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Are Presidents Afraid of the CIA?

By       Message Ray McGovern     Permalink
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In the past I have alluded to Panetta and the Seven Dwarfs. The reference is to CIA Director Leon Panetta and seven of his moral-dwarf predecessors--the ones who sent President Barack Obama a letter on Sept. 18 asking him to "reverse Attorney General Holder's August 24 decision to re-open the criminal investigation of CIA interrogations."

Panetta reportedly was also dead set against reopening the investigation--as he was against release of the Justice Department's "torture memoranda" of 2002, as he has been against releasing pretty much anything at all--the President's pledges of a new era of openness, notwithstanding. Panetta is even older than I, and I am aware that hearing is among the first faculties to fail. Perhaps he heard "error" when the President said "era."

As for the benighted seven, they are more to be pitied than scorned. No longer able to avail themselves of the services of clever Agency lawyers and wordsmiths, they put their names to a letter that reeked of self-interest--not to mention the inappropriateness of asking a President to interfere with an investigation already ordered by the Attorney General.

Three of the seven--George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden--were themselves involved, in one way or another, in planning, conducting, or covering up all manner of illegal actions, including torture, assassination, and illegal eavesdropping. In this light, the most transparent part of the letter may be the sentence in which they worry: "There is no reason to expect that the re-opened criminal investigation will remain narrowly focused."

When asked about the letter on the Sunday TV talk shows on Sept. 20, Obama was careful always to respond first by expressing obligatory "respect" for the CIA and its directors. With Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, though, Obama did allow himself a condescending quip. He commented, "I appreciate the former CIA directors wanting to look out for an institution that they helped to build."

That quip was, sadly, the exception to the rule. While Obama keeps repeating the mantra that "nobody is above the law," there is no real sign that he intends to face down Panetta and the Seven Dwarfs--no sign that anyone has breathed new life into federal prosecutor John Durham, to whom Holder gave the mandate for further "preliminary investigation." What is generally forgotten is that it was former Attorney General Michael Mukasey who picked Durham two years ago to investigate CIA's destruction of 91 tapes of the interrogation of "high-value detainees."

Durham had scarcely been heard from when Holder added to Durham's job-jar the task of conducting a preliminary investigation regarding the CIA torture specialists. These are the ones whose zeal led them to go beyond the already highly permissive Department of Justice guidelines for "harsh interrogation."

Durham, clearly, is proceeding with all deliberate speed (emphasis on "deliberate"). Someone has even suggested--I trust, in jest--that he has been diverted to the search for the money and other assets that Bernie Maddow stashed away.

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In any case, do not hold your breath for findings from Durham anytime soon. Holder appears in no hurry. And President Obama keeps giving off signals that he is afraid of getting crosswise with the CIA--that's right, afraid.

Not Just Paranoia

In that fear, President Obama stands in the tradition of a dozen American presidents. Harry Truman and John Kennedy were the only ones to take on the CIA directly. Worst of all, evidence continues to build that the CIA was responsible, at least in part, for the assassination of President Kennedy. Evidence new to me came in response to things I included in my article of Dec. 22, "Break the CIA in Two."

What follows can be considered a sequel that is based on the kind of documentary evidence after which intelligence analysts positively lust.

Unfortunately for the CIA operatives who were involved in the past activities outlined below, the temptation to ask Panetta to put a SECRET stamp on the documentary evidence will not work. Nothing short of torching the Truman Library might conceivably help. But even that would be a largely feckless "covert action," copy machines having long since done their thing.

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In my article of Dec. 22, I referred to Harry Truman's op-ed of exactly 46 years before, titled "Limit CIA Role to Intelligence," in which the former President expressed dismay at what the Central Intelligence Agency had become just 16 years after he and Congress created it.

The Washington Post published the op-ed on December 22, 1963 in its early edition, but immediately excised it from later editions. Other media ignored it. The long hand of the CIA?

Truman wrote that he was "disturbed by the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment" to keep the President promptly and fully informed and had become "an operational and at times policy-making arm of the government."

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)

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