Ex-CIA Officials To New York Times: Don't Try To Hold The CIA Accountable. The CIA Will Hold The CIA Accountable.

from the w/special-guest-Michael-D'Andrea,-drone-strike-architect dept

Prominent alumni of the intelligence community have a problem with the New York Times publishing the name of the CIA's drone strike "architect." Although Michael D'Andrea's connection to the program had been sussed out nearly two years earlier and was apparently common knowledge to the governments of countries CIA drones launched from, the CIA still didn't want his name publicly disclosed. Their officials pushed New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet. He pushed back.

Now, a letter to the editor signed by 20 ex-CIA officials is arguing that Baquet was wrong to do so. The attendant irony of known "leakers" Leon Panetta and David Petraeus signing this indignant ode to CIA secrecy can't be allowed to pass without noting. Panetta handed off plenty of classified information, including names of personnel operating under "cover," to the makers of Zero Dark Thirty. Petraeus handed over eight notebooks full of sensitive info to his mistress/biographer. Both have escaped any serious repercussions for their actions. But they're righteously pissed that Baquet published the name of the person overseeing the CIA's drone strike program.

The letter is a mess. If it's meant to make a solid argument for members of media acquiescing to every government request to withhold information, it fails spectacularly. If anything, it helps demonstrate why those whose powers are shrouded by layers of opacity should be exposed more often.

When your lead-off acknowledges that you're more angry than informed, you're going to fail to land solid blows. Pointing to Dean Baquet's interview with the Lawfare blog in which he defended his actions, the 20 ex-CIA officials all agree they really haven't done their homework.

We profoundly disagree — not because we have analyzed this particular case (we have not), but because in our view he misstates the purpose of cover generally.
But rather than moving on to correcting this perceived error, the letter instead shifts to arguing that the law Baquet didn't violate should actually have been violated, if only Congress hadn't have screwed up more than three decades ago.
Congress overwhelmingly enacted the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 precisely to protect the dedicated men and women whose lives would be at risk if their names became widely publicized.

What Congress could not have anticipated at the time, of course, is that any name published in The Times would reside forever on the Internet, searchable by any terrorist with a laptop. It is true that certain foreign governments may know their names, but that is altogether different from making the name accessible to ISIS, Al Qaeda and every other murderer on the planet.
The law contains loopholes that apply to Baquet's actions, as Lawfare's Jack Goldsmith points out. These ex-officials are now stating these loopholes shouldn't apply. Because the Internet. And this assertion is backed up by the portrayal of said internet as infested with "every other murderer on the planet." This hyperbole is expected, as is the intelligence community's confidence that it -- and only it -- knows what Congress did or didn't foresee when passing laws related to surveillance and spycraft.

In this particular case, Congress couldn't have foreseen an easily-searchable internet when passing a 1982 law. Fair enough, I suppose, but governing entities like Congress and the judicial system are immediately granted Nostradamus-esque powers of foresight whenever it works to the advantage of the entities performing long-delayed interpretations of Congressional intent. This same "power" is revoked the moment it becomes inconvenient to those seeking expanded powers with a minimum of accountability.

The letter then goes on to claim the press has no business attempting to increase government accountability. It's doing a fine job of policing itself, thank you very much.
Officials who work on covert operations do not escape accountability. Their actions are carefully reviewed by the C.I.A.’s general counsel, the inspector general, White House officials, congressional overseers and Justice Department attorneys.
Would this be the same CIA general counsel that cleared the CIA of all wrongdoing in the Senate spying debacle? Are these the same DOJ attorneys who couldn't be bothered to examine the Senate's claims of CIA spying during the creation of the Torture Report? Is this the same government that finally admitted it was wrong to torture people but refused to hold anyone accountable for the CIA's abuse of detainees? Is this the same vaunted oversight that seemed constantly surprised by the programs detailed in Snowden's leaks?

"Oversight" is a word covert agencies use when they don't want anyone taking a closer look at their programs or operations. When these officials point to "oversight," all they're really pointing to is the skeletal framework that remains after years and years of deliberately weakening oversight standards and processes. No one believes the government has the capability -- much less the desire -- to hold these agencies accountable for their actions. And the agencies know this.

The New York Time's refusal to grant continued secrecy to the man behind the agency's transformation into an efficient, impersonal killing machine may not result in direct responses from the oversight these officials claim works oh so well, but at least it prevents them from pretending they have no idea who was behind the program.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 11:23am

    “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear."
    ― Harry S. Truman, Message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States, August 8, 1950

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 10:20pm

      Re:

      It's going to be a bloodbath when everything falls apart.

      Unless the economy falls to pieces first I suspect when they enforce gun confiscation and a repealing of the second amendment will trigger outright revolt.

      I hope this never happens as we really do not want to live through a war,nevermind how many seem gung ho to have one.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Groaker (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 11:34am

    The CIA has an absolute right to determine its own rules. Who are we peasants to decide whether the CIA is moral, patriotic, Constitution preserving, acts within the law, or carries on the drug trade?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Todd Shore (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 11:39am

    The laws has exemptions otherwise it would not have passed 1st Amendment scrutiny.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 11:58am

    ECPA

    Congress also failed to foresee how ineffective ECPA would be at preserving the privacy of protected electronic communications. By their argument, since Congress should have foreseen these problems, and would probably have written the law better if it had foreseen them, then the government ought to abide both by the letter of ECPA and the obvious spirit of the law. Thus, I look forward to them immediately denouncing government agencies that acquire communications in violation of the spirit of ECPA, notably the IRS and SEC, as well as denouncing those agencies for opposing Congressional attempts to amend the law to bring its actual text in line with what Congress back then should have done.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 12:49pm

    CIA is worried about what the AlQuai is doin? Joke of the year? Havent they been caught in bed together enough times?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DigDug, 14 May 2015 @ 1:01pm

    Wait for it...

    Until such time as the CIA proves that it holds itself accountable (and it hasn't even come close yet, or 98% of the CIA staff would be in gitmo), we shall hold them accountable. It is not only our right, it is required of us to control our government who only has power because we allow it to have power.

    The CIA has no power, the FBI has no power, the TSA has no power unless we allow them to have power.

    Next election, vote out every incumbent, and keep doing it until such time as the government we vote in reigns in these sociopathic alphabet organizations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 2:30pm

    "There is no need for you to worry, we are careful to watch our own, and prevent abuse of power..."

    ... said the fox to the chickens.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 8:11pm

    The assorted spy agencies now have records of, for example, the porn search history of every possible politician for the forseeable future. Democratic oversight of the alphabet agencies is dead; the NSA owns the US government now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 10:15pm

    held accountable with more promotions, stolen tax dollars and opportunities to torture main and murder foreign children.

    God bless a completely corrupt institution

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tom Czerniawski, 15 May 2015 @ 5:53am

    Fox guards the henhouse

    Considering the only CIA guy thrown in prison over the torture scandal was the guy who blew the whistle on it, while the actual torturers of human beings to death got promotions and fat bonuses... yeah, no.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Doesnt Matter, 15 May 2015 @ 2:33pm

    ase ref dew grd bgy tgh jby gkn hun cis fuk

    There will be some surprises for these kinds of views when GOD gets hold of everyone. Then we will see not too many will get away with anything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    That One Other Not So Random Guy, 15 May 2015 @ 5:39pm

    "Officials who work on covert operations do not escape accountability." Spits hours old cold coffee on desk.
    Uh huh... tell us moar, brah. we believe ya. (Winks.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    That One Other Not So Random Guy, 15 May 2015 @ 5:45pm

    Spits more coffee

    "Their actions are carefully reviewed by the C.I.A.’s general counsel, the inspector general, White House officials, congressional overseers and Justice Department attorneys."
    Except... when they are not, which is most of the time. Do these asshats actually think we believe what they tell us is the least bit true? They've long since lost credibility and trust. Anyone that still believes this is about Terror and not about control is living in fantasy land... How do I get there?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.