Tales from the Trail

How much power should the CIA have?

In the alphabet soup of government national security agencies, the letters CIA seem to be sinking.

The latest blow to the spy agency was the attorney general launching an investigation into interrogation abuses and President Barack Obama has decided that the interrogation of terrorism suspects will be taken out of the hands of the CIA and put into the control of a newly-created group that will be housed at the FBI and report to the White House.

Some intelligence experts say the CIA didn’t want to do the high-value detainee interrogations anyway.


Since the 9-11 attacks eight years ago, the United States is still trying to figure out what  balance of power it wants in intelligence.

The CIA is supposed to dig out secrets to save the United States from national security disasters. In years past it was criticized for being too risk-averse and critics of the investigation into interrogation abuses say it will make the spy agency too risk-averse again.

The First Draft: no rest for the weary?

The Obamas may be on vacation this week, but the news hasn’t taken a break. OBAMA/

The Justice Department is expected to release a report Monday disclosing details of prisoner abuse that were gathered in 2004 by the CIA’s inspector general but never before made public. According to published reports, the department has recommended re-opening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases.

A review of the cases threatens to weigh down the Obama administration, which is already involved in deeply partisan battles over healthcare and climate change legislation.

The First Draft: Will Cheney spill the beans about Bush?

USA-SECURITY/CHENEYHow would you spend the dog days of summer, if you were a former vice president? If you were Dick Cheney, you would be ensconced in your new office above the garage in McLean, Virginia (just down the road from the CIA!), writing your memoir of the administration of George W. Bush. But would you tell all?

The Washington Post indicates Cheney might. In a front-page story that was one of the paper’s most-viewed online, unnamed sources say the former veep was frustrated with Bush, especially in the second term.

When Cheney was asked at an informal meeting to discuss his memoirs if he had any regrets, one meeting participant told the Post: “(Cheney) said Bush was shackled by the public reaction and the criticism he took … The implication was that Bush had gone soft on him, or rather Bush had hardened against Cheney’s advice. He’d showed an independence that Cheney didn’t see coming. It was clear that Cheney’s doctrine was cast-iron at all times — never apologize, never explain — and Bush moved toward the conciliatory.”

Coincidence? April spy meeting, Taliban leader (probably) killed

A top level U.S.-Pakistani spy meeting in April.

A top Taliban official killed (90 percent certain) in August.


USA/CIA Director Leon Panetta and Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, held a hush-hush meeting in the Washington area  in April.

The New York Times said the accuracy of American drone strikes against the network of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud improved soon afterward.

Pakistani and U.S. officials believe Mehsud was killed last week, with White House national security adviser Jim Jones putting the likelihood at 90 percent, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Obama official takes shots at Bush’s words

President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism adviser on Thursday offered a pointed critique of several of former President George W. Bush’s catch phrases on terrorism.

USA/Veteran spy John Brennan, once in line to head the Central Intelligence Agency under Obama and apparently no great fan of the Bush White House, gave a lengthy speech outlining Obama’s strategy for fighting terrorism which attempts to go beyond, using military might to include economic and social policies.

Brennan criticized Bush’s moniker “global war on terror” as playing into the “warped narrative that al Qaeda propagates.” He added that it “plays into the misleading and dangerous notion that the U.S. is somehow in conflict with the rest of the world.”

Someone at the CIA lied and Congress is not happy

Someone lied about something at the CIA, that much is clear.

Members of the House Intelligence Committee are not happy about it, that is also clear.

But the actual offense and who committed it was apparently discussed behind closed doors and cannot be revealed publicly which has led to a cryptic dance in statements from members of Congress and the CIA.

It’s worth mentioning that the CIA actually makes a living telling lies overseas to secure secrets for U.S. national security purposes. But the spy agency prides itself on telling truth to power at home.

Spy turf fight being umpired by White House

The daggers are out in the U.S. spy world — for each other.

And the job of breaking up the fight in the ring of shadows has gone to the White House, which is expected to rule soon.

In one corner is the CIA, established by President Truman, when he signed the National Security Act of 1947, to coordinate the country’s intelligence activities. BUSH

In the other corner is the DNI, which began operating in 2005 as a coordinator of all intelligence agencies after being created in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

No apology for CIA coup plotting? Well, how about a photo then…

President Barack Obama artfully dodged a request from Chilean reporters Tuesday for an apology for CIA meddling in Latin America, but he caved in to another demand.
“President Obama, can you take a photograph with the Chilean press, please?” one reporter OBAMA/asked at the end of an Oval Office statement by Obama and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
“A photograph with the press?” Obama asked. “OK, why don’t we go outside?”
The U.S. leader was less forthcoming on the matter of apologizing for the CIA’s long history of meddling in the affairs of Latin American governments.
The CIA has denied direct involvement in the overthrow and death of Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973 but has acknowledged trying to prevent him from assuming the presidency three years earlier.
And it has acknowledged supporting the military junta that took control of country after the coup.
Bachelet, then a college student, was imprisoned and tortured following the coup, as was her mother. Her father, who had been an air force general in the Allende government, was imprisoned and tortured to death.
Asked if it was time for an apology for the CIA’s activities in Chile, Obama said, “I’m interested in going forward, not looking backward.”
“I think that the United States has been an enormous force for good in the world. I think there have been times where we’ve made mistakes,” he said. “But I think that what is important is looking at what our policies are today, and what my administration intends to do in cooperating with the region.”
That said, he did manage a chuckle at U.S. expense — over the old joke that there’s never been a coup in the United States because it has no American Embassy.
Someone else told the joke, Bachelet insisted after it was attributed to her.
“I just said it was a good joke,” she said.
“Yes, it is,” said Obama, laughing.
For more Reuters political news, please click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama, Bachelet pose with Chilean traveling press)

House Democrats block Republican call for probe of Pelosi


                                      There was polBRITAIN/itical theater, drama, but no surprise ending on Thursday on a topic involving spies, torture and truth in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives.

Republicans again ripped into Speaker Nancy Pelosi for accusing the CIA of misleading Congress — and her fellow Democrats quickly blocked their bid for a bipartisan probe into her truthfulness. The vote was 252-172.

“The Republicans … have been focused on the politics of personal destruction,” House Democratic leader House Steny Hoyer said afterward.

CIA’s Panetta swings back

CIA Director Leon Panetta is no stranger to Washington political drama, and he showed on Friday that he wasn’t going to watch from the sidelines while Congress threw stones at his spy agency.

No names were used, but Panetta left no doubt he was responding to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s USA/charge that the CIA misled Congress about interrogation tactics such as waterboarding that were used on terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In a publicly released note to CIA employees headlined “Turning Down the Volume,”   Panetta said the political debate on interrogation “reached a new decibel level yesterday when the CIA was accused of misleading Congress.”