Thursday, May 17, 2018

ANDREW KREIG: Future Senate Leaders Must Oppose CIA Torturer's Confirmation

Bush/Cheney torturer Gina Haspel epitomises CIA criminality, depravity  

By Andrew Kreig

U.S. Senators face career-defining confirmation votes beginning Wednesday regarding President Trump's nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The nomination of current CIA Acting Director Gina Haspel (shown at right) will help define each senator's legacy.

That's partly because of her own abuses at the CIA in fostering torture and destroying the evidence so that other malefactors could avoid accountability but also because of the background of decades of whitewashes by the senate in failing to excercise their oversight obligations under the Constitution over the powerful intelligence agencies like the CIA.

The media have duly reported Haspel's record of assisting torture and rendition after 9/11 and then helping to destroy evidence. 

Those shortcomings are why she is expected to receive confirmation by a relatively narrow and nearly party-line vote, primarily from the Republican majority. With her confirmation likely assured, our focus here is less about her than on whether the senate and, particularly its Democratic members who might aspire to future leadership, will show a commitment to the Constitution by keeping the vote close.

Haspel runs one of the nation's most powerful and unaccountable bodies, one that has been instrumental in countless covert operations, some of which have targeted Americans through the years, not simply foreigners as originally intended by the CIA's 1947 enabling legislation.

Most immediately, public attention should focus on the votes of Senate Select Committee On Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Virginia), who announced on May 15 that he would support the nominee, former Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and a number of senators who are reputed to be gearing up for 2020 presidential campaigns. Feinstein faces the more immediate test of a primary election next month against a rival endorsed by California's Democratic Party at a convention this spring.

Warner (shown at right) may have been complicit with the committee's GOP Chairman Richard Burr in preventing his Senate colleagues reading a classified account of Haspel's role in the torture cover-up. That's implied by The Intercerpt's reporter Ryan Grim Monday in a column headlined Ahead of Vote on Gina Haspel, Senate Pulls Access to Damning Classified Memo. The material is from a Department of Justice report by special counsel John Durham documenting Haspell's role in helping suppress CIA torture evidence in ways not specified. 

Grim's story is excerpted more fully below, along with other news reports,

Republican senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Rand Paul (KY) are opposing Haspel. McCain, a torture victim during the Vietnam War, says the practice is fundamentally unAmerican. Paul has centered his opposition on what he regarded as Haspel's evasive testimony on her views, which she amplified in a letter to Warner released Tuesday.

Bottom line: While most of senators face heavy political pressures to approve a presidential nominee none of the senators who vote for Haspel under these circumstances should be entitled to a leadership position on any intelligence or armed forces committee, much less less presidential consideration for reasons explained more fully below.

The Nominee

Kentucky-born Gina Haspel, born Gina Walker, 61, has worked for the CIA for 33 years. Trump nominated her after he picked her CIA Director Mike Pompeo (Left), a former Kansas congressman and extreme war hawk, to become secretary of state.

Haspel has won support for her abilitities and her nomination from high-ranking CIA appointees from both parties. But, unlike most of her predecessors as director, much of her career has involved covert activities that remain classified.

That might pass unnoticed in a superficial view of agency activities that assumes that they are primarily focused on the benign-sounding term "intelligence" that remains part of the agency's name and publicly stated mission and 1947 enabling legislation.

Before reviewing this nomination, it's helpful to consult the CIA's current official site. It states:

What We Do

CIA’s primary mission is to collect, analyze, evaluate, and disseminate foreign intelligence to assist White House, the President and senior US government policymakers in making decisions relating to national security. This is a very complex process and involves a variety of steps.....

The US Congress has had oversight responsibility of the CIA since the Agency was established in 1947. However, prior to the mid-1970’s, oversight was less formal. The 1980 Intelligence Oversight Act charged the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) with authorizing the programs of the intelligence agencies and overseeing their activities.

If those two paragraphs were a reasonable attempt at full disclosure true there would be far less need for this column and its argument seeking more accountability for the agency and its most recent nominee, Haspel.

Acting CIA Director Gina Haspel testifies at her Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, May 9, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

However, vast documentation exists that the agency has engaged also in secret wars, propaganda operations, regime change, arms smuggling, false flags, election rigging, assassinations and money laundering, with scant accountability.

This column cannot begin to document all those matters, the vast bulk of which fall outside of Haspel's tenure and previous areas of responsibilities. But the recent Trump administration cover-up of congressionally mandated records release regarding President Kennedy's 1963 assassination (which we reported this month in Trump suppresses JFK murder records; Violates pledge; Bows to CIA, Deep State) along with our 50-part series Readers Guide To the JFK Assassination together provide strong evidence of the CIA's suspicious activities and weak congressional oversight 

Black Site, Black Marks

Regarding Haspel, the current flashpoint in her confirmation vote has been her role as chief of a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002 where prisoners were waterboarded. The United States and other Western nations have traditionally held simulated drowning in waterboarding to constitute torture. But President George W. Bush's administration issued a ruling that denied it was torture and thus did not violate the Geneva Convention against torture.

Bush/Cheney torture at Abu Ghraib 

Many authorities and news media outlets deferred for years to that mindset by describing the practice as "harsh interrogation." Yet the term "torture" is increasingly applied to what occurred.

Under pressure, both the Bush and Obama administration undertook an investigation by the Justice Department of potential lawbreaking. Both administrations named career prosecutor John Durham (shown at right in a file photo) to investigate aspects of the Waterboarding.

As a result of his investigation, the Justice Department decided in 2010 not to file criminal charges over the destruction of CIA videotapes depicting the interrogation of terrorism suspects. 

Justice Department reporter Jerry Markon of the Washington Post reported in No charges in destruction of CIA videotapes, Justice Department says on Nov. 9, 2010:

After an exhaustive probe that lasted nearly three years, federal prosecutor John Durham concluded that he would not bring a criminal case against the CIA officers. The burning of the 92 tapes on Nov. 9, 2005, was authorized in a cable sent by Jose Rodriguez Jr., head of the agency's directorate of operations.

The tapes showed the interrogations of two high-profile detainees. Sources have said they depicted waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning that human rights groups and Obama administration officials say is torture.

However, our Justice Integrity Project investigation of the matter, first reported in our column in Harvard University's Nieman Watchdog, revealed that double standards arose in the case.

Courts had found that Durham was implicated in suppressing evidence in a separate case, while doggedly pursuing for years during appeals a harsh obstuction of justice prison sentence for a white collar witness who deleted a file from a computer. 

Rodriguez, the former CIA officer who destroyed torture tapes despite a federal court order, went on to write a memoir boasting of his actions. The senate this year confirmed Durham, now 68, by a unanimous vote in 2018 to become U.S. attorney for Connecticut in the Trump Administration. 

Current Senate Vote Count

In sum, the vote shapes up as yet another victory by the CIA whereby timid senators fail to excercise effective oversight over the most famous (if not notorious) of the score of federal intelligence agencies that penetrate almost every part of American life under the claim of "national security."

As noted briefly above and more extensively in news story excerpts below, it appears that Haspel is likely to win confirmation by at least a narrow majority. The winning margin could be supplied by two Democrats from strongly Republican states, Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Sen. Joe Donnelly from Indiana (shown below). Both are up for reelection this year. 

Senators Joe Manchin, left, and Joe Donnelly

But, no one who votes for Haspel should ever aspire to leadership in a relevant field without at least a thorough grilling if not apology for this week's vote. New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's 2003 vote to help enable the Iraq War should be the model here. 

In retrospect, it became clear that she made a politically expedient decision to polish her war hawk credentials despite the highly dubious evidence (later proven bogus) that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. As it turned out, her vote helped cripple her 2008 and 2016 presidential campaigns by fostering persistent doubts about her honesty.

In the same way, the public should keep a keen on the votes of the many current senators who seek to leverage their current job into presidential campaigns, senate leadership or cabinet positions related to law or intelligence. They know that the CIA, which along with sister agencies can maintain dossiers on all major officials, is a powerful institution.

But they should also reaffirm that a U.S. Senate with a commitment to the Constitution should be a powerful institution also.

The CIA In History

In 1947, President Harry S Truman (shown at left) signed legislation creating the CIA as a new unit of the Pentagon following a power struggle between the agency's World War II predecessor Office of Strategic Services leader William "Wild Bill" Donovan and Donovan's chief opponent in that era's turf wars over intelligence, FBIDirector J. Edgar Hoover.

On Dec. 22, 1963, exactly one month after President John F. Kennedy's assassination, Truman published a syndicated column in the Washington Post entitled, Limit CIA Role To Intelligence.

That column, available electronically via the Mae Brussell collection, is excerpted below:

For some time I have been disturbed by the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment.....It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government.

This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas.

I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations.

Some of the complications and embarrassment I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue — and a subject for cold war enemy propaganda.

With all the nonsense put out by Communist propaganda about "Yankee imperialism," "exploitive capitalism," "war-mongering," "monopolists," in their name-calling assault on the West, the last thing we needed was for the CIA to be seized upon as something akin to a subverting influence in the affairs of other people.

I well knew the first temporary director of the CIA, Adm. Sidney Souers, and the later permanent directors of the CIA, Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg and Allen Dulles. These were men of the highest character, patriotism and integrity — and I assume this is true of all those who continue in charge.

But there are now some searching questions that need to be answered. I, therefore, would like to see the CIA be restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President, and that whatever else it can properly perform in that special field — and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere.

We have grown up as a nation, respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.

As an editorial footnote: Truman's column was distributed by the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA) and received relatively little traction despite its authorship by a former president.

It is ironic and probably not coincidental that Truman's once-prominent syndication service NANA was later revealed to have had a change in ownership in the 1950s with hidden funding from British intelligence for the new owner. 

This funding change was probably without Truman's knowledge, at least insofar as publicly known from such sources as his correspondence at the Truman Library..

As another indication of the pervasive penetration of intelligence operatives into the media during the Cold War era (if not more currently), NANA's European vice president during the 1950s was former British intelligence executive Ian Fleming (shown in a file photo), later famous as the author of the iconic James Bond spy series.

The larger lesson? Spy agencies became so pervasive during the Cold War that even a former U.S. president writing on the topic barely knew of their reach.

Andrew Kreig

Andrew Kreig, Esq.
Andrew Kreig is Justice Integrity Project Executive Director and co-founder with over two decades experience as an attorney and non-profit executive in Washington, DC. An author and longtime investigative reporter, his primary focus since 2008 has been exploring allegations of official corruption and other misconduct in federal agencies. He has been a consultant and volunteer leader in advising several non-profit groups fostering cutting-edge applications within the communications industries.
As president and CEO of the Wireless Communications Association International (WCAI) from 1996 until 2008, Kreig led its worldwide advocacy that helped create the broadband wireless industry. Previously, he was WCAI vice president and general counsel, an associate at Latham & Watkins, law clerk to a federal judge, author of the book Spiked about the newspaper business and a longtime reporter for the Hartford Courant.

Listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World from the mid-1990s and currently, he holds law degrees from the University of Chicago School of Law and from Yale Law School. Reared in New York City, his undergraduate degree in history is from Cornell University, where he was a student newspaper editor, rowing team member, and Golden Gloves boxer.

Contact the author Andrew Kreig.



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