President Barack Obama’s CIA director, Leon Panetta, needed only one month to establish that he lacks the courage, contrariness, judgment, and political and intellectual independence to reform the Central Intelligence Agency.
It certainly appears that Obama’s admonition to look forward and not look behind, if applied to CIA, means that his administration is not interested in examining the errors and corruption of the past in order to reform the intelligence community in the future.
Even before receiving confirmation from the Senate intelligence committee, Panetta used his hearings to indicate that he was more than willing to do the company’s bidding. In telling the intelligence committee that he was a “creature of Congress,” Panetta reminded us of two other “creatures” of Congress who poorly managed the affairs of the CIA—former representative Porter Goss (R-FL), who politicized the institution, and intelligence staffer George Tenet, who told the president in 2002 that it would be a “slam dunk” to provide the White House with intelligence to justify going to war against Iraq.
The CIA’s politicization of intelligence has been authoritatively established, but Panetta signed on to the canard that CIA analysis was no different than the intelligence produced by other intelligence services around the world. Panetta thus ignored the Senate’s own investigation of CIA intelligence on Iraq that documented the misuse of intelligence in a report released in June 2008. Panetta’s second shortcoming was guaranteeing to the Senate intelligence committee that he would make no leadership changes at the CIA, even though he was taking charge of a political culture that has been dominated by the cover-up of key intelligence failures.
As a result, Panetta has left in place the deputy director of the CIA, Stephen Kappes, who was a leading figure in the operations directorate when the program of extraordinary renditions went into full swing; the introduction of the use of torture and abuse even before a memorandum from the Department of Justice sanctioned such measures; and the establishment of the secret prisons or “black sites” that the CIA used to conduct so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
If President Obama and Leon Panetta were serious about stopping torture and abuse as well as extraordinary renditions that led to torture and abuse in third world countries, then why would they not adjust the chain of command to remove those high-ranking individuals responsible for these measures.
Most recently, Panetta announced that former senator Warren Rudman (R-NH) would be the director’s special adviser on the Senate intelligence committee’s special inquiry of past practices in terrorist detention and interrogation. Panetta has established his own review group within the Agency but has prominently placed current members of the National Clandestine Service (NCS) in the group.
The NCS has been a major player in the culture of cover-up at the CIA, including the destruction of the 92 torture tapes that is currently being investigated by the FBI. Members of NCS would have a great interest in making sure that the Senate committee did not receive the worst of the evidence in this investigation. By placing Rudman as an intermediary between the review group and the Senate intelligence committee, Panetta has ensured himself that the most damaging information will never see the light of day. Rudman was the most active member of the Senate intelligence committee in trying to block CIA officials from testifying against the nomination of Robert Gates as CIA director in 1991.
Senator Rudman actually branded those few individuals willing to come forward as “McCarthyites” in an effort to marginalize their testimony and to make sure additional witnesses would not testify or submit written affidavits against Bob Gates. Panetta announced that Rudman has a “strong, bipartisan reputation” and naturally the press echoed that Rudman has a “strong, bipartisan reputation.” There is ample evidence of Rudman’s strong, even bellicose, partisan politicking over the years.
Panetta current has an opportunity to clarify whether he will use his stewardship as CIA director to reform the institution or to aid and abet the culture of cover-up. The inspector general of the CIA, John Helgerson, has just retired, and Panetta will play a major role in nominating the next inspector general, a position that requires Senate confirmation. Hopefully Panetta will nominate a lawyer with outstanding credentials who will prove to be a junkyard dog in ferreting out wrong doing at the CIA.
Recent evidence points to the greater possibility that Panetta will appoint a company man who will limit the investigation of possible crimes that were committed in the pursuit of torture and abuse, renditions policy, and the secret prisons. If so, we will lose one more opportunity to correct the errors of the past decade, and to place the CIA on the path to reform.
Originally published at The Public Record.
Melvin A. Goodman,a regular contributor to The Public Record, is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. He spent more than 42 years in the U.S. Army, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Defense. His most recent book is “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA.”