The CIA: Judged for Yesterday’s Actions by Tomorrow’s Moral Standards

December 11, 2014

Four years ago former Bush speech writer, Marc A. Thiessen, in his book Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe, provided a thundering response to critics of the CIA’s interrogation practices post 9-11.  In the wake of the attack on CIA practices, the writer laid out a clear, lucid case for the intelligence agency in its efforts to glean information about impending attacks from prisoners that the United States had abducted in its wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

In his book he details how the CIA,  after first obtaining legal authority and political backing for its interrogation techniques, undertook the effort to force information from its prisoners with great caution and having successfully done so, uncovered  some vital leads on future plots that al Qaeda never had the chance to execute.

But for at least eight years, these same CIA practices have come under remorseless assault by the Obama Administration and from Democrats in Congress.  That campaign came to a head this week when the Obama Administration released the Senate’s Investigation into CIA Interrogation Practices, a report, five years in the making and which had been finalized in 2013.  In that report the Democratic majority( with no Republican in the bi-partisan committee signing on to it) , found that the harsh CIA interrogation techniques had been unwarranted; that they had not resulted in any leads which contributed to national security and that the CIA  had operated as a rogue institution beyond the bounds of the law.

Some stories just never die.

So to revisit this argument, which has been made convincingly over the past several years  (and was amplified again on December 10th in the Wall Street Journal  by three former CIA directors who served under both Bush and Obama in ) let us state the case again:

1. The CIA enhanced interrogation techniques, including water boarding ( which the Report defines as torture) were given the legal sanction by the Justice Department, the memo of which can be found HERE and whose legal reasoning has never been successfully contested.   In 2009 Eric Holder’s Justice Department assigned the experienced prosecutor John Durham to investigate whether any unauthorized techniques were used by CIA interrogators and if so whether any such techniques violated U.S. criminal statutes. No prosecutable offenses were found.

2. The interrogation had  bi-partisan backing in Congress the members of whom were kept well informed with extensive briefings over the course of five years during the Bush Administration’s tenure in office.

3. The harsh techniques employed by the CIA in Guantanamo and in other so called “black sites” do not fall into within the definition of” torture”or inhuman treatment. According to Victoria Toesing, the former Chief Counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, under U.S. law ‘torture’  “means the infliction of  severe mental pain or suffering ‘that requires and  that the perpetrator to specifically intended to impose such suffering. ” The fact is that none of the techniques used by the CIA in 2002-6 amounted to torture because none of the interrogators either intended to inflict severe pain and suffering and because they did not in fact inflict such pain and suffering.

4.  The information obtained from 9/11 mastermind  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed alone (or KSM as he is now more affectionately known in the Intelligence community) was invaluable in interdicting future attacks and obtaining a sense of the hierarchy and operational functioning of the terrorist organization which had struck the United States repeatedly over the previous eight years. It resulted, for instance, in foiling what became known as the  Hambali Plot, a 17 member South East Asian cell recruited for a ‘ second wave’ attack against the U.S. West Coast which would have replicated the devastating 9/11 al Qaeda operation.


The report is released at a convenient time, when the Democratic Party is at a low ebb following a trouncing in the mid-term elections and an increasingly unpopular Democratic president. It is become de rigeur for this Administration to assign its own failures to  the mess it inherited from its predecessor and so it comes as little surprise that the Administration would seek to deflect attention from itself and highlight the others’ failures.  Indeed, glowing righteousness, in contrast to George Bush’s fecklessnness has been a trademark of this President and the Democratic Party he leads.

This is all of a piece with the nonsensical statement made by the President on April 16, 2009 , soon after taking office that ” a democracy as resilient as ours, must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals.”

He is wrong. National security – the life, welfare and safety of the individual citizens of the United States must always trump abstract ideals and some times they are in irreconcilable conflict.   Yes, war is bad  and no democracy willingly and enthusiastically undertakes it – but sometimes it must;  very few American citizens have a penchant or desire to kill other human beings – but sometimes, in order to protect themselves and their families, they must.  Very few of our Intelligence personnel wish to use harsh methods to force our enemies to divulge plans being hatched against American citizens – but sometimes they must.  When the American homeland is in imminent danger, when American lives are at risk  – as we most certainly were in the years following 9-11 –  those committed to our safety would be derelict in their duty unless they undertook every necessary measures to protect us.  Ideals are nice but when your life is threatened, you do what you need to do to protect yourself.  Hindsight is not available when you are dead.

No one has an exclusive claim to moral authority.  Not even the Democratic Senate majority nor Barack Obama.  For lets not forget the moral equivalence that Obama Administration employs when it talks about Bush era security practices.  Its drone policy, sometimes targeting American citizens themselves who have gone over to the other side, are activities undertaken to kill terrorists – not  detain them, nor interrogate them.  They are eliminated  peremptorily – not after having been captured , indicted, tried and sentenced. Sometimes, lest we forget this, innocent women and children area also killed in these attacks – and killed only because they happen to be in the vicinity at the time, not because they constitute the same threat as the terrorists themselves.

Are not such strikes also a choice between  our “security ” and our “ideals”?  And wouldn’t the Obama Administration’s  higher ideals insist on capturing these men and giving them the opportunity for their self defense?  After all, are they not usually being killed prior to having committed an atrocity, rather than having allegedly committed one?   Does it occur to the Obama Administration  or Diane Feinstein or anyone else executing or approving this draconian policy, that in eliminating  the alleged terrorists we might be abandoning invaluable opportunities to uncover information which could lead us to even more of their fellow conspirators?

I am not arguing against the drone policy because I support it.   But I am trying to illustrate that you cannot judge today’s actions by tomorrow’s moral standards and those who do run the risk of trading in hypocrisy.

All of which leaves us with an important question – why, when  the Attorney General, several investigative reports commissioned by Congress as well as by the CIA itself thoroughly vetted this issue, has the Senate Intelligence Committee now, nearly ten years after the event, found  evidence of  torture and a failure of any specified gain in applying enhanced interrogation methods of American prisoners?

The answer might be found in the more relaxed security environment we find on our home front where no major scale attack has occurred in 13 years.  This is why Sen. Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, could describe the CIA ‘ torture ‘ regime  as “one of the lowest points in our nation’s history.”  This completely inverts recent American history.  The actual low point came on September 11th , 2001 when our security services were found asleep on the job and Islamists found the means to seep between the cracks in our surveillance infrastructure to commandeer American aircraft and end the lives of  3,000 Americans on American soil in a single day.  Since then our security services have indeed woken up and provided a level of scrutiny that we missed under the Clinton Administration.  Could it be, possibly, that our more relaxed security environment stems from the fact that the CIA applied those enhanced interrogation procedures making it more difficult for terrorists to hide from us?

President George W. Bush once said that we will never know how truly necessary were certain protective measures undertaken by our government because the very thing against which they were designed to protect us never happened.  But one thing we do know: if this report serves to shackle and constrain our security services, at a time when American journalists, aid workers and security personnel are being beheaded by our avowed enemies, we will be able to look back on this era and conclude with some certainty what security measures were absolutely necessary and demand answers as to why they were not employed.





Libyan Attack May Represent a Shift in Global Power

March 21, 2011

There is good news for internationalists in the recent coalition attacks on Libya.  The assault, led by France, with vigorous support from Britain and sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council, provides an example of the muscular application of the principle of collective security upon which the United Nations was founded.

If only the international community had mustered the same tenacity in Rwanda in 1995 or in the Sudan in this decade, then perhaps millions of innocent Africans would be alive today.

The news is not quite as good for the projection of American power.  There is no doubt that Barack Obama’s hesitancy and lack of resolve in defending those struggling for  freedom will be noted – by America’s foes and allies alike.  By adopting a multilateral approach to  addressing a threat to national security, he has begun the outsourcing of American foreign policy.

And in case there are doubts, a Ghaddafi victory does represent a threat to national security.  It offers challenges to the supply of U.S. oil; it threatens the war on terror and it presages a cycle of revenge which was exemplified 25 years ago with the downing of U.S. Air 109 over Lockerbie in Scotland.

We will learn soon enough what the outsourcing of American policy will mean for the United States’ standing in the world. The continuing failure of the same policy of multilateralism in its attempt to prevent Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons has only increased that country’s determination to pursue policies inimical to U.S.national security.  No one should count on the Libyan excursion acting as a precursor to an invasion of Iran.  There is no comparison in terms of international consensus.

Rather, the decision of the Obama Administration to follow rather than lead will send a message to the mullahs that they indeed have very little to fear at all from a United States whose own penchant for collective action and consistent dithering will compromise any serious efforts to permanently strangle the Iranian menace.

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Peter King’s Valuable Investigations

March 14, 2011

The new Chairman of Homeland Security, Peter King, has begun an overdue investigation into radicalization among America’s Muslims. For years, reporters, journalists and authors have been warning us about the increasing dangers we face from a home-grown jihad that is both nurtured and protected by an overweening political correctness which has brooked no opposition. Yet investigators such as Steve Emerson ( The Investigative Project); Robert Spencer ( JIHAD WATCH) and David Gaubatz ( author of Muslim Mafia) have made the case over and over again that there are some very serious problems emanating from the Muslim community in this country which go largely unaddressed because of fears of provoking charges of religious intolerance. Finally this ridiculous taboo has been jettisoned and our political leaders are beginning to act like grown ups who recognize they are faced with a serious internal dilemma that is not going to be dealt with by the expression of pieties about multicultural sensitivities.

The escalation of Islamic inspired attacks on American soil since 9/11( with over 30 attacks committed or foiled in the intervening ten years) should have been cause enough for several such inquiries.

Movies such as The Third Jihad and Homegrown Terrorism have given us plenty of cause for thought. Peter King is translating that thought now into action. Lets hope that political correctness does not inhibit further development of these important investigations into the problems lurking within our Muslim communities.


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Stuxnet the Invincible

January 18, 2011

Yesterday”s New York Times finally broke the story  of 2010.   The gravest threat to world peace since the fall of the Soviet Union has been temporarily vanquished by a….. wait for it…… computer virus.  The Stuxnet virus finally gained its rightful place in the pantheon of world peace activists when the Times spotlighted its extraordinary success in reversing the momentum of the Iranian nuclear program by rendering many of its main computers inoperable and likely obsolete.   As a related story in the The Telegraph details, Russian scientists  working in the Nantaz facility, have warned  the Kremlin that they could be facing “another Chernobyl” if they are forced to comply with Iran’s tight deadline to activate the complex this summer.

The real news broken by the Times story of course is that the Stuxnet virus, the most sophisticated cyber weapon ever witnessed on earth, was more than likely created in Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility.   That is not really news to those of us who have for years admired and appreciated Israel’s extraordinary technological prowess;  but it might be news to a stubbornly ungrateful world that has been spared, at least for the moment, the economic catastrophe that might have ensued if Israel had been forced to take military action against Iran.

So while world leaders may be breathing a bit easier tonight, perhaps they ought to be paying a little more attention to  some of these  basic realities:  The West’s  security interests are being safeguarded by a tiny country the size of New Jersey; that the small country is on the very front lines of a war that it still largely refuses to either name or recognize; that peace is unlikely to come to the Middle East  – or to the rest of the world for that matter – until the scourge of the West, based in Tehran, is completely defeated and the  worldwide religious movement it leads is forced into ignominious retreat.

While there are no guarantees of anything  in this world,  it is a safer bet than most that Israel’s powerful technological capabilities and the tremendous ingenuity of its scientists, offers a key weapon in determining who will  ultimately win the war of civilizations in which we are all presently engaged.

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An Acknowledgement of Evil

January 13, 2011

President Barack Obama made an eloquent appeal in Tucson yesterday for civility and communal healing following the horrific shooting in that city last Saturday. One of the more interesting things he said was the following:

” Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world and terrible things happen that defy human understanding”

It is notable that this is actually the second time, to my knowledge, that Obama during his presidency  has used the word evil.  The first was in the delivery of his Nobel acceptance speech in December, 2009.   There he said:

‘” I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

At the time I saw it as a signal of his recognition of certain realities in life and his willingness to identify the existence of absolute moral standards.  Unfortunately the subsequent twelve months did little to buttress that belief.

His comments in Tuscon, which underscored an apparent belief that Jared Lee Loughner’s actions were the result of a manifest evil which had gripped the young man – and not only a consequence of mental illness, political extremism or social alienation, is evidence ( if thin) of  a  moral maturity that has noticeably lacking in this President.  Too many in his own party and on the left are willing to see gray areas where the evidence suggests stark black and white distinctions.  This is of course most relevant to the seething hatred poised against the United States from Islam and the Arabic world.  We should never ignore that the evil which drove 19 young men to fly planes into the Twin Towers 10 years ago is of the same character which made Jared  Loughner pull the trigger over and over again in Tucson on Saturday afternoon.

Lets hope this president indeed continues to face the world as it is and grasp that, as he states in his own words, ” evil really does exist in the world”  and that he, of all people, cannot stand idle in the face of it.

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Daily Blurb #5

January 7, 2011

Is China Preparing For War With the United States?

Reports that China has developed the prototype of a stealth bomber is getting people in our Defense establishment hot under the collar – and for good reason.  While China has never approached anything near parity with the U.S. in military capacity, the fact that it is now developing its own military technology, sometimes well in advance of the United States, is certainly cause for concern.  There is of course an argument that the trade ties between the United States and the Republic of China and the mutually assured destruction of both economies should war erupt, would prevent a military confrontation.  But this is  no longer convincing.  One just has to read the the books of Niall Ferguson to understand how nations quickly abandon their own better economic instincts when it comes to wars of aggrandisement.

And China’s ambitions in the Western Pacific are very much about self-aggrandisment.  In August, in its annual report to Congress,  the U.S. Department of Defense claimed that China was ramping up investment in an array of areas including nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, submarines, aircraft carriers and cyber warfare. The military report said China was “already looking at contingencies beyond Taiwan” including through a longstanding project to build a far-reaching missile that could potentially strike US carriers deep in the Pacific.

It should come as little surprise.  The revitalization of the Middle Kingdom of the  Ming and Qing dynasties, wherein China reduced all the nations surrounding it to vassal states, is not merely a part of Chinese folklore, but a central tenet of  political discourse and national business strategy.  Is war likely tomorrow, or next year or even in ten years?  Perhaps not.  But we would be foolish to believe that it could never happen or that expenditures in military technology represent no threat to the global  supremacy of the U.S. military.

Obama’s Day of Reckoning Over Settlements

In a few days the Obama Administration will be tested on exactly how much of an obstacle it believes the 120 settlements in Samaria and Judea represent to the peace process.  This month, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is taking his campaign to the UN Security Council, where the Palestinians will introduce a draft resolution that would declare Israeli “settlements” in Jerusalem to be “illegal.” The draft demands a halt to all construction in the eastern half of Israel’s capital city.   The Palestinians understand exactly what this means:   “We drafted it using the same words that Secretary Clinton is using and so we don’t see why the U.S. would veto it,” Abbas said.

The Obama Administration, as of today, stands equivocal on how it intends to address this flagrant attack on the notion of a negotiated settlement. On December 29, Mark C. Toner, the State Department spokesman had this to say on the matter at a press conference in Foggy Bottom:

” QUESTION: Hi, Mark. I’m wondering about this report of the draft resolution that may go before the UN Security Council on – by supporters of Palestinians condemning the Israeli settlements. What would the U.S. response be to that?

MR. TONER: Well, every U.S. Administration has been for decades has been clear on this. We don’t accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity, and in fact, we believe continued expansion is corrosive to peace efforts, as well as to Israel’s future. We believe, fundamentally, that direct negotiations are the only path through which the parties will ultimately reach the framework agreement that is our goal, our mutual goal. And final status issues can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties and not by recourse to the UN Security Council, so we’ve consistently opposed any attempt to take these kinds of issues to the Council, because we believe that these kinds of efforts don’t move us any closer to our goal, which is of two states living side by side in peace and security.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. go so far as to use its veto power?

MR. TONER: Again, it’s a hypothetical at this point, Cami, but I think I made our position pretty clear. Any more questions?

This has never been a “hypothetical” for any other U.S. Administration and the government’s position on the matter is far from clear.   One-sided U.N. resolutions against Israel have ALWAYS been vetoed by the U.S. at the United Nations.   The failure of the Obama Administration to signal its intentions regarding such a draft resolution is truly a first and a worrying development.

Pundits in Washington and New York are now speculating about what any abstention on the part of the United States could mean for  Israel and the Middle East.  Some have suggested that it will confirm what many for some time have considered the truth – that the Obama Administration’s intends to become  the first openly hostile Administration to the Jewish state.  I would go further.  It would open the gates to the next Middle East war, encouraging Israel’s enemies to believe that it has been abandoned by its main diplomatic champion and that open season has been declared.

The Administration’s insistence on settlement freezes as preconditions to negotiations has proven rash as the Palestinians and their Arab allies have used it to craftily drive a wedge between Israel and its American ally.  If Obama wants to prove he cares more about peace in the Middle East than he does about punishing Israel for its settlement policies, then he must immediately signal to the Arab world that his country will not stand idly by while Israel is made the fall guy for his Administration’s own diplomatic failures and mistakes.   That would be the mature and responsible approach.  But I wouldn’t count on it.

Meet Fred Singer

On Wednesday night , January 5 in Bel Air,  AFA presented  Fred Singer, the renown and ebullient climatologist who has spent the past 30 years debunking anthropogenic global warming and transforming skepticism on that subject into a high art.   Singer’s book Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years and the unmatched research from his own organization, the Nongovernmental International  Panel on Climate Change ( NIPCC) which produced the 850 page study  Climate Change Reconsidered, form the basis of  the scientific response to the deeply flawed and highly politicized work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations agency whose four reports over the past 19 years have been used to sound the clarion call for cutting global carbon emissions.

Singer, an avuncular and engaging speaker with a stentorian voice, described how the global warming debate gained world wide traction as environmentalists came to dominate world forums on issues of economic development.   Whereas he believes there is abundant evidence for increases in world temperatures over the past 150 years,  he stated that the evidence that man has substantially contributed to that warming is still very much in contention and should be debated.  The more likely explanation, he said, is that we are now in the midst of a global warming cycle that repeats every 400 or so years and has much more to do with solar activity than with anything humans do or don’t do on Earth.

It was a powerful presentation, delivered  with a wry sense of humor and a warmth that belied  Dr. Singer’s reputation as a curmudgeon.  I highly recommend Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years and hope to bring Dr. Singer back  to Los Angeles in June for our next summer conference Big Footprint: Is Green the New Tyranny?

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Can Iran Be Defeated Without Firing a Shot?

October 12, 2010

In the past several weeks a computer virus known as the Stuxnet worm has invaded computer systems around the world, creating havoc and shutting down important industrial facilities in many locations.

According to a geotagging system developed by the U.S. based Symantec, 58.8 per cent of infections were in Iran, 18.2 per cent in Indonesia, 8.3 per cent in India, 2.6 per cent in Azerbaijan and 1.6 per cent in the US..

Computer viruses, worms and trojans have until now mainly infected PCs or the servers that keep e-businesses running. They may delete key system files or documents, or perhaps prevent website access, but they do not threaten life and limb.

The Stuxnet worm is different. It is the first piece of malware so far able to break into the types of computer that control machinery at the heart of industry, allowing an attacker to assume control of critical systems like pumps, motors, alarms and valves in an industrial plant.

Where does such a virus originate? Computer security experts seem to agree that the virus could only have been developed in a country with a extremely sophisticated high tech infrastructure and almost certainly with government assistance.

That certainly would implicate high tech giants such as Israel or the United States.

If Israel or the U.S. has indeed been involved in these attacks, then it is really the first salvo in the War of Iran. The attempt to destroy the infrastructure of a country, may in act represent a new front in the history of armed conflict.

But if you think that it can’t work the other way, then you might want to consider this: In June, 2010, the United States recognized that in fact it is as much at risk from a cyber-attack that could incapacitate its own electrical infrastructure in a report from the Department of Defense identified a scenario in which the entire defense infrastructure of the country  could be shut down. In response, a bill has been drafted which would give the President of the United States absolute power to shut down the Internet in the event of a massive cyber-attack which threatened the nation.

Libertarians are naturally up in arms about this and have declared it such an extension of executive power that it would lead to a level of authoritarianism that could change the nature of the presidency itself.

This reaction might be somewhat chastened by the advent of the Stuxnet worm. Because if countries can develop viruses to incapacitate the defense infrastructure of any given country, the threat may indeed look something comparable to a nuclear attack, a contingency over which the President does and certainly should have full authority, as commander-in -chief, to thwart.

Whatever the answer to this important question, the success of the Stuxnet worm raises potentially devastating consequences for high tech nations. We might indeed be able to defeat Iran without firing a shot, but without the proper cyber-shields, the duel might end in our own incapacitation – leading to the very self destruction we are seeking to avoid.

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