signed off on the 2005 decision to destroy videotapes of prisoners being subjected to treatment critics have called torture.
The woman, who remains undercover and cannot be named, was put in the top position on an acting basis when the previous chief retired last month. The question of whether to give her the job permanently poses an early quandary for Brennan, who is already struggling to distance the agency from the decade-old controversies.
Along with another covert ops chief, the person in question coauthored the decision to destroy videotape records of CIA-led interrogations at secret prisons in Thailand after 2001, says the paper.
Brennan needs to get rid of her, and fast, if he and President Obama are serious at all about clearing the air on CIA actions during the George W. Bush era and on the current mishmash of policies that govern drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and (soon, see below) Syria.