Chris Whipple has written a story at Politico offering a long teaser of the upcoming Showtime documentary The Spymasters. He and two colleagues spent more than a hundred hours interviewing the 12 living CIA directors, with considerable focus on the 9/11 attacks. Although the overall picture of failure by the administration to prevent the attacks has long been known, the story and documentary provide some added details. The key detail is that the warnings the Bush White House received from the CIA in the summer of 2001 were a lot more chilling than the infamous August 6 presidential daily brief. Writes Whipple:
[George] Tenet vividly recalls the [July 10] White House meeting with Rice and her team. (George W. Bush was on a trip to Boston.) “Rich [Blee] started by saying, ‘There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al Qaeda's intention is the destruction of the United States.’" [Condi said:] ‘What do you think we need to do?’ Black responded by slamming his fist on the table, and saying, ‘We need to go on a wartime footing now!’”
But, as Marcy Wheeler says at her emptywheel blog, these dozen CIA men constitute a collection of paid liars. Figuring out how much of what they say is true and how much of it is half-true and how much is totally fabricated is not easy. Not to mention, Wheeler says, the “myths and score-settling” that emerges in such interviews. This doesn’t however, make what they say uninteresting. Writes Whipple:
What’s the CIA’s mission? Is it a spy agency? Or a secret army? “Sometimes I think we get ourselves into a frenzy—into believing that killing is the only answer to a problem,” says [George] Tenet. “And the truth is, it’s not. That’s not what our reason for existence is.” When [David] Petraeus became CIA director, his predecessor, [Michael] Hayden took him aside. Never before, Hayden warned him, had the agency become so focused on covert military operations at the expense of intelligence gathering. “An awful lot of what we now call analysis in the American intelligence community is really targeting,” Hayden says. “Frankly, that has been at the expense of the broader, more global view. We’re safer because of it, but it has not been cost-free. Some of the things we do to keep us safe for the close fight—for instance, targeted killings—can make it more difficult to resolve the deep fight, the ideological fight. We feed the jihadi recruitment video that these Americans are heartless killers.”
Wheeler notes in her analysis:
This is, of course, the counterpoint to Hayden’s claim that “we kill people based on metadata.” But it says much more: it describes how we’re viewing the world in terms of targets to kill rather than people to influence or views to understand. Hayden argues that prevents us from seeing the broader view, which may include both theaters where we’re not actively killing people but also wider trends.
One other bit from the Politico piece is this rancid declaration from one of the chief liars, Tenet:
“In the period right after 9/11, we did some things wrong,” said Barack Obama. “We tortured some folks. We did things that were contrary to our values.” Jose Rodriguez, who oversaw the CIA’s so-called enhanced interrogation program (EIT), has a two-word reply: “That’s bullshit.” Tenet concurs. “People are throwing the word ‘torture’ around—as if we're torturers,” he complains. “Well, I'm not ever gonna accept the use of the word ‘torture’ for what happened here.” From sleep deprivation to waterboarding, Tenet and his lieutenant Rodriguez insist the techniques were all approved—by everybody.
Yes, as we’ve known for some time, even George W. Bush signed off on these. But Tenet’s view is that what happened was not torture, that what was done at secret sites to people grabbed off the streets or turned in by neighbors with a grudge was perfectly reasonable because they were okayed by government lawyers and stamped with the nation’s highest imprimatur. To quote Jose Rodriguez: That’s bullshit. Tenet and those who accept this point of view that torture isn’t torture because the U.S. says so are unfit for positions of power. Keeping them out of such positions, however, remains profoundly problematic.