By Ted Gup
New York Times, January 9, 2013
Cambridge, Mass. — IN the last week, the American public has been reminded of the Central Intelligence Agency’s contradictory attitude toward secrecy. In a critique of “Zero Dark Thirty,” published last Thursday in The Washington Post, a former deputy director of the C.I.A., Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., defended the use of waterboarding and said that operatives used small plastic bottles, not buckets as depicted in the film, to carry out this interrogation method on three notable terrorists. On Sunday, The New York Times reported on the Justice Department’s case against a former C.I.A. officer, John C. Kiriakou, a critic of waterboarding who faces 30 months in prison for sharing the name of a covert operative with a reporter, who never used the name in print.
The contrast points to the real threat to secrecy, which comes not from the likes of Mr. Kiriakou but from the agency itself. The C.I.A. invokes secrecy to serve its interests but abandons it to burnish its image and discredit critics.
Over the years, I have interviewed many active and retired C.I.A. personnel who were not authorized to speak with me; they included heads of the agency’s clandestine service, analysts and well over 100 case officers, including station chiefs. Five former directors of central intelligence have spoken to me, mostly “on background.” Not one of these interviewees, to my knowledge, was taken to the woodshed, though our discussions invariably touched on classified territory.
Somewhere along the way, the agency that clung to “neither confirm nor deny” had morphed into one that selectively enforces its edicts on secrecy, using different standards depending on rank, message, internal politics and whim.
I am no fan of excessive secrecy, or of prosecuting whistle-blowers or leakers whose actions cannot be shown to have damaged American security. The C.I.A. needs secrecy, as do those who place their lives in the agency’s hands, but the agency cannot have it both ways.
Phi Beta Iota: CIA lacks both intelligence and integrity. It is highly unlikely that John Brennan will do what needs to be done: shut down the pro forma clandestine service, revitalize all-source analysis, transfer the drones to the military, and create the separate Open Source Agency under diplomatic auspices leaving the Open Source Center to rot in its own toxic brew. On a foundation of an Open Source Agency setting the gold standard for what can be known legally and ethically, CIA could shine again in the Collection Requirements and Evaluations arena, and within two years set the stage for the compplete dismantling of the DNI and office of the DNI, restoring the Director of Central Intelligence position.