Protecting spies wasn’t meant to protect torture

In the mid-1970s I was a young analyst with the CIA. A friend then serving undercover as the station chief in a European country was gunned down by terrorists. His assassination followed unauthorized disclosure of his CIA identity by people opposed to American intelligence activities. Later spy scandals involving traitors Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen and others showed even more dramatically the devastating consequences of unauthorized disclosure of sensitive intelligence information.

This is the primary reason post-WW II era laws establishing the CIA provided extensive and unique authority for the CIA director to protect “intelligence sources and methods.”
In the 21st century, our country’s foreign intelligence capabilities are focused not against a major, adversary superpower such as the former Soviet Union , but against a variety of state and nonstate actors of more limited but still deadly capabilities. Clearly, however, the need for developing, using and maintaining effective “intelligence sources and methods” is just as critical now as it was in decades past.

Despite the broad and unique powers given the CIA chief, our government travels a very slippery slope when it allows those legal authorities to provide the excuse for covering up potential violations of the law. President Richard Nixon tried it in the 1970s when he and White House operatives employed the CIA as part of its Watergate cover up. The administration of George W. Bush elevated the defense to a whole new level.

Pleading “intelligence sources and methods” as a defense to charges of committing torture or other illegal acts should have no place in either our legal system or in the public policy arena. Using “sources and methods” as a shield to hide allegedly illegal acts abuses and cheapens an important, legitimate authority. This became evident during the Bush-Cheney administration when it refused even to acknowledge what everyone knew ­— that the National Security Agency was monitoring international phone calls to discover intelligence on al-Qaida operatives.

NSA exists to monitor, decrypt and analyze certain international communications of likely foreign intelligence value. Yet the Bush administration dogmatically refused to even acknowledge the obvious as part of its effort to defend against charges it was engaging in a far-reaching and illegal program of warrantless electronic eavesdropping on our citizens. Claiming that even acknowledging that the NSA engaged in electronic eavesdropping would offer our enemies invaluable knowledge about the “sources” (phone calls) and “methods” (intercepts) of our foreign intelligence capabilities, the Bush administration simply closed the door to any legitimate inquiry of whether it engaged in unlawful surveillance.

Likewise, when evidence surfaced that it had authorized and sanctioned the use of torture as a means of extracting intelligence from captured terrorism suspects, the Bush administration repeatedly refused to discuss or provide information on what precisely it was doing . The excuse for such stonewalling was the old “sources and methods” defense — that to allow any discussion of whether and how government employees tortured suspects would enhance the ability of other potential suspects to withstand application of such techniques in the future.

In other words, the government is telling us (and the world) that, “we won’t discuss how we torture, because this would reduce the effectiveness of torture in the future, and all this therefore is protected against disclosure by the need to protect intelligence sources and methods.”

And now we learn that former Vice President Dick Cheney wants certain of those torture reports and assessments made public after all. Why? To write a book and to show that the use of water-boarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” — even if unlawful — extracted worthwhile intelligence from suspects. For the prior administration at least, what constitutes an intelligence “source” or “method” depends more on the point attempted to be made than it does on a legitimate need to protect the names and lawful actions of undercover operatives.

66 comments Add your comment

You Distort/We Deride

May 14th, 2009
8:30 am

You idiots defending torture don’t get it. This isn’t about politics. This isn’t about Democrat vs. Republican. This is about the United States of America, its Constitution, its treaty obligations, and its standing as the role model of a democratic society.

If Democrats were complicit with Cheney’s Gang, then they too should feel the full force and effect of our punishment for the lies, obfuscations, and contravention of our basic principles.

Democrap Party

May 14th, 2009
9:03 am

You Distort/We Deride, you wrote: If Democrats were complicit with Cheney’s Gang, then they too should feel the full force and effect of our punishment for the lies, obfuscations, and contravention of our basic principles.

OK BOZO, THAT MEANS THAT 90% OF THE DEMOCRATS GO TO PRISON. THEY ALL SIGNED ON FOR THE WAR AND THEY ALL KNEW ABOUT WATERBOARDING WHICH ISN’T TORTURE.

You Distort/We Deride

May 14th, 2009
9:07 am

Hey Democrap

Fine. Good riddance of the 90%.

And by the way, since you know the numbers of Democrats in Congress who were aware with such certainty, name them, punk.

Oh, and one more thing, BOZO: Equating the authorization and implementation of torture with the knowledge of torture is…well…tortured logic. Not that logic enters into any of your thought processes, of course.

Democrap Party

May 14th, 2009
9:23 am

You Distort/We Deride aka Bin Ladens lover, I would get booted for taking up too much space on this blog. Even for you, a high school drop out, it’s easy to type in a simple Congressional votes for the Iraq War on Google.

Oh, and Bozo the retard, WATERBOARDING IS NOT TORTURE. NO ONE GETS HURT, NO ONE DIES. BUT GUESS WHAT STALIN! KNOWING HOW STUPID AND WEAK THE CURRENT PRESIDENT IS ON NATIONAL SECURITY WE MAY ALL FIND OUT QUICK HOW THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE MAY DIE. PRESIDENT TELEPROMPTER HAS NO IDEA HOW TO RUN THE MILITARY OR NATIONAL SECURITY. ESPECIALLY WHEN HE DOESN’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO RUN GM!

Democrap Party

May 14th, 2009
9:26 am

You Distort/We Deride, also, you democrats are in for a big surprise pretty soon. I’m watching the poll numbers and I guarantee you they will drop dramatically very soon. President Teleprompter will let Al Quaida get its hands on a nuke from Pakistan and NYC will be history. Much like the democrat party.

One more thing, when we are hit again by an attack, IT’S OVER FOR OBAMA!

williebkind

May 14th, 2009
9:56 am

Am I getting this right? According to the progressive liberal agenda, we can go into oblivion by attacks from terrorists and by others as long as we do not use enhanced interrogations. We will die with principles and such. Yeah!

However, could it be the “I HATE Bush factor” that is spilling over? (because Bush defeated al whacko gore) These are individuals and media possessed by so much hate they allow their country and family to cease to exist. Or is it a scare tactic on the young and restless?

This is a result of the mass public media who also will fail. You can not have freedom of speech and especially freedom of the press in a socialist society–just look south at Cuba and Venezuela.

I know–torture is not the same thing as abortion. In abortion you rip the body apart! Marriage can be between a person and a pig! This is why I am conservative. I think y’all should join in too.

You Distort/We Deride

May 14th, 2009
12:25 pm

Hmmm. Voting in favor of allowing Bush the option of invading Iraq is the same thing as endorsing torture? Tell you what, pal. Your logical disconnects make it impossible to argue points with you. I have no agenda. I’m an American first, unlike you. You gauge your decisions through the lens of your political affiliations. I don’t. If Obama authorized waterboarding, I would be calling for his prosecution. If Nancy Pelosi gave her tacit approval of the measure, I would prosecute her for conspiracy. The fact that the Republican Party was chiefly involved is irrelevant. It was a vile crime perpetrated in my name and your name. Our enemies in past wars were executed for the crime of waterboarding. Your arguments are pointless and your opinions are founded in lies and emotion. It’s embarrassing to know you’re parading around pretending to be an American.

Copyleft

May 14th, 2009
12:26 pm

Willie: Really? Is it so hard to understand that we’d rather face the risks and dangers of living as a free society, than give them up in the name of safety?

It’s sad when so many people are so frightened that their “commitment” to the principles of this country just vanishes.

“Crap:” Not quite correct. What you regularly produce are CLAIMS that all the facts support your arguments; you never actually provide the facts themselves.

Copyleft

May 14th, 2009
12:28 pm

(Side point: Notice how eager “Crap” is for another terrorist attack to hit America, if it will somehow hurt Obama and the Democrats? Now THAT’s a partisan lunatic for you!)

Jefferson

May 14th, 2009
12:36 pm

Waterboard Cheney until he admits he broke the law when he and his buds “outed’ a CIA agent for political payback.

Democrap Party

May 14th, 2009
12:41 pm

Copyleft, I’m not eager for an attack. President Teleprompter is allowing us to become more vulnerable.

By the way, Obama Hussein has broken most of his campaign promises. Iraq troops remain, no troop has come home, he is not closing Gitmo and he is wrecking the economy.

Unemployment is at 9%. 5.6 million jobs lost since he took office. GM and Chrysler are going bankrupt. The list goes on and on pal.

Jefferson, Cheney didn’t break any laws. THE DEMOCRATS SIGNED ONTO WATERBOARDING AND DID NOT OBJECT. DEMOCRATS SIGNED ON FOR THE IRAQ WAR.

HA HA HA BOZO!

Jefferson

May 14th, 2009
12:46 pm

Pay attention, son.

Democrap Party

May 14th, 2009
12:57 pm

Copyleft, it’s fact. Obama never talks about national security. He wants to close Gitmo. Where will these killers come? Right here pal. Get real. If we are attacked again the democrats will be blamed because they are weak on national security.

Also, you’re one to talk. For 8 years your crap party talked about wanting Bush to fail. Loser.

Democrap Party

May 15th, 2009
9:02 am

I find it interesting that the Left ignores the fact that over ONE MILLION INNOCENT BABIES WERE MURDERED WITH ABORTION YET THEY CRY OVER MURDEROUS ISLAMIC TERRORISTS FOR PRETEND DROWNINGS.

BOTTOM LINE: THESE ISLAMIC MURDERERS GET TO KEEP THEIR PATHETIC LIVES BUT ONE MILLION INNOCENT HELPLESS BABIES LOST THEIRS.

SHAME ON YOU LIBERALS!

Copyleft

May 15th, 2009
10:53 am

Keep screaming, “Crap”–and keep whining that anybody else dares to post intelligent counters to your ravings here on Your Personal Property, the Barr Blog.

Neither tactic will make the slightest difference. You’re still wrong, and it still drives you crazy.

Che was a homicidal maniac

May 15th, 2009
11:20 pm

Copyleft, tell your mama I said hello. I’ll be sure to pay her later. Tootles.